I’m okay; I’m not okay

I was asked recently by a friend how I was doing, maybe even if I was okay. I replied that I’m okay, and I’m not okay. And that’s the way I think and feel about life in this present world.

I’m okay in that my identity is “in Christ.” And I’m part of Christ and his body in the world. “In Christ” I have God’s promises that begin now, and assure a good outcome.

I’m not okay, because of all the suffering in a broken world. Christians are persecuted today, arguably worse than ever, worldwide. And many other peoples suffer as well at the hands of injustice and pure evil.

I am a citizen of a nation (the US) where I don’t believe either major political party is pro-life, if one considers all that’s involved in helping people from the womb to the tomb. And where there’s a growing, deeper divide, the two sides further and further apart. And Christians taking up sides, but where I live, mostly one side, which I think is mistaken. The issues are more complex than that, I think. And neither major party is worthy of endorsement by Christians, but rather, rebuke. But we should praise whatever good we can find.

I am uncomfortable with a Christianity which doesn’t openly grieve over injustice. I don’t believe that is consonant with the Bible I read. How can we be okay when so many Christians are suffering? There’s no doubt that any real suffering in the US, minimal at this point is often self-inflicted through caricatures, and not trying to understand, as well as not accepting what has always been true in the United States: people don’t agree, and often vehemently disagree. Look into the early history of the US, and you’ll find plenty of that, and it never ends.

I think Christians can ultimately be okay, because they know in the end that Christ prevails, that the gospel, the good news in Jesus wins. And that God is working in his grace in spite of so much, often the church in the most persecuted places, growing exponentially and thriving.

Yet at the same time, with Jesus and the prophets we weep. Longing for something better in this life since we’ve been given a taste of that “in Christ.” As we look forward to the end of all the brokenness and evil, in God’s kingdom to come. In and through Jesus.

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let Christians be Christians

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:1-12

James is a great go-to book for the present day. We have to be careful when we do, about making applications to any present day situation. First of all, as James says elsewhere, we have to keep looking at ourselves squarely in the mirror of God’s word, and keep looking, instead of thinking we have some sort of great application for everyone else.

That said, I think we can together acknowledge our need and our propensity to depend on and be devoted to the world rather than on God. And even find our identity somewhere in the world system, when through Jesus, our identity is in him and God’s kingdom come in him.

I take it that “friend of the world” from James doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make friends with people of the world, nor does it mean we’re not present and active in doing good works. What it does looks like will differ among us depending on our gifts and calling, and our understanding of the nature and extent in which we can be involved. For some Christians, they will be involved in the political process, some even running for political office. Other Christians will not even vote, but will try to be good neighbors, and help in ways they can. And everything in between.

The call here is that we as Christians must simply be Christians. If we’re anything else, all those things must be secondary. For example as a citizen of the United States I would like to understand so as better appreciate the founding of this nation from the ground up in its early decades and beyond. But when it’s all said and done, and I know better than to think that’s not an ongoing endeavor, but always and in the end, the bottom line is that we who name the name of Christ as our Lord, are above and beyond anything else, simply Christians.

That should mark our thinking, words and actions. If the first thing that comes to mind when people think of us is that we’re Republicans, Democrats, progressives, conservatives, or even moderates, whatever, then we should well wonder just what kind of witness in the world we have. And to the extent we’re part of this world order, we’ll partake of its fruit. Note the passage above. Cutting others down who don’t see the light that we think we have is a sad example.

This is difficult, and it’s not like any of us is perfect in it. But this should be our goal. To be Christian, to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. In and through Jesus.

defining God and God’s mission by our own expectations

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6:14-15

As Aaron Buer pointed out this past weekend, the Jew’s agenda, especially among the Zealots was to get free from Rome, for the Zealots get rid of Rome altogether by force. Aaron pointed out how we often see God and by extension Jesus according to what we expect God to do for us, instead of letting God reveal himself in his words and works.

There’s no question that what God is doing sometimes includes nations. The spread of the gospel was helped much by the Roman roads, even the empire itself, though certainly unwittingly. We can say that God not only used it, but in some sense orchestrated it to a greater end than what it was originally intended for. Not that human civilization and culture doesn’t have its place in the present.

