Jesus in our midst

If there’s anything we need not just nowadays, but any day, it’s Jesus in our midst, God with us in Jesus. Beginning in the home especially between spouses. The church is Christ’s body, and in its local gatherings or wherever two or more gather in his name, Jesus is present with them (Matthew 18:20). Of course by the Spirit.

This makes the world of difference we all need. Yes, Christ with us individually, and together. Are we known as people in whom Jesus is present? Or for something else?

I think again today of Dallas Willard who was such an influence on so many. I met him once after hearing him speak at a church. Complete humility, in his case a thoughtful humility. Just to remind or inform anyone, he was head over the philosophy department at the University of Southern California, and wrote numerous Christian books.

Along the way we can and will feel lost, even abandoned by all, including God. But by faith, God is with us in Christ, through the good news in him. He will give us the strength, the heart, the will, all we need, even the physical wherewithal, both individually and together to finish what we’re supposed to do. Always in and through him.

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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 church’s baptism of the Spirit

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:8

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:13

There is something key that we “in Christ” have, that the church, Christ’s body- both local and universal has that the world does not. In the language of scripture, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Christ poured out the gift of the Spirit after his ascension at Pentecost (see Acts 1 and 2).

We are baptized by, with or in the Holy Spirit, which in context speaks to our oneness in Christ, and in the larger context of scripture would seem to refer to the spiritual dynamic, or better put, filling of the Spirit given to the church, to all who are in Christ. This certainly becomes a reality for each person at conversion, and is gift that all of us in and through Christ have been given.

Often when this has been spoken about in recent times, it is referring to something like “a second work of grace,” or something more than what we receive at salvation. A tradition or interpreter might be able to make some sort of case for that from scripture. But essentially, it seems to me, along with the traditions I’ve been a part of at least for the most part, that this is all completely received at conversion. We are indeed blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1), we’re told in Ephesians. Yet in that same letter, we’re also told to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5). We have the gift of the Spirit, and therefore, we’re to live in the Spirit, edify each other in Christ by the Spirit, and be a witness to the world of the reality and truth of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit.

Our existence is “in Christ,” and the Spirit is the reality of that for us. We are humans, and yet taken up into the very life and mission of Christ. Both as individuals, and together as the church. That’s the difference maker for us, and really through us for the world in which we are to live and serve in love. In and through Jesus.

 

 

the opportunity the church has at the present moment

The too rough and tumble of US politics, departing from the ideal of friendly opposition in working through differences has indeed taken a nasty turn in recent years, beginning in recent decades. And the sad fact of the matter is that many of us Christians have joined in on both sides. I’ve also noticed those who have a certain clear cut view, yet remain relatively silent, not entering into the war of words.

A good number of us have seen the nation as on the edge of violence. Fortunately there are no clear boundaries for this, even with the red and blue states. But unfortunately that means the stark divisions are everywhere.

It is hard to know what to do. Clearly enough, part of Satan’s tactic right now is to set the bait for Christians to react, period. And it doesn’t even matter so much how we react, but just the fact that we’re doing so. Maybe with strong words in opposition to something, or defending what is questionable at best, and from whatever side.

Somehow the church must remain nonpartisan when it comes to the politics of this world. And let’s start at the most basic level: the church is never national in terms of any nation on earth, but it is of the kingdom of God in Christ. Now even this part is tricky because it’s not as if the church shouldn’t care about the nation in which it resides. But in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, Christians are indeed “resident aliens.”

Yes, we must somehow be above the fray, even if a few of us speak out against evils of this time: bigotry, violence beginning with words, blatant disrespect of others, little to no regard for truth telling, etc. We as Christians must come out from all of this, and be separate. We are indeed in the world, but not of it. Regardless of how we vote, whether we choose to or not, or whatever, we must be present to all in God’s love in Christ, each of us playing our small part. Committed completely only to Christ and the gospel, everything else in its place, but being secondary and subservient to that. In and through Jesus.

continuing on in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

These are troubling times. So much strife. It would be bad enough if this was confined to the world, but what makes it far worse is that we Christians are involved in it on all sides, with differing views. And often with a certainty as if we are the voice of God.

I have my own opinions and convictions, as well. But there’s a lot that I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realize that. I think one of the best answers to many questions is one that Eugene Peterson was said to have been accustomed to give: “I don’t know.”

