the mistake of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

I ring an old bell, one who is hardly qualified to do that, but we draw from Scripture, from the wisdom given to those who have studied and continue to study Scripture together, from whatever wisdom God might have given us. And I speak as one who is and has been alarmed for some time now over what seems to me to be a clear and present danger, significantly so because of the mistaken thinking of many sincere Christians.

By Christian nationalism I mean the idea that God sets apart a certain nation of the world, whatever nation that may be as somehow more or less a Christian nation, or if not that, at least a nation which has special purposes for the benefit of Christianity and the gospel.

That God uses nations for good and then judges them for the wrongs they commit is a matter of fact, attested to in Scripture and seen over and over again in history. The idea of Christian nationalism carries with it a close tie between the church and state, whatever tie that might be.

That God’s people should pray for and care about the good of the nation in which they live even as exiles was exemplified in Israel of old (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Christians will vary in what specifically that means. Some will be willing to participate in more or less all the activities of the state, though we have examples of those who won’t even vote, much less do any of that. Some of us are somewhere in between.

But the main point I’d like to make here is that we in Christ are the holy nation on earth whom God calls as a light to the nations. No nation-state on earth even has such a calling. At the same time we can hope that each nation in humility will learn to do better through God’s light that is present in Christ, and in the human conscience as well through “common grace.”

This is nothing more than hopefully a gentle heads up over what I see as a clear and present danger in that the ramifications and results from it will be nothing short of devastating, as we’ve seen clearly already in the United States. But we in Christ are called to follow one Lord as one holy nation together, by our good works to point to the greatness and goodness of the One we serve. In and through Jesus.

the gospel and salvation is personal in more ways than one

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Most often in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of for decades, the gospel and salvation is personal with reference to our individual relationship to God, and to each other. And that’s good insofar as it goes. But we need to take personally the entire vision God casts. Yes, we have only our small part in that, but it’s our God-given part, and therefore a gift fitting into the whole.

We have to take this personally where we live: among our loved ones, in our neighborhood, in the church, at work, and in the world beyond where we live. In the words of Micah: we’re to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, as we walk humbly with our God. Simple, yet profound.

This means we really do want to understand what is going on around us. If we’re part of a church and denomination involved in such with good works, we can be thankful, and we can learn a lot from them.

This is to become a part of who we are, as well as what we’re about. What we’re aspiring and learning to do day after day, week after week, and year after year. In and through Jesus.

actions are more important than words

You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 2:24

In our Christian culture there seems to be nothing more important than expressed belief, profession of faith, or acknowledgement that at one time or another a person accepted Jesus as their personal Savior. All that is well and good in its place, but if I’m hearing James and his words here correctly, it’s not enough.

A person is justified, declared righteous, made right, considered righteous- whatever the precise meaning, James teaches us, not by a faith which is alone, but a faith which acts.

The gospel is indeed the message by which saving faith is awakened, better- created. And that is a faith apart from works. We believe in Christ, in Christ’s work for us, in the victory of God in him. But that faith inevitably results in good works.

Only God is the judge, but it seems to me that those who act well without understanding the gospel are better off than those who have some understanding of the faith, but whose actions are not in line. Of course none of us are perfectly in line with the truth of the gospel. That will only occur by God’s grace when Christ returns. And there are those who are saved, yet as escaping through the flames, their works not found to be works which come from this faith. We’re getting into a gray, even rather dark area in which we can’t see well, and even if we could, probably is still well beyond our ability to discern. Somehow though, as we read elsewhere, someday God will give us the ability to judge angels.

But back to the point the pastor James is trying to get through to his readers, to us: faith is not really the faith which justifies if no works follow. It is an empty profession, which sadly enough seems to have been all too common in Christendom and even in our churches today. Though again, we all need mercy. God is the judge, one who is full of mercy as well. In and through Jesus.

faith is not just what you believe, but what you do

…humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:21b-27

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

The Protestant Reformation emphasized faith apart from works along with a creedal emphasis, stating “we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…” Etc. But in so doing what people could easily slip into is the notion that works didn’t matter, as long as they have faith. After all, our good works can’t save, but only Christ so that the one requirement is faith. That’s good and even vital as far as it goes. The problem as James tells us here is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Yes, faith alone saves us, but the faith that saves us is not alone. True saving faith is always accompanied with a life change evident in works of love. Our lives are summarized in love for God and for our neighbor. Unless our faith results in good works, then it’s not faith at all, not the faith which saves. If we look to Christ for salvation, we’re also looking at the Christ who bids us to come and follow. You can’t separate the two. Theology which does is destructive. Note the separate components for sure, but note too that these components end up together. In God’s saving work. In and through Jesus.

an important priority for us

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Acts 11:22-24

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14

Goodness is inherent in God. God is good as we read over and over again in the psalms. And humans are made in God’s image. What goodness resides in humans is indeed fragile and broken, but existent due to this special work of creation and relationship to their Creator.

Goodness takes on new meaning for followers of Christ. Our goodness is tied to Christ, Christ’s goodness, and God’s goodness given to us through Christ. The Spirit has changed us from people whose goodness is present but mixed with much that is not good into people who have the same kind of goodness as Christ: intent on loving God and loving others as ourselves. And that demonstrated in good works.

It is a gift from God, a part of who we are meant to be as humans, and who we actually are in Christ. That doesn’t mean that there still might be a number of things about us that are not good because that will surely be the case. But goodness should be the dominant desire and drive in us, helping us to confess and renounce and repent of all that is not good.

Ironically the enemy can play on this strength causing us to have unrealistic expectations. We should want pure good in every situation, at the same time realizing that only God can help all the good we desire be realized.

We in Christ and as Christ followers are made good by the Spirit. God’s children with something of the heart of God. In and through Jesus.

the most basic truth for us: God loves us

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

1 John 4:17-19; MSG

There is nothing more basically important to us than the fact that we’re loved, and loved by God no less. We really have to hold on to that and not let go of it. God loves us, each and everyone God has created. God wants relationship with us, even longs for us. And God wants us to live in loving relationship with each other.

We humans are easily given to fear. We’re afraid of this and that, and for understandable, good reasons. But what is more important than that is God’s love. No matter what we face, no matter what happens or might happen, God is love and loves us. And we know because of that, God will take care of everything, that ultimately all will be well. So that even in the midst of the troubles of this life, we live in God’s love. And continue on knowing we’re loved both in our mind and experience.

And out of that love we seek to love others in practical, down to earth ways. In so doing extending God’s love to them in a way in which they’ll hopefully find that same love which exists for themselves.

The God who is love really wants the entire human race to live in that love. And out of that love in love with each other. Even now. In and through Jesus.

what are we here for?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

When it’s all said and done, we humans exist for two reasons: To love God, and to love people. All of this within, from and through the God who is love. God’s work in Christ in forgiveness of sins and new life is given that we might fulfill this. This is not something we drum up ourselves. We live this out only through God’s grace: God’s undeserved gift to us in Christ.

Everything else in a way is secondary to this, or better is a part of this love to God, as well as love to our neighbor including our enemies (real and imagined). It is through God’s love that we live out this love in response to God. But regardless of how we feel- our experience, our commitment should be to love God and love people.

This same truth comes up in a different context in Luke’s gospel account (10:25-37). Jesus made it clear there that this love is demonstrated on the ground, where people live. We show it by good works of loving service to others, particularly those in need. As well as simply loving everyone, our expression of love to God. In and through Jesus.

in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 3:11-24

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24

For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other.

We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don’t be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time.

The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24; MSG

I would like to emphasize three things at the beginning. First of all, I can’t really know what John would say, and I’m especially thinking of him in his old age when he wrote this letter. And even if I could, what he would say would not be inspired in the same sense as this letter is, being part of Holy Writ. Yet I’m sure we would all be bending our ear to hear all he would humbly put forward, one of Christ’s Apostles, who has seen so much, and taken it in well. All of this fast forwarded with John seeing and understanding our present times in the backdrop of history. A tall task for anyone, including historians and theologians, or we could say historical theologians, etc.

I think John might pause here to draw the line between love and hate. How we either are doing one or the other. That we’re to reject hatred of our brothers and sisters who may differ with us on the issues of the day. I think John might also warn against getting caught up in the culture war, on one side or the other. Our call is to follow Christ and be obedient to Christ’s commands. The foremost of which is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even to love our enemies.

If we don’t love, it can easily turn into hate. We might think otherwise, but that really does seem to be the case. For us in Christ, it’s either the Spirit of Christ or the flesh, one or the other. And the flesh is allied with the spirit of the antichrist within the unholy trinity of the world (system), the flesh, and the devil. Hating someone is equal in God’s eyes to murdering them in our hearts. And we can’t be tepid in our love, because we know the God who is love. This is quite slippery in its deception for all of us, who think we’re on the right side, that we have it right when it comes to the issues of the day, and/or our stance on them, which in itself is a bit pompous. Are we going out of our way to love those on the other side who are one with us in Christ? Not to mention those who may well have an empty profession of faith, evident in their misdeeds.

It is easy to be distraught about what is going on, about others, and maybe especially about ourselves. We feel like we’re judged, and we know to some extent we deserve condemnation for things we’ve done and left undone. Of course the accuser of the sisters and brothers is always ready to cast the same on us, and we’re all too ready to take it in. No, John tells us. Let’s go out of our way to love each other, even when feeling this way. In practical, down to earth ways; not just saying it, and stopping there- maybe even feeling good about that, but doing it.

God will meet us as we endeavor to do that. And help us to live in that Spirit of love, where God lives as the God who is love. Our task is simple, yet profound: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and to love each other in Jesus, and to love even our enemies as we follow Jesus. In imaginative, helpful ways God helps us see. Over time that can go a long way toward quelling the troubles of our day. As we point ourselves and others to God’s kingdom to come and present now in and through Jesus.

do the best you can, but from God

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4-5; MSG

Our days, weeks, and lives are full of things that need to be done. Some can be left undone, but others require our attention and simply have to be done. God gives us the tasks, and however mundane they may seem, we want to do it all to God’s glory, which means we want God to receive all the praise in what’s being done, so that in a sense our work is simply serving others for the praise of God. I think that point is evident from what follows from Paul* in this passage:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10; MSG

We need to press on, not in our own strength and wisdom, but in the help received from God by the Spirit. This is ongoing, over time, but something we should be intent on each day. God will help us. We just keep doing it, whatever task is before us. Knowing that amazingly enough we’re involved in the very work of God. Along with others in and through Jesus.

*Here, Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Paul.