keeping hold of the gospel

The gospel is at the heart of our faith, and therefore central to the well being, not only of us, but of the world. Faith, hope, and love depend on it. No wonder then, when it can become such a point of contention. I commend N. T. Wright and his writings, along with other writers and teachers such as Scot McKnight and Craig Blomberg, and many others.

The gospel essentially is the Jesus revealed in scripture, and all the truth that surrounds him in his person, life, teaching, works, death and resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his return. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage, but actually Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all accounts of the gospel. The good news in Jesus in which scripture is fulfilled.

It is imperative for us to hold on the gospel, not simply because of the life it promises after death, but also because of the life that is promised to us here and now. It is a life in God, one of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because of Christ’s redemptive work of the cross, and the freeing activity of the Spirit (Romans 8). I find that we have to hold on to faith to get out of survival mode, though in spiritual warfare, simply to stand our ground is all that’s required (Ephesians 6:10-20). This is all about the gospel: the good news in Jesus, and holding on to that.

God wants us in Jesus to be more than conquerors, actually in him we already are (Romans 8), victorious (Revelation 2-3) in and through Jesus by the good news, regardless of what we face, or our past, as well as present. It may be in the midst of much weakness, and fallout. Nevertheless God wants the truth of that gospel in Jesus stamped onto our lives, so that it defines and centers us in all of life. The good news, by the way, is as big as all of life, if one reads the pages of scripture in full. It is no less than new creation, God making all things new. It is not a matter of hiding in a cave somewhere with bread and water. At the same time, though, it does involve a following with others of Christ in identification with him, which in this life can spell trouble, even death. But in the midst of that, we know from the good news that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to pray and ask God to help us grasp and hold on to this good news in Jesus. That it might correct us where need be, and set us on the path of life, even of immortality, the eternal life and everlasting way in and through Jesus.

 

the ideal church in the US in the present

First of all, right off from the top, there is no ideal church. Unless one is going to push their denomination or way of being church, there are a number of differences, which actually was the case even in the earliest days of the church, once it expanded beyond Jerusalem. And so I’m going to accept those differences which are many, today. As long as we’re united by the gospel, the good news about Jesus, we can live with those differences. I believe that’s the case between Catholic and Protestant; Calvinists, Pentecostals and Anabaptists, etc., etc. As long as the good news in Jesus is intact, the teaching of his incarnation, life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return, even the details surrounding that we can see differently, provided that we accept salvation by grace through faith with works following. I am not one to quibble over justification with the Catholics, though I myself accept the solos which became theologically prominent through the Reformation. But now to the main point of this post.

We live in a nation which to a significant extent has been built off the backs of slaves. And even after their emancipation through the Civil War, you tell most any black or African-American that they are free, and they will qualify that. And we lived through one hundred years of segregation along with the Jim Crow era. There have been other prejudices, too, and all of that can fit into the point I’m going to make next, but given the history of this nation, and the current controversy over police and race relations, I will put a clear emphasis on blacks and whites and the church.

I believe that in order to be the witness the nation and the world needs from a church here, there needs to be a deliberate change and commitment to a racial reconciliation in which the African-Americans have just as much say and leadership in a given church as the white largely European Caucasians such as myself. In a small church, that might look like a black senior pastor, with a ethnically mixed board of elders and deacons (or deacons, if that’s the way your church runs). In a larger church, it might ideally somehow be two or more associate pastors who share the teaching and pastoral role, black and white, white and black, not in any particular order. But to be sure that the church is not still really run by whites, there ought to be an emphasis given to black leadership.

Of course there are many black churches and denominations. When I was young, blacks weren’t even allowed to step inside of Southern Baptist churches, and I’m sure they were marginalized in many places. But maybe black churches need to pray about their witness, as well. Maybe it’s time for them to purposefully integrate. But I can’t speak for them. If we’re to overcome what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most integrated hour of the week, Sunday morning, than your normal church, made up of whites with a few blacks and African-Americans here and there, must take the lead. We are the ones on the side of history of the oppressors. They are on the side of the oppressed.

To be color blind doesn’t mean we just remain comfortably in our place. It means we purposefully integrate, not from some law or order from government, but as part of the heart of the call of the gospel. To express by the Spirit the unity we all have through the good news in Jesus. Regardless of our ethnicity, background, political views, etc. But in the case of blacks and whites, this will require more.

Given our history, this unity is not just something we blithely put in place, even with some hard effort to accept and learn to appreciate our cultural differences. There must also be at the heart of all of this, reconciliation. And this reconciliation must include forgiveness on both sides: the blacks and African-Americans forgiving the whites for slavery in the first place, and all the mistreatment which followed. And the whites forgiving African-Americans and blacks for any and every sinful response that followed. And all of this, while it should be put into place in a church through the gospel, is a process in which we can’t imagine at a given point we’ve arrived. The wall of hostility is broken down through the gospel, through Jesus’s death, but the unity of the Spirit which follows requires every effort to maintain, and grow in. As we grow up together into the mature body of Christ that we’re called to become. A growth that is ongoing, and something we already are in Christ by the Spirit, but learning to live by and into the implications of all of that.

This is a great need in the church today. The way we do church just won’t do, I’m afraid, or at least it will be lacking, if this isn’t a priority well beyond just hoping others who are different might begin to trickle in. All of this in and through Jesus.

God is love

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4

I suppose and hope that if there’s one note I would like to end my life on, and hopefully begin to live out much better, it would be the reality of God’s love in Jesus from the God who is love. This special incarnate, atoning love would mark every step of my way, not by myself, but with others. And it would mark our witness to the world. Of loving each other and loving everyone, even including our enemies.

It is the way of the cross. Not without struggle. But a faith and love which overcomes everything, along with the hope which accompanies that. An inseparable triad in scripture, the greatest of the three being love (1 Corinthians 13).

God is love, period. Everything else comes out of that love. And it’s the love we find in scripture, demonstrated in the cross. For us, and then even through us in Jesus. And for the world. In no other terms than in and through the gospel. But a gospel in Jesus which ends up as big as all of life. As we await the completion and climax of this reality, when Jesus returns. All of this from the God who is love, in and through Jesus.

the seeming uneven hand of God

There is no way you can live very long and thoughtfully, and not find the unevenness of life perplexing, even troubling. Why does life happen the way it does? In terms of circumstances, as well as in one’s lot. There are the crack cocaine babies, those born in places that have never heard the gospel, others having to flee their homes in war zones, not to mention atrocities from which people can never fully recover. That’s only the beginning of what we could say. I’m sure the list could go on and on.

Although we can’t say God caused these things—of course some would question whether God caused anything—the Hebrew Bible, First Testament attributes to God everything, since nothing can happen outside of his will. God could stop or prevent anything from happening. We could live in a different world. Everything would make sense to us in that world. No one would tell lies and mislead people. No one would harm people for their own self-interest, or who knows what for?

I have experienced plenty of blessing in my life, but like everyone else, I live under the curse (Genesis 3). The world is far from an agreeable place to live if one is going to take out the fairness, justice card. This is much more the case for some people other than myself, people whose progeny have suffered injustice over generations, and who still do to this day. And the syndrome that comes with that; there are some things most people never gets over at least in the way of shaping them, sometimes actually in good ways.

Turning to scripture can help us here. I think particularly of the story of Job. It is a great help in looking straight in the face the unevenness of the world, and the seeming unevenness of God. Life is messy at best, and traumatic or even catastrophic at worst.

This is where faith comes in. Do I believe in God, even in a good God in spite of the fallout of life? Do I hold on to that belief for dear life, in spite of my numbness, and even anger, in spite of unresolved questions and the reality which flies in the face of easy answers, and wooden empty platitudes? Yes, in the midst of it all, someone can say Romans 8:28 instead of simply being present with us and praying. A handy out for them, it would seem, even if they are completely sincere and only want to help.

But looking at life as it is, we do need to get back to the bedrock of our faith. We need to look both at the details of scripture, and to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. God’s ultimate answer is Jesus, and the cross. How everything shakes out in the end is with reference to that, and how God is at work in the present, as well. We do well to lay hold of the promises of God, like in Proverbs 3:5-6 with that in mind. And as Job would remind us, mystery is a major player, as well. Who can understand what only God can fully understand, if the God of the Bible exists?

Life is uneven now, but there is God in Jesus. We need to stop there, no matter what. That is where we need to take the broken, shattered pieces of our lives, our own brokenness, indeed, ourselves. And in prayer, others, as well.

We look toward an end when all will be grace, flourishing, shalom. When the end will make good sense, even if we never do understand fully what preceded that. All of this always in and through Jesus.

the amazing grip of politics versus the weakness of the gospel

I am amazed at the grip that US politics has on people, and I’m thinking specifically of God’s people. And in comparison to that, the gospel itself in most ways seemingly secondary.

That may be an unfair statement, and after all, no one believes that any government or political party will give them salvation and eternal life. This might be akin to the early Christians respecting those in governing authority over them, but proclaiming a new king, Jesus, and a new kingdom, the kingdom of God present in him, with the promise of Jesus’s return so that the kingdom will fill all of the earth.

The tricky part ends up being that the politics of this world is important in its place. Couple that with the reality of the politics of Jesus (see for starts on that, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount) and you are talking about nothing less than a new society, not simply a way to better oneself and do well in the old order of things.

There might be some good in using the system to impose better laws and work at rooting out evil. I think that can all be well and good in its place. But the one reality that will stay put and change everything is solely in Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And that begins now in and through the gospel and the church.

The weakness and foolishness of the cross. The power and wisdom of God. In and through Jesus.

 

the true faith and the offense of the cross

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Matthew 20

This was the third time, and unlike the other times there is no recorded reaction from the disciples. I think Thomas might have spoken up according to John’s gospel account, saying that they should go to Jerusalem and die with him.  In a way the disciples were getting used to this idea, even though it really hadn’t sinked in since it made no sense to them.

The cross of Jesus is called an offense (see especially the book of Galatians). It makes no sense to the world, the Jews in Jesus’s time certainly shunning it, since they sought for signs from God, and the fulfillment of the prophecies, which would include ushering Rome out of the promised land. Only wannabe failed messiahs died on crosses. The Gentiles of that time knew that it was power that controlled and ruled, and won the day. At best the idea of the cross and death and resurrection was an enigma; at worst, it was simply an empty tale, not part of the real world in which they lived.

Fastforward to now. Yes, we accept the cross as central to the faith, to our faith. But do we too often fail to see just what kind of application that has for our lives and witness in Jesus? I wonder. Too often Christians are saddled into politics, here in the US, the left and right. We offend for plenty of other reasons other than the cross of Jesus. Yes it’s true that we’re to be persecuted both because of Jesus and for righteousness. But the righteousness referred to is certainly fulfilled only in Jesus, probably underscored in that context in his Sermon on the Mount, though certainly including all of what God would mean from scripture for us today.

So we will encounter at least some flack for our stand for righteousness now. But we need to be careful that we take such stands in love, in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. Righteousness in the sense of the true fulfillment is important to our message. But it is only in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, the cross theologically the shorthand term for that, that we find the center from which we live, the new creation from God by the Spirit, and the witness we have to the world. In and through Jesus.

please love: let’s grow in God’s love together

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24

Loving God and loving others, and being loved. And a love that is practical, meeting people’s needs, especially the poor and afflicted. This is where it’s at, where true religion lies.

But love is vulnerable. You will always be hurt if you love, sometimes just because we don’t love well, as Rich Mullins says in one of his songs. Other times, because we fail to love at all.

Love in the Christian sense is never separate from the gospel, which is the greatest act and reality of love from the God who is love. God’s love in his Son in the love of the cross is indeed central to our faith. And love in the Christian sense is linked to faith and hope, the three things which remain according to 1 Corinthians 13.

Without this, everything is empty and meaningless, insofar as God’s valuation is concerned. This is part and parcel of true humanity which is being restored in Jesus, as we say from the letters in the Final/New Testament, “in Christ.” Everything must be measured by both the quantity and quality of love. And it’s not just any old kind of love, whatever good such loves might have. It is rooted and finds its true meaning and reality in the love of God in Jesus. The Spirit present to help us find, experience, and live in that love.

I am personally tired of Christians who don’t love, or go out of their way to love. And yet I need to remember just how poorly I love, and how empty and cold my own love can be. But that is where we need to light the fire: the love we had at first (Revelation 2). We need to fan the faint flicker of the love that is in us in Jesus, and over time, by God’s grace grow in and be molded by that love. Into the very image of Jesus together, in each of our unique expressions of that as the one body of Christ in and for the world. In and through Jesus.