the gospel breaks the color barrier

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

Maybe my biggest disappointment with the church as I’ve seen it for the most part, with notable exceptions, is just how monochrome, or segregated most churches are on any given Sunday. It is understandable, yet sad at the same time, in my view. God’s grace covers us, and there’s a history behind it. And it’s not like churches who are white or black want to be segregated. There are different cultures involved, and people are at home in different places.

But the gospel is meant to bring together those who likely would never do so apart from it. What is true concerning Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God as one body (Ephesians 2:11-22) is also true of all peoples, bringing for example Palestinians and Jews together through the cross, through Jesus’s death, along with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, everyone. The reconciliation to God extends no less to each other through the good news in Jesus, and the Spirit who makes us one in him.

As a witness to the gospel, and the saving power it brings, we need to show the world how we can work through the barriers, whatever they may be. How our unity in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the love of God in Jesus supercedes all distinctions, breaks down all animosities and hostilities, through Christ’s death, and our repentance and faith, and brings the promised healing and shalom. This new world is now present through Christ in his body the church. As a witness to the world, and as part of the salvation we ourselves need, in and through Jesus.

scripture, yes, but also the church

In my own life of over forty years of professing the faith, scripture has been more than less central. Church has been important all the way through in shaping my reading of scripture, but it’s been mostly about reading (and probably even more, hearing) scripture, something which is still of central importance for me to this day.

What has been lacking, I’m afraid, is a sufficient realization of just how central the church ought to be in both our identity and practice. It is as good to be part of a church tradition, as to have a well worn Bible. Understood rightly, I think they go hand in hand. But in our western individualistic mindset, church can be relegated to a secondary status, and a theological commitment to “sola-scriptura” can feed right into this error, even though it doesn’t have to do so. On that point, I tend to see this theological construct as a fiction in that there is no such thing as scripture alone, when you consider the place the church and tradition is given in scripture itself. Scriptura-primera, scripture-first, might better describe the more Catholic, yet still Protestant approach I might take along with others. That plays itself out in wanting to test everything by scripture. Though understood in the full theological context, even the Roman Catholic Church attempts to do the same. It is just that their understanding of tradition goes somewhat beyond, so that part of what can be accepted in the teaching and practice of the church ends up coming from implications or what could follow, or maybe just be in alleged harmony with scripture, rather than from scripture itself. But to some extent, even Protestant churches do that in their tradition as well, in my Anglican church, the bread and wine are consecrated to be in some sense the body and blood of our Lord for us in our participation in Holy Communion.

The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral posits the church, tradition, reason and experience in that order as givens in our life in Christ. And some Anglicans like N. T. Wright would insist on the first three, leaving experience out. All four rightly understood can surely have their place, and I especially would not want to lose sight of reason (although experience, as in “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” seems right along this line, also), scripture itself openly and by implication appealing to human reason.

So tradition is important, and has its place. What is of uppermost importance in tradition, I think, is simply the reality and practice of church. After all, the church is Christ in a sense, specifically his body in the world, of which he is the head. So it seems to me that a full-orbed life in the Lord, will certainly put an emphasis on church which minimally means faithful participation in meeting and giving, and in both the common, and the sacramental life.

In my own life, I’m afraid church hasn’t been central enough. I’ve always been a part of a church, but that may not mean all that much to many of us, certainly not enough in terms of what scripture makes church to be. That has played out in my life in a number of ways which were not helpful. Raised Mennonite, after conversion I was influenced by someone, and left the Mennonite tradition, and in my faith journey ended up traversing through a number of traditions in search of the most scriptural tradition. That could be called mistake #1. I frankly would have been better off to pray and become settled in one tradition, which well could have been Mennonite, or something after that. I do appreciate my Mennonite/Anabaptist heritage, which I think in some ways, after coming back to something of it, remains with me for good, not in length, though that’s probaby true, too.

Maybe this is where the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have it over on us, one of the ways: Your obedience to the faith, to Christ, includes your obedience to the Church. You can protest, and for example become an advocate for women in the priesthood, etc., but you still have to be obedient to the Church to be obedient to Christ. I think there’s plenty of wisdom in that. Not to mention that it is plainly taught in scripture.

I hope and pray that scripture will continue to have primacy in my life, in the attempt to keep Christ and the gospel central. And part of that ought to be a complete identification with and participation in the church.

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.


love always hopes

Love….always hopes

1 Corinthians 13

The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is certainly classic, understandably used at weddings as a standard to learn how love carries itself and acts. In context, it is about relationships in the body of Christ, the church, although it certainly carries over to all relationships. It’s like Paul is saying that love is to be the motive behind everything we do. So that regardless of what else we do, no matter how great it is, it’s worthless without love, as this “love chapter” makes clear.

Are we living in love, are our thoughts, attitudes and actions, including words- done in love? Good questions. And considering this, including the entire description of love as given in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ought to make us both aware of how we fall short, and of what our goal should be. The description is relational in nature, in fact it’s about human relationships. One could say that it’s descriptive of God’s love to us, and there’s surely plenty of truth in that, though in its original context, it’s to help a church which was proud and divisive, and essentially thinking and acting like the world.

