in spite of the weaknesses, pressing on

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Philippians 3

If Paul had a sense of having not arrived in this life in his pursuit of Christ and God’s will for him in Christ, than how much more will that be true of us? I might seem to get over something well, and be making good progress in something else, only to find myself spinning my wheels and failing over yet another thing, soon after that.

Of course if we will only hang in there and persevere, we will find that even our seeming (along with actual) setbacks can serve to help us toward full maturity in Christ (James 1).

In the midst of it all, we should have one goal, one passion, one thing we do. And in the context of the entire letter of Philippians, that one thing is not about us, but about Christ, and looking after his interests, and not our own. And Christ’s interest is other people, the gospel being central in all of this.

And so I carry on, humbled further when it seems like something new is exposed in me, as if God withdrew his hand of grace a bit in my life in a certain way so as to expose and then work on something else in my life, which actually would be all a part of God’s grace. And though God who began the good work in us, is also the one who will carry it on to completion for the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6), we too, to some extent are to be involved in that work, in fear and trembling working out the salvation which God is working in us, in and through Jesus.

prayer

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your
faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; 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

love is not enough

This post from a professor and scholar in Ireland, Patrick Mitchell, on a book entitled: Love: a History, by Simon May, along with the post’s apt title, “The idolisation of love,” looks promising. This reminds me of the Beatles song with typically great music and empty lyrics, All You Need is Love. Love per se (by itself) is not enough.

Yes, “God is love,” as seen in 1 John 4. But the context itself gives the lie to the statement that love is enough, or even that love is the gospel. Compare what is meant by that, with the picture as given in scripture:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

And this, from 2 John:

The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

Read 1, 2 and 3 John, those three letters (not long) for a more contextual and fuller picture.

And to help make sure there’s no mistake as to what’s meant here, Romans 13:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

While there is overlap in the love of God, and the love we see in creation, according to scripture that’s not enough. We need the new creation love in Jesus and the gospel, which is to heal and put together the brokenness of the old creation, which for all it’s devotion to love, fails to worship the One-in-Three, or Three-in-One, the One who is love.

The true love is a gospel love, no less, grounded in the crucified, risen Jesus, and in the truth which includes absolutes such as “Thou shalt not kill.” It is not enough to think that love is all we need, or that love is the gospel. We turn to the one God as revealed through scripture, and in actual events, in Jesus. We find the one true, lasting love there, from which all other loves come, and are judged.

 

all is grace: a gift from God

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:7-10

God created all things, so that all things not only belong to God through creation, but also are from God, and through God. So strictly speaking, all of life is a gift from God. What we do with the gift is another thing altogether, and it’s quite evident that humankind’s stewardship of God’s gift is a mixed bag, with much good done, along with evil. And with a pull toward what is not good, essentially toward idolatry as we put ourselves and other gifts above the Giver.

What we all need is a special grace beyond creation into the new creation in Jesus. For us to carry on in God’s will at all will require the grace not only given to us in creation, but in new creation in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.

God meets us with that grace in and through Jesus in our time of need, which actually includes every moment in everything. That we can do anything at all ourselves is due to the God who in Jesus holds all things together, giving us existence. And we need much more than that: sins forgiven, new life which begins in this life, and yet preparing us for the life to come. Through simple faith we enter in to this special realm of grace, and we continue on, come what may, confident not in ourselves, but in God, and the grace God has promised.

The grace of God in and through Jesus our Lord.

Back to the Bible

One of my favorite radio programs as a young Christian, was Back to the Bible with Theodore Epp as the teacher. I can still hear his voice with the simple, straightforward teaching of the word of God. Although I don’t think I’ve heard that broadcast for years, I’m confident it continues on faithfully as before, since it’s grounded in the written word of God within the traditional evangelical church mold. There are some like ministries, but the two which stand out the most in my mind and past experience is that program and programs (now, Discover the Word) from Our Daily Bread Ministries. What I like about both ministries is their commitment to scripture in a Christ-centered way, the gospel at the heart of it. One might criticize either ministry for this or that reason (not that I’m suggesting I have any important or significant criticism of either), but they are both nonsectarian in their approach, and faithful in their teaching of scripture.

Just because these ministries are grounded in the written word of God, in the Bible, doesn’t mean that they’re not rooted in tradition. Of course they are, how the Spirit has led the church at large over the centuries, although with the more or less conscious attempt to get back to the pristine understanding of such, and away from the additions later on, which may not be actually binding or authoritative in the same way, such as the assumption of Mary into heaven, and before that praying to Mary, or asking Mary to intercede for the pray-er compared with the teaching of the divine and human natures of the one person, Jesus, or the Trinity of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

For better or for worse, evangelicalism, in my case of an Anabaptist bent, with traditional liturgy preferred, is my home. Yes, of the Protestant sort, though hopefully that word would become less and less significant toward the goal of living out the unity that is the church’s, in Christ.

We need to think about this in a constructive way, critically and contextually, with an emphasis on the teaching of scripture itself. Just what place does the church hold in all of this, and what might be the strengths and weaknesses of the various traditions of the church in how this is understood and practiced. A tall order, and beyond any one person, really a church endeavor, since the Spirit guides the church together. And something which is most often taken for granted, or not even on the radar of many. Yet important, nonetheless.

But for me, synods and magesteriums aside, the one place we continue to go back to for our grounding in Jesus and the gospel is scripture, God’s written word. Yes, we go back to the Bible.

 

helping others study the word in-depth

At Our Daily Bread Ministries, where I work, there is offered an online source for biblical, theological, and practical study (“Christian Counseling,” and “Ministry Leadership”) entitled Christian University GlobalNet, or simply Our Daily Bread Christian University. It is designed for Christians who are busy, but want to study scripture and theology indepth, with a track toward a degree through participating colleges and seminaries.

I am privileged to be a TA, meaning a Teacher’s Assistant. In the direction given to us, our “purpose is to interact with [the student’s] Response Time answers. In a manner that promotes positive engagement, reflection, and application.” One can listen to the lectures, my courses: OT219 2 Samuel-2 Kings: The Difference Leaders Make, taught by Dr. Douglas Stuart, and NT219 Luke-John: Two Interpretations of Jesus, taught by Dr. Craig Blomberg.

When I first started I thought I was more or less someone who was simply there to help as needed, which in my mind meant being available to answer questions they might ask. But it’s at last dawning on me, that even though from the outset I did try to interact with their work, I need to do so more, in step with this ministry, and educational opportunity. So that is my goal right now.

God has used my experience as a TA to help me be an encouragement to others, and help me personally to plug into something by which I can encourage what I myself deeply believe in: in-depth biblical and theological study. There is an acknowledged dearth within even the evangelical church when it comes to simple biblical and theological understanding. I’m glad in whatever way I can, to promote Christian maturity and growth through the study of the gospel and scripture, and our response to that as followers of Jesus. And that is what I like best about being a TA: that I can help promote this kind of study by which we would better learn to be followers of Christ with the goal of full maturity together in him.

If you are interested in either enrolling, or becoming a TA, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider it. For TA’s, you are asked to look at work done in your courses at least once a week, so as to write a message provided for you, along with your own input to anyone new. And perhaps to interact with those you have already contacted. And to be in prayer for them.

It’s great to be a part of this through my work in line with the goal, or mission of Our Daily Bread Ministries:

…to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.

 

living in worry, or accepting the word

“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Mark 4:18-20

It seems a lot like in this life we either trust God and God’s word, or we trust ourselves and/or the world. Of course the word leads us to trust in the Word, Jesus, who is the fulfillment of it all. But the nuts and bolts attached to that as to how we’re to live are of course all important in their place. And it’s a mistake to insist that the Bible is not the Word of God, but only Jesus. But that’s another issue. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this post that scripture is the word of God written, while Jesus is the Word of God in flesh as a person.

I know for myself, it is a regular, ongoing battle to continue in the word, and not to get sidetracked on this or that tangent. One of my biggest problems, it seems, are “the worries of this life,” and there are plenty of them. I have to remain in the word, and hopefully from that I will be in prayer, and break through into God’s grace in and through Jesus, and in and through scripture. Just as I’ve faced many a concern, so I’ve seen God’s grace make the difference needed in such struggles, time and again. The problems and trials themselves don’t seem to get easier. Hopefully my reaction to them, rather than a meltdown in fear, or some other less than helpful reaction, instead is more and more one of resolute faith and commitment to God through being in the word. And I try to go through all of the word, not just the parts which I might gravitate to. So that as time goes by, more and more I want to meditate on it all. Though actually all that I meditate on throughout the day is the New Testament and Psalms and Proverbs, reading daily so as to get through all of scripture.

I realize more and more just how much I need scripture, how much I need the Lord, and all that goes with that from God. Jesus’s parable seems to make it an either/or proposition. Either the word is choked out by the worries of this life and other things, or the person perseveres (Luke 8:15) to bear a manifold crop. In Mark it says the one who hears the word, and accepts it. Fortunately it’s a word from God which depends on God, on God’s wisdom and faithfulness, and not on ourselves, except that we need to remain in it, and be directed and changed by it. All of this in and through Jesus.

 

replacing old habits with new characteristics through the new life in Christ

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed,which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

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.

Colossians 3:1-17

Even for those of us who have entered into the new life in Christ, there can be old habits which cling to us, and even though destructive, we can cling to them. As Pastor Jeff Manion has been pointing out recently in the series on Colossians, a new life in Christ doesn’t mean that the old habits automatically go away. In fact, it would seem quite the opposite, when you consider what the word here and in other places says.

There is no doubt that we often fall into habits from attitudes which are less than helpful. The good thing about this is that it can expose us in helping us see the dead-end and even destructiveness of what we’re doing. So that hopefully, in the words of Paul in Colossians, as graphically displayed by Jeff Manion with shirts on hangers, we’re to put off the old clothes, and put on the new, in keeping with the new life in Christ.

This can involve a radical change for us. The lists in Colossians are pretty stark, the two major categories being sexually immoral sins, and sins of anger and rage. These by themselves in some form make up something of the struggle for most all of us at one time or another. But there can be other sins we cling to, and which cling to us, as well. Because of our new life in Christ, we can take off and get rid of those sins, and in their place, put on Christ-like characteristics which will point others to him.

And we’re in this together in Jesus. It’s not an individualistic, self-help program. In fact the list of virtues we’re to put on, culminating with love can be understood only, or at least best in the context of relationships, and specifically relationships with our fellow Christian sisters and brothers. In a certain sense extending beyond that out into the world, but established and at work in the body, the church.

And so we need not despair, or simply give in to old habits which are eating away at us, and actually directly or indirectly destructive or unhelpful to others. In Christ together we have the answers toward a radical change which involves a life-long process, as we continue to take off the old, and put on the new, in and through Christ our Lord.

prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; 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

being about the Father’s business in the politics of Jesus

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”

Luke 2:41-52

We are upon another US presidential election, but this election, on the face of it appears to be a possible game changer for evangelical participation in US politics. That said, I would hope that the divisions among us evangelicals might ironically actually serve to help us settle into the one true unity we have in Jesus, and in the politics of Jesus that comes through the grace and kingdom of God.

It was the case somewhere that the Christians in that country or area we’re known to be “the quiet in the land.” Now what are we known for? Are we known for our lives impacted by the gospel, and our witness of that? Or when people think of us, do they think about our affiliation with the Republican or Democratic Party, the Christian Left or Right?

Of course we will each decide just how we will participate as American citizens in the political process at the federal, state and local levels. We may be inclined to either not vote at all, vote on some matters and not on others, or as a rule try to vote on every proposal or race. And of course in some traditions the church lends its voice as to what should be our most important considerations in doing such. This certainly has its place of importance.

But by and large, we in Jesus ought to be known as people who are occupied with the gospel, witnesses to its life changing power, as those who are making disciples, and committed to the life and fellowship of the church. And from that, doing good works, both for those in the church, and for others in the world, outside the church. That should be our passion. As Jesus said later, even our food: to do the will of the Father, and finish his work (John 4:34).

Hopefully that would become the primary impact of the US presidential election of 2016 for us evangelicals. And to the degree that it is, that will actually impact the United States for much more good than before, and most importantly, not sully our witness of the gospel.