Present day issues, just as in the past can be nagging and even biting. And it’s not like so much that’s up in the air politically isn’t important or significant even for Christ’s mission and the gospel, like the plight of the poor. But as Christians we have to step back and ask ourselves just whose agenda we’re on: our own, someone else’s, a combination of the above, or God’s?

In terms of the politics of this world Jesus would have none of what people wanted out of him. From a reading of the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament we see that the battle of the Lord is spiritual, not physical. And that Jesus conquered through the cross, through his death and resurrection, his ascension with the promise of his return not only marking that victory, but seeing it proceed by the gospel through the work of the Spirit right in the present time.

Nowadays it’s as easy as a click to get sidetracked from what God is doing and wants to do through us onto some other agenda, often set by well meaning people, even Christians, yet by that sidetracked from God’s calling to us in Jesus. And perhaps the most dangerous part is trying to sublimate as in include it in our gospel agenda, somehow merging the Lord’s work and man’s work into one, as if it’s a hand in hand endeavor. But as we see from Scripture, that’s not the case at all. It’s either the Lord’s work entirely, or it’s not his work at all.

Jesus would have none of what the people of his day wanted, indeed seemed to expect. What are we expecting today? Are we open to God’s work in Jesus? Or is it something else that matters more to us?

paying attention to God’s commands

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

It seems hard and almost old fashioned, at least open to question nowadays, the necessity or even importance of keeping God’s commands. For one thing we live in a relatively Bible illiterate day, when it seems like year after year, people who attend Bible teaching churches know the Bible’s content less and less. At least that has been the case. And we live during a day when there’s a major cultural shift arguably accompanied with a hermeneutical shift, how Christians interpret the Bible. With the obvious changes from the Old (or First) Testament to the New (or Second, we could say Final) Testament such as found in Leviticus, for example the prohibition of sowing two different fabrics together to make clothes no longer being in effect comes the protests that sexual mores have now been changed as well. The idea that sexual relations are confined to a woman and man who are married is considered odd and a thing of the past, almost taboo at least among many in their practice.

Among Christians who fall prey to none of that, there can be such an emphasis on grace, that keeping God’s commands is nearly beside the point. Impossible since that is considered falling under the law, which is only meant to indicate that we’re sinners, incapable of keeping the law. With others it might be a decided shift in emphasis due to priorities which determine more what we’re to do and not do than Scripture itself. It’s almost like Scripture is present to help achieve what is considered most important, often referring to priorities in one’s personal life, or from the political sphere.

May I just suggest that I think all of us Christians and churches ought to stop, back up, and go to square one. We need to return to the plain words of Scripture, of course read faithfully and in light of God’s revelation given to us in Scripture of Christ. We might be surprised at just how traditional it might come across. Not the air of today’s “brave new world” but the fulfillment of the old creation in the new creation in Jesus as spelled out in the Final “New” Testament itself. Something to which we should aspire, even as with the psalmist we lament in not arriving to perfection in this life. In and through Jesus.

divisive issues and the Christian witness

The cultural divide in the United States seems to be expanding with little or no hope for any meaningful bridging of the gap. Not that Christians should regard that as a chief concern since our calling is to be a witness of Jesus by the way we live, what we do and say. We live in the present time in a kind of exilic state, citizens of heaven, but “resident aliens” on earth, yet praying and hoping for the good of the nations in which we reside (Jeremiah 29), certainly more than a tall task in some places, yet part of our calling.

Those who say experience should override the intellect, or something of the like are themselves making an intellectual proposition. There ought to be a commitment to a reasoning process which includes civil conversation in debate over the issues. And that means all the issues.

The Christian appeal, as Dallas Willard pointed out somewhere in a much more substantial way is to the intellect. I don’t know how Scripture can have such a central, foundational place in the Christian tradition, and anyone think otherwise. After all it is the written words certainly appealing to us as humans through the intellect. That is, if we take it seriously.

