writing by faith

Maybe, ironically, this post is a cop out and escape from the very subject that it is: writing by faith. Essentially, I think, that is what I do on this blog. Most of the time when I sit down I don’t know what I’m going to write on. And if I have an inkling ahead of time, I try to suppress my thoughts, because I don’t want more thoughts to flow, since I’m not at a keyboard.

I write by faith because everything is a gift from God. When someone way back when suggested that I ought to start my own blog, probably both out of respect for him, and simply in being intrigued, and having enjoyed what blogging I had done in the way of comments on Scot McKnight’s, Jesus Creed, I decided to give it a whirl. I remember early on for some time being amazed after every post, that I could write a post at all. Blogging also was less “old hat” then, it seems, not to say it doesn’t have value now. Even if not the value some are looking for. To this day I certainly consider every post a gift. Yes, a responsibility, but any ability we have from God is a gift, and I want to be led by God in what I write, even if what it all is is developmental in nature. Even so God uses our halting words and attempts to share his word and good news in Jesus.

I write by faith because essentially the subject matter is way over my head, way over any one’s head. I don’t want to simply be passing information along, even from the Bible. Actually anyone can do that and do that even on their own. Even if it is foolishness to them. What I want to share is something of the heart of God, something of the good news in Jesus, and something of my own testimony and life in relation to that.

Writing by faith is essentially like living by faith. We go on writing, wanting to be totally dependent on God through Christ, and even in our weakness and faults God’s strength is redemptively made known. There is something of the divine and human interwoven, somehow it is both God and I who do this work. Even though it is God alone who is the source of all good things, from whom all blessings flow.

I don’t know if I’ll blog as long as I can in this life. I used to think for sure that I would like to do that. I have one writer friend, a quite successful writer (books) who once had a blog, but says it is a poor way to share one’s writing. I would like to have a wider audience, as this person puts it, although I shudder at that thought, because I think it is presumptuous for me to want any audience at all. I simply want to be open to how God might move me.

Blogs are not only a dime a dozen nowadays, but even books are becoming that. Anyone at all can write their own book, though whether or not a publishing company wants it is an entirely other matter. I have often thought about writing a book, I think I would love to do that, at the same time I don’t want to write a book simply to write a book.

And so for now I will continue on. It is an exercise for me, and hopefully it will bless someone along the way. As we in Jesus continue on in faith and for the world.

money isn’t everything

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount on money are well worth quoting at length (as indeed are all his words):

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy (the Greek for healthy here implies generous*), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy (the Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy*), your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

There is no doubt that most all of us are (or have been) more or less caught up in the pressure of “consumerism.” The never ending pursuit of things considered necessary for life, even for happiness and “the good life.” By and by we may escape, or at least it may largely dissipate from the hold it once previously had on us. But we have to live with the consequences, which, by the way, God can redeem for good. Caught in consumerism may mean having to buy the latest style or toy which peaks our interest. Or it may simply mean getting caught up into the vortex of what is considered necessary for life. One example of the latter: owning a home, and maybe a much larger home than what is really needed. I don’t at all mean to suggest that owning a home is bad or that there is some magic number one can’t cross before their lifestyle is questionable. Although by these words, I think it is without a doubt necessary to question just how much we do need or want. And those who live quite well often are quite generous to the poor and are surely thus pleasing in that regard to our Lord.

This is not so much a matter of getting rid of the old, but instead, pursuing the new: treasures in heaven instead of treasure on earth, in the pursuit of the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. We are to have the same passion as our king: King Jesus, seeking to live in line with the values of God’s kingdom come in him.

Does that mean we can’t enjoy things, even some things we don’t need? I am not wanting to suggest that. But it does mean that our heart is for others to share the joy and bounty of our Father  as well as to help others in their need. In and through Jesus we are to be together in this for each other and for the world.

*From NIV footnote.

giving thanks

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Just as I am trying to turn most everything into a prayer to God, so I would do well to thank God much more for all his provision and blessing. Of course, as I was reminded by a brother recently, we are not only to count our blessings, but share them, indeed to be a blessing. And of course all of this is a gift from God.

Thanksgiving is actually part of prayer, as we see in the text above. And we see there that it is also an attitude of the heart. Even when all may seem to be caving in, we are taught to give thanks to God, as well as offer our petitions to him, with the promise of his peace to guard our hearts and our minds. And in the context of that teaching we are taught that as we are generous in helping others in their need, God will help us in our need, according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

And so that is both what I want to do and be. A person who regularly gives thanks to God, and a person who is thankful to God for his blessing, even as we seek to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, 1979 (and thanks to Scot McKnight for posting this prayer)

speechless

There are those times when the gift of the creative juices seem to be flowing. What is done is something which hopefully not only fits in place in its own terms, but more importantly fits in place in terms of life, yes, in God’s story.

But more often than I would like, and sometimes especially so, I am left speechless. Although in general I don’t want to speak unless I sense something worth being said with whatever worth it carries, including even hopefully good humor.

Maybe during such times we can still ourselves to hear God: to hear his speech in creation, the written word, and in the incarnate Word, Jesus. That somehow even in the midst of the measured, fluctuating chaos that is life, God’s voice can get through.

We don’t like this. We want words or music or whatever. And of course we have it in scripture itself, for example in the Psalms. And yet there can be that strong sense of feeling mute and agnostic, without abandoning faith and the knowledge which comes from that.

Such times are good for being still even in the midst of what we may have to do and say. And can instill within us a deeper sense of our need for God. Fulfilled in and through the Word made flesh: Jesus. Yes, even where we live, by his Spirit.

prayer for children

There are a number of things that are noteworthy about the character Job’s life. The one that especially sticks out to me is how he would pray for his children and offer sacrifices to God after their feasts. In case any of them had offended God.

We suffer with those who suffer, or we are called to that. And this is especially the case with our children. We need to learn to pray for them regularly, and to pray for God’s good will in Jesus on their lives. Of course how that unfolds and what that looks like may not on the surface seem good to us. It seems like suffering hits us all and leaves its mark. For us in Jesus we can respond to suffering as those seeking to draw near to God for help, and by the Spirit we can become more like Jesus. And at least more like the “blessed” which to the world are losers, such as “the poor in spirit,” and “those who mourn,” etc.

Back to praying for our children: we certainly pray for God’s mercy on them, and we pray God’s will for them, in and through Jesus. This is a good book to help one develop and practice along those lines, or to simply keep praying the prayers in the book. From one whose son had become a heroin addict, but now has a ministry to help heroin addicts.

We pray for our children because we love them. We suffer when they suffer. But we try to hold them before God for his very best in their lives in and through Jesus. That in itself can be painful when we see them make decisions which are not good. Of course we remember that we haven’t always made the best decisions ourselves. And we hold them before God, for his mercy.

And we want to do this to the very end. That their faith and hope might rest in God through Christ. That they may be among the blessed in and through Jesus.

looking at the big picture (N. T. Wright’s work)

In a recent talk at Mars Hill Bible Church, N. T. Wright declared the need for more Christian scholars, who nearly inevitably nowadays will go after their doctorates, to do work which takes in consideration the big picture. Biblical or theological doctorate degrees are geared to specialization on small parts, knowing them thoroughly with the danger according to Wright that the big picture is missed altogether.  N. T. Wright went on to say (along with many other things, he could hold his own with the Apostle Paul and anyone else) that much of what is held to is true, but not seen in terms of the big picture.

Whether or not you accept “the new perspective,” or see in it anything which challenges the old, I think N. T. Wright’s challenge is good for us all. In my case I find myself in basic acceptance and agreement with it, from what I gather and understand. Of course “the new perspective on Paul” or in terms of Jesus, like other theological schools has adherents who disagree among themselves on various matters.

The big picture will have to take into account all of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Fundamentally that can be enough for many of us, except that we never do anything at all in a vacuum, which points to a weakness in “sola-Scriptura.” The idea that scripture alone forms are view of truth has to be qualified to some extent to understand that we read it not in terms of what we understand, but in its own terms which includes ways of communicating and thinking we may miss altogether, given our own context. Yes, context as in philosophical and theological presuppositions will definitely play into our reading and understanding of scripture.

N. T. Wright is among those who argues that we need to do historical work around the texts of scripture, to help us understand. A well worn understanding within the new perspective is that Augustine and Luther were working on Paul more within their own contexts rather than in the context Paul lived in himself. And so, for example, they, especially Luther see a sharper dichotomy between faith and works than what is seen in scripture. Hence Luther’s complaint of James as a “right strawy epistle.”

The systematic theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, I take it without dismissing the new perspective, challenges N. T. Wright a bit on the insistence that history becomes a determining factor in arriving to the meaning of the text of scripture, saying that this could undermine the God-given role of tradition. From what I’ve read of N. T. Wright, he would want to maintain the role of tradition along with the need for ongoing historical studies. Wright within his Anglican tradition recites the creed daily, and sees it as something formed to respond to the challenges of its time, all of it being true. But that the gospels which in Wright’s view are essentially about how God became King in Jesus, in accordance with the promises fulfilled of the old covenant and through Israel, were filled in with details which the creeds skip altogether, zeroing in on Jesus birth, death, resurrection, ascension and return.

At any rate the challenge to see the big picture and to see it on its own terms is a good challenge for us all. We will end up seeing and understanding the parts that make up the whole much better if we can better understand the main point being made, or better put, the storyline of scripture. Not an easy undertaking, but one that can’t be shelved, even as we seek to understand the details of God’s great story fulfilled in and through Jesus.

community in Jesus: a life and death matter

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

In Christ we are members together of one body, Christ being the head. While we can talk about a universal, global church, most of the time in the New Testament, each local church is the body of Christ, in itself. This analogy presses home both the relationship we have with Christ and from that with each other. It is not the case that we all get our sustenance from the head and then everything is good. In God’s will and working Christ’s body depends not only on the head, but on the “work” of “each part.”

Early on in the history of the church, the church took on a ceremonial sacramental understanding of participation in the body of Christ. What came to the fore was the essential need to partake of Christ’s body and blood through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, in the bread and the wine. What was likely the case in the beginning, actual meals, was now about a ceremonial, sacramental practice.

In this sacrament through the partaking of the bread and the wine, the faithful partake of Christ. The church in its teaching made this essential for salvation, even if grace has been extended to those who either don’t believe in “the real presence” in the bread and the wine, or don’t practice the ordinance. I personally have no problem calling the Lord’s Supper a sacrament. I believe that through the Spirit the Lord is especially present during such times. However I wonder if unwittingly we can lose out on the aspect of sharing in Christ through our actual participation in him with each other. Not only is there a vertical aspect, but a horizontal one as well. We go on as best we can essentially by ourselves, of course in relationship with God through Christ, hardly touching the aspect the passage (quoted above) is referring to. We don’t experience much at all of the ministry of the body through the head. So much of the time it is more the case that we get what we can and go on, not really expecting much if anything in the way of ministry to each other. That does not necessarily follow, but I think it most often is the case, at least to some degree.

The danger in emphasizing what I want to emphasize here, is that we can simply try to minister, or probably better put, serve each other, apart from the needed emphasis on a relationship with Christ. On the other hand we may also simply be satisfied with getting what we think we need from the Lord himself, and minimize with a shrug of our shoulders, the need to give and receive in relationship with others. None of us will arrive on this, and perhaps we are weak one way or another, even both ways (“vertically” and “horizontally”). But God in his grace in Jesus continues his good work, even though it will suffer as a result of our lack of understanding and participation.

I believe this is a life and death matter. Christianity is essentially organic in the sense of a living union by the Spirit to Christ, which consists of all who belong to Christ being joined to each other, especially to be worked out in local settings. We all suffer much when this is not practiced. And this analogy of Christ’s body is not merely for itself, but for the world. We in Christ are Christ’s body for each other and for the world.