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

the love and hate of politics

Politics, simply speaking is how people live together or form a society, and what is involved in that. Some form of governing process is involved. In the United States there are the three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judicial.

Politics is understandably important, something inherent to being human, even if the final government: the kingdom of God in and through King Jesus, who eventually turns the kingdom over to the Father, so that God may be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15), will be so radically and wonderfully different. It still involves rule and order.

It is understandable how in this present life, state, and existence, politics will be at its best, very humble and hard at work, whatever form of government it takes. While there is right and wrong, evil and good, given the nature of things along with the complexity, there are probably as many ways to govern as there are peoples. While certain basic things will be the same, even how these basics play out, or what they look like, or even consist of, will be necessarily different for a host of reasons.

And so again it is more than understandable why politics can have a legitimate interest. Even the election cycle, with the politics that go into play there, a part of that in the democratic process involving persuading citizens to vote, and to vote in a certain way, has an understandably good legitimate interest.

Politics is important, and the Bible itself bears that out. It is not inherently a waste of time. It has its place, and it’s an important place in life.

But given the nature of its subjectivity even in what ends up being considered pure objectivity, we find politics (along with religion), not necessarily the best dinner table topic. Politics is divisive, because we inherently know it’s important, and we have an informed, formed opinion, or often more like conviction, of what form the government should take, or what governing is. And this is all the more heightened in a democratic society, where it’s not taken for granted that there’s one way of doing things, “the way we’ve always done it.”

Politics is divisive because it involves so many gray areas which people see as black and white. Certainly there is right and wrong, good and evil, but even how that’s addressed, or in the first place even seen, is going to be difficult in this life. And even for societies given more to the monarchial governing, or the group, community-think, which often go together, problems in this life are inevitable, for example there are good and bad rulers.

And so we need to listen well, to be humble, and above all, as followers of Jesus to put our own ultimate confidence in God’s kingdom come in Jesus lived out through the gospel in the church and for the world. While at the same time respecting our differences when it comes to the politics of the governing states in which we live. And we must be careful not to judge others on the basis of differences here. And may I add, as important as the politics of the nation states of this world is, we should take it with some grain of salt. Not dismissing or ignoring it (except perhaps at certain times), but realizing its importance in its place, giving proper respect to those in authority, and above all praying for them as we’re directed to in scripture. As we go on in the one politic that will last forever in God’s grace and kingdom found in Jesus.

the web of American politics (and the politics of this world)

Perhaps N. T. Wright is right to protest against so easily summarily dismissing the importance of politics in this world. He sees it as a wrong headed approach to life foreign to those in biblical times who saw all of life together as a whole. There wasn’t sacred and secular, public and private, individual and community. Everything rather was either in line or not with God and God as King over all. And everything in line under God had its place. Certainly truth there, and to be thought through more.

But I find it sad when pastors leave their churches and the pastorate to pursue political office. They are stepping down if indeed they were called by God to the vocation of pastor. And the same can be said, I think, when we Christians are so caught up in what is going on in the American and world political scene that we can easily spend hours every day on it while neglecting the weightier matters. Since the church itself is to be the center and place in and out from which God’s kingdom exists and makes its impact, we in Jesus should indeed be taken up with that. We are to be a witness to something greater than American politics or any political government of this world.

Ironically I think, the more I am into scripture and into the teaching and practice of God’s kingdom come in Jesus and its outworking today in the church, the more I think I am interested in the politics of this world. Because God’s kingdom come in Jesus is about making all things right and all things new. But that is to be done in the church as a witness of what God’s kingdom come in King Jesus looks like as we await its fulfillment on earth over all government when King Jesus returns.

In the meantime, we have to beware lest we get caught up into the system. Not to say that some of us might have some special work in that system like Daniel of old. But our allegiance, passion and attention must be given first and foremost to God’s kingdom come in Jesus. To try more and more to see everything in light of that.

politics in the pulpit

The gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus has both direct and indirect implications for every aspect of life, including political life. I refer to politics here in terms of the order of societies and what goes into that. Whatever one’s political persuasion might be for example in the United States, that does not equate to the kingdom of God come in Jesus. That kingdom is not from this world though it is certainly for it.

There is no doubt that there happens to be some incidental overlap in details though never in quality. It is not that God’s hand in some provisional sense can’t be on nations and states for good as well as for judgment. But there remains only one holy nation, the church of the Lord Jesus the Messiah. So that there is one politic, agenda and platform we should buy fully into: that of God’s kingdom come and present now in Jesus in the church. A king with subjects destined to take over the world. That reign already present by the Spirit, but not yet reaching its fulfillment to take place when Jesus returns and heaven and earth becomes one in him in the final judgment and the new creation.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have political views now in terms of the politics of this world? Or that we should never speak out on political issues from the pulpit? I don’t think so. But we must hold up everything to the light of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, the reality present now in him and the vision that casts for the future. But with the realization that governments cannot live out the agenda of God’s kingdom in Jesus now. So that our expectations for them should never be that they can. Where that is to be lived out is in the church, the new or renewed Israel, the light of the world in and through Jesus. A light for the nations indeed, even now. By which they can seek to do better as well as be judged when they do badly.

What in part I’m trying to say, the main point is that we need to beware of seeing politics in terms of left, right, center, or whatever possible position in this world- as something we are to push, even in the pulpit (and unwisely alienate people sold out on one side or the other in the process). We need instead to press home the need for people, for all of us in light of God’s kingdom come in Jesus to repent of other agendas and receive that good news. And live accordingly even in this world as well as for it in and through Jesus.

American (or any other nation’s) politics and the good news of King Jesus

I am puzzled over Christians– particularly churches, denominations and leaders publically lining up on either the Democratic or Republican side here in the United States. Lining up right or left. And I should add center. Libertarian, socialist, whatever (should I now include, Tea Party?). That’s not to say I myself don’t have a political stance or take political positions, although I find it rather murky and difficult. And I really want to hear the best of every side, and not the supposed worst of political rivals.

Scot McKnight, Allan R. Bevere (see his helpful, for me groundbreaking book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World) and others (I think I would include N. T. Wright here as well) have pointed out the limitations of political entities of this world, not to say they don’t have their place in doing a particular kind of good. As Scot McKnight has pointed out, the politic we in Jesus must be engaged in and committed to is nothing less than God’s kingdom come in Jesus which consists of a King and subjects which happen to be God’s royal sons and daughters in and through Jesus. This is a kingdom bringing good news in Jesus for the world which is supposed to be not just a challenge to the politics of this world, but the light which shows the way as well as the source to God’s kingdom come and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Even churches and denominations as well as various groups of Christians (such as evangelicals or mainline Protestants) generally line up the same politically. That is actually understandable given their values expressed in their understanding of God’s will or priorities in the here and now. We certainly all have our views, whatever they may be. And surely American (and other nations) politics are important in their place, I have no doubt about that. But when out of place confidence in such can be idolatrous. Or at least misplaced. Nothing in this world can replace or duplicate the good works to which Christ’s body, the church is called.

I lose confidence to some extent in Christian leaders who are always speaking out in line with any political party. The more they say on that subject, the more I tend to write them off. I will express a bit of an exception to the rule here. I have a deep, abiding respect for the Quaker tradition which was influential in influencing William Wilberforce to take up the issue of slavery, which eventually led to its abolition in most of the British empire. That’s surely only a tip of the iceberg of all the good the Quakers have done in their passion for justice in line with their understanding of God’s will. I say that because from my understanding the Quakers  in their fight to push through legislation, inevitably had to side with one party over the other. Though that doesn’t mean they lined up completely with the party, which I’m supposing is doubtful.

The danger is to become aligned with any political party in the process. Christians and churches need to live above and beyond that, even though what they do, heavenly minded as it is, is actually of earthly good. So it’s a weakness if any group of Christians, any church or denomination adheres to one party or another, or any position at all as if the answer is in Washington D. C., or some other center of power or government. Jesus is our King and we in Jesus are God’s servants. As such we submit to earthly governing authorities as long as they do not decree laws that mandate disobedience to God. We do so as those who in all things seek to live completely committed to a higher rule.

I was unaware that today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day. I would have postponed such a post for another time, if I would have been aware of that. So I added another post remembering that day: remembering D-Day.

Christopher J. H. Wright on Christians serving in government

Returning to Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, that first phrase demands a closer look: “Seek the salom of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7a). Salom, as is well known, is a wonderfully broad word. It goes beyond peace as the absence of conflict or war, to all-around welfare or well-being. It speaks of wholeness of life and the kind of prospering that the Old Testament included in the blessing of God as the fruit of covenant faithfulness.

It really is remarkable that Jeremiah urges the exiles to seek such blessing for their Babylonian neighbors.

“But they are our enemies!”

“So what? Pray for them. Seek their welfare.”

It is a short step from this amazing instruction that Jeremiah gave the exiles to the equally jaw-dropping mission that Jesus lays on his disciples: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).

It must have been such advice that created the freedom that Daniel and his friends felt to settle down in Babylon and accept jobs in its government service. And their position in such office was clearly not “just a job”. Nor are we told that it was some form of “tent-making” to help them earn a living while they held Bible studies in the office or evangelistic meetings in their homes. For all I know, they may have done that–they made no secret of their faith, as the rest of the stories show.

But what the text emphasizes is that they were first-class students, model citizens and hard-working civil servants, and they were distinguished for trustworthiness and integrity. Even the king recognized that his own interests were being served by such people. The “welfare of the city” was what they pursued, as Jeremiah said they should. And in doing so for a lifetime, opportunities to bear witness to the God they served, and to his moral demands, judgment and mercy, came along at key points–one in each of the first six chapters in fact.

Coming to the New Testament, there is one person who probably held high civic office and was also a Christian believer–and that is Erastus.

Erastus was one of Paul’s helpers in his church planting ministry (Acts 19:22), but when Paul wrote his letter to Rome from Corinth, Erastus is included in the closing greetings, where he describes himself as “the city’s director of public works” (Rom. 16:23). The phrase strongly suggests that Erastus held the post of aedile in this important Roman city, a political office in the Roman administration that carried major responsibilities, requiring considerable personal wealth and a strong civic generosity.

Serving God and serving the community in public office were by no means incompatible. In fact, such public service and benefaction were part of what Paul strongly encouraged Christians to engage in, through his repeated emphasis that they should “do good”–a single verb (agathopoein) that had exactly that technical meaning in the Roman empire: public service as a civic benefactor.

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, 232-234.

thoughts on “National Day of Prayer”

Today in the United States, being the first Thursday of May, the U.S. Congress has set this day aside “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”. I have noticed in the Book of Common Prayer, prayer for just about everything one can imagine. Certainly including for the heads of state. Scripture points us that direction, telling us that we should pray for everyone, for all who are in authority. I am referring to the passage in 1 Timothy 2.

I like the challenge of what the passage calls for, making this prayer a first priority, at least in the context of what is written in the letter. It seems from that to suggest a first priority for our lives. But how many of us take it that seriously? Some of us may actually practice it to some extent. Others of us get concerned about it more during political seasons, especially around election time. But it is easy to flag off, and end up doing very little on this score. So a national day of prayer can be a good, fresh reminder of the call we have to pray for leaders, for those in government.

I like the tie into the gospel in the 1 Timothy 2 passage. Both in terms of living it out, as well as its proclamation. Somehow all of this is to fit together. There often is—and perhaps this is always true to some degree—an inherent tension between the state and the church. The church’s calling in following Christ is inherently political, but with a politic all its own. That should not be in terms, to use America’s system of Democrat or Republican; left, right, or center; or any other descriptor of the American political landscape. Instead it is in terms of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, of death and resurrection in Jesus, of the community that comes from that through baptism. Of the life and witness that is to come forth. We naturally tend to think in the terms of the world when we think of politics. But it has wisely been said that: “Politics is inherently public and social. One finds politics wherever communities exist.” Even though I think that is undeniably the case, it is not the main point the passage at hand makes.

Again the passage calls for prayers for those in governance so that we in Jesus can live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. The clear (enough) intimation being that the goal in this is for the gospel to go forward, and for God’s will in this to prevail: the God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And so we will do well to so pray.

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. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.