what is most basic to us?

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

1 John 2:12

It seems like in this day and age, or surely any day and age for that matter, but maybe more so now in some ways, we Christians can forget and come to neglect and even rather think light of basics which are central to our lives as believers and followers of Christ. Perhaps a good example is the passage cited above. We might come to take for granted that our sins are forgiven, and even hardly think of that at all since we’re so caught up in other things.

Right now in the United States Christians are often very much caught up in politics, or maybe something of the culture war, or whatever cause it might be. Some of that might be good in its place (maybe some of it not), but we need to get past the “ho-hum” attitude we often have about what we might call “first things,” and what is beyond that.

We need to live in the world of Scripture, the story that God portrays. And then see everything from that light. And not let the world direct us as to what’s important. And if there’s some overlap between what we think and what others might be thinking, all well and good. But our hearts and lives are on a different course entirely. As we dwell on the basics and go deeper. And refuse to consider basic to ourselves anything else, at least not in comparison. In and through Jesus.

the mystery of Christ’s conception and birth

I was struck this morning by the thought of how Christ was in the womb, soon to be born. The idea that God through a miracle, was fully human, to soon pass through his mother’s womb into the world as a newborn.

That is amazing in itself, a mystery of the faith to be sure. And evident of God’s triunity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We might say the Father oversaw it all, the Spirit was active in it, and the Son was the human embryo, nine months after conception to be born.

It is amazing, but somehow tied to God’s amazing work in our own lives.

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

 

the good shaking that’s needed

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Haggai 2:6-9

We live during a time when it seems like the very foundations of civilization are being shaken to their core. When one studies history, it has often felt this way given the disruptions taking place.

In the day when this prophecy was written, it seemed like much was lost, that there was little hope for restoration, at least not to the former glory. But God encouraged the leaders of his people to take courage and do as he had directed them. Building the temple, God’s special dwelling place on earth.

This is a good word for us today. The fulfillment is in Christ. What we see going on, sometimes understandably- oftentimes not, is what God is doing or letting happen. With the goal in the end of good: justice and peace. But fulfilled in Christ, who himself is the fulfillment of the temple where humans have access to God, the meeting place of God on earth where heaven and earth come together “in Christ.”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against the injustices and evils of our time. Note the prophets who did this, especially against the wrongs of God’s people. Not that we’re prophets and can do the same. But we need to be open to God’s correction from such.

Not only the whole world needs a good shaking, but our world as well. The writer to the Hebrews addresses that with this passage from Haggai with application not only for the struggling believers of his day who were tempted to leave the faith and actually faith behind, and go back to Judaism, but for us today, who can get caught up in something less than God’s agenda for us, and lose sight of what God has done and is doing in Christ.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12:25-29

 

 

 

why we don’t shut up (about our faith)

…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:20b

First off I want to say I’m thankful to live in a nation in which I am not persecuted for my faith, and I would say, for the faith. Unfortunately persecution of Christians worldwide today is on a scale perhaps worse than ever. I’m grateful to live in a nation, the United States, which maintains freedom of religion. Of course there may be subtle ways of persecution here, but not the kind in which one’s property or life is at risk. So I’m blessed to live in freedom in that regard. Our persecuted family in the faith are blessed, in the words of our Lord, to face persecution as they continue on in the faith (Matthew 5:10-11). And we need to support them with our love and prayers (see Open Doors, one of the ministries working to help such).

The words of Peter and John quoted above, before the religious authorities who were persecuting them, are instructive, and actually enlightening as to why we Christians persist and won’t let up in our witness. Maybe it’s especially true for those set apart for ministry, but actually all Christians are called by God to be a witness. We are witnesses first of all in the change of our lives and how we live in love for others, and in what we say about our faith and the faith.

The apostles saw the Lord, witnessed his life, his words, deeds, and just who he was. As well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead, the point in the narrative above after a man over forty years of age and lame from birth was completely healed. The apostles found something that was not just life changing for them, but amounted to good news for the world no less, in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And we follow in their train.

I am personally not only convinced intellectually, but by what I’ve seen. Changed lives yes; lives for the love of others, including enemies. Rational argument is good, and actually there’s a convincing rationale for Jesus’s resurrection, which has turned one skeptic after another into a believer. I don’t deny others have abandoned the faith. All I can say is there’s one thing that keeps me going on and wanting to be a witness: what I continue to see and hear. I see the difference it makes day after day, or at least over shorter and longer spans of time in my own life. And though I often don’t understand well enough what Scripture is saying, the words are compelling and point me to God’s Word himself: Jesus.

This is personal to me, but it’s more than that, it’s for the world. The gospel, which is the good news of God in Jesus is for the world. It will never be the center of any nation state in this present age, but is always manifest only in the church scattered amidst all the nations. Part of this good news in Jesus is the promise and “hope” of his return, when he will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom in him will be set up when heaven and earth are made one in him.

So we carry on. Yes, in the midst of difficulty, our own darkness, our stumbling, and so on. But we continue to follow. To show and tell the difference this makes in our own lives, meant for all others as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

a big gospel (not only about us)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:8-14

The good news we celebrate this Christmas, and long to see completely fulfilled during Advent is God’s great salvation and kingdom come in Jesus. And it’s never just about God and I, and me getting right, and getting on okay in the world. Such a gospel doesn’t exist. It’s either for the entire world, including us, or it’s something man made up.

The gospel is as big as all the world since it’s for the world, for each and every part, the whole and all the parts. And Jesus longs for each person for whom he died, and that includes everyone. And it leaves no part of the world out. Period.

Too many Christian books and even churches give you the impression that the Bible is geared to you and your personal relationship with God through Christ. And over and over we’re inundated with that kind of teaching. So that by and by that’s how we see the gospel. It’s for everyone in a personal, individualistic way, and has little to do with anything else, except to touch, maybe even transform other matters in an indirect way through conversion. While there’s truth in that, it really is a distortion of what we find in scripture. God’s word is meant to bless us that we might be a blessing to others. Starting with Abraham (Genesis 12) and completed in Jesus. And it is no less than the new creation displacing the old.

No passion for the world, and for something other than one’s own salvation means no passion for the gospel. Yes, for you and I, but for everyone, for the world, and to be completely fulfilled someday, in and through Jesus.

 

 

holding on to faith and a good conscience

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 1:18-20

It would be nice to live in a world in which there were not challenges to one’s faith and conscience. For myself, I don’t mind doing the hard thing, going the extra mile, etc., although I realize I can be too easily tied into knots and worried about whether I did good enough, or even exactly what I should do. It’s when what I’m facing is up against what others are doing when it can be especially hard. Sometimes one doesn’t really know what to do, and you should always pray to begin with, and actually continue to pray. None of us will get it perfect, but we should try to do what’s right in God’s eyes, as best we can understand it. And remain in the peace God gives.

Fighting the battle well is how Paul frames it, written for us. A pastoral epistle written to a young pastor, so for pastors and Christian leaders today, but by extension for all of us, since we’re to follow their example, as they follow Christ. Just to realize we’re in a battle is helpful; it’s no cakewalk.

If we’re careless in regard to faith and a good conscience, we can suffer shipwreck with regard to the faith itself. In other words, we can lose out entirely. It is interesting though that when the Apostle handed over two who had done so, over to Satan himself, there was the potential that they would be taught not to blaspheme, or so it seems according to this scripture. That was what they were doing when they suffered shipwreck. For others of us it could simply be walking away and never returning without uttering a word.

Hopefully it would be hard for us to leave faith and a good conscience behind. Having a bad conscience is miserable enough. This may seem unrelated, though I think not. I have an interesting habit, especially when I’m at work, or out and about some, to pull out my little New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs, and pick up where I left off, a little metal clip making it easy to find. It reminded me last night of how people especially in times past, but probably more now then we might think, pull out a cigarette out of habit and addiction, and to calm them down, or whatever relief they get from that. For me, it’s a part of how I engage in the battle and in the endeavor to hold on to faith and a good conscience, come what may. God is good and gracious in all of this, understanding our weakness. Christ is right there with us to help us, knowing firsthand what it’s like.

Part of our learning and existence in this life in and through Jesus.

 

avoiding a destructive divisiveness

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:9-11

Just open your mouth nowadays and you’ll be controversial. There’s not much room for discussion or taking into account the complexity of anything. It’s black or white; you’re either for or against. And that actually does push people into a corner to have to decide that way, when so many issues are complicated and open to different interpretations.

It’s hard to know when to speak out, and when not to. The church as a whole does well to stick to the gospel and avoid divisive matters such as politics, while being willing to address moral issues, but in a way which does not support one political party or another. And that takes plenty of wisdom, but it’s worth the effort.

I wonder, and am inclined to think that some Christians can and should speak out in ways which might tip their hand as to how they think politically, even though there should be no doubt as to where their prime allegiance lies. There were prophets in the Bible, and I’m especially thinking of the Old Testament, who decried what was happening in society, especially the evil being done by God’s covenant people against the poor and downtrodden.

One thing for sure: We need to avoid a divisiveness which detracts from the gospel. What we are about and here for is to see the gospel impact people’s lives, and hopefully the world at large. And the gospel itself is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Any stands we take publicly as Christians, and especially as the church should be for the faith of the gospel. Anything less than that is detrimental to the gospel. For the gospel might include work done to influence or even undermine what is being done politically. But we should aim at it being a gospel work, not something that merely we ourselves do.

Much wisdom required; more than we ourselves have. But given to us preferably together by the Spirit in and through Jesus.