it is more complex than that

For me the main thing I can hang my hat on for certain is the gospel which is Jesus as revealed in scripture, God’s written word. By faith we know, a knowledge or assurance dependent on faith, yet in the case of scripture and specifically Jesus’ resurrection, not devoid of evidence. That is not to say that I don’t accept some things as true, like gravity. The question may end up being not only how much weight we put on something, but more importantly, why and what kind. We might find that the difference ends up being whether or not we trust a person, God (who, to bring in something complex, and well beyond us is one God in three Persons).

But on many things people seem to hold tenaciously to as matters of first importance, it often seems to me that it’s more complicated than that. That is one reason I like science, even though I really am not gifted in that field. Science keeps asking questions and is open to new answers, new ways of seeing things. Good theology should be like that. Some things have been well established by the church from scripture. Of course when you’re talking about God and humanity along with real life, we can begin to understand that while the Bible is wisely straightforward to the point of simplicity about some things (like the reality of good and evil, light and darkness), we also come to understand that there is much that we don’t know. So that we had best withhold judgment on a good number of matters.

And even what we do know is completely dependent on something beyond us, beyond our senses. Otherwise we could never know anything. That something is a Someone: God. We can rest assured in what knowledge we have, while at the same time seeing the entire enterprise as interactive, so that much of what we do know is relational and life-oriented. In other words a good part of knowledge from God found in scripture and mediated through Christ in the church is knowledge for life in this world in terms of love and how we are to live. It is rooted in history and for the real world.

Humility is the order of the day on this. We need to keep asking questions. But above all, to trust the God who has given us his word in scripture and in his final Word, Jesus.

the center for Christ’s direction: the church or scripture?

This is an ongoing concern or struggle in my thinking. The Roman Catholic Church sees the Church as the center or body, specifically the Magesterium of the Church, in receiving Christ’s direction as well as authority. The Reformation seemed to grant that status to scripture alone, “sola-scriptura.” But in reality I don’t think they moved (including the Anabaptists) from the church as being the body at least primarily through the clergy, for receiving Christ’s direction and authority. It is probably only a fairly recent notion which brings the emphasis and focus on the individual believer who with their Bible and the Holy Spirit can interpret scripture apart from the church. The church effectually and for all intents and purposes set aside, though even those believers are usually faithful in some way to church.

At this point I still like scripture first, “primera-scriptura.” And then going to tradition meaning what the church teaches. In other words testing what the church teaches according to scripture. But the question remains, just who makes that judgment. Is it the individual believers or the church as a whole, with input from individual believers? I would say the latter, with certainly important influence coming from those who have studied the sources exegetically and theologically.

At the same time for all practical purposes we end up having to submit to the church if we’re going to submit to Christ. After all, the church is Christ’s body in the world. Of course this is taking for granted that the church we’re talking about is really a genuine church, having a high view of scripture as the written word of God and holding to the apostolic teaching passed down in the Christian orthodox tradition.

So the answer is not all that clearcut. You might say both, but qualified. You simply can’t separate the church from scripture any more than you can separate Christ from the church. So that we must learn to submit to both if we’re to submit to Christ.

why are we here?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 10

My brother-in-law, Bill Davis (who wrote Black Triangle, which I recently did a post on) underwent a successful triple bypass. The night before the operation I called him and he reminded me that the most important thing was that God would be glorified. I agreed, though I don’t think I either say or think that enough. It is certainly a given, and a most important one.

God is the one rightly to be glorified and he won’t give that glory to another. There is no other god, but other so-called gods are frauds. This is simply the way it is.

At the same time God graciously brings humans not only near him, but to partake of his very life, even participating in his nature. And he glorifies humans who partake of the eternal life which he makes available in and through Christ. Of course he alone is glorified in that, even as we look forward to an existence that is marked by that glorification.

And so I’m here today and about my tasks to bring glory to God. In acts of love, prayer, and in all the ways in God’s will. We in Jesus exist to bring God the glory and praise which rightfully belong to him. Or we might better say to simply do all to the glory of God, that others might see and glorify our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ.

enduring hardship/suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2 (NASB)

There are times which test one’s mettle, as they used to say. There may be someone who clearly dislikes us no matter what we try to do to make peace and good will. We likely face tremendous difficulties in one way or another. Life is difficult, period; there are always enough challenges. When one sets themselves to pray and keep praying, it often seems that all hell breaks loose.

Whatever may be the case, we have to remember that we’re no less than in a war. Yes, Jesus Christ won the victory on the cross in his death and resurrection. And we stand in that victory. But we do so as those who remain on earth as Christ’s mystical Body, awaiting his return when all enemies will be vanquished. It is indeed a spiritual battle, not a physical one. We do not take up arms and kill other human beings. Because our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual entities which underly the evil of this world. God judges humans; somehow we his people end up judging angels, which perhaps(?) includes demons. God uses the state, the governing authorities to bring judgment on evildoers. In the end God judges everyone. It is our task to keep our own house, the church in order. We’re to judge ourselves individually and corporately.

It won’t be easy and we’re grateful for periods of rest. But a battle continues on. Satan may be bound in that we have authority over him and his minions through the gospel. But they are still active doing their evil work here on earth.

We do well to press on, knowing that the Lord will be present with us to the end. He will give us the strength and peace we need. Not left to ourselves in the struggle, though sometimes it may seem that way. We will be buoyed up and carried, lifted on our feet to continue on until the end.

what is on our radar?

We are undoubtedly people of our time and place with perspectives which are limited to the lives we live as well as to the world as we perceive it from the media. That is fraught with all kinds of dangers in skewing reality. Not that any one person is going to understand it well in all its complexity.

As people of the Book, we who are Christians, followers of Jesus need to keep reading scripture for all its worth, a challenge in itself. Inevitably we will read it from our perspective, which means we will have blinders on, so that parts of what is there will not register, or at least not register well. Important aspects of God’s written word may be all but lost to us. One such example is God’s concern for the poor, which is seen over and over again in scripture. Here’s a look through a translation at how often scripture refers to the poor.

What scripture majors on is what we should emphasize without leaving the other issues behind. What we especially need to avoid is making scripture support what may end up being a worldly agenda. It’s easy to take something out of its context, put it in our own, so that we see scripture saying something it isn’t saying at all.

What we’re aware of and concerned about ought to both come from scripture and be informed by scripture. It may very well be a subject scripture does not at all address, such as climate change. But out of love for God and for our neighbor we may conclude that it’s a matter that as a follower of Christ and a fellow human being we ought to be concerned about.

In all of this as always the gospel must be foremost and what follows from it. As we keep reading scripture prayerfully ourselves and with each other. So that we can see more clearly the path God has for us in Jesus.

living in identification with the poor

It is wonderful to hear of those who are wealthy pouring a sizeable part of their fortune into helping those who are poor and in need. And I find it encouraging that Pope Francis turned down an invitation to a meal with members of the US Congress to instead eat with the homeless.

We all live in varying economic situations. Most of us in the United States and in other first world countries are wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world. Although many of us live from paycheck to paycheck with sizeable debt. Yet our standard of living is something billions of others could not imagine.

I found it striking to see that a psalm attributed to David, which may have been a Davidic psalm in a sense other than him having actually written it, that the writer saw themselves as “poor and needy” (Psalm 86). If one sees their true state, then instead of thinking they are well off just because they are materially wealthy, they will learn to see that they are indeed, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3). Jesus called both the poor and the poor in spirit blessed, while he pronounced a woe on the rich. And stated that it is impossible for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God. But that what is impossible with humans is possible with God (Matthew 5; Luke 6; Matthew 19).

When we understand how everything is a gift and how utterly dependent we are on God for all of life including each breath that we breathe, we can begin to see ourselves as no different than those who live in abject poverty or conditions much  different than our own. But with that insight comes responsibility. In love we need to reach out and help those in need. And be sure that our hearts are not tied to material wealth rather than God.

We are poor in and of ourselves. Everything is a gift. With whatever we are blessed with we’re meant to bless others, especially with the true riches that last forever in and through Jesus.

the passing of time

There is a mystery about time, what it really is scientifically and theologically. To us common folk it’s pretty simple and straightforward, and the older we get, the faster it seems to go.

I realize more and more that what I’ve taken for granted for so long will someday be gone. Hopefully not too soon, but all too soon enough.

This means that I can’t let the months and weeks and even days pass by without at least much thinking and more praying on what is really of first importance: relationships and what will last beyond my life as well as the present life and existence. To live poorly is to live with these on the shelf, or at best on the back burner. To begin to live well is to make these things a priority, indeed the priority of our lives.

It’s the gospel and what follows from that, the Jesus Creed. Jesus and what is laid out concerning him in his fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world is the gospel. And to love God with all our being and doing along with loving our neighbor as ourselves are the heartbeat we’re to live by. The church in Jesus has a central place in all of this; it is not a helpful add on.

We need to measure our lives by this. And realize that another day may not come. And even if we do live a normal life span, that it will soon all be gone. A decade comes and  goes fast enough. Decades become a lifetime.

And so with the psalmist in this “prayer of Moses” is the prayer we do well to pray in light of this:

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

continuing on through the difficulties

So many disappointments and perplexities come and go. I am terribly grieved by them. It seems like we are set in our ways and not easily changed. Change is ultimately God’s work, not our own, and yet we’re to enter and remain in that process by faith.

For me in spite of that I want to continue on in the gospel through scripture and the church. Though all around me seems to give way, and I lose heart as well, I have to keep picking up my feet and moving on, trying to find God and God’s will and help in the midst of it. It’s not easy.

That is why a monastic kind of life has much appeal to me. You do the prayers, the chants of the psalms for example, the scripture readings- day after day, no matter what. You keep doing that. And you don’t stop. And you do that in a communal, or church setting, as church.

Over time one finds they are shaped by that. But it is so incremental that it is hardly noticeable except for significantly long enough periods, say two years more or less. We are shaped both by what we are attentive to and think about, and by what we practice which includes the not doing as well as the doing.

This is not supposed to be legalistic and binding to the point of feeling condemned when we may slip up and fail to practice it. It’s rather something self-imposed, so to speak, something we choose to do. A good biblical, theological understanding of baptism helps us see that we have no choice in the matter in that we’re to live a new life out of death in and through Jesus. But that bondage is into a new freedom which doesn’t press us toward any condemnation should we run into days when we don’t follow through. We end up doing these things because we want to, not because we have to. And our want helps us through the times when we may not feel like it, actually helps us to live beyond feelings all together.

This is important for me now. I must go on regardless. God is present with us individually and together in and through Jesus.

fresh manna

God provided for his people Israel during their travels in the wilderness, giving them manna, a kind of food which sustained them during their forty years in the wilderness. Every day except the Sabbath, the food dropped down from the sky and was to be gathered each morning except for the Sabbath. The day before the Sabbath twice as much would fall to provide them with enough to eat on the Sabbath. They were to gather as much as they would need for the day. If any was kept for the following day, except for the Sabbath provision, the food would be uneatable, full of maggots and begining to smell (Exodus 16; Numbers 11:6-9).

One of the most important lessons we need to learn as Christians, as follower of Jesus is that yesterday’s food from God was good for yesterday, but not for today. Not that what we learn in the past shouldn’t help us in the present and the future. But we need something fresh from God every day. And it’s not that we’re looking for some kind of experience, either. It is in line with a commitment to God through Jesus in daily seeking his face so to speak in and through the gospel and the written word. We need to be those who seek daily to come near to God and to seek his will.

Our Daily Bread is a devotional which is distributed worldwide in a good number of countries, and is good to help Christians get into the word. That ministry also helps one read through the Bible (see top of link under the picture). And for those of us who get into the word, it is still a good read daily. Liturgy connected to the Book of Common Prayer is also helpful in getting in the word daily. Many Christians have a daily quiet devotional time when they get into the word and prayer. All of this is good. The vital thing is that however we might do it, we seek something fresh for each new day. This is the way God intends it; he wants us to come near to him and draw from his word and in so doing listen to his voice each day in and through Jesus.

We need something fresh from God every day. Our lives are meant to be interactive with God and in that, interactive with others day after day. Meeting our needs and helping others from what we receive, as well as helping them do the same themselves in and through Jesus.