Paul’s witness in trouble and weakness

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

We live in a society, in a world which is indeed allergic to trouble, as well as death. The American Dream isn’t directly about a trouble free existence, but for many, at least having all of our troubles taken care of by our own ingenuity and strength.

Enter Paul. Paul’s world was about following Christ, others following him as he followed Christ, living in Christ, living for the gospel. It didn’t exclude what is considered the mundane matters of life, in his case, tent making. Paul’s passion was Christ and the gospel. And his own witness was to let the gospel become evident in large part through his life, and specifically in his weakness. No, we’re not referring to sin here, but to his mortality and the inherent weakness of his body.

2 Corinthians is a beautiful book laying all of this out, a great read from start to finish.

Paul’s passion in and through Jesus ought to be ours. Yes, we are all weak in ourselves, but that’s exactly where Christ’s strength comes through. And we are broken, cracked jars of clay, as it were, but through that comes Christ’s light. So that we should never give in to despair, or the lie that somehow we’re not succeeding because life’s circumstances are at best difficult. We should see all of life as a window of opportunity for the light of the gospel, the good news in Jesus to shine even through us, through our brokenness.

When we have it all together, we’re on our own. But when we’re broken, in great need, and living on the edge of what seems to be death, if we’re seeking to live in and for the gospel in the midst of that, then Christ’s life will become evident even in us, in our lives. In and through him.

 

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the strongman is weak

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13

This could end up being one of those few posts I delete for whatever reason. But I want to say upfront that something of the very plague of thinking “might makes right” is endemic in our culture, as it was in  Paul’s day. It was a lot about a superior wisdom then to which the cross was pure folly. But make no mistake about it, to the Romans strength and power was also a first order value, the very breath of their existence, and in their minds at least helping them establish their value in the world. And ironically, one could make the case that this Roman grip in its strength, and extensiveness helped immensely in the spread of the gospel.

Give me a person who is weak in Jesus, depending on him, and I’ll see a person whose strength is ultimately in God. Give me a person who is strong in themselves, and depends on no one, and I’ll see a person whose strength is destined to fail, since it’s only in themselves. I realize life can be more complicated than this. We have no further to look than Proverbs to realize that, along with the rest of the Bible, and then some reflection on life itself.

But ultimately, when you get right down to the heart of existence, you have to find your strength in God, and you do that, paradoxically through finding it in the weakness of the crucified Jesus, in whom we both die and live, in resurrection power and life. In the strength which is God’s in Jesus given to us by the Spirit for each other and the world.

“proof” of the resurrection of Christ is in the pudding

Christianity Today has an interesting review on the new film now out in the theaters, “The Case for Christ,” telling the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from an atheism to evangelical Christianity. The story by itself probably makes the film compelling enough to want to watch, though I’m not much of a film watcher myself. And I admit to avoiding watching Christian films, since I think what is often painted is an unreal world. Which is sad and difficult, since something of what those films convey is usually valuable and even important.

Christian apologetics concerns both the defending and argument for the veracity of the faith, so that in perhaps what at best is a kind of C. S. Lewis approach, an appeal is made for the argument of the truth of the gospel, specifically here, of Christ’s resurrection. Not completely on a rational basis, but even an appeal to experience and beauty gets put on a rational scale in the end. I admit that I like that approach for myself. But good as that might be for people like me, who like to see intellectual arguments pro and con, that actually ends up not being the most satisfying approach in the sense of life changing. And when one puts all their weight on the intellectual side, there is always the possibility that the something more we don’t know might tip the scales another way; we just can’t know for sure. Although many a person who either practices law, as a lawyer, or approaches life from that perspective has concluded that the evidence in favor of Jesus having actually risen from the dead is quite telling and compelling.

To consider the gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week before his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a good exercise, as we see the perspectives of the four evangelists in telling that story. And then Luke’s story continues on in Acts, which tells us about the beginning of the early church and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world.

What ends up, I believe, being most persuasive in appealing for the faith of the gospel and the truth of Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the change that occurred in Jesus’s followers. That is in terms not only of this really taking place, but of its significance, as well. If Jesus simply rose from the dead with the promise that someday we who have faith in him will likewise be resurrected into that same life, that has wonderful meaning, to be sure. But it might not impact us much in this life, at least not in the way that scripture tells us it does.

We begin by faith right now to share in Jesus’s resurrection life. This is clear throughout the Final/New Testament, Romans 6 being one example, but all throughout. Romans 6 speaks of participation by faith and baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we can now, by grace begin to live this new life. It might be seen as a more “religious” argument, but Christ’s resurrection is at the heart of the faith, of what Christianity essentially is according to scripture. It is a partipation not just in seeking to follow Christ’s teachings, or the teachings of the church, as important as those are. But it is an actual participation no less in the very life of Christ, yes, his resurrection life, beginning even prior to the resurrection to come, in our lives now, by the Spirit.

