the Bible and the news

John R. W. Stott is one of the favorite evangelical writers during my lifetime for good reason. And one of his books, Between Two Worlds, speaks of holding the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other, so to speak. He used to go with friends to films and afterwards discuss them together. The idea is that we need to keep in touch with the world, really try to understand it, even in a sense be immersed in that, while remaining in God’s word day in and day out.

I think this is probably more challenging today, given the polarized world in which we live, in which media outlets give entirely different takes on the same story. It’s not easy to find outlets which give someone a basic understanding of what’s happening without interpretations which add meaning beyond what might really be present. Editorials to give insight have their place. But basic, straightforward reporting, and allowing divergent voices to have their say is essential.

And that’s especially important for me, given my limited time. I rule out medias which shout or sensationalize. I want civil conversation, and discussion of issues, indeed dialog. That is challenging nowadays, since it seems like people gravitate toward the former, and seem bored with the latter. Nevertheless, that is the track especially we Christians should insist on. As we try to sort out what is really going on, and discern what underlies that, and what stakes are involved.

When one remains in the word, and keeps reading all the way through it, one will see that what happens in society is indeed important to God. The Bible isn’t just about me and God, period. But it’s about God and us, me included, God and the world.

So I try to keep tabs on something of what’s going on, and sometimes offer my thoughts on it, though not on this blog, as a rule. From listening and reading myself, and from considering the thoughts and wisdom of others. While all the time wanting to major on God’s word, remaining in that. Knowing that God is at work in my life, in our lives together, and in the life of the world. In and through Jesus.

 

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Christ speaks; the church listens

I love this post entitled “The Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal” from a Roman Catholic sister in Christ, actually giving me hope for the Roman Catholic Church. Well worth your time to read it, not really that long, and tells a bit of her own story. You can skip this post and read that to save time.

Revelation 2 and 3 contain the seven letters of Christ to the seven churches. It is so vital for the health of any church to listen to Christ. Christ speaks to each church through scripture within the context of the gospel, by the Spirit, and through church leaders, but also through so-called laity. The church together is given discernment by the Spirit, not minimizing the important role leaders play. But leaders too are always subject to Christ’s words, and the others can be involved in discernment, and holding them accountable. But it’s always together, certainly including the gifts of all.

I would like to say, and I strongly believe it, that in the end I don’t care at all what the church says; I care what Christ says, period, the end. But Christ does choose to speak through his body. And that’s where it’s so necessary for the church to listen well to Christ, so that it can