they will be what they are (except for God’s grace)

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

Revelation 22:11

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

2 Corinthians 11:14b

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

I think it’s most helpful in differentiating between God and Satan along with the demonic, just to realize who we’re considering. God is God. And to begin to try to get a handle on that, we need to go to Scripture, though God makes God’s Self known in other ways as well. Scripture reveals that God dwells in darkness, that God’s light is too much for us humans to comprehend, even to contemplate. But God is revealed in Jesus, God’s Son. So that to understand what God is like, we have to look at God’s supreme revelation of God’s Self, who is himself all that God is, as well as being human: Jesus.

God is great, whose greatness has no bounds. God is good, whose goodness has no bounds. God is for us as shown in Jesus (Romans 8). God does not condemn us, but loves us, and wants to lift us up and help us. On the other hand, the spiritual enemy wants to make us think that it is right and that we can never measure up. That we ought to do this, that, something else, and always so much more. And that gives what the enemy sends us an appearance of goodness, even godliness. But that entire scenario is not God-like at all. In the end it only results in our condemnation, since we can never measure up. But after all, that’s what our spiritual enemy, the enemy of humankind does. And what God does is completely opposite. God loves, redeems, reconciles, befriends, etc.

The same is true of us humans. Why are we the way we are? Except for the grace of God, I would be just as lost as the next person. And actually, truthfully, I feel a sense of lostness right along. But that helps me to continue to look to God, be open to continual correction and direction along the way. This also helps us understand others, including our sisters and brothers in Christ who might be influenced in a bad way. So that we can find the good, but discern what is not. But first we need to look at ourselves. We have to be sure to take the log out of own eye before we can ever begin to really see the splinter in anyone else’s eye.

Just to know who we’re dealing with makes all the difference. Yes, I know I’m going to be harassed by Satan, rather his minion on a regular basis, because that’s what it does. But I’m going to be loved, understood in all my limitations, and helped by God. That God gives and sends all the help we need as we continue on, as wobbly as we might be, looking to God in faith.

In and through Jesus.

the black sheep along with the black or “every human” Christ (Messiah)

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:14-18

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

I love depictions of images of Christ on stained glass windows, perhaps as the good shepherd carrying a little lamb with sheep trustingly following, or as Christ knocking on a door, along with other pictures. Usually what is depicted is a white Caucasian with mostly medieval or late medieval, a later culture imagery. That may have served in some ways well for its time, and to some extent even today. But it leaves behind so much of Scripture which Jesus is said to fulfill. Add to that, it also leaves behind many of us along with many of our struggles which simply are not taken into account within what we might call the privileged experience of so many of the rest of us.

This is not to attack those of us who love or have loved such pictures, probably having old Bible story books for children filled with such. But intended rather to give us a head’s up to more, what is beyond that, all that’s included in the great salvation Jesus brings.

We read in the above passages that Jesus went through all of the testing and temptations which befall all of us as a human family, being fully human himself. He knew what it was like to be marginalized as a Jew from Nazareth with Galilean, Gentile influence, as one of those who was not considered a fully pure descendant of Abraham. To live on the edges where he was not seen as legitimate since many did not understand his birth. Likely he lived with his needs met most of the time, but he did not live in the lap of luxury. And the way he taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread,” suggests a daily dependence on God, rather than having all of that more than taken care of by one’s own efforts.

Jesus and the good news he brought has more than resonated not only to all in the slavery of sin, but to all who are in any kind of bondage imposed at all. The salvation the Lord brings won’t be complete and final in human experience until he returns, but it includes now care for the human experience in it entirety. Not just thinking one cares about them if they can get them to have assurance of eternal life for after this life. But caring for them in every way just as Jesus does. Being in this together as Christ’s body so that we care for each other in practical, down to earth ways, as well as through prayer. And to everyone else in the world, including our enemies. With a particular eye out for those marginalized, looked down and often falsely frowned upon. Realizing too that really we’re all in need of God’s mercy and grace. Remembering too that what we might often take for granted is something others can’t imagine.

So we need new images of Jesus given to us by the Spirit for the real world. Yes in painting but especially in lives, lives together in this world. The Jesus who wants to live that both for us, and in and through us individually, and especially as his body. In large part why we’re here. In and through Jesus.

faith must work to work

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:14-26

We can say we have faith in God, in God’s promises, and that’s all well and good. But it won’t make the needed difference unless we act on it. The difference certainly refers to others. In James’s words here, helping the sister or brother in need, or with reference to Rahab, for one’s own family as well as for Rahab herself. What I’m especially referring to here is one’s own salvation. When we experience that salvation, or in the words in this passage, justification, we naturally want to see everyone else experience the same. But when we’re struggling with a lack in being settled into that in our spirits, ourselves, then we can’t see our way to really have that same longing for others.

