beyond what is seen now

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16

I’m getting a little past the saturation point when it comes to politics and all the arguing, name calling, etc. I know politics has its place so I’ll still pay attention and pray and participate to some extent. And there are always issues that need to be addressed, something certain in this life. But I fear that we as Christians, or at least I, have largely lost the vision of the writer quoted above.

Sometimes what might be disparagingly called “Bible Christians” are criticized for being “so heavenly-minded, they’re no earthly good.” What might be missed there is all the good Christians have accomplished through the centuries for humanity. Everywhere you turn, you can trace back more than a little good to Christians. Sometimes though, it has been true that Christians seem not to care at all what happens here and now, thinking that the only thing that matters in the end is the life beyond this life. That is truly a short sighted view, and a misreading of the Bible.

Perhaps the best way to understand the above passage is not at all to project a “heaven” beyond this life when earth is gone. But the new creation in Jesus when heaven comes down to earth. Instead of a completely different existence, perhaps angelic-like in our imaginations where spirit replaces matter, the existence we live in now will be forever crowned with a fulfillment that we probably can’t imagine. Except what the Spirit gives us to experience or taste of that.

This hopefully will give us pause, even in the midst what attention and action we give to the politics of this world to remember what makes for lasting, even eternal change. As well as the one hope we can be assured will come. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s salvation door is wide open

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2b

There’s no question that it’s a difficult time to live, especially in some parts of the world.  Of course all of that is relative, depending on what you mean. But no matter which way you turn, there are tremendous difficulties and challenges. In many places it’s dangerous to be a Christian, but it’s interesting how in some of those very places the church is growing faster than in “the free world.” And there are the cultural sea changes, with the strong reactions against them. Terrorists groups in the name of religion, the steady spread and increase of Islam. Other world religions continuing their traditions.

And there’s the awful bloodletting that continues on earth. Abortion being one prime example. Nuclear weapons are still a threat, and all the more so in the hands of brutal dictatorships. And we can go on and on with the problems. God’s judgment in letting humans reap what they sow is indeed present. And yet Jesus came with a different message, a message for all. The good news in him is that all can be saved simply by believing in him and so receiving the gift of eternal life. Through his death for the forgiveness of our sins, and his resurrection for our new life in him.

Paul’s words above, of course God’s written word, is in harmony with John’s words in his gospel account:

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17

And Jesus says the same close to the time of his crucifixion and death:

…I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

John 12:47b

While there’s plenty else going on in the world, and God is active, this seems to be the main point of the present: God’s salvation in Jesus is now offered, free to all.

And this is said by Peter to be precisely the reason the end is not yet coming, at least in part:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

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.

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. 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 3:3-13

God’s salvation door is now open wide. Hopefully through our prayers, and others seeing God’s salvation beginning in us, they too might walk through and join us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

someday this will all be over

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:1-5

There is no end to what seems senseless in this world. Everything mentioned above: death, mourning, crying, pain will be gone. This is part of a dream that overtakes the nightmare of this life to someday be a reality forever and ever in Jesus.

We have inklings of it now in the new life in Jesus, individually, communally and in mission. These are reminders, indeed signs of what is to come and overtake everything.

There’s no doubt that while I don’t want to see life hasten on and end, I look forward to the day when it will all be said and done. And I’m not referring to the end of my life, but the beginning of the full life in Jesus in the resurrection to come.

Then all the good begun now will take hold and completely flourish. Going on unabated in the life of God to the world in and through Jesus. By faith we can all look forward to that Day. In and through Jesus.

finding home

Like a bird that flees its nest
    is anyone who flees from home.

Proverbs 27:8

From an old song comes the well worn saying: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” We feel at home at home, for sure. It’s an escape, and more than that, it’s our abode. It’s where we’re acclimated into hopefully a place where we can rest. Of course to both build and maintain a home requires work. But home ought to be above all a place we can leisurely enjoy.

God made us for home. In a sense, humans were made to be at home in fellowship with God, in Jesus taken into the communion of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But God made humans also to be earthly dwellers in communion with each other. And even to have a relationship with animals, I’m thinking of pets. This is why the biblical promise of heaven coming down to earth and becoming one with it when Jesus returns is so appropriate. God will come to earth to dwell with his people. In the meantime, God lives with us in Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us).

So our true home is right where we live on earth, renewed in Jesus, and in God in and through Jesus. Both.

So we are at a loss, and lost when we stray from either. Especially basic for us is to find our home in God, but we are earthlings, made from the dust of the earth, so that this wonderful world in the end renewed in the new creation at the resurrection in and through Jesus is also our home. We can’t get too much of either, as we now live in the world to be renewed when God makes all things new through Jesus.

“This world is not my home,” refers to the world system, which like Babel of old (Genesis 11) is estranged from, and in opposition to God. So that this life is not our final home. We are strangers here, pilgrims on a journey, looking for a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11).

We pray for those who have strayed from their true home, that they would find it in God. And we long to be more and more at rest in that, as well. While we fulfill our calling to work and be stewards of this good earth God has entrusted to us. Knowing that our work someday won’t end, though the toilsome labor due to the curse imposed on it will. At Jesus’s return.

Home.

 

the Bible is from the real world for the real world

I’m reading this book (Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, by Glenn R. Paauw) and ran across the thought that the Bible comes from the real world, reflecting it, for the real world. Like Jesus came into the real world, sharing in its brokenness, apart from sin, of course. And that this strikes against the gnosticism which rears its head in a good number of ways, yes even in the church. A gnostic approach is to somehow avoid the real world with something from heaven that cancels out the earth. But the biblical message is about heaven becoming one with earth, the real earth, the real world, right where you and I and everyone else lives. A messy, broken, and sometimes ugly world. Transformative, to be sure, in and through Jesus, but touching all of life right where we live.

That helps me, because although I’d like to check out and not go through the mess (maybe like on a long vacation somewhere in Paradise), life doesn’t allow that. In the Bible, people are taken through the valleys, not out of them. We do look forward to the great Transformation to come when the troubles of this life will be over, and a new real world will be born. But until then, we are engaged in this good, yet broken real world, and through Jesus somehow that engagement will impact the new real world to come (1 Corinthians 15).

And so I don’t want to shun what might be unpleasant and even ugly. But to address everything through Jesus and God’s good news in him. We live out a gospel for the real world that is for the real world, all of it. It not only impacts it, but it gives an entirely different answer other than what the world gives, in and through Jesus.

That is what I live in and for with others. The only hope I have for myself, for others, and for the world. In and through Jesus.

what we’ll forget

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

Isaiah 65

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21

There is no shortage of things in this world we would just as soon forget. I have a tendency to forget the names of people who I think don’t like me. I have a list of cares about the house in which we live, and about what I can actually do about that myself. Then there are the past decisions or consequences of life that we have to live with. There are the many concerns which become especially pointed when we’re older. Of course the burdens we carry for loved ones can be more than we can bear. And there’s the world with all of its problems. The inevitable troubles we have in living in the brokenness and fallenness of it all. The problems in the world’s governance, our own nation with the upcoming presidential election at the forefront of the news. But with the global tragedies continuing, such as in Syria, and in other places. There is no end, really, to difficult, even horrendous bad news, for sure.

What God promises his people is a complete forgetting of all that is not of the new creation, all that is of the old order of things. That means potentially that there will be plenty for us to remember. To begin with, I’ll not only remember my wife, Deb, but hopefully will be closer to her than ever, and if Scot McKnight is correct in his book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, I’ll still be married to her. For sure relationships in the communion of Jesus will not only continue on, but flourish as never before. It will be as if we hadn’t been in any relationship before at all, in comparison to what is to come, even though that is only making a point, since we indeed do have close friendships in this life, as well as good associations with others. And all of the beauty of this life, of all of this world from creation, including human creativity will be subsumed in the sense of fulfilled, or even a part of the new creation to come in and through Jesus. So those parts, all that is good and life giving will be present, while all that is destructive and death dealing will be gone.

It is the latter that we will forget, all that is bad in this life. The full redemption to come, already present in and through Jesus even in this life, will have turned creation into something of a joyous celebration of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus, when at long at last God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). And what is hardly imaginable now will be firmly in place and a part of life then.

