holding on

There are times in which it seems like the bottom has dropped out of life, and there is little or nothing left to stand on. It may be with reference to this or that concern, perhaps for another person, especially someone closee to us, or it may involve the possible loss of health or a job. Whatever the crisis is that we are facing, what can be the worst part of it is the heaviness and fear, indeed the darkness which can accompany it. And how one can feel like they’re being suffocated in all of this.

This is when perhaps the best way to put it, we need to be holding on. Holding on in faith through prayer and refusing to act (or react) in fear. This is so much easier said than done. It is perhaps the easiest thing in the world to try to take matters in our own hands, to bail ourselves out, to do what we can to save another, to save ourselves, to save the day. And it’s not like there’s never a time to act. Indeed, there may well be (or perhaps not).

What we do need to do for sure is pray. To remain in prayer, before God with words and in silence. If we keep reading the psalms along with the rest of the Bible, that can help us to know how to pray. We want to pray according to God’s revealed will. But we also pour out our hearts to him in our trouble, whether for someone else or for ourselves. The Spirit groans in us in this praying, and actually intercedes for us according to God’s will.

When you look at the book of Daniel toward the latter part, and see the struggle Daniel was in, over a large, global matter to be sure, but a spiritual struggle which involved both angels and demons, you can see that holding on often has to do with spiritual warfare. In fact in  some degree I think it invariably does. Our struggle, we are told in Ephesians, is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual entitites. And so there’s the aspect of spiritual warfare in this. We have to be strong in the mighty power of the Lord, put on the full armor of God, and stand in resistance against the forces arrayed against us. In much prayer. (Ephesians 6:10-20) Often we need others to pray for us as well.

We need ears to hear God’s answer to us. What we need in the end is God’s peace, the peace which transcends all understanding. A settled peace coming over us and remaining, in spite of the troubles.

But again, key for us here in and through Jesus is to hold on in faith and not act in fear. To insist on putting the matter in God’s hands and leaving it there. Only to act within a settled peace and only if need be. Faith means trusting God, trusting in his wisdom and that God is at work in ways we can’t comprehend. If we act we can get in the way of that work.

And remember, God cares. God suffers with us in our sufferiing. “In all of their affliction, God was afflicted.” We need to have an ear to hear from God, so what we can settle into that peace. Holding on doesn’t end there. It’s a way of life done in big and small ways right along. A habit we learn so that when the difficulties come, we don’t have to be alarmed, but learn to wrestle them through with God, so that we might rest in his care and good will.

addressed to the “nones”

For those who may not know, “nones” are those who profess to and no doubt often do love Jesus, but have had enough of church or what they see as the institutionalized form of it. If you just happen to be one, you might read on.

I’ve been around the block and then some in over forty years of being “in Christ.” And I’ve seen my share of churches. I would have rather settled down into one denomination, perhaps as a pastor or teacher, but for various reasons that didn’t pan out. And from my perspective, I’ve seen a lot of good, I would say mostly good. And if something wasn’t so good, I would bear with it as part of the experience of being church. After all, I too am part of the mix with good from God and not so good from myself on my way hopefully to maturity in Christ along with the rest of Christ’s body.

The changes I’ve made over the years have been largely circumstantial, not so much driven by doctrinal differences. If the latter were the case, I would have hardly fitted in any church. And I doubt that that is the problem with most of you. What many of you want to see is something that is cutting edge in the missional sense. You don’t want to settle into the status quo of church which seems to have little to no impact on others either in the way of salvation or in the nitty gritty of everyday life.

First of all I want to say what I’m sure most of you already know: When we receive Christ by faith, we are joined not only to him, but also to his body, the church. It is both/and. In being members of Christ, we are members of his body, the church. There are no two ways about it. We therefore belong not only to Christ, but to each other. That is a reality that is to be worked out in real life. If we are joined to Christ, then we are joined to his body so that to opt out of fellowship with his body is to at least dangerously flirt with being out of fellowship with Christ himself. And if I understand the book of Hebrews correctly, we can end up with our entire life in Christ in peril. To depart from Christ’s body doesn’t seem far removed from departing from Christ himself. In that same book we are told not to quit meeting together as is the habit of some, but to encourage one another, and all the more as we see the day of the Lord approaching.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic, Life Together, made it clear that when we project an image of church not only as an ideal, but also as what we expect, we depart from church altogether. What we’ve projected is nothing more than a fabrication which in real life sooner or later will be exposed for what it is. No fellowship will measure up since they are made up of people like you and I.

And I have learned to be suspicious of churches who think they have a leg up on everyone else. That they have something that other churches lack but need, to be the church God calls us to be. There is no doubt we can learn from each other. And there are thriving churches and sad to say, dying churches, as well. But any church which supposes that it is church in a way others are not had best beware. That is not the picture we get from the New Testament. Christ is the one who builds his church, and he builds it from the most humble material, from the broken lives of people like you and I. And God causes the church to grow into maturity in Christ, significantly through the gifts by the Spirit of leaders in the church, as well as to the gifts given to each one of its members. Those things will be in place in any true church, even if in rudimentary form.

All that said, yes, we need to challenge the church to live up to its calling in terms of both its sacramental and common life in Christ. And as an outpost of God’s kingdom both invading the world as well as resident in it. No doubt the church often fails and is called on the carpet by Christ himself even as we see from five of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. But to be faithful to Christ, we must be present not only to him, but also to his body, the church. Whatever our shortcomings are. We together are to grow up in Christ doing so as one body. There is no spiritual maturity in Christ according to the New Testament apart from that.

prayer for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

one Christian response to the US Supreme Court decision to legalize same sex marriage

First of all I want to congratulate all my gay friends who are celebrating. It is a big win for you. In saying that, I for one, am not counting that in your winning I am on the losing side. What the state decides to do is the state’s business, I take it. And I want to acknowledge whatever relief and help from this some, or perhaps many of you are experiencing. And I want to hold out my hand and say we are friends in spite of our disagreement on this issue. Our friendship might naturally be somewhat stilted because of our disagreement, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mutually respect and appreciate each other, even enjoy each other’s company. How many people and families enjoy some good friendship with each other in spite of differences, some of them seemingly significant, for example political differences?

I also want to acknowledge that too many of us Christians have acted in any thing but Jesus-like love to gays. We have bashed you over and over again with Bible verses and cries of judgment. Although many of us in doing so have wanted to do so in love. And I think some honestly do love and have genuine concern for those they speak of. But by and large I’m afraid the negative vibes have outweighed whatever good has been present.

Now having said that as best I can for now, I want to express just a bit of my own view which sides with the Christian orthodox interpretation of scripture. Most Bible scholars, including those who are liberal in their theology agree that the Bible prohibits same sex intercourse in both the Old and New Testament. And marriage from the beginning, as Jesus said, was to be between a man and woman who would thus become one flesh.

When we speak of the good news of Jesus, salvation is necessarily accompanied with judgment. The judgment is for sin judging what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil. Christianity is not really a feel good religion or faith. It is not about being happy or having what one wants in terms of desires, feelings or the will. It does involve a spiritual (not physical) battle against the world, the flesh and the devil. When Paul spoke to a governor who was evidently intrigued and had sent for him- about the gospel, specifically faith in Christ Jesus, he spoke about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come (Acts). And while Jesus never spoke directly about same sex acts per se, he seemed to heighten the demands of the Torah in regard to sexual activity back to the orignal intent of God’s will in creation and toward the goal of the kingdom come in him in the new creation (one example found in his Sermon on the Mount, Matthew). In all of this, I’m not saying the ethic of following Jesus means no enjoyment of life. Paul writes elsewhere that God has richly given us all things to enjoy. In the next breath saying that we (precisely those who are wealthy) are to use the good we have to help others (1 Timothy).

In the end, none of us are the judge. God alone is the Judge who gave the law and knows its precise application (James). He sees everything and through everything clearly. We all are accountable to him. And in the end, it is the good news in Jesus that is the only lasting hope for all of us, in this life and in the life to come. Whatever you decide to do, know that there is good news in Jesus always present for all of us. God in the Person of his Son became one of us in Jesus, and announced in his coming that God’s kingdom is present. And he died for our sins and was raised to life to bring us to new life in him. Through repentance and faith and baptism, we are brought into his kingdom, dying to the old and raised into the new life.

In Jesus we have a hope that overcomes all that is off the mark and wrong now, all the heartache, heart-break and brokenness that seems part and parcel of this life. There’s no getting around that, it seems, sadly. So in Jesus, the healing begins as we enter into this life, are being made new in it, and look forward to its completion at Jesus’ return in the resurrection at the new creation. Past, present and future salvation.

And so again, best to you. I will not be among those who stare or look down on couples who obviously want to express their love to each other in public. I hope we can live together as friends in spite of our differences. Perhaps drink some beer and get to know each other. There would be plenty we would have in common, I’m sure. And along with what we have in common, perhaps we can listen well to each other about our differences, if we’re comfortable in doing so. Knowing we are neighbor in this life, not enemies. Present in some ways for each other.

Scot McKnight’s book: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church

What is the kingdom of God? Look no further than Scot McKnight’s recent book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. And open your Bible.

