overcoming evil with good

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21

There seems to be nothing more natural to us than responding to that which is not loving, or maybe even hateful with that which is less than love. We want to hold our ground, or at least protect ourselves. And besides, what right does anyone have to act the way they did? How in the world are we supposed to “overcome evil with good”? And just what does that mean? To understand, we have to look at the fuller context.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21

We’re to do good to others, even when it may seem to make no sense. What makes sense to us unfortunately is tit for tat, if you do me wrong, than I need to at the very least hold you at arm’s length, and likely I need in some way to retaliate. But what does Scripture say? Something quite different.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Romans 13:1-7 follows, the passage on God’s command to us to be subject to the state, governing authorities, who are obviously accountable to God to carry out their duty for our good, and for the good of society or people in general. So those who do evil are accountable to God in part by being accountable to the governing authorities, which in turn are themselves accountable to God.

But back to the main point: We don’t have to become best friends to those who are mistreating us. And this is not at all referring to abusive relationships where even our lives might be at stake, and certainly our well being. We need to get out of them, and look to the governing authorities when that’s needed. We can love from a distance through prayers, but keep our distance at the same time.

But in many cases our enemies will be those we have to put up with day after day, whether at work or someplace else.  We may not win them to Christ, but maybe we can win them to ourselves, and help them become open to the gospel message. Their incredulity might turn into something of a friendship during which they will see our lives, and the fact that our love for them is genuine. So that instead of God’s judgment, they might eventually receive his salvation. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

prayer for the president

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

I appreciate the faithful witness of David Platt, a pastor in the D.C. area, who had a most unexpected visitor this past Sunday, the president himself. Read, and especially watch the clip where he prays for the president.

There’s no question that we need to be faithfully in prayer, as the text tells us, for everyone, and specifically as well for those in positions of governing authority. Ultimately for the sake of the gospel, as well as for the good of all.

If we prayed as much as we criticize, it might be a better world. At least there would be less of our grumbling. To turn that into petitions to God in prayer, is surely more than a good idea. It’s challenging to try to keep up with the news, which I think Christians should, without becoming swallowed up and consumed by it. To step back, really out of that, and be in prayer for governing authorities, lifting up our specific concerns seems far better than a more or less 24/7 exposure to the news media, available to us nowadays.

May the Lord help the president and all in congress, in the legislature and judicial, to seek him, and have the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. May they begin to hear God’s voice to govern in a way which is truly for the good of all, and honoring to God. May our prayers include all governing authorities from every nation, even though we surely can’t name them all. And may I be more faithful in the same prayer.  In and through Jesus.

 

our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

the real world: Christians and the state/politics

The idea of “the real world” can be as different as night and day in what Christians mean, and from that, how they act. John Stackhouse, a Baptist theologian, believes something like a kind of realism which accepts the good and bad, along with the limitations in government, and makes the most of it, of course trying to arrive to what’s best, but realizing there will inevitably be shortfalls and issues and new problems will arise. Then there’s the meaning of “the real world” which might come from what’s called a Christian anarchist position, here summarized well by Greg Boyd. It basically takes the position that what happens in worldly government is rather beside the point for the follower of Christ. They should be living with one world in mind, God’s kingdom present in Jesus. So for them, that’s the real world. The rest is a charade, or worse. Destined for God’s judgment.

I see something of both perspectives when I look at scripture. The realism advocated which says Christians can and even should get their hands dirty by getting involved in civil societies, of course doing so with integrity and Christian truth, we can see clearly enough in Daniel, and to some extent, arguably, in the New Testament itself. The other position is clearly seen in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What Jesus calls his disciples to, God’s kingdom present in him, certainly political itself in that it is a way of life under his rule.

What might be a determining factor is to read what follows in what unfolds after Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit. It does seem to emphasize what our witness in the world is to be as the church and as believers. It really doesn’t say anything about Christians serving in government, but rather how Christians are to respond to government. There are instances of people in the New Testament who have faith and serve in government positions.

So at this point I think like life, it’s complex. It is easy to simply withdraw. But it seems to me more Jesus-like to remain in society, but with a different message. After all, if we don’t have a different answer, then what is distinctive about us as Christians? Isn’t what we’re called to live, and if necessary die for, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus? Regardless of just how we come down on the question of Christians and the state, there should be no question that this is what distinguishes us from the world.

And that will require a different track and wisdom, I think, then what we see from either the Christian left or Christian right in the United States. Both fail in compromising by not holding to the gospel as paramount in every consideration. Miserably. I take neither one of them seriously at all, myself. Both fail because in one way or another, their witness to Christ and the gospel is compromised. That ought to be our first and foremost concern: how will what we do or not do in the world impact our witness to Christ?

Maybe the best position is to leave the answer a bit nebulous, uncertain, but major on what we do know is our calling: to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. We must avoid any position that mixes the cross and the flag together. However we think our responsibilities to the state are to be played out, like paying taxes, and honoring those in authority, we must make it clear to all that Christ’s kingdom is different, not from this world, though down to earth, but in a completely different way. We certainly do good works to help people in need, and solve problems.

Something for our consideration, or at least what I’ve been considering lately. As we ponder what it means as Christians and the church to be a faithful witness in the world. In and through Jesus.

trying to juggle the church and the state

Yesterday here in the United States we celebrated (and from the weekend prior) its 241st birthday. I was raised Mennonite, and we more or less practiced a respectful distancing from city, county, state and federal government. When I converted to Christ, I remember at a certain point hanging a flag on our house, of course with Dad and Mom’s permission. Dad actually served in the Army in WWII and was in a tank in harm’s way in Germany. He had a truce with Mom over the issue, indeed not everyone who attends Mennonite churches, or even are members are committed pacifists. I had converted to Christ in my late teens, and had eventually left the Mennonite church under the influence of someone who had discipled me. Since then in many ways my life has returned full circle, so that even though we are not part of a Mennonite church here (there is none nearby, anyhow), I am back to believing in that interpretation, at least emphasis, which places the Sermon on the Mount in a prominent place in its teaching.

The book which turned me back toward my Anabaptist roots was ironically not written by an Anabaptist, but by the great Bible scholar, historian, and theologian, N. T. Wright, entitled, The Challenge of Jesus. While some of what he says is quite compatible and close to a Mennonite view, N. T. Wright would still hold to more of a typically Anglican, Great Tradition perspective when it comes to the church and state. Since I have tracked closely with his friend, and colleague in both scholarship and writing, Scot McKnight, and am privileged to be acquainted with another scholar and friend of Scot’s, also a professor and not least of all, pastor, Allan R. Bevere, from the latter two especially, I’ve been kept on the straight and narrow when it comes to more of a historically Anabaptist take on the church and the state.

But the problem of juggling the church and the state remains, since most Christians and churches are in some way either marked or influenced by what is called the Constantinian turn when the church and the state essentially became united. See Allan R. Bevere’s excellent and helpful book on this, The Politics of Witness. That book helps us see how the United States, in spite of the new turn of the separation of church and state, is still largely marked by a kind of symbiotic relationship of church and state, that is to say a relationship of dependence on each other to some extent, although, as Bevere shows in his book, the state ordinarily always ends up with the upper hand.

Like any good Evangelical and Protestant, although I would much prefer to say, like any good Christian, I would return again and again to the pages of scripture, and with the help of others through the Spirit, just try to see if what is taken for granted is really the case. And like any good Anabaptist would (although I’m not sure in what way I’m an Anabaptist, since for one thing, I’m not really opposed to infant baptism), I find the position of the church at large, wanting.

Instead of going further, let me give an applicational thought as to how I see the church and the state. I begin with the important, but lesser function, indeed ordained by God, the state. The state is comprised of everyone, whether they are in the faith, have any faith, or whatever faith they might have, no one is excluded. It is not in itself Christian. The church, on the other hand, is the body of Christ through the gospel, which it proclaims in word and deed: the good news that Jesus is the saving Lord and King. Who by his cross has reconciled all things in heaven and earth, the cross shorthand here for his death and resurrection.

