our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

Advertisements

get blunt

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:23

Peter had just made the God-received pronouncement that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus had just declared that Peter’s name, rock would be figurative for the rock on which Jesus would build his church, in some ways Peter and the apostles, but directly the message of the gospel of Jesus which they proclaimed. Jesus then tells his disciples just what he as Messiah must do: suffer and die. Peter rebukes the Lord. Then the Lord roundly rebukes Peter. Notice that this is not some outsider whom Jesus is seeking to win. Yet at the same time when I read the gospels you really don’t have to read between the lines much if at all to know what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is characteristically direct and clear, although it’s certainly always in love.

I don’t think we have picked up much of that needed air. Yes, all we do needs to be marked by God’s grace. We’re as much in need of God’s mercy and help as anyone else. So we don’t at all think or if necessary speak from any position of superiority. We’re all on the same level at the cross. We need to be as gentle as possible. And it can depend on the person who we’re trying to help.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Jude 1:22-23

We certainly don’t want to alienate others. Of course there are those to whom we can’t appeal at all. They may not be ready to receive it, or they may set themselves up in opposition to God and therefore against themselves. Such blunt language should be reserved only for those who can receive it.

Some would say that this is a case of reading scripture and identifying with Jesus instead of the disciples. It should be and/both. We can’t identify with Jesus all the way, but we should be able to fully do so as those who are seeking to follow him all the way.

In any case I believe the lives of many would have been much better served if pastors and churches, those who are spiritual would have had the wisdom to be blunt when needed. To warn others in no uncertain terms about the path they are on or considering.

Read the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, and Luke especially, along with John, and you’ll find that Jesus didn’t mince words with those who were following him. We are blessed if we can both receive such words into our own lives, and then in grace pass them on to others. But bluntly at the right time, not harshly but gently, but with the force and emphasis needed to help the hearer wake up and change course in their thinking and action. In and through Jesus.

fighting the good fight of the faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

One of the basic tenets of the Christian life is that we’re in a fight, a spiritual one. It doesn’t take long to learn that, and especially if you’ve lived long enough as a Christian, to be reminded of it. The enemy will challenge us in any way at every turn, though usually in more subtle ways, now and then, here and there, with the intent of crushing us, or getting us to veer off path.

They do this according to our weak points. Basically challenging God’s goodness and promises, and whether or not God loves us, and loves others. They are always challenging that, just like the serpent lied in such suggestions to Eve in the garden.

It doesn’t matter what seems so real to us at the moment if it’s questioning God’s goodness and greatness as in God’s ability to see us through along with God’s willingness. Such a suggestion is patently false, a plain bald faced lie.

God is good, God’s plan for the world is good, and God has shown that in his Son, whom he sent into the world, that we might live through him. And the only way we overcome in this world, and even overcome the world is by faith. We have to believe God’s promises and trust in him. We do that through prayer, earnest prayer, as well as remaining in God’s word. Holding on to faith. So that in the end we might be able to say with Paul, the same one who told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

In and through Jesus.

in a world of competing narratives and ideas

All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:160

It is amazing, the diversity in thought more readily apparent nowadays due to the internet. I’m referring to “movers and shakers”, confining that to those with credentials. And even within the Christian world there is enough divergence, which might not seem that great at first, but can make a big difference.

It is probably good for people to engage all of this, and especially Christians. We all have our niche and calling. But we especially need to major on what we know to be true, the truth as it is in Jesus as found throughout scripture. And especially its fulfillment in the gospels along with the rest of the New Testament.

Of course we must be ready to speak out where need be, even when we know that inevitably we’re not going to see the whole or everything clearly, at least not as much as God does. And that we will make mistakes along the way. Surely even Paul didn’t get everything right. Though what he did write in scripture has God’s breath on it, so that it is absolutely true, along with the rest of scripture.

All of scripture is true to the point for which it is given and written: the gospel of God, the good news in Christ. That is what the Bible is: God’s written word pointing humankind to God’s final Word: Jesus. The fulfillment of all of God’s promises and truth are in Jesus.

That is where I go back to again and again. That does soundly critique all else; it’s not as if it’s on a plane where what it says has nothing to do with the supposed real world. The Bible actually uncovers reality. Even within its own culturally set place, a word for all cultures.

Where I start and must finish. 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.

the mistake of relevancy

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

To want to be relevant is not necessarily a mistake at all. Paul sought to be all things to all people that by all possible means he might win as many as possible to Christ through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9). But often it is. The problem is one of truth. We want to reach people where they’re at, but never at the expense of truth.

Jesus made no sense to Pilate. Yes he was a king, but not in a way that mattered to Pilate. The governor was accountable to Rome, and that’s what mattered to him. Whatever “truth” might be, that was irrelevant to Pilate.

Truth telling, and more precisely, testifying to the truth was what Jesus was all about. We read in the same book that Jesus called himself “the truth”, along with “the way and the life” (John 14:6). So Jesus’s testimony necessarily pointed people to himself.

That doesn’t seem relevant to the world at large. What goes on in Washington and elsewhere matters, and little else. But if Jesus were here today, he would make the same appeal. Yes, we have to live in the world, in nations under governments, and for many, that’s where all truth and justice are found. And the power to implement such. Jesus lived in Roman occupied territory, but he did not base his life on such. It was all about his identity, who he was and what he had come to do.

What about us today? As Christians, where do we find truth? What do we think is relevant? Or is any of this much of a concern to us? Do we simply fall into line with the status quo, with what others, maybe even other Christians are doing and thinking?

We need to find for ourselves what we can then offer to others, hopefully by our example in searching and the change that brings. Yes, truth is something we search out and find, find and search out. That never ends.

Jesus is a king, and his kingdom is not from this world, but is indeed for living in the world. But not attune to the world. It would never become a part of the Roman empire, so that it would be irrelevant to them. Though later, the Roman Empire would become “Christian” simply as a way of uniting the empire, since Christianity was so widespread. In many ways not unlike what people mean when they call the United States a Christian nation. But Jesus’s word goes on. And it’s not about was is relevant to how we’re getting on with life, or what any nation is doing. But in terms of what is truly and in the end eternally relevant for this life and the next.

So let’s be in our Bibles, in prayer, in church, regardless of how irrelevant that oftentimes might seem. And stay in that. Finding the truth in Jesus, down to earth, even while not of this world and its ways. In and through him.

worship of God as our first priority in the midst of life

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4:8-11

Worship of God is held in the highest esteem in scripture. And yet it’s not simple to define or describe. And we all too often are at a loss to understand what it really means in our lives and practices, even as professed followers of Jesus. Jesus was certainly a worshiper of God, of his Father, but in the mystery of the Trinity, as we see from the New Testament, received worship himself.

Worship has been described as giving worth-ship to God, how the English word was derived. From scripture it is in terms of awe and proper reverential fear. It is the human response to God’s greatness and goodness. And by grace, it is the response of love to Love, entrusting one’s whole life and being into God’s hands and seeking to live that out in every way in our lives. Worship surely does not exclude any part of our humanity, or the gifts God has given us. We receive such gifts, but reserve adoration, thanks and praise to the Giver. We refuse to allow any of those things to occupy what is not fitting for them, while appreciating and enjoying them for what they are. God is in a category other than all else. Ironically, as we give God that due, we can love and appreciate all God’s gifts in a more pure, complete sense.

To be worshipers of God individually and together ought to be our goal as followers of Christ. That should be our expressed purpose and passion. Surely Jesus was bereft in feelings after fasting in the wilderness for forty days and nights. At least Jesus did not refer to his feelings, but to God’s word when refuting Satan in making it clear that humans are to worship only God. Of course the first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3).

Only God can help us “get it” at all. As Jesus said, the Father is looking for worshipers, and such worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). We need the Spirit and the word to help us, and we also need the community of the redeemed, the church (Ephesians 3:14-21).

If we concentrate on worshiping God, the rest will come much easier, I’m supposing. Not to say that life all the sudden will become easier, or we’ll arrive in any kind of sinless state. But we will be helped immensely, and be a help much more, if we can just begin to get our feet on the ground in seeking to be worshipers of God. In and through Jesus.