the place of the inscripturated word

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

In Christian creeds, Christians don’t say they believe in the word of God, in scripture. That’s a given. The heart of the Christian message is the gospel, the good news in and through Jesus, which brings in the kingdom of God in the new creation, and begins now through faith and baptism, and in the church.

I believe in more of a sacramental understanding than what I was raised with, which I think is clear enough from scripture, and is at least the dominant position of the tradition of the church, of Christianity through the centuries. However I also identify with a strong emphasis on the word, on scripture, and in teaching the word.

It’s interesting at this point in our lives, we pulled up stakes from the new Anglican church plant in our area, regretfully so for myself, but for good reason, I think. Prompted by my sisters, and encouraged by others, we are now taking our oldest granddaughter to an evangelical church not far from where she lives, which has a good program for the kids year round, teaching them the gospel and from scripture week in and week out.

I have to remember to take my earplugs, but at least the songs present a certain liturgy in themselves in pointing us to God in Jesus. And the church excels in teaching from scripture, even if at this point I’m not (yet) entirely convinced their teaching is Christ and gospel-centered enough. It likely is more than what I might think. Churches with traditionally liturgy by that alone keep the worshiper centered in Jesus and the gospel, pointed as well to the Triune God.

So for the foreseeable future, we are embarked in this new way, which, by the way is in sync with where I work, at Our Daily Bread Ministries. And that is rather fitting in that this is where I’ve lived and grown for years even into decades, and where I largely live now. With a bent toward the gospel in everything, and all that means (not that I understand that, but working toward that), in and through the inscripturated word.

given the violence in the world, what is a church/a Christian to do?

It is a short jump from accepting full participation of a Christian in a state/government function, specifically in bearing the short sword, or today, weaponry as in guns from Romans 13 (which does not ascribe that function to Christians, but in part, for Christians), to advocating protection with guns in both public and private places, such as at church, and at home. I can see that such logic is hardly a stretch at all.

The only problem is Romans 13 and its context (the end of Romans 12). And more than that, but better put, along with it, our Lord’s teaching and example carried to its climax in the gospel accounts at the cross, by his death on the cross. Particularly Matthew 5 puts in question, and at last gives the lie, I think, to the supposed right, or option for a Christian to bear arms for self-defense at all, a truly radical position, but one that is in step with our Lord.

And so there are churches which are training people for security,some with weapons in hand, ready to stop any would be assailant. And there are Christians who have a gun loaded and ready to retrieve and possibly fire at any unwelcomed intruder.

There is no question that the state is in place according to Romans 13 in significant part to protect its citizenry, and specifically in the passage, for the good of God’s people. But in the way of Jesus there is no place for guns and their use against other humans. If a Christian can serve in the role of the state, then in that sphere there surely is a time and place to use weaponry as a last resort. I don’t see scripture opening up that door, but if it does, it would be relegated to that. For us in Jesus, there is only one way, the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection, which alone is a witness to Jesus and the gospel. Taking up guns for the possibility of self-defense and even protection of others in a worst case scenario, even if never used at all is a compromise, and a tacit denial of the gospel.

We are not only to proclaim the gospel as the church, but to live it out as witnesses, through and through. By what we do and refuse to do, we either witness to it, or we don’t, in fact, we may very well be denying it. If you question this, begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Read beyond that, the rest of the New/Final Testament, and see whether or not this is true. A straightforward reading of it, I think will at least put into question our dependence on guns.

the broken human penchant for violence

First of all, it is not human to be violent. We would say not humane, at least as a rule we would believe that, but we live in both a violent world and society. Check out our movies, which are full of violence. And how about the video games, known for that? And the church used to make soldiers who came back from the war do penance, since such an undertaking was considered inherently sinful.

This was one of the key reasons for God’s judgment in the time of Noah, “the earth [was] filled with violence because of them” (Genesis 6). God was going to put an end to violence by bringing judgment. This reminds me of how the story ends in the book of the Revelation. God brings judgment to clean up the mess: the violence and the evil, and finally bring in a salvation of justice and peace, the shalom of the kingdom of God in and through King Jesus, one in which the good will of the Triune God will hold full sway.

Jesus took the full violence of sinful humanity upon himself at the cross to do away with human violence once and for all. That doesn’t mean that the state/government existent today can’t use violence when need be to restrain evil (Romans 13), although that should be a limited, last resort option, and the language in Romans suggests a police kind of presence, and not a military one. It certainly is risky in a society where too many people think shoot first and ask questions later.

For the follower of Jesus, we in him are to reflect the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek when struck, refusing to answer fire with fire. Instead we are to break the chain of violence in and through Jesus, by showing love to our enemies, even if we end up losing our lives in the process. It’s not like we don’t look for creative ways to deal with the violence, and those who are violent, nor that we don’t try to preserve our lives, and most certainly the lives of our loved ones and neighbors. We certainly do. But it’s even more important never to return evil with evil, which for us in Jesus means we don’t threaten violence over those who might be threatening violence on us.

Not an easy road, but the way of Jesus. People have taken that road publicly, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. We need to show the world the better way, in and through Jesus, and his cross. The way of death and resurrection. The way of peace in the good will of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus.

prayer

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

what we’ll forget

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

Isaiah 65

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21

There is no shortage of things in this world we would just as soon forget. I have a tendency to forget the names of people who I think don’t like me. I have a list of cares about the house in which we live, and about what I can actually do about that myself. Then there are the past decisions or consequences of life that we have to live with. There are the many concerns which become especially pointed when we’re older. Of course the burdens we carry for loved ones can be more than we can bear. And there’s the world with all of its problems. The inevitable troubles we have in living in the brokenness and fallenness of it all. The problems in the world’s governance, our own nation with the upcoming presidential election at the forefront of the news. But with the global tragedies continuing, such as in Syria, and in other places. There is no end, really, to difficult, even horrendous bad news, for sure.

What God promises his people is a complete forgetting of all that is not of the new creation, all that is of the old order of things. That means potentially that there will be plenty for us to remember. To begin with, I’ll not only remember my wife, Deb, but hopefully will be closer to her than ever, and if Scot McKnight is correct in his book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, I’ll still be married to her. For sure relationships in the communion of Jesus will not only continue on, but flourish as never before. It will be as if we hadn’t been in any relationship before at all, in comparison to what is to come, even though that is only making a point, since we indeed do have close friendships in this life, as well as good associations with others. And all of the beauty of this life, of all of this world from creation, including human creativity will be subsumed in the sense of fulfilled, or even a part of the new creation to come in and through Jesus. So those parts, all that is good and life giving will be present, while all that is destructive and death dealing will be gone.

It is the latter that we will forget, all that is bad in this life. The full redemption to come, already present in and through Jesus even in this life, will have turned creation into something of a joyous celebration of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus, when at long at last God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). And what is hardly imaginable now will be firmly in place and a part of life then.

There’s plenty we would want to forget about this life, and we believe God will in the end take care of all of those matters. But plenty as well to remember, which through the eternal gospel, the good news in Jesus, will realize its potential forever and ever, to the glory and praise of the Triune God.

fight on

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

1 Timothy 1:18-19

One might as well face it: Trouble in this life is not only inevitable, but is practically endemic, meaning it’s a natural part of life as it is now, one could say from the story in Genesis, fallen, and incomplete. Add to that the possible torment that can come along with it, if we perceive what is isn’t good in some way that is concerning.

There are days for me, and yesterday was one of them, when I can’t help but think that if I don’t get over this, and get better help, I can’t do this anymore. Not really thinking about living in the Christian life, though every bit of that is 100% a gift of grace through which we can enter in and live. I suppose I’m thinking more in terms of ministry, even writing a blog, teaching or preaching, whatever in terms of service. The sense of condemnation and dread, and the accompanying fear can seem overwhelming. And every other possible problem that comes along our way, all added up, one usually coming to the fore and dominating our thoughts for a time.

And behind that one can sense an instigator, as in something of an agent of evil at work, a spirit always plotting and ready to throw in some different wrenching, threatening problem at us, that ordinarily pushes us toward inward condemnation, fear and dread.

As we find ourselves choking on such infernal fumes from the pit, we can fully realize that the source of such is not from God, and not in accord with God’s promises in Jesus, in fact in opposition to them.

And so we need to fortify ourselves with that realization, a good chapter to meditate on with reference to all of that, Romans 8. And we need to resolve and follow through to fight on, come what may. In fact it is good to be determined to fight all the more harder, when it seems all the more futile to do so. We are then basing our actions on the truth, and calling out the lie for what it is, just a bluff, a sheer out and out lie. And so when the enemy pours it on, we need to be determined to pour it on all the more. Certain that God’s outpouring of the Spirit in and through the grace of our Lord Jesus will be more than enough for us to overcome, to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

weak in Jesus

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

1 Corinthians 4 (NIV)

If there’s anything we Americans don’t care for, it might be weakness, or at least that would be close. And what we do hold in high esteem and celebrate is strength. But God’s way in Jesus is once again entirely different.

Reading through 1 Corinthians right now (slowly) has reminded me of where and how God characteristically works. And it’s not in our comfort zones in which we feel at home, and ready to go. Most often it is in the places, or through the experiences in which we feel largely lost, and not at all sure that we can make it, at least thinking we’re up against it.

But those places can actually be the most freeing. For one thing, because troubles in this world are inescapable, and so are the attacks from our spiritual enemy, the devil. There’s no escape from that, so to learn to live under that well, can be liberating. But I’m talking about a grace received and experienced which somehow let’s God’s strength become evident even in our continued weakness. As we receive the needed strength to go on and live in God’s will in Jesus.

Paul, as seen in this passage, was definitely up against it. His life was one of suffering for Christ, and being molded into Christ’s image through that suffering. When all hell seemed to be broken loose against him, the end through God was that all heaven would be poured out on and through him, and his co-workers with him.

I seem to live all too often for my liking in that realm where there is not only plenty of trouble, normally one issue I’m dealing with at a time, but plenty more nearby, but in which I also am not comfortable and at peace. That’s when, of course, I need to draw near to God in prayer, which I do largely through pondering scripture throughout the day as much as I can. And from the above passage, simply choosing to accept and even embrace the weaknesses which seem inherent both in myself and the circumstances of life. Of course I’m not talking about accepting and embracing sin, which we need to continue to confess and turn away from. Even that can be the means of helping us to find God’s grace in Jesus which we so desperately need.

And so let’s accept what not only we ourselves don’t find good, but what others might find lacking in us, as well. Not in the way of offending others ourselves by our own fault, but in the way of Jesus which is the way of weakness, the way of the cross, and the way of God’s kingdom in Jesus, even the way of triumph in him.