repenting of the sin of racism

The white nationalist rally in Virginia yesterday reminds us of the ugly sin of racism, which is blatantly and openly being promoted in the United States today. I think something should have been said in churches this morning calling for the need for white supremacists to repent, and for all of us along with them to repent, since none of us is guiltless when it comes to racism, even those who as far as they know, don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.

From a Christian perspective, racism is at heart a denial of the gospel. The gospel is about both our reconciliation to God, and our reconciliation to each other, including, and we might even say, especially our enemies. Through the cross of Jesus, through his death, every wall of hostility is broken down, and destroyed. The love of the God who is love will prevail in and through Jesus.

In the meantime we live in a broken world, full of sin and hate, and the blindness and false vision that brings.

Again, we all need to start with ourselves. None of us is without guilt. We’re all compliant in some way or another. At the very least, we fail to love our neighbor if we don’t sufficiently try to understand their perspective and their plight.

We may not know where to begin, but we would do well to get on knees before God, and ask him for his help for us to see. It can be a struggle, because there is sin on every side. We have to forgive each other along the way. And we need to keep the larger narrative in view of slavery in the United States. To begin to think that African Americans/ Blacks don’t face anything different than we white Caucasians face, is at least a denial of the testimony of many a black sister and brother in Jesus today, along with other blacks.

I have plenty to learn on this. Let’s not ever think we have the answer, but together, let’s turn to the One who does. Looking to God through Jesus and the gospel to help us show the world the way of love. The Lord will help us through the Spirit to show the world the family love which characterizes those who know the Father, having been born of the Spirit.

As we look forward to the day when all sin and hate will forever be gone and only God’s love will remain, in and through Jesus.

seeking the Lord

He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.

2 Chronicles 12

In the First/Old Testament, we read repeatedly about the importance of seeking God. Perhaps this is the classic or most remembered passage:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55

We in Jesus have been brought near the most holy place, near to God through Jesus’s blood, his death for us. Probably the closest New/Final Testament passage in calling us to seek the Lord, other than Jesus’s words to ask, seek, and knock, are found in James in the context of the need for repentance.

I believe seeking God is still very appropriate for us today, because all scripture is written for us, as Paul makes clear, certainly including the First Testament, which is what Paul had in mind. And we are often said to not be naturally inclined to wander, rather than to seek God. I would like to challenge that, but within the complexity of life as it is, and we as we are.

Based on especially one book I’ve read lately, and I think on another book I want to soon read, and on what teaching I have received from the church, as well as my take of it, I would say that we in Jesus are inclined towards God. We want to come near to him, and remain close. We do have the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with in this life, so that it’s not always easy. And yet because of Jesus and the work of the Spirit, we can be close to God in the sense of communing, or being in God’s presence.

We often see, for example in a book like Ephesians, how this or that is said to be true of God’s people, and therefore God’s people are not to do certain things, but rather do other things, or live in a way that corresponds with what is said to be true. This has been called our position in Christ from which our practice and new life comes.

So I want to seek the Lord anew and afresh at this time. And I realize that in Christ, that is natural for me to want to do so, and by God’s grace and the help of the Spirit, I can and therefore should. The challenge comes in not letting other things crowd out such good intentions. And realizing that it is still ours in faith to do.

All of this possible for us in and through Jesus.

trying to juggle the church and the state

Yesterday here in the United States we celebrated (and from the weekend prior) its 241st birthday. I was raised Mennonite, and we more or less practiced a respectful distancing from city, county, state and federal government. When I converted to Christ, I remember at a certain point hanging a flag on our house, of course with Dad and Mom’s permission. Dad actually served in the Army in WWII and was in a tank in harm’s way in Germany. He had a truce with Mom over the issue, indeed not everyone who attends Mennonite churches, or even are members are committed pacifists. I had converted to Christ in my late teens, and had eventually left the Mennonite church under the influence of someone who had discipled me. Since then in many ways my life has returned full circle, so that even though we are not part of a Mennonite church here (there is none nearby, anyhow), I am back to believing in that interpretation, at least emphasis, which places the Sermon on the Mount in a prominent place in its teaching.