God’s wrath is shorthand for God’s judgment. Even when anger is clearly a part of it, God’s wrath is always motivated by love; love is at the heart of it. How that plays out in ultimate, final terms is something theologians go back and forth on. What is certain is what characterizes God and all that God does is good, and is done out of love. That should be no surprise since “God is love” (1 John). Love marks everything about God, and all that God does. It should be no surprise that we struggle with all of this, given the fact that because we’re sinners, loving in that way is not a part of who we are. We can see it’s good, but in our brokenness, we at best fall short of it. As Rich Mullins wrote:

We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Hard to Get

However in our ongoing repentance and awareness of falling short, we can be growing more and more into this ideal of Christ-likeness. And by the Spirit of God, I really believe that in some true measure we can genuinely possess these qualities as described in 1 Corinthians 13, true gifts from God to us, in and through Jesus.

And so we go on, needing this love ourselves, but no matter what we experience, endeavoring to live out this love to others, in the life that is ours together, in and through Jesus.

the presentation of ourselves to God in and through Christ

I like the thought in today’s prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, the petition to God that Christ himself would present us to the Father “with pure and clean hearts.” Along with that is a text for today, which also speaks of our presentation to God in and through Christ:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Romans 12:1-5

The NRSV uses the world “present,” instead of “offer,” and what is going on here includes both. We offer ourselves to God, it being sacrificial in nature. And it is indeed a presentation of ourselves to God. Certainly at its core, God does the work in and through Christ. There is nothing we can do at all. But in that work of God, we are active, not passive. We respond to God’s grace in Christ, and present ourselves, our bodies to him “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” itself being our “true and proper worship.” And as such, we are members in Christ of each other. We are in this together, each having our part to play to help each other fulfill the goal of our presentation to God through Christ: in love seeking to be holy, set apart to him as no less than a living sacrifice to his glory.


the members of the body of Christ for the love of each other and of the world

Yesterday Father Michael in his stirring, indepth sermon pointed out that the gifts given by the Spirit to the church are not for show, but for love. This is the best succinct way I’ve heard in understanding 1 Corinthians 13 in the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14. And that it’s the church, not unusually gifted individuals in the church, which together is the body of Christ. The church together manifests Christ. Instead, we often read scripture as if it has to do with indviduals. I think it can be speaking as to individuals, but that’s always in a larger context, namely as members together of Christ and his body, the church. It’s never only about us, strictly speaking. Though the Lord deals with us individually, as well as together, and I think our relationship to God is both personal and in community.

And Father Michael, among other good things he shared, also helped us see that the gifts of the Spirit should never be placed against the fruit of the Spirit, as if the two are practically opposed to each other. Some, because of how gifts are often talked about and seemingly practiced would downplay the spiritual gifts and talk more or less completely about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26). But both are needed in the church, of course the gifts being nothing apart from love. But love being expressed through the humble use of what we are given.

I can see what Father Michael is saying. Though our church plant at this point is small, yet even in this handful of people I can see Christ in us together, and in the various gifts that we have as a church. And the love among us is quite evident. Father Michael leads the way in this, his wife Amy also being an example to us of what members of Christ’s body are to be like, and how that works among the members together. And the emphasis at our church has always been that we’re on mission. It’s never just about us, but about sharing Christ and the gospel to the world, not only in the proclamation of the gospel, but in works of love.

And so we not only follow Christ as individuals, but we do so together as his body in love, in and for the world.



a tribute to my wife, Debra (with some thoughts on marriage)

30 years ago today, I married my best friend and lover, Debra, “Honey Sweets.” We’ve been through it now for thirty years, through good times and bad in the sense of difficulties. I believe I couldn’t have married a better woman. Deb is as consistent as day and night, the four seasons. She is a woman of a complete child-like faith as a daughter who is deeply loved and cared for by her heavenly Father. And her faith has helped me in more ways than one to change and grow. One example: she is a person who simply does not worry at all; I am one who over the years have struggled with anxiety and fear. I have come a long ways in no small part through Deb’s example, while I would acknowledge it’s an ongoing issue for me.

My wife is simply the one I feel at home with; hopefully we are a blessing to each other. There is no doubt that marriage in significant part is for our growth in holiness. It is a picture of Christ and his bride, the church and of the relationship of God to his people. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant in which each spouse is committed to the other in their commitment to the Lord. Short accounts and growth in love, in righteousness and truth over the long haul need to be staples in any growing marriage. I so much look forward to what lies ahead: hopefully at least another thirty years to keep after this, and just to be together. Frankly at the beginning I was not well enough aware of this, and more than that had issues to work through.

All married couples at least surely for the most part need special input at times. Just another reason why the church needs to be an intrical part of our identity and practice. We can’t make it, or at least do well on our own, no matter how we think we’re doing. And a big part of the church’s role is to help us live well as followers of Christ in all of our relationships, marriage certainly a big part of that. We need more of a witness of marriages which get off the ground well and keep on growing as a witness, and marriages which have overcome something of brokenness, but can show the way to forgiveness, change, growth and joy. The world needs to see both.

Deb and I are in this together; we are mutually submitting to each other as we both seek to submit ourselves to Christ. We also are keeping short accounts. Sometimes we need some sharp points to challenge us to change. But everything needs to be tempered with grace. Truth yes, but never apart from grace. We all need patient, forgiving love in all relationships and particularly in the marriage relationship in which we are exposed in all of our weakness and shortcomings, along with the good gifts from God brought into the relationship.

I wish this post was all about Deb. It is more about our marriage and marriage in general. We will enjoy this day in celebration of 30 years of marriage. Looking forward to at least another 30 more in which we hopefully can shine the light of God’s love and grace in and through Jesus and the gospel for others to see and be encouraged by for their own lives. As we seek to show others the light in the Lord together.