Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.



throwing in (casting) my lot with the evangelicals, but hopefully “simply Christian”

If you’ve known me through the years, you’ll know that I’ve flirted with the Great Tradition, at one time years back considering considering (yes, repeated) becoming a Roman Catholic. And liking much of what I witnessed and was aware of from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I still hold the Great Tradition in esteem, but to make a long story short, it seems evident on the face of it, that the true church is bigger, and that the tradition is not as infallible as it might seem to some. But I won’t dig further there.

I could come up with all sorts of reasons, I suppose, why in the end I remain something of an evangelical (maybe of an Anabaptist, liturgical mix), while not making the mistake of cutting myself off from the Great Tradition, as if they aren’t part of the true church as well. They are, at least all who are born of the Spirit, which is the case since the church is the Spirit-indwelled Body of Christ on earth, surely on both a local and global, universal level.

The evangelicals are made to be a regular punching bag nowadays, from so-called “progressive” Christians to nearly everyone else. And it’s not like we’re without our faults. What tradition doesn’t have issues? Strengths and weaknesses? Of course some will refuse to acknowledge any good in a given tradition, nothing new if we consider social interent sites like Facebook, where never is heard a discouraging or encouraging word, depending.

Let’s just say that I cast my lot in with the church and the gospel, with scripture being the backbone of all of that, the church deriving its authority from both. Of course the Lord himself, to whom all authority has been given, the one from and through whom we live and work.

Can the evangelicals change in some helpful ways before the Lord returns? Of course only God knows what that should be, but surely yes. Life goes on with much change for better or for worse, but God’s word and the truth of the gospel remains the same. Our understanding hopefully will grow within those necessary bounds. And the church by the Spirit most definitely has an important say in that.

Hopefully, “simply Christian” with an emphasis on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, is where I stand, but only with others. Yes, each one of us, but also necessarily, all of us together. Before the world, in and through Jesus.

read the entire Bible (and keep reading it again and again)

Read or listen to the Bible, or both. Read it slowly, read it in large chunks. If it is God’s word written, it should begin to make an impact on our lives. And get into a church which either reads all of the Bible over time (through a lectionary), or preaches/teaches the Bible well (like the church we’ve been taking our grandkids to), preferably both.

Start children slowly, but wisely through the word, through the story and message of scripture. I think Our Daily Bread for Kids (and here) is a good place to start. Of course with the littlest ones, we’ll need materials or practices appropriate for them. Our Daily Bread for Kids Sunday School Songs (and here, scroll down) starts getting them to listen and eventually sing, which is good, even for the youngest age, I think.

The point is, we need to be in the word, day and night. And that word leads us to the Word, Jesus, the fulfillment of everything, bringing all things to their ultimate goal in God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

Why? Not for any other reason, other than the end itself. This is not a means to be a better American, a better world citizen, a better whatever, even though those things might be good in their proper place. No, it’s about being a true Christian, a follower of Christ, whatever the result of that may be.

Begin small, and keep at it. Bible Gateway is a good place to start to look for a Bible translation which might fit you. My preferred translation is the New International Version (NIV) which I think achieves an excellent balance between up to date scholarship, accuracy and readability. My second preference might be the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) , but there’s many other good Bible translations to choose from (again, see Bible Gateway).

I can’t end better than from the psalmist, but with the additional thought from scripture that this light is not just for ourselves, but for the world, in and through Jesus.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

not believing

I am not talking about our church, nor am I talking about real Christianity, as in the ideal given to us in scripture. Even there we see serious issues and problems within some of the churches. I am referring to my experience with other believers at times. When I have thought that we were not doing well, or doing what we should have done by each other, especially with reference to needed reconciliation and growth in grace, then I look at what Jesus taught, what the New Testament teaches, and I can only shake my head in disbelief. And say to myself, “I don’t believe in this kind of Christianity.” Of course it’s not the real thing.

