one of the toxins in the air we breathe

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

One of the sacred tenants of our identity as Americans, inherited from tradition, and where we all usually more than less live is the idea that we are autonomous, that we live as separate individuals, each an entity to themselves. At best this is a failure to understand reality. At worst it ends up amounting to pure idolatry. People think that as long as they have the Bible, the church, can pray, then they can make it on their own. A distorted understanding of reality. Or that it’s up to us. God might be present, but we sink or swim ourselves. Along with that the false idea that everyone has to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Now I’m getting into the “political” though actually following Christ is not just some personal and not at all a private affair but ends up being political through and through in that others are linked, and in a sense everything else.

But to the main point: We don’t exist as human beings, relational in our core apart from other human beings. God’s will in Christ is meant to bring the entire world together as one body in Christ. Yes, we’re individuals, but we’re individuals in the one body, as members and metaphorically as parts of that body. The pervasive idea in our part of the world that we’re not in this together, but that everyone has to take care of themselves fails to understand God’s intention for humanity in creation, to be realized in the new creation in the rule of God in Christ. And present today in church, although not “church” as it’s often practiced, or oftentimes not much in that way. We end up being responsible not only for ourselves, but for each other, others being responsible to help us.

None of us are autonomous. We all have history and genetics which go with that, experiences and dispositions inherited, and we all are connected, even if such connection in our case is thoroughly broken in the lie in which we live.

We need to take a stand against this in no uncertain terms. First in our own lives before we can hope for societal change. Both at the same time, but with priority on ourselves. I breathe and have imbibed this falsity myself. But I am not my real self apart from others. That includes everyone, but especially those who like me are seeking to be followers of Christ, and are thus in Christ, in that one body, the body of Christ, metaphorically speaking, of course Christ the head, the Spirit from God in all of this. We’re all in this together, each and every single one of us. A reality not meant only for us, but for everyone. Someday to be fully realized. In and through Jesus.

(Many of my thoughts, and probably the main point picked up from a particular podcast- not sure which one right now- and from reading, as more or less is always the case.)

living the faith not through doctrine, but through the body of Christ

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

Philippians 4:17-18

Having lived in an evangelical world for decades as a Christian, I have lived in the air that doctrine above all else is what mattered. If we had our squares right about Christ and the gospel, and we believed, then we were all set to go, born again and assured of eternal life. Add to that the necessity of believing in an inerrant Bible, every jot and tittle without error at least in the point being made or what was said. And with all of that, the necessity of witnessing so that people would be saved from eternal hell fire in torment forever. No one or very few lived up to all of that, and those who took it seriously the most seemed to put a lot of nuance on most everything.

I live and will always live with some respect for evangelicalism, even though I have long been adrift from it, and now no longer identify as such. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take Scripture seriously as sacred or see the gospel as something other than central in my life and the life of the world, active in the church. I believe all of that and more, and don’t see doctrine as something that is unimportant.

But I believe what makes all the difference, and actually the only thing that does make the difference is Christ’s presence. Is Christ present? is the question. Because of that presence, yes we will come to accept and believe certain things. And together we will read and discern from Scripture with reference to God’s will on earth now, not just for our individual lives, but also for the church, and for the life of the world, in all the complexities of that. The richness and tapestry of Scripture certainly gives us much to pause and reflect on as we consider everything.

The main point I want to make briefly is that we live the faith not through doctrine, but through Christ’s body the church. Each of us contribute to the whole, living as we really are in our real struggles, in all the struggle, but with the light and life of Christ present in each. And from that reflection from Christ, we are light to each other, indeed even called “light in the Lord.” We are real, we struggle, we are not perfect, but we also love and seek to love, and to be entirely true to the full will of God. But we do this in relationship, especially as church. This is so central, but I’m afraid is all but lost today.

Because of this, through the Spirit I can live as a follower of Christ in each situation, in the challenges faced, even in what might seem threatening. We in Christ are in this together. Somehow Christ’s light on others seems channeled as it were to ourselves and inexplicitly way beyond our understanding the light of Christ might even help others in the same way through us.

All in a normal day, in the normal life in and through Jesus.

get ready to suffer

Since, therefore, Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your time in the flesh no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the gentiles like to do, living in debauchery, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

1 Peter 4:1-6

Peter’s first letter was to a suffering church, to persecuted believers or those about to undergo persecution for their faith. We know the story well, Christians thrown to the lions, burned at the stake. And then centuries following. Although ever since Constantine changed the Roman empire into a so-called Christian one in which for example only professing Christians could serve in the Roman military, Christians and what is from that, Christendom has sought to take matters into its own hands and that in significant part in order to avoid persecution, and effectively nullify the way of the cross, the path of following Christ.

Today we have another rise of a new push for a Christendom which as someone has said involves Christo-fascist overlords. It is the push away from democracy to an authoritarian rule in which Christian appointed leaders call the shots. And that isn’t just metaphorical, because in all such so-called Christian rule, which is not really Christian at all in any way, shape or form, there will be force and violence. Instead of depending on the good news of Christ in which people choose to follow and living bodies of Christ are formed, you have a rule of the land which forces its view on everyone.

We can expect, just as Jesus experienced, to receive the most trouble from the religious over us, namely those who name the name of Christ. These are the most dangerous, because they are the most self-assured, and are steeped in a kind of Christendom which they feel and somehow think needs to be imposed on the world. It amounts to a white Christian nationalism which is cultic in the sense that it has people in its grip with the works of the flesh (Galatians 5) needed to ensure its existence as opposed to the true fruit of love for God and neighbor in the works of Christ along with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). And above all again, it nullifies the way of the cross, the true and only path of following Christ.

We are facing difficult times. So as followers of Christ, let’s seek to be wise as serpents while being harmless as doves. Let’s attempt to see clearly who our enemies are along with those who back them and thus amount to enemies as well. Let’s call what is wrong, wrong. And let us love all in the midst of this. And get ready to suffer as Peter instructs us in the passage above. In and through Jesus.

above all: love

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

Scripture, indeed Jesus tells us that there’s a good number of things we need to do, and not do. But both Scripture and Jesus in Scripture also tells us that love is to be paramount in it all. Love, love, and love some more.

This doesn’t mean we won’t have to take hard stands, and certainly doesn’t mean we’re called to make everyone happy. Love will do the difficult things, while hopefully being a kind of cushion for those who will be offended, if only they’re open to the truth inspired by such love.

Peter tells us to do this within the fellowship of believers, just as Jesus told his disciples to love one another, even as he had loved them, and that by such love the world would know that they are Jesus’s followers. We may not be very good at it. I don’t consider myself good at it. But we’re called to do it, just the same. We keep doing it, be it imperfect as it will be.

We’re to maintain such love as a constant. And that means we’ll have to look over quite a few things. Which of course includes people looking over things in ourselves as well. We should want to be held accountable, but it’s within a fellowship in which love is the measure, indeed the air we breathe. So we’ll be willing to look past many things we don’t like, and will pray about anything we might see as possibly more serious.

Love, love and more love. A love that never ends. That is what characterizes Christ, and what is to characterize the body of Christ, the church in this life. A love for all, and a family love for each other. In and through Jesus.

a life of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2

There is nothing more important that we can actually do other than pray. I would put being in Scripture, in the fellowship of God’s people, and in prayer together. All three are vitally important for us in our following of Christ.

As I consider entering into the latter phase of my life, it may seem and does, that certain possibilities that I used to be interested in are now past. What can I keep doing day after day, while attending to what responsibilities and opportunities remain? Prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Filling my days and nights with prayer. That is an imaginative aspiration.

A kind of dream of mine would be to be a part of an Anabaptist monastic order in which prayers, liturgy, and good works dot and punctuate the days and nights. Such a thing probably doesn’t exist, although there does seem to be some expression of that in such circles.

This has to become something that one just keeps doing regardless of what one is experiencing. And it also can be more of a life and reality in which we live and experience. Both. But one has to keep doing it. Probably something akin to what Jesus did and experienced. As followers of Jesus, by the Spirit we can surely begin to realize some measure of the same.

I am responsible to practice this myself, but also to do so together with others in what is called corporate prayer. We join minds and hearts together in prayer through the Spirit and God’s word.

Above anything else, this is what I wish to practice and where I want to live the rest of the time I have in this life. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

from the place of privilege and power (and willful or unwilful ignorance)

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;
if you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
if you say, “Look, we did not know this”—
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10-12

Today is the second year of the newest US federal holiday, Juneteenth. It commemorates the day when slaves in Texas at last realized that they were free, a freedom that had to be enforced. Unfortunately that freedom was not maintained over the decades following so that there was an ongoing need not only to resist the evil of white supremacy seen in lynchings of blacks, but also the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement to claim basic human rights and equality.

To think that all is much better now so that there’s a level playing field and that all is well and good is simply to be uninformed and ignorant of the problems from the past that are very much present. And it’s a continued refusal to listen and consider the cries of those who suffer not only a secondary status at best, but injustice simply because of their skin color or ethnicity. It is an ongoing problem here in the United States due to white supremacy and the support of that in Christian nationalism, which when looked at is found to be racist so that it really amounts to white Christian nationalism in keeping with its story of the founding of the United States. And with the insistence that history not be taught, for example how much of the US economy and US itself was actually built by slaves.

