the way of peace found in Jesus

The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.

Isaiah 59:8a

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else?

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him.

Romans 3:19b,21-22a; MSG

Justice and the peace that comes from that is often the emphasis we hear from younger Christians nowadays. And for many good reasons. For one thing, the gospel often proclaimed and taught in evangelical circles is mostly about our own relationship with God and with others. That is truth, and very needed, and certainly does not exclude teaching about what is just and right, true and good, merciful and bringing peace. But it’s not the entire truth or application of the gospel.

There does need to be an emphasis on justice in society, not just personal righteousness which supposedly brings the needed justice. There is a needed reckoning within the world system to judge and root out, yes, systemic evil. With reference to racial injustice, and many other evils in the world. So this instinct and passion within and active in the younger generations should be welcomed and appreciated.

What we have to be careful of is getting the cart before the horse. Justice in itself is not the point nor the goal, not for the Christian. Jesus and God’s good news of grace and the kingdom come in him is the proper focus. That brings the necessary judgment on evil to be replaced by what is truly the good, flourishing life for humans, for all humanity. 

The emphasis therefore needs to be on Jesus, on God in the human Jesus, the Spirit’s amen and work from that, and the difference that can make, yes, even in this world. In challenging all the injustice, and beginning to see the new world emerge among us. And we shouldn’t fail to mention that it is through nothing short of the blood of Jesus, his death, so that all evil was absorbed into that day on Jesus. So that evil is now dealt with in the truly Christian way through Jesus’s death on the cross. The new life through his resurrection, following.

Not to say that God isn’t at work through some ways in the world which though we would say ultimately is through Jesus and God’s work in him, is not actually linked to that. Indeed that may well be. But the unique way in Jesus in the love for one’s enemies and the way of the cross is at the forefront of what God’s justice looks like. It is tempered with mercy, and brings in the needed full salvation beginning even now. In our lives, but breaking into earthly principalities and powers, high places where this is not only known, but opposed. Even though that’s ongoing on this side of time. Not for the faint of heart, but part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

renewing one’s commitment to prayer

My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.

Psalm 109:1-5

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

I have to admit that today I’m discouraged. Partly over circumstances in which there is no needed breakthrough. But just as much if not more over my own failure to remain in prayer the way I ought to, according to the sense I have of calling, faint though it may be, but persistent and clear enough, to simply be in prayer.

David was referring to adversity from others. But he remained in prayer. The inspired utterances which follow, quoted in the New Testament are completely understandable given what he was up against, though some of it is not worthy of a follower of Christ. At the same time God doesn’t tell us to deny our true feelings and thoughts, but to indeed air them out to God, a part of prayer. The rest of David’s prayer (click Psalm 109 link) is interesting. If you consider the rest of Scripture, you can see that God would bring judgment against the evildoers with the desire to bring them mercy in the end, I think the prevailing current we find in the First/Old Testament prophets and elsewhere.

Paul’s word is for Christ followers, for the church, that we’re to be devoted to prayer. I find it too easy to drift away from that. When by God’s grace I’m able to remain in prayer, it’s a gift, really something I find not only enjoyable, but helpful. But such devotion is expressed regardless of how one feels, or what they’re up against. Yes, at times it can wonderfully seem to be a part of us, but at many other times, it’s simply something we do, a practice. But I would like to add it’s like something we enter into so that we become a part of that prayer, and that prayer becomes a part of us. Now I’m going way beyond what I can understand, but the idea is that we’re taken up into the grace and working of God. And that prayer is not just something we practice, but a part of who we are becoming.

We just need to pray, practice that, and enter into this reality. And as Paul tells us elsewhere, remain there.

pray all the time

1 Thessalonians 5:17; MSG

In and through Jesus.

the high cost of not trusting God

When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”

God spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have fallen to pieces. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I commanded them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They’ve sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”

God said to Moses, “I look at this people—oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”

Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.

Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets—engraved them.

When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses said to Aaron, “What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?”

Exodus 32:1, 7-16, 19-21; MSG

This is one of those passages you don’t know what to do with, which I imagine is not in the lexicons for reading in the church, although I’m not sure. Jesus said that anyone who saw him saw the Father. Jesus is the revelation of God. All that proceeded that was somehow preparatory. There does need to be a certain kind of fear, reverence and awe of God. Not only the First/Old Testament makes that clear, but so does the Second/New. But God reveals God’s heart for the world in the Son, in Jesus, in Jesus’s Incarnation, life, ministry in teaching and healing in the arrival of God’s kingdom to earth, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, ascension with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, with the promise of his return. At the cross in Jesus’s death we see God’s love for the world, for everyone. You get glimmers of that same love throughout the First/Old Testament, but only in Jesus, and especially in his death do we see it uncovered, on full display.

We’re also told in the New/Second Testament that whatever was written for us in the past, that is in the First/Old Testament, was written to us, the church, for our instruction and as warnings. We have to take all of it to heart, if we’re going to read Scripture faithfully according to what it tells us. We can see for sure in the above passage (click to read it in its fuller context) that God’s people paid an awful price for not trusting God. We can certainly draw from that, we too are both susceptible, and will suffer the consequences when we fail to trust God.

I tend to think that God was acting this way in significant part to bring Moses to the point Moses needed to be as leader of God’s people. Maybe there was something lacking in Moses, and therefore God in God’s wisdom was working to make him more the person and leader he needed to be.

Back to the main point. It’s easy to think something like, “Well, I’ll take matters in my own hands right now, because I just have to. Just for now, because I just have to. But I’ll do better afterwards. I’ll quit doing this.” But when we do that, and seemingly solve the problem ourselves, the loss of not trusting in God lingers, and does not easily dissipate.

We’re talking both about a relationship and even idolatry. God want us in relationship with him through Christ. And God wants us to trust him completely. How we do that is given to us in the pages of Scripture. To trust in anything other than God, or in place of God amounts to idolatry. Something I’m working on in my own life. And trying to do so not just by myself, but in community with other followers who are committed to the same. In and through Jesus.

peacemaking and persecution

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:9-12

At the end of what has often been called the Beatitudes, Jesus possibly juxtaposes two thoughts side by side which are related, but at odds with each other.

How can you be a peacemaker, yet be on the short end, indeed experiencing violence? Enter the world of Jesus.

Jesus was indeed a peacemaker, from Scripture we say by the blood of his cross, and that’s for sure. He took human wrath on himself to end human wrath. We say God’s wrath, but I would prefer to say God’s wrath against evil. God in judgment took the wrath of humankind on himself there at the cross, to end it once for all. And peacemakers following Jesus indeed need to point this out.

Peacemaking as Jesus was describing it here definitely was related to the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation later established by the cross. For us on the ground now it’s a matter of promoting peace on God’s terms, the peace of the kingdom established in Jesus. It is a peace grounded in faith and allegiance to King Jesus, and a peace based on his teaching and life. Made possible again through his death. We can’t do this on our own.

But even when we are people of peace, the peace spoken of here, that doesn’t mean we don’t end up becoming victims of war, violent opposition, violence in one form or another (Psalm 120). Certainly in being cursed, verbal violence, but sometimes suffering physical persecution. For us in the United States, this seems remote, of another world for good reason. We rarely if ever face one such incident of actual physical persecution during our lifetime. That probably speaks more of the society in which we live, but I wonder if we were more faithful in following Christ if we would see some incidents of it.

Is our persecution really because of righteousness and what is just, as well as for Christ? A good test might be if we’re truly becoming peacemakers in the way of Christ. Otherwise the “persecution” we experience might indeed need to be put in quotes, more about ourselves and our offenses, and less if at all about the offense of Jesus.

Would that life would be this black and white. Unfortunately there are times when it is partly our fault. We may not understand why, it may be nothing blatant or known on our part. Then there are the times we stumble and know better. Ironically those end up easier for us to make peace by simply asking for forgiveness. The other times, we know that somehow our weakness might be in play, but we have knowingly done nothing wrong.