I take it then that the state, in whatever form of government it consists of, will promote the good of all, and will force no one to comply to anything beyond what is essential to the state’s function ultimately under God. The state when it’s doing well will certainly help the church have the freedom needed to proclaim, and be a witness to the gospel. But the state will also maintain order between different peoples where conflict might naturally arise. To try to say all that the state should do here is largely an exercise in futility, given the complexity of the makeup of nations. Democracy is only one form of government in the world, and Christians and churches often live in uneasy relationships with the governments under which they live, sometimes more or less underground, since their activities are forbidden. But a certain ideal surely remains, and all nations and governments are ultimately under God’s judgment.

This is just enough to hopefully help us begin to see the difficulty for Christians in juggling the church and the state. I believe everyone in the mix of the state is necessary in a good deliberation for a good outcome for all, a tall order, indeed. The church through the gospel is also for everyone, but Jesus is the heart and soul of that body, which brings people into communion with the Triune God, and into an eternal life in the new creation in him which will never end, even past this present existence. There’s a marked difference, so that the church and the state can never be essentially one without not only diluting, but actually changing the church, so that it indeed might no longer be the church, but an empty institution which Christ has left behind.

In the end, we Christians are indeed thankful for the freedom we have in the United States. But we also do well to be wary of any arrangement with the state which might not only cause us to water down our witness, but might in some way even move us to bow the knee to another lord other than the one Lord, King Jesus.

United States Declaration of Independence

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation upon such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are long accustomed. But [our grievances are neither light nor transient, and a list of them follows….]

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Source: Jesus Creed

United States Declaration of Independence

The United States and us fearful Christians

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

….All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

….Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrews 11-12

July 4 is upon us, this being the holiday weekend preceding it. And if there’s one thing for sure, so many of us, and I’ll include myself, are hardly past the election fervor, caught up in a presidency which may turn out to be the most polarizing in US history, aside from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during those tumultuous and horrific Civil War days. Hardly any of us like what is going on in US politics, many for similar reasons, others of us for different reasons, some of the concerns being the same across the board. It is a difficult time for a good number of reasons in a nation which is not only polarized, but threatening to be on the edge of being torn apart.

The question on this post is this: When push comes to shove, just where does our confidence lie? What do we think will win and save the day, and why? And just why are we so upset and fearful?

This is not meant to be a critique of the United States, but there’s no doubt there have been seismic changes in society, and that the liberal, progressives have been all but dismissive of the conservatives. And there’s no doubt that the conservatives themselves have written off the liberals. You have few moderates, who by many would be seen as wishy washy and weak kneed. As far as I’m concerned, while I do have opinions about US politics, and especially concerning issues of the day, none of that matters in comparison to the main point of this post. While those things have an important and provisional place, they are not at all on par with what now follows.

We as Christians, and especially the older generation of us, which includes myself, and I plead guilty, we have lost our focus and therefore are weak in our faith, and weary, in danger of losing heart. Oh yes, there will be some who will fight to the bitter end either for the Democratic Party, or for the Republican Party, or their version of what they think America needs, and won’t seem to have lost any heart at all. They have a lot of hope for good, and to avoid what isn’t good through the federal, state and local government. And again, it’s not like that has no value at all. But we in Jesus are actually called to something else, even while at the same time we pray and humbly participate according to our convictions for the good of the state.

Our goal is something better, something much more. It is to be a follower of Jesus in whatever culture we’re placed, to announce and live out the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus, in the truth that Jesus is King with the hope that follows. We should be those who are commended for our faith in God, both confident and assured that God will fulfill his promises come what may. And that includes whatever we may face in coming days, years, or generations, should the Lord tarry.

We need to quit thinking and from that acting as if all depends on what is happening or not happening in Washington, D. C., as hard as that might seem to us, for some of us for different reasons. Our eyes need to become fixed on Jesus, period, who shows us the way as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and of course, is the way. Faith, plain naked faith, and I mean the faith that is in the God revealed in Jesus, that is what we live for, and if need be, die for. While at the same time we faithfully pray for those in government, and hope for the best for the nation, and the world.

That is our calling. This is what we Christians in America should be known for. In and through Jesus.

See Andy Stanley’s compelling message, Fix Your Eyes, which inspired this post.