the church and war

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!

Isaiah 2:1-5

It used to be that after Christians returned from war the church made them do penance. There was an understanding that there is something intrinsically wrong, sinful about the enterprise, and that no one could participate in it without somehow being sullied. Or at least the idea that in fulfilling such responsibilities, sin is inescapable. In the early centuries Christians rarely participated in the military not only because the Roman Empire was at least averse to Christians participating, but because the early church fathers were univocal in their opposition to Christian participation in killing and war.

All of that has been long lost. Nowadays participation in war and preparation for such is more or less celebrated in all churches except for “peace churches.” It is one thing to respect and honor those who have served, but it’s quite another to see war as a necessary evil. To some extent given the world in which we live there has to be a forceful stopping of violence at times. But I think Christ followers should advocate for the end of war even now, for a worldwide commitment to settling disputes in any number of ways, as well as for understanding and addressing the problems which underlie violence in our communities. In our world in which cycles of violence are very present and seem to be held back only by force, this may not make sense and may even be resisted by some in power, though I think most governments would welcome such efforts. A regular answer to this problem is that such an ideal will occur only when Christ returns. Granted there’s some important truth in that. But followers of Christ ought to be committed to and be known as advocates for a peace which takes justice seriously in the path toward reconciliation.

The world hasn’t gone mad, it has lived that way for century after century, although violence has abated in some places. It doesn’t help when a renowned Christian writer and theologian sees war as not only inevitable, but pictures Christians on opposite sides shooting each other and then meeting in an embrace in heaven. Christians killing other Christians and non-Christians makes no sense. But neither does letting violence go make any sense. Following Christ which means taking the way of the cross, and loving enemies is never going to make sense in the world. But if we’re to take the witness of the gospel in scripture seriously, especially the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the rest of the New Testament including a correct reading and interpretation of Revelation, then it seems to me that we’re left with no choice but to so follow and show the world the better way. At least that will be a true witness of Christ.

I honor veterans myself, remembering that my own father was in harm’s way in a tank in WWII. Many good Christians and good people have served honorably in the military. But what if we Christ-followers would honor conscientious objectors who served their country honorably? And we need to be advocates for peaceful means of ending conflicts. Mennonites have been among those at the forefront of helping groups work through conflict resolution in a way that addresses wrongdoing and works to end the cycle of violence.

Peacemaking in this world will always involve struggle. It is macro and micro. Our witness to peace through Christ means little if we don’t live at peace in our families and church communities. And that will involve working through disagreement and conflicts, learning to live together in peace. And learning to extend that peace to others whose hearts may be full of war. Always in the way of Christ, not physically resisting evildoers, but resisting the evil itself through love with acts to bring healing, and good works. In and through Jesus.

tell the truth

…no one speaks the truth;
they have taught their tongues to speak lies;
they commit iniquity and are too weary to repent.

Jeremiah 9:5

Truth cuts every way possible. It cuts no corners, but covers all.

God’s people if there is such a thing, and I believe there is, should be people of truth. And truth regardless of how it exposes them, or what it is. Humans ought to have a passion for truth: “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

But “what is truth?” Unlike what we under the influence of the Enlightenment think, it’s not about knowing the right things. We know nothing fully or without distortion. Only God knows like that. Truth morally speaking is the reality of goodness, justice and love. While humans have a capacity at live in truth, we all have given into error of various kinds, so that at least we can be aware of that default within ourselves, or it is simply a part of our lives, who we are.

To tell the truth is a nice thought. Better yet, seek to live in truth, whatever that may be. Not many of us are called to say a lot. Living speaks to us as well as those around us. None of us live completely well in truth. But that should be our goal, indeed passion, with plenty of repentance along the way. In and through the truth, Jesus.

avoiding the echo chamber

Then Job answered:

How…will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”

Job 21:1, 34

After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “…you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Job 42:7

The echo chamber is the idea of people hearing and amplifying their own voices and those like them, without listening to anything which might contradict or challenge that. Case in point is the wisdom story in scripture of Job. Job through the most egregious circumstances imaginable apart from his wife and his life being spared, begins to question God as he is processing life as it has fallen on him. The story does end with a rather happy ever after ending, but you still can’t lose a main point from it: The prevailing thought or orthodoxy might not be entirely correct; in fact it may be wrong at critical points.

We could say that Job’s friends had to learn the hard way. Life butts up against what we understand and believe, but it’s still often hard for us to give up or modify what we think we know. So we’ll come up with explanations which often amount to giving no really good answer for what is. It would have been better for Job’s friends, and often for us to say we don’t know, that we’re open to revision always, while when need be giving the best answer we can come up with.

Avoiding the echo chamber means that we include other voices, divergent thoughts and perspectives into the mix of what we’re hearing. All the while God will help us through, just as God in the wisdom story helped Job in the midst of life, and the three mistaken friends later. Christ will keep us in the truth, which more than head knowledge amounts to the reality of life in which God is at work and ultimately will become all in all.

putting on the whole armor of God: belting your waist with truth

Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth…

Ephesians 6:14a

There’s no escape from the spiritual battle all around us, which if we’re not disengaged, we’ll find ourselves in. What this passage from scripture tells us is that if we’re not strong in the strength of the Lord’s power and don’t put on the whole armor of God, we will no longer stand, but fall. I wonder what not standing looks like. It may not seem like a fall, but for those who have experienced any degree of standing in this way at all, one can tell the difference.

After being told to be strong in the Lord’s power and put on God’s whole armor, we’re then told to stand and put on the first piece, belted around our waste so to speak in this metaphor: truth. Christians have often made truth above and beyond anything else to refer to scripture itself. I prefer to see truth as what we can draw out of scripture as truth, given to us by God. Truth is above all else found in Jesus who called himself “the truth” along with “the way…and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21). All else has to be measured by Jesus and considered in that context. “All truth is God’s truth” (Augustine) and Jesus as creator and sustainer (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3) of all things, I think affirms that.

Truth is often viewed as concepts that are considered absolutes which we’re simply to believe and accept with absolute certainty. Whereas truth as it really is comes only with experience and cannot be totally understood by us. Some might suggest that opens the door to the saying: “What’s true for you may not be true for me.”  Yes, everyone has to work out what this uniquely means for them. But truth is truth, God’s truth in and through Jesus in every way. But subject to revision since our understanding of it will always be incomplete, certainly so in this life (1 Corinthians 13:9a).

Just a few thoughts about truth. The first piece of the armor we’re to put on. In and through Jesus.

not backing down (from an unpopular position)

Then the LORD said to me: … I will utter my judgments against them for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you.”

Jeremiah 1:14a, 16-19

I recently heard that somehow in our brain some of us at least can be quite opposite, like two different people. Somehow that might be something of the same for me. I like to make people happy, and especially dislike making people feel bad or even uncomfortable. Yet I’m all too willing to say the hard thing sometimes at inconvenient times. I wonder if something of the same was true of the one who is called the weeping prophet: Jeremiah.

We live in a time that seems fraught with danger locally, in states, nationally, and worldwide. It’s a precarious time during which one might well watch their step. Really nothing new, but just more so than at any point in my lifetime I think, or in recent history dating back to maybe the time before the American Civil War in our neck of the woods. Of course, other places have seen, and some continue to see terrible or difficult times right up to the present day.

It is hard to take a stand on a controversial hot button issue, especially when most people in your group are opposed to that. This is what Jeremiah was facing in his day. God was giving him a vision and message contrary to those around him, God’s people no less.

And God gives Jeremiah these hard words in bold letters in the quote above:

Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.

That seems harsh, and it seems to go against the grace message as many Christians understand that. But we need to read it in context. God does call people to go through difficulties and persevere even when one does not at all feel like it, in fact may feel completely contrary to that.

I believe this is important today, not to back down for the sake of the truth; for the marginalized with whom we stand, and yes, for all the truth that is in Jesus as understood in the community of the faithful and which needs to be declared.

God’s call to Jeremiah continues today in Christ through the church. But sadly, just as in Jeremiah’s time, I believe it is God’s people, today the church which is actually most in need of hearing this message. And as we know from reading Jeremiah and the Prophets, the outcome will be good regardless of all the trouble before that.

is there really good and evil?

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Genesis 3:2-7

In the story told in Genesis, I think what it’s referring to or getting at is the experience of good and evil, knowing both in that sense, and independently of God, since God commands the man not to partake of that tree, and some certain kind of “wisdom” following from that. Certainly, in the story once the man and woman partake of that fruit their world is changed. The man and woman are caught in the grip of this “wisdom.”

I would like to be able to explain all of this clearly, but not only is that not possible for me to do, but it’s not the point of this post, either. The point is that yes, there is real evil along with real good. If you dig just a little not only into history, but even into the present, you can see manifestations of that evil in numerous ways, open as well as hidden.

Maybe part of the point of the story told in Genesis is to help us realize that we’re not to navigate the reality of good and evil by ourselves. We’re not only in everything together, as was the case with the man and the woman, but we’re meant to be in everything under God’s authority, or one might prefer to say, in the life and love of God.

Good is real, and so is evil. Even if it were only physical, it is completely evident, psychologically and for example in our dreams, whether or not there are cosmic forces in the mix. Good is real and evident, and so is evil. Scripture grapples with this over and over again, because it’s a part of the real life in which we all live.

Evil is all that opposes or is antithetical to goodness. It is as real as the hair on our heads and can make what hair we have stand on end so to speak. Good is about goodness in loving and in truth. Good is a commitment to love grounded in reality.

Christ followers are committed to following the one who brings the greatest good out of the greatest evil. Jesus. The cross was the ultimate manifestation of that. And Christ continues that good work even through us who follow, as we realize that the evil in the world and in us is being addressed only through Christ’s death and our participation in that death. A major aspect of how we are blessed to be a blessing to the world. In and through Jesus.

very mixed feelings about this blog

Beginning in late 2005, and at least most every day by 2007 I’ve been writing on “Jesus community,” here at Blogger, and now on WordPress since for a time, my blog became inaccessible to me and actually still is as far as editing goes. Before that, when blogging was hot (like podcasting is now), I spent quite a lot of time on Scot McKnight’s blog, “Jesus Creed.” I found out to my surprise that I could blog and tapped into a passion for communicating what I understood of biblical truth in a simple, understandable way. The Emergent Church was on the rise then, and in some sense, I felt a part of that.

Fastforward to today, and much has changed, not the least of which is getting older. Given everything and the world in which we live, I consider this a critical time not merely in my life, but in the world here at home and abroad. Global matters are pressing, and in fact the entire earth is at risk. And those of us who are older especially want to think of the younger generations.

But back to the point of the blog today, I really was playing with the idea of discontinuing this blog entirely. I’m not an expert in anything at all. And my faith is evolving, some would say devolving, but I naturally think it’s for the good. I’ve been at tension with Protestant Evangelicalism for some time, and now no longer self-identify as such. Getting back to my Anabaptist roots, but with some profound differences, partly in a more activist, and if I may say, though this is fraught with much misunderstanding, but in a liberal theological, social gospel context. We describe something of where we’re living as far as our limited understanding goes.

I personally don’t care at all what I think, but I do care about what I’m struggling to understand and let go of. The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, and also that inevitably there is mystery in much. Gone are the days when I want to give a quick answer for anything. I will often say something like, “It’s complicated,” or “It’s more complicated than that,” nothing new actually, and better, more and more I want to say nothing at all. Better yet, “I don’t really know,” because on so many things I don’t.

Jesus Christ and the gospel as spelled out in scripture from which we receive truth from God or hear God’s voice (as well as elsewhere) is central to me, and in an Anabaptist understanding which takes seriously all the good from other traditions. Of course, like everyone else I’m on a journey.

At this point I will continue to write, hopefully short (preferably no longer than two, at the most three paragraph) posts, for the most part. I consider myself nothing more than a witness. Trying to share understandings which are vital and helpful to me, as well as ideas which I consider truth needed in my own understanding for life, which in some measure might be helpful to others. And this in needed collaboration with others.

In and through Jesus.

truth prevails

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

John 18:37-38; NRSVue

A seed was planted in Pilate’s heart in this exchange with Jesus. Pilate was up against it, in a position that he would be damned if he did it and damned if he didn’t. Truth to Pilate didn’t mean much more than doing what he had to do as governor under the Romans in Judea.

Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus calls himself “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14) We can be sure of one thing and one thing forever. God’s truth in Jesus, the truth who is Jesus will prevail. When it’s all said and done, truth prevails, Jesus who is the truth.

That’s true in the large and small, every detail as well as the everything in its entirety, all. Truth will prevail. In needed judgment, correction, redemption, all in love, in the God who is love.

Truth is truth. All else are lies or distortions of the truth. And are any of us entirely free from lies or untruth? Only the truth sets us free (John 8), the truth that is in Jesus. In his person, his life, his way of life.

Love and truth, truth and love are joined together (2 John). We can’t have one without the other. This has to become more and more our way of life. And we have this only in Jesus who is the truth from God who in essence is love.

In and through Jesus.

what to occupy ourselves with

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. As for the things that you have learned and received and heard and noticed in me, do them, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9; NRSVue

What do we occupy ourselves with: our thoughts, what we see, what we hear, as well as what we actually do? Paul tells us here that we’re to take in what is good not just in terms of Christian good, but of all the good that is in human culture. It has been pointed out that the terms here are Roman and Greek, not so much Jewish. In other words, we might say that the door was being opened to take in all that is good in human culture. For me that includes a daily not just dose, but immersion into classical music. I personally enjoy other kinds of music as well, but that is the genre I settle into again and again. What you enjoy may be quite different. But whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable; anything with excellence or that is praiseworthy, we’re to “take account of” (Greek according to NRSVue footnote) such things. That will require some sifting. Some things I take in with more care, because there’s quite a bit that is not good to sift out.

And Paul makes the point that the recipients of this letter were to follow his example. That reminds me that we’re to look up to those who seek to follow Christ, especially those who are seasoned in doing so. With the implicit challenge that we too want to live lives that others can emulate, not at all so that might think we’re great because we’re not. But so that they might see Christ in us, even as we see Christ in others.

In and through Jesus.


My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…

James 1:2

Sometimes, in fact I think oftentimes when we’re reading Scripture we need to slow down and even stop. Yes, I know it’s important to read Scripture in context, and really, all of it. And we need to keep doing so. But there are probably too many times when we don’t let something sink in well enough, so that it never takes root and makes the needed difference in our lives. I’m speaking of God’s truth, of God’s word and nothing less.

Just yesterday I was still submerged in something which had taken away what peace and joy I had, for days. I thought I needed to get back to the basics in the book the Lord seemed to tell me I need to be in: James. So I went back to this passage. And instead of proceeding like I normally do, through the entire passage and context, I dwelled for hours, really the rest of the day just on the words quoted above. And not long after I began to do this, it really began to sink into my heart. Yes, I’m to consider whatever trials I’m facing nothing but joy. Consider, yes, as it likely is not at all the experience. But a peace and joy began to settle in again.

I was well aware of the rest of the passage (click link above) and that’s good. But I needed for the health of my soul to settle into this one part. And hopefully that will make a difference the rest of my life. Whatever the trial, to seek to grow through it, perhaps do better, and certainly trust the Lord more.

So again let’s slow down as we read Scripture. Stopping more often in prayerful meditation. So that God and God’s word might get through to us much more. In and through Jesus.