Juneteenth is celebration for those set free, but it should include the rest of us to consider what this means in the present time, and to lament over the wrong and injury suffered, as well as to lament and resist calls for renewed white supremacist rule thought to return the US to an imagined and fabricated greatness and glory of the past. Make no mistake about it, it seems clear that at least there are forces out there active to bring this all about. And a major part of Christianity here is deafly silent because of the complicity of many with this from its ranks, not to mention it doesn’t seem to have either a sufficient theology and understanding of the gospel along with the will to counter that and present a better alternative.

It is a challenging time. But we have to stand up to it in a peaceful way. Willing though not wanting to risk life and limb but preferring to be facilitators of more needed change. With eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts open to learn from others and from God. And to pray and act accordingly, especially from the lead of those who know firsthand what this is all about. In and through Jesus.

being poor in spirit (spiritual and material)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Our Father in heaven,

Give us today our daily bread.

“No one can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.”

Matthew 5:3; 6:9b,11, 24-34; Luke 6:20b, 24

An outstanding commentary on Matthew I recently returned to the library, along with an excellent podcast made a point from Jesus’s teaching which was fresh, indeed new to me. In my own words with my own understanding of it, it’s the idea that Jesus wants all of his followers, rich and poor, and those somewhere in between to be “poor in spirit.” While “poor in spirit” can certainly include a sense of deep, inward spiritual need, and utter dependence on God, and that’s good, it can also include living as those who are poor in spirit, that is living in material need, always dependent on God.

For those who have plenty of wealth and what comes with that, this makes no sense. But if you see yourself as part of a community in which none should live without their needs being met, and even with some comfort, then you won’t rest in just having enough, and more than enough yourself, thinking that others are responsible for themselves. Actually, in Christ’s calling we’re to all look out for one another. And we’re to be concerned for all those in need: “to the neighbor far away, and the stranger near at hand.”

Of course unlike God, we don’t have limitless resources. But like the widow who gave the last two mites she had, and like the boy with five loaves and two small fishes, we should be willing to give what we do have, and as we’re told elsewhere, the rich should be generous, willing and active in sharing of their resources to those in need.

It’s not like we’re simply talking about mere handouts. There will be plenty of hands out of those who want to live off others. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re referring to those within the baptized community as followers of Christ, how we’re all in this life together for better and for worse, to see each other through. How there should not be a person with needs unmet among us. And we’re referring to those in the world who need a helping hand both in terms of money and to help them help themselves by addressing issues which contribute to poverty, such as systemic injustice of one sort or another, including the rich getting exponentially richer, while the poor can barely make it from one week to the next, often not having adequate healthcare, certainly not the same benefits as their rich counterparts.

How we look at money gets right to the heart of where our hearts are. Or at least that’s the case if Jesus knew what he was talking about. And those of us who profess faith in Jesus are to take all of his words to heart. Or at least that’s what the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John say. Note that “the Great Commission” at the end of Matthew says that Jesus’s followers are to teach all he commanded, and by clear inference, to the end of the age. Jesus tells us that we can’t serve God and wealth. And that therefore we’re to be generous, trusting that the Father will meet all of our needs.

Much more to be said on this, much more that Scripture says. Something to consider as we together seek to follow Christ.

casting out into the deep, venturing into the unknown at Christ’s word

Once while Jesus was standing beside the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to burst. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were astounded at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

This is an interesting, even amazing story at a number of levels. What I would like to dwell on is just one aspect of it. Jesus’s words to those he would subsequently call to be his followers. Telling them to cast their nets into the deep, even though they had just caught nothing after being at it all night. It surely made little to no sense to them. But they did it, and the rest and all that follows is history.

This is akin to what I’ve experienced in the last few years right up to the present time. I’ve been wanting to find a Mennonite fellowship, but none in the area where we moved a few decades back. At a certain point I was informed that there was a new fellowship which had met for some time but had recently become Mennonite. So I looked them up. They were clearly in the activist strain, which was okay to me, but took a strong stand of affirming LGBTQ+ for membership, leadership and marriage. Even though I had questions and tensions with the traditional view, that is where I still landed on that issue at the time. They also take a clear stand in regard to support for the riddance of systemic racism, and I and my wife were totally on board with that.

After getting together with them one Sunday online due to COVID, I decided we just couldn’t go through with this. Deb was leaning on me for the decision during that time, surely praying. And I had a great peace, I take it as psychological now, and slept like a baby. But oddly enough I had a strong sense, it is almost as if the Lord were appearing to me in my imagination, and telling me, You don’t have to come, but I’m very much present here. And so we showed up the next Sunday, and we’ve never turned back.

Around the same time, probably shortly after, it was as if the Lord told me that I need to be in the book of James. And I have ever since, and it has been amazing, even life changing, though of course that is incremental. I’ve come a way, and certainly have a long way to go.

Now something similar is happening to me with regard to anxiety. If you know me, or have read this blog much at all, you’ll realize that anxiety has been an ongoing, nearly always an issue with me. I’ve struggled with it, virtually lived in anxiety for years and decades. Although I think I’ve made some progress in how I deal with it, it still could set me back on my heels and worse. Well recently I think I’m beginning to hear the call to launch out into the deep and simply refuse to worry, to be anxious. And to see the newest thing that comes to mind that would have always made me anxious before, to simply be a new opportunity to refuse anxiety.

Of course, I do so dialing in to what God has provided in Scripture through Christ. We can do none of this on our own, it’s only God’s grace. We’re a part of a small group which has a strong emphasis on grace, and that has helped much. But paradoxically it will require effort on our part. We have to let go of all our strivings and devices, and make ourselves sit at Jesus’s feet.

This is all about launching into the deep at Jesus’s words. The difference maker is Jesus. Not our interpretation of Scripture, which by the way in regard to the LGBTQIA+ issue I think is suspect and is a door slam shut in the face of true Christ followers. Only Jesus. But we have to listen, really listen. And then we have to follow and keep following. Thankfully Christ is always ahead of us and with us. We’re not on our own. And that together. In and through Jesus.

settling down into one’s place

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

1 Corinthians 12:7

In Christ’s body on earth each member has a vital part. We in Christ after all are each and every one a part of the one body of whom Christ is the head. Although this is metaphorical, by the Spirit it’s every bit as real as the fact that we take by faith, that the human (who is also fully divine), the resurrected, ascended Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the place of ultimate authority and power.

Because of all of this, we can be sure that in the way of Christ, but only in the way of Christ, God’s work will be done in this world, as each of us settles down into our own place, fulfilling the calling we have from God through Christ by the Spirit.

This is in terms of the one body in Christ both for its own edification and for its working as a blessing in the world. We each have our part. It may seem too simple, and we might wish we had another part. But it’s crucial even for our own good as well as for the good of all to simply find our part, our place, and settle into that. It will be every bit as touched by God through Christ by the Spirit as anyone else’s gift.

As we continue on in this time and place. In and through Jesus.

making disciples

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

It is true that many hold onto a faith which does involve working at change of life, but seems mostly about the hope of eternal life, sins forgiven, and an emphasis on how undeserving we are. Of course, we’re unworthy in and of ourselves, but there are passages that indicate that somehow God’s grace is at work to make us worthy, to help us live lives worthy of the calling we’ve received.

Why it is that so many are vibrant in an evangelical faith, maybe even a gospel faith, but back to more of the common evangelical faith of today. Evangelical is from the Greek word from the New Testament meaning gospel. But in present evangelical understanding there’s a marked emphasis on assurance of eternal life. Yesterday in a sermon at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio, Lynn Miller said this:

Nothing is more disturbing to the secular culture around us than the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that the evidence of your salvation in Christ is not your belief that you will go to heaven when you die, but the evidence that you are living according to his teachings while you are still alive. And living according to the teachings of Jesus is disturbing. Jesus says he loves the stranger, the widow and the orphan. In this self-centered culture that surrounds us, that is disturbing.

The problem is that the church is not really fully committed if committed at all to the work of making disciples. A disciple is a follower of Christ, committed to following him come what may. Today that is done through faith and baptism through which there is a commitment together as church to hold each other accountable as all together seek to follow Christ in all of life.

Sadly, even in many of the best of churches, there’s mostly an emphasis on the blessed assurance that is ours in Christ which is good, along with practical application of Scripture to help us in our lives. And some are much better in holding people to what Scripture is saying, the challenge there. But it needs to be made clear, no bones about it that if we’re not in to follow Christ, and such following has to be total, complete, than we’re not in the faith taught by Christ and found in the New Testament. Period.

This will be messy and not easy, and we can well understand that if we look at our own lives. But there has to be both the individual committed to Christ within the church, and the church committed to the individual. All of us committed to each other since we are after all a part of each other as one body in Christ. We seek to follow Christ in everything and to do so together. I need other’s help and in God’s economy and will, they need mine as well. In love and prayers, in listening and helping. Through everything. Finding God’s good will for us which includes mission to the world since by our lives we’re light in the Lord. In the way of Jesus, in and through him.