the one constant

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Scripture points us to Jesus, and God’s fulfillment of all things in and through him. One might want to say that Scripture is the constant, and it’s certainly central in all traditions of the Christian faith, of the faith itself, as we might put it. But it points beyond itself to Jesus.

This doesn’t mean for a moment that we shouldn’t pay close attention to all the details in Scripture, because indeed we should. Pre-Christ, during his time on earth, and post-Christ we might say, meaning after his ascension. Jesus made that clear:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18

And what is accomplished includes everything. The church should be the light in Jesus which both exemplifies the beginning of that, as well as speaking out on it by those who are pastors and theologians and lay people who learn from such and are so gifted.

Jesus is the one forever constant, and God’s will fulfilled in him. To bring us into the fullness of God the Source of All Being, the Eternal Word, and the Holy Spirit. To right all wrongs and make all things new.

And the church is central to the beginning of this now. In and through Jesus.

the mistake of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

I ring an old bell, one who is hardly qualified to do that, but we draw from Scripture, from the wisdom given to those who have studied and continue to study Scripture together, from whatever wisdom God might have given us. And I speak as one who is and has been alarmed for some time now over what seems to me to be a clear and present danger, significantly so because of the mistaken thinking of many sincere Christians.

By Christian nationalism I mean the idea that God sets apart a certain nation of the world, whatever nation that may be as somehow more or less a Christian nation, or if not that, at least a nation which has special purposes for the benefit of Christianity and the gospel.

That God uses nations for good and then judges them for the wrongs they commit is a matter of fact, attested to in Scripture and seen over and over again in history. The idea of Christian nationalism carries with it a close tie between the church and state, whatever tie that might be.

That God’s people should pray for and care about the good of the nation in which they live even as exiles was exemplified in Israel of old (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Christians will vary in what specifically that means. Some will be willing to participate in more or less all the activities of the state, though we have examples of those who won’t even vote, much less do any of that. Some of us are somewhere in between.

But the main point I’d like to make here is that we in Christ are the holy nation on earth whom God calls as a light to the nations. No nation-state on earth even has such a calling. At the same time we can hope that each nation in humility will learn to do better through God’s light that is present in Christ, and in the human conscience as well through “common grace.”

This is nothing more than hopefully a gentle heads up over what I see as a clear and present danger in that the ramifications and results from it will be nothing short of devastating, as we’ve seen clearly already in the United States. But we in Christ are called to follow one Lord as one holy nation together, by our good works to point to the greatness and goodness of the One we serve. In and through Jesus.

we need each other

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

In our individualistic culture in which everyone is supposed to look out for and take care of themselves, the idea that we need each other, that we’re our brother and sister’s keeper is all but lost on us. That is not something enmeshed in my white, western culture, at least not where I’ve lived. In fact, I’m pretty certain we don’t believe this at all. We rarely even pay lip service to it. How many times have I heard the thought that the best church is out in nature somewhere by one’s self? And when people do gather together for church, it’s often just to get something out of the message for one’s self, maybe say hi to the few along the way or just the greeters, then head back home.

But Scripture calls us to something else, something we not only fail to practice, but that we’re not acclimated to in the first place, out of our comfort zone for sure. A commitment to each other in Jesus which plays itself out in regularly meeting together, and being ready at least potentially in our spirits to give and to receive. God actually wants to help us through each other no less. Not just directly, but through others.

If we’re followers of Christ and thus Christians not in name only, then we can’t escape God’s call to us to come together since after all we’re one body in Christ. There may be unusual times such as the past year with COVID-19 when we can’t gather in person in the same way as before. But technology did allow us to meet virtually. Yes, not a great substitute for meeting in person, but better than nothing, and some of us we’re able to talk face to face with people we otherwise never would have. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. At the same time, mercifully, such times are only temporary. We need to find the good in them and that can come out of them, and go on.

But we need to be committed to what alas seems more than a stretch to many: gathering together to worship, pray, and just be with each other. In that dynamic Jesus is present yes in and through each other, and there’s not a one of us who doesn’t need that.

leave no one behind

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God…

Hebrews 12:15b

Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity.

Hebrews 12:15b; MSG

I wonder if we as Christians where I live and have lived for some time now really think and act like the writer to the Hebrews wants believers and the church to do. To leave no one behind.

Of course we can’t make anyone do anything. We’re in such great need ourselves, that to suppose we can somehow control others even for their good, is not even a good thought. What self-control we experience for ourselves is only a fruit of the Spirit.

That we’re all in need of God’s grace is exactly the point made in this passage (click above links for context). Much is involved in that, but in essence it’s about being present in love with each other, the love of God by the Spirit in Jesus. It’s being present for each other both in giving and receiving.

It seems to me that Eugene Peterson’s rendering is so helpful here, given the pastoral wisdom he had.

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17; MSG

It’s all about being in this together. We can’t make it, or at least certainly cannot make it as well or well enough on our own.

And let this be especially true for those who are marginalized whom our Lord would welcome with open arms. Be it anyone of the LGBTQ+ community, the poor, those ethnicities and immigrants who struggle in a system which does not make room for them or even worse. We especially need to be attentive to all such, to have God’s help through the Spirit and with each other to be aware. Acknowledging that we too need the Lord’s help in this ministry of Christ’s body, ourselves.

This is the heart the Lord wants us to have for each other. The heart God has for each one of us, for everyone. In and through Jesus.

it takes a church

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

1 Corinthians 14:29

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

All we need is in Christ, but much of that is actually meant to be derived through the church, Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). A most important way the Lord speaks to us and helps us is often all but missing today. It’s meant to be through the church, yes through the pastor or priest, but also through others, including everyone. There are serving gifts and speaking gifts (1 Peter 4). And the Spirit speaking through the body, and giving a sense of congruity as in agreement and harmony.

I don’t know if there’s anything more overlooked as well as more helpful to us as followers of Christ than the church itself. What we’re apart of. For ourselves and for each other. In and through Jesus.

blessedly not let off the hook (by James)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

James gets right to it, but throughout the letter from start to finish there’s no letting up. He’s certainly a pastor, but gives us needed insight into one aspect of pastoral ministry as well as what the church is to be. Yes, there’s mercy and patience. But for those who really follow Christ, there are certain nonnegotiables.

If we’re to follow Christ we do what we’re told here. If we fail to do that, and I’m referring to sincere honest attempts, not letting up, then we aren’t following, indeed can’t follow Christ. We either consider it nothing but joy, whatever trial we’re in, letting endurance have its full effect toward full maturity in Christ, or else we’re not. We either ask God for wisdom, as indeed we’re all lacking in that of ourselves, and ask in faith without doubting. Or we plain don’t. There might be something in between, but James would tell us that’s a part of being double-minded, and thus unstable in every way. As Eugene Peterson points out in The Message, that can be simply a matter of “keeping all your options open.” No, we either trust God or we don’t. The difference between darkness and light.

This has been helping me immensely, but I can’t let go of it. And it’s not like we’re passive and no longer involved in life. But that God is there to help us through whatever it is we’re facing, whatever responsibilities we have to fulfill. God wants to use all of life to mature us, and to help us gain wisdom. As we not only commit ourselves to this course, but follow through on it, God helps us to live in God’s peace, as well as get God’s help.

An important part of what it means to follow Christ along with others in this life. In and through Jesus.

in praise of not having it all together

…they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”

2 Corinthians 10:10

Tim Gombis’s book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry is most helpful, and possibly even groundbreaking in giving us a view of Paul, pre and post conversion, and how that affected Paul’s service to God. And how that might speak to us today, even those who are in the trenches in ministry, and yet doing so in a way that is often more like Paul before his conversion to Christ, completely flipped after that conversion.

Too many of us have taken on the worldly attitude that we are out to sell something, have a big impact on our communities, be successful in terms of numbers: growing and growing, and just be the epitome of success inside and out. Win, win, win is a big part of that, being winners. Or having just that image that people imagine is good, maybe even Christian, and perish the thought: even like Jesus. After all, some have compared Jesus to images contrary to the “love your enemies” cross bearing picture given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

We ought to not only much prefer, but accept nothing but honesty to God and to each other. And while we should pray and do our best to present the truth in Christ as fully as possible, faithful to Scripture, to what we’re hoping God has given us, that should be done in utter humility with a willingness to be ourselves, to be vulnerable, maybe to trip over our words some. That might encourage the kind of church the New Testament envisions in which everyone is a participant. We’re not out to impress each other, but to seek God together, and be faithful together in God’s covenant in Christ.

We need to get rid of the notion once for all that we’re to have it all together, whatever that means. What we do desire is to be growing together into the image and full maturity of Christ. Nothing else matters. What we need to see is not us, but Christ in us. No pretense, all real, honest, even when raw and most often with the sense of falling short. But God’s grace in Christ making the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

what new world is opening up for us today?

