hidden Christianity

I remember an interview Johnny Cash had on Fresh Air, as well as another interview about him on that program. There was one thing for sure about Johnny, along with his musical gift. His faith was just a natural part of who he was, so that if you wanted to get to know Johnny or interview him, you would know that his faith in God, and the grace of God in Jesus would be at the forefront, and would be a big part of what you heard. I hear that Hollywood or media outlets want to screen that out. But in order to understand us at all, who name the name of Christ, and seek to follow him, they’ll have to include that.

In some places people either keep their faith to themselves, or suffer the consequences. Martin Scorsese’s film Silence is a powerful reminder of that, but the same problem exists in not a few places today where it is actually against the law to be a Christian.

There are so many things that Christians and nonChristians have in common. It’s not like we can’t enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other, and be friends for life. It’s only that the most important thing about us as followers of Christ will not be so with them. But we can share in each other’s humanity, which in itself is quite good enough. Of course we want to share much more, being of the belief that humanity is being fully restored in and through Jesus in the one people of God.

We don’t do well to live in fear, nor do we proceed without much thought and prayer. But for us who name the name of Christ, it needs to be clear to all that it is Christ who is our life, what life is all about to us (Philippians). Of course we don’t share our faith in a way that will only ailienate others. But our faith is something to be lived, defining us, who we are, through and through. God’s grace in Jesus being the difference for the faith, hope and love we have. Something we want to share with others, as we hope that they see Jesus in us.

Presidents, politics, even nations (empires) come and go. Jesus is Lord.

Scot McKnight has an interesting piece on what the world needs most, precisely, What America’s Culture Wars Need Most, and I agree. Looking at what’s best for the United States, it would surely be a people whose expectations for the United States, or for any government or political entity or leader are tempered by their belief in one transcendent that deserves full allegiance and trust: King Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

This thought may not be easy for anyone, so great is the divide in the United States today. And it’s not like the politics of the nation state doesn’t matter, nor carry with it serious consequences. But it is a question of just where our ultimate confidence lies, and if we even unwittingly place that kind of trust in a political party or ideology of this earth, rather than in God. It is one thing to think this way or that about whatever issue we’re considering. It’s quite another to assume that the answer for the world lies in lining up one certain way or another. How such matters turn out may indeed make a world of difference, but what difference, or we might say kind of difference are we as followers of Jesus, as the church to make through the gospel?

The gospel, the good news in Jesus, is in some ways oblivious to the world and its ways. It matters not who’s in charge in Washington or elsewhere, the church through the gospel continues on with the same humanity coming out of the same life regardless. The church stands as the witness to the one good news which remains constant, and ought to be a light which often brings a rebuke to the nation state.

We must beware of putting our confidence not only in elected officials, but in ourselves as well, thinking that through grass roots effort, we can effect the change needed for the world. Again, it’s not like such things never matter. It’s just that there’s one thing which will stick and effect a change which will go beyond whatever changes occur within the world system. The good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus by the Spirit experienced and lived out within the church, and to which the church is a witness is the one reality that will last.

We hope and pray for the good of the United States, and for the good of all nations. But our full confidence is in God’s promise in Jesus, no less. And never in any nation state.

a gospel bigger than I, me, mine, and even us- the only gospel there is

When we open our Bibles, the beginnning is Genesis, for a reason, and the end is the Revelation for a reason, and everything in between counts, every book and for that matter, every line, has its reason and place in the whole.

It is daunting, and takes commitment over time, but we all need to be in the entire Bible, as challenging on many levels as that is, and read it through again and again. When we do, we’ll come to see that the story of Israel picked by God to be a blessing to the world is a central theme. And how that is fulfilled through them, but mainly in anticipation of the true fulfillment in Jesus.

While this is certainly for each person in our relationship to God, it is for every other person, as well, and for the entire world. It’s a good news in and through Jesus which affects everything and is therefore worldly in that sense, or one could say earthly. But in another sense it can’t be worldly at all since it can’t participate, except insofar as it influences the change of worldy structures. This is the case, because the difference is in and through Jesus, and God’s redemption, salvation, and kingdom come in him.

