a gospel bigger than I, me, mine, and even us- the only gospel there is

When we open our Bibles, the beginnning is Genesis, for a reason, and the end is the Revelation for a reason, and everything in between counts, every book and for that matter, every line, has its reason and place in the whole.

It is daunting, and takes commitment over time, but we all need to be in the entire Bible, as challenging on many levels as that is, and read it through again and again. When we do, we’ll come to see that the story of Israel picked by God to be a blessing to the world is a central theme. And how that is fulfilled through them, but mainly in anticipation of the true fulfillment in Jesus.

While this is certainly for each person in our relationship to God, it is for every other person, as well, and for the entire world. It’s a good news in and through Jesus which affects everything and is therefore worldly in that sense, or one could say earthly. But in another sense it can’t be worldly at all since it can’t participate, except insofar as it influences the change of worldy structures. This is the case, because the difference is in and through Jesus, and God’s redemption, salvation, and kingdom come in him.

Only when Jesus returns will all things be changed, the god of this age gone; the world, the flesh and the devil being a thing of the past. But until then, we witness not only to a gospel for each individual, but a gospel which is to begin to demonstrate the alternative to what is necessarily in place, in this present evil age and world.

And so we live in the in between times when God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus is beginning to break in through the gospel into the church, and out from that into the world. As we look forward to the end of this age which will bring in the fullness of what has begun now in Jesus, when he returns.

biblical illiteracy and the United States

Scot McKnight has a most interesting post on the Bible’s place in the founding of the United States, and in US political, presidential rhetoric. If you read this, and stop there, you would do well.

My thought is on the great loss of being biblically illiterate, though if you’re into US politics heavy, you will still do better to read Scot’s post. Just a bit long, but well worth it.

The Bible is such an important document in the founding and fabric of the United States, though that’s a complex topic by itself, and I’m in no way suggesting that the United States was meant by its founding documents to be a Christian nation. Only that the Bible certainly significantly contributed to what the United States was and at least to a significant extent still is. But to get back to my own point for this post, I think it would be good and wise for those becoming citizens to have to read a shortened version of the Bible, maybe kind of like a Reader’s Digest condensed version, which would help people understand something of the values and structure on which this nation was founded and built.

We don’t do well as Christians to not be people of the Book. Yes, Christ is our center, who brings us into the life of the Triune God, and is the Savior and Lord of the entire world. But that faith, while centered on the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus, is found in scripture, in God’s written word. To say God’s written word opens up plenty of misunderstanding, but it is sufficient for now to say that the fulfillment of it all is in Jesus. But to understand that fulfillment and what it means from cover to cover, we need to read and reread and become steeped in the entire Book. And like a friend reminded me, the Bible itself is complex. A simple, child-like faith opens one up to the beauty and power found in its pages. But it can leave one gasping and grasping for answers. The Holy Spirit is our help together as we read scripture, meditate on it, and if you wish, commit some of it to memory. But there’s no doubt that we’ll be stretched in the process, which surely is part of the point of scripture, God’s written word.

But we’ve fallen on hard times when it comes to actual knowledge of the Bible. People still buy it evidently, but there are other ways to occupy time now, many. We’ve maybe read it through once, or at least heard large parts of it read, some of that over and over again. So we think we have it, that we really don’t need to read it at all. I hear that we need to do it, not read it. Well, I believe we need to both hear and obey God through it. We need an interactive relationship with God through scripture, and we need to come to it again and again to let its truth break through to us and soak in our bones over time. All of it, not just the precious promise parts of it, but the hard and seemingly mundane in it. The Bible mirrors real life, right to its very depths. But with the one good news for the world in Jesus.

Whatever we are doing, or out and about, we in Jesus, let’s lead the way in serious study and contemplation of scripture.Yes, certainly hoping the better for the United States and all nations on earth. But committed above all to what is mandated in scripture as followers of Jesus.



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.

the church should show another way (through this presidential election)

Given the incindiary rhetoric of one of the presidential candidates regularly at his rallies, it is easy to get caught up in what by any account has been easily far and away the worst US Presidential campaign in my lifetime. Some of the reaction back to that kind of talk has not been helpful, but there are people who profess to be Christians, I don’t want to say followers of Christ, who more or less seem ready to take up arms to bring America back to some supposed norm of the past, nevermind that the history of the United States is anything but spotless when it comes to morals and ethics and justice.

There is more that needs to be said on this score, indeed the subject of what the United States is and what the state or nation should be is a tall order. We need reasoned and sustained discourse, with an emphasis on preserving what indeed has been great about America, in spite of the faults. So that those thoughts might be addressed, an ongoing task in this world, indeed. We would all surely benefit from reading Augustine’s, The City of God, which while showing the contrast between that city and the earthly city (no, I haven’t read it, though I’ve read parts of it, and want to read my copy all the way through), does see much good ordained from God through the state. I’m not sure I’ll track completely with Augustine, since I will want to consider his argument in light of all of scripture, but I think this kind of reasoning, to see the good as well as the limitations of the state, are especially needed in our day.

That said, the church has allowed itself to get caught up in a war in which the actual war the church is in, spiritual, not physical, and over the proclamation of the one good news, the gospel, is all but lost in what the church seems to stand for: either the takeover or pushing back of America to some pristine past (the Religious Right), or the continuation of America to some “progressive” future (the Religious Left). Not to say there isn’t any truth in what’s being said on either side, which makes this all the more dangerous and difficult. But I’m afraid we’re selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.

Jesus said, “What does it profit anyone to gain the whole world yet lose their soul?” And that is just what is happening at times, when the church puts itself forward not only as a judge, but an advocate for something other than the gospel.

There is one Good News/Gospel in one Lord and King, Jesus. Even though we hope and pray for the good of the nation, and God’s mercy and blessing on it, we should be known as those who are committed to, and living out this gospel in Jesus. It is a gospel of salvation in a personal sense, but also in every other way through the new creation, without denying the role for example that the state does have as instituted by God (Romans 13). The church is the beginning of the city of God come down to earth in Jesus, something no city of this world can duplicate, even if by that light there can be benefit for such.

The church should not be known for its politics of this world, in my opinion. But rather, its own political stance, in God’s kingdom come in Jesus (Matthew 5-7, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount a central explication/instructive announcement of that) ought to be known especially by how the church conducts itself in the world, in its good works, as well as in telling the world the reason for such. Changed lives in Jesus as seen through prison ministries, not only can dispel the ignorance of the world, but even be welcomed by the state, as has been the case in the present day.

Yes, it’s so easy, all too easy to get caught up in the hype and real concerns of the election, and there are issues which need to be addressed on that level. But we must beware lest we lose our bearings and witness in this world of the one true light in Jesus, so that we’re caught up in something less, no longer holding on to the message of the gospel by which we are lights in a crooked and depraved world. God can help us repent and do better; we can be shown the way together, in and through Jesus, by the blessed Holy Spirit.

It’s not like we can’t participate somehow in the election process, by at least voting, and speaking something of our minds on it along the way. But we do so united by only one thing: the gospel in the one Lord and King Jesus, in the grace of God in him.

the one Lord

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Acts 10

Last night I watched the debacle, which was supposed to be a presidential debate. One of my Facebook friends posted, “He is not here. He is risen.” To which I later posted, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

When we look at the mess that is our world, certainly including our own country, we can only long for the return of the one who defeated all the rulers and authorities by his death on the cross, made evident by his resurrection from the dead, and ascension into the dimension of heaven at the right hand of God in the place of supreme authority.

There is one ruler today, and he rules in and through the church, but in the way of the cross, through his death and resurrection. It is a rule certainly at odds with the world, and with world rule, which has its place now in this evil age, while certainly out of place in so many ways. And destined to bow someday under his direct authority at his return. Even while now God works out his purposes in and through him, primarily through the church, but also in his sovereign wisdom over the nations, in the latter case in ways that are well beyond us, but in the former case, through the good news of that saving rule, in and through Jesus.

And so that is where I have my hopes. Not that I’m not interested in what is happening on the world’s stage. But my hopes are not there. But only in the one Lord, Jesus.

the American Jesus

At Ada Bible Church where we’ve been taking our granddaughter for their children’s teaching program, Jeff Manion in part four of a series on the book of Colossians talked about the pure Jesus as taught in scripture as opposed to the Jesus many people have adopted. The message, by the way, is well worth the listen, one might entitle it, “Beware of the Blender.”

Along with America, or patriotism, Manion included materialism, and self (individualism). Of course the Colossian heresy was different, although having some correlation to our times, but dealing with different manifestations and problems. The question becomes, what do we mix with Jesus, with the gospel, which in the end is not Jesus or the gospel at all, but a human and perhaps even demonic concoction.

Jeff mentioned how being a good citizen of the United States is good, and he didn’t oppose patriotism, or love of country, love of America. But he was getting at how we mix Jesus and the gospel with America, or patriotism. This has played out in many ways. For example Jeff spoke of a couple of Iranian pastors he met, and how he had to break the news to them that to fully be Christian they would need to become American. All kidding aside, that was a problem with missions in the past. This is simply a manifestation of the core issue of the union of church and state, or the gospel with anything else, and how the gospel can be and often is sullied and compromised in the process.

Maybe an especially egregious aspect of this is at the fore, front and center before us during this presidential election, hence the timeliness of this point and series. I am thinking of how Christians go at it even against other Christians both from the “left” and “right”. It’s bad enough, and in some respects worse, depending how you look at it, when a Christian goes after a non-Christian with a kind of battering ram approach. I am thinking, what are we thinking? And what “battle” are we fighting?

Of course we pray for the good of this nation, and hope for its best. But we must take care lest we lose Jesus and the gospel, and consequently ourselves during this especially divisive time in our society. Instead we need for ourselves and for our witness the true Jesus and the true gospel. We need to work against the many ways the gospel can be compromised or even lost. There is one good news, and nothing else is good news in comparison to that. Through the one Lord, Jesus. Something we need to hold on to all the more, when the world insists on something less.


priorities: the gospel and politics (of the world)

The evil existent and active in this world, even at our door step seems to no know end or boundary. Sex trafficking right in our city, killing with guns domestic and gang related, and the list can go on and on. What is remarkably sad is that taking a stand on such issues, climate change being a good example, is considered political in the base sense of that word. So that one has to watch their step, and often sidestep all kinds of issues, or else alienate at least some people.

I have friends who are quite active in taking stands on issues which to some extent do end up making them overtly political in the American sense. Although their concern without a doubt is beyond that, grounded in taking a stand for righteousness, justice and truth in the face of evil. I for one not only applaud them, but sometimes have participated that way myself, and will continue to do so now and then.

I think a good question if put into proper context, and one has to keep working on that, is to ask what Jesus would do, or maybe better, what Jesus would have us to do as his followers. If we are known to be one way or another on the American political scene, even with good reason at least in our own view, might that not detract from the singular calling that is ours in Jesus? I am open to the idea that there’s room for us to make our voice heard in such areas, as nonpartisan as possible. In fact, with wisdom we surely should do so. There is a Christian climate scientist who is also a social scientist and professor who I think is doing a remarkably exemplary work, appealing well to those who are in disagreement. She is an example of how to navigate a most difficult and divisive issue in our nation in a way that is edifying and constructive.

For myself, I want to be careful to be led largely by one criterion: the gospel and my own contribution and witness with reference to that. I like to listen to civil dialog and debate which is respectful and not out merely to defend one’s position, but is open and desirous to reach a solution for the good of each individual and community, even the nation at large. Of course we’ll disagree on some points minor and major.

What the world needs in all of this is a church, and Christians who are committed above all else to one thing: the gospel, which is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes. And which moves us to the one domain that is actually over every other domain. The church being a unique witness to the power of the gospel both in how it lives together as one body and family in our Lord, and in calling the world to that grace and kingdom present in and through Jesus, found in the gospel through the church in the word and sacraments and common life present.

When any Christian leader makes a strong statement pro one party or candidate, and anti another party or candidate, then they step down from the higher calling into something which may be important, but will without any question alienate many from hearing anything they have to say beyond that. So that any hope of the impact of the gospel through that ministry is all but lost. There may be an exception to the rule as with Hitler in Germany and those who resisted that rule, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but the church and its leadership should be reticent, while ready during exceptional times, to do so.

I probably think and act beyond anything else as a pastor. And I think the church should do the same under the leading of the good pastor meaning shepherd, Jesus himself. Which means we teach faithfully so that people can read between the lines and make good judgments. And we realize that our goal is not to see this or that party succeed, or even whatever policy, as important as it is, to prevail. But that the gospel might do its work, bearing and increasing the fruit that will last. With the inevitable change that is beyond what any state sphere could possibly bring.