what are we here for?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-20

After the “beatitudes” and the salt and light portion, in what’s called “the Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus says the above. What he is saying about fulfillment of the Law and Prophets and the necessity of the righteousness of his hearers exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees, those considered the foremost religious leaders of that time certainly involves piety along a host of issues such as alms giving, prayer, marital relations just to name a few. But it surely also involves an awareness of how the Law and the Prophets along with the rest of Scripture needs application then and in our present day within society itself. If what we’re about only has to do with our personal piety and the personal piety of those gathered with us, along with trying to bring others into that same circle, all with the goal of entering the kingdom of heaven, then we’re definitely not going far enough, and could well be missing the point. What after all is our piety for? Just for our own good and the good of those joined with us? Or for the good of all, even of the world, with a sensitivity to what is right and just and good.

Churches that major on individual application of Scripture, thinking that’s the way to help not only individuals, but society at large, really fail to see the entire picture or see it correctly, what is evident in the Prophets and elsewhere. We as God’s people are after all the salt of the earth, the light of the world, what Jesus said just preceding the above quoted Scripture. Salt and light is meant to make a difference in the world at large, not only in individuals in the world. Or at least so I think. If concern for the world and systems in it is added on as something going beyond what is required, as an extra, that’s not enough. Such actually should be a part of the whole.

Yes, only in Jesus is this worked out and completed toward the perfection and shalom that God wants. But that light that we have in Jesus should expose the darkness of the world, and at least advocate for something better within the systems in the world. As we await the return of the one who will clean up the mess once for all and forever. In and through Jesus.

we don’t grieve like those who don’t have this “hope”

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; NRSVue

We “in Christ,” especially those of us who were raised up in this tradition like me can hardly imagine the end of life being the end of one’s existence. That like the animals we are simply gone. But in and through Christ and his resurrection from the dead, we have the “hope” as actually God’s promise that we look forward to that God will indeed raise to new and glorious eternal life the bodies of all those who are “in Christ.”

It is a Greek thought not biblical that our bodies are not a part of our true selves. Every part of us is a part of God’s good creation and will be included in the resurrection. Yes, a new us, but new from the old, so that it’s the new you, still you, but made new from the lowly body subject to death down here which Christ shared with us, to the glorious new body like his now ascended, glorified body.

This will take place at Christ’s return. All that has been reconciled to God through Christ will be made new, which I take to mean all things, at least eventually. God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15). Christ is the first fruits of this, and we who have believed follow.

I’m thankful that aging, death and decay do not have the last word. No, a new life forever and ever in the newness of all things. In and through Jesus.

taking your eyes off the Lord, off the promise

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

What was happening when Peter took his eyes off the Lord? As the passage tells us, and this was immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, by the way, Jesus is walking, yes walking on the water. And the disciples had just witnessed the great miracle, so their imaginations were continuing to be changed. And after getting over the shock and fear of seeing Jesus walking on the water, Peter has the boldness to ask if he could do that too, at Jesus’ command. After all, Jesus is their Apprentice, and they’re to end up doing what he does, even while it’s only through Jesus that they can do it.

It begins wonderfully well. Peter is walking, yes miraculously walking on the water. One might ask what good walking on water is. Probably, unless you can’t swim worth much like me, probably of little to no value, and maybe even counterproductive in a world given over to sensation. Note that Jesus did not do this in front of the crowds, but only before his disciples. Maybe and maybe not people caught wind of it later. As we’re told in Jesus Christ Superstar when Herod asks Jesus to walk on the water of his pool, since Scripture does tell us that Herod wanted him to perform some miracle when he at long last had Jesus in his presence shortly before Jesus’s crucifixion. But this event was meant to be like a parable to us. So that no matter what we’re facing, our eyes so to speak spiritually are on the Lord, on God’s promise in him, and off the troubles we face.

This is difficult to say the least. The wind whipping up the waves was real. And there are situations and problems we face which we need to address in one way or another. I think what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples here, and by extension wants to teach us as well is that we’re to do what Jesus did. That we live in complete trust in God, boldly doing the unimaginable in the face of circumstances or reality as we might call it, which seems to make such a venture impossible. No, we’re not to literally walk on water, but in a sense we’re to live above the circumstances of life, and that includes in how we address such circumstances. Something I don’t have much of any handle on yet, although I probably and advanced compared to years past.

What happens when we take our eyes off the Lord and God’s promise in him? Like Peter we begin to sink so that our faith is not only failing us, but becoming weak and for all practical purposes, nonexistent. But when that happens, at least like Peter we should have the faith to cry out to the Lord to save us. And that’s what Peter did. But again, what happens? We no longer are thinking and acting like followers of Christ. That’s what was happening to Peter, and all too often happens to us, to me over and over again. I’m pretty strong in crying out to God when such happens, who isn’t? Unless one is not holding on to faith. Instead of being changed through looking to Christ and God’s promise in him, we are seized into the swirling, threatening trouble as if God didn’t exist, and as if we’re left to fate, left to ourselves.

