the world: tailor made for worriers

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

The more you know, the more you wish you didn’t know. That’s a truism which too often is an explanation on why we can so easily be on edge. I used to live that way, just waiting for the next trouble that would bring me down into the abyss of worry. I’ve learned to accept the reality that this world is filled with problems galore, that there won’t be any end to them, and that we will make all kinds of mistakes along the way, and that to some extent, whatever decision we make is more or less a guess. We can’t know everything, though we work for as assured an outcome as possible.

While the world is tailor made for worriers, and I would categorize myself as one of them, it is also an opportunity for trusting in God regardless of what we run up against and the challenges which come our way, as well as when the bottom actually does fall out sometimes. We can learn to trust God in the midst of all of that: before, during, and after the mess. That God is great and God is good. And therefore will take care of everything. So that although we need to be present and somehow engaged, if only by waiting, we can be assured that God is at work for what ultimately is to be a good outcome.

There is evil in the world, and tragedy. We see it around us at times, and especially are aware of it through the news media. It is inevitable in this life, and often brings with it tragic devastation which touches the lives of people, including children. We decry such, but we are often just so wrapped up in our own world and troubles. It would be good for us to expand, and have to pray to God about tragedies in such places as Yemen and elsewhere.

One of our problems is we struggle with living in the kind of world and existence in which we live. Instead, we need to accept the matter of fact reality of it all. But along with that, the strong loving care of our Father. God will take care of everything, including the smallest details of our lives, if we just commit them all in faith to him. That certainly takes effort on our part. Bottom line: We need to grow in our certainty of the personal love of our good and great God. That God is our Father in and through Jesus. And has a good outcome in mind for everything in the end. And so we look to him in prayer, trying to grow so that our own propensity for worry becomes less and less, and our trust in him, more and more. In and through Jesus.

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looking beyond what’s in front of us

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:14-17

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

Romans 15:14-22

Yesterday a number of us listened to a message which is well worth the barely over 30 minutes it takes to hear it, from a most respected evangelical thinker, Os Guinness. It was expansive, to the point, and most encouraging, all in one message, and that to a young evangelical student body at Biola University.

This got me to thinking. In some ways we always need to be looking beyond what’s immediately in front of us, and often shouting in our faces for our full attention. I don’t think Jesus was occupied with Herod, even though Herod was outstanding in his day, some of his greatest achievements near where Jesus lived. Certainly a mover, if not the mover and shaker of his day, at least in Palestine. Neither did Paul pay much attention to the Roman power except to use his Roman citizenship to move forward in preaching the gospel which even impacted the Roman emperor’s palace.

When will we wake up to really believe that it is the gospel of Christ that makes the needed difference in the world, and not Washington, or some world leader, or whatever else? We say one thing and may believe it to some extent, but we act as if we don’t. Other things clamor for and often get our full attention.

We as professing Christians have to ask ourselves if we really believe the gospel, and that it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, and that it’s what is needed in our world beyond anything else. And if we do, what difference that should make in our thinking and in our lives. Today there’s a mighty current pushing us in one direction, yes, with different reactions, but I’m afraid with the same result: leaving us high and dry, on empty, and more importantly, of no help to others at all, in fact all too often I’m afraid, just the opposite.

We don’t believe in the revolutionary change the gospel can bring, not only in individual lives, but in entire societies, and out from that impacting the entire world. We think the difference comes from elsewhere, really. The breath of heaven doesn’t make the impact we seem to think comes from other places. In our heads we may not believe that, but our hearts give us away. The heart is known not only by the words said, but the life lived, and how we preoccupy our time, again- what weighs on our thoughts.

In a time as critical as the time in which we live, with the dangers involved, comes a new opportunity for God to bring home to ourselves, and to many the real answer. Which when all is said and done will stand and go on. But will we answer this call, or not?

continuing on in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

These are troubling times. So much strife. It would be bad enough if this was confined to the world, but what makes it far worse is that we Christians are involved in it on all sides, with differing views. And often with a certainty as if we are the voice of God.

I have my own opinions and convictions, as well. But there’s a lot that I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realize that. I think one of the best answers to many questions is one that Eugene Peterson was said to have been accustomed to give: “I don’t know.”

But what we do know by faith, we hold on to, namely, the truth of the gospel, and veracity of God’s word. We don’t pretend to have all the correct interpretation, nor do we equate our theology with God’s word, at the same time believing in the faithfulness of God through the Spirit to teach the entire church the essence of the good news in Christ.

We continue on in what we’re convinced of. Even while we seek prayerfully to apply the truth of the gospel to all of life, and wisdom from the word, even for the hard questions that remain. And we do that best together in and through Jesus.

what world do you live in?

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:13-27

“What world do you live in?” is kind of a rhetorical question, thus not requiring a definitive answer, but causing us more to reflect on just what we perceive reality to be. And certainly includes myself. I struggle with this myself, I would say, of course.

We are creatures of experience as well as what we have observed to be true. It’s hard to get hold of just why we see life as we do. Certainly experiences from the past, especially in formative childhood times contribute significantly to that.

For me, it’s easy to get down over so many things. But that’s when more than ever, but really as a habit of life, I need to get in and remain in scripture. Scripture takes us through all kinds of worlds in the sense of experience, but lands us where we need to be, and helps us find what is lacking. Scripture as God’s word impacts us in ways we can’t actually completely comprehend. But the difference is unmistakable. It was so after Jesus talked to these two followers.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Luke 24:28-35

The face change here had to become a change of heart and a transformation of life. The world we believers and followers of Jesus inhabit is one marked by God’s word to us in Jesus, and whatever follows that.

We have to learn by faith to more and more live in the world in which Jesus is at the center. And into which God is always speaking. Regardless of what else is going on. The real world in and through Jesus.

incentive to godliness: leaving the past behind

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:1-11

Peter wrote to Christians who had once lived what scripture calls fleshly, sinful lives. The list he gives is obvious, and today is no different. Pornography for example is a huge market, and many it has taken down. Of course there are other sins maybe more acceptable to society at large, but nevertheless destructive as well. Usually especially to relationships, and also simply to one’s well being.

Peter’s words alluding to Christ’s suffering, and then saying we should arm ourselves with the same, in a kind of bodily way, so it impacts how we live seems I suppose Catholic to many of us. So be it. Peter points back to their wild, reckless past as an incentive to live differently in the present. And in the face of ridicule for doing so. In so doing, they will be following Christ, living out that following. And to do so, Peter is suggesting, again, that they’re to arm themselves with a mindset which embraces suffering in the body. Actually what might be spoken of here is the refusal to do what one is tempted to do in the body. We realize that the rest of the letter speaks of suffering in terms of persecution for their faith.

This incentive to live godly lives because of past ungodliness might be especially helpful to younger Christians. But it should provide incentive to us all. It actually puts us in a sphere of life and experience where we live bodily for something else entirely. Not to indulge ourselves, but to deny ourselves. Not really to deny our humanity, either. The New International Version adds “evil” to “human desires” to make that clear (click link above to compare with Greek, and other translations). But in doing so, it maybe to some extent loses a certain sense of what this scripture is saying. Yes, strictly speaking Peter is not telling those Christians that they can’t eat and drink and marry, etc. But what the passage does seem to be saying is that a Christian should live not for the fulfillment of legitimate human desires, but rather for the will of God. That such an attitude is a necessary fortification to not drift into what actually is evil. And important even, in us fulfilling God’s will in our lives.

I include what is the second paragraph in the translation above, because Peter puts that together with the call to live differently. It is to be done so in Christian love with acts of service.

Our lives are lived bodily. What we do and don’t do are important. We live bent on doing God’s will. When we fail, of course there’s always confession and repentance, and if need be for a serious enough offense, restoration. This passage indeed points to reformation, to a changed life, completely different than the world not only accepts, but often celebrates. We seek to follow Christ in a different way. Finding our fulfillment, including as humans, in that. 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 real world: Christians and the state/politics

The idea of “the real world” can be as different as night and day in what Christians mean, and from that, how they act. John Stackhouse, a Baptist theologian, believes something like a kind of realism which accepts the good and bad, along with the limitations in government, and makes the most of it, of course trying to arrive to what’s best, but realizing there will inevitably be shortfalls and issues and new problems will arise. Then there’s the meaning of “the real world” which might come from what’s called a Christian anarchist position, here summarized well by Greg Boyd. It basically takes the position that what happens in worldly government is rather beside the point for the follower of Christ. They should be living with one world in mind, God’s kingdom present in Jesus. So for them, that’s the real world. The rest is a charade, or worse. Destined for God’s judgment.

I see something of both perspectives when I look at scripture. The realism advocated which says Christians can and even should get their hands dirty by getting involved in civil societies, of course doing so with integrity and Christian truth, we can see clearly enough in Daniel, and to some extent, arguably, in the New Testament itself. The other position is clearly seen in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What Jesus calls his disciples to, God’s kingdom present in him, certainly political itself in that it is a way of life under his rule.

What might be a determining factor is to read what follows in what unfolds after Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit. It does seem to emphasize what our witness in the world is to be as the church and as believers. It really doesn’t say anything about Christians serving in government, but rather how Christians are to respond to government. There are instances of people in the New Testament who have faith and serve in government positions.

So at this point I think like life, it’s complex. It is easy to simply withdraw. But it seems to me more Jesus-like to remain in society, but with a different message. After all, if we don’t have a different answer, then what is distinctive about us as Christians? Isn’t what we’re called to live, and if necessary die for, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus? Regardless of just how we come down on the question of Christians and the state, there should be no question that this is what distinguishes us from the world.

And that will require a different track and wisdom, I think, then what we see from either the Christian left or Christian right in the United States. Both fail in compromising by not holding to the gospel as paramount in every consideration. Miserably. I take neither one of them seriously at all, myself. Both fail because in one way or another, their witness to Christ and the gospel is compromised. That ought to be our first and foremost concern: how will what we do or not do in the world impact our witness to Christ?

Maybe the best position is to leave the answer a bit nebulous, uncertain, but major on what we do know is our calling: to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. We must avoid any position that mixes the cross and the flag together. However we think our responsibilities to the state are to be played out, like paying taxes, and honoring those in authority, we must make it clear to all that Christ’s kingdom is different, not from this world, though down to earth, but in a completely different way. We certainly do good works to help people in need, and solve problems.

Something for our consideration, or at least what I’ve been considering lately. As we ponder what it means as Christians and the church to be a faithful witness in the world. In and through Jesus.