loyalty for the sake of the gospel

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus,because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 1:15-18

The distinguishing mark of the Christian is loving one another, not being “right,” not even being holy, although a central part of true holiness is this distinctive love in Jesus. And it’s a love which embraces even enemies. But might have to expose those who are doing harm to others, especially with reference to the faith of the gospel.

In the Apostle Paul’s last letter, he noted what the NIV‘s heading calls “Examples of Disloyalty and Loyalty.” In Paul’s case, he was so closely aligned to the gospel, that loyalty to Paul meant loyalty to the gospel which for him was front and center, always, in terms of both his message and his very life. Paul became all things to all people so that by all possible means, he might save some. And that he did for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

We might define loyalty as being present for someone first of all, because like us, they are human, and made in God’s image. And then also, doing so for the sake of the gospel. And that presence being in terms of being for them. This will sometimes involve forgiving, which we all need at times, and sometimes we won’t be able to do anything more than pray for them, which after all, is the greatest thing we can do for each other.

Loyalty is important, and actually like God in that the God who is Love, pledges God’s Self to humankind, that pledge being covenantal in God actually becoming one of us in the Son, and taking upon himself the evil of humanity, to free humanity from that evil. God’s loyalty to us plays out in all kinds of ways. Like in the case of Cain before he murdered his brother Abel, God faithfully warned Cain, and tried to call him into his blessing (Genesis 4). As it ended up, God did not even prevent Cain’s murder of faithful Abel, which seems more than a bit of a mystery in our eyes, although we too easily get used to such, so that we can become jaded. But we have to look at the bigger picture, and accept the fact that God is faithful and loyal, and that we are called to that same loyalty.

I don’t believe people, including too many Christians are all that loyal in the way described above. Too often we divide along the lines of politics, which can seem to be as divisive as in the days of the American Civil War, when in some cases, brothers in the same family fought on different sides. We divide or simply become disloyal for a whole host of other reasons. When I find something of that in another, I find something that is lacking, period. If I see something like that in myself, I see something that needs confession, repentance, and prayer. We are loyal to others for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. And we are in need of that same loyalty ourselves.

I lose faith in the kind of Christianity which can cut another off, or doesn’t find room to include them. After that, I have a hard time receiving from such a source. We must always live and breathe and think and pray in terms of this loyalty derived from the God who is Love, and grounded in the gospel, the good news which is in Jesus. I believe when people do this, whoever they are, they actually need to repent and get back to the true basic, the covenantal love of God in the gospel. That is the one fellowship or communion which will last, and through which we seek to embrace everyone, even our enemies, in the same way which we ourselves have been embraced, in and through Jesus.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

This Memorial Day we remember those who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way, and those who suffer, or have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Most of the time those in that service can’t escape the possibility of danger and death.

Our Lord calls anyone who would follow him to count the cost. What might be exacted is nothing less than life itself. In the case of our Lord, the call is for complete, total devotion to the end. There are no ands, ifs, or buts, no strings attached. We either follow completely, or we don’t really follow at all. At times I feel like I’m in that gray area in which I am struggling over this or that matter. It’s not like I’m purposefully no longer following. But taken up with imagined or even real troubles, I am struggling to come to terms with the matter, which for me will always mean getting back to going on in the Lord with others, come what may.

To count the cost is to come to terms with the truth which requires the commitment that because Jesus is the Lord and King, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” we follow him no matter what, even when we have to struggle to do so. Which for me means more or less a struggle most of the time.

Jesus wants us to count the cost so that we will learn to keep following no matter what. And with the realization that at the end all will be joy and peace for ever in his Presence, in God’s salvation of the world in and through him.

prayer for Memorial Day

O King and Judge of the nations: We remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our armed forces, who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy; grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

prayer

O God, the protector of all those who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply in us your mercy, that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

the grace of trouble

The last thing any one of us wants is trouble. We would like a trouble free existence. But a healthy acceptance that each day will come with its own set of problems, and that there will come some major issues along the way, is surely a part of growth in maturity. It is almost certain that we will shrink back from what we perceive to be major trouble. That is when we purposefully need to apply our faith, all the more.

