a better way

When Jesus came he brought in a new way which we read in Hebrews is better than the old. There is most certainly significant continuity between the old and new covenants. But with Jesus comes a radical newness, indeed a fulfillment of the old, but not entirely predictable by the old. Like what C.S. Lewis describes in one of his writings when the new world is unveiled. Unimaginable before but is a perfect fulfillment or end to the old world. When God created, the goal was not creation but new creation out of the old through Jesus.

Under the old covenant oaths were not only common, but holy. As was the taking of human life at various times. Not to say there wasn’t plenty of sin going on around that, although these acts themselves were not counted as sin, and perhaps indeed were not sin in themselves during that time.

But now Jesus forbids oath taking, or swearing as in taking a vow; as well as killing, the taking of human life. Indeed in Jesus enters into this old world a new way, yes a better way, indeed the way, the truth and the life. The kingdom of God come in Jesus is the paradigm now by how the entire world is judged. Of course the new replaces the old by virtue of God’s saving work in Jesus. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection all is to undergo the same baptism so to speak through death into new life. Those who refuse this way will be judged with destruction.

Instead of oath taking, our word is to be good in itself. We are holy in Jesus and we are to fulfill what we promise, as well as be true to our words. Never are we intentionally to violate what we have said before God and man. We are made in God’s image and being remade through Jesus toward the goal of perfectly reflecting and indeed bearing that image.

And we are never to take the life of any human. Our way in Jesus is the way of life to all, including our enemies. To not only spare their lives, refusing tit for tat, but also praying that they will receive the new and eternal life in Jesus. Our way in Jesus indeed is the way of the cross. This is in opposition to the way of the sword. We do indeed resist evil, but only with God’s love, the love of God in Jesus, indeed a cruciform love. So that while we would avoid martyrdom if possible, we would give up our own lives before taking the life of another.

People need to see the new and better way, the way of Jesus in us. They need to see that we are different than the world. That we do indeed love our enemies by praying for them, doing good, and not resisting evil in the way the world does–with retaliation. But rather seeking to overcome evil by doing good. This is all found in the pages of our New Testament. We need to read them beginning in the gospels and note well the difference in the better way that is in Jesus.

I know I’ve applied this term “better” from the Book of Hebrews in a way that book does not in applying it to our words and actions toward enemies. I am assuming that while better applies to all the term is attached to in Hebrews, in a secondary loose way, we can apply that across the board to all that is of the new covenant. And that even if Hebrews did not use that term, it would be arguably justified when considering the fulfillment in Jesus in comparison to what it fulfills. Though we are probably unwise to try to imagine such a possibility since God’s revelation is important in each part.

Rachel Held Evans on the witness the world needs

It’s always a little embarrassing when you come out swinging and there’s nobody there to fight with you. I think that’s how a lot of us felt when we realized that the world wasn’t asking the questions we had learned to answer. Many of us who grew up in the church or received Christian educations were under the impression that the world was full of atheists and agnostics and that the greatest threat against Christianity was the rise of secular humanism. But what we found upon entering the real world was that most of our peers were receptive to spiritual things. Most believed in God, were open to the supernatural, and respected ideas so long as they were not forced upon them…They weren’t searching for historical evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They were searching for some signs of life among his followers.

Not once after graduating from Bryan was I asked to make a case for the scientific feasibility of miracles, but often I was asked why Christians aren’t more like Jesus. I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant, and unkind. People didn’t argue with me about the problem of evil; they argued about why Christians aren’t doing more to alleviate human suffering, support the poor, and oppose violence and war. Most weren’t looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions.

Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, 203-4.

See Justin Topp’s review of her book, and here is my review.

prayer for the eighth Sunday after the Epiphany

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

the great political divide

Jesus brings to earth in the kingdom of God the great political divide. Which makes the divide between Democrats and Republicans small in comparison. Yes, there’s validity in worldly politics in that there are some good things, even many, that occur through it. Along with bad things, and much in between. It is a rather hit and miss project. And misses entirely in terms of the total project in seeing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

Enter Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him, beginning when he appeared some 2,000 years ago, and continuing on until the time he reappears when heaven and earth become one in him in the new creation. With that comes a politics which is not from this world, but for it. We see it most clearly in one place in the Sermon on the Mount. And it is found throughout the gospels, directing the world toward the climax when through Jesus, God is all in all, and the kingdom of God brings in the true shalom.

“In Jesus” is where this kingdom of God finds its footing in this world. It is in the church, no less, in spite of its weakness since it consists of people like you and me. Or better said, what is actually present in Jesus is intended to be worked in and out of the church for the world. That it might have a leavening (in the good sense) effect on this world, including entities such as political parties. We in Jesus should not think of politics primarily in terms of Republican or Democrat, Independent, or any other entity or category of this world. But in terms of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, beginning to work that out in the here and now in Jesus.

