“In ME you will have peace!”

Kthump! Kthump! Kthump! Kthump! Kthump! Kthump! Kthump!

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his bother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…”  Luke 3:1-3:
Theophilus may have had his foot on the rungs of the ladder of power and Luke offers him assurance that what he had been taught was dependable (1:1-4). He didn’t offer him a lecture on political science, or on any other useful subject of study. Luke is certainly interested in the historical accuracy of what he writes but if we think he isn’t “preaching” we’re dreaming.
There’s something very deliberate about the way he lists the names above. He’s describing the world as he names the heavy-hitters! Sounds like massive steel spikes are being driven into the ground with a series of thuds from some huge machine: “Tiberius!” Thud.
“Pilate!” Thud.
“Herod” Thud.
Philip, Lysanias, Annas, Caiaphas. Thus, Thud, Thud, Thud! Seven of them!  World-builders.
By these you live.
Stand here, sit there, move up, step down, pay this, forfeit that, sign there, believe this.
This was “the world”—defined by the powerful at various levels and ways. This was a world that  Israel and some others hated but since nothing was going to change they adjusted and learned to make the best of it. For some, Rome’s rule was better than the rule they once lived under and beleaguered kings were more than glad—they were eager to submit to the emperor’s legions and have Rome as an ally. For many others life under Rome became a familiar and mostly a dull plod or they were sucked white by vampire Roman representatives. “Should we remove these officials?” they asked Tiberius at one point, “They’re feeding on the subject.” The morose emperor told them not to bother—it was for the best, he thought—the current rulers were like well-fed flies on a carcass; new ones would only be hungrier.)
In any case, the central story that tamed and shaped that world was this: ROME RULES!
What we hear as Luke announces the names of these political and religious rulers is this: “The story I’m telling you doesn’t begin with, “Once upon a time in a land over the rainbow.” He doesn’t say, “Middle Earth! Narnia or the Enchanted Forest!”
He says, “Rome! Judea! Galilee! Jerusalem!”
He doesn’t say, “Zeus! Apollo! Poseidon! Hercules!”
He says, “Tiberius! Pilate! Herod! Philip! Caiaphas!”
But there’s also something sarcastic in the way Luke uses the names. At some point each of them would have seen himself as some big wheel but Luke uses them as circles on a calendar to mark the day when a nobody came to town from the desert. He named him John, the only child of an old priest and his old wife. “The word of God came to John…in the wilderness.” (3:2).
He came because God spoke to him—not to Tiberius or his servants, not to the lawmakers in the centers of power but to a strange, waiting, untamed young man who heard God, “It’s time!”
The stranger had a message for the world and for Israel in particular. He called for an entirely new way of seeing and thinking (repentance) that was to express itself in a baptism that committed them to a coming one. This repentance embraced a confession of the historically faithless nation’s sin but it was also a commitment to the faithful God who was making it known that the Redeemer He had promised was at the door.
Luke says this newcomer was preparing the way for “the Lord” and he wasn’t talking about the emperor who wore that title. Luke said John’s essential message was that humanity would see God’s saving purpose and power at work in this coming one.
John dealt with individuals of course but his message had national and cosmic ramifications. It meant they were not to settle for the world as they now saw it and that kind of preaching was subversion! it was more than an offer of personal forgiveness of personal sins, it was about the salvation of the watching, chained, tamed, think-what-you-are-told-to-think, accept-things-as-they-are nations of the world.
It was about the personal forgiveness of sins of course but to reduce it to that is to miss Luke’s point altogether. John’s message was about the arrival of a new “Lord” and about his nation’s need to get ready to receive Him; it was about the world coming under new management. (But not everyone wanted it—John 11:47-50.)
John knew much but didn’t know it all and he himself would feel disappointed with how things would develop. Why do the world structures still stand, why are the Tiberuses, Pilates, Herods and Caiaphases still around calling the shots? It wasn’t only John who felt disappointed (see the book of Hebrews) and even now we wonder how it is that nothing has changed despite two thousand years of Jesus’ lordship and why it is that sickness and death are all too visible.
It’s distressing today, particularly for those who haven’t come to a negotiated settlement with “the world of Tiberius” but who feel that the “new Lord” has made little difference in their experience. (How can that be hard to understand?)
If they could only turn away from Jesus it might not make their lives better but would it not ease the strain of “hoping against hope”? Would it not be better to accept that what is as all there is? But they can’t! They know in their bones that the word that comes out of the corridors of power is the word of the moment and the word of dying men. They know that the word that came to John in the desert is the eternal word of the ever-living God and that’s why they keep coming back saing with Peter, “Who would we go to? You have the words of eternal life and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-59)
Like John, we know much but we don’t know it all. While our longing for better is fully understandable—something we shouldn’t apologize for—we’ll remain assured of what we’ve been taught until the ever-present and presently absent Lord comes in keeping with the proclamation that occurs in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
These ordinances and their place in the life of a Community of faith are not just for believers and they aren’t just about believers. They are a judgment in Jesus’ name on the “world’s” story and the character of “the world” and the proclamation of living and vibrant hope based on the commitment of the God in Jesus. The Lord Jesus is Himself—HIMSELF—the embodiment of the faithfulness of the faithful God and the hope of the world and all who now constitute his Body, the Church, are (peculiarly but not exclusively) the visible and embodied covenant faithfulness of God. Certainly they are God’s treasure in clay pots (2 Corinthians 4:7)—but that’s where He has deposited it, so He tells us. God will be God and it’s best that we come to terms with that—Christian and non-Christian alike.
Kthump, Kthump, Kthump….
Ali Khamenei, Putin, Xi Jinping, Merkel. Assad May, Turnbull, Kim                  Jong.un, Fattah, Netanyahu, Hollande, Ashraf Ghani, Trump, Macri,             Masum, Cazeneuve……………………

