what in the world is God doing?

I was listening on an interview on NPR to someone quite experienced and knowledgeable, who, in his opinion sees the positions so far of the new President of the United States, as well as what preceded him, as an indication that the world order, which in his view has promoted stability since the end of World War II through the Cold War, is changing, and not for the better. I am not sure what to make of all of this. My opinions and inclinations really don’t matter. I would think there has been both plenty of good and plenty not so good in what the United States has done the past fifty plus years. I could see the US as an empire, not an evil one, but still an empire. It certainly has been the number one world power since the end of the Cold War. Like in the real world, there is much good and evil mixed together. And to give oneself fully to any nation or leader of this world without reservation surely amounts to idolatry.

What if God is doing something in the world which might just shake up the nations a bit? Much has happened in my lifetime, the unimaginable, big and small. When we read scripture, we find that God is the Sovereign over all the nations, somehow at work in ways inscrutable and beyond us. We see a shaking and sifting going on quite often, but wish to see much more, like in the case of what appears to be purely evil regimes who abuse and murder. We long for the end of all the injustice in the world, looking forward to the promise of Jesus’s return when at last the long awaited good judgment will come, and the nations will be put in their place under the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

In the meantime, our focus as those in Jesus needs to be on our calling as the church through the gospel. Somehow a significant part of God’s work is through the church, Christ head over everything for it, through the gospel (Ephesians 1). We need to be invested in is in that. That is our calling in Jesus. As hard as this may be to accept, what else happens is beside the point. While at the same time, all Christians, wherever they live, wish for the good of their nation and people, as well as the good of all other nations.

May the Lord help us to grow in our trust in God, away from our idolatrous trust in other things. As we pray for all, and await the Day of our Lord’s return.

 

black history month, why it’s important, and what our witness ought to be

February in the United States and Canada is designated Black History Month (October in the United Kingdom). It is important to remember the history of African-Americans, whose recent ancestors were stolen, enslaved, and all too often killed. It is a great error to see this as being “politically correct.” We need to recognize the achievements of those in our family who are African in their origin, as well as the difficulties and evils they encountered, more or less front and center at one time, but now often much more hidden, yet just as real. An example of what is especially a hidden, subtle form of racism is the part of the story in the film Hidden Figures, which wasn’t told.

At the heart of the outcome of the gospel is the destruction of all divisions within humanity, while celebrating the differences through God’s creation (see the book of Revelation, in which every tribe and nation in all their diversity worship God together). The fact that the church seems to make either little or nothing of this at all seems to me to be a grave mistake which needs prayer and correction. The good news of God in Jesus and through his death means a completely open access to God, and also to each other in the sense of living out our oneness as one family in him. There is only one human race, and the difference in ethnicities among us enhance humanity. We need each other, every part of the whole of the one family of humanity.

This should be fulfilled in Jesus, in which through the new birth and new creation, we are all one in him, in all our differences. The best witness of a church in that regard is to include different ethnicities on the staff, particularly in positions of leadership, certainly including the pastoral. The world needs that witness, and we actually need this as well, to break down the sin of racism, which is the hidden elephant in still too many places. When we overlook the hidden, or not so hidden racism among those around us, we can inadvertently make a place for it in our hearts, while never wanting to. We excuse something for which there is no excuse, and which brings grave harm to humanity, and is an affront to God, and above all grieves the heart of God.

So let’s do something if we haven’t yet, before this month ends, to both remember and celebrate our black brothers and sisters. And let’s pray that this can somehow be worked into our lives on a practical level so that we can enter more fully into the salvation which is ours through the good news in Jesus our Lord.

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.

rest in a restless age

Sometimes after a rough and tumble, or sheer out and out exhausting week, all we need is rest, and nothing more. I love vacations of rest, just Deb and I, though to have the kids and grandkids with us would be quite alright with us, as well. But we all need those times of doing very little, or nothing at all. And doing it slowly, or as we please.

In the world today, there is a hyperactive sort of goings on, which has people’s full attention. We shouldn’t necessarily ignore it, or turn a blind eye toward it. But neither should we be in a stew over it. Instead we need to rest in the one who actually is King of kings and Lord of lords, who is over all, and who, from his throne at the right hand of the Father, has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

We in Jesus from that rest and reality, are to go and make disciples of all nations, that is our calling. We are not to get caught up in the muck and mire of the world’s politics, but we’re to be taken up with “the politics of Jesus,” which certainly includes care for the unborn, those oppressed and in need, the refugee, etc. Yes, we should be speaking out on those issues and praying and contributing as we’re led.

But our main concern must be to follow the one to whom we’re called, to be in line with the commission given to us in this age until he returns. Our answer to this world’s problems, and to the question of how to approach them is not from any political entity or ideology of this world, but only from the politics of Jesus. We might well support with reservations and from a distance means employed to correct evil and reward as well as bring good. But we are believers in one hope, one good news, one kingdom, all in Jesus, and in God’s grace, mercy and peace in him. That is where we live, and learn to rest, come what may.

our focus no matter what

No matter what happens in life, our focus needs to be on the one true hope and salvation, our Lord Jesus, and God’s promises in him. That means we need to be in scripture night and day. We need to draw from the gifts and tradition of the church.

But it doesn’t mean we withdraw and not be concerned about this or that which is happening in the world. One example for me is the concern over climate change, but there’s a whole host of other issues besides. A biblical emphasis would be on the plight of the poor.

We do need to see both final and present solutions first and foremost in terms of the gospel and through the church which is the living reality of the gospel. But we need not scrap the place that government has in the world, and concern over that. And Democracy presents itself with a picture which needs to be grappled with seriously by Christian theologians and scholars, but is all too easily dismissed as irrelevant. It is important in its place. Yet for far too many of us, maybe most all of us to one degree or another, the politics of this world is the politics we identify with. And we have failed to see that there’s a greater politic at work in the world through the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and played out in the body politic, the church. So that while we should be concerned about what is happening in the politics of this world, they in no way should impact the politics of the church in and through King Jesus, a cross-shaped, death and resurrection reality, grace-oriented, and no less than a kingdom, the kingdom of God in him.

So while I’m a bit implicated as a US citizen in what happens in an election, and in the political process and policies of the United States, my one allegiance is to the Lord, through whom is the promise of new creation, which begins even now, and is to be completed at his return, when heaven and earth become one in him. We in Jesus through the gospel are the answer for the world. Not this or that politician, or political party. Even while we seek to be wise in appreciating the place they do have. Certainly in praying for them. But Jesus is the one to whom we bow. And the one hope of the world who makes good on all of God’s promises through the gospel.

the problem with American politics

Alright, there’s all kinds of problems with the politics of the United States, money and special interests a good start. Today is election day here, when we elect a new president, among a host of other offices and things.

The biggest problem I see with American politics is just how much Christians are caught up in it all. If we don’t see it, it’s all because we’re smack dab in the middle of it. It is so much a part of our identity, of who we are, that we simply take it for granted. It’s the way things are, in our mind. But we fail to see the idolatry likely inherent in that.

I will step back a bit, because I know truth ordinarily is anything but simple, and there are good Christians very much invested in the United States. That is not necessarily bad, depending on what one means. The question remains, does our commitment to Jesus as Lord challenge this, and find it at least questionable at times? Do we draw any lines as to when our allegiance to Christ nullifies what the state might be doing, or telling us to do?

A big problem in this is that we have no criteria for judging. The words of scripture should help us, reading and rereading, and continuing to read the Book. We have to turn to Christ for Christian teaching and understanding, to be sure. And whatever we do, we have to do it with all of our hearts as to the Lord.

A good place to start is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. He is setting forth in that what it means to be the society of God’s kingdom under his authority here on earth. Our identity is not in any nation state, or in any politics of such, but only in God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

That said, we still hope and pray for the good of the nation in which we live (cf.: Jeremiah 29). We hope for God’s mercy and even blessing on it, but we don’t see national interests in the same way it is typically seen in the governance and politics here.

