peacemaking in times of strife and division

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

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 3:17-18

If there’s ever a time during my lifetime when we need the kind of peacemakers Jesus and James were talking about, it’s today. The 1960’s were a challenging time as well. But peacemaking is always vitally important. People are often on edge, and it doesn’t take much for them to become distraught, debilitated, at least distracted from what they have to do. We know this ourselves, since we experience the same thing.

First of all we need to be settled in on the peace God has for us in Christ. It’s a peace through the salvation of the cross, to be lived out in life in the way of the cross, the way of Jesus. We think of the cross in terms of salvation, but we also need to think of it in terms of life, all of life, our own life lived out from day to day on earth. We are in continual need of forgiveness which comes through the cross. But we also are to be continually forgiving others, each other, even our enemies. We would hope that everyone would repent, but if we truly forgive the wrongdoing of others, that might help them be moved by mercy, and repent. The point that Jesus and James, the Lord’s half brother were getting at here is that peacemaking should be something we practice for the good of others.

During the current time in the world with the pandemic, and political unrest, we certainly all have our opinions. We won’t think precisely alike. That’s important to keep in mind, because peacemaking is not really about getting everyone on the same page to think alike. Instead it’s helping people who think entirely differently, and disagree on possibly serious matters to get along, to accept one another. There is something more important at stake than most of the things humans fight over. But there’s also the necessary shuffling needed if humans are to live well together. There’s no question that some matters are serious, I think of racism, and respect for all of life from the womb to the tomb. But to see our way forward to hopefully a better solution, at least as far as Jesus and James are concerned is not strife, conflict, and maybe out and out war. Instead it’s to bring peace which hopefully brings enough stability into a situation, that people can live together constructively, and hopefully find some harmony.

I know by experience, many years of it, that it’s not easy being a peacemaker when we’re not at peace ourselves, maybe with ourselves or something else. I am learning that I have to discipline myself to live in peace, to refuse to give into the strife in front of me, or even in me. Instead to seek peace both with myself and others. That means I’m willing to submit as in accept some things I won’t like or even agree with. We can’t control others, and if we could, would that be good? Clearly not, if we consider our own lives, our own struggle, and how often we’re mistaken.

I write this with the goal of living more in it. I believe the Lord has helped me to take big steps forward in this in the last months partly out of perceived necessity, and now more and more hopefully out of the conviction that this is what a Jesus follower is to be like, and my desire to be a Jesus follower. So I’m working both on understanding this, and living it out. I have much to learn, but hopefully will continue to make this a major priority of my life. In and through Jesus.

 

why I’m not much worried about the election, or upcoming elections

I will participate in the election tomorrow, and I do have opinions, some of them strong. And I have expressed concern over the incivility nationally on both sides, beginning in the White House. And not good in many places.

I think what the founding fathers of the United States struggled to put in place is strong enough to withstand the problems today, as long as citizens, and particularly those in governmental leadership continue that struggle. There is a good overview, well worth the time, on that. Although the subject matter may not seem to be directly applicable, I think it does get to the heart of what the American democratic republic is, never tried before in the separation of church and state: First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty.

I do share a concern over the United States, but my own biggest concern by far is the witness of the church in all of this. Yes, for the good of the nation, but above and beyond that, in view of God’s kingdom present in Jesus through the gospel. The church, and Christians should not be seen as either Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians and follow one Lord, Jesus. Because of that we’re going to run counter to prevailing thinking on a number of issues nowadays. And maybe considering the big picture, on some issues which likely won’t ever change. Though over time some may. And even Christians will disagree at times. One example: I’m for government mandated healthcare for all, but others are not. At the heart of that is the role of government, a debatable issue in itself. Christians are certainly not opposed to healthcare for all, the question is how to get there.

Whether we agree with what is in place or not, we’re to be in submission to such (Romans 13), and even to honor the office I take it, even if the one in place is not entirely honorable. We are to pray for all those who are in authority (1 Timothy 2). We may have to make appeals to such, and because of the democracy which the United States is, we can participate by lobbying for change, and voting.

Though God gives humans responsibility, God is ultimately in control (Psalm 75, etc.). We can and should participate insofar as our conscience dictates. But we should not be alarmists, nor should we think the world is on the line. At the same time, we need to be sensitive to real life issues out there, which are impacted by government, where perhaps laws are needed for the common good, and particularly for those who are marginalized. And we need to avoid readily taking on some kind of martyr complex, even if a political party or ideology is trying to force their will against us in a way which violates religious liberty. We should press for freedom in the public square for all, those religious as well as those who are non religious. In the midst of all of this, our final appeal is to God. As Christians and the church we live as Christians who happen to be American, along with those who are British, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, etc., etc., etc.