Only when Jesus returns will all things be changed, the god of this age gone; the world, the flesh and the devil being a thing of the past. But until then, we witness not only to a gospel for each individual, but a gospel which is to begin to demonstrate the alternative to what is necessarily in place, in this present evil age and world.

And so we live in the in between times when God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus is beginning to break in through the gospel into the church, and out from that into the world. As we look forward to the end of this age which will bring in the fullness of what has begun now in Jesus, when he returns.

identifying with the poor

In my culture here in the United States, there seems to be a belief that has taken hold of many, that people are poor for a reason, meaning the poor are essentially at fault for being so. I’ve heard it put quite starkly that way, as if there are no outside factors which have contributed to their plight. Let’s face it, everyone makes less than best decisions at time, surely all of us have even done foolishly sometime when it comes to finances. But those who have a steady job and especially with a good income, have a nice margin of error, whereas the poor, who may not get much over minimum wage, do not. Yes, there’s all kinds of considerations to be added, like how some (some would say many) want to live off the government, while they smoke their cigarrettes and sit in front of the television. Yet there are others who have given up because they felt marginalized and simply didn’t have the qualifications needed to overcome.

Yes, there are poor people in the United States who barely have enough to eat, at times not enough. But most are helped in some way by the government or private agencies such as charities. The world’s poor in comparison suffer a much greater plight, since they often don’t have the resources that the poor here do. I think of places in Africa in which there is starvation even of children, often war ravaged areas in which governments can’t stop evil militia groups, oftentimes the governments themselves being corrupt.

People removed perhaps on the other side of the globe are sadly easy to dismiss or forget. But people suffering where we live is another matter. And yet we so easily live in bubbles among those of our economic, political, religious status, seldom breaking out of them enough to even begin to get to know the “others.”

To identify with the poor is essentially the way of Jesus, whose entire life, in fact coming was about identifying with the poverty of the human condition by becoming completely human except that he never sinned.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8

So we must start with our Lord, and it’s good to see it in the context of the above passage just cited (the link goes to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to give monetarily, an offering for their poor brothers and sisters in Jesus in Judea. Some in their poverty gave generously for the help of others in spite of their own lack.

In and through Jesus, our hearts are to go out to the poor, and we’re to help them in practical ways in the love of our Lord, those who do not know him, with the good news of the gospel, itself.

We also need to be careful that Money doesn’t replace God in our lives. This is a life changing series, entitled, “God and Money,” which while saying a good number of things we may already know, is revolutionary in challenging us to see all of our resources as not only gifts from God, but also belonging to God, we being stewards of such. That needs to get into our hearts and bones to change our lives.

May the Lord teach us more in this direction, as we endeavor to walk together with him, longing for others to know the true riches we have found in him.

the need for strict, ongoing self-discipline

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9

They say we often eat to feed not really our bodies, but our minds or hearts. That we do so from being troubled. The Christian life contra some of the early church fathers is not meant to be one of harshly treating the body. Not at all! Read Paul’s words in Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Of course the Christian ascetics did not have such a worldly system in mind in their fasting for the sake of Christ, and for their own spiritual good, so it is different. Yet the sameness might exist in thinking that harsh treatment of the body in itself can do good, as if the body is the enemy of the soul, a neo-Platonic way of thinking which surely infiltrated the church, even probably noticeable in perhaps the greatest of the church fathers, Augustine.

And yet Paul minced no words in the Corinthians passage quoted above. We by grace either discipline ourselves, and specifically our body, or we place ourselves in danger of losing out with reference to all that is ours in Christ. How God rewards in the end, I don’t think we can be sure, though we may have some inklings. But there are certainly some lines we’re not to cross in this life. We must pull out all stops to stop dead in our tracks, and not go past certain lines we might even be rushing headlong to. And we need to work on an agenda in which we are following a different path altogether.

And even if we have failed, that gives us no excuse to excuse ourselves from Paul’s example here. We need to do so all the more. We are weak in ourselves for sure. We need God’s grace to help us through. And we need sheer determination to persevere in that grace and not let up.

They say our brains are one of our most important physical organs. The brain does better with the extra flow of oxygen which comes from good physical exercise. And the mind certainly can affect the body. We surely need to have our hearts and minds set on Christ, and on the things of heaven where Christ is, someday destined to come to earth, and already present now by the Spirit. But we need to take heed of our focus, in order to have the kind of discipline Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s words there should be considered in their context. And interestingly enough, Paul’s warning in Colossians is followed up with the counsel to focus on Christ and might even seem austere by today’s standards. It is referring to a spiritual discipline, but there is no such discipline in which our bodies are not involved. Our bodies are part of our real selves.

And so what we do and don’t do does matter. God has indeed richly given us all things for our enjoyment, so that we’re not to deny ourselves of the good of creation (1 Timothy). But we must avoid counterfeit gods, which can include even our own stomachs (Philippians 3), and sometimes might involve making some major changes. Our goal is to pursue Christ and likeness to him until the very end. May God grant us the grace to do so together in and through him.

 

pay close attention (and don’t let up)

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Hebrews 2

I’m not sure exactly what it is, although surely it’s a combination of things. The message of scripture and the gospel is fascinating, powerful, and frankly spellbinding, in human terms, but it’s much more than that, since it’s nothing less than a word from God. I find once in a while something like an undertow which might carry a swimmer in the water through what are called rip currents, so that they are pulled out deep into the lake to drown, something which reminds me of that, seems to be not only at work in my spiritual life, but prevailing.

Certain factors can be involved, like being tired. Two Sundays in a row at church I’ve fallen asleep during a good part of the sermon, so that I didn’t get much out of it. But thankfully for me, I’m able to catch it online later, and was much blessed last night with hearing (and seeing as best I can on this tablet) it again, including the large chunk (maybe half of it, more or less) I missed. I want to catch this past Sunday’s message soon. But it seemed like more was at work then simply being tired, which itself should be addressed with more disciplined, regular sleep.

Surely at work in all of this is something diabolical, yes from the devil itself, the demonic. The words of scripture seemed empty, remote, and God seemed distant as well. I just didn’t seem to be connecting well.

Let me suggest that this is not just something which can happen, but is always present with us, which the Spirit through Jesus helps us overcome. Which is in large part why we need to pay the most careful attention to God’s word and the gospel which is at the heart of it, to avoid the dangers the book of Hebrews warns us about (read the entire book; one could start with the link above). That pull is always present, something we must resist, so that we can feed on God’s words and Word, and come close to God.

Paying the most careful attention is the hearing which in scripture is linked to a response by faith, a doing. This ends up being a trust and obey kind of practice, otherwise, we’re not really paying the kind of close attention called for in this text.

So if you sense you’re adrift, then cry out to God, and see this as a part of spiritual warfare. And let’s work to maintain a life that is disciplined in hearing and in faith obeying the word of God in and through Jesus.

a meditation on Psalm 51: our need of God’s grace

Psalm 51 is one of the great passages of the Bible. The NIV‘s translation of the superscription gives its alleged and at least possible setting. Scholars aren’t sure if the superscriptions were added later, or written when the psalms were. And even if added later, they could still be considered a part of scripture itself.

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Many times people relegate the Old Covenant to the era of the Law, and fail to see that, while it is indeed preparatory for the fullness of grace (and truth) which came in Jesus, it was actually grace oriented itself. God’s grace, as in undeserved favor and sheer gift is foundational for all human relationships with God, certainly no less true for that time as it is today.

If there is one thing that we need to see when reading Psalm 51 above anything else, we have to see from this psalm the truth of David’s need, and our need today of this grace from God. Of course like the rest of scripture, we need every line, which contributes to the whole toward the understanding God wants to give. But unless we grasp this truth of our need of God’s grace, all the other truth won’t matter, and will be essentially lost, except to condemn us. If we read the psalm carefully and slowly, we will find this to be the case.

Theologians have a term for what I’m getting at here: prevenient grace. We need grace from God even to properly know and have understanding of our sin, and to properly be broken and grieved over it in repentance. The last thing we need to be doing over our sin is to beat ourselves up, and try to make some great sacrifice to God ourselves. Instead we need God’s grace, so that we can properly see and act in the faith which God in that grace gives us in and through Jesus.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.