God works with imperfect, even broken people, people who don’t have it altogether

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…

Luke 2:8a

I go to the famous Christmas passage, but just to consider one aspect of it, we could say pre-Christmas, and fitting well into Advent maybe in the sense that God’s coming may take us by surprise. Shepherds did move around, but their way of life was the same. They lived with their flocks of sheep, taking care of them, especially on guard at night. The group here who witnessed the angelic hosts proclaiming the Lord’s birth were surely just as ordinary as any of us. But they also were each and everyone created by God, loved by God, and each gifted by God. Yes, in humble work, but didn’t our Lord live in obscurity? Surely good in its place, but not anything extraordinary. Our Lord has been there.

I’m so glad that God mercifully in grace reveals himself to us, and works with us right where we are. One of the many lies from the evil one (Satan, the satan meaning the opposer) is that if we get out of line this way or that, God will no longer deal with us. That is a plain out old fashioned lie. Christ died for our sins. In him we are forgiven as we accept that sacrifice of love for ourselves. God certainly wants to help us do better, and grow spiritually. But God will not abandon us, the work of his hands both in creation and now in new creation in Jesus.

Of course again, I’m not talking about us living in out and out sin. Even then God will seek to rescue us in God’s deep love. But none of us have it altogether. We all have our weaknesses, and faults along the way. So glad the Lord wants to meet us there, right where we’re at. So that we can receive his blessing directly and through others, and be a blessing to others. Just like the shepherds of old. In and through Jesus.

the slippery longing for shalom in this world

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

Isaiah 11:6-9

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is the Hebrew word meaning “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB). It certainly carries the idea of the absence of war which so many of us more than less take for granted, but would seem a luxury in too many places. Both human flourishing, and the harmony and well being of all creation are part of this wholeness which shalom brings. It is really like a dream that comes true in the First/Old Testament writings, as seen above in the prophet Isaiah. It is not to come to fruition until the new creation. God who made creation, can certainly remake it, and that’s the promise from Scripture that God’s people count on. While the word is not in the above passage, the words there are an apt description of this shalom.

We long for something of that in this current existence. That promise is present in our minds, and the new creation is breaking in through the new life and existence in Jesus, but it’s breaking into a world which seems largely incompatible with it. That is in part why Christians are called to take the way of the cross in following Christ even today. It is an uphill battle and slippery slope we might say, a daunting journey all the way, though Christ followers don’t do it in their own strength, but in all their weakness through the life and power of the Spirit.

I  think as we say in “the Lord’s prayer,” that we should long for something of God’s kingdom and perfect will in this life. But at the same time, we have to recognize the limitations set in place. After all we have natural disasters, and conflicts between warring factions, as well as just random violence everywhere. Add to that the human abuse of the earth for consumption and greed. And then to cap all of this off, even in the best of times humans just don’t get it all right, but we live in an existence in which even if one possibly did, they still wouldn’t be shielded from trouble, even disaster at times.

God’s people must remember that while the Day is coming, we need to be advocates for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast and downcast. We must not let up, but go forward in love, taking the way of the cross, remembering that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In this life the lamb and the wolf don’t get along, and sin resulting in broken relationships between people and God is very much present among us.

In Christ is our hope for seeing the beginning of shalom now. Bringing healing and new life in the midst of the old. We accept the limitations, in the way of Jesus now, even as we are part of that new creation in Jesus breaking in.

what is the most important thing about you?

No matter what else, the most basic truth about us all is that we’re made in God’s image. And that we as individuals are part of the human community. And that God has placed us here to rule over the earth under God’s rulership and authority. That plays itself out in as many ways as there are people, but humankind is to be in that together.

Yes, sin has broken our relationship to God and to each other. So another basic truth about us is that we are sinners in need of salvation. That we’ve all disobeyed God’s will which is essentially our failure to love God in return for God’s love for us, and our failure to love our neighbor as ourselves, sometimes instead, sadly enough resorting to hatred. And violence in word and deed, tragically way too often.