There’s plenty we would want to forget about this life, and we believe God will in the end take care of all of those matters. But plenty as well to remember, which through the eternal gospel, the good news in Jesus, will realize its potential forever and ever, to the glory and praise of the Triune God.

heavenly-minded to be the greatest earthly good

Scot McKnight points out in his stimulating book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, that many of the most engaged, active Christians in this world were also the most heavenly-minded saints. The two mindsets are not necessarily mutually exclusive at all, in fact the more vivid the vision cast in one’s mind of the promised world to come, the more longing for “God’s will to be done” even now “on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ve been listening again to Michael Card’s wonderful album on the book of the Revelation: Unveiled Hope, and am encouraged that something much better, indeed the fulfillment of all that is good is coming when heaven and earth become one at King Jesus’s return, what Scot McKnight calls “Heaven” (the word, capitalized). When we look at the world now, listening or watching the news, we can easily be tempted to despair. What progress we do find is tainted with failure, yes with sin, with wrong doing out of untoward motivation coming both from systemic evil as well as wicked hearts. I use the word, wicked, warily. There is clear wickedness at work in our world today, which any of us wouldn’t have any trouble identifying, but there is also the wickedness or evil in our own hearts, which can violate the first and greatest command to love God with all our being and doing, and the second like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. So that the only love left is love for one’s self and for the idol, be it money, or something else.

Christianity’s goal certainly isn’t eventual non-existence through loss of passion. Nor is it escape from this life even through an apocapalyptic ending, as in the end of the world as we know it. We do long for the return of King Jesus when the full salvation comes, yes, through necessary evil being rooted out of this world. Any Armagedon is actual judgment on humans in letting them do battle in what will amount to a terrible debacle. The new order to come in will be nothing short of new creation in the kingdom of God to come in King Jesus.

In the meantime, even as we look forward with longing for Jesus’s return, we seek to do the works of God now, which will somehow be carried over into the new world to come, but which begin even here and now. The new creation is present in its beginning and heart in and through Jesus, through the gospel and the church.

And so, we’re not going to be satisfied with any constitution or government of this world, even of that which we might think may be ideal for the present time. We long for more, for much more. And we long to see its beginning more and more implemented in this life, to help the poor, and to bring in salvation for all, a salvation which is as pervasive in its scope as the God who gives it.

my take on politics and the politic which will stand

Allan R. Bevere has been formative in my understanding of politics, and his book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World spells out well what I think is the error of both the religious right and religious left: allegiance and commitment to entities which by their very nature, cannot be allied with what has been called, “the politics of Jesus.” God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is not from this world, and in a sense is not of this world, when referring to what scripture calls, “the world” along with “the flesh” and “the devil.” Yet it is for this world.

The gospel meaning good news is as big as all creation in the new creation come in Jesus. It can be known only in and through Jesus as Lord and Savior. And in and through Jesus’ body, the church. King Jesus is the one through whom one politic will stand when all others have ended, think of the visions in Daniel depicting the end of worldly kingdoms by the kingdom of God. Through Jesus which in meaning includes all revealed in scripture about him, we find the answer to all of life, not only about forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, but also the purpose for all creation realized in the new creation in him.

Going back to Genesis we find that humankind is unique in that it is created in God’s image: male and female. And as such, humankind is given the calling to rule over all the earth, essentially to be stewards of God’s good gifts for the good of all and to the glory of God. This is getting at the heart of what salvation is all about. It is not only saving us from our sins, but also for love to God and to others, and in accordance with God’s design for life in what will end up being the new heaven and new earth, in scripture that being a garden and a city. Jesus will be King of kings, so that in the government to come, humans will take their place in God’s order for all things, an order which will bring humans to their full potential as flourishing individuals living in community in a love from God which changes all: from the hearts of individuals, to every system in place. 

To the present: evil is very much at work in the world, and we’re told that it will be so to the end until King Jesus returns. The call for us now in King Jesus is to take the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection, to enact along with proclamation, the gospel of King Jesus. With that, God has ordained the state (Romans 13) to bear the sword, as it says, against evil doers, yes. And also with responsibility to enact justice as best they can, with an emphasis we find in scripture to see that the needs of the poor and helpless are met.

What worldly governments do then, is important in God’s eyes. But while the church can hopefully influence such for good, simply by being faithful to its calling from God, the church of necessity, must beware emptying the good news of its power by looking to the power and prestige of worldly authorities. Our King over any other authority we may be under in this life is Jesus. Jesus is our Lord, and Caesar is not. We comply to Caesar insofar as that is the will of King Jesus. And that will seems to be one of living in an alternative kingdom, which can’t be aligned with earthly kingdoms, but brings heaven down to earth in and through Jesus.

