political posts

If someone really knew me in regard to US politics, they would find out I’m a hard one to pin down in any established category, which is why I happen to be a registered Independent voter. I am open to arguments on every side on most any issue. Often I don’t see things in such stark terms as right and wrong, although I will push back hard against American ideals, which while good in their place, out of place can be opposed to God’s kingdom ideals, perhaps the prime example, individual liberty canceling out loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. That’s not to say that these American privileges aren’t important, and to be treasured and preserved, such as freedom to worship (or not) as one chooses, but only to say that there might be times when we ought to make sacrifices for the good of others, particularly for the poor and needy among us without opening up a welfare state. Not easy, and hence just one example of the need for good governing. Of course I realize that even that statement ends up being political, and gets pegged somewhere.

On my blog, and really on Facebook, though by appearances at least, I may not do so well there, I try to avoid partisan politics of this world completely. Good people are on every side, and have often thought out well the hot issues such as abortion and the environment. Whether I agree with a politician on an issue, or not, I prefer to stay focused on the issue, rather than take sides with the politicians at all. In the recent presidential election, though I certainly was grading the politicians in my head, there was only one of them I wanted to vote for, and that candidate was not of a party people would probably think I would naturally gravitate to.

All of that to say what I think is most important in this post. To get to my point: I believe we in Jesus need to be known as political in one way only: we are committed to the politics of Jesus. Yes, the gospel is political because it encompasses all of life, not only my personal relationship with God through Christ, but everything else as well. How that works out in community can be played out in one place only, in the church together as the people of God in Jesus by the Spirit. We begin to live out now what will be completely true in the kingdom come, when our Lord, King Jesus returns. With the difference being that now we have to take up our crosses and follow, as well as live with an emphasis on helping the poor.

So we need to both respect differences and hold with an open hand, ready to let go, the politics of this world. If one of the believers serves in public office, they may have to be affiliated with one party or another, but their focus should be on issues, not on partisan politics. How much more so ought that to be the case for us who are witnesses to the one good news of the world, the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

 

where is our place as God’s people in King Jesus in the political process of this world?

Jesus is Lord. Neither Caesar, nor the current world power, the United States is. But since we live in a democracy which in theory is a government of “we the people,” normally we at least enter into the conversation on what is happening on the American political front. But we too often align ourselves on one side or the other, so that we’re known as Christians- not as those devoted to the politics of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him, but instead to the politics of the right, or the left (or even the center) of the world.

There are all kinds of problems in this, but first and foremost is our failure to grasp that the gospel itself is political, because the good news of God in Jesus is about a Messiah who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, and who reigns somehow in and through the church (Ephesians 1). This reign is destined to take over the earth only when he returns, but nevertheless is present now in a people who are to be marked as followers of the Way in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, and who live by the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in the grace and kingdom of God. That may seem like a tall, indeed impossible order, but it is possible by God’s grace, in fact that is to what we are called.

I for one hold not only a certain respect, but also appreciation for the United States of which I am a citizen. Yes, it has its faults as has always been the case, and some of them are quite serious. But in a fallen world, there is much to be thankful for when one can worship in freedom, and have the opportunities granted here. Yes, for some it’s much harder, no doubt. And we have to be careful not to idolize any state, so that we end up making Caesar Lord, instead of giving him the deference due under the Lordship of Christ.

We in Jesus will line up in every way possible on the American political spectrum, surely mostly due to our take on and evaluation of the issues. What we must not lose sight of is what’s most important of all, in fact what we in Jesus are called to live by as his followers and witnesses in this world. In doing so, we can help the kingdoms of this world the way the Jewish exiles of old were to pray for the good of the kingdom where they lived, so that in its prosperity, they too would prosper, of course through the blessing and mercy of God.

We care, but we are different. Read the Sermon on the Mount again (Matthew 5-7) if you doubt that. And read the entire New (Final) Testament, and keep reading it. Of course keep reading the Old (First) Testament as well. The more we do this, the better for our witness to Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. And the better for the nation where we live. We are citizens of heaven, first and foremost, the heaven that is destined to come down to earth in Jesus, and is lived out now in the way of Jesus. A way counter to, yet for the actual good of the present order of this world. So that we hope for the good of the nation in which we live, as well as the good of all other nations. But live as those whose one Lord is Jesus.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

God’s cross-shaped love

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4

In our culture, today, we celebrate romantic love in Valentine’s Day, and surely we do well to do so (see Song of Songs). C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Four Loves, comes to mind as well.

In the very passage quoted above from 1 John 4, we read more than once that “God is love.” The God who is love shows to us and to the world a cross-shaped love, that is, the love of the Cross. In Jesus, God’s Son, is the ultimate expression of love. God took upon God’s Self all of our evil, all of our sin, and in love laid down his life for us, yes, for the world.

We receive that love so as to enjoy it, live in it, and from that actually be a manifestation of that love of God in Christ to the world. It is not us, but Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20) who enables us so to live, but mysteriously this becomes (or can and should become) a part and at the heart of who we are. As Paul said, he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and participation in his sufferings, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3). Christ’s love compelled him in his mission and life (2 Corinthians 5).

We want to enjoy every aspect of what love is, of course not outside of what God commands. But above all, our focus is on the Love of all loves, found in God, and on the Cross, in which love is given its supreme and final expression in this world. The love of God to bring us into no less than the life and love of the Trinity. In and through Jesus.

dialing down expectations

One of the greatest problems of society, and of us in our lives is the problem of unrealized expectations, or probably more accurately and helpfully put, unrealistic expectations. One of the most in your face and crudest kind out there is that of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel preachers. They are a dime a dozen, and not worth any of it. I would not mince my words to one, whose letters and whatever it was he sent back, was aimed at a poor man who was grasping on to whatever hope he had to recover from the dementia which was setting in, sending in x number of dollars to get this or that blessing from someone who is (or was) exceedingly wealthy himself.

I am not referring here, I hope, to lack of faith, so that we don’t expect God to fulfill his promises, and rather than shoots six or seven or more arrows out there, we only shoot three like that faithless king of Israel of old. Not at all. We ought to trust in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus, even literally. So that we do expect nothing less than the righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit promised to us in the kingdom now present in Jesus (Romans 14). Yes, we do ourselves and no one else any favor, when we don’t believe God’s promises to us.

But we need to read the entire Bible, not just the precious promise part. There’s plenty in there which you’re either not likely to find, or never would see in a precious promise book, whatever good such books might actually do. Yes, we need the “very great and precious promises” of God (2 Peter 1) for sure, and we need to hold on to them for dear life. But we need to see them in the context of taking up our cross and following, and being ready for “the dark night of the soul,” as well as arming ourselves for the spiritual warfare by being willing to suffer as Christ did (1 Peter 4).

I don’t care for that kind of message, myself, or at least there’s a large part of me which doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s another part of me which does, I suppose the inherent skeptical part, and for the good of me and others, it is best that I swallow the entire revelation of God given to us in the word, and through Christ, not just the parts that I like. The parts which may not taste as well at first, anyhow, may be the most nourishing and good for the soul, but we need it all. We need to really take in, and perhaps dwell at length on sections we might, left to ourselves, ignore, like the book of Lamentations, to name just one book among many other such parts of scripture.

Dialing down expectations might help us sift the wheat from the chaff, as we learn the way and freedom of self-restriction in place of the lie of unlimited freedom (Alexander Solzhenitsyn), the way of Jesus, and as we embrace that way both outwardly and inwardly, the way of the cross. And then find the true love of God and abundant eternal life as we look forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, in and through Jesus.

radical trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yesterday I finished a book (except for the endnotes), The Cure, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall. I’m not sure how Bible scholars would view the book, and it actually is not a scholarly book. But that doesn’t at all mean that it wasn’t written from sound scholarship. While it might present an important aspect of something within what ends up being more complex, I think it’s worth one’s while to read it, and consider its thesis. I for one, am favorably disposed. I received my copy from our church’s small group leader, and we are set to go through an interactive study of it. The group leader says it changed his life. I tend to be skeptical of any such claim, remembering how books used to impact me in earlier years, but how such effects would wear off usually sooner than later. What seems to me to be in this book’s favor is that our group leader himself is an older, mature Christian, and that the lead author of the book, John Lyynch, does not seem to me to be a fly-by-nighter, an older man himself with decades of pastoral experience.

One of the leading theses of the book (and believe me, don’t think the book is either simplistic, or reductionistic as in thinking there’s an easy answer and fix) is that we’re not to be about pleasing God, but instead, trusting him. And then the pleasing part will come out of that trust. I would like to call it a radical trust in keeping with the message of scripture, and the gospel, and quite evident in the passage quoted above (click the reference above to get some other interesting translations of Proverbs 3:5-6). The book is wise and avoids at least one pitfall I can think of: an individualistic approach, which misses the central place of community in the spiritual life, and I can think of another I won’t add here. And I’m confident there are more.

This book is very much in keeping with what has come to my attention as of late, a needed emphasis that in some way may be lacking in my life: grace, and in particular, God’s grace. It is a grace which not only forgives, but puts us into the place not of law and duty, but of love and its compelling dynamic. I can see where the book could well be misunderstood by reviewers and readers, although I think in such cases, it would be a misreading of the book to come to such conclusions. When there is an emphasis on grace, it is easy to think that there’s a skirting of law, but I think the book captures well something of what Paul was getting at in his writings, how the law itself does not help us to keep it, hampered by our sinful flesh, and the reality that we were never meant to live as self-sufficient creatures to begin with. But that we’re dependent on God’s grace in and through Jesus, and Jesus’s death and resurrection, as well as on the gift of the Holy Spirit, to begin to mature in this new life. Another key thesis of this book is that we’re to live our of what we already are through our identity in Christ.

I think the book provides a good mix of solid biblical, theological truth, with wise pastoral understanding. We work through such truth in the gospel with fits and starts, steps backward after making progress, etc.

So I’m looking forward in the context of our small group, in seeking to better understand and apply the truth of the gospel from this book into my own life. And sharing facets of that truth with others, including any readers of this blog.

But for now, I’ll end this post with the thought, God in Jesus through the gospel is completely committed to us in an unwavering love which doesn’t love us either more, or less, because of anything we either do, or fail to do. We need to let the truth sink in of the radical nature of the gospel, before we can apply it radically to our own lives, as followers of the one who not only loved us, but loves us. And longs to be in close fellowship with us. And is united to us: we in him, and he in us, to the very end.

the problem with American politics

Alright, there’s all kinds of problems with the politics of the United States, money and special interests a good start. Today is election day here, when we elect a new president, among a host of other offices and things.

The biggest problem I see with American politics is just how much Christians are caught up in it all. If we don’t see it, it’s all because we’re smack dab in the middle of it. It is so much a part of our identity, of who we are, that we simply take it for granted. It’s the way things are, in our mind. But we fail to see the idolatry likely inherent in that.

I will step back a bit, because I know truth ordinarily is anything but simple, and there are good Christians very much invested in the United States. That is not necessarily bad, depending on what one means. The question remains, does our commitment to Jesus as Lord challenge this, and find it at least questionable at times? Do we draw any lines as to when our allegiance to Christ nullifies what the state might be doing, or telling us to do?

A big problem in this is that we have no criteria for judging. The words of scripture should help us, reading and rereading, and continuing to read the Book. We have to turn to Christ for Christian teaching and understanding, to be sure. And whatever we do, we have to do it with all of our hearts as to the Lord.

A good place to start is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. He is setting forth in that what it means to be the society of God’s kingdom under his authority here on earth. Our identity is not in any nation state, or in any politics of such, but only in God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

That said, we still hope and pray for the good of the nation in which we live (cf.: Jeremiah 29). We hope for God’s mercy and even blessing on it, but we don’t see national interests in the same way it is typically seen in the governance and politics here.

Our presence in Jesus is the politic by which we live (Stanley Haerwas). Everything else is measured by that, but nothing else is even close to that in importance for us. But it’s an importance which doesn’t deny the significance of the state, but puts it in the one light of the world, from the one city on a hill in this world (again, see Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount for this, which has nothing to do with the United States of America).

We hope and pray for the best this election day. But above all, we are committed to the one Lord and the one God in Jesus. And to the Cross, the life in Jesus to which we’re called. What unites us in him in the one Good News/Gospel, not only for us and at work in our lives even now, but also for the world, in which every knee will eventually bow and confess the Lord Jesus’s Supremacy, to the glory of God the Father.