the one constant

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Scripture points us to Jesus, and God’s fulfillment of all things in and through him. One might want to say that Scripture is the constant, and it’s certainly central in all traditions of the Christian faith, of the faith itself, as we might put it. But it points beyond itself to Jesus.

This doesn’t mean for a moment that we shouldn’t pay close attention to all the details in Scripture, because indeed we should. Pre-Christ, during his time on earth, and post-Christ we might say, meaning after his ascension. Jesus made that clear:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18

And what is accomplished includes everything. The church should be the light in Jesus which both exemplifies the beginning of that, as well as speaking out on it by those who are pastors and theologians and lay people who learn from such and are so gifted.

Jesus is the one forever constant, and God’s will fulfilled in him. To bring us into the fullness of God the Source of All Being, the Eternal Word, and the Holy Spirit. To right all wrongs and make all things new.

And the church is central to the beginning of this now. In and through Jesus.

the mistake of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

I ring an old bell, one who is hardly qualified to do that, but we draw from Scripture, from the wisdom given to those who have studied and continue to study Scripture together, from whatever wisdom God might have given us. And I speak as one who is and has been alarmed for some time now over what seems to me to be a clear and present danger, significantly so because of the mistaken thinking of many sincere Christians.

By Christian nationalism I mean the idea that God sets apart a certain nation of the world, whatever nation that may be as somehow more or less a Christian nation, or if not that, at least a nation which has special purposes for the benefit of Christianity and the gospel.

That God uses nations for good and then judges them for the wrongs they commit is a matter of fact, attested to in Scripture and seen over and over again in history. The idea of Christian nationalism carries with it a close tie between the church and state, whatever tie that might be.

That God’s people should pray for and care about the good of the nation in which they live even as exiles was exemplified in Israel of old (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Christians will vary in what specifically that means. Some will be willing to participate in more or less all the activities of the state, though we have examples of those who won’t even vote, much less do any of that. Some of us are somewhere in between.

But the main point I’d like to make here is that we in Christ are the holy nation on earth whom God calls as a light to the nations. No nation-state on earth even has such a calling. At the same time we can hope that each nation in humility will learn to do better through God’s light that is present in Christ, and in the human conscience as well through “common grace.”

This is nothing more than hopefully a gentle heads up over what I see as a clear and present danger in that the ramifications and results from it will be nothing short of devastating, as we’ve seen clearly already in the United States. But we in Christ are called to follow one Lord as one holy nation together, by our good works to point to the greatness and goodness of the One we serve. In and through Jesus.

the gospel and salvation is not only personal

Of Solomon.

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

May he live[a] while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes[b] bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;[c]
may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

Psalm 72

The vision cast in Scripture is that of the kingdom of God encompassing the earth, a rule in which no one is left behind with particular attention payed to the multitudes which either are left behind or given secondary status now. And that vision includes judgment against rulers and peoples who are directly or indirectly involved in oppressing the poor and marginalized, or who have failed to give them needed help.

God’s heart is especially toward the downcast, and God expects God’s people to have that same heart. If our faith is only about how well we’re getting along in life, even growth in Christ-likeness yet without expressed concern about this, then we’re failing to see and seek the realization of this vision so clearly cast in scripture after scripture.

What we’re referring to here involves not just personal sins, but systemic evil as well. When any people for any reason are relegated to a secondary status and worse, than it’s a mistake to suppose that it doesn’t involve something wrong in the works. Often the poor are looked down on, just as James reminds us, and those of another ethnicity and culture as well. Yet Jesus will have none of that. If we’re followers of Christ we’ll learn to develop discernment and a sensitivity to the same.

If we really want to be biblical, then we’ll develop a passion for this. Precisely what the psalmist wrote about in Psalm 72, above. Yes, to be completely fulfilled someday in Jesus. But that light present now in Jesus, a part of what the world should see we’re about in the present, as the church. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States)

When [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:16-19

Jesus’ ministry, the good news he brought was one of emancipation, proclamation of freedom to all who are captives. Too often we’ve just seen this in terms of freedom from the  penalty of sin, and hopefully we’ve seen it as freedom from sin’s power, as well. Even though Jesus was not about rescuing Israel from Roman occupation as Israel expected from the Messiah to come, he was about ushering in a kingdom which makes such entities as Rome essentially bystanders, the kingdom of God on the scene, someday to rule completely, but now in a subversive reign. God’s way of change now isn’t easy. It’s Jesus-like, which means cross-shaped. But it brings in the needed, lasting change. But do churches fully appreciate all that means?

Juneteenth is a new national holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when slavery in the United States officially ended. Unfortunately not all the slaves were set free that day, and we know the ugly aftermath which followed. Jesus and the good news in him includes freedom for all peoples to love and worship God, and to live as neighbors to love and be loved. It is not complicated, even though we often make it so. At the same time the web of deceit in refusing to follow through in the simplicity and power of what such freedom means to some extent sadly envelopes so many of us. We fail to see clearly, and therefore we don’t appreciate what others go through even to this day.

May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this. Beginning in the church, even through the church and God’s reign there. 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.

opening up a new world: the place for “sanctified imagination”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Mark 11:22-25

It is easy to live in ruts, to think it has always been this way and will be forevermore. To put limits on God. Jesus’s words are in the context of his entry into Jerusalem lauded as Messiah-King by those who did not understand that less than a week later this one they lauded would be nailed on a cross and would die. Along with that Jesus’s disciples’ worlds would be turned upside down, not to say that they weren’t already. Jesus’s time with them for some three years prior was meant to give them a completely new bearing and grounding beyond where they had lived for so long.

In this new world of sanctified imagination in the present in which I think the Lord would have us live in, there’s no escape from the way of the cross. That is the way we’re to take in love for all, in love of all enemies. But on the way and in the midst of that, we need to look to God for good things to come to pass in which we’ll usually play an important, even though ordinarily a humble and often misunderstood role.

Jesus seems to open the door for his disciples, for us here. Whatever we pray, of course in the Father’s will. Just as Jesus prayed for the Father’s will to be done, not his own will in the darkness hanging over him. We should look to God for new possibilities. And to answer in regard to the old problems which hamper us and others. God can and will answer as we persist in prayer. Faith that God is and will indeed open up a new world. To be completed when Jesus returns. But beginning even now. In and through Jesus.

better days are coming

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

One of my favorite pastors used to say, “The best is yet to come!” And that’s true in God’s world. In the world in which we live, which in the end is also God’s world we see trouble piled on trouble, no end of it. If it isn’t one thing it’s another and another and then the next problem. There’s always something. And it’s not just problems we might solve, but issues far beyond us. And we can thank only ourselves collectively as well as individually for much of the mess we’re in.

But God’s promise in Jesus is that better days are coming. God can’t wait to forgive and pour out God’s love on us. This does require repentance of sins, of our own foolish ways. All we have to be is honest to God, to others. God will take care of everything in the end. In the meantime God helps us, setting us on a course to be a part of solution the world needs, nothing short of God’s kingdom and that kingdom come in Jesus.

But we can take solace and even find relief with the thought that good days are ahead. That the problem or problems, troubles and trials which weigh in on us will someday be a thing of the past. It will all be gone. This can help us in the present, not to ignore hard reality, but not be suffocated in it, either. God will help us now as we look forward to the day when it will all be gone. In and through Jesus.

the need for a social gospel

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Matthew 12:15-21

Christian scholarship in the past few decades has helped us see more clearly the ramifications of God’s kingdom comes to earth in Jesus, now seen primarily in the church. For example what resistance to the principalities and powers involves. It is not only about life in the hereafter, as if this life doesn’t matter. Though the promise of resurrection and new creation is central in this “hope” or as we followers of Christ might want to say, “blessed assurance.” It certainly involves feet on the ground, living in the real world, hands getting dirty, and we doing all we can to help in this life.

It’s probably something like when we get our vision tested. If need be the optometrist gives us a focus by which we can both read and see clearly afar. 20/20, or sometimes better. We need correct focus when we consider God’s kingdom come in this world, and salvation present in Jesus. It’s about following Jesus in relationship to him through faith and baptism. And it’s for advocating justice in God’s love for all in the here and now.

Back to the vision analogy, maybe it’s more easy to understand how we might be wrong if we consider God’s salvation in Christ to be only about the life to come after this life. It does begin now with God’s present working of salvation in us, working to change us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. And it also clearly exposes the darkness around us, wherever it might be, advocating for the good of others. And above all, helping others to find the true and perfect good which is found in and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[j] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

1 John 4:1-6

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!

My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception.

1 John 4:1-6; MSG

If John were here today he might say we have a problem. The problem being that so much out there which is not of God and therefore not of Jesus is accepted as though it is, or at least as on a par with God’s message. Of course here what we mean accepted by professing, yes, even genuine Christians. This is a warning to us all, that none of us are above and beyond deception. And what’s needed is yes, discernment for ourselves, and especially together with other believers. The Spirit directs not just one of us, but one and all. The Greek is plural. So that yes, while we as individuals are included, and each and every one of us need discernment from God, this is really addressed to the whole, to all of us, worked out in our gatherings together.

The confession of Christ coming in the flesh should be enough. Nothing more is needed. We don’t need that and something more. Today those who actually make this confession, but then add something more are essentially lying out of their teeth, or probably more accurately, speaking lies. Deceived and deceiving. What I’m referring to here is not just about our salvation, but ultimately the salvation of the world. And in terms not just of our life of faith and our church life, but all of life. Politics should never be excluded, because, after all, the gospel of the kingdom in King Jesus is political, touching each and every part of life. Consider “the Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13).

John would likely not only caution us against special claims put in the same breath with what Scripture says, with the gospel, or as if being the fulfillment or correct interpretation of Scripture and the gospel. He would slam the door shut on all such claims. Instead John would point us to the life of Christ and what that life means to the world in terms of God’s grace and kingdom coming in Jesus. And at the heart of this for John as we see from this letter is to know God, be with others in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, and to be assured that one has the eternal life found in the Son. 

John might especially lean on historians as well as those who have lived through these times, or if he would have lived through them himself. Well, it’s really hard to imagine all of this in a way. None of us can stand outside of the time in which we live and imagine ourselves an objective observer. We’re all people of our times, for better and for worse. Which is why we need the Spirit of God to help and direct us, and that together.

But I imagine that John might possibly say that the growing deception among Christians today didn’t start a few years ago, but has gone on for decades, and in a sense throughout the entire American experience. That is not to deny the good here, nor to think we’re unique in having that problem since the same spirit pervades every nation and experience of this life. It is present with us, and we have to deal with it, whether we like it or not. And none of us like it, that’s for sure. But it’s half the battle to simply accept reality. Then, and only then, we can deal with it.

Whatever adds to Jesus and is not in sync with Jesus’s teaching of God’s kingdom, as well as not in line with Jesus’s life and death is definitely not of God, but is actually opposed to God. Not the Spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the antichrist. And just as John tells us in the letter, they’re a dime a dozen; many of them out there. And none of us should ever think we’re above escaping their influence. Something to always be aware and wary of. In and through Jesus.

 

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 3:11-24

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24

For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other.

We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don’t be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time.

The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24; MSG

I would like to emphasize three things at the beginning. First of all, I can’t really know what John would say, and I’m especially thinking of him in his old age when he wrote this letter. And even if I could, what he would say would not be inspired in the same sense as this letter is, being part of Holy Writ. Yet I’m sure we would all be bending our ear to hear all he would humbly put forward, one of Christ’s Apostles, who has seen so much, and taken it in well. All of this fast forwarded with John seeing and understanding our present times in the backdrop of history. A tall task for anyone, including historians and theologians, or we could say historical theologians, etc.

I think John might pause here to draw the line between love and hate. How we either are doing one or the other. That we’re to reject hatred of our brothers and sisters who may differ with us on the issues of the day. I think John might also warn against getting caught up in the culture war, on one side or the other. Our call is to follow Christ and be obedient to Christ’s commands. The foremost of which is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even to love our enemies.

If we don’t love, it can easily turn into hate. We might think otherwise, but that really does seem to be the case. For us in Christ, it’s either the Spirit of Christ or the flesh, one or the other. And the flesh is allied with the spirit of the antichrist within the unholy trinity of the world (system), the flesh, and the devil. Hating someone is equal in God’s eyes to murdering them in our hearts. And we can’t be tepid in our love, because we know the God who is love. This is quite slippery in its deception for all of us, who think we’re on the right side, that we have it right when it comes to the issues of the day, and/or our stance on them, which in itself is a bit pompous. Are we going out of our way to love those on the other side who are one with us in Christ? Not to mention those who may well have an empty profession of faith, evident in their misdeeds.

It is easy to be distraught about what is going on, about others, and maybe especially about ourselves. We feel like we’re judged, and we know to some extent we deserve condemnation for things we’ve done and left undone. Of course the accuser of the sisters and brothers is always ready to cast the same on us, and we’re all too ready to take it in. No, John tells us. Let’s go out of our way to love each other, even when feeling this way. In practical, down to earth ways; not just saying it, and stopping there- maybe even feeling good about that, but doing it.

God will meet us as we endeavor to do that. And help us to live in that Spirit of love, where God lives as the God who is love. Our task is simple, yet profound: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and to love each other in Jesus, and to love even our enemies as we follow Jesus. In imaginative, helpful ways God helps us see. Over time that can go a long way toward quelling the troubles of our day. As we point ourselves and others to God’s kingdom to come and present now in and through Jesus.