Thursday, June 29, 2006

politics and Christian responsibility

I was raised in a Mennonite denomination in the United States. We were not like the conservative Mennonites, many of whom, I do not believe, participated in the political process. Many of our number did on election days. But that's about where it ended. Of course another spectrum of Mennonites let their voices be heard for a pacifist stance that they believe should go beyond Christians to governments of this world. At least in influencing them towards peace.

What about us, of the Jesus community? What is our place and responsibility in the world of government and politics? Are we to participate, and if so, how?

I have to acknowledge that after years of separation from my anabaptist heritage, I find myself drawn back to it, Biblically and theologically when considering the kingdom that in Jesus, we are a part of. It is not rooted in this world. But from another place. (John 18) Yet it is to bear influence on this world. (Matthew 5-7) But as those whose citizenship is in heaven. (Philippians)

I believe that we Christians have largely fallen into a worldly way of thinking that is part of the old era that is passing away. Instead we should think and live in the new way, and in the new age, that, in Jesus, is already present. In doing so, we are to be a light to help others, even nations and governments. Even if in the end they have to answer for the rejection of the light they had through Christ followers. But hopefully, being influenced towards good seen in the society of this kingdom of God come, in Jesus. I am not saying we have to take a pacifist stance. Though I am inclined in that direction.

What does this mean? It means that by our lives of love to God and to our neighbor ("the Jesus creed") we are showing a better way. The way that does win out in the end. The way that Jesus brings in God's work of reconciliation in him. For us, in Jesus and in the Jesus community this means the way of the cross. But as we take this way, being obedient to Jesus' calling to us (Matthew 5-7), we serve as a light to the nations, not only to bring people to personal faith in Jesus, but to influence governments for good. We are engaged with reference to both personal and systemic evil.

This position is inherent with all kinds of issues and problems. For example, what about police action? What about military action when tyrants are running renegade engaged in genocide such as we see happening in Africa? Good Christians will continue to disagree here, as I see it. At this point I can't deny that the state has a certain function of carrying out God's wrath/judgment against such evil doers. At the same time I don't think we can get away from the influence that we're to bring, not only on individuals and families and those in the Jesus community. But even on governments. We, as the Jesus community, should be a microcosm of what the kingdom of God is.

This seems ambitious and impossible. And indeed, impractical, and to many Christians even unjustified in light of Jesus' predictions that there will be wars and rumors of wars, that an Armageddon is to come. That the world will never have real peace until the Prince of peace returns in person to reign.

But we are called to be nothing less than a light. Not a light of this world. But a light of another world. The light of the world in Jesus. This means a proclamation and full living out of the gospel of the kingdom of God. In that is certainly the grace of God in Christ, in his death and resurrection. And with that God's reconciliation of the world to himself in Christ. But it doesn't stop at just getting people saved. It goes on to call nations and governments to live and conduct their affairs in light of this new kingdom.

If this is really Scriptural, and if all Christians embraced and lived out this vision in a substantial way, could we expect the world to be largely converted (some kind of postmillennialism)? Would this hasten our Lord's return (2 Peter 3)? We don't know. But surely much good could be accomplished. Look at how one person, Mother Teresa, influenced not only Christians but even governments by her simple and profound following of Jesus. Charles Colson's prison ministry is having a profound effect, not only on many prisoners, but on how this institution is viewed by many of those in government.

Father, Let us be envisioned and live out what we are in Jesus in this world, a light. Let us not succumb to or participate in the darkness. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

how to be pragmatically prolife- from "The Anti-Manichaeist"

"dlw" over at his blog, "the Anti-Manichaeist" has an interesting take on the abortion debate, and how politically, something substantially could be done to stem the tide of abortions in our country.

I would encourage us to consider his thoughts and perhaps enter into a discussion there.

Monday, June 26, 2006

take this to heart

I don't know how often I've heard or read good teaching. Or have shared it myself. But then really did not take to heart, at least not sufficiently, the counsel, for my own life. This can be with reference to teaching from Scripture. Or the counsel of one's friend, who is a person of God and prayed about a matter before giving their judgment regarding it.

There is nothing wrong with knowledge for knowledge's sake. It is good to know a variety of things, as this can help us better understand the whole of the story of our world, and of our Father's world. This is why I think it is good to have a liberal arts education before one goes to seminary, or serves the Lord in any other capacity in life. Or we can educate ourselves in a variety of ways: spending time at a bookstore like Barnes and Noble, or at our public library. Listening to NPR. Etcetera. While staying in Scripture; doing all of this from a posture, and as people of faith.

But we will inevitably be brought back to the question: "How should we then live?" And we must be listening. And taking to heart the good that we hear given to us. This means considering it carefully, in light of Scripture and of life. Praying about it. And seeking God and his will for us, with reference to it.

Yesterday I found a letter from a pastor that had given me counsel. It had impacted me at the time. But its impact could have, and I now see should have had a bigger impact for me, than what first met the eye. I just tucked it away somewhere. But failed to consider it, and its implications further. Now I need to do that, being in prayer, in the Word/Scripture, and in the community of faith.

The amazing thing is that in so doing, in listening to godly teaching and counsel, and maybe at times from some unexpected sources/people and at unexpected times, we may very well be hearing the voice of God to us. Do we really believe that? Then let me/us listen and take this possibility to heart. Amen.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

sleep for the night

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Psalm 127:2 (TNIV)

God made the night time on the first day (Genesis 1). We want to thank the Lord for the night time (Neil Diamond). Though some of us have worked or do work third shift ("nights"). Science has indicated that there is the release of melatonin (I believe it it) in our bodies at night, which is depreciated if we turn on a light (to go to the "bathroom"). This is to help us sleep. Poor third shifters don't get that, being in artificial light during the night. And such is not released during the day. All of this, according to science- whatever water it may, or may not hold.

Life has its built in rhythm and routine that comes with it for us humans from God. Even Jesus, just as human as the rest of us, had to sleep. He grew tired. Slept at night. Often times got up early to get away to spend time with the Father, before the others (his disciples) would arise.

Paul sometimes encountered sleepless nights (2 Corinthians). One time Eutychus paid for it, as Paul went on and on in his preaching. Of course, in that case, we know his life was revived in answer to prayer. (Acts) So sleepless nights are not anathema with God. Sometimes it is a part of how one serves God. Though, surely it should be as an exception to the rule.

I love sleep. But I just don't get around to doing it at times. Then there will be that day, when, besides visiting with my wife and daughter, I do little more than sleep. And I wake up rejuvenated. I've learned to function on lack of sleep, but I am closer to being irritable, and especially much more prone to feeling low, after my morning coffee high.

Your old men will dream dreams (Acts 2). Now that could be a ministry(?). I met Charles Colson in a dream last night. Inspiring. And one of the few dreams I remember. A man who was positive and busy in works of the kingdom. Must have been related to what I was saying in the evening about living as those of another kingdom. I'm not much into dreams or a believer in dreams meaning much. I guess that's coming (ha). Certainly dreams do have a significant part in Scripture, from Jacob (really beginning with Abraham) on.

What about you? What blessings or thoughts do you have about sleep?

Monday, June 19, 2006

strength for the day

"and your strength will equal your days."
Deuteronomy 33:25 (TNIV)

This promise in Moses' blessing from God to the tribe of Asher, I take as applicable to us today, who are in Jesus as God's covenant people. Just as the Church has taken Old Testament passages such as Psalm 23 to be for those in Christ, so this promise, I believe, resonates for us as well (cf., 2 Corinthians 1:20). Certainly the New Testament backs this, through story and precept. We can count on God to give us the needed strength and resources to fulfill each day's tasks and calling.

This promise is applicable to us as we seek, not to do our own works (cf., Isaiah 58), but the will of God. As we seek the Lord, drawing near to him in prayer, being quiet before him, and reading his inscripturated Word, we can deliberately, in all that our hands find to do, do it with all our hearts (Ecclesiastes). Though, I believe, so much of what we are wont to do, will increasingly fall by the wayside. More and more we'll have discernment to do what needs to be done. And let other things go. We must see all we do in light of "the Jesus Creed", our call to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This promise is important to us all. It is so for me. There is so much in life I would like to do, but can't. And so much I have to do that I'd rather not. But this promise applies to me, only as I determine that, no matter what, I choose to do the will of God for me, in Christ Jesus. This will mean stops to rest and pray, even as Jesus did. It will never push people away, even when seeking to escape. But will maintain a steady, purposeful attitude of being a servant to all. And relationships to God, then to each other, will remain first priority. And there will still be the enjoying of our Father's world (including a world cup game, if you like).

By the way, this is our goal. We will fall short, and have to repent. But God's grace is always there for us, to receive, forgive and restore us.

Lord, Even as you lived out your life on this earth, so let us follow. Let us know your strength in our weakness, according to your will and call for us each day. Through you we pray this. Amen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

love trumps everything

Justice. Vindication. Faith. Hope. These, and other realities are important, and not to be lost. But, rightfully understood, surely they are all expressions of love. And specifically the love found in the Trinity. From God in Jesus Christ. By faith we enter into this love of God as the reality that trumps all else.

This is important in our everyday lives, as we face the difficulties that inevitably come. Someone gives us the shaft, or we think so, anyhow. What do we act on? The need for justice or vindication? Or do we embrace the love of God in Jesus, even when we hardly can comprehend that love at the time? Yes. We must embrace this love as what we stake our lives on. And to do that, we must seek to live it out, even in the midst of mistreatment or misunderstanding or whatever it is we're facing.

Love includes the other factors, such as justice. A love bereft of justice and hope (in the Biblical meaning of hope) and truth (as found in God's revelation, supremely in Christ) is not the love of God or the love revealed in Jesus and in Scripture. So the love found in the world, really is diminished to the point that it lacks the traits that are found in God's love.

Our thoughts, attitudes and actions, in the midst of all the upheavals of life, must be characterized with this love. Otherwise we are living in a vain manner (1 Corinthians 13), even if God still takes some of it, to bring good.

If we're to walk in the way of Jesus, then we must live lives of love. As those who, ourselves, are dearly loved by God. We must extend our hearts and hands to love, especially when it is hard, or seems impossible to do so. This is a love which extends a grace that forgives. And a grace that brings with it the Truth that can change all of us.

Father, We thank you for your love expressed to us in your Son, Jesus. Jesus, We thank you for living out this love so faithfully before humans in this world and life. And doing so to the very end, even to the point of the death of the cross. Spirit, We thank you for your cleansing, healing, transforming love in our hearts, and through our lives, out to others. God, Let us live this love out. As you love, so let us love. Let us know your love, and make your love known. Amen.

Monday, June 12, 2006

encouragement trumping discouragement

Words are powerful. What is said and unsaid can make or break someone, especially when young. And it can affect the older too, weighing down one's spirit with grief and a more or less sense of despair. Or words or expressions of love can lift one to the grace of the Lord.

Recently I was down because of words spoken to me, and the posture of those who spoke them to me. I did let myself dwell on the words said, and the lack of give and take and conversation. It hurt. But life goes on. But in this case the grief and sense of despair hung over my soul. I just couldn't shake it, not in the escape and love of home, nor among the pleasantries of conversations with friends and the healthy busyness of work.

Later in the day, a brother, whom I rarely see, was in our room. We were busy, and I couldn't converse with him, as he worked on a cutter nearby. I lifted him to the Lord in prayer. At a certain point he made eye contact with me. We asked each other how we were doing. There was such a mutual sharing there, just in that simple, short exchange. A sense of brotherly love and esteem for each other.

For some reason, in God's providence, that exchange dissipated the cloud that had been hanging over me the last few days. It was like the sun breaking through the overcast. My sense of grace and of God's strengthening presence was restored. It was curious to me that this could break it, and so suddenly and thoroughly as it did.

Lord, Thank you for my brother today, whom you used to encourage me in the midst of my gloom and discouragement. Let us learn the art of encouraging each other, in ways that lift us out of ourselves and our darkness, into your grace and presence. Amen.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Recently some of us at work had a discussion/debate on the Sabbath. Do we keep it today? And if so, how? Those differing didn't arrive to a consensus that day, it seems. But it was good for me to reflect on, beyond that day.

What our relationship is today, to (what my tradition would call) the fourth commandment of the Decalogue (Ten Words/Commandments), is one that makes theologians and professors, more or less pull their hair out. It isn't as easy as some think. Nor are my thoughts intended to slough over the difficulties inherent in this study and discussion.

I, for one, believe that a keeping of the seventh day was given to Israel. In the new covenant, I do not see this command repeated, for us to keep. Whereas, we do see all the other commands repeated in the New Testament. Though I do believe there is a fulfillment of that, for us, as God's people.

For fulfillment today, I believe we need to go to Hebrews 3 and 4. The Sabbath rest there, for God's people is found in Jesus. And the teaching is echoed from Psalm 95. That psalm indicates that even Israel keeping a seventh day for rest, did not insure that they really entered into God's rest for them. This is because, this rest is internal, one of the heart. And it does work its way into one's life. It is a rest that requires faith.

We need to be resting in Jesus. Our relationship with him, he promises, will give us rest. But this rest will be into service with him. Yes, with him! We will learn from him. And will find that his yoke is easy, and his burden light. (Matthew 11:28-30 and context). In other words, we should find this work that God has for us to not be burdensome, but a delight. Akin to what work was before Adam and Eve sinned?

Back to Hebrews. It is a resting in Jesus and specifically in God's work in Jesus. As I was taught recently, in a book by David Roper, God's seventh day rest remains. And we, by faith in Jesus, are to enter that rest. When you look at this teaching with Psalm 95 and all this tied back to the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, then we see that there "remains...a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for those who enter God's rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his." (Hebrews 4:9-10; TNIV). We're then told, paradoxically to "make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience." (v 11)

Sometimes, I think, we try to do too much with this passage. Making it into some kind of deep, mystical resting in God, only for the elite few Christians who can find it. At other times, though, we make it too simple: simply believe in Jesus, and you are in this rest. What we're missing here is the profundity that faith in Jesus brings to us. Or is meant to bring to us. It is a rest in God's works, and a working that comes out of that rest. It is a delight to be enabled to be workers with God (2 Corinthians 6:1). Knowing that all does not depend on us, and on our working. All depends on God and his working. Yet we are called to work in that working, in the very works of God. (In a true sense, at least an important aspect of God's working today, includes us in our participation!) This can encourage us, in our humble works, that God can take them into his very workings. I think, also, this helps us to take the breaks we need to take from busy activity. To be able to say, "No". And to spend that time in quietness and rest, that we need. As well as learning to not crowd our families out with our busy, never ending labors.

Lord, You've called us to rest in you. Help us to follow you, and learn from you. To know your rest, and how you make our load seem light. Thank you for your finished work for us as our Savior, that we can rest in you and what you've done. Save us from our burdensome toiling. We know you'll call us back to yourself and to the rest you will give us. And we look forward to that final and perfect rest in you. Amen.

Monday, June 05, 2006

John Wesley's communities

John Wesley was quite possibly the leading light of the many gifted leaders of the 18th century (Bishop John Charles Ryle authored a good book on English leaders of that century). He may have been, primarily an evangelist at heart, as he summoned people in England to conversion in Christ. But he was apostolic like in his giftings: organizing communities after the model of the "holy club", he and Charles, his brother, and George Whitefield, along with others, had once been a part of.

These communities demanded discipline in attending the meetings, and in attending to what was expected of each member. In these communities, spiritual growth was not a solo flight. It was a community endeavor, taking with utter seriousness "one another" sayings of the New Testament. And as long as these communities were going, they seemed to flourish: in England, though not in the United States, where they never caught on in the same way, probably due to Francis Asbury not buying into the concept completely, and maybe more to the far flung distances, circuit riders had to travel horseback, between communities of churches.

I have noticed, through observing and through experience on both sides, that often those in leadership (certainly including "lay" people), especially on teams, in which they meet on a regular basis, often seem to show more evident growth in maturity in their Christian lives. As opposed to most of the rest, who simply come and go, and may serve here and there, as a Sunday school teacher, or whatever.

I don't think committees or serving on them is necessarily at all akin to being a part of a community like the ones of John Wesley. But I do think, in the fires of church problems and conflicts such groups work on, as well as even the stone cold rigamarole that can inflict itself on their meetings- there often does seem to be a dynamic going on that is largely missing or lacking from the rest of the church body.

Somehow we need to recover something of this dynamic across the board, to as many as possible of the church community. And hopefully see it become catching to all who are present, over time.

Many pitfalls here, to be sure. But there needs to be the willingness to risk in considering how we can better fulfill Scriptural injunctions to daily encourage or exhort each other. To look out for each other's good. To be accountable, men to men and women to women. In a general sense, all to each other.

Some of this sense has been brought into churches through paragroups such as "Promise Keepers". I see this in our own local church community in a men's class. These guys hear a clip from that organization, then at times "let their hair down" as to where they're really at in their lives. Or some really good, substantive sharing occurs on a subject. God has used, in this case, a less than perfect parachurch organization (what organization is perfect, anyhow?) and used it to get something of this dynamic into our churches.

I for one need more of this. I really get very little of it. But this is true for most of the rest of us as well. I think we need to have more of the sense of the necessity of relationship, not just to God through Christ. But to each other through Jesus, as well.

What are your thoughts, and experience, on this?

Friday, June 02, 2006


Change in life is not easy. Especially for some people. But in a general sense, true for most all. It means a moving out of our comfort zones. It involves a willingness to be so moved. And to really change. In some ways we ought to rejoice over the possibility of change. After all, is every way we live really good? Are our comfort zones always good for us?

Change is an inevitable part of life. On top of that, for us in Jesus change is necessary, since we are to ever be changing from glory to glory into his resemblance. And God has new vistas for us, along the way. We need to have hearts and minds open, and keep moving, hopefully in the gentle, quiet move of God at work in our lives. We will fall behind, get ahead and get sidetracked. But we'll eventually find that the Lord is always there, to help us back, to find our way in his way for us.

Paradoxically, I think that we'll also find it true that the more we acclimate ourselves to live in God's will with the changes that will bring, the more a kind of refreshing sameness can be our experience, and can grow in our lives. The sameness that no matter what we encounter, God is with us. He will see us through. He is faithful no matter what. He is the same in his love, mercy and truth- for us. The sameness of the sense of his presence in our lives. Certainly that sense in our experience ebbs and flows, but he has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13).

Looking at lives in the Bible, we'll take a quick glance here, at Peter. What changes we see him going through! Often protesting along the way. Certainly being moved out, time and again, from his comfort zones. And being challenged to continue to follow Jesus. And really doing that. Even to the very end of his life, it wasn't always comfortable. But Peter knew that the Lord was with him. And he saw wonderful things he would have never seen if he would have refused to leave his old, familiar work of fishing behind. Though admittedly painful things, as well. Necessary for his continued transformation in becoming more and more like his Master.

This change will best take place in our lives together, as God's people in Jesus. Through relationships, not only with God, but with each other, we will find the Spirit drawing us to become, experientially more and more one with God, and with each other. Not in the sense of becoming clones, but of learning to live more and more harmoniously together with our God-given differences- and with those not God-given. And that will certainly involve change. Maybe in certain instances hopefully finding substantive change, though knowing God is not finished with us yet.

Lord, Give us the faith and courage to follow you. Your gentle blowing in our hearts and lives. Let us be open to your changing of us and of our lives. We know you are with us, to the very end. That your love for us never changes. Thank you for those you give us, to walk through this life together. May we help each other, and in your love encourage your change in one another. For your glory in our lives. Amen.