who sets the agenda?

Some people are excited over the new president of the United States. Others might be excited about this or that, so that their thoughts and lives end up being preoccupied with that. There are a host of factors which influence what we do, and the bottom line seems to be somehow securing some sort of happiness. Is that wrong? I think not. I believe God created us for a life that is abundant in realizing the fulfillment of our humanity, or what it means to be human. The question ends up being, just who determines that, and why does that matter?

The freedom that seems to be in vogue now is simply to fulfill whatever desires and dreams one has. A self-fulfillment which has nothing to do with any notion of truth, but everything to do with a freedom which is determined simply in how one feels, their desires. And from that people say that what is true for you, might not be true for me, in other words it may not work for me in realizing my self-fulfillment, or simply in letting me be and do what I want.

For us in Jesus there is only one who sets the agenda: God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit: the Triune God. Jesus is Lord, period. And all other authorities have their authority only under him, under God. What they say, and their values are not determinative for us, even if they might have legitimacy in their place.

The one who sets our agenda is the Lord, King Jesus, by his person, teaching and work, through the gospel, the good news, which really is Jesus, and is actually all throughout the Final/New Testament. That is where we find the truth for life, the true humanity fulfilled in him, and from that, real, neverending freedom. But that freedom is a byproduct. We follow and submit to God in Jesus no matter what. God is the one who sets our agenda.

in Jesus we are invited to intimacy and enthronement with him

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire,so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3:14-22

We may live in a Laodicean kind of age, not at all related to any dispensational scheme, but with something of the kind of Christianity we see in the Laodicean church of old. They were well off and satisfied with their lives, even as they named the name of Christ. But Jesus told them that there was something vitally missing. It wasn’t necessarily that they lacked a personal relationship with Jesus altogether, though it does seem weak at best. They are told that they are loved by God, and therefore being disciplined, at least that is intimated.

About a personal relationship with Jesus. I know that is bashed in some quarters of the church, but even if it might be overemphasized by some, while other matters of importance which are also central to the faith are largely ignored, it still, I say, is important. We have to keep reading scripture to really see if that’s the case, but I think a fair reading of the Final, New Testament will amply bring that out.

Yes, Jesus is on the outside knocking, so to speak. He wants a close fellowship, or communion with us. That is among other things which is at the heart of the faith, and in a way, we might say, at the heartbeat of it all.

And the idea that we’re not in a battle, and that it should all go easy if we’re in the Spirit is simply not a matter of fact either in reality, or in the pages of the Bible, including the New Testament. We are, and to realize that, we can say, is half the battle. Of course being “in the Spirit” will help us deal with the hard places, but it is no less a battle, of course spiritual in nature.

And what we’re promised if we’re victorious in and through Jesus is shocking and mind boggling. We are told that we’ll end up sitting with Jesus on his throne, even as Jesus after his victory sat with his Father on his throne. I can just imagine millions upon millions upon millions getting to take their turn seated with Jesus on his throne, and in the Spirit somehow always seated with Jesus on his throne. It’s interesting that even now we are seated with the ascended Christ, who is at the right hand of God, enthroned with the Father; that we are seated with him positionally, and perhaps by the Spirit there (Ephesians 1-2).

And so a close intimacy in knowing Jesus seems tied to being victorious in him in this life, so that in the end we are honored with him in and through him. As long as we’re in this present life, both are of vital importance.

…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8

 

dialing down expectations

One of the greatest problems of society, and of us in our lives is the problem of unrealized expectations, or probably more accurately and helpfully put, unrealistic expectations. One of the most in your face and crudest kind out there is that of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel preachers. They are a dime a dozen, and not worth any of it. I would not mince my words to one, whose letters and whatever it was he sent back, was aimed at a poor man who was grasping on to whatever hope he had to recover from the dementia which was setting in, sending in x number of dollars to get this or that blessing from someone who is (or was) exceedingly wealthy himself.

I am not referring here, I hope, to lack of faith, so that we don’t expect God to fulfill his promises, and rather than shoots six or seven or more arrows out there, we only shoot three like that faithless king of Israel of old. Not at all. We ought to trust in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus, even literally. So that we do expect nothing less than the righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit promised to us in the kingdom now present in Jesus (Romans 14). Yes, we do ourselves and no one else any favor, when we don’t believe God’s promises to us.

But we need to read the entire Bible, not just the precious promise part. There’s plenty in there which you’re either not likely to find, or never would see in a precious promise book, whatever good such books might actually do. Yes, we need the “very great and precious promises” of God (2 Peter 1) for sure, and we need to hold on to them for dear life. But we need to see them in the context of taking up our cross and following, and being ready for “the dark night of the soul,” as well as arming ourselves for the spiritual warfare by being willing to suffer as Christ did (1 Peter 4).

I don’t care for that kind of message, myself, or at least there’s a large part of me which doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s another part of me which does, I suppose the inherent skeptical part, and for the good of me and others, it is best that I swallow the entire revelation of God given to us in the word, and through Christ, not just the parts that I like. The parts which may not taste as well at first, anyhow, may be the most nourishing and good for the soul, but we need it all. We need to really take in, and perhaps dwell at length on sections we might, left to ourselves, ignore, like the book of Lamentations, to name just one book among many other such parts of scripture.

Dialing down expectations might help us sift the wheat from the chaff, as we learn the way and freedom of self-restriction in place of the lie of unlimited freedom (Alexander Solzhenitsyn), the way of Jesus, and as we embrace that way both outwardly and inwardly, the way of the cross. And then find the true love of God and abundant eternal life as we look forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, in and through Jesus.

just because

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4

We depend on reason, yet we often really are not all that reasonable as in logical and consistent in our reasoning. When it’s all said and done, Christianity is the most reasonable of all faiths because of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (see review of a chapter written by N. T. Wright, entitled, “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?”). I don’t want to fall into a John Locke Enlightenment scheme, in which our faith is in lock step with rationalism. But the faith is not irrational, even if it is definitely suprarational, transcending it as well.

The problem for us with our rationality is in large part the confidence we tend to want to put in it. So that certainty (certitude) can become more or less an idol to us. If we can just be certain about this or that, then we can find rest, and all can be good in our world. Where is God in that equation? And if there is a God, and specifically, the God of the Bible, who knows anything in comparison with God? (See the book of Job.) God alone knows everything, and we know nothing at all like God knows it. It is easy to understand how people fall into rationalism and become inherent skeptics (see the book of Ecclesiastes) apart from faith in God. But for us who have faith in God, such a stance is ironically irrational indeed.

Scripture calls us to a faith in God, no less. Not in reason, not even in our own God-given reason, although in this call, scripture appeals to reason. The only rational choice for us who have faith is to trust the One who knows the end from the beginning, and the depths of everything in between, and knows exactly what is going on, and why, and God’s purposes in it all.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

“Just because.” We trust in God because we know that God alone knows it all, that God in and through Jesus, has our backs (and our fronts and sides), and above all, because “God is love.” Being love, God wants us to live in that love, as well as in the faith, all of this in and through Jesus.

And so that is where I land today, and hopefully everyday in whatever time I have left. Thankful that it doesn’t depend on me, and on me getting it, but in the God who is love. In and through Jesus. And somehow, “just because.”

a commitment not to worry

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

A good number (thankfully) of years back I called in to a radio program in which a wise pastor and writer was taking phone calls and answering questions. I was sick of whatever it was I was struggling with, likely worry, and I asked whether one could simply make the commitment not to sin, and be able to follow through on that. I probably and hopefully knew better from my own reading of scripture and theology, though had been influenced in the past by a holiness group which aspired to “a second work of grace” which was supposed to “eradicate the sin nature.” I certainly considered anxiety or worry a sin, not trusting in God, having a wife who made that clear, that to worry meant that I wasn’t trusting the heavenly Father. And it was coming to a head for me, so that I wanted to get rid of an exacerbating problem, once and for all. Enough was enough.

I like to see the commands in scripture as loving directives of the Father, who doesn’t come down hard on us when we fail, and we inevitably do at times. And I know that some of us have more of a propensity toward worry than others, some suffering with anxiety attacks who might benefit much from medication and counseling. I get that. And it might be true to some extent that I fit in that category, although worry is not something I wrestle with every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever had an anxiety attack. Just the same, I am beset with worry and anxiety probably more than any other weakness. Amy Simpson, by the way wrote a most helpful book on the subject, which I would do well to reread: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

We most certainly need to read the entire book of Philippians (quote above), and keep reading the entire Bible to get everything in context, so that we see the bigger picture. It’s certainly not about us and our agendas, but about God’s good will in Jesus, and the gospel, and from that living the life of love in God. But I have found a bit of a freedom in viewing, in the hard places, God’s commands as something of God’s enablings by grace and through Jesus, to help us do better. I certainly like the idea of simply deciding not to worry.

As Amy Simpson adeptly points out in her book, the emotion of anxiety is not something we can deal with; if we’re anxious, we’re anxious. Worry is our own preoccupation with one thing or another, maybe even a number of things, usually one at a time, in which we are afraid of this or that, what might happen. It actually does expose the reality that we’re failing to trust the heavenly Father, as Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount.

And so, by grace, and endeavoring to do what we’re told to do in Philippians 4:6-7 (see above), I want to once again commit myself to trusting in God’s provision and care for our needs, and that whatever happens, the Lord will be present with us, and never forsake us. And for me it seems like a good focus point is the refusal not to worry, or be anxious in the sense of worrying. Instead I will once again be endeavoring to trust in God. While not abandoning my own responsibility for this or that, which can make this tricky, since the problem isn’t necessarily out of the picutre (it can be in and out, for sure). I will be seeking through meditation on the word and prayer, to find God’s peace, and live well with it. Something I’m sure I’ll have to do again and again. While hoping I’m growing more in a maturity which makes worry less and less a problem, as I learn to trust.

 

the gospel breaks the color barrier

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

Maybe my biggest disappointment with the church as I’ve seen it for the most part, with notable exceptions, is just how monochrome, or segregated most churches are on any given Sunday. It is understandable, yet sad at the same time, in my view. God’s grace covers us, and there’s a history behind it. And it’s not like churches who are white or black want to be segregated. There are different cultures involved, and people are at home in different places.

But the gospel is meant to bring together those who likely would never do so apart from it. What is true concerning Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God as one body (Ephesians 2:11-22) is also true of all peoples, bringing for example Palestinians and Jews together through the cross, through Jesus’s death, along with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, everyone. The reconciliation to God extends no less to each other through the good news in Jesus, and the Spirit who makes us one in him.

As a witness to the gospel, and the saving power it brings, we need to show the world how we can work through the barriers, whatever they may be. How our unity in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the love of God in Jesus supercedes all distinctions, breaks down all animosities and hostilities, through Christ’s death, and our repentance and faith, and brings the promised healing and shalom. This new world is now present through Christ in his body the church. As a witness to the world, and as part of the salvation we ourselves need, in and through Jesus.

prayer for the second Sunday after Epiphany

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer