imagining a new world even in the here and now

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43:18-19

In the context of this prophecy, it’s not at all about some kind of dispensational, “Jesus is coming back” theme. No, it’s about a present to that time matter concerning Israel and Babylon, and suggests an end to the violence endemic then.

Fast forward to the present time, and we again are reminded that indeed, something is quite wrong in the present “law and order” way of doing things. And one of the tragedies is that somehow for probably a multitude of reasons, we can’t imagine any other way of doing things. And worst of all, Christians are often at the forefront of advocating a heavier hand in threatening violence with an unhelpful black and white law paradigm which really ends up not only not helping the problem, but exacerbating it, making it worse, so that more jails are needed. That’s the fictional world which in horror we’ve brought to pass, if only we could see that.

Why instead can’t we imagine a new world, a better world in which we’re all in this together, yes, with wonderful personal freedoms, but also with the merciful accountability and help we all need? In part it’s due to heavy handed poor paradigms we live in, quite apart from the dream God wants us to see and live out.

Most change will take time, and it’s not like there can never be backsliding and even complete loss. Let’s take one example: What I would call the good overturning of patriarchy in different movements which help us see that women indeed are not called to be subservient, but are instead wonderful partners, also gifted in unique ways. That has been a revolutionary thought in the past, and is still rejected by some of the most popular Bible teachers, who in my view are grossly misreading the Bible and life itself. Because of this wonderful new change and awareness, a light has shined in the world which can never be taken back, unless dark ages come which snuff it out. That unfortunately happens. There are always forces of darkness at work in the world which do all they can to push back the light of Day.

Yes, we who have the hope in Christ know that the new Day cannot be held back and that it is coming when Christ returns. But in the meantime we do no one any favor at all to imagine in an astounding lack of imagination that important changes can’t be made now. As I am taught by those who know much more, such change will come only with hard, painstaking, plodding work, and will be incremental. But we must not let up, especially those of us who name the name of Christ. We must hope and pray and envision and work for a much better world now. Desiring the best for all nations and peoples everywhere. Knowing that someday at long last all the darkness will be lost forever in the light of Day.

“It’s not just that Jesus is God. God is Jesus.”

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Forgive me for borrowing this from someone else who shared this in the recent past on social media, though it’s nothing new, but something we may not think much about. Yes, we take it from the witness of Scripture that indeed, Jesus while fully human is fully God. Just as mysterious as the thought of the Trinity itself, though in our modernistic mindset we somehow think we can explain everything, plumb the depths even of God. Though the world now understands that while we’re blessed with an emphasis on reason and modernity, that simply is not the case. But many Christians have yet to receive or understand that.

But to the point of this post: God is Jesus. While Jesus as portrayed in the gospels might not seem entirely right in our times, that too could be a misreading of some of the stories he told, completely fitting in that day, and not really putting God into the same light as some of the characters which have been misinterpreted as corresponding directly to God. What we clearly do see in Jesus is quite a contrast to even the best of what we find in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, while not at all denigrating the seriousness of the faith of those preceding him. Remember, Jesus said that John the Baptizer was greater than all who had preceded him, but that everyone in the kingdom of heaven were somehow greater than John. That must have to do with the superiority, or in the words of Hebrews “better” covenant, kingdom and King now present.

If you want to understand who God is, then you have to look at Jesus. Study Jesus, especially in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and don’t stop studying him there. And then go on to what follows and consider Jesus in all of that. And begin to grapple with and understand all the rest of Scripture in that light, so that you see where God’s people surely fell short in their understanding of God. Yes, God gets God’s hand dirty by not only taking us seriously where we’re at, but working with us there; full, utter grace. But God won’t stop there until we see God for who God really is. And that can only be seen through Jesus’s life, acts, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension with the promise of his return. We see God as God truly is only in the face of Jesus Christ.

doing the best imperfect we can

Let your work be manifest to your servants
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:16-17

I’d like to know one single thing that humans ever did perfectly. That probably depends on what you mean by perfect, and what measure is put forward to determine that. For example, humankind has flown into space, even landed on the moon. The technology to engineer and perform such feats had to take a measure of perfection. Maybe there’s some margin of error in the mix, but if it’s outside of the parameters set, disaster could be the result, or hopefully instead a scrubbed launch or whatever.

When it comes to ethics, we humans usually if not always have something of mixed motives. Maybe not all the impurities are actually sinful, like for example we may feel clumsy among others, and fear being looked down on, or something to that effect. I think we can have the right heart in doing something, out of love, and I’m a bit suspicious that any sin, latent or otherwise has to be in the mix with that.

Regardless of how we parse that, I am encouraged by the thought to just keep doing the best imperfect that I can, and together with others to do the best imperfect we can. Yes, we’re going to make mistakes, and we’ll find out down the road a way that we could have done something better. But I don’t think we humans are called to make sure we do everything perfectly. What does that mean, anyhow? How can we really know? And most importantly, is there anything that is perfect in this existence in some sort of final, permanent sense? I don’t think so.

So we happily press on, just trying to use the best judgment and make the best decisions possible with the limited resources and time we have here. But believing in all of that, that God is able to take our inevitably imperfect thoughts and acts done in love into the perfection of God’s working, both for the present and for the time to come.

Advent and God’s help to ̶t̶h̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶h̶e̶l̶p̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶m̶s̶e̶l̶v̶e̶s̶ ̶the helpless

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

Light is coupled with life in scripture, and is indeed necessary for the life which truly is life, the eternal life in God through Christ, and the life to be lived in this present darkness. And God is the one who gives all light, and specifically, that light. What humankind comes up with may have some good with its actual source in God’s gift within them, but is not the “great light” spoken of in the text above. As we see from the rest of that text, that light is in Christ and the kingdom (or rule) and goodness he brings.

Yes, it’s good for us to try to help ourselves. But if what we mean by that is to get along well enough by ourselves, then we fail to see what we ultimately need, yes, in this life. All the while we should acknowledge that actually anything good we do is because of the Creator. But in our moral and spiritual darkness and in our limitations as human finite creatures, we really need more than that. It’s good and necessary for us to realize that we are helpless in ourselves to attain to this ultimate good needed. We are all, each and everyone of us, in need of God’s grace.

And that is what happened. God’s people and all peoples were actually helpless in the way needed, whether they were aware of it or not. And they looked for God’s help, and according to the promise for the one to come who would save the world. Part of the light which breaks through is to help us see the need for light in our darkness. And to look to that light for the full light needed. A part of the Advent promise.

free grace and Advent (as well as Christmas)

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:12-14

Advent is the promise of God’s grace to humankind. It’s a gift received. It is for all humankind. How that plays out, I don’t know. Faith is required, in other words people must receive the light, and in more specific terms the light of the gospel.

Advent is anticipation of something beyond us but to come, present, for and with us. The Christian faith includes imitation of Christ. But we can’t do that on our own. It is a gift given to humankind, one really does have to say, offered, because it ought to go without saying that not all receive the light. Yes, we often live in the shadows, and don’t walk as in the fullness of day. But we are told to cast off the works of darkness, and put on the light.

Advent is the promise of grace for joy to the world. For life, for all we need even in this dreary world. Not only to get us through, yes that, but also to help us do so as those of the light. In the love and grace of God for all. In and through Jesus.

the necessity and blessing of self-control

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith…with self-control…

2 Peter 1:5-6

I almost entitled this “the necessity and blessing of good old fashioned self-control” but thought better, since what we’re referring to here is not some stoic (as we mean that nowadays), self-made operation or effort. God’s grace underlies all, as seen clearly in this passage (click link).

But I would like to highlight self-control in a way which puts an emphasis on it. A good friend pointed out to me that it is not self-control, but God’s control which we’re after. Okay, I get the point. But I would counter with something like this: God’s grace and work, and if you want to put it that way and surely this has validity if understood correctly- God’s control, under all of that, we have to exert self-control.

And it’s not like we don’t have opportunities to do that. They are surely multitudinous, many. Think of whatever it is that can get us offtrack: Worry/anxiety, fear, greed, jealousy/envy, lust, anger, harsh words, and rabbit holes of many kinds. You name it. In all of that, in all of life we have opportunity time and again, over and over to exercise self-control.

And we especially need to do this when we feel dead inside, and when all of our impulses would move us otherwise. That may seem like an us-thing and not a God-thing, but self-control is self control. Yes the Spirit can and will help us in this, as it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit which in essence is love (Galatians 5:23). But I want to once again emphasize: This is something we do yes with God’s help, but we still do it. We’re not automatons; we do this one might say in cooperation with God. Yes, God’s grace underlies all, every good thing is a gift. But we still end up having to do what is not automatic in and of itself.

In the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament and I think carried over into the New Testament, God seems to expect people to do better, and over and over again takes especially God’s people to task for doing otherwise. We need to hear this and take it seriously. We will fail along the way, but then we need to exercise self-control then as well, and get out of that ditch through confession and doing what needs to be done to do what is right and good.

A great opportunity for us.

God’s accommodation

The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.

Exodus 15:3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us

John 1:1, 14a

God lives where we humans live. God accommodates God’s self to us humans. These are two basic statements which describe the faith we find in scripture. This is no Deist God, happy to remain apart and aloof from creation, but a very present, active God, hidden only because of our lack of faith or to help us grow in some new way in our faith.

God helps us according to the help we need, and not only that, but even according to the help we think we need even if God’s will is to by and by get us to grow beyond that. The truth that the Word became flesh, that God became human, one of us is certainly something that is central and close to God’s heart, a nonnegotiable part of God’s will. But that God meets us in other ways, even in the midst of our sin without participating in that sin, but in love holding us accountable to help us confess and forsake such is also a given.

And yet there are aspects of God in scripture which are hard if not impossible to reconcile with God revealed in Christ. Christ comes and refuses all violence, will not resist those who physically abuse him, and tells his followers that they must do the same if they’re to truly be his disciples. And yet the God we find in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament does not seem averse to violent acts against evildoers. At least God as God is understood by God’s people.

But make no mistake about it: God will meet us where we’re at, and will help us there. As we have the desire to have a heart intent on doing and living in God’s will. God will help us where we’re at. Not where we ought to be, or where we think we ought to be. God has always done that, and will continue to do so as God finishes the work God has begun. In and through Jesus.

putting on the whole armor of God: the helmet of salvation

Take the helmet of salvation

Ephesians 6:17a

We wait for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing and denying the LORD
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.
Justice is turned back,
and deliverance stands at a distance,
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene,
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate
and a helmet of salvation on his head…

Isaiah 59:11b-17a

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

The helmet of salvation in what’s considered the classic spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6 is usually considered something like the assurance of the believer’s salvation, at least the “hope” of it, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5. It is part of the armor of God. And mostly the idea for at least many in the annals of Christianity that we’re told to put it on, but supposedly for many the thought of what lies after death being entirely in God’s hands, and that no one can presume to know. Maybe something we can take out of that is that we’re not to be so caught up in this so that it becomes our main concern while this “helmet” is still vital for us to wear. As we have an active faith in God, so we believe that God will take care of our salvation. That this is personal, yes for the church, but also for each individual of the church is certainly the case. Yes, important. But it surely doesn’t stop there.

The prophet Isaiah point to the sins of God’s people being the reason that there was no justice in their midst, for themselves and especially for others. When you read Isaiah and the rest of the prophets you find that among God’s prime concerns are justice especially for the poor and for aliens, widows and orphans. And when Israel was sinning, such justice was lacking. Interestingly it’s God who puts on the helmet of salvation and other armor to bring correction and justice. Couldn’t that possibly suggest something as to the meaning of the helmet of salvation in Ephesians 6:10-20 beyond just our own personal salvation? I think so.

We’re to work on our salvation together (Philippians 2:12-13) so that hopefully no one will be left behind (Hebrews 12:15). We as the church are in this together. But salvation doesn’t stop there.

We also hope for the salvation of the world (John 3:16-17). Yes, in terms that all would have faith. And also bringing God’s deliverance and healing to all. And through that breaking down systems of evil. Light exposing darkness and bringing with that God’s judgment and salvation, yes bringing true justice along with mercy. The power of the gospel.

So the helmet of salvation we’re to put on surely includes all that salvation means, yes even in the present as we wait for the final salvation to come with righteousness, justice and peace in the new heavens and earth when Christ returns (2 Peter 3:13).

content with weaknesses

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Weakness seems to be a part of life in this world. I’m not referring to actual sin here, nor is Paul in the above passage. That’s another matter, and certainly God’s grace covers that as we confess our sins to God and when need be to others. God alone can parse out some of the issues which need to be resolved in the kind of weaknesses Paul is talking about here, and give us insight in that. But interestingly enough, these were problems that were not going to go away, or a problem more likely, though we see Paul include a list of things at the end.

Thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to no less than torment him, that doesn’t seem like anything good from God. And surely none of that came directly from God. Yet God not only used it, but somehow actually gave it. Yes Paul was given this, I take it from God. You would easily guess that those who are God’s servants in ministry might somehow feel elated and on top of the world. I at least think they ought to have God’s peace as they go about their lives and work. But Paul’s peace and more precisely contentment came in the midst of experiencing something quite less than elation, the kind of thing that could easily plunge one into the depths of despair.

Note that three times no less Paul appealed to the Lord, that this torment, thorn in the flesh, whatever it precisely was would be removed. Paul knew the Lord could do that. But the Lord’s reply: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul’s response to that was an acceptance which opened the door to experience Christ’s power resting upon him as never before. All for the sake of Christ. Something again that I want to learn to live in much better than I do.

saying goodbye

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:1

There’s a beginning and end to everything. In my case, today is my last day working at Our Daily Bread Ministries. Has been an interesting ride since my first day there on December 13, 1999. Many good memories. And an unwavering respect for “the ministry.” Modeled to us from the DeHaan’s, humble servants. God’s work which we participate(d) in.

It is hard to say goodbye. This work and the people there becomes a part of you. I’m in something of my element there. But the years go on, fly by, age creeps in, and now I’m thankful to be able to turn the page and see what’s next.

But again, it’s hard. So many good teammates. Great memories in chapel. Team devotions, too. And around the table at break time. I was trying to survive and provide for family, God’s provision, but by God’s grace often caught up in heart, soul and mind to be doing it out of love for the Lord. But we were real people, as well. Dirk and I sometimes did not have the best of things to say about the machines.

So much I learned, so many people I was blessed with. I could tell a few stories. Good times along with the many challenges. God was trying to teach me many things. I’m a slow learner. But the Lord continues to work on me that way to the very end of my time there.

More to say on this later. But all I can add to this now is that I’m grateful to God for God’s grace and peace and provision, as well as being able to participate in a true and amazing part of God’s work in the world in and through Jesus.