our hope in the salvation and new creation to come

Years back I read a book (or parts of it) which suggested that we never arrive to complete satisfaction or fulfillment in this life, even while we do have experiences of such (like just a calm day in the wonder of creation somewhere), because God has something better to come. Not that this life isn’t good, and doesn’t have good, even much good. But there are problems galore. The curse due to sin is certainly on us. It is a fallen, broken existence here, everywhere you look. And yet glorious as well, since God is the creator. And humans are created in God’s image with both a great capacity for good, and due to being sinners and even under the influence of moral, spiritual darkness, for evil.

This doesn’t mean we fold our tents and sit around waiting for the Lord’s return, not at all. We are busy and seeking to live in faith, believing that this world matters in God’s eyes, and should matter to us. It is God’s creation which God redeemed and reconciled to himself in Christ, and will someday make completely new after the final judgment and salvation to come at Christ’s return.

We want to do the best we can now, but with the realization that a curse lies on everything. This makes it harder now, but it also helps us relax and just keep on keeping on while this and that goes wrong, or is not what we would like it to be. Also with the realization that we sadly don’t even have a glimpse of some of what we might and maybe should understand, in this life, that we are limited indeed.

We are thankful to God for answered prayer and all the good in this life. But we know God has something better for us and for the world in the new creation to come when God makes all things new in Jesus. It will still be breathtaking and glorious and wonderful, and much more so, because the curse will be gone. In and through Jesus.

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patience in the face of suffering and oath taking

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

James 5:7-12

In light of James’s warning to their rich oppressors, James tells these believers to be patient until the Lord’s coming. Some say James expected the Lord to come within that generation. Maybe so. I’m not sure we can insist the language found here and in other places has to be interpreted that way. I think not. I would rather see it as God’s judgment being soon given the brevity of life, and that it’s imminent in that it could happen any time. And when life is done, judgment is next (Hebrews 9:27). Of course the judgment spoken of here is at the Lord’s second coming. Bear in mind that the future brings not only the resurrection of the righteous, but of the unrighteous, as well (Daniel 12:2).

James point to the farmer as an example of the kind of patience these Christians in faith are to exercise. There is a process which seems to take time along with God’s working. So patience is a necessity in this, yes, “in the face of suffering.” And with that in mind, James now points to the prophets we read of in a good chunk of the Old/First Testament (Hebrew Bible) who spoke in the name of the Lord. Suffering was their lot, as Jesus pointed out later. Persecution and martyrdom. Not easy, when you read their story. Speaking God’s message and living as God’s people will not go unchallenged in one way or another. And lest we think it’s only about identification with God before the world, it may be about our testimony in holding to God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of adversities of any kind, as Job did, even as he presented his case to God. And we remember the end of that story. And I want to just soak in James’s word after these points:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

These words those believers needed to take to heart, and we do too. We wish this for our enemies as well, but if they refuse to respond to this kindness and goodness of God (Romans 2:4), and don’t accept God’s mercy on God’s terms, their end will be according to their deeds. But yes, we need to soak into these words, and let these words soak into us. God’s mercy for us, and for others, yes even for our oppressors. And yet judgment will come, and that too is a word of encouragement, particularly to those who face evil in the form of persecution.

And then James adds a word on oaths. I think it’s in line with making much of taking an oath, as if you are bound by it in a way that you are not bound when simply speaking. God wants our word to be as good as gold so to speak, completely reliable even if not bound legally, morally, and spiritually by taking an oath. Does that mean we can never change our minds, and take back our words, or break our promise? As a rule we shouldn’t. But there may be circumstances when we need to change, or may want to. Which is why we need to choose our words carefully in the first place, if we speak at all. We need to weigh everything in light of what we previously stated and the context. We have enormous freedom, I think, but it needs to be with Spirit-led wisdom. We want to be sure our witness of Jesus is not affected. We want others to see Jesus, and receive for themselves the good news in him. God has what appears to be a change of mind in scripture at times within his unchanging character. There does seem to be some genuine give and take in God’s relationship with people. And God swears an oath as well, we read both in the Old Testament and in the book of Hebrews. So oath taking is not intrinsically evil or wrong. It is the kind of oath taking being done in Jesus’s day and afterward that is evil. As if such an oath is binding in a way that one’s word is not. For God’s people, followers of Christ, there is no place for that attitude or practice.

 

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.

the center for the new year

As we enter into a new year on our calendars, and reflect on the past year, as well as this new year to follow, we do well to consider just what is central to our existence, and to the world’s existence, and what’s not.

For children, especially toddlers, often they are the center. It is what they want or think they need that counts, and nothing else. And babies necessarily need special care, along with children, to be sure.

All of us enter into the new year with either new or renewed concerns. And we tend to center on the factors, oftentimes people, who are involved in those matters. And naturally we are often trying to figure out just where we fit, or what our response is to be. Or it may be responsibilities we have, which can be in the mix with the concerns. We either don’t know what to do, or we might in panic try to fix everything, or whatever else might go on in how we process and work out things.

In Colossians in particular, but also in Ephesians, we find the center, as far as scripture and the story there, the gospel (good news) puts it. It is no less than Jesus himself, who brings us and the world into the very life of God, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the case of the new creation breaking into the old, and to actually be completely in place, making all things new when Jesus returns.

The center is not any given mess in the world, in our world or the world at large. It is not the immediate concern we have, nor perhaps something at best hard, that we’re trying to navigate in our life. The center is always and forever, Jesus. Jesus is in the midst of everything, yes in the mess. And also according to scripture, the church is intricately woven into that (see the end of Ephesians 1). And so here’s probably the most important point, so that this post won’t be misunderstood: Jesus is the center, but it is always through the church and the gospel that this is so.

