when everything seems uncertain, unsettled, with upheaval and change

There are times and seasons when one is in the midst of it. Where so many uncertainties exist, and when a number of issues can be hanging in the balance. Add to that the fact that bad things can and sometimes do happen. One is left with an uneasy sense of deja vu, either of “here we go again,” or what one dreaded coming to pass.

That is when we need to continue all the more in our practice to be grounded in God and God’s word. “This too will pass,” and how we are in terms of both our disposition and actions is critical during such times. There may indeed need to be adjustments made, and life itself can force that on someone. We need to take one thing at a time, and go from there. We can be assured in the midst of it all, that God will be with us in Jesus. And that God will help us by the Spirit.

And so the watchword for us is faith: faith in God, in God’s word, God’s promise to us in Jesus. And endeavoring to find and become more and more settled into God’s will through it all.

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the word and experience

I believe in the Bible as God’s word written. I can’t sort out everything discussed theologically from that, but base it largely on what Jesus says, and from what we can gather from his words,what he believed, and on what the Bible itself says. And first and foremost, the Spirit gives God’s people a witness of its truth through their own experience or intake of it.

But I also believe that we don’t understand the Bible in some kind of objective, isolated sense. Everything is subjective, actually, lived and understood within time and space, therefore there being no such thing as “timeless truth” strictly speaking, though when that term is used, it means truth which transcends periods of time, and maybe time itself, God himself having created time. I would prefer to call it “timely truth,” if we’re going to use something like that term at all. It is truth written within a certain time and place, but for all times and places. And I prefer to see this truth as within story, with the task left to us to understand its meaning for our story, and better yet, how our story fits into the whole, God’s story.

But the main point I want to make in this post is that our experience is a huge factor in approaching and understanding God’s word. It’s not at all like we simply go to the parts of scripture, maybe books, or more often I think for people, verses, to help us in the problems we face in life. Though there really is a place for that. But it is imperative that we press on throughout all of scripture, even if and inevitably when we have no clue at all how that passage relates to our lives. The question ought to be not how it relates to our lives as much as how our lives can relate to it. We need the Spirit for this both directly to us, and just as importantly, through the church, since we are all in this together. The Spirit speaks primarily to the churches, therefore to the church as a whole, not primarily to individuals. Yet we do individually receive what the Spirit says to the churches. Not to say that the Spirit doesn’t speak directly to us.

So experience is vital. That is why those who are in ivory towers, shielded from real life might not have much to say of any value or use to others. Everyone needs to participate in life, though life has a way of working its way into everyone’s experience. One can’t escape real life. The question then becomes just how we participate in it. And the best answer for that is within the fellowship of the church, of believers, being dependent on the Spirit, and patient over time for the Lord to teach us.

The word and experience go hand in hand. I need that word to get me through each day, and all the pitfalls that day may bring. All of this in and through Jesus.

strangers in the body

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12

One of the great tragedies of the church is the clergy-laity divide. I heard that it took place around the fourth century. What I do understand about that is that a monastic life (which actually appeals to me, of course in a married order) was held to be more sacred than the common, ordinary life. Therefore the sacred/secular divide. And from that you hear people say they are “called to the ministry.”

Actually I agree with some of that language, but disagree with much of its application. And it may to a large extent be my fault, but I have found body practice in the church and in Christian circles mostly nonexistent, or probably more accurately, like a hard shell to break through in my own experience. I’m not much of a believer in the body of Christ.

Call that hurt, or whatever on my part, but I don’t speak conceptually, but experientially. That is the impression I receive from living in the real world.

There are two problems up front that I at least sense. First of all there seems to be the impression that there are just a few, certain people set apart to do “the work of the ministry.” They are the movers and shakers, and the rest follow them. The other problem I see is the emphasis on the individual at the expense of the community. Christianity is often marked in regard to “my relationship with God.” It’s all about me, and what I’m going to do, or not do today. While there’s plenty of vital truth in that, if it’s the only emphasis, than we miss the greater emphasis of scripture, that we are all in this together, that each one of us has a vital part and role to play.

I don’t believe in any of this, actually. Because I feel and think that largely I’ve been left behind. And I don’t think I was the target at all. I think instead that my experience is simply a symptom of the kind of Christianity which is accepted and practiced. Commitment to the body, and to each other is simply not practiced, or not practiced well. Small groups might help, and there is surely good in them. But they might not help much in this at all, and may even promote the status quo, keeping those more restless, in their place. I am grateful right now along with my wife to be part of a small church group which is an exception to that rule. Wonderfully led, and we’re all very much a part of it.

Before we can judge someone, or begin to think we have their measure, if indeed such a thing is possible, we need to get to know them. But there isn’t that commitment in the Christianity I see, and have normally experienced over the decades. No, I don’t believe in the body of Christ if I look at what I’ve witnessed. In a certain way I can imagine and see it. But not in the way scripture tells it. An ongoing lament for me. We miss out when we don’t put an emphasis on each and every one, and are not sufficiently committed to each other in and through Jesus. Not just to “my relationship with God” and how that carries out in “my daily walk,” but to the entire body of Christ, to each other in Christ.

The Spirit will help us do this. And won’t leave us at rest until we do. Which means, I’m afraid, we won’t be much at rest in a lot of places and spaces which name the name of our Lord.

at the heart of the gospel

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1

It’s a little less than six months until Advent, but there’s never an inappropriate time to reflect on its beauty and meaning in the coming of the Messiah. Jesus comes as King, but in a way unlike that of the rulers and authorities of earth. He came and will come, and now comes by the Spirit through the gospel, and he comes to reign. In that reign is most certainly salvation, along with judgment, and from that, justice.