Therefore my problem is not with Christianity as given to us in scripture, but to our failure to live it out. Some matters are extra hard, though no doubt we are always in need of God’s grace and his Spirit to live at all in any moment in accord with God’s will in Jesus. I am referring to our stubborn refusal to obey the plain words of scripture. Perhaps we can’t see this because of the hardness of our heart along with lack of knowledge of what scripture says, perhaps including poor biblical interpretation.

Disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch. Was it because they were like Jesus? Or more in terms of their profession of faith in being followers of this Jesus Christ, with some meaning of the Anointed One in “Christ” being carried over. I don’t know. We do bear his name. And so we are to represent him.

Therefore we need to be called to account for our failure to take this sufficiently seriously. It is never a question of not being able, since our ability is always in Jesus and never in ourselves. It is more a matter of simple obedience. In all of our weakness, we seek to obey and be obedient children. So that our profession of faith may honor the one whose name we bear.

the failure of Christianity

In a certain sense, and indeed even in a primary sense, Christianity can’t be a failure because Christ is at the heart of it, by the Spirit. And yet as an institution, Christianity has failed again and again. As Christendom it failed in its unholy alliance to nation-states. Christianity continues to fail insofar as it gets away from God’s calling to it in scripture. Should the church speak out with reference to what is going on in the world? Yes, I think so. But above all we have to live out the mission Christ has called us to of making disciples of all nations.

A certain school of atheists nowadays make much of these kind of things, and indeed some of them are breathtakingly bad. Evil, yes evil is the right word. Of course not all those who name the name of Christ belong to him. And not all who are followers of the Lamb really follow him in all of life, or entirely in his way of  life. I don’t want to gloss over the failures of Christianity, which are many. Both inside and out. And yet something powerful is at work, even in spite of those failures, yes, even in spite of ourselves, not to excuse ourselves for a moment. We need to repent and change where that’s needed.

That something at work is God in Christ having reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, as God offers to the world through the church, this message of reconciliation. Jesus declaring that God’s kingdom is present in him, God’s grace in Jesus offered to all, as we await the coming of the kingdom in its fullness and completion when heaven and earth become one in Jesus. God powerfully present in Jesus by the Spirit so that we can proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and grace in Jesus, heal the sick, cast out demons, prophesy, and even raise the dead.*

Above all, we are to be in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ as individuals and as a body, a community. There is only one answer to the world, to the plight of the world, to all the wars and fighting in the world. Only one real answer, period. It’s not western liberalism, not western liberal democracy, not a conservatism which points to the past, though there is good in all of these things. No, the answer for the world lies only in Christ, in God’s kingdom and grace come in him. The answer comes through the church, but that answer must always be well grounded in God’s revelation in Christ, and in nothing less than that. For Christ followers it must be the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection, the way of love, even to all of our enemies, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. As we look forward to the day when Jesus will come and bring in the justice in mercy which is to begin in and with us here and now.  Together in Jesus in this for the world.

*Of course God doesn’t always heal, though I agree with Jordan Seng that we should assume that God wants to heal as a default position. And demons are real, though we in the west have managed to hide them quite well. The gospel, God’s power for salvation, can drive them out, but sometimes we have to take the matter in hand with the bratty, stubborn spirits.** God does want to speak to us directly and through others in various ways. And to raise the dead. Well, that’s one I can’t at all wrap my imagination around, except to say that this has happened in cultures in which spiritual power is more prevalent in the sense of being more evident and open. Miracles are a part of scripture. The fruit of the Spirit, in a certain sense does indeed trump the gifts of the Spirit, but it shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, but rather, and/both.

**I write that second hand from, I trust, a good source

the evangelical subculture

I am an evangelical Christian within the Protestant Reformed stream, probably more on the Anabaptist side of that within what is called the Radical Reformation. Often in a group we are not as aware of our strengths as we are of our weaknesses. But we can also be blind to weaknesses, which in themselves may even be good, innocent things in themselves, though not always.

Evangelicals are a subculture within the wider American and world culture. The question I want to ask here is this: What are we known for? As those who follow Jesus, and are a true counter culture? Representing a kingdom that is different than any entity of the world, but in and for the world? And for a clear witness to the King, Jesus?

Of course the world might frame us in ways only the world would. We are anti-progressive, moralistic, judgmental, etc., etc. While we should listen to what is said just to see where there may be some truth, we also need to keep in mind Jesus words that as the world hated him, it will hate those who follow him. There is no doubt that simply to be a follower of Jesus, yes a Christian (I prefer the former term), will be problematical in a world system which often has priorities and conditions that contradict or are problematical to the faith.

I think we have to consider our stance in the intellectual sphere. Not so much where we land, but how we get there. We need to do so from a studied, deliberate approach, which takes well into account the best of Christian and other thinkers from the past and present.

And above all we should be known for what we are: followers of Christ, members of his Body, witnesses of God’s presence, words and work in Christ, proclaiming the good news of Christ. Known as those who are different, who are like the one we profess to follow. Known for our love and obedience to Christ. Shown in good works especially to those in need. And love for our enemies. Not known for anything less.

I aspire to being a follower of Jesus

On my Facebook there is a category in the profile under “Philosophy” called “Religious Views.” For some time now I simply put “Christian”. Recently I switched that to “Follower of Jesus.” For some reasons I have a hard time considering myself a Christian. Well, in reality I am. I am one in and through Jesus with all who name the name of Jesus, and I do hold to the orthodox Christian faith. So I must explain.

I dislike red letter Bibles. Looks like at this point I’m stuck with one, until I decide to buy a more expensive edition, as I replace my translation of choice that no longer will be published, the TNIV, with the new edition of the NIV. The kind of Bible I want to purchase now is available only in red letter editions. Letters are colored red which are of the words determined to have been spoken by Jesus. They are popular. Many of us, though, think we don’t need red letters to remind us just how important those words are. Nor is such in the original. But that’s okay.

The words of Jesus are important. And that is in large part why I want to say I want to be a follower of Jesus, as opposed to Christian. Christian has come to mean holding to faith in a context other than the kingdom of God come, and revealed in Jesus. Often it is largely in an individualistic context in which one’s basic aim in life seems hardly altered. Of course it takes time for us to grow up in Jesus, and indeed such growth involves a process over a lifetime. But we too often have taken an American or worldly mindset, and sought to baptize that with our faith. Rather than having our faith baptize us, so to speak, into a completely new life. Of course water baptism does that, and faith, as we read in Romans 6, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It’s an entirely different world than our world, than our conventions, even crossing our sensibilities at times, dare I say many times? Jesus calls us to love God with our entire being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In him is fulfilled the call to fast in order to love, to do justice, as we walk humbly with God. And this in the biblical framework is done together with others. Which is why I simply don’t consider any reading worth my time which does not hold community in Jesus important in our call in God to mission. I’m not referring to snippets, but to works as a whole.

Jesus calls us to follow him in forgiving any brother or sister who repents after wronging us. To not do any duty of faith if any sister or brother has something against us, but first go and be reconciled to them, and then do what else is required. To love our neighbor in caring, sacrificial ways. To love even our enemies, praying for them, doing good to them, and refusing to strike back at them, after they strike us. We are to take no less than the way of the cross, a cross-shaped life of love, in our following of Jesus. Together in and for the world.

I find plenty of Christianity dull and uninteresting, I mean our take and expression of the faith. I didn’t say all, but plenty. I’m afraid this may be more a reflection on me, than on Christianity; I want to be open to that! Oh yes, I can sadly be content with much less than following Jesus. Doing this and that, which up to a point is good. But I know in my bones and in my heart that there is more. Not only more, but that that more gets to the heart of what Jesus is all about. And so what we are to be about in Jesus.

A sacramental understanding of baptism and of the Lord’s Table is important, but not enough. We need all the understanding given in scripture, and much of that is directive even in imperatives. Through God’s grace in Jesus, we’re to live in God’s love, in obedience to our Lord. Fulfilling our call as God’s people in this world in no less than God’s kingdom present and at work in Jesus. Of which we are a part.

This is why I would prefer in today’s terms to be understood, not so much as a Christian, but as a follower of Jesus. With all others in his Body. One for all, and all for one. For the world. In and through Jesus.