does God really make a difference?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Oftentimes the religious or what many of us would call faith experience is chalked up to mere psychology. It’s thought that in the evolutionary process somehow humankind came up with the idea of a superior being or beings and the Supreme Being which helped them cope in what ends up being nothing more than a material world. That their idea of spiritual was fanciful but helpful in some ways, but ending up being quite harmful in many other way, indicative in all the violence and destruction perpetuated in the name of religion, yes, even in the name of Christ.

I have no doubt that somehow in the evolutionary process something like this may indeed have happened. This seems pretty evident, or at least a strong possibility from what we can piece together from archaeology and probably other disciplines as well. But what if something beyond psychology is involved in this?

When I do what is told to do from the above passage in Philippians, is the peace that comes merely some psychological reaction from the myth of a God who makes a difference? Maybe, but based on fairly long experience now, I doubt it. And this doubt is not based only on experience but also on the tradition of Scripture given to us, and the witness of many. Admittedly it is based on faith and mysticism, but I find it as real as anything else in life, and somehow both transcendent while fully immanent in the sense of being present in down to earth, helpful ways, or at least that ought to be a part of the thought.

Why is it considered amazing that there’s more to everything than just nature? Even if science could get to what preceded the Big Bang, and I don’t doubt that it might, that in no way addresses the question of God. That is forever outside of science’s realm, even as any scientist would have to admit. Although what continues to unfold makes what science is observing more and more astounding, and less and less explainable, which might be taken as a clue.

All that said, in reality faith won’t be helped by that, but only by Christ, looking to Christ. I do agree with C.S. Lewis that when people in sincerity live in the light they have, that God honors that. But even though they may not know it, it is always and forever through Christ, who is the way to the Father. That is why if I were serving in hospice or in a chaplaincy and helping people near death, I would not try to get them converted to my faith. I certainly would pray for them, and be ready to pray with them. I would want to be fully present with them, and in so doing trust that Christ’s presence is with us.

But back to the question of this post. What difference does God really make? I believe without a shadow of a doubt, all the difference in the world. Yes, all the difference. We’re talking about night and day, light and darkness, from the edge leaning toward the abyss to the full light of day. Something like all of that. And what difference does God make? What we read in Scripture from cover to cover, and especially about Christ points us to what difference is intended. The God who made this astounding, wonderful, precarious world can and promises to remake, make all things new. That is the hope as in promise that we can begin to experience fully even as our experience is what it is, yes- in this life.

God does make the difference needed, but something we have to try to apply to all the broken places in this world. Opposed to all even in any religion that is opposed to the way of Christ. With the conviction that whatever good God does even through us now is somehow more than just a sign for the good world to come in Christ.

revolutions/revolutionary change comes over distress

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Their cry for help rose up to God from their slavery. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Exodus 2:23-25

Yesterday I posted on how revolutionary change takes time. Logically what precedes that is the actual need which can begin the process of change.

It would be nice if everyone could simply sit down and figure out what is best for all, and have that be an ongoing process with everyone in full participation. What is best for all would certainly exclude wars and all that troubles the world, but given the greed and pride that is rampant, given the spirit of the age in which in part and in many places people are out for themselves, that is simply a pipe dream.

People need to understand that we are essentially one, just one human race with many different expressions, cultural expressions of that. Sadly we’re the ones that foster and honor division. All should indeed bring their distinctive gifts and contributions to the table.

Instead like when Israel groaned, in deep trouble and distress in Egypt, need presses in to the place where people can no longer breathe, and need an escape. That’s when the beginning of the needed revolution and change can come.

For Christ followers, the Jesus we read of in the gospel accounts and what follows is the way, the truth and the life to the actual change the world needs both in terms of the means and the end, we might say especially the means since we’re referring to the way of the cross. There’s no other way in a world that is in such need, even total need of change. No less than a new creation is needed to not replace, but bring the change for which creation now groans (Romans 8). And the church is central for this outworking today.

The simple thought in this post is that whether on a global, international, national scale, in community and in our individual lives, it seems we often have to hit something of a bottom, so that we’ll be content with nothing less than the change that is needed. And will set ourselves in that direction, to participate together with others in the struggle. For us Christ followers, in and through Jesus.

in Christ a new way comes

“You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…”

Matthew 5:38a, 39a

When I read the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament, there are not a few head scratchers. Like when supposedly at least according to tradition written down as scripture, God orders the killing of people including children, except for virgins which they can keep for themselves. Reading quite a lot of it in light of the coming of Christ and what Christ was about really is a contrast, in fact oftentimes antithetical.

Jesus indeed said he came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-20). Whatever is precisely meant there, or likely, the number of things meant, it doesn’t at all mean that Christ approves all that was approved in those writings, as we see in Jesus’s words quoted above.

In Christ a new way comes. It is the way of love, the love of the cross, the way of the cross, and death and resurrection. There is no other way for the Christ-follower. You get glimpses of that in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament. But only in Christ is it fulfilled. And we enter into that fulfillment here and now. In and through Jesus.

words

 

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

In what’s called the “Epilogue” (NRSVUE heading) at the end of one of my very favorite books of scripture, the rather enigmatic book of Ecclesiastes, we have a kind of summary as well as conclusion of what preceded. And without a doubt there is much there which might cause some head scratching, doubt, and even disagreement. Was Qoheleth translated “the Teacher” infallible in all that this person wrote? I’m not sure, or even if that matters. I doubt it. The Teacher certainly did write truth as far as they understood it, and much of it rang true not only in their day, but as we seek to contextualize it, in our day as well.

