when all is said and done

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.

They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it[b]?”
They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.

But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.

The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!

Psalm 64

At times it seems like one is under a barrage of attacks in one way or another. It might even be partly our own fault, but still, just the same, that never justifies such attacks.

It is true that when we take any kind of stand for righteousness, we can expect to run into trouble. Such a stand can upend people’s agenda. So we should at least expect resistance whenever we might do so. Hopefully we take such stands in the Spirit, and not out of our own rage and anger. But even if we might perfectly do so, that might intensify the reaction all the more, since light exposes darkness, and darkness hates that. Of course I speak of the spiritual.

In the end we will see the victory of God in Jesus. Something that goes beyond, and actually judges all the pretenses of “man,” including our own. In and through Jesus.

“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus”

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—

Romans 1:1

The Greek word δοῦλος, translated “servant” in some English translations, might be better translated “slave,” though slavery in modern times is not exactly equivalent to slavery in biblical times, at least there’s a general difference. Bill Mounce has a helpful definition:

In the NT a person owned as a possession for various lengths of times (Hebrew slaves no more than seven years, Gentile slaves without time limit), of lower social status than free persons or masters; slaves could earn or purchase their freedom

A male slave, or servant, of various degrees, Mt. 8:9, et al. freq.; a servitor, person of mean condition, Phil. 2:7; fem. δούλη, a female slave; a handmaiden, Lk. 1:38, 48; Acts 2:18; δοῦλος, used figuratively, in a bad sense, one involved in moral or spiritual thraldom, Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:17, 20; 1 Cor. 7:23; 2 Pet. 2:19; in a good sense, a devoted servant or minister, Acts 16:17; Rom. 1:1; one pledged or bound to serve, 1 Cor. 7:22; 2 Cor. 4:5

We of course were bought by Christ’s blood on the cross, redeemed from slavery to sin and unrighteousness to be slaves to God and to righteousness. We find freedom in this slavery from what once bound us so that we can live according to God’s will, and not our own. But this is never coercive, which might explain in part why it is often translated “servant.” There is a perfect freedom in this. Either way actually, we’re doing what we want to do. As slaves to sin (Romans 6), we want to sin, but find that it is enslaving and debilitating, indeed self-destructive. But as servants/slaves of Christ, we’re finding our way into what God intended for us in the first place. And in that we find rest, peace and contentment. But on this side, and especially given our tendency to drift back, it often feels difficult and confining. To be a slave of Christ ends up meaning that we do what Christ did, take the way of the cross and follow. In so doing we end up denying ourselves and doing what left to ourselves we would never do, at least not with the same motive and heart attitude. In and through Jesus.

 

the blessing of being insignificant and worse

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

1 Corinthians 4:8-17

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are remarkable. Those believers were wowed by leaders infiltrating the church who were impressive in worldly ways. And they even compared the true Christian leaders, lining up with this or that one, indicating they were spiritually immature.

I find it a blessing to settle into the notion, indeed reality, that “in Christ” we are quite insignificant as far as the world is concerned. And insofar as the spirit of the age, and worldliness is still a part of us, we can find what we do and are about, quite insignificant.

We might well imagine and think: Of course, Paul was on a special, not to mention, quite dangerous mission. Naturally he was going to be despised. But even that account alone is kind of a head-scratcher. He along with his team were brutally mistreated, hungry and thirsty, in rags, homeless. Wow. The health and wealth gospel surely just took a hit. Paul was indeed the example of what sacrifice is involved in being on mission as Christ’s servant for the gospel. But his word to the Corinthian Christians is that they were to imitate him.

It is a different day and age, but God’s kingdom and the world, as in the world’s system is at heart the same. We may think what we have to do is relatively insignificant, and often not appreciated. And we may struggle ourselves in accepting it, let alone appreciating it. But if that’s the case, then we’re in good company, with no less than the Apostle Paul in his following of Christ.

