for the gospel

I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9

Why do we do what we do, and don’t do what we don’t do? We in Jesus endeavor to do everything for the sake of the gospel, God’s good news in Jesus. And we do that for the world: for our loved ones, for ourselves, for each other, for our neighbor, and yes, even for our enemies.

Sometimes we’re amiss in what we do even when sincere. We unnecessarily alienate others by imposing on them standards which have nothing to do with the gospel, or at least are a distraction. So many things might be good, if cleansed through faith in the good news by the cleansing work of the Spirit. See 1 Corinthians 9 (the link above) to note Paul’s own example in his sharing of the good news. He certainly proclaimed it, but he shared it with his very life. Everything he did was for that good news. We may not be called to proclaim it like he did, but we are all called to believe and live it out, and grow up together through it.

Does that mean we live as friends with others with strings attached? No, not at all. We simply believe that this good news is true, and the good news by which everything else is judged. And therefore, we think it’s the best for our friends. But it’s never ever coercive for a second. We live with others in full respect of our many differences, and we depend on this good news to do its work in changing us, as well as drawing others into that same conversion and transformation in and through Christ. But the good news is truly our passion.

All of this possible only in and through Jesus, who himself is that good news.

The United States and us fearful Christians

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

….All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

….Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrews 11-12

July 4 is upon us, this being the holiday weekend preceding it. And if there’s one thing for sure, so many of us, and I’ll include myself, are hardly past the election fervor, caught up in a presidency which may turn out to be the most polarizing in US history, aside from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during those tumultuous and horrific Civil War days. Hardly any of us like what is going on in US politics, many for similar reasons, others of us for different reasons, some of the concerns being the same across the board. It is a difficult time for a good number of reasons in a nation which is not only polarized, but threatening to be on the edge of being torn apart.

The question on this post is this: When push comes to shove, just where does our confidence lie? What do we think will win and save the day, and why? And just why are we so upset and fearful?

This is not meant to be a critique of the United States, but there’s no doubt there have been seismic changes in society, and that the liberal, progressives have been all but dismissive of the conservatives. And there’s no doubt that the conservatives themselves have written off the liberals. You have few moderates, who by many would be seen as wishy washy and weak kneed. As far as I’m concerned, while I do have opinions about US politics, and especially concerning issues of the day, none of that matters in comparison to the main point of this post. While those things have an important and provisional place, they are not at all on par with what now follows.

We as Christians, and especially the older generation of us, which includes myself, and I plead guilty, we have lost our focus and therefore are weak in our faith, and weary, in danger of losing heart. Oh yes, there will be some who will fight to the bitter end either for the Democratic Party, or for the Republican Party, or their version of what they think America needs, and won’t seem to have lost any heart at all. They have a lot of hope for good, and to avoid what isn’t good through the federal, state and local government. And again, it’s not like that has no value at all. But we in Jesus are actually called to something else, even while at the same time we pray and humbly participate according to our convictions for the good of the state.

Our goal is something better, something much more. It is to be a follower of Jesus in whatever culture we’re placed, to announce and live out the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus, in the truth that Jesus is King with the hope that follows. We should be those who are commended for our faith in God, both confident and assured that God will fulfill his promises come what may. And that includes whatever we may face in coming days, years, or generations, should the Lord tarry.

We need to quit thinking and from that acting as if all depends on what is happening or not happening in Washington, D. C., as hard as that might seem to us, for some of us for different reasons. Our eyes need to become fixed on Jesus, period, who shows us the way as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and of course, is the way. Faith, plain naked faith, and I mean the faith that is in the God revealed in Jesus, that is what we live for, and if need be, die for. While at the same time we faithfully pray for those in government, and hope for the best for the nation, and the world.

That is our calling. This is what we Christians in America should be known for. In and through Jesus.

See Andy Stanley’s compelling message, Fix Your Eyes, which inspired this post.

