patience in the face of suffering and oath taking

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

James 5:7-12

In light of James’s warning to their rich oppressors, James tells these believers to be patient until the Lord’s coming. Some say James expected the Lord to come within that generation. Maybe so. I’m not sure we can insist the language found here and in other places has to be interpreted that way. I think not. I would rather see it as God’s judgment being soon given the brevity of life, and that it’s imminent in that it could happen any time. And when life is done, judgment is next (Hebrews 9:27). Of course the judgment spoken of here is at the Lord’s second coming. Bear in mind that the future brings not only the resurrection of the righteous, but of the unrighteous, as well (Daniel 12:2).

James point to the farmer as an example of the kind of patience these Christians in faith are to exercise. There is a process which seems to take time along with God’s working. So patience is a necessity in this, yes, “in the face of suffering.” And with that in mind, James now points to the prophets we read of in a good chunk of the Old/First Testament (Hebrew Bible) who spoke in the name of the Lord. Suffering was their lot, as Jesus pointed out later. Persecution and martyrdom. Not easy, when you read their story. Speaking God’s message and living as God’s people will not go unchallenged in one way or another. And lest we think it’s only about identification with God before the world, it may be about our testimony in holding to God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of adversities of any kind, as Job did, even as he presented his case to God. And we remember the end of that story. And I want to just soak in James’s word after these points:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

These words those believers needed to take to heart, and we do too. We wish this for our enemies as well, but if they refuse to respond to this kindness and goodness of God (Romans 2:4), and don’t accept God’s mercy on God’s terms, their end will be according to their deeds. But yes, we need to soak into these words, and let these words soak into us. God’s mercy for us, and for others, yes even for our oppressors. And yet judgment will come, and that too is a word of encouragement, particularly to those who face evil in the form of persecution.

And then James adds a word on oaths. I think it’s in line with making much of taking an oath, as if you are bound by it in a way that you are not bound when simply speaking. God wants our word to be as good as gold so to speak, completely reliable even if not bound legally, morally, and spiritually by taking an oath. Does that mean we can never change our minds, and take back our words, or break our promise? As a rule we shouldn’t. But there may be circumstances when we need to change, or may want to. Which is why we need to choose our words carefully in the first place, if we speak at all. We need to weigh everything in light of what we previously stated and the context. We have enormous freedom, I think, but it needs to be with Spirit-led wisdom. We want to be sure our witness of Jesus is not affected. We want others to see Jesus, and receive for themselves the good news in him. God has what appears to be a change of mind in scripture at times within his unchanging character. There does seem to be some genuine give and take in God’s relationship with people. And God swears an oath as well, we read both in the Old Testament and in the book of Hebrews. So oath taking is not intrinsically evil or wrong. It is the kind of oath taking being done in Jesus’s day and afterward that is evil. As if such an oath is binding in a way that one’s word is not. For God’s people, followers of Christ, there is no place for that attitude or practice.

 

who sets the agenda of our lives?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

interacting with God

I know this post title sounds incredibly pretentious to many. Even many of us in the church can roll up our eyes and shake our heads over some of the claims our fellow Christians make. Yes, we can imagine God’s voice from our own imagination, even if God can speak to us through the imagination.

What I am getting at here is our need as those in Jesus to regularly interact with God. To keep the lines of interaction, even communication open. It is said that God is always speaking and wants to be heard. The problem is not with God, but with us, with our own blindness and stubborness of heart, or just our own condition and habit of not being in tune in heart and mind.

The good news from that, though, is that our very need and lack can become the means by which God’s grace is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit through Jesus. As we pray to God, even cry out to him about the needs we are concerned about, and there are plenty in this life, God will meet us, if in faith we pray to him and listen. Of course that includes the ongoing need for us to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:5-2:2).

This requires a commitment on our part. We’re naturally wired as human beings to see reality in terms of our experience now. So that unless we have the sense of God now, we feel completely lost. Like the difference between standing in the sun, or being in the shade, or a cloudy day and a sunny day. That analogy actually is apt in more ways than one: God’s presence still a difference maker, just like the sun, in either case. Felt presence, the difference here.

Jesus seemed to live his life on earth consciously in the presence of the Father. He often would get away in early morning hours to commune in prayer with the Father. Then in the course of a day, he would be doing this and that, often preaching the word and healing, along with teaching the disciples, so that he was busy. Of course in his case, though he was tempted to sin, and on the cross even felt abandoned by God (many say, because he was, although I don’t think so), he didn’t have the problem of sin which we still struggle with, and at times fall into, and in a sense live, though God’s grace in Jesus makes it in a way as if we do not.

Yet even that sense of our falling short or great need, including our actual sins themselves can help drive us to God. In the words of the tax-collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our great need can work like the thirst the psalmist described as those in a hot, barren land, a thirst for God, to meet God, yes to experience God (Psalm 63).

I know that I am in great need all of the time. I need God, and I need to interact with God, which I do by remaining in God’s word, in scripture. And from that, I pray. Of course we can pray, and it’s good to pray first, but I find that God’s word helps me to respond to God in prayer. And besides that, it’s good just to be silent before God, and especially so, as we continue to meditate on God’s word.

And so yes, I try to remain in a place of interactivity with God. Ironically enough in the rough and tumble of life, I realize my need more for this. Whereas when resting, and having some time to enjoy this or that, especially so during a vacation, it can be more of a challenge to continue this. But when one sees that this is where we in Jesus are to live, that this is real life, such interactivity surely enhances all of life.

And so my goal today, this Saturday, with this and that I need to do, as well as a time of relaxation which hopefully follows is to remain in that interactivity with God, through the word and prayer in and through Jesus.

the text and life

Postmodernism emphasized the subjective, whereas modernism emphasized the objective. Maybe we’re somewhere into post-postmodernism, whatever that is. But while each is erroneous, there is truth in both.

There is no way when I read (or listen to) scripture that my life does not impact what I am reading. It is good to ask God to remove all distractions so that by grace we may attend to him,*  give him our full attention, be still in his presence. Even so I am imagining, and I actually believe that God speaks into our lives, our circumstances. That what God says to us, what is impressed on us, will have an impact on us, on our lives and experience.

Scripture I take as God’s written word. It is a living document which somehow speaks into our lives here and now, into the lives of every generation and culture. God meets us where we live, in and through Christ. There is a sameness about that, even in all the differences that addresses.

Scripture helps us live beyond circumstances without denying them. Somehow in some way that is really beyond us, we come to settle down into a rhythm in which the truth from God in Jesus meets us and our world, even the world as well, and new creation begins to set in. In the midst of the old world that is dying, a new world is coming and will come.

And so I am in the word everyday. I want to read it with others, as well. That God might speak his truth in Jesus. A truth for life, that shapes our lives, and life in this world.

*A necessary aside: God is neither male nor female. Although both male and female in their differences are made in the image of God. I simply use male pronouns for God, as in scripture. I struggle with using God’s Self, or something of the like, grammatically.