defining God and God’s mission by our own expectations

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6:14-15

As Aaron Buer pointed out this past weekend, the Jew’s agenda, especially among the Zealots was to get free from Rome, for the Zealots get rid of Rome altogether by force. Aaron pointed out how we often see God and by extension Jesus according to what we expect God to do for us, instead of letting God reveal himself in his words and works.

There’s no question that what God is doing sometimes includes nations. The spread of the gospel was helped much by the Roman roads, even the empire itself, though certainly unwittingly. We can say that God not only used it, but in some sense orchestrated it to a greater end than what it was originally intended for. Not that human civilization and culture doesn’t have its place in the present.

Present day issues, just as in the past can be nagging and even biting. And it’s not like so much that’s up in the air politically isn’t important or significant even for Christ’s mission and the gospel, like the plight of the poor. But as Christians we have to step back and ask ourselves just whose agenda we’re on: our own, someone else’s, a combination of the above, or God’s?

In terms of the politics of this world Jesus would have none of what people wanted out of him. From a reading of the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament we see that the battle of the Lord is spiritual, not physical. And that Jesus conquered through the cross, through his death and resurrection, his ascension with the promise of his return not only marking that victory, but seeing it proceed by the gospel through the work of the Spirit right in the present time.

Nowadays it’s as easy as a click to get sidetracked from what God is doing and wants to do through us onto some other agenda, often set by well meaning people, even Christians, yet by that sidetracked from God’s calling to us in Jesus. And perhaps the most dangerous part is trying to sublimate as in include it in our gospel agenda, somehow merging the Lord’s work and man’s work into one, as if it’s a hand in hand endeavor. But as we see from Scripture, that’s not the case at all. It’s either the Lord’s work entirely, or it’s not his work at all.

Jesus would have none of what the people of his day wanted, indeed seemed to expect. What are we expecting today? Are we open to God’s work in Jesus? Or is it something else that matters more to us?

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getting a grip on the world’s disorder

If you would like to get upset and out of sorts, then turn on a news channel, or go to news sites online. Even from those trying to get facts straight from whatever perspective or bias they have, there’s plenty to get worked up with nowadays. And this is true no matter what our understanding might be, however we might understand various issues.

I think we do well to turn to the entire Bible, and specifically the Old Testament Hebrew prophets. I think of Isaiah, which we might say in its own shape is kind of a miniature Bible in itself. And the relatively short book of the prophet Habakkuk might especially fit well into the current time, though it surely speaks to every time.

Habakkuk was complaining about the disorder of his day, the order for him surely being God’s shalom, meaning the flourishing under God’s rule meant for God’s people to display to the world. Instead Israel’s leaders were disrupting God’s order for their own gain, of course against God’s kingdom priorities, like caring for the poor and oppressed.

So God was going to use a new order which wasn’t at all like the kingdom order of God. The Babylonians were actually a law unto themselves, hammering one kingdom after another, and scoffing at every ruler and god, even at God himself. And yet God was using them. This was indeed troubling to Habakkuk, who didn’t know what to make of it as we see from the book, surely not liking it, either.

I think we need to settle down in our seats with open Bible in hand, and simply let the prophets speak to us in this day and age. If we hold to the Scriptural teaching that God’s sovereign reign is in some way over all, that God is at work in the mess of the world, surely that ought to help us to settle down and get a grip on our own emotions, as we learn to rest in trust in God. That seems to have been what happened to Habakkuk over the course of the book, as we see in his song of resolute trust in and praise of God at the end.

We do need a change of mind for sure, the right thoughts to enter in, before a change of heart, which we mean emotional can settle in. We begin to understand that whatever disorder and order in the world we see contrary to God’s kingdom does not mean that God is not at work. In ways we couldn’t have imagined and wouldn’t have planned, God can be at work. That doesn’t mean what the Babylonians were doing was good, even as Scripture tells us. And God was going to hold them accountable. But God was indeed using them in his transcendent wisdom.

Read the book of Habakkuk and let it soak in. We don’t need to get all worked up and bent out of shape over the news. God is in charge; we’re not. We should pray for government officials and be good citizens. And above all be witnesses of God’s good and perfect kingdom now present and to fully come in and through Jesus.

good and bad times

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

Somehow God is at work in the world. For good always, but sometimes it unfolds in what’s bad for humans. The book of Ecclesiastes is steeped in mystery, part of why I like it. It deals with real life, not some fanciful make-believe romantic notion. Life can be the pits. And yet the good times roll as well.

Both are certain, the timing is not. Humankind is involved in all of this. We make bad choices; we get bad results. God’s grace can relieve some of that. And even good times will come. What is not certain is just what’s up next.

Being aware of this can help relieve us of the notion that things will always remain the same in this life. They won’t. Trouble and the stress which accompanies it will come. But so will the good times. It’s something that we simply have to accept and learn to live with. So that we while we enjoy them, we don’t get too up or complacent during good times. And when things are difficult, we don’t get too down, but accept that as a matter of course, that it’s simply the way life is.

Though we can’t know the future, we can rest in the truth that God is sovereign over it all.

 

 

why I’m not much worried about the election, or upcoming elections

I will participate in the election tomorrow, and I do have opinions, some of them strong. And I have expressed concern over the incivility nationally on both sides, beginning in the White House. And not good in many places.

I think what the founding fathers of the United States struggled to put in place is strong enough to withstand the problems today, as long as citizens, and particularly those in governmental leadership continue that struggle. There is a good overview, well worth the time, on that. Although the subject matter may not seem to be directly applicable, I think it does get to the heart of what the American democratic republic is, never tried before in the separation of church and state: First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty.

I do share a concern over the United States, but my own biggest concern by far is the witness of the church in all of this. Yes, for the good of the nation, but above and beyond that, in view of God’s kingdom present in Jesus through the gospel. The church, and Christians should not be seen as either Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians and follow one Lord, Jesus. Because of that we’re going to run counter to prevailing thinking on a number of issues nowadays. And maybe considering the big picture, on some issues which likely won’t ever change. Though over time some may. And even Christians will disagree at times. One example: I’m for government mandated healthcare for all, but others are not. At the heart of that is the role of government, a debatable issue in itself. Christians are certainly not opposed to healthcare for all, the question is how to get there.

Whether we agree with what is in place or not, we’re to be in submission to such (Romans 13), and even to honor the office I take it, even if the one in place is not entirely honorable. We are to pray for all those who are in authority (1 Timothy 2). We may have to make appeals to such, and because of the democracy which the United States is, we can participate by lobbying for change, and voting.

Though God gives humans responsibility, God is ultimately in control (Psalm 75, etc.). We can and should participate insofar as our conscience dictates. But we should not be alarmists, nor should we think the world is on the line. At the same time, we need to be sensitive to real life issues out there, which are impacted by government, where perhaps laws are needed for the common good, and particularly for those who are marginalized. And we need to avoid readily taking on some kind of martyr complex, even if a political party or ideology is trying to force their will against us in a way which violates religious liberty. We should press for freedom in the public square for all, those religious as well as those who are non religious. In the midst of all of this, our final appeal is to God. As Christians and the church we live as Christians who happen to be American, along with those who are British, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, etc., etc., etc.

And we need to remember that the power of God for salvation is only through the gospel, never through politics. The change needed will come only when people’s hearts are changed through the gospel, and by common grace. So that there’s a new standard in place for people of the world, including everyone. Christianity through the centuries, along with grave errors at times, has brought a world of good, such as hospitals, stands against slave trade and racism, protection for the unborn, etc.

I will vote, and will lose no sleep over the outcome. God is God. Our trust is in him, not in any president, any government, nor in ourselves.

 

 

accepting the hard things from God

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job lost his children, his wealth, and his health. Yet he accepted not only the good he had once had from God, but the trouble as well, yes, even as from God. In the Hebrew mindset both good and evil came from God, we would say the evil passing through God’s hands, even though God is never the source of it. Although somehow God uses it, and even somehow, we might say, engineers it for good. In ways we could never imagine, and aside from grace are not able to appreciate at all.

Job’s story is certainly unfathomable, well beyond most anyone’s experience on earth. But that should serve us as an example to us of God’s goodness in the midst of whatever trouble we face, even as James points out (James 5:11). Job’s perseverance in all the brokenness continued on, even as his comforters proved to be mistaken, and Job himself ultimately exonerated by God (Job 42:7-9). After he received revelation from God which made him realize that he didn’t know what he was saying, what God was up to, that being well beyond him.

Accepting trouble from God involves casting all our cares on God, because we know God cares for and about us.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:22

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

That can take some effort on our part. It is certainly about faith, but simple prayer, and persevering in that way can make all the difference. God answers, and will give us the help we need, the grace to see us through.