This is something of my sketch at present for what is indeed important in this life as well as the life to come. Politics as in the ordering of society for the good of all in God’s good will in Jesus.

blood moons and all the rest

I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved

I am a student, even a devotee of the Bible, reading and at least pondering it. With serious study more in the past, but that should be ongoing and currently is with a book I am now reading. But I admit to knowing little about some of the teaching about an apocalypse as in an end of the world scenario coming together with blood moons and the like. What gets me to write this post is the wonderful eclipse of the moon (“blood moon,” it is red) we were able to see clearly this morning.

As has been well said, such phrases and terms in scripture are not meant to be taken literally. They refer to sea changes, or world altering events. One such example in my lifetime is the removal of the old “iron curtain” from what was then the Soviet Union. Now we have Russia with a number of smaller nations, at least the old style Communism a thing of the past.

Scripture oftentimes in the prophets and we see that reflected some in the New Testament, particularly in the Revelation, uses imagery to denote major changes in the world. The “left behind” popular series of books and films (I’ve neither read nor seen any of it) fails in that it misreads such, often taking literally what is figurative in some way or another. It is built on a questionable at best and relatively recent interpretation of end times, or eschatological teaching.

Jesus is coming back when heaven and earth become one in the new creation, when all things are made new. Judgment will come as well, the wicked vanquished, as King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him takes over the entire earth. Much tribulation will occur before and in the midst of these changes, as the Revelation makes clear. In that book many of God’s people are martyred since they will not bow or give allegiance to the system in place meant to save the world but in reality destructive and evil. Even the when of that taking place is in question, in some sense it could be happening throughout the time between Jesus’ ascension and his reappearing. So there is overlap between what Christians traditionally believe and what is promoted in “left behind” theology.

But the differences are profound. Traditional Christian thinking is much less confident about how all of this will take place, not believing scripture actually gives us that information definitively for the most part, but in general. That there will be wars and major upheaval is clear. The understanding of Israel and the church is important in all of this as well. The church I believe does not replace Israel, but is the enlarged Israel (Scot McKnight).

Interestingly Peter on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in power quoted this very passage as a fulfillment of what was happening then. In Matthew 24 along with its parallels (Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36) Jesus does the same thing. What has often been read erroneously I believe in some literal sense– is true, but in some figurative sense.

I enjoyed the eclipse of the moon this morning. Do I think the “blood moons” have anything to do with Jesus’ second coming and major world changes? I am not sure, but I rather doubt it. We are those of the future in the present now as God’s resurrection people in Jesus. And so we carry on in God’s kingdom under King Jesus, looking forward to the change to come which has begun in us.

for the sake of the gospel

What are we here for, and what are we (out and) about? There is no doubt that in this world we can have a wide range of concerns. And quite legitimate concerns, by the way, even matters which surely have their place and well can be a priority in our lives. But the gospel should be at least one of our first priorities, on the front line with other priorities. Along with our love for Christ we are to put the gospel first in how we live both in regard to the manner as well as the content of our lives.

It is not necessarily wrong to opt off some event, or part of that event due to health concerns, and sometimes actually that is necessary. Allergies can be a case in point. My wife gets deathly sick if she mistakenly eats cantaloupe muskmelon. We may have other legitimate health concerns as well, for example, although the science is not yet necessarily hard (established enough, though some would argue otherwise), it is becoming known that wood smoke is not good for humans to breathe, at least not in large quantities over prolonged periods of time.  What if we have neighbors who have bonfires from which the smoke comes our way? Or what if we are invited to such a gathering?

Our lives are to be lived first and foremost out of love for God and our neighbor, for the sake of the gospel. We certainly do that out of love for Christ, as well as love for others. Jesus talked about this, and Paul as well. Paul made himself a slave to all to win as many as possible. And he identified himself with those to whom he was trying to reach. All this for the sake of the gospel.

What needs to be factored into all of life, into every part is our devotion to the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ coming; life and ministry; death and resurrection; his ascension and coming return—all of this as the Messiah, the King of the world. So that individuals can have forgiveness of sins and new life. And so that the world can be pointed to its new king, destined to rule with God the Father by the Spirit forever and ever.

That is what I want to be about. It isn’t always comfortable. It may mean setting aside certain inclinations or even goals, since this must supersede them all. And in the end this alone is what matters.