It is hard to know what to do. To be as wise as serpents, but harmless as doves is surely something we need to be considering here. But we may just have to take what persecution comes our way, hopefully God doing a work for good in the one persecuting us, so that they might repent and change due to the love of God present even through us, in and through Jesus.

racism is a strong biblical theme, systemic as well as personal

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:6

God called Abraham to become the father of all nations. Abraham and his progeny were to be blessed to be a blessing. But what do we read in Scripture. Israel saw this blessing to be hoarded by themselves, and shunned outsiders. There was certainly strong disapproval of others, which turned into hate. Instead they were supposed to be a light to the nations around them, ultimately to the world. A light of the revelation of God in terms of who God is, and God’s intentions for humanity. But we know that Israel utterly failed.

So Jesus comes as the one who would be the true Israelite and fulfill God’s calling. And of course he did in ways that were unanticipated, not the least of which fully including believing Gentiles, including those hated Samaritans as full members of God’s family.

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 2:14-18

God in Christ through the good news in the cross breaks barriers, starting with Jews and Gentiles. The Jews hated the Gentiles, and vice versa. Tragically the church has hated Jews for centuries. And there’s all kind of bitter ethnic rivalries that we’ve seen played out in history in recent times right up to the present day.

Sin is pervasive in everything. So that means it’s not only personal, in each person’s heart. But it’s also societal, indeed systemic, rooted in the world system. And that plays out in the history of racism in the United States, and specifically what is easily most pronounced in that, the brutal enslaving of Africans, and all that has followed. This is something the gospel addresses, but not just in terms of changing hearts. But also in uncovering the sin of systemic racism in our institutions. And rooting it out.

The gospel’s full impact won’t be realized until Christ returns. But it is pure blindness not to want King Jesus’s agenda to begin to be fulfilled now. In the midst of the nations and governing authorities who are subject to him, to be judged by him.

We seek to follow in the way of love, yes love even for our enemies as Jesus taught us. Part of the heart of the gospel, and what we’re to be up to in prayer and patient love, beginning with each other, but meant for everyone else as well. In and through Jesus.

fighting and longing

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

The Apostle Paul nearing the end of his life summed up something of it with the above the words. When you read of Paul’s life in Scripture both from Acts, and through his letters, especially 2 Corinthians, you see just how true this was. He was indeed in a fight spiritually, and it was Christ-centered in the hope and promise of Christ by God in the Spirit.

I find it easy to lose heart for a number of reasons. For just one thing, I’m not Paul. He may well have been haunted by his past (watch the wonderful film, Paul, Apostle of Christ), but his failure was pre-conversion. For some of us, we’ve had failures post-conversion. Not that we all don’t need grace in forgiveness along the way, for we most certainly do. But it’s easy to lose heart for any number of reasons, and especially so when we’ve gotten off track ourselves.

Encouragingly Paul lumps others with him who simply long for the Lord’s appearing. If we want Christ to return so that this mess will be fixed in God’s final judgment and salvation, at long last this old creation being replaced with the new creation, which includes us and everything else, then we’re in good company for sure. And with that longing, God will put the fight back in us. The fight and the longing seem to go together.

Longing includes the sense of not arriving in this life. If we’re looking for a faith through Christianity that brings us to a sense of having arrived, then we won’t find it. There’s no such thing. For us in Christ the fight and longing go together. We continue to press on, knowing we haven’t arrived. But intent in heading for the goal.

In the end we may not be able to say that we ran the entire race well. But at least we can hopefully say that we finished the race and kept the faith. In and through Jesus.

a new political imagination

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:14-15

In Jesus’s time there was a profound, eager, if somewhat hushed among many expectation that the Messiah would at long last come and God’s kingdom with him, specifically to overthrow the Romans, whose grip on the people of God held them in a kind of exile in their very home. That’s where we have to begin if we’re to bring forward what Jesus’s words above mean in the present day.

We need to go on and read the rest of Mark’s gospel account, and along with that, the other synoptic gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke, with the final gospel account, John. Only then will we begin to understand the kingdom that God brings in Jesus, invading the world now, and ultimately destined to take over the world.

From this can come a new political imagination as we see the fulfillment of God’s promises to the world in Jesus, in King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him. If we think it’s just about personal salvation and getting others saved to go to heaven someday, then we’ve missed the point. Yes, it’s in terms God reconciling the world to himself through the death of Christ, forgiveness of our sins and new life in Christ. But that includes the reconciliation of all things to himself and new creation. A kingdom no less is now present.

