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.

do we really believe?

In liturgical churches every Sunday, worshipers recite usually the Nicene Creed, which begins with:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.

I like that practice, though it’s seldom used in churches we’ve been a part of. It is suggestive of the reality that our faith is not just an indiviudal faith, but communal. Like Paul said, we can be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. And it is about what we believe in terms of what God has revealed in what theologians call general and special revelation. Fulfilled in Jesus and the good news in him.

The intellectual belief shouldn’t be underplayed; it is important. But if we really believe that, it means we’re taking God at his word, and therefore trusting him. It is a personal, experiential faith which concerns all of life. We believe in and trust the God who created everything, and promises to make all things new in the new creation in Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, our faith is pretty well worthless if it doesn’t involve the nuts and bolts of where we live, and if it doesn’t get beyond just our concerns to concerns for others, to God’s concerns, the interests of Jesus. Faith isn’t some mere religious belief which is nice for Sunday at church, but is hardly an afterthought in real life. It is about nothing less than all of life, or it is nothing at all since it’s not living up to what it is said to be.

We believe because of God’s testimony to us in Jesus, in the gospel, and because of God’s grace through that testimony. We have the witness in ourselves by the Holy Spirit, that even as the gospel accounts compellingly make clear, Jesus indeed rose from the dead, a bodily resurrection. And God’s promise in him won’t stop until all evil is judged, and all things are made new. And that hope begins in this life, with the faith and love which accompany it.

What we truly believe because of God’s grace in and through Jesus.

love is not enough

This post from a professor and scholar in Ireland, Patrick Mitchell, on a book entitled: Love: a History, by Simon May, along with the post’s apt title, “The idolisation of love,” looks promising. This reminds me of the Beatles song with typically great music and empty lyrics, All You Need is Love. Love per se (by itself) is not enough.

Yes, “God is love,” as seen in 1 John 4. But the context itself gives the lie to the statement that love is enough, or even that love is the gospel. Compare what is meant by that, with the picture as given in scripture:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

And this, from 2 John:

The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

Read 1, 2 and 3 John, those three letters (not long) for a more contextual and fuller picture.

And to help make sure there’s no mistake as to what’s meant here, Romans 13:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

While there is overlap in the love of God, and the love we see in creation, according to scripture that’s not enough. We need the new creation love in Jesus and the gospel, which is to heal and put together the brokenness of the old creation, which for all it’s devotion to love, fails to worship the One-in-Three, or Three-in-One, the One who is love.

The true love is a gospel love, no less, grounded in the crucified, risen Jesus, and in the truth which includes absolutes such as “Thou shalt not kill.” It is not enough to think that love is all we need, or that love is the gospel. We turn to the one God as revealed through scripture, and in actual events, in Jesus. We find the one true, lasting love there, from which all other loves come, and are judged.

 

when who judge others we condemn themselves

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

It is interesting how often it is apparent that the very thing we see wrong in another is something we practice ourselves. We need insight from God to be able to see that. Jesus doesn’t tell us to quit judging as in having discernment in the Matthew passage quoted above. Rather he tells us to make sure we are scrupulous to take care of the sin in our own lives,  before we think we can help someone else with the sin in their lives. The crux of the matter is that we’re not to condemn others in a kind of final judgment which only God can make.

I think Paul is saying much the same thing in the Romans passage quoted above. He is challenging Jews who think that just because they had the Law/Torah, they were a cut (circumcision) above the rest. But Paul makes it clear in that letter that just like the rest of humankind, they too were under the power of sin. So that again, an emphasis is made on judging one’s self with reference to that Torah, and becoming obedient to the Law’s requirement, which is love for God and for our neighbor from the heart by the Spirit.

James has some good words for us related to this:

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4

Simply put, we’re not to put ourselves in the place of God. And here:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

Finally, in a sense bringing this to full circle, back to our Lord’s words:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7

I am very wary of topical studies such as this one, because they too often don’t do justice to the context of each passage, and are summarily slapped together in a way which ultimately often fails to support the main point, or at least is simplistic, failing to take into account the whole. Of course we should compare scripture with scripture, no doubt, while letting each passage and book within scripture have its own voice to be appreciated within the mix of the whole.

Today the point is that we must beware and at least be wary of judging others, since only God can see and judge, and since we are sinners, too. But as by grace we do judge ourselves, God will give us insight to help others judge themselves by God’s grace on the path of righteousness. And in the end, we should apply mercy, remembering that mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment. In other words, God’s salvation in Jesus overcomes the judgment and brings mercy in and through Jesus. So that we should learn to see both ourselves and others in light of that great reality and hope.

 

relying not on worldly wisdom, but on God’s grace (background: this American presidential election)

We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.

2 Corinthians 1:12

Paul is speaking here of their conduct in the world, and especially with those who had believed. We in Jesus come from and go after it in life with a different perspective, and indeed heart, than what the world offers. Maybe we need to especially take that thought seriously in what is probably the most divisive and troubling election in the United States of my lifetime. It seems like some of my friends are intent on bringing their godly wisdom and knowledge to bear to influence this election a certain way. I have actually joined with them a little, because I see a real danger to the American republic.

And yet I wonder. Maybe this is God’s judgment not only on the nation, who would have two candidates considered evil and bad depending on which half of the publc you’re talking to. And if one of them is elected, there will be “no joy in Mudville,” and if the other one is elected, half of the nation will live in nearly an apocalyptic fear over what is to come, and with some justification, I might add.

But what’s a Christian to do in this mess? Maybe we do what likely Paul would have done in his following of Jesus and proclamation of the gospel, along with his planting of churches, he at the lead of that along with his associates (of course God used others in far flung places).

I certainly believe God’s hand is in the affairs of the world, but usually in ways we can’t trace well, or comprehend, except to guess in line with scripture what actually might be happening. And that’s far from foolproof. Not to mention just how much scripture is arguably, and to some extent surely misapplied in the attempt to do so.

But just maybe God is not only continuing to judge the United States, but is also, and probably more importantly- my guess, judging his people, judging the church. After all, both the religious right and religious left have given a piece of their hearts and souls, in some cases practically all of that to the American political process, as if that’s where the battle for God’s kingdom and his kingdom work are at stake. That’s a fundamental error on one basic levels, which is negative in a good number of ways, I think.

We too often are too much like the world. We probably often think that the best in the world by common grace is not unlike the best in Jesus, in God’s kingdom, since God’s hand and kingdom work is in all of that. While God’s hand and work can be in some of what the world is about at times, consider the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by and large our activity and heart must be elsewhere. We are to be servants of the gospel, in the sacramental and common life of the church, and as witnesses of Jesus and this gospel to the world. Period.

But the history of the church since Constantine has involved a church-state relationship in which when push comes to shove, the state always has the upper hand. Though God in grace still working his purposes out in the midst and even through the mess of it all. Imagine Paul being known as a supporter of one American candidate or party, or even being in that process at all. Not. Instead he would be at the heart of what God is doing through the gospel, showing the world the difference faith in Christ brings in terms of changed lives, the gospel worked out into the fabric of all of life, but never from any entity as its base: the gospel and the church.

And so we might do well to lay low this election, to learn to do so, to not do the usual, and to live out our calling in Jesus as lights in the world, not with the wisdom of this world, but by the grace of God. In and through Jesus.

the gospel, a living word

Here in the United States there is the ongoing debate between those in legal, judicial roles among those in practice and scholars as to whether the US Constitution is a living or dead document. Dead only in that it is timeless in application, alive in that it has fresh application in different contexts. I’m sure there’s much more to it than that, and I may be off a tad or more in this summary of it. But that’s not the intent of this post, to try to understand that. The gospel itself transcends all time, and yet inhabits time as well, so that the response to it, while in a general fundamental level the same, is different according to context, that is the cultural context. For example the impact of the gospel in African nations will be different than its impact in European nations, its beauty seen in different ways in each, and appropriate to each cultural context.