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:36-42

When Jesus came, he opened up an entirely new world for any who might listen and be open. Israel was moved by story, and Jesus and the story he brings by his life and teaching, death and resurrection, really does upset the apple cart. It essentially turns the world as understood by the people of his time, specifically Jesus’ own people, Jewish, it turns their world upside down. Instead of a Messiah who would conquer by conquest, or by God thundering out of the sky to destroy the enemy, this Messiah would be condemned and nailed to a cross, the sure sign to them that he was no Messiah at all. On top of that, under God’s curse no less (Deuteronomy 21:23). But we know the end of the story. On the third day God raised Jesus to life. Then after forty days of appearing to his disciples and other believers, he ascends into heaven at the right hand of the Father. And through him, the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost. Then Peter speaks, pointing to a fulfillment of Scripture with a story which you can find hints of in the Hebrew Bible, but nevertheless is new. And an entirely new world is completely opened up, now within the apostles grasp because of the coming of the Spirit. And Peter articulates that.

The reaction from faithful Jews present who were living according to the story of Judaism in which they were raised, and we can say for all intents and purposes were largely faithful to God, or at least their understanding of God and God’s will is nothing short of shock and stop. They are ready for change, an adjustment of course which would be abrupt and radical. The story in which they had been raised was now seen to be incomplete. The story of Jesus brought a sense of fulfillment, but also even displacement of the story which they had understood, in which they had been raised. This doesn’t mean for a second that the story in the Hebrew Bible was not important for its place and time, nor that it no longer had anything to teach God’s people. It just meant that what it pointed to was fulfilled in Jesus. In God becoming human in Jesus in complete identification with humanity, so that humans could be identified with Jesus and find the new story which he brings, in which they’re forever to live, beginning even now, the only story that never ends.

For me this is most helpful. We don’t live according to any of the world’s norms, nor even the norms of God’s people of old except where those correspond with the new vision Jesus brings. We see everything along with all of life in terms of Jesus. And that brings nothing less than the beginning of an entirely new world opening up to us. One we get to be participants in as followers together of Jesus. That doesn’t mean that all is great or easy afterward, that we’ll have it all together, as we see clearly from the New Testament. It does mean that there’s an inevitable movement of the Spirit through the church to bring God’s light and love into the world in and through a cross-shaped, love-for-all life. The beginning of so much to come even in this life. In and through Jesus.

Correction in Saturday’s post, Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States): “May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this.”

Three books I referred to which influenced this post, all highly recommended: Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings. Acts by Beverly Roberts Gaventa. The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel by Justo L. González.

 

Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States)

When [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:16-19

Jesus’ ministry, the good news he brought was one of emancipation, proclamation of freedom to all who are captives. Too often we’ve just seen this in terms of freedom from the  penalty of sin, and hopefully we’ve seen it as freedom from sin’s power, as well. Even though Jesus was not about rescuing Israel from Roman occupation as Israel expected from the Messiah to come, he was about ushering in a kingdom which makes such entities as Rome essentially bystanders, the kingdom of God on the scene, someday to rule completely, but now in a subversive reign. God’s way of change now isn’t easy. It’s Jesus-like, which means cross-shaped. But it brings in the needed, lasting change. But do churches fully appreciate all that means?

Juneteenth is a new national holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when slavery in the United States officially ended. Unfortunately not all the slaves were set free that day, and we know the ugly aftermath which followed. Jesus and the good news in him includes freedom for all peoples to love and worship God, and to live as neighbors to love and be loved. It is not complicated, even though we often make it so. At the same time the web of deceit in refusing to follow through in the simplicity and power of what such freedom means to some extent sadly envelopes so many of us. We fail to see clearly, and therefore we don’t appreciate what others go through even to this day.

May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this. Beginning in the church, even through the church and God’s reign there. In and through Jesus.

we bear witness to a better day

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today in the United States is Memorial Day when Americans who lost their lives in military service are honored. We indeed should remember them and their sacrifice. But we as followers of Christ and the church of Christ ought to point to a better day when violence is not only the last resort alas unlike today, but when war will be no more.

That thought sounds so unreasonable when there’s so much violence and evil in the world. We have to remember that violence is not ended with more violence. Sooner or later that cycle continues as old grievances surface. Unfortunately what ought to be and what actually is are so far apart. It’s like you have to use a hopefully sanctified imagination to think of anything which could be different.

Violence is a fact of life, embedded in the human existence. There is not the necessary trust in God, in Christ with the hope/anticipation of the resurrection to make the commitment to something else. But if churches of Christ aren’t doing this, then what does that say about our witness? Are we just supposed to be okaying, even strongly supporting military action and wars of the state? Surely not.

We in Jesus point to a better day. By how we live along with our telling of this. We encourage nations to make peacemaking the priority, along with trying to understand and address underlying issues behind the violence. Realizing indeed that all violence will not be vanquished until Christ returns. Nevertheless doing all we can to point ourselves and others to a better day. And hopefully seeing that played out more in creative ways in opposition to oppressive regimes, with the commitment to do good to the distressed, and ultimately to all. A tall order indeed. But a large part of our calling. In and through Jesus.