Another basic truth about us is that we as human beings are indeed unique. Each and every animal and species deserves our appreciation and respect for their own importance and dignity. But human beings alone are said to be made in God’s image, as already stated. We need to protect God’s creation, the animals which are important for themselves and for the biosphere, and seek to manage all of that well.

That God became flesh, fully human and one of us in Jesus speaks volumes as to who we are. God forever becoming human in Jesus means that our humanity is valuable, as we read in the Psalms, we’re made a little lower than the angels or it can be translated there, a little lower than God.

That Jesus took our sin on himself, the wrath of humanity poured on him at the cross, and that God turned that very act into God’s means of forgiveness for all who believe is quite remarkable. In God’s purposes done before the creation of the world.

And Jesus rose from the dead, thus defeating death and ushering in the new creation. And all who have faith are destined to share in that new creation when all will be well at last. For all who have faith, and look to God. Through Christ.

But we must beware that this is only about making ourselves feel better, while failing to include others. Like our African American sisters and brothers who have suffered indignity after indignity. Or our Muslim friends, or the LGBTQ+ community. We’re all in this together in the human race. Each and everyone of us is important to God, indeed cherished by God. We need to stand with those whose humanity is falsely seen as diminished for this or that reason.

And so what is most important about you or I is not a whole host of things we might be thinking about now. Like how you voted or what your American political position is. We are loved by God, and out of that love we’re to love each other. All through the saving work of Christ. So that who we are is more and more fully known only in community together with everyone else. In God’s love in and through Jesus.

fighting and longing

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

The Apostle Paul nearing the end of his life summed up something of it with the above the words. When you read of Paul’s life in Scripture both from Acts, and through his letters, especially 2 Corinthians, you see just how true this was. He was indeed in a fight spiritually, and it was Christ-centered in the hope and promise of Christ by God in the Spirit.

I find it easy to lose heart for a number of reasons. For just one thing, I’m not Paul. He may well have been haunted by his past (watch the wonderful film, Paul, Apostle of Christ), but his failure was pre-conversion. For some of us, we’ve had failures post-conversion. Not that we all don’t need grace in forgiveness along the way, for we most certainly do. But it’s easy to lose heart for any number of reasons, and especially so when we’ve gotten off track ourselves.

Encouragingly Paul lumps others with him who simply long for the Lord’s appearing. If we want Christ to return so that this mess will be fixed in God’s final judgment and salvation, at long last this old creation being replaced with the new creation, which includes us and everything else, then we’re in good company for sure. And with that longing, God will put the fight back in us. The fight and the longing seem to go together.

Longing includes the sense of not arriving in this life. If we’re looking for a faith through Christianity that brings us to a sense of having arrived, then we won’t find it. There’s no such thing. For us in Christ the fight and longing go together. We continue to press on, knowing we haven’t arrived. But intent in heading for the goal.

In the end we may not be able to say that we ran the entire race well. But at least we can hopefully say that we finished the race and kept the faith. In and through Jesus.

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.

“the present crisis”

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

The “present crisis” is tied to the time being short, and the world in its present form passing away. That may have to do with the realization of the change that Christ’s resurrection brought, the beginning of the end of this world, as the new word and new creation begins to emerge in Christ, someday to be culminated and completed when he returns.

That being said, we still have to deal with whatever our “present crisis” may be, which depends on time, place and circumstances for sure, unless it’s the general idea of what all Christians go through in life as followers of one Lord, Jesus. This is not going to let up, but in some form will always be with us, if indeed it’s the latter thought that is in view. But it is temporary, even said here to be short.

The point is that we followers of Christ live differently given the new world we’re a part of within the old world in which we live. Yet we do share common concerns, true if we marry or even if we don’t. There’s no escape from the problems which beset a broken world. Right now with the COVID-19 pandemic we have an illustrative case in point. We’ll do many of the same things everyone else should be doing. Or at least out of love for neighbor I think we should be doing those things, like wearing a face mask in public, etc. But because of our faith in Jesus with the confidence that somehow the new world is emerging, we will also act differently. Never violating love for neighbor or what is properly right in the eyes of all. But with the confidence that this is not the end. And that we’re here to be devoted to the Lord, whatever our situation. In and through Jesus.

