drawing near to God

“Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me— for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ declares the Lord.”

“Their prince shall be one of their own, their ruler shall come from their midst; I will bring him near, and he shall approach me, for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the Lord.”

The first translation of Jeremiah 30 : 21 from the NIV is more literal (see older translations), but the second, the NRSV rendering followed by English translations I checked probably brings out the sense better as an NET footnote suggests. The idea from scripture is that God makes a way in this case for a ruler over his people to approach him, even to draw near into his presence. In and through Jesus we know that God has opened the way into the Most Holy by no less than the blood of Christ (book of Hebrews).

This is in large part what good liturgy reflecting scripture helps worshippers do. God in scripture is holy, *other* than humans, so that he is unapproachable. That may be in terms of our own inability, not to mention unwillingness to do so. There is also no doubt in scripture that God himself is a God of judgment who even displays wrath against sin and wickedness. But who also in love makes a way to come near to him, sinners though we are, through the blood of Christ, through Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross for sin.

I probably would prefer something more like the NRSV rendering here, but perhaps bringing out something of both renderings. This is to be what we in Jesus are practicing in our worship gatherings and from day to day. A priority of life for us in and through Jesus.

(Admittedly confined, but for now, completely from a relatively small mobile tablet. )

how much weight do we put on tradition?

Every  church, from the Quakers to the Roman Catholic has its tradition which means its belief and practice. And you can trace back certain tradition quite early in the early church fathers and in documents like the Didache.

I have held for some time to what is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, meaning scripture as the word of God written always has primacy, tradition and reason and experience (understood rightly, an adjustment in my thinking after reading N. T. Wright on this). I think the churches I’ve known have often not done well in understanding the tradition of the church which dates back to the early centuries, some of it not that far removed from the apostles.

I admit, perhaps contra a bit, Christian Smith (The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture), that I am largely a Biblicist. That means I’ll keep going back to scripture itself to judge tradition. At the same time tradition helps us read scripture; we should not bypass or look lightly on the teaching and practice of the church, especially when there we find consensus. That actually has impacted my reading and understanding of scripture to some extent, whereas without that I would believe and practice differently.

The church forever in every generation needs to hear what the Spirit is saying to it from the written word. Such reading of course should be gospel centered as in finding its place and meaning in the story of God in which Jesus Christ is the fulfillment in God’s good news (gospel) in him. The church has not always been right on everything. One could argue against that on the basics of and related to the gospel. But, for example its sadly at times rampant anti-Semitism is a blight in its face and a contradiction to scripture itself. And there are other problems as well, not the least of which in my mind is the joining of church and state through Constantine and the problems which came out of that and impact us to this day, even here in the United States (on this latter point, see Allan R. Bevere: The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World).

Scripture is the written word of God; Christian theology consists of human words on that word of God. Theology is not the word of God. (I heard Richard Wurmbrand make this point). So again we always and forever need to be in scripture to let it inform and shape and at times reshape our theology. Having said that, I would also say we should be slow to quickly change tradition. If a traditional understanding (and I’m thinking of the church at large) is the possible interpretation of a scriptural passage or teaching (such as baptism or the Lord’s Supper), we should be slow to abandon that, or at least not sanguine in doing so. In other words tradition itself, due to God’s promise in scripture that God would guide the church into all truth (Jesus’ promise to the disciples that the Spirit would guide them in all truth which was in significant part fulfilled in their writing of what we have today as the New Testament, but in part may refer to church tradition which followed, as well).

And so let’s be slow to change tradition, yet always going back to scripture, in the words of the Evangelical Covenant Church: What does scripture say?

 

the search for a pure church

I grew up under the teaching that there could be and therefore indeed should be a pure church in this life. And there are parameters in scripture, both in teaching and in life that are to mark the true church. Indeed the church is called no less than God’s household and the pillar and foundation of the truth. Those who violate either orthodoxy (example: denial of Christ’s resurrection) or orthopraxy (example: living in unrepentant sexual immorality) are to be questioned and instructed and disciplined respectively – in love and then if they do not respond they are to be put out of the church and they become those who need to be evangelized.

Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds (traditionally, tares) is interesting for this discussion. That seems to suggest that sometimes we can’t tell the difference between those who are genuine and those who are not in this world. So that we have to be careful. Applied to the church that might say we should go out of our way and bend over backwards not only to give time for repentance, but also to clear up misunderstandings on their part and perhaps on ours. But to remain faithful to scripture there does seem to come that time when lines are drawn. For example one who denies that Jesus is the only way to God should not think that they can be a “Sunday School teacher” even if they can teach quite well.

In the end, I’m not sure we’ll ever arrive in this life to a pure church. Strictly speaking we would all have to leave the church and then there would be nothing left. And we don’t want to discourage people from attending who may claim no faith at all and who may be overcome in sin.

But we also want to be those who affirm the truth of the gospel in our profession of faith and our life in this world. We are called to be faithful, to be the faithful ones in Christ Jesus. The confessing church in word and deed. And we must not forget that the church is called the bride of Christ no less, a bride he is preparing to be not only pure, but radiant in beauty. May the Lord help us all.

vindication from God

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.

This psalm is attributed to David who strictly speaking, even apart from his great sin in his adultery of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was hardly a blameless man. That begs the question as to what kind of vindication David or the psalmist sought.

Certainly no where in the psalms or in scripture does any of the faithful brush lightly over sin or simply sweep it under the rug. For a time maybe, but not over the longer haul. A psalm indeed acknowledges that if God kept a strict account of our sins and acted according to that then none of us would stand.

We certainly are not talking about some Augustinian perspective of sin in which we’re all condemned and vindication is only in and through the Just one, Jesus. Indeed that’s true, but that is not the perspective of these prayers. Another such prayer of the psalms, here.

The vindication is in terms of life as it is lived in the present, again not excusing sin, and we can say eventually dealing with hidden faults. But a vindication given to those who are seriously endeavoring to follow the Lord, in spite of themselves and their sins. Of course the sacrificial system was set in place so that all who were penitent could live in the forgiveness of God. Now fulfilled in Christ so that by his death and resurrection, we can do the same.

This prayer in the psalms, then, is not just for that time, but for today as well. It is for those who seek to do their best in living in God’s grace in Jesus, we might say making every effort to enter God’s rest, learning to walk in the Spirit, all in God’s grace in Jesus.

The prayer can be an encouragement to us, because none of us have arrived, we all sin. And yet we can live blameless lives or lives of integrity, being true to God’s call to us in Jesus. Which involves ongoing confession of sin to be sure. We need to seek to live fully in the light we have. God will give us more as we’re ready and able to receive it, and in his will. We seek to live in the light we have. To do what is right in every circumstance. Mindful that any righteousness found in us is strictly from God and because of God’s grace at work in our lives in and through Jesus.

Vindication means being proved right when one is accused of wrong. So the context here is conflict. If we’re not undergoing that with people, and inevitably if we look far enough we usually will find some accusers or those who think we do less than well along the way, so that we likely will be experiencing this on some level with another. But even if not, we certainly are in the spiritual realm against the accuser of the brethren. That accuser, the Satan is surely right often enough with the charge that we’ve sinned. But again we will be vindicated in and through Jesus in this life. Because of the cross we can go on and do better. To the very end.

prayer for the eighth Sunday in Pentecost

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

reticence

Have you ever noticed that when life slows down or comes to a screeching halt you may be reticent to do anything much at all? Perhaps at long last God has one’s full (enough) attention. That and it may well be that what you’re to be about is right under your nose, right in front of you. Perhaps other things have dried up and withered and are no more. So then reticence can be a good thing.

The danger is in throwing in the towel as in simply giving up. So that one might simply go through the motions with little or no heart or might even withdraw completely. There is always the danger also of coming up with one’s own idea and going that route. I can’t help but think of how Israel after rejecting God’s word of promise because of their disobedient unbelief, took it upon themselves to enter the land of promise. They did so even after clear warning that the Lord would not be with them, and were beaten back, forced to abandon that plan altogether.

It is better to do seemingly next to nothing with God, then to do a ton of things on our own with God hardly being in the picture. We often seem to think that more activity is better when we ought to think that it’s more about the right kind of activity.  We may end up being busy enough in the latter, but with the hope that God is much more in it. Much better to do less with God in it than more largely by ourselves.

In the end what counts is the work of the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. We want to be a part of that in and through Jesus to the very end.

 

restlessness

Sometimes, maybe even for a good while we become restless. It may end up being a matter of needing to learn a new rest in God. Or perhaps the Lord is seeking to move us in a new direction.

I think we do well to look first to a deeper rest in God. Wherever we are in life,  we can surely grow in that.  But we also need to remain open to how the Lord might be leading us even by nudging us along the way.

This will require faith, though we could say this restlessness can facilitate and help us grow in faith as well.

The last thing we want to be caught up in is fear. Sometimes we need to be pushed through circumstances or just plain restlessness so that we can grow in faith,  maybe even in an entirely new way. Perhaps with a new work. And surely with a new sense of rest in God.

And so we need to remain open. As we continue to live in the victory of God in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

no need for praise

Whatever God calls us to do we simply need to do and keep doing it regardless of what the effect seems to be. And certainly including whether or not any one expresses appreciation for what we have done.

There is the need for those in the church to both recognize and affirm the gifting one does have, no doubt. And it is an encouragement to know if someone is helped by what we do, or more accurately what God does through us. So there is that balance.

But the last thing we should be looking for or expecting is praise from people. In fact when God is at work the most there may be the least possibility of that. God’s working does not always bring comfort with it. Oftentimes quite the opposite to be sure.

In the end we want to be praised by the Lord as those who were good and faithful servants, doing his will, using what gifts he had given us. We realize that anything short of that is high and dry, indeed empty.

It is freedom to let go of the desire to receive any praise from anyone, in my case for teaching or preaching well, or whatever. We want to do well and be a blessing in the Lord to others. But the focus should never be on the servant but on the one that is served. Any good is all from God who alone deserves all praise.

May the Lord continue to free us from being moved either by praise or criticism from people, as long as we are faithful in Jesus by the Spirit to God’s calling to us.

justification by works

Justification by faith is a staple especially in Reformed theology. It is called justification by faith alone in Christ alone. And it certainly applies to this life. We are not saved by our own works but by faith in God and in God’s work in Jesus. We are not saved by works, but we are saved unto good works so that works will follow:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Nevertheless future judgment is based on works. No where do you find judgment in which people are asked if they trusted in Jesus for their salvation with their works being beside the point. No, in every place final judgment is based on works.

Justification simply put is declaration of righteousness, the opposite being condemnation which is a declaration of guilt in wrong living/doing.

Jesus said people will be justified or condemned by their words. Paul says that those who in seeking glory, honor and immortality persist in doing good will receive eternal life. But to those who are self-seeking and reject the truth and follow evil there will be wrath and anger, trouble and distress. James seems to suggest that we are justified by works and not by faith alone in this life. We who are heirs of the Reformation take that to mean that our faith becomes evident by our works, that faith without works is dead. Perhaps what is closer to what is being taught there is that we are justified by works which come from an obedient, submissive faith. There are other passages as well, not least of which are in the book of the Revelation. For lack of time (and even space) this will suffice for here and now.

What are we to make of this? Not all the sudden that we are justified by our works in the here and now, but that we are justified by a faith which works, which results in a changed life in and through as well as centered on Jesus. From the Father and by the Holy Spirit.