addendum to preparation for martyrdom

“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.

“A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?

“Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.”

Matthew 10:21-28; MSG

I’m not one to write on martyrdom as I did yesterday. It was an honest thought, but one I feel is way over my head. Of course anytime we write about the things of God and Christ, it’s indeed over our head, given to us only by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 10 in Jesus’s sending out of the Twelve we have what I think is helpful for us Christians, even today. Yes, we’re not the apostles, not the original disciples, and there’s much that’s different now. We’re essentially a witness in our communities, as the church and individuals of the church. And we witness to Christ, yes to the salvation Christ brings. And that gospel and salvation is not only about the good news of God’s grace in Jesus, but also the good news of God’s kingdom in Jesus. Both. Our light shines in the darkness, and oftentimes the darkness will try to snuff it out, put the light out, but ultimately through Christ that light will prevail. Even on some scale the light that enlightens everyone in the world (John 1). But the light of the good news of Christ is the main point here.

Grace and humility. None of us is able to even follow Christ on our own, much less be in danger and even worse in doing so. We’re not to run into the teeth of danger, as if that’s nothing. We should do what we can to avoid it, wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. We should try to win over our enemies, love them, knowing that the same grace which has captured us can capture them. Think of Saul of Tarsus.

So it’s not like we want to run headlong into trouble, nor that we can take this on ourselves. But if we can’t avoid it at a particular time, God will be with us by the Spirit to help us in our speech and actions. This is certainly far beyond us, we can’t do it ourselves. But we can know for certain that God helps us with whatever we’re facing, no matter how difficult that may be.

Well, hopefully some balancing words with the post yesterday. A difficult subject. And let me add one more thing. The vast majority of Christians on different sides of the political spectrum here in the United States are not at all desirous to do anyone harm. Quite the opposite. And there is concern of coming trouble on all sides. That said, I think we have to stay true to the witness we have in Christ. One that again is not only about personal salvation, but also about the witness of Scripture from the prophets and elsewhere about the kingdom of God fulfilled and now even present in King Jesus.

preparing for martyrdom

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Revelation 2:8-11

1 Peter 4 and 5 is also a good passage when considering this subject. We live in especially evil times in the United States. If you disagree politically, or especially with a political figure, you can be considered an enemy, an enemy of the state. Death threats and fear tactics are common now. And Christians are complicit in this. It’s an evil day.

As Peter tells us, we’re to arm ourselves with Christ’s attitude, which seems to be acceptance and even embrace of sufferings as taking away our desire for the unhelpful and even sinful dainties of life. Instead we determine by God’s grace to go the way of the cross, the way of following Christ to the end, the way of suffering.

I actually thought of this yesterday when considering this post. So instead of complaining about the nature of what I have to do, which frankly can be more than difficult, I decided to consider it training for martyrdom.

None of us wants to go there. But I also wonder just how many Christians nowadays would be able to. I ask myself that, too. Does our teaching and practice prepare us for that? Perhaps a good question as to how well we’re prepared for it is how well we’re responding to the difficulties at hand. Maybe we need to learn to embrace them, not in our own strength, but in the grace and strength of God, resolutely facing such in prayer, with the goal of finding God’s help to not only get us through, but make us a testimony and light.

This is easier said than done, and words by themselves are cheap. We need corresponding actions. And this involves a process. We’ll have to work through fears. But God is present to help us. As we seek to follow in the way of Jesus. Seeking to be faithful to God’s call on our lives. Leaving what is not of that behind. In and through Jesus.

addendum to preparation for martyrdom: a hopefully balancing word I added.

thinking about Bonhoeffer in today’s situation

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis shortly before the end of the war because of his resistance against Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. He saw through Hitler and at least as early as 1933 criticized what was happening in Germany, specifically the rise of authoritarianism as seen in emphasis on submission to one leader. Bonhoeffer found himself at odds with the German (Lutheran) church early on. And even with the Confessing Church which had split from it, but later mostly caved in to Hitler’s demand for full allegiance. Even my tradition, the Mennonites in Germany at that time gave into that demand, offering full support to Hitler and that government, even couching it with Christian language.

For Bonhoeffer, faith and God being in the center were assumptions from which he operated, everything else subsidiary to that. Bonhoeffer was not in the least an evangelical, if you’re thinking about today’s American evangelical. I would say not even close. But you have to start reading his material including his letters to his good friend Eberhard Bethge. You’ll find thoughts about religionless Christianity, as well as his feeling more at home with non-Christians than Christians. Bonhoeffer was certainly more than disillusioned by the Christians of his day, and didn’t see in their faith any following of Christ whatsoever. Remember that in one of Bonhoeffer’s seminal works, Discipleship or The Cost of Discipleship he commented extensively on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and wrote that when Christ calls someone, he bids them to come and die.

If Bonhoeffer were alive today, I think he would look at what’s happening in the United States with a similar concern which he had early on in the 1930’s in Germany. You have the rise of neo-Nazism in the US and elsewhere, white supremacist, and nationalistic groups. And you have the majority of white evangelicals in the United States backing the regime, I call it, which these groups support. This is not a good time. Christians are sullying the name of Christ today to do what Bonhoeffer said the German church was all about doing in his day: preserving themselves. How often do we hear today Christians up in arms over their perceived loss of religious freedom to the point that if it ever would happen, people would think they were crying “Wolf” again. And their concern for the possible loss of their status and place in their world, as minorities increasingly are influential in America, actually being the reason the recent (2020) US presidential election turned out as it did. And speaking a lot about reversing Roe v Wade, which may or may not happen. Remember that Hitler made the performing of abortion a capital punishment offense. That certainly didn’t make Hitler “pro-life,” although it would seem in today’s world that he would be called “pro-life” for that reason.

Bonhoeffer deserves a careful reading, as well as reading what historians have gathered about him. Do avoid any versions which don’t depict him as he truly was. He was complex, not easily understood, or pinned down. Some would consider him to the left of Karl Barth. But no doubt a man in whom the Spirit of Christ was alive and active. And who lived out his convictions even through his own mistakes and the awful circumstances of his time to the end when by grace he embraced the way of Christ fully. I write this far from being any expert on Bonhoeffer, but as one who sees his writing and work as more than worth considering given the time and circumstances in which we live.

God’s word speaks into our lives, into life

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

If you read the Bible, God’s word from cover to cover you’ll find out God’s priority of love for God in response to God’s love, and love for our neighbor as we love ourselves. Justice along with mercy is a major theme, the end of the story, shalom: universal flourishing, prosperity, and peace in the new creation in Jesus.

If God’s word is to have the impact needed, we must be in it every day, day and night. And we must hear God’s concern for the poor, the oppressed, for the foreigner, the disenfranchised, those pushed to the margins. It isn’t only about my personal relationship with God, but it’s also about my relationship with others. And it’s about God’s people together in love as a witness to the world of God’s goodness and kingdom come in Jesus, feet on the ground and hands in love helping those in need.

It’s a new vision by which not only the world is ultimately judged, but which should impact the world to at least be held to a higher standard.

That’s part of what we have when we hold a Bible in our hands, open it up, read its pages, and respond to God’s word in faith and prayer. And keep doing that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

stress points

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

Psalm 4:1

It’s interesting to note the 22 places the NIV translates “distress” in the Psalms. And if there has ever been a more stressful time in my life, I’m unaware of it. One has to think in terms of event, length, and ramifications. The world has had stress points right along, but this Covid-19 pandemic, with both its health and economic issues, coupled with the political division where I live in the United States, certainly brings stress to a new level.

Over and over again in most of the passages related to distress in the Psalms, enemies are involved. And it seems that way today. Almost worse than the problem itself, is the response to it. And I think people would largely more or less agree with that, whatever their position is.

What the Psalms reminds me is in line with what the first Psalm with this translation quoted above tells us: Our appeal is to God in prayer for relief from our distress. That is now with reference to both the virus, and perhaps more acutely, people’s response to it. There’s no question that some will be pushed to the brink economically. And there is undeniably plenty of fear of catching the virus itself. Not to mention the illnesses which have occurred, along with the deaths. What I find the most challenging is how people are so fiercely divided over it. And fear abounds.

What is needed from us as God’s people? Regardless of where we might stand on this issue, we need to find God’s peace from our distress. We need to be a steadying influence of God’s love and truth in Jesus to the world. That is what we need to trust God for, right in the midst of the stress. That God’s light and peace would break on us, so that others too might see, and come to or be strengthened in faith, themselves.

Does that mean I think our position on the pandemic and its effects is unimportant? Not at all. But in the midst of everything, we as God’s people as a first priority should want to put our trust in God. And the first step often needed, especially during a time like this is to find the relief we need from our own distress. In and through Jesus.

to the quiet

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

The older I get, the more I would like to stay out of endless controversy. Yes, you might score some points on someone’s ledger here and there, but to what avail? I do appreciate those in difficult callings, such as political, who try to work through difficult policy issues in seeking to govern and represent the people who elected them. Nowadays there’s no end to the strife which accompanies it.

As people of God, I think we have to ask ourselves just what our calling from God is. And to understand that, we must turn to God’s word, Scripture, the Bible. And pastors and teachers, and I’ll add scholars, must lead the way. But there’s a place for everyone, regardless of what part we might play.

My role I think is mainly to be a witness of God’s work of grace in my own life. I would like to say more, since I am a person of words. But I’m learning to be quiet. And to listen. And then maybe offer a word or two probably more for my own benefit than anyone else’s. In and through Jesus.

in the air of the word

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 opens up the book of Psalms on the blessedness of those who meditate on God’s written word. Contrast is set with the wicked. It does seem the division is between “the righteous” and “sinners.” But actually what contrast there is seems more between the one who meditates on God’s word as opposed to the wicked. And since this is one book, the hymnbook of Israel, we would do well to consider the usage of this word in the Psalms (“wicked” and other forms of that word in the NIV).

The one who meditates on God’s law/word is not at home with sinners in the sense of participation with them in their way of life. And this would be especially true of those who are wicked, who while they might be drawn in by the goodness of one who is righteous, nevertheless still engage in wicked deeds.  Or at least scoff at the thought of righteousness, and of God’s law. This reminds me of Jesus’s words not to cast your pearls to pigs.

Jesus did welcome sinners, and ate and drank with them. But he certainly had no part with evil, in fact, those who sat with him either found themselves quite uncomfortable and out of place (I think of Pharisees), or were drawn in to be made whole (tax collectors and sinners).

This psalm speaks of the air in which we live and breathe in contrast to others. And the result. A basic we must first get hold of before we can help others. In and through Jesus.

 

Jesus’s word on judging others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:1-6

I was reminded just now by a brother, and find it odd, how I have often felt on edge when being around judgmental people, and sadly I’m thinking of judgmental Christians. I’ll never meet up to their standards they impose on others. Not only do I fail in what I do, but they always know what to do.

I wonder if there isn’t a form of Christianity which lends itself to this kind of thinking. It would affect even the most loving, who would have to catch themselves from being just their loving selves and be shamed into towing the line.

Jesus’s words emphasize that we need to be self-critical before we can be of any help to others. We can help others in the way God has helped us. The accent will always be on God’s grace, and from that, truth will be found.

Sadly there are some who will appreciate none of the jewels of grace we have to offer. We shouldn’t waste our time continuing to try, but should remain in prayer for them.

doing what is right in the eyes of everyone: our witness

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12:17-18

Any passage of Scripture has to be considered in its context. The directive to do right in the eyes of everyone is in the context living in the midst of tensions in relationships, perhaps at work, at home, or elsewhere. How do we navigate such?

We do what we can and leave the rest to God. God will take care of any wrong that needs to be made right, aside from any wrong we might need to make right, along the way.

There is a certain basic aspect of being a Christian, of following Christ in which we can’t worry about what the world thinks. We try to be true to Christ, to the gospel, to righteousness and justice as God prescribes, regardless.

At the same time, we must be sure that we’re not causing any offense of our own that will make it harder for people to see the light of Christ. We must not cover that light with our own darkness. Paul expresses this idea perhaps more directly here, again to be considered in its own context, but still appropriate for this problem in general:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:32-11:1

This should be our passion, something close to our heart. As we seek to follow Christ and his light for ourselves, and in doing so, be a light to others.

 

important, but temporary

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.[a]

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:8-13

Science points out to us that the earth itself won’t last forever, nor the sun, for that matter, not even the universe as seen now. So much mystery lies in this for sure, but there’s no question that the sun (our star) and our home, earth last only so long. Yes, still many many years left, but again, not forever.

One of the ways we live in deception is the idea that we have plenty of time, or like we’re going to live forever, and that we are indestructible. Neither is the case in this world and time.

Whether we like it or not, this world has an expiration date. But the God who created everything in the first place can make a brand new creation which includes us, those who are redeemed in Christ.

Does that mean this world doesn’t matter, that we can do with it as we please? Of course not. The first book in the Bible, Genesis makes it clear that humankind is to take care of what God has given, to be good stewards of it. Creation itself brings glory to God, even in its present state of groaning.

But our primary task now as Christians, those called in Christ is to bear witness in how we live as well as what we say, to the new world coming. Then we in Christ will somehow be made new along with the old world God created. How that will happen is well beyond us, but we hold on to that promise, as we pray for others, that they would join us. And we live with that end in view. In and through Jesus.