trying to get through the challenging places

There are times which more than try the soul as it was once said, which test one’s patience and expose weakness as well as plumb depths to which one does not care to go. That is where I am right now. We have to realize that the Lord is present to see us through regardless of what we face. And that he is at least using the problems to a good end, that he is working out his purposes in and through it all. While we have to deal with the small details which come our way, we do well to look at the longer view and the big picture insofar as God gives us the insight to do so.

What comes to the fore in this is the sense of being called. We are called to something we would not choose on our own, but which is important to God as well as for the people who are involved. A calling implies responsibility and trust: one is entrusted with an important task, or put in an important place to be and to remain.

What is also helpful is to realize that “this too will pass.” For some it does involve a lifetime, although there normally are different seasons so that there may come some relief of some kind. For many of us it is a window of time which is part of today, but will be gone tomorrow in the sense that at least a decade from now things will look different.

Going through this we need to find the times of relief and rest, even recreation. The times when we for the moment can forget everything, having entrusted it all to the Father. Easier said then done, and truly a gift.

We must depend too on the prayers and help of the community of the faithful of which we are a part, the church. We can’t make it through such times alone; we need not only the Lord, but each other in him.

We want to be faithful, but to be so we must learn to rely more and more on the Faithful One, who will give us the wisdom and strength that we need, as we look to him for that through Jesus.

prayer for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

helping the poor

A huge staple in the Christian tradition grounded in scripture is helping the poor. Giving is a major component of that, and of course we would want to see the poor helped on their way toward a stable, self-sustained existence in which they in turn can help others.

Scripture emphasizes God’s concern and care for the poor. God holds others responsible to do so, especially his people, the family of belivers, or household of faith. We are to be known as advocates for helping the poor. Widows and orphans are singled out in scripture, since that was an especially major issue of that day.  Today we have the homeless along with those who do not have living wages. We need to thoughtfully address these problems and life situations or places people find themselves in. The church should be at the forefront of this. Society has its role as well.

Poverty is often a systemic problem. Caste systems in the world tend to promote this. People can overcome this with help. But it is something that has to be overcome. And there is the issue of personal responsibility. The book of Proverbs is a good book to read through with that in mind. One shouldn’t expect help when they are not willing to take their share of responsibility.

Theology or a faith which doesn’t make this an emphasis I think is defective. We as evangelicals sometimes don’t make enough of this. Within the Great Tradition there’s a much better thread which we do well to learn from.

Jesus called the poor blessed, while at the same time warning the rich. It is not at all wrong to possess material wealth. The question becomes just what we do with that wealth. And especially in terms of helping the poor and those in need.

In the end God will take care of the imbalances of justice. The poor will see the salvation of God and the rich who didn’t care will be judged. And we who are blessed in Jesus will seek to promote that which is beneficial for the poor, for those in need both in the short haul and in the long run. While always pointing others to the one who became poor so that others through him might receive the true riches in God, as well as have all of their needs met.

a true undermining of the violence of our day

David E. Fitch originally tweeted this I think, and Facebooked it as well:

Anabaptists see violence in war/guns and urge resistance. I see it in the antagonisms of ideology and urge discernment in how we participate.

Along with this post: To Pastors Everywhere: Let’s Discern the Antagonisms.

This reminds me of the end of James 3:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Given today’s violence and accompanying violent rhetoric, it’s important as followers of Jesus to be known not only for our stand against all physical violence, but that we are not a people given to violence in any form. That doesn’t mean for a moment that we don’t speak up on issues or fail to proclaim the gospel. It does mean that we do so at appropriate times, and that we choose what to speak on and what to let go. And when we do speak to do so with a listening ear and a gentle, yet firm voice.

This requires a wisdom beyond us. A wisdom that results in peacemaking. But a peace in terms of the gospel. So that at certain junctures there may even be the need for civil disobedience. But that by and large we would be known for the alternative society we’re to be in Jesus, which includes an entirely different ethic in regard to our speech. Refusing to engage in a war of words, even while at times speaking truth to power, and majoring on the truth of the gospel.

open the Book

I may very well be accused of being a Bible person and I would plead guilty as charged. There are times when there seems to be a lull in receiving, perhaps a bit more or less of “the dark night of the soul” setting in. Though actually that’s really never the case. God is always at work even when we feel that God is far removed from our own experience. I have such times now and then, and that’s when one is reminded of how good normal times are.

Are we at an impasse in our lives, in our experience, when all seems barren? Of course many things could be going on, but one possibility is that it’s a pruning time in our lives. God continues to do that surely, so that we might bear more fruit in Jesus (John 15). But the call here in this post is simply the call to open the Book and read. Read widely, whole books and over time, the entire Book. At the same time on another track, read slowly, meditatively, prayerfully, interactively with God. And when possible with others.

Doing so will help us receive from God in other ways. Certainly the church gathering needs to be a regular part of what we’re about as well.

Are we in any kind of a lull? Or are we not? It doesn’t matter. Day after day after day we need to keep opening up the Book so that we can learn and be led in the will of God in and through Jesus.

it is more complex than that

For me the main thing I can hang my hat on for certain is the gospel which is Jesus as revealed in scripture, God’s written word. By faith we know, a knowledge or assurance dependent on faith, yet in the case of scripture and specifically Jesus’ resurrection, not devoid of evidence. That is not to say that I don’t accept some things as true, like gravity. The question may end up being not only how much weight we put on something, but more importantly, why and what kind. We might find that the difference ends up being whether or not we trust a person, God (who, to bring in something complex, and well beyond us is one God in three Persons).

But on many things people seem to hold tenaciously to as matters of first importance, it often seems to me that it’s more complicated than that. That is one reason I like science, even though I really am not gifted in that field. Science keeps asking questions and is open to new answers, new ways of seeing things. Good theology should be like that. Some things have been well established by the church from scripture. Of course when you’re talking about God and humanity along with real life, we can begin to understand that while the Bible is wisely straightforward to the point of simplicity about some things (like the reality of good and evil, light and darkness), we also come to understand that there is much that we don’t know. So that we had best withhold judgment on a good number of matters.

And even what we do know is completely dependent on something beyond us, beyond our senses. Otherwise we could never know anything. That something is a Someone: God. We can rest assured in what knowledge we have, while at the same time seeing the entire enterprise as interactive, so that much of what we do know is relational and life-oriented. In other words a good part of knowledge from God found in scripture and mediated through Christ in the church is knowledge for life in this world in terms of love and how we are to live. It is rooted in history and for the real world.

Humility is the order of the day on this. We need to keep asking questions. But above all, to trust the God who has given us his word in scripture and in his final Word, Jesus.

the center for Christ’s direction: the church or scripture?

This is an ongoing concern or struggle in my thinking. The Roman Catholic Church sees the Church as the center or body, specifically the Magesterium of the Church, in receiving Christ’s direction as well as authority. The Reformation seemed to grant that status to scripture alone, “sola-scriptura.” But in reality I don’t think they moved (including the Anabaptists) from the church as being the body at least primarily through the clergy, for receiving Christ’s direction and authority. It is probably only a fairly recent notion which brings the emphasis and focus on the individual believer who with their Bible and the Holy Spirit can interpret scripture apart from the church. The church effectually and for all intents and purposes set aside, though even those believers are usually faithful in some way to church.

At this point I still like scripture first, “primera-scriptura.” And then going to tradition meaning what the church teaches. In other words testing what the church teaches according to scripture. But the question remains, just who makes that judgment. Is it the individual believers or the church as a whole, with input from individual believers? I would say the latter, with certainly important influence coming from those who have studied the sources exegetically and theologically.

At the same time for all practical purposes we end up having to submit to the church if we’re going to submit to Christ. After all, the church is Christ’s body in the world. Of course this is taking for granted that the church we’re talking about is really a genuine church, having a high view of scripture as the written word of God and holding to the apostolic teaching passed down in the Christian orthodox tradition.

So the answer is not all that clearcut. You might say both, but qualified. You simply can’t separate the church from scripture any more than you can separate Christ from the church. So that we must learn to submit to both if we’re to submit to Christ.