I’m okay; I’m not okay

I was asked recently by a friend how I was doing, maybe even if I was okay. I replied that I’m okay, and I’m not okay. And that’s the way I think and feel about life in this present world.

I’m okay in that my identity is “in Christ.” And I’m part of Christ and his body in the world. “In Christ” I have God’s promises that begin now, and assure a good outcome.

I’m not okay, because of all the suffering in a broken world. Christians are persecuted today, arguably worse than ever, worldwide. And many other peoples suffer as well at the hands of injustice and pure evil.

I am a citizen of a nation (the US) where I don’t believe either major political party is pro-life, if one considers all that’s involved in helping people from the womb to the tomb. And where there’s a growing, deeper divide, the two sides further and further apart. And Christians taking up sides, but where I live, mostly one side, which I think is mistaken. The issues are more complex than that, I think. And neither major party is worthy of endorsement by Christians, but rather, rebuke. But we should praise whatever good we can find.

I am uncomfortable with a Christianity which doesn’t openly grieve over injustice. I don’t believe that is consonant with the Bible I read. How can we be okay when so many Christians are suffering? There’s no doubt that any real suffering in the US, minimal at this point is often self-inflicted through caricatures, and not trying to understand, as well as not accepting what has always been true in the United States: people don’t agree, and often vehemently disagree. Look into the early history of the US, and you’ll find plenty of that, and it never ends.

I think Christians can ultimately be okay, because they know in the end that Christ prevails, that the gospel, the good news in Jesus wins. And that God is working in his grace in spite of so much, often the church in the most persecuted places, growing exponentially and thriving.

Yet at the same time, with Jesus and the prophets we weep. Longing for something better in this life since we’ve been given a taste of that “in Christ.” As we look forward to the end of all the brokenness and evil, in God’s kingdom to come. In and through Jesus.

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the blessing of being insignificant and worse

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

1 Corinthians 4:8-17

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are remarkable. Those believers were wowed by leaders infiltrating the church who were impressive in worldly ways. And they even compared the true Christian leaders, lining up with this or that one, indicating they were spiritually immature.

I find it a blessing to settle into the notion, indeed reality, that “in Christ” we are quite insignificant as far as the world is concerned. And insofar as the spirit of the age, and worldliness is still a part of us, we can find what we do and are about, quite insignificant.

We might well imagine and think: Of course, Paul was on a special, not to mention, quite dangerous mission. Naturally he was going to be despised. But even that account alone is kind of a head-scratcher. He along with his team were brutally mistreated, hungry and thirsty, in rags, homeless. Wow. The health and wealth gospel surely just took a hit. Paul was indeed the example of what sacrifice is involved in being on mission as Christ’s servant for the gospel. But his word to the Corinthian Christians is that they were to imitate him.

It is a different day and age, but God’s kingdom and the world, as in the world’s system is at heart the same. We may think what we have to do is relatively insignificant, and often not appreciated. And we may struggle ourselves in accepting it, let alone appreciating it. But if that’s the case, then we’re in good company, with no less than the Apostle Paul in his following of Christ.

What if we do have success in the eyes of the world? Does that exclude us from the possibility of imitating Paul’s following of Christ? Not at all. It may be in some ways more challenging, but when we do take any stand for Christ and for righteousness and justice, we can be sure to encounter trouble. We are in a position of blessing those who are putting their lives on the line for the gospel. And there’s no reason why in doing so, that we can’t put our lives on the line for Christ, as well.

This is an encouragement for me, because I see myself precisely as one in a corner, whose life little matters. But that’s a lie of Satan. It does matter, in and because of Christ. Not because of myself, or who I am, but only because of him. Christ makes all the difference. Just as he did in Paul’s life and ministry. In our’s as well, yes, in the lowly, unnoticed, and under appreciated places.

 

God is a judge(?)

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

Isaiah 30:18

If you click the link, you will be taken to Isaiah 30, which clearly indicates that God is indeed a God of judgment. A sample:

The voice of the Lord will shatter Assyria;
with his rod he will strike them down.
Every stroke the Lord lays on them
with his punishing club
will be to the music of timbrels and harps,
as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm.

Isaiah 30:31-32

In the case of Assyria, they were clearly an empire deserving of judgment. In their conquest, they brutalized and tortured. Israel was one of their victims, but Assyria’s day would come.

The first passage strikes the scriptural balance between God’s judgment and salvation. God judges ultimately to save. That is a pattern seen again and again in Scripture, ultimately in the Cross itself. In Jesus God takes the judgment for sin on himself in being the lamb slain from the creation of the world, which takes away the sin of the world.

God’s judgment is not willy-nilly and certainly not nefarious. It’s altogether reasonable, just and good. God calls people to trust in him, in his goodness. That he is just and will perform justice even for us who in ourselves are not just, but made just by his goodness in the sentence of death God imposed on himself in his Son. So that through his death, we can escape our own death, and be taken into his resurrection life.

So we need to entrust our eternal life into God’s hands. And our day to day lives, as well, just as is made clear enough by this passage in Isaiah 30. In and through Jesus.

dealing with difficult people

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-24

If you live, you’ll have to deal with difficult people, who at times can make life more difficult. As Christians, we turn to the pages of Scripture for help. And I find Paul’s words here in Romans (click link for fuller context) helpful.

In a nutshell, Christians are simply to do their part. I think we can confront or challenge others, but we’re never to repay evil for evil. I think that includes using violent means, though if someone were attacking someone else, then I think you should do what you can to stop them. The Christians’ dependence on the state as a God-given institution against evil is in play here (again, click link above to see that).