Piety that focuses on our own spiritual life and ends there is not enough, because it fails to reflect the end of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves: the Jesus Creed.

When you think of politics, what comes to mind? How should Christians view the politics of this world? Where does the hope of the world lie?

Thanks to Allan R. Bevere and Scot McKnight who have helped me in my thinking along this line. My thoughts here may or may not line up entirely with their thinking on this subject.

it is our lives that speak

It is possible to speak quite eloquently, yes even to pray with moving, powerful words which challenge as well as minister to the hearers. And yet if the life does not back up what is spoken, those words and prayers begin to sound hollow and empty. On the other hand it’s possible to stammer around, to hardly be able to put one coherent sentence together with another. In the most simple words. And yet that stammering and those words can end up being full of meaning and power. Because the life backs up what is said.

I have seen this firsthand, and it challenges me in my life. I am one as you would guess, or more like know, who can be full of words. Of course we with that tendency have to be all the more on guard over what we say. But what really speaks to people in the end is not what we say apart from our lives: who we are and what we do. In fact our lives can speak volumes, even if we say very little or even nothing at all. One is reminded of the saying: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.”  That could well be regarded as a maxim, not to be taken literally so much as to communicate an important point, which we do well to take to heart and life.

Of course all is grace. We need to be praying that our lives would have the mark of God on them by the Spirit through his grace in Jesus. That we would really be consistently living out lives of love for God and for our neighbor (including our enemies). Of course none of us are sinless or match the depth and beauty of our Lord. But we should ever be seeking to grow beyond where we are, so that more and more people might see Jesus in us. That our lives together may speak to the world who needs to see what we have, in Jesus.

sin is a delusion

Of course sin is that which is not of God, not in harmony with God, and goes against God.  It is what we humans live in apart from God’s grace in Jesus. And even in God’s grace in Jesus, we are not fully emptied of it. At its heart, sin is a delusion.

That comes across most powerfully to us when we are enchanted by a spell that can come over us, and if we’re not careful, recognizing it for what it is and resisting it, it can take over our lives. Lust is a prime example, which we are deluded to see as love, though honest, painstaking reflection should expose the lie for what it is. Or grandiose plans to “succeed” in life and live “the good life” which ends up for most, out of reach. And for those who reach it, they find that it is not all it was cracked up to be. Or it is not enough.

The world, the flesh and the devil are all in alliance to keep humankind in the grip of sin’s delusion. We need to know this, and then begin by faith to take up the resources from the victory that is in Jesus to live as those who overcome. Who more and more escape sin’s delusion to live more and more in the reality which is from God in Jesus.

There are times when we will experience attack. It may take a day or so for it to wear off, but be assured that it will, if we resist such an advance by faith and through Jesus. We will then come to see the lie that is in it. The lie that we’ve missed out, or are missing out somehow. Not to say that sin does not have its pleasure for a season. But in the end it leaves us empty and devoid of real life. Rather, we are to rest in the truth as it is in Jesus, and live in that reality.

This delusion is present throughout the world, doing its harm everywhere, through injustice as well as personal sins. As we are more and more grounded together in the truth which is in Jesus–a grounding which does not mean we’re above the fray, or not needing confession and restoration along the way–we together can be a help to others. Indeed that is what God calls us as Christ’s Body to do. Not only to look after and take care of each other. But also to live out the way of Jesus which is for the world. With him as the Head, we his Body are to live out the truth of this reality which is in him. And we are to bring that reality into other’s lives, and into all of life in this world.

personal devotions: not

There is a tradition among evangelicals called “personal devotions”,  “devotions”, or “quiet time.” Devotions is a time set aside each day when someone meets the Lord through Bible study and prayer. Our pastor Jack through Facebook directed us to this thoughtful expose of it.

I have not had personal devotions for years now. In Jesus we live all day (and all night) in God’s Presence. So in a true sense not one time or one place, nor one event is more sacred than the rest. We stand on holy ground all the time. Yet if we’re to emulate Jesus as in following him and his example, which I think in a sense we most definitely are called to do, than we should take special times to draw near to God. Times of listening to God through his word/scripture, and prayers. But they need to be a natural part of who we are. Not something we tack on even for a good end as simply the means of that. But rather an expression of the life and love which are ours in the grace of God through Jesus.

Does that mean we should avoid doing something unless we want to do it? Hopefully our wants are coming more and more in line with God’s revealed will in Jesus and as found in scripture. But I think not. I can’t live on my feelings, or even wants. Although I would hope that the overriding passion and will of my life is to live in God’s will. In the words of Jesus: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Instead of having my “quiet time” I hope I am having “devotions” and “quiet times” regularly as I seek to live before the God who is always Present and active in my life, and in life all around us. If having a special time each morning which you cherish and guard out of love for God, if that is how you do it, very good. You probably have a leg up on me in that regard. But if it’s done simply out of a “have to” mentality, then it is worthless in God’s eyes. God wants our devotion, our hearts, our love, our all. Not some work we do for him merely out of duty, even slavish, greatly sacrificial duty. As the post linked above (first link) eloquently tells us.

Let us remember that we live in God’s Presence always. And in that let us learn to glorify God more and more in all of life responding to his grace. With ongoing repentance and faith, along with the hope and love that are ours in Jesus, lived out together for the world.

friendship

What a difference a friend can make! While we may many friends in a true, yet rather distant sense, we are fortunate if we need more than the fingers on one hand to count friends who are close. Sometimes maybe too close for comfort, and yet in such friendships there is a grace that more than tolerates that, but welcomes it.

Jesus told his disciples that they were more than servants to him; they were indeed his friends. Because he had made known to them his heart. Friendship is rooted in love. We have a kind of love for another, just as David loved Jonathan as himself, and in his memorial tribute to Jonathan exclaimed that Jonathan’s love was more wonderful to him than the love of women. Of course he meant the close friendship which they had. Rare, so very rare, so that people mistakenly chalk up David’s love as something else.

We should be known as people who are more than just friendly, but who want to be friends. Of course there are limitations. We should be friends first and foremost to certain people, such as spouses, etc. And yet we do well to find someone, or maybe a small group to which we can open up ourselves in being vulnerable, and know that we are accepted and loved. Doing the same for them.

Friends are committed to each other. But for the friendship to be of the best nature, there needs to be a commitment to something beyond the friendship alone. The friendship will thrive when it is about living out the love of God. Friendship will do best when at least one is committed to following Jesus.

In a good friendship we find not only common ground, but a commonality, that is a sort of communion in which we learn to appreciate and even esteem another’s presence. Of course we must be careful here. While I may appreciate that in another of the opposite gender, I must be careful to not let that become something which undermines my commitment of love to my wife. Or which violates God’s command in scripture. I think it needs to have a certain degree of casualness and reserve. There is a communion we read about in Song of Songs, reserved only for one.

We have the Friend in Jesus, and our friends of others in Jesus, and we reach out to befriend everyone, just as Jesus did. The circle can become large, and our hearts enlarged far more than we might imagine possible. So that we are people who love and who receive love. Characterizing more and more who we are, who we are becoming in and through Jesus.

Friendship. A gift from the God who is is more than a Friend, but not less. Who has demonstrated a love which knows no end through his Son. To bring us into his heart of love to be cherished and shared with each other in Jesus, and beyond.

community orientation

To be “in Jesus” means to be in community. We are certainly thereby in communion with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we are also in communion with Christ’s Body, the church. With all others who by faith are in Jesus. That actually includes all of God’s people: past, present and future.

For us, community has a hate/love kind of existence. On the one hand we long for community. “It is not good for the man to be alone,” is said in significant part because of our inherent need for relationships. We really don’t find our true selves apart from relationships, because we were made to relate to others, as well as to God. We were made to be in community with others in the love of God through Jesus by the Spirit.

But down here in in the already/not yet mode in which we await the fullness and completion of Christ’s redemptive work, community orientation is not easy. Think of what we’re up against. An individualism held dear or simply taken for granted in our western liberal democracy which is every bit as much a  part of us as a community orientation was a part of the life of Israel. The way Israel was set up by God and their struggle to retain their identity during hard times lent itself to holding on to a community orientation which we find among many of them to this day.

Sin breaks relationships and breaks up community. Since we are still sinners this means that keeping community is not going to be easy, even community in Jesus. We are told in scripture that we must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is not just any unity. But a unity in Jesus, of those following Jesus. He is the Head of his Body, the church. We are members together in it. So for this unity to work it will have to correspond to what is its binding reality. The life of God in Jesus by the Spirit in and for God’s saving, new creation work.

We need nothing less than this if we’re to live out the call of God for us in this world. And grow up in this love together through Jesus by the Spirit for the world. This is in significant part where “the rubber hits the road” for us in Jesus.

Scot McKnight on the impact of the Jesus Creed

The discovery of the Jesus Creed–and I’m not saying I discovered it, but that it was a discovery for me–changed what being right meant for me. Being right for Jesus meant a kind of Bible reading and a kind of theology and a kind of behavior that led to loving God and loving others. If you read your Bible or prayed or went to synagogue but weren’t a more loving person, something was wrong. This is what I learned and when I learned it, it sunk in deeply: The aim of accepting Christ, the aim of  the believer’s personal practices of piety, and the aim of everything we are called to do is twofold or it is wrong. The aim is that we are to become those who love God and those who love others. The kingdom vision of Jesus is a kingdom filled up with people who are noted by one word: love.

Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, 48.

The Jesus Creed:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31