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.

 

 

Christians ought to love science

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

In Christian theology there is what is called “general revelation” and “special revelation.” This Psalm nicely includes both in that order. The heavens and creation is part of God’s general revelation. Modern science marked by ongoing observation, hypothesis and testing delves deeply into this revelation, yes for utilitarian reasons to some extent, but also with the sense of exploration and wonder. When we look at the night sky in an area not flooded by “light pollution” from humans, or enjoy a state or national park, we can begin to take in this revelation from God. It’s remarkable how even in a crowded urban or suburban, trees and birds can still leave their mark on a landscape humanity has pummeled with bricks and concrete.

General revelation points to something beyond it, in Christian terms, a Creator. And its scope and wonder suggest something about that hidden reality. Revelation of course means something revealed, and Scripture tells us that creation reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). Again, it points to a Creator.

What is termed “special revelation” refers to what God directly reveals to humans. Through God’s written word, Scripture, and what is revealed there, especially with reference to its fulfillment in Christ and the gospel, or good news in him. It needs to be seen in terms of Story, meant to intersect our story, and whether we choose to accept that or not, eventually will.

I would like to highly recommend an organization that seeks to mediate the two revelations: BioLogos. There’s much helpful information to read with videos and a podcast. There’s an emphasis on science, although never cut off from Scripture. Founded by Francis Collins, a person of faith,

BioLogos invites the church and the world
to see the harmony between science and biblical faith
as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.

I realize for many within my tradition, this is controversial. I used to try to share with others my appreciation of science with the mainstream evolutionary aspect, but then decided to steer clear of it, since I’m no authority on science myself, but like classical music, simply have a love and appreciation for it, especially from those who are gifted in its understanding. I don’t believe Christians have any reason to fear honest science, and believe properly done, without trying to delve into meaning (“scientism”) which special revelation provides for us, we can appreciate more fully the remarkable wonder God has made. As we look forward to the new creation to come. In and through Jesus.

BioLogos  Core Commitments
We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible.
We affirm evolutionary creation, recognizing God as Creator of all life over billions of years.
We seek truth, ever learning as we study the natural world and the Bible.
We strive for humility and gracious dialogue with those who hold other views.
We aim for excellence in all areas, from science to education to business practices.

more cushion

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

Jesus is our shepherd, and he knows each one of us. A good pastor knows his people. He understands their felt needs, their propensities, what they need to realize their full potential- what God created them for, to be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ. And it comes out of a heart of love. Pastor is another word for shepherd, and Jesus knows us, his sheep through and through. Out of a heart of love, he gives us the cushion we need, grace to continue on in spite of ourselves and all the troubles we face. We then pass that same love to each other, as we continue on in our quest to follow him.

important, but temporary

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.[a]

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:8-13

Science points out to us that the earth itself won’t last forever, nor the sun, for that matter, not even the universe as seen now. So much mystery lies in this for sure, but there’s no question that the sun (our star) and our home, earth last only so long. Yes, still many many years left, but again, not forever.

One of the ways we live in deception is the idea that we have plenty of time, or like we’re going to live forever, and that we are indestructible. Neither is the case in this world and time.

Whether we like it or not, this world has an expiration date. But the God who created everything in the first place can make a brand new creation which includes us, those who are redeemed in Christ.

Does that mean this world doesn’t matter, that we can do with it as we please? Of course not. The first book in the Bible, Genesis makes it clear that humankind is to take care of what God has given, to be good stewards of it. Creation itself brings glory to God, even in its present state of groaning.

But our primary task now as Christians, those called in Christ is to bear witness in how we live as well as what we say, to the new world coming. Then we in Christ will somehow be made new along with the old world God created. How that will happen is well beyond us, but we hold on to that promise, as we pray for others, that they would join us. And we live with that end in view. In and through Jesus.