trying to understand different perspectives

Among the greatest needs in the United States on a social, as well as spiritual level is the importance of listening to others, to differing points of view. Politics, and issues which are put into that category is especially volatile, and the real war from all appearance seems to be waged on that front. Some moral issues which have other factors are part of that, along with the need for all sides to have their say. But it seems we’re nearing a tipping point, where there will be no compromise.

There is surely much to say about all of that, but that’s not my concern in this post. My point is simple: the need to learn to listen well to different perpsectives, with no agenda to correct or impose one’s own point of view. And in that process to better understand not only where they’re coming from, but what merits there possibly are, what truth actually lies there. So that we’re open to their perspective actually impacting our own.

In our culture today, such an attitude would seem rare at best. Part of that comes from what appears to be a largely nonnegotiable stance right from the top, meaning from the president, even though his administration appears to be more flexible. There needs to be a mature group which learns to listen well for the sake of the United States, yet which, even in the midst of differences: liberal or progressive, conservative, and whatever else, will hold feet to the fire with reference to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Amendments of the Constitution.

While that is important, there is something more important still, a matter which can be addressed only by the church and believers: the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and all the good of that out of God’s love for the world. We believers who live here in the United States and likely citizens of this nation do well to be concerned for the preservation of what is good in the ideals of this nation. But our most basic calling is to live lives completely devoted to Jesus and the gospel. In doing so, one of the first fundamental things we need to do is listen, listen, and listen some more, and say nothing (yet), at least be slow to speak, and simply love. And when we speak, talk about Jesus.

The goal is to win others to Jesus, and help them grow in their faith. Out of that hopefully will come real benefits for the United States, or any other nation in which the church is, but the outcome is in terms of God’s kingdom. As hard a statement as this is, I think it needs to be said: What God is doing with the nations, including the United States is rather beside the point. This is probably especially hard for us, since we’re a democracy, and either legitimately or not, we often have much invested in this nation. But our lives are to be lost for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mark 8). Christ is building his church, not nation states. And actually ruling the nations in some way through the church (Ephesians 1).

All of that more difficult stuff aside: We need to simply listen well, and be known as those who listen and love, even as we as witnesses hold firmly to God’s word in Jesus and in the gospel. Together in and through Jesus.

where is our place as God’s people in King Jesus in the political process of this world?

Jesus is Lord. Neither Caesar, nor the current world power, the United States is. But since we live in a democracy which in theory is a government of “we the people,” normally we at least enter into the conversation on what is happening on the American political front. But we too often align ourselves on one side or the other, so that we’re known as Christians- not as those devoted to the politics of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him, but instead to the politics of the right, or the left (or even the center) of the world.

There are all kinds of problems in this, but first and foremost is our failure to grasp that the gospel itself is political, because the good news of God in Jesus is about a Messiah who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, and who reigns somehow in and through the church (Ephesians 1). This reign is destined to take over the earth only when he returns, but nevertheless is present now in a people who are to be marked as followers of the Way in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, and who live by the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in the grace and kingdom of God. That may seem like a tall, indeed impossible order, but it is possible by God’s grace, in fact that is to what we are called.

I for one hold not only a certain respect, but also appreciation for the United States of which I am a citizen. Yes, it has its faults as has always been the case, and some of them are quite serious. But in a fallen world, there is much to be thankful for when one can worship in freedom, and have the opportunities granted here. Yes, for some it’s much harder, no doubt. And we have to be careful not to idolize any state, so that we end up making Caesar Lord, instead of giving him the deference due under the Lordship of Christ.

We in Jesus will line up in every way possible on the American political spectrum, surely mostly due to our take on and evaluation of the issues. What we must not lose sight of is what’s most important of all, in fact what we in Jesus are called to live by as his followers and witnesses in this world. In doing so, we can help the kingdoms of this world the way the Jewish exiles of old were to pray for the good of the kingdom where they lived, so that in its prosperity, they too would prosper, of course through the blessing and mercy of God.

We care, but we are different. Read the Sermon on the Mount again (Matthew 5-7) if you doubt that. And read the entire New (Final) Testament, and keep reading it. Of course keep reading the Old (First) Testament as well. The more we do this, the better for our witness to Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. And the better for the nation where we live. We are citizens of heaven, first and foremost, the heaven that is destined to come down to earth in Jesus, and is lived out now in the way of Jesus. A way counter to, yet for the actual good of the present order of this world. So that we hope for the good of the nation in which we live, as well as the good of all other nations. But live as those whose one Lord is Jesus.

the sin of racism and the gospel

February is Black History Month. I met an African American lady who is past 100 years of age at the nursing home I visit on Sundays. I would like to visit her and listen to what she might want to say about her own experience. And as a young girl, she certainly would have known a few who actually were slaves in the Old South.

Of course the ending of slavery, as great as that was, was not at all the end of racism as is all too known by history. The Jim Crow laws were experienced by many who are still alive (I was around 9 years of age, when they ended). Strict segregation from the large things, including churches and schools, down to the smallest things like restrooms and drinking fountains was strictly enforced in the South. And blacks who fleed to the north, if anything found just as strict a segregation in practice, if not overtly, still definitely in place in private and community practice and I think government policy. The most segregated places in recent decades have been in the north.

I’m sure this next part would be criticized by some, and labeled liberal or whatever, but the United States is far from being a Christian nation when one considers that humans were stolen and made slaves, looked at as less than the whites who enslaved them. Of course I’m sure there were examples of slave owners who mistakenly saw the practice as parallel to the practice of slavery in the Bible, which actually was indentured and temporary, or at least was quite different as a rule, in Bible times. The idea that we have to get back to some utopian idea of early Christian America is pure fiction in my opinion, and at best is not without problems.

The gospel is the one solution that helps everyone overcome the sin of racism. Of course there is a tendency in the best within humanity made in the image of God to see through the wrong of racism, and call it what it is. But to think that most of us haven’t struggled with prejudice toward each other in some way, is surely to live in denial of the truth.

In Jesus, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, we can say neither black nor white: we indeed are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). And yet our rich diversity is not lost, as we see in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. In the end, all cultures of humanity worship together, and are enriched by each other. We worship the God who through the Cross brings forgiveness and healing, and indeed has broken down the hatred existing between various peoples. Through the cross there is complete reconciliation to God and to each other. All in and through Jesus.

And so let us endeavor in some seemingly small way as a first step, if we haven’t done so already, to reach out in listening and learning from a black sister or brother. Let’s be open to the reality that racism is still very much alive even in the least expected places, sadly including Christian institutions. Most all of us need to repent. Let’s pray that an essential part of our witness of the gospel, needed just as much as any other part, will be fulfilled: how in Christ not only do the old divisions end, but how we’re one family in him. We should at least pray that this will be seen in the demographics of our churches, including the leadership.

The needed change comes through the grace and kingdom of God which is present with us now in and through Jesus, and the good news in him.

who sets the agenda of our lives?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

what it means to follow King Jesus in a political world

Unlike those in Bible times, we live in a democratic society, which complicates our reading and application of scripture. If you read nothing more, read this, which is an excellent application of scripture in light of that.

When it comes to the politics of this world, I think we in Jesus need to apply the politics of Jesus, and the politics of the kingdom, and while that will surely impact our position on any issue, for example the refugee issue, it’s not as simple as either lining up with one party or candidate, or opposing another party or candidate. And in the end, though it may well affect the way we vote (or not vote, and if we vote at all), it ends up being solely about one thing for us: living for Jesus and for the gospel.

I do pay some attention to the politics of this world, and especially so, since I live in a democracy in which I can participate directly and indirectly in the process. While I think Christians can become unduly entangled in a mess when it comes to politics, I also think there might be some good we can do, especially as advocates for the poor, oppressed, and helpless. And we may want policies which help our families, all well and good, but we need to beware of making it all about us, what we want, what is best for us.

To understand what it means to follow King Jesus, we surely need to practice what John R. W. Stott advocated in his book, Between Two Worlds. He lived before the digital revolution, so he wrote of having the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in another. The problem in any age, but it seems particularly acute today, is the reality that the digital and news of the day can easily swallow up most all of our time, so that we end up being very little in the Bible at all. And after all, haven’t many of us read it through (or heard it read) at least a number of times?

But to follow King Jesus here and now, we need an interactive relationship both with scripture and with the world in which we live. But we must think of it, if we’re to follow King Jesus, not in terms of what the world wants, but what Jesus wants. And the root of that must be in the revelation we find in scripture of Jesus, and the good news in him. And we live that out from and within our communion as the church.

We must beware of getting caught up and entangled in either the Christian right or left, or the political right or left. Instead, we’re to follow Jesus. And in that communion, that fellowship, we are united to those who may see differently when it comes to the politics of this world, but with whom we’re united in the common goal of following Jesus, and obeying him, as well as living from and witnessing to the gospel, the good news in him.

That must be our goal, even our heart, and nothing less.

reading and hearing the Bible together

Probably more than anything else, I’m a Bible person. Two things I like to carry and likely am carrying are my little New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs and coffee. It is good for us to read the Bible, or listen to it, in fact I highly recommend it. That’s in large part within our historical context the result of the Protestant Reformation. And within and around that are both good and not so good influences. A good: examining the translated original texts for ourselves. A not (necessarily) so good: the questioning and often rejection of authority, especially religious authority. But I live in a part of what has come out of that mix. And again, there is great good there, along with that which is not so good.

In churches of the Great Tradition, so much more scripture is read Sunday after Sunday through the lexical readings, so that essentially the entire Bible is read through over the course of I think four years. That is a great benefit, and such churches are blessed. Where we have been attending, taking our grandchildren, the Bible is wonderfully taught in a 45-55 minute message, preceeded by some (surprisingly enough to me) good worship in song, my earplugs intact with the guitars, keyboards and drums (though most Sundays I really could get by without them). But we don’t hear the Book read through except for passages related to the teaching. I would be surprised if most Christians, aside from services, and teaching times, read much scripture at all for themselves.

Within Judaism there’s a practice of reading scripture together, and then discussing and often debating its meaning. I think we can take home something important from that, because we will ultimately better understand the message of scripture together, not apart by ourselves. The Spirit gives the entire church the understanding of scripture and the gospel, and that mediation is more rich and clear through the church, rather than through individuals here and there. Not to diminish the value of scholars who themselves gather from the entire church in their work of helping us understand the text, along with pastors and priests who do the same.

Yes, read the Bible for yourself, and keep reading it. But also find a context where you are reading it with others, and gathering insights from them. And read from the best pastors and teachers, and from scholars as well.

read the entire Bible (and keep reading it again and again)

Read or listen to the Bible, or both. Read it slowly, read it in large chunks. If it is God’s word written, it should begin to make an impact on our lives. And get into a church which either reads all of the Bible over time (through a lectionary), or preaches/teaches the Bible well (like the church we’ve been taking our grandkids to), preferably both.

Start children slowly, but wisely through the word, through the story and message of scripture. I think Our Daily Bread for Kids (and here) is a good place to start. Of course with the littlest ones, we’ll need materials or practices appropriate for them. Our Daily Bread for Kids Sunday School Songs (and here, scroll down) starts getting them to listen and eventually sing, which is good, even for the youngest age, I think.

The point is, we need to be in the word, day and night. And that word leads us to the Word, Jesus, the fulfillment of everything, bringing all things to their ultimate goal in God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

Why? Not for any other reason, other than the end itself. This is not a means to be a better American, a better world citizen, a better whatever, even though those things might be good in their proper place. No, it’s about being a true Christian, a follower of Christ, whatever the result of that may be.

Begin small, and keep at it. Bible Gateway is a good place to start to look for a Bible translation which might fit you. My preferred translation is the New International Version (NIV) which I think achieves an excellent balance between up to date scholarship, accuracy and readability. My second preference might be the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) , but there’s many other good Bible translations to choose from (again, see Bible Gateway).

I can’t end better than from the psalmist, but with the additional thought from scripture that this light is not just for ourselves, but for the world, in and through Jesus.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105