getting a grip on the world’s disorder

If you would like to get upset and out of sorts, then turn on a news channel, or go to news sites online. Even from those trying to get facts straight from whatever perspective or bias they have, there’s plenty to get worked up with nowadays. And this is true no matter what our understanding might be, however we might understand various issues.

I think we do well to turn to the entire Bible, and specifically the Old Testament Hebrew prophets. I think of Isaiah, which we might say in its own shape is kind of a miniature Bible in itself. And the relatively short book of the prophet Habakkuk might especially fit well into the current time, though it surely speaks to every time.

Habakkuk was complaining about the disorder of his day, the order for him surely being God’s shalom, meaning the flourishing under God’s rule meant for God’s people to display to the world. Instead Israel’s leaders were disrupting God’s order for their own gain, of course against God’s kingdom priorities, like caring for the poor and oppressed.

So God was going to use a new order which wasn’t at all like the kingdom order of God. The Babylonians were actually a law unto themselves, hammering one kingdom after another, and scoffing at every ruler and god, even at God himself. And yet God was using them. This was indeed troubling to Habakkuk, who didn’t know what to make of it as we see from the book, surely not liking it, either.

I think we need to settle down in our seats with open Bible in hand, and simply let the prophets speak to us in this day and age. If we hold to the Scriptural teaching that God’s sovereign reign is in some way over all, that God is at work in the mess of the world, surely that ought to help us to settle down and get a grip on our own emotions, as we learn to rest in trust in God. That seems to have been what happened to Habakkuk over the course of the book, as we see in his song of resolute trust in and praise of God at the end.

We do need a change of mind for sure, the right thoughts to enter in, before a change of heart, which we mean emotional can settle in. We begin to understand that whatever disorder and order in the world we see contrary to God’s kingdom does not mean that God is not at work. In ways we couldn’t have imagined and wouldn’t have planned, God can be at work. That doesn’t mean what the Babylonians were doing was good, even as Scripture tells us. And God was going to hold them accountable. But God was indeed using them in his transcendent wisdom.

Read the book of Habakkuk and let it soak in. We don’t need to get all worked up and bent out of shape over the news. God is in charge; we’re not. We should pray for government officials and be good citizens. And above all be witnesses of God’s good and perfect kingdom now present and to fully come in and through Jesus.

the Bible and the news

John R. W. Stott is one of the favorite evangelical writers during my lifetime for good reason. And one of his books, Between Two Worlds, speaks of holding the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other, so to speak. He used to go with friends to films and afterwards discuss them together. The idea is that we need to keep in touch with the world, really try to understand it, even in a sense be immersed in that, while remaining in God’s word day in and day out.

I think this is probably more challenging today, given the polarized world in which we live, in which media outlets give entirely different takes on the same story. It’s not easy to find outlets which give someone a basic understanding of what’s happening without interpretations which add meaning beyond what might really be present. Editorials to give insight have their place. But basic, straightforward reporting, and allowing divergent voices to have their say is essential.

And that’s especially important for me, given my limited time. I rule out medias which shout or sensationalize. I want civil conversation, and discussion of issues, indeed dialog. That is challenging nowadays, since it seems like people gravitate toward the former, and seem bored with the latter. Nevertheless, that is the track especially we Christians should insist on. As we try to sort out what is really going on, and discern what underlies that, and what stakes are involved.

When one remains in the word, and keeps reading all the way through it, one will see that what happens in society is indeed important to God. The Bible isn’t just about me and God, period. But it’s about God and us, me included, God and the world.

So I try to keep tabs on something of what’s going on, and sometimes offer my thoughts on it, though not on this blog, as a rule. From listening and reading myself, and from considering the thoughts and wisdom of others. While all the time wanting to major on God’s word, remaining in that. Knowing that God is at work in my life, in our lives together, and in the life of the world. In and through Jesus.

 

the word and the world

John R. W. Stott, was one of the greatest writers of my lifetime, himself a pastor and theologian, and astute Bible teacher wrote a number of books, all of them helpful. One of them which stands out to me is Between Two Worlds. In it he presents a compelling case for in that time having the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Of course today one has to be wary of much of what passes for news, particularly on the internet. You’ll find plenty of bogus, or misleading stories, either the headline not supported by what follows, or the article misleading at best. So one has to dig, and try to find news sources which will present actual facts in a balanced way so as to give the true picture. While letting people from all sides have their say. A challenge, and some outlets are better at that than others.

Although the book is geared to preaching, we can take plenty away from it for our witness. Even the idea itself is stimulating in helping us think through just how we’re to reach our world. A simple witness of what the Lord has done in our lives is helpful, and all the more good if it can speak to where others live, not an easy task, since there are different challenges people face. And different perspectives, along with views on life, which we do well to become aware of.

I’m a strong believer in being in scripture day and night (Psalm 1). But I’m also a believer in trying to keep tabs on what’s up in the world near and far; locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. To especially try to see everything in terms of the gospel making inroads especially into places it hasn’t before. We care about the world, because God cares about it, and it’s only human to do so. We want the best for our loved ones and for others.

A central part of the case Stott adeptly laid out was the need to study and seek to understand culture. He speaks in the book of he and some clergy friends going to a films, and then afterwards discussing their meaning and the ramification of that for understanding culture, the world in which they lived. One of the terms I find unhelpful is timeless, saying God’s word is timeless for example. There is truth in it if we mean the word is in a sense above and beyond time, but it always speaks into time. No, it is better to use a word like timely, since even though scripture was written within a certain cultural context and time, we are to prayerfully study and reflect on how it speaks and impacts our own day. In missional language which used to be commonplace, it is called contextualization. In the words of scripture, we seek to understand the times and what we as God’s people should do. Especially together as the church, each of us individually having our part. And we do better to grapple with these things together.

And so I feel most at home with a Bible in hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. And NPR* along with the internet not far away. I need both, as long as I don’t get caught up and taken away into something going on in the world.  Instead we seek to be those who are present in Jesus, the one who is Emmanuel, God-with-us to God’s people, and for the world.

*And other news outlets. Good to listen to perspectives one does not share, and some of that is achieved on NPR, but good to go to other places as well, to listen and weigh what is said.

the Bible and the world (even the news)

John R. W. Stott wrote what in my lifetime was considered a classic, or at least a must read book for those training for the ministry, entitled, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today. The idea, written in 1982, is something like for a pastor to be effective in his sermon preparation, he needs to have both a Bible (certainly with necessary helps when preparing the sermon) in hand, and a newspaper. Stott and colleagues used to go to landmark films together, and then discuss their meaning afterward.

I think Stott gets to a most important point. I may want to simply escape the world, and live in some kind of monastic order, thinking that I would actually do the world more good to do so. While there’s a grain of truth in that, there’s also, I think, some error. I live in the real world which has an overwhelming influence over all of us in all sorts of ways, most of which we take for granted, and are hardly even aware of. I think of the Modernist Enlightenment heritage of my own country, the United States. And just one result of that is an entrenched individualism which at best means we each take responsibility, and at worst that we’re not our brother’s keeper. Another strong emphasis coming out of that is the falsity which again has a grain of truth, but with what ends up a poisonous admixture of error, that all the world needs to overcome “evil” is simply knowledge. We need more education, another staple of the Enlightenment.

We don’t live in a vacuum in which it’s just us and God. We live in a real world, with definite issues, which can end up defining or at least impacting individuals and societies. And at the same time, we have a word from God, word meaning written scripture, and preeminently meaning the gospel pointing to God’s final Word, Jesus. That word speaks into our lives, but into them where we live, no less. The word is often called “timeless,” but a better word for it might be timely. It initially spoke into a specific time, place and culture. And it continues to speak to every generation and place. It is the ancient word, to be sure, but at the same time God’s word for the world.

And so we need to be those who major on listening to God through his word. And that word will speak into the world in which we live. Even as it spoke into the world of its original recipients. God’s word in Jesus bringing in God’s grace and kingdom in him, yes right into the world in which we live. Living in “this present evil age” as we look forward to the world to come when Jesus returns and heaven and earth are made one.

the gospel directly impacts all of life

On my way to work in the mornings, and back, I would prefer to listen to classical music and meditate and pray, or listen to Michael Card, John Michael Talbot, or the like. But I usually am listening to NPR. For one reason. The gospel directly impacts all of life. So I am interested more or less on all matters only because of that.

I could not care less either about the Democratic or Republican parties as to who is beating who. I think neither is close to the kingdom of God. And I am saddened over politics in the sense of outdoing the other trumping public service. Too often it comes across that way to me from the lips of politicians themselves. And of course much of the popular media, especially talk radio (which I avoid), puts the worst construction on their opponents (right or left) while generally sugarcoating all their side does. And out of it one does not understand well what the issues are in terms of the best argument either side is making.

Getting away from that blur as much as possible, I find trying to gather something of the news here and around the world, and trying to understand people, and where they are coming from, actually edifying to me. Edifying in the sense that I begin to connect something of the living gospel of God’s kingdom and grace in Jesus not only to individual lives, but to all of life, to everything happening in the world.

We not only want to understand the world and culture, so that we can better share the unchanging good news of Jesus to others, but we also want to see that good news impact society, governments, indeed all the world!

Of course there are limitations to be sure. We know the world will be changed completely only when Jesus returns. But we begin now in this world in Jesus, wanting to bring and be about the change and difference God’s kingdom and grace in Jesus makes.

So we must see all in light of nothing less than God’s kingdom and grace come in Jesus. All must be reflected on thoughtfully in that light. That doesn’t mean we Christians are going to end up seeing everything the same way. But even when we differ, we may still be playing a part in God’s work. For this world, through Jesus.

being informed

John R. W. Stott in his book, Between Two Worlds, believes in part that the pastor’s task in preparation for preaching involves both reading the Bible and the newspaper. Of course nowadays that would mean tuning into the media where it is, which for me now is isolated to NPR and the internet. I remember in that book that he and a group I think of other pastors would sometimes go to movies together, and then afterward talk about what they had seen. They were trying to understand their present time and culture, so as to know what the church should do in fulfilling the mission of God in Jesus.

It’s interesting how I seem to go through various cycles in my life in this, going in and out in keeping up with the news in any sort of depth (beyond the headlines). Probably getting surfeited and then burned out during our increasingly long election cycles, and possibly due to imbibing the spirit of pessimism and cynicism characteristic of our times. But I’m more and more convinced that we need to try to stay informed about the world to which we are sent in Jesus. This needs to involve some sort of discipline in our lives in practice, which means engagement in this media only for a period of time overall, so that our time in the word, in prayer, and in other disciplines to which we are called (in general, and unique to us) will not be crowded out.

At the same time we need to remember as my friend Allan Bevere has pointed out, that the real world and the actions of God in his kingdom are found in and out from the church, the community of God in Jesus,  not in the world order, nor in and out from the current super power, the United States. Yet while Jesus’ kingdom, as he said, is not from (and in that sense of origin, of) this world and its system, it is present in the world for the world.

So while we’re to think through issues in current speak within the framework of the discussions at hand, we need to keep bringing all of that into the light of the kingdom of God come and present in Jesus. And immerse all of that in prayer and in our study of God’s word. With the questions: How should we the people of God then live? What is God doing and how do we figure in that work? In terms of us together as God’s people in Jesus and especially so out from our local churches each with unique callings within the general calling.

So in all of this, as John R.W. Stott so aptly wrote of in the above mentioned book, let’s endeavor to be led by God’s Spirit together in mission in a world in which the politics of Jesus from the good news of God in him in God’s grace and kingdom, can speak and act in God’s transforming power, so that others may believe and the salt and light which we are as God’s community in Jesus, may have its impact on the world.