the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

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the church and injustice

Nowadays there is nothing more hot among many professing followers of Jesus than addressing injustice, and there’s no end to that, in either number of items to address, nor the depth to address in any one item. Human trafficking, slave trade, need for water wells in villages, continued discrimination against people of color– particularly those of African descent, refugees from war torn countries being turned away, and the list could go on and on, even if I would need some help in making it.

And part of what has happened in recent years is the withdrawal of younger people from the church, thinking the church itself to be irrelevant in their passion and pursuit for justice. And really, can we blame them when we consider just how absent the church has been oftentimes, probably even complicit in injustice as during the days of the American Civil Rights Movement when black people were not allowed into white churches.

The question is being raised nowadays: Has American Christianity failed? I’m not sure I like the question altogether, because normally every church has its strengths and weaknesses (see the the Lord’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3), and in the end the Lord is the one who makes the final judgment. But in the meantime with the Lord’s help by the Spirit, we in him are to judge ourselves, and seek to be discerning. So that quest is not necessarily amiss, though it can easily become amiss, I’m afraid.

The problem which has some tensions with it, is that the church has been all too quick to give its voice to the voice of a party or platform of this world, so that the church is a mere echo or extension of whatever the party is saying. That has been true of both the Christian Right, and Christian Left. Instead of grappling with issues, and being a prophetic voice from God to both sides of the aisle, and to everyone else.

The gospel of Christ is central to how we should address everything. And it’s as big as the story of God that this good news in Jesus is the climactic turning point of and end to. And it’s always in and through Jesus, his life as God becoming human– one of us, his teaching as in the Sermon on the Mount, etc., his wonderful works pointing to the great deliverance/salvation in him, and his death and resurrection, which marks the beginning of when this new life takes hold, the new creation breaking into the old. And his ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, which resulted from, and accompanies that. With the promise of his return, when heaven and earth will be one in him, and all things will be made new.

The vision is shalom, translated “peace,” but meaning much more than the absence of conflict, but especially human flourishing and in terms of love in relationship to each other. And if at the heart of that vision isn’t reconciliation of all peoples together in Jesus, then the vision falls short of that which we find in scripture, fulfilled in the gospel (see Ephesians especially, but other places as well, and really the entire story found in scripture). The church through the gospel is to be ground zero in seeing the beginning of this new life in Jesus, and from that reality, the church is to reach out to the world in its unique contribution, which no government or political system can emulate or duplicate on earth. Yes, the gospel is political, but never as an entity of this world since it’s not of this world, yet is in and for this world, to be sure. It is the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus.

And so we need to point toward the right direction, and get to walking. Not thinking we’ll arrive, or there won’t be plenty more along the way for us to learn. But doing so, completely committed to God’s call to us in Jesus in a gospel/good news which is not idle in the face of injustice, but sees the answer to be found in and through Jesus, and the new life and community that he brings. In which we’re to live, and welcome all others in with us, in and through King Jesus.

“we shall overcome”: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

We Shall Overcome” was a beautiful anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was sung by the African-Americans of that time, and those who stood with them in their cause for justice in equal rights in the United States. It was more than a push back against the Jim Crow laws of the south (not to mention the segregation in the north), but a stand in saying, “We will accept, and take no more of this.” Rosa Parks was a key person in getting the movement started, and there was no more prominent leader in it, in fact he is considered the leader of that movement, today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The song expresses a stand rooted in God’s image within all humanity. That we are made for relationship and love, and an understanding that we are in this life together. And that we all have our part in it, both in relationships, and in vocation. And it’s a song of commitment to overcome injustice together, but not in a violent way, but with a commitment to nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. was impacted both by the life and example of Mahatma Gandhi, and preeminently by Jesus himself who taught his followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. King over and over again preached and spoke in these terms, and with the words of Jesus. And he and many others put those words into practice again and again.

We do need to stand up for what is right, particularly when it affects others. And we who in the United States live to this day in a privileged condition, especially compared with our African-American sisters and brothers need to be sensitive to how we might play in that ourselves without realizing it, as well as develop sensitivity to how society itself is bent in this direction. How we are all, each and everyone impacted by prejudice in prejudging others through some stereotypes, instead of really getting to know them, and becoming aware of their difficulties and plight.

And we need to remember what was done to them: They were stolen from their nations in Africa, and forced to be slaves with no possibility of freedom, at least not under the normal circumstances. And to this day are discriminated against in the criminal justice system, and before that, all of this lending itself to the fallout which would occur with any of us. And a deep wounding which can only be healed through much time, leaving its scars behind.

As in all things, and as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew and preached, the one hope for all humankind and against all evil is found in the gospel of Christ. Through that good news we are reconciled to God and to each other. Sin is dealt with, and all the injustice with it through the atoning sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the resurrection bringing the new life of love into the here and now, to break all the chains of injustice, and bring in nothing less than the freedom of God’s children.

We are all in this together. Today I celebrate and remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of all those who stood with him in love against the hate of that time. And remember that though some most significant changes came through that movement, we have not yet arrived to the place where we fully love and accept each other, and have the best interest of the others in our hearts. We’re not there yet.

Laws of the land can help and actually are crucial against corrupt systems, but what is especially needed is the change of hearts through the gospel, and an acclimation toward justice which we find in scripture fulfilled in the gospel, as well as in other places where this ethic is taught on earth through God’s image within all humankind. But there is no place where it is so thoroughly taught with the hope of being fully realized as in the gospel of Christ, to begin in the church.

This is an essential part of the heart of our calling as witnesses of Christ and the good news in him. Something we wish to carry on in the love and compassion of Christ, in and through him.

every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low

“Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:4-5

This time of the year (along with Easter and other times) I listen to one of my favorite musical pieces, Handel’s Messiah. Two pieces which point to God’s fulfillment of Advent are Every valley shall be exalted and And the glory of the Lord.