I think today’s climate is toxic, not to mention divisive. Christians need to be present in complete humility, willing to learn, but also stating a case made through a disciplined commitment to the study of Scripture, and of life, which of course would include history and philosophy, and whatever else. We should gently and humbly make our case.

Our primary calling to the point that I would simply call it our calling is to the gospel. We are witnesses of it, either good or bad. Our lives either show or fail to show the light of God in Christ. That is what we ought to be known for. Even as we listen and speak out in testimony to the truth as we understand it, and as it stands in Jesus.

politics and love for neighbor

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

Without getting into the politics and technicalities (philosophy, etc.) of everything, since it’s really more complicated than what many people on different sides make it out to be, I want to press home what should be our chief consideration as Christians when it comes to politics. I’m assuming that you like most Christians have some interest in it, from at least considering voting, to actual participation in the process.

Love for God and for neighbor should trump every other concern. It’s not like we shouldn’t take care of our own, but that we should use the freedom we have to help others. Of course that includes the unborn, the war torn refugee, the down and out- the homeless, etc., etc.

Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan to press home the teaching that we’re to be a neighbor to whoever is in trouble. That we’re to show them love by being present for them to bind up their wounds and take care of their needs so that they can recover.

At the heart of Christianity is a devoted love for God and for our neighbor as ourselves. It’s not just about how well we are. It’s about others flourishing, also. Only Jesus can help any of us be well. We as Christians seek to be present in Jesus for each other, and for others. We should want to be a neighbor to everyone.

For the Christian, the church is where the life of Christ is present and where we’re commissioned to be a witness to the good news in Jesus, and to do good works. What moves us  is not in a political party or candidate of this world. It’s only Jesus. Not to say good as well as evil isn’t done by political parties and candidates. But that our work is in Jesus with the distinctive of love for God and neighbor.

getting a grip on the world’s disorder

If you would like to get upset and out of sorts, then turn on a news channel, or go to news sites online. Even from those trying to get facts straight from whatever perspective or bias they have, there’s plenty to get worked up with nowadays. And this is true no matter what our understanding might be, however we might understand various issues.

I think we do well to turn to the entire Bible, and specifically the Old Testament Hebrew prophets. I think of Isaiah, which we might say in its own shape is kind of a miniature Bible in itself. And the relatively short book of the prophet Habakkuk might especially fit well into the current time, though it surely speaks to every time.

Habakkuk was complaining about the disorder of his day, the order for him surely being God’s shalom, meaning the flourishing under God’s rule meant for God’s people to display to the world. Instead Israel’s leaders were disrupting God’s order for their own gain, of course against God’s kingdom priorities, like caring for the poor and oppressed.

So God was going to use a new order which wasn’t at all like the kingdom order of God. The Babylonians were actually a law unto themselves, hammering one kingdom after another, and scoffing at every ruler and god, even at God himself. And yet God was using them. This was indeed troubling to Habakkuk, who didn’t know what to make of it as we see from the book, surely not liking it, either.

I think we need to settle down in our seats with open Bible in hand, and simply let the prophets speak to us in this day and age. If we hold to the Scriptural teaching that God’s sovereign reign is in some way over all, that God is at work in the mess of the world, surely that ought to help us to settle down and get a grip on our own emotions, as we learn to rest in trust in God. That seems to have been what happened to Habakkuk over the course of the book, as we see in his song of resolute trust in and praise of God at the end.

We do need a change of mind for sure, the right thoughts to enter in, before a change of heart, which we mean emotional can settle in. We begin to understand that whatever disorder and order in the world we see contrary to God’s kingdom does not mean that God is not at work. In ways we couldn’t have imagined and wouldn’t have planned, God can be at work. That doesn’t mean what the Babylonians were doing was good, even as Scripture tells us. And God was going to hold them accountable. But God was indeed using them in his transcendent wisdom.

Read the book of Habakkuk and let it soak in. We don’t need to get all worked up and bent out of shape over the news. God is in charge; we’re not. We should pray for government officials and be good citizens. And above all be witnesses of God’s good and perfect kingdom now present and to fully come in and through Jesus.