But even that, not spelled out enough, or actually understood well enough by myself, is not the point of this post, either. The point is that the gospel is the living and powerful word which transcends yet inhabits every culture and space in time. The gospel being the proclamation that Jesus is King and Lord, that he died for our sins and was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures, and seen by many eyewitnesses. That someday all things now under his feet will be put in final subjection to him, so that God will be all in all (Acts 10; 1 Corinthians 15).

The gospel, contrary to what too many of us have been taught, is much more than the summons to faith, though it most certainly is that. That is called “the obedience of faith.” It is much more than one’s personal salvation. And it’s as big as all of life, reaching even into, and we might say especially into the political level, but on its own terms, and not on anyone or any other entity’s terms. It is as big as all of creation, bringing in the new creation, impacting all of life, and moving us in directions which celebrate our diveristy within unity, which one could say is something of what is at the heart of the life of the Trinity.

The gospel is the lens through which we read all of scripture, and see all of life. We’re taught, especially from the words of Jesus, how to live that gospel out. In a shorthand, basic way, the gospel is Jesus himself, no less. And all of God’s will in him. A good will, which will impact us for good or for ill, whether we like it or not. We can either accept the good news and begin to learn to live in that reality, or ignore and even reject that good news, which in the end will judge us and everything else. Of course only through Jesus do we reach the goal of that good news which is in Jesus. That gospel is what will ultimately move and shape the world when he returns, the beginning of that moving and shaking, along with shaping now in the church, itself, through the word and the sacraments, along with the common life, and in the church’s mission to the world. In and through Jesus.

what does God bless, and what is the way of Jesus concerning fleeing refugees?

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Exodus 22:21

Yes, the United States is a nation of laws, but any pretense of being a Christian nation should be dismissed on the grounds of refusing to take in the refugees escaping from war torn ravaged countries such as Syria. The issue is compassion and not just for a safe haven, but an assimilation over time into a new country and place, immigration laws in place to expedite that.

If many in this nation believe in a God who blesses those who do good and do his will, and are thinking about the blessing of this nation, then we would do well to have policies and laws in place to show mercy to those who are here, even if illegal, and to come up with a just, merciful plan. When all a nation can do is think about itself, should such a nation expect to receive any of God’s blessing?

There are a number of other issues that many Christians in the tradition I’m in are concerned about and there’s no doubt that such issues need to be addressed. And there are plenty of differences among those who think about what this nation actually is and should be, which can make all the difference in what kind of laws should be in place. But there shouldn’t be any doubt that a nation which has a strong Christian element should be influenced by the gospel accounts of Jesus and the mercy and compassion he brings. One story of his that comes to mind is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who unlike the Jewish priest and Levi, helped the beaten, dying man on the road.

The church must take the lead in this, in fact that is the one place and entity in which we should expect no less than compassion for the refugees. This should go without saying, but we can all too easily be isolated and insulated from perceived possible dangers, or any thing for that matter, which takes us out of our comfort zone. But we’re called to deny ourselves, and be willing to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel. And the gospel of reconciliation is a welcoming gospel, inviting people to Jesus in the offering of salvation to everyone.

This shouldn’t be a political matter; it shouldn’t boil down to the politics of this world. Though in actuality it is about what is aptly called the politics of Jesus. It is rather a moral and spiritual matter. We do good to those in great need; we don’t just leave them for dead. That is costly, but might it not cost any nation much more which turns its back on such? Do we believe in a God who sees and blesses and judges?

But for us in Jesus, and for the church this should not be an issue at all. We do good to those in need, we support them in what ways we can, pray for them, and share the good news of God in Jesus. And we continue to love and help them with no strings attached. That is the way of Jesus, the way that we should take. Even as we pray not just for our nation, but for the rest of the world, and for God’s kingdom in Jesus to at last come with the needed judgment for justice and salvation.