the way of peace found in Jesus

The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.

Isaiah 59:8a

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else?

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him.

Romans 3:19b,21-22a; MSG

Justice and the peace that comes from that is often the emphasis we hear from younger Christians nowadays. And for many good reasons. For one thing, the gospel often proclaimed and taught in evangelical circles is mostly about our own relationship with God and with others. That is truth, and very needed, and certainly does not exclude teaching about what is just and right, true and good, merciful and bringing peace. But it’s not the entire truth or application of the gospel.

There does need to be an emphasis on justice in society, not just personal righteousness which supposedly brings the needed justice. There is a needed reckoning within the world system to judge and root out, yes, systemic evil. With reference to racial injustice, and many other evils in the world. So this instinct and passion within and active in the younger generations should be welcomed and appreciated.

What we have to be careful of is getting the cart before the horse. Justice in itself is not the point nor the goal, not for the Christian. Jesus and God’s good news of grace and the kingdom come in him is the proper focus. That brings the necessary judgment on evil to be replaced by what is truly the good, flourishing life for humans, for all humanity. 

The emphasis therefore needs to be on Jesus, on God in the human Jesus, the Spirit’s amen and work from that, and the difference that can make, yes, even in this world. In challenging all the injustice, and beginning to see the new world emerge among us. And we shouldn’t fail to mention that it is through nothing short of the blood of Jesus, his death, so that all evil was absorbed into that day on Jesus. So that evil is now dealt with in the truly Christian way through Jesus’s death on the cross. The new life through his resurrection, following.

Not to say that God isn’t at work through some ways in the world which though we would say ultimately is through Jesus and God’s work in him, is not actually linked to that. Indeed that may well be. But the unique way in Jesus in the love for one’s enemies and the way of the cross is at the forefront of what God’s justice looks like. It is tempered with mercy, and brings in the needed full salvation beginning even now. In our lives, but breaking into earthly principalities and powers, high places where this is not only known, but opposed. Even though that’s ongoing on this side of time. Not for the faint of heart, but part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

Christians persecuted in the United States?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:10-11

You often hear from some that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. What seems to be in mind is loss of freedoms, position and voice. The sea change of culture is certainly trying to many. And continued change seems to be in the cards.

But what if we really followed the way of Jesus, loving our enemies, and living as if we belong to one kingdom and Lord, refusing to bow the knee to any other? What if we were a loving, engaging people, helping each other, and opening our doors to all?

It’s not like none of that takes place, or that there’s no persecution at all in the US due to believers sincerely following Christ. But when you compare the US and much of the west with the rest of the world, you arguably begin to see that we know nothing in comparison with the rest. Open Doors is helpful here (click each country for more details).

A basic problem is that we see our identity somehow wrapped into the state. Many of us Christians here see ourselves as Americans nearly on a par with our identity as Christians, or so it seems to me. Instead, if we’re to follow the way of Jesus and what we read of him in the gospel accounts, as well as the church afterwards in Acts, known as the Way, then I think it should give pause to how we see ourselves here and now.

If we really started following Jesus in that way, I think we would then face more real persecution, yes, right here in the US. But we would also leave people wondering. We would be known not for what we think the US is, or our identity in that. But as followers of something different. Counter-cultural and counter-intuitive for sure. In and through Jesus.

 

from the mountain to the valley

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Mark 1:9-13

It is uncanny how often a kind of mountaintop spiritual experience is followed by a death valley spiritual experience. I’m not sure what to make of it. It does seem to follow the pattern we see in the gospels, as described above in Mark’s gospel account of Jesus’s experience.

We can say Christ experiences this for us, and that’s a good and little understood point. As long as I’ve been a Christian I don’t understand it well enough, partly I suppose because it’s not taught much. What is obvious is that if Christ experienced something, then we as followers of Christ can expect to experience something of the same.

A lot of times, I’ll want to dismiss it, or somehow get rid of it, or wonder what happened that my soul now seems to be immersed in darkness rather than blessed in light. But perhaps simply accepting that as part of our experience now and continuing on is exactly part of what needs to be done.

Who after experiencing a close and affirming work of grace by the Spirit want to be tempted by the devil? None of us. But there’s no escape from it.

Thankfully Christ did for us what we would fail to do ourselves. Unlike Israel of old, he met the temptation in the wilderness with unwavering, unflinching trust in God and God’s word. Christ does for us his people what we would fail to do ourselves. But in so doing, Christ opens up the way for us to follow. And in this world that following will include something of the same for us.

A part of our experience now.

 

not having easy ready answers

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…

1 Peter 3:15-16a

The older I get, the more I question even my own questions or answers, for that matter. My typical response to things is “I don’t know,” or “It’s complicated.” That’s not to say that I don’t have some opinions on a whole range of issues. And even convictions. Although given the nature of things, much of it can be on matters that are rather open ended. The answer may be good insofar as it goes, but it’s open to refinement, and even some correction.

But when it comes to life itself, and what’s at the heart of it, I wouldn’t hesitate to think, and hopefully say, It is God in Jesus, and the good news in him in his incarnation and life, death and resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is something I believe without so much as a thought that it might need some correction here or there. Of course only God fully understands even the most simple gospel truth, such as John 3:16. We understand by faith as much as God helps us to, of these simple, yet profound truths, which are brought home to our hearts and minds by the Spirit of God.

And we’re to tell them to others. Not having all the answers, or being a know-it-all. But simply being able to point to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. In whom we have put our faith and hope, our all. And through whom we know God’s love, which we share with all others. Jesus.

Jesus, or Moses?

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:17

Law and grace is a theological theme from scripture. It is interesting how both John in John’s gospel account, and Paul handle this theme (see Paul’s treatment in Romans 7 for one example of his teaching on it).

The Law/Torah ends up being preparatory for the grace that would follow in Jesus. Essentially the Law is both directive, put in place for a new nation, Israel, certainly for individuals as well as the nation as a whole, and the Law was the means of convicting the people of their sin, that they are sinners, and thus the preparation needed for people to receive the needed salvation in Jesus. So the Law is important in its function and place. Another example from Paul, the Law a temporary guardian/disciplinarian to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), and see the entire book of Galatians.

We may think this is not an issue for us today. After all, aren’t we Christians, and not Jews? How could we be followers of Moses rather than Christ? Inadvertently so, I’m afraid. It’s our tendency to think that the answer is to know more and do more, and that’s essentially the effect of the Law front and center. And again, it’s needed in its place to convict us as sinners (Romans 3:20).

This is a big subject, a glimpse of it here, hopefully. Christ brings the grace and truth which Moses evidently didn’t and indeed couldn’t. Truth follows grace, which I think is a hint that what we’re talking about is more than truth as knowledge, but truth in life, ultimately found in Jesus himself (John 14:6) and yes, in his death. By his death we die as well, so that our salvation not only from, but to and for is begun only in and through Jesus.

summary of my life (what might be inscribed on my tombstone)

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

On our tombstone, my part might have this verse inscribed with a cross, to summarize my life. Not sure what my wife Deb would have inscribed to summarize her life, though the depiction of a horse might be included. And it would be nice to have a verse or something which summarizes Deb and I together. What’s inscribed on a tombstone is really not all that important compared to what is true in our hearts and lives while we are alive.

All I can say is that probably beyond everything else, I’ve been a word person the now more than 40 years of being a Christian. For many of those years I listed to the Bible being read. Now I try to be in the word (scripture/Bible) all throughout the day. In fact I find it to be my lifeline to keep me on track, of course that being the case through the gospel, through Jesus, and scripture itself meant to keep us on track with reference to the gospel, that our lives might be lived in and according to that.

I don’t know what details in specifics will continue to unfold in whatever days I have left in this life. But what has happened in recent years, and even more so now, confirms this track I am on. I am most at home where the word is central and the faith that comes from that word is proclaimed and taught with the goal of living it out.

It isn’t easy, but the alternative is worse. I either continue in the word with the goal of being a disciple of Jesus along with others in the church, or I veer off into my own way of coping with things, which is a dead end just like everyone else’s own way (Isaiah 53:6). And in reality, as I continue in the word, there I find life, the true and eternal life that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And so I continue on, plodding away, with others in Jesus. Knowing that our salvation and place is found in him, and that the word in all its challenge and wonder can keep us on track. As we continue in this path in and through Jesus.

near a tipping point

There are times when the stress and strain of life with all its disappointments and despair can make one come near a tipping point in which some sort of change may well take place. The change may be for good or for ill. Actually life probably has many tipping points along the way, small last straws which make us rethink or negotiate a new course altogether, abeit in whatever small way. But there are times when the tipping point may result in radical change. Again, perhaps for good or perhaps not.

Usually change is more incremental. One example for many is the tendency to mellow out with age. One becomes at least much more tender, even if not changing at all in one’s basic view and convictions concerning life. One might come to discover that they simply don’t fit anymore where they once did, but somewhere else. I think of Jaroslav Pelikan, the outstanding Christian writer on Christian creeds. He discovered late in life that he was no longer an orthodox Lutheran, but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. Others have sudden experiences, a seismic shift, probably preceded by a number of factors. One example of that: C. S. Lewis’ reluctant but thorough conversion to Christianity.

Such an awareness may both help us on our own journey, and help us with reference to the journey of others, particularly those we are concerned about. Change is a part of life. We should all have hope to change for the good. To change for the good is actually beyond ourselves, found only in and through Jesus. To begin to understand and live in the truth of the gospel is the only way we will change for good, both for this life and for the life to come. Of course there is change that is good in other ways apart from Christ. But we miss the point of our existence when we are out and about apart from him.

And so life goes on, and hopefully we along with it. But in the one who is the way, the truth and the life. And we together with others in Jesus in this and for the world.

the telling circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth

Mary was pregnant, but she and Joseph had not yet come together as husband and wife. Everyone knew what that meant, and people were talking. And now they have to make the long journey (around 93 miles, 150 kilometers), four days to a week, from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. To say the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth were not easy is an understatement. And when they at last arrive to Bethlehem, there is no room for them in normal living quarters. But there is a stable where they can lodge. And it is there that Mary gives birth to Jesus.  And places him in a manger, that is, a feeding trough.  And so we see the humble circumstances surrounding the birth of our Lord. A sure sign of what was to come.

The world wants glitter, glamour, the spectacular. Life on its terms, which actually ends up being on the serpent’s terms. With the knowledge of good and evil accessed apart from God. With God out of the picture, and other gods to serve their agenda, and in the process be served. There again is no room for the birth of one who would shake up and even dismantle the status quo.

But that is precisely what the coming of Jesus ends up doing. Nothing at all is the way at least the populous would have imagined it. Jesus grows up in a family that is hardly royal, and learns a trade from his father, Joseph, which he carries on until he is nearly thirty, not that young in those days. And we know the rest of the story. He does not fulfill the expectations of Messiah at all, except for miraculous signs he does which point that way. He proclaims God’s kingdom having come in him, and yet there is nothing of the trappings expected, yes long awaited for such a kingdom.

And at last after three amazing years of ministry Jesus meets the end of all failed, would be Messiahs. The terrible death of crucifixion. Apart from Simeon’s prophecy, it seems that no one would have suspected that this very death would be the means from God to bring life, to bring in the kingdom over which the resurrected Jesus would reign, first from heaven, seated at the place of ultimate authority and power at the right hand of the Father, and later when Jesus would return/reappear, when heaven and earth is made one in him. In final judgment and salvation, to bring in true justice and peace.

So this wonderful birth we celebrate is the beginning of the great end God has for the story of the world. The one story that gives us the needed hope before the completion of the fulfillment of God’s promises through Israel in Jesus for the world. Yes, it is this way, the way of Jesus to the very end, and forever.

(the) a theology of the cross

It is dangerous to try to write on this, since I’m not a trained theologian (in a true sense we in Jesus are all theologians, as in students of God and of the ways of God in Jesus). This does not pretend to be complete nor perfect, something even theologians and exegetes would say, the ones I would read.

A theology of the cross certainly includes within it the truth that Jesus died for our sins. We are sinners in need of forgiveness. Although in Christ, we are righteous, yet we still have sin in us, and we do sin, but we confess our sins to receive forgiveness and cleansing, and we also receive cleansing as we walk in the light of God in Jesus, although we do not have to sin, as in an act. But when we do, we have an advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, as well as for the sins of the world.

And so the cross takes care of our sin, our guilt, our condemnation, since Jesus took all of that on himself in his death for us. Jesus died for our sins one sacrifice for all time, once for all, the just one for the unjust. Jesus indeed died for our sins.

Through water baptism we are taken into Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, so that our old self is dead, with a new self risen with Christ, so we can live a new life. We’re to count on that, and live accordingly. We are no longer slaves to sin and unrighteousness, but we are slaves to God and righteousness. Sin no longer is our master, because we are not under the law (torah), but under grace. Because of that, we’re not to let sin have it’s way in our life. We’re to present ourselves to God as those who have risen from death to life, to present the members of our body to him. We’re to live out our baptism.

Jesus is the way for our salvation, and the way for our life. And that way is the way of the cross. As Jesus’ followers, we’re to deny ourselves, and take up our cross daily and follow him. This means identification with Christ in this world, a world that is against, even in irreconcilable hostility toward Christ. We have to accept this, that we will face persecution in this life in identification with Jesus. But we need to embrace this way, the way of the cross. To love and bless and pray for our enemies. To accept death, rather than resort to violence as not only part of our testimony of Jesus, but our way of life in Jesus.

We in Jesus are people of the cross, always and in a sense, forever. We live in the same humiliation in which he once lived. But we are also resurrection people. The resurrected, glorified Jesus, ascended and now seated at the right hand of the Father, has sent and continues to send the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit on us, God’s people. We look forward to the completion of our redemption, the resurrection of our bodies, but even in these mortal bodies, we experience something of that resurrection power and life, again that we might live the new life in Jesus.

When people see us, they hopefully will catch a glimpse of Jesus in us. But only so, as we become like Jesus in his death. This is not something we can imagine ourselves, or emulate. The true Jesus in all his beauty can be our life, we no longer living, but he living in us. Living as if he were us (Dallas Willard). And this beauty is especially to be seen in his body, the church, even in our relationships with each other. As we live humbly in our brokenness together in him before and for a watching world.

the gospel: God’s power for salvation–Christus Victor

faith- continuing on no matter what

“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 perfected 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.”      -Hebrews 12:1-3

There are times when our faith may seem weak and failing. Those are especially the times when we need to look to Jesus. There is no stopping of the race marked out for us. To not keep running is inviting failure, or I would rather put it: stumbling or being slowed down maybe even to a standstill.

But running the race is not enough. There is only one way we can continue on this race and do well. And that’s by looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfected of faith. Living as he did by first of all considering as in paying close attention to his way of life, the way of the cross. Of course we can live in this “way” only in and through Jesus, in relationship and communion with him by the Spirit.

By this we can have not only the needed “shot in the arm,” but we can learn to endure and persevere come what may. This is our calling individually and together in Jesus for the world.