the gospel from us evangelicals

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:13-18

I frequently have seen critiques of evangelicals which to some extent ring true. One of the most common is the charge against us that we focus too much on individual piety, and on a personal relationship with Christ, and how our view of the gospel’s impact in the world doesn’t go much further than that. Unfortunately I think there’s all too much truth in that. But at the same time, in spite of it, I see evangelical concern for justice and for the poor made evident both within churches, and through organizations like World Vision and Compassion International.

The gospel is about reconciliation, and while certainly in terms of individuals to God through Christ, also about all of humankind being reconciled and ultimately brought together as one family under Christ. And this reconciliation, while breaking down the basic barrier between Jew and Gentile, also breaks down all other barriers as well, we might say all other dividing marks which put one party over or against another: slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).

So I think it’s not a matter so much at all about what we evangelicals have taught, but more of a matter of what we either fail to teach, or more likely are simply lax in. So that when we consider one’s personal relationship with God and walk through Christ, we need to think of it in terms of community as well as their own personal experience. So that such is always factored in as part of the whole.

I no longer look for a church which has it altogether. I have lived long enough to doubt the existence of such a church. We all have our flaws, weak points, and at times, even blind spots. I realize too that I’m prone along the same lines as everyone else. I too have probably emphasized personal piety in my reading, meditation and teaching of scripture to the exclusion at times of the bigger picture. There’s always the possibility of gradually improving as one sees that picture in scripture.

So we need not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead we need to be thankful for the strong points, which are valid and helpful in their place. To thank God for that, and make the most of it. Even as we continue to work on understanding the expansiveness of the impact of the gospel, how it’s meant to bring in no less than a new creation of the old, making all things new only in and through Jesus.

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God is delighted in change

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9

I think it’s both interesting, and actually not authentic, as in corresponding to the truth, and not real when someone seems to think or act as if they have it all together. Change is something which is to occur not only at the outset of our journey of faith, but ongoing, throughout that journey. Scripture bears witness to that again and again, both in precept and in story. We as evangelicals emphasize conversion as being at the point of salvation, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But actually, I think it’s a process which extends from before salvation, and continues on afterward to the very end of one’s life, if I read the pages of scripture correctly.

I believe from scripture and from what I see and experience that God in his grace through Jesus delights in the smallest, real change in us for good in making us more like himself, more like his Son, Jesus. And I’m thinking of change in just any one area, when plenty of other areas in our lives may and will still need some serious work, God’s working of course, along with our active compliance. It’s not like God shakes his head and says something like, “Well, that’s good, but he/she still has a long ways to go.” No. I believe without a doubt in the God who delights in any change in his children, which brings them somehow closer to him, and to his family likeness.

And just as much as that, I also believe that it comes primarily through us praying. Paul’s case (then called Saul), quoted above, is interesting, as he was in the midst of an epic, earthquake-like life changing experience, and in the midst of it, he is praying. I think without a doubt that if we take what is wrong in our lives seriously, and quit excusing it, we will start by confessing it as an actual sin to God, and then begin to pray, seeking him for the needed change, however that should be played out. Certainly a change of heart to begin with, and a change in our lives.

We can’t do this on our own, and we won’t, even if we think somehow that we are. We should take heart that God is bringing us along, and wants our communion with him through prayer, as he continues to make us like his Son, and brings the one family in him more and more into the light of his love and life. In and through Jesus.

repenting of the sin of racism

The white nationalist rally in Virginia yesterday reminds us of the ugly sin of racism, which is blatantly and openly being promoted in the United States today. I think something should have been said in churches this morning calling for the need for white supremacists to repent, and for all of us along with them to repent, since none of us is guiltless when it comes to racism, even those who as far as they know, don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.

From a Christian perspective, racism is at heart a denial of the gospel. The gospel is about both our reconciliation to God, and our reconciliation to each other, including, and we might even say, especially our enemies. Through the cross of Jesus, through his death, every wall of hostility is broken down, and destroyed. The love of the God who is love will prevail in and through Jesus.

In the meantime we live in a broken world, full of sin and hate, and the blindness and false vision that brings.

Again, we all need to start with ourselves. None of us is without guilt. We’re all compliant in some way or another. At the very least, we fail to love our neighbor if we don’t sufficiently try to understand their perspective and their plight.

We may not know where to begin, but we would do well to get on knees before God, and ask him for his help for us to see. It can be a struggle, because there is sin on every side. We have to forgive each other along the way. And we need to keep the larger narrative in view of slavery in the United States. To begin to think that African Americans/ Blacks don’t face anything different than we white Caucasians face, is at least a denial of the testimony of many a black sister and brother in Jesus today, along with other blacks.

I have plenty to learn on this. Let’s not ever think we have the answer, but together, let’s turn to the One who does. Looking to God through Jesus and the gospel to help us show the world the way of love. The Lord will help us through the Spirit to show the world the family love which characterizes those who know the Father, having been born of the Spirit.

