looking at the old world with the vision of the new world

I was listening to N. T. Wright, thoroughly enjoying his talk entitled, Speaking of God in a Confused World. It makes me wonder just how and why we Christians see things in the present the way we do. And we’re all over the place on that. What I like about N. T. Wright’s critique is that he helps everyone see the much larger picture, so that the scuffles we are in appear to be not as significant as we make them. Or so that we can see better to understand just where our own blind spots might be.

Right now, with another mass school shooting, many Christians are crying out for government action with rebuttals from other Christians citing abortion as the great evil. Ready access to semi-automatic guns has a cult following here in the United States, but arguably is appreciated by those who just like guns, and certainly are not dangerous themselves. But it seems apparent that the more the guns, and the more ready access to them, the more gun deaths there are. And the insistence that Christians need ready access to them to defend their loved ones and others, as well as themselves, seems to fly in the face of what Jesus taught and lived out. At the same time abortion has to be seen as an evil itself. The best way to approach it in the United States might be to work at reducing its underlying causes toward the day when abortions would be no more. And having such a groundswell of grassroots support for overturning Roe v Wade, that eventually that day will come. These are only two evils of the day, another being how African Americans continue to face discrimination and marginalization on a large scale. There you have my own opinion, and there are numerous other things for us to sort through if we have the time and believe it to be helpful to do so.

The big question might be just how we look at this old world destined for judgment in light of the new world to come, and already present in Jesus within and out from the church. When you break it down, that is not nearly as easy as it might look. There are the Reinhold Niebuhr realists all the way to the Anabaptist (with others) Sermon on the Mount followers of Jesus. And within those two camps, there’s some variance, and certainly variety in between. Trying to break it down in this matter is a human construct for sure. We need to keep going back to scripture again and again, and ask the difficult questions in the real world, not thinking we have to come up with hard, fast answers.

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to recognize that there’s both a division as well as overlap between the two worlds. We can think of that in terms of creation, now fallen and broken, and new creation, present already in Jesus, but not yet in its final state when heaven and earth become one at his return. The question for believers and followers of Jesus becomes just what our role in the midst of this is, both in general, and specifically in terms of what we might be able to do, as well as what we shouldn’t do. That is where the debate would lie, and where Christians, even within the same church might vary. But it’s a problem and issue we can’t avoid, unless we see the gospel and scripture as not really addressing any of it. We have to use our God-given minds for understanding and wisdom, and keep working at it. But with an emphasis always on our primary calling as God’s people: devotion to Christ and the gospel. Which is for the world’s salvation, but never a part of this world in terms of its origin. But hopefully helpful for the old world. With the hope always lying in a better world to come when Jesus returns, the beginnings of which are already present through the gospel and in the church, in and through Jesus.

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romantic love

There is a kind of mystery to romantic love. It is definitely an important aspect of human life. See (and a good read for Valentine’s Day, or listen) Song of Songs, traditionally Song of Solomon.

Sadly, not everyone had a love which resulted in marriage in this life. But the tradition of allegorizing this song to mean something of God’s love and relationship to his people surely has some merit. The people of God, Israel, are said to be in a covenant with God which is likened to a marriage in the Old Testament. And we read in the New Testament that the church is the bride of Christ. All of us in Christ together.

There is no part of romantic love which isn’t good. Some might see the sexual part as somehow dirty, but it is a part of God’s good creation. It’s we who have cheapened it to mean something less than the place it has in a covenant relationship of love. But the sexual part is only one ingredient of romantic love. Closer to the heart of it is a sheer and really kind of mysterious mystique (to say the same thing in two words). How one can “fall in love” with someone else in a way which excludes all others. Hence the exclusive claim of God to be worshiped and against all idolatry. But also the importance of humans holding to the covenant with the one that was either chosen for them, or that they chose, in a special bond reserved only for each other. And making sure no one else takes that place.

For those who are single, and may have never been married, or perhaps have experienced the heartbreak and dishevel of divorce, or are a widow or widower, God’s promise extends to you to be for you what the missing partner would have been, and beyond that. Of course in a spiritual way, but in a way which can help you to be content in that love. And note the advantages to those who remain single in being devoted to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:25-40).

Today I celebrate my love with my wonderful wife, Deb, who is my true love and friend. We have been through much together. She has had to put up with me over the years, and we have seen rough patches in our relationship. But God has been so faithful. There is nothing I like as much as a good getaway with her, the longer the better. And I would like to be with her forever in the life to come.

But in Jesus we will all be one in the love of God. Not to say that old relationships will no longer matter, because I think they will, and will somehow be heightened and fulfilled in a way which is not possible in this life. But all in the love of God. The love extending to us to bind our hearts to him, to our beloved, and to each other in friendship. In and through Jesus.

making the best of a bad situation

Sometimes in life, whether or not it’s the case, we may believe we’re on a sinking Titanic. Things are not falling out in a way we would have imagined, and not in a way we would consider good. That may be when the Lord is getting us ready for something new either in the midst of the mess, or for something entirely different. And it likely will involve making the best of a bad situation.

Oftentimes in my life if something disappointing happens, especially in part at least, thanks to me, then I endeavor to not only correct it, but see something come out of it which makes it better than what it was before.

It is key to pray and pray and pray some more, then keep on praying. Of course that helps change us, but it can also change others, and perhaps even circumstances. God can move mountains in response to faith and prayer, as Jesus said. At the same time, we might as well face it: Life is hard. God is good. And God’s goodness in the midst of life’s badness, or difficulty, is precisely what we need. And we really need this in community, together with others in Jesus, the church. We are to face the hardships of life together; we’re in this together. It’s never the case of “I made it, and someone else didn’t.” If one suffers, all suffer with them; if one rejoices, all rejoice together, in Christ’s body, the church. And so we need to level with God and with each other, the latter in the right context with some wisdom and discretion.

And in the midst of the bad, we have to look for the good. From God, in and through Jesus.

being led by the Spirit/the peace of Christ is individual, but essentially communal

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law….

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:18,22-26

Being led by the Spirit and the peace of Christ is both individual, but it’s especially communal. At least that’s the case in the two passages quoted above. I think we often think of them in individual terms and maybe due to our culture. Here in the United States we are steeped in individualism in terms of individual liberty/freedom. From our heritage in the founding of the nation based in the Modernist Enlightenment in which this emphasis was one of its tenets. While there may be some good in that, overall it obscures what is at the heart of humanity: relationships. To be human is to reflect the image of the Triune God who lives in Relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we were made to be and practice the same both in our relationship to God and to each other.

So we have to think and live in terms of what is best not just for us, but for others, in fact the emphasis being on the others in our following of Christ, even as we’re reminded elsewhere (Philippians 2:1-11). It’s not like we all simply try to make each other happy, though joy and peace should characterize our lives together in the righteousness the Holy Spirit gives (Romans 14:17-18 in context). Sometimes in our gifting, what we are led to do, always gently, might be a challenge to others. But in the love of Christ that is present, we should receive such in God’s peace: the ideal. And remember too that this is a major way God will lead us and give us his peace: through each other. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

the Good Samaritan, and the refugee crisis

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

The Syrian crisis has raised a lot of questions and thoughts on how we should look at refugees coming from places which likely harbor terrorists. Some nations have done well in regard to taking them in, while others have not done as well, or nothing at all.

And then there is the Christian response to the refugee crisis. I’ve heard good things, but the problem might be in the silence. Here is a good article from a conservative Christian organization summing up what the Christian response should be.

I think too often we can let fear get in the way of what our response should be: to show mercy and love. Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us just how we ought to respond if we’re to live in obedience to the first and great commandment, and the second like it. The Samaritan was a foreigner who took care of an injured Jew, actually, in all probability saving his life. Jesus notes in his parable, interestingly enough, that while two Jewish religious leaders pass the poor man by, this Samaritan stops and helps him.

While we have to have wisdom nowadays, since there are scammers aplenty, we can help through agencies we trust, like World Vision or Compassion International. And we need to be proactive as churches in doing what we can, instead of relying on the government, or others to do it. Such often need help to know where to plug into government agencies, and other organizations which can help. And the church needs to have a open hand to do what it can, as well.

And all of us, really. The Samaritan was one man. We need to be prayerful and alert to what might be helpful in any given situation throughout the day. Note this series of good discussions on this very text and give it a listen. We should reach out in love to the stranger or foreigner among us. And allow for the cultural difference, again, helping where it’s needed.

According to Jesus, the question is who is a neighbor to someone in need. We need to answer that one, not with our lips, but with our lives, doing what we can in love, in and through Jesus.

my last take on Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* and on all such works

In September I wrote a rather enthusiastic preliminary take on Greg Boyd’s recent work, Cross Vision (the shortened version of the scholarly tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God).

First of all, I’m under no illusion that it matters much at all what I think. I’m only one person, and limited both in time and resources. This is a matter especially for scholars to sort out, and those within the church who are so inclined, and perhaps in positions of leadership.

I did read Cross Vision, but not The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

My final take on this latest work from Boyd is not complicated: I simply don’t read scripture that way, nor do most of the Christians I know. Unless scripture itself qualifies something either directly or indirectly, then I think we’re on precarious grounds to do so ourselves. And that’s what I’m afraid Greg Boyd does in this work. In the biblical text God gives commands which Boyd says God really didn’t give. But the text does not say that God corrected the Israelite leaders such as Moses and Joshua. Nor does the rest of scripture, but rather, the opposite. And I also have a problem with how much of the Old Testament is called into question in light of the coming of Christ, not in terms of its inspiration, according to Boyd, and as he explains. But even made to be something sinful, when for example Hebrews 11 cites at least some of that as examples of faith. And there are answers other than what Boyd insists on in terms of God’s grace as to what’s going on in such matters. Not that Boy wouldn’t insist that grace was at play in his answer, either, because he would. The way I read scripture is more straightforward in taking the text at face value, but also with reference to the entire Bible, and to what Jesus himself said.

I do have much respect for scholars who seem favorable to this work, whether or not they agree with Boyd themselves.

My determination from now on is not to wade into matters well over my head. I will read and listen. And I might be influenced in my own thinking by such. But it is not my place, and hopefully no longer my inclination to share my own thoughts on such matters, such as I have in the past. Maybe the best practice for people like me is to simply ask questions. And for all of us to keep going back to scripture to see if what is being said is true.

remaining faithful (and seeing the big picture)

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness[g]

Habakkuk 2:4

Sometimes it feels like nothing is left so to speak, that at least everything is in shambles. And life itself does not make sense. If you read the three chapters of Habakkuk (you can through the link above), you’ll find that precisely to be the setting for the prophet Habakkuk’s complaint to God. Injustice was rife among God’s people, which made no sense, since God wasn’t doing anything about it. And then God’s solution in response to Habakkuk’s request as to what God would in time do made no sense to Habakkuk, either. God bringing on a nation, an empire of that day, which acted even worse than God’s people, and was less righteous in Habakkuk’s eyes.

What are we to do in such circumstances? God’s answer to us is that the righteous will live by faith, or more precisely by their faithfulness. Actually without faith, it’s impossible to be faithful. Both faith and faithfulness are tied to commitment in response to God’s word, promise, and command. We can say, covenantal in nature. Of course one has to believe God’s word. But within that belief has to be a trust which is a commital of one’s entire life to God. So that all depends on God, but we are in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties.

For Habakkuk in a way that seemed easier since he was part of the covenantal people, Israel. But simply to be part of that nation did not mean at all that individuals lived up to that covenant obligation. So even then the call to the individual within community was in play. Today there is the challenge among many evangelicals to see God’s covenant in terms of a people, the church. We often don’t put sufficient emphasis on church, but see it more as a good help to our faith. But church is indeed a part of our faith in that the covenant we have before God in Christ is both individual and communal. That covenant is broken if we consider it nothing but individual, “between me and God.” We’re in this together. In New Testament terms, we are indeed one body, so that while each part has its place, and is important before God, we are important for all the others, as well. It’s never only about us and God. It’s about us and God and others in Christ.

So the call to faith and faithfulness is both in response to God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ, and together with others in Christ, and not just for the sake of each other, but in our witness of the gospel before and for the world. We remain faithful when life around us makes no sense and seems to be falling apart. But we trust God in all of that, and are committed to the good news of the gospel which is breaking in through God’s saving work now. God’s judgment at work in the world now, too, as needed. But an emphasis on God’s salvation, “today” being that time.

We all have part in this, so that we live now with that in mind. Through our faith and faithfulness. By God’s grace, God’s gift and giving in Christ. Assured that God is at work now and to the end, in and through Jesus.