why I remain a Protestant (but above all, a Christian)

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have in my view much to offer, and carry on the practice of the faith as it has beep practiced for centuries. Of course there have been splinter groups along the way, but by and large until the Reformation, to be a Christian was to be a part of one of these of the Great Tradition, or another similar to them.

The Protestant Reformation was the attempt to reform the church, namely the Roman Catholic Church. I’m not sure historically if Luther and others really thought the Church would be influenced by their sense of what needed to be done and their work, but I don’t think at least initially that Luther had any intention whatsoever of starting a new church. Those of the Radical Reformation did in that they didn’t want to reform the Roman church, but start all over again, or perhaps more accurately be formed as church according to the teaching of the New Testament, with traditions considered in light of that.

What is discouraging to me in our Protestant and evangelical circles is all the divisions and how there seems to be little consensus in regard to the many things which I think unnecessarily divide us such as mode of baptism, even whether baptism is administered to infants or only believers, whether or not a church holds to what is called “eternal security” or “perseverance of the saints,” etc., etc. On matters like that I’d like to say let freedom ring, while at the same time kind of wishing for the day again where we would submit to the tradition of the church, or what the church in the main has believed and practiced over the centuries beginning at least as early as the second century, not far from the time of the apostles.

What ends up being the crux of the matter in the entire consideration is authority: whether scripture gives the church authority to make the calls especially concerning the gospel (which is the point of it all and while including it, is much bigger than simply how one is saved) or whether the weight is placed on scripture, the church itself including everyone as part of the church making its appeal on the basis of that.

I find the Anglican Communion of churches, which I’ve appreciated for some time through my use (albeit limited) of the Book of Common Prayer to be a church which draws deeply from the Great Tradition within the Protestant framework or position. From what the New Testament tells us, what the church says matters, in fact the church has both authority and with that responsibility. But the authority that the church has is derived from the authority of scripture so that it is scripture to which we must appeal to in the end. That means we don’t simply dismiss what the church has said but that we continue and ideally so as church to weigh all of that in the light of scripture itself, God’s written word.

Above all I remain with all others who name the name of our Lord, hopefully a true follower of Jesus. But to put the right emphasis on church, I might say I want to remain above all, simply a Christian. So that it is secondary which communion I am a part of, that we are all of the one church: the one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to one hope when we were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4). We are together and one in and through our Lord and the good news/gospel in him. As we continue on in the faith once entrusted to us, God’s holy people (Jude).

God’s love in the psalms

Going through the psalms slowly, I’ve recently been impressed with the emphasis on God’s love. It is often rendered “unfailing love” in the NIV and is said to be “better than life” itself. When you read the psalms, you find nearly anything and everything in them within the gamut of human experience with all its ups and downs, ins and outs. The experience people are living through is anything but even keeled, the need both from the inherent limitations and propensity to evil in humans being great.

The God of the Bible doesn’t avoid the mess of life and messiness of who we are. So that no matter what we’re going through, we must not think that God isn’t present and that his love doesn’t matter or somehow is not for us. In and through Jesus, God’s love is always present. And it’s especially interesting to see the dynamic of God’s love in the psalms.

Like the psalmists, my experience is all over the place. I want to address it all with God’s truth in scripture in and through Jesus. God’s love for me most often seems all but lost as I press on and through day after day. But that is a loss not merely of imagination, but of the reality which actually upholds me and keeps me going. And that love that is present is not only for me, but for others. And in terms of God’s good will for the world, so that when that love is violated by evil, God’s judgment eventually comes.

That unfailing love written about in the psalms is climaxed in God coming to earth as a human in Jesus, and dying so that in the end evil and death are no more. Out of love in the covenant with his people, all of this not only for them, but even through them for the world. A love which I don’t know enough in experience, but which is my hope for today and beyond not only for me, but for everyone else in and through Jesus.

Jesus, the friend of the ordinary

C. S. Lewis is right that strictly speaking there is no one who is ordinary. People are made in God’s image, and everyone regardless is extraordinary. And yet in the course of human life all relative as we see it, there are ordinary people, looked at as run of the mill, nothing much. Another way of looking at it, no matter how gifted one might be, in a sense they are ordinary. As the saying goes, everyone has to put on one leg of their trousers at a time.

Jesus is the friend of the ordinary. Of those who really are nothing special at all in the eyes of the world. Perhaps considered dull and dim. Of little or no consequence. Perhaps they work on an assembly line or clean toilets or do this or that which may require a little skill along with mostly practice. Not that what we do along with how we do it isn’t important, but it’s sad how the world measures people: It’s about what you do, where you work. One’s true worth is measured in large part by that. Maybe they’ve failed morally or have been incarcerated so that they’re completely written off by others.

Along comes Jesus who is the friend of the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful (Matthew 5)—and people are unimpressed. It is the ones who have achieved and who know how to sell themselves or sell what they’re doing who are the people of note. But not to Jesus. To him it is the down and outs, the people of no account, of no reputation. That is where Jesus lived all his life, as one accused of being born illegitimately–apart from wedlock, just a plain carpenter (or builder), who was evidently extraordinary to the rabbis in the temple when he was twelve, but settled down and never made a name for himself. Just plain Jesus, son of the carpenter Joseph, who himself became the carpenter. A good trade, surely good in it. But when Jesus embarked on the calling his Father gave him, the folks who knew him took great offense. No, this wasn’t the Jesus they knew. They could only shake their heads, not believing that what was happening was really the case or legitimate. In fact because of what Jesus seemed to be claiming, some pretense toward Messiahship?, they were offended and tried to do away with him. Even his own brothers who he grew up with didn’t believe in him. Those closest to us often don’t see anything beyond the ordinary. Although extraordinary in his person and calling, Jesus was as ordinary in his humanity as the rest of us, at the same time without sin.

This is where God dwells, with the humble and broken, those who are contrite in heart, the lowly, those who know that all is a gift from God and of their own great need. That is where Jesus makes himself at home, not with the great ones, but with the humble poor, those who can hardly look up, whose only joy will have to come from God, since they often know plenty of suffering in a mundane day in and day out existence, who know they are sinners in daily need of mercy.

I’m encouraged that the Lord dwells with the likes of me, with the likes of us. That is where I want to remain.

the god of the Bible

I read sometime back somewhere (can’t find the link) from a well established, respected Bible scholar that the god of the Old Testament, or God as portrayed there, is like a fourteen year old adolescent boy. We see over and over again God’s wrath in terms of judgment directed at his people. In my thinking over the years, I’ve simply chalked it down to a real evil God was addressing that often doesn’t meet the eye, particularly our eyes which too often are blinded by our own evil. What I think that scholar means (and I should actually verify that for sure, if I had the time, especially by reading their latest book) is that this god, or more precisely what this god was doing was a figment of their imagination so to speak. That God’s people were attributing to God what simply was not the case. I think that’s a hard case to sustain when one sees how this same kind of thing happens time and time again. And the New Testament writers, I am thinking now of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, don’t seem to be averse to it at all. In fact it’s supposed to be part of our instruction as followers of Jesus.

I am not up at all to a critique of this scholar. But my thought on how I read of God in scripture and especially in the Old Testament is that I don’t want to project my own inadequacy or failures, even evil, or what I may sense from others on God. God is wholly other and can’t be measured by the likes of us. We see God most directly and personally in Jesus. And any careful reading of the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) will raise questions for us that in the end surely need to be turned on us, so that we need to question ourselves.

To completely accept God as portrayed in scripture has been freeing and hopefully illuminating to me. Not that I can really understand, and isn’t that an important part of the illumination or revelation? Only in and through Jesus, God’s final Word, does everything come together to head to the climactic end we read about in the book of the Revelation. In itself another graphic portrayal of God’s acts in judgment and salvation. The God of the cross in Jesus making the old world new.

new possibilities we find in the word

When reading and meditating on scripture it is good to become aware of different angles which may help one keep on keeping on in good faith in the faith without becoming unduly discouraged. Helping one as well recover from discouragement.

For me the psalms can be par excellence in so doing. Besides my normal read of them each month, right now I’m slowly working through them during the course of each day. Just this morning as I was getting my breakfast around, I found the passage I was on an encouragement in suggesting to me that what I’m going through and the disappointment I’m experiencing with regard to something is understood by God and will be taken care of (Psalm 55:18-19). Of course we pray not only for justice, but even more so for mercy, a mercy which would triumph over justice, not by setting it aside, but by bringing the guilty one to repentance and forgiveness, even as we forgive others regardless.

We are connected to the real world in what counts and what is good in scripture. Outside of that real world is the world of lies, of “smoke and mirrors,” of plain downright deception and deceit. The answer for that is not necessarily pretty in our eyes; we seem averse to the purging of evil perhaps in large part because we are not capable of doing that ourselves, since we are tainted with evil, so that we fail in our imaginations to see judgment as good. But judgment from God is always good, meant in the end to save, even while there remains a final judgment which puts an end to the possibility of evil.

We need to remain in the written word, in scripture, knowing it leads us to the Word himself, God’s final Word, Jesus. But all the ins and outs of that written word are important, having their place in and through Jesus. So we do well to remain in that word. Something I hope to keep doing the rest of my life in and through Jesus.

“your word is a lamp to my feet” and my Sweets

When I first blogged, probably a few years into having my own blog, I used to never mention myself until a friend and writer (L. L. Barkat) encouraged me to do so. And so I see what writing I do as not only in significant part a sharing of the faith, but about my own faith as well, often couched in struggle.

Now as I look toward the end of my life since I’m nearing 60 (of course we could have a few more decades, but one never knows), I am thinking of what legacy I might have left. In reality I see as significant whatever God does by the Spirit in and through Jesus on a given day in a specific matter which I may somehow be participating in by prayer, being present, or some other way in my life. Looking back, what ends up mattering are especially the relationships closest to us, to me- my wife and daughter and her family. And above all my life in God through the gospel and the church in being a Christian and a follower of Jesus. How our story fits as a small part in God’s story.

It is a broken life in some aspects, a key for me being that I could hardly get my feet off the ground because of deep emotional brokenness early on. Something that in a way I never fully overcame by faith so as to fulfill the calling I sensed from God for a good number of years. And that led me to give up and never really come close enough to realize that it was truly in reach until much later, when in some ways it was too late.

And now, if you will bear with me, I will share what I might like on my epitaph on a small tombstone. I would like to be buried beside my Sweets, my one and only sweetheart and love, Debra. Deb who I used to call Honey and now Sweets, has been my wife for 30 years this October. She has had to put up with my incessant anxiety and pointed criticism, which I hope is abating so as to be not as bad, hopefully moving toward not being offensive at all, since that should be my goal. I love her deeply with all my heart and life. There is nothing I would rather do than have a simple, nice getaway with her. In fact my favorite vacation ever (and I’ve had some mighty good ones) was when we spent a few days and nights on Mackinac Island during our 25th wedding anniversary.

Deb handles the finances and is right when we disagree I would say a good 90% of the time. I would have done much better if I would have listened to her even some of the time. But above all she is simply a wonderful companion. Quiet, which actually fits well with me, though sometimes there can be misunderstanding because of it. A person of strong, unwavering faith, not given even just a little to anxiety, worry, or fear, which is good, since I can struggle with all of that. They say there’s no perfect match, but if there was, I wonder who would be setting the criteria and based on what. And if in the end, such judgment would be found wanting. The Lord has used her to work on my difficult areas, to help me become aware of them in the first place. I feel completely at home with my Sweets. Of course there are problems we find with each other which are less than ideal. Welcome to training to becoming godly as we learn to submit to each other in the fear and love of the Lord.

Our daughter Tiffany is part of our family, though adopted, her biological mother being one of Deb’s sisters. We took Tiffany into our home and hearts close to her third birthday. It is a bit complicated, but she is as much a daughter as any other child would be. She belongs to us. Her life has taken some extremely hard turns and we try to be there for her and our dear grandchildren as much as we can, two precious granddaughters, Morgan and Mandie, and their father, Chris. They are always in our hearts and prayers.

We’ve been a part of too many different churches through the years. I admire those who are faithful in one church or denomination for decades. That is the ideal. This would easily take up too much space, so I would simply say that we love every church we’ve been a part of, no exceptions. The church has always been important in my thinking and practice of the faith, but has taken on new meaning through the sacramental life interpretation which I’ve adopted, along with the common life, all from the gospel of Jesus.

To bring this to a close, the word meaning scripture has been front and center in my life of faith for some time. Interestingly I work in the factory end for a ministry which is very much centered in the Bible, whose goal is to make its life-changing wisdom understandable and accessible to all: Our Daily Bread Ministries.

I used to listen to scripture being read, everyday for years, a good majority of the forty plus years I’ve been a Christian. Now I’m happy as long as I have both scripture (right now I carry a pocket NIV New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs pretty much everywhere) and a cup of coffee in hand. I try to slowly meditate over a book. I have that down pretty well on weekdays, and now am trying to get it down better on weekends. This is what keeps me going no matter what. To be in the word and hopefully get the word in me by the Spirit in and through Jesus, so that hopefully my life is becoming more and more conformed to his image. We need all of scripture. So I read the Old and New Testaments through as well in my complete Bible.

On our small tombstone I would like to have this verse engraved:

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

 Psalm 119:105

With a small cross probably after it.

And the a few words about my Sweets. Something like:

To the one, my dear one, who I love with all my heart, my companion in life and in following our Lord. Who deserved so much more. I love you, Sweets, and I hope we have a special place side by side forever, even as you get to be riding your horse, Duke, once again even with a paintbrush or pencil in hand.

My wife is often a person of few words, so not sure what she would want to have on it. And I know this post is only making a point. Whatever tombstone we may have will be much more simple.

Maybe this on the tombstone to end it:

As we await together the resurrection in the blessed return of our Lord Jesus.

And so is a shorthand summary of how I see my life. It would be interesting to see the same kind of summary from my friends and others. Of life now which is only the faint beginning of the life to come in and through Jesus.