why we don’t shut up (about our faith)

…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:20b

First off I want to say I’m thankful to live in a nation in which I am not persecuted for my faith, and I would say, for the faith. Unfortunately persecution of Christians worldwide today is on a scale perhaps worse than ever. I’m grateful to live in a nation, the United States, which maintains freedom of religion. Of course there may be subtle ways of persecution here, but not the kind in which one’s property or life is at risk. So I’m blessed to live in freedom in that regard. Our persecuted family in the faith are blessed, in the words of our Lord, to face persecution as they continue on in the faith (Matthew 5:10-11). And we need to support them with our love and prayers (see Open Doors, one of the ministries working to help such).

The words of Peter and John quoted above, before the religious authorities who were persecuting them, are instructive, and actually enlightening as to why we Christians persist and won’t let up in our witness. Maybe it’s especially true for those set apart for ministry, but actually all Christians are called by God to be a witness. We are witnesses first of all in the change of our lives and how we live in love for others, and in what we say about our faith and the faith.

The apostles saw the Lord, witnessed his life, his words, deeds, and just who he was. As well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead, the point in the narrative above after a man over forty years of age and lame from birth was completely healed. The apostles found something that was not just life changing for them, but amounted to good news for the world no less, in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And we follow in their train.

I am personally not only convinced intellectually, but by what I’ve seen. Changed lives yes; lives for the love of others, including enemies. Rational argument is good, and actually there’s a convincing rationale for Jesus’s resurrection, which has turned one skeptic after another into a believer. I don’t deny others have abandoned the faith. All I can say is there’s one thing that keeps me going on and wanting to be a witness: what I continue to see and hear. I see the difference it makes day after day, or at least over shorter and longer spans of time in my own life. And though I often don’t understand well enough what Scripture is saying, the words are compelling and point me to God’s Word himself: Jesus.

This is personal to me, but it’s more than that, it’s for the world. The gospel, which is the good news of God in Jesus is for the world. It will never be the center of any nation state in this present age, but is always manifest only in the church scattered amidst all the nations. Part of this good news in Jesus is the promise and “hope” of his return, when he will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom in him will be set up when heaven and earth are made one in him.

So we carry on. Yes, in the midst of difficulty, our own darkness, our stumbling, and so on. But we continue to follow. To show and tell the difference this makes in our own lives, meant for all others as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

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press on

We can become weary and lose heart, indeed think all or most is lost for many reasons. And yes, things are lost along the way. Many of us make some bad decisions which God either protects us from, or not, but often with consequences of one sort or another. Or we lose friends who we once thought were truly friends, but we find out otherwise. And we doubt ourselves, still ringing in our ears voices from the past which put us down in discouraging ways.

It doesn’t matter. We need to press on, period. There’s much for us to live for now. Witnesses to Jesus and God’s good news in him. Prayer for loved ones, friends, all who are in need, even our enemies. Doing what we can to help others. None of this small in God’s eyes.

For me it’s the goal of an interactive relationship with God through ongoing Scripture reading and prayer during the course of a day. With the goal of devotion to God in loving God and others. And wisdom to make my way through all of life in a way that’s honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

to love, regardless

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

We live in difficult, even if not perilous times here in the United States. And all around the world much division is becoming more and more evident, and often threatening to tear what fabric of society is left. And of course the actual conflicts with all the human tragedy.

If we don’t have hearts engaged with strong thinking and feeling, then we’re actually not real. Maybe we just want to avoid the pain, including the strife. To want to avoid such is natural, and to want to avoid strife, good. But probably impossible to avoid controversy if one acts on any convictions at all.

But what Paul was saying in the above passage, that in the midst of everything with a thoroughly Christ-centered conviction, following him with others, we’re to do everything in love. That’s how the short imperatives end. “Do everything in love.”

If we’re to break the impasse of strife and hate, we need to love. And not just any love. Not the “all you need is love” bit, which is only good up to a point. No, we need the love of Christ no less. The love of God in him. A love which goes to the cross and dies for one’s enemies, yes for one’s enemies. If we don’t love our enemies as Jesus taught and exemplified, then we fall short of that love.

Love, love, love. In Christ. That’s what we need for each other. And what the world needs to see from us. Which doesn’t mean we won’t speak out against what is wrong. But we always do so in love. And everything tempered in love. In and through Jesus.

an infusion of gospel love

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

I was reminded yesterday of my blessed heritage in being raised Mennonite.

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.

“Beloved sisters and brothers, do not deviate from the doctrine and life of Christ.”