To go into much detail beyond what is written here for me becomes murky. As Christians we should simply try to stick to the basic words of Scripture. But inevitably differences will arise as to whether “if it is possible, insofar as it depends on [us]” means that Christians could ever resort to any kind of violent resistance. I personally have changed my view in leaning toward the position that the Christian can participate in the state, and thus bearing the (small) sword as a police function. And in that, violence should be used sparingly, only as a last resort. There’s no question in the text, that the state in its God-ordained role, does end up resisting evil for the good of Christians and of all society.

The big watchword for me here is simply the directive to live at peace with everyone insofar as that depends on us. That means we might have to put up with things that are not helpful. We’re to leave any vengeance in God’s hands, instead of seeking to exact it ourselves. The state actually ends up being part of God’s exacting of justice, so it seems, when they function correctly. Although sadly to say in too many places in the world Christians and even society in general is left with corrupt governing officials.

The directive is clear whether we like it or not. We’re to do good to our enemies, or to those who make life difficult for us. But I’m not for a minute referring to cases like a woman being beaten by her husband. She needs to separate from him, seek protection from authorities, and I believe she can divorce and remarry on the grounds of desertion, because in effect that’s what he’s done.

This is not a nice comfy part of life. We’d rather avoid all such things together. But it does happen. We do well to go back to the words of Scripture, God’s word, and seek to live by that. To even bless those who persecute us, as the text tells us just before what is quoted above. At the same time, living in peace with others doesn’t mean letting them run roughshod over us. We need wisdom from God to know what that will mean in any given situation, as we seek to remain wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. In and through Jesus.

an old standby: the need to pray when in need

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Prayer is something Christians often struggle with. As time goes on we likely pray more, but may feel that we pray less. Part of that I would guess is the growing sense we have of our need to pray. Ongoing growth means less satisfaction with where we’re at, whereas in our early days in Christ we simply enjoyed basking in the new found light and warmth of the Lord, finding that new life quite moving and revolutionary. It was in part God treating us as infants before “pruning” (John 15) us for growth.

Not that later on we can’t be relatively prayerless. Unfortunately we can, but I think the norm for those who are intentional in growing as Christians is to keep on praying, and gradually grow in doing so. Our inner poverty on the one hand can discourage us from praying, but on the other hand, can help us pray more, as we look to God for help.

In Jesus’s parable above, he is encouraging his disciples and us to persist in prayer, to pray and not give up. We’re to keep on praying no matter what, through good times, bad times, and everything in between. The context is especially when one is running up against need, even great need. The widow was in trouble, even in dire straits. And our Lord’s answer for us when we’re in a similar place: always pray and not give up.

Justice is in the picture. On the one hand, it’s not like we’re deserving of God’s help. And we’re often at least partly to blame for the predicament we’re in. But God is more than ready to give us what we need to do well and honor him in whatever situation we’re in. For too many Christians in the world, yes, injustice is rampant against them. They need our active love and prayers. And for us, yes, we need God’s help, as we try to work through difficult places in a way that both receives and dispenses what is right and just and good.

Note in Jesus’s parable the widow’s plea to the unjust judge was nothing fancy. It was a petition, indeed cry for help. We need not worry about some perceived need for some kind of fanciful churchy prayer language. We simply cry out in our own way of saying things. Yes, appealing to God’s promises in Scripture. But not holding back. Always praying and never giving up. Believing that God will grant justice, that God will help us in time of need. In and through Jesus.

 

our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

longing for a better day

Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

“Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

Amos 5:19-27

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr., was I believe the greatest civil leader of the last century. He spoke with a moral authority which arose out of his Christian understanding, and with a gift of intellect, resolve and passion unmatched probably during his time, and nearly any time. And like the prophets of old, he called people to a better day, which would involve change, indeed repentance. He didn’t mince words, yet he spoke and acted as a follower of Christ, with no love withheld from enemies, in the midst of many prayers, and surely, struggles and tears. To do what he was doing put his life on the line. It was compelling, and could not be dismissed even by those who desperately wanted to.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of great evil in the land. God’s people Israel were continuing on as if all was okay, but in fact all was not. Rich people were living off the poor. The heart of God’s command to love God, and one’s neighbor as one’s self was not the heart of God’s people. So through Amos, God was calling his people to repentance.

They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.

Amos 2:6b-7a

Here in the United States, racism is not erased. Society is still stacked against people of color, at least in many places. Of course some overcome, but for many, they settle down into what they have to do to make ends meet. Others, disenfranchised, don’t do as well, sometimes into a life of drugs in which violence is more or less an every present danger and threat. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening. I don’t see how God’s people who read scripture and take Jesus and the prophets seriously can remain silent in the face of such injustice and lack of love. To write it off as secondary to the tragedy of abortion is simply the refusal to do what God does throughout the pages of scripture. And see Amos on this. God doesn’t let some sins slide. Everyone for everything is held to account, particularly for sins against love for God and for one’s neighbor, including those different such as the stranger and refugee.

It’s up to us as God’s people in Jesus to do what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. To do our part, whatever that might be, in calling especially the church, God’s people along with others to a better day. Of course in the church we should be endeavoring to live this out, but alas, all too often we rest in the status quo. God is patient, but wants us to develop a sensitivity to these things. That we might have something of God’s heart for every situation. And show that heart through prayer and deeds in and through Jesus.