our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

faith (Proverbs 3:5-6): the entryway into the rest

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

Proverbs 3:3-12

Proverbs 3:5-6 has been a go to passage to me for some time:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

It’s vitally important to consider anything in the context of the whole. The passage might help someone who doesn’t; I think it often would. But it must not stop there. We are called to be followers of Christ, and in so doing we must be students of Scripture. Our desire is to find and understand the entire counsel of God no less. That takes effort and time, and indeed, I believe, a church.

What helped me over the years was listening to scripture first on cassettes, then on CDs. Now people are blessed to be able to listen online wherever they are if they so choose. That was overall good for me; I would get through the Bible normally at least twice a year. But while I was getting an overall good sweep of things, I wasn’t settling sufficiently on details long enough, only in what would stand out to me. Not to say that’s not good, but only to say we must be committed to understanding everything in the context of the whole, certainly a lifelong endeavor.

For me Proverbs 3:5-6 is still a lifeline I need to hold on to. It’s akin to faith, which without, nothing else matters. Grace through faith, to be sure. But it’s the beginning point, or entryway into all the will of God. It’s definitely not faith so that God will help us accomplish our own goals, but faith so that we can learn to live in God’s good will. In and through Jesus.

when all seems against you

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it.
May those who curse days curse that day,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars become dark;
may it wait for daylight in vain
and not see the first rays of dawn,
for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me
to hide trouble from my eyes.

“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest
with kings and rulers of the earth,
who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
like an infant who never saw the light of day?
There the wicked cease from turmoil,
and there the weary are at rest.
Captives also enjoy their ease;
they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are freed from their owners.

“Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with gladness
and rejoice when they reach the grave?
Why is life given to a man
whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Job 3:1-26

One of the things I love about Scripture is the rugged, unapologetic, fully exposed truth about one’s experience and feelings. It is uncomfortable at times, even dreadful, yes, troubling, but it captures something of what we all experience in this life.

I return again and again to the wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes, especially for me, the latter. There’s plenty of wisdom to be gathered from them both, along with the standard essential wisdom we find in Proverbs.

This tells me that it’s okay to express our true thoughts, especially to God. Job was doing so with friends he trusted, but who, alas, turned out to be untrustworthy. That teaches us something, too. But Job was undeterred. He let them have their say, and he would have his. Back and forth it went. Until the end, when God intervened.

We have to read the entire story. We don’t want to remain forever in minor key. But somehow all of that is included in what we might call the song of Scripture. God didn’t erase these words of Job, this part from the story. Indeed, it’s an integral part. Without it, the story would be incomplete. It mirrors something of our own story.

God deals with us as we are, where we’re at. Not how we would like things to be. We come to God as we are, frankly confessing and simply speaking all that is on our hearts, and often troubled minds. And we wrestle through it, like Job did.

An essential part of genuine faith in and through Jesus.

in it for the long haul

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

The great book of Hebrews ends with a list of Old Testament saints who were simply people of faith (Hebrews 11). I use saints in the same way all are saints who are God’s people, set apart and holy, consecrated to God. We’re talking about ordinary people who have faith in an extraordinary God. See the passage.

The idea expressed here is not in terms of a sprint, or even a mile long race, but more like a marathon. It is a long race, actually lifelong. So that to run it well, we have to be in it for the long haul.

Often we think in terms of short bursts, or things in front of us we have to do which may take require special effort. We go from one such mini crisis to the next.

What might be more helpful for us is to try to look at everything, including the challenging problems as part of what we are called to do for the long haul. Everything is in the mix. Instead of seeing it all as one short sprint after another, it would surely be more healthy and helpful to see it as a whole, part of the race marked out for us by God. So that we’re not tied in knots over challenges that come our way, or inevitable setbacks.

When we get older, it may be easy to quit thinking in terms of the long haul. But this race lasts until the very end. We who are older ought to be an example in running it. Actually I wish I would have learned this well decades ago.

At any rate, let’s settle in, and by God’s grace throw off all that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. And with perseverance and endurance run, all the while fixing our eyes on Jesus. The one who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, whom we follow. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

 

2 Corinthians 13:1-10

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10

to love, regardless

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

We live in difficult, even if not perilous times here in the United States. And all around the world much division is becoming more and more evident, and often threatening to tear what fabric of society is left. And of course the actual conflicts with all the human tragedy.

If we don’t have hearts engaged with strong thinking and feeling, then we’re actually not real. Maybe we just want to avoid the pain, including the strife. To want to avoid such is natural, and to want to avoid strife, good. But probably impossible to avoid controversy if one acts on any convictions at all.