The book which turned me back toward my Anabaptist roots was ironically not written by an Anabaptist, but by the great Bible scholar, historian, and theologian, N. T. Wright, entitled, The Challenge of Jesus. While some of what he says is quite compatible and close to a Mennonite view, N. T. Wright would still hold to more of a typically Anglican, Great Tradition perspective when it comes to the church and state. Since I have tracked closely with his friend, and colleague in both scholarship and writing, Scot McKnight, and am privileged to be acquainted with another scholar and friend of Scot’s, also a professor and not least of all, pastor, Allan R. Bevere, from the latter two especially, I’ve been kept on the straight and narrow when it comes to more of a historically Anabaptist take on the church and the state.

But the problem of juggling the church and the state remains, since most Christians and churches are in some way either marked or influenced by what is called the Constantinian turn when the church and the state essentially became united. See Allan R. Bevere’s excellent and helpful book on this, The Politics of Witness. That book helps us see how the United States, in spite of the new turn of the separation of church and state, is still largely marked by a kind of symbiotic relationship of church and state, that is to say a relationship of dependence on each other to some extent, although, as Bevere shows in his book, the state ordinarily always ends up with the upper hand.

Like any good Evangelical and Protestant, although I would much prefer to say, like any good Christian, I would return again and again to the pages of scripture, and with the help of others through the Spirit, just try to see if what is taken for granted is really the case. And like any good Anabaptist would (although I’m not sure in what way I’m an Anabaptist, since for one thing, I’m not really opposed to infant baptism), I find the position of the church at large, wanting.

Instead of going further, let me give an applicational thought as to how I see the church and the state. I begin with the important, but lesser function, indeed ordained by God, the state. The state is comprised of everyone, whether they are in the faith, have any faith, or whatever faith they might have, no one is excluded. It is not in itself Christian. The church, on the other hand, is the body of Christ through the gospel, which it proclaims in word and deed: the good news that Jesus is the saving Lord and King. Who by his cross has reconciled all things in heaven and earth, the cross shorthand here for his death and resurrection.

I take it then that the state, in whatever form of government it consists of, will promote the good of all, and will force no one to comply to anything beyond what is essential to the state’s function ultimately under God. The state when it’s doing well will certainly help the church have the freedom needed to proclaim, and be a witness to the gospel. But the state will also maintain order between different peoples where conflict might naturally arise. To try to say all that the state should do here is largely an exercise in futility, given the complexity of the makeup of nations. Democracy is only one form of government in the world, and Christians and churches often live in uneasy relationships with the governments under which they live, sometimes more or less underground, since their activities are forbidden. But a certain ideal surely remains, and all nations and governments are ultimately under God’s judgment.

This is just enough to hopefully help us begin to see the difficulty for Christians in juggling the church and the state. I believe everyone in the mix of the state is necessary in a good deliberation for a good outcome for all, a tall order, indeed. The church through the gospel is also for everyone, but Jesus is the heart and soul of that body, which brings people into communion with the Triune God, and into an eternal life in the new creation in him which will never end, even past this present existence. There’s a marked difference, so that the church and the state can never be essentially one without not only diluting, but actually changing the church, so that it indeed might no longer be the church, but an empty institution which Christ has left behind.

In the end, we Christians are indeed thankful for the freedom we have in the United States. But we also do well to be wary of any arrangement with the state which might not only cause us to water down our witness, but might in some way even move us to bow the knee to another lord other than the one Lord, King Jesus.

is God all we need? yes and no

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Genesis 2

It is a common thought in Christian circles that God is all we need. That contains truth, but doesn’t play out well in real life. If one is referring to God as the Source of all things, and the actual Life in whom everything else is somehow meant to live, then yes, God is all we need, and all anything else in creation needs. And add to that God’s provision for all. As we read somewhere in the psalms, the eyes of all look to God, and he provides for their needs (a paraphrase).

