Jesus tells us not to lose hope, but pray

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

Jesus was more than a teacher, for sure, but he was a teacher par excellence. A good part of the gospels consist in his teaching. Of course the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; also the Sermon on the Plain- Luke 6) might be considered the prime example of that, but then you also have his parables, such as that of “the good Samaritan,” and “the prodigal (lost) son(s).” And many others. This is one of his parables that ties faith and hope together, along with prayer.

It is easy on the surface, but it also seems hard to simply pray about things. “What must I do?” is the big question for most of us. Or just as likely, we feel like we can’t do anything at all, and so are completely at a loss since we don’t really have enough faith in God to pray.

Jesus does tie faith and hope together, just as we find elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). If we have faith, then we’ll always have hope. To have faith means to pray, even to cry out to God about our trouble, or the trouble of others around us.

Jesus refers here to simple justice, which often in the world, even today (not here in the United States, though it may happen subtly) is denied to Christ-followers. We must bring our own troubles to God, rather than letting ourselves become consumed in them. And be sensitive to the problems of others. And keep doing that day after day until Jesus returns. In and through him.

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politics and the gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[b] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[c]

Romans 1:16-17

We have a rule at work that we’re not supposed to discuss politics there. Maybe that’s good, given all the heat nowadays.

I do think the politics of this world has its place, and that there ought to be civil discussions by those engaged in it. I know politics today seems to be in a crisis, with democracy taking a back hand to more of an authoritarian approach. There is so much involved in all of this, in the United States where I live, the whole question of the Constitution, and whether or not it has failed, or not been given its place to succeed. If you start going in depth into the entire discussion and more, you’ll find that it’s essentially mind boggling, or at least having no more authority than what a bunch of diverse intellectuals can muster.

But now to down to earth, in our face, day to day politics. We have a friend who is seeking to get on the state ballot as a candidate concerned primarily with education. We applaud her and her efforts. I would like to add, I think it’s strange, the money required for her to get on the ballot. Everything seems so money driven nowadays. These kinds of efforts can be helpful, addressing real problems and needs with better solutions.

I think and feel strongly about some things, but usually with the sense of realization that we’re at the mercy of a power which seems to have its ways both in our face, and usually more subtly, and finds its way systemically from our hearts into institutions. That’s the power of sin. We don’t care about this or that, because of what we really care about. Or we ignore certain things, because they may or may not be problems, and after all, they’re other people’s problems, not our own.

Paul gets to what we need as Christians, the one thing we can hang our hats on and be devoted to day in and day out, regardless of the mess in the world: the gospel. It is about Christ, and God’s saving righteousness in and through him, through Christ’s death and resurrection, through which sin is dealt with, and something of God’s vision for us and for the world given to us in scripture can begin to take root in people now, especially in Christ’s body, the church. The gospel can be the unifying point in which people of diverse thinking can settle, and find what is just and right, and therefore good. That begins in our own hearts, and right where we live, and goes out from there. Which is why Christians have often been persecuted, and still are in parts of the world, as well as marginalized.

There is one good news in the world worth living and dying for, and only one. The other areas in which people serve can be quite good in their place, and we need to honor them, particularly those who give of themselves in service for others, and who put their lives at risk in doing so. That has its place too.

But we in Christ take our stand completely on the good news in him. While we may take lesser stands, which are provisional for time and place, we know the gospel cuts across all our differences, and gets to the heart of things. It addresses the power of sin. In pointing us to Jesus himself, and God’s grace and kingdom present and to come in him. Hopefully shedding light on the darkness now present through changed hearts and lives. In the church, and out into the world. In and through Jesus.

speaking against other believers unlawfully

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

James has a lot to say about the tongue. This section follows, or perhaps (as NIV heading might suggest) is part of what preceded on submitting oneself to God, and one can see the possible connection with the opening thought on quarreling and not getting along.

To slander is to speak some untruth against someone, but the word might only mean to speak against someone, period, even if what is said is the truth. Only God knows the entire truth, and the truth through and through, so that we must beware of thinking we know in any final sense.

And when we speak in that way we also somehow put ourselves in the place of God. God alone gave the law, and God alone can make judgments based on it. Our judgment invariably won’t measure up to God’s, nor will our application of the law. In fact we will be so amiss, that we in effect will be judging the law itself. Exactly what that means is hard to pinpoint, except to say that our judgment on others inevitably means we are judging the law, and not getting at the true meaning of it, making the law into something other than it is. It is for living according to God’s will in love. We simply are incapable of making any such judgments on others.

And that’s what might be key to understanding the passage. It is referring to judging others in a sense in which we can’t. There are necessary judgments in life which we must make and receive. And best to do so together, always in a prayerful attitude.

What we might take home from this is simply to be cautious, so that if and when we speak we will do so in complete humility, emphasizing mercy, and God’s work in the entire process. Only God can convict the wrongdoer, and bring them to repentance. We can’t. We may necessarily have to confront someone, but we do so gently in love, realizing that we can easily fall into sin ourselves. But we are included in God’s work of restoration (Galatians 6).

We must beware of taking matters in our own hands, and brashly applying the law, when inevitably we who judge do the same things ourselves (Romans 2). When we stand in that kind of judgment of others, inevitably we not only distort what they did due to our own sin, but we also distort the law itself, somehow making it conform to our own understanding, beset with a heart not right, and therefore not seeing everything clearly. Only God can judge, convict, sentence, and redeem. We can’t.

So we best take a cautious attitude. And not slander or speak against our brother or sister even when our gut reaction is to do so. When we have to consider problems, we best do so before God, and when necessary, together. And not tolerate anything that doesn’t accentuate mercy along with the utmost humility concerning our own weakness and shortcomings.

God’s faithfulness no matter what

Habakkuk has always been an interesting book to me, some memorable lines, but most of all just the entire letter. The sky was falling, things really bad, especially with what was right in their face: injustice and unfaithfulness on the home front, and what seemed even worse looming on the horizon from an empire on the move, the Babylonians.

I guess it depends somewhat on one’s perspective, but it seem like the sky is falling to many. It’s certainly not an easy time for a good number of people. There are not only concerns, but surely much that needs to be done. And in a certain sense that seems ongoing in this life. All one has to do is open up a good, substantive history book, and one can see that troubles await on every turn, that there’s little that seems to turn out entirely right, that with the good, there’s always the not so good, and sometimes even evil.

And this is not to slap those on the wrist who are activists, and tell them to simmer down, that everything will somehow be okay in the end. There certainly is a time to speak out, as well as to be silent. This is not at all to challenge someone who might be an important player in what’s going on.

But it’s simply to say that God is faithful no matter what. That God is at work in the world: our world, the world around us, and the world at large. And like with the prophet Habakkuk, in ways that we can’t imagine or conceive. Not that everything is good in the end. And not that we don’t bear some responsibility, either. But God is at work to judge and bring salvation.

Habakkuk couldn’t see that, nor would he have if God would have shown him. It evidently would have made no sense to him; he would not have been able to track with it. I think oftentimes that’s a major part of my problem. I want to somehow see the light somewhere, which is certainly at the end of the tunnel. But I can’t. And I can’t begin to see the larger picture like God does. Perhaps what I need to envision in my mind is an empty canvas, with God being the one who is painting, perhaps over coloring which seems dark and meaningless, perhaps even chaotic. And God might use our hand a bit in the painting, most likely so if we’re open to that.

God is at work in the world. It’s important for us to trust God no matter what, and to remain in faith in God’s covenant faithfulness in Jesus. And to worship. Just as Habakkuk did in his day, the letter bearing his name preserved for us to be translated into our day. In and through Jesus.

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

finding out what pleases the Lord

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10

Oftentimes in our lives, we seem at a loss for one reason or another to know just what to do, or before that, how to think. We do need to act thoughtfully, or based on what is good, or even best. And that is surely whatever might be pleasing to the Lord: the fruit of the light that marks us as children of light– all goodness, righteousness and truth, all that is good, right and true (translations of this passage).

It makes no difference what spot we find ourselves in, what we’re facing, or what’s going on. We need to seek one goal only: to please the Lord. As we do that, God will help us, and be for us all the help we need. It is secondary what we’re actually going through. What is primary is whether or not we’re endeavoring through it all to live out the light that we already are in the Lord. What the devil wants us to succumb to is whatever would block or hide that light from ourselves and others.

To help us understand what would please the Lord is to thoughtfully ponder based on scripture and what we’ve learned by the Spirit as to what is good, right and true. So that we leave behind whatever is not in those categories. Of course that will involve ongoing repentance. But this realization and thought can help us refuse to go places we might naturally go simply because we know that such is not pleasing to the Lord.

As we endeavor to prayerfully practice this, the Lord will verify to us what indeed is pleasing to him, and what is not. We will understand one way or another. That may seem subjective, but it is based on what is objective. And certainly involves relationship with a person, the person of Christ himself. All in and through him.

 

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.