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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the end is coming; the inevitability of death

…death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2b

It is tragic to read of the death of younger people from accidents or illnesses, even fatalities. We say “before their time,” which is well said, because people want to “live out their days.”

When one gets older, it’s inevitable to start thinking more seriously about the inevitable. Or at least that seems the healthy thing to do on balance. The “Teacher” in Ecclesiastes tells us so.

Once upon a time, death was taken more seriously since it seemed to make its rounds more often and with greater intensity. Death was a part of life, and there was no denial of it.

Nowadays it’s different. People seem to look much younger in their fifties, and it’s generally expected, or at least hoped that one has good health well into their seventies, and even beyond. Medical advances and healthier lifestyles contribute to this. But along with that easily comes the deception that we no longer have to look death in the face. Or that it’s some foreign intruder that we would just as soon ignore, so that we easily forget about it.

On Ash Wednesday, a big part of the ceremony of marking a cross with burnt ashes on the faithful’s forehead is to acknowledge one’s mortality. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” We are mortal. We will die. We need to take that to heart, so that it can inform and indeed form our lives. And there’s more to it.

…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…

Fortunately for us, that passage doesn’t end there.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:27-28

Christ has taken care of our sins, so that all we have to do is repent and believe. Stop thinking we’re okay, or have things in hand, or can do better, or can take care of our problem ourselves. And instead entrust ourselves to Christ, receiving God’s gift of salvation in him through his death and resurrection.

I think of legacy, what one leaves behind, and I have to admit, I’m not that impressed. That surely does have some truth in it. But it seems more than less that God simply blesses one’s family or those one’s life touches through the blessing God gives them. None of us is without fault, God does redeem, and each has to come to the faith themselves, though the faith of others certainly can help.

At any rate, death is something we ordinarily never look forward to. It is an intruder no doubt, away from God’s original intent and design (Genesis 1, 2). It is called the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15). So “in Christ” we have an extraordinary hope, indeed anticipation, which sees something beyond the grave. No less than resurrection in Christ.

Meanwhile we grope in this life, knowing that short of Christ’s return, the end is inevitable. It will come. I hope to live my life everyday in light of that. Knowing this day could be my last day. But if not, that last day will come. And that we can rest in the fact that the same God who gave life through creation has given new life through the new creation. Death is the end here, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

the righteous boast

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[b]

1 Corinthians 1:28-31

For God’s people, followers of Jesus, there’s one boast and one boast only. It’s in God himself and what God does. Somehow God takes his people into his work by the Holy Spirit, so that we’re actually involved in what God is doing. So we find that we not only are given, but actually participate in God’s goodness.

So our only boast is in God and in God’s work in Jesus who is Lord, and the cross, God’s saving act in Jesus. And in the difference that makes in our lives and the lives of others. In and through Jesus.

is God my shepherd?

A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

“Lord” in “the Lord is my shepherd” is an English translation capitalized in most English versions when it translates “Yahweh,” the personal Hebrew name for God. Of course in the New Testament Jesus is revealed as the human who not only enacts this, but does so because he in fact is the God-human. So what is meant in Psalm 23 is God, and later that is fulfilled in Jesus, certainly true of the Triune God.

We are called sheep in Scripture, and for good reason. We go astray, are easily lost, and are quite dependent. To understand sheep better would be a good study in itself, but we need to be careful not to press those analogies from Scripture too far. We need to consider them in their contexts in Scripture. No question that sheep in Scripture are said to go astray, to be vulnerable against attackers such as wolves, helpless and harassed in need of a shepherd. And interestingly, sheep know the voice of their shepherd, each of them having their own name so that they’re known individually by their shepherd.

I am glad that this psalm is attributed to David. David was a shepherd early on which prepared him to be king over God’s people. Kings in the best sense of what they were to fulfill were to be shepherds. David was certainly no perfect shepherd, especially evident from his horrific sin involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. He had other faults as well. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart, having a heart for the people.

As I recently picked up from Dallas Willard, Psalm 23 is a prime passage to memorize so that one can meditate, reflect and pray through it. I think one can do well to say it again and again, and talk to God about it. Asking God if God really is our shepherd.

Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in the classic passage in John 10. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out to find good pasture, even life to the full. And he lays down his life for the sheep.

The psalm is quite personal. God is “my” shepherd. Oftentimes to push against the individualistic emphasis in our culture in which little else matters except for “me and mine,” we neglect the reality that our faith is personal and that God really does care about and for us individually. Each sheep he knows by name. Yes, each of us are dear to the Lord. He knows us through and through, and really does love and care for us.

I don’t like a lot of things about myself, and have struggled to like myself at all. I often just put up with myself. But that’s not what God wants. The Lord wants us to accept the truth that he made each one of us, and that redemption and reconciliation is for each one of us in and through Jesus. In Jesus the shepherd analogy of Scripture fits to a tee. Do we see Jesus and God in Jesus that way?

We must not let go of this. Everything in Psalm 23 is meant for us, yes each one of us, individually. And we need to see it for others as individuals, as well. Each and every line. Here it is again, to be read and pondered and prayed over until it becomes more and more our own in and through Jesus.

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

God is a judge(?)

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

Isaiah 30:18

If you click the link, you will be taken to Isaiah 30, which clearly indicates that God is indeed a God of judgment. A sample:

The voice of the Lord will shatter Assyria;
with his rod he will strike them down.
Every stroke the Lord lays on them
with his punishing club
will be to the music of timbrels and harps,
as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm.

Isaiah 30:31-32

In the case of Assyria, they were clearly an empire deserving of judgment. In their conquest, they brutalized and tortured. Israel was one of their victims, but Assyria’s day would come.

The first passage strikes the scriptural balance between God’s judgment and salvation. God judges ultimately to save. That is a pattern seen again and again in Scripture, ultimately in the Cross itself. In Jesus God takes the judgment for sin on himself in being the lamb slain from the creation of the world, which takes away the sin of the world.

God’s judgment is not willy-nilly and certainly not nefarious. It’s altogether reasonable, just and good. God calls people to trust in him, in his goodness. That he is just and will perform justice even for us who in ourselves are not just, but made just by his goodness in the sentence of death God imposed on himself in his Son. So that through his death, we can escape our own death, and be taken into his resurrection life.

So we need to entrust our eternal life into God’s hands. And our day to day lives, as well, just as is made clear enough by this passage in Isaiah 30. In and through Jesus.

why faith, hope and love are each vitally important

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We’re more familiar and maybe even more comfortable with what has been called “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, in which when all is said and done- faith, hope, and love remain. But God would not be good or just if a final salvation didn’t come which eventually ultimately clears out all evil in the world. You don’t have to look long or far to find what is best called out and out evil. And in one way or another, we all end up being implicated in it. Either by our silence, or actual often unwitting participation in one way or another.

But we know Jesus came in large part to take God’s wrath on himself, therefore God himself taking the judgment we deserve by accepting, and has been said, absorbing in himself the evil we heaped on him, and turning that into our salvation. Even our forgiveness and new life in his love, if we simply accept this salvation as a gift.

We in Jesus belong to the day in contrast to those who are of the night, still in spiritual darkness. The imagery that follows is spiritual battle. We’re therefore to put on both faith and love as a breastplate for our protection, along with the hope of salvation as a helmet, again for our protection. Faith, hope and love go together.

In God’s love we live, and dare to live come what may. Faith is the means by which we enter into the love and hope that is offered as a gift in Jesus. Faith and love are joined together in the passage. We can’t know and begin to experience God’s love apart from faith. By faith we are justified (declared righteous), and experience God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5).

Hope follows. It is something so important to hold on to, especially in the midst of the spiritual battle which oftentimes is personal, but inevitably extends to those around us: loved ones, “neighbors,” even enemies. Our hope is for God full and final salvation promised in Jesus. Hope for those in Jesus is anticipation of what is yet to come. We experience it anew and afresh when God’s love is poured out in our hearts. But we also hold on to it during the times when all seems pitched dark in the spiritual battle we’re in. And it should always be, along with faith and love a basic part of our lives day after day 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.