the ongoing challenge of Scripture and life

 

…the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7b; NRSVue

Scripture is so full, and we all know that life is. If there isn’t one thing, there’s another. Always something. 

Job is a great case in point. Avoid one way of looking at the book. Go to Jewish tradition and elsewhere. Even the way it’s translated is not set in stone. Job is just a great example of what is more or less true in all of Scripture. It points us to Christ, but the way it does is noteworthy.

Getting back to Job and the passage quoted above, Job is commended for challenging God. Job’s friends are rebuked, even humiliated (according to the NRSV heading) for stating the conventional doctrinal orthodox understanding of life, faithfully applying it to Job’s situation, indeed tragedy. There was nothing else to be said.

But Scripture and life is not like that. It is so much more open ended, not some closed system which we can set in stone in some kind of systematic theology. We’ll wrestle in life yes, but in Scripture too, and even with God if our faith is active and real.

Scripture is important but is never an end in itself. It mirrors real life and is meant to help us on. The point of Scripture and having to wrestle with it, is to lead us to Christ and to begin to understand all of Scripture in that light, really in a way that we can’t ever fully comprehend and capture. And so, the challenge goes on.  In and through Jesus.

 

should we want to be liked by everyone?

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10; NRSVue

Paul’s words here are linked to his God-given authority as an apostle, the apostle to the gentiles, and the messenger of the gospel given to him. But what he is saying I take as connected to us since he tells us elsewhere to follow him as he follows Christ.

To dig deeper will bring up complexity, but on the face of it, the obvious answer to the question is no. We should not want to be liked by everyone. I’m not sure that all of us are to become all things to all people that we might win some which is what Paul said about himself. But in a secondary sense, yes, we do make ourselves a slave to all to win as many as possible in how we conduct ourselves in love to others in the world, including our enemies.

Jesus is Jesus and we have to be careful to thinking that there’s necessary direct application of everything he did for our practice. For example, Jesus evidently could see into people’s hearts in a way we can’t along with other examples. Jesus is God in the flesh, fully human, but even if living only as a human in his earthly existence, Jesus did so in a completely full way toward the Father, unlike us.

That said, I believe Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple precinct during Holy Week is an example for us to follow of not passive resistance to injustice, but active (helpful podcast with Jason Porterfield). Was Jesus making friends and influencing people when he did that? That was a part of the reason he was crucified. On Tuesday of Holy Week pronouncing woes of warning and sorrow to the Pharisees and not mincing words certainly wasn’t going to make those who already disliked him among the Pharisees change their minds. And possibly added a few more to that list.

We all like to like others and be liked. And someday when God’s love is the atmosphere in which all live and breathe, that will indeed be the case. But now in this darkness it’s inevitable that some will dislike us. Which could result even in death and for some does. Even though some seemingly do that dispassionately in the name of their religion or ideology.

At any rate, we as followers of Christ should work at loving everyone, even if we have to say something along the way which might be hard for them to hear or receive. We want to do everything in love, in love for God and for others. We need to learn to look past other’s faults and affronts against us and see the good, God’s image in them, and seek to love, even like them. That is an ongoing challenge in itself, but part of our calling. But for now, we can cast aside any thought that everyone is going to like us. In fact, given everything in this evil age, we really would not want that to be the case.

God will help us in this, and that together. In and through Jesus.

a peace that’s not only personal

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
he sets up walls and bulwarks as a safeguard.
Open the gates,
so that the righteous nation that maintains faithfulness
may enter in.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for in the LORD GOD
you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low
the inhabitants of the height;
the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
the feet of the poor,
the steps of the needy.

Isaiah 26:1-6;  NRSVue

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (KJV) is a well known verse turned into song. That this applies to us as individuals is wonderfully and blessedly true. But to be faithful to the biblical text, we need to read the context, the whole. We’ll then discover that it indeed has societal, global implications. It’s about a nation that maintains faithfulness. And that faithfulness as we see also in the context is with reference to justice, and specifically justice for the poor.

Yes, we can personalize and enjoy this passage ourselves. But we’ll miss a lot, even the point of this passage, if we focus only on that. One of the most serious weaknesses of precious promise books, whatever good they actually do have. It’s a city no less, given to justice for the poor. Something which needs to be heard loud and clear today. What churches should be about. A central part of the expression of our faith. In and through Jesus.

strongholds

I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you but bold toward you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5; NRSVue

The strongholds here refer to everything that is set up in opposition to the knowledge of God, all that is contrary to God. I think now of systems of evil benefiting some, often a relatively small number of the rich and powerful at the expense of many. Oftentimes such an arrangement is seen as necessary for this or that reason, with arguments like that’s the way things are, and that’s the way life works. Those on the bottom rung can be thankful they have work and an existence, even if it’s dismal. But the dismal aspect is ignored if not denied on the basis that somehow this is all these people deserve or are able to achieve. And that those over them even somehow are being generous. That is so antithetical to the good news of God in Christ which is not only about the individual soul, but about all things, all of life. Unless the entire Bible doesn’t matter. Only through reading it all can we fully understand and appreciate the good news in Christ.

What Paul is directly talking about here is everything set up against the knowledge of God as given in the good news of Christ. This is especially critical to those who do not have faith, who have not yet received it. But Paul is writing here to a church that indeed has received it yet are thinking and acting in ways contrary to it. The good news in Christ is meant to crush all strongholds. And what is especially critical in Paul’s mind which we see time and again in his letters, not the least in this letter is the relationships believers have with each other and how believers relate to the world. It’s meant to be all in love in accordance with the gospel.

When I think of strongholds, I typically think of that which hinders us from the fullness of experience of the gospel, by God’s grace the righteousness and peace and joy that accompanies it. It is noteworthy that just two chapters later in our Bibles, Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, the tormenting messenger of Satan that Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. But the Lord wanted Paul to live in that. It’s hard to parse this out, because I don’t believe such weaknesses would include bents toward sin which would leave us susceptible. But such experience can help us draw near to God in ways we otherwise would not.

I believe we need to seek to claim and live in God’s promises which are “yes and amen” through the good news of Christ. We need to plead and insist that God answer. Such prayer is probably entirely necessary for us, because we’re so given to being not that serious about whatever it is. So it’s good that we keep praying for ourselves and others and not let up. And even wrestle with God in the process.

It is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which tears down all kinds of strongholds, whether systemic evil in the world, the sin which binds people, or the struggles we experience as believers in the spiritual battle we’re in. Something to think and pray about. God will help us as we persevere. What once was a stronghold can be like Paul says above, destroyed. With the new thoughts Christ gives us as we commit ourselves to full obedience together. In and through Jesus.

our mothering God

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131; NRSVue

Probably the most important thing I learned in my first year of college is just what little I know. A world of knowledge was opened up to us, and what I thought I knew was set aside. In that kind of education, one not only sees how little they know, but that oftentimes what we think we know is flat out mistaken.

This psalm touches on that, but that’s not really the heart of it. It’s more about our relationship with God and life from that perspective. I’ve never been a mother, so I can’t speak firsthand here, but the relationship between God and each person is likened to a mother and child, in that culture a weaned child being between three to five years of age (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version). A child at that age wants to explore and learn, but they’re still quite dependent on their mother.

Childishness is spoken of in Scripture as a sign of immaturity, but childlikeness quite the opposite, a mark of maturity. Jesus said we must repent and become like children to enter into God’s kingdom. In that sense remaining a child.

I’m not sure I’ve ever learned this, or maybe I should say not obviously so to me, though in indirect ways I’m becoming more that way. Just the sense of need for God correlates to this, even if we aren’t aware of enjoying and experiencing enough of that care.

Yes, it’s motherly care that God’s care is likened to here. But as the psalm tells us here, the child is to take it on themselves to calm down. Probably God is calming us down as well, since surely God does that for all of us as God’s children. But we often resist that, for whatever reasons. Instead we’re to let down our guard and let God. You might say in the well known if often misunderstood phrase: “Let God and let God.”

We are completely dependent on God for everything. Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that we truly understand nothing aright or well apart from God’s help? Do we really believe that God in God’s love will take care of us, or even that we’re actually in need of that care?

None of this means that we can be immature. In fact in this picture immaturity is a denial of this, and maturity an acceptance. A hard one for us to accept on our own. I’m having trouble with this right now. I want to unlearn so much and learn what God directly would like to teach me. I would like to experience so much more of God’s motherly care.

And we’re all in this together. Together we’re to put our hope in God in this way from now on and forever.

back to an important basic

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7; NRSVue

For me anxiety is a problem which though I handle much better now as a rule than in the past, still hits me. My hope is that I’ll be able to fend it off more and more through the promises of God in Scripture, simply by trusting God, bringing it to God in prayer.

It’s so basic here to do what we’re told to do. Yes, when something either might possibly make us anxious, or we are anxious, we need to do what we’re told here. Take it to God in prayer. Yes, with thanksgiving, thanking God in any way we can. Just the honest effort to do that is enough. And then bring to God whatever our concern is in detail.

We are prone to wonder what difference that could possibly make. But God is God. God is the needed difference maker, not us or anyone else. God uses others, yes, but it is God who makes the difference.

God will take care of the problem, giving us whatever we need, or at the very least we can with full assurance: no matter what, God will see us through to the very end. And remember that in this life we will never know it all. The only thing we can know for sure is that we need to trust God and that God will take care of us and everyone else. That may make no sense to us given what actually happens in the world. But God gives us peace of heart and mind in spite of everything. Not because we no longer care, but because we know by faith that God cares. In and through Jesus.

Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:27-32; NRSVue

The LORD is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;
the right hand of the LORD is exalted;
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”
I shall not die, but I shall live
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
The LORD has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.

This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 118:14-29; NRSVue

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him,
and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.

So it is to be. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Revelation 1:4-8; NRSVue

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31: NRSVue

Revised Common Lectionary

simple living

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; NRSVue

A staple of Anabaptist, Mennonite teaching is simplicity, to live what’s called “the simple life.” Within this tradition, the Amish are at least among the ones that have this practice down the best. When you consider the American context, it’s expensive to live because there’s so much money and space in the mix. And much of the economy depends on people buying what they can’t afford and actually don’t need.

Those who don’t have to worry the rest of their lives about having enough money still can only eat so much food. Yes, they can take in all kinds of expensive entertainment or whatever and eat whatever cuisine they want. But they really can use and enjoy only so much. Oftentimes these folks have way more than they either need or will use. While so much of the rest of the world does not have sufficient food or water.

Simple living involves an enjoyment of the ordinary things, seeing everything as a gift from God. And instead of wanting more and more and never being happy with what one has, learning to gratefully receive anything and everything that is good as a gift from God. And seeing that as enough. As Paul actually put it here, if we have what we need, food and clothes, we should be content with that.

While most of us many not be wealthy according to the American dream, we indeed are compared to the rest of the world. But that doesn’t exactly include everyone in the United States. There are too many who have to work more than one job and even then, can hardly make ends meet. And whose health care coverage is dismal in a nation with the best medical know how and one of if not the worst accessibility to it of all first world nations. Of course, the rich will get all they need and more.

When we have extra, we’re to be generous and help others who don’t have enough or are struggling or could use some help.

Our lives are supposed to be lived in simplicity because the essence of life for us is relationship with God through Christ and relationships with each other. As well as receiving every good thing as a gift from God and enjoying as well as seeking to be good stewards of all such gifts.

We’re to seek to do this together. In and through Jesus.

against reacting, but instead always acting in love

the fruit of the Spirit is love…and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23; NRSVue

The fruit of the Spirit in our lives as those who are believers in and followers of Christ starts with love and is summed up in love. The actual list ends with “self-control.” I personally find that helpful. Too easily we can react when love is not ruling over us at the time in ways that are not helpful or edifying. We react out of frustration or whatever else it might be. I speak from firsthand experience.

Instead, God wants us to act out of love, which often means not doing anything at all, but if we have to do something, always doing so in and out of love. Self-control may just be a natural response at times because we are being led by the Spirit. And the list here is after all the fruit of the Spirit, not something we do, but is done in us to make us that way. I would prefer mistakenly myself to think that this is something I have to work at. But that’s not the point here. At the same time, we need to seek to walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit. The more that’s the case, the better our response will be.

That said, we need to act according to how we know we should, regardless. We might not feel the Spirit’s influence on us at the time, at some critical juncture when we might easily react in a way that is less than helpful. In this work of the Spirit, the Spirit never just makes us automatons as if controlling us. Rather we are made agents graciously by God, alongside with God, entirely dependent on God to make all of this work. It is rather amazing to say the least.

I personally often don’t feel all that well. But that doesn’t mean that the Spirit is not at work in my life, or that I’m not, albeit in some faint way being led or walking in the Spirit. That must be my goal in all of life, whether feeling up or down. Feelings in a sense are beside the point, but we easily react in bad ways, when we feel rather bad. We need to do this regardless of whether we feel well or not.

God will help us in all of this as we commit ourselves to live in the grace God provides for us in Christ, in the freedom to live well that comes to us through the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

yes, be strong, but always in love

Keep alert; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; NRSVue

If we could just get the Sermon on the Mount into our bones from our heart by the Spirit, I’m especially thinking of the Beatitudes along with the teaching about loving our enemies, working through differences with friends, etc., etc., etc., (Matthew 5-7), our Lord’s teaching along with example, we would be better off and those around us. Yes, we’re to be strong, but always in love.

Love is to mark everything about us, all we do. Sometimes that’s not so hard. But other times it is, because we are hurt or are struggling for one reason or another. But in answer to our prayer, God can and will help us. We need to see past the weaknesses, even sins of others, to see someone God loves and to see that they too like us are vulnerable and need God’s help.

The whole package here, as Paul put it in the quote above is so important for us. Love must mark all we do. We will slip from that at times, but then we have to get up, confess our sin, and get back in, doing all in humble love. Out of all the love God continues to pour out on us by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.