taking pains to be (and remain) reconciled

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5

There are times which try people’s souls. And events as in what people do and fail to do, including the words said. Most of the time we can look past the errors of others, even as we hope they look past our own mistakes and missteps. There are times when for a number of reasons we should hold someone accountable. Jesus said that if a brother or sister sins against you, but repents, we should forgive them, not just the seven times spoken by Peter in his question, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven), a hyperbole meaning always. Jesus did say that if our brother or sister sins, we should rebuke them, and if they repent, we should forgive them. So there is an accountability needed which isn’t easy on either side. It’s so much easier to let a lot of things go which actually ought to be addressed. On the other hand, love does cover over a multitude of sins, so there are plenty of things we can let go of, and simply pray about, or not take personally, perhaps seeing past the words to what is really going on in a person’s heart, their struggle. Of course we need wisdom and plenty of it. I get into trouble if I act too much on my own instead of seeking the wisdom from God that I need.

We need to learn to be supersensitive in the right way, by the Spirit toward the other in the way of Jesus in discerning what we should and should not do. And that would include what thoughts we should entertain, and what other thoughts we should summarily dismiss. If we can learn to do that, or to the extent that we can, we’ll avoid major headaches and heartaches, since the Lord won’t let us off the hook over broken or damaged relationships. Of course the peace we’re told to pursue in scripture does not necessarily mean a reconciliation with an offending or offended party, who themselves want no part of a healthy and full reconciliation. In some cases that will be completely impossible. We need discernment in wisdom in these cases, to know what lines to draw, and where to draw them. But by and large there are matters we’ll need to address in regard to others who are offended (or have offended). We do well to do so in a manner which is not about justifying ourselves, but about getting at both the truth and love, together. As we prayerfully attempt to do so, the Lord can honor and bless even our stumbling, halting, yet sincere effort and follow through to address a matter of actual high importance to him, which therefore should be highly important to us. While seeking to avoid such problems in the future when possible. In our life together, the common life in Jesus.

the church is where it’s at

Until we’ve had more than enough, too much of our full attention has been given to politics, specifically the upcoming presidential election. Certainly important in its place, no doubt. And for many evangelical Christians today the work of the kingdom is about helping the poor and disenfranchised in this world, even more important than the election, if you can compare apples and eggs.

But the place where God is doing his kingdom work is no less than in and out from the church, both in terms of the church’s life and mission. The kingdom consists of a king, people, place, law (and directive) and life. God’s kingdom in scripture ends up being in King Jesus, of course a rich kingdom in its meaning and reality.

Today there is all kinds of debate as to what it means to be the church, what the church should be about, how God’s kingdom is related to that in the first place, etc., etc., etc. That is all well and good, and vigorous theological discussion and even debate is I think part of what it means for the church to read, pray, and think through with the goal of living out God’s will found in scripture.

But while we do that, let’s make sure we remain strong on square one. We surely have plenty to learn, and just as much need for growth in what we have been given, but we must beware of minimizing with the danger of losing out altogether on what God places front and center. It is humble and sometimes bumbling, in fact, with the likes of me, it’s going to bumble more than not. But that is where God’s work of the Spirit through the gospel in the sacramental and common life with a view to mission takes place. And in spite, I might add, of all of us. God’s Spirit in this is as alive in one faithful church or denomination, as another, and there are many- in spite of what differences we have.

The church is as important in its place as scripture itself. And much more important than the upcoming elections.

 

what shapes us

America is looking toward a presidential election, the outcome of which will shape it one way or another. But that outcome is in part due to how America has already been shaped. As important as this election is, especially given the striking difference which seems to have come into play, this is not to be compared with the importance of being shaped by Jesus Christ through the gospel in the church, a shaping which is Trinitarian in its source: from the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

While I’m afraid the former takes on something of a formative place in the lives of many of us who name the name of Jesus that only the latter deserves, the truth is that we are shaped by where our faith, hope and love lie. And we’re to have one complete, entire commitment by which we’re shaped, to Jesus himself as our Lord and King. God not only is One, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but God is alone God, so that we’re to love him with all of our being and doing, and in that spirit, love our neighbor as ourselves.

