we bear witness to a better day

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today in the United States is Memorial Day when Americans who lost their lives in military service are honored. We indeed should remember them and their sacrifice. But we as followers of Christ and the church of Christ ought to point to a better day when violence is not only the last resort alas unlike today, but when war will be no more.

That thought sounds so unreasonable when there’s so much violence and evil in the world. We have to remember that violence is not ended with more violence. Sooner or later that cycle continues as old grievances surface. Unfortunately what ought to be and what actually is are so far apart. It’s like you have to use a hopefully sanctified imagination to think of anything which could be different.

Violence is a fact of life, embedded in the human existence. There is not the necessary trust in God, in Christ with the hope/anticipation of the resurrection to make the commitment to something else. But if churches of Christ aren’t doing this, then what does that say about our witness? Are we just supposed to be okaying, even strongly supporting military action and wars of the state? Surely not.

We in Jesus point to a better day. By how we live along with our telling of this. We encourage nations to make peacemaking the priority, along with trying to understand and address underlying issues behind the violence. Realizing indeed that all violence will not be vanquished until Christ returns. Nevertheless doing all we can to point ourselves and others to a better day. And hopefully seeing that played out more in creative ways in opposition to oppressive regimes, with the commitment to do good to the distressed, and ultimately to all. A tall order indeed. But a large part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

reflecting a bit on America: shades of gray (no, don’t even think about bringing down the Washington Monument, etc.)

This is the fourth of July, and if you’re going to read only one blog post today, settle in on this one from Brian Zahnd, I Love You, America, But Not Like That.

There is no doubt to me that another part of the reckoning due to the enslavement and mistreatment of Africans has come for America. We are in a day when  some would see the dismantling of all of America’s cultural landmarks. Almost the entire tent coming down to be replaced with something else.

There’s no doubt that great evil was done, and that the founding father’s blindness or acceptance of slavery is plain downright wrong. There is no gray in that. And as George Will pointed out in his most recent (outstanding) book, The Conservative Sensibility, there would be no United States apart from the slavery which under girded it, and gave founding fathers the time to hammer out the foundation of this nation.

What we need to keep in mind is the whole. Not excusing any part that is wrong and actually downright evil. But remembering what was good. I shouldn’t neglect to mention the other part of what’s called America’s original sin: the stealing and killing of native Americans, “Indians.” Both African-Americans and native Americans suffer to this day.

Without trying to cover everything that should be, I just want to point out here that we need to see life as it truly is. I love biographies that are not hagiographies, but try to tell it, warts and all. That’s one thing among many others that I love about the Bible. It doesn’t try to hide the blemishes, blotches, and indeed complete failures of characters. A great case in point is David, said to be a man after God’s own heart no less. But his actions when you read the account we’re not altogether good. And what he did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah were downright evil. But do we dismiss and diss David? No we don’t. It’s not like the bad part is forgotten, because it’s not, and shouldn’t be.

Looking at American history, I can still respect men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Instead of just seeing their flaws, I can acknowledge their good points, and greatness in some respects. Ironically holding to ideals on paper, not lived out entirely in their lives.

Again, this is not to excuse what’s wrong, or say what’s past is past while failing to see the many ramifications and realities which live on to this day.

So let’s not bring down the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial, etc. If anything is idolatrous then yes, that ought to come down. But let’s leave memorials like what I just mentioned intact. We should not even be considering removing them. I’m not referring to monuments that honor those who rebelled against the United States, the Confederacy, etc. They ought to be moved into museums, no longer to be honored in public squares. We can set up with our iconic memorials, new works that remember what Africans had to endure, and the great contributions African-Americans have made to this nation. As well as memorialize the good native Americans have done.

