a gospel bigger than I, me, mine, and even us- the only gospel there is

When we open our Bibles, the beginnning is Genesis, for a reason, and the end is the Revelation for a reason, and everything in between counts, every book and for that matter, every line, has its reason and place in the whole.

It is daunting, and takes commitment over time, but we all need to be in the entire Bible, as challenging on many levels as that is, and read it through again and again. When we do, we’ll come to see that the story of Israel picked by God to be a blessing to the world is a central theme. And how that is fulfilled through them, but mainly in anticipation of the true fulfillment in Jesus.

While this is certainly for each person in our relationship to God, it is for every other person, as well, and for the entire world. It’s a good news in and through Jesus which affects everything and is therefore worldly in that sense, or one could say earthly. But in another sense it can’t be worldly at all since it can’t participate, except insofar as it influences the change of worldy structures. This is the case, because the difference is in and through Jesus, and God’s redemption, salvation, and kingdom come in him.

Only when Jesus returns will all things be changed, the god of this age gone; the world, the flesh and the devil being a thing of the past. But until then, we witness not only to a gospel for each individual, but a gospel which is to begin to demonstrate the alternative to what is necessarily in place, in this present evil age and world.

And so we live in the in between times when God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus is beginning to break in through the gospel into the church, and out from that into the world. As we look forward to the end of this age which will bring in the fullness of what has begun now in Jesus, when he returns.

when all seems lost (in this world)

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.

Hebrews 11

It is hard to put one’s finger on exactly what is going on in the world, the trajectory and back and forth, ebb and flow of it all. A well written history is indeed fascinating. I remember early on finding that especially so with American history, and especially that of the United States. We really can’t be sure where that is going all the time, and it seems like inevitably a mixed bag of good and bad. There is no doubt that we hope and pray for the good of peoples and nations, naturally first of all, our own nation, but not excluding any peoples, or nations.

So it’s not like we don’t care what is happening in the world. It’s more about expectations. We as Christians believe that God is indeed Sovereign over the nations, that somehow “God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year.” And that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in the place of ultimate rule and authority, somehow that rule flowing in and through the church as his Body in the world, through the gospel, from the Father by the Spirit. But what we see is at best incomplete, and at worst seems incoherent and subject to forces which begin to make all too much sense in terms which are not helpful, and even evil. As in all of life in this world, it’s not simply a matter of good and evil, since there seems to be an admixture of both as people like Abraham Lincoln knew all too well.

The answer that we in Jesus need to dwell on, which is not just for us, but for the world, has already been mentioned in this post. It is the rule of King Jesus through his body the church, a rule which is solely through the gospel, the good news in and of him. Again, there is much good that can happen since humankind is made in the image of God, albeit with undercurrents and waves of evil present. But the only sure-fire hope for the world is in Jesus through the gospel. And that gospel certainly pertains to the present life, but is also about the life to come. In fact, strangely enough, it brings something of the life to come into the present through the new creation in Jesus.

For us who believe in that hope in Jesus, which by the way means nothing less than a faith which simply anticipates and waits for the completion of God fulfilling his promises, that means we don’t settle into even the best this world has to offer. We are in a sense strangers and foreigners here, because we point to the only salvation in Jesus alone. A salvation not just in terms of the individual, though certainly about that as well, but for the entire world, and every aspect of it. A hope that seems planted in human hearts until all of that seems more or less lost. The hope for what the Bible calls shalom, which not only means justice, but goodness manifested in human flourishing along with the flourishing of all creation.

We pray for good, and against evil in the world, in the nations and governments. But our hope and expectation is in none of that. It is only in the Lord Jesus through the gospel, the good news in and about him. That is the one political reality and salvation we hold on to, both for the present world, as well as that to come. And in which we in Jesus have begun to live even now. Meant not only for us, but for the world in and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda?

Some people are excited over the new president of the United States. Others might be excited about this or that, so that their thoughts and lives end up being preoccupied with that. There are a host of factors which influence what we do, and the bottom line seems to be somehow securing some sort of happiness. Is that wrong? I think not. I believe God created us for a life that is abundant in realizing the fulfillment of our humanity, or what it means to be human. The question ends up being, just who determines that, and why does that matter?

The freedom that seems to be in vogue now is simply to fulfill whatever desires and dreams one has. A self-fulfillment which has nothing to do with any notion of truth, but everything to do with a freedom which is determined simply in how one feels, their desires. And from that people say that what is true for you, might not be true for me, in other words it may not work for me in realizing my self-fulfillment, or simply in letting me be and do what I want.

For us in Jesus there is only one who sets the agenda: God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit: the Triune God. Jesus is Lord, period. And all other authorities have their authority only under him, under God. What they say, and their values are not determinative for us, even if they might have legitimacy in their place.

The one who sets our agenda is the Lord, King Jesus, by his person, teaching and work, through the gospel, the good news, which really is Jesus, and is actually all throughout the Final/New Testament. That is where we find the truth for life, the true humanity fulfilled in him, and from that, real, neverending freedom. But that freedom is a byproduct. We follow and submit to God in Jesus no matter what. God is the one who sets our agenda.

the hope for 2017 and beyond

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

There is actually one ultimate hope for us and for the world, and that hope is in King Jesus, and God’s promises in him. We in Jesus await for his return, when at last all that is lacking and wrong now, will be made right and complete in the final judgment and salvation, in the new creation. Until then, it’s not like we don’t have hope in Jesus for good in this present existence. In another place we read:

Love…always hopes…

1 Corinthians 13

Hope in scripture is put in the context of faith and love. This is a hope distinct from the blessed hope when the final salvation is put into place. But it’s certainly related to that hope.

All Christian hope is solely in Jesus. It’s not like we can’t hope for the best in the institutions of this world, in governments which are appointed by God for the good of people. But the faith, hope and love which we have in Jesus, just as they are linked together as a triad, are also dependent on the gospel. We have prayerful, lesser hopes, which are still important in their place, as we pray for everyone, for governing authorities, that people might live in peace, and that we might be able to spread the gospel in that same peace. Though in this world we can expect pockets of persecution for such a stand. That hope is grounded in God’s sovereignty now over the nations, which is often hard if not impossible to trace or understand.

And so my hope for 2017 is not so much in earthly institutions, which I think are always certain to disappoint those who have high expectations for them. Instead we look to God’s promises in Jesus for ourselves, and ultimately meant for everyone else. Even for the wicked, who will repent of their ways, and bow the knee to the one Lord, King Jesus, and trust in God and God’s promises in him.

That is my one hope for 2017 and beyond. Even while we pray, hoping for other things along the way for the good of all. More of a just and righteous peace, being one of them. While we wait in the anticipation of the blessed hope when at last every good will be fully realized in and through King Jesus.

“do not put your trust in princes,” or in politicians

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 146

It is the way of the world to put confidence in political, governmental leaders, and in governments. In this day of democracy in many places, it seems like there’s no end to the renewed hope and expectations that come with elections, along with the inevitable let down when reality determines something different. And there’s the propensity with some to turn to some authoritarian leader who promises to take care of everything if they’re in charge.

We as God’s people ought to know better. We should put no ultimate trust in any politician, or government, no matter how good they might be. And the really good ones will themselves insist that their authority is derived, and that it is God who is the supreme ruler, not they, nor their government. And as such they are indeed responsible to God.

Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. It’s as simple as that. And profound as well. So that I won’t bow the knee to any political regime. At the same time the kingdom of God in Jesus now present in the world from God through him by the Spirit is active in ways that the world is not, as well as in ways the world is. Of course always with the distinctive touch of God in Jesus.

Someday the Lord will return in judgment of the nations, and then will be King of kings, and Lord of lords in a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Until then we trust in God with reference to governmental authorities, but not in the authorities themselves. But God has required us to submit to every human institution for the Lord’s sake (Peter), and so we do insofar as their rule does not contradict the express will of God.

And so we don’t put our trust in any politican or political party or movement. We might to some extent support something of such at certain times. We realize not only their fragility, but the judgment which not only is to come, but which takes place in this present age. When nations and human officials come and go, the church remains right until the coming of the Lord. Our hope, trust and ultimate allegiance is in God and God’s Son, Jesus. Our confidence for a sure salvation which is as big as all of life. Even as we pray for human authorities, and God’s work in humble yet important ways through them.

the challenge of loving each other with our differences

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5

At my sister’s church in the Toledo area, the youth pastor gave a helpful, balanced message on Galatians 5 and the works of the flesh in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit. It was a good, fresh look and feel for me in thinking through what is a difficult subject to grasp, since in a sense, it’s well beyond us, something of the Spirit, not of the flesh, and not of us at all, apart from the Spirit’s gracious working.

In some ways I like the NIV 2011‘s change from patience to forebearance, as part of the fruit of the Spirit. As Dr. Carl Hoch, a great teacher and scholar himself used to tell us, it’s about putting up with each other. Sometimes that’s what we have to do, and we need the grace just as much as those to whom we need to extend it.

Forebearance means we learn to talk through our differences and listen well to each other with respect, then in the end we may agree to disagree and drop it. Or perhaps not even talk about some things at all. I like the former better than the latter, because I think we Christians above anyone else should model before the world what it means for Christ-like discussion on areas in which we don’t agree. That can be difficult, because we may think that some issues impact the gospel for ill, and some quite directly. But we do best when we fight with all the spirit we have by the Spirit, to listen well and if in a discussion, to ask questions. And to speak as those who know we are not complete in our understanding, and mistaken in some of it.

This thought is particularly important these days, when we have equally committed Christians who see the upcoming presidential election of the United States differently, and many if not most everyone seeing it as important and crucial in some ways. What I think ends up being most crucial about the election itself is that regardless of the outcome, we Christians remember to faithfully pray for the President and for other government leaders, regardless of whether we voted for or support their positions, or not (1 Timothy 2). And maybe it will help us to take a more responsible and wise tact with the politics of this world in general. We have to remember its inherent limitations, as well as the importance it carries. That is always the kind of thing I’m working on, because apart from the gospel, I see my understanding of other matters in some kind of flux in the effort to theologically see things more in line with what scripture says and what the church has taught. That’s part of the beauty and challenge of the Christian faith. For though the basics of the gospel are set, the specifics and details about those basics are up for fresh perspective from many different angles through cultures and time. Without for a moment losing any of the basics of the gospel: Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection for the new life in him which begins now, and is to come.

Yes, forebearance as a fruit of the Spirit in contrast to dissensions and division/factions which are included in the works of the flesh. We can’t work these out ourselves. It’s our responsibility to walk in and keep in step with the Spirit. So that the love in and through Jesus wins the day, even in the midst of all our difference.

prayer for Independence Day

Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion us into one united people. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer