James on temptation

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:13-15

James wrote abruptly, getting to the point, but with wisdom and pastoral thought. And his short letter is filled with matters we are well acquainted with. One of them, in the context of trials, is the matter of temptation.

God does test for good, but does not tempt toward evil. While James does mention the devil in this letter (4:7), when dealing in depth with temptation, he settles on human desire. And it’s not the good desire in us by creation, but that desire, tainted and twisted by the fall when in Adam we were confirmed as sinners.

We are enticed, or drawn in by that desire, dragged away into sin. That desire so to speak is conceived, meaning it’s acted upon, giving birth to sin. Sin full-grown gives birth to death. Which suggests that sin given into grows in our lives. The death that follows is likely spiritual, one’s detachment from God, and God’s good will.

Something for us not to ignore, but keep in mind and heart. In and through Jesus.

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old sins

My wife and I saw Paul, Apostle of Christ yesterday, and we found it good. I thought it was outstanding in portraying Paul, good acting, good plot, faithful to the biblical text.

An interpretation, as I understood it from the film was one I can’t remember hearing of, intriguing, and which played through to the end. I really don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to see it. So I won’t go into certain details. But namely, that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was his memory of all the Christians in whose deaths he had not only willingly participated in, but directed. He would often it seems be tormented in dreams, seeing those in Christ whom he had killed with no peace and joy.

This got me to thinking on old sins. We know they’re forgiven. But we also know, and sometimes experience their consequences. There is no question that we can be haunted the rest of our days. Whether or not this interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is correct, there has to be some value in trying to grapple with this subject.

Yes, as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions. But consequences remain on those who were hurt, as well as the one who sinned. The clearest biblical example of that of course is David’s sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, and all that followed surely the rest of his life. Uriah was cut off from this life in death, and others more or less followed David’s example. Surely, as I heard someone say recently, David was closer to God after this. Or at least we would hope so. Yet that can be a struggle. One can feel tormented, condemned. And God can seem far away. Yes, Satan can have a heyday wreaking havoc on someone’s soul.

In our day sins are too often seen as private affairs. The church should be involved insofar as that’s possible. All too often people escape to another church. It used to be you had one church, and that was it. But now we have twenty or more churches close enough for us to attend. God’s way for the best handling of sin is through the church, so that a frank, full, yet not unnecessarily detailed admission of sin can be made, guided by church leadership. And then a process of restoration can be undertaken.

Back to the film, of course Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the Apostle of Christ, did these things before his conversion to Christ. It does seem different than when someone sins grievously after conversion. Yet something one might take from the film, which I think is rooted in scripture, perhaps even in David’s story is that one goes on the best they can, in God’s grace and power to live and finish well. The sin makes that more of a challenge. But as difficult as this sounds, and is, there can be some good found to be taken out of it.

One can be more aware of dangers, so that they might possibly warn others. And in prayer for those who have been directly affected. And cast more than ever on God, since nothing can really undo the damage that has been done. Although God can redeem all that is lost. Through our one hope and Savior, indeed our life, as it was for Paul: Jesus.

the danger of idle time and more

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 11

2 Samuel 11 is the horrific account of David and Bathsheba. All of scripture is written for us (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11), so regardless of what we think about the bloodshed in military battle, and by the way, God would not let David build the temple because of all of this killing (1 Chronicles 22:8), we can and should draw out some lessons which should be warnings to us.

First of all, idle time is not necessarily our friend. It seems like the culture is more and more about entertainment, rather than doing something productive. It’s about watching TV and playing video games. Or whatever it is that you like to do. Or perhaps more to the point, don’t like to do. We don’t like the grind of daily work. We like leisure, and time when we don’t have to do anything. And we need times like that, even regularly, as well as vacations when we get away from it all in a different setting.

But back to the point: We live for the weekends, and work is often just a nuisance we put up with in the countdown to the weekend.

I would challenge that notion. Work is a blessing, as we read in Ecclesiastes. And the right balance of leisure and work is praised in that book (5:18-20).

When it comes to work, there seem to be two extremes at play in the world today. One is the incessant pounding for more and more work to meet a certain quota, which tends to be more and more after time. Oftentimes more is demanded from less. Very common today. Then there’s the other extreme of trying to cram all the work into one part, maybe with an added emphasis to not work hard, but smart. So that one can have at least a three day weekend. The push is to get the work done and out of the way, the other being the pull that the work is never done, so that not only too many hours are spent at work, but people do that work at home (or make the workplace their home), oftentimes 60 hours a week or more. Neither is good. Somehow we have to find a good balance and get a good rhythm going between work and play, busyness and leisure.

The other thing we might think about from the account on David, isn’t explicit in the text, but is important for life and evident in scripture. We ordinarily don’t fall overnight without weakening over time. It’s not like anyone can’t fall at any time. The attitude that we are fall proof is dangerous. But ordinarily we change so that what at one time would have been at least unthinkable and unlikely, is now the very thing we want to do, or will find ourselves open to doing. Surely something was wrong in David’s heart. And note that after this terrible act of committing adultery, and what followed, which was just as bad, if not worse, David did not repent right away as he should have. God was at work to convict him of his sin (Psalm 32) and some months later through his prophet (2 Samuel 12). Afterward David resumed his work as king, such as it was in those days.

What are we becoming? And what are we either doing, or failing to do, likely both, in what could be a gradual change for the worse? That change hardly noticed, and fully accepted by us.

Whatever our own life circumstances, we need to discern God’s call for us, what God wants us to do. We want to avoid a soul sickness which puts us in danger. We will do well to keep at the work God has for us, and get the rest and leisure time we need, especially in being alone with God, as well as attentive to, and at play with others. In and through Jesus.

damaged goods?

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51:7

Oftentimes, in fact, as a rule it seems, once someone commits certain sins they are largely finished as to serving in the ministry, be it a man or woman. Adultery comes to mind right away. See the superscription of the psalm cited here. And supposedly pornography is an ongoing issue even with some serving in ministry, probably particularly men. Or at least men come to my mind when I think of that problem.

But I think the heart of the problem lies in the general failure of the church, and my perspective is in evangelical churches, but I think this could well range across the board, to deal with these cases forthrightly and thoroughly, so that the offender truly is repentant, and goes through a time of dealing with the issues underlying the failure. One can’t just snap their fingers, then say it’s done, and all is back to what it was before. At the very least it can never be the same, since they can’t take back what they’ve done, and how it affected others, not to mention how it grieved God.

The problem of a sufficient response from the church here in the US is complex, yet the basic fault for that I would say lies at the feet of the church. If we were united like we ought to be, then we could deal with these problems better. Living in a democracy, within that culture, and having easy access to a number of churches, we can escape, and unless we tell the church, or the church has a policy which at least tries to uncover such problems, the sin will never be known. It can be swept under the rug, so to speak, and therefore not properly dealt with. While it probably is good to say that the fault lies mostly with the sinner, the church should not be left off the hook. Yet given our democratic culture, and legalities involved, the church being faithful here could prove to be difficult. But if the church is wise, there certainly can be a good attempt at doing so.

I’m not sure how the Roman Catholic practice of penance works, but it does seem to me that there ought to be a period of what frankly might amount to an assignment to both work through and work on the issues of one’s sin. Toward the goal of full restoration, even though, at the same time, the sin can never be erased. I’m not saying that one who has been a pastor should or should not be reinstated. I would leave that up for each church or denomination to decide. I have to admit, I go back and forth on that one. Maybe, maybe not, I’m not sure. I would like to think so, however there has to be a practice put in place to make that viable, so that the person being restored can be accepted and embraced by the church, and accept that embrace themselves.

And here’s where maybe the biggest rub occurs. The person sees themselves as damaged goods, and think they can never be right with God or others again, not just in position, but in their heart. And the devil gets in there, and has a hay day, piling on guilt and condemnation, which makes one feel lost and at a loss to know what to do. Even dirty, of no use, not fully received by God or others, damaged goods.

