the hope for 2017 and beyond

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

There is actually one ultimate hope for us and for the world, and that hope is in King Jesus, and God’s promises in him. We in Jesus await for his return, when at last all that is lacking and wrong now, will be made right and complete in the final judgment and salvation, in the new creation. Until then, it’s not like we don’t have hope in Jesus for good in this present existence. In another place we read:

Love…always hopes…

1 Corinthians 13

Hope in scripture is put in the context of faith and love. This is a hope distinct from the blessed hope when the final salvation is put into place. But it’s certainly related to that hope.

All Christian hope is solely in Jesus. It’s not like we can’t hope for the best in the institutions of this world, in governments which are appointed by God for the good of people. But the faith, hope and love which we have in Jesus, just as they are linked together as a triad, are also dependent on the gospel. We have prayerful, lesser hopes, which are still important in their place, as we pray for everyone, for governing authorities, that people might live in peace, and that we might be able to spread the gospel in that same peace. Though in this world we can expect pockets of persecution for such a stand. That hope is grounded in God’s sovereignty now over the nations, which is often hard if not impossible to trace or understand.

And so my hope for 2017 is not so much in earthly institutions, which I think are always certain to disappoint those who have high expectations for them. Instead we look to God’s promises in Jesus for ourselves, and ultimately meant for everyone else. Even for the wicked, who will repent of their ways, and bow the knee to the one Lord, King Jesus, and trust in God and God’s promises in him.

That is my one hope for 2017 and beyond. Even while we pray, hoping for other things along the way for the good of all. More of a just and righteous peace, being one of them. While we wait in the anticipation of the blessed hope when at last every good will be fully realized in and through King Jesus.

for 2017: God’s grace

The end of the calendar year is upon us, another full cycle of the earth around the sun. Every year is notable in some ways, and for our family, there were new challenges. And when we look at the world, regardless of one’s perspective, 2016 was challenging, with new problems looming on the horizon for 2017. For those who have studied history, they would surely say something like, “Welcome to the real world!”

What perhaps God has been impressing on me during the past year or several months is the importance of God’os grace. To really understand it better, and most importantly to live in it more. Of course in Jesus, we are fully in God’s grace. But our appreciation of that is according to our capacity through faith. Which includes both quantity and quality. How much we are open to it, and what other things we let in which may distract us from it, and even make us fall short of it (Hebrews).

Grace simply defined, as I mean it here, from scripture is God’s favor, which we humans neither earn (old term, merit) nor deserve. It is at the heart of the gospel, God’s good news for humans and for all creation in Jesus. We might call it God’s unfailing love (see John 1:14, 17; NLT).

Although, especially with a little digging, I can say relatively a lot on God’s grace, the kind of knowledge I want to grow in is on the experiential side, getting more and more settled into that grace that is ours in Jesus. Along with others in Jesus for his sake, and for the gospel.

losing love

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24

It is easy to lose heart in more ways than one. We in the United States live in a society which is practically at war with each other. I don’t think close to actual physical arms, though there may be small fringes that aspire to that. But given the political divide, and deep divisions that come with that, we tend to see everything in stark black and white, and from that tend toward an apocalyptic attitude. Nothing new in American history, by the way, at least in various ways. And it seems to me to be a human tendency.

Jesus’s words quoted above are in the context of end times. We all know that everything must end some time. The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple did take place not long after Jesus’s words, within that generation. Oftentimes there is at least the threatened impending of something important that seems evident in the horizon.

We are to be aware of all of this as followers of Jesus. And we are to hold on to our priorities: the gospel, and the life that comes out of that. The good news in Jesus certainly brings with it both grace and truth. And the nonnegotiable that comes out of that seems to me to be a Calvary, cross-shaped kind of love, a love for one’s enemies, as well as the hard work of maintaining love amongst ourselves.

The one who endures to the end will be saved, Jesus said. So to hold on to love and truth, or truth and love requires endurance on our part, persevering in the faith which makes love and hope possible, though any of the three can be helpful to the others. But most basic is holding on to faith in the faith out of which a special kind of love flows, which is able to break through all the divisions of hate, and even systems of evil, though sometimes at great personal cost.

In this day and time we need to hold on to love and then truth. It is most basic in our relationships, in listening to each other, in respect even when we don’t agree. And above all for us in Jesus, our focus on helping others find him, so that we can look past what differences we may have, to that. And maintaining love with each other which is grounded in nothing less than the gospel, in Jesus himself. A big part of our calling in him now until the end.

continuing on (part umpteen)

Life oftentimes seems more than less a continued exercise of putting one foot in front of the other, and plodding on in largely the same path we have grown accustomed to. New paths may come, and there are variations along the way, but life goes on, and as time goes on, hopefully we learn to navigate it better.

For me, certain basic commitments are in place, the first and foremost being faith in God through faith in Christ practiced most basically in the reading of scripture and prayer, and common life with God’s people in the church, which includes the ministry of the word and sacraments.

Of course life has the tendency to throw us plenty of curveballs along the way. And a big part of coninuing on is learning how to negotiate such circumstances better. I often think on balance that life doesn’t get any easier as time goes on, some aspects perhaps easier, and others more difficult, along with unexpected challenges. So it’s important for us to learn how to learn to rest, be well and do well, in continuing on, hopefully by God’s grace to the very end. God’s grace in Jesus will always be present and there for us. We must take hold of that, and remain in it.

I have witnessed and read of how so many don’t live the latter part of their lives all that well, how life seems to be crashing in on them at the end, and their faith seems to be lagging, or not effective in helping them maintain their earlier witness. Change is hard, surely some change especially so.

Hopefully by God’s grace, which means God’s undeserved (unmerited by us) favor, and unfailing love, we can do well no matter what, to the very end.

It is good to be able to step back a bit from the routine of life, and try to see the big picture, and above all, simply come to God to listen and reflect. So that more of God might be in our footsteps, in our lives, more of God’s grace in and through Jesus. Together with others in Jesus and as a witness of the one good news in him for the world.

a passion for the poor

They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

Galatians 2

The poor mentioned in the passage were of the believers in Judea, who were Jewish. Paul was to be an evangelist and apostle to the Gentiles, but the Jewish believers who were poor were not to be forgotten.

Scripture from cover to cover with a special emphasis on this from Jesus is concerned about the plight of the poor. And with that there’s a warning to the rich, neither to neglect the poor, nor to imagine that they are well off themselves, just because they have material wealth. In fact that wealth tends toward poverty of soul, even though that does not necessarily need to be the case.

The church for centuries was at the forefront of helping the poor both informally and formally. And at the Reformation, this concern perhaps gained a new emphasis of helping the poor to help themselves by providing the means by which they could, while also putting into place a safety net for those who couldn’t. (See this helpful article.) Of course just because people are poor doesn’t mean they don’t need accountability. But they do indeed need mercy. And we can’t forget that scripture tells us that the poor of this world tend to be (more) rich in faith, and thus heirs to the riches God promises through Christ.

I believe that every Christmas, along with the Christmas story from scripture, and the prophecies connected with it, we would do well to read, and perhaps watch a film of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Something of the heart of Christmas is conveyed in that story. Christ became poor so that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 9). And we in him are to extend that grace of God to others in down to earth ways, as well as through the gospel. Something important to remember, not only this Christmas season, but every part of the year.

going on in spite of whatever, by faith

By faith we understand (Hebrews 11), yet at the same time our faith is based on the faith, having roots in Jesus’s resurrection in history, which in an American court of law would surely pass muster in being accepted as true beyond any reasonable doubt. That latter point would be debated by some, but for those who have faith, it is a powerful reason to believe, and has moved more than one skeptic to faith. And the witness of God’s Holy Spirit to us helps us through the inevitable bumps and roadblocks in our journey of faith, along the way.

There are times when we are at a loss, maybe rather off our feet, or perhaps wobbly in our own personal faith, even if we may be doing well concerning the faith itself. Or this could well apply to us when we do have some genuine doubt or at least question in regard to the faith in general. By faith we proceed, even when we don’t know where we’re going (Hebrews 11, again).

