where is our place as God’s people in King Jesus in the political process of this world?

Jesus is Lord. Neither Caesar, nor the current world power, the United States is. But since we live in a democracy which in theory is a government of “we the people,” normally we at least enter into the conversation on what is happening on the American political front. But we too often align ourselves on one side or the other, so that we’re known as Christians- not as those devoted to the politics of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him, but instead to the politics of the right, or the left (or even the center) of the world.

There are all kinds of problems in this, but first and foremost is our failure to grasp that the gospel itself is political, because the good news of God in Jesus is about a Messiah who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, and who reigns somehow in and through the church (Ephesians 1). This reign is destined to take over the earth only when he returns, but nevertheless is present now in a people who are to be marked as followers of the Way in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, and who live by the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in the grace and kingdom of God. That may seem like a tall, indeed impossible order, but it is possible by God’s grace, in fact that is to what we are called.

I for one hold not only a certain respect, but also appreciation for the United States of which I am a citizen. Yes, it has its faults as has always been the case, and some of them are quite serious. But in a fallen world, there is much to be thankful for when one can worship in freedom, and have the opportunities granted here. Yes, for some it’s much harder, no doubt. And we have to be careful not to idolize any state, so that we end up making Caesar Lord, instead of giving him the deference due under the Lordship of Christ.

We in Jesus will line up in every way possible on the American political spectrum, surely mostly due to our take on and evaluation of the issues. What we must not lose sight of is what’s most important of all, in fact what we in Jesus are called to live by as his followers and witnesses in this world. In doing so, we can help the kingdoms of this world the way the Jewish exiles of old were to pray for the good of the kingdom where they lived, so that in its prosperity, they too would prosper, of course through the blessing and mercy of God.

We care, but we are different. Read the Sermon on the Mount again (Matthew 5-7) if you doubt that. And read the entire New (Final) Testament, and keep reading it. Of course keep reading the Old (First) Testament as well. The more we do this, the better for our witness to Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. And the better for the nation where we live. We are citizens of heaven, first and foremost, the heaven that is destined to come down to earth in Jesus, and is lived out now in the way of Jesus. A way counter to, yet for the actual good of the present order of this world. So that we hope for the good of the nation in which we live, as well as the good of all other nations. But live as those whose one Lord is Jesus.

encouragment to keep on keeping on

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15

For many reasons, it’s easy to want to give up at times, to throw in the towel. There is often so much pressure, and so much that could go wrong, and at times does go wrong. And we live in a world in which evil too often gets the upper hand and seems successful, and in which there’s little good that doesn’t have some admixture of evil. And if we honestly look at ourselves, we have to admit that we’re far from perfect, flawed and definitely not all together. We most certainly haven’t arrived. And all too often it can feel like our wheels are spinning.

But then we turn to scripture, and specifically to the great resurrection gospel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. The conclusion of it, quoted above suggests that it is meant to be an encouragement, as well as careful instruction during a formative time in the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people. Because of Christ’s death for our sins, and resurrection from the dead, we are given assurance that somehow what we do here and now in this present state matters. That it has effects beyond what is apparent, what the eye can see.

So the resurrection to come in and through Christ is not ony something we look forward to as a present day hope for the future, but also is meant to impact our lives in the present, that not only are we now living in the resurrection power by the Spirit, even while still in our mortal existence, but that this promise gives lasting significance to what we do in the here and now.

If this wasn’t the case, then it would most certainly seem indeed that “all we are is dust in the wind.” But God has promised to bring that dust back together beyond this mortality into immortality. And somehow with that, our works which proceed out of faith, as well.

And so that gives me pause, to not only want to do well, but to also avoid doing poorly. A straight arrow to us that what we do, our work matters. Both in our words and deeds. As we look forward to the time when all of our labor in the Lord comes together to be shown that it was not in vain, and we continue on in the love, goodness, grace, and indeed the life of our risen, resurrected Lord.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

another take on James 5:16b on the prayer of the righteous

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:16b

Without backing down at all on what I wrote on yesterday’s post, I want to briefly consider another possibility in line with the other way of interpreting, and thus translating this passage. Remember that all translation involves interpretation, say from German to English and back. Which is largely why we have differences in our Bible translations, which together make no impact at all on basic Christian doctrine.

