we bear witness to a better day

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today in the United States is Memorial Day when Americans who lost their lives in military service are honored. We indeed should remember them and their sacrifice. But we as followers of Christ and the church of Christ ought to point to a better day when violence is not only the last resort alas unlike today, but when war will be no more.

That thought sounds so unreasonable when there’s so much violence and evil in the world. We have to remember that violence is not ended with more violence. Sooner or later that cycle continues as old grievances surface. Unfortunately what ought to be and what actually is are so far apart. It’s like you have to use a hopefully sanctified imagination to think of anything which could be different.

Violence is a fact of life, embedded in the human existence. There is not the necessary trust in God, in Christ with the hope/anticipation of the resurrection to make the commitment to something else. But if churches of Christ aren’t doing this, then what does that say about our witness? Are we just supposed to be okaying, even strongly supporting military action and wars of the state? Surely not.

We in Jesus point to a better day. By how we live along with our telling of this. We encourage nations to make peacemaking the priority, along with trying to understand and address underlying issues behind the violence. Realizing indeed that all violence will not be vanquished until Christ returns. Nevertheless doing all we can to point ourselves and others to a better day. And hopefully seeing that played out more in creative ways in opposition to oppressive regimes, with the commitment to do good to the distressed, and ultimately to all. A tall order indeed. But a large part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

no matter what, keep on keeping on

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:25-27

Life is what it is. It’s full of disappointment, conundrums, and if we’re not careful, we can become disillusioned. We have to take hold and hold on to find the vision God has for us. And that will require some serious effort on our part, especially through certain terrains.

But no matter what, we need to simply keep on keeping on. We need to keep our eyes ahead and steady. Think and pray, pray and think. Remain the same in the Lord, day in and day out. Stay on track. And avoid evil, which may seem unnecessary to say, but we have to remember that evil can be subtle, and even seem right, in fact evil might at times seem to be good. I’m not thinking of blatant wrongs, but wrongs that are every bit as evil, but couched and hidden in what seems entirely justified, but is entirely not.

Simple, yet equally profound. In and through Jesus.

thinking in the new way (the Jesus way)

It is so easy for us to conflate what we read in the Old Testament about the nation of Israel and battles and whatnot with the United States. What we fall into is the precipice of nationalism from which there’s no escape. I’m finding these podcasts from Stephen Backhouse helpful in grounding us in the way of Jesus and exposing what is not.

We need to get back to basics, the basics of Jesus, what he calls us to as his disciples and church. That’s a far cry from what we’re accustomed to, what we’re caught up in. It involves what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. The fruit of the Spirit marks it.

One can be Spirit-filled, yet sadly mistaken on key points, as history has shown over and over again, and as Scripture, I think indicates. We need a new vision, the vision Jesus gives us. But it’s hard to break the old strongholds, and idols don’t easily let go since there are spiritual and systemic powers behind them.

This is not the idea that we’ll all the sudden get it right while most everyone else gets it wrong. This is an endeavor to question bedrock assumptions which we live by, often taken for granted to be true.

This gets us beyond national, and even international allegiance, to the one allegiance that we Christians are to hold to now and forever: the Lamb Jesus, and the kingdom of God present and to come in him. It’s not like we no longer have concerns about those matters, but that those concerns come from a different world altogether. Yes, meant for this world, but not of it.

But go to the podcasts if you want to learn more. And a hint: keep listening through the episodes to make the most sense of it.

holding on to the vision

Yesterday the post about what (or who) were looking at, along with the post the day before, no condemnation or corresponding fear for those who are in Christ Jesus, present a vision which actually speaks of both the reality and possibility for those who are in Christ.

It is difficult to really get hold of a vision, so that one catches a glimpse of what really changes everything. And even more difficult it is to hold on to that vision.

What we’re considering here is like a getaway in which we have a mountaintop experience, followed afterward by life in the valley, where sooner or later the hard facts of life, including our own mistakes and the aftermath, again take over, and grip us, so that the vision is lost.

First of all, visions as in experiences do come and go. Someday in the life to come, the experience will surely remain with all the variables mixed in that. But in this present life we have to deal with factors which depending on what they are, and on our own disposition, can bring us down into a kind of heavy, crushing darkness.

Again, we have to get back to basics, and determine by God’s grace in Jesus to live there. Those basics are not dependent on our circumstances, nor on anything else, but on God’s promise in Jesus, the good news in him, period. God’s heart of love is expressed in that, and is indeed unwavering toward us. But living down here often makes it seem otherwise.

Faith is essential here. Truth remains the same, but faith lays hold of it in the sense that it lives accordingly. God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and new birth in and through Jesus with all that is involved in that (justification, sanctification, etc.) is ours. And that does make a difference, even when we feel like it doesn’t, even when we’re in the darkest depths. But God wants us to live in another reality, according to the promise given to us in Jesus. And through that, God wants to give us another vision of how things really are, how the new life in Jesus, even the eternal life impacts us now, so that we can live to praise of the glory of God’s grace in a way which is renewing and life-giving, not only to ourselves, but potentially to others, as well.

Something I’m working on through the word and prayer, along with meditation and reflection, now. What thoughts might you add to this?

heavenly-minded to be the greatest earthly good

Scot McKnight points out in his stimulating book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, that many of the most engaged, active Christians in this world were also the most heavenly-minded saints. The two mindsets are not necessarily mutually exclusive at all, in fact the more vivid the vision cast in one’s mind of the promised world to come, the more longing for “God’s will to be done” even now “on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ve been listening again to Michael Card’s wonderful album on the book of the Revelation: Unveiled Hope, and am encouraged that something much better, indeed the fulfillment of all that is good is coming when heaven and earth become one at King Jesus’s return, what Scot McKnight calls “Heaven” (the word, capitalized). When we look at the world now, listening or watching the news, we can easily be tempted to despair. What progress we do find is tainted with failure, yes with sin, with wrong doing out of untoward motivation coming both from systemic evil as well as wicked hearts. I use the word, wicked, warily. There is clear wickedness at work in our world today, which any of us wouldn’t have any trouble identifying, but there is also the wickedness or evil in our own hearts, which can violate the first and greatest command to love God with all our being and doing, and the second like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. So that the only love left is love for one’s self and for the idol, be it money, or something else.

Christianity’s goal certainly isn’t eventual non-existence through loss of passion. Nor is it escape from this life even through an apocapalyptic ending, as in the end of the world as we know it. We do long for the return of King Jesus when the full salvation comes, yes, through necessary evil being rooted out of this world. Any Armagedon is actual judgment on humans in letting them do battle in what will amount to a terrible debacle. The new order to come in will be nothing short of new creation in the kingdom of God to come in King Jesus.

In the meantime, even as we look forward with longing for Jesus’s return, we seek to do the works of God now, which will somehow be carried over into the new world to come, but which begin even here and now. The new creation is present in its beginning and heart in and through Jesus, through the gospel and the church.

And so, we’re not going to be satisfied with any constitution or government of this world, even of that which we might think may be ideal for the present time. We long for more, for much more. And we long to see its beginning more and more implemented in this life, to help the poor, and to bring in salvation for all, a salvation which is as pervasive in its scope as the God who gives it.

going for the gold

The famous California Gold Rush resulted in relatively few prospectors striking it rich. California became the “golden state,” where people could go to get their piece of the “American dream,” called the “California dream.”

This reminds me of something far greater which Paul refers to here:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I am reminded of what’s most important, what’s vitally important. So that lesser things which may get in the way of that have to be let go of, entirely dropped. Even things which in themselves may be good. Paul suffered the loss of all things to gain Christ. He had one goal and he kept looking to that, honing in on it. And in fact he made it clear that this is the view all of us in Jesus are to take, watching others, especially leaders in the church who are doing so and following their example.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

missing the forest for the trees

It is quite easy to miss the woods due to being fixated on one tree. In my case a tree that is in trouble perhaps, so that looking at such may be a good, God-led thing. But also in my case, the tree may not be in mortal danger and I can end up “missing the forest for the trees.” In other words I can easily lose out and fail to see the big picture.

We are helped immensely when we consider the big picture as given to us in scripture in the story of God, from Genesis through Revelation. In scripture, just as in life, we can get so caught up over and lost in certain details. We may end up missing the main point, and therefore fail to see the particular detail we are concerned about in the way we need to.

The answer to this is not in ourselves, realizing our error and something of the truth, and then proceeding accordingly. That normally ends up being what happens, but how it happens is from and through God in Jesus by the Spirit. God’s revelation to to us, and then empowering of us to move on, and get beyond what may well have become an impasse for us.

We may end up going in a completely opposite direction from what we otherwise would have thought or done concerning the detail we were lost in. Or we may simply defer that to God in faith, trusting that he will take care of it in his own good time, that we will have light to see and the strength to do what need be when the time comes.

We in Jesus are supposed to be together in this, encouraging and praying for each other, as we go on together in Jesus for the world.

Scot McKnight on what real “Church-Life” is

What many churches offer is not what you want to give your One.Life for. Where did we get the idea that church is a one-hour Sunday morning service at 11:00 a.m.? Not from Jesus, not from his dream parables, and not from his vision of the Kingdom.Life.

Many today are looking for connectedness in a common life, and many are willing to devote their One.Life to that kind of society, but what they are finding at that weekly gathering is a group of folks gathered but disconnected. The tragedy is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Something can be done about it. It begins if we will return to the community vision of the earliest followers of Jesus and let Pentecost happen all over again. Notice what we see in this earliest of Christian communities, a life that can only be called Church.Life:

Life lived with others, regardless of who they are
Life shaped by the teachings of Jesus through his apostles
Life experienced by eating with one another
Life swarmed by prayer
Life carried away in awe of what God was doing
Life shared economically and materially
Life welcomed by outsiders
Life expanded
Life unleashed

I think if more people were finding these things at the local church, they’d pitch in and say, “This is what Life-to-the-Full looks like and I want some of it!” I would characterize the community life of Pentecost with these words:

Friendship
Teaching the faith
Common meals
Spirituality
Worship
Holistic care for one another
Integrity
Growth

What is the alternative?

Life lived alone and unsatisfied
Life shaped by someone or something else other than Jesus
Life experienced by dining alone
Life with thick spaces between you and God
Life noted by pursuing more and more stuff
Life shaped by: “What’s mine is mine!”
Life unnoticed by others
Life stunted by “groupishness” and cliques
Life protected

Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, 103-104.

tired

Lately I’ve been tired. Not really physically because I’ve probably gotten as much rest as I ever do. But tired in spirit. Not tired of everything at all, but tired of some things which often seem like the needle stuck on the old vinyl records.

I know this is an indicator that I need strength, and really a new/renewed sense of vision or reality from God through Jesus. Through this time I can grow in ways I may not have otherwise. And yet such times can be tipping points in a direction that is not so good. We need to be on guard especially during such times, praying that we would not be led into temptation, but delivered from the evil one.

I think of the Isaiah 40 passage, especially how it ends:

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

And yesterday I was thinking of Jesus’ invitation, and repeating it to myself:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I am thankful for the daily strength and help the Lord gives me. I do think I may need to get away and rest awhile somewhere. Or somehow incorporate that into my daily or regular routine. Probably both.

I pray for a renewal of God’s sense of calling in his will for us in Jesus in my own life.

not settling for less

I wonder why we humans are so adept at settling for far less than what we were created for. C.S. Lewis mentions that somewhere.

We get a glimpse, even a taste into something far better. And yet we easily drift back into old ways, which may in themselves seem innocent, or involve things which have their place. But we know better.

I think of Paul’s words in Philippians, how having seen the goal, he was determined to press on toward the mark to win the prize of God’s high calling in Christ. There is no doubt that this took ongoing faith and discipline. Paul was acting on the vision the Lord had given him. He was content with nothing less than what he had began to experience in Jesus.

It is like a child growing up. What made them happy at the age of three will no longer make them happy when they are six years of age. And for us in Jesus, the same holds true. We’re to no longer be infants on milk, but we’re to grow and live on the meat of the word, and find our all in relationship with God in Jesus, among others in Jesus, as well as on mission to the world.

Part of the problem is habit, and if I may use a modern analogy, programming. We are habituated along certain lines, indeed programmed as it were, our brains wired in comfort to what we’re accustomed to. But if and when we begin to see something better, something more that is not just a good thought, but reality, we then are left uneasy. Not satisfied with what in the end can’t satisfy.

But is it easy to get beyond our propensity toward lesser things? I don’t think it is at all. If anything the opposite is true, though again, we’re left uneasy in it all.

The means as well as the end is Jesus-like, requiring an ongoing gift of grace from God along with our response of faith, resulting in a life of good works God has for us. And a life of coming to know God better in a personal sense, in and through Jesus. And not just for ourselves, but in the way of Jesus together for the world.