against foreboding (a dreading fear)

Right now in the United States there’s an election of which many fear the consequences of the outcome on every side. And just to live in the real world, with the possible and actual problems we face day after day and beyond can instill within us a sense of foreboding, I mean something like a fear that comes from dread. Maybe our first experience of that was as a child at the doctor before a required shot, usually in those days at least, in the hip. I can still feel the pain. Such a dread comes from the experience that not all is pleasant, in fact some things we run up against and experience in life are downright painful.

Trouble in this life is inevitable, as scripture itself says. For all sorts of reasons. So that there’s a kind of fear that is actually healthy. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to stay put when under severe (and real) persecution, but to flee (Matthew 10:23). We need wisdom from God to carefully navigate the responsibilities put before us, in fact we need wisdom to properly assess them at all.

For me, the only way I can avoid the unhealthy fear that can assail me on every side, the large and small, is by being in the word, and prayer. I say it in that order, because for me (and I think basic for everyone) being in the word, in scripture instills and strengthens my faith. I pray from what I’m reading, and from the Spirit’s help in giving the faith that arises from pondering God’s word. Maybe most basic is that it helps our faith to be active, so that when we encounter problems, our natural response is to pray.

We have God’s promises in scripture, one of which is that God will meet all of our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). We always need to read the context of such promises, rather than pull them out of that, as we so often do. It is to believers who are partnering with Paul in the work of the gospel, both by their own witness, and by helping him so that he can carry on in that work, even if from a prison cell.

Foreboding and fear need to give way to faith, which doesn’t mean one doesn’t have a healthy sense of proper fear, or of the problems one faces. But that one believes in God’s help and provision in and through Jesus. So that we can move through the difficult places, maybe once in a while, even avoid them. As our faith grows even through those times, in and through Jesus.

a word of witness

Why do I blog, and why do I do what I do online? Some have asked the first question, and I have as well. Certainly to have contact with people one knows, to pray for them in their sickness and need, oftentimes not having met them in person. And to keep contact with family and old friends. As to why I blog, there are surely a number of reasons. But the primary one, I think all the more as I get older, is to be a witness to Jesus.

Although I do express my thoughts and opinions on some things, what I think is not really important. I’m just one voice among many, and we all have to weigh things and decide for ourselves, something I’ve had time to do over the years to some extent, and I suppose, an inclination of mine. But the thing by far that I want to do, and hopefully am doing is simply be a witness in testifying to the word of God in Jesus, and the difference that is to make in this world beginning in our lives, through the gospel. How that good news in Jesus is impacting me, the difference it has made in my life, and the hope it is not only for me, but for everyone, for the world, for all creation.

Jesus is the one who matters, who brings us into the Triune life of God. We are to look to him, and learn from him. If you haven’t read the Bible, and the New/Final Testament ever, or recently (though it’s good and important to read the First/Old Testament, as well), start with the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And take your time, but also keep pressing through. Maybe better put, read at your own pace, thoughtfully and reflectively. Then read through the rest of the Final/New Testament: Acts through the Revelation. And find a church which is true to the gospel.

So I blog and do what I do whether online or in life, first and foremost, I hope, as a witness. I point myself and everyone else to the one hope of the world that will last, when all else has come and gone. Anything else I write or say in comparison to that, is secondary, maybe important in its place, perhaps mistaken on my part. But the one thing that stands is Jesus Christ the Lord, Jesus, and God’s word in him, the final Word. Through whom we read all of scripture and in a sense the world. And the difference that has made in my life, and continues by God’s grace to make.

Jesus.

where is the kingdom?

In the midst of the end of a presidential election campaign, which is most contentious and divisive, we find Christians divided, yet also set in ways which might and in many cases does beg for what hopefully is a clarifying question, Where is the kingdom of God? Scot McKnight in his groundbreaking book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, points out that God’s kingdom to many today resides in actions and agencies given to good works for the poor, such as well digging in Africa, or the fight against human trafficking, works like that. And such people hardly find it in the church at all.

In another ground breaking book, The Politics of Witness, by Allan R. Bevere, we are helped by seeing how the union of the church and the state begun in the Constantinian era, continues on in the United States, in a different way, yet essentially with the same basic result that the state is seen to be where the action takes place in regard to the lives of people, while the church is essentially the religious arm of the state.

And so for many today, at least Christians in the west, God’s kingdom is present in something other than the church. Granted that for many who are more traditional, God’s kingdom is present in the works of God through Christ by the Spirit in salvation, and in healings and miraculous powers. But for many the election and politics in general is of the utmost importance in determining God’s work in the world.

McKnight and Bevere help us see through the error of our way and to a better understanding, essentially to a better view of God’s kingdom in the world today. It is always in Jesus, found in the church through God’s redemptive work in Jesus, and begun in the church in and through royals sons and daughters through King Jesus. So that the function of the state is not only below that of the church, but doesn’t partake of the kingdom aspect which if found only in Jesus.