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1

That is our only real hope on a personal, family, neighborhood, local, state, national, and international level. Jesus somehow is in the midst of all of this, but always through the church and the gospel. Yes, mystically by the Spirit, but also through his teaching, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), through his death and resurrection. And though it’s always through the gospel and the church, yet in some sense Jesus is at work in everything. God is sovereign over all, and that sovereignty now is always and forever in and through Jesus. Even though there’s a day coming when the Son turns over the kingdom to the Father so that God might be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). Whatever that means, we can be sure that Jesus will be at the heart, and in the center of it all.

And so I look to the new year, wondering about some things. But not wondering about one thing: just who is at the center of all of this, who is in control even when things seem out of control, chaotic, and maybe heading in a bad direction. Not to ignore the things which are good. It is Jesus himself, who is with us through the good news of God in him. And through us and that, for the world. Jesus being the center.

marking the time in which we live

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

It all depends on what is meant by “the present crisis” (verse 26). Gordon Fee in his excellent 1 Corinthians commentary sides with something like the lot for all of us in this present age before Jesus returns (my words). It is not something “impending” (NRSV), that is, something to come. But present, a present crisis, or distress.

But it does indeed seem strange that these gifts of God inherent within our humanity in the created order, should be taken with a kind of grain of salt, or not necessarily received as they otherwise would, since “this world in its present form is passing away.”

The point is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, with a view to his return, the new creation is breaking in, and the old is passing. It is likely a matter of already/not yet theological thought, in that our salvation is present (along with the salvation of the world), but not yet completed. So that in the meantime, we live as those not rooted in the present, but in the future. Our lot is cast there, so that we don’t live like those whose lot is fully cast here (consider the book of Ecclesiastes).

Does this mean that we live escapist lives now, simply wanting to avoid this present evil age (Galatians 1:4)? Not at all! We live fully in the present, as those who are looking to God’s promise for the future to break in now, at this time, and someday to be complete when Jesus returns. And this is to be realized through the power of the gospel, and through the church, in the present. Something happening now, but its consequences only fully realized later.

Paul’s words here are to encourage a devotion to the Lord which singleness can bring, in one’s focus and time. But it includes those who are married as well, that their focus too should be singular. But in context, definitely not neglectful of their marital duties to their spouse, or the upbringing of their children.

These are words of encouragement to me today. I need to see everything in light of the present distress that all Christians live in during this present life. So that my sights are set on God’s will, and following Christ, rather than on the myriads of things people have their minds and hearts set on in this world. Not that those things don’t have their place. For example it is good to live and eat healthy, and for us as Christians, primarily out of devotion to Christ, but for our own good as well. But this is not a priority of first importance. For example, if God called a man or woman to a mission for the gospel that potentially put them in harm’s way, they might do well to go it alone, without a family, and the added concern that would cause. And their first priority would not be their own safety, but faithfulness to the mission. Not that safety wouldn’t matter, it just wouldn’t be first priority overall.

Another important word for us from God’s word. For us to pray over and grapple with, as we seek to live lives for the good of others, and for God’s glory now, in and through Jesus.

the neglected Second Coming

When I was younger, there was no hotter topic than Jesus’s Second Coming, usually called the rapture, which was supposed to take the church away before the Great Tribulation, therefore called a pretrib-rapture. Hal Lindsay is well known for his book, The Late Great Planet Earth. I, along with many others had my copy and read it. He is still teaching to this day, and from the time I heard him, right along those same lines, though at one time he finally drew a line and expected Jesus to return no later than a certain year, which since has come and gone. One characteristic of such teachers and preachers is their propensity to point to nations and specific people as possible players, for example, so and so, as the anti-christ.

For obvious reasons, such teaching, though still strong in pockets has fallen on hard times. Part of that has been the modification in many quarters of dispensationalism, at least in part influenced by reformed theology, and to some extent, the Great Tradition. Maybe a larger part due to the simple fact that events like Israel’s Six-Day War, come and go, and we really don’t seem any closer to the end than before.

Christians go back to the Book, and I am in Mark 13 in my ongoing daily Bible meditation right now. A number of prominent evangelical scholars today see Jesus’s prediction entirely fulfilled in the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. I tend to think that way myself, given the specifics of that passage and the nature of the language used as reflected in the Old/First Testament prophets.

The sad fact of the matter is that the Second Coming of Christ, which is part of the gospel, has fallen on hard times, little preached and taught, so that even though all Christians have a nominal belief in it, it doesn’t seem to be sufficiently a part of any living faith, so that it does not impact day to day living. I have recently concluded for myself, that hope is perhaps my weakest link of the triad: faith, hope and love. Though I certainly have plenty of room to shore up, and actually grow in the others. I little think of heaven, or the after-life (the new heavens, and the new earth), and probably even less on Jesus’s return.

Somehow we need a return to preaching and teaching on Jesus’s Second Coming. Approaches like N. T. Wright’s and Scot McKnight’s can help us, on God’s grace and kingdom being present in King Jesus now through the gospel in the church, with the promise of fulfillment in a completion when Jesus bodily returns and restores all things in the completed new creation. At the very least, it seems to me, this should be a part of our daily faith understanding, confession and creed.

We need to take back this teaching, held hostage for some time by unhelpful, mistaken approaches. It is an important part of God’s word, of the gospel, the promise in Jesus. May God stamp it on our hearts, and help it to become a part of our lives, how we live and why, in and through Jesus.

for Memorial Day

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13

Today we remember those who laid down their lives in service to our nation. We honor their sacrifice. And we pray for those who continue to serve, as well as for all who put their lives at risk for the protection of others. And for the nations of the world: for peace, especially in those places where conflict continues and evil is very near. And we look forward to the coming of the Prince of Peace.