Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Tough Love" in the Jesus community

In an earlier post we looked at loving the difficult brother or sister in Jesus. It was suggested there that we needed to see them as Jesus. Maybe a stretch scripturally, yet a point I think that can plausibly be made.

"Tough love" is demonstrated when we do the hard but necessary thing for someone. For example, in families disciplining children is necessary, whether through a "time out", spanking, etc. Children must not be left without loving correction.

In our relationship to God as Father we find that he disciplines all of his children. And that this discipline is not pleasant, but painful. But God in his wisdom does this out of love for us and for our good.

In the Jesus community tough love is needed but seldom practiced, it seems. I mean a genuine kind of love. Not the "love" that jumps down someone's throat. Or is impatient towards someone because of something not liked about them.

Tough love is hard to practice in the Jesus community because it is so rare. It is easily misunderstood as being harsh. And being harsh is not as rare, so this tough, though true love can be avoided and looked down on.

Love covers over a multitude of sins to be sure. However there is a time for tough love to be extended with a tender heart to one who is sinning in some way. This should surely be a last resort kind of action. Prayer and love towards the sinning person should precede "tough love". And time as well. One should not have the spirit of quickness to dispense "tough love". All too often this action undertaken quickly is done so in anger. Then it is hardly love.

The one practicing "tough love" must do so in humility and love, genuinely caring about the one they are so loving. And knowing that they are susceptible to fall into the same error.

Tough love can be verbal or nonverbal. It should be appropriate according to what it is addressing. Not making public that which is not public. It normally involves coming alongside someone with a spirit of quietly questioning them. This may help them work through an issue, as needed, themselves. Think of how Nathan confronted David as one example of helping someone confront their own behavior.

An act of tough love is for the goal of bringing a hardened heart to repentance and change in their actions. The ultimate goal is restoration of complete fellowship with each other as sin directly or indirectly blocks this fellowship.

Lord, Let us not be afraid to do what may be difficult in giving "tough love" where it's needed. But let us do so only after patience and prayer. And only with a loving heart. Let us be quick and joyous to see your answer, even the beginning of it. Let us be led by you in this process. Knowing we very well may be the one some time who needs the same. Amen.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Mission in the Jesus Community

Why is the Jesus community here on earth when Jesus is in heaven? Jesus told his disciples that as the Father had sent him, so he was sending them. They were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. That he would send the Holy Spirit on them to empower them so that they would be his witnesses from where they were to the ends of the earth.

After the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem to wait for the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came like a rushing mighty wind. The disciples spoke in the tongues of those Jews assembled from the then known world. Then Peter, filled and empowered with the Spirit spoke a message of explanation and from Scripture, calling on the hearers to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. About three thousand were added to their number, and the adventure of mission had begun.

With some noteable people included, Acts focuses largely on the ministry of Peter and Paul. Their's was an establishing preaching, teaching, equipping ministry. But others in Acts, such as Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla, Phillip and Stephen, to name some of them (others unnamed who also preached the good news of Jesus), also had important mission in the world.

What about us today? Do we have the same sense of mission as the apostles and early Christians? Sure, their vocation was unique to them, and the apostles' and other's relationship to Jesus was special. It was certainly foundational. But not just in seeing the church established. But in being what God calls us all to be, in our own unique ways. We need to remember people such as Lydia to remind ourselves that each of us is important in this mission.

The same Spirit who empowered Jesus and who Jesus sent from the Father to his followers, is the same Spirit who is given to us by faith in Jesus. He is the same Spirit there to empower our lives and message to be a love letter from God to those all around us, our neighbors whom we're to love as ourselves (from the Jesus Creed).

God, give us no rest until we hear and answer your call for mission. Send your Spirit to empower our lives and lips to speak forth your praise into a world that needs to hear this good news of Jesus and your kingdom. Make our lives a love letter from you to everyone. Amen.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Relationships in the Jesus Community

In the recent posting, "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our _______" we looked at the first of the seven letters to the churches found in Revelation, to the church at Ephesus.

There are certainly a number of reasons why we as individuals and as churches can forsake the love we had at first. Sin, in some form or another is certainly at the root of all such departure. To forsake that first love implied blame on the church that did it. We all need to be acutely aware of our tendency to wander from God. As the hymnist wrote: "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." Relationships take work. They involve sacrifice in the form of priority, time and self-denial, though all of this should be done out of love. Otherwise we seem to "naturally" drift apart.

The primary relationship, as Jesus teaches us in "the Jesus Creed" is with God. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all of our being and activity. Then the second is like it: loving our neighbor as ourselves. This indicates that these commandments are interrelated. One cannot truly be practiced without practicing the other. John the apostle makes that clear in his first letter. The fact that God first loved us is primary in us loving God and others as John also declares.

As to the importance of maintaining good relationships with God and others, what are we to do? These answers may seem trite, but surely they are true. We need to spend time with those we are in relationship with. We need to work at our friendships with such. We need to forgive and ask for forgiveness. We need to guard such relationships from anything that could harm them.

If our love for God is growing cold, our love for our neighbor will grow just as cold. And God won't let us off the hook if we let our love grow cold for each other. If we are increasing in our love for God, realizing more and more the depth of his love for us, then we will be growing in our love for each other, and for our neighbor. But Scripture is plain that we'll need to work at both. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that if we're doing one well, then we automatically are doing the other well. Let's make this pursuit of a love relationship to God and to others our goal.

Lord, help us to make relationships primary. First our relationship with you. Then out from that our relationships with our brothers and sisters in you. And our relationships to our neighbors in our community and around the world. Let our love as your loved ones be shared, and may many more come to share in the same love. Let us take relationships as seriously as you do. Thank you that your pursuit of relationship with us is unrelenting and perfect. Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Psalm 85: Revive Us Again

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

1 You, LORD, showed favor to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
3 You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.

4 Restore us again, God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your unfailing love, LORD,
and grant us your salvation.

8 I will listen to what God the LORD says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
but let them not turn to folly.
9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The LORD will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.


This is "a communal prayer for the renewal of God's mercies to his people at a time when they are once more suffering distress....The psalm has two main divisions of seven (Hebrew) lines each: (1) the prayer (vv. 1-7); (2) a reassuring word (vv. 8-13)...vv. 4-7 voice the prayer, and vv. 10-13 offer the blessed reassurance that the prayer will be heard." (The NIV Study Bible)

Verses 1-3 recount YHWH's great favor towards Israel in forgiving their sins and removing his wrath from them. The psalmist then appeals to God in prayer that he would do the same now (vv 4-7).

Verse 6 is perhaps the heart of this prayer: "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" (see Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100, pp 372, 373)

In verses 8 and 9 the psalmist listens for and receives God's answer. It is affirmative for "his people, his faithful servants...those who fear him". It is stated in conditional terms and not to be taken for granted ("but let them not turn to folly"). The answer is "peace" (shalom), salvation and God's "glory" dwelling "in our land."

Verses 10-13 are the finale of God's answer to prayer. Love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace (shalom) come together in this blessing. They are blessed in the land. "Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps." Righteousness in the Old Testament refers to God's acts of salvation and judgment in delivering his people, as well as his judgments. (Tate, p 372)

Over and over again we find the need for revival. We are those who are in process, and part of our growth is an increasing awareness of and sensitivity to sin in our lives. But this is good. Then we can confess the sin to God and see his forgiveness and cleansing and blessing. We are also often aware of the deadness, or dead parts that we find in our lives. And paradoxically these can be times of the greatest blessing, as we pursue God and his reviving and transforming work in our hearts and lives.

Father, Bless us in your Son. That we may be a blessing. Amen.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

It takes a community (part two)

This blog's first posting was about the need for a special community. Community is a welcome topic in our postmodern society, as people are seeing it's importance for living on our globe. And community actually goes back to the triune God in whom community is inherent as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God in his love desires to take us humans as members and participants in that divine community.

Why is it that we are often so chronically willing to go it alone? Knowing we're stumbling, falling and limping along in life, yet avoiding community?

In Genesis we find that sin brought disconnect- from humans and God, and from humans and each other. Community suffered. It was often shattered. That which did exist was a broken and poor representation of what God had in mind for humankind.

God's remedy? A new human- Jesus. And from and in him new humans- nothing less than the community of God. In the end we find that God dwells with his people in the new Jerusalem- the new heaven and the new earth. Community is restored as it was intended to be.

It takes a community. We in Jesus are one body in community. Only as such does each one of us begin to realize our unique, special calling. How we're each special to God and to each other. And we invite and welcome all to do the same. Becoming more and more like Jesus as we live that out together in this world.

So are we committed, really committed to true community? Not only community. But the Jesus community? With our hearts and lives? Beginning at home? Then our churches? Our neighborhoods and workplaces? And into the difficult places to which we may be called? God, help us and make it so. Amen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tragedy in Africa

9 "This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matthew 6:9-13; TNIV)

Jamie Arpin-Ricci has called our attention to the horrible crime against children in Uganda and the Sudan. Be sure to read the article he calls our attention to from Christianity Today. I never knew the depths of what was going on there until I read that article.

"The Lord's Prayer" amounts to praying "the Jesus Creed" . When praying this prayer we often ought to have such tragedies in mind. There is no doubt, for example, that there are children who have been abducted into this evil regime who come from Christian families. There is also no doubt, that whether Christian or not, Jesus cares about all such in the world. We as his body are his special presence in the world today. We certainly should care for those nearest us who are poor and need help. But we cannot ignore the plight of those who are suffering in our global community, especially children.

Let us pray for God's intervention against the unspeakable evil going on against these children. And let us ask the Lord what part he may have for us in his answer to these prayers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Special Times of Hearing/Reading Scripture

I was noticing today, in reading Nehemiah, how there seemed to be special moments of time, in the community of Israel, in which Scripture was heard. Really heard. And surely by many as the voice of God.

2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3; TNIV)

This certainly most directly applies to hearing Scripture as a community. And this is important.

What I'm thinking of relates to our own daily reading of Scripture. What times or time of the day are we most "with it" so as to really be "tuned in" to hear the Lord speak to us, as we read Scripture?

For me, it's mostly in the morning. And after I get to work. In my factory setting, I'm able to read Scripture in small intervals between stacking, etc. I'm slowed down in my reading, which is mostly good (except when I'm sidetracked from it for a time). But to the point here, I'm most alive this time of the day. Afternoons are opposite for me, and not the most opportune for my best reading of Scripture. What I may marvel at and reflect on as a result of a 9:00 a.m. reading, I'd normally slosh through at 1:30 p.m.

The point? We need to give something of the high point of our day to the prayerful, reflective reading of Scripture. In Nehemiah's time the occasion cited above was a time where much Scripture was heard, really heard by the people. We need to maximize those times when we're most alert, to reading and hearing Scripture.

On the other hand, don't be afraid to read Scripture when you don't feel like it. Read some before you hit the sack and when you arise. Even if you're not completely coherent, as I'm often not. As Billy Graham wisely wrote- something like: Scripture is said to be cleansing, and whatever we feel like, doesn't matter. In the reading of it, God can do a cleansing work.

But let's be sure to get into Scripture during those times we're most "alive". Daily. And let's do so as those who want to commune with God and live in his love in this world.

Father. Help us to love your Word. Open our ears to really hear your Word. Speak Lord, for your servants are listening. Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2006

They'll Know We Are Christians By Our _______

1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To those who are victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

(Revelation 2:1-7; TNIV)

The church in Ephesus had alot going for it. It was gangbusters and unrelenting in its zeal for the truth and the name of Jesus. They confronted the issues of their time. Jesus commended them for this. And he encouraged them in their hatred of what he hated.

But one thing was lacking. And this was endangering their very existence as a church. They had forsaken the love they had had at first.

What did that look like? Somehow, in some way, though zealous for God and seeking to do his will, they were losing out. The heart of what they were doing was in danger of dying. That was to be a heart of love for God and for others.

Jesus called them to repentance. And it's an ultimatum. Repent or else. Or else they lose their place as a church, in Jesus' eyes and in his work.

What about us today? What are we known for? What would Jesus see as he looks at us, as his church? And what comes to mind to those on the outside looking in at us? Are we known for our love of truth? Our defense of the faith? Our deeds, hard work and perseverance? Discernment in separating out those who are dangerous to the church? Even known to endure hardships in all of this for Jesus' name, not growing weary?

Or are we known for our love? Our love for God. Our love for each other. Our love for all people.

Jesus came, full of grace and truth (John 1). We should be lovers of truth. But first and foremost we must become lovers of God. And lovers of people. This love is not devoid of truth. Othewise it is not the love that is from God. And truth or anything at all without this love is worthless in God's sight (1 Corinthians 13).

We may need to recover this first love: for God, and for our "neighbor". God help us to come back to that first love.

"Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love."

Eschatology and the Jesus Community

Over at "Jesus Creed" Scot McKnight has an interesting posting, survey and discussion happening on eschatology. Having come back from Ohio (an aunt who is a Christian is now "with the Lord") one is again reminded that we live as resurrection people living something of the world to come in this present age. Yet awaiting the resurrection of our bodies and creation in Jesus.

Eschatology (study of end times) has fallen on hard times among so many of us who once were enthusiasts. I remember reading Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth. At that time I thought eschatology was where it's at. After all, Jesus was coming back sooner than later: Israel had fulfilled prophecy, and now antichrist was surely alive. Almost everything, if you'd believe all the books like Lindseys', was in place. Dispensationalism by a number of its scholars has been modified so that many who call themselves dispensationalists today can scoff (and do) at Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series.

Eschatology is an area I need to work on. I'm not sure where I stand, though I'm friendly with what I understand of historical premillennialism as well as amillennialism. And something of the preterist view needs to get a better look from me. And I'm happier overall Scripturally with a postribulational than pretribulational view. Who really knows the answer to these questions?

What's essential to believe is that Jesus is coming back. That the kingdom of God will then come in its fullness bringing in the new creation to include everything and everyone (not in a universalist sense). And that we as the Jesus community today, live something of the essence of the age to come. We are an eschatological people. Our lives pointing to a kingdom that is not of this world, but already present in Jesus.

I'm afraid we lose alot of the richness of the Biblical account when we force it to conform to our paltry human theological systems. This is not at all to say that we should thumb our noses at theology. We should be seeking understanding from Scripture, including, surely, the acknowledgement that we simply don't know on some matters.

Maybe our theological emphasis on eschatology needs to be focused on how this is important now. As to what we look forward to, what we experience of it now and what we're to be doing because of this.

Our "hope" and lives should be the eschatological book that is read. Witnessing to the work of Jesus now, that in no way can be finished in this life alone, as we see when loved ones die and in so many other ways in this world. It is a work that points towards a greater fulfillment.

God help us, as the Jesus community, to live what we are: that city on a hill, pointing to the new Jerusalem to come. That others might catch a true glimpse and join us in this love that will never end. Amen.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Legalism and the Jesus Community (part three)

Legalism as understood from Galatians is an addition to the gospel that nullifies the gospel (Galatians 1). Christ and his death are supplemented with some teaching or practice that makes one "in". Legalism cuts one off from the grace found in Christ and from the work of the Spirit. It ends up being of the flesh and brings its adherents into bondage.

Grace as in Christ and by the Spirit is where we're to live. This means a life in the Spirit which fulfills the goal of the law. A life of freedom as God's children.

The law in itself is not our goal. It is a guide to lead us to faith in Christ as Savior. And it is summed up in "the Jesus Creed": to love God with one's entire being and activity, and to love one's neighbor as one's self.

Legalism and the Jesus Community (part two)

See Scot McKnight's "Introduction" in his commentary on Galatians, for an excellent look at "Legalism Then and Now". These posts cannot do justice to that read due to my own limitations as well as the limitations of blogging.

It must be understood that the legalism that was endangering the very existence of the Galatian churches was not the old "works righteousness" heresy that has been a problem in some times and places. It was, instead, the view that faith in Christ should lead to obedience to the Law of Moses. The fulfillment of the Law by Christ and the resultant life of dependence on the Spirit are left behind and lost, in this error. These Judaizers failed to see that a new covenant brought by Messiah meant an end to the old covenant.

Yesterday, we noted that Bible-reading can be looked at by us as something amounting to the "legalism" that was troubling the church in Paul's time. That is, we look at such a practice as necesary in being acceptable to God and approved by others. This pushes the centrality of Christ and the life in the Spirit to the periphery.

There are other "additions" to Christ and the gospel that Scot points to as ways the Galatian heresy can be alive and well today. "At times experiences become the essence of a relationship with God, rather than trusting in Christ and life in the Spirit." (p 39) Any kind of experience would be included here, none bad in itself (as true of all these activities within this legalism). One might question why you're not doing something or other, which may in its time and place, be a good thing to do. Like some form of protest done in a loving, peaceful manner. Or it may involve a "charismatic" experience. Or some practice of contemplating God.

By any of these, and more, we can unwittingly displace the sufficiency of Jesus, and our dependence on the Spirit. This is very subtle. For example meeting God in special ways can be of great benefit to us. And we can testify to that for the benefit of others. That is good. But one must be very careful to not make such a practice ("personal devotions", special quiet times and practices to meet and commune with God, praying in tongues, etc.) as an evidence that one is more spiritual than believers who don't do such things.

Instead, with regard to experiences, we ought to celebrate the mix that is within the body of Christ, and learn what we can from it, from each other. Instead of dividing believers and churches up as "the haves" and "the have nots".

What Paul was getting at in Galatians, is that in Christ and by the Spirit Christians live and move and have their being. One must be careful not to add anything to that. All experiences and practices that are blessed by God in our lives are derived from the centrality of Christ and the life in the Spirit that belongs to us all. Because of that we can humbly sit at each other's feet, and thank God for the rich diversity he gives, in his callings and blessings, to and through his body/church wherever it's found.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Legalism and the Jesus Community (part one)

In Scot McKnight's fine commentary on Galatians he writes about legalism as we find Paul addressing the problem found in the churches in Galatia. And from that understanding of legalism, problems we have today in our churches. Legalism amounts to making something "law" that undermines the sufficiency of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit.

"...here is the essence of Christian living to Paul: living in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit." (p 35) The Judaizers had brought in a version of "gospel" ("good news") that insisted "the Law of Moses" was a necessary central element of one's faith. Yes, you put your faith in Christ, but also you must obey the Law (Tora).

Paul roundly condemns this teaching in Galatians. He stresses the sufficiency of Christ and his work, and the centrality of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (p 38).

Scot has some great insights into legalisms today which can hinder the gospel and our growth in Jesus. His first of four: "At times laws and regulations are added in such a way that they could distort the gospel as they relegate Christ and the Spirit to the periphery." (p 39)

Scot mentions the discipline of daily Bible reading as one example of "'laws' that easily develop in Christian circles." The point here is that doing these good things, which have their rightful place in helping us in our lives, do not, in themselves, "make us acceptable" or "relationally closer to God." Only Christ's work for us and the work of the Holy Spirit enables us to live in the freedom of a love relationship to God and to each other. "We have compromised Christ and sacrificed the power of the Spirit on the altar of discipline if we think we cannot live spiritually without reading the Bible every day."

The importance of Bible reading is not at all being denied here. It's only the assumption that one must get their daily read in, or daily praying, etc., to be acceptable to God. False. It is good for us to read the Bible daily on the basis of what Jesus has done for us, looking to the Spirit to help us. And we will want to grow in doing so if we see Christ as our sufficiency and the Spirit as our helper.

There is more to explore here, as Scot has helpfully laid it out in this book, a great read: neither beneath the scholar nor above any Christian. I hope Scot is not turning over in his bed as I use material from his book(s) to help us look at this (and other) subject(s).

Legalism is a great danger to the church, just as much so as licentiousness (= an "anything goes" kind of morality). Galatians bears witness to that fact. So we want to explore some more interesting facets of it in coming posts.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Being Vulnerable in the Jesus Community

Vulnerability means removing one's mask as much as one is aware of. Letting one's hair down, as we say. Being real. Not putting on a front.

That all needs to be tempered with love. The love of God. The love of the Spirit. Love for one another. In other words I won't do that which would violate love for my neighbor or brother or sister. They may not be ready or able to handle my admission or confession. Though I think there is a needed point of contact when another knows we are as human and "cracked" as they are. We shouldn't go out of our way to do that. It will come natural and in time enough.

I heard someone say recently that there is no way they're going to open up in a group of believers in which new people are coming in. I can understand that. And besides, there needs to be in such groups an emphasis on confidentiality as well as commitment to prayer for each other.

But we need to model being vulnerable. It will help others open up, if we open up. Only in the context of community and friendship should we do so. But our real selves aren't penetrated by the Spirit until we expose our real selves. As we do that, others can empathetically enter in and the dynamic of the Spirit through their love and prayers can make a difference in our life.

I notice in Scripture that characters are voluntarily and involuntarily vulnerable. Over and over again. Including Jesus himself. So it seems we ought to not be averse in doing so. Maybe instead, this ought to be part of who we are and what we do. Before God. And wisely, before others.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr. on the Church and the State

The church...is not the master or servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Today there is a culture war between the Christian political "right" and the political "left" often called "secular humanism", and with some good reason.

Here in the United States evangelical Christians are making bold statements and stands to be change agents of the state. Martin Luther King Jr., from a different standpoint did the same. But in so doing, he in no way wanted the church to become either a master over or servant under the state.

As master over, the church's role would be in an area in which the kingdom of God is not concerned. The kingdom of this world will not become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah (Revelation) until Jesus returns. Until then we live as those of another kingdom, not of this world.

The church as a manifestation of God's kingdom on earth is salt and light in this world. And this world benefits from them never in the terms of this world and its kingdom. But only in God's terms and as participants together in the kingdom of God.

This means no more confidence in either the Democrat or Republican party as our ally. To do this means we're either attempting to lord it over a party or we're simply compliant to them. This is a generalization, but yet seems all too often true on both sides.

Instead we must carry on the same kind of work that Martin Luther King Jr. was engaged in. As those belonging to the kingdom of God in Jesus we must ever be the conscience, guide and critic of the state. Such a work never ends until Jesus comes and brings in God's kingdom as the new and final "state" of this earth.

We need to learn the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr., not just in reference to racial harmony, though we have much more to learn there. But more fundamentally with the tension that will always be present as we, the church of Jesus, challenge the kingdoms of this world, including the United States, according to the plumb line of another kingdom. Until we get that "edge" in our thinking and actions, we will be in danger of being salt to be trampled underfoot, rather than to be what we are to this world: the salt and the light.

God help us learn these lessons. Any thoughts here? Am I wrong?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Psalm 1: The Way of the Blessed

1 Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,

2 but who delight in the law of the LORD
and meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will be destroyed.


(Good material, reflected here, from Gerald H. Wilson, The NIV Application Commentary: Psalms Volume 1)

This psalm is likely an introduction to the book of Psalms. And it has that dynamic for God's people to all of Scripture. It talks of two ways, found in wisdom literature, in prophetic writing, and in Jesus' teaching- in principle throughout Scripture. The way of blessing for the righteous. The way of curses for the unrighteous. Verses one and two contrast the practice of the two, in describing the blessed person. Verses three and four compare the contrasting worth of the two ways of life. Verses five and six their final outcomes.

Verses one and two show the blessed as the one who neither walks in step with, stands, or comes to sit with those who live in defiance of God. This speaks of no openness to agreeing with them in their way of life. Instead the blessed one finds delight in the law (tora) of YHWH. In the context it would probably refer to the psalms to follow, especially if this psalm was meant to be an introduction to this book of Psalms. But also it would surely include the pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and come to mean all of Scripture. This delight in God's word makes meditating on it a priority.

The blessed one meditates on this law day and night. In it are instructions and wisdom that need to be worked into living. This takes time and effort. Time to see from God what is taught, and time to work it into one's heart and life. Those whose way of life the blessed avoid are called "the wicked", "sinners" and "mockers".

Verses three and four compare the contrasting worth of the two ways of life. The blessed are like "hardy", fruitful, perennial trees, close to streams of water. All they do prospers. In contrast the wicked are nothing more than worthless chaff to be blown away by the wind. Their way of life is worthless (certainly not they as created persons).

Verses five and six talk about final outcomes. The wicked and those living as sinners will find no favor in God's judgment. They are separated from the assembly of the righteous. And their way of life will be destroyed. But the righteous will stand in the judgment. YHWH watches over their way. He lovingly protects and blesses them.

We find in God's "law" (meaning Scripture here) that Jesus came eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, outcasts in Israel. This is a way of life in Jesus that we are to embrace. This is an important aspect of how we are salt and light here. For us as God's people today it is part of living the "blessed" life described in Psalm 1. This blessed life given in Scripture, we find, in Jesus befriends all. And in that friendship we want them find the same blessedness we've found in Jesus our Lord.

May God help us as lights in Jesus, on the narrow way together, to see many turn from the broad way to destruction to join us in this way of blessedness and abundant life in Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Scripture and the Jesus Community

Scripture/the Bible is God's word giving us identity (Scot McKnight)- of God, of ourselves, of the world. It is the metanarrative/Story of God. It gives true meaning and perspective to the stories of our lives. Other stories in the world compare favorably or unfavorably with the Story of God in Scripture. And they're understood within that Story.

Scripture speaks with the authority of God to us. God is authoritative through it (N.T. Wright). The Church's interpretation is not on an equal par with Scripture. But the Spirit is at work to help the Church interpret God's word into our lives.

We should read Scripture regularly. And we should consider it prayerfully. Our goal is that God would transform and form us through it, not just inform us. This needs to be done alone and together with God's people.

Scripture may seem mundane at times. But then we need to step back and take a look at the entire Story, and how what we're reading fits in that Story. And how our own story fits in that Story. The Spirit is there in our private times, as well as when we're together as the community of Jesus, to help us in all of this. To help us find our place and shape our role in God's Story.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Friendship in the Jesus Community

Jesus told his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion that he was no longer calling them servants, but friends, in a favored, intimate kind of way (John 15). They were those who were learning to love each other and Jesus was opening his heart and teaching to them.

Jesus also, was accused, and rightfully so, of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Luke 7:34-35). This was certainly a new way of living for his disiples who lived in a society that valued in its religion, separation from those who were unclean, not part of the cleansed community of Israel. But Jesus was showing a new way. A holiness that touched the unclean, and rather than becoming unclean itself, made the unclean clean. Zaccheus saw it and was glad. His life was transformed (Luke 19).

Our churches or faith communities, communities of Jesus- if you will, really don't live up to their name if friendship isn't a major priority. Not just being friendly (a great start), but being friends (Rich Mullins). No matter what else is going on, if our communities are not characterized by sacrificial, difficult love, than everything else can go out the door, and will in time (1 Corinthians 13; Revelation 2:1-7).

Jesus came not to condemn, but to save sinners (John 3:17); God reconciled the world of sinners to himself in the death of his Son and commissions us to share that message of reconciliation, calling those who are his enemies into a new acceptance and friendship to him (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). We come to all as friends, offering along with our friendship, the very friendship of God. We do so as those befriended by God in exactly the same way.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Individual in the Jesus Community

A blogger friend, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, who has a fine blog, Emergent Voyageurs, recently pointed out in a blog conversation that losing sight of the importance of the individual is just as destructive as losing sight of the importance of the community. This is certainly true.

Community is a needed emphasis in our time, when individualism still has its hold on much of our culture. And community is thoroughly biblical, from the time God said it was not good for the man, Adam, to be alone, to the time when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth. People are meant to live in communion with each other, as well as in union with God.

However we must not lose sight of the fact that each individual human is special in God's sight, and therefore should be in our sight as well. We see this all throughout Scripture. Each human is an Eikon (image-bearer) of God. Each individual person then is sacred. And we as Christ's followers should especially be aware of this, and live as if it were so.

This means we affirm each other as humans, taking seriously the God-given person each is and the God-given free will each has. That means I can take seriously those who differ with me in what I believe to be essential matters. Those who reject God in one way or another. As well as those in the community of Jesus that I don't see eye to eye with, those who- like me can even be annoying.

We take the other seriously by accepting them. Accepting them for who they are, and where they're at. No matter how broken. And we with them in that. Hopefully they can reciprocate in doing the same towards us. Then hopefully out from that, through love and prayer we can, over time see God's kingdom and love break through to them along with us, in Jesus.

We do that by proclaiming the good news in Jesus, and performing that good news of Jesus (to borrow again from Scot McKnight). We don't accept and befriend others just to get them to God. But we want to get them to God because we've accepted and befriended them. And we do so as those with them in this dynamic on the journey of life.

Again though, before we would talk about sharing the great good news of Jesus, we must settle the fact, once and for all, that every person in our faith community, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our world and the world beyond us, along with us is important, and of inestimable value to God as well as to us.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Abba of the Jesus Creed

Scot McKnight's book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others is a book you ought to read and digest. We're using it in our "family devotions".

I began this blog looking at "the Jesus Creed" and "Praying the Jesus Creed" (here, here and here), his first two chapters in the book. Certainly to love God with one's entire being and activity and to love one's neighbor as themselves is foundational and formational to being the community of Jesus.

Today we consider something of Scot's third chapter in the book. "The Abba of the Jesus Creed" refers to the god whom Jesus referred to. Jesus calls God "Father", Aramaic: "Abba", as his common name for God. This emphasis is new to Jesus (though not its usage). "The premise of the Jesus Creed is that God loves us. And that premise is found in the term Abba." (p 30)

Jesus teaches his disciples/us to pray addressing God as "Our Father"/"Father" (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2). Jesus explains his activity in eating and drinking with sinners in terms of a parable about Abba's love, the Jesus Creed in story form (Luke 15:11-32). I love Scot's recounting of this story. This was revolutionary in Jesus' time, and really is in our time as well.

We live in a world in which we've all accumulated scars which desensitivize us to love in relationships. It is hard enough to believe that God loves us as Father, and harder yet to experience that love, and let God's love change our lives. As Scot says, there is no more important truth in the Bible than this truth of God's love for each one of us. This Father wants our love in return. We need to "open our hearts to Abba's love." (p 30)

"The Jesus Creed is to love God, and the premise under the Jesus Creed is a promise of truth: Abba loves us." (p 32)

Now Who is Your Father?

Jim Martin, a pastor blogger friend of mine has a great blog "A Place For the God- Hungry" and a wonderful post that I know you'll find helpful. I found it so myself in reminding and helping me remember how I'm to always be considering my wife and daughter. As usual his thoughts reach down to our hearts, right where we live.

To read it, click on the title.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Psalm 117: A Call to Worship

1 Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.

2 For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.


This is a hymn of praise. All nations are called to join Israel in a chorus of praise to YHWH, Israel's god.

This great chorus goes up because of YHWH's towering love and everlasting faithfulness displayed to Israel in his great acts of redemption. Exodus 34:6 is called to mind, especially the phrase: "abounding in love and faithfulness". (Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150)

Paul refers to Psalm 117 in Romans 15:7-13. Christ as a servant of the Jews has brought in the Gentiles to join with Jews to praise and extol God through Jesus the Messiah. All nations are now included and this psalm is now fulfilled.

As we gather as the community of Jesus in our various gatherings and lift up our voices in song, let's consider ourselves part of one mighty chorus that includes all who belong to Jesus: past, present and future. Let's also consider that time to be a call to worship, calling others to join with us in praise of our God, and of his great goodness to us in Jesus.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Is everything black and white, or only gray?

There is light and darkness, righteousness and sin, good and evil, blessings and curses, Christ and antichrist, sheep and goats, heaven and hell- etc., all in Scripture. So certainly everything in life is "black and white", nothing is gray. Case closed.

In a true sense everything is black and white. Sin is sin. Righteousness is righteousness. We have to go to Scripture to determine what is what in all of that. And according to Scripture we are either walking in the light or walking in darkness; we are either on the narrow way to life or the broad way to destruction; we are either building our lives on the rock of Jesus and his kingdom or we're building them on the sand of this world. It is either one or the other. This is important and not to be set aside.

The only problem comes when you start reading the Bible from cover to cover, especially considering the stories of people (consider the stories of those in Hebrews 11). Then live life for awhile. Observe life. Over time I think you'll find that not everything is as cut and dried as you may have thought. Nor are saints without their flaws or sinners without their virtues.

Life for most of us consists of deep ongoing struggles, or intermittent defeats, or of struggling to overcome a sin, etc. Life here is messy. Even those who walk in the light, by so doing are said to receive ongoing needed purification of all sin through the blood (=death) of Jesus (1 John 1:7).

In culture one is faced with the image of God interwoven with sin. Often you can't unravel what is entwined here. A big part of this is to understand that what we're considering here is no less than God's good creation. We find that in the lives of those who don't acknowledge God. We find it everywhere on God's earth. One can sit through a movie that has a story not to be forgotten, that finds it true significance within the Story of God in Scripture. Yet that movie is often pummelled with the sins and quirks of the characters and their world. And in this we often can find God's grace at work. After all, that is where God's grace is at work.

It's more what we know than what we don't know that's our problem. Like Job we need to desire integrity in our lives through and through. Yet like Job, we may find ourselves (and to some extent we will) in depths that, without the Lord, we would be lost. We need the Spirit with Scripture to help us through. The more we go on in life, the more we realize that we're in over our heads. But Emmanuel (Jesus=God with us).

We need to trust the Lord to see us through what we cannot see ourselves. To us at times life may seem only gray. To God it is black and white. He'll see us through, even in our darkness into his wonderful light.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Loving the difficult brother or sister in Jesus

"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
"He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' (Matthew 25:40,45; TNIV)

He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. (Acts 9:4-5; TNIV)

In our relationships among those who name the name of Jesus, there is often someone, or even some people who get "under our skin". They are annoying to us in some way. Perhaps in their propensity to want to talk about and laugh at others. Perhaps in their incessant judgmental attitude and critical spirit. Maybe in just their overly easy, "live and let live" attitude that seems to us not to take life that seriously. But usually we can easily find things to like in another; though that becomes more difficult when we sense that this brother or sister does not really like or accept us.

There are surely a host of reasons why people, and here we're thinking about those who profess faith in Jesus, are impossible in some ways for us to like and difficult for us to love as God calls us to love them. What are we to do?

Often what is done is a kind of "stiff arm" spirit in which we keep them at bay. It can end up being a kind of "fire fighting fire" attitude. The other will pick up our true spirit towards them. And that spirit corrupts us as well.

The passages quoted above, as always should be read and considered in their context. But at the risk of violating this, I want to kind of pull them out for a secondary application to help us in our problem.

How are we to love that difficult brother or sister in Jesus? As if they were Jesus. But one might protest, "Well, they're certainly not Jesus!" But in reply we must say, "Neither are you nor I." While we who say we live in Jesus must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6) that certainly doesn't mean that we'll arrive in this life to be completely like him. That awaits Jesus' return (1 John 3:2).

So do we think that this difficult brother or sister could not possibly be among those who Jesus named in either Matthew 25 or Acts 9? Though Jesus identifies himself with them to the point that he says actions towards such are actions towards him, that in no way means that these people are always likeable.

We might say, "I don't like this form of Jesus." That's fine. God calls us to love them. This means we're to act in love, regardless of our feelings. As we do we can in God's grace come to really love them from the heart.

But in the meantime we need to love them as if they were Jesus himself. Think of them as Jesus. Use this trial to express your love and devotion to the Lord.

They will pick up your spirit, in this case a good spirit. Not ruffled by their "put offs" and "put downs".

And keep at it. Then your life can speak into their lives volumes. And maybe even a needed word spoken in love at a point in time will go straight to their hearts.

May God help us to live in this way, in his grace. Amen.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Community of Jesus and the Kingdom

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36; TNIV)
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16; TNIV)
The kingdom of heaven/God was at the heart of the good news that Jesus brought in person (as king), word and deed. This kingdom had come near in him and came to reside in the midst of his disciples. It was a kingdom not of this world and its kingdoms. It was from another place.

Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7; see also Luke 6:17-49; 11:1-13) is a summons to and declaration of this kingdom. Jesus' followers are said to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world (a city on a hill). This kingdom then, though not of this world, is to impact this world. It is not something confined to Jesus' followers during that time, but is for all who belong to the community of Jesus today. This is no less than the new Israel in Jesus the Messiah. Blessed to be a blessing to all nations.

If these things are true, then why do we as Christians seem to be so strongly identified with the kingdoms of this world? Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not.

Psalm 131: Are you weaned?

A song of ascents. Of David.

1 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.

2 But I have calmed myself
and quieted my ambitions.
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

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


Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, and Leslie C. Allen in Word Bible Commentary: Psalms 101-150 (see his "explanation" of this psalm), have some helpful words from this psalm.

Spurgeon said that this "is one of the shortest psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn." (Peterson) I understand that when the mother gives her milk to her infant this involves nourishment and bonding. The baby at first is helpless and flailingly dependent on its mother. But as the weaning process goes on the bond between mother and baby grows. What was an infantile dependence is becoming a loving contentment and trust. (Peterson)

Pride and self-ambition begin to decrease as quietness and contentment increase. When the young child is weaned it has learned to rest in its mother's arms with the knowing that she will always be there for it.

This psalm speaks of this weaning as applying to ourselves and God. What kind of faith do we have as God's children? Do we flail away wanting to get our way right away? Or have we learned to rest content, knowing that he is there and will always be there for us?

What about you? What about me? Remember, this lesson is not quickly or easily learned. So we must not despair or give up. We need to learn to rest content in the loving care of the Lord.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Entering the New Year with Psalm 84 (part three)

Today we end our look at this psalm of pilgimage and blessing.

Verses 8 and 9 are a prayer, probably for Israel's king (and in post-exilic times for the high priest). "The prayer...is for Yahweh to look with favor on the king/priest so that his reign can be established and prosper." "There is little tension between the king as 'our shield' in v [9] and Yahweh as 'shield' in v 11, because the king embodied and exercised the divine protective power...The king was considered to be an 'extended' arm of Yahweh, who intervenes and establishes justice." (Tate) We know today that Jesus as Messiah fulfills this king/priest role for his people and ultimately for the whole world.

Verses 10 and 11 is a "meditation on the goodness of festival times with Yahweh." (Tate) Verse 10 speaks of the blessedness of the most humble servant in the house of the LORD. This is contrasted to living with the wicked in their way of life. Even one day in God's courts is better than one thousand days anywhere else. As the community of Jesus we are the temple of the living God in Jesus (John 2:19,21; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22). By Jesus' sacrifice of himself and continued ministry as our high priest we can confidently come into God's very presence. (Hebrews) And as Jesus' priests we are scattered throughout the world in mission to bring those on the outside into God's presence so that they too may come to share in this fellowship and community. (1 Peter; Acts; Romans)

YHWH as "sun" in verse 11 is the only place in the OT in which he is so described (note Malachi 4:2). The sun brings the light that gives life. (see The NIV Study Bible: notes on Psalm 84:11 and 27:1). "The LORD (YHWH) bestows favor and honor." "Favor" and "honor" here is like "one has arrived" in the sense of being mercifully received by YHWH into his blessing. YHWH witholds nothing good to those who "walk" blamelessly ("with obedience and faith in the way of Yahweh"- Tate).

Verse 12 gives us the conclusion of this psalm/song. (The NIV Study Bible) This closing beatitude seems to tie together the other beatitudes in this psalm (vv 4-5). All are blessed, and richly so, as we have seen, who trust in the LORD ("LORD" translation of YHWH, his personal name) Almighty. God delights to bless in terms of a faith relationship with him.

As we enter this new year, may God help us as the community of Jesus to live together as those in exuberant pilgrimage. May our lives be filled with more of knowing God and his blessing so as to be a blessing.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.