false knowledge versus true

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

2 Corinthians 11

The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. Those who think they know it all are barely touching water, whereas those who know better, find themselves in an ocean they had previously not known. Real knowledge inculcates/brings humility (see the entire book of Job). And with that there’s an awareness of how very dependent we are on God, and by God’s gift interdependent on each other. I think I was struck by this awareness my first year in Bible college as a young Christian, perhaps more than anything else.

Admittedly people can know a lot, and yet not know well. To know well is not merely a head crammed with “facts” and thus in our mind, power. Knowledge or success as they say, can go to our heads. Rather, we want to learn how to see things more and more the way God wants us to see them. And part of that, incredibly enough, is to begin to see life and everything from God’s perspective, in and through Jesus.

Knowledge is a gift from God, both in its basic form which children begin to learn from infancy at least through high school. And in a special gift of the Spirit given to some in the church to share the truth of scripture, of the gospel (1 Corinthians 12). And as we can draw out from the passage in 1 Corinthians 8 quoted above (and see 1 Corinthians 13) amounts to nothing, apart from love. True knowledge from God comes out of love, situated for life, for living.

Someday somehow by God’s gift in Jesus, we will no longer know in part, and the gift of knowledge as experienced today, will no longer be needed. We will have been ushered into what we begin to experience now by the Spirit, into the fullness of that reality, in and through Jesus (1 Corinthians 2). Until then, we realize fully that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13). And that part is always in love, if it’s the knowledge given by the Spirit, or the way God wants us to approach all knowledge in this life. As well as in the humility which attempts to see everything in light of the love of God in Jesus. And better yet, is seeking to rest in that love.

does God love people no matter what they do? who is the God who is love?

Scripture clearly says that God hates evildoers, specifically those who victimize others such as the poor. Yet it also says that God is not willing that any should perish, that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, wanting them to repent and live. I don’t believe there’s any sinner or sin which can’t be forgiven through God’s grace in Jesus.

God’s jealousy may be with reference to God’s infinite, cascading love. When people don’t give God something of the honor due him, or worship other gods in their hearts and lives, then God’s jealousy is aroused.

God is grieved when God’s people sin against him and others in their attitudes and actions, especially when they fail to love each other as Christ has loved us. That too is an expression of God’s love.

God in his love pursues us, and wants us to experience that love and be changed by it. So as to love out of being loved. God wants us to live in the same love that marks God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The same love shown to us and to the world in Jesus in his Incarnation, life and teachings, death and resurrection. Especially prominent and made known in Jesus’s death on the cross. That is how much God loves; God died on the cross in the Person of the Son.

Yes, God’s love goes on. But what is our response to that love? By what theologians call prevenient grace, God enables us hopeless and lost sinners to open our hearts to God’s heart through the gospel, the good news in Jesus. The question becomes not whether God loves everyone or not, because even though he may hate for a time, it seems to me from scripture that eventually God’s longing love wins out, and he would woo even the worst of sinners to himself. The question turns in on us. Will we respond? And the danger is that we will grow careless and hard hearted, so that we can be in danger of sinning against the work of the Spirit in prevenient grace, and thus close the door to God’s love for us, and perhaps seal our fate by our own choice.

Yes, no matter what, God is love, and God loves. That is shown within scripture and supremely and climactically in Jesus himself. We need to learn to read scripture and see all of life in that light. And let that change us even toward enemies. Changed by the love of God in Jesus who is love, that we might begin to live and grow in that love toward each other and everyone else.

grace strengthens our hearts (but the law doesn’t)

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13

The language of grace is different than what we’re accustomed to, in fact I would say it’s largely foreign to us. We tend to fall into one extreme or another: into living an obligatory life in trying to please God (law), or less likely for myself and people I know, simply believing that we can’t not sin in this life, so we might as well get on with it. But if we’re to learn the language of Paul, we’ll have to learn another tune altogether than either one of these.

It’s true that someone other than Paul most likely wrote the letter to the Hebrews. But that person was certainly in sync with Paul and the message of grace found in Paul’s letters. It’s a message that is radically simple, and simply radical. What we could never do ourselves, Christ did for us through his appearing (the Incarnation), his teaching (pointing us to the kingdom come in him, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world), and his death and resurrection.

Particularly through Christ’s death, as the book of Hebrews makes clear, our sins are forgiven, and we live in a new realm, the realm of grace. This might be a hard one to wrap our heads around, since most all of our lives we’ve been accustomed to living in the default of law, or obligation. Where we’ve lived is tricky. We believe and feel that we’re obliged to do something for the one who gave his all for us.