But God has made it so that within this God-life so to speak, the ideal life of which humans fall short of, there are needs met by something other than God. Life in the old creation is not the life to come of the new creation in Christ ultimately enveloped by the Triune God. But it is nevertheless dependent on the God who made it. God is still present everywhere and upholds all things in every way. Yet within this sphere humans need food and water, shelter, and as the text above makes clear, other humans. At least they’re better off in relationship to each other. If God was all they need the way it is told here and there, this would not be the case.

In the new creation beginning now in Christ, we still need each other. The body of Christ is a good picture of that. We are incomplete without each other.

And even in the fullness of the new creation to come when heaven and earth are made one at Christ’s return there will still be life grounded in a certain reality in which humanity is fulfilled in a certain setting. What is true now will most likely reach its perfect fulfillment later, except those aspects of creation which are only part of the old creation, whatever they may be. That would include the necessity of food and drink to remain alive. In that immortal state in and through Christ, though it’s apparent we’ll be partaking of food and drink, such will not be needed to survive. We are beginning to touch on areas not covered in scripture, and which are certainly beyond us, so it’s best to stop at that, at least for me here, anyhow.

Everything good comes from God. Part of the true way in which God is all we need. In and through Jesus.

reading and meditation for Easter

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”(which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist, which means proclaimer of what in her case she was a witness to. She was the first of many eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection.

It’s interesting that the Lord appeared to her and angels proclaimed Jesus’s resurrection to the women before Jesus appeared to the Eleven. This would surely later come across to the Eleven as a rebuke, since they initially did not accept the women’s witness, which in that day was not considered as credible as men’s testimony.

It is also interesting that Jesus in his resurrection state is not immediately recognized by those who knew him. There is at least something different in his appearance. But at a certain point, he is recognized, or his identity acknowledged. It’s hard to know what precisely to make of that except to say that with the resurrection the old has gone and the new has come, not by the old being obliterated, but by the old becoming new. There is a change in us who by faith have entered into the promise of Christ’s resurrection, beginning now in this life. As we look forward to the final change to come, when the world and all creation is included in Christ’s resurrection in the new creation.

We live in the beginning of that new day now, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.

reading and meditation for Good Friday

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

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

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

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

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

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

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

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus,the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

John 18-19

The reality that Jesus was crucified, a most horrific death. But that in doing so, somehow he finished something. In and through that death– Jesus’s death is our salvation, and the salvation of the world. Therein lies mystery, but that reality begins through faith. Bringing in the beginning of the new world even now, someday to be completed when heaven comes down to earth at Jesus’s return. The Cross is theologically shorthand for both Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying for us.

the great need in the world today (and everyday, forever)

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, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1

There is much that’s needed in the world. After all, God put humankind on earth to be stewards of it, caretakers, as well as to enjoy it, and live off of it (Genesis 1-2). There is much that needs to be done for sure, on different levels.

But our greatest need is the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That good news is about our salvation, personally, for sure, but it’s about the salvation and new creation of the entire world, and on every level, the beginning of that to be seen through Jesus in the church, and its completion when Jesus returns and heaven and earth become one in him.

The good news is Jesus himself, in his becoming one of us in the Incarnation, his life and teachings, his death and resurrection, all of this fulfilling God’s call to Israel for the world. His ascension and the oupouring of the Holy Spirit. And the promise of his return. All of that is the good news in Jesus, and to understand it, we have to be reading the Bible from cover to cover. But all we need to enter into it is the faith of a little child. Simply trusting in God’s word to us, that if we believe in Jesus in the sense of submissive trust, we will be saved, and begin to recover our true humanity and calling in him.

Although I made that commitment years ago, I still need that good news in Jesus every day. God’s grace in God’s unfailing love to us in Jesus is present with us always, no matter what we’re facing, no matter what actually happens. Even no matter what we do, but to help us get back on track. The truly one good news that will last forever, in and through Jesus.