being willing to take second fiddle and serve

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22

I have never seen this connection before, and I like how the NIV in its paragraph divisions, brings all of this together in one paragraph. During the Last Supper, of all places, after Jesus told them that one of them was about to betray him, they began to argue with each other over which of them was considered to be greatest.

Jesus pointed to himself as the one who took the place assigned to servants; the more important, or considered greater people, sitting at the tables, being served. But that, because they had stood by him in his trials, he would give them a kingdom in which they’ll sit down and eat and drink, as well as sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The ways of the world easily rub off on us. We need to take care that we neither lord it over others, or expect them to serve us. Instead we need to appeal to them, and serve them. We especially need to be sensitive to those who have been hurt, and who might easily misunderstand our actions and words. But we also need to be open to the need for rough edges to be taken off of us.

I’m afraid that the world sometimes rubs off more on us, than our way in Christ rubbing off on the people of the world. We end up imitating what we admire. We need to learn to see the beauty of Jesus, and come to value that. And then see everything else in that light. Certainly that’s the way of humility and service. And in God’s grace by the Spirit, Jesus himself can live in us and help us. In fact, because of that, we can become more like him.

That is the key, but at the same time we need to be aware, and when need be repent and become like the little children of the Father in the kingdom, loving and serving each other, and the world, in God’s love, 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.

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

where is our place as God’s people in King Jesus in the political process of this world?

Jesus is Lord. Neither Caesar, nor the current world power, the United States is. But since we live in a democracy which in theory is a government of “we the people,” normally we at least enter into the conversation on what is happening on the American political front. But we too often align ourselves on one side or the other, so that we’re known as Christians- not as those devoted to the politics of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him, but instead to the politics of the right, or the left (or even the center) of the world.

There are all kinds of problems in this, but first and foremost is our failure to grasp that the gospel itself is political, because the good news of God in Jesus is about a Messiah who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, and who reigns somehow in and through the church (Ephesians 1). This reign is destined to take over the earth only when he returns, but nevertheless is present now in a people who are to be marked as followers of the Way in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, and who live by the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in the grace and kingdom of God. That may seem like a tall, indeed impossible order, but it is possible by God’s grace, in fact that is to what we are called.

I for one hold not only a certain respect, but also appreciation for the United States of which I am a citizen. Yes, it has its faults as has always been the case, and some of them are quite serious. But in a fallen world, there is much to be thankful for when one can worship in freedom, and have the opportunities granted here. Yes, for some it’s much harder, no doubt. And we have to be careful not to idolize any state, so that we end up making Caesar Lord, instead of giving him the deference due under the Lordship of Christ.

We in Jesus will line up in every way possible on the American political spectrum, surely mostly due to our take on and evaluation of the issues. What we must not lose sight of is what’s most important of all, in fact what we in Jesus are called to live by as his followers and witnesses in this world. In doing so, we can help the kingdoms of this world the way the Jewish exiles of old were to pray for the good of the kingdom where they lived, so that in its prosperity, they too would prosper, of course through the blessing and mercy of God.

We care, but we are different. Read the Sermon on the Mount again (Matthew 5-7) if you doubt that. And read the entire New (Final) Testament, and keep reading it. Of course keep reading the Old (First) Testament as well. The more we do this, the better for our witness to Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. And the better for the nation where we live. We are citizens of heaven, first and foremost, the heaven that is destined to come down to earth in Jesus, and is lived out now in the way of Jesus. A way counter to, yet for the actual good of the present order of this world. So that we hope for the good of the nation in which we live, as well as the good of all other nations. But live as those whose one Lord is Jesus.

summary of my life (what might be inscribed on my tombstone)

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

On our tombstone, my part might have this verse inscribed with a cross, to summarize my life. Not sure what my wife Deb would have inscribed to summarize her life, though the depiction of a horse might be included. And it would be nice to have a verse or something which summarizes Deb and I together. What’s inscribed on a tombstone is really not all that important compared to what is true in our hearts and lives while we are alive.

All I can say is that probably beyond everything else, I’ve been a word person the now more than 40 years of being a Christian. For many of those years I listed to the Bible being read. Now I try to be in the word (scripture/Bible) all throughout the day. In fact I find it to be my lifeline to keep me on track, of course that being the case through the gospel, through Jesus, and scripture itself meant to keep us on track with reference to the gospel, that our lives might be lived in and according to that.

I don’t know what details in specifics will continue to unfold in whatever days I have left in this life. But what has happened in recent years, and even more so now, confirms this track I am on. I am most at home where the word is central and the faith that comes from that word is proclaimed and taught with the goal of living it out.

It isn’t easy, but the alternative is worse. I either continue in the word with the goal of being a disciple of Jesus along with others in the church, or I veer off into my own way of coping with things, which is a dead end just like everyone else’s own way (Isaiah 53:6). And in reality, as I continue in the word, there I find life, the true and eternal life that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And so I continue on, plodding away, with others in Jesus. Knowing that our salvation and place is found in him, and that the word in all its challenge and wonder can keep us on track. As we continue in this path in and through Jesus.

what does God bless, and what is the way of Jesus concerning fleeing refugees?

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Exodus 22:21

Yes, the United States is a nation of laws, but any pretense of being a Christian nation should be dismissed on the grounds of refusing to take in the refugees escaping from war torn ravaged countries such as Syria. The issue is compassion and not just for a safe haven, but an assimilation over time into a new country and place, immigration laws in place to expedite that.

If many in this nation believe in a God who blesses those who do good and do his will, and are thinking about the blessing of this nation, then we would do well to have policies and laws in place to show mercy to those who are here, even if illegal, and to come up with a just, merciful plan. When all a nation can do is think about itself, should such a nation expect to receive any of God’s blessing?

There are a number of other issues that many Christians in the tradition I’m in are concerned about and there’s no doubt that such issues need to be addressed. And there are plenty of differences among those who think about what this nation actually is and should be, which can make all the difference in what kind of laws should be in place. But there shouldn’t be any doubt that a nation which has a strong Christian element should be influenced by the gospel accounts of Jesus and the mercy and compassion he brings. One story of his that comes to mind is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who unlike the Jewish priest and Levi, helped the beaten, dying man on the road.

The church must take the lead in this, in fact that is the one place and entity in which we should expect no less than compassion for the refugees. This should go without saying, but we can all too easily be isolated and insulated from perceived possible dangers, or any thing for that matter, which takes us out of our comfort zone. But we’re called to deny ourselves, and be willing to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel. And the gospel of reconciliation is a welcoming gospel, inviting people to Jesus in the offering of salvation to everyone.

This shouldn’t be a political matter; it shouldn’t boil down to the politics of this world. Though in actuality it is about what is aptly called the politics of Jesus. It is rather a moral and spiritual matter. We do good to those in great need; we don’t just leave them for dead. That is costly, but might it not cost any nation much more which turns its back on such? Do we believe in a God who sees and blesses and judges?

But for us in Jesus, and for the church this should not be an issue at all. We do good to those in need, we support them in what ways we can, pray for them, and share the good news of God in Jesus. And we continue to love and help them with no strings attached. That is the way of Jesus, the way that we should take. Even as we pray not just for our nation, but for the rest of the world, and for God’s kingdom in Jesus to at last come with the needed judgment for justice and salvation.

the one politic we in Jesus are to embrace

We might be registered Republicans, or Democrats, or Independents. Or maybe we’re among those Christians like the Amish who don’t vote at all, and therefore don’t need voter registration cards. How we might participate in a national election, and in the politics of this world is not a given, one way or another. It’s not like one has to vote Democratic or Republican or some other party or candidate or even at all to be a true follower of Christ. The one necessity is that we follow the politics of Jesus in God’s kingdom come in him, which means for us the way of the cross in judgment against all the idolatrous pretensions of any nation state. See for a most helpful explanation of that, Politics of the Nations vs. the Politics of the Cross, by Allan R. Bevere.

The Christian answer for the Republican or Democratic or any other party is not the “opposite,” not libertarian, nor anything else at all except for the good news in Jesus which involves not only the cross of Jesus in his death and resurrection for salvation, but by that same cross walking in the footsteps of our Lord. Instead of finding our identity in any politic of this world, our identity already is in Jesus, which means in the most basic sense the Democratic, Republican, or any other party of this world is strictly speaking alien to us. We might tend to vote one way or another based on a number of factors, or again even not at all. What we must beware of and have no part of is to be subsumed into a politic of this world which at its heart cannot and actually is not identified with Jesus. That is in significant part because the way of the world always without exception is going to run against the way of Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. The way of the cross in Jesus, as the above link clearly and from scripture points out is not the way of the world. The one is the way of death and resurrection not only in salvation, but in all of life in following Jesus, and brings life. The other is inevitably the way of death in that it is allied to a power that is of this world, and therefore inevitably allied or tied to what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil.

Our one answer to the world as Christians and professed followers of Christ is not an affiliation with one political party or another, never. Instead it should be our complete allegiance to God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. We are at home only there, finding our true identity in this world. Not as “Progressives,” “Conservatives,” “Libertarians,” or anything else. Because the gospel is not just about one’s personal salvation, but about all of life, and it is the one politic with the end of being for God’s kingdom present in and through the grace of God found in Jesus and lived out in and through the church in the world, and in a sense for the world, but never of this world.