The rendering adopted by the NIV (see NRSVNET, etc.) might be correct, and is certainly possible. The emphasis then would be simply on the prayer of a righteous person being powerful and effective. Even if the other way of translating is getting more to the original writing’s intent (I don’t know), what is said in this post still holds significance. And maybe a bit more so, if the NIV rendering happens to be more accurate.

A righteous person, or the righteous, in meaning is probably a bit different in the book of James then it is in Paul’s writings. The righteous in Paul, are those who are “in Christ,” who share in Christ’s righteousness, whether it’s an alien imputed righteousness, or not. The emphasis is that this righteousness comes from Christ, and is not part of the Law. And that it comes by grace through faith, as well as through baptism. It is worked into one’s life by the Spirit, and thus imparted by God through Christ to the one who has faith. So it’s not like it isn’t worked into real life. It’s just that the emphasis is on faith, and that faith in and of Christ.

In James, righteousness is different. Which is why Martin Luther disliked the letter, calling it “a right strawy epistle.” Paul referred to Abraham as simply believing God’s word, and thus being credited righteousness. James refers to Abraham being obedient so that he was considered righteous (NIV) or justified by what he did, so that James says justification is therefore by works, as well as faith, and not by faith alone. Actually we don’t see James contradicting Paul at all. It’s a different perspective, which is present but expressed in a different way in Paul’s letters. We could say that his faith produced works, and therefore was shown to be genuine faith. Through Paul and elsewhere we learn that we can’t save ourselves through our works, that we can only trust and have faith in God’s word, and specifically in the message of the good news in Jesus. Through hearing that message, and believing, like Abraham, we are justified, made or declared righteous. But if we are saved by grace through faith, we are saved for the good works which God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The righteous in James are those who live by the royal law that gives freedom, namely “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And that makes a difference not merely in what they believe (the demons believe God is one, and they shudder, says James), but in what they say and do. Certainly belief is important to James, but faith must be accompanied with works to prove its authenticity. Without works, faith is dead.

And so to the passage. The righteous person’s prayer is one who adheres to righteousness as spelled out in this relatively short book. They don’t just listen to the word, but they do what it says. They have humbly accepted the word planted in them, so that they are being saved. True religion includes keeping a tight rein on their tongue, helping orphans and widows (the needy) in their distress, and keeping themselves from being polluted by the world. And echoing Jesus, which James probably does more than Paul, and perhaps more than any other New Testament book, the poor seem to be more inclined toward faith than the rich, and thus are rich themselves in faith, and heirs of the kingdom of God, promised to those who love God.

And so if you are righteous according to James, that’s saying something. The focus should never be on us, but to be righteous according to James, Jesus (see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) and the First/Old Testament prophets means to have a change of heart, a change of life. And right down into the nitty gritty of where we live, in what we say (and don’t say), as well as what we do (and don’t do), in good works or deeds for others.

If we are righteous in the way James describes as part of our faith, then our prayer can make a difference, in fact actually is powerful and effective. And the good takeaway here is that it isn’t just the emotionally charged, heartfelt prayer, but any prayer at all from the lips and heart of a righteous person. Of course all of this possible only through the faith that is ours in Jesus.

love is the true expression of faith

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

We might find ourselves in some sort of quandary, not knowing what to do. Of course as Christians we are dependent on God’s grace, and we reach out in faith, so we justifiably may be working on that. Our focus, of course, necessarily on Christ. But there’s one key thing we need to remember in it all: what is of value is faith which is worked out in love. If love for God and for our neighbor (including, even our enemies), and especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ, is not paramount in our thinking, then we’ve lost our way, and we’re into something less than the way in Jesus, something less than true Christianity.

Dallas Willard wrote and spoke of a “bar code Christianity” in which the only thing that mattered is faith and the fact that through that faith, the believer would someday go to heaven. But as he adeptly pointed out, that is not the real thing, and ends up being no faith at all, as far as the faith talked about in the Bible. It is not about us, and how we are secure so that nothing else matters. Or that the only thing that does matter is our security in this life, to go with the security we have for the next life. No. That is not the faith as given to us in Jesus, and therefore ends up falling short of true, genuine faith.

Faith, hope and love remain, the greatest of these, love (1 Corinthians 13). This might mean that we need to get creative, or wait on the Lord for a better decision or thought to come to mind when we are faced with something that seems somehow to pose some danger to us. We must always seek to act in love, so that those involved might see in our actions the love which we’ve experienced through grace, the love of the Lord.

going for what lasts (yet begins in this life)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold ofthe life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6

We are pummelled from every angle with this or that which is supposed to be better in some way or another, and our time easily gets swallowed up in things which, while okay, are not foolproof. And even if relatively certain, can keep us from the things which matter the most. I speak from experience, both in being taken in by such things, and in being often distracted.

Instead we need to set our sights on the something which will last forever, and yet begins in this life. It is in and through Jesus, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection that we can begin to take hold of the life that is truly life.

I have to turn away from lesser things for the greater thing all the time. Part of embracing the greater thing, in fact a large part of it, is to remain active in faith, hope and love, the love meaning being present for others in ways that meet both short and long term needs. And in all of it, to keep my focus on Christ, on the gospel, for me primarily- by being in scripture, and from that, in prayer. To lay hold and hold on to the real life found in and through Jesus.

what does God’s grace look like in our lives?

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

When we think of God’s grace, we often think of experience, and to some extent rightly so, because even in the midst of suffering, God’s love is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5). The peace with God through being justified, mentioned in this passage surely opens us up to the peace of God which surpasses, or transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Above anything else, God’s grace in Jesus for believers, enables us to live the new life in which we’re forgiven and cleansed from our former sins, with ongoing cleansing as we walk in the light, and regularly confess our sins. God’s grace in Jesus puts those who have faith in a new sphere. So that no matter what we’re going through, we approach life differently than before, with a new focus which puts everything else in a different perspective, of course on the one Lord through the Father by the Spirit.

God’s grace is at work in our lives, in and through Jesus, no matter what we’re going through. During hard, difficult times, it may seem to be lacking, and even absent, as a buoyancy is replaced with a heaviness, a rest with an unsettledness. There are those times of deepest darkness (Psalm 23), called “the dark night of the soul.” They are not easy to live in, much less maneuver through. Like Paul, whose experience is surely the extreme example of this, we may want to bail out, at least ask the Lord to remove it, as Paul did. It is interesting the prominent place God’s grace plays in that passage:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12

This is surely a passage to meditate on, in this regard. For me, being weighed down into depths of trouble seems to have been more or less the norm, particularly in earlier years as a Christian, but recently again. Those are not easy places to live, because it seems like the cushion to the heart is withdrawn, so that one is more sensitive to pain and trouble. But that’s where the different, perhaps revised understanding of God’s grace at work in our lives can make the difference, in this case the Lord’s grace being sufficient, since his strength is made perfect in our weakness.

God’s grace at work in our lives, is certainly about growing in holiness, in Christ-likeness, and in being zealous to do good works, as the Titus passage quoted above, tells us. It enables us to continue on, no matter what, giving us the help we need through the Spirit. Above all, it animates us to carry on in love. It is not about experience, but about living in love, doing good works out of love, acting and refusing to act and react, out of love.

It’s a new orientation, not welcomed by me. I would rather relatively feel good most of the time. I need to learn to live better in this new place, I suppose. Learning better the new way of living out God’s grace, even as I look forward to the day when every burden will be lifted, and the stress will be gone.