That means that while we may not feel altogether inside, indeed we may be rather disheveled, or even quite a bit so, we go on the best we can, by faith, certainly an act of faith, itself. And rather defiant of whatever troubles us, in a way, but more like an entrustment of that concern to God, who certainly can take care of whatever problem it is, and no matter what, promises us the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

The devil’s strategy is to get us to grovel in the dust, and perhaps even eventually abandon faith altogether. Or at least to sideline us, so that our faith is not effective for ourselves or anyone else. But it’s a great opportunity, in the face of such opposition, to simply proceed in all of our weakness, by faith finding God’s ever present grace in Jesus. And we will, no doubt, if we simply go on by faith. God will keep all of his promises to us in Christ Jesus.

the one hope for the world

A concern for one’s eternal and temporal security has its place, but if it stops there, then that faith is less than Christian. The hope we have in Jesus is the one hope we have for the entire world.

I am a citizen of the United States by birth, and as such certainly live in a privileged place compared to many in the world. The problem though, is that we can put our hope in earthly systems, and even in earthly authorities such as politicians, governors, rulers. To the extent which we actually do that, surely we end up blinding ourselves to the one hope that we truly have.

We pray for rulers and governing authorities, and we hope for peace and freedom for all peoples, and that all tyranny and evil would cease, for true and complete justice, especially for those who have been denied it for so long, oftentimes people of color, yes, in the United States of America. For good stewardship of the gift of the earth in ways which protect it, and people, and for an end to the tragedy of abortion.

As people of God in Jesus, we’re called to be his followers and help others to follow him. The church is to be the sign to the world of the one hope that the world has through the gospel and the beginning transformation and hope which that gospel brings.

This all began on earth through a humble, peasant, quite young woman, the angel giving her the great, good, and perplexing news of a miracle birth, Joseph, her fiancee having to work though that news before an angel appears to him in a dream, and then choosing to live with it, and at last the birth in a humble place, the baby Jesus laid in a feeding trough for animals. And at the end of his life, nailed to a cross. But resurrected from the dead, and thus sealing the witness of his life in his works and teaching of God’s grace and kingdom having come in him. And ascended to the right hand of the Father from whom he poured out the Holy Spirit on the church to be a witness to the world of this good news. That news including his return, when at long at last all will be made right and new.

That is our hope, and the one hope always for this world. Let our focus be on that, even as we seek to be faithful as a witness to a world which is given to lesser hopes that will fail and often let people, especially the poor down. As we pray for our Lord’s return. Lord, have mercy! And maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

truth in life

I’ve read that Dietrich Bonhoeffer formulated theology not just from scripture, and the church tradition connected to that, but out of life itself. It was personal, communal, societal, and surely global as well. The gospel of our Lord Jesus touches every aspect of creation, either now in Jesus, or at his return when heaven and earth become one in him.

We have to try to not only speak truth to power, but truth to ourselves, as well. Scripture, and the gospel of our Lord which is the heart of it, is about life, real life in the here and now, in the nitty gritty, dark and dirty and difficult places of life, as well as in the good times, and in every place in between.

God speaks truth to us in scripture in and through Jesus. This is in large part why we need to remain in scripture all the time. We want to understand, and get into the flow of God’s revelation to us, to the world in Christ, of the Spirit, and of God’s grace (unfailing love and undeserved, unmerited favor) in him. Scripture certainly reflects real life, and therefore speaks into our lives with nothing less than a word from God for us in and through Christ.

The life, the eternal life took upon himself our life, created life, that we might take hold of the eternal life that is in him. When the Word became flesh/human, there was the ultimate truth in life in Jesus. A truth not just about head knowledge, as good and important in its place as that is. But about reality, so that we can rest in faith and in the grace of God present, which began uniquely in that little baby boy in a manger in Bethlehem, who is the truth for all of life, even the life of the world.

Jesus’s word which only faith accepts

Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

John 3

Jesus’s words to a religious leader of Israel still ring loud and clear and true for us today. Jesus spoke a word in words, from the Father. That is why they have a telling effect for all who believe. Jesus preached the gospel because he preached himself. He did it out of the utmost humility, having humbled himself in the Incarnation by becoming one of us, and taking that much further to the death of the cross for the worst from and of us. Jesus himself was a word from the Father, indeed the final Word, revealing God to us, “full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14).

This is the one word we in Jesus should speak, as well as by grace live and if need be die for. No other words, as important as they are, are on that same level. Though through that word, those lesser words might be shaped and perhaps could begin to share in its life and purpose, either directly or indirectly.

The world spoken by Jesus of Jesus is the word by which we in Jesus live, and which we should share with others, so that they too may come into this new life. The life who entered this world as a little baby boy so many years ago.