What is absolutely essential in a sense is being willing to burn all bridges down behind us, so that there’s no turning back, but that our faith is expressed in action. If we say we believe something, then we have to act on that, or in the words of James, our faith is barren, even dead.

Abraham is the stark case in point here. He was asked to sacrifice his son no less, Isaac, on an altar he would have to prepare himself as a whole burnt offering to God. Certainly a mind boggling, simply unfathomable thing to ask of someone, at least in our world. In Abraham’s world, from what I’ve read, it may not have been as shocking. We read elsewhere that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be to fulfill God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations, heir of the world, and that all nations would be blessed through him (Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:13, 17; Galatians 3:8). Just the same, it couldn’t have been easy.

But as we see in Genesis 22, there’s no hesitation to fulfill what God commanded. Maybe there was something in Abraham’s mind, like, “Let’s get this over with.” We don’t know what precisely was in his mind, except as mentioned above, because Scripture doesn’t tell us. But Abraham went all the way with no hesitation, hard as that had to have been. And raising the knife was stopped by the angel of the Lord before plunging the knife into his beloved son, the son who was to be heir, and through whom God’s blessing was to be extended to all.

James is telling us that we’re to have this same kind of faith. We either do it, and that includes the hard thing which maybe at the time makes no sense to us. But we do so in obedience to God, resting on God’s promise of blessing and good. In and through Jesus.

to avoid condemnation: a living, active faith

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

James 5:9, 12

James would argue, and I believe Paul supports that if we consider every part of Paul’s writings, that it’s not enough to believe, to simply have faith in Christ to avoid condemnation. Faith apart from works certainly involves receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But James points out that this faith which receives is also to be a faith which gives in response to God and God’s gift and favor given to us. Otherwise there is no true saving faith at all, and one is left condemned because of their commissions and omissions in failing to love God and love one’s neighbor as themselves. But in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ (note James 2:1; NRSV) we are called to a faith that not only rests in God’s promise in Jesus, but is also active in pursuing together God’s call for us in Christ. 

we bear witness to a better day

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today in the United States is Memorial Day when Americans who lost their lives in military service are honored. We indeed should remember them and their sacrifice. But we as followers of Christ and the church of Christ ought to point to a better day when violence is not only the last resort alas unlike today, but when war will be no more.

That thought sounds so unreasonable when there’s so much violence and evil in the world. We have to remember that violence is not ended with more violence. Sooner or later that cycle continues as old grievances surface. Unfortunately what ought to be and what actually is are so far apart. It’s like you have to use a hopefully sanctified imagination to think of anything which could be different.

Violence is a fact of life, embedded in the human existence. There is not the necessary trust in God, in Christ with the hope/anticipation of the resurrection to make the commitment to something else. But if churches of Christ aren’t doing this, then what does that say about our witness? Are we just supposed to be okaying, even strongly supporting military action and wars of the state? Surely not.

We in Jesus point to a better day. By how we live along with our telling of this. We encourage nations to make peacemaking the priority, along with trying to understand and address underlying issues behind the violence. Realizing indeed that all violence will not be vanquished until Christ returns. Nevertheless doing all we can to point ourselves and others to a better day. And hopefully seeing that played out more in creative ways in opposition to oppressive regimes, with the commitment to do good to the distressed, and ultimately to all. A tall order indeed. But a large part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

faith is not just what you believe, but what you do

…humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:21b-27

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

The Protestant Reformation emphasized faith apart from works along with a creedal emphasis, stating “we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…” Etc. But in so doing what people could easily slip into is the notion that works didn’t matter, as long as they have faith. After all, our good works can’t save, but only Christ so that the one requirement is faith. That’s good and even vital as far as it goes. The problem as James tells us here is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Yes, faith alone saves us, but the faith that saves us is not alone. True saving faith is always accompanied with a life change evident in works of love. Our lives are summarized in love for God and for our neighbor. Unless our faith results in good works, then it’s not faith at all, not the faith which saves. If we look to Christ for salvation, we’re also looking at the Christ who bids us to come and follow. You can’t separate the two. Theology which does is destructive. Note the separate components for sure, but note too that these components end up together. In God’s saving work. In and through Jesus.

don’t forget this

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:10-18; MSG

I find Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this Scripture helpful on a number of points. You get a sense of how this spiritual battle we’re in is ongoing and frankly, horrific. I wish it were not so. It would be quite a different experience. For those whose life is a walk in the park, and an ongoing happy time, I think something like: “Wow. Great!” But then it makes me wonder if they know this aspect of life. All who are “in Christ” do, even if somehow that realization is hidden from them.