Menno Simons

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is a staple for Mennonite/Anabaptist faith. Part of my own regular Bible reading is to read a passage from either the Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). Even though I left the Mennonite church decades ago, I think some of how I was raised remains in my bones. I tend to think that accepting and even almost glorying in violence, a part of the world, has seeped into the Christian mindset. I have to admit, I am at a loss since I’m not sure, but at this point see myself as almost a pacifist Christian. I have known pacifist Christians who don’t seem pacifist at heart, and Christians serving in the military who do seem to be pacifist at heart.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain should indeed occupy a place in our minds, hearts and lives which it just doesn’t seem to do today. That’s true I think for a number of reasons theologically. And I have to wonder if what can be involved in some quarters is simply a matter of being conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). But I wonder if it’s ever had a central place in most traditions of Christianity.

It is a matter of grace, needing an infusion of gospel love. That’s the only way we can love our enemies, bless those who curse us, turn the other cheek when struck, go the extra mile, etc. The sayings of the Sermon on the Mount are sprinkled, and I think even embedded in the rest of the New Testament. We can’t escape it. It is at the heart of our faith and outcome of such in loving God and neighbor. Something that needs to get into our hearts, bones, and be worked out in our lives in and through Jesus.

everything depends on this

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

This part of Matthew’s gospel is quite interesting, Jesus being in and around Jerusalem for what ends up being his sentencing in what amounts to a mock trial and his death. In the exchange that takes place here with a Pharisee, Jesus answers his inquiry as to what is the greatest commandment in the Law, the Torah. In Matthew’s account, Jesus cites the command following the Shema, and a passage tucked in Leviticus. And then tells us that all the Law and the Prophets, shorthand I think for all of scripture, hangs on those two commandments.

To love is first and foremost. There is plenty else to do, but if we don’t love, it amounts to nothing (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). And to love God with all our being and doing involves knowing God’s love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:19

And this:

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:15-16

We love because of God’s love given to us in creation, and especially through Jesus in new creation. That love, as Jesus has taught us, extends to all, even to our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

It’s all about love, really. God’s love for us and the world, and then through us to each other and to all, in and through Jesus.

 

all for Jesus and the gospel

Then [Jesus] 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.

Mark 8

There is nothing more key or central to our lives, we who are in Jesus, than our devotion to Jesus and the gospel. That is central in loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, including even loving our enemies, as Jesus taught.

It’s all too easy to lose this focus, and get all wrapped up in necessary things. And we’re trying to love God and our neighbor in the process, but often more or less muddled up, hardly free enough to do so. What we need is a single eye, as in a heart set on faithfulness to Jesus and the good news of God in him. That is when the Spirit will take hold of us, and help us to truly live. It is a life brimming over and full of love, God’s love. But of course, it’s not easy. As Jesus points out here, it’s the way of the cross. And that’s not set aside after Jesus’s death and resurrection. Paul makes that clear, and others as well, both in their writings, and from the witness of their lives. While it isn’t easy, it is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy through the Holy Spirit.

When I’m in the dark, the Spirit can lead me into this light. A decent question to ask, which yes, has its limitations, but it is good for prayerful consideration: What would Jesus do? Jesus by the Spirit lives in us now. Our whole lives at home and everywhere else are meant to point others to him. And while we live, Christ also is our life, and the one who lives through us, even us with all our mistakes and problems along the way. But as we seek to live in him, he makes himself known not only to us, but to others. And it’s the love of Christ which not only compels us, but changes us through and through, so that we can become more and more like him, hopefully over time.

It’s never about us, but about Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. That is where we find our real, true life. And the light and love which goes with it. In and through Jesus.

nonviolent love

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5

One of the great legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is his call for nonviolent love. They practiced that amidst all the hate they encountered. They practiced a soul force as it was called, and regularly engaged in prayer and acted in love in the face of violence and hate. And in so doing, they followed the way of our Lord, who prayed for his enemies when he was nailed to the cross.

Do we know what it is to love in the face of evil? Like Dr. King said, it’s not an affectionate love, but rather a principled agape love, the love of God which is committed to the good of the enemy, for their redemption as one of God’s own into the family. So that they might become friends, and brothers and sisters.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this, it’s true: we can utterly hate the deeds of someone, yet love that person. There is always hope in God, that somehow that person will come to repentance and faith and be delivered from their own evil through Jesus. But it’s not easy. Grace helps us, but doesn’t make the difficult places a cakewalk. But the same love from God which puts up with us, we’re to extend to others, to everyone, yes to our enemies. Following Jesus, in and through him.