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.

to be meek

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

According to Bill Mounce, the Greek word, πραΰς, translated “meek” means:

Gloss:
gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration
Definition:
also spelled πρᾶος, meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, Mt. 5:5; mild, benevolent, humane, Mt. 11:29; 21:5; 1 Pet. 3:4*

Meekness may be weakness in the world’s eyes, but not in God’s eyes. It is being human in the way God intended, with love for God and for one’s neighbor. That must always have priority over everything else. Of course it’s not setting aside truth as if truth doesn’t matter. But truth will no longer be truth if it’s not marked by love. And meekness involves a gentle humility, or a humble gentleness. Something all too often lacking in present day discourse, especially national discourse here in the United States.

Those who are meek are said to be blessed because they will inherit the earth. The way of the world is that might makes right. Power of every kind, militaristic, economic, etc., are the means to world power. But the way of Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him is completely different. It is certainly the way of death and resurrection. But it’s also the way of gentle persuasion. “Love wins” has some unhelpful baggage. But there’s wisdom in it. And it is at the heartbeat of what meekness is. And ironically this kind of meekness will end up contributing to the filling of all the needed places in the end, though in a completely constructive way, always marked by love.

To be meek involves being quiet, not insisting on the last word nor in having one’s own way, or the final say, even when we think we’re right. It means to step aside and give others space they need, while certainly humbly occupying our own space and sphere of responsibility, and doing the best we can there.

Meekness is in the way of Jesus, to be like Jesus. Something we’re meant to do together, and when among people. From what we’re becoming by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s blessings and woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Perhaps an echo of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy, Jesus gives his version, which like almost everything Jesus did was surprising, often turning expectations on their head. And even to this day, though we’re used to the idea that these words exist, we hardly take them seriously, much less live by them.

We want to live in the full flourishing of the kingdom now. We want everything to be okay, good, great. And at least we want to have our slice of “the American dream.”

But Jesus calls us to accept something entirely different. Really, just how he lived. It’s not like he didn’t take responsibility. We can see that he did, the first thirty or so years of his life. I mean responsibility in the way we think of that: earning a living, providing for one’s family, etc. But when it was time for him to fulfill the Father’s calling, and his ministry, then it was done in complete dependence on the Father. Jesus’s words here are not something he didn’t live out himself. God’s riches we’re not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others. There was never to be a moment of self-sufficiency, but instead an utter trust in God for God’s ongoing provision. We see this all through Jesus’s life along with his teaching, including the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

The blessings and woes are meant to encourage and warn. Encouragement to those of us who struggle from day to day, maybe due to no fault of our own, or more likely with some fault, but seeking to live in God’s will. And warning for those who are self-sufficient, well able to take care of things themselves, often with their own agenda. The woes are meant to be warnings that the rich would hear so that they would change. One classic example that comes to mind of a rich person changing is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

So we need to take heart, regardless of where we might fall on the spectrum. God will take care of everything as we endeavor to follow Jesus. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

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.

thinking in the new way (the Jesus way)

It is so easy for us to conflate what we read in the Old Testament about the nation of Israel and battles and whatnot with the United States. What we fall into is the precipice of nationalism from which there’s no escape. I’m finding these podcasts from Stephen Backhouse helpful in grounding us in the way of Jesus and exposing what is not.

We need to get back to basics, the basics of Jesus, what he calls us to as his disciples and church. That’s a far cry from what we’re accustomed to, what we’re caught up in. It involves what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. The fruit of the Spirit marks it.

One can be Spirit-filled, yet sadly mistaken on key points, as history has shown over and over again, and as Scripture, I think indicates. We need a new vision, the vision Jesus gives us. But it’s hard to break the old strongholds, and idols don’t easily let go since there are spiritual and systemic powers behind them.

This is not the idea that we’ll all the sudden get it right while most everyone else gets it wrong. This is an endeavor to question bedrock assumptions which we live by, often taken for granted to be true.

This gets us beyond national, and even international allegiance, to the one allegiance that we Christians are to hold to now and forever: the Lamb Jesus, and the kingdom of God present and to come in him. It’s not like we no longer have concerns about those matters, but that those concerns come from a different world altogether. Yes, meant for this world, but not of it.

