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.

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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.

not losing the fight

I once heard a wise teacher compare being a Christian with a milking stool. I remember my grandmother using one. Three legs: in the analogy: sons (children), servants (of God, of Christ, and serving others), and soldiers. I think that’s apt. The Bible seems to bear that out. If any reader can think of something more to add, or that should be considered, please feel free to leave a comment.

They have to be kept in tandem, all three, or like the milk stool, it won’t stand. Surely priority must be given to the fact that we’re children of God through faith in Christ. We’re of God’s family in and through Christ. And we’re servants of God by virtue of Christ being a servant not only to God, but to us, to all. And being his followers, we seek to be a servant to everyone. And we’re soldiers in nothing less than a spiritual battle. But it’s God’s prescribed battle, not our own, with the gospel at the heart of it, both in terms of our own standing, as well as what the actual warfare is all about.

We are soldiers of Christ, but again this is in a warfare that is spiritual, directly against the demonic, and then in a sense opposed to the world, the flesh, and the devil, since that is another three that are in tandem, inseparable in scripture.

We’re in a battle, but it’s not on any lesser ground than where the spiritual battle is actually being fought, or needs to be fought. Otherwise we may be galavanting onto territory on which we’ll be fighting our own battles, or others, not the Lord’s. This seems hard, since we live in a world in which religious battles are all too easily taken up with lesser matters than the gospel. Now this is where it might get a bit complicated.

Political and what not kind of battles have their place, if engaged on their own grounds and humbly remaining in certain parameters. Too often though, they break those boundaries and come to take on something bigger than life, onto the enemy’s territory in which the winners and wins are not to be taken as gospel-oriented. And we must always be aware even within those spheres of where the enemy might at work in its crafty, deceptive ways.

The point for us as Christians is that the battle which is the Lord’s is a spiritual battle which at its heart is all about the gospel, the good news in Jesus. How other matters might be addressed in such as issues like abortion and racism is both direct and indirect in that while hearts are changed, systems oftentimes are resistant to change. An example is that while enough people’s opinions were changed so that in the United States slavery was abolished, albeit at a terrible price, there still were Jim Crow laws in the south, and segregation in the north even more so. And we have to remember that there’s a world system which at its heart is not only resistant, but in opposition to God, even if it accepts a certain amount of religiosity, including a veneer so to speak of Christianity which goes along with it. We want to be a light to society by our good works, and so that others might see the difference by our example as the church, and in society. But we must beware, lest the battle we are caught up in is something other than the Lord’s.

In this we need wisdom beyond our own, together from God, in and through Jesus.

our struggle is not against flesh and blood

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

What if we Christians were known not for being engaged in American politics, or politics elsewhere, but for sharing and living out the gospel, the good news in Jesus? Maybe it’s not a question of either/or, but and/both. I can hear dismissive sighs or more like silences on different sides, from both progressives and conservatives. If Paul were alive today and in the United States, would he be part of any group cozying up to any political party or president? I wonder. I think not, myself.

Does that mean we have to be disengaged? I don’t think so. But we need to remember where the battle really is for us who are Christians, who name the name of Christ, and profess to follow him. It is spiritual, in the spiritual realm, yes, even the spirit realm. We appeal to people with the good news in Jesus. And we refuse to alienate those caught up in any lesser battle or war. That’s if we follow Paul’s example in following Christ. Or am I missing something here?

An obvious enough problem to me is that when we start battling within the system, the spiritual warfare we’re called to in Christ is largely set aside, perhaps lost altogether. Does that mean people can’t engage in the political system at all, and be involved in the spiritual battle. I think they can. But it takes a lot of discipline. I admire some politicians and career military people, and I am confident they can have deep faith themselves. So this post is not at all a denial of that.

But part of the spiritual battle for us in Christ might very well be a resistance against getting sucked into something lesser and on a ground in which the enemy has some serious footholds. We lose out, and in the end, so do others.

This is difficult. Of course there are issues we’re all rightly concerned about. And we should address those issues along the way, but with much wisdom. Because our priority is on the one answer we stake our lives on: the gospel of Jesus.

fixed on what will last

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Sometimes we think of James as the book to the point, and stark in its black and white. But John in the first letter seems to come across much the same. And in this passage, John makes it clear that to be taken up in the things of this world, meaning the world system, is to be taken up with something that won’t last.

The world, the flesh, and the devil have been called the unholy trinity. Whether that’s really apt or not, they are an alliance in scripture, particularly in the New Testament, which you can’t really break apart. John describes all that’s in the world in terms which certainly fits all three together. We can easily see the lust of the flesh as the weakness and sin of fallen humanity, the lust of the eyes as something more of the same, and the pride of life as something akin to the devil. Of course people justify all such to the point that it is subtly framed into what it takes to be successful in life. It’s all apart of getting to the top, and just needs the right controls on it. Nothing bad in itself.

But for the Christian, the believer and follower of Christ, all such attitudes, drives, even passions, are out, no place whatsoever for them, not even in the tiniest corner of one’s heart and life. There’s one thing and one thing only that’s to drive and motivate us, of course faith, hope and love present and paramount in all of this: Doing the will of God.

John gets right to the point, painting stark contrasts, and this is one such place. We either are taken up in the ways of the world, or we’re doing the will of God, period. Nothing in between.

That does create challenges for us for sure. And we can start in the small spaces of life, where we live, and what takes up our time. Do these even have a hint of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life? I’m not referring to things we enjoy necessarily. We ought to appreciate the good God has given us. But it can be small, subtle, and easily justified, and has the tendency to take up too much of our time.

Instead we need to be intent on one thing: Doing God’s will. That is the goal or required end result of faith, hope and love. Those absorbed into the things of this world will end up lost with it in the end. But those doing God’s will find that which lasts, and will last with it. A will that is good and lasting for us and for all, in and through Jesus.