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.

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stepping aside for others

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

This passage in its rich context tells us that as those in Christ we’re to value others above ourselves. We’re to take the place of the servant just as the one we follow, Christ did. Of course he did it par excellence, like none other. He not only set the precedent, but only in and through him can it be lived out to its fullest. Not to say we can ever do it to the degree and perfection he did. No. But certainly by the Spirit, we can live it out from the heart.

There’s a time to step aside and let others take over and lead the way. Maybe after we’ve shown them the way by example and word. Then we can continue to be an example by letting them take over.

We do well to take the lower place. We want to do so in fellowship with the one who took the lowest place for us and for the world: Jesus. That’s the fellowship in which we’re to live ourselves, and with others in him. In and through Jesus.

making prayer a lifelong habit

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

If there’s one thing that should characterize us as Christians, it should be love. But as far as what we do goes: prayer. Of course we want to do all things in love. But prayer should mark us, mark our journey.

But it’s too easy, in fact more like ingrained in us to be rather prayerless. We pray less, not more, if at all. Prayer as a simple matter of fact is simply talking to God. Hopefully in genuine, sincere praise to God. I admit I’ve been too often poor on both counts.

I think it helps to be in scripture as a general habit throughout much of our day. Make it simple. Don’t think you have to sit and read scripture for hours, and then pray for an hour or more. No, just a bit here and there, with prayers along the way. Trying to be open to hearing God, asking God questions, speaking to God about what one is up against, and hopefully especially on behalf of others who need our love and prayers.

If we think our prayers have to be a certain way, maybe ornate and even long like some of the religious leaders in Jesus’s day used to do to impress others, than we’re thankfully mistaken. Just look at the Psalms. “Help!” is a good prayer. We use our language. If it happens to sound like scripture, fine. And again, remember the Psalms. They often get pretty raw. And as we seek to pray what we believe God wills from scripture, all the better. But our prayers need to come from our hearts. So that we pray what we’re really thinking and feeling to God. As we do that, God will meet us and help us.

I sometimes think disparaging thoughts about myself. Many counsel against repeating such thoughts, but I think it’s quite okay to do so as long as we seek to live in God’s presence always. God can help us revise such, although some of what we think that way might well be grounded in truth. So that like the tax collector, we might be more justified in God’s eyes than those who think they somehow have it all together, and actually look down on others.

So let’s pray. Short prayers along the way. For our needs, and for the needs of others. For God’s will to be done, so that God might be glorified in all things in and through Jesus.

cast on God’s mercy

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

The older I get, it seems the easier for me to realize just how much I need to be cast on God and God’s mercy. The hard knocks and places of life, and my past poor and even ungodly reactions to them, along with my drifting before I finally started moving toward a better direction, all that part of the past helps me, and really helps embed in me the awareness of my complete and utter need for God and his mercy in Christ.

I love this parable our Lord told. Only those who don’t understand their own great need will look down on others. And it’s not like I no longer can’t become foolishly proud. But if I look into the light of God’s word and reality, and pray, then it won’t take long for that to dissipate and disappear. Or at least I would hope not.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace to understand our need for God’s mercy. A great gift to us from God in and through Jesus.

people are the problem (including me)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:37-42

Jesus reserved his harshest words, or basically got after those who pointed the finger at others. Especially the Jewish religious leaders, who were critical of those who did not line up with their traditions largely put in place to keep people from breaking God’s Law, but missing the heart of the law: love for neighbor demonstrating one’s actual love for God.

If we’re generous to others, we’ll experience generosity, but if we’re harsh, then harshness. Those who lead others do so in how they live, whether or not they really put God’s word into practice or not, whether they come to Jesus, hear his words, and put them into practice, which includes how they view others (Luke 6:46-49).

To be upset over shortcoming in others in itself should raise our suspicions: What about us? When people do light into us, what’s our reaction? Is it helpful? Is there some blindness to it, so that we can’t really see what actually was meant by the other person and why? Often enough there is fault on the other side, and maybe they are largely or entirely to blame on a given matter. But we need to step back a bit, and consider how we can grow as in grow up more toward maturity in Christ.

There may be a time to confront, but in the end, and really throughout, we need to love. To make sure our lives line up with that love toward others. Taking the plank out of our own eye, so that by our example, they might see the speck of sawdust in their own eye. In and through Jesus.

the upside to being down

Job is a book that is hard to figure out, unless one reads it superficially. You might just pass over it, shrug your shoulders, and go on, which I think to some extent I did for years. But that changed when we had an in depth group Bible study at a church some years back. I had a different view and understanding of it after that.

I take it as a wisdom story, which whether just a story told, or something which actually happened (and I don’t think the rest of the Bible, including Jesus’s words determine that) rings true in ways that mirror the complexity, indeed consternation of life. There are no two ways about it: Life often makes little or no sense to us so that in the end, we have to trust all into the Creator’s hands, while realizing that we aren’t capable of tracing God’s paths or fully understanding his ways.

I love the book of Job, because there’s a unique wisdom to be drawn from it, not readily apparent or received by us, which actually requires the work of a lifetime. Of course the other wisdom books have their unique contributions they bring as well: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and we can include Song of Songs, and even the Psalms.

Job was as down as a human can get, with the exception of our Lord in his partaking of the cup of suffering. I think those of us who are older can appreciate the aspect of the story that really when all is said and done, it can’t be happily ever after this side of heaven. Impossible. And that’s after Job’s suffering when a new family was given which really could not replace the family he had lost, but was still just as great a blessing as the first family.

Job certainly had a new appreciation of God, and of himself as well. It was a new humility in view of God’s revelation of his greatness in creation, so vast and quite beyond humans, so that Job realizes he is required to simply trust, both in God’s greatness, and as we see from the end of the story, in God’s goodness as well. And surely it speaks to the limits of this life, and the hope of the life to come.

Job probably reminds me of a favorite biblical book of mine, Ecclesiastes, since it is not an easy book to pin down, indeed its meaning to some extent can allude us. And that means that if we’re wise, we keep coming back for more.

One basic I think I understand now from Job is that there’s an upside to being down and out, to being at a complete loss. That is when we can find what we otherwise never would: a trust and hope in God which goes well beyond anything we can understand and comprehend in this life, and perhaps even in the next. We simply know in the end that all will be well. And that we’re to work at understanding what we can, and leave the rest to God. A part of what faith in God involves in an existence in which all of our questions might only expose our lack of understanding. The answer in which we by faith now begin to live, in and through Jesus.

continuing on in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

These are troubling times. So much strife. It would be bad enough if this was confined to the world, but what makes it far worse is that we Christians are involved in it on all sides, with differing views. And often with a certainty as if we are the voice of God.

I have my own opinions and convictions, as well. But there’s a lot that I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realize that. I think one of the best answers to many questions is one that Eugene Peterson was said to have been accustomed to give: “I don’t know.”

But what we do know by faith, we hold on to, namely, the truth of the gospel, and veracity of God’s word. We don’t pretend to have all the correct interpretation, nor do we equate our theology with God’s word, at the same time believing in the faithfulness of God through the Spirit to teach the entire church the essence of the good news in Christ.

We continue on in what we’re convinced of. Even while we seek prayerfully to apply the truth of the gospel to all of life, and wisdom from the word, even for the hard questions that remain. And we do that best together in and through Jesus.