Our presence in Jesus is the politic by which we live (Stanley Haerwas). Everything else is measured by that, but nothing else is even close to that in importance for us. But it’s an importance which doesn’t deny the significance of the state, but puts it in the one light of the world, from the one city on a hill in this world (again, see Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount for this, which has nothing to do with the United States of America).

We hope and pray for the best this election day. But above all, we are committed to the one Lord and the one God in Jesus. And to the Cross, the life in Jesus to which we’re called. What unites us in him in the one Good News/Gospel, not only for us and at work in our lives even now, but also for the world, in which every knee will eventually bow and confess the Lord Jesus’s Supremacy, to the glory of God the Father.

the church should show another way (through this presidential election)

Given the incindiary rhetoric of one of the presidential candidates regularly at his rallies, it is easy to get caught up in what by any account has been easily far and away the worst US Presidential campaign in my lifetime. Some of the reaction back to that kind of talk has not been helpful, but there are people who profess to be Christians, I don’t want to say followers of Christ, who more or less seem ready to take up arms to bring America back to some supposed norm of the past, nevermind that the history of the United States is anything but spotless when it comes to morals and ethics and justice.

There is more that needs to be said on this score, indeed the subject of what the United States is and what the state or nation should be is a tall order. We need reasoned and sustained discourse, with an emphasis on preserving what indeed has been great about America, in spite of the faults. So that those thoughts might be addressed, an ongoing task in this world, indeed. We would all surely benefit from reading Augustine’s, The City of God, which while showing the contrast between that city and the earthly city (no, I haven’t read it, though I’ve read parts of it, and want to read my copy all the way through), does see much good ordained from God through the state. I’m not sure I’ll track completely with Augustine, since I will want to consider his argument in light of all of scripture, but I think this kind of reasoning, to see the good as well as the limitations of the state, are especially needed in our day.

That said, the church has allowed itself to get caught up in a war in which the actual war the church is in, spiritual, not physical, and over the proclamation of the one good news, the gospel, is all but lost in what the church seems to stand for: either the takeover or pushing back of America to some pristine past (the Religious Right), or the continuation of America to some “progressive” future (the Religious Left). Not to say there isn’t any truth in what’s being said on either side, which makes this all the more dangerous and difficult. But I’m afraid we’re selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.

Jesus said, “What does it profit anyone to gain the whole world yet lose their soul?” And that is just what is happening at times, when the church puts itself forward not only as a judge, but an advocate for something other than the gospel.

There is one Good News/Gospel in one Lord and King, Jesus. Even though we hope and pray for the good of the nation, and God’s mercy and blessing on it, we should be known as those who are committed to, and living out this gospel in Jesus. It is a gospel of salvation in a personal sense, but also in every other way through the new creation, without denying the role for example that the state does have as instituted by God (Romans 13). The church is the beginning of the city of God come down to earth in Jesus, something no city of this world can duplicate, even if by that light there can be benefit for such.

The church should not be known for its politics of this world, in my opinion. But rather, its own political stance, in God’s kingdom come in Jesus (Matthew 5-7, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount a central explication/instructive announcement of that) ought to be known especially by how the church conducts itself in the world, in its good works, as well as in telling the world the reason for such. Changed lives in Jesus as seen through prison ministries, not only can dispel the ignorance of the world, but even be welcomed by the state, as has been the case in the present day.

Yes, it’s so easy, all too easy to get caught up in the hype and real concerns of the election, and there are issues which need to be addressed on that level. But we must beware lest we lose our bearings and witness in this world of the one true light in Jesus, so that we’re caught up in something less, no longer holding on to the message of the gospel by which we are lights in a crooked and depraved world. God can help us repent and do better; we can be shown the way together, in and through Jesus, by the blessed Holy Spirit.

It’s not like we can’t participate somehow in the election process, by at least voting, and speaking something of our minds on it along the way. But we do so united by only one thing: the gospel in the one Lord and King Jesus, in the grace of God in him.