But go to the podcasts if you want to learn more. And a hint: keep listening through the episodes to make the most sense of it.

God’s word speaks into our lives, into life

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

If you read the Bible, God’s word from cover to cover you’ll find out God’s priority of love for God in response to God’s love, and love for our neighbor as we love ourselves. Justice along with mercy is a major theme, the end of the story, shalom: universal flourishing, prosperity, and peace in the new creation in Jesus.

If God’s word is to have the impact needed, we must be in it every day, day and night. And we must hear God’s concern for the poor, the oppressed, for the foreigner, the disenfranchised, those pushed to the margins. It isn’t only about my personal relationship with God, but it’s also about my relationship with others. And it’s about God’s people together in love as a witness to the world of God’s goodness and kingdom come in Jesus, feet on the ground and hands in love helping those in need.

It’s a new vision by which not only the world is ultimately judged, but which should impact the world to at least be held to a higher standard.

That’s part of what we have when we hold a Bible in our hands, open it up, read its pages, and respond to God’s word in faith and prayer. And keep doing that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

the first of the “blessed”: the poor in spirit

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-3

To be “poor in spirit” doesn’t seem a good place to be. Wouldn’t one want just the exact opposite? Jesus starts out his great Sermon on the Mount with the notice that such people are blessed.

I can well imagine the consternation, or at least wonder when some people read this. I do think most could easily reconcile themselves to the thought that this is a good place to start. But Jesus didn’t exactly say that. He simply said that such are blessed.

Going down the list of what is called the Beatitudes, those who are blessed seems to indicate that this is a present condition Jesus was referring to, even an ever present condition.

I can easily compare myself to the someones who seem brimming over with life, full of joy, always with a ready smile, and praise to God on their tongues. To compare myself with others is the first fallacy. To judge them would be another error.

No. I simply need to accept the obvious reality about myself: I am indeed poor in spirit, poor spiritually in and of myself. And to accept Jesus’s words about that condition, that then I am blessed, because the kingdom of heaven meets me there.

Jesus teaches his disciples (and us, hopefully disciples, too) on prayer

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:1-13

If you want Jesus’s teaching on prayer in a nutshell, you probably can’t find a better passage then here (see also the great passage in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:5-15).

Jesus tells us the general pattern we should use in praying. While we can see from Scripture, including Jesus’s own life, that all kinds of prayers are acceptable, we do well to evaluate our prayer life in comparison to the “Our Father” prayer Jesus taught us. And to even pray the words of that prayer together, as well as to God, ourselves. So much in that prayer that can become individual prayers. Like in confession of sin, letting God know our needs, etc., not to mention what is basic, God as our Father whose name is to revered, and whose kingdom we long for.

Then Jesus tells us that we’re to pray in expectation, knowing our Father will answer. We come as God’s children in Jesus, believing that God always has our best interest at heart. And committing our cares, our loves ones, ourselves, and the world to him. In and through Jesus.

 

a breathtaking view

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

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.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians, especially the first three chapters in our Bibles, is written to see something of the vast panorama of God’s working in the new creation in Christ, with a special emphasis on the church. Unfortunately for too many of us who have been in the Bible a number of years, it can come across differently than how it did originally. That’s when we maybe need to step back, slow down, move through it slow enough, then stop, and note the beautiful portrait and scene in our mind’s eye.

The passage quoted above is very much like that. The thoughts to the original readers would have been breathtaking in themselves, and Paul surely almost breathlessly himself, unravels a glorious picture before us. So that what we end up with is a breathtaking view.

Contrast that to what is presented today as glorious, maybe even the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor as maybe through a vision, the devil showed the Lord in Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. Really, all the world has to offer can’t compare with what God reveals to us by the Spirit in God’s word through the gospel. No, it can’t compare. In fact what comparison we do end up finding by the Spirit’s help is the difference between darkness and light. At best between what is provisional and good in its place for now, and what is perfect and to last forever.

The entire Bible especially taken together is like this. And the book in it we call Ephesians. In and through Jesus.