What if we do have success in the eyes of the world? Does that exclude us from the possibility of imitating Paul’s following of Christ? Not at all. It may be in some ways more challenging, but when we do take any stand for Christ and for righteousness and justice, we can be sure to encounter trouble. We are in a position of blessing those who are putting their lives on the line for the gospel. And there’s no reason why in doing so, that we can’t put our lives on the line for Christ, as well.

This is an encouragement for me, because I see myself precisely as one in a corner, whose life little matters. But that’s a lie of Satan. It does matter, in and because of Christ. Not because of myself, or who I am, but only because of him. Christ makes all the difference. Just as he did in Paul’s life and ministry. In our’s as well, yes, in the lowly, unnoticed, and under appreciated places.

 

the flourishing to come

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah 35:1-10

I am much interested in Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun’s book, For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference (Theology for the Life of the World). It seems that they advocate for policies for human flourishing within the pluralistic world in which we live. I personally am all for that. I don’t know what else they say, but I’m sure they agree that full flourishing will come only at Jesus’s return when God’s promise of salvation and new creation will be fully realized.

Human flourishing is at the heart of God’s will for the world, for humankind. It’s when all is well, humans are individually well themselves, and living in the relations in which they’re meant to live with each other. Each realizing their full potential, and enjoying the outcome of that together.

Unfortunately in this present existence, simply put, there’s too much resistance against God’s will. There’s both lack of faith, and actual desire to live in God’s will. Although in common grace there’s much in common (not to repeat the same word so closely) with God’s will. There is goodness and righteousness along with evil, whether or not the educational elite can or are willing to recognize that.

We long for the breakthrough to come when the world will at long last be what God intended it to be. Paradise restored and human culture meeting its full potential in the life and love of God. In and through Jesus.

really trusting in the Father

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

One of Jesus’s most basic and insistent teachings was the necessity of trusting in the Father. And here he does it in terms of one’s basic needs; the thought that the Father will provide.

One of my regrets in life is my failure to really learn to trust in the Father in a meaningful way when it comes down to making a living as we call it. When people make that commitment, they inevitably face trials which seem to come to test their faith. When I say test, I don’t just mean to see whether or not their professed faith in the Father’s care is genuine. That, yes, but much more. Essentially testing means to actually establish that faith and cause it to grow. Only when people commit themselves to such a course, and hold on to it no matter what, can that faith become a part of who they are, an established part of their lives. Unfortunately I think by and large I missed the best part of that. In a secondary sense, I think I did experience something of the Father’s care. But with my hands on the entire time, and because of that I missed out on much, both in terms of the process and the outcome. And the outcome I don’t think as much in terms of dollars and cents, but more in just who one is, what one becomes through trusting in the Father. This, according to Jesus is a large part of what it means to follow him, and so become like him.

We commit all to the Father’s care, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. And then he takes care of all our needs. As simple as that. That means we don’t think it depends on us. No, it depends on the Father. So our aim is simply to give ourselves completely to seeking first his kingdom and righteousness in our own lives. And with the prayer that it will come on earth as it is in heaven. The Father takes care of the rest. Not that we become irresponsible. We work, we seek to be good stewards of the gifts God gives us. But we do so as those completely dependent on him. Something I’m working on to become much better established in. In and through Jesus.

 

politics and the gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[b] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[c]

Romans 1:16-17

We have a rule at work that we’re not supposed to discuss politics there. Maybe that’s good, given all the heat nowadays.

I do think the politics of this world has its place, and that there ought to be civil discussions by those engaged in it. I know politics today seems to be in a crisis, with democracy taking a back hand to more of an authoritarian approach. There is so much involved in all of this, in the United States where I live, the whole question of the Constitution, and whether or not it has failed, or not been given its place to succeed. If you start going in depth into the entire discussion and more, you’ll find that it’s essentially mind boggling, or at least having no more authority than what a bunch of diverse intellectuals can muster.

But now to down to earth, in our face, day to day politics. We have a friend who is seeking to get on the state ballot as a candidate concerned primarily with education. We applaud her and her efforts. I would like to add, I think it’s strange, the money required for her to get on the ballot. Everything seems so money driven nowadays. These kinds of efforts can be helpful, addressing real problems and needs with better solutions.

I think and feel strongly about some things, but usually with the sense of realization that we’re at the mercy of a power which seems to have its ways both in our face, and usually more subtly, and finds its way systemically from our hearts into institutions. That’s the power of sin. We don’t care about this or that, because of what we really care about. Or we ignore certain things, because they may or may not be problems, and after all, they’re other people’s problems, not our own.

Paul gets to what we need as Christians, the one thing we can hang our hats on and be devoted to day in and day out, regardless of the mess in the world: the gospel. It is about Christ, and God’s saving righteousness in and through him, through Christ’s death and resurrection, through which sin is dealt with, and something of God’s vision for us and for the world given to us in scripture can begin to take root in people now, especially in Christ’s body, the church. The gospel can be the unifying point in which people of diverse thinking can settle, and find what is just and right, and therefore good. That begins in our own hearts, and right where we live, and goes out from there. Which is why Christians have often been persecuted, and still are in parts of the world, as well as marginalized.

There is one good news in the world worth living and dying for, and only one. The other areas in which people serve can be quite good in their place, and we need to honor them, particularly those who give of themselves in service for others, and who put their lives at risk in doing so. That has its place too.

But we in Christ take our stand completely on the good news in him. While we may take lesser stands, which are provisional for time and place, we know the gospel cuts across all our differences, and gets to the heart of things. It addresses the power of sin. In pointing us to Jesus himself, and God’s grace and kingdom present and to come in him. Hopefully shedding light on the darkness now present through changed hearts and lives. In the church, and out into the world. In and through Jesus.

James’s ending note: community life

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5

James certainly talks about relationships in the community of faith in his letter. But community life is saved for last, perhaps because that’s where James’s heart is as a pastor.

It’s not like the community of believers are to take the place of God. As James notes, anyone in trouble should pray and those who are happy should sing songs of praise to God. All of this is dependent on God. There’s a dependence on God and from that, an interdependence on each other. God made us for him, and for each other. We can help each other as we receive help from God, or with the help we receive from God.

When someone in the community is sick, they’re to call on the leaders of the church to pray over them, anointing them with olive oil as a symbol of healing. And the leaders are to pray over them, and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, and their sins will be forgiven. This implies any needed confession of sin by the one sick. But includes those not aware of any such need for confession, except for acknowledgment of the everyday sins and weaknesses we all carry, which might be affecting us more than we realize. I think of James’s warning against judging each other, and how the Lord judges such. And all his words against loose, careless speech, particularly as described in James 3, straight from the pit of hell. The healing in the context seems to be more or less connected with confession of sin, though not necessarily so.

And then there’s the word of encouragement concerning our prayers, probably especially encouraging the elders who pray, but also anyone else in the community of faith. Elijah is seen as extraordinary, including his prayers and God’s answers, but as James notes, he was just an ordinary human being with the same passions and struggles as the rest of us. If God answered his prayers, God will answer ours. Being righteous in James is more the character of righteousness we receive and mature in, than the standing which especially Paul talks about along with its character. We are always in need of God’s forgiving, cleansing grace, but we are not to excuse ourselves and our sins, and then expect to be heard by God in prayer. But when we are confessing, and doing our best to be obedient people, growing in grace, then our prayers will matter much.

And then the closing word on rescuing the one who is wandering from the truth in the error of their own way. Nothing less than saving their souls from death is at stake here. The community is not to let them go, but to try to bring them back in. And what’s implied here is that we as individuals our involved. One of us from within the community can make the difference as we step in and reach out to help the sinner in need repent. This takes much grace, but we are called to this for each other.

Deb and I are part of an evangelical mega church in which is emphasized the row (weekend worship service), the circle (small group), and the chair (personal devotions). We plugged into a small group early on, and it’s been as great a blessing as all the rest. People can receive some of what James refers to in the weekend gathering, and especially so in smaller churches. But a small group of say eight to twelve people, committed to each other in love and prayer, can make the needed world of difference.

What James calls us to at the close of his letter. What we need, and what the world needs to see from us together. In and through Jesus.