But what we do know by faith, we hold on to, namely, the truth of the gospel, and veracity of God’s word. We don’t pretend to have all the correct interpretation, nor do we equate our theology with God’s word, at the same time believing in the faithfulness of God through the Spirit to teach the entire church the essence of the good news in Christ.

We continue on in what we’re convinced of. Even while we seek prayerfully to apply the truth of the gospel to all of life, and wisdom from the word, even for the hard questions that remain. And we do that best together in and through Jesus.

when it comes to the election and politics, first things first

I am thankful to live in the United States, a nation which in spite of all its problems (and you can’t escape serious difficulties in this world) does allow people to worship as they please. There is no question that there are serious issues which very much engage the public. And to list them would not be hard for anyone who pays any attention at all to the news.

I think it’s fine for Christians to be involved in speaking out on political issues, and especially to participate in voting, if they so choose. But of first importance always is to be faithful to the gospel, both in one’s personal life, and out from that, into the lives of others. Jesus called his disciples to make more disciples of all nations to the end of the age, with the promise of his presence. That is our calling, regardless of what happens in the political world.

I think it’s essential for Christians to take care in the political choices they make, particularly when it comes to alliances with any party or candidate. In a sense we should be for all the parties and candidates, and those in office, because we wish for the good of all, and for the good of the nation in which we live. Even when we stand in opposition to them on certain issues.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming election, and elections elsewhere in the world, Christ is the one who reigns, and God is sovereign over all. Christians where they can, can express their views, but we must get back to first things first. It is the gospel, the good news in Christ which is the power of salvation for all who believe. And we are to be disciples of our Lord, following him in all of life. Everything else is secondary to that.

We must beware of getting caught up into the political wind to the extent that it marks what we are all about, our identity, either in supporting or opposing this or that. I’m referring to Christians in general, not to those who are actually in the process as candidates themselves.

Following Christ as believers and as the church might well involve some public stands. But I wonder if it might be different if we avoid following either the conservative or progressive line. We can and probably should consider what people are saying from every angle. That is important, since as people of God it is good for us to understand our times, if we’re to know what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). But what we do, including what we say and don’t say, how we act should all be dependent on one thing only: Christ, and God’s will in him, or the truth as it is in Jesus.

Let’s not lose the sense of who we are because of the strong opinions which we or others hold. We will be concerned about the unborn, immigrants, the environment, and other matters, and will have our views. What must not be lost in the shuffle is how first and foremost, beyond anything else, we are disciples of Christ, servants of the gospel. Our lives marked by that, come what may.

45 years ago today when I surrendered my life to Christ

On October 22, 1973, on a Monday afternoon after school, my senior year in high school, in the bottle washing room at Hefner Dairy, all alone, I surrendered my life to Christ. I still remember that day rather vividly. I think I remember musing at school over the thought of that possibility in something like these terms: “What if I would commit my life to God because of what Christ has done for me on the cross?” Something like that. And the Holy Spirit was working on me, convicting me, and helping me see the truth of the gospel. That Christ died for our sins, and was raised from the dead to give us new life.

That had been going on for some time. I was tired of my life. Friendships seemed empty, and whatever I amused myself with, such as smoking pot when I could get my hands on it, just wasn’t enough, or more like, didn’t matter.

I was raised in a church in which we were faithfully taught Bible stories in Sunday School as children growing up. And whenever Billy Graham was going to be on television, our church bulletin would let us know. And our mother regularly read Bible stories to us, and prayed for us, along with her singing of hymns. I had made a profession of faith I think in my early teens, which I don’t think was real, because it didn’t stick. And I was pretty rebellious in those days in something of the spirit of the 60s, even if I wasn’t quite old enough to join that when it was most compelling (the Woodstock era).

The change in certain ways was immediate. I used to routinely cuss up and down, but that was now gone. And I really cared about everything, especially in terms of doing what was right and good. Whereas before, I would do what I had to do, but diligently enough because I was trained by hard working parents to work hard.

Of course it was a new love that hit me, a deep love for Christ which spilled over into an indiscriminate love for others, which was probably misunderstood in those days by women, because of my naivete. I was fortunate, because I was able to quit my cigarette smoking, which I had done for a year immediately, and was never tempted to smoke the weed.

Since then, the Lord has been faithful to keep me on the straight and narrow, though for a time I was off track in some ways. And I know I can easily get off track now. But God’s grace continues to be at work in my life. For which I am thankful. And I long to see that same saving grace break through into the lives of others. In and through Jesus.