politics and the Christian

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15-22

Recently I heard a recording of a sermon Tim Keller delivered entitled Arguing About Politics. Even if I may not track fully with him, I think it was insightful and thought provoking. Worth a listen. The elephant in the room nowadays is politics, and especially Christian involvement in it. And the inherent divisiveness which ever has been a part of the political process seems to have reached a point in which the United States itself is in danger of being torn apart. Hopefully it’s not that bad, but the talk on the ground, influenced by some outlets of the media is often caustic.

Jesus was up against it because he was indeed the Messiah, but not in the way most every Jew anticipated. In some way he was to rule politically no less, and ultimately over the whole world. Rome would certainly be taken care of.  His answer to the question put to him by the Jewish leaders who were trying to trap in him in what he said, was mind boggling to them. It sidestepped the trap they had set for him, because he didn’t answer it in their book, yet he really did answer it.

Jesus’s kingdom, as he told Pilate is not from this world, we can say not of this world, but definitely for this world. It is obviously never in the terms of this world; it is gospel derived and ends up rooted in the church because the church is rooted in Christ who is both its foundation and cornerstone. In a sense the church is Christ, being Christ’s body. And where Christ is, the kingdom of God is present. And that kingdom is not only internal, though certainly it is, and Jesus did make a big deal out of that. But it is about and for all of life. But it can’t be tied to a political party, since it can never be allied to such, nor could it become a political party and player in this world. It is rather a world itself, yet present for this world. And hopefully can impact even the political parties of this world.

This is all certainly a controversial theological matter: there is the Augustinian and Lutheran two kingdom approach, the Anabaptist approach which sees a stark often antagonistic contrast between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of the world, etc. I don’t mean to get into any of that, even if it’s probably not altogether possible to avoid it. But the point of this post is simply that we need to be sensitive to obligations ultimately given to us by God. The tax was not much really, but it was symbolic. As a captive people, you owe this to your captors. Jesus said, “Pay it.” But he also said that they’re to give to God what is God’s. Which really means heart and soul and life: everything. And in the way God prescribes: for the poor, etc.

In the United States’s democratic republic, Christians will disagree over how much they should get involved in politics, and even over who to vote for, or how to look at various issues. It’s not like Rome’s iron clad rule where Christians had no choice but to comply. But how we do this, how we treat each other and others, regardless of what politician we support, how we do that should be different than the world in that it’s clear that the one we follow above all else is Christ. That we are never beholden to any other person or party except Christ and God’s kingdom come in him. That doesn’t mean that we won’t hold American political views, because we obviously will. But it’s how we do so that’s vitally important. At the end of the day our witness should point others to Christ, and never to any mere human, regardless of how well we might think of them ourselves.

Jesus was faithful to who he was, his calling, God’s kingdom present in him: the king. And he calls us to no less than the same in our faith and practice. In and through Jesus.

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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.

 

 

our struggle is not against people

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.

Ephesians 6:10-12

God gives us his strength and “armor” to wage spiritual warfare no less. Never against humans.

This is far more important than we normally might think. We tend to evaluate problems in human categories. And actually we can gain knowledge and insight in doing so. And there’s no question that we can offend others. When we do so, we need to go to them and make it right, asking for their forgiveness. But when we have problems with people that are really not our fault, or just seem to be beyond the pale of what fault we have, we need to remember where our struggle lies.

For one thing, this will help us get our focus off the person. The problem does not really lie ultimately with them but with the spiritual entities in the mix behind whatever might be transpiring between us and them. We need to direct our attention against the real foe, which is spiritual.

And we do so in no less than the strength of God’s might, with no less than the armor God gives us in Christ through the gospel. Which of course is why we need to focus on that entire passage (Ephesians 6:10-20). Meditating on it with the view of putting it into practice. 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.

what’s a loving parent to do?

As God’s children in Jesus, we often would like life to be easy, or at least easier. But instead, we find ourselves embroiled in the midst and mess of the world, the flesh, and the devil against Christ and Christians. Not to mention the fact that we have our own issues. A basic problem for most of us would be our propensity to not trust in God, but trust instead in ourselves, or someone or something else.

God could bail us out and make life grand. And some even advocate something like that in their teaching. But scripture teaches us that God is concerned about our growth into maturity in Christ, that we would become like God’s Son. And if even Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered (Hebrews 5), mysterious thought that is, then how can we think we will be exempt from such? Scripture over and over again tells us a different story.

God as a loving Father desires the very best for his children, nothing less. To learn how to swim, we must be in the water. To learn how to live well, we have to live in the real world. And basic to that in Christ is the necessity of learning to trust in God, an unreserved trust in the heavenly Father.

God as our loving Father wants that for us. What pleases God is faith (Hebrews 11), faith in him and in his word. Our effort alone won’t because we’re ever in need of God’s grace, God’s gift to us in Jesus. Faith in God’s word, the gospel in Jesus is essential. But even that is not enough. God wants us to totally trust in him. We might trust, yet hold back. We trust God for our salvation through Christ’s person and work, his life, death and resurrection, but we don’t trust God in the practical nuts and bolts of life. God lovingly looks on, but surely grieves over us. At times there are things not even God can do. God won’t override our will. It’s up to us to trust, to trust and obey.

Something I’m learning, even late in life as it is. Better late than never. In and through Jesus.

don’t get lost in the details

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

“If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

“But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Mark 13:1-31

What has been called “the Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) is Jesus’s words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, aptly titled by the NIV heading, “The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times.” Prophecy was hot early in my lifetime, so that because of misapplication based on poor interpretation, it soon faded, and was eventually even basically ignored, so that part of the gospel, the promise of Jesus’s return, the Second Coming, was all but lost in churches. I suppose in creedal churches they would argue that such was not the case for them since they had neither bought into the popular wave, nor had ceased to repeat the creed that Christ will return, though arguably all congregants were more or less affected by such popular teaching. There is no question that part of the heart of the gospel is the promise that Christ will return in judgment and final salvation based on his work on the cross, bringing in the completion of the new creation when heaven and earth are brought to complete unity in him.

But to the main point of this post. Details are important, but we can so easily get lost in them, especially those of us who have been impacted by less than good teaching, as mentioned above. It is vital for us to pay attention to them, but also just to keep reading. To get the scope and pick up something of the feel for what is being said, so as to enter into something of the experience of hearing it from the Lord as did the disciples, or having it read in one of the gospel accounts.

To get something of an accurate grasp on the details, good word studies, and comparison with the rest of scripture can be helpful. For example, the idea of the sun being darkened, the moon no longer giving light, and the stars falling down from the sky with the heavenly bodies shaken is an echo from the Old Testament/Hebrew prophets that there are cataclysmic changes shaking the world order.

And we need to be both asking for the Lord’s voice, the help of the Spirit, as we remain in the word, in scripture. God will help us if we persist in this and make it our practice. In and through Jesus.

we speak, act, and live from Jesus’s authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Mark 11:27-33

There is no question that Jesus acted, spoke, and lived with a sense of unusual authority. It was in marked contrast to the religious leaders of his day who lived strictly according to the tradition of the elders. Jesus’s authority was from God, specifically from the Father by the Spirit. It seems to have been derived due to his humanity, yet at the same time Jesus seems to have had authority in himself.

Trinitarian authority seems to be in the union the Persons of God have with each other. The Father may be the fountainhead so to speak, but in the Trinity itself, such authority is shared.

But when it comes to the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Jesus lived in utter dependence on God. He prayed to God, even appealed to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This all seems to be related to the Incarnation, to the humanity God took on. Jesus said he could have called on the Father, and could have received a legion of angels, but that God’s will had to be fulfilled.

In Christ, we now live with the same sense of authority. This impacts our actions, words, and very lives. We do so in the weakness of this present state. Sometimes we can be quite bold, but often whatever boldness we might have is tempered by our weakness. But make no mistake, we act, speak, and live from the authority of God in and through Jesus.

This certainly doesn’t make us infallible by any means. Strictly speaking only God is right, and only God knows. And it’s not about us individually as much as it is about us together, the church, and what God gives the church. But this does extend out to us in our individual lives. We speak from God insofar as we’re actually doing so, and that speaking is tied to God’s word in Christ, the gospel, and for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus explicitly said that since all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, that we’re to make disciples (Matthew 28). I take it by extension from the apostles, that we’re included in that, at least the church at large.

And so we live in the authority of God in and through Christ.