God have mercy if any of our lives are looked at strictly in terms of good and evil. For some there is great evil, other’s great good, but for all, there’s some mixture, so that there’s a certain shade of gray. As we Christians look to the one light of the world, Jesus, to expose our own spiritual darkness, and all the spiritual darkness around us, for the good of all. In and through Jesus.

for Memorial Day

We are thankful for all who put themselves in harm’s way for the good of others, and really for the good of all. Of course we recognize and acknowledge the limitations of any nation state of this world, and regret that all too often what is decided is the best for national interests does not necessarily have the best for all in mind, and actually often ends up detrimental to the national interest it professes to protect.

At the same time, even given the inevitable limitations of the state, we are thankful for all those who serve in the military and police for the good and protection of others, and especially for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. We want to remember them on this day.

May God give the governmental leaders of this world the wisdom to look to him, to be reticent, even wary of violence except as a last resort. A deep respect for the life of all, beginning with those under their command. And all of those serving a heart to be present for the welfare of their own nation. As prayers are offered that all conflict will end once and for all in the petition, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26

I’m not sure how many people actually look back to consider the past year, and then look forward in anticipation to what the next year will bring. Or even if very many see any value in that. Speaking for myself, I think in time’s past I’ve not seen much value in such an exercise, and didn’t see the change from December to January as anything more than a new calendar, parties for some, but for us or at least for myself, time off work.

This would be a personal exercise, not one you would want to necessarily write on and share. I’m sure for some of us the past year may have had parts we would rather forget, or maybe so bad that we’ll never fully get over it. Just heal with the remaining scars, painful at times, and go on. For others there may have been breakthroughs and some good results. Probably for most of us there’s a mixture of some of both.

Life is a journey, and the life of faith no less so. We do well to ask ourselves how we’re doing, whether or not we’re progressing in our walk with God. What improvements we’re making and what we still need to work on.

Challenges will lie ahead, but faith enables us to look forward to God’s answer to our prayers, so that we live in hope, anticipation of what God is going to do. And we certainly think in terms not just of ourselves, but of others. What does God have in store for our loved ones, our families? Our friends? Our churches? Our neighborhood, area, state, nation, indeed the world?

We can know that through it all, whatever new challenges we face, God is faithful. We can look to God in faith, knowing he will see us through. We do need to be in scripture, and in the fellowship of the church. But along with that, it’s our own personal interaction with God that will make the difference. Even as was the case with the writer of Lamentations.

We look back on the old year with thanksgiving for all God has done. And we look forward to what is yet to come, what God has in store and how he is going to work through whatever comes our way. 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.

not fit for this

I look at the rest of my life, and I see a lot of hard work to the end, however close that end is near. Someone recently graciously gave me the eleven volume set, The Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant. He is getting rid of some of his library and offered that to me. And he called me a scholar in an exchange about this, during which I laughed out loud. While I consider that some sort of a wake up call for me to get back to reading, I realize just how limited my amount of reading will be, and even more the lack of outlet I have to share what I learn. I do want to read those eleven volumes and much more. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I can look back and wish I would have been plugged into this or that. It is hard to know where to go with that. I have more than one possible scenario I wish would have worked out. But that is a waste of time. I’m where I’m at now, as one who is enthusiastic to learn and grow, loves truth, particularly from the faith in Jesus, but very tired, the days spiraling into weeks and months and years.

I will try to hold on— and do better than that, in all my weakness. Hopefully leaving a good situation for my wife if I pass before her, and something of a true blessing for our daughter and her children.  In the meantime my head is nearly spinning. Well, I’ll take one day at a time, and hopefully get better at this.

my own niche

I love our church, and I actually love past church experiences in different ways. In this post I am reflecting with a goal to thinking in terms of whatever time I have left to serve our Lord in the fellowship of his church in mission to the world. I wish someone early on would have tapped me on the shoulder and mentored me to be a teacher, perhaps in the church or in a professional setting, whether in a Christian institution or not. I have always seen myself as having a pastor’s heart. I will always love the memory of Pastor Bill Hesse, a present day Barnabas. I wish I would have remained with him and under his influence. I think I may have ended up being a pastor. I was not sufficiently rooted once I left the upbringing of my youth, the Mennonite church.

I would love to start a home group, maybe even plant a church along with others. It would be rather Anabaptist and charismatic in theology. One church may not fit all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches could somehow do that? That is just kind of a dream, I suppose.

Something I think is more solid than that: I would like to just keep on reading and reading and reading, hopefully in ways which will help not only myself, but others. And humbly serve the Lord in the fellowship of his church in different ways as opportunities arise. I would like to contribute somehow to the faith of the church along with others. Just as one member within the body of believers, the body of Christ. We all have our special contribution to make.

In the meantime I think I need to continue to read on and on. Something some years back I thought the Lord said to me (something like: “Read.”). From that I will continue to work, hopefully be led by the Spirit and be open to that leading much better. In the fellowship of God’s people, the church, together in Jesus for the world.

frozen in time

We tend to idealize certain epochs, ideals, and historical pictures, even though these all occurred in the struggles of their day with breakthroughs of some sort from God along the way. I think of the early Methodist riders (on horse) who traveled from settlement to settlement to preach the gospel and scripture, indeed to be a pastor to congregations formed in Methodist assemblies. The Baptist had their riders as well. Or some of the great outpourings of the Spirit such as the First and Second Great Awakenings, Azusa Street, etc. I would want to include the early Anabaptist witness, and there are many key points in history among many Christian traditions when God’s presence and work was especially apparent. Your list will probably differ from mine.

We can learn from such times, and we may even make our appeal to God on the basis of them. At the same time we must go on, seeking the manna from God in Christ for the new day. Time marches on, and the story requires every bit of it, the story of what God is doing in and through our lives and in the world. It includes all the parts, though we need not long for a certain part. Yet we can do well to stop the film and investigate each part as well as we can to see what we might learn from it.

Not only can we mistakenly idealize and maybe end up idolizing certain times and epochs, but we also can end up replaying a time in our mind over and over again, wishing it could be different. Again, time moves on. We need to learn to live well in the present, depending on God through Jesus by the Spirit to help us live well here and now, where God has placed us. God wants to do new things in the present, some of that possibly a renewal of the kind of works God has done in the past. But we need to learn to live in keen anticipation of what God is doing and wants to do now.

It does little good, in fact arguably not only no good, but even harm to wish over and over again that the past would be different, to wish we would have done better. Or to wish for the Lord to repeat what he may have done years ago on a certain day in our lives, or in the lives of others. We need instead to live in anticipation of what the Lord has for us today, the good, which includes the struggle and difficulties which accompany life, especially a life of living as followers of Jesus. We are in this together in Jesus for the world.

when it doesn’t seem to matter

There are things which we may seem called to do which don’t seem to matter much at all anymore, at least not like they seemed to at one time. Blogging is one of them for me. I used to be in a fellowship of bloggers, was linked on a highly prominent blog and sometimes cited on it, having found out to my surprise, in the first place, that I could write a blog post at all. Of course anything good is a gift from God.

I am at a spot where my blogging doesn’t seem to matter anymore. I also don’t seem to be needed anywhere except at home and at the nursing home where I do a church kind of service many Sundays. At work I know I can be replaced, but I am appreciated because of my work ethic (I imbibed from my parents), ability (again, from God) and experience. And I appreciate the work as well, working for a good Christian ministry, even if it’s on the factory end of it. I am certainly used to factory work by now.

Of course the things which seem to matter to us may not matter much at all to God. God sees the heart, and he wants us to learn to walk in love in and through Jesus. To be a true follower of Jesus.

When it doesn’t seem to matter is likely especially a good time to draw near to God, to seek to listen and hear his voice. And to major on what is important to God: loving God and our neighbor, serving others humbly in love, continuing to grow in Jesus. Together with others in Jesus for the world.