being a Bible person

I am rereading Scot McKnight’s book on the meaning of the kingdom of God in scripture, and as has been the case, find myself resonating not only with the book, but with his words something to the effect that he is a Bible guy. In other words, he wants to go back to scripture to figure out what’s up or down. What’s what.

In the case of Scot I not only have no problem with that, but I’m fully on board. His book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, helps us see clearly how to read the Bible for all its worth from the part of its story we find ourselves in. The entire Book and story found in it are part of our story. But not necessarily the part we live in (N. T. Wright, also). For example we no longer sacrifice animals as offerings to God for our sins, or for the other things they signified, since Christ has now taken care of that with the once for all sacrifice of himself (Hebrews).

Some seem to read the Bible as if it all applies today as at any other time. But this is where it gets tricky. The Bible is the inscripturated word of God, but it’s also a human document. We have to read it with both in mind: it’s God’s word, but it’s written to humans in a kind of communication which is simple enough to get at a basic level so as to enter into its meaning for life by faith, but dignifies humans in mirroring the complexity of life. Making us in a certain way dependent on each other, as well as the gift God has given each of us, and ultimately dependent on God himself (God’s self) to get it.

And the process inevitably gets to be messy in that along with minor disagreements, we will have some more major ones. Although as those who are centered in the gospel of Christ, where we agree will far outweight the significance of whatever differences we have. That said, it would be good if we would submit our differences to whatever the church decides. So that our personal bent of interpreting this or that is submitted to the church which may interpret it differently. The church, which is called the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3) in that it is the repository or entity to which the gospel has been entrusted. And in the human sense, the source from God of that good news, even of the written word about and surrounding it.

On divisive issues today such as same sex marriage we end up turning to scripture. And on everything else. And we keep reading and reading more and more of scripture. In its context and out from that into our context and world. As together we seek to live more and more in the truth as it is in Jesus.

the pressure cooker of life

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Malachi 3

Scripture speaks of a purging which happens throughout the life of the faithful which will be completed at Christ’s return. It is ongoing in this life; no one ever arrives to perfection in the here and now. And from what scripture says as well as what we read in our experience, sadly enough it doesn’t always seems to be occuring in the life of a believer. If such would be the case entirely, I would think that believer is in danger of not keeping the faith. Even when there may be a major problem that the person is not addressing in their life, such as an affair, pornography, greed, etc., if they belong to Christ, God will still be at work not only to bring them around, but in other ways to move them toward the goal of conformity to Christ, I would think, based on both my reading of scripture and experience.

In the passage from Malachi quoted above, the Lord’s’ coming, probably understood in some kind of literal sense of God becoming King once again over his people (and ultimately over the world) would result in a purifying which would leave no sin behind, so that those set apart to God could carry out their service to him and to the people. The beginning of this was fulfilled, I take it, when Jesus came with the announcement that the kingdom of God was near and even in their midst in and through the presence of the King: him. The Lord had indeed returned, though most of God’s people didn’t recognize that. But a remnant did. So begins the process of sanctification, or being set apart and made holy, in the sense of purification from sin in the lives of all who believe and follow.

Purgatory is the first stage of heaven in the teaching of some Christians (including C. S. Lewis) in which original sin is purged or eradicated (taken out), and the process involves fire, figuratively speaking, a spiritual, purging fire. Though I don’t see that as heretical or beyond possibility, I don’t see scriptural warrant for it. Maybe it occurs (as I think Pope Benedict suggested) when we see Christ as he is, the fire in his eyes burning out the evil in us (1 John 3:2; Revelation 1:14).

To know what our experience includes can be half the battle. So that when life seems like a pressure cooker, we don’t have to melt down or escape. But we can remain in there, faithful to the truth and love, to Christ himself. Knowing that this is the way of the Lord in his purifying of us for his service even in this life to his glory.

“being Jesus online”

My friend and Bible teacher and writer at Our Daily Bread Ministries; etc., Dennis Moles, wrote a most interesting new booklet which we just ran (I think for the first time) this week: Being Jesus Online. It really got me to think, even though I’ve been online for some time.

Dennis, in the booklet takes us straight to the heart of things, to Jesus himself and God’s character as seen in Jesus which is also God’s will for us who are in him. I remember the emphasis on teachings from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in the booklet. As Jesus told his disciples that whoever saw him saw the Father, whoever sees us ought to see Jesus. I would say something of Jesus. That hopefully it would not merely be me, but Jesus.

After reading the booklet I have thought twice about something I shared recently online, which actually was alright in and of itself. It may have been okay to share it, but how I obsessed over it, even though that wasn’t evident online, was not okay. And then this morning I thought to share something which again is fine in its place and may be well and good to share. But only for me I decided that at least for now it’s not something I want to share as one who is seeking to show Jesus in the way that works for me now. Of course that’s a tall order. Only by the Spirit is that possible, and we need to steep ourselves in the word, in scripture, especially in the gospel accounts/the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

That booklet touched me not only in relation to being online, but for all of life. Online, as Dennis puts it in the booklet, in a sense is a part of real life, to be sure. I have to ask myself, how am I Jesus at home, at church, in my neighborhood, at work- everywhere?

We who are in Christ are indeed living letters written by the Spirit of God, known and read by everyone (2 Corinthians 3). May people see Jesus more and more in us, through these humble jars of clay.

the wiles of the devil

In the secularist culture in which we live I gladly hold to actual spiritual entities of evil. I have a hard time calling them personal, since by their acts they are sinning against personhood, and descending to something less than what people are, which at its heart is relational. Call them forces, entities, what not, but they can be addressed as persons.

What we in Jesus and others more ostentatiously so in other cultures are up against are formidable spiritual powers who are crafty both in intent and function. We have to be aware of that, and avail ourselves of what God has given us in Christ.

One particular aspect of the devil’s wiles or strategy (in NIV, “schemes” in Ephesians 6 and 2 Corinthians 2) is to move us from our moorings or orientation in our faith and practice. Of course they would like to move us off the foundation of our faith, so that we abandon the faith entirely. And sadly enough that happens. But more likely for most of us, what they will disrupt is not our abandonment of the faith, but our own faith and joy in that, undermining it in usually subtle though sometimes all too predictable ways, especially when we’ve been around the block a good number of times with reference to this.

And one major way is to get us off the fundamentals of the faith in terms of our thinking and practice. Getting us there will likely involve deceptioin, but once we are there, we can’t let the next wave of deception come. Instead we have to be aware of the result. The undermining of our faith will mean that the faith we hold to is not sufficiently at work in us to help us into that peace and rest that is ours in Jesus. Not that the faith isn’t at work in us even in our misery to help us see the error of our way, yes I repeat it, the error of our own way in succumbing to the deceptive wiles of the devil. We need to learn well what the lure is, so that we might not be taken in the next time. And learn to watch out for similar lures, or even new ones which might appear bright and wonderful, but cast us into an experiential pit.

By faith and repentance, the Lord will help us climb out of the pit or remove us, giving us a firm place to stand again (Psalm 40). So that we can carry on once again in the way of the Lord, and grow in that.

keeping one’s eye on the mark

Scripture talks about focus in terms of what we’re looking at or paying attention to. It is so easy to become distracted by this or that. Not to say that a whole host of things in this life don’t need our attention and due consideration. But in the midst of that, what is our plumb line or lens through which we measure or see everything?

In scripture we find that it is Jesus and the good news in him which is the point, putting everything else in perspective and leading us to the goal of it all, which is as deep as it is wide.

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of faith and we’re to press on toward the goal of God’s heavenly calling to us in him (Hebrews 12; Philippians 3). When we get distracted we become unsettled and uneasy (ill at ease). It requires a work of the Spirit, a work of God’s grace to get us back on track. We also need to discipline ourselves to that end.

I try to be in scripture and in prayer all day. It is what it is both in quality and quantity, but it is what I want to be attentive to. In that way, hopefully I’m setting my sights more and more on Jesus himself and seeing everything more and more in that Light.

mind over matter into faith

“Our will is transformed by experience, not information.”

—Dallas Willard

Recently a friend who knows me some face to face, but not much at all close up, remarked that I am verbal brained and not so much one that could be given to the blues, blues music in the passing of B. B. King and its affinity to Christianity, being the subject.

It is true that I do approach life basically from thought. That is reflected especially in loving to read, and relatively late in life discovering that I love to write if only to figure out what I happen to believe on a given subject.

God approaches us through our mind as is evident from the written, inscripturated word of God. But it doesn’t stop there. Approaching our mind is ultimately to appeal to our will so as to see life changing faith. So yes, in a sense to overcome the inevitable trials and troubles of life that come our way we must set aside our emotions or what plagues us at the time, and ask God to show us what we need to know, so that we can act on that. In a sense that’s a bit of a bypass of the mind, since we are bringing the matter to God. But in another sense not, since it is the case of acting on what we do already know by faith apart from how we feel. And oftemtines we have to hold on or retrieve what was helpful to us at a certain point for another time.

While scripture certainly gives place to the full expression of our real emotion, even our thinking in the most difficult times (note Psalm 88 for a prime example), we can’t stop there. We have to act, even if only in waiting and trust at certain points, so that our faith might kick in, so to speak. Might come alive in the sense of becoming active. So that what we need from God we will receive in and through Jesus.

prayer for the seventh Sunday after Easter — the Sunday after Ascension Day

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer