If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
John Dickson’s chapter entitled “Christ” in his helpful book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus underscores the fact that Jewish anticipation of God’s promise of the Messiah from scripture, and Jesus’s fulfillment of such did not match. They wanted someone who would bring military victory against their enemies, and through that, implement a peace, meaning, shalom, which would cover the entire earth. Jesus’s fulfillment was completely unanticipated, and in fact, an affront to their understanding. All crucified Messiahs were proven impostors, and after all, didn’t scripture say that all who were hung on a tree were under God’s curse? And yes, that was true of Jesus, but in a remarkably different way than they surmised. Under God’s curse so as to remove that curse through his death to bring salvation and blessing to the world. But it was the way of the cross, never of the power of worldly kingdoms and government. Read the gospels, Matthew through John, to verify this along with the rest of the New Testament.
We are at a fever pitch right now in the United States over politics, quite divided to say the least, and it seems like we’ve fallen into the fray as badly as the rest. We believe in political power. But in so doing, aren’t we doing what Jesus was actually getting at: forfeiting our souls, even as Satan tempted Jesus to do when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, offered to Jesus if he would only worship Satan. Of course Jesus dispelled that immediately, interestingly on the basis of scripture, quoting the passage where it tells Israel (and us) that we’re to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only. But also implicit in that is the reality that God’s kingdom in Jesus is not of this world, and in fact, though down to earth, is from another place, of a higher, heavenly realm, just as Jesus said elsewhere.
We need to get a grip in realizing that no matter what happens in American politics, or elsewhere, our life and good depends on God’s promise in Jesus and the gospel. Not just for us, but for the world, we bearing witness to that. That can take a tremendous weight off our hearts. We live for Christ and the gospel, and if need be die for that. And we depend on that. Nothing else.
That doesn’t mean that none of us can serve in political places of this world. Daniel did. But like Daniel, they will likely face opposition and trouble as they live for and with God’s kingdom in view. Not an easy road to take, either. Complete commitment to Christ and the gospel must accompany that.
We pray for those in positions of governing authority, and hope for the good of our nation, and all other nations. And living in a democratic republic or nation like the United States, we participate in the political process as we feel led. But we remember that whatever happens anywhere in the world, while it may bear great and even grave consequences, to be sure, we in Jesus live by and for one thing: God’s word, the message of God’s good news in Jesus for us and for the world. Anything else we’re involved in only in light of and in submission to that. In and through Jesus.
Lamentations is a difficult book to either read, or listen to. It needs to be read against the backdrop of scripture, particularly the historical books in the Old Testament which recount Israel and Judah’s unfaithfulness to God.
But this is all written for us as well. We too have been unfaithful, and we live in the midst of unfaithfulness. And we too pay a price, along with others, for our unfaithfulness.
What Lamentations recounts is horrifying, to say the least. The consequences of evil, which can be evil themselves, and the downward spiral of sin. But it is written by someone seeking God, and God’s mercy. But don’t read just part of it.
Today I lament over the consequences of sin, both individually and corporately. And I seek God, and God’s mercy.
How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.
Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.
After affliction and harsh labor,
Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.
The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate,
her priests groan,
her young women grieve,
and she is in bitter anguish.
Her foes have become her masters;
her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief
because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile,
captive before the foe.
All the splendor has departed
from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer
that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled
before the pursuer.
In the days of her affliction and wandering
Jerusalem remembers all the treasures
that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into enemy hands,
there was no one to help her.
Her enemies looked at her
and laughed at her destruction.
Jerusalem has sinned greatly
and so has become unclean.
All who honored her despise her,
for they have all seen her naked;
she herself groans
and turns away.
Her filthiness clung to her skirts;
she did not consider her future.
Her fall was astounding;
there was none to comfort her.
“Look, Lord, on my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed.”
The enemy laid hands
on all her treasures;
she saw pagan nations
enter her sanctuary—
those you had forbidden
to enter your assembly.
All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they barter their treasures for food
to keep themselves alive.
“Look, Lord, and consider,
for I am despised.”
“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the Lord brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger?
“From on high he sent fire,
sent it down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet
and turned me back.
He made me desolate,
faint all the day long.
“My sins have been bound into a yoke;
by his hands they were woven together.
They have been hung on my neck,
and the Lord has sapped my strength.
He has given me into the hands
of those I cannot withstand.
“The Lord has rejected
all the warriors in my midst;
he has summoned an army against me
to crush my young men.
In his winepress the Lord has trampled
Virgin Daughter Judah.
“This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
because the enemy has prevailed.”
Zion stretches out her hands,
but there is no one to comfort her.
The Lord has decreed for Jacob
that his neighbors become his foes;
Jerusalem has become
an unclean thing among them.
“The Lord is righteous,
yet I rebelled against his command.
Listen, all you peoples;
look on my suffering.
My young men and young women
have gone into exile.
“I called to my allies
but they betrayed me.
My priests and my elders
perished in the city
while they searched for food
to keep themselves alive.
“See, Lord, how distressed I am!
I am in torment within,
and in my heart I am disturbed,
for I have been most rebellious.
Outside, the sword bereaves;
inside, there is only death.
“People have heard my groaning,
but there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my distress;
they rejoice at what you have done.
May you bring the day you have announced
so they may become like me.
“Let all their wickedness come before you;
deal with them
as you have dealt with me
because of all my sins.
My groans are many
and my heart is faint.”
How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
in the day of his anger.
Without pity the Lord has swallowed up
all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has torn down
the strongholds of Daughter Judah.
He has brought her kingdom and its princes
down to the ground in dishonor.
In fierce anger he has cut off
every horn of Israel.
He has withdrawn his right hand
at the approach of the enemy.
He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire
that consumes everything around it.
Like an enemy he has strung his bow;
his right hand is ready.
Like a foe he has slain
all who were pleasing to the eye;
he has poured out his wrath like fire
on the tent of Daughter Zion.
The Lord is like an enemy;
he has swallowed up Israel.
He has swallowed up all her palaces
and destroyed her strongholds.
He has multiplied mourning and lamentation
for Daughter Judah.
He has laid waste his dwelling like a garden;
he has destroyed his place of meeting.
The Lord has made Zion forget
her appointed festivals and her Sabbaths;
in his fierce anger he has spurned
both king and priest.
The Lord has rejected his altar
and abandoned his sanctuary.
He has given the walls of her palaces
into the hands of the enemy;
they have raised a shout in the house of the Lord
as on the day of an appointed festival.
The Lord determined to tear down
the wall around Daughter Zion.
He stretched out a measuring line
and did not withhold his hand from destroying.
He made ramparts and walls lament;
together they wasted away.
Her gates have sunk into the ground;
their bars he has broken and destroyed.
Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations,
the law is no more,
and her prophets no longer find
visions from the Lord.
The elders of Daughter Zion
sit on the ground in silence;
they have sprinkled dust on their heads
and put on sackcloth.
The young women of Jerusalem
have bowed their heads to the ground.
My eyes fail from weeping,
I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground
because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint
in the streets of the city.
They say to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
as their lives ebb away
in their mothers’ arms.
What can I say for you?
With what can I compare you,
To what can I liken you,
that I may comfort you,
Virgin Daughter Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
Who can heal you?
The visions of your prophets
were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
were false and misleading.
All who pass your way
clap their hands at you;
they scoff and shake their heads
at Daughter Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of the whole earth?”
All your enemies open their mouths
wide against you;
they scoff and gnash their teeth
and say, “We have swallowed her up.
This is the day we have waited for;
we have lived to see it.”
The Lord has done what he planned;
he has fulfilled his word,
which he decreed long ago.
He has overthrown you without pity,
he has let the enemy gloat over you,
he has exalted the horn of your foes.
The hearts of the people
cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
let your tears flow like a river
day and night;
give yourself no relief,
your eyes no rest.
Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
at every street corner.
“Look, Lord, and consider:
Whom have you ever treated like this?
Should women eat their offspring,
the children they have cared for?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord?
“Young and old lie together
in the dust of the streets;
my young men and young women
have fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of your anger;
you have slaughtered them without pity.
“As you summon to a feast day,
so you summoned against me terrors on every side.
In the day of the Lord’s anger
no one escaped or survived;
those I cared for and reared
my enemy has destroyed.”
I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?
Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
Why should the living complain
when punished for their sins?
Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.
Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
to God in heaven, and say:
“We have sinned and rebelled
and you have not forgiven.
“You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
you have slain without pity.
You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.
You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations.
“All our enemies have opened their mouths
wide against us.
We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
ruin and destruction.”
Streams of tears flow from my eyes
because my people are destroyed.
My eyes will flow unceasingly,
until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
What I see brings grief to my soul
because of all the women of my city.
Those who were my enemies without cause
hunted me like a bird.
They tried to end my life in a pit
and threw stones at me;
the waters closed over my head,
and I thought I was about to perish.
I called on your name, Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”
You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life.
Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
Uphold my cause!
You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
all their plots against me.
Lord, you have heard their insults,
all their plots against me—
what my enemies whisper and mutter
against me all day long.
Look at them! Sitting or standing,
they mock me in their songs.
Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
for what their hands have done.
Put a veil over their hearts,
and may your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under the heavens of the Lord.
How the gold has lost its luster,
the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
at every street corner.
How the precious children of Zion,
once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
the work of a potter’s hands!
Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.
Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.
Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
now lie on ash heaps.
The punishment of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
without a hand turned to help her.
Their princes were brighter than snow
and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
their appearance like lapis lazuli.
But now they are blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as a stick.
Those killed by the sword are better off
than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
for lack of food from the field.
With their own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed.
The Lord has given full vent to his wrath;
he has poured out his fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion
that consumed her foundations.
The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.
But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
the blood of the righteous.
Now they grope through the streets
as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
that no one dares to touch their garments.
“Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.
“Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”
When they flee and wander about,
people among the nations say,
“They can stay here no longer.”
The Lord himself has scattered them;
he no longer watches over them.
The priests are shown no honor,
the elders no favor.
Moreover, our eyes failed,
looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched
for a nation that could not save us.
People stalked us at every step,
so we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near, our days were numbered,
for our end had come.
Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
and lay in wait for us in the desert.
The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath,
was caught in their traps.
We thought that under his shadow
we would live among the nations.
Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom,
you who live in the land of Uz.
But to you also the cup will be passed;
you will be drunk and stripped naked.
Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,
and expose your wickedness.
Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Egypt and Assyria
to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion,
and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
with jackals prowling over it.
You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.
Habakkuk (audio) is one of my favorite biblical books, though each and everyone is just as important in its place. Habakkuk is helpful to me, because it challenges God over God’s leading, will, and work. It seemed to Habakkuk that God did not make sense in terms of what God was doing at the time. Habakkuk wanted life to make sense in a world bent against God and God’s will. And it was certainly personal to Habakkuk, who stood as one of God’s prophets, proclaiming God’s word, often of God’s judgment in anticipation of God’s justice and salvation. But what was to unfold according to God’s word given to him as we see in the book seemed to make a mockery of justice. That God would use Babylon which engaged in practices more evil than the nation God was punishing, his own people Israel, made absolutely no sense to Habakkuk.
This single thought, to be taken from the book as a whole, is vitally important, if we’re to be true worshipers of God. Habakkuk ends up being a book of worship, though it is in the process of working through real life that Habakkuk finally gets to that. And part of that process was questioning God.
God did answer, and that’s vitally important for us today. We have God’s answer in spades, when you consider not only the book of Habakkuk, but the entire Book of the Bible. And yet to live through the process, not to mention to try to get our heads around it, or more likely, just to try to begin to understand it, is really beyond us. We need God’s grace and help for sure.
