Wednesday, June 3, 2020

DEVOTIONAL: Philippians 1:1-3


1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi is one of our best-loved, with so many “memorizable” verses that bolster our faith!
It’s amazing when you consider who he is writing to, and under what circumstances.  Paul is imprisoned, under Roman guard – and he’s writing to the believers in Philippi, which was a colony of retired Roman soldiers! 
But those retired Roman soldiers, made new in Christ, became his friends and supporters for the rest of his life – and his reason for writing to them was to thank them for the collection they took, and sent to him via the man named Epaphroditus, mentioned in the last chapter, to help him.  (In those days, jailers didn’t provide anything to prisoners – you had to have your own resources, or family, to care for yourself.)
These former soldiers are living examples of the truth that Jesus makes us new and Jesus makes us family to one another.  Under other circumstances, you can imagine that Paul wouldn’t trust these folks, and they’d consider him worthless, if he’s been imprisoned! 
But they know the truth of the new life Paul preached to them when he was in Philippi.  And he knows that they are indeed “born anew” by the Holy Spirit – and so he remembers them with joy and prays for them as partners with him in living out and telling out the good news of life in Jesus.
This is a good lesson to us if we are tempted to write anyone off as too-far-gone or not-worthy of the love of God, the grace of Christ, the renewing of the Holy Spirit!  That God is all about reconciling us to Him AND to one another is the very center of this good news.
And then Paul gives them, and us, even more good news, in one sentence, because he says he’s confident (Latin: “with faith”) about it: 
He who began a good work in you WILL CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION until the day of Christ Jesus.

Who began the work?  GOD did!  The new life in me and you, is God’s project: we don’t make it, we don’t earn it. 
And God doesn’t walk away from his projects!  God is on a mission in you and in me, and he will keep it up until it’s done, until we are indeed “made holy” – made to be all we were meant to be, in Christ.
And it will be complete, when Jesus comes again for us.  There’s a date on God’s calendar, so to speak, for our complete redemption, the fullness of our “newness,” the unveiling of the real me, and the real you.  Paul says in Colossians, that who we really are will be revealed THEN.  I’m pretty excited to see that!
Paul can call these hardened, formerly brutal, Roman soldiers partners and brothers, because he knows that God is making them new.  And Paul, who confesses his own role in pursuing and jailing followers of Jesus in his own former life, knows that he is being made new, too.   The writer and the readers have been reconciled to God by Jesus, and they have been reconciled to each other, too – and something new and beautiful is coming to life instead. 
And God isn’t going to give up on it until it all comes to pass in its fullness.

God’s not giving up on us, either.  And it’s probable he has some surprising new brothers and sisters for us in this new family!   May we trust the Lord to do this new thing in us and in others, and BETWEEN us, for his glory.

Let’s pray:  Father, in your mercy, you shocked Saul of Tarsus with your glory, and brought him into your new covenant.  In your mercy, Paul brought the good news of Jesus to former Roman soldiers in Philippi  who became his partners in your work!  In your mercy, bring us to a confidence like Paul’s, that your work of making people new will not stop until it is done, in us and in others.  Give us faith like Paul’s that this is a real change, enough to befriend even our former enemies (or they, to befriend us).  May we live in the power of such faith.  In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Thoughts in the wake of George Floyd's murder

The central thing we have to think about, before we can talk about anything else going on right now, is the murder of George Floyd.

I know, that it was a murder is still to be adjudicated.  But we saw from many angles that Mr. Floyd was not resisting arrest.  We saw close up, that he was cuffed.  And we saw the police officer press his knee into Mr. Floyd's neck while he protested that his breathing was being cut off, until he went limp - and then for almost three minutes more.  The man was murdered.

On one level, I think we have to consider that possibility that the police has something wrong with him, as an individual. I mean, I suspect he has sociopathic tendencies.  I'm not a doctor and I've never met the officer, but who could calmly press his knee into another human's neck until he died, like that?  No one with any empathy.

Or, perhaps the office has been trained in the ways of war.  Soldiers are trained to be able to kill like that, I think.  But first, they have to view that "other"  they are killing as "enemy," as therefore in fundamental ways not human, not in the same way. 

Is that what happened to that officer?

Because so many police killings of black people lend some credence to that idea:  that for various reasons police officers have been trained, or maybe habituated, to think that black men are not human in the same way as white men.  And after all, that's certainly what slaveholders believed - that's how they justified owning other humans, treating them like livestock, having them do the hard work in the sun:  they're not like us.  They were made for that work.  They need us to survive. 

And that's why we have to look hard at what happened.  At all the "what happeneds."  Anti-Blackness lives in our history.  It lives in parts of our culture.  And it lives in our hearts, whether we want it to or not.  I have read that even Black people struggle to overcome the inherited idea that their bodies are worth less than White ones.  I don't want to believe it, but it's true.  And the most scrupulously careful White person has had a moment where we discovered in our assumptions something we didn't know was there:  a racist thought, unbidden, rises to our consciousness.

So we have to believe this all is true.  And we have to repent of it, all the time.  We White people have the luxury of walking away and forgetting about it, but even if we do that - it won't go away.  And we who follow Jesus do not have the right to exercise that luxury, because our Lord has commanded us to love one another as he loved us, and that means the brothers and sisters of all races.  We must ask the Lord to cause to rise to the top of our awareness the racist assmptions we have living in us, and we must ask the Lord's help so that we can repent of them.

Repentance, in the New Testament, is a translation of a Greek word that means to "change your mind," or better, "to change out your mind" - the old one, for a new one. 

We desperately need a new mind, that we could begin to see things as they are, and not as the poison of racism has tinged them for us.  Paul tells us we need the "renewing of our minds" so that we can tell what the will of God is.  Yes, we do.

So let us pray for that for ourselves, and for one another.  Please pray for it for me!  This is the only way for us to "be the change" we hope for, that we know we need, so that we will no longer be a multi-level society, where we reserve the best of the goods for only some of us, only those who by virtue of genetics have white skin.  Where we deliberately ostracize and belittle others merely for having more melanin.  Where we embue authority in some to freely kill others, because somehow it seems right.  Lord, have mercy on us.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Drug of Outrage

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."
Ephesians 4:31 NIV

This passage struck me differently this morning, from the way I've always read it.

I mean, it's clear from the context that the Apostle Paul is writing to a church community, and that bitterness, rage, anger  and malice (!) have no place among a people devoted to one another in the love of God, shown us in Christ

That doesn't mean it doesn't happen; it does mean it has to be faced, confessed, repented of. It does mean a new way of being together must be found...and CAN be found by the power of the Holy Spirit among us. And i've seen it happen!

But it struck me this morning that this verse has something to say about Outrage Culture.

The world around us is gleefully taking sides and franky, I have, too:  on a lot of things, i do think there is one choice that is much "righter" than others. (I'd be glad to tell you all about it, too....)

But it's been sneaking up on me that I have to admit our culture is currently stoking outrage, and its accompanying anger, rage, bitterness and  even malice.

Which is a self-sustaining loop. The contempt of of others for me, draws up an equal and even bigger contempt from me. And 'round it goes.

Now, I'm not going to say that we should all embrace all points of view and call that peace...Jesus didn't. 

But I do think it is necessary to at least examine and interrogate the outrage,  and analyze whether I am addicted to it. Am I seeking it, because of the brain chemicals it stirs up, because I like the arousal I feel, and am gratified by my sense of superiority  that it engenders?

Because i think that is what we are being sold. And I hate to admit it.

So Paul writes, get rid of it! Not the commitment to what matters. Not necessarily being deeply troubled by injustice and cruelty.

But do get rid of the habits of allowing outrage to be stoked all day long...because we must not become addicted to bitterness, rage, slander, malice. Those are the works of the devil, not Christ! We become enslaved again.

How to do that? Well, we only kill off bad habits by replacing them with good ones. More scripture. More prayer. More worship. More music that lifts up Jesus! More music, in general. More other engagements of my mind and body.

Pointing myself, intentionally, in a new direction.

Pray for me. I will pray for you!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This blog has moved, from elsewhere!

Hey, readers!

At one time I moved my blog from this site to my own site, via Wordpress:

That has become unsustainable, so I'm baaaack.

Should you desire, you can read past blog posts at that site - they will still be there!

Is God punishing our nation with the Coronavirus?
This is the kind of question people worry about whenever anything awful happens, particularly the kinds of things we have no control over.  And sadly, we are starting to see pronouncements to this effect in the media.
But for those of us who know Jesus, we ought to be able to frame it better.
Often people who ask this question are thinking of general ideas about deities (yes, for example, the Greek and Roman gods were frequently punishing people) or about God as he is described in the Old Testament, in which nations sometimes were shown God’s wrath for their unjust behavior (or refusal to see Israel’s God as in charge, for example the ten plagues on Egypt).
But the new covenant in Jesus makes things different.
When Jesus came, he was initiating a new covenant with humanity from God, and it was not like the ‘first covenant’ with the children of Israel (the Old Testament).
First of all, Jesus was himself God, the Son who came to take on flesh.  In Colossians, Paul writes of him as the “Image of the invisible God” – so what we want to know about God, we can see in Jesus.  “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities….He is before all things, and in him all things hold together….God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (See Colossians 1:16-20)
Jesus came to show people what God was like, AND to show us more completely what it was God wanted from humans – that God wants relationship with us.  People were meant for relationship with God, but that companionship was broken due to human “sin” – which comes from human refusal to trust God. 
So, Jesus came to reconcile humans and God, by taking the consequences of human sin on himself: ”He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”  (Colossians 2:13-15)
Jesus came to bear our sin because we could not.  He came to reconcile humanity to God, because we were far away from God.  He came to give us a new life, even a new identity, in him.  He came to create a new family out of those who trust him from every “tribe, tongue and nation” on earth, making a new nation, the people of the new covenant, where God is king.
This is a personal invitation:  we each are invited to meet God through Jesus, to put our trust in his love, to begin a new life in following Jesus.  We are, when we do that, included in the new people of God.  We are, the New Testament says, then made new, starting over again a new life in companionship with God.  We are no longer estranged from him.

So what about the nations of the world?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  (John 3:16-17)
God loves the world, and so he sent the world his Son, who took the punishment and consequences of the world’s rebellion against and resentment of God on himself, rescuing humanity from it all and setting us free to begin a new life in relationship with God, through Jesus, as part of his new nation (1 Peter 2:9), his new kingdom.
That’s the good news, and there is precious little in the New Testament about God punishing nations, in these days, for their sin – after all, if Jesus took our punishment on the cross, why would God be reserving a little bit for this group or that group?   “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6)
And because God is calling together a new nation, in which he is king, and this is the covenant he is making with the people of all nations, we do not see him in the New Testament punishing nations (until we get to Revelation). 

But, what then about the wrath of God? 
That’s a big subject but the New Testament does point to a day when God will work his wrath on a world that continues to refuse him - the “final day,” the judgment day of God, described in Revelation. 
Of course, that book is highly symbolic in its language and images, so we don’t have much to go on but for the description in chapter 20 of a judgment:  “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books….then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire.”
This time of judgment is referred to several times in the New Testament by Jesus and others, but obliquely.  All we know, is that there is a time when justice will be done for the injustices suffered in this world, when those who have been God’s enemies will be defeated (most of all, the devil!). 
Importantly, that doesn’t indicate that Coronavirus, or earthquakes or hurricanes or tornadoes, are God’s judgment now on anyone.  In fact, Jesus – talking about the coming of the end of the world – tells us not to be alarmed by such things (Matt 24).  There is an end, but those things are not it.  There is going to be judgment, but this isn’t it.  And when others tried to get Jesus to say that someone’s ailment was God’s judgment on their sin, he refused to do it (see John 9).
Instead, two things:
First of all, there IS A SIGN to the world about God’s attitude about our sin and injustices.  You know what it is?  People who are made new in Christ; the church! 
God has called us into new life in him, filled us with His Spirit, made us new and given us some commandments which have something in common: to love God, to love our neighbor, to love our enemies, and to love one another as Jesus loved us! 
This is the sign to the world that God really did send Jesus (John 13:34-35), and the sign to the world that God loves US ALL, and that God calls others into the same new life we ourselves have received.  To receive this new life is pictured in Revelation as having one’s name written in the Book of Life.  To trust God in Jesus, is to escape judgment, because Jesus took that judgment on himself.
Set free, made alive, inhabited by God the Spirit, our role is to bring this good news everywhere we go, and to demonstrate it by the way we love. 
We are to accept the blows of those who don’t understand, as Jesus did; we are to forgive those who sin against us, as Jesus did.  We are to live in the hope of eternity, and live generously, as Jesus did.  We are to bring healing and hope to the best of our Spirit-filled ability, as Jesus did.
This is the sign to the world that God is for real, and Jesus really showed us what God’s like.
It is NOT our job to go out to a frightened world and tell them they are under judgment for this sin or that sin, when they do not know God at all and have no real idea what we’re talking about.  The fruit of this is, they write us off.  Why wouldn’t they?  We’d sound proud and hateful, almost like we enjoy the idea.  It rarely brings anyone to find and trust Jesus.
(It’s interesting that those who do that, pick out the things that don’t involve them.   High on the list are abortion and homosexuality. Why would God be visiting judgment on us for abortion, but seem not to care when we fail to manage the earth wisely he gave us stewardship over, or for failing to welcome refugees (both of these are in the Bible)?  If God were going to visit a virus on us for sin, there is a very long list and it would capture all of us.)
Is God pained by our sin?  Yes he is.  Is God angry at the unjust ways humans treat each other?  Yes, he is!  But while he is “storing up his wrath for the day of judgment” (Romans 2:5), HE IS STILL pouring out grace on this world in Jesus, which is meant to be distributed by the followers of Jesus!
Is the Coronavirus God’s judgment on us?
No, death and separation from God are his judgment on us – the very things that Jesus conquered for us, and eliminated for us.  “Very truly, I tell you” Jesus says in John 5, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."
Coronavirus is just another part of this broken creation (another theological treatise to be written….), another danger in a world that death is part of, another sign that a separation has taken place. 
And this time which is dominated by it?  It is another time for the church to be the sign of life, however we may, in Christ. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012