loyalty and faithfulness

Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.

Proverbs 3:3-4

We are reminded here that loyalty and faithfulness ought to be priorities in our lives. Instead too often we let other factors weigh in and we all but forget this.

There are limits in life, and lines and boundaries that need to be drawn. An abusive partner should not be allowed to continue their abuse, even if that means that one has to depart. Loyalty and faithfulness does mean through thick and thin, “for better and for worse till death do us part.” Marriage is referred to here. But even in marriage, one does not accept abuse. The partner must get the needed help, and there can come the time to separate and God forbid, even annul the marriage. But insofar as it’s possible, and whatever that might mean in any given stage, loyalty and faithfulness should continue. But the loyalty and faithfulness normally required is no longer required in the abnormal circumstances which can occur. All of this requires God-given wisdom.

While all of that is necessarily said, loyalty and faithfulness ought to be staples of our character. We are committed in love to those who are dear to us and have commitments in friendship with others. Many would think of loyalty to a company or workplace, and while there may be some application of that here, what is mostly referred to here his loyalty to people. That certainly involves faithfulness in what we do in the workplace and in other spaces.

Anything at all which might violate this should be considered anathema, in other words worse than unacceptable. “We just don’t go there” should be the mark by which we live by, even our passion. At the same time, we don’t imagine for a second that we’re above falling. We factor in our weaknesses, and pray, and work on living fully in God’s will without compromise, lovingly doing so, but even sharply in places, if need be. And when needed we get counseling along with prayer from others.

Loyalty and faithfulness. Two watch words for us. To always be in the picture of our lives. In and through Jesus.

“in Christ” equals community in Christ

Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within. But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.

2 Corinthians 7:2-9

Like any community and any person for that matter, there are difficulties which are not easy to work through. The letters in the New Testament are to anything but tidy churches. If there isn’t a problem which needs serious attention now, there will be one soon. And that’s in part because relationships and building them, seeing them mature, just holding on to them is neither automatic nor easy.

But the life of Christ is found in community. Yes, between oneself and Christ, but it never stops there. God never meant humans to live alone. As we’re told at the beginning of Genesis, that’s not good. I am convinced that just one of the major tactics of the enemy is to isolate us, make us feel like we’re alone, divide us, anything but promote unity. Unless it’s a unity set against Christian unity. And even that unity is more than precarious.

I believe there’s a true sense in the thought that we find Christ in each other. But that doesn’t mean in everyone, and not even everyone who names the name of Christ. And this is especially the case when we’ve been absent for awhile or when life has hit us particularly hard like when we face threatening opposition or feel that all is lost and we as well. We need each other in Christ.

This coming together is about appreciating God’s grace in each of one us in Christ, thankful for the strengths and in love looking over the weaknesses. Holding each other up in prayer. It certainly includes ongoing repentance along the way.

The difference between night and day, despair and an adrenaline of hope, life and death. All in the love of God by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

the most basic truth for us: God loves us

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

1 John 4:17-19; MSG

There is nothing more basically important to us than the fact that we’re loved, and loved by God no less. We really have to hold on to that and not let go of it. God loves us, each and everyone God has created. God wants relationship with us, even longs for us. And God wants us to live in loving relationship with each other.

We humans are easily given to fear. We’re afraid of this and that, and for understandable, good reasons. But what is more important than that is God’s love. No matter what we face, no matter what happens or might happen, God is love and loves us. And we know because of that, God will take care of everything, that ultimately all will be well. So that even in the midst of the troubles of this life, we live in God’s love. And continue on knowing we’re loved both in our mind and experience.

And out of that love we seek to love others in practical, down to earth ways. In so doing extending God’s love to them in a way in which they’ll hopefully find that same love which exists for themselves.

The God who is love really wants the entire human race to live in that love. And out of that love in love with each other. Even now. In and through Jesus.

in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. In and through Jesus.

if John “the elder,” the beloved apostle were here today: 1 John 1:1-4

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

1 John 1:1-4; MSG

John is not here today in person, but his writings are, and they point us to “first things.” We might say back to first things, because we are so prone to wander and get off track, and that includes all of us. The beginning of this letter is like the beginning of John’s gospel which is like the beginning of the first book of the the Bible, Genesis. And if John wrote the book of the Revelation, the beginning of it points us in exactly the same direction. To Christ.

We might say Christ is the ground of being in the sense that all life and meaning come through him. Creation finds its fulfillment in proper relationship to him. But it comes to us in a very down to earth, fully human way. Christ became one of us, living completely in our existence. And John might tell us today that this is where we must begin. If we’re not grounded in this, then we’ll get everything else wrong.

We can take it for granted that yes, we’re grounded in Christ. John’s point here is that we’re to live in fellowship, in communion with Christ and through him, the Father, in a very natural spiritual sense. And that this fellowship precludes everything else, or probably better put: all other relationships are secondary and subservient to that. But this fellowship or relationship helps us live fully in the other legitimate relationships of life. But also cuts off all that is not legitimate, that which, really, is not of Christ.