But what Paul was saying in the above passage, that in the midst of everything with a thoroughly Christ-centered conviction, following him with others, we’re to do everything in love. That’s how the short imperatives end. “Do everything in love.”

If we’re to break the impasse of strife and hate, we need to love. And not just any love. Not the “all you need is love” bit, which is only good up to a point. No, we need the love of Christ no less. The love of God in him. A love which goes to the cross and dies for one’s enemies, yes for one’s enemies. If we don’t love our enemies as Jesus taught and exemplified, then we fall short of that love.

Love, love, love. In Christ. That’s what we need for each other. And what the world needs to see from us. Which doesn’t mean we won’t speak out against what is wrong. But we always do so in love. And everything tempered in love. In and through Jesus.

avoiding consequences

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:8-14

Some people may think it’s less than holy to abstain from bad behavior out of fear of the consequences. But scripture doesn’t seem to agree with that objection. Yes, we want high motives, above all love for God and for people. But it is wise to simply avoid impulses to respond one way or another, as we trust in God, and let God vindicate what is good. Otherwise we’re in for some rough sledding, if nothing more, God’s loving disciplining hand.

A big one we practice is being passive aggressive. We react to perceived slights, maybe even obvious enough. It is better for us to hold back. Make no reaction, but bring such to God in prayer. To turn such occasions into times of talking with God. And refusing to respond in kind, and especially avoiding the deceptive evil of being passive aggressive which really is the same heart as being actively aggressive. Maybe it’s more subtle, but consequences, even if seemingly subtle, will come.

As the passage above tells us, we’re to turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. This requires discipline on our part, but especially faith, we could say a disciplined faith. We do our best to do what we’re called to do, and entrust ourselves to God. We refuse to act or react out of fear. We trust in God, and continue to do good. Believing in God’s vindication, and that God is at work for good. In and through Jesus.

continue on in scripture

I write everyday except for Sundays when I share a scripture passage, and usually something or another comes off pretty easily from what I’ve been meditating on, or through the experience of life. Today for some reason given the cold, and feeling a bit cold inside, I am struggling to come up with anything. Of course there’s no end to what we can write on from scripture. But I write quite a bit out of being a witness of what I’ve experienced, or better yet, how the Lord is teaching me through life.

We can always safely go back to one theme when we’re at a loss. We just continue on in scripture, and keep at that. Plod along. If one is looking for excitement and entertainment, then you won’t go there, you won’t do what I’m suggesting. But if you’re willing to push through that boredom, you’ll eventually find treasure. You’ll begin to find the riches from God that are in Christ, and found in scripture. For life in the present, as well as to come. In and through Jesus.

stepping aside for others

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

This passage in its rich context tells us that as those in Christ we’re to value others above ourselves. We’re to take the place of the servant just as the one we follow, Christ did. Of course he did it par excellence, like none other. He not only set the precedent, but only in and through him can it be lived out to its fullest. Not to say we can ever do it to the degree and perfection he did. No. But certainly by the Spirit, we can live it out from the heart.

There’s a time to step aside and let others take over and lead the way. Maybe after we’ve shown them the way by example and word. Then we can continue to be an example by letting them take over.

We do well to take the lower place. We want to do so in fellowship with the one who took the lowest place for us and for the world: Jesus. That’s the fellowship in which we’re to live ourselves, and with others in him. In and through Jesus.

real preaching and teaching

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

What is not real preaching and teaching is a simple parroting of the biblical text, and slapping together more teaching from scripture that seems related. Preaching or teaching doctrine, period. There has to be more than that. And the person attempting to preach or teach must have a gift for that from the Spirit.

I want to be most careful here, and not be misunderstood. Our faith is tied to revealed truth from scripture, fulfilled in the gospel and in Jesus. To preach and teach, we don’t add our own content. We simply are faithful to God’s word and message.

At the same time, real teaching and preaching involves not merely our voicing of it, but that we somehow identify with the message, so that at least we’re preaching to ourselves, probably more than anyone else. And that along the line it has somehow become a part of our lives. And that we’re growing in that. We speak the word, and we speak it out of experience. We testify to what we’ve seen and heard and experienced for ourselves.

Of course it’s a faithful attempt to be true to whatever God’s word is telling us, including application. See scripture for that. Plenty there. So it’s something that is down to earth, right into the warp and woof of our lives, and to the heart of all of life on earth. We can settle for no less. Anything less than that is not real preaching and teaching in the apostolic, biblical, Christ-formed way.