for Memorial Day

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13

Today we remember those who laid down their lives in service to our nation. We honor their sacrifice. And we pray for those who continue to serve, as well as for all who put their lives at risk for the protection of others. And for the nations of the world: for peace, especially in those places where conflict continues and evil is very near. And we look forward to the coming of the Prince of Peace.

God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

truth will prevail

If truth does prevail, then what about God’s judgment? Of course we do well to shudder (Romans 2 and 3), since we indeed are all sinners. But without God’s judgment, how will justice, and yes, truth prevail? That is part of God’s atoning work in Christ, to take the judgment of sin upon himself in his death. So that all can be forgiven and given new life, justified in the sense of given status in God’s covenant family and thus made right, and reconciled to God and to each other in Christ. The final judgment is the purging of evil from the world to bring in the final and full salvation.

In the meantime we often find in this present life untruth and evil having a heyday. Untruth and evil do seem to go together against truth and goodness. It seems like the universe is wired, or at least ought to be wired for truth and goodness. Without a doubt we’re all in need of God’s grace in Jesus. If truth prevails, again, we’re all in trouble, since we have been and can be full of falsehood and the evil that accompanies that. And again, a big part of the good news in Jesus is that God took that evil upon himself on the cross in the Person of his Son, Jesus. The result of that is that by faith we’re forgiven, and given a passion for truth in the Truth himself, Jesus.

We have a passion for truth, while at the same time always and forever, along with the rest of the world being in great need of nothing less than the Truth himself. In the Truth, truth will prevail even here and now in the grace of God in that Truth himself. And we find out again and again that God does not condemn us in Jesus, but in and by Jesus- the Truth, God helps us to look for and see, even if seemingly only by faith, a better day, the day when all truth prevails, and to experience a true measure of that even in this present evil age when truth seems irrelevant to so many, and all but lost.

And so that is where we in Jesus hang our hats, not in a supposed progressive order in which the world is getting better and better on its own. But only in Jesus, the Truth himself, which should and can give us heart in the promise of God for the future beginning even in the present- in the here and now, in and through Jesus.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

when all seems lost (in this world)

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11

It is hard to put one’s finger on exactly what is going on in the world, the trajectory and back and forth, ebb and flow of it all. A well written history is indeed fascinating. I remember early on finding that especially so with American history, and especially that of the United States. We really can’t be sure where that is going all the time, and it seems like inevitably a mixed bag of good and bad. There is no doubt that we hope and pray for the good of peoples and nations, naturally first of all, our own nation, but not excluding any peoples, or nations.

So it’s not like we don’t care what is happening in the world. It’s more about expectations. We as Christians believe that God is indeed Sovereign over the nations, that somehow “God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year.” And that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in the place of ultimate rule and authority, somehow that rule flowing in and through the church as his Body in the world, through the gospel, from the Father by the Spirit. But what we see is at best incomplete, and at worst seems incoherent and subject to forces which begin to make all too much sense in terms which are not helpful, and even evil. As in all of life in this world, it’s not simply a matter of good and evil, since there seems to be an admixture of both as people like Abraham Lincoln knew all too well.

The answer that we in Jesus need to dwell on, which is not just for us, but for the world, has already been mentioned in this post. It is the rule of King Jesus through his body the church, a rule which is solely through the gospel, the good news in and of him. Again, there is much good that can happen since humankind is made in the image of God, albeit with undercurrents and waves of evil present. But the only sure-fire hope for the world is in Jesus through the gospel. And that gospel certainly pertains to the present life, but is also about the life to come. In fact, strangely enough, it brings something of the life to come into the present through the new creation in Jesus.

For us who believe in that hope in Jesus, which by the way means nothing less than a faith which simply anticipates and waits for the completion of God fulfilling his promises, that means we don’t settle into even the best this world has to offer. We are in a sense strangers and foreigners here, because we point to the only salvation in Jesus alone. A salvation not just in terms of the individual, though certainly about that as well, but for the entire world, and every aspect of it. A hope that seems planted in human hearts until all of that seems more or less lost. The hope for what the Bible calls shalom, which not only means justice, but goodness manifested in human flourishing along with the flourishing of all creation.

We pray for good, and against evil in the world, in the nations and governments. But our hope and expectation is in none of that. It is only in the Lord Jesus through the gospel, the good news in and about him. That is the one political reality and salvation we hold on to, both for the present world, as well as that to come. And in which we in Jesus have begun to live even now. Meant not only for us, but for the world in and through Jesus.