a simple faith

Life is complex, and scripture mirrors that complexity, since it is true to life. We need to be in scripture, all of it, and we can appreciate and learn from practices and teaching from tradition- from teachings of the church, no doubt. But a simple faith can be underrated, in fact can go a long way.

To have a  simple faith is to accept God’s revelation found in scripture in Jesus, and take it to heart. There is a rest in Jesus, in what he accomplished for us and humanity in his death and resurrection. And a following of Jesus in living in the kingdom of God present in him. This faith is communal as well as missional. In other words we live out this faith with others in Jesus, not just by ourselves. And we are on mission for others, for the world, in the way of Jesus.

To have a simple faith is to have access to and be in communion with God through Jesus by the Spirit, a communion which includes all of God’s people. In that faith we are to draw near to God with the promise that God will draw near to us.

To have a simple faith is to be obedient to the leading of the Spirit, to God’s voice in scripture, from our gatherings as church as well as all the rest of our times. Whatever we do, a simple faith orients us to God and to God’s will for us in Jesus.

To have a simple faith is to be active in good works done out of love. We rest, but we also work as a natural part of faith. Faith not acted upon is no faith at all.

And so we go on in Jesus together, in a simple faith in and through him for the world.

faith–continuing on

At times, maybe many times without us realizing it, the wind of the Spirit carries us, and we sail in that breeze (an analogy), or find little trouble moving on, in spite of whatever troubles we have. And then there are those other times when our faith is challenged. We are struggling with uncertainty, doubt, or fear, and our faith seems to be waning. Actually such times can be times of significant growth in our faith, if nothing else in learning how to better live under such pressure.

The goal of our faith is the salvation to be revealed in the last day, which certainly is for us, but also for others, indeed for all of creation. We are to see our faith as not simply about seeing ourselves through, but seeing others through as well, in fact seeing God’s will done in and through Jesus for the good of others. And the focus of our faith is to be on Jesus himself, and God’s will for us in him. We focus on Jesus and his way, that we might be changed into his likeness and follow.

And so we go on, no matter what. Looking to God in and through Jesus that we might bless others in the blessing of God.

where (or which one) is the church?

I wish I would have read and studied much on the church, both in regard to scriptural exegesis, theology, and especially with reference to the historical (called, historical theology). Younger folks dive into this kind of stuff, and I’m thankful for that, but as I get older, I confine myself to the niche I have (whatever that is). Though in this day and age with Wikipedia, and other resources online, it is amazing what one can pick up in an hour or two (or even less).

Why I ask the question, “what is the church?” is because of the question of authority with reference to tradition. This is not entirely a moot question, because there have been councils which spoke authoritatively for the church along the lines of theology. Some carry weight and some don’t (or maybe all do), depending on which Christian tradition one is a part of.

Of course we know from scripture that the church is the body of Christ who regularly meet together, most of them on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). The church is also called the pillar and foundation of the truth, in other words where we can find the truth lived out, proclaimed and taught. It should go without saying that the church is not infallible in its own judgments and pronouncements. At the same time it also needs to be said that safety is found only where the Spirit has said the same thing to God’s people, not just to one person, or one group. Scripture is the source from where we gather truth, but theology includes all that we bring as humans and from culture, to decipher and express that truth.

Every generation has to continue this work, not because past generations have gotten it wrong, but to speak the truth afresh with the Spirit’s help to each new generation.

I wish it was all this simple. Tradition is important, because God works through tradition to help us rightly read and understand scripture. But what tradition? Which one? And where do we appeal to defend one particular group as the bearers of the tradition? Yes, we appeal to scripture, but God uses the church to read scripture rightly, to get the message of the gospel straight.

I think in the end we have to appeal to something like C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” which is widely appreciated by Catholics and Protestants alike. There are significant differences across tradition, but we perhaps come closest to the truth as we find common ground. At the same time, I am not at all convinced that the broad tradition is going to get everything right. For example the pacifist Christianity of the early centuries of the church has been buried through a union with the state in which it was taken for granted that Christians would go to war and kill if need be, sometimes -sadly- even in the name of Christ. The Great Tradition got it right when they made all soldiers upon their return do penance (sadly, not the case with so many churches today). Penance from my perspective: considering the seriousness and gravity, as well as wrong that is inevitably done in such endeavors, with accompanying repentance. But that tradition went astray, I take it, by not following the teaching and example of our Lord against all such violence for the follower of Jesus.

This question goes on. I will continue to count as church wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, with the promise that he is with them (yes, in a disciplinary, judging context, but I take it to be a general promise, as well). And I will respect that this is so wherever true followers of Jesus meet across all the traditions in which the truth found in Jesus is taught and followed. All of us in Jesus are in this together for the world.

Richard B. Hays on evil overcome by righteous suffering*

Just as Jesus suffered for his word of testimony, so those who follow him must testify and suffer. The repeated call to the community is to endure and to bear witness faithfully….

Those who follow him in persecution and death are not filling a randomly determined quota of martyrs; rather, they are enacting the will of God, who has chosen to overcome evil precisely in and through righteous suffering, not in spite of it. That is why those who bear the name of the Lamb on their foreheads must also share his fate.

Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, 176, 179.

*From the chapter: “Revelation: Resisting the Beast,” under the subheading: “The Vocation of the Saints,’ with particular attention given to Revelation 14:4; 12:10,11; 13:9-10.

prayer

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; 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

reciting the “Jesus Creed” and praying the “Lord’s/our Father” prayer

I like to be in scripture all day, and I like to read books, especially books relating to scripture. Being in the written word is what I’ve been about for years, even decades now, though I don’t suppose I’ve done all that well in it. But it is my default, and more than that, my first take or place to where I’ll turn, apart from my own turns, actions and reactions. Of course whatever comes our way is the opportunity to look God’s way in Jesus and to God’s word.

During the past few years, reciting the “Jesus Creed” and praying the “Lord’s prayer” have become staples for me. Recently I let this practice wane a bit, but once again I do this as an integral or necessary part of my day.

The Jesus Creed:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.

The Lord’s/our Father prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Reciting these regularly when I’m about my daily tasks and life is helpful in keeping me centered in what is important (as well as helping me be less prone to be taken in by what’s not) and helps in keeping my prayer life active and alive.

We need to remain centered in God’s will of love in Jesus. Of course that will (God’s will) involves so much, which we can begin to understand from an ongoing reading and study of God’s word individually and in community as church. And God meets us with his good will right where we live in and through Jesus by the Spirit, or by the Spirit in and through Jesus, both. (Though I might want to emphasize here the Jesus-shaped life our lives are to become more and more like.)

And we need to remain in prayer in the way Jesus taught his disciples and teaches us. I am thankful that our church recites this prayer nearly every week.

Both help us stay centered in God’s will in Jesus, a will in which we in Jesus are in this life together for the world.

let it come

Then the Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?”

There are special things for us to do, something good to accomplish, if we only have our eyes open, the eyes of our heart.

Of course this presupposes a call from God, which we all have in Christ. In the case of Moses it was a call which was ultimately missional, as well as communal.  Today it is in terms of the church and the church’s mission from God to live out, witness to, and proclaim the gospel of King Jesus.

We each have our special part to do to contribute to the whole of this. We need to let it come in the sense of not pressing the matter, and yet being ready to be obedient in faith to the calling, often given to us as an urging of something we actually want to do. Mixed with that is the realization that in and of ourselves, we can’t do it. That can make us reticent to do it. Case in point: Moses (click link above to see the passage).

Our part is to humbly move in faith. God will lead and help us. As we find our place and part together with others in Jesus for the world.

considering a matter

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
    to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

Why does God conceal things from us human beings? I’m sure it is for our own good. Some things seem obvious, in your face. And yet others are not. There may be a number of things at play here. But perhaps a main point is that we humans, as God image bearers, are to be developing along the lines of knowledge, and especially of love. Truth and love go together. Wisdom would seem to be the main point in a matter, given that this is Proverbs, a book about wisdom. It is both a general kind of wisdom as well as special, the general accessible to all humankind, and the special to those in covenant relationship with God as his people.

Some matters are difficult, although we really ought to be careful in considering anything. But we need to do so as those looking to God for wisdom. Our focus needs to be both on the matter at hand, as well as on the revelation God has given us in scripture in and through Jesus. Again there will be ways in which we approach anything just as anyone else would, as well as ways that are unique to the revelation we have in Jesus.

We have to depend on the Spirit to help us, to God to give us the needed wisdom and insight, and we may have to keep turning over a matter again and again over time. It is interesting how over time, or toward the end of one’s life, one’s perspective and view of things and of any given thing may change.

And we do best to do this with friends, with those in Jesus, in community. We don’t do as well if we think there is nothing we can learn from others. Most everything we learn is learned through other people. And in the community of God in Jesus, learned from other followers of Jesus.

And so let’s not give up, but look to God and keep searching out a matter. Together in Jesus for the world.

clarity of meaning and Bible translating

There is a new generation which has what I consider a mistaken idea about translating the Bible, scripture, the word of God. There evidently is the idea that because scripture is the written word of God, that it must be unique in the way we translate it. Actually this is all a bit more complicated than I’m making it to be. Yes, there are different kind of translations of scripture, and they all have merit, from the Contemporary English Version to the New American Standard Bible. But as Dave Brunn points out in his most helpful book, One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal?, there are languages on earth (he translated scripture into one of them) which in form and manner of speaking are completely different, not in the family of languages in which both English and Koine Greek reside. To translate scripture into such a language is to end up taking pains to communicate the meaning clearly, and of course that opens up more than just translating, even when one is trying to strictly adhere to the text of scripture, by which I mean trying to be as true to its wording and message as possible.

If I’m translating English into any one of the languages in the family of English such as German or French, I will have to make all kinds of adjustments with reference to word order, how verbs are used etc. Languages even in the same family (here, Indo-European) simply are different in a number of ways, and the differences are not straight line or predictable. Add to that the unique figures of speech which are present in any language and one will find that translating is not a mere word for word transference, which strictly speaking in itself is not at all possible, that is if one really wants to translate.

Of course it isn’t wrong to want a version (notice I’m avoiding the word “translation” right now) of scripture which is more true to the wording of the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. The translations that aspire to this which are popular today, such as the English Standard Version, don’t even come close really to rendering the English into the word order and sound of the original. Though they may come closer to that, than say a translation like the New International Version. That being said there are times when actually the English Standard Version makes an interpretive translation, leaving a literal word for word translation behind. And interestingly enough in a number of those cases, the New International Version is actually more “literal,” both retaining the original wording without loss of meaning. Go to the book cited above for a good number of charts which show this and include perhaps the most literal translation of scripture used today, the New American Standard Bible, which does the same thing.

There is absolutely no substitute for learning Hebrew and Koine Greek, and learning to read scripture in those original languages in the editions we have from scholars. That being said, take any number of faithful translations of scripture, including all of those cited in this post, and you have a faithful rendering of scripture, indeed you have the inscripturated word of God. The precedent of that is right in scripture itself when biblical writers quote the first translation of scripture, the Septuagint, as the word of God, which happens a number of times in the New Testament. No one has to feel in the least bit slighted. Scholars have done well in translating scripture, and any follower of Jesus can in essence know God’s word as well as any scholar.

The best translation of scripture? Well, as one scholar told me, best, or actually something like, “most accurate for what?” But as another Christian said, something like: “The best translation is the one you use.” And so let us go on reading scripture both ourselves and together as church. That the Spirit may speak God’s word to us anew and afresh, as we live together in Jesus for the world.

pent up

There are times when life comes down on one hard. At nearly every turn there can be serious problems which need resolution, or that possibility. During such times we can end up holding so much inside, which is needed, lest it comes out in ways that are unhealthy and harmful to others.

That said, we do need to learn to pour out our hearts to God in prayer, just as we see time and again in the psalms. And we need to be able to share our troubles with a trusted friend who will listen and pray for us. As well as a pastor or someone who is spiritual.

I have learned that such trying times can be good for learning more discipline in directing our thoughts to God in prayer, and being more attentive to him. At the same time such times are also a trial when we can be prone to doing not so well. We do well to acknowledge that we need the Lord and we need each other in Jesus all the time, and especially so in a certain sense during such times.

We need to entrust ourselves to God through Jesus, and keep doing so. To acknowledge him as our Savior and Lord. To commit our lives into his hands. And to learn from such times, ways we may not learn as well any other time. The way of the cross. The way of following Jesus to the end, no matter what. The way of love to enemies. The way of faith in looking to God to supply our needs. The way of the kingdom as being the life to which we aspire and in which we live, a kingdom not in tune with this world, but for this world.

And so we go on. Looking to God and to his will in all things in and through Jesus. Together with others in Jesus and for the world.