radical faith inspired by the faith

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

There is no question that a little bit of faith is better than none. Not that people don’t struggle over faith at times, and wonder if they have any. But it’s a good sign we do, if there’s any struggle at all.

The faith as it’s given to us in Jesus and in the gospel inspires within us the kind of faith which responds in totality, with no holding back. That is surely in part why one’s early Christian experience is so remarkably wonderful, one recalls the words in the Revelation about the love they had at first. Somewhere along the line we tend to revert to something of our old ways, leaving something of faith behind.

The gospel, as reflected in scripture, as the passage above makes clear, calls for a radical faith as in a complete trust in God, which refuses to take matters in one’s own hand. This means that when all is said and done, the outcome depends on God. And if that depends on him, then how we get there, the work that brings us there is actually of God, as well. Scripture at places makes it clear that it’s God’s work, even when we’re involved in it.

This may mean that certain things happen which wouldn’t have otherwise. But in all of that, the trust is in God; that no matter what happens, God has it covered. As opposed to us trying to cover all the bases, and perhaps in some things doing much more, yet not having God in it, at least not in the same way.

The faith inherently calls us to faith; the gospel itself being radical, calling us to a radical faith commitment for both this life, and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

 

friendship

A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:17

A friend is someone you spend time with, sharing an affinity somehow, having a connection. One’s best friend I think ought to be one’s spouse or significant other. But one can have other friends as well, one of whom may be a friend in a way a spouse can’t. Actually every friendship is surely unique as the different people who are friends.

In a general sense we might have a good number of friends, any number of people you might feel comfortable with at a party or some kind of gathering. But real, true blue friends are rare, or much less in number. And actually we can be friends like that with only so many. Jesus himself spent a good share of his time, especially what private time he had, with the Twelve. And Peter, James and John shared the most intimate, closest times with him, John perhaps being the closest of all, calling himself in the gospel with his name, “the one Jesus loved.” Though perhaps that ascription was simply because of his own awareness of Jesus’ love for him.

Being friendly is important, and certainly a prerequisite to being a friend (Proverbs). But being friendly is not the same as being a friend. Friendship requires a commitment to be present with each other through thick and thin. It is two way, not one way. So that it’s different than a mentoring kind of friendship. And yet true friends are present for each other in ways that are not only comforting and consoling through the battering life often brings, but also to sharpen each other, as in iron sharpening iron (Proverbs). A good friend will love at all times, and that love will not let their friend off easily from what might be harmful, or less than desirable for their good.

I have come to think that true, deep friendship is rare. There will have to be a commitment to each other in which a multitude of shortcomings as in limitations and even sins are forgiven. True friendship isn’t easy. Sometimes between two people it’s impossible because one simply drains the other. None of us can be God to another. People need to be helped out of a “codependency” which is as harmful to themselves, probably more so, than to the one they unhealthily depend on. “Friendships” like that should be broken. Such people need friends, but it needs to be in a give and take relationship in which there is something of partnership and equality.

A good place to start in this is friendship with God, yes with God in and through Jesus. Through God’s reconciling work in Jesus, we can be friends again with God, and friends anew with each other. Jesus is the pattern in himself and by his example. So that friendship is to be edifying, in God through Jesus the most edifying and ennobling of all, beginning the restoring of the brokenness of our humanity into the full humanity that is in Christ.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

This Memorial Day we remember those who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way, and those who suffer, or have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Most of the time those in that service can’t escape the possibility of danger and death.

Our Lord calls anyone who would follow him to count the cost. What might be exacted is nothing less than life itself. In the case of our Lord, the call is for complete, total devotion to the end. There are no ands, ifs, or buts, no strings attached. We either follow completely, or we don’t really follow at all. At times I feel like I’m in that gray area in which I am struggling over this or that matter. It’s not like I’m purposefully no longer following. But taken up with imagined or even real troubles, I am struggling to come to terms with the matter, which for me will always mean getting back to going on in the Lord with others, come what may.

To count the cost is to come to terms with the truth which requires the commitment that because Jesus is the Lord and King, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” we follow him no matter what, even when we have to struggle to do so. Which for me means more or less a struggle most of the time.