And that is at the heart of what I’m calling (and probably heard/read somewhere, as) the grace of trouble. There is no question that the challenges of life can help us grow. We hone our skills, and do what we have to do, not only to survive, but hopefully even to thrive. But it doesn’t come without a cost. The cost often is pain, and sometimes having to work through certain limitations so that we are stronger, or know better how to cope with the difficulties which come our way. This can be part of the “common grace” God bestows on the human race, a gift to help people through their troubles. But we need to not only acknowledge “the Giver of all good things,” but come to that Giver to receive help in our time of need.

The Bible, and I think particularly of the psalms is loaded with passages pertaining to the faithful believing being hard pressed in this life with all kinds of trouble coming their way, sometimes self-inflicted, oftentimes suffered from the hands of others. When trouble comes our way, especially the kind which can be debilitating to us in the fear and anxiety which set in, we need to avail ourselves of prayer and the word of God. And we need to do so in the communion of the church, our regular participation in that, which might call for our request for special prayer and counsel.

It is just as important to have a healthy acceptance that trouble is part and parcel of life, as it is to come to God again and again with our trouble. We don’t want to live as those who are taken up all the time with our own problems. But we have to deal with them, and after doing so, yes, even in the midst of that, we can find that God’s help for us can extend into the lives of others. Each one ordinarily is having their own trouble. As God gives us help and relief even if that might be unbeknownst to us, we can end up being a blessing to others in similar trouble. Even if that blessing is in nothing more than an empathetic sigh and tear, and an offering to God in prayer concerning their plight, along with a plea for their blessing. As we look forward to the day when all the troubles of this world will be past in and through Jesus our Lord.

part of the problem with church today

Church has been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh rhetoric, often in favor of Jesus, but in disfavor of Jesus’ professing followers. And it is in decline in some places, holding its own in other, while exploding in growth in the southern and eastern parts of the world.

This piece is certainly worth considering. The clash he says is between God and Mammon (the love of money):

That’s the real clash of civilisations: the shopping centre (now moved online) versus the temple, a battle between those who are wealthy enough to think in terms of the first person singular and those forced to think in terms of the plural collective. There are only two globalisations: God and mammon. And they will never fully be reconciled.

Although there is church growth in this part of the world, this seems tenuous at best. There are, in my opinion, very good churches, which in numbers may be just holding their own at best. While there are what is called megachurches, which either have grown, and could well still be growing in numbers of those attending, yet may or may not really be centered in the gospel, and God’s will in Jesus, in which the church has a central part. Many times such churches are valued in significant part because of personalities, as in good pastors; those attending often focused on such things as whether or not they get much out of the sermons, good worship music, good programs for their kids, good fellowship (and coffee), etc. And that can be all well and good in its place. But the critical question is whether or not such churches are about making true disciples of our Lord, as well as being Christ’s body in the world.

Churches which seem to be treading water may actually be doing better in making disciples at least within their ranks. Of course new disciples in turn should eventually be making other disciples, that practice and dynamic going on exponentially. In the Spirit’s moving in power in the global South and East, this most certainly is the case, Africa and China being prime examples.

It is good to try to understand better what we’re up against in the limitations of our own personal perspectives, and within society at large. Church planting is a difficult calling here, I think, and for more reasons than touched on in this post. But the Spirit of God is still active, and can penetrate even through our dullness in the western world. We dare not lose hope, but rather should aspire to be in the Lord, even if it’s on a relatively small scale, a witness in word, deed, and life of the transforming and distinctive work of God through the gospel. Remember how the prophet says that God does not despise the day of small things, and that small is where the kingdom of God in Jesus begins. We should work at growing in the life that others need, that we all need, together in and through Jesus.