We live because he lives, and our life in him is distinct. And while it is in anticipation of the resurrection to come, it partakes of that resurrection in partaking of Christ right now in this life. In changing the way we live, the breath that we breathe, in other words what motivates us, and how we want to live. More precisely, what God is making us to be over time in becoming more and more like Jesus.

This is both an individual and joint venture, to be sure. But the key is Christ and his resurrection. We follow one whose life is now our life, which means a difference now, and all the difference in the world beyond this life, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

And so the truth and reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead will be seen by me today, not in considering once again the way the story is told in the gospel accounts. But the difference this reality makes in my life right now, through the nitty gritty and sometimes downright difficult circumstances of life. Does Christ make a difference there, and in what way? That’s the question, answered more than well enough for me time and time again. In and through the risen Jesus.

the real thing

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:19-20

There is no one who enjoys a coffee, and even better yet, a beer with a friend, then I do. And how about some good Beatles music, and better yet, Bach? And what about a trip to sight see, like for example in the Rocky Mountains? Or to relax and chill in some resort area, a real vacation? Do we enjoy weddings, and what matters from that beginning, the marriage which follows? Of course. It’s not like we Christians can’t enjoy good things that are a part of creation. It’s just that we know there’s more, much more. And we won’t settle for second best.

As usual, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But the marriage analogy not only surely helps, but hopefully will make the point. What day is more happy than one’s wedding day? We might say especially so for the bride, but is it really less so for the groom? I’ve only been a groom, so I can’t say. Ha. But what follows, probably beginning with the honeymoon, but especially after the honeymoon experience begins to wear off is real life. Life in a relationship between two flawed individuals, who little know what they’ve gotten themselves into, given the seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day together existence of marriage. Having to learn to work though issues together, such issues including shortcomings and indeed, even sins, especially of the tongue which need to be taken care of in confession to each other, and forgiveness given. But to get back to the point of this post, marriage is an apt analogy of the reality that there’s more, much more which needs to break into this old creation: nothing less than the new creation in and through Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15 (link above will take you to the entire chapter) is a remarkable chapter in which Paul advocates the resurrection, and specifically the resurrection of Christ as at the heart of the gospel. And for Paul, his entire life was lived in service to Christ and to the gospel, to the point which other things in comparison hardly mattered at all to him in his personal life. Others had a wife or husband, but Paul didn’t. Others received compensation so they could continue on in preaching the gospel, whereas he (at least, often) refused such (1 Corinthians 9). He certainly lived a difficult existence to say the least (1 Corinthians 4; 2 Corinthians not letting up on that theme one iota). To him to live was Christ, and to die, gain (Philippians 1). He was at the front of the new movement of the gospel, the good news who is Jesus with all that means, and one would expect serious opposition to that, and not an easy road for a number of reasons, not the least of which was God’s work of preparation to help him to be ready to suffer for Jesus’s sake. And Paul tells us (through the word/scripture, by extension to us today) to follow him as he followed Christ.

1 Corinthians 15 (if you haven’t read it at all, or recently, it wouldn’t hurt to do so now) is a remarkable word on how the good news in Jesus in the resurrection in him makes living for today and this world without a thought for tomorrow, or specifically the life after this life, such a sad, even fatal mistake. In Christ we get caught up into a new existence which while enjoying this life, by faith knows that the real life is in him, bringing in the new creation, bringing us into the life of the Trinity, the true eternal life, beginning in this present life in the power of Christ’s resurrection, but destined to take over the world in the new creation. A destiny which sees this life as both the beginning and means through nothing less than death and resurrection in Jesus of arrival to what we have inklings and even real  beginnings of now, but can’t be imagined apart from the revelation of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2). And so, we continue on.

what are we willing to die on a hill for?

This is not a put down to veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We rightfully honor and appreciate their service. What I’m referring to is a whole host of issues which divide people. Of course American politics comes readily to mind right now and the deep divide in the United States.

Like most everything else in life, this gets a bit complicated. There are a good number of life and death issues of varying pressing importance. I think of human trafficking, climate change, abortion which can’t be separated from concern and care for the mother, and other topics. We can be thankful for people who out of love major on these in ways which are helpful and constructive toward solutions and the abolishing of evil. So the question of what we’re willing to stake our lives on does not at all negate the need to address other matters which might be a matter of life and death for many, and of which we may be little aware of ourselves.

And there are those in particular fields who may have to defend their positions at times, since not only their occupations, but something even larger in terms of human understanding and flourshing may be at stake. I for one accept the scientific “theory” (meaning established on ongoing observation, hypothesis, and testing) of evolution, the scientific basis for human caused climate change, and surely a few more positions on basic issues which puts me at odds with most people around me. Not to mention what I think about American politics, which at times might put me at odds with nearly everyone, and maybe even myself.

My argument in this post is that there should be only one hill a follower of Christ is willing to die on, and that’s the truth claim of the gospel. The good news in Jesus, that God became flesh in him, fully human, was anointed to bring in God’s kingdom and thus the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world, a kingdom which came through both the King’s death and resurrection, verifiable in history with sufficient evidence in what the Bible calls proofs. And Jesus ascended to the right hand of God from the Father pouring out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. With the promise of his eventual, “soon” even if delayed for some time- return.

We are to give up our lives for Jesus and the gospel, as we’re told in the gospel accounts. If we sacrifice much in the course of some other responsibility in this life, that may be well and good, and right and necessary for us. But what all followers of Jesus must live for and from, and if need be die for as well is the good news from God of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. That is at the very heart beat of our existence, a nonnegotiable for all of us who are in Jesus. We are occupied with the hill on which our Lord died, and all that followed from that: the resurrection, new creation life in and through Jesus, ultimately for the world in and through him. And of which we are to be a witness now in how we live, as well as what we tell others.

the need for lament

To be successful it seems in too many quarters is to be on top of the world in some kind of dominant position, rather than in a vulnerable place of suffering. We want to be fulfilled, to have complete assurance through the working toward dreams being realized. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him in suffering, to learn what it means to live in participation of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. That is not what we thought we signed up for when we became a Christian. Of course accompanying that death is the real life, the power of Christ’s resurrection, but again the end is to be like him in his death (Philippians 3).

Lament is surely a big part of this, seen over and over in the psalms, as well as in an entire book, the book of Lamentations, in the longest book in the Bible, Jeremiah, and throughout the Bible, including from Jesus himself. To lament is to enter, or more accurately to realize that we are all entered into the brokenness and ongoing tragedy of this world, and instead of trying to escape it, seeking to live faithfully there through God’s faithfulness in Jesus, as those who suffer and groan along with it, so that it can begin to realize what ultimately will be true healing and redemption into the life that is truly life in and through Jesus.

To not lament is as much of a choice as to lament, but too often it’s because our hearts are hard because we are given over to other gods, maybe the god of consumerism, security, pleasure, “money, sex and power,” nationalism, etc., etc. But to be formed by the gospel is to become countercultural in the way of the cross, which ends up being the way of suffering service and healing lament all in and through the sacrifice and salvation that is in Jesus.

Somehow through lament comes healing, for ourselves, but just as importantly, for others as well. We’re blessed in that way, to be a blessing. Death being at work in us, so that life might be at work in others, all in and through Jesus. And so I want to embrace lament more and more, living where the deepest pain is, so that God’s joy and peace can find its way into those places, so that others might with us find the life that is truly life in and through Jesus.

Ascension Day and the National Day of Prayer

I think Ascension Day, the church’s rememberance and celebration of our Lord’s Ascension to heaven, at the right hand of the Father to reign in power does coincide with the National Day of Prayer here in the United States. What might that mean for us here, as well as for believers elsewhere?

Jesus through his death and resurrection is Savior of and Lord over all, sitting at the right hand  of God in the place of ultimate power. His rule extends beyond, but is especially active in and through his church. But I don’t believe in terms of some of the theology we’ve placed on it. Dominion theology readily comes to mind, and while it can be misunderstood, there is in my mind little  if any valid defense for it from scripture itself.

Jesus today reigns through his body the church in the way of the cross. That is the way of love in and through his life and death, we his body now on earth, living as those who share in both his death and resurrection, not only in salvific terms, but also in a sanctifying and missional sense. Jesus’ rule continues to confound the rulers of this world, except insofar as they might begin to take it seriously themselves, and try to fulfill their calling in that light.

And that should make a difference in how we pray for nations, particularly our own nation, and those in governmental authority. We do so primarily in terms of our own calling as Christ’s body, the church. To live peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness as witnesses to Jesus being the one Mediator between God and humans (1 Timothy 2). And so we pray simply that they would be given the wisdom to govern well, certainly that they would look to God for that wisdom, that they would be converted themselves to the faith. And this prayer should be not only on special days, but regularly, and especially corporately, together. We exist in different countries to be a blessing from God to those countries (Jeremiah 29:7).

We pray through the one who is given ultimate authority in heaven and earth, that authority active for us to make disciples of all nations, no less (Matthew 28). Not for, as in our case here, voting in the best candidates and seeing that the nation is run well. That is not our calling, but if we fulfill our calling, that certainly can help for the good of the nation and governments where we live.

And so today I will join with others where I work at Our Daily Bread Ministries for National Day of Prayer, simply to lay before the Lord in prayer the good of this nation, but in terms of not just US national interest, but for the good of the world, and primarily for the sake of the gospel and its spread everywhere, to the building of Christ’s church by the Spirit to the glory of God.