GOD & HELEN & HARRY

If we’re talking about persons, our English word “reconcile” serves our purpose well when we wish to get the basic idea of the Greek words the NT uses to speak of reconciliation. We’re told it derives directly from the Latin through French with related senses such as “to bring together again” or “regain” or “to make friendly.” There’s nothing difficult about that.

Words aren’t the realities they speak of, of course—the realities are the “things” the words refer to.

What follows is too simple—life and reality are always more complex than our words but there’s little point in pretending we are completely in the dark. I don’t care that the piece is repetitive.

We look at two people (Helen and Harry) noting certain characteristic attitudes, behavioral and verbal patterns we call them “friends”. If they are clearly “hostile” to each other that will show in characteristic patterns of behavior we won’t call them “friends”.

If at one point they were indeed “friends” and something happened that led to a radical and sustained change in Harry’s’ view of Helen that changed his behavior toward her the “friendship” has been destroyed. If Helen maintains the attitude and expressions of a “friend” and Harry insists on being hostile and completely indifferent to Helen’s approach we rightly say they aren’t “friends” despite Helen’s desire for friendship and her attempts to overcome the current alienation. We rightly say that Helen offers friendship and Harry refuses it.
Helen purposes to and works at destroying the alienation. The means and methods by which she goes about this can only express her own heart toward Harry and they must have an effect on Harry’s heart if friendship is to be regained. Helen’s heart in this matter needs no change but Harry’s does. Once more, if Harry rejects all Helen’s various approaches there is and can be no reconciliation.
Helen knows that she has done nothing that warrants Harry’s hostility. Repeat: Helen knows this and holds it to be true, nevertheless she wants reconciliation.
Harry’s wrong does not change Helen but her desire for reconciliation is not reconciliation—the desire for alienation lies totally in Harry even though it affects Helen—she experiences the loss.
She is not sulking, she is not unwilling to be friends. That she is being wronged is true but that doesn’t alter her heart’s desire. There is nothing within her that is an obstacle to restore friendship—the alienation has been generated by and remains in place because Harry wills it to be that way.
There are some who think that Helen cannot be reconciled to Harry because her honor has been offended.
It is true that Harry has despised her and if there is to be reconciliation and a return to friendship that will have to be acknowledged. Regret would exist, of course, but a commitment to be a friend must also be in place.

But, and this is an important but, whether Harry moves that way or not, Helen’s heart’s desire remains unchanged; though dishonored she wants Harry back. Her “honor” is not the fundamental drive in Helen. She cannot and will not deny that she has been dishonored but she will not let that truth be the final truth.
She will not say, “I have been dishonored therefore I want nothing more to do with Harry.” The reality is, she wants very much to have something to do with Harry who is even now dishonoring her!
Harry must change! But all change must be from Harry’s side!
Helen’s sense of her honorable personhood is well grounded but it’s no obstacle within her that generated or maintains the alienation. She knows she is honorable and still wants Harry back. The truth is that Harry has said “no” to Helen and not to some one thing about Helen and it’s not the honor of Helen that requires appeasement. Helen’s honor doesn’t exist in isolation—it’s Helen that has been dishonored and it is Helen (not parts of her) that wants Harry back as a friend!
Someone could say, “They can’t be friends because Harry has offended Helen’s honor and her honor needs to be appeased or she cannot move to bring about friendship.” We’d probably think that a strange way to speak. We’d probably think that Helen needs to be appeased (if she needed to be appeased) rather than an isolated part of her.
In any case, someone might respond, “I don’t think that’s true. I saw her come to him and humble herself in his presence again and again and again and I know she keeps on doing it. Her honor can’t mean that much to her in this matter. If there’s a conflict between her honor and her love for Harry her love has overcome her sense of her honor. But I don’t think there is a conflict in her heart and mind. I think her honor is part of why she maintains her commitment to him as a friend even though he will not have it.”
There were some who said much about Harry breaking the “law of friendship” and said the law must be satisfied if there is to be restored friendship. Helen thought it interesting that “the law” of friendship entered the discussion. She even thought it interesting that the word “satisfied/satisfaction” entered the discussion.
She thought that it was a person that had been horribly mistreated and not a law. She thought that what she had with Harry was not a legal agreement based on some law but a personal relationship between a friend and a friend.
Helen thought there was no law against truly and honorably loving someone and so it could not be a law that stood between her and Harry.

