how we American Christians may be losing our souls or at least our witness over American politics

I am reticent to write on American politics for a good number of reasons. But the current debacle in the election process to the upcoming November 2016 presidential election is making me think and wonder.

I wonder if many of us Christians either already have, or are in danger of losing our souls over American politics. I’m not necessarily referring to our ultimate salvation. But I’m referring to the heart of our faith and the gospel in the present. Although I don’t think the deviation I perceive helps us at all to remain on the straight and narrow.

I see this tendency as equally a problem among Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthoodox, not just the evangelicals who routinely are picked on and beaten up in the press and by each other. There is a tendency to see the state as the vehicle for the good life, for flourishing, in American terms, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The right, the left, and everything in the spectrum of American politics have plenty to say on this. It’s not my intention in this post to address any of that. I have my own opinions in regard to such politics, certainly subject to revision, but that’s not the point of this post, either.

My point is simple: Christians are to live and die for nothing less than the good news found in God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus, realized and lived out through both the sacramental and common life of the church. Within and from and through that is our answer to the problems of society: the problem of abortion, helping the poor, racism, stopping the slave trade, etc. Our answer is unique, grounded in Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Our mouth belies what is in our hearts. When all we can talk about is what is going on in American politics and what we think the answer is, and even how Christians ought to vote, we need to wonder, I need to wonder. One person, who I’ve admired for some time, and by whose ministry I’ve been blessed has all but lost their voice with me, because of their strong words which cannot be mistaken as to how Christians in their tradition and I imagine elsewhere ought to vote.

Our problem in significant part is that our gospel is too small. It is not the gospel found in the Bible. To really understand that gospel, we can’t just read the passages in which euaggelion is used, translated gospel, or good news. We need to read from Genesis through Revelation, to see the entire story and scope in that context. And how God’s answer to the human dilemma, and ultimately to everything is found in Jesus and begun in the church albeit ever so humbly, yet ever so real through the good news in him.

Instead the gospel is relegated to one’s personal relationship with God through Christ, or it’s made to fit into the agenda of a nation-state, specifically a political party. And surely other ways as well. It’s not pretty, because in all of that the world sees something other than Jesus. The world doesn’t need to see us at all, nor our ideas about how it ought to be run politically. Instead it needs to see Jesus. In doing so, it can begin to see the unique politic found only in and through him, begun now in the community of the church, hopefully impacting the politics of the world for good, but never as part of “the state.”

And Jesus is seen through the good news in him in no less than the church, his body in the world. We witness to a salvation which is meant not just for us, but for the world, to be realized at King Jesus’ return, but begun now in one place, in the church through the gospel. Hopefully impacting the world in the present, but that will always remain a dubious matter until Jesus returns and in judgment overturns the world-system, getting rid of the systemic evil once and for all in the salvation and love of God in and through him by the Spirit.

Until that comes, we need to be much more humble about the place of a nation-state’s politics in this world, learning to give our full allegiance to Jesus and the gospel in the fellowship of the church, and working on what that means in our witness through our life changes and good works. Not easy, but the needed change comes through that good news. The politics of this world having only a provisional place, important to be sure. But not at all fulfilling what only the gospel can fulfill not only for individuals’ lives, but ultimately for all of life in God’s good will in Jesus for the world.

enjoying life to the full

There is room for simply enjoying life, for example, enjoying a trip to a place one has always wanted to see (like a national park) or visit (like a nation). Recently Deb and I had a wonderful getaway for our 30th anniversary to Ludington, Michigan, most noteworthy up there, the sand dunes. Though the bed and breakfast was great, as well as the eating places. For our 25th we were at Mackinac Island for nearly three days and two nights, just a wonderful time. We need times like that.

As followers of Jesus, we do need to take some time and rest, even get away, just as he tried to do with his disciples. Of course that was a unique time, and people soon found him, and the crowds kept pressing in. So it was evidently hard for them to get away, even though that was indeed Jesus’ intent. It won’t be so hard for us to do so, for sure.

Paul tells us that while we can enjoy the good things of life, we are to live in this time as if those things  are temporary, living in view of the eternal, what will last:

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7

That is not an easy passage to interpret (or that chapter, for that matter). Though the main points are probably clear enough. The point here is that we’re to live with a sense of urgency and focus which is not about living it up in this life. We are to live as though this life is passing and will not remain, because that is indeed the case.

That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy good things of this life, of creation. But it does mean that we in Jesus actually can give up some of those good things. And for those of us who don’t, we need to live with what is eternal, what will last, as the priority of our lives.

But that can mean not only sacrifice within our enjoyment of the good things, but also a purpose which can extend to using those good things in a missional sense. We have to remember: all that is good is a gift and we are stewards of such gifts. So that we can enjoy our marriages, or a pastime (for many, it is sports), or something special (like some special coffee or brew) to the glory of God. Perhaps in simply giving thanks and praise to the God from whom all blessings flow. Or in creative, missional ways, being able to share something of that enjoyment and of our lives with others, so that ultimately they might see and find the love of God in Jesus for themselves.

And of course the life to the full that we do enjoy is the life in God through Jesus by the Spirit, the life that Jesus came to give. To be poured out into our lives so that it can overflow and spill out onto the lives of others. That they too may find the life that is truly life.

what in the world is God doing?

When we open the pages of scripture and read through it from beginning to end, we can begin to see that God is on a great project for the world which began with Abraham and is being fulfilled in Jesus, working toward its completion. The project involves every facet of life and ends up with nothing less than new creation. The God who created all things is through Jesus in the process of making all things new. And that begins now through Jesus and the gospel, worked out in the church.

The politics of this world do matter on  certain level, and God is sovereignly at work in such in ways we often can’t understand or begin to track with. But we can begin to understand what God is doing in the world through considering his kingdom work in the church. It is redemptive through King Jesus, bringing in a kingdom destined to take over the world when King Jesus returns and heaven and earth become one in the completion of the new creation.

So the politics of this world should not befuddle us that much. It is what it is, and by nature is surely limited. But God’s kingdom work in Jesus begun in the church is another story. That work can surely impact the politics of this world, but not by ever becoming a player on the world’s political stage. It impacts the world only through being itself, what it is, God’s kingdom outpost in this world in and through Jesus.

See Allan R. Bevere’s book,The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World.

in prayer (in the battle)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6

The classic passage on Christian spiritual warfare ends with the call to “all prayer” (KJV). Prayer is to God in the midst of the world, the flesh and the devil. So that in a sense all prayer is in the midst of spiritual battle. If we are actually engaged in that: in the call to be strong in the Lord and take up the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes, we will most likely be regularly in prayer. For ourselves and for others.

It seems to me that the more we actually do pray, the more the spiritual enemy will be at work to stop us from praying. God has made it that our prayers actually do make a difference as to what happens and doesn’t happen in this world. Somehow God’s work has linkage to our prayers. And specifically all kinds of prayers in the Spirit.

We should expect it to get hot, for us to become befuddled if we pray seriously at all, and especially for any length of time. When that happens and it seems like we’re lost in fear or whatever we’re experiencing, that should spur us on to pray all the more. We know that something is happening, that perhaps we have the devil’s/demons’ attention, and so we should go after it all the more. Of course doing so not in our own strength or wisdom, but in the strength that God gives us. Putting on the armor that is ours in Jesus. (The link above is to that entire passage.)

To this we are called as followers of Jesus, and as God’s church.

the political divide — which shouldn’t divide us in King Jesus

I notice on Facebook Christians who line up with either Democrats or (mostly, in my case) Republicans. And the other side is either stupid, evil, or both. Or maybe just un or anti-Christian. I want to shake my head (and I do). Although I tend to see the overall picture and specific issues in certain ways, the politic I line up with is God’s kingdom come in King Jesus as played/worked out in the church through the gospel. A politic not just for the church, but for the world. A politic which puts all other political entities on notice that their days are numbered, that judgment and accompanying salvation is coming when King Jesus returns.

In the meantime the politics of this world go on, and it seems like too many Christians line up with entities in it practically speaking as if all depends on how it goes, who (and who does not) get elected, etc. The politics of this world are quite important on a certain level, to be sure. But it all ends up being quite unhelpful when they are given a place that they don’t deserve. Which I’m afraid is the case too often in our thinking.

Am I suggesting that we shouldn’t speak out on issues or vote? Not at all. Again, the politics of this world have their place and import. But we must not divide from other Christians or from people when participating in such. Completely possible? Not really, but insofar as we ourselves are concerned, we should see no cause for dividing or looking down on others who disagree with us on such matters. Some of the issues of disagreement may have import in and of themselves with reference to the faith and the gospel. We may have to patiently work through such things. But holding to different views concerning the politics of this world should not divide us since we are united under King Jesus in the politic which is rooted in the gospel and spelled out in scripture. I am not Democrat, Republican, Independent, Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Libertarian, you name it. I’m Christian, that is what I want to be, and I do try to critique all the politics according to the kingdom come in King Jesus through the gospel, now present in the church. And I know such critiques are complex and surely not all that cut and dried, even though I believe some matters are more or less clear enough.

What unites us should be our focus, so that no matter what we may think about the politcs of this world, our essential unity in King Jesus is not affected. Our differences in thinking in the politcs of this world give us the opportunity to show the power of the gospel, the only gospel that can save poltically, even in this world. Even while we continue to pray for governing authorities and hope for the best. Our main focus is to be on the politic that will last, that found in King Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him and now played out, be it ever so imperfectly, although perfection is present since God in and through Jesus by the Spirit is with us- in the church.

the futility of pursuing paradise in this present life

This post will easily be misunderstood if it is thought to mean that every effort shouldn’t be made to help the poor across the world to a sustainable life, or help the poor to get on their feet in this country. Of course we want to see policies in place which help the poor, nor do I think that such efforts are futile.

What I’m getting at in this post is the notion of achieving a more than less ideal existence in this life, the ideal possibly being good health and plenty of wealth in a well ordered society, and here comes the key point: free of trouble. Trouble is endemic to this life and of course it takes multiple forms. It seems that this life is not meant to be free from trouble, not the least of which is the aging process, which while it may include good health (but usually with some challenges along the way in regard to that), inevitably ends in death. There’s no escape from death in this life, as we all know, even if our culture helps us avoid that thought in large part.

Part of the problem in pursuing the best possible life in this present existence is the fact that not everyone will agree just what that life should be. A simple example: many people think there’s nothing better than a fire pit where wood can be burned in a nice family or friendly gathering. While there’s the science, not necessarily real hard and established well yet, which insists that the smoke from wood fire especially from wood insufficiently dried out of the sap and substances in it, is quite toxic to humans, especially those who may suffer from chronic conditions (like asthma) already, as well as a danger to the healthy in the long term. That is just one of many more examples.

But the fact of the matter is, simply by living in this world, even natural causes like underground radon, present everywhere, but especially strong in some areas could contribute to our death. And we live in an existence in which evil is present due to the choices or lack thereof of people. So that much harm can take place. The latter is especially something society needs to focus on without neglecting the former. In fact the former can impact the latter such as the problem of climate change due to the greenhouse gases the human enterprise has spewed into the air since the beginning of the industrial age.

There can be no such thing as a trouble free existence in this life, free from all toxins and all dangers. Not that we shouldn’t do our best to mitigate such things. But as followers of Jesus, we should do our best to lay down our lives for Jesus and the gospel. And in terms of the gospel, seeing God’s saving message in King Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come to him make its way to the poor as well as to the rich and to everyone else. And to see something of the promise of that gospel, that good news begin to be fulfilled, yes, even in this present life. While at the same time we realize that the perfection for which we hope will not come until our Lord returns. So that we’ll always be praying the prayer the Lord taught us which includes the petition: “Deliver us from evil.”

And so our hope is not for some idyllic paradise in the here and now, although we want to see society moved more and more in that direction. But knowing that sin and death in this life will inevitably undermine and to some extent overthrow such good attempts. So that the salvation we await is in our Savior, the Lord Jesus, a salvation not only for us, but for the entire world.

the politics of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus in an age of anger (talk radio, TV information news)

“T” over at Jesus Creed has what I think is a timely, helpful piece today, well worth the time to read it. It exposes a serious danger especially to us who are followers of Jesus. Instead of saying more, I would like to share the link and the main thoughts of the post. And strongly encourage you to go over there and join in the conversation if you like.

Political radio and TV (info-tainment) is toxic to Christian character.

Who do you want to become? What kind of interactions do you want to have with the world? Whose mission and concerns do you want to prioritize?

….anger….

The post: Spiritual Politics in an Age of Anger (by T)

relevance

The church by some, perhaps even many is thought to be dead in the water, largely irrelevant, not mattering in society except insofar as the church helps those in need and indirectly if not directly helps society to achieve its common goals. But as Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of a passage in Ephesians makes it clear, such thinking has it backwards:

The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

Ephesians 1

One of the dangers for the church is to try to be relevant to the world on the world’s terms. Of course that’s the only way the church will keep from being irrelevant in the world’s eyes, to help fulfill something of the world’s agenda. The world in scripture, when it doesn’t mean creation means the world system which while having much infighting in itself is essentially human rule severed from God’s rule, from Christ’s rule. If it would stay in place to keep order and see that there is help for those in need toward a flourishing for everyone, that’s one thing. But almost invariably or sooner or later it crosses the line where it becomes the standard and its rule the rule, rather than humbly ruling under God and God’s rule. Actually in this life the most dangerous governments I would suppose are those who think their rule is the will of God, that they are enforcing God’s rule and will. In this life that is left solely to the church, Christ’s body, over which he is the head, the church being the subjects of God’s kingdom under King Jesus, even as the daughters and sons of God.

And so the church is meant to help bring people out of the world and into the church. It is relevant in terms of God’s will, God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. And not in terms of the world’s agenda. Even if on occasion some of what the church does happens to overlap with concerns of the world.

This is not meant to say that the world doesn’t matter. Politics is important on a certain level, and extremely so. But it is not at all on the same level as God’s kingdom come in Jesus, the church. This is where the real politics for the follower of Jesus lies. Not Democrat, Republican or anything like that. But in terms of God’s will in Jesus, one that is redemptive and reconciling, relevant to all of life, even though now the mission includes the way of the cross. To be completed when Jesus returns. And begun even in this life in the church.

meditation on Ascension Day

This is the day on the liturgical church calendar when we remember our Lord’s ascension to heaven. The resurrected Jesus, now living in the new sphere, the new creation, as the firstfruits of those who had fallen asleep in death, was exalted to the place of ultimate authority, seated at the right hand of the Father. Until he comes again, when heaven and earth become one in him and all is made new.

Our Lord’s ascension means that everyone is accountable to him, and that will become evident on the day he comes to judge the world. It is a matter of fact which holds every governing, ruling state accountable, the kingdom of God in Jesus to come and fill the earth.

That kingdom is now present by the Spirit in the church. It is entered into through faith and baptism and is experienced both in the sacramental (the Eucharist) and common life of the church. And God extends that kingdom now through the mission of the church in evangelizing and discipling, to call people out of the world into the church, into Christ.

And so this day reminds us that Jesus is at the place of ultimate power. Which figures intimately into our own lives and even into the life of the world. Somehow in all things, big and small. In ways we cannot see now, perhaps in ways that are not revealed, though we can say nothing on that (no argument from silence), being confined to the riches that are revealed, a good study in scripture in itself.

And we await now the promise of his return: that our Lord, King Jesus will come back, just as he departed.

yes, bake the wedding cake

In my post yesterday, which was far from perfect, I was simply making the point, reinforced by the scriptural passage at the end, how we as Christians, as followers of Jesus are to live lives markedly different from the world in terms of holiness. Yes, a passion for justice Jesus seemed to emphasize. But not by abandoning righteousness and holiness. Just read the Sermon on the Mount. I did mention the issue of gay marriage and homosexuality. That actually needs to be treated separately, given the issue itself and all that is swirling around it.

A comment after that post, even if on edge, I found helpful. And I would agree. Yes, Christians should have religious freedom, and if they don’t want to bake the cake, or take the pictures for a gay wedding, than that should be their prerogative. Religious freedom is supposed to be a given in this country, and it should be in terms of all of life, not just in church. But what does it mean for us to follow Jesus? What about the many of us who still hold to traditional marriage and find scripture upholding the same, as well as not finding the relatively recent reinterpretation of scripture altogether convincing, not at all so in overturning the basic teaching on homosexuality? The whole issue today in that score is riveting in that there are scholars and churches who seem open and it seems inevitable that a shift will continue. But by and large, no matter what some say, I can’t see a wholesale shift ahead at least not with evangelicals or those of the Great Tradition. Because the case for the new understanding in my view doesn’t stand up all that well when all is said and done in the study of the relevant passages along with the Book as a whole. My view.

But for us, what does that mean? Yes, we should be marked by holiness, a holiness which doesn’t excuse any sin, be it adultery and lust as is satisfied by too many through pornography. Instead we need to be marked by faithful marriages which weather the inevitable storms of life. By the quality of our lives. By abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage.

But hopefully needless to say we need to be marked by love as well. We should be known as those who roundly love each other in sacrificial ways. And we should be known as those who love sinners. We are sinners too, forgiven and being made holy, but nevertheless broken in ourselves. So that we all stand on the same level at the foot of the cross. We need to find creative ways of expressing that love across the board. And maybe all the more so to those who believe they are being relegated to a special status of sinners, treated worse than all the rest. Maybe it’s especially those people who we need to search out and befriend. To show them the love of Jesus, and simply to befriend them and enjoy them as human beings, made in God’s image as we are, all of us broken.

So yes, bake the cake. Attend the wedding. Take the pictures. At least think of creative ways you can share the love of Christ, even if you find that you have to draw lines. We may not be able to see it as a normal wedding. But they do. And we have to accept that. It is the gospel which is the power of God for salvation. We all need Jesus.