Nearly six years ago at Ashland Seminary, I heard Scot McKnight advance this thesis. God’s kingdom consists of a king: King Jesus, subjects, God’s sons and daughters in Jesus, wherever the church is gathered throughout the earth, under the law of that kingdom by grace and in the Spirit.

The current evangelical theological understanding of God’s kingdom, Scot divides into two categories: the skinny jeans approach, which basically sees it as consisting of any good works done especially for the poor. And the pleated pants approach which sees the kingdom in terms of God’s works of salvation. What both approaches fail to take into account, Scot argues, is what the Bible itself teaches, particularly in the groundwork laid in the Old Testament, which by no means is set aside in the New Testament.

Rather than try to do a review with passages arguing Scot McKnight’s point along with the details, which would be lengthy, I would rather set forth something of the basics along with some applications the book makes.

What ends up being the emphasis as suggested in the book’s title, is the central place of the church in this. And how Scot sees church and kingdom of God in the present as virtually synonymous, even if referring to different aspects. The church carries on by the Spirt in, through and under King Jesus as Israel Enlarged (not Israel Replaced). The true politics for the subjects of this kingdom is in and through King Jesus. The common life shared in the church spills out into the world, the sacramental lfe in Jesus underlying that.

Scot deals with how God’s kingdom is thought of by the religious left and the religious right. And he goes into some detail concerning “the Constantinian temptation.” There is much more, even though the book is written to the point, direct and concise.

Like The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, I believe this book is certainly a paradigm impacting book. Don’t take my word for it. Either purchase a copy, or borrow it and give it a careful read (and reread). The effort will be well worth it. I can’t help but think for any who hold to a high view of scripture, this book will make a difference. And not only that, but a difference that is needed for the kingdom work that God would have done through King Jesus.

watching one’s tongue

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

James 3

James is a down to business, brass tack kind of book, that gets to the point without pulling punches. One know for sure when reading James that there’s no gray when it comes to how we should think and what we should do. That should all be one, otherwise we’re complicit with evil. In fact the reason we struggle with doubt (I would say from scripture and from life, one of the possible reasons) is because we’re not committed to God, but doubleminded in all our ways (James 1).

It does seem like from scripture, as in the passage quoted above, the tongue or what we say has a unique place. Of course, just as Jesus made clear, the tongue is the vehicle of the heart. So to address the problem of an unhelpful, evil tongue, one has to address the problem of the heart. That is a large subject in itself. What is key there is the gospel and the change that gospel brings through faith and baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. So that by the Spirit we can put to death the misdeeds of the body, including the tongue.

It is indeed an impressive thought that the tongue is the gauge whereby we can see just how far we have to go, our spiritual growth. We won’t reach perfection in this life; indeed we stumble in many ways and we need ongoing forgiveness of sin. At the same time, we don’t have to let sin rule over us, which means no unruly tongue. Since we are under grace. While we work on this, a good rule of thumb is to remain in silence as our default, speaking only what is hopefully pleasing to the Lord and good and helpful to those who listen. And a good place to start is wherever we may have the most sin in this area. The Lord will help us, as we set our hearts and minds and lives in this direction.

the human experience and scripture

We all go through a lot and the older we get the more complex life can seem on many levels. While at the same time we’re hopefully learning to will one thing (Kirkegaard) in line with God’s will.

This is another reason I would advocate the reading of all of scripture over time. And a steady diet of the psalms. Stay at it. Keeping after it little by little everyday is better than reading a huge chunk now and then.

What we find in scripture are real humans who are like us. And God at work in their lives, in covenant with them to make them a blessing in and through Jesus.

My focus easly is blurred from where it’s needed, or set on something that is not helpful. That is why I need to be in the scriptures daily, the daily readings from the Old and New Testament along with the psalms, and meditating bit by bit in working through scripture throughout the day.

It is most important by far not just to read scripture, but to prayerfully seek to put it into practice. Scripture connects us with God, with God’s will in Jesus. We are shaped by scripture, God’s written word. Scripture also is shaped to real life. We find something of our story in one way or another within the story found in scripture. It should resonate with us, even with parts we can’t track well with, like the sacrificial system.

I turn to the pages of scripture daily and throughout the day as a matter of commitment in seeking to be a follower of the Lord, and also because I need it. In ways I understand as well as in ways I don’t. It is profound in its scope yet simple in meeting us where we live: the very breath of God into our lives in and through Jesus.

violating love

What is life? It is about loving others. Period. Well, there’s much to say around that to be sure. And along with the creation through Jesus, I would want to include the new creation in and through Jesus. We need that as humans, because our love comes from God as a gift. We see it with all human beings. It is something precious, to be sure. And it is so often violated.

