simply Christian

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1 Corinthians 1

It seems like it holds true to the present: there are a number of Christian denominations and traditions which remain essentially divided over this and that, sometimes what appears to be significant matters over the gospel, and yet in the end, they would acknowledge that the ones they are dividing from are likely in Christ.

What if we simply got rid of the idea that we have to be united over this or that nonessential? But for many, unless one believes that the bread of Holy Communion becomes Christ’s body, and the wine is blood, then they can’t be in any kind of fellowship and working relationship. Or churches remain divided over this or that. It seems impossible to break the division.

We need to center on the gospel, and live with our differences around that. Maybe challenge each other in the process, but make it a priority to be united, insofar as we possibly can for our witness to the world, as well as the good of our own faith.

Reports from China years back said that the church was growing exponentially until they began to get divergent directions from different Christian bodies in the free world. The simplicity of the power of the gospel, and God’s grace in that was disrupted by human made rules and tradition. The work of the Spirit was thus undermined, if not thwarted altogether.

When it’s not the gospel that is central, or when there are certain aspects of our participation in the gospel which end up dividing us, we have work to do. We need to make provision for all who are in Christ to be united as one in faith and practice.

That is what I’m coming to now. We might want to bring a believer along to understand and practice or even not think they have to practice certain things, arguably, but as long as they have faith in Christ, that should be enough for them to be fully united to us in our church body and witness to the world. The New Testament doesn’t know any believer who isn’t baptized, at least not as a rule, but differences there should not cause us to exclude each other.

What we need to press for is to maximize our oneness in Christ through the gospel. That needs to take priority over other matters. In spite of what differences we have, we ought to make provision for that. In the grace of God in and through Jesus.

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the strongman is weak

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13

This could end up being one of those few posts I delete for whatever reason. But I want to say upfront that something of the very plague of thinking “might makes right” is endemic in our culture, as it was in  Paul’s day. It was a lot about a superior wisdom then to which the cross was pure folly. But make no mistake about it, to the Romans strength and power was also a first order value, the very breath of their existence, and in their minds at least helping them establish their value in the world. And ironically, one could make the case that this Roman grip in its strength, and extensiveness helped immensely in the spread of the gospel.

Give me a person who is weak in Jesus, depending on him, and I’ll see a person whose strength is ultimately in God. Give me a person who is strong in themselves, and depends on no one, and I’ll see a person whose strength is destined to fail, since it’s only in themselves. I realize life can be more complicated than this. We have no further to look than Proverbs to realize that, along with the rest of the Bible, and then some reflection on life itself.

But ultimately, when you get right down to the heart of existence, you have to find your strength in God, and you do that, paradoxically through finding it in the weakness of the crucified Jesus, in whom we both die and live, in resurrection power and life. In the strength which is God’s in Jesus given to us by the Spirit for each other and the world.

the place of the inscripturated word

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

In Christian creeds, Christians don’t say they believe in the word of God, in scripture. That’s a given. The heart of the Christian message is the gospel, the good news in and through Jesus, which brings in the kingdom of God in the new creation, and begins now through faith and baptism, and in the church.

I believe in more of a sacramental understanding than what I was raised with, which I think is clear enough from scripture, and is at least the dominant position of the tradition of the church, of Christianity through the centuries. However I also identify with a strong emphasis on the word, on scripture, and in teaching the word.

It’s interesting at this point in our lives, we pulled up stakes from the new Anglican church plant in our area, regretfully so for myself, but for good reason, I think. Prompted by my sisters, and encouraged by others, we are now taking our oldest granddaughter to an evangelical church not far from where she lives, which has a good program for the kids year round, teaching them the gospel and from scripture week in and week out.

I have to remember to take my earplugs, but at least the songs present a certain liturgy in themselves in pointing us to God in Jesus. And the church excels in teaching from scripture, even if at this point I’m not (yet) entirely convinced their teaching is Christ and gospel-centered enough. It likely is more than what I might think. Churches with traditionally liturgy by that alone keep the worshiper centered in Jesus and the gospel, pointed as well to the Triune God.

So for the foreseeable future, we are embarked in this new way, which, by the way is in sync with where I work, at Our Daily Bread Ministries. And that is rather fitting in that this is where I’ve lived and grown for years even into decades, and where I largely live now. With a bent toward the gospel in everything, and all that means (not that I understand that, but working toward that), in and through the inscripturated word.

Christ is the center

There is an Antiochian (Eastern) Orthodox church in our area which has a fitting mural on its domed ceiling of Christ with apostles and prophets and perhaps other people of the church surrounding Christ as witnesses to him. I think this is quite apt. We don’t really preach the word, as Paul charges Timothy to do, unless we’re preaching Christ.

Jesus himself pointed out to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection that scripture, the Law and the Prophets taught that he must suffer and die and be raised on the third day. That was certainly a revelation to them, and it should be instructive to us. But I’m afraid that many times in our evangelical churches, Christ gets lost in the details of our message on a given passage and passages from scripture. Which is ironic since evangelical means pertaining to the gospel. Scripture is not meant to be read as it was originally received. We are to read it now with Christ and gospel centered eyes, with that lens in place. Christ and the gospel is the point and end of every passage of scripture, the point of the Story of scripture.

If we don’t do this, then we’re not preaching the word, period. Of course to some extent every evangelical church will preach the word to the extent that Christ is proclaimed. But the message can all too easily become geared toward the individual hearers helping themselves with the truth of the word. And there’s no doubt that all kinds of wisdom can be found in the words of scripture, even at the most obscure places. But Christ himself is wisdom from God, in him are all the treasures of wisdom, so that ultimately we don’t find true wisdom apart from him.

It may well be true that some find true wisdom through Christ, even if they don’t know of Christ and the gospel message. That God might be giving them that light insofar as that’s possible apart from the message of Christ and the faith that comes with that message, as C. S. Lewis might suggest, if I’m understanding him right. But the true light that comes into the world, enlightening everyone (John 1) is fully revealed in the Word who became flesh, and dwelled among us, and gave his flesh (and blood) for the life of the world.

It is also true, as one of the faithful pointed out to me, that we don’t preach Christ apart from living out the love by the Spirit, which is the fulfillment of the law, that is the torah of scripture. If we don’t live out that love, we are not showing Christ to the world. And it’s also true that this unique love comes only from Christ as the source. God in Christ the human, of course himself being God-in-the-flesh, fully human and fully God.

Christ is the center by whom we find through faith and baptism the life of the Trinity in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Apart from that Word, the written word has lost its way, falling short of the truth, and therefore having no life. If we don’t believe that, then we are missing reality, we are more or less missing the center, who is Christ.

 

 

worship God

Worship God!

Revelation 22

Human beings are natural worshipers. We worship someone, or something, or probably a number of people and things. Worship carries the idea of placing a great value, even the highest value on a given object. So that we not only highly esteem it, but pay some kind of deference to it, sacrificing time willingly, and usually because of what we ourselves get out of that. Such was true of the idol worship of the past, such as Baal worship, and such is true of the worship given today to any number of idols of the heart.

But we human beings don’t have the natural propensity we ought to have to worship God. Paul describes the human downturn in Romans 1:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

And a little later:

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Of course the first of the Ten Words, what we call the Ten Commandments, echoes this, the second commandment related to that:

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…”

Exodus 20

Jesus made it clear that the Father is seeking worshipers:

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4:23-24

Worshiping God is the ultimate in putting first things first. We worship God in and through Jesus. It is to be something we do, as well as the lifestyle we live. We have special times of worship, and how we live is to be an act of worship (Romans 12:1-2).

We worship God. Not ourselves, or something else. Human beings are worshipers by nature. In our sin we worship what ends up being destructive to us, as all idols are. But the worship of God ends up being for our own good, even though in this life such worship comes sometimes at great personal cost as in persecution and martyrdom. Certainly so through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and through the waters of baptism (Romans 6). In Jesus we want to become the worshipers of God we are meant to be, as we continue to find the true life in him, the eternal life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

when not knowing where to turn

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Acts 20:32

There is plenty of dribble and empty things to turn to in this information age online, and most of us have ready access to such. And I’m referring to matters even on the side of seriousness. Not to say that we don’t need some pleasant diversions along the way, some good, clean fun.

It probably is much easier to learn to tune out the political speak nowadays, since one finds that there is often not much substance to it at all. Not to mention that we too often are misaligned with the politics of this world rather than the politics of Jesus, the politics of the cross.

Sometimes when I write this post I don’t know what to write. Or sometimes I don’t know what to think or where to turn, even while we in Jesus know we need to turn to God in prayer. That is when we can be reminded that we need to turn again and again to the word of God in scripture, and the word of truth which is the gospel, the point of all of scripture.

That word has raising and staying power. As Paul told the elders of Ephesians, a word meant for them, but in turn for the entire church. The word of God’s grace, which is able to build us up and give us an inheritance among all those who are sanctified, meaning set apart to God and therefore holy.

Scripture gives us direction and hope, and a hope not only for us, but for everyone, for the entire world in and through Jesus. By faith and through baptism we enter into this reality in Jesus. By the Spirit we become grounded to God’s word, the inscripturated word of God, and particularly to the point of it all, the gospel which is the good news for us and for the world in and through Jesus.

And so, come what may, we need to be those who remain in God’s word in and through Jesus, finding the Word himself, Jesus in the midst of the word. And growing in the grace and truth of that, along with others in Jesus.

my goal for the rest of my life

Life is not about any of us; it is really about God and God’s will in and through Jesus by the blessed Holy Spirit. And God’s love for the world made not only known by, but that reality shared for the final salvation, which begins by faith now. It’s about Jesus, and God’s love and will in him.

We in Jesus are witnesses to this good news/gospel of God in him. In a most direct, literal sense, the witnesses in scripture are the apostles who were with Jesus and witnessed both his death and resurrection, seeing the Lord for 40 days after his resurrection, eating and drinking with him before his ascension to heaven. And all who follow in that train, witnessing to this good news in the power of the Spirit to the ends of the earth.

In a secondary, yet very real sense, we in Jesus are witnesses to the same, maybe not so much through proclamation as the apostles and those who carried and carry on that apostolic work right to the present. But mainly through how we live, and what we are living for, and what, if necessary, we are willing to die for. As well as sharing the reason for the hope we have to anyone who might ask us.

I was hoping for this and that, but these things have never materialized. So my desire now, is simply to be a witness to the good news, in whatever ways God has for me, the rest of my days. To hopefully by God’s grace live well in it myself, through all the difficulties and spiritual battles. To certainly do so in the communion of the church through scripture and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper/Communion, as well as through the past sacrament upon which we live our lives through Christ, baptism.

I want to be a simple witness to the gospel, and to how that gospel might impact in its light all people, and all things in this world. I know in so doing, I am greatly limited in every way. And yet God’s word in Jesus, the good news is the power and wisdom of God for the salvation of the world through the proclamation of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. Through God’s incarnation in the Son, and his life, teaching, death and resurrection, he fulfills God’s calling to Israel for the world, bringing in the reign of God through the gospel and the church. We are each a part of that. And together a witness to the world, a light from the light of the world, Jesus.

And so, that is my hope and prayer. I have a good wife who is a witness in the same way in her own right and special, unique God-given way. And together in communion with the church, we want to go on as witnesses of all that God is doing and promises to do in and through Jesus.