against living in a (the holy) bubble

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Are you not judges of those who are inside? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and lawlessness have in common? Or what partnership is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said,

“I will live in them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore come out from them,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be your father,
and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

Although I rarely watch films, I remember favorites of the relatively few that I’ve watched, and one of them is The Truman Show. In that a man grows up within a bubble, but at a certain point the imaginary world built around him seems unreal to him and he wants to escape. Something to that effect.

I along with many others have been impacted by a Christian tradition and culture which is isolationist at its core. Except to go out and try to get people saved so that they can enter into the same isolation. This happened in just about any and every way conceivable. Their own education, books, music, entertainment, you name it. Everything was essentially covered.

And when you consider the history of especially the past one hundred fifty years or so along with the above Scripture passages, this is understandable, even if all of it was relatively misguided, which I believe was indeed the case. When you consider Jesus’s lifestyle as given to us in the gospel accounts, one who ate and drank and therefore seemed to be at home with the tax-collectors and sinners to the chagrin of the religious leaders, and along with other things against him, Jesus ended up condemned because of that, then one can begin to wonder.

Yes, Paul quotes the prophets telling us essentially not to touch the unclean thing. Interestingly Jesus’s touch made the unclean thing clean, and we’re told to follow Jesus. So what Paul was getting at I take as essentially different. As followers of Jesus we’re to be distinctive from the world in the way we live, what our passions and priorities are. We are in covenant together as the church to hold each other up in prayer and be accountable, for others to help us in our weakness to continue on in spite of ourselves and our inevitable faults along the way, failures included.

It is nothing less than a catastrophe, the insistence to live isolationist within a bubble when we’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Yes, we do become unclean when we fail to follow the way of Jesus which is the way of the cross, the way of love for all. We’re held accountable to follow that way, and we try in love to help others to find their way into that way, the way of Jesus, the way who is Jesus. In and through him.

what are we here for?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-20

After the “beatitudes” and the salt and light portion, in what’s called “the Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus says the above. What he is saying about fulfillment of the Law and Prophets and the necessity of the righteousness of his hearers exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees, those considered the foremost religious leaders of that time certainly involves piety along a host of issues such as alms giving, prayer, marital relations just to name a few. But it surely also involves an awareness of how the Law and the Prophets along with the rest of Scripture needs application then and in our present day within society itself. If what we’re about only has to do with our personal piety and the personal piety of those gathered with us, along with trying to bring others into that same circle, all with the goal of entering the kingdom of heaven, then we’re definitely not going far enough, and could well be missing the point. What after all is our piety for? Just for our own good and the good of those joined with us? Or for the good of all, even of the world, with a sensitivity to what is right and just and good.

Churches that major on individual application of Scripture, thinking that’s the way to help not only individuals, but society at large, really fail to see the entire picture or see it correctly, what is evident in the Prophets and elsewhere. We as God’s people are after all the salt of the earth, the light of the world, what Jesus said just preceding the above quoted Scripture. Salt and light is meant to make a difference in the world at large, not only in individuals in the world. Or at least so I think. If concern for the world and systems in it is added on as something going beyond what is required, as an extra, that’s not enough. Such actually should be a part of the whole.

Yes, only in Jesus is this worked out and completed toward the perfection and shalom that God wants. But that light that we have in Jesus should expose the darkness of the world, and at least advocate for something better within the systems in the world. As we await the return of the one who will clean up the mess once for all and forever. In and through Jesus.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.

act beforehand (as well as necessarily react)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench 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. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20; NRSVue

It is important to react in an appropriate way when need be, but just as important and in some ways more so, we also need to act ahead of time in a way which might lessen the need to react later and will at least get us in the proper frame of mind and heart so that any necessary reaction later will be better. I am thinking here about the spiritual warfare we’re told about in this passage, written as it were from Paul or from someone else as if Paul had written it, which doesn’t matter for our purposes since either way it’s holy scripture.

It’s important for us to do all we can on the sunny days in preparation for when the cloudy, overcast, stormy days hit us. It’s easy to do otherwise, to just rest, relax and enjoy when all seems good and at peace. But this passage explicitly tells us to do otherwise. Even when it seems unnecessary, we’re to do this, so that when the inevitable comes, we’ll be ready for it.

I think some interpreters see the evil day as ever present, so that it’s just something we have to do all the time since we’re ever engaged in this spiritual battle. And that could be. It does seem like in experience that there are especially some difficult days, and for some of us if we have to do certain things, like maybe teach or give a message or lead a discussion from scripture, we can almost mark it down that we’ll be in a tussle before that time to trip us up and make us ineffective in what we have to do. That has happened over and over again for me, right up to the present day. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” If we know that ahead of time, then we can prepare ahead of time, and indeed we are clearly told to do just that in this passage for the spiritual warfare which is part of our existence now. Let me add to that that the difficulty and darkness can hit us at the most unexpected times as well, any time really.

If Paul asked for prayer to help him in what he had to do, proclaiming the message of the gospel, we might say all the more so for us, but really, we’re all in the same boat together on that one. A difference with Paul was that he was probably fully exercised this way all the time, whereas we are not. But we’re all in the same need, and we all have the same resources. This is something we’re to realize and grow more and more into in our application and practice of this. Something we’re to take seriously in this life, because there’s no escape. And yet we have all we need in Christ and through the gospel, spelled out to us in detail here so that we won’t miss anything within that, all of it needed for life here and now. So that individually and together we might live in the light and be a light in and through Jesus.

dreams and thoughts of what could have been

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Life makes philosophers of us all? Well, at least for those who take it seriously, though actually everyone has some philosophy meaning outlook on life. We can look back and see better, but mainly how God saw us through in spite of ourselves. And how hopefully we’ve come to see that what really matters is simple faith in and obedience to God. And to understand that our faith rests in the faithfulness of Christ, so that we follow together because of that. That can surely make all the difference in the long run.

If in your stronger more youthful decades you can put your all into following Christ in a community of followers of Christ, and seek to simply live in and from that reality, you will be truly blessed. Toward the end, the strength just isn’t the same, and the heart is often burdened down with the weight of other’s struggles, not to mention the inevitable troubles of life. And for most of us there’s regret and a wish that we could undo something or some things, and do other things all over again.

Lean on community in Jesus, and seek to be a follower of Jesus along with other followers of Jesus. Seek humility, above all just seek God’s love and will in Jesus by the Spirit, and with the desire to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. We’re in this primarily not for ourselves, but for others. Together, Christ’s body for each other and to be light in the world. God will take care of things. And in the end will bring a good end, weaving everything somehow in that for good. Far beyond us, and I doubt we’ll ever fully understand it, but all will end well.

In and through Jesus.

the mistake of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

I ring an old bell, one who is hardly qualified to do that, but we draw from Scripture, from the wisdom given to those who have studied and continue to study Scripture together, from whatever wisdom God might have given us. And I speak as one who is and has been alarmed for some time now over what seems to me to be a clear and present danger, significantly so because of the mistaken thinking of many sincere Christians.

By Christian nationalism I mean the idea that God sets apart a certain nation of the world, whatever nation that may be as somehow more or less a Christian nation, or if not that, at least a nation which has special purposes for the benefit of Christianity and the gospel.

That God uses nations for good and then judges them for the wrongs they commit is a matter of fact, attested to in Scripture and seen over and over again in history. The idea of Christian nationalism carries with it a close tie between the church and state, whatever tie that might be.

That God’s people should pray for and care about the good of the nation in which they live even as exiles was exemplified in Israel of old (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Christians will vary in what specifically that means. Some will be willing to participate in more or less all the activities of the state, though we have examples of those who won’t even vote, much less do any of that. Some of us are somewhere in between.

But the main point I’d like to make here is that we in Christ are the holy nation on earth whom God calls as a light to the nations. No nation-state on earth even has such a calling. At the same time we can hope that each nation in humility will learn to do better through God’s light that is present in Christ, and in the human conscience as well through “common grace.”

This is nothing more than hopefully a gentle heads up over what I see as a clear and present danger in that the ramifications and results from it will be nothing short of devastating, as we’ve seen clearly already in the United States. But we in Christ are called to follow one Lord as one holy nation together, by our good works to point to the greatness and goodness of the One we serve. In and through Jesus.

healthy spiritual eyesight in the present dimness

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

1 Corinthians 13:12a

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23

I wish it were otherwise, but it seems that spiritual insight just isn’t as bright and clear here often enough to go enough beyond some creedal affirmation, which very well may be sincerely believed, but is too often not sufficiently felt. But when we are in those too rare times when we’re flooded with light as in the Presence of God, it seems like the other, sadly more normal experience is like a memory which we hope does not return. But alas, all too easily it does in this present existence.

Jesus makes the stark contrast between those whose eye is full of light and those whose eye is full of darkness. I think we would need to see this especially in the context of Jesus’ teaching in this Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. And doing so, I also tend to think or at least wonder if what is referred to here is not so much the actual experience of either the light or darkness, but instead whether or not we’re committed and set to walk in the light of God in Jesus spelled out by our Lord, or whether we’re sidetracked elsewhere. The sidetrack may be due to our weakness, though it may simply be part of the spiritual battle we’re in, even sometimes a combination of the two.

Jesus might tell us not to be discouraged when we’re struggling in the shadows and even darkness in our experience. But that we’re instead to be looking to him, “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Intent on listening well and soaking in his teaching in the commitment to follow him along with others to the very end. In and through Jesus.

ending well

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

None of us should compare ourselves with the Apostle Paul, and I don’t belong with him in the same breath at all, of course. But Paul’s words here does seem to include all the rest of us, when you see how they end. And we are told elsewhere to follow his example as he follows Christ. So we can find solace and hope there.

Like Paul, then, we can live out our lives for Christ, for others, even for our enemies, and through the most difficult of times fully. Akin to “being poured out like a drink offering” to God. Realizing that we indeed are in a fight, the good fight, elsewhere the good fight of the faith. That we are in a race no less. And that we’re to keep or hold on to the faith.

I think it’s as simple as that. We’re not to be Apostle Pauls going everywhere preaching the gospel, planting churches, etc. But we’re to be what God has called each one of us individually to be within the community of faith. We simply need to be a light in the way God purposes for us as individuals with all the other lights. When you look at the rest of Paul’s letters, that will be evident.

We want things to be better now, but we long for Christ’s appearing when what’s wrong will be judged, and all the wrongs set right. And when the new will be completely present. Something we begin to taste now, which whets our appetites. In a way we can’t wait. But we settle in now, wanting to end well. To finish like Paul did. May God grant that. In and through Jesus.

the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city on a hill = true followers of Jesus

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

In context these words apply to disciples of Jesus, those who are following him. The key here is not some kind of spiritual experience, but simply the needed commitment and follow through.

What Jesus is referring to here is a different kind of people. Marked, indeed changed by their identity with and in him. They used to be called “Jesus people,” “people of the Book” secondary to that. This impacts everything. How they read the Bible. How they live from day to day in their families, and in their places of work. How they spend their time, their money. How they see the world and live in it. Recognized by their good works.

This is the people who alone are the “city* on a hill,” “the salt” and “light” that the world needs. All because of Jesus. But participants in this. In and through him.

*KJV

reflecting a bit on America: shades of gray (no, don’t even think about bringing down the Washington Monument, etc.)

This is the fourth of July, and if you’re going to read only one blog post today, settle in on this one from Brian Zahnd, I Love You, America, But Not Like That.

There is no doubt to me that another part of the reckoning due to the enslavement and mistreatment of Africans has come for America. We are in a day when  some would see the dismantling of all of America’s cultural landmarks. Almost the entire tent coming down to be replaced with something else.

There’s no doubt that great evil was done, and that the founding father’s blindness or acceptance of slavery is plain downright wrong. There is no gray in that. And as George Will pointed out in his most recent (outstanding) book, The Conservative Sensibility, there would be no United States apart from the slavery which under girded it, and gave founding fathers the time to hammer out the foundation of this nation.

What we need to keep in mind is the whole. Not excusing any part that is wrong and actually downright evil. But remembering what was good. I shouldn’t neglect to mention the other part of what’s called America’s original sin: the stealing and killing of native Americans, “Indians.” Both African-Americans and native Americans suffer to this day.

Without trying to cover everything that should be, I just want to point out here that we need to see life as it truly is. I love biographies that are not hagiographies, but try to tell it, warts and all. That’s one thing among many others that I love about the Bible. It doesn’t try to hide the blemishes, blotches, and indeed complete failures of characters. A great case in point is David, said to be a man after God’s own heart no less. But his actions when you read the account we’re not altogether good. And what he did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah were downright evil. But do we dismiss and diss David? No we don’t. It’s not like the bad part is forgotten, because it’s not, and shouldn’t be.

Looking at American history, I can still respect men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Instead of just seeing their flaws, I can acknowledge their good points, and greatness in some respects. Ironically holding to ideals on paper, not lived out entirely in their lives.

Again, this is not to excuse what’s wrong, or say what’s past is past while failing to see the many ramifications and realities which live on to this day.

So let’s not bring down the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial, etc. If anything is idolatrous then yes, that ought to come down. But let’s leave memorials like what I just mentioned intact. We should not even be considering removing them. I’m not referring to monuments that honor those who rebelled against the United States, the Confederacy, etc. They ought to be moved into museums, no longer to be honored in public squares. We can set up with our iconic memorials, new works that remember what Africans had to endure, and the great contributions African-Americans have made to this nation. As well as memorialize the good native Americans have done.

God have mercy if any of our lives are looked at strictly in terms of good and evil. For some there is great evil, other’s great good, but for all, there’s some mixture, so that there’s a certain shade of gray. As we Christians look to the one light of the world, Jesus, to expose our own spiritual darkness, and all the spiritual darkness around us, for the good of all. In and through Jesus.