the mistake of relevancy

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

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

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

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

To want to be relevant is not necessarily a mistake at all. Paul sought to be all things to all people that by all possible means he might win as many as possible to Christ through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9). But often it is. The problem is one of truth. We want to reach people where they’re at, but never at the expense of truth.

Jesus made no sense to Pilate. Yes he was a king, but not in a way that mattered to Pilate. The governor was accountable to Rome, and that’s what mattered to him. Whatever “truth” might be, that was irrelevant to Pilate.

Truth telling, and more precisely, testifying to the truth was what Jesus was all about. We read in the same book that Jesus called himself “the truth”, along with “the way and the life” (John 14:6). So Jesus’s testimony necessarily pointed people to himself.

That doesn’t seem relevant to the world at large. What goes on in Washington and elsewhere matters, and little else. But if Jesus were here today, he would make the same appeal. Yes, we have to live in the world, in nations under governments, and for many, that’s where all truth and justice are found. And the power to implement such. Jesus lived in Roman occupied territory, but he did not base his life on such. It was all about his identity, who he was and what he had come to do.

What about us today? As Christians, where do we find truth? What do we think is relevant? Or is any of this much of a concern to us? Do we simply fall into line with the status quo, with what others, maybe even other Christians are doing and thinking?

We need to find for ourselves what we can then offer to others, hopefully by our example in searching and the change that brings. Yes, truth is something we search out and find, find and search out. That never ends.

Jesus is a king, and his kingdom is not from this world, but is indeed for living in the world. But not attune to the world. It would never become a part of the Roman empire, so that it would be irrelevant to them. Though later, the Roman Empire would become “Christian” simply as a way of uniting the empire, since Christianity was so widespread. In many ways not unlike what people mean when they call the United States a Christian nation. But Jesus’s word goes on. And it’s not about was is relevant to how we’re getting on with life, or what any nation is doing. But in terms of what is truly and in the end eternally relevant for this life and the next.

So let’s be in our Bibles, in prayer, in church, regardless of how irrelevant that oftentimes might seem. And stay in that. Finding the truth in Jesus, down to earth, even while not of this world and its ways. In and through him.

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regaining our focus away from politics or what not

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

John Dickson’s chapter entitled “Christ” in his helpful book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus underscores the fact that Jewish anticipation of God’s promise of the Messiah from scripture, and Jesus’s fulfillment of such did not match. They wanted someone who would bring military victory against their enemies, and through that, implement a peace, meaning, shalom, which would cover the entire earth. Jesus’s fulfillment was completely unanticipated, and in fact, an affront to their understanding. All crucified Messiahs were proven impostors, and after all, didn’t scripture say that all who were hung on a tree were under God’s curse? And yes, that was true of Jesus, but in a remarkably different way than they surmised. Under God’s curse so as to remove that curse through his death to bring salvation and blessing to the world. But it was the way of the cross, never of the power of worldly kingdoms and government. Read the gospels, Matthew through John, to verify this along with the rest of the New Testament.

We are at a fever pitch right now in the United States over politics, quite divided to say the least, and it seems like we’ve fallen into the fray as badly as the rest. We believe in political power. But in so doing, aren’t we doing what Jesus was actually getting at: forfeiting our souls, even as Satan tempted Jesus to do when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, offered to Jesus if he would only worship Satan.  Of course Jesus dispelled that immediately, interestingly on the basis of scripture, quoting the passage where it tells Israel (and us) that we’re to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only. But also implicit in that is the reality that God’s kingdom in Jesus is not of this world, and in fact, though down to earth, is from another place, of a higher, heavenly realm, just as Jesus said elsewhere.

We need to get a grip in realizing that no matter what happens in American politics, or elsewhere, our life and good depends on God’s promise in Jesus and the gospel. Not just for us, but for the world, we bearing witness to that. That can take a tremendous weight off our hearts. We live for Christ and the gospel, and if need be die for that. And we depend on that. Nothing else.

That doesn’t mean that none of us can serve in political places of this world. Daniel did. But like Daniel, they will likely face opposition and trouble as they live for and with God’s kingdom in view. Not an easy road to take, either. Complete commitment to Christ and the gospel must accompany that.

We pray for those in positions of governing authority, and hope for the good of our nation, and all other nations. And living in a democratic republic or nation like the United States, we participate in the political process as we feel led. But we remember that whatever happens anywhere in the world, while it may bear great and even grave consequences, to be sure, we in Jesus live by and for one thing: God’s word, the message of God’s good news in Jesus for us and for the world. Anything else we’re involved in only in light of and in submission to that. In and through Jesus.

 

Christ is present in the church

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1:22-23

It’s common nowadays for young people to love Jesus, but not care for the church. In Christian terms, that actually makes no sense. Christian terms do have to do with tradition, which can be good or not so good. But the best of the tradition is derived from what the Spirit is saying to the church at large through the word, through written scripture.

And in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which the church is a major theme (see letter from start to finish), we find that Christ is the head, and is present in the church. In fact this passage might suggest that Christ is present to the world as well, in and through the church.

It seems like nowadays that it’s common especially for younger folks, but sometimes for older as well, to simply dispense themselves of church, thinking it’s God’s kingdom that matters, Jesus being at the center of that. What they miss is the fact that kingdom today is centered in the church, that King Jesus and God’s rule in him is in and extends out from the church. A patient careful reading of the New/Last Testament in comparison with the rest of scripture will bear that out.

Christ is especially present in the church through which he’s present in ways we can understand, and in other ways we probably can’t track with. At the heart of God’s work of reconciliation today in and through Jesus.

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.

what the United States needs from us in Jesus, from the church

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29

God was at work through the mess of that time, judging his people, and sending them into exile into Babylon. And like all the empires of that time, Babylon was given to idols. And it was not the poster boy of virtue. Perhaps not as much a terror as the Assyrian empire which had preceded it, but still a terror to those who would not surrender and bow down to its sovereignty. Actually, when thinking about Babylon and the Babylonian exile of the Jews, one can turn to Daniel, the first five chapters, to see something of what it was like.

The nation where I live, and am a citizen of is a far cry from Babylon. The United States of America has become the world power. It doesn’t impose its will on the rest of the world like Babylon did. Yet it has been the major player in many places, usually linked to its own national interests, but not without some great sacrifice for the good of others, such as in World War II. I’m thinking especially of the Normandy invasion. The United States has had its sins from the beginning and throughout, just like any other nation. And it has done great good as well.

What I want to focus on to some degree might be applied by Christians of any nation, except for nations which practically outlaw the faith. But even in those cases, Christians can hope and pray for change, such as what may be and to some extent has occurred in China. It’s the idea that we’re to pray for the city, and by extension I would say the state/nation in which we reside, because their good will be our good.

“….seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The church and we as Christians are to be a witness to the gospel, the good news in Jesus, come what may. That’s our calling. At the same time, we can hope and pray for the good of the nation in which we reside, and advocate that, provided we don’t get swallowed up in an agenda contrary to the gospel. Not an easy track or task for sure.

Right now in the United States we’ve reached a danger point, I believe, with a growing rift politically, which at the extremes is becoming more and more hostile. There seems to be no middle ground in which people who differ can stand and attempt to reason, and work through differences, to arrive to at least some conclusion, which in the nature of the case would ordinarily always be ongoing. I think this was what the Founding Fathers of the United States wanted as the ideal. Not that the U.S. has always lived up to that well.

The church needs to stand in that gap, regardless of where we are politically as individuals. This especially needs to be church led, and Christians should be part of it, of course. It is the salvation through the gospel, and the healing that comes with it that is needed today. What I said on Facebook yesterday:

What the church in large part needs to be here and now is a healing presence through the gospel. Salvation where needed, and the healing that comes with it, in and through Jesus. Across the political divides, and every other divide. What I want to major on and be part of.

We must confess where we’ve been part of the problem. And there is a time to speak up, don’t get me wrong. But how we do it makes all the difference in the world. If we demonize our opponents, and make it a good versus evil contest, then we fail to recognize and acknowledge our own part we’ve played in the breakdown, both in what we’ve done and left undone.

The gospel in and through Jesus is cross-centered, and we’re all included in the sin that Jesus took on himself there. We’re no better than anyone else; we’re all in need of God’s grace. Before there can be better solutions to problems, which are more God-honoring, there has to be a change in our hearts. And it must begin with us. We are the ones that must lead the way.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

1 Peter 4:17-18

We must do so in the utmost humility, removing the plank from our own eye, before we even dream of trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. Not disengaging necessarily, unless what we’re doing is not helpful toward healing the divide, and ultimately, for the good of others through the gospel. How we do that will depend on God’s wisdom given to us, unique to each one of us, and worked out in accord and agreement with the church.

We step back, take a deep breath, pray, and then proceed. Together. Hopefully what can become a groundswell that can help bring the salvation and healing on so much that is broken. With no final answers, except the good news and what’s in harmony with that, in and through Jesus.

 

why don’t we trust the Father?

“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

I like to quote more than less, and often include the context on the links. We have the unhealthy practice of taking verses out of context, so that our application of them might not be at all in keeping with the context.

Jesus’s words here from the Sermon on the Mount have to do with faith in the context of money, and devotion to God. And material things as well. Actually here, basic necessities for life. Of course, while we have to read all that’s said here in its own context, we also have to consider that in the context of all of scripture. When reading this, some might draw the conclusion that planning for the future is unnecessary. But Jesus was not saying that. And other scripture contradicts that (Proverbs 13:11).

It’s all a matter of devotion and trust. We are called to be responsible with money, but not devoted to it. Our devotion first and foremost is to be to God only. Which doesn’t mean we are not devoted to our spouses, families, or loved ones. True devotion to God will enhance our devotion to others. But we’re not to be devoted to money. Scripture tells us that the love of money (not money, itself) is a root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Note Jesus’s language about the eye, and the NIV footnotes that it has to do with either being generous or stingy.

And Jesus teaches us to trust our heavenly Father. That he will indeed take care of us. That instead of worrying about whether our material needs will be met, we need to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. And then how all that we need will be then be taken care of.

I think that often a big part of our struggle is the desire to have our needs and I must add, wants fulfilled on the world’s terms. The world tells us we need such and such an amount of this and that. But as followers of Jesus, we are to live in a way in which, while we should enjoy all that God richly provides for us, we have a heart to bless others, the very heart of God (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

And so in this key, basic way we’re to follow Christ, as he taught in his foundational sermon. In utter devotion to and trust in God. In and through Jesus.

 

the beauty and brokenness of life

We see everywhere both the wonder and brokenness of life. There is something wonderful about our world, even about us. And yet there’s something broken as well, that needs fixed. Beauty and brokenness all around us, yes, even in our midst, and within us.

We can get so used to it, that we live in it without much complaint, but bearing its weight. This reminds me of Jesus’s healing of a woman:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

And it also reminds me of the prayer the Lord taught us to pray, this part:

Our Father in heaven…
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10

So we live in a beautiful, yet broken world. And the promise in Jesus is both for the present and the future: this present existence, and the life to come. So that we want to pray and work against the brokenness present now, especially the worst of it. I think of slave trade, ongoing injustice against African Americans and against other people in other places, abortion, etc., etc. There are hands on practical ways in which we can help. And of course the ultimate answer is in Jesus, and God’s good news in him.

May God help us see where this healing can take take place now and what place we can have in that, and may we hold on to the hope of the ultimate healing to come, when heaven and earth become one at Jesus’s return, in and through Jesus.