God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.

a gospel bigger than I, me, mine, and even us- the only gospel there is

When we open our Bibles, the beginnning is Genesis, for a reason, and the end is the Revelation for a reason, and everything in between counts, every book and for that matter, every line, has its reason and place in the whole.

It is daunting, and takes commitment over time, but we all need to be in the entire Bible, as challenging on many levels as that is, and read it through again and again. When we do, we’ll come to see that the story of Israel picked by God to be a blessing to the world is a central theme. And how that is fulfilled through them, but mainly in anticipation of the true fulfillment in Jesus.

While this is certainly for each person in our relationship to God, it is for every other person, as well, and for the entire world. It’s a good news in and through Jesus which affects everything and is therefore worldly in that sense, or one could say earthly. But in another sense it can’t be worldly at all since it can’t participate, except insofar as it influences the change of worldy structures. This is the case, because the difference is in and through Jesus, and God’s redemption, salvation, and kingdom come in him.

Only when Jesus returns will all things be changed, the god of this age gone; the world, the flesh and the devil being a thing of the past. But until then, we witness not only to a gospel for each individual, but a gospel which is to begin to demonstrate the alternative to what is necessarily in place, in this present evil age and world.

And so we live in the in between times when God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus is beginning to break in through the gospel into the church, and out from that into the world. As we look forward to the end of this age which will bring in the fullness of what has begun now in Jesus, when he returns.

the hope for 2017 and beyond

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

There is actually one ultimate hope for us and for the world, and that hope is in King Jesus, and God’s promises in him. We in Jesus await for his return, when at last all that is lacking and wrong now, will be made right and complete in the final judgment and salvation, in the new creation. Until then, it’s not like we don’t have hope in Jesus for good in this present existence. In another place we read:

Love…always hopes…

1 Corinthians 13

Hope in scripture is put in the context of faith and love. This is a hope distinct from the blessed hope when the final salvation is put into place. But it’s certainly related to that hope.

All Christian hope is solely in Jesus. It’s not like we can’t hope for the best in the institutions of this world, in governments which are appointed by God for the good of people. But the faith, hope and love which we have in Jesus, just as they are linked together as a triad, are also dependent on the gospel. We have prayerful, lesser hopes, which are still important in their place, as we pray for everyone, for governing authorities, that people might live in peace, and that we might be able to spread the gospel in that same peace. Though in this world we can expect pockets of persecution for such a stand. That hope is grounded in God’s sovereignty now over the nations, which is often hard if not impossible to trace or understand.

And so my hope for 2017 is not so much in earthly institutions, which I think are always certain to disappoint those who have high expectations for them. Instead we look to God’s promises in Jesus for ourselves, and ultimately meant for everyone else. Even for the wicked, who will repent of their ways, and bow the knee to the one Lord, King Jesus, and trust in God and God’s promises in him.

That is my one hope for 2017 and beyond. Even while we pray, hoping for other things along the way for the good of all. More of a just and righteous peace, being one of them. While we wait in the anticipation of the blessed hope when at last every good will be fully realized in and through King Jesus.

the one hope for the world

A concern for one’s eternal and temporal security has its place, but if it stops there, then that faith is less than Christian. The hope we have in Jesus is the one hope we have for the entire world.

I am a citizen of the United States by birth, and as such certainly live in a privileged place compared to many in the world. The problem though, is that we can put our hope in earthly systems, and even in earthly authorities such as politicians, governors, rulers. To the extent which we actually do that, surely we end up blinding ourselves to the one hope that we truly have.

We pray for rulers and governing authorities, and we hope for peace and freedom for all peoples, and that all tyranny and evil would cease, for true and complete justice, especially for those who have been denied it for so long, oftentimes people of color, yes, in the United States of America. For good stewardship of the gift of the earth in ways which protect it, and people, and for an end to the tragedy of abortion.

As people of God in Jesus, we’re called to be his followers and help others to follow him. The church is to be the sign to the world of the one hope that the world has through the gospel and the beginning transformation and hope which that gospel brings.

This all began on earth through a humble, peasant, quite young woman, the angel giving her the great, good, and perplexing news of a miracle birth, Joseph, her fiancee having to work though that news before an angel appears to him in a dream, and then choosing to live with it, and at last the birth in a humble place, the baby Jesus laid in a feeding trough for animals. And at the end of his life, nailed to a cross. But resurrected from the dead, and thus sealing the witness of his life in his works and teaching of God’s grace and kingdom having come in him. And ascended to the right hand of the Father from whom he poured out the Holy Spirit on the church to be a witness to the world of this good news. That news including his return, when at long at last all will be made right and new.

That is our hope, and the one hope always for this world. Let our focus be on that, even as we seek to be faithful as a witness to a world which is given to lesser hopes that will fail and often let people, especially the poor down. As we pray for our Lord’s return. Lord, have mercy! And maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

knowing Satan’s schemes

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes.

2 Corinthians 2

Whether we like it or not, we in Jesus are in a spiritual battle. And the more serious we are about our walk in the Lord, the more real that warfare will become.