Jesus wants to train us for something much better. Something Jesus wanted to get through to Peter and the other disciples, and to us as well.

Advent is looking to Jesus and God’s promise in him in spite of circumstances not only in our world, but in the world at large. We long for Christ’s return to clean up this mess, all the while trying to get his help to clean up our own messes along the way.

In and through Jesus.

when hope is gone

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three…

1 Corinthians 13:13a

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

Hope is a basic of human life. It’s looking forward to good, and more than that, it’s living with the idea that our lives matter, that there’s a good end.

Suicide prevention involves helping people get on track to find hope as in a reason to not end life, to live, that somehow there’s something good about carrying on.

In Scripture hope is included with faith and love. Those of us in the Christian tradition and familiar with Scripture will readily see the importance of faith and love, but hope might not often occur to us, if at all. But there it is, right beside faith and love. So it is important.

Central to hope is that God is working to bring good to all, to the world. Of course we can and do resist God’s working, even when oftentimes we are not conscious of doing so. But God continues that work, nonetheless.

Hope is short, medium, and long term; even with reference to the past in the thought of the redemption of all things, the present so that day to day we can find good, and the future, ultimately in the return of Christ when all is made right and new.

This is not some fantasy, nothing more than in our dreams. But for the real world, with all its difficulties, conundrums and even tragedies. Somehow in the midst of all of that, the hope we find in God is to help us not only survive, but live in the victory of Christ which paradoxically means for us now a resurrected life in the way of death, in the way of the cross, in the true following of Christ. Looking forward to the complete healing to come.

In and through Jesus.

we bear witness to a better day

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today in the United States is Memorial Day when Americans who lost their lives in military service are honored. We indeed should remember them and their sacrifice. But we as followers of Christ and the church of Christ ought to point to a better day when violence is not only the last resort alas unlike today, but when war will be no more.

That thought sounds so unreasonable when there’s so much violence and evil in the world. We have to remember that violence is not ended with more violence. Sooner or later that cycle continues as old grievances surface. Unfortunately what ought to be and what actually is are so far apart. It’s like you have to use a hopefully sanctified imagination to think of anything which could be different.

Violence is a fact of life, embedded in the human existence. There is not the necessary trust in God, in Christ with the hope/anticipation of the resurrection to make the commitment to something else. But if churches of Christ aren’t doing this, then what does that say about our witness? Are we just supposed to be okaying, even strongly supporting military action and wars of the state? Surely not.

We in Jesus point to a better day. By how we live along with our telling of this. We encourage nations to make peacemaking the priority, along with trying to understand and address underlying issues behind the violence. Realizing indeed that all violence will not be vanquished until Christ returns. Nevertheless doing all we can to point ourselves and others to a better day. And hopefully seeing that played out more in creative ways in opposition to oppressive regimes, with the commitment to do good to the distressed, and ultimately to all. A tall order indeed. But a large part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

faith is not sight

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

These words from Paul are in the context about living, dying and pleasing the Lord. And a distinction is drawn between seeing and faith. Someday we will see what we can’t see now. That is faith. Faith involves going on when the promise is not yet realized (Hebrews 11:13-16).

This kind of attitude is valued by God. Jesus said that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a miraculous sign, something they can see. But faith acknowledges that we really can’t see and understand on our own. That our dependence is solely on God, not on ourselves at all. For some reason God seems to want us to live in the dark so that by faith we can push toward the light, it breaking through at times, but the full light of day to come only when Christ returns.

So we press on. Tired. Not getting younger. With trials and questions. But finding even in those things an encouragement to genuine faith, different than seeing. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:28-3:10

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 2:28-3:10

And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives.

Once you’re convinced that he is right and righteous, you’ll recognize that all who practice righteousness are God’s true children.

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.

So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.

People conceived and brought into life by God don’t make a practice of sin. How could they? God’s seed is deep within them, making them who they are. It’s not in the nature of the God-born to practice and parade sin. Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 2:28-3:10; MSG

If the elder and beloved apostle John were here today, reading this passage, he might suggest that what is happening is nothing less than an identity crisis. And what follows from that is not good.

If we’re God’s children and followers of Christ, that will make a night and day difference. My guess is that John would talk about living deeply in Christ. How that our lives, our very thoughts and actions are to be shaped out of that. And how we can do that, indeed are called to do that no matter what we’re facing or what’s going on in the world. And how that we never have an excuse to do what Christ has commanded us not to do, flying in the face of what Christ did, how he lived.

We in Christ are God’s children, part of God’s family. Do we bear the family resemblance? Are we like our elder Brother Christ? Do we look up to him? If not, then we need to ask ourselves if indeed we are in Christ. Or are our lives more in line with the devil? Is what we’re about, and what we’re doing more in line with that? If we don’t love other brothers and sisters in Christ no matter what, that’s a sure sign we’re off track.

we are in process

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-6

Over and over again, I’m reminded that we are people in process. The good and most important thing to remember is that it is God at work in our lives. We likely wish we were further along than we are, I know I do.

We really need to hold on to this truth that we as followers of Jesus. And that it is God doing the work, not we ourselves. God who began this good work in us will indeed carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, when Jesus returns.

This helps me as I consider my own life as well as the lives of others. We need to take our hands off. It’s God’s work, not our own. The change in our lives comes only because of that. Maybe this means we need to be more in prayer.

There are things I’m not sure about. It does seem clear to me that we can get in the way of God’s working, and impede it. But God works around and even through those ways that we can get in the way, I suppose. I often wish I could just do what I know I ought to do. Like rest in God’s peace instead of being anxious about this or that. It’s a maturing, growth process, and all of Scripture in one way or another is meant to help us in that.

The one thing we can take away from Paul’s words here for sure: God who began the good work in us in Christ will finish it. We can mark that down in stone, but more importantly God has written that change into our hearts to unfold in our lives toward the goal of making us the people we’re supposed to be, through Jesus fully human and unique in our person as God intended. All of us together in this, Paul addressing not just individuals here, but the entire church. In and through Jesus.

racism is a strong biblical theme, systemic as well as personal

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:6

God called Abraham to become the father of all nations. Abraham and his progeny were to be blessed to be a blessing. But what do we read in Scripture. Israel saw this blessing to be hoarded by themselves, and shunned outsiders. There was certainly strong disapproval of others, which turned into hate. Instead they were supposed to be a light to the nations around them, ultimately to the world. A light of the revelation of God in terms of who God is, and God’s intentions for humanity. But we know that Israel utterly failed.

So Jesus comes as the one who would be the true Israelite and fulfill God’s calling. And of course he did in ways that were unanticipated, not the least of which fully including believing Gentiles, including those hated Samaritans as full members of God’s family.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

God in Christ through the good news in the cross breaks barriers, starting with Jews and Gentiles. The Jews hated the Gentiles, and vice versa. Tragically the church has hated Jews for centuries. And there’s all kind of bitter ethnic rivalries that we’ve seen played out in history in recent times right up to the present day.

Sin is pervasive in everything. So that means it’s not only personal, in each person’s heart. But it’s also societal, indeed systemic, rooted in the world system. And that plays out in the history of racism in the United States, and specifically what is easily most pronounced in that, the brutal enslaving of Africans, and all that has followed. This is something the gospel addresses, but not just in terms of changing hearts. But also in uncovering the sin of systemic racism in our institutions. And rooting it out.

The gospel’s full impact won’t be realized until Christ returns. But it is pure blindness not to want King Jesus’s agenda to begin to be fulfilled now. In the midst of the nations and governing authorities who are subject to him, to be judged by him.

We seek to follow in the way of love, yes love even for our enemies as Jesus taught us. Part of the heart of the gospel, and what we’re to be up to in prayer and patient love, beginning with each other, but meant for everyone else as well. In and through Jesus.

“the present crisis”

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

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; 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; 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 7:25-31

The “present crisis” is tied to the time being short, and the world in its present form passing away. That may have to do with the realization of the change that Christ’s resurrection brought, the beginning of the end of this world, as the new word and new creation begins to emerge in Christ, someday to be culminated and completed when he returns.

That being said, we still have to deal with whatever our “present crisis” may be, which depends on time, place and circumstances for sure, unless it’s the general idea of what all Christians go through in life as followers of one Lord, Jesus. This is not going to let up, but in some form will always be with us, if indeed it’s the latter thought that is in view. But it is temporary, even said here to be short.

The point is that we followers of Christ live differently given the new world we’re a part of within the old world in which we live. Yet we do share common concerns, true if we marry or even if we don’t. There’s no escape from the problems which beset a broken world. Right now with the COVID-19 pandemic we have an illustrative case in point. We’ll do many of the same things everyone else should be doing. Or at least out of love for neighbor I think we should be doing those things, like wearing a face mask in public, etc. But because of our faith in Jesus with the confidence that somehow the new world is emerging, we will also act differently. Never violating love for neighbor or what is properly right in the eyes of all. But with the confidence that this is not the end. And that we’re here to be devoted to the Lord, whatever our situation. In and through Jesus.