One of the greatest values of books like Ecclesiastes, Job and I’ll add Proverbs too, is to help us discern what is good, right and wrong. And we need to read everything in light of Jesus, seeking together in community with the help of the Spirit to discern how Jesus would have seen a passage say in Joshua, or in this wonder-filled book, Ecclesiastes (as in, “I wonder what that means.”).

I am a person who for better and for worse largely processes life through words. We do use words to describe our experiences or whatnot, but oftentimes for people like me, we go from words to try to understand life. What Qoheleth, the Teacher did in Ecclesiastes was to teach out of experience. I think that often this is looked down on in at least most of the Christian circles in which I’ve lived. It is more like, “Look at these words, and see just how true to life they are.” Actually, I think the truth of scripture, and especially of Jesus in his example and teaching for us as his followers would come much more to light if we looked as closely at life as we do at the sacred text. Though admittedly the words and example of Jesus do stretch us and certainly challenges all of us at every turn. 

Words seem obviously good, and important, and if that were not so we Christians would not profess the Bible as of being central to our faith and the good news in Christ. Words are important to me, and from them more than from anywhere else is where I seem to draw life. In the end they’re only good insofar as they help us settle and live more and more into God’s will shown to us in Jesus; in the way, the truth and the life of Jesus, and nothing less. 

 

truth prevails

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

John 18:37-38; NRSVue

A seed was planted in Pilate’s heart in this exchange with Jesus. Pilate was up against it, in a position that he would be damned if he did it and damned if he didn’t. Truth to Pilate didn’t mean much more than doing what he had to do as governor under the Romans in Judea.

Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus calls himself “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14) We can be sure of one thing and one thing forever. God’s truth in Jesus, the truth who is Jesus will prevail. When it’s all said and done, truth prevails, Jesus who is the truth.

That’s true in the large and small, every detail as well as the everything in its entirety, all. Truth will prevail. In needed judgment, correction, redemption, all in love, in the God who is love.

Truth is truth. All else are lies or distortions of the truth. And are any of us entirely free from lies or untruth? Only the truth sets us free (John 8), the truth that is in Jesus. In his person, his life, his way of life.

Love and truth, truth and love are joined together (2 John). We can’t have one without the other. This has to become more and more our way of life. And we have this only in Jesus who is the truth from God who in essence is love.

In and through Jesus.

against a persecution complex

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’s sake. For it is the God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed, always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For we who are living are always being handed over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us but life in you.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12; NRSVue

Yesterday the post was on anticipated persecution, and much more could be said on that. Many of us have experienced nothing at all like the persecution so many followers of Christ (and others) face in too many places in the world. In fact to say that we’ve been persecuted at all here in the United States to me seems more than a stretch.

But let’s say we face more of the norm, that we as followers of Christ are confronted with some kind of authoritarian rule that demands our full allegiance and forbids allegiance to any other. When you read the New Testament, the passage above, and Mark’s gospel account for example, you’ll find that there’s no escape for the follower of Christ from the way of the cross. That is the only way in Christ. And that might conceivably give us some kind of martyr or persecution complex, and make us down in the mouth, kind of like groveling through life with no joy.

The pain, the suffering, the struggle, yes indeed the spiritual conflict, that’s all present and undeniable, and to pretend it doesn’t exist is to deny reality, or perhaps try to escape into something other than following Christ. But this is where the resurrection life and power of Christ is found, and all that accompanies that. Only there.

God will give us the help and grace needed to meet whatever situation we’re in. And this is not meant to be just an individual thing, but something we’re in together with other followers of Jesus. It is the way of life that is in Christ Jesus. A path of suffering and glory. Not something we can set aside. And not something we’re to despise but learn to embrace. In and through Jesus.

what it means to be a Christian not just in name, and how

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Mark 2:13-14

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Acts 9:1-3

Christian is seen in all kinds of ways, but it has been common during my lifetime to view it as those who profess faith in Christ, go to church, and are more or perhaps less marked out from the culture as different. Much fits into this space. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that there’s often an insistence in accepting the penal substitutionary atonement theory, that Christ took the punishment for our sins on the cross. If you believe that, accept that for yourself, then you’re marked as a Christian.

Setting aside for now the problem with substitutionary atonement at the very least in the way it has been presented, I would want to say that all the truth about Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins and resurrection by which we receive new life however we formulate that ends up being a given, as long as the crux of the matter is right. And here is the crux of the matter.

To really be a Christian in the sense given in the New Testament, to become one in the first place is all very simple while being profound. It means following Jesus. Individually and in community. Becoming Jesus followers. 

Yes, we have to decide individually, but it’s meant to be lived out in community. This is where we start, where we continue, and where we end. Following Jesus. 

By the Spirit in the community of the church. The entire church is supposed to consist of those who are followers. That’s the ideal. Of course everyone is in a different place in their spiritual journey. But unless we press home the necessity of following Christ, then we’re falling short of what it really means to be a Christian. Following Christ’s lead and in so doing, changing over time. Becoming more and more like him.

All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

 

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.