She didn’t feel there was some “law” outside herself and her heart’s desire that got in the way of having a restored friendship with dishonorable Harry. She wanted him back. Did the fact that he lied about her keep her from wanting him back? Did the fact that he coldly ignored her or openly sneered at her on every occasion they met keep her from wanting him back? Was there some “law” out there beyond her own heart and mind, some law-giver, that she had to submit to before she could have restored friendship with Harry?
She didn’t know of one! The reason she wanted to have Harry back was because she wanted Harry back.
So why weren’t they friends again?
Because Harry didn’t want to be friends!
Why does Helen continue to love Harry this way?
Some say her kind of love leaves her no choice.
She might make an effort so astonishing that many would be mesmerized by it; something so wonderful and selfless they they couldn’t believe it for joy.
And though they have seen so many wondrous examples of such love the love of Helen seems even more remarkable and it affects all who come to know if it.

(Holy Father, help us to know You and honor you for who and what You. are. This fervent prayer in Jesus name.)

 

SOMETHING ABOUT “GETTING IT!”

Thomas wasn’t there to see for himself and couldn’t believe what they told him on the basis of their words. It was too great, it was beyond his ability to embrace. Had they said they’d dreamed of Him or day-dreamed of Him; had they said they reminisced and saw Him laughing, smiling and heard His voice; had they said anything like that he would have believed them for wouldn’t that have been the kind of thing he had been doing himself?
They said nothing like that. Had they seen and heard the above they would have seen no more than they expected but it would have been infinitely less than the truth.
Had they seen only what they would have expected they would have joined company with Mary who interpreted what she saw in light of what she expected. Her love expected a corpse she could minister to and so she saw a “gardener” instead of Jesus. We do that, don’t we; see what we expect I mean. Days dreams of Jesus we would expect. They weren’t day dreaming!
Like two on the Emmaus Road she simply didn’t get the big picture. The love she had for Him needed enriched, disciplined and contextualized. What she felt she needed was less than He was offering and less than He was prepared to give. It wasn’t all about sweet Mary or about personal human intimacy of friendship—it was about His Father’s will and about the glorification of humanity for whom He became incarnate, lived, suffered, died and rose glorious!
We get no psychological information about her response when He said, “You mustn’t cling to me…” but do we need one? Have we not because we were/are His “friends” and part of His “inner circle” felt horrible when we discovered He required some “distance”—distance of one kind that (in the end) we find to be greater intimacy of another kind?
When Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he actually felt the wounds for himself surely the others who had rejected what Mary told them would understand his suspended judgment, which was really not suspended judgment but current non-belief.
When he was expressing his unbelief his Lord was listening—unseen—and was able to tell him what he had said and still He was willing to undergo the “test”. Christ’s knowledge, His calmness, the continuing love and His majesty carries Thomas beyond the need of “touching” or “examining” and “seeing”. He had no reason to expect more than a Lazarus-like return but all of a sudden—though nothing is “all of a sudden”—he “gets it”.
His Lord is also His God.
At first he expected nothing, then he expected something and now he grasps what he could never have expected to expect.
The wounds functioned as identification, this truly was a man and this truly was their friend who was slain—“It’s really me.” (Luke 24:39)
Since the wounds are not on a corpse but on this glorified Jesus who simply appears where and when He chooses, the wounds are witnesses to His Lordship over Death and over all the history that led to His dying and all the forces that worked to gain His death and all the definitive and fullest expression of that power (Matthew 10:28).
And Thomas “gets it”.
What is it he now grasps?
What does this unique expression of faith express?
I believe that Jesus is God incarnate—He is always God always being a man; He is always true God choosing to be a true man—and with millions of others I believe that in the light of the biblical witness.
I hold that Thomas was lifted to a conviction about the Godhood of Jesus previously unknown to his companions. I also think he finally understood what Jesus meant in John 14.
Philip who had been with Jesus “a long time” still asked Jesus, “Show us the Father.” He hadn’t “got it”. The Teacher and Lord said, “If you see Me, you see the Father; if you know Me you know the Father” but nobody “got it”—not until Thomas!
“Nobody comes to the Father but by me!” the Lord had said.” The Son of Man must suffer and be raised again from the dead,” he said. “I am the way,” He said.
The way to glory for the Messiah is through suffering, the Lord had said more than once (Luke 24:25-27; 1 Peter 1:11, 19); but who believed it?
That being true and since it is also true that “he who sees Me sees Him that sent Me” (John 12:45) then God’s way of glorifying Himself in saving and glorifying wayward sinners like us is by bringing us through the suffering and death we brought into human experience.
Thomas who insisted that he wanted to “see” finally got to ”see” God in and as the man Jesus.
“You don’t get to God unless you get to Him in and through Me! You don’t see or know God unless you see and know Him through Me.”
There are so many angles on truth, are there not? We could (and do) stockpile them—is there an end to their number?
I wonder if getting these angles is the same as “getting it”?
“Where I go (John 14:28) you know and the way you know.”
“Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?”
I wonder if we will ever “get it”?
And if not, I wonder why not?

BEHOLD!

If someone asks you what “monogamy” is, don’t go to or quote a dictionary. What you’d find there would be an accurate definition I’m sure, by which I mean, you’d find what the rank and file of us think of when we use the word. There you’d find what our children are taught in school to think when they hear the word. I like dictionaries, I do; I make use of them often and I suppose it’s true that in some ways they share with us the experience of our fellow-humans because speech not only reflects how we live—it shapes it. Still,dictionaries aren’t warm; they’re cold. They record without passion or commitment or shame or affection how the current populace uses the sounds we call words. There’s nothing creative about a dictionary; it lacks imagination, it doesn’t create worlds—it simply defines past or existing worlds; it runs after aging worlds, listening and recording what’s said. Again, a dictionary’s redeeming factor is that it deals with words and words are not dictionaries. Words well used can set an entire world on fire or set a sleepy world dancing. Words can defy an existing world that’s filled with despair and create an imagined world that is free and joyous. (Read the prayer-songs of Hannah and Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus) Words can create new worlds by generating vision but vision is in some ways more more wonderful than words though words and visions keep very close company indeed.
If you had told Harry Emerson Fosdick that monogamy was the conviction that men and women should have only one husband/wife  at a time he would have said something like, That’s not monogamy. Monogamy is a woman and a man, all their lives, wanting to love one another as they love no other person in all the world. That’s monogamy!
If you gave Landon Saunders the dictionary definition he would have said something of this sort, That’s not monogamy. Monogamy is a man or a woman looking into the others eyes and saying, Others may come and go in your life but I won’t. I’ll never leave you. If you’re sick I’ll nurse you, feed you, bathe you, sit with you, read to you, listen to you; if I hurt you I’ll apologize, I’ll ask your forgiveness, if you’re lonely I’ll keep company with you; if you’re happy I’ll rejoice with you, sing, smile or laugh with you. I’ll do anything but leave you. I’ll never leave you. That’s monogamy!
It isn’t that we should ignore the dictionary but we’re blessed if we see more than the dictionary; We hear and feel more than the dictionary. Critic or cynics might well say that talk like that is too sickeningly sweet in the light of the real world; Who lives like that? they might say. It’s a dream world and not the world we live in.
Hmmm, perhaps. Yet, dreams are not all bad and even if we can’t quite make it to the place we dream of, should we not dream of better and finer?
But while dreams and vision are intimately related they’re not quite the same. The dreams we dream as we look at and experience life are shaped, I would suggest they’re shaped, by vision, by whatever it is that shapes our entire worldview.
To be visionary like, for example, GK Chesterton, would mean that while we don’t despise brain-power or intellect we become seers [which is what in the early days of the OT the prophets were called seers].
We’d be less cognitive, less prepositional and rational and more imaginative as we reflect on lovely relationships—yes, and richer because of it.
We wouldn’t take leave of our senses but some new sense of things would be ours. The father is speaking the sober truth when he says to his daughter, about the young man she is now in love with, I don’t know what you see in him! Precisely! She’s in love with him and the father isn’t and love gives the seer new eyes and senses. It doesn’t matter what it is were talking about—life’s realities or relationships. There’s a way of seeing the ordinary, or at least the commonplace, that means it is no longer ordinary or commonplace.
Chesterton saw what millions of us see—we shrug and he was mesmerized. The sun doesn’t rise every morning because the earth spins! Chesterton said it comes up every morning because God every morning says to it, Get up! That’s vision!
Richard Ahler allows us to imagine a fully contented man moving to the close of his life. He’s reflecting on his relationship with his beloved who is now deceased and he says this:

When I think how soon we run out of time,
Lookin’ back at what I’ve done in my time,
My accomplishments are few,
But for my days of loving you!
If I’ve never gone too far in this world,
When I might have made my mark in this world,
I had better things to do,
I had my days of loving you!
Let the others go their way, 
Seeking more and more, 
Give me just one yesterday, 
Filled with love like yours! 
I have nothin’ to regret in this life,
I’ve had all there is to get in this life,
Once I lived a dream come true,
I had my days of loving you!

That’s monogamy! Well, yes, but it’s more—it’s vision! We who are badly hurt or sour or cynical can’t and won’t share such a vision and that’s tragic.
Anna Louise de Staël [it’s very probable that Nietzsche didn’t say it] said something like this: “Those who were seen to dance were thought to be insane by those who couldn’t hear the music.”

God bless us more and more with His way of seeing and hearing and feelings things. God bless us with men and women who can wide-eyed and sincerely use the word Behold! and not just look! and point, point at something that only a moment ago or a day ago or a year ago or a sad lifetime ago was too familiar and by his/her bright vision it has been transformed into something wondrous and new. And maybe if we’re blessed their way of seeing will become ours and yhen our children’s and then their children’s.
(Please, Father of grace and goodness. This prayer in Jesus name.)

 

 

“DON’T BE AFRAID BECAUSE…”

The pastures are filled with sheep, the sky is filled with angelic glory and the shepherd hearts are filled with fear. And why wouldn’t they be afraid? Would you yawn your way through such an experience? But the angel of the Lord said, “Don’t be afraid.” I wasn’t there but I know as sure as Sunday follows Saturday that he wasn’t yelling at them or bullying them into peace. Whatever his tone it wasn’t peevish and born out of impatience. It was assurance he was giving and not an order! No parent with a grain of sense would scream “enjoy yourself!” at the children thinking that that would enable them to do it.Yelling “Live! Live!” at a corpse doesn’t work!
The fear of the shepherds turned to joy when they heard the message the angel had to bring and when they checked it out at the stable. “Don’t be afraid because…” The reasons for their fear were dealt with in a message of assurance; a message capable of bringing joy!
Some poor souls are born fearful, they’re too high-strung. They don’t need a special occasion to make them tremble; they were born trembling and their social and family environments made the world an awful place. They aren’t among the “beautiful people” or the “life and soul of the party” types so they’re forever hovering around on the outside of the circle, barely in touch and barely noticed. And as yet they aren’t able to tell those stories about being “the kid that was never picked to play” but then things changed. For them nothing has changed and the deep fear that nothing will is getting deeper! No one came along to kiss them and turn them from a frog into a prince and for them the beautiful song Somewhere over the Rainbow that offers a hopeful message still ends with doubt and “why can’t I?”
And heartfelt religion doesn’t help them because the kind of religion they get is a ceaseless stream of moralizing or calls to response.“Let’s all do better” or “let’s make this church grow” or “let’s get involved in the church’s programs” or “let’s give more money” or “let’s…” And it’s precisely because they take their religion seriously that these fearful people are even more troubled. Others are able to shrug and let the preacher babble on but not these people! They’re afraid not to take very seriously everything he says (even if he doesn’t) but for more reasons than they know they can’t get up for the many challenges the vibrant (and salaried) ministers hand out. And then there are some fear-filled preachers whose good advice and sound sermons seem to have little effect on themselves, though they’ve been offering them for years. It’s a bit difficult for the strugglers to find help from a preacher’s/teacher’s helpful biblical assurances that apparently don’t work for him or her. “I’m still struggling with this myself.” (Why? Why would you think they would work for us if not for you?)
Some silly people among us mistake their fearlessness for faith. And worse, they somehow think they’re self-made! They never knew fear and came out of the womb ready to take on the world and when they came to Christ the assurance He offered only added to the calm that was already theirs as a result of genes and neural activity, early life’s experiences or whatever. And because they are gifted and shaped with that marvelous world-beater personality they tend to think everyone should be the same. But they’re not the same! Those who are so well put together inside know no fear of rejection or failure and career through life laughing at trouble and finding adventure in everything are a lovely sight to behold. Because they know no fear, or because if it comes they have the inner strength to shove it aside they’re tempted to look and wonder about the fearful.
For the brave among us the fear of the fearful is easily viewed as failure to be much of a Christian and passages like Revelation 21:8 are brought in to threaten the fearful with hell. And then there’s the text that’s treated like a rebuke rather than an assurance: “God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear.” But then nobody’s claiming He did. The text doesn’t change the fact that many of us are troubled by irrational fears and worries!
Keep feeding us something that will help us to function tolerably well even while we tend to lean toward the darker end of the spectrum until that day when the fear is completely obliterated.
If a man is brawling with a life-threatening cancer we rightly sympathize with him and speak encouragement and assurance to him. If a poor soul is brawling with paralysis through fear we sometimes demand that she/he heal him/herself! But who would choose to live the torment some of these people endure if they could heal themselves? Tell me that?
But if we think we can’t help them, then in God’s name let’s get out of the way and let others have a shot at it! I know people like us who worry and are needy are a real burden and sometimes we’re viewed as a real but unnecessary pain in the neck (“It’s all in his head,” is a common enough phrase). Still, Jesus took us in.
I don’t say all fear is of the same kind or that it runs equally deep in everyone’s experience and I know that the help offered must be tailored depending on the person and his or her situation. He was speaking in light of the existential reality–Christ, I mean–when He said, “You will always have the poor with you.” In a world shaped like this we’ll always have the fearful and emotionally fragile with us.
I don’t know enough to heal all my own fears much less anyone else’s but I know we need to dive into the massive truths of the gospel that’s brought to us in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. I know that! I know we need to proclaim, not suggest, to people that the compassionate and understanding God has called them to liberate them and also to use them even while their poor hearts are troubled. He promises to keep them on their feet by faith and use them that other troubled souls will see and believe that it is okay to be hurting. 1 Peter 1:3-6.
I know that the God that came to us in Jesus Christ is a Father to us all and that the clear vision of Him can finally enable people to say within, “It’s okay that I am this way. Until that day comes when we are all fully liberated He will help me to live with my trembling heart the way He helps other poor souls live with their severe and lifelong illnesses.”
And I know that we need to restructure our whole thinking about suffering in the world and show that it can be redemptive; that God can use it as He used the suffering of the Lord Jesus to bless the world. However we speak or sing or behave it should be (as the gracious God enables us) to echo the uplifting message of the angel to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid because…”
In God’s name continue to give us developed reasons! Reasons big enough to speak to a big round teeming troubled world and to the Church that is part of it!

THE CHURCH’S NEED OF THE WORLD

When I use the word “world” in this piece I’m not using it to mean “organized evil, the anti-God, anti-life and anti-human” structure that we’re not to love or be friends with (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4 style). I mean it John 3:16-17 style that speaks of humans who are entangled in the cosmic network of evil and need rescued, whether they know it or not.
For all their “lostness” they are loved by God who finds no pleasure—none at all (Ezekiel 18)—in the final death of the impenitent wicked. For all they waywardness and their choosing to walk away from God and follow their own path (and they choose it, God doesn’t foreordain them to do it as some fools with a Bible in their hand claim He does)—for all their sinful foolishness God leaves us a witness that He loves us still by “doing good, giving us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). This is the God Paul tells the idolatrous Athenians about; the God who gives to humans “life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).
“Life and breath and everything else!”

I know—how could I not? Wickedness shows up all over the place or hides in plain sight in respectable places; evil that shocks even us who are used to hearing about it, watching in on the news and sometimes engaging in it ourselves, though we are good at rationalizing or minimizing it. We sincere Christian people should insist we’re different from non-Christian people but we need to be clear in what way we are different. We’ve been “called out” by the gospel of God not because we’re better or smarter or stronger than non-Christians—we’re not—we never were—Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:7.
We’ve been called out to experience salvation and life in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) that we might be the visible and concrete proof of God’s love and faithfulness to His eternal purpose to bless humanity (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
The world need us!
But we need the world!
Non-Christians grow our food, heal our sick, teach our children, build our roads, employ our workers, make our automobiles, produce our medicines, staff our hospitals, build our houses, supply clean water, dispose of our garbage and sewage, retail our daily necessities, supply heat and cool, provide technology, police our cities, fight our wars, man our courts, function for us in local, state and federal government, negotiate foreign trade, care for our children when parents must work, counsel the mentally distressed, protect those domestically abused, work in adoption situations and……..and……..
Yes, well all right, it isn’t always done well and there are those among them who don’t care that these jobs aren’t done well. Is there any Christian who thinks we are free of such failures? Who do we think we are?
We’re glad to have all these gifts and blessings and we thank God for them and then—what? We look down our noses at the people God uses to bless us.
We use them!
When did you last hear someone in your assembly thank God for the millions of non-Christians that enable us to live? We often enough ask Him to empower the doctors and nurses if they’re working on our sick friends or family but, listen to the prayers—the surgeons and other medical staff are instruments, the person as a person is forgotten. When success is achieved we thank God and not a word of warmth in a thanksgiving prayer about these gifted people as people—gifted by God and as people who use their gifts in kindness and with skill. (Almost always, as individuals, we speak a word of thanks to the medical people if our loved one is healed! But as a People we don’t see our need and utter dependence on the world We distance ourselves from them.)
There’s something we need to keep in mind as we grow more and more pleased (as we should!) when our assembly becomes more and more like God and to be a great community to be a part of. We speak of the varied gifts and skills we see in fellow-Christians as “spiritual gifts” and so we should but need to bear in mind that the varied gifts and character qualities that are obvious in the assembly existed in the non-Christians before God called them to Himself by the Spirit’s gospel about Jesus Christ.
You didn’t think they were giftless before they became Christians—did you? God gifts all humans! Without them we Christians couldn’t live! You didn’t think they came giftless and when they rose from the baptismal waters that God only then gifted them as administrators, speakers, teachers and such—did you? All God’s good gifts are “spiritual”.
It’s when people are called to God by His wondrous gospel that they then see their already existent gifts in a new or newer light and use them consciously or more consciously in the service of God. (Would it not be true and gracious to tell such people that God has blessed them richly with these gifts?)
Like all Christians these new Christians remain part of the world (John 17:12-15; Matthew 28:18-20), using the gifts God has given them as part of how He blesses the world and doing it as they gospel their way through the rest of their lives. One aspect of Christ’s miracles made it clear that God cares about the well-being of His human family. Maybe we can’t work His miracles but we can use His gifts to do the same thing Jesus did. Millions of non-Christians are doing it! We thank fellow-Christians for doing it—the Church AS THE CHURCH needs to thank them! To do less is graceless and is an expression of distorted isolation!
Finally this: The awful pain and suffering and deprivation of this world should serve to remind us that Christians are not God’s “pets”. They exist as a Covenant People for the world. To the degree that an assembly (with help from its leaders) forgets that they forget their God who is for the world and to the degree that our gathered people are made happy without being gospeled the more they become like “the world” of 1 John 2.

(Holy Father, help us with good and wise hearts to re-vision the world that we might see our need of them and your love of them and how you have gifted them. Thank you for them. We apologize. Grant us the gift of real metanoia that we will feel more than regret; that we will have a mind that looks forward and sees and gladly embraces the new way of seeing and thinking. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

THE EMPOWERING GOD

It is God who empowers! All things were made by Him and without Him nothing was created that was created. God sustains all He created and it is by Him that all things hold together. The “laws of physics” which all material things obey are nothing other than the free and sovereign will of their creator. So that when the Psalmist says the heavens declare the glory of God he was speaking more truth than he could unpack. By the sustaining will of God mountains and seas, red dwarfs and colossal quasars have their place alongside galaxies and expanding space.
Paul said that God has given us life and breath and everything else (Acts 17). He permitted rebellious nations to go their own way but did not leave them without witness of Himself but did good, giving rain and sunshine and food and filling their hearts with joy (Acts 14). All this we might call “naked power”—He wills it in keeping with His purpose and it comes to be and it is sustained by that same divine power.
(I’m purposely stressing His “free and sovereign will.”)
By this same creative power He freely chose to create something unlike the mindless mountains and stars and seas something that He chose and something that He gifted with self-consciousness and choice. In freely and sovereignly choosing to do that He was freely and sovereignly determining how He would relate to the humans He created. He wouldn’t relate to Humanity as He would relate to mountains or monsters of the deep because He willed to have humans as His active companions and to enjoy fullness of life with Him as the creator and sustainer. His free and sovereign choice of the nature of humans determined by free and sovereign choice how He would communicate with the humans and how He would reveal Himself to them that they might know Him, serve Him and enjoy Him.
As the Holy Scriptures tell it, humanity exercised its freedom to choose and introduced Sin into the world (Romans 5 & Genesis 3) and so alienation from God and fullness of life became a reality. God freely and sovereignly chose not to obliterate humankind but purposed to fulfill his creation intention to bring a human family to immortal glory with its Head and Lord as Jesus of Nazareth (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:16). To complete that creation purpose God freely and sovereignly purposed to reconcile a sinful human family to Himself. This purpose He graciously pursued down the centuries, working with creatures whose will and desire to please Him was weakened by their sins and they became blind in their sinful ignorance and dark in their minds.
Yet the sovereign God pursued them, revealing Himself in various ways suited to the nature of the human creature He had created. It wasn’t trees and rocks and rivers He was dealing with but humans whose hearts He wanted in a free choice. He could have forced them to serve Him but that was the kind of response that Pharaoh looked for and not the kind of relationship He freely and lovingly sought. The ultimate expression of His free heart’s desire for reconciliation with the human family was when He became Incarnate in the one we know as Jesus of Nazareth. In that particular human God’s desire to be at one with a sinful human was spelled out as it could not be spelled out in any other way. The Word who was with God and was God became (a) human and was came in the likeness of sinful humanity (Romans 8:3) and in Him, in keeping with all the ways God revealed Himself before, humans came to know the God they rejected and the “world” they had chosen and the soul-hunter who made them his prey and himself the prince of that “world”.
Reconciliation is what God freely, lovingly and graciously sought and that was more than “pardon” and more than “forgiveness” for it was friendship, companionship, glad and happy obedience that God sought and that could not be gained by mere pardon. Nor could it be gained simply by some grand act of self-giving on His part when in and as Jesus Christ he lived and died to bring forgiveness. A heartless human with a divine pardon in her pocket might have been pardoned but she would not have been reconciled. Reconciliation would require a change of heart so that the sinner’s heart would be realigned with the heart of the God she chose to make an enemy of. Without an reorientation of life that flowed from a realignment of heart toward God there could be no reconciliation and it is that that God freely and lovingly and sovereignly wants—that’s His heart’s desire and He finds no pleasure in the death of the impenitent wicked (Ezekiel 18).
Faith and repentance are distinct words and speak of distinct aspects of a rich experience we may call “conversion”. We can speak of them as distinct in order to understand them better but they cannot be isolated or severed in an actual conversion experience. There is no reconciling faith without repentance and repentance cannot exist without such faith. As with all big rich words there is no exhaustive definition. We can describe them and illustrate to some degree but in order to speak of them in the area of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ we have to gain a sense of who it is and through whom it is that we are reconciled and takes us beyond exhaustive understanding.
It is the goodness of God that leads sinners to repentance (Romans 2) and repentance that results in life is a gift from God (Acts 11 & 2 Timothy 2). The same God is the one who opens the sinner’s heart and brings them to faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16 & Philippians 1:29; Acts 18:27; Romans 10:17).
Faith in the incarnate Lord overcomes the world (1 John 5:3-4) because in faith (the ­ commitment of faith) the believer receives as true and commits to Jesus and what He means and stands for as the self-revelation of the God who reconciles sinners. His faith is not in his faith but in the Incarnate God, the One who has come in the flesh (as a human).
This is something of what happens (but only something) in saving faith: the person and work of Jesus is embraced and in that repentant faith the evil usurper Satan, the god of the corrupted “world” is rejected and Jesus the true Lord and King is embraced and allegiance is offered. This is the foundational act of the sinner who is reconciled to God in Jesus Christ (compare John 6:27-29). The faith that overcomes the world is the sinner’s personal embracing of “the faith” (that is Jesus and what is savingly true of Him). It combines subjective faith and objective faith.
Such a faith not only results in life with God it is a definitive triumph over “the world”. That is not a triumph over this sin or that sin, it is victory, triumph over the entire “world” that is cosmic evil, organized corruption that is anti-God, anti-life and anti-human. The victory of faith is not because of its quantity or strength but because of its reality and who it is in whom it is placed—Jesus Christ. God in Christ did not deal simply with this sin or that, or with a huge quantity of specific sins—He dealt with Sin in principle. He dealt with that which makes a sin sinful. He neutralized Sin so that it isn’t a barrier between the sinner and the God who seeks at-one-ment. Anyone’s sins are neutralized, any number of sins is neutralized because Sin has been neutralized, made impotent. The Sinned-against-One will not allow Sin or sins to keep His alienated children from fullness of life with Him. Anyone can be reconciled with God in and through Christ—no one need stay away thinking that his/her sins are an immovable wall. The wall itself has been torn down! Point to a person whose sins were not dealt with by the reconciling God?
This faith we’re talking about does more than bring forgiveness, it conquers the world! It brings to those who want it a share in the triumph of Jesus Christ (John 16:33).
God empowers us to defeat the world! Defeat THE WORLD! And He does it by bringing us to faith in the Incarnate One. Is that power or what?
Faith and hope are distinct words that speak of distinct aspects of the conversion experience. They can be completely severed in a lexicon but not in an actual conversion experience. Hope empowers and maintains energy (1 Corinthians 15:58 and context, Hebrews 11:1; Romans 5:1-5; 1 Peter 1:3-4).
None of this means anything if there is no God and no gospel of which He is the source. But if there is such a God, deeper than we know, richer than we know, kinder than we know, more loving, more faithful, more generous then the truth about Him changes everything! The truth about Him! Yes, the truth about God is the revelation of God’s self! And how does that come to us?
God doesn’t do magic. If we want magic we go to the movies. God makes Himself present to us and in us by his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and that comes to us through the proclamation and teaching of the Word of God given to us by the Holy Spirit. “The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life,” said Jesus (John 6:63). “Sanctify them through thy truth, Thy word is truth,” Jesus said to His Father (John 17:17). “God chose you to salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief of the truth, to which He called you by our gospel,” Paul said (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 with 1 Thessalonians 2:13). “You were born again not by corruptible seed but by incorruptible, through the word of God…desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby,” Peter said (1 Peter 1:23; 2:2). “Now I commend you to God and the word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.” Paul said that in Acts 20:32. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…(Colossians 3:16). “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) “I am not ashamed of he gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation…for in it is revealed the righteousness of God.” (Romans 1:16) “The message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…the power of God…” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-25). “The word of the Lord is alive and powerful…” (Hebrews 4:12). “Every scripture inspired of God is profitable…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against thee.) Psalm 119:11.
We pay lip service to the word of God and look for some mystic spatial indwelling of the Trinity inside our bodies to do nobody knows what to assure us that we’re going to win through against sins. (“Muslims don’t have Mohammed inside them but we have Jesus/Holy Spirit inside our bodies and that’s why we can overcome sin.” I think that is sad.)
To sever the Spirit-inspired word of God from the Spirit of God is nonsense. Prophets wrote the word only because the Holy Spirit moved them (2 Peter 1) and the word of God is the “sword of the Spirit” (not our sword, His sword (Ephesians 6).
The Spirit of God brings the word of God He inspired to people in countless ways and He uses it to transform our hearts and minds, to sanctify us initially and progressively. By making God present in our lives by the truth about God He guides us and produces His fruit in us. What Christians have that no other religion offers is the truth about the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed by the Holy Spirit of God and exhibited in the Incarnate Lord Jesus. If that gospel doesn’t generate faith, inspire, thrill, enrich, stabilize, energize, console, comfort and encourage and equip us for every good work I don’t think there is any hope for us. But obviously that isn’t enough for some; it seems we must have Jesus and the Holy Spirit spatially and literally residing inside each person’s body.