the faithfulness of Jesus, or faith in Jesus?

J. R. Daniel Kirk, one of my favorite Christian theologian/Bible/New Testament scholars recently had a helpful post on living in the story of God in Jesus. And in the post he grapples a bit with the issue over how to translate a certain phrase in Paul’s writings. Traditionally this has been translated into our English, “faith in Christ/Jesus.” But more literally it would be translated, “the faithfulness (or, faith) of Christ/Jesus.”

I think the words of the Koine Greek text, and the larger narrative favor “the faithfulness of Jesus,” over “faith in Jesus.” Though if translated that way, there are still plenty of texts, including from Paul himself that make faith in Jesus to be important for us, even essential.

But in a practical way I find the faithfulness of Jesus in terms of what he did for us in his death and resurrection, in that saving work which the Spirit of God now works in accord with, I find that to be more helpful to me than thinking about my own faith.

It is Jesus’ faithfulness I can rest in, and not my own sometimes weak, wavering, and even battered faith. It’s not that I am excused not to hold on to faith, or keep the faith. But I can better do so by realizing that it’s because of the faithfulness of Jesus that I can continue in that stance of faith, and nothing more nor less. Of course the Spirit is at work in God’s grace in Jesus to help us,  all part of what comes out of the faithfulness of Jesus.

In the end either translation is acceptable. Though I prefer and surmise that one of them is better. But it can’t be disputed, I believe,  that Jesus is the just one who lives by his faithfulness and in that faithfulness lifts others up to do so. Yes, we must put our faith in Jesus, committing ourselves, our lives completely to God through him.

I along with others in Jesus will keep looking in faith to the one who in his faithfulness to us on the cross, and by the resurrection, will not only carry us through, but will help us to grow up and do well- in him, together in Jesus for the world.

laying low

Sometimes I want to act on some light I receive sooner than later, which was the  case yesterday. On some matters, that can be quite good and right. But on big enough matters, I probably do well to lay low and pray and wait. With a commitment to seeing the matter through, either to some sort of action, or simply letting it fade away, not carrying the weight I originally thought it might carry.

The danger is that I might not act on the move of the Spirit at a certain moment when the time is right. I need to trust the Lord in that though, that somehow he will help me know the difference so that I will know when to strike because the iron is hot; when it’s time, or not time.

Laying low as in prayerfully and meditatively waiting is advantageous to help one clear all mixed motives through the convicting work of the Spirit followed by confession of our sin. If a thought or idea is of God, then some time passing will only clarify that. If it is not, that will be clarified too, as a kind of will-o’-the-wisp. I do well to wait a day or so, perhaps get counsel from a pastor or trusted friend, and then type out the thoughts and see where that leads. Unless there is a certain sense of prevailing conviction, and I’m not speaking of feeling here as much as thought, then I can let the matter go, at least for the time being.

Often we do well to slow down, even to stop, and wait. The Lord will help us to make better decisions, as we deliberately look to him, and to the wisdom he can give.

staying within one’s self

On the one hand it’s good to be stretched beyond one’s limits. Often so much is learned. And this is a subject in itself, played out in different ways in our lives. God certainly works within our commitment to Christ in that way, quite uncomfortable to us many times, in growing us up into maturity in Christ.

On the other hand, at the same time we do well, and are wise to learn to stay within ourselves, in a certain sense. In baseball pitchers often get into trouble because they overthrow, or don’t stay within themselves, what they can do, and let that come, especially when they are struggling, or are in a big game. David expresses something like that in Psalm 131:

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

I often want to push against such limits. I want to contribute in areas and in ways that are really beyond me, instead of contributing in ways that I can. Yes, simple ways, and yet we do well to remember that everything is a gift from God. We can pray and look to God to use us beyond ways we can imagine. But it will be within the work that he is doing in and through us. Together with others in Jesus for the world.

 

not losing one’s nerve

There are all kinds of reasons why one might lose their nerve, and then their witness in and of Jesus. Demas loved “this present age” and left Paul. Mark left Paul and Barnabas, apparently overwhelmed, though later he returned to the Lord’s work. Judas’ heart was set on money, and in the end showed that he did not have it in his heart to follow Jesus, being on another path.

Not losing one’s nerve is essential if we’re to go on and continue to follow to the end. To follow Jesus is not to embark on an easy calling. It is one fraught with problems and issues. The world, the flesh and the devil will see to that.

Self-control is always and ever essential. It is a part of the fruit of the Spirit, or one might say a fruit of the Spirit. We’ve been given a Spirit which doesn’t cause us to be timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. For me when all seems out of hand, or I’m hit by something, I do well to remember this, and to hold my ground, standing firm in the words of the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians, in the Lord’s mighty strength, with the armor of God, and by the word and prayers through the Spirit.

It is so hard to lay low at times. Perhaps one has been deeply hurt and there is opportunity to somehow lash back on some level, maybe in a way that seems justified and without sin. But we do well to hold on to self-control, and not to let ourselves be carried away by our emotions and thoughts. I am better off at times, especially when it seems hottest and most important to respond now, to wait. Either I’ll see better enough later to not respond at all, or I’ll have a response that has been better thought out.

This is part of training ourselves to be godly. To refuse to fly off the handle, and lower ourselves into something that is not good for others nor for ourselves, and is not pleasing to the Lord. We’re better off to pray, and to keep praying, beginning with the prayer our Lord taught us.

We do this as those who seek to follow our Lord by the Spirit together for the world.

the pursuit

It is said that the pursuit in a romance is in some ways better than when that pursuit results in union and its aftermath. For us in Jesus we certainly have a strong sense of not having arrived in this life. And yet we have an equally strong sense that we need to pursue.

I’m often on the edge of succumbing to something that is a flash point for me. That ends up being a trial for me, either way, since it is often not far from my consciousness, as something that either can or has happened. How do I handle such times becomes the question. How do I work through them? And how do I act with reference to the big picture. Often a trial with no clear human answer can hang over one’s head for years. That may well be a test of our faith to see if we’ll keep bringing it before God in prayer, and wait for his answer.

Paul said that he knew he hadn’t arrived, but that he pressed on toward the mark of God’s high calling in Christ.  For me I’m simply trying to press on in faith, to hold on to that, and to seek God’s will in Jesus for the day, as well as for my life.

Whatever the reason, it seems that something of a pursuit is part and parcel of being a Christian. Following Jesus is inherently a pursuit, involving the moving and work of the Spirit. In a certain sense the pursuit may not be any easier in itself, it may well become actually harder as we go along. And yet our own practice in faith, and maturity as a result should become greater. When Abraham was commanded by God to offer up as a sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham was well along not only in years, but in his faith journey. It certainly was not easier, but Abraham’s hand was steady, his heart and will set on obeying God in faith to the very end.

Even when I’m rather tired, and worn out and frayed from the “battle,” I need to keep pursuing God’s will in Jesus. And I do that not only in my own life when I’m alone, but also as one who is in communion with others in Jesus. We are in this together.

This is a pursuit that never ends, that impacts all we do. Oh yes, there will be those seasons of rest and renewal, but we get up from such times to continue the pursuit.

I wonder if in some measure, somehow, something of this pursuit will go on in the age to come. I tend to think so, even though we will be living in union with our bridegroom, Jesus. Yes, that is to be the case in our love relationships here and now. We may well be in union in marriage, but to keep the relationship fresh, there needs to be a sense of pursuit.

May the Lord strengthen all of us in him, to go on in his good strength and will. No matter what we are facing, or what our experience is. Pursuing him, and God’s will in him, together for the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the word needing* the church (as well as the church needing the word)

The question as to what came first, the Word or the church, is meaningless, because the Word as inspired by the Spirit exists only when men hear it, so that the church makes the Word just as the Word makes the church into the church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Communion of Saints, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 160-161, as quoted by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Doctrine, 115.

*I know “needing” in the title is rather interpretive, but I am thinking in the context of Vanhoozer’s writing, that this is likely getting at something of the meaning of Bonhoeffer’s words. Of course every good gift comes from God, and scripture is no less the written word of God regardless, even though it is to be spoken and heard to become that effectual word from God.

beauty

Later summer, when signs of fall are here, and there’s some relief at times from the hottest days, and yet some warmth and heat remaining- this is one of my favorite times of the year. Beauty is everywhere. I admit that it helps that we received some rescuing rain from the heat and drought which earlier had browned most yards up.

Beauty indeed may be (and is) in the eyes of the beholder, but that shouldn’t lessen its value to us, and indeed it doesn’t lessen its value at all- in terms of God and creation. Yes, there are factors which if we understood them would give us pause, gives some people even cause in their minds to see beauty in depreciating terms, so that it is all but lost. And yet scientists both on the telescopic and microscopic levels are in awe and enthralled with the beauty they find everywhere.

There is a subjective aspect to all of this indeed, akin to impressionistic type of paintings which try to communicate something of the experience of the beholder. I like paintings which not only help us to see beauty, but to see reality, even when it’s not beautiful, indeed ugly or troubling. What objectivity there is in beauty, and I mean beauty which is in itself beautiful is derived from a subject who gives it, that subject I accept as God.

God in Trinity is beautiful, and the story in scripture of God revealing himself in Jesus and bringing the world to right, that is toward the goal in new creation in Jesus, and many details surrounding that are indeed beautiful. Seeing God in the eyes of the poor, because in them we see something of Jesus who became poor and was meek and I think poor in spirit, that we might become rich- that is beautiful. I know a family who has went through so much (well, we all have, I think, but some it seems more so) and out of that has come a beauty that is wonderful, marked with deep humility and love.

Beauty. I hope to enjoy some today, as I enjoy some time with my wife, and appreciate some of God’s wondrous creation as well as humanity’s culture in reflecting some of that image in this world. We love and await for more beauty, and want to be growing in and reflecting something of that beauty in and through Jesus together for the world.

working hard

Sometimes we might joke something like, “Are you working hard, or hardly working?” In my older age I’m beginning to slow down when I can, to pace myself. I used to try basically to go full tilt in my work, which has been factory work heading toward three decades now.

I was told by a very good brother and friend that the goal should be not to work hard, but to work smart. Of course I thought I did both. I certainly worked hard, for sure, and involved my mind in that. I think he has an important point. Work is more than just good elbow grease, or keeping one’s self diligent on the task at hand, etc. It involves us in our full humanity, and that humanity includes relationships and community. It is about being in something together.

I am blessed to work in a Christian ministry in which we make the Our Daily Bread devotionals, along with a host of related writings. There is no doubt in my mind that God is using ODB and RBC Ministries in the world, quite significantly to help young Christians grow, even some to come to enter into the faith, and to be alongside churches in assisting them in their calling. What we brothers and sisters in Jesus do together there is with that in view. While at the same time I go on, seeking to grow in my own pursuit of God’s will and maturity in Christ. And last, but not least, provide for my family, blessed with God’s provision for our needs.

Working hard is about putting our whole being into the task at hand. But it is doing so in the way of Jesus. A way that works hard with all our strength. But does so in God’s calling in Jesus. A calling which is communal in nature, as well as missional. A calling in which we’re to live in love, and as servants of all. Humbly giving and receiving.

We need God’s wisdom given to us along the way, and we need to grow in wisdom as well. Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed in a job, maybe more than a bit. It is then that I work at keeping my head well in it, so that I can continue to do well and give my all to what is going on. At the same time I want to do so in the way of Jesus. A way in which the yoke shared with Jesus is easy, and the burden carried with him, is light.

That is the way we in Jesus are called to go, together in him for the world.

the emptiness of the flesh

The flesh in scripture is somewhat complex and multifaceted in meaning, depending on its context. Although it can simply mean created bodily entities, in general “flesh” means the weakness of sinful humanity both individually and corporately, the latter in some kind of sytematic way that is under the thumb of the powers, meaning the entities of the devil. The world (as in the world system set against God), the flesh and the devil have aptly in some respects, been called “the unholy trinity.”

I don’t like to get too caught up in flesh/spirit dichotomy, as some teachers of the Christian faith have. At the same time it is important, even vital to keep in mind the importance of us seeking to live (or walk, the metaphor used) in and by the Spirit, so that we don’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh. A passage in scripture lists (some of- unless these are categories which capture all) the works of the flesh, along with the fruit of the Spirit.

I come up empty, or at least rather empty on those days when maybe I have too much caffeine in my system and with all kinds of pressure and problems I rather fairly much depend on myself to get the job done. Of course life can be a struggle, but the difference can be in how we handle it. It may look the same from the outside, at least on a surface level. But inside might be another story. For me one of my biggest struggles is simply to get down. To kind of kick into survival mode, while seeking to do the best I can.

Even so, the Spirit of God does not abandon us when we drift in this way. The Spirit is at work to help us in drawing us to come closer to God through Christ. And to reorientate us into Christ’s likeness. What we need to do which can make all the difference in a day, is to seek to walk by the Spirit. For me this means I need to slow down in my mind and spirit, if not always in my body, though the latter often helps, as well. To be in prayer, praying the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, as well as my own prayers, hopefully prayers the Spirit helps me to pray. And to repeat “the Jesus Creed,” the command to love God and neighbor.

I think too that to walk in the Spirit is relational at its core. The fruit of the Spirit is lived out in relationships, at its heart being love. To love God and our neighbor is its essence.

And following Jesus means to live a cross-formed, or cruciform life. In the same letter, actually the same passage, Paul says that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. And that since we in Jesus live in the Spirit, we’re to keep in step with the Spirit.

I write here of things I don’t know well enough. But I do know this well enough to believe it, and to prayerfully seek by the Spirit to live it. And I want to do so in community and communion with others in Jesus, and for the world.