Israel is at the heart of this promise, receiving mercy from God ultimately to extend mercy to others. And Jesus himself is the fulfillment of what God promised to Israel and through Israel to the world.

And this gospel involves a shaking up which in part is the dealing with sin in each individual, including the high and mighty. This kingdom is for the humble, the poor, and the oppressed. The rich must beware, because unless their pockets are open in generosity, they will end up empty.

Mary’s Song is a shorthand for much of what we read in the Bible. The gospel is political, but not like the politics of this world. But don’t be mistaken, it does deal with the politics of this world ultimately, when Jesus returns. And somehow by Christ even now through the church impacts the rulers and authorities, both physical and spiritual.

A missing note I believe all too often in our understanding of the gospel.

For two outstanding reads on this, see Scot McKnight’s, The Real Mary, and The King Jesus Gospel.

the ideal church in the US in the present

First of all, right off from the top, there is no ideal church. Unless one is going to push their denomination or way of being church, there are a number of differences, which actually was the case even in the earliest days of the church, once it expanded beyond Jerusalem. And so I’m going to accept those differences which are many, today. As long as we’re united by the gospel, the good news about Jesus, we can live with those differences. I believe that’s the case between Catholic and Protestant; Calvinists, Pentecostals and Anabaptists, etc., etc. As long as the good news in Jesus is intact, the teaching of his incarnation, life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return, even the details surrounding that we can see differently, provided that we accept salvation by grace through faith with works following. I am not one to quibble over justification with the Catholics, though I myself accept the solos which became theologically prominent through the Reformation. But now to the main point of this post.

We live in a nation which to a significant extent has been built off the backs of slaves. And even after their emancipation through the Civil War, you tell most any black or African-American that they are free, and they will qualify that. And we lived through one hundred years of segregation along with the Jim Crow era. There have been other prejudices, too, and all of that can fit into the point I’m going to make next, but given the history of this nation, and the current controversy over police and race relations, I will put a clear emphasis on blacks and whites and the church.

I believe that in order to be the witness the nation and the world needs from a church here, there needs to be a deliberate change and commitment to a racial reconciliation in which the African-Americans have just as much say and leadership in a given church as the white largely European Caucasians such as myself. In a small church, that might look like a black senior pastor, with a ethnically mixed board of elders and deacons (or deacons, if that’s the way your church runs). In a larger church, it might ideally somehow be two or more associate pastors who share the teaching and pastoral role, black and white, white and black, not in any particular order. But to be sure that the church is not still really run by whites, there ought to be an emphasis given to black leadership.

Of course there are many black churches and denominations. When I was young, blacks weren’t even allowed to step inside of Southern Baptist churches, and I’m sure they were marginalized in many places. But maybe black churches need to pray about their witness, as well. Maybe it’s time for them to purposefully integrate. But I can’t speak for them. If we’re to overcome what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most integrated hour of the week, Sunday morning, than your normal church, made up of whites with a few blacks and African-Americans here and there, must take the lead. We are the ones on the side of history of the oppressors. They are on the side of the oppressed.

To be color blind doesn’t mean we just remain comfortably in our place. It means we purposefully integrate, not from some law or order from government, but as part of the heart of the call of the gospel. To express by the Spirit the unity we all have through the good news in Jesus. Regardless of our ethnicity, background, political views, etc. But in the case of blacks and whites, this will require more.

Given our history, this unity is not just something we blithely put in place, even with some hard effort to accept and learn to appreciate our cultural differences. There must also be at the heart of all of this, reconciliation. And this reconciliation must include forgiveness on both sides: the blacks and African-Americans forgiving the whites for slavery in the first place, and all the mistreatment which followed. And the whites forgiving African-Americans and blacks for any and every sinful response that followed. And all of this, while it should be put into place in a church through the gospel, is a process in which we can’t imagine at a given point we’ve arrived. The wall of hostility is broken down through the gospel, through Jesus’s death, but the unity of the Spirit which follows requires every effort to maintain, and grow in. As we grow up together into the mature body of Christ that we’re called to become. A growth that is ongoing, and something we already are in Christ by the Spirit, but learning to live by and into the implications of all of that.

This is a great need in the church today. The way we do church just won’t do, I’m afraid, or at least it will be lacking, if this isn’t a priority well beyond just hoping others who are different might begin to trickle in. All of this in and through Jesus.

prayer

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; 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

God is love

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4

I suppose and hope that if there’s one note I would like to end my life on, and hopefully begin to live out much better, it would be the reality of God’s love in Jesus from the God who is love. This special incarnate, atoning love would mark every step of my way, not by myself, but with others. And it would mark our witness to the world. Of loving each other and loving everyone, even including our enemies.

It is the way of the cross. Not without struggle. But a faith and love which overcomes everything, along with the hope which accompanies that. An inseparable triad in scripture, the greatest of the three being love (1 Corinthians 13).

God is love, period. Everything else comes out of that love. And it’s the love we find in scripture, demonstrated in the cross. For us, and then even through us in Jesus. And for the world. In no other terms than in and through the gospel. But a gospel in Jesus which ends up as big as all of life. As we await the completion and climax of this reality, when Jesus returns. All of this from the God who is love, in and through Jesus.