Yes, Satan and his hosts are defeated through the risen Christ’s death (Colossians 2:15). We in Christ have the victory, and can live in that by faith. But living within that is not automatic.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5

The world, the flesh, and the devil have aptly been called the unholy trinity, not that such is actually analgous with the Blessed Trinity, but because in scripture these three though distinct, are in sync with each other. The world refers to the world system set against God either subtely, or not so subtely. The flesh refers to humankind under the power of sin, manifest individually and systemically. And the devil is Satan, or evil personified, actually in a person which in their evil loses what is good of personhood, and disguises evil as good.

We in Christ by the Spirit and in the communion of the church need discernment from God to understand the enemy’s working, what they’re up to, and how they trip us up. There is no question that they do. And we need to be not only aware of that, but to learn to recognize it when it is happening, and know what to do to resist and overcome it. And we have to remember that in this present life this spiritual warfare will continue on (Ephesians 6:10-18) until the Lord returns.*

To be aware of this we might well say is half the battle, but we need to know what to do, as well. We certainly need to resist and stand firm, holding on to the gospel as the power of God to overcome sin, death, and evil. While seeking to remain responsible, our final hope and confidence lies only in the good news of God who is Jesus, with all the meaning that comes with that in God’s revelation found in scripture and taught by the church. There is no easy formula. It involves our entire life, and all of God’s revelation to us in Jesus, received not only once, but over and over again. Through a once for all salvation, which involves a process in growth in grace into increasing conformity to God’s will in Jesus. So that even though we through Jesus can do better and overcome some things, we must be ready for more. Hopefully getting better and better at it, as we look forward to our Lord’s return when evil will be vanquised forever and this spiritual warfare done.

*See C. S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters for a most interesting, informative look at this, told in an imaginative, true to life story.

what are we willing to die on a hill for?

This is not a put down to veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We rightfully honor and appreciate their service. What I’m referring to is a whole host of issues which divide people. Of course American politics comes readily to mind right now and the deep divide in the United States.

Like most everything else in life, this gets a bit complicated. There are a good number of life and death issues of varying pressing importance. I think of human trafficking, climate change, abortion which can’t be separated from concern and care for the mother, and other topics. We can be thankful for people who out of love major on these in ways which are helpful and constructive toward solutions and the abolishing of evil. So the question of what we’re willing to stake our lives on does not at all negate the need to address other matters which might be a matter of life and death for many, and of which we may be little aware of ourselves.

And there are those in particular fields who may have to defend their positions at times, since not only their occupations, but something even larger in terms of human understanding and flourshing may be at stake. I for one accept the scientific “theory” (meaning established on ongoing observation, hypothesis, and testing) of evolution, the scientific basis for human caused climate change, and surely a few more positions on basic issues which puts me at odds with most people around me. Not to mention what I think about American politics, which at times might put me at odds with nearly everyone, and maybe even myself.

My argument in this post is that there should be only one hill a follower of Christ is willing to die on, and that’s the truth claim of the gospel. The good news in Jesus, that God became flesh in him, fully human, was anointed to bring in God’s kingdom and thus the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world, a kingdom which came through both the King’s death and resurrection, verifiable in history with sufficient evidence in what the Bible calls proofs. And Jesus ascended to the right hand of God from the Father pouring out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. With the promise of his eventual, “soon” even if delayed for some time- return.

We are to give up our lives for Jesus and the gospel, as we’re told in the gospel accounts. If we sacrifice much in the course of some other responsibility in this life, that may be well and good, and right and necessary for us. But what all followers of Jesus must live for and from, and if need be die for as well is the good news from God of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. That is at the very heart beat of our existence, a nonnegotiable for all of us who are in Jesus. We are occupied with the hill on which our Lord died, and all that followed from that: the resurrection, new creation life in and through Jesus, ultimately for the world in and through him. And of which we are to be a witness now in how we live, as well as what we tell others.

thirsting for justice

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6; NLT

Justice is a theme all throughout scripture, especially justice for the poor and oppressed, as well as for innocents. Justice could be described as what is right in terms of societies and how people treat each other. We speak here in the United States of criminal justice, as well as justice in other ways. While the main idea may be agreed on, just what is involved in true justice, or what is right for all, is a debated point. For example, again in the criminal justice system it’s debated on what kind of justice should be given to those who commit crimes, the worst of such being murder. Some advocate punitive justice and the death penalty for the murderer. Others advocate a restorative justice which seeks to help the murderer and all other prisoners so that eventually they might not only be let out of prison, but also that they might flourish and desire to pay back something of what they owe to society.

Justice is grounded in a righteousness which at its heart is loving God with all of our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, which in the case of Jesus includes loving our enemies as well. It’s grounded in love. Jesus taught that those who are blessed include those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice. That they will be filled, or satisfied. We live in a world in which justice and what is right is scuttled time and time again for agendas of greed and power. And the “news” is normally about such abuses, so that we are prone to think that injustice reigns supreme. And in too many places, in too many instances, that does indeed seem to be the case. In this world we should be advocates of justice, justice of all kinds. That is part of hungering and thirsting for such. We are passionate about it, and we pray for it, but we also do what we can to promote it. It’s easy to give up and give in to the thinking that there’s little or nothing we can do.

We know that ultimate and final justice will occur at Jesus’s return when God’s kingdom in him is fully put in place. In the meantime we pray and advocate a justice in keeping with the world as it is now, in all its brokenness. One that can’t be as complete as it will be someday, but nevertheless with an aim for completeness even in the here and now. As we await the justice to come.