accept the struggle against racism, etc.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

We can’t forget, we need to always remember: we’re in a spiritual battle. That’s the way it is now, and there’s no escape, even let up from that. The battle does seem fierce at times, and other times it seems we have some rest. But we must always be ready, not caught off guard.

It is a fight over the long haul. And it’s a gospel fight, not a culture wars nor political one. We shouldn’t care who wins the culture war, or the political contests.* That’s not the battle we’re in. The problem with aligning ourselves in such battles it seems to me is that we’re getting our eye off the ball in the actual game we’re in, figuratively speaking. Of course it’s no game, but out and out war, spiritual war.

And part of the grip the powers don’t want to let go of is the grip of racism, specifically against Africans we stole and treated worse than animals, and still look down on to this day as a society. Christians, and specifically white Christians must be in the forefront of bringing the light of the gospel into that darkness.

With reference to racism in the United States specifically against African-Americans we need to listen well, pray, listen again, pray, and keep doing that, keeping our mouths shut, except to speak out in the ways God gives us. As we become more and more aware, we need to do what we can to stand against this evil. First beginning with ourselves, and that will be ongoing, the rest of our lives. Seeking to understand better how we’re in complicity with systemic racism, as well as how the church and we as part of that, can see this evil chain broken.

Nothing less than spiritual warfare, bringing the truth of the gospel to shine its light not only in people’s hearts, but against the darkness seen everywhere. Systemic racism, as well as the racial prejudice we will find if we’re honest, yes, in our own hearts. We want to confess our sins, repent, and see ongoing change. Even as we look forward to the Day when all of this will be gone. Until then, we are strengthened to stand firm in the spiritual battle. In and through Jesus.

*Not that we can’t participate as a citizen of a nation, either by voting, or abstaining from voting.

true religion today

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amos 5:21-24

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

It is a sad time, and a difficult one indeed, worldwide. With the pandemic, and all that has swirled around that, and now with the murder of another black person at the hands of a white person, even one who is supposed to enforce the laws of the land. There’s little wonder over the reaction that has taken place, terribly mistaken as it is, from years and years of pent up frustration and anger and loss of hope.

The anger on all sides is nearly overwhelming. You have Christians on the religious right holding the line steady on abortion being the evil of the day, and too often minimizing other evils, in my opinion, though not always. Then you have Christians on the religious left who too often it seems to me think that a political change can solve the problem. I don’t deny at all that political process and change can’t make a difference.

But what both Amos and James are getting at demands more than religious services with lots of words on how to fix the problem. What seems needed is an underlying passion for justice, and a heart set on making a difference. This goes well beyond politics, how one thinks in terms for example of American politics: left, right, moderate, whatever. It doesn’t leave those behind, and I think there can be good points in them all. But what is at the heart for Christians and for the church is nothing more or less than what Amos and James were getting at.

What is needed is a change of heart that can lead to the other changes needed. And this should be seen in the church, in its care for each other, and for its community and beyond. And it must touch the troubles of the day with the healing hand of Jesus. Our politics of this world should not even enter into the picture. There should be the kingdom of God influence which permeates all we say and do. “The politics of Jesus.” When people look at the church, they should not be able to figure out what American or other national political persuasion we’re of. They should instead think something like, “Wow, these people really love each other and everyone. They care about the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, pregnant women, the unborn, the born, everyone.

I am confident that’s already true across the board. But that’s not seen when we make a big deal out of our American political stance. All that does is alienate others. We should not care ourselves one bit as to where we do stand politically. That’s all beside the point. The wise words of Abraham Lincoln can help us here:

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

None of us at all are on God’s side. But yes we can be and are, and we need to live accordingly, only in and through Jesus.

 

against full knowledge in this world or even in the word

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12b

Sadly, too many Christians nowadays seem to think they have some sort of inside scoop on what’s going on in the world. Or that they unlike most other Christians possess some superior knowledge of God’s word and the gospel. Either thought is dangerous.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I believe any idea of some inside scoop or full knowledge of anything should be dismissed, or at least viewed with profound suspicion.

Yes, God does give us revelation of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit, and helps us through the word, no doubt. But we have to be humble, especially when it comes to what we think we understand about what is going on in the world. We need to stick to what God plainly tells us in the word, and refuse to get sidetracked on what too often become tangents that get us sidetracked from God’s will for us.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t push hard for truth and what is right, just and good. It does mean that we do so believing that only God understands and knows and works in God’s own sovereign way, as he sees fit.

We do so in full confidence of nothing other than God and God’s work through the word in the world. In and through Jesus.

 

Jesus’s peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I remember a church in our area which had a sign that said, “Wage Peace.” The church was of the Protestant liberal persuasion which tends to take strong public stands on what is called a progressive, liberal agenda. Then you have on the other hand churches which not only hold to just war theory, but who quite often back American efforts in war. On hindsight, I think we can clearly say that at best there are major problems in military action, and that indeed, war ought to be a last resort.

But was this what Jesus was talking about? While I don’t think Jesus would approve of much of the world’s military action, if indeed there could be any such approval at all, since all is laid bare behind the full scrutiny of the one with eyes like fire, and besides, what affiliation does the kingdom of God have with any nation state? No, Jesus was not referring to that. What he said was surely in a true sense a rebuke to much of that. Wouldn’t it be beneficial and good if the church once again required soldiers returning from war to engage in some kind of time of repentance, even penance, not to earn forgiveness, but to actually be saved from what war effort requires? I say this hesitantly and sadly, while at the same time admiring the service of those who serve honorably and self-sacrificially for their country. And I have no doubt that many do so with character, not wishing to inflict injury on others, but carrying out orders in the confidence that they are on principled grounds. And in a world where evil is often armed, isn’t there a need for police action? I say, clearly yes, as long as it’s restrained, and with the effort to minimize the loss of human life.

But again, back to Jesus and his words here. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace between those who are not peaceful, who often are enemies. Surely peacemaking is in terms of Jesus’s mission which is fulfilled in his death and resurrection. And both before that, and afterward, we find that Christians are to live in the way of Jesus, which means the way of the cross. To understand what Jesus’s words here mean in full, we of course need to go over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, particularly Acts and the letters. We’re going to find that this peacemaking is always in terms set by Jesus. It is never on the world’s terms, like “might makes right.” And the kind of peace that Roman force enforced. Instead it comes in terms of changed lives, changed societies, indeed, changed priorities. Those alienated from each other, perhaps through past conflict or injustice are made one in Christ. Of course this comes through conversion. Think of Paul’s conversion in which a radical enemy of the faithful, becomes a friend in God.

But let’s not bypass the reality of what often comes between. Those who do the hard work of peacemaking, must themselves, obviously, be peacemakers. You can’t raise Cain, and bring the peace that Christ brings. It must be in the meekness, gentleness, and humility of the Lamb. And it will involve self-sacrifice, even the abnegation of self altogether. But the reward that brings will be well worth the effort. In life, as well as words said, particularly the word of the gospel.

To be a peacemaker then is not to score points and win. We especially need to hear that in this day and age when winning is considered everything, nothing else mattering. No, we take the way of Jesus, and determine from the outset that one of our fundamental goals is peacemaking. A hard task for sure. But more than possible through the Prince of Peace, Jesus, and his sacrificial death for the world, as we walk on the same path, with that same good news, the gospel of peace. Peace with God and with each other. Good news meant even for our enemies. Through the Cross. This is part of what should characterize us, our lives and action. In and through Jesus.

turning our attention to God

Scot McKnight has an interesting post on the gospel being focused on God, and John Walton on a podcast talks about something similar in his thoughts about the coronavirus and how the book of Job might direct our thoughts about that, not to some satisfying answer, but toward God, and from that simply trusting God in the midst of the mess. Which ends up being much more satisfying and stabilizing than even helpful answers.

So often when we approach Scripture, or think on life in general, it’s in terms of our own need, or the needs of others. And Scripture and of course the gospel address that over and over again.

But essentially in the end our attention is directed to God, and when it’s all said and done, we’re left contemplating God. And the sooner we get to that place, the better.

We need to become those who don’t look to God for God’s gifts, as if that’s all we need. What we need first and foremost is God himself. Blessings will come with that, but also hardship, just as we see over and over again in Scripture. We need to learn to turn our attention to God. And seek to be more and more transfixed there. In and through Jesus.

the rest between Jesus’s death and resurrection

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Luke 23:50-56

What’s called Holy Saturday in church tradition has no narrative in the gospels except the mention here that the women who saw Jesus’s burial after which they prepared spices for the burial, rested on the Sabbath.

It was a time of shock, of sudden change. The disciples, well hidden, afraid of the Jewish leaders must have been wondering what to do next. That Sabbath was surely a time of reflection, maybe just catching up on needed physical rest after all the peril and trauma of the previous days.

One thing for sure, whatever was going to happen for any good in keeping with what Jesus had told them all depended on God. Everything hung in the balance at that point in time. There was nothing they could do. Their hopes or anticipations were gone. At least they had to wonder.

Remarkably, especially looking back on it, the gospel was being portrayed right before their very eyes, and they were being taken through that experience. They had seen their Lord and Master suffer, be crucified, and die. Now all was at a hushed standstill.

We do well to reflect on that moment and pause there. Unlike them, we know the final outcome. But the more we can put ourselves in their place, the better. Jesus is dead. We need to leave at that for now.

 

what is “the lie”?

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1-5

Yesterday we talked about the truth. Today, we think a bit about the reverse of that, the lie. The lie began way back when in the Garden of Eden. And it will reach its ultimate expression in the end in the rise of “the man of lawlessness,” who will essentially be a law to himself.

We know that Jesus said he is the truth and the way and the life (John 14:6).  Jesus ends up being God’s final word (John 1; Hebrews 1) in whom we’re to believe. So naturally there would be a counterfeit to come, since the human heart no longer finds itself at home with God, but alienated from him just as Adam and Eve, when they were ashamed and hid themselves from God.

Eve listened to the serpent, was seduced, and Adam followed, and we’ve been on that trail ever since. But fortunately for us, just as God reached out to Adam and Eve, so he reaches out to us in the promise of the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That God took it on himself to come and make his home with us, so that we might at last be at home with him. And that he did not only by fully entering our sphere, even becoming one of us in the Son. But also undid what the serpent had done, yes dying for us so that we might be restored to the life in God and in creation we were meant for in the first place.

Now it is a struggle for us here. It is so easy even for us who are “in Christ” by faith to doubt God’s word, and in so doing, just as Eve did, doubt God’s goodness. Even in her unfallen state she was susceptible to doubt. One might well ask why God had one forbidden tree amidst all the other trees they could fully enjoy. The story for me is highly symbolic, and amounts to her thinking that somehow she could receive and even retain goodness, becoming good apart from trusting God. And even shockingly enough, that somehow God was withholding what was good. Click the Genesis passage above for the full story.

The truth is in Christ himself. And since we’re so far removed from that, it will be a struggle for us until Christ returns, and we see him as he is, and become like him in each of our God-given unique ways. Just as it was for Adam and Eve after they were driven from Paradise.

Our intention needs to be to learn to trust in God, which means trusting God’s word, even and maybe especially when it doesn’t make sense to us. Learning to trust in God’s goodness instead of our own fallen inclinations which always reject God’s word. That God is indeed good, and in that goodness will do what is good, even in the midst of the evil, or whatever trouble we’re facing. In and through Jesus.

doing what is right in the eyes of everyone: our witness

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12:17-18

Any passage of Scripture has to be considered in its context. The directive to do right in the eyes of everyone is in the context living in the midst of tensions in relationships, perhaps at work, at home, or elsewhere. How do we navigate such?

We do what we can and leave the rest to God. God will take care of any wrong that needs to be made right, aside from any wrong we might need to make right, along the way.

There is a certain basic aspect of being a Christian, of following Christ in which we can’t worry about what the world thinks. We try to be true to Christ, to the gospel, to righteousness and justice as God prescribes, regardless.

At the same time, we must be sure that we’re not causing any offense of our own that will make it harder for people to see the light of Christ. We must not cover that light with our own darkness. Paul expresses this idea perhaps more directly here, again to be considered in its own context, but still appropriate for this problem in general:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:32-11:1

This should be our passion, something close to our heart. As we seek to follow Christ and his light for ourselves, and in doing so, be a light to others.

 

truth is stranger than fiction

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Psalm 22

Experiencing what we’re going through right now in the United States and the world does bring to my mind the accounts in Scripture, and especially in the Revelation (symbolic though much of it is), and helps me see just how the world can be shut down, and how vulnerable the world economy, the economy of all the nations actually is. Covid-19 is not something to be blinked at; it is indeed dangerous. But one can at least imagine worse viruses, and scientists have been warning us that these things will happen, so that we need to try to be better prepared for them.

Psalm 22 speaks of great suffering, but then a great ending. Bible students will easily recognize scenes from Christ’s suffering here. But then the vision goes to God’s blessing. It seems to make little sense.

But when we factor in the reality that the gospel is about life coming from death, specifically new life, that of the new creation in Christ, then we can start putting two and two together. And somehow Christ’s sufferings, though once for all accomplishing salvation and the beginning of this new life, go on in us, those who are “in Christ” in this existence.

Going over this psalm recently, I was struck how it seems to me that truth is often stranger than fiction. The truth we find in Scripture may often seem strange to us, and of course I call it truth because I’ve accepted it as such by faith. And by faith have come into the “blessed assurance” that it brings. But we will find that it rings true and exposes all that is a fraud, all that’s false. But to see that requires faith and time.

Thanks be to God (I would say, thank God, and mean it, but too often that comes across to me as too much like, “Oh God”) for what he accomplished and will accomplish in and through Jesus.

the light that is beginning to shine even now

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah 42:1-9

The one true hope for the world is fulfilled in Jesus, and is Jesus himself. That is present today through the gospel and the church, through the pages of Scripture. And even supposed to be through us in Jesus. The light to the world. And nations I believe are held accountable in that light. It’s not like they can do what only Christ can do. But they are to work to the same end, taking care of those in need, and not showing favoritism to the rich, or living “high on the hog” themselves. God will hold not only all individual people accountable, but governments and nations. In and through Jesus.