And then the idea that we can’t do this on our own. That we are dependent on God and on all God gives us in Christ. Especially helpful is the point that we’re to apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation to our lives, as taught to us in Scripture. And God’s Word expressed as a weapon, perhaps referring to God breaking through to us as we read Scripture, that word coming home to us. And the need for ongoing prayer. I find that when I feel up against it, I am often pressed to pray, and end up praying more persistently, sadly, then I would otherwise. On the other hand when I have a break from this spiritual warfare, I can be encouraged to pray, at times having a sense of God’s presence and peace. But by and large I keep at it more faithfully when I feel pressed for one reason or another. It’s not hard for me to realize the need for this.

And how we’re to pray for each other. Having been within the evangelical tradition most of my Christian life, I’ve been well taught on the need to apply Scripture to my own life, but not as well taught in how we’re all in this together, and the responsibility which comes with that.

To apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation both for our own lives, and for the world, into the lives of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. And for everyone else as well. But Paul here seemed to particularly mean it for the believers at large, I would say especially individually, and then collectively, together. Definitely an ongoing personal application. In and through Jesus.

balancing faith: passive and active

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

Yesterday I attempted to speak on God’s peace, or God’s work to bring wellness and wholeness into our illness and brokenness. In this post I want to emphasize that while we have all we need from God in Christ, we need to get after it and take hold of it for ourselves. For those of us “in Christ” that means we are not just passive, but we must become active. We do so according to the whole counsel of God. We pray, we push forward, we seek to live as God’s children, as servants, and soldiers in the spiritual battle we’re in. For those outside of Christ, that means receiving the good news in Jesus that all of our sins were laid on him on the cross. And that as we believe, we receive forgiveness of sins, and new life through Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

It’s so important to keep the balance we find in Scripture. Some of us may need an emphasis of “letting go and letting God.” Others of us need to quit waiting and hoping, and take the action required to make our salvation real in life, to see needed spiritual victory. We need both. Which is why we need to remain in Scripture, because both are there throughout, in and out, just as our experiences and needs vary. God will help us. The receiving and doing in and through Jesus.

God meets us where we’re at

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Matthew 9:9-13; MSG

God wants to meet us all where we’re at. We have to come to God just as we are to be accepted. I think of the great hymn, Just As I Am. We come to him with all of our sin, all of our troubles. We don’t pretend to be something we’re not, as if that will make us acceptable to God. Nor do we try to overcome our troubles by ourselves. Coming to God involves trusting God to answer our prayers, to actually meet us where we are, and to do God’s needed work in us.

Matthew was as low can be in Jewish eyes of his day. Here was one of their own, doing work of the hated Romans, and siphoning extra for himself at their expense, making himself rich in the process. Jesus calls him right at his tax collector’s booth, and then eats with him and others like him. And of course gets called on the carpet for that by the religious leaders. What was missing for these leaders was the point of their religion: God’s mercy. For them, for all. 

I’m thankful I can keep returning to God again and again, not for who I wish I would be, or only when I feel good about life. But when I’m struggling, which honestly is at least a lot of the time, and when troubles are just a fact of life. God meets me there. Meets us all there, if we just come to God as we are. Even calls us, like Jesus did Matthew. In and through Jesus.

accepting the stress and distress of this life

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14; NRSV

I’m reading Job from The Message right now which I take as more than an intriguing wisdom story, certainly a book chalk full of wisdom, but mostly in terms of the main points that come across, notwithstanding some of the striking details. I’m reminded of the thought that instead of life getting easier when one comes to Christ, it actually becomes more difficult. Why? Well we can surely say we’re going against the grain of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And central to it is simply the reality that believers are also followers of Christ, or else our faith may well be spurious. Following Christ means identity with him in this world, taking up our cross, as we seek to live out the King Jesus, kingdom of God life. Certainly a salvation story, but a salvation not in terms of simply securing one’s eternal life, but a salvation steeped in the values of God’s kingdom, inside and out.

We need to accept the stress and distress of this way in Jesus. That is half the battle, the Lord helping us to do that. God will be with us through the rest. We just need to settle into the mentality that we’ll have problems others won’t. As we seek to follow. In and through Jesus.