I think there’s a better way, but the church along with the one who has committed the sin, must be fully engaged in it. There is no reason that after a period of time a person can have a return to a new normalcy in Christian life and service, even if it can’t be the same as it was before. Again, Psalm 51 is great in helping us walk through this. It offers great hope, but in the midst of ongoing contrition, it seems. A certainly deepened humility seems possible. All of this against the lie that God no longer is merciful, and that the life no longer matters, or can contribute to much good. In and through Jesus.

the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

accepting hardship and disappointment instead of discouragement and defeat

Sometimes we have to make the best of a hard situation. Instead of caving in and giving up, and often along with that, feeling sorry for ourselves. And unwittingly, or maybe not so unwittingly, accepting our demise.

There are all kinds of reasons for this in a broken, fallen world of which we’re a part of in our own brokenness. Even apart from our own problems and shortcomings, indeed even sins along the way, life itself can present us with issues for which there are no good or easy answers.

And there really are limitations in this life. As humans we all have to eat, drink and sleep. While we can do some difficult things for a certain period of time, there are limits. And not everything in this life succeeds or turns out well according to plan. So we have to live according to realistic goals, and set our sights on that.

But we will be in some hard, difficult, and potentially discouraging places. That is inevitable, and we will do well to accept it as a matter of fact part of life and living in this present sphere of existence.

The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves. That means our disappointment and discouragement has caused us to accept our defeat. No. We have to do better going forward, no matter what. The biggest part of that better is to learn to depend on God in the midst of everything, and not on ourselves. But not baby ourselves, either.

A good passage to help us through all of this, as we consider the rest of scripture as well is found in one of the most down to earth books in scripture, James.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1

May God help us be aware and awake to this problem, and learn to address it well with his wisdom and help in and through Jesus.

“we shall overcome”: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

We Shall Overcome” was a beautiful anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was sung by the African-Americans of that time, and those who stood with them in their cause for justice in equal rights in the United States. It was more than a push back against the Jim Crow laws of the south (not to mention the segregation in the north), but a stand in saying, “We will accept, and take no more of this.” Rosa Parks was a key person in getting the movement started, and there was no more prominent leader in it, in fact he is considered the leader of that movement, today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The song expresses a stand rooted in God’s image within all humanity. That we are made for relationship and love, and an understanding that we are in this life together. And that we all have our part in it, both in relationships, and in vocation. And it’s a song of commitment to overcome injustice together, but not in a violent way, but with a commitment to nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. was impacted both by the life and example of Mahatma Gandhi, and preeminently by Jesus himself who taught his followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. King over and over again preached and spoke in these terms, and with the words of Jesus. And he and many others put those words into practice again and again.

We do need to stand up for what is right, particularly when it affects others. And we who in the United States live to this day in a privileged condition, especially compared with our African-American sisters and brothers need to be sensitive to how we might play in that ourselves without realizing it, as well as develop sensitivity to how society itself is bent in this direction. How we are all, each and everyone impacted by prejudice in prejudging others through some stereotypes, instead of really getting to know them, and becoming aware of their difficulties and plight.

And we need to remember what was done to them: They were stolen from their nations in Africa, and forced to be slaves with no possibility of freedom, at least not under the normal circumstances. And to this day are discriminated against in the criminal justice system, and before that, all of this lending itself to the fallout which would occur with any of us. And a deep wounding which can only be healed through much time, leaving its scars behind.

As in all things, and as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew and preached, the one hope for all humankind and against all evil is found in the gospel of Christ. Through that good news we are reconciled to God and to each other. Sin is dealt with, and all the injustice with it through the atoning sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the resurrection bringing the new life of love into the here and now, to break all the chains of injustice, and bring in nothing less than the freedom of God’s children.

We are all in this together. Today I celebrate and remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of all those who stood with him in love against the hate of that time. And remember that though some most significant changes came through that movement, we have not yet arrived to the place where we fully love and accept each other, and have the best interest of the others in our hearts. We’re not there yet.

Laws of the land can help and actually are crucial against corrupt systems, but what is especially needed is the change of hearts through the gospel, and an acclimation toward justice which we find in scripture fulfilled in the gospel, as well as in other places where this ethic is taught on earth through God’s image within all humankind. But there is no place where it is so thoroughly taught with the hope of being fully realized as in the gospel of Christ, to begin in the church.

This is an essential part of the heart of our calling as witnesses of Christ and the good news in him. Something we wish to carry on in the love and compassion of Christ, in and through him.