Of course there’s the obvious painful violations when one spouse has an affair, be it emotional or physical. The hurt and pain and mess to clean up afterward will take a lifetime and something of the hurt will always be there. I especially refer to those who fall into sexual sin. Hopefully there is a true repentance that follows and a new course of life charted with the help of the church, which doesn’t simply hold that saying I’m sorry and asking for forgiveness is enough. There needs to be true pentitence over time which shows old patterns of life broken and new ones coming into place. Although I’m not Roman Catholic, I can indeed see good in the practice of penance, of course if it’s not abused.

How do we treat those around us? Including our animals (like cats or dogs)? And our dear families, our spouses and children? Are we present for them? I mean really present, giving our all as needed, day by day, not wrapped up in our own agendas and activities. My record in the past has been spotty in that. Some good, some not so good, some bad. This should be top priority. And the greatest thing we can do in love for our families and others is to consistently pray for them, and be open as part of how those prayers might be answered.

The same goes for our church relationships. Do we really love each other as Jesus called us to? Even as he loved us? And does that work out in practical tangible ways?  And what about our neighborhoods, our next door and down the street neighbors? Do we care about them? Do we try to reach out to them, at least chit chat? And the ones we work with day after day? Do we judge that in ourselves which is not loving toward others, perhaps thinking badly of them? Again, do we care about them?

It is so easy to get wrapped up in good things like projects and interests we have. I could easily, if I had enough strength and time get lost in reading day after day. And hopefully with some outlet for sharing something of what I’ve learned. Or a trap nowadays is simply being online. We can be very much present online, but absent right where we live. I know that firsthand as one who is guilty. We have to make the effort to do better. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, no matter what great things we do, if we don’t have love, it isn’t worth a hoot (my paraphrase).

When will be grieved over how we’ve grieved others? Or even be aware? Lord help me. Lord help us all.

a balanced, biblical pacifism (guns in America)

In America where it seems mostly all politics, there is a contentious political mudslinging going on about guns. I wish I could call it a debate, but for the most part what I’ve witnessed is not that. It seems that largely the way here is to mischaracterize one’s opponnents, or put their character in the worst possible light, something both the left and the right regularly engage in. I see it mostly from the right, but I live in a mostly political conservative area. We need to do better.

I speak as a a pacifist Christian, who certainly respects differences among Christians in this area. Some of the best Chrisitians I know (and not online, although I could include that, but who I am personally acquainted with) differ with me here. But none of those I am referring to would make a big issue out of this. They simply might use a gun in the case of someone breaking into their house and putting their family at risk. While I think there are better ways to handle it, and one such friend in particular I think would try to avoid using a gun if possible, I can understand such a position. One has to consider the historical context of America and then of the Christian church at large. But on the latter, there are serious problems left for advocates of guns (other than used for hunting, of course).

One of the mistakes some of the more vocal of pacifist Christians make is to insist that the state/government should disarm, should not use violence. That is not at all what the New Testament or specifically, what Jesus advocates. In fact quite the opposite. See Romans 13. But for the follower of Christ, it is most difficult to rationalize the use of a sword or gun in stopping evildoers. That is left to the state as no less than servants of God (again, see the beginning of Romans 13). I think a responsible ethic for the state is to do everything possible to avoid war, and to work at that. Force should be used as a last resort and sparingly as possible. What is a nation state to do when evildoers pillage and rape and murder? It seems clear enough to me that they need to step in and stop such evil. As to the “just war tradition,” considering its list, we would be hard pressed to justify any war that has been fought in recent memory. Though not rooted in scripture, it may be a useful construct for nation states. Surely less wars would be fought if nations tried to follow it. But what about the follower of Christ?

For myself, I would do what I have to do to defend my family or someone else short of killing the perpetrator. But I would want to do my best to bring about a peace that is rooted and centered in the gospel of Jesus. When it comes to personal attacks, I would want to love my enemies, turn the other cheek and pray for them. I would want to win them to Christ, but not stop loving them in the way Jesus directs, even if they continue on their violent path.

There is no place for the use of violence for followers of Jesus. Neither the New Testament or Jesus’ words advocate anything less than living out one’s life for Jesus and the gospel. In not only proclaiming and witnessing to the gospel, but in no less than laying down one’s life for it and for our Lord.

Back to guns in America. Again, good people will disagree. I say, let’s have a real discussion and debate. And for followers of Christ, let’s turn again to the pages of the Bible, especially the New Testament, and the gospel accounts in it: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Let’s at least err on the side of less physical force, and preferably reject that option altogether. As we seek to follow our Lord in this life to the end.


O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer