Differing Viewpoints

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. “ (1 John 4:4-6 ) [I have added verse 4 and 6b to the original citation.]

The quote paired to this passage from 1 John by Melodie Davis is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” The quote from Emerson influences the reading of the passage by suggesting that the message of God is often overlooked or misunderstood; but is only one of the messages of this passage. Identifying who is speaking and what prominence should be given to what they say is another theme of this passage.

Chapter four starts with a discussion of true spirits and false spirits, namely specifically the antichrist. Obviously the antichrist is going to have a different message and viewpoint than Christ. But such diametrically opposed viewpoints are not the only differing perspectives in the world. Yesterday I spoke about different viewpoints and messages amongst Christianity. For some the difference in messages might as well be as diametrically opposed as Christ and antichrist. In my comments from yesterday I set forth the viewpoint that all Christian messages (if they are true to example that Christ gave) serve the purpose of allowing people to find themselves a place on the Christian spectrum. In a way, this passage is a good follow up to my comments yesterday.

The question is, for those in differing Christian groups, who is truly speaking from God’s viewpoint, and who is speaking from the world’s? Or more succinctly, who is from God and who is not? Spirit of truth and spirit of falsehood? And how in the face of such accusations do we maintain peace amongst ourselves and peace with the world?

May the Spirit of the Holy be amongst us to help us answer the difficult questions and to help maintain peace. Selah!

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Reconciling All

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him (Christ) to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. “(Colossians 1:19-20)

I was listening to the radio this evening, and on the air waves was a program that expresses a much more conservative Christian outlook than I have. On this program the speaker was saying that everything they did was directed by God, and they would not go in any direction or make any plans that they did not feel that God was directing them to. And I had a problem with that. I have to question the level of Christian compassion and acceptance this groups have because they seem to marginalize and condemn people in a way that I do not believe Christ would. But their intentions are good, and they do make a positive impact.

So I was wondering to myself, how can I conceptualize a faith and a God that would direct and be present to such a group? It is a puzzlement that I have had for a long time. And then I realized it is not so much that God is endorsing this group as it is that the Lord is making room for all types of faith, levels of faith, and faith beliefs so that all people regardless of what they may believe would find a place at the Lord’s table. And that is what these verses from Colossians state; that God has reconciled all things to the Godself. It does not mean I have to believe what this groups believes, or endorse it, or even agree with it. It just means I have to let them have their existence and let be in peace.

Now there are some things we have to stand against, some things that cannot be allowed because they violate the law of peace and the law of love that God has set down. And when this group does those things, I need to with Christian kindness correct them and admonish them if and when I would have the opportunity to.

There are some, I am sure, who are wondering what group this is. Well, I am not going to say at this writing. But I will answer if someone asks. This blog and commentary has never sought to post in isolation. We invite and enjoy dialog, so ask away.

May the Lord who sought to reconcile all creation through Christ bring you ever closer to God. Selah!

Loving as Christ loves

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13 )

I want to be heard and understood clearly on this. The commandment of this verse goes beyond peace/shalom. The concept of peace and shalom says that we do all we can to insure the peace and well-being of another. These verses, verse twelve and thirteen (the commandment of verse twelve is incomplete without the exemplar of verse thirteen), go beyond the establishing and propagation of peace/shalom. The is the commandment of self-sacrifice which is what Christ did for us. I could stop at this basic clarification. But if I did, I would be stopping short as shalom stops short of self-sacrifice.

If peace/shalom is not possible, and the loved one is threatened with violence and harm for the lack of peace/shalom, self-sacrifice says “Take me so that the loved one will be spared.” Christ was able to take the place of the loved one so that the loved one would never be threatened by the violence of sin and evil, ie, redemption and salvation from sin is possible. We as humans cannot make our self-sacrifice stretch so far; but that does not mean we should hold back from self-sacrifice.

Now, I have something to admit. I am human, and being human there are some people I can think of who I would not sacrifice myself for. I will not name them, but suffice to say that they are not people who I am in daily contact with and I cannot imagine a scenario where they would be in peril that I could save them from. But I know in my heart that I could not and would not sacrifice myself for them. These are not enemies of mine, but simply person(s) from whom my caring has limits. Perhaps you too know for whom you could not and would not sacrifice yourself for. Are we disobeying Christ’s commandment? I do not know. And I am not sure I wish to know.

I tell you this so that you may know it is possible to live in peace/shalom with all people (as I try to do and at this writing I am doing) and yet not have complete sacrificial love. We are human, and such love is a Divine love that we can aspire too but are hard pressed to achieve. May you, as you are able, live both in complete shalom and love. Selah!

Bridle that tongue!

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.  (James 3:2)

It’s useful to include the next line, too:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

This is near the start of a section that James writes about “the tongue,” or our human ability to speak. He starts by warning that many people should not become teachers, because they are more at risk of judgment (whether divine or human judgment, he does not say; perhaps he means both, but more likely divine judgment it what he has in mind). He uses a number of analogies to describe the tongue: a thing that might be controlled by a bit and bridle, like a ship’s rudder, or a fire that can burn down a large forest, like a spring that runs both sweet and salt. One might even say that he goes on too long, but that would, oddly, prove his point.

James’s first image is that of a bit and bridle. Put a bit in a horse’s mouth, and we can make it do our will. Control our tongue, and we can bridle our whole body. The expression “keep … in check” in Greek is literally something like “self-bridle,” with the noun, “bridle,” being repeated in the next line.

I don’t want to harp on my plane trip experience of yesterday, but I was reminded of something that happened to me a long time ago when a flight went bad, and I was frustrated and angry. I am not someone who likes to treat customer service representatives badly. Generally, they are just trying to do their hard jobs, implementing the policies of others. In this case, though, I was so tired and frustrated and angry, I felt like I literally had no control over my tongue: I found myself ranting and berating the representative, unable to stop myself. It did feel like a wild horse running away with me.

And of course, I find the same thing true in myriads of less angry ways. When I teach, I find myself having to fight against the urge to tell people everything I know (or think I know). For example, did you really need to know that thing about the Greek above, or was I just showing off my ability to work my way around an interlinear New Testament and Greek lexicons?

Saying the right word at the right is the work of a lifetime. No wonder so many Mennonites are so reserved! “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding,” as Proverbs 17:28 says. Or, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Showers of righteousness

Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD , until he comes and showers righteousness on you.  (Hosea 10:12)

I’m stuck in the Detroit airport. I left San Francisco at 10:30 pm last night (Pacific time), and just managed to get on the flight to Kalamazoo (where I live). We waited a long time on the ground (a possibly faulty brake part), had to have the plane de-iced, and then started towards Kalamazoo. We got all the way to Kalamazoo, but they decided they couldn’t land safely, so we came back to Detroit, where we waited on the ground again as we came in. No fun! My fellow passengers were pretty upset, but I don’t have a lot of appointments today, so it’s not so bad for me.

It’s times of frustration like these that I hope I have sowed seeds of righteousness so that I can reap patience and assurance instead of anger and frustration. Frankly, it seems like a good burger did me more towards righting my attitude. (Well, actually, it wasn’t actually all that good a burger. Let me suggest you avoid the Fudd Ruckers at DTW. But it did provide fuel). I think I’m less impatient and frustrated than I would be, say, ten years ago.

In any case, this scripture promises an eventual “showers of righteousness” from God, which sounds non-dependent on the seeds we have planted.

How has God sown righteousness in your life?

We are only human!

“Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mark 14:37 )

I have had some mid-range computer problems today. Due to some prudent backing up and saving, and then copying important items to another drive, I think I have the problems solved. The next few days will tell.

Unfortunately my computer problems put me in a bad mood temporarily, and I have been shorter with my family then they deserve. In this respect, I am only human.

So to counter my grumpy mood, I have been eating more chocolate than I really should. Again, I am only human.

I commented to my daughter, the way my day has gone I wish I had followed my first impulse this morning and pulled the covers over my head and ignored the day. Once again, human foibles raise their head.

When Simon Peter fell asleep while Jesus was praying, he was only being human too. But consider, that when Jesus was praying fervently in the garden for strength and courage for the coming days, he was exhibiting human trepidation too. But Jesus, being both human and divine, was able to overcome his human nature and fulfill his divine purpose.

We have a divine purpose too. To carry out God’s wishes, commands, and laws in this world. If/when we fail, we are being human. But in those moments when we overcome our human nature and show forth those characteristics that are God inspired, we have briefly touched the Divine. What an honor and privilege! Especially for a being that is so human!

The good news for me, and for you (and for my family) is that tomorrow is a new and fresh day in which we can try again to emulate the Divine. May you, and I, take that opportunity because Jesus was able to fulfill the tasks he was sent to do. Shalom!

Mustard seed superheroes

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

My aunt had a Bible with a zipper that had a tab containing a small, clear plastic ball. Encased in the ball was a mustard seed. I remember looking at the seed and wondering what it was; it wasn’t until later that I learned the expression from Jesus, “the faith of a mustard seed.”

I find it interesting that Jesus answers their question in the way he did. Did he really think what they wanted was to throw mulberry trees into the sea? I imagine that a superhero whose special power was throwing mulberry trees into the sea would have a limited following. I think–perhaps–that this is a joke on Jesus’ part. In any case, Jesus is telling them that they already have enough faith, or that the faith implanted in them was already sufficient.

Faith is one of those words that is so hard to pin down. Christians and other religious believers are often criticized for believing in things without evidence. And often we are rightly so criticized, because faith is sometimes defined as believing without or despite evidence. The ability to telekinetically cast mulberry trees into the sea has never been observed, and all the evidence suggests its impossibility. But ask a Christian if she could do so, she’d probably say yes–if her faith was “enough,” or “sufficient.” How silly this makes us look!

Instead, we might ask what we are supposed to be about. In another use of “mustard seed,” Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a mustard seed that is planted and grows into a great tree “where birds can come and find shelter in its branches.” Jesus doesn’t call us to be workers of physical miracles, but to be part of his growing, sheltering kingdom. This does require faith, and even more so, faithfulness. Though the church has never been good at tree-throwing, it has, at times, been good at nurturing changed lives, providing shelter for those in need, and seeing God’s kingdom grow in love.

The superheroes that the Kingdom of God creates perform works of extraordinary love. How will God’s love shine through you this week? Do you believe you have enough faith for this? It doesn’t really matter; Jesus reminds you that you already have enough faith to love.

Update: Read fellow-contributor Carole Boshart’s article A Mountain Of Doubt … Into The Sea Of Faith at Third Way Café.