As we look forward to the day when all sin and hate will forever be gone and only God’s love will remain, in and through Jesus.

the fear of the Lord providing security

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
    and for their children it will be a refuge.

Proverbs 14:26

The fear of the Lord is called the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, referring to something of an inside understanding from God. There is certainly a reverential awe with surely a sense of wonder. But never a cowering fear. Through Jesus we know God as a loving Father, whose love knows no bounds (see Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son, which also could aptly be called the Prodigal Father). But this God who is love is still God.

This fear of God paradoxically makes one secure, in a sense fearing nothing. We read in 1 John that there is no fear in love, that perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with judgment. Although we know that in ourselves we are unworthy, yet living in the fear of God and what he has provided for us in Jesus gives us a security that is not only like being a part of the family, but actually is. Somehow, in whatever way this might best be expressed, and probably in a number of ways, we find security, or a fortress of safety in fearing the Lord, and best of all along with that, this is a refuge for our children. They too can find it, as we live in it. A wonderful reality for us all, in and through Jesus.

when old wounds are reopened

When what still seems to be fresh wounds are reopened, what do we do? I think we try to address the problem, in grace, but forthrightly. With an emphasis on gentleness and love. And we bring our pain before God. Like the psalmists, like Jesus himself. We must forgive, we can’t hold anything against anyone. If we understand something of our own hearts, that should help us readily forgive others, since we know that we too are in need of grace and forgiveness every day.

We want also to prayerfully consider where the other party is. Perhaps they have had a legitimate complaint concerning which we need to repent. Or perhaps they have an insight we don’t, though at the same time “insights” have all too often trumped what scripture says. When tradition, reason and experience take precedence over, or are even in put on an even par in authority with scripture, God’s voice in his written word, that is wrong.* Nothing is on a par with scripture, even though tradition, reason and experience serve to both grapple with and confirm its meaning and application for the times. We too need to beware that our “insight” is according to scripture.

In the end, we come together before God and through Christ. In the end all wounds of this nature in and through Jesus will be healed. Love will abound in righteousness, and righteousness will abound in love. Until then we carry on, praying the prayer our Lord gave us to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

*This insight (stated in my understanding of it here, if not as he wrote it) I gathered from Richard B. Hayes, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics.

the Winter blues

Actually we’ve barely moved into Winter, on the calendar only have begun. Perhaps it’s a combination of cold weather (though it has been unseasonably warm) and the end of Advent which has got me. Although we still do have one last Christmas Sunday coming. But this is the time of the year, I think, when more suicides occur, and more heart attacks as well. Allegedly, more loneliness.

Perhaps that makes it a good time to reflect all the more on what our hope actually is. It is not in the things of this life, nor in any of the entities of this life which people often put so much of their faith in and hope on. Even though these may have their place and indeed be helpful. Whatever good we receive is from the good hand of God, who may use these things.

But most important we need to draw near to God, to seek God, to make every effort to find our rest in him. For me I might recite a psalm I know such as Psalm 23. I do practice reciting repeatedly during a day both the “Jesus Creed” and “the Lord’s/our Father prayer.” I find these helpful in keeping me centered on what’s important in our calling in Jesus. And they can be helpful in seeking to draw near to God.

And we need friends. It is always helpful to find a true, loyal friend, one to whom we can listen, and who will listen to us. Friends who no matter what, like each other, or even during possibly unlikable times remain loyal to each other.

Of course the church is the one entity we can return to again and again, in spite of us, we might say in spite of it, though we must remember for all its weakness and imperfection, it is the body of Christ.  And for those of us who have families such as spouses, we need to keep close and spend quality time which means quantity as well, with each other.

And so we want to shore up during times in which we may be more vulnerable to depression or inward struggle. We need to be present for and committed to each other. In Jesus together for the world.

God the Father of all in Jesus

God is father of all by creation, so that in that sense we can say that all humanity are sons and daughters of God, and that we in that sense are all one family, even as we are one humanity, one race, certainly intermingled, whatever the biological differences may be.

But God is father in the deepest sense to all who put their faith in Jesus:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…

We need God as our Father, and we find that through faith in Jesus. And I believe God seeks as a father the lost throughout the world, everyone whom he has created, since they in that sense are his children. Sadly we rebel and distance ourselves from God in our lostness. But he seeks us out, and longs for our return, even as the father did in Jesus’ story of the lost (“prodigal”) son.

God being our father through faith in Jesus, we are then all one family, brothers and sisters with and in Jesus, who is not ashamed to be identified with us in that way. It is a family thing, a family matter, something in a true sense that ends up being closer and more intimate than our own immediate biological families.

We need God as our Father, I know I do through all the questions and problems of life. And I need the family, all who are in Jesus, brothers and sisters with me in him. A blessing meant not only for us, but for the world.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.