And we need to remember that the power of God for salvation is only through the gospel, never through politics. The change needed will come only when people’s hearts are changed through the gospel, and by common grace. So that there’s a new standard in place for people of the world, including everyone. Christianity through the centuries, along with grave errors at times, has brought a world of good, such as hospitals, stands against slave trade and racism, protection for the unborn, etc.

I will vote, and will lose no sleep over the outcome. God is God. Our trust is in him, not in any president, any government, nor in ourselves.

 

 

the idolatry of the cross with the flag

While there may well be a subtle critique going on in the New Testament of the idolatry of the state in light of the gospel, and the kingdom that brings, I think by and large the Christian faith was meant to be planted in a way that transcended any nation or government, internationally, and yet not tied down to any one nation or all of the nations put together, but very much on its own, in our American terms today: independent. The church was to be submissive to rulers and authorities, or at least those making up the church, but only insofar as that submission is faithful to the lordship of Christ. We bow the knee in the end to one Lord, and are submissive to those placed in authority insofar as they remain in their place.

In the beginning America was kind of a breakaway from the old world of church and state, but in another way, not. Yes, many people came here to have religious freedom from the state which imposed on the church much of its will in the old world, in fact we might say all of it. The roots of that is back to the Constantinian shift which began what was called the Holy Roman Empire in which only Christians could serve, everyone else essentially excluded. The Reformation in large part was responsible for this shift, though it was the Anabaptists and Baptists who pressed that. Infant baptism, except for Jews was required in the old world and was part of what it meant to be a member not only of the church, but a citizen of the state. In the complexity of that time, many came over with no axe to grind on that score, but to put their roots into the new world. Many of them were of the Church of England, Anglican, called Episcopalian here. While the new world in theory would hold to religious liberty, it was not practiced until the 1830s except for the Quaker state of Pennsylvania. This was a huge shift from the old world, yet almost the same allegiance of the church to the state remained in place. Of course with all kinds of varying understanding as to what that meant depending on the tradition, but except for the Anabaptists who were surely a relatively small minority (Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, and the like), the state in some measure and degree could be considered Christian.

Fastforward to today. There are many who find no problem at all with pictures of the US flag draped over the cross, maybe with an image of Christ hanging on it. And even for Christians who would be uncomfortable with that, there is little or no hesitation to see the United States in its best version to be a Christian nation. Of course the US always had both believers and nonbelievers in its mix, and while scripture was pointed to as part of its original understanding of what is right and wrong, there was never any pretense on the part of the founding fathers (except for a very few) that the United States was to be a Christian nation, but quite to the contrary. They more or less invoked, or wanted the blessing of the church and of Christianity on and in their endeavor, but this was wholly another experiment entirely, steeped in the Modernist Enlightenment which was still relatively new and fresh at that time.

We have those today on the left and on the right as it’s called, who both make the case more or less of what the United States ought to look like, yes, as a Christian nation. And neither vision is the vision we find in scripture, and specifically in the New Testament in which we read of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus, and what form that takes through faith and baptism in the church, and instead of what place that has in the world, how the nations and the world should be seen in light of that. One might say the place the state has in the picture in which the gospel and Christ’s kingdom is the main point of it all.

And so the idea of draping a flag over a cross, or for that matter even having the US flag to be understood as basic to the identity of any church, or of course any other national flag for that matter, is idolatry at its core, or at least in danger of bowing the knee in worship to something other than the Lord Jesus. Due respect, honor and submission is one thing. But amalgamation is quite another. Churches, denominations, and individual believers have to make difficult decisions related to this, like whether or not one can be Christian and serve in the military, or in the political arena, and to what extent. But there should never be any question in all of the due submission to the state just who is lord. It is never ever the state, and never the state with the church. Christ is Lord over all, King of kings and Lord of Lords. The gospel is at the heart of our existence as Christ followers, as Christians, whether we recognize that or not. And nothing else can be a part of that.

working through disagreements

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

If you think at all, you won’t always agree with others. That is life. It’s not that the others are always wrong and us right, or vice versa. It is simply a case for a host of reasons of us having different opinions and perhaps even convictions on some things.

I think a key for us as Christians is to listen well to each other, really listen. Try to hear what they’re saying in its entirety, and ask questions for further clarification when needed. If we have serious disagreements, we can then express our concerns. But at a certain point in order to maintain the relationship, we have to agree to disagree, and agreeably so, in a way in which we can get along well with the other, and maintain good fellowship together in our Lord.

The key for me from the passage quoted above is the idea of being “of the same mind in the Lord.” It is where we’re united that we need to land on, and we as Christians are one in Christ. And in that union, we’re to find, I take it, something like a consensus in which we find agreement in a relational, functional kind of way, which is willing to set aside whatever disagreement remains for the sake of peace and for the sake of the gospel. And with a dependence on the Lord that he will see us through.

The idea expressed in this passage of a Christian leader mediating is of course of great value, and part of God’s word for us here. God can give that third party wisdom and an objectivity which is not possible for the parties in disagreement.

In the end we all need to work through and learn to live well with our differences because of and through our union with Christ. The gospel being the uniting factor from which we grapple with all the rest. So that even when our disagreements on other matters remain, our unity in Christ and in the gospel helps us to remain united in mind and heart. As we look forward to a better day to come beyond this life in and through Jesus.

a settled trust beyond reason

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

Life can be a struggle. Ask any homeowner, for example, who is trying to keep up basic repairs. Or concern over a host of other factors. Money is often involved, but other things as well. Priorities, and sometimes dealing with people. One can soon feel overwhelmed by it all.

Then we turn to scripture and read a passage like the one quoted above. In fact a couple years back this passage seemed especially impressed on me.

If there’s one thing I believe in humanly speaking, it’s the importance of reason. Too often people go on their emotions, or impressions, what might seem like the right, or best thing to do. I could wish to be like some who don’t seem to have a care in the world no matter what. Usually I get rid of my cares in a relatively short time, maybe in a day or less, and soon go on to the next care I have to deal with.

Scripture does not tell us to throw our reason away. In fact just to read scripture is in itself an appeal to our reasoning, but that appeal, while not suggesting we leave our reason behind, doesn’t stop there.

We are to employ our human reasoning the best we can, but in the end we’re to rest on God, to trust in him. No matter what we might cover through human investigation and reason, we can’t be foolproof. There will always be something more to know, which we may not uncover until years later, if at all. We do the best we can, but then let it go, and leave it in faith, in God’s hands.

This is a discipline with a much bigger goal in mind than simply succeeding in doing well enough in projects which need to be done, though we certainly want to do our best in them. We want to learn to live in a settled trust in God beyond our own human reasoning, and really all human reasoning. So that we live ultimately in dependence and submission to God. We want to be those who beyond anything else have an unwavering faith and trust in God.

That can be a struggle, since we’re so used to depending on ourselves, or others. But something for us to both aspire to, and grow in, through the normal day to day situations of life which we encounter. In and through Jesus.

the faith required for salvation

Matthew Bates has a most interesting new book out entitled, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. From what I can gather (and I would like to read the book, so far only bits and pieces of it, and this interview), I think Bates is hitting on something which better explains all of scripture and specifically the passages on salvation, than the normal explanations we hear and have grown up with in our evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

At the same time, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t truth in many of our explanations, maybe in all of them, as Bates acknowledges himself. It is more like left to themselves, they’re not enough. As one of my wonderful professors in seminary used to say, Dr. Joe Crawford: Saving faith is always submissive faith. If not submitting to Jesus as Lord, then there’s no salvation, pure and simple. I think that strikes the iron against both easy believism and eternal security as sometimes taught in our churches (see Scot McKnight’s foreword, accessible in the “Look inside,” here).

Faith is not mere intellectual assent, or simply receiving a free gift, although both are part of it. It is more, much more. Even grace, biblically understood, is more than we make it out to be. It involves a free gift to be sure, but also a reciprocation of that gift to the giver, and to others. At least that’s so if what this book argues for it’s original meaning is the case. Such rings true to me.

Of course it is by grace we are saved through faith, not of our works as foundational, so that we certainly can’t boast. But good works not only follow, but seem part and parcel of this gift, nothing less than creation in Christ Jesus (see Ephesians 2:8-10).

Sometimes we need new challenges, some seismic, perhaps even paradigmatic shifts in our thinking. Let it sift us, settle, and shape and change us, if need be. The goal is to be true to the faith as revealed in scripture and the gospel, the good news in and through Jesus.

submitting to the church

the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

1 Timothy 3

As Protestants we refer to sola-scriptura meaning that we derive our teaching from scripture. I may have personal wishes or even leanings about this or that, which I may believe scripture is not completely clear on. I actually would be considered quite traditional and conservative by most Christians, and certainly by the world. Not that it matters at all what I think as far as Christian teaching is concerned. It does not matter, period.

What does matter is how the Spirit has led the church. And concerning the gospel, even though there are ins and outs of various differences among Christian traditions, in essence it’s the same: the gospel is Jesus and all that surrounds him in his coming, life, death and resurrection, ascension, with the promise of his return.

Together we have to keep returning to scripture to understand afresh this gospel and its application to our present lives and world. Scripture mirrors the depth of life, and while simple enough so that we’re to have a child-like faith in believing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” it is also hard in some places, and has depths in many others, so that as we return to it again and again, new light will come to us.