But there’s nothing more important for us as God’s people in Jesus than to be true worshipers of God. To remain in that posture, we will have to work through challenges to God’s goodness and greatness. But it’s vital to us that we are committed to being worshipers of God, come what may. The thought Habakkuk closes with, quoted above. In and through Jesus.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Worship of God is held in the highest esteem in scripture. And yet it’s not simple to define or describe. And we all too often are at a loss to understand what it really means in our lives and practices, even as professed followers of Jesus. Jesus was certainly a worshiper of God, of his Father, but in the mystery of the Trinity, as we see from the New Testament, received worship himself.
Worship has been described as giving worth-ship to God, how the English word was derived. From scripture it is in terms of awe and proper reverential fear. It is the human response to God’s greatness and goodness. And by grace, it is the response of love to Love, entrusting one’s whole life and being into God’s hands and seeking to live that out in every way in our lives. Worship surely does not exclude any part of our humanity, or the gifts God has given us. We receive such gifts, but reserve adoration, thanks and praise to the Giver. We refuse to allow any of those things to occupy what is not fitting for them, while appreciating and enjoying them for what they are. God is in a category other than all else. Ironically, as we give God that due, we can love and appreciate all God’s gifts in a more pure, complete sense.
To be worshipers of God individually and together ought to be our goal as followers of Christ. That should be our expressed purpose and passion. Surely Jesus was bereft in feelings after fasting in the wilderness for forty days and nights. At least Jesus did not refer to his feelings, but to God’s word when refuting Satan in making it clear that humans are to worship only God. Of course the first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3).
Only God can help us “get it” at all. As Jesus said, the Father is looking for worshipers, and such worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). We need the Spirit and the word to help us, and we also need the community of the redeemed, the church (Ephesians 3:14-21).
If we concentrate on worshiping God, the rest will come much easier, I’m supposing. Not to say that life all the sudden will become easier, or we’ll arrive in any kind of sinless state. But we will be helped immensely, and be a help much more, if we can just begin to get our feet on the ground in seeking to be worshipers of God. In and through Jesus.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
There are times which especially seem to test our faith in God. Somehow our belief in God’s goodness can correlate with whether or not things are working out as we might expect. Even when in this life, we can be sure that often things will not.
God’s goodness is above and beyond circumstances. And God’s goodness and greatness go together. So that regardless of the mistakes we make, and less than the best choices, and even grievous sins along the way, provided we repent, or try to learn from our mistakes, and even when we fail to, God remains God. Life remains an existence in this broken, sin-cursed world. We can’t expect either to change. Just because God is great and God is good, as scripture says, doesn’t mean that life under the sun in this present existence will not be without its difficulties, disappointments, and indeed dilemmas, not to mention dangers, along the way, as scripture says.
We’re called to trust in God at all times, which often is not easy for us in the midst of our trials and own weakness. But that’s God’s call to us. And an important part of that is expectations. God is always great and always good, and will be at work in everything for our good, as we trust in him, and live according to his will. But all the rest, including we ourselves, is limited at best, and flawed to the point of broken, at worst. It is healthy to realize both, clearly evident in scripture and life.
So God is great and good, and life under the sun has difficulty mixed in with goodness, and will have its problems all the way through. We are called to trust in God at all times in this existence, and to pour out our hearts to him in prayer. With the promise and reality that God is our refuge. It is God to whom we go, and in whom we trust. And we need to do so, just as the psalm tells us, to find our rest in him, no matter what. In and through Jesus.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
Usually this blog doesn’t touch on anything political in the worldly, partisan sense, and I have no intent that this post will be an exception. And if it does, then I hope not to tip my hand as to where I might be in what essentially is a spectrum in which good, intelligent people differ.
I am a “baby boomer” and I remember well the rise of Moral Majority. I think in large part it was a response to the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v Wade, a stand against abortion, but also a stand against immorality, particularly against the rise of open homosexuality.
It is my opinion that the church involved in such pursuits as Moral Majority, largely lost its way to the extent it was involved in this. I am thinking of the conservative part of the church, evangelical, in which I was raised. There is the liberal or progressive wing of organized church, which lines up on the opposing side. And the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, on the conservative side, particularly against abortion, though many of its adherents depart from the church on issues such as birth control and homosexuality.
I believe the part of the church which has gone on this path, the path of the culture wars, regardless which side (though, like Christ’s letter to the seven churches in Revelation, there are numerous ways the church can become unfaithful to Christ), has frankly gone off on a side path, and in doing so stumbled, at least as far as its witness goes. We are present for one reason and one reason only: Christ and the gospel. When we give something like supreme allegiance to anything less, then we not only endanger our souls in the process, but the souls of those we are to be a witness to of the gospel.
Paul lived in a different time. No representative democratic republic such as we live in here in the United States. Roman rule was essentially totalitarian, and the Christian message was a direct affront to it, though the gospel had no intention of a rule like that which God has actually ordained in the world. It is a rule based on Christ, and the good news in him, someday to take over the earth in the new earth, but present now by the Spirit in the church.
But Paul cared about one thing, and that was his calling, and by extension, ours today as well: the proclamation and witness by word and deed and life, of the good news in Jesus. Of the world’s need of that good news. And what it means for everyone today. Including all who serve in government.
Interestingly, Paul’s message did impact people in government, and even members of the emperor Caesar’s household. And the impact of the church’s witness was exponential growth, God’s hand in it. Not, I would argue, what we’ve seen in my lifetime.
We need to get back to the basics. Yes, as US citizens we can and should, to whatever extent we’re led, participate in the political process. But we must not compromise our identity in Christ and what that means for the world. In terms of the good news in Jesus which can only begin to be fully understood and appreciated through the pages of all of scripture.
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
If there’s one thing that has stood out to me over the decades of being a Christian, it is the importance of scripture: God’s written word. Of course I’m referring to the “Bible.” If one reads the Bible and takes it to heart, they’ll come to realize that the Bible alone is not enough, because it points us to what else God provides for us in Christ, not least of which is the church. But we can say that scripture is foundational for life, for understanding God’s will, as well as God’s grace and salvation.
And scripture is important in helping us have an interactive relationship with God. Scripture is the primary means through which God speaks to us, at least being, again, foundational in that. We take our cues from scripture, God speaking to us both directly and indirectly through it.
It is easy to neglect God’s word, which is in part why I suppose the psalmist states that they will not neglect it. It takes commitment and effort on our part. And a willingness to simplify our lives around what is informative, formative, and vital for our Christian life. And we learn from those who are gifted and who study scripture to teach it week after week, as well as those who do the same in writing books.
We need to take this to heart and to life and keep doing so, in and through Jesus.
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?
But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
I heard or read that a Christian leader of the past wanted his biography to include warts and all. I appreciate that. And that’s exactly what the Bible does. Read the list of names in Hebrews 11 for example. David is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Real people who made mistakes, some glaring ones, old fashioned sin, yet repented, and found their way in God.
And the Bible refers to a real world, not some make believe existence which really is not present, except on TV or something make believe. But also the Bible awakens us to the world as God conceived and created it to be, the beginning of which is found in Christ in the new creation. The church is the integral part of that, through faith in the good news in Jesus, in scripture, and baptism. It is already a God-centered world, not man-centered. And someday that will all be not only evident to all, but really the “air” everyone breathes, when heaven and earth become one in Jesus.
I like that, because I’m a real person who struggles just like everyone else, and has not done as well as I should have at certain parts of my life. But has also repented, and continues to repent, as needed. What we need is truth, and all of it. Truth exposes us, but it also leads us to what we were made for in the first place. We have to be open to it, to other possibilities other than the myths we’ve grown up with. The true myth, since myth itself does not necessarily mean what isn’t true. It is a representation of what actually is real in a world that embraces what’s really not. Truth is found in the one who claimed that he himself is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).
Again, that’s why I much prefer the Bible. It tells the truth about ourselves, but it also shows us what God wants. Beginning in this life, and fulfilled completely in the next, in and through Jesus.