learning from our errors

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Matthew 3:8

John the Baptist (Baptizer) was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus, in the mission God gave him. A sea change was coming, and the people needed to be prepared. Most of these Israelites were desiring the end of the Roman occupation and rule. They wanted God to fulfill his kingdom promises. So that alone surely increased their willingness to listen to this unusual man in his dress and manner, tell them to get ready, that he was there to introduce them to the Messiah, no less. Hushed anticipation, and readiness to do whatever to be in line, in this blessing. But for too many, on their terms.

We need to understand something of that backdrop and context to bring it forward to today. We too have our expectations, or way of life we think is good, and from God, indeed God’s will, or at least we think his blessing on it. But we may have pretty much missed the boat. What if our conception of the Christian life is hit and miss, surely some overlap by the Spirit, but still falling short of what King Jesus has for us which is a kingdom crowned in suffering, in the way of the cross no less?

I want to be ultrasensitive to the seemingly smallest points in which I fail. Never to excuse them for an instant, but instead, to change, change, yes, change. In keeping with my professed repentance in wanting to follow Jesus, and not my own agenda.

That will hurt and be painful to work through at times. But that is surely a part of the change we need to be together more and more like Jesus in this world. Living solely in his kingdom. In and through Jesus.

peacemaking and persecution

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:9-12

At the end of what has often been called the Beatitudes, Jesus possibly juxtaposes two thoughts side by side which are related, but at odds with each other.

How can you be a peacemaker, yet be on the short end, indeed experiencing violence? Enter the world of Jesus.

Jesus was indeed a peacemaker, from Scripture we say by the blood of his cross, and that’s for sure. He took human wrath on himself to end human wrath. We say God’s wrath, but I would prefer to say God’s wrath against evil. God in judgment took the wrath of humankind on himself there at the cross, to end it once for all. And peacemakers following Jesus indeed need to point this out.

Peacemaking as Jesus was describing it here definitely was related to the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation later established by the cross. For us on the ground now it’s a matter of promoting peace on God’s terms, the peace of the kingdom established in Jesus. It is a peace grounded in faith and allegiance to King Jesus, and a peace based on his teaching and life. Made possible again through his death. We can’t do this on our own.

But even when we are people of peace, the peace spoken of here, that doesn’t mean we don’t end up becoming victims of war, violent opposition, violence in one form or another (Psalm 120). Certainly in being cursed, verbal violence, but sometimes suffering physical persecution. For us in the United States, this seems remote, of another world for good reason. We rarely if ever face one such incident of actual physical persecution during our lifetime. That probably speaks more of the society in which we live, but I wonder if we were more faithful in following Christ if we would see some incidents of it.

Is our persecution really because of righteousness and what is just, as well as for Christ? A good test might be if we’re truly becoming peacemakers in the way of Christ. Otherwise the “persecution” we experience might indeed need to be put in quotes, more about ourselves and our offenses, and less if at all about the offense of Jesus.

Would that life would be this black and white. Unfortunately there are times when it is partly our fault. We may not understand why, it may be nothing blatant or known on our part. Then there are the times we stumble and know better. Ironically those end up easier for us to make peace by simply asking for forgiveness. The other times, we know that somehow our weakness might be in play, but we have knowingly done nothing wrong.

It is hard to know what to do. To be as wise as serpents, but harmless as doves is surely something we need to be considering here. But we may just have to take what persecution comes our way, hopefully God doing a work for good in the one persecuting us, so that they might repent and change due to the love of God present even through us, in and through Jesus.

a benign indifference to the politics of this world

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:14-15

Stephen Backhouse wrote a most helpful book on Kierkegaard, and has a helpful podcast as well, entitled Tent Theology. The phrase “a benign indifference” meaning to the politics of this world comes from him.

Jesus was announcing a new political entity entirely. Most in Israel wanted the Roman government overthrown. But this kingdom would be entirely different. God’s kingdom come to earth in Jesus would never participate in wars. It would never directly be involved in the politics of this world. This government under King Jesus should be evident in the church. It is one of love for our neighbor, for each other, for our enemies. Love expressed in good works. And willingness to suffer in following Jesus.

The politics of this world are important up to a point. Much good can happen, as well as evil. And for those where I live, local government is especially important, underrated, but the state and federal government have their important place as well.

But for the follower of Jesus, there’s only one allegiance and one Lord. So regardless of what happens with the nation-state, our kingdom and King remain the same. We live in God’s kingdom come in Jesus. All we do depends on that, is rooted in that. Not in any party or politician of this world. So that indeed, we can and even should have a benign indifference to the politics of this world.

That doesn’t mean we don’t take a stand where needed. And many times we’ll not be in lock step here with each other. Jesus followers do think differently about the politics of this world. We must all try to see everything in the light of Jesus, God’s kingdom present in him, what he taught, how he lived. And look at what followed in Acts and in the rest of the New Testament. We must keep working on that.

A holy, loving benign indifference to the politics of this world. In and through Jesus.

the politics of Jesus followers

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49

We live in a crazy time. Politics is front and center here in the United States, and that will more or less be so even after the upcoming election, but all the more now. And in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of, it’s nearly assumed that a Christian will vote Republican due to abortion, and also because of another long list of supposed things the Republicans get right in contrast to the long list the Democrats get wrong. And if you challenge one bit of that, then you’re definitely outside the norm, and really can become something of an outsider. That reflects polls which indicate that political differences nowadays are more divisive than ever. 

Part of the problem in my opinion is that Christians see politics only in terms of the world, and fail to see the politics of Jesus at all, that there is such a thing. Broadly speaking, politics is just talking about a way of life, and how people live together. That unfolds from and within the kingdom of God in Jesus, and though not of this world, is indeed meant for this world. And Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6 (click link for entire “sermon”) gives basics about that politic. It is centered in love for God from the love of God, followed by love for our neighbor as ourselves, love for each other in Christ, and love even for our enemies. But there are details in it. It specifies a new way of life, how we’re to live. 

It is premised on the idea that we as Christ followers belong to one Lord, and are part of one political entity: God’s kingdom come in Jesus. Yes, we have citizenship here in various nation-states. But our citizenship strictly speaking is in the heavenly kingdom, again meant for earth, but from another place.

All that to say something like this: Whatever our position is with regard to the politics of this world, here in the States: Democrat, Republican, or whatever else, it needs to be formed from what should be our central identity, from King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him. I think that leaves us in a place where we just are not going to be sold on any politic this world has to offer. There will always be serious critique of it.

Our politic in Jesus is always going to be different and at odds with any politic of the world, because central to life for us is not only loving our neighbor as ourselves and loving our enemies, and even those two consistently lived will set us at odds with much of the politics of this world. But we’re also to carry our cross in following Jesus, be willing to be mistreated for Jesus’s sake, and out of love for all.

We need to see this politic as in place for us now, as Jesus followers. The politics of Jesus no less, and therefore the only true politic of all Jesus followers. In and through him.

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.

Jesus says no

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:17

Recently I took a simple, perhaps oversimplified Enneagram test (#2). It came out “reformer” with a description which seemed apt. I found it freeing since I’ve always resisted resisting. I really dislike challenging the status quo, challenging others. I would rather just try to make things work the way they are. But often when I’ve opened my mouth, it’s to challenge something or another, hopefully gently for the most part. Though as I’m getting older I’m trying to be more quiet. It is freeing though to recognize that we’re wired a certain way, so that we don’t have to keep wishing we were someone else, or had this or that trait or gift. “It takes all kinds.”

Jesus was a reformer for sure, indeed he not only led a revolution, but was the revolution in and of himself. His message was to repent, and that wasn’t only about personal sins. The heart of that call to repentance was to say no to all else except God’s approaching kingdom in him, in King Jesus. So Jesus was saying no to their views of God’s kingdom, indeed to their own kingdoms.

That message echoes to our present day. Directly understood relevance for that day, but really just as relevant today. Anything we idolize and hold up as the ideal, whatever it might be. Jesus tells us to repent, to change our minds, to realize that the true light and life is in him, in God’s kingdom coming and present in him. Everything is to be judged in that light, and not in any other light.

I’m sure our reply, and this includes many evangelical Christians is that the world doesn’t work that way. We can’t live in and run the world according to Jesus, his life and teaching, for example, the Sermon on the Mount. So we’re telling Jesus, no. “No, that doesn’t work. I can only go so far and no farther.” And in doing so, we’re telling Jesus no. It’s not enough to say a little faith won’t hurt for life. It’s either all the way, or not at all.

That’s what Jesus was getting at. A difficult message for sure, even impossible apart from Jesus. But Jesus says no to all our imaginations of what we think we need, what our world needs, what the world needs. It’s either Jesus, his kingdom, which means the way of the cross not just for salvation, but for all of life. Or nothing at all. It’s up to us. Will we repent or not? A call I need to hear as much as anyone else. In and through Jesus.

Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ, marching to the beat of a different drum

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

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 18:33-38a

Jesus was in trouble not because he was advocating some new religion about an inward kingdom. Yes, he exposed the Pharisees for their focus and emphasis on externals and not the heart. One could find Jesus’s thought in the Prophets, which is why Jesus challenged Nicodemus, asking him why as teacher of Israel, he didn’t understand such things. This was a challenge to their authority over Israel. Jesus, if he was the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, would challenge, undermine and ultimately overthrow that.

And Jesus as Lord and Son of God was a direct challenge to Rome, which used the exact same terms for the Emperor. Here was this group coming along and using the same terms for one they considered the Messiah. Rome looked at what he did, and considered it relatively harmless. But ultimately when Christians would not give any of the allegiance that belonged to Jesus to the Emperor, to the Roman state, then Christians would not be meeting the requirements of the state, the occupying rule. And therefore would be persecuted. Pilate did want to let Jesus go, but the claims of Jesus and his followers, and how that might get Pilate in trouble with the Roman authorities over him probably did have plenty to do with Pilate handing Jesus over for crucifixion. Along with the pressure from Jewish leaders. Ultimately any nation state will be weary of Christians whose full allegiance is only to one kingdom and Lord.

Something I hope to be more and more in step with along with others. In and through Jesus.

 

 

a new political imagination

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:14-15

In Jesus’s time there was a profound, eager, if somewhat hushed among many expectation that the Messiah would at long last come and God’s kingdom with him, specifically to overthrow the Romans, whose grip on the people of God held them in a kind of exile in their very home. That’s where we have to begin if we’re to bring forward what Jesus’s words above mean in the present day.

We need to go on and read the rest of Mark’s gospel account, and along with that, the other synoptic gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke, with the final gospel account, John. Only then will we begin to understand the kingdom that God brings in Jesus, invading the world now, and ultimately destined to take over the world.

From this can come a new political imagination as we see the fulfillment of God’s promises to the world in Jesus, in King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him. If we think it’s just about personal salvation and getting others saved to go to heaven someday, then we’ve missed the point. Yes, it’s in terms God reconciling the world to himself through the death of Christ, forgiveness of our sins and new life in Christ. But that includes the reconciliation of all things to himself and new creation. A kingdom no less is now present.

At the heart of that, or we could say inside of this reality in Jesus is a new way of life, a new way for humans to live not just individually, but with each other. Yes, a whole new way of life. One that we see in the New Testament fulfills God’s passion seen in the Old Testament for the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, those in chains and suffering, somehow as we find in Jesus’s teaching and what follows including even God’s enemies.

We know that God is at work even in what we call the state, nations and governments, kingdoms of this world. But we also know that God’s own kingdom work in Jesus is elsewhere and different. And that the kingdoms of earth will be ultimately judged and destroyed, exposed as the beasts they really are.

What can help us see and understand this new political imagination better is to understand the idolatrous hold nationalism can have on us. We American Christians ordinarily see politics in terms of left and right, conservative and liberal (and moderate), and whatever else might be floating out there. But surely God wants us to see through those paradigms for whatever usefulness and good they have in this world through the lens of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. We as Christians are called to be about that, and nothing more nor less.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t participate in one way or another in the world’s political system. It does mean that we do so essentially as outsiders, those of another political realm. Taking seriously the politics of this world, but only in terms of the politics of Jesus which has invaded the world, indeed the politics of the world to come. In and through Jesus.

Thanks to Stephen Backhouse whose work is renewing in a fresh way my own thought on this.

a different way of living

I’ve referred to Stephen Backhouse’s podcast entitled Followers of the Way: A New Political Imagination, and want to again highly recommend that you listen to them carefully in order. I just listened to the eighth session, and I must acknowledge that while it certainly critiques what has been troubling to me, it also critiques part of my own way of looking at life. Too often, or better put, it’s really embedded in me, the idea that what is most important and most real is my own world with God, as if my individual life somehow is central. Of course it’s important to keep a balance, and realize that yes, our individuality plays a part in the whole, for sure. But the whole is so much bigger. We have to deal with our own responsibility, but we do so realizing that we do so as part of a kingdom and way which is an alternative to every other kingdom and way of the world, contrary to every principality, which includes nationalism, and so on. And that we’re in this together in Jesus, as no less than an alternative kingdom under King Jesus.

To get this much more simple (and trust me when I say that the podcasts are simple enough to understand, but profound enough to have to chew on, and continue to ponder), and that’s what I need myself, we need to be aware that Jesus presents to us a completely different way of living. We act not out of what is aptly called “the orphan spirit” so that we’re hoarding, and refusing to give and failing to do what God would have us do. But we keep on giving and giving, and essentially giving ourselves, because we know that in God’s kingdom in Jesus, there’s always more and more that will be available to be given. That is a part of what we might call the economy of God’s grace. We see this especially laid out in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

We live as part of an alternative kingdom and way. Not in lock step with any other way, or kingdom or political ideology of this world. Everything seen in the light of Jesus, what he taught, his way, the way of the cross and resurrection. Something I want to better understand and live into and live out along with others. In and through Jesus.

“deliver us from evil”

There is nothing good about what has happened and continues to happen in the United States to African-Americans. Where is justice? We will be judged.

Of Solomon.

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
    the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
    your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
    the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
    and save the children of the needy;
    may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
    as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
    like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
    and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the desert tribes bow before him
    and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.
May grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
    and thrive like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed.

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.