So John might want to emphasize with us, if he were with us, and going over this letter today, that we start with Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (“A to Z”: The Message), and all that is in between. All of life must considered from that perspective. And the goal is nothing short of a real, deep, abiding communion and fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. That is where we’re to live. Nothing more and nothing less.

the problem in having “a way with words”

Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.

A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!

My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

James 3; MSG

Some of us have no trouble talking. I listened to the NIV being read for many years, anywhere from a time and a half to maybe three or four times a year. That translation comes across basically clearly while maintaining accuracy. That’s been my passion for a long time, to communicate. I’m willing to understate and oversimplify things to an extent, just to try to get the main message across.

That’s carried over to maybe some good, but also some things that may not be quite as good, or perhaps not good at all. What I mean is that when we open our mouths, whether literally, or with words online, we need to be careful to take care with reference to the impact that might be made. It’s not like no feathers can be ruffled. Look at the entire book of James itself. James certainly wasn’t afraid to speak hard truth, but he was a pastor, in fact the lead pastor of the early church in Jerusalem. He had authority from God to do so. But even he acknowledges here that he is not infallible or above criticism over what he says. This letter would definitely be an exception since it’s a part of Scripture. And part of the point here is to be wary of our own words, watch our step, and be willing to backtrack and take back some of them when need be. Of course better not to go there in the first place. This is a quandary and a conundrum, or to put it in a way that I prefer, just plain hard, when you think you see danger and want to warn others who think quite the opposite.

All of James’ words so aptly rendered here by Eugene Peterson need to be carefully read, weighed, and taken to heart. What comes across for me during this time is the importance of making sure our lives are in line with what we profess, that we are in no way part of the problem. But according to James, if we say much at all, we’ll inevitably have to remove some part of our foot from our mouths, because we simply won’t, indeed can’t get it all right. That should make us reticent to say much at all, and when we do speak, carefully weigh every word. If what we say isn’t animated by love, and specifically God’s love in Christ, and in harmony with Scripture, especially the main point of Scripture, the gospel, then it is best for us to remain silent, and just pray. Prayer should mark our lives anyhow, just as was the case with James himself, who was called “camel knees” due to his known practice of prolonged prayer. And to work through the hard matters so as to preserve relationships. That comes across to me in these words, though everyone of them matters. Are we caught up in the fire of hell, or are we intent in remaining in the light and love of heaven, even in a world that might reject that? Oh for the wisdom James talks about in this letter, and in this passage. Sorely needed today, beginning with me. In and through Jesus.

against “success”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

I wonder what Jesus would say to us today if he were present in person. We can leave that to our imaginations, and I’m sure many would just think that he would basically rubber stamp whatever agenda they’ve embraced. But would he? Wouldn’t we all have to face his penetrating gaze? Though we don’t really understand him all that well, if at all, he can see right through us.

I wonder if what we consider success nowadays would be seen as success by Jesus. It is often seen in worldly power, or the power of the state, pushing agendas through. Unfortunately when we major on that kind of power, it seems to me anyhow, that we’re clearly leaving behind what Jesus taught his disciples here, and what he would tell us today.

There certainly is a tension between wanting to see good laws and policies, and accepting and learning to live with the reality when what we consider less than good is in place. And of course no political power of this world is part of God’s kingdom in King Jesus.

I like to think that this is not my problem, but I do have a certain view of success which I need to question and bring to God in prayer. It may be good in some ways, and yet still fall short of what the Lord’s description of it would be for me.

It is set here in terms of taking up our cross and following Jesus, yes, to death. Success in the Lord’s eyes seems quite the opposite of success as the world sees it, or as we would naturally expect.

For Jesus it was a rejection of what the world holds dear. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not on his priority list. Peter must have expected the Messiah to meet messianic expectations of that day. To at least fulfill the prophecies of their Hebrew Scripture in something like was anticipated, an actual physical rule that put worldly empires in their place. Actually the Lord was going to do that, but in precisely the opposite way of what Peter imagined. It made no sense to Peter, but the Lord put him in his place in no uncertain terms. It was either the way of the cross, or a mere human, Satan-inspired way. There was nothing in between.  It was one or the other.

To the present, while I may not care about power politics where I live in the United States, and though I do participate in the democratic process here, I don’t think I have any desire to be a part of a dominant political party. I do have concerns in how the political process plays out, the impact it has on the world, on people, locally, nationally and internationally. I don’t think participation in such a process is necessarily contradictory to our Lord’s teaching, though it could be. It all depends both on what our goal actually is, and also how we think it should be achieved.

For me, success often looks like something I’ve more or less embraced all my life: working hard, providing for family, giving to the church, hopefully helping others, all good things in themselves. But just maybe the Lord wants me to pick up on some things which he considers success which are all but out of my line of vision. Maybe for me it’s more like giving up concerns and pursuits which might not be bad in themselves, but crowd out the better. And to quit thinking that it all depends on me, my effort, which deep down I know is all from God, since actually everything that’s good is a gift from God. Maybe in my pursuit for things which are good in themselves, I’ve lost sight of the greater things. Justice, mercy and faithfulness were called major priorities by our Lord (Matthew 23:23-24). Maybe I’ve seen success in too much of the way the world sees it, by my own effort and poor attempts at loving. Maybe I’ve lost sight of depending less on myself, and more on God. Do I really believe that I can do nothing apart from Christ? Do I make my relationship with him the priority it needs to be? Do I see my relationship with other Jesus followers as central to both their growth and mine, all of us being in this together? Do I embrace humility, and really value others as more important than myself?

Just some thoughts on a subject in which I feel like a mere beginner. But want to learn and follow Jesus.

before pressing on

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he emptied himself
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

I am one of those people who likes Paul’s word in Philippians 3 in our Bibles, to press on. If there’s something that might characterize me, it’s that, at least to a significant extent. That’s alright, but before we can do that in the manner in which Paul is speaking, we have to have the same mindset, indeed the very humble servant attitude of Christ. We need to ask ourselves if this more and more is the case in our lives.

Are we willing to step aside and let others shine, valuing their contributions above our own? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to make others succeed in God’s eyes? And are we willing to receive the help we need to do the same?

Jesus is our example of what it means to be Christian. We seek to follow him both individually and together as his people. Only then are we ready to press on, as we seek to be nothing less than like Jesus in his death.

“we all need a home”

Someone recently told me that. It is wonderful, the family settings we can live in. But even the best of them is not without some hurts and wounds along the way, even with some cracks and brokenness. And tragically, sometimes those fractures are not mended and there can be a parting of ways. Home together as family does involve a commitment.

When it comes to church, we Christians at least here in America I think have some difficulty seeing it as family or being comfortable there. Why? It could be in part because of our own experience as family. And churches in our society are like a dime a dozen. Unlike days of old when there were parishes, and you had your church according to your location, in which you may well attend and be part of for a lifetime, now people so to speak go shopping for church. Wherever it’s the right feel, or serves the needs of one’s family, or their own needs, we stop and shop there. Maybe for a few years, maybe more, but often less. Until we move on to our next church and church experience. The older I get, the more I value the practice of those who have been in one church for decades, even entire lifetimes. Unfortunately not true of myself. Though there are times, sadly, to leave a church.

But the church in Jesus is meant to be our primary family, in a certain sense more family than our own family. Though of course each have their unique special place. Jesus made it clear that his sister, brother, and mother were those who did God’s will. And we find in the New Testament letters an emphasis on a community held together in the bond of love in Christ, with the fruit of the Spirit moving that fellowship, and the gifts of the Spirit helping it, all toward growth together into maturity in Christ.

We need a home where we don’t have to perform and have it all together. Where we can be our honest, even broken selves. I’m not saying at all, excusing our sin. But really being honest with ourselves and others. Just that sense given to us together by the Spirit who leads us to the broken body and blood of Christ for us individually and in our relationships with each other.

We need a place where we’re at home. Where people really care for us. Grace-oriented, so that by and by we can start measuring up, but not at all about measuring up, even while there is loving accountability. Where we realize that we’re all in this together, that when one suffers with whatever, we all suffer. Where when one rejoices and is happy, we all are happy for and with them. The sense that we’re indeed not in this life alone. But we’re present and in place for each other. And together for a broken world. In and through Jesus.

Jesus our true vine, not my true vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:1-17

To read this correctly, we need to keep in mind that Jesus is addressing his disciples. The “you” is always plural in this passage. Unfortunately that often doesn’t come out in our translations. Ideally it’s best if we can read the Koine Greek ourselves, though not essential. But here, Jesus is talking to his followers as those who are together, part of a group. We were never meant to live the Christian life, more specifically to follow Christ on our own. We’re meant to be in this together always. Sometimes the group might be quite small. It really shouldn’t be too large except that we can have smaller groups within the larger assembly. But the point is that it’s not only a matter of abiding or remaining in Christ as individual branches. But it’s also being with other branches as part of the one plant.

We don’t do nearly as well when we read the above passage as just applying to “me” as an individual. But that’s ordinarily how we do it. We need to train ourselves to think and do otherwise. Yes, we’re individuals for sure, but we are not meant to live individualistic lives, nor just lives between us and the Lord. Yes our faith is personal, but it’s also communal, meant to be lived in community. The world needs to see how we live together in community, and not just that, but we actually need this ourselves. God made us for each other, as well as for relationship with him.

This emphasis on community needs to be a vital, weekly part of our faith. But the way even the best churches operate is often more just a “me and God” proposition, with everyone gathered more or less intent on that. And we miss a lot as a result. We can’t do it alone. We are meant to function with others. Otherwise our faith and growth will be stunted. Yes, we abide or remain in the true vine, Jesus, but we do so as branches together. We’re in this together. In and through Jesus.