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.

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.

 

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.

everyone a sister or brother: “in Christ”

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

Genesis 11 tells us the story of the Tower of Babel when humankind was scattered all over the earth, no longer having the one common language. This was due to sin, their sin of wanting to make for themselves a name and rule apart from God. Ever since then divisions are endemic and part of the human condition, resulting in wars and looking at others as different so as not to accept them. God then immediately steps in to call a man, Abraham to ultimately undo what humankind’s sin, the one who would be “the father of many nations,” and “heir to the world.”

In Christ the entire human race is being reunited. All barriers are broken down and done away with “in Christ” by his death (Ephesians 2:11-22).

What does this mean for us today? And what does that look like? Racial justice and ultimately reconciliation. Full sisters and brothers in Christ by the one Spirit.

This is to happen through the gospel in the church, but sadly earlier in my lifetime, there were many churches which insisted on segregation. While that may no longer be the case today, we still tend to huddle in our circles and avoid others who are different.

But with white supremacism along with anti-semitism on the rise, the church needs to take more than a vocal stand, though that’s where we need to start. We should be seeking to live out and demonstrate our unity in Christ to the world. The church is to be the witness to the world of what is just and good. Bringing the light of love into the darkness of hate. So that the conscience of others can be shaped by what’s right and wrong.

But this must begin with us. We know this is possible only through the gospel, that by that good news in Jesus, we are made one family forever. Present for each other, and standing together in love against all hatred. In and through Jesus.

 

the Lord is our light

The LORD is my light and my salvation…

Psalm 27:1a

Jesus…said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

There are many lights in the world, so to speak. What Hollywood would call, stars. Those in whom people put their confidence and admire and emulate.

For Christians though, there’s only one in whom we put our full and utmost confidence and praise: the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And as Jesus said, as we endeavor to follow him, we will indeed have the light we need for our lives.

We follow Jesus by paying close attention to what he said and did. And to Scripture which he himself is the finishing point and fulfillment of. The light we Christians receive is from the Lord himself who is our light. And then we are lights in him (Matthew 5:14-16). Our lives are meant to be a light to others from the light we receive. In and through Jesus.

 

 

let Christians be Christians

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:1-12

James is a great go-to book for the present day. We have to be careful when we do, about making applications to any present day situation. First of all, as James says elsewhere, we have to keep looking at ourselves squarely in the mirror of God’s word, and keep looking, instead of thinking we have some sort of great application for everyone else.

That said, I think we can together acknowledge our need and our propensity to depend on and be devoted to the world rather than on God. And even find our identity somewhere in the world system, when through Jesus, our identity is in him and God’s kingdom come in him.

I take it that “friend of the world” from James doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make friends with people of the world, nor does it mean we’re not present and active in doing good works. What it does looks like will differ among us depending on our gifts and calling, and our understanding of the nature and extent in which we can be involved. For some Christians, they will be involved in the political process, some even running for political office. Other Christians will not even vote, but will try to be good neighbors, and help in ways they can. And everything in between.

The call here is that we as Christians must simply be Christians. If we’re anything else, all those things must be secondary. For example as a citizen of the United States I would like to understand so as better appreciate the founding of this nation from the ground up in its early decades and beyond. But when it’s all said and done, and I know better than to think that’s not an ongoing endeavor, but always and in the end, the bottom line is that we who name the name of Christ as our Lord, are above and beyond anything else, simply Christians.

That should mark our thinking, words and actions. If the first thing that comes to mind when people think of us is that we’re Republicans, Democrats, progressives, conservatives, or even moderates, whatever, then we should well wonder just what kind of witness in the world we have. And to the extent we’re part of this world order, we’ll partake of its fruit. Note the passage above. Cutting others down who don’t see the light that we think we have is a sad example.

This is difficult, and it’s not like any of us is perfect in it. But this should be our goal. To be Christian, to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. In and through Jesus.

the moral fabric of society and the Christian witness

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

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.

Philippians 2:14-16a; 4:8-9

Philippians is a great (short) book to read and meditate on. Interestingly, Philippi was a Roman military outpost, so at least in that respect, it was quite what we would call today, nationalistic. It surely had the normalcy of cities with city life and its own culture. Paul’s letter is written in that backdrop.

Fast-forward to today, and while we see stark differences, I think we can find more similarities than not. For Christians to live in a kind of exile on earth as ultimately citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21) had its precedent in Jeremiah 29 where the people of God were to settle down and live as witnesses of God, hopeful for the true good of the nation where they lived.

Paul’s words on what we’re to think on involve terms that were quite embedded in the culture of his day. What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, yes- excellent or praiseworthy. Our thoughts are to be on such things. If we embrace politicians and systems that violate these ideals, are we really adhering to what Paul is getting at here? I would argue that we’re not.

Christians can advocate for the unborn, for the protection of minorities, etc., while not lining up with what is untruthful and ugly. We should never have any part in that, or at least hold it at arm’s length. Someone once told me something we all more or less take for granted: “Politics is dirty.” Okay. But that doesn’t mean Christians should get in that dirt, nor look the other way, thus unwittingly participating in it.

And that gets to Paul’s words quoted above, that we’re to conduct ourselves in keeping with being God’s children: in a manner, first with our tongues, in which we’re blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation, as we hold on to the word of life: the gospel or good news of Christ, and Scripture in that context. That we’re to be witnesses of the light of the world, Jesus, and not dim the light we are in him is central to what Paul is getting at.

If we care about society, then we can’t accept something less than that. Our main concern by far is our witness, and being faithful to Christ. We hope and pray for the best in this world, and acknowledge its limitations, while pressing for better. And we realize that the one true life is found only in the church through the one good news in and through Jesus.

being the light we are in Jesus in the darkness

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

I think we’re in a dark spot in world history myself. But the darkness is actually palpable or at least present in any era. In fact, when it seems the most light is when it can actually be the most dark.

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Matthew 6:23b

Paul tells us essentially the same thing, of course in a different context and with a different pastoral concern:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10

All of that to say, no matter what era we live, we have to realize that only in the Lord are we light. And the rest is darkness. The darkness may seem light, perhaps as in reminiscing on “the good old days.” But that can especially be dangerous in that the reality is more subtle. When the Antichrist finally comes, won’t it be in the guise of light, like Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light, and his servants, who masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)? We must beware of embracing darkness in any form.

Our light is in Christ, what we’re to let shine before the world. Not that no good can come out of the world in God’s working. But only in Christ are we light, and we’re to let that light shine before others with our good works, just as Jesus told us (first quote above).

In this way we fight against the darkness so prevalent. We speak the truth in love, and above all, seek to live it out in love, the truth of God in Jesus.

This may seem counter what we think or have practiced. We must beware lest we get caught up into the darkness ourselves. Instead, we must simply live out what we already are, in and through Jesus.