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.

prayer for the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; 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

“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.

our responsibilbity to hold our hands up—in prayer

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Exodus 17

Whenever I think of this passage, I think of prayer. The staff of God Moses held up was a symbol and even sacramental means of authority from God, to see God’s will in his power carried out. I think of spiritual warfare for us today. We are in a battle, not against flesh and blood, but against the entities behind the evil in this world with nothing less in our hands (or more) than the gospel, God’s power for salvation to all who believe (Ephesians 6:10-20).

I also think of Job’s faithful intercession for his children. Surely such prayer on his part made a difference, though in the story we find in this life disaster decimated them all (Job 1). I also think of the place of responsibility Job had as the head of his family. In those days as the patriarch, men had authority. Nowadays I believe we all have authority in our Lord, men and women alike. So that this responsibility falls not only on the shoulders of the husband and father, but on the wife and mother, as well.

I am not a great pray-er. Someone has well said when it comes to prayer, we’re all and forever, beginners. Even so, we hopefully do make strides as beginners to grow in praying. I believe in all kinds of prayers, different ways of praying in the Spirit, including praying in tongues, liturgically, and as I most often do, with my own words. And perhaps silence can be one of the greatest ways of praying as well.

But simply to pray, to lift our staff of authority up before the Lord in prayer, pleading the power of the gospel over others for their salvation, whether they are believers or not. When we do so, even in all our weakness, God answers. Like Moses, we may indeed need an Aaron and Hur to help us. Others who will join in the spiritual battle. But as those who have been put into special relationship with others (I am thinking now of our progeny, whether in our families, or spiritual families), we need to keep after it, to simply keep praying. Otherwise, as Samuel pointed out, we will be sinning in our failure to do so (1 Samuel 12).

A great responsibility as well as a wonderful opportunity in and through Jesus.

it’s about the gospel

There are all kinds of matters in this life which actually do matter. From the big to the small, which often in the case of the small is as big as life to those it affects. Everything has its place.

At the same time something can be quite out of place in our minds and therefore, concerns. From the political situation to what happened to us yesterday. Not that any issue is to small for our Father who even knows the number of the hairs on our head so that he is intimately in touch and I think even touched himself, remarkably, with all the details of our lives.

While we need to remember that, so that we can learn more and more to cast our cares on the one who cares for us, it will help us in our understanding and expectation, yes in our faith to learn to see the big picture, what it’s about for us in this life.

While there’s so many things we have to see to, hence the blessedness of some who don’t have to see to so many of these kinds of concerns (I think myself of the responsibilities which go into “owning” a house), we’re to live as those who live for the gospel, who give up our lives for Jesus and for the gospel (Mark 8:34-9:1). And see everything somehow in relation to that. So that we try to somehow relate everything to that gospel. Because if anything becomes an end in itself, doesn’t it then become idolatrous? From whatever political allegiance someone might have to whatever good ideal and goal one may wish to see implemented.

There may be wisdom and good in such things, but for us in Jesus we see not only for the life to come, but for the present life, that the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is what we don’t want to lose sight of ever. So that our view of everything is tempered and perhaps even changed by that gospel.

I believe this is a truth which I’ve caught only a glimpse of and which I want to see better in relation to everything. It is the difference that being in Jesus in this present life makes. Of course it’s rooted in and even the life of the church. And it’s to make a difference in our lives, the difference that following Jesus makes. Let the reader understand. May God grant us to understand this by his Spirit in and through Jesus. Amen.

continuing on—holding on to faith (as well as the faith)

Faith includes standing still to see the salvation of God, but it also includes moving on. We remember that at a certain point the Israelites were commanded to stand still and at a certain point they were commanded to move on, to go through the Red Sea (Exodus 13-14). Of course these were specific directions at a specific place and time. What about when one is settled into a place where there are plenty of questions and seemingly little or no answers?

Our call in Jesus is to continue on in the faith in both holding to the faith, and holding on to faith. Which means our faith is to be active in the ways specified in scripture.

What makes this especially difficult is when we’re in a place where our faith is not propped up with this or that. Where we’re left with nothing except God and God’s promises given to us from scripture in Jesus.

Of course we must hold on to the faith, and that’s not something to be taken for granted if I’m reading scripture correctly. And we need to hold on to faith itself. It is one thing to say we believe, but it’s another to really back that up with a life of trust in and obedience to God. We need to be committed so that no matter what we’re facing and how we’re feeling, we continue on, not just in a general sense, but to do so, in the specifics God gives us.

I think we see the dynamic of what I’m trying to get at in the psalms. Oftentimes the psalmist is in a mess as far as they are concerned. And yet they appeal to the faith and to faith. So that whatever their experience, at their core they’re still people of faith.

Faith is both passive and active. It all depends on God. But we have to walk as in live in the salvation God gives in and through Jesus.

when there is no answer

Faith involves a trust in God, a trust in his promises. Sometimes in the fog of life, it’s hard to see through to any of the promises of God we find in scripture fulfilled in and through Jesus to God’s people. Given the situation and how we got there, it may be hard to see how any of God’s promises will help us out of our immediate trouble. Granted for sure we know in the long run at the end of the day when all is said and done, God will be faithful to his promises and God’s good will prevails. We may not be able to see how that works for us.

I need to be in the word, in scripture daily and throughout the day as much as possible. A big part of that is so that I can learn to do well amidst all the challenges and problems which come my way, some hanging over me.

A danger for us all is to settle into answers which ultimately have no staying power. Perhaps they have staying power for this life “under the sun,” but end up seeming empty or “meaningless” to us in the end (Ecclesiastes). So that like the one who ends the book (see Tremper Longman’s commentary on Ecclesiastes), life is simply about fearing God and keeping his commandments in whatever situation we find ourselves in, whether in the midst of plenty or living in need.

Sometimes the answer is so close to us, even where were living, that we can’t see it. God is working out his purpose, his good will right in front of us, we are in the middle of that, but where we may be in the process makes us wonder.

Such times are good times to lay low, be still and know that God is God, be quiet and listen, continue in the word and prayer, and seek to find God’s peace in the assurance that he is present and will take care of us, of our cares and needs. Of course we are blessed to be a blessing. Our concern must be not only for ourselves but for our neighbor.

At any rate when we are unsure about life’s situation, where to hang our hat so that we can be at rest, that is when we need to learn to look and lean all the more on the one who promises never to leave us and never to forsake us in his presence and working in and through Jesus.

the Bible and tradition (or is it tradition and the Bible?)

Like so many issues, this is one in which some prolonged in-depth study could help, but like so many people, I simply don’t have time for that. What I’m thinking about here is with reference to our view of the church. And not really in terms of high church versus low church especially in worship, but more in terms of the church’s role (and apostolic succession, maybe a subject for another day).

Christian Smith in The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture makes what I think is at least an interesting, rather compelling critique of what he calls biblicism, or perhaps we could say to its extreme, the Protestant call to sola scriptura, which means the Bible only as our source of authority. Robert Gundry wrote a bracing critique of Smith’s book, an interesting read as well.

The critical issue for me is the place we give or more importantly scripture gives to the church and how our view and practice might differ from that. And because of that, how our view of tradition can be diminished from the biblical view. When you hold out the Bible as the authority, rather than the church as vested with something of that authority, you find not one church, but a multitude of churches which acknowledge the others as somehow less faithful or aligned to the truth. Hence the at least hundreds of denominations which have come out of Protestantism.

I would want to hold to scripture first instead of scripture only. In other words scripture would be given first consideration, followed by tradition/the church, reason being employed in that, and properly understood, experience following. I do feel uneasy about relegating the church to this place since it is in scripture called “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). I don’t think we give it nearly its due. The idea that all one needs is a Bible and the Holy Spirit flies in the face of the fact that what God gives to us from scripture in the gospel comes by the Spirit through the church no less. Where I would struggle is with the idea that the church hasn’t always gotten some things right. I think now of women’s role in the church. Not only that, but even if I accept a Great Tradition view of the role and place of the church, what place is tradition granted in comparison with scripture? It is one thing, and I think legitimate to accept that the church should be the arbiter of how scripture is interpreted, but quite another thing when what is advanced as authoritative is not taught in scripture. I’m thinking the counter argument would be something like what is taught somehow follows theologically from the teaching of scripture. I’m thinking here of the Roman Catholic teaching of the virgin (as they insist) Mary’s assumption as in bodily ascension to heaven.

And so I’m a bit caught betwixt two. On the one hand the church must keep going back to scripture to be both informed and formed. On the other hand scripture gives the church a role and prominence which is little if at all appreciated by evangelicals or in evangelical circles, yes in their churches. It’s with a shrug of the shoulders that how the church seemed to understand and do things as early as the second century, even arguably reaching into the first even matters. That seems to me to be fundamentally in violation of their own principle of interpreting all from scripture. Which ends up if not giving tradition as in the church and scripture equal authority, at least gives the church a special authority in its interpretation of scripture, the church hopefully allowing latitude on matters which may be debatable and do not impact the gospel.

To find something of a middle way as has been advocated in Anglicanism is commendable, even if that should not be a goal in itself. It’s about finding our place in a big picture in which the church itself is prominent. Something not to be left to ourselves.

living in the valley

While going over the psalms slowly, it has struck me just how often the psalmists lives in the valley so to speak, and rarely on a mountain. In other words life for the psalmist was often hard, difficult, even well nigh impossible on a number of levels. This made them all the more aware of their need for God and for God’s salvation.

I think we in Jesus ought to be living more and more in God’s peace and overflowing joy, but I think that’s rarely a kind of mountaintop experience, free from trouble. Such times are surely good here and there, especially helpful after seasons of great difficulty. But by and large that’s not where we live, not the real world, in which trouble and trials are part of the whole.

Recently I had an unusual day where it seemed like I lived above the fray, not hardly with my feet on the ground. Troubles seemed distant. That was surely good, and I thought how even though I’ve lived with much inward suffering all my life, the memory of that on that day seemed distant, even as the idea of complete peace and joy seems distant to me as a rule.

I think a key is to learn to live in God’s presence in the midst of trouble. In fact I think we need to embrace that reality. That is where we learn to live the life that is in Jesus, not away from the real world, but in the midst of it with all its troubles.

Of course this doesn’t mean that we neglect what some call “soul care,” or don’t have some getaways, big and small, even a mountaintop experience here and there. It does mean that we are to accept the difficulty that comes our way, the humdrum of life, the inevitable disappointments. And learn that it is indeed there that we’re to know more and more the peace and joy and overflowing life of God that is in and through Jesus.