looking at the old world with the vision of the new world

I was listening to N. T. Wright, thoroughly enjoying his talk entitled, Speaking of God in a Confused World. It makes me wonder just how and why we Christians see things in the present the way we do. And we’re all over the place on that. What I like about N. T. Wright’s critique is that he helps everyone see the much larger picture, so that the scuffles we are in appear to be not as significant as we make them. Or so that we can see better to understand just where our own blind spots might be.

Right now, with another mass school shooting, many Christians are crying out for government action with rebuttals from other Christians citing abortion as the great evil. Ready access to semi-automatic guns has a cult following here in the United States, but arguably is appreciated by those who just like guns, and certainly are not dangerous themselves. But it seems apparent that the more the guns, and the more ready access to them, the more gun deaths there are. And the insistence that Christians need ready access to them to defend their loved ones and others, as well as themselves, seems to fly in the face of what Jesus taught and lived out. At the same time abortion has to be seen as an evil itself. The best way to approach it in the United States might be to work at reducing its underlying causes toward the day when abortions would be no more. And having such a groundswell of grassroots support for overturning Roe v Wade, that eventually that day will come. These are only two evils of the day, another being how African Americans continue to face discrimination and marginalization on a large scale. There you have my own opinion, and there are numerous other things for us to sort through if we have the time and believe it to be helpful to do so.

The big question might be just how we look at this old world destined for judgment in light of the new world to come, and already present in Jesus within and out from the church. When you break it down, that is not nearly as easy as it might look. There are the Reinhold Niebuhr realists all the way to the Anabaptist (with others) Sermon on the Mount followers of Jesus. And within those two camps, there’s some variance, and certainly variety in between. Trying to break it down in this matter is a human construct for sure. We need to keep going back to scripture again and again, and ask the difficult questions in the real world, not thinking we have to come up with hard, fast answers.

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to recognize that there’s both a division as well as overlap between the two worlds. We can think of that in terms of creation, now fallen and broken, and new creation, present already in Jesus, but not yet in its final state when heaven and earth become one at his return. The question for believers and followers of Jesus becomes just what our role in the midst of this is, both in general, and specifically in terms of what we might be able to do, as well as what we shouldn’t do. That is where the debate would lie, and where Christians, even within the same church might vary. But it’s a problem and issue we can’t avoid, unless we see the gospel and scripture as not really addressing any of it. We have to use our God-given minds for understanding and wisdom, and keep working at it. But with an emphasis always on our primary calling as God’s people: devotion to Christ and the gospel. Which is for the world’s salvation, but never a part of this world in terms of its origin. But hopefully helpful for the old world. With the hope always lying in a better world to come when Jesus returns, the beginnings of which are already present through the gospel and in the church, in and through Jesus.

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Mary’s song

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s song, called the Magnificat, most certainly has a political vision not only in line with the kingdom of God, but of and from, as well as in anticipation of that kingdom. In church tradition, it is not like that part has been ignored, but it seems to have been largely displaced in many circles as simply a religious ritual to help the worshiper. While there can indeed be value in that, the reality of what Mary is saying is evident in this song, reflecting her own scripture: the law, the psalms, and the prophets. We might say particularly the prophets, because they had to address the mess in Israel, as well sharing God’s promise for the world even through Israel, ultimately through Jesus.

The church through the gospel is the beginning of this kingdom under King Jesus, a kingdom in which needs are met through God’s provision given. It is a spiritual kingdom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not down to earth where people live, to help them in their material need. A thorough reading of the New Testament will plainly bear that out.

So Mary’s song is political. And remember, with Joseph, but probably especially she herself had a formative influence in the upbringing of Jesus. To think that this song is an aberration that was corrected along the way maybe even by her own Son, would be a failure to understand just how rooted in scripture that song is. And it would also fail to see how Jesus’s own ministry in his teaching, life, and acts were in harmony with it. In this same book, Luke 6 makes that evident. As well as throughout the gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

This song is political in part, because the gospel is also political in part. It is about all of creation in the new creation, including all of humankind’s interactions with others. It is not just about a lot of individuals being blessed. But a community for each other and for the world. Through the good news of this little Baby who would be the King in the tradition of shepherd. God’s grace and kingdom present in and through him.

The United States and us fearful Christians

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

….All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

….Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrews 11-12

July 4 is upon us, this being the holiday weekend preceding it. And if there’s one thing for sure, so many of us, and I’ll include myself, are hardly past the election fervor, caught up in a presidency which may turn out to be the most polarizing in US history, aside from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during those tumultuous and horrific Civil War days. Hardly any of us like what is going on in US politics, many for similar reasons, others of us for different reasons, some of the concerns being the same across the board. It is a difficult time for a good number of reasons in a nation which is not only polarized, but threatening to be on the edge of being torn apart.

The question on this post is this: When push comes to shove, just where does our confidence lie? What do we think will win and save the day, and why? And just why are we so upset and fearful?

This is not meant to be a critique of the United States, but there’s no doubt there have been seismic changes in society, and that the liberal, progressives have been all but dismissive of the conservatives. And there’s no doubt that the conservatives themselves have written off the liberals. You have few moderates, who by many would be seen as wishy washy and weak kneed. As far as I’m concerned, while I do have opinions about US politics, and especially concerning issues of the day, none of that matters in comparison to the main point of this post. While those things have an important and provisional place, they are not at all on par with what now follows.

We as Christians, and especially the older generation of us, which includes myself, and I plead guilty, we have lost our focus and therefore are weak in our faith, and weary, in danger of losing heart. Oh yes, there will be some who will fight to the bitter end either for the Democratic Party, or for the Republican Party, or their version of what they think America needs, and won’t seem to have lost any heart at all. They have a lot of hope for good, and to avoid what isn’t good through the federal, state and local government. And again, it’s not like that has no value at all. But we in Jesus are actually called to something else, even while at the same time we pray and humbly participate according to our convictions for the good of the state.

Our goal is something better, something much more. It is to be a follower of Jesus in whatever culture we’re placed, to announce and live out the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus, in the truth that Jesus is King with the hope that follows. We should be those who are commended for our faith in God, both confident and assured that God will fulfill his promises come what may. And that includes whatever we may face in coming days, years, or generations, should the Lord tarry.

We need to quit thinking and from that acting as if all depends on what is happening or not happening in Washington, D. C., as hard as that might seem to us, for some of us for different reasons. Our eyes need to become fixed on Jesus, period, who shows us the way as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and of course, is the way. Faith, plain naked faith, and I mean the faith that is in the God revealed in Jesus, that is what we live for, and if need be, die for. While at the same time we faithfully pray for those in government, and hope for the best for the nation, and the world.

That is our calling. This is what we Christians in America should be known for. In and through Jesus.

See Andy Stanley’s compelling message, Fix Your Eyes, which inspired this post.

 

at the heart of the gospel

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1

It’s a little less than six months until Advent, but there’s never an inappropriate time to reflect on its beauty and meaning in the coming of the Messiah. Jesus comes as King, but in a way unlike that of the rulers and authorities of earth. He came and will come, and now comes by the Spirit through the gospel, and he comes to reign. In that reign is most certainly salvation, along with judgment, and from that, justice.

Israel is at the heart of this promise, receiving mercy from God ultimately to extend mercy to others. And Jesus himself is the fulfillment of what God promised to Israel and through Israel to the world.

And this gospel involves a shaking up which in part is the dealing with sin in each individual, including the high and mighty. This kingdom is for the humble, the poor, and the oppressed. The rich must beware, because unless their pockets are open in generosity, they will end up empty.

Mary’s Song is a shorthand for much of what we read in the Bible. The gospel is political, but not like the politics of this world. But don’t be mistaken, it does deal with the politics of this world ultimately, when Jesus returns. And somehow by Christ even now through the church impacts the rulers and authorities, both physical and spiritual.

A missing note I believe all too often in our understanding of the gospel.

For two outstanding reads on this, see Scot McKnight’s, The Real Mary, and The King Jesus Gospel.

the amazing grip of politics versus the weakness of the gospel

I am amazed at the grip that US politics has on people, and I’m thinking specifically of God’s people. And in comparison to that, the gospel itself in most ways seemingly secondary.

That may be an unfair statement, and after all, no one believes that any government or political party will give them salvation and eternal life. This might be akin to the early Christians respecting those in governing authority over them, but proclaiming a new king, Jesus, and a new kingdom, the kingdom of God present in him, with the promise of Jesus’s return so that the kingdom will fill all of the earth.

The tricky part ends up being that the politics of this world is important in its place. Couple that with the reality of the politics of Jesus (see for starts on that, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount) and you are talking about nothing less than a new society, not simply a way to better oneself and do well in the old order of things.

There might be some good in using the system to impose better laws and work at rooting out evil. I think that can all be well and good in its place. But the one reality that will stay put and change everything is solely in Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And that begins now in and through the gospel and the church.

The weakness and foolishness of the cross. The power and wisdom of God. In and through Jesus.

 

Presidents, politics, even nations (empires) come and go. Jesus is Lord.

Scot McKnight has an interesting piece on what the world needs most, precisely, What America’s Culture Wars Need Most, and I agree. Looking at what’s best for the United States, it would surely be a people whose expectations for the United States, or for any government or political entity or leader are tempered by their belief in one transcendent that deserves full allegiance and trust: King Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

This thought may not be easy for anyone, so great is the divide in the United States today. And it’s not like the politics of the nation state doesn’t matter, nor carry with it serious consequences. But it is a question of just where our ultimate confidence lies, and if we even unwittingly place that kind of trust in a political party or ideology of this earth, rather than in God. It is one thing to think this way or that about whatever issue we’re considering. It’s quite another to assume that the answer for the world lies in lining up one certain way or another. How such matters turn out may indeed make a world of difference, but what difference, or we might say kind of difference are we as followers of Jesus, as the church to make through the gospel?

The gospel, the good news in Jesus, is in some ways oblivious to the world and its ways. It matters not who’s in charge in Washington or elsewhere, the church through the gospel continues on with the same humanity coming out of the same life regardless. The church stands as the witness to the one good news which remains constant, and ought to be a light which often brings a rebuke to the nation state.

We must beware of putting our confidence not only in elected officials, but in ourselves as well, thinking that through grass roots effort, we can effect the change needed for the world. Again, it’s not like such things never matter. It’s just that there’s one thing which will stick and effect a change which will go beyond whatever changes occur within the world system. The good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus by the Spirit experienced and lived out within the church, and to which the church is a witness is the one reality that will last.

We hope and pray for the good of the United States, and for the good of all nations. But our full confidence is in God’s promise in Jesus, no less. And never in any nation state.

political posts

If someone really knew me in regard to US politics, they would find out I’m a hard one to pin down in any established category, which is why I happen to be a registered Independent voter. I am open to arguments on every side on most any issue. Often I don’t see things in such stark terms as right and wrong, although I will push back hard against American ideals, which while good in their place, out of place can be opposed to God’s kingdom ideals, perhaps the prime example, individual liberty canceling out loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. That’s not to say that these American privileges aren’t important, and to be treasured and preserved, such as freedom to worship (or not) as one chooses, but only to say that there might be times when we ought to make sacrifices for the good of others, particularly for the poor and needy among us without opening up a welfare state. Not easy, and hence just one example of the need for good governing. Of course I realize that even that statement ends up being political, and gets pegged somewhere.

On my blog, and really on Facebook, though by appearances at least, I may not do so well there, I try to avoid partisan politics of this world completely. Good people are on every side, and have often thought out well the hot issues such as abortion and the environment. Whether I agree with a politician on an issue, or not, I prefer to stay focused on the issue, rather than take sides with the politicians at all. In the recent presidential election, though I certainly was grading the politicians in my head, there was only one of them I wanted to vote for, and that candidate was not of a party people would probably think I would naturally gravitate to.

All of that to say what I think is most important in this post. To get to my point: I believe we in Jesus need to be known as political in one way only: we are committed to the politics of Jesus. Yes, the gospel is political because it encompasses all of life, not only my personal relationship with God through Christ, but everything else as well. How that works out in community can be played out in one place only, in the church together as the people of God in Jesus by the Spirit. We begin to live out now what will be completely true in the kingdom come, when our Lord, King Jesus returns. With the difference being that now we have to take up our crosses and follow, as well as live with an emphasis on helping the poor.

So we need to both respect differences and hold with an open hand, ready to let go, the politics of this world. If one of the believers serves in public office, they may have to be affiliated with one party or another, but their focus should be on issues, not on partisan politics. How much more so ought that to be the case for us who are witnesses to the one good news of the world, the gospel of our Lord Jesus.