Jesus wants us to count the cost so that we will learn to keep following no matter what. And with the realization that at the end all will be joy and peace for ever in his Presence, in God’s salvation of the world in and through him.

a tribute to my wife, Debra (with some thoughts on marriage)

30 years ago today, I married my best friend and lover, Debra, “Honey Sweets.” We’ve been through it now for thirty years, through good times and bad in the sense of difficulties. I believe I couldn’t have married a better woman. Deb is as consistent as day and night, the four seasons. She is a woman of a complete child-like faith as a daughter who is deeply loved and cared for by her heavenly Father. And her faith has helped me in more ways than one to change and grow. One example: she is a person who simply does not worry at all; I am one who over the years have struggled with anxiety and fear. I have come a long ways in no small part through Deb’s example, while I would acknowledge it’s an ongoing issue for me.

My wife is simply the one I feel at home with; hopefully we are a blessing to each other. There is no doubt that marriage in significant part is for our growth in holiness. It is a picture of Christ and his bride, the church and of the relationship of God to his people. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant in which each spouse is committed to the other in their commitment to the Lord. Short accounts and growth in love, in righteousness and truth over the long haul need to be staples in any growing marriage. I so much look forward to what lies ahead: hopefully at least another thirty years to keep after this, and just to be together. Frankly at the beginning I was not well enough aware of this, and more than that had issues to work through.

All married couples at least surely for the most part need special input at times. Just another reason why the church needs to be an intrical part of our identity and practice. We can’t make it, or at least do well on our own, no matter how we think we’re doing. And a big part of the church’s role is to help us live well as followers of Christ in all of our relationships, marriage certainly a big part of that. We need more of a witness of marriages which get off the ground well and keep on growing as a witness, and marriages which have overcome something of brokenness, but can show the way to forgiveness, change, growth and joy. The world needs to see both.

Deb and I are in this together; we are mutually submitting to each other as we both seek to submit ourselves to Christ. We also are keeping short accounts. Sometimes we need some sharp points to challenge us to change. But everything needs to be tempered with grace. Truth yes, but never apart from grace. We all need patient, forgiving love in all relationships and particularly in the marriage relationship in which we are exposed in all of our weakness and shortcomings, along with the good gifts from God brought into the relationship.

I wish this post was all about Deb. It is more about our marriage and marriage in general. We will enjoy this day in celebration of 30 years of marriage. Looking forward to at least another 30 more in which we hopefully can shine the light of God’s love and grace in and through Jesus and the gospel for others to see and be encouraged by for their own lives. As we seek to show others the light in the Lord together.

going for the gold

The famous California Gold Rush resulted in relatively few prospectors striking it rich. California became the “golden state,” where people could go to get their piece of the “American dream,” called the “California dream.”

This reminds me of something far greater which Paul refers to here:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

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. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I am reminded of what’s most important, what’s vitally important. So that lesser things which may get in the way of that have to be let go of, entirely dropped. Even things which in themselves may be good. Paul suffered the loss of all things to gain Christ. He had one goal and he kept looking to that, honing in on it. And in fact he made it clear that this is the view all of us in Jesus are to take, watching others, especially leaders in the church who are doing so and following their example.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Lois Tverberg on the Shema being a call to (or oath of) allegiance rather than a creed to be recited

Echad—The One and Only

The other key word in the first line of the Shema is echad (ech-HAHD). Its most common meaning is simply “one,” but it can also encompass related ideas, like being single, alone, unique, or unified. The multiple shades of meaning of echad and the difficult wording of the rest of the line have made the Shema a topic of debate for millennia.

Part of the problem is that Deuteronomy 6:4 doesn’t even have verbs. It literally reads: “YHWH … our God … YHWH … one.” The verse can be read either as saying “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone,” or “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Of these two readings, the more common reading is the second, that “the LORD is one” in the sense that God is unique. There is only one God, the God of Israel. So this line is usually understood as a statement of belief in monotheism.

The word echad has been a sticking point between Jews and Christians. Often Jews point to the fact that it means “one” as a reason that they cannot believe in the Trinity or in the deity of Christ. And Christians respond that echad can refer to a compound unity, as when God created morning and evening, and together they made yom echad (“one day) (cf. Genesis 1:5). Or when Adam and Eve, through marriage, became basar echad (“one flesh”) (Genesis 2:24).

This whole debate hinges on interpreting the Shema as a creed; that is, “the LORD is one” is a statement about what kind of being God is. But, interestingly, one of the most widely-read Jewish Bible translations now renders Deuteronomy 6:4 as “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” rather than “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” It does so because in recent decades, scholars have come to believe that the original, ancient sense of echad in this verse was more likely to be “alone” than “one.” In Zechariah 14:9, for instance, echad has this sense: “The LORD will be king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be echad and his name echad” (pers. trans.). This is a vision of the messianic age, when all humanity will cease to worship idols and revere only God and call on his name alone.

Jewish scholar Jeffrey Tigray asserts that even though the Scriptures clearly preach monotheism, the Shema itself is not a statement of belief. It’s an oath of loyalty. He calls the first line of the Shema “a description of the proper relationship between YHVH and Israel: He alone is Israel’s God. This is not a declaration of monotheism, meaning that there is only one God…. Though other peoples worship various beings and things they consider divine, Israel is to recognize YHVH alone.”

Why is this important? Because it changes the sense of what the Shema communicates. Rather than merely being a command to a particular belief about God, it is actually a call for a person’s absolute allegiance to God. God alone is the one we should worship; him only shall we serve. As often as the Shema is called a creed or a prayer, it is better understood as an oath of allegiance, a twice-daily recommitment to the covenant with the God of Israel.

As Western Christians we are used to reciting creeds and statements of belief in order to define our faith. We expect to find one here too. So we easily could easily misunderstand that Jesus was saying that it is extremely critical that we believe in God’s “oneness.” But when properly understood, this line shows that the greatest commandment is actually a call to commit ourselves to the one true God.

Reading the line this way solves another mystery about what Jesus was saying. If he was asked what the greatest commandment was, why does he begin by quoting a line about God being “one”? Because if you read this line as about committing  oneself to God as one’s Lord, it flows directly into the next line in the Shema, explaining why we should love God with every fiber of our being. If the Lord alone is our God, and we worship no other gods, we can love him with all of our heart and soul and strength. The two sentences together become one commandment, the greatest in fact—to love the Lord our God.

Once again, in the light of their Hebrew context, we find that Jesus’ words call us beyond what is going on in our brains. We are not just to “hear” but to take heed, to respond, to obey. And we are not just called to believe in the oneness of God, but to place him at the center of our lives.

To do that, we are to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength and mind. Each of these words, in their Hebrew context, can expand our understanding of our calling and the very essence of the Scriptures, as Jesus understood it.

Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, 38-40.

the unreal world of social media

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

Writing is something many of us do who are online, whether with our own blog, Twitter, Facebook, or something of the like. And sharing back and forth, or seeking to communicate that way can be good. Words can open up the world, even bring us into a new world. Witness scripture itself, par excellence for that.

Yesterday I felt abandoned and alone. But late in the day, mid afternoon, I was able to work with a friend, and we had good interactive fellowship with each other. My heart was turned from near despair in stone cold to peace and joy. Hopefully my friend was encouraged as well, not that he needed that in the way I did at the time.

There is no substitute for face to face interaction. For committed friendship to each other. And for us in Jesus, all of that in and through him.  Just to be in each other’s presence in grace with full acceptance of each other. Along with openness for all kinds of interaction, including the need sometimes for correction, or input to help us on our journey. I would rather have one true friend than one thousand “friends” on social media. Actually there can be some good occurring along those lines on social media, but we need each other right where we live.

Any church which has any degree of spiritual health will value relationships. They really need to go beyond friendly chit chat. There needs to be a commitment to each other in the Lord. For better or for worse, even outside the bonds of marriage. Of course we have to exercise caution and wisdom with those of the opposite sex. We need plenty of wisdom in friendships. But this should be a priority in our lives.