for Memorial Day

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13

Today we remember those who laid down their lives in service to our nation. We honor their sacrifice. And we pray for those who continue to serve, as well as for all who put their lives at risk for the protection of others. And for the nations of the world: for peace, especially in those places where conflict continues and evil is very near. And we look forward to the coming of the Prince of Peace.

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).

experience or the word, or both?

Sometimes we rightly are critical of an emphasis on experience which is not grounded in God’s word, scripture, and in the gospel, the heart of that. We can make all too much of experience. How we feel, or how it’s going, or if we have a sense of wellness is considered more important than anything else.

On the other hand, as we see from scripture, it’s not like experience isn’t important. We find the psalmists over and over appealing to God for a better experience, for escape from distress, sorrow, and death through deliverance into God’s salvation which involves rejoicing, and even singing and dancing.

We need to be grounded in scripture, and the heart of that, which is the gospel. Scripture takes seriously and addresses all experience. It is not counter or in opposition to experience at all, but about real life, where we live.

So in the end, it’s not really a case of either/or, but from being grounded in scripture, building our lives on that which is solid, through Jesus. So that whatever we are experiencing in life, we can more and more by faith rest in God’s promise in Jesus both for the present life and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

the one hope for the world

A concern for one’s eternal and temporal security has its place, but if it stops there, then that faith is less than Christian. The hope we have in Jesus is the one hope we have for the entire world.

I am a citizen of the United States by birth, and as such certainly live in a privileged place compared to many in the world. The problem though, is that we can put our hope in earthly systems, and even in earthly authorities such as politicians, governors, rulers. To the extent which we actually do that, surely we end up blinding ourselves to the one hope that we truly have.

We pray for rulers and governing authorities, and we hope for peace and freedom for all peoples, and that all tyranny and evil would cease, for true and complete justice, especially for those who have been denied it for so long, oftentimes people of color, yes, in the United States of America. For good stewardship of the gift of the earth in ways which protect it, and people, and for an end to the tragedy of abortion.

As people of God in Jesus, we’re called to be his followers and help others to follow him. The church is to be the sign to the world of the one hope that the world has through the gospel and the beginning transformation and hope which that gospel brings.

This all began on earth through a humble, peasant, quite young woman, the angel giving her the great, good, and perplexing news of a miracle birth, Joseph, her fiancee having to work though that news before an angel appears to him in a dream, and then choosing to live with it, and at last the birth in a humble place, the baby Jesus laid in a feeding trough for animals. And at the end of his life, nailed to a cross. But resurrected from the dead, and thus sealing the witness of his life in his works and teaching of God’s grace and kingdom having come in him. And ascended to the right hand of the Father from whom he poured out the Holy Spirit on the church to be a witness to the world of this good news. That news including his return, when at long at last all will be made right and new.

That is our hope, and the one hope always for this world. Let our focus be on that, even as we seek to be faithful as a witness to a world which is given to lesser hopes that will fail and often let people, especially the poor down. As we pray for our Lord’s return. Lord, have mercy! And maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

the human condition: angst, lostness

What is perhaps the typical default position in which we humans live? And many things in this life can exacerbate that. I would say a sense of angst, as in anxiety and fear, oftentimes taking away all of a person’s inward sense of tranquility, of peace. And a lostness in which one is hanging on for dear life just to keep going, sometimes grasping after empty, harmful things to give meaning, and as pastimes.

I used to think that down the road my experience would get much better. What has happened is perhaps a bit complicated. Most of the time I live in the same experience I’ve lived in for years. It’s just that I’ve learned to manage it much better, through faith and prayer, through as much a singular focus on God’s word and the gospel as possible. Not that I’m concerned about measuring up to some kind of standard on that. Actually a little bit goes a long way, even as Jesus said, if we have a faith as small as a mustard seed. So that, yes, I do seem to experience more of the sense of God’s presence and peace.

As one gets older, it doesn’t seem like the trials either go away, or lessen, though in some respects they might, simply because in faith we learn more to rest in God, and in God’s promises found in scripture, in and through Jesus. Oftentimes we encounter even more difficult things which come with living longer and the experience that brings, along with all of the wear and tear of life in getting older.

I think a healthy, scriptural realism is key in all of this. I know of people who I think may have left the faith because they were told such and such would be the case if they had enough faith, but they found it not to be so. They might then be blamed for lack of faith, which wouldn’t help, either. Fact of the matter, life in some respects is hard in and of itself. All of the problems we encounter, sometimes in heaps will verify that. The key is how we handle those problems.

Angst and lostness can be replaced with a sense of God’s presence and peace, if we don’t let the former get us down. It may be best and most healthy to think of them as commingling. Ordinarily one will displace the other, but we can’t let our experience of angst and lostness impact our faith. Such experience is not either faith, or lack of it, but rather just the normal default postion of us humans. But an experience which ironically can help us to faith as we look to the one who is Savior and Lord, and seek to live in and according to God’s word fulfilled in him. Such an exercise, every bit as ongoing as the sense of lostness which in this life naturally accompanies our humanity.

the failure of the incomplete, distorted gospel in the face of racism

Chaplain Mike on Internet Monk has a compelling post on the failure of the American church to proclaim and witness to a complete gospel: We’ve Missed the Gospel. That point is exactly what I was thinking in the aftermath of the brutal killing of two African American men by police officers, and then the killing of at least five police officers by a sniper at the end of a peaceful demonstration by African Americans.

Our gospel, the one we proclaim and witness to is not big enough and it’s distorted through our cultural lens. We have emphasized the good news of God’s saving grace in Jesus to us as individuals, in reconciling us to God. That is good and true, but just as important as that is the gospel truth that we are reconciled to each other, across racial and ethnic divides, and that this good news is proclaimed to those who are enemies, to bring them into the circle of God’s grace and love in and through Jesus.

If we fail to speak against the racism of our day, we fail to represent the Christ whose name we bear, and our proclamation and witness to the good news in him is tragically incomplete. We need to go out of our way to address the evils of our day, all of them, not just one or two we might see as the worst. Racism is as degrading and dehumanizing as any of the rest of sins we may decry. The grace of God in Jesus through Jesus’s death and resurrection is what is needed to bring reconciliation through forgiveness of sins, and new life lived out in communities of love, the kind of love that is committed to the hard work which is involved in that. And as one friend reminded me yesterday, addressing what is endemic in all of us. If any of us think we’re entirely free of racism at least in terms of some sort of prejudice, then we need to think again.

Meanwhile we grieve and mourn with the families of the black men, and with the families of the police officers. We pray for healing, and for a new day when in and through Jesus our differences will not only not divide us, but will be celebrated. As we learn to live out more and more what has been given to us through the gospel, and what we are in him: one family united forever in the love of the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit.