when all is said and done

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.

They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it[b]?”
They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.

But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.

The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!

Psalm 64

At times it seems like one is under a barrage of attacks in one way or another. It might even be partly our own fault, but still, just the same, that never justifies such attacks.

It is true that when we take any kind of stand for righteousness, we can expect to run into trouble. Such a stand can upend people’s agenda. So we should at least expect resistance whenever we might do so. Hopefully we take such stands in the Spirit, and not out of our own rage and anger. But even if we might perfectly do so, that might intensify the reaction all the more, since light exposes darkness, and darkness hates that. Of course I speak of the spiritual.

In the end we will see the victory of God in Jesus. Something that goes beyond, and actually judges all the pretenses of “man,” including our own. In and through Jesus.

the gospel from us evangelicals

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:13-18

I frequently have seen critiques of evangelicals which to some extent ring true. One of the most common is the charge against us that we focus too much on individual piety, and on a personal relationship with Christ, and how our view of the gospel’s impact in the world doesn’t go much further than that. Unfortunately I think there’s all too much truth in that. But at the same time, in spite of it, I see evangelical concern for justice and for the poor made evident both within churches, and through organizations like World Vision and Compassion International.

The gospel is about reconciliation, and while certainly in terms of individuals to God through Christ, also about all of humankind being reconciled and ultimately brought together as one family under Christ. And this reconciliation, while breaking down the basic barrier between Jew and Gentile, also breaks down all other barriers as well, we might say all other dividing marks which put one party over or against another: slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).

So I think it’s not a matter so much at all about what we evangelicals have taught, but more of a matter of what we either fail to teach, or more likely are simply lax in. So that when we consider one’s personal relationship with God and walk through Christ, we need to think of it in terms of community as well as their own personal experience. So that such is always factored in as part of the whole.

I no longer look for a church which has it altogether. I have lived long enough to doubt the existence of such a church. We all have our flaws, weak points, and at times, even blind spots. I realize too that I’m prone along the same lines as everyone else. I too have probably emphasized personal piety in my reading, meditation and teaching of scripture to the exclusion at times of the bigger picture. There’s always the possibility of gradually improving as one sees that picture in scripture.

So we need not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead we need to be thankful for the strong points, which are valid and helpful in their place. To thank God for that, and make the most of it. Even as we continue to work on understanding the expansiveness of the impact of the gospel, how it’s meant to bring in no less than a new creation of the old, making all things new only in and through Jesus.

relax into routine: part of rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Some jobs seem so high stress, and maybe to a point are, especially at certain junctures. But once we get used to them, they can in a way become “old hat” to us. We can learn to settle down, maybe slow down, and simply be at rest.

Jesus’s words invite us into that kind of activity, even routine of being at rest when we work. Because he is with us, we are with him, and he is making the load light.

Part of living in this world though is to live under the curse of Genesis 3:

To Adam [the LORD God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19

Humankind in the story is agrarian at that point: working the ground to plant and cultivate vegetation and fruit was a large part of what they did. But now they would have to contend with all sorts of problems. Creation would seem to become at odds with itself.

And that’s what we find in our work, even though most of it is not agriculture. Even with human manipulation, we run into all sorts of problems. Humanity is inherently limited. Although it appears from Genesis 11 that they are more than capable intellectually, so that in that story God stopped what they were doing. Knowledge is not enough. Humanity needs wisdom as well, and not the worldly wisdom of the serpent, but the loving wisdom of the kingdom of God and the shalom (translated “peace” and including the meaning of flourishing) that comes with it.

Somehow we need, even in the midst of trouble and seeming failure to learn to have a restful spirit in all we do. Not given to panic, not in fear of this or that. And even when we have to “grab the bull by the horns,” so to speak, we need to do so as people who are at rest. Believing that our work is not only God-ordained, work being good, part of creation, but that also we do so as those who would be in gospel kingdom work with our Lord, which somehow can be weaved into the other work, and maybe become a part of it.

That’s my goal, to relax into the routine, becoming more and more at rest in and through Jesus.

trying to make sense of it all

When it comes right down to it, often life both in the short-haul, and frankly in the long-haul has some head scratchers. It doesn’t take long, or much effort to observe that. We’re left with gaping holes, and no explanation for some things. In fact life itself can seem quite counterintuitive to our sense of how it should be. Maybe like in the Job story where Job himself is never told the full scoop, and in the end to simply trust a God too awesome for him to understand.

We like to read novels, or watch films with many unpredictable twists and turns, and with enigmas that leave us wondering, and turning the pages. Life is simply not like the nice, and even to some extent good Hallmark films. We’re sometimes, maybe even often left wondering.