It is no fun in itself, but God will be with us as we accept all the trouble that comes our way, learning to cast all our cares on God, trusting in him. Seeking the help we need from others in Jesus when necessary and appropriate, through their prayers and whatever they might be able and willing to do. That, too. But essentially learning to accept the hard things from God ourselves. In and through Jesus.

 

the center for the new year

As we enter into a new year on our calendars, and reflect on the past year, as well as this new year to follow, we do well to consider just what is central to our existence, and to the world’s existence, and what’s not.

For children, especially toddlers, often they are the center. It is what they want or think they need that counts, and nothing else. And babies necessarily need special care, along with children, to be sure.

All of us enter into the new year with either new or renewed concerns. And we tend to center on the factors, oftentimes people, who are involved in those matters. And naturally we are often trying to figure out just where we fit, or what our response is to be. Or it may be responsibilities we have, which can be in the mix with the concerns. We either don’t know what to do, or we might in panic try to fix everything, or whatever else might go on in how we process and work out things.

In Colossians in particular, but also in Ephesians, we find the center, as far as scripture and the story there, the gospel (good news) puts it. It is no less than Jesus himself, who brings us and the world into the very life of God, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the case of the new creation breaking into the old, and to actually be completely in place, making all things new when Jesus returns.

The center is not any given mess in the world, in our world or the world at large. It is not the immediate concern we have, nor perhaps something at best hard, that we’re trying to navigate in our life. The center is always and forever, Jesus. Jesus is in the midst of everything, yes in the mess. And also according to scripture, the church is intricately woven into that (see the end of Ephesians 1). And so here’s probably the most important point, so that this post won’t be misunderstood: Jesus is the center, but it is always through the church and the gospel that this is so.

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1

That is our only real hope on a personal, family, neighborhood, local, state, national, and international level. Jesus somehow is in the midst of all of this, but always through the church and the gospel. Yes, mystically by the Spirit, but also through his teaching, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), through his death and resurrection. And though it’s always through the gospel and the church, yet in some sense Jesus is at work in everything. God is sovereign over all, and that sovereignty now is always and forever in and through Jesus. Even though there’s a day coming when the Son turns over the kingdom to the Father so that God might be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). Whatever that means, we can be sure that Jesus will be at the heart, and in the center of it all.

And so I look to the new year, wondering about some things. But not wondering about one thing: just who is at the center of all of this, who is in control even when things seem out of control, chaotic, and maybe heading in a bad direction. Not to ignore the things which are good. It is Jesus himself, who is with us through the good news of God in him. And through us and that, for the world. Jesus being the center.

what in the world is God doing?

I was listening on an interview on NPR to someone quite experienced and knowledgeable, who, in his opinion sees the positions so far of the new President of the United States, as well as what preceded him, as an indication that the world order, which in his view has promoted stability since the end of World War II through the Cold War, is changing, and not for the better. I am not sure what to make of all of this. My opinions and inclinations really don’t matter. I would think there has been both plenty of good and plenty not so good in what the United States has done the past fifty plus years. I could see the US as an empire, not an evil one, but still an empire. It certainly has been the number one world power since the end of the Cold War. Like in the real world, there is much good and evil mixed together. And to give oneself fully to any nation or leader of this world without reservation surely amounts to idolatry.

What if God is doing something in the world which might just shake up the nations a bit? Much has happened in my lifetime, the unimaginable, big and small. When we read scripture, we find that God is the Sovereign over all the nations, somehow at work in ways inscrutable and beyond us. We see a shaking and sifting going on quite often, but wish to see much more, like in the case of what appears to be purely evil regimes who abuse and murder. We long for the end of all the injustice in the world, looking forward to the promise of Jesus’s return when at last the long awaited good judgment will come, and the nations will be put in their place under the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

In the meantime, our focus as those in Jesus needs to be on our calling as the church through the gospel. Somehow a significant part of God’s work is through the church, Christ head over everything for it, through the gospel (Ephesians 1). We need to be invested in is in that. That is our calling in Jesus. As hard as this may be to accept, what else happens is beside the point. While at the same time, all Christians, wherever they live, wish for the good of their nation and people, as well as the good of all other nations.

May the Lord help us to grow in our trust in God, away from our idolatrous trust in other things. As we pray for all, and await the Day of our Lord’s return.