It is God in Jesus by the Spirit who shapes us. But God does so through the gospel, through the sacramental and common life of the church, and through life itself, in all its bends, blessings, and even brokenness.

A key thought in this post is the truth that while, for example, being an American inescapably impacts us all, in a variety of different ways, since after all, we are American citizens, or we happen to live in America, or whatever society we’re a part of, we in Jesus find our essential shaping, even in that, in him no less. And that shaping in him is of course Trinitarian, gospel, and church-oriented. The common thread is a person, the person of Jesus himself. So that we find that we’re united not only to God through him, but also to each other in him. And in that unity we are being remade into the image no less of the One who is remaking us, a shaping that is to continue and last forever.

not judging others by how they vote, or the politics of the world which they hold

An annoyance of mine is when people, and in my world, specifically Christians, judge others concerning how they vote, or their political preference. Where I came from you never consider voting Democrat. It was always about finding the best Republican, supporting them, and in the end voting for whoever is the Republican nominee since it’s certain they’re better than the Democratic one.

The church either right (conservative) or left (progressive) can be heavy handed in this, either explicitly or implicitly. And it can be a form of legalism where people are expected to tow the line or else. There are a number of problems with this.

I’ll start with the least important. First of all, when you weigh and compare the agendas of the two main parties, along with agendas from other parties, there are inevitably always pros and cons. For me it’s no clear cut choice at all. Even on the abortion issue there are significant pros and cons between the two parties. And even the so-called pro-life party, the Republicans, which I don’t view as any more pro-life than the Democrats, really has done precious little to reduce the number of abortions. They’ve used it as an issue to get votes, I’m afraid, sad to say. With some relatively minor exceptions. What is needed in this nation is a change of heart which makes abortion less and less desirable toward the day when it will be a thing of the past. There are so many other issues: helping the poor, the environment, the broken down criminal justice system, and I’m sure the list could go on and on.

But now to the most important point by far. We in Jesus as God’s church are the body politic in the world which shows the world the new way through God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus. Our political allegiance is to God’s kingdom come in Jesus. Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. Caesar has some authority, and we’re to obey every ordinance of Caesar insofar as we can, for the Lord’s sake. But we must beware of giving to Caesar what belongs only to God. And I’m afraid both the religious left (which if anything is worse) and the religious right too often fail to see where our political allegiance should fully lie.

We can live with our differences, and vote on either side, regardless of what two candidates are representing the major two parties (or maybe some other candidate) on the November presidential ballot and for other government positions, or not vote at all. What we have to be united in is the gospel which itself is both implicitly and explicitly political in that we show how people are to live together with all that means under the authority of King Jesus, yes, in the church, through the sacramental and common life given to us from God in Jesus.

So let’s be careful not to judge each other in regard to how we think on the politics of this world, even while we may try to persuade others about this or that in it. Let’s be those whose politics are unmistakable, grounded solely in King Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. While perhaps just happening to be a Democrat, a Republican, something else, or like me, an Independent (ha). As we look to the one politic which will remain when all others have seen their day, and which is destined to take over the world when King Jesus returns.

the face of humility

The one who is truly humble knows they are proud, and as C. S. Lewis noted, the one who thinks they are not proud is truly proud. Humility in part realizes with eyes unblinking that we fall short of the mark, the mark being Jesus himself. Yet as important as that is, since we are sinners and in continued need to confess sins (in things we have done and failed to do), there is more to be said on humility. After all, Jesus himself who was without sin, said that he was gentle and humble. And it is said elsewhere that he humbled himself both in becoming human, and in being obedient to the point of dying the dreaded death of the cross.

Humility involves taking one’s proper place in God’s will, whatever that might be, and fulfilling it well. Within that there can be questions and appeals to God in prayer. But one makes the most of both seeking to perceive and live in God’s will in and through God’s grace in Jesus and by the Spirit. Humility also involves the full realization that everything is a gift, that whatever good might be found in us or come through us is completely a gift from God through creation and especially through new creation in Jesus. When Jesus lived on earth he lived in complete dependence on his Father. He did and said nothing apart from his Father. Paradoxically that kind of life is where freedom is found. It’s the life which makes no pretense, doesn’t try to be something it’s not. But simply to be who God is making us to be in and through Jesus, completely open to that. And an important, often missing point: humility is best learned in community in Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11).

This is a bit of what true humility is, something we should aspire to in this life, even purifying ourselves, as we look forward to the day when we will be completely like Jesus, since we will see him face to face, and by the Spirit will perceive him as he is (1 John 3:2-3).

growth in the hard places

Yes, “we believe…” But how much do we really believe? We might respond, “100% in my mind, I believe by faith in God’s word.” That might be a good start, depending, but not good enough.

We need to thoroughly embrace God’s word, and God’s promises for ourselves in Jesus. And more times than not, we need to do so in the crucible of hard life experiences in which we are cast on God’s mercy, and really dependent on his word.

Faith eventually means rest, but it also means effort, as a rule: effort to get into that rest.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:11

And that effort can mean nothing less than spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20). We need to remain in the word, in scripture, depending on the Spirit and the church (which includes the sacramental, as well as the common life), our faith being in Jesus and in the gospel.

God not only wants to make his will known to us, but he wants to enable us to walk/live in that will in and through his mercy and grace to us in Jesus. But make no mistake: this will require every effort on our part. And the trials that come, as we read in scripture can help us in the midst of a rock and hard place to really at long last find our way into the rest God has for us, for all, in and through Jesus.

 

we impact each other, for good or ill

Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

The original idea for this post was that we become like the people we hang out with. And there’s plenty of truth in that. But I want the emphasis here to be not only on how others affect us, but how we can affect them, how we all can and do impact each other.

Wise parents will want their children to have good company, other children who are being brought up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Proverbs 6:4). I struggle much with that thought, not so much on parents watching out for their children. And let me add here that I don’t think for a moment that the only children friends for our children are those of Christian households. Not at all. It’s more of a point that we want them to have friends who are being raised in the same way we are seeking to raise them, in the grace and fear of the Lord.

What I struggle with is mostly on the children’s level, though certainly can apply to us adults, particularly for those who are not seeking to walk close to the Lord. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” He hung out regularly with such in a way which chafed against the sensibilities of his people. And we who are seeking to follow him should do the same.

We can relax and enjoy such people, and even be impacted by them in ways that are helpful. They too are made in God’s image, even if they may deny the God in whose image they are made. We love them, and therefore wish and pray for their salvation, but our love for them has no strings attached. It’s not if they do or don’t do this or that, or become such and such, then we will continue to be their friend. And we follow and live in the one whose holiness was not defiled by sinners, but whose holiness could be used to make the unclean clean, and the unholy holy.

Where the danger for us comes is when we are not seeking to walk close to the Lord, which in significant part involves what is called the common life of the church in which we regularly meet together and interact to build each other up in the Lord. If we flag there, and start lagging behind, we can set ourselves up to be influenced by people of the world (the media being a major player in that) for ill.

We can’t think we’re foolproof either, just because we’re seeking to follow Christ. And even if we hung out only with others so doing. And an important part of the life we are to live in the present is to reach out to those who do not know the Lord, who may be plagued with this or that in their lives. We are there to help them. And even to receive whatever help God may give us through them.

And so we live in the love  and joy, as well as the fear of the Lord. Seeking to know him and others, and to be known. Even as we seek to walk closer and closer with our Lord.