Scripture in a true sense is story, yes true story, but story. Humankind is made as the crown of creation, and yet is not true to their Creator, and therefore the brokenness that follows. God calls Israel to a mission to redeem and restore humanity, essentially to bring in God’s reign to an earth which wants nothing of it. Jesus is the fulfillment of that calling, which today is known and witnessed to in the church.

We all have a story to tell. It may be quite broken and disheveled, but it has its harmony and beauty as well. Somehow in and through Jesus, our story is taken into God’s story. To wonder about that, we need to look no further than the pages of scripture. Somehow something good will come out of the trouble we face in this life.

For me, having lived as long as I have (now over sixty), and continuing to see what I see, I don’t worry much about trying to make sense of everything, or even anything. I try to stay focused as much as possible on the big story, God’s story in Jesus. I want God to deal with all the scattered, broken, or lost pieces of life, according to his will. And go on.

So the story I want to focus on, and tell people about is God’s story in Jesus. And yet sharing my own story, and how it fits into that larger story. By faith we tell others God’s story, and the good news in King Jesus which is at the heart of that. And we wait to tell our own story, if and when that seems appropriate. As a witness to the larger story, to God’s faithfulness and love in his redemptive reign in Jesus.

finding home

Like a bird that flees its nest
    is anyone who flees from home.

Proverbs 27:8

From an old song comes the well worn saying: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” We feel at home at home, for sure. It’s an escape, and more than that, it’s our abode. It’s where we’re acclimated into hopefully a place where we can rest. Of course to both build and maintain a home requires work. But home ought to be above all a place we can leisurely enjoy.

God made us for home. In a sense, humans were made to be at home in fellowship with God, in Jesus taken into the communion of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But God made humans also to be earthly dwellers in communion with each other. And even to have a relationship with animals, I’m thinking of pets. This is why the biblical promise of heaven coming down to earth and becoming one with it when Jesus returns is so appropriate. God will come to earth to dwell with his people. In the meantime, God lives with us in Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us).

So our true home is right where we live on earth, renewed in Jesus, and in God in and through Jesus. Both.

So we are at a loss, and lost when we stray from either. Especially basic for us is to find our home in God, but we are earthlings, made from the dust of the earth, so that this wonderful world in the end renewed in the new creation at the resurrection in and through Jesus is also our home. We can’t get too much of either, as we now live in the world to be renewed when God makes all things new through Jesus.

“This world is not my home,” refers to the world system, which like Babel of old (Genesis 11) is estranged from, and in opposition to God. So that this life is not our final home. We are strangers here, pilgrims on a journey, looking for a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11).

We pray for those who have strayed from their true home, that they would find it in God. And we long to be more and more at rest in that, as well. While we fulfill our calling to work and be stewards of this good earth God has entrusted to us. Knowing that our work someday won’t end, though the toilsome labor due to the curse imposed on it will. At Jesus’s return.

Home.

 

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.

Jesus: God’s answer to our questions, and to the questions we need to ask

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2

During Advent and Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Jesus which we believe is no less than God becoming human in the Person of the Son, Christ. And when we say human, we mean human. Not merely the appearance of human, but human through and through. A mystery how God could become human, because in that humanity, Godness is not diminished, Jesus having the fullness of Deity in his humanity, being the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being (Colossians and Hebrews).

We wonder just what significance humanity has, particularly when it seems that not only have we made a mess of things, but are all too often at each others’ throats. But that is part of the Christmas story, as well. Christ came to be fully human in signficant part to make purification for sin by the once for all sacrifice of himself, as he experienced death for us all.

I like the big questions, which can leave one puzzled and bewildered, the echoes of such we find in Bible books like Isaiah and Job. The universe (or universes, “worlds”) is so immense and so much beyond human compehension. There is so much to learn, and the more we learn, the more in wonder we are. Whatever else God is doing in the universe, in creation (“the secret things belong to God”- Deuteromomy 29), God has left the stamp of his love, even of his very nature- in Jesus, who is God with us. And through whom we can begin to share in that nature (2 Peter 1).

The marvel of it all is that we as humankind not only matter, but matter greatly to God. So much so that God, while not changing in Godness and essence of Deity, yet took upon God’s Self our humanity, even our broken humanity. So that we can be made whole and completely human as God intended in our creation. And so we can share in the very Life of God. Which begins even in this life. In the humility of all we are as humans, and all we go through. God is present with us in Jesus. Which began in that stable (or cave) in a feeding trough so many years ago.