 

the ideal church in the US in the present

First of all, right off from the top, there is no ideal church. Unless one is going to push their denomination or way of being church, there are a number of differences, which actually was the case even in the earliest days of the church, once it expanded beyond Jerusalem. And so I’m going to accept those differences which are many, today. As long as we’re united by the gospel, the good news about Jesus, we can live with those differences. I believe that’s the case between Catholic and Protestant; Calvinists, Pentecostals and Anabaptists, etc., etc. As long as the good news in Jesus is intact, the teaching of his incarnation, life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return, even the details surrounding that we can see differently, provided that we accept salvation by grace through faith with works following. I am not one to quibble over justification with the Catholics, though I myself accept the solos which became theologically prominent through the Reformation. But now to the main point of this post.

We live in a nation which to a significant extent has been built off the backs of slaves. And even after their emancipation through the Civil War, you tell most any black or African-American that they are free, and they will qualify that. And we lived through one hundred years of segregation along with the Jim Crow era. There have been other prejudices, too, and all of that can fit into the point I’m going to make next, but given the history of this nation, and the current controversy over police and race relations, I will put a clear emphasis on blacks and whites and the church.

I believe that in order to be the witness the nation and the world needs from a church here, there needs to be a deliberate change and commitment to a racial reconciliation in which the African-Americans have just as much say and leadership in a given church as the white largely European Caucasians such as myself. In a small church, that might look like a black senior pastor, with a ethnically mixed board of elders and deacons (or deacons, if that’s the way your church runs). In a larger church, it might ideally somehow be two or more associate pastors who share the teaching and pastoral role, black and white, white and black, not in any particular order. But to be sure that the church is not still really run by whites, there ought to be an emphasis given to black leadership.

Of course there are many black churches and denominations. When I was young, blacks weren’t even allowed to step inside of Southern Baptist churches, and I’m sure they were marginalized in many places. But maybe black churches need to pray about their witness, as well. Maybe it’s time for them to purposefully integrate. But I can’t speak for them. If we’re to overcome what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most integrated hour of the week, Sunday morning, than your normal church, made up of whites with a few blacks and African-Americans here and there, must take the lead. We are the ones on the side of history of the oppressors. They are on the side of the oppressed.

To be color blind doesn’t mean we just remain comfortably in our place. It means we purposefully integrate, not from some law or order from government, but as part of the heart of the call of the gospel. To express by the Spirit the unity we all have through the good news in Jesus. Regardless of our ethnicity, background, political views, etc. But in the case of blacks and whites, this will require more.

Given our history, this unity is not just something we blithely put in place, even with some hard effort to accept and learn to appreciate our cultural differences. There must also be at the heart of all of this, reconciliation. And this reconciliation must include forgiveness on both sides: the blacks and African-Americans forgiving the whites for slavery in the first place, and all the mistreatment which followed. And the whites forgiving African-Americans and blacks for any and every sinful response that followed. And all of this, while it should be put into place in a church through the gospel, is a process in which we can’t imagine at a given point we’ve arrived. The wall of hostility is broken down through the gospel, through Jesus’s death, but the unity of the Spirit which follows requires every effort to maintain, and grow in. As we grow up together into the mature body of Christ that we’re called to become. A growth that is ongoing, and something we already are in Christ by the Spirit, but learning to live by and into the implications of all of that.

This is a great need in the church today. The way we do church just won’t do, I’m afraid, or at least it will be lacking, if this isn’t a priority well beyond just hoping others who are different might begin to trickle in. All of this in and through Jesus.

God is love

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4

I suppose and hope that if there’s one note I would like to end my life on, and hopefully begin to live out much better, it would be the reality of God’s love in Jesus from the God who is love. This special incarnate, atoning love would mark every step of my way, not by myself, but with others. And it would mark our witness to the world. Of loving each other and loving everyone, even including our enemies.

It is the way of the cross. Not without struggle. But a faith and love which overcomes everything, along with the hope which accompanies that. An inseparable triad in scripture, the greatest of the three being love (1 Corinthians 13).

God is love, period. Everything else comes out of that love. And it’s the love we find in scripture, demonstrated in the cross. For us, and then even through us in Jesus. And for the world. In no other terms than in and through the gospel. But a gospel in Jesus which ends up as big as all of life. As we await the completion and climax of this reality, when Jesus returns. All of this from the God who is love, in and through Jesus.

Titus: the “do good” book

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Titus 3

If there’s one thing Christians ought to be known for, it should be for the good they do. Not for their political positions, be they left, right, moderate or something else, as far as US politics are concerned. Not over who they either voted, or didn’t vote for, either.

Don’t get me wrong. Doctrine is important, and indeed underrated in some quarters, probably in more and more places nowadays. Read the short book of Titus (link above is the entire book), and you’ll see that giving short shrift on doctrine does not pass muster as far as this little book is concerned. It is true that people, even so-called churches which don’t hold to the necessity of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead might indeed be engaged in good works. But they are no more gospel, or kingdom of God oriented than any atheist, or non-Christian religion which does the same. Doing good is good regardless. But it’s not necessarily Christian.

Notice the NIV outline of the book from the link above. Here they are in turn: “Appointing Elders Who Love What Is Good,” “Rebuking Those Who Fail to Do Good,” “Doing Good for the Sake of the Gospel,” “Saved in Order to Do Good” and “Final Remarks.” Notice how the book ends just before the final greetings and salutation:

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.

There are no two ways about it. We either do good, or we don’t reflect the faith we profess. The early Christians were known for that. We need to be known for that as well, both in helping each other, and in serving every one. In our following of Jesus, in and through him.

being a witness where we are, not where (or how) we want to be

I often lament in various ways missed opportunities through life, and how it seems to me that I’ve fallen through the tracks, how hardly any church or entity has latched on to me so that I could be a part of what they do with the gifts I have. I continue to lament, because it seems like this is part of my life story, ongoing to the end. Though my life is not yet over, and only God understands what really is going on in all of this.

But it’s important for us in Jesus to be witnesses wherever we are, in whatever way possible, and as much as possible. That ought to become a part of who we are, as natural as the breath we breathe, or in my case, the coffee I drink. We simply share with others, when appropriate and helpful, our hearts, what we’re enthused about, how we’re making our way through life. And for me the simple straightforward answer to that is Jesus, and God’s good news in him. That is what scripture points us to, and what the church is to be all about in its formation and witness. And it should become the reason we live, the impetus of our lives, together with others in Jesus.

So instead of crying over spilled milk, or wishing this or that, we need to settle in and open our hearts and our eyes, and do well where we’re at. We have people in great need for a loving heart and prayer, and simply being present with them, like our loved ones in family, neighbors, colleagues, etc. Life can be quite challenging with significant difficulties, but that ends up being part of our witness as well, how God sees us through each situation in and through Jesus.

Hopefully we’ll do well in God’s eyes by his grace. However that shakes out. In and through Jesus.

the true faith and the offense of the cross

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Matthew 20

This was the third time, and unlike the other times there is no recorded reaction from the disciples. I think Thomas might have spoken up according to John’s gospel account, saying that they should go to Jerusalem and die with him.  In a way the disciples were getting used to this idea, even though it really hadn’t sinked in since it made no sense to them.

The cross of Jesus is called an offense (see especially the book of Galatians). It makes no sense to the world, the Jews in Jesus’s time certainly shunning it, since they sought for signs from God, and the fulfillment of the prophecies, which would include ushering Rome out of the promised land. Only wannabe failed messiahs died on crosses. The Gentiles of that time knew that it was power that controlled and ruled, and won the day. At best the idea of the cross and death and resurrection was an enigma; at worst, it was simply an empty tale, not part of the real world in which they lived.

Fastforward to now. Yes, we accept the cross as central to the faith, to our faith. But do we too often fail to see just what kind of application that has for our lives and witness in Jesus? I wonder. Too often Christians are saddled into politics, here in the US, the left and right. We offend for plenty of other reasons other than the cross of Jesus. Yes it’s true that we’re to be persecuted both because of Jesus and for righteousness. But the righteousness referred to is certainly fulfilled only in Jesus, probably underscored in that context in his Sermon on the Mount, though certainly including all of what God would mean from scripture for us today.

So we will encounter at least some flack for our stand for righteousness now. But we need to be careful that we take such stands in love, in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. Righteousness in the sense of the true fulfillment is important to our message. But it is only in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, the cross theologically the shorthand term for that, that we find the center from which we live, the new creation from God by the Spirit, and the witness we have to the world. In and through Jesus.