But this is where the tricky part comes in. So the kingdom of God work is confined to those within that kingdom in and through Jesus, that is, the church, fundamentally within the church itself, and out from the church in the proclamation of and witness to the gospel, along with the many good works accompanying it. And this happens in and through the church in the world, oftentimes at least appreciated, if not partially supported by the state. And the church in its kingdom ethic can influence the state as we have seen in the twentieth century through the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and with the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Voting or participation in the political process of a nation state is not necessarily inherently contradictory to one’s allegiance to God’s kingdom come in Jesus. And much can be at stake in terms of the good of people. And surely the state will be judged as to how it fulfilled its God given role of protecting and providing for the basic good of its citizenry and people within its borders. But it is so judged in the light of God’s kingdom found in Jesus within the church, so that the church is the outpost of God’s kingdom now present on earth in and through Jesus, with the responsibility of living that out with each other as a witness to the world the difference the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus makes. So that we see the state as in a subsidiary role, and not the place of God’s kingdom, again found only in the church. So that come what may in November and beyond, the church will carry on in that reality and work in Jesus.

wisdom and God’s will

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1

Yesterday at work we watched an interesting video from John Ortberg based on his book, All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door. What Will You Do?

What stood out to me was the insight that scripture doesn’t so much indicate that God has one particular plan that he shows us, or that God will simply tell us what to do along the way: who we’re to marry if we do marry, what job we’re to have, where we’re to live, etc. But God gives us wisdom so that we can discern what is good, and what is in harmony with his will for us in Jesus. And that the goal is not so much what we do, but who we’re becoming. Are we more and more like Jesus?

This seems so very much in line with scripture along with the best teaching I’ve received based on scripture. It’s not like God never makes something specific clear to us. The big question is just how God does that. Are we like zapped in a sense so that we just know just because God “told” us that we’re to do such and such instead of so and so? Or is it more like God leads us through helping us discern what is best, and what his will might be in the circumstances. I think clearly the latter. God might do something unusual along the way, but by and large we are left to discern what we should do according to what God has given us in his inscripturated word in line with the truth as it is in Jesus.

Of course we have to see all of scripture through the lens and fulfillment in Jesus, through the gospel. And we let God help us sift through it, pondering the truth that we find on every page. We pray and we consult others who are steeped in the truth of scripture and in how the Spirit has guided the church, sometimes in person, and oftentimes in books written, such as the one by Ortberg, linked above.

We want clear answers and essentially an easy life. God wants  us to work through the issues, to be fully involved in the process. Even though God’s work and wisdom and ways are quite beyond us, yet we are given something of God’s wisdom to enter into his work and understand his ways enough to proceed according to what is good in his will revealed to us in Jesus within scripture. We are helped both for the day to day and current decisions which need to be made, as well as for the long haul, during which we should grow in this discernment in and by this wisdom from God.

We are recipients of God’s gift to us in Jesus, and we are active in our faith in terms of how we live, and decisions which need to be made, big and little ones, day after day. As we seek to grow along with others more and more like Jesus.

 

the authenticity we need

Authenticity is very much a staple word nowadays. Being “real” is practically valued above most anything else. And if understood correctly, that thought is helpful. But if not understood correctly, it is not.

What is unhelpful today is a kind of wearing one’s emotions on one’s sleeve approach in which what we ourselves feel and think about something is all that matters. This goes along with the postmodern mood which is a part of our culture. It’s not like what we feel and think doesn’t matter, that’s not the point at all. In fact, before God, and before any good counselor who hopefully is also a true friend, it is good to trust to the point where one can tell all without fear of being condemned, or looked down on and rejected. This is vitally important, and precisely where Job’s friends failed. The kind of authenticity which bears all before God, and appropriately confesses sin to God and to others is highly valued in scripture. “A broken and contrite heart, God does not despise.”

But we in Jesus must not stop with that aspect of authenticity, though neither should we abandon it. The kind of authenticity we need is expressed by James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1

The kind of authenticity pressed for here is a life that is not only vulnerable by being open before God, and when appropriate, before others. But a heart sincere and set in trying to be true by grace to living in accord with God’s word. An authenticity in being genuine not only in regard to who we actually are, without pretense, but also a genuineness in seeking to see our lives and God’s revealed will in scripture and in Jesus being brought closer and closer together.

Of course that’s a lifelong process, involving an ongoing brokenness and sorrow of heart over too often falling short. Yet also seeing the Spirit help us to actually grow more and more into Jesus’s likeness to a significant extent by taking in the word, and letting it expose us, then doing something about it.

The authenticity in Jesus that is desirable is one that’s committed to being conformed to the truth of God’s word, and the truth that is in Jesus, whatever the cost, without imagining that one will arrive in this life. And so an important part of that authenticity is an ongoing brokenness before God. Even as we find ourselves in some ways, enough to be encouraged, growing closer to heart and life conformity to God’s will in Jesus.

prayer

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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

the invitiation to the Sabbath rest in Jesus

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

Recently on Discover the Word, Elisa Morgan helped me see the possible connection in the above passage between Jesus’s relationship with the Father and our relationship with Jesus. You have to sort of read between the lines and gather it in, but actually it is clear when one reads all of the gospel accounts, particularly the gospel according to John.

I love the fact that just as Jesus, the Son was completely dependent on the Father, even while being deserving of equal honor with his Father (John 5:23), so we too are to be and actually completely are dependent on the Son (John 15).

In the passage quoted above from Matthew 11, Jesus is alongside us, pulling the weight himself, thus making it light to us. And yet we’re alongside with him in God’s work. Amazing.

Of course it’s an invitation in the first place. An invitation to everyone who is weary and burdened to find rest. And in that rest we somehow find the work we’re to do. Instead of trying to rest one day out of seven, which actually is a good thing, and I think we do well to try to practice that insofar as that’s possible, this is the Sabbath rest scripture speaks of (Hebrews 4). Something I want to understand and learn to live in better. Of course in and through Jesus.