That’s tricky and even a bit deceptive since in reality we certainly can’t add a thing to what Christ has done for us. Nor can we delete a thing from it, either, by what we do or fail to do. Of course we can sin against that sacrifice, even as Hebrews itself warns us (see Hebrews chapters 6 and 10). We can treat it in a contemptuous or careless way.

The heart is not strengthened when it is under the constraint and obligation of law. See Romans 7 for the clearest indication of that. There Paul is referring to life under the law apart from grace (Romans 6) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8). Our only hope for beginning to live the new life is the very same grace through which we entered into that life in the first place. Our own effort, or prescribed works (or proscribed as in forbidden, for that matter) will not carry us into that new life, in fact cannot be a part of it. But on the basis of God’s grace to us in Jesus, we indeed are put into a realm in which there is a new life to be lived, but a life never dependent even on our own faithfulness, but only on that of the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20; see the CEB and context).

That is what I’m working on now. To better understand so as to begin to more fully live in the grace of God in Jesus. And by that live a life in which the heart is strengthened to carry on well in and through Christ himself from the Father by the Spirit.

prayer for the first Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

“let go and let God” -really?

This past summer we enjoyed a wonderful concert by Michael Card at the Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference Tabernacle. At the front on top in the center, I noticed a small sign in large letters, “LET GO AND LET GOD.” In light of my recent read of The Cure, referred to yesterday, and the recent emphasis on trying to better understand and live more fully in God’s grace in Jesus, I thought I would consider this slogan, and its viability in light of scripture and the gospel.

To begin, I have noticed critiques of this saying, which cast it on its head as something to be either thorougly rejected, or at least held at arm’s length as incomplete. I think misunderstandings of it are certainly not only possible, but probable, and almost endemic (a given), due to the lack of Biblical, theological knowledge so many people have, even within the church. And even if there is some significant knowledge and understanding gathered from a good number of years of being in the church and reading scripture, I fear that the possible truth behind this slogan can be all but missed, so that in our life and practice, we completely miss whatever might be true in its meaning.

First of all, what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we’re saved now, and that’s all that matters, so that we shouldn’t be concerned about our lives, or what’s going on around us, that we can let all of that go, and let God take care of it. Since after all, God is on the Throne, and whatever happens here doesn’t change his rule, or will one iota, as if God’s will will be carried out regardless. That’s subtle in that there’s some truth in it, but misses an important point. And it doesn’t mean that what we do, or fail to do doesn’t matter. However that’s tricky, as well, since we often live as if that’s all that matters, or at least is key.

I think what it is getting at is in terms of the teaching of grace as opposed to law. Not a grace that is in opposition to the Law of God, but a grace by which one can fulfill the requirement of that Law, which essentially is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture makes it clear that we can’t fulfill God’s Law, by that Law itself, a repeated theme. We were never intended to be able to do it on our own. The grace of God that is in Jesus is key here, that grace being proclaimed in the gospel. It is only through what God has done in Jesus, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, that we can have life, and really live. It’s not in our own efforts either before, or after coming to Christ for salvation.

Letting go means that faith itself, the faith by which we began the new life in Christ, is necessary in continuing to live in that new life. And it’s a faith that is not in anything at all about ourselves, nor a faith which becomes dependent on ourselves in any way, shape, or form, at any time. It’s a faith only in God’s word in Christ in the gospel, so that the life which we do live is lived only in God’s grace, “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We will fail. Let that be in not only large letters, but bold ones. We will fail. If it depended on us, this Christian life, then we can sign, seal and deliver that we won’t make it, and not only that, we won’t really even begin to be settled in it, even if God in his grace allows us to have a good taste of it in our lives. No. What we enter into by sheer faith, must be lived out by sheer faith in the grace of God in Jesus. Through his death, death and sin and condemnation are done away with, once and for all. Insofar as we’re settled on that, we’ll begin to experience the difference that should make. The Christian life doesn’t depends on us even a little, but on Christ, and the good news in him. The source for our new life and living, is completely in him, not in ourselves. Even though we find it in his union with us, and the change that brings.

Once we begin to live in this grace, we act not within the constriction of law, as a duty, but the compulsion of grace, as a response to God’s love and gift to us in Jesus. We let go of our own self-effort to commend ourselves to God, knowing that we’re already complete and have fullness in and through Jesus. We are in him, and he in us, and community in Jesus through the church is certainly a part of that. Our identity to find our true selves is in Jesus, not in us. We are identified in him, in his death and resurrection, even in his ascension.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, and say more than any of us can really take in, not that we’re meant to understand all of that right away anyhow, we need to settle in again, on the slogan itself. Do we really believe the good news is in Jesus, and God’s grace in him? Are we willing to proceed with a blind, and naked faith, depending only on God’s word to us in Jesus? Will we step across that line, with a commitment to not turn back, or at least keep coming back when we most likely inevitably do return to our former and dead end way of living?

These are questions which remain, at least for myself. I want to break through into a new sort of life in Jesus, which I have already tasted many times through a good number of years, for sure. But which I’ve at least in large part failed to be settled in. The theme of God’s grace, which has come to my attention in recent weeks, has taken on a new focus, which while not really new in knowledge, may become new in understanding as in application for me, something I hope to better live in and be a witness to in whatever coming days and months and years may remain, in and through Jesus.

radical trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yesterday I finished a book (except for the endnotes), The Cure, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall. I’m not sure how Bible scholars would view the book, and it actually is not a scholarly book. But that doesn’t at all mean that it wasn’t written from sound scholarship. While it might present an important aspect of something within what ends up being more complex, I think it’s worth one’s while to read it, and consider its thesis. I for one, am favorably disposed. I received my copy from our church’s small group leader, and we are set to go through an interactive study of it. The group leader says it changed his life. I tend to be skeptical of any such claim, remembering how books used to impact me in earlier years, but how such effects would wear off usually sooner than later. What seems to me to be in this book’s favor is that our group leader himself is an older, mature Christian, and that the lead author of the book, John Lyynch, does not seem to me to be a fly-by-nighter, an older man himself with decades of pastoral experience.

One of the leading theses of the book (and believe me, don’t think the book is either simplistic, or reductionistic as in thinking there’s an easy answer and fix) is that we’re not to be about pleasing God, but instead, trusting him. And then the pleasing part will come out of that trust. I would like to call it a radical trust in keeping with the message of scripture, and the gospel, and quite evident in the passage quoted above (click the reference above to get some other interesting translations of Proverbs 3:5-6). The book is wise and avoids at least one pitfall I can think of: an individualistic approach, which misses the central place of community in the spiritual life, and I can think of another I won’t add here. And I’m confident there are more.

This book is very much in keeping with what has come to my attention as of late, a needed emphasis that in some way may be lacking in my life: grace, and in particular, God’s grace. It is a grace which not only forgives, but puts us into the place not of law and duty, but of love and its compelling dynamic. I can see where the book could well be misunderstood by reviewers and readers, although I think in such cases, it would be a misreading of the book to come to such conclusions. When there is an emphasis on grace, it is easy to think that there’s a skirting of law, but I think the book captures well something of what Paul was getting at in his writings, how the law itself does not help us to keep it, hampered by our sinful flesh, and the reality that we were never meant to live as self-sufficient creatures to begin with. But that we’re dependent on God’s grace in and through Jesus, and Jesus’s death and resurrection, as well as on the gift of the Holy Spirit, to begin to mature in this new life. Another key thesis of this book is that we’re to live our of what we already are through our identity in Christ.

I think the book provides a good mix of solid biblical, theological truth, with wise pastoral understanding. We work through such truth in the gospel with fits and starts, steps backward after making progress, etc.

So I’m looking forward in the context of our small group, in seeking to better understand and apply the truth of the gospel from this book into my own life. And sharing facets of that truth with others, including any readers of this blog.

But for now, I’ll end this post with the thought, God in Jesus through the gospel is completely committed to us in an unwavering love which doesn’t love us either more, or less, because of anything we either do, or fail to do. We need to let the truth sink in of the radical nature of the gospel, before we can apply it radically to our own lives, as followers of the one who not only loved us, but loves us. And longs to be in close fellowship with us. And is united to us: we in him, and he in us, to the very end.

a Thanksgiving meditation

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

Some days ought to be different. In a way we want every day to be the same, even as we want to be the same ourselves in and through Jesus, and God’s grace in him. But it’s good to have certain days set as days of special celebration or reflection. We see this in the feast days of Israel of old (called the Feast Days of God) in the First/Old Testament. And in days even here in America in which we either honor or celebrate what is important to the nation. And on the Christian calendar, there are periods of time, and special days, not meant to enslave anyone, but to help us. Thanksgiving Day is kind of a combination of both a religious and national day here in the United States. It is a day set apart to enjoy the blessings of God, and give thanks for those blessings.

The passage above (Colossians 3), insofar as it’s lived out among Christians today, is a good reminder of what we should be remembering and celebrating. As well as where our minds and tongues probably shouldn’t be, unless it’s in simple prayer to God.

Some of us may have had extra difficult lives, or may be going through a trial right now. But none of us can say that there isn’t much to  be thankful for, first to God, from whom all blessings flow, and through whom every good and perfect gift comes. As well as to others, thanking God for them, as well as thanking them for the good they do out of the love and grace that comes from God.

God is love, and in that love has poured out bountiful blessings on the earth, to be shared by all. Let us mark this day, and make it, by God’s grace, a day of giving thanks to him. And simply be with each other, especially practicing that giving of thanks for the little ones to see so that they can come to emulate that themselves.

And above all, may we see this day as a day to pause and reflect, as well as celebrate for ourselves, God’s goodness to us and to the world. In creation and in new creation, in and through Jesus.

prayer for Thanksgiving Day

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

becoming stronger through the fight

Like it or not, we in Jesus are involved in spiritual warfare. To be quite honest, I can’t say I entirely like it, because it seems to me that some of the arrows from the evil one get through to me at times. If that’s the case, and to some extent I suspect it is, that can be the Lord’s mercy in helping me to shore up my position through becoming stronger for the fight, that strength being in the Lord, and in his mighty power. And learning to better put on the full armor of God. All topped off with the necessary ongoing prayer. Once again, that classic passage, Ephesians 6:10-20:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

A simple key here which is probably underrated is “in Christ.” Or in the passage itself, “in the Lord.” The popular evangelical speak in teaching (and not just evangelical), one’s position in Christ, or identity in him, is of vital importance, to be sure. And the rest of the book of Ephesians is key in helping us understand that. In the apt summary of Watchman Nee: “Sit, Walk, Stand.” In other words, we have to learn through our identity in Christ how we are seated with him in the heavenly realm (or places), and learn to walk in the conduct of our lives accordingly, and from that, we will be able to stand well in the battle against the spiritual entities we face.

Through all of this, and related to the past two posts, we can become stronger. The danger lies in giving up, giving in, or not persevering so as to break through. Of course it ultimately doesn’t depend on us; it depends on the Lord, and the power and truth of the gospel. We have to do what we’re called to do, knowing that it is he who will see us through, and that actually we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8, a good passage to meditate on in regard to this entire subject).

And so, though I seemed to take some strong body blows, and even a good smack or two on the head yesterday (of course metaphorically), I look forward to something good to come out of even the worst. As I hang in there, and seek to understand and better live in the faith which is ours in and through Jesus.

into the process

Yesterday I posted as it were (though unintended then) a brief introduction to how we approach trials (“wisdom needed“). Today I want to consider the process itself, a little (it is, after all, a big subject).

Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!
    The prudent carefully consider their steps.

Proverbs 14:15; NLT

It’s important to be thoughtful people about what we’re facing. Experience helps, being seasoned through life in the fear and love of the Lord. To consider everything, insofar as we can when facing trials, which, while we might and probably will to some extent learn the hard way, through the hard knocks of life, we do well to put at the forefront of our thinking. That means sometimes we need to step back, perhaps put where we’re at on pause, and prayerfully reflect.

First of all, in seeking to please the Lord, we must be considerate of others, sensitive to their expectations and needs. We need to weigh that in our prayerful consideration of the whole. So that we make no major decisions apart from having thought through a number of things, actually the whole of everything, from every practical angle we can think of.

Next (though not necessarily in this order, nor is this meant ot be complete) we seek the counsel of others, especially wise, experienced people of grace, who will pray with us, and may offer us much needed counsel and advice to avoid serious pitfalls, and do well (Proverbs 15:22).

And then we pray, continue to pray, wait on God, and give something time. We are in a process. Life itself is a process, and new things, likely trials to us since they are new, or perhaps certainly trials in and of themselves, need time to get through. “This too shall pass.” But we need to hang in there through those difficult times, looking to God for his help, relief and needed wisdom along the way. His grace and mercy poured out on us, and on the situation. And especially in how it might impact others.

As the passage in James makes clear, this is part of our growth toward full maturity, and necessary in our following of Christ, and being formed into his likeness.