At the heart of that, or we could say inside of this reality in Jesus is a new way of life, a new way for humans to live not just individually, but with each other. Yes, a whole new way of life. One that we see in the New Testament fulfills God’s passion seen in the Old Testament for the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, those in chains and suffering, somehow as we find in Jesus’s teaching and what follows including even God’s enemies.

We know that God is at work even in what we call the state, nations and governments, kingdoms of this world. But we also know that God’s own kingdom work in Jesus is elsewhere and different. And that the kingdoms of earth will be ultimately judged and destroyed, exposed as the beasts they really are.

What can help us see and understand this new political imagination better is to understand the idolatrous hold nationalism can have on us. We American Christians ordinarily see politics in terms of left and right, conservative and liberal (and moderate), and whatever else might be floating out there. But surely God wants us to see through those paradigms for whatever usefulness and good they have in this world through the lens of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. We as Christians are called to be about that, and nothing more nor less.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t participate in one way or another in the world’s political system. It does mean that we do so essentially as outsiders, those of another political realm. Taking seriously the politics of this world, but only in terms of the politics of Jesus which has invaded the world, indeed the politics of the world to come. In and through Jesus.

Thanks to Stephen Backhouse whose work is renewing in a fresh way my own thought on this.

God’s word speaks into our lives, into life

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

If you read the Bible, God’s word from cover to cover you’ll find out God’s priority of love for God in response to God’s love, and love for our neighbor as we love ourselves. Justice along with mercy is a major theme, the end of the story, shalom: universal flourishing, prosperity, and peace in the new creation in Jesus.

If God’s word is to have the impact needed, we must be in it every day, day and night. And we must hear God’s concern for the poor, the oppressed, for the foreigner, the disenfranchised, those pushed to the margins. It isn’t only about my personal relationship with God, but it’s also about my relationship with others. And it’s about God’s people together in love as a witness to the world of God’s goodness and kingdom come in Jesus, feet on the ground and hands in love helping those in need.

It’s a new vision by which not only the world is ultimately judged, but which should impact the world to at least be held to a higher standard.

That’s part of what we have when we hold a Bible in our hands, open it up, read its pages, and respond to God’s word in faith and prayer. And keep doing that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

“deliver us from evil”

There is nothing good about what has happened and continues to happen in the United States to African-Americans. Where is justice? We will be judged.

Of Solomon.

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
    the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
    your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
    the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
    and save the children of the needy;
    may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
    as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
    like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
    and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the desert tribes bow before him
    and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.
May grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
    and thrive like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed.

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

when discouragement sets in (Ecclesiastes)

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

The end of a fascinating book helps us keep straight what we have to keep our eyes on as we live life “under the sun.” Tremper Longman is helpful here:

The second wise man commends Qohelet as an example of honest thinking about life “under the sun.” In essence he’s saying, “Son, Qohelet is 100 percent correct. Under the sun, life is difficult and then you die.”

However, the second wise man goes on to encourage his son toward what we might call an “above the sun” perspective: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of humanity. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).

I’m not qualified to offer my opinion on Longman’s overall interpretation of Ecclesiastes (see his commentary), along with other interpretations, or to offer my own. I think his quote above certainly rings true.

What is helpful to me is the plain point that when all is said and done we’re to simply fear God and keep his commandments, keeping in mind our accountability to God, how we will have to answer to him.

I don’t at all write off the rest of the book as having no value for us. We run up against its truth all the time in the difficulties we face and see everywhere. And I think interspersed throughout Qohelet’s (“the Teacher’s”) words are glimmers of light that see beyond the perspective of “life under the sun.”

That is the perspective we need if we’re to carry on well in God’s eyes. We have to get past the inevitable discouragement which faces here, all the problems, not to mention tragedy, and realize that even in the best scenario of “life under the sun,” there is a sense of not arriving, of futility, even a sense of meaninglessness.

What we need in this world is to see beyond that to the God who gives meaning in the midst of the madness. Who keeps us in his way, as we see him for who he is, and seek to walk in line with his will. In and through Jesus.