But we must ever submit both to the authority of God in scripture, and in the church itself. I submit all of my own thoughts and opinions to that. And will teach only what scripture and the church of which I am a part, teaches. To that we in Jesus are called in our faith, lives and witness.

the great need in the world today (and everyday, forever)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1

There is much that’s needed in the world. After all, God put humankind on earth to be stewards of it, caretakers, as well as to enjoy it, and live off of it (Genesis 1-2). There is much that needs to be done for sure, on different levels.

But our greatest need is the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That good news is about our salvation, personally, for sure, but it’s about the salvation and new creation of the entire world, and on every level, the beginning of that to be seen through Jesus in the church, and its completion when Jesus returns and heaven and earth become one in him.

The good news is Jesus himself, in his becoming one of us in the Incarnation, his life and teachings, his death and resurrection, all of this fulfilling God’s call to Israel for the world. His ascension and the oupouring of the Holy Spirit. And the promise of his return. All of that is the good news in Jesus, and to understand it, we have to be reading the Bible from cover to cover. But all we need to enter into it is the faith of a little child. Simply trusting in God’s word to us, that if we believe in Jesus in the sense of submissive trust, we will be saved, and begin to recover our true humanity and calling in him.

Although I made that commitment years ago, I still need that good news in Jesus every day. God’s grace in God’s unfailing love to us in Jesus is present with us always, no matter what we’re facing, no matter what actually happens. Even no matter what we do, but to help us get back on track. The truly one good news that will last forever, in and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda?

Some people are excited over the new president of the United States. Others might be excited about this or that, so that their thoughts and lives end up being preoccupied with that. There are a host of factors which influence what we do, and the bottom line seems to be somehow securing some sort of happiness. Is that wrong? I think not. I believe God created us for a life that is abundant in realizing the fulfillment of our humanity, or what it means to be human. The question ends up being, just who determines that, and why does that matter?

The freedom that seems to be in vogue now is simply to fulfill whatever desires and dreams one has. A self-fulfillment which has nothing to do with any notion of truth, but everything to do with a freedom which is determined simply in how one feels, their desires. And from that people say that what is true for you, might not be true for me, in other words it may not work for me in realizing my self-fulfillment, or simply in letting me be and do what I want.

For us in Jesus there is only one who sets the agenda: God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit: the Triune God. Jesus is Lord, period. And all other authorities have their authority only under him, under God. What they say, and their values are not determinative for us, even if they might have legitimacy in their place.

The one who sets our agenda is the Lord, King Jesus, by his person, teaching and work, through the gospel, the good news, which really is Jesus, and is actually all throughout the Final/New Testament. That is where we find the truth for life, the true humanity fulfilled in him, and from that, real, neverending freedom. But that freedom is a byproduct. We follow and submit to God in Jesus no matter what. God is the one who sets our agenda.

“you made me, you bought me, I’m yours”

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleasedto have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:15-23

Jeff Manion at the church where we’re taking our granddaughter for the children’s program there gave what would probably be as close to an altar call as you would ever get at that church, summing up this pericope of Colossians, 1:15-23, entitled in the NIV, “The Supremacy of the Son of God,” with these words: “You made me. You bought me. I’m yours.” I think that is pretty apt, and certainly spoke powerfully into a culture in which the designations given to Christ in this letter, were given to the Emperor in that culture, to Caesar.

This passage teaches that God created all things in and through Christ, and for him. That God reconciled all of that creation to himself, including each one of us who by faith receive that reconciliation, through his physical body in his death on the cross. And that therefore, Christ as head of the church is to have the supremacy in all things. So that, as Jeff Manion put it, everything in our lives is to revolve around him. That he is to be the big thing in our lives. Of course Jesus bringing us to God, into relationship with the Triune God.

Without legalistically having to come up with something, I have to ask myself, just what do I need to give to God through Christ today. What might be the big thing to me, other than him, for my own self-interest, rather than Christ’s? Christ made me, he bought me, I’m his. Or maybe I would prefer to put it: God made me through Christ, and reconciled me through the redemption of Christ, and therefore I am God’s in and through Christ, which certainly includes Christ himself. But Jeff’s way of putting it is pithy, poetic, and therefore brings home a powerful point.

Right now there is something which stands out to me, which I would do well to address in my heart and thoughts and actions. It is something I perceive that God might be working on in my life, and wants me to totally surrender, and grow in that surrender. And I’m sure that there will be many other such things that will come up which will need addressed in my life along the way.

Jesus is to have the supremacy in our lives. As Jeff said, he already is the center, yet we also need to make him the center, as in submitting to that supremacy, to Jesus as Lord. As one who is a member of his body, the church: God’s unique place and entity in flesh and blood through the Spirit, in and through Christ, in the world.