Someday God’s kingdom will be entirely present, and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Something we’re to pray for now in the present age, but which will be completely fulfilled when heaven and earth become one at our Lord’s return in the new creation.

Meanwhile part of our passion and message is to proclaim this salvation to the world, and to be a people who show the world what this salvation looks like both in how we are as the church and how we extend that to the world.

Of course we would like governments in place which will be advocates and helpers of the poor, oppressed and helpless. And we should pray for and encourage such policies. But until our Lord returns, we the church, the people in King Jesus are to demonstrate to the world what this kingdom is like, how it is different in and through King Jesus.

And the Bible makes it clear that at the heart of this good news of the Messiah is a righteousness which is just, a justice which is righteous. And that this good news, this gospel brings with it a passion for those in need which proves itself in good works. And does not ignore corruption in high places, especially at the expense of others.

Every valley shall be exalted, and mountain and hill made low. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed. And all humankind will see it together. That is in the heartbeat of God and God’s people in and through Jesus.

 

the basic healing which awaits the final one

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

The healing that has taken place here is evident through the return of the one healed to God. It is through the cross, Jesus’s own wounding there, that we have been healed. And the healing refers, one might say, to the soul, to one’s very life, probably not so much a physical healing as a spiritual one.

We still all feel hurts, or wounds still present from our past. Or even if we are not aware of such, they can affect us, and change how we live, usually for ill rather than for good. The major healing for us is through Jesus and his death. And our return to him, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. I like that thought; I know I need it.

We focus on Jesus’s saving work for us, what he suffered, which sets us free from our suffering as sinners. And our return to God through him. The healing that is past is the balm of salvation resulting in forgiveness of sins and new life. And especially in this context, a return to God, to the Lord Jesus, who takes care of us as his sheep. So that we now relate to him as our Shepherd, the one who oversees us in watching over us and providing for our needs. As we await the final healing of ourselves and everything else through God’s redeeming and sanctifying work of love in Jesus our Lord.

be on the side of mercy, God’s side

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

There is plenty of evil in the world. It can be found most anywhere, even in our own hearts at times. We long for justice against evildoing and evildoers. And for those who have been victimized, hopefully some kind of reparation that could be done. And if we’re of a Christian persuasion, we should want no less than restorative justice when that is possible. That the one doing evil will be held accountable, but also exhorted and encouraged, yes helped to do better, so that they can go back into society and live productive lives.

Mercy, especially in this broken existence, needs to be the watchword, indeed the passion for us who follow Christ. Just as we have freely received mercy from his hand, we’re to extend that mercy to others. The mercy of the gospel, yes, but also the mercy that comes from the gospel, or we could say is a part of it.

Lest we forget, we’re all in need of mercy everyday, and in a sense at every moment, since none of us in ourselves is worthy to stand before God being stained because of our sin. And we actually prove ourselves unworthy everyday by attitudes and corresponding actions, even if they’re only words under our breath. Unworthy of God’s mercy, justly judged to have fallen short.

But that’s an essential part of the Christian message, the heart of the gospel, that in Jesus there is always mercy and forgiveness extended to us, and to others. We are to accept that mercy for ourselves, and then live out this gospel by extending it to others, so that they can see that our faith is not about judging them, but extending mercy to them when they are undeserving. And of course mercy is not just about showing love at random to everyone. It is purposefully showing the same love to the undeserving that we ourselves receive through Christ.

Does this mean that others aren’t held accountable? Of course not. We all are. Mercy always takes seriously the sin that is being forgiven, or in love, covered over (1 Peter 4). We may need to gently confront or come along side those who are sinning (Galatians 6), or for those who do not know the Lord, we may simply need to show them the way of Jesus, which was love for his enemies, a pathway in which we’re to walk and live in our following of him. The way of the gospel. Not easy, but a picture of the good news in Jesus in which we live, so that others might see and believe, in and through him.

the free fall in our society– the church and the state

I really struggle over the relation of the church and the state. I respect scholars and Christian traditions in their various takes on the matter. I think there’s often good we can take out of varying viewpoints.

That said, I also think the so-called “Constantinian turn” of the church when the Roman Empire became formally Christian, was in some sense the death knell of what the church is called to be in the world: a witness to another lord, the one true Lord, and to the one good news in him. One can plausibly argue otherwise, and surely some of what they say will have plenty of truth in it. But a major problem I see today in the United States is the emphasis on the importance of the morality of the state, as if it somehow ought to be Christian in some way or another. This is the case from both the religious left and the religious right, the former emphasizing world peace and the right to do whatever, and the latter emphasizing a certain morality as in “family values.” Both have a code of ethics, but the attention is turned almost completely to the state, it seems.

Regardless, this is my take on the current sea change in the United States, of course same sex marriage, etc., all in the equation. The church needs to hold the line both on the teaching of the gospel: the good news concerning Jesus, and righteousness: God’s will in Jesus. And of course, that is to be a witness for the world, hopefully impacting the state for good. But the church must neither be influenced by the world, nor expect the world to be influenced by it. If I read the Bible right, that is. But to hear people both from liberal, progressive and conservative perspectives, you would have to think that much depends on what the state is doing, that is all that essentially seems to matter, and the church is present to applaud and support that.

It doesn’t matter one whit what the world does, what the state does, the church must kindly tow the line, holding to the teaching of our Lord, of righteousness. The church always must pray for the state, and be a witness to it of the power of Christ and the gospel. And it does need to be present for the good of all, including the state, praying for its blessing, as well as for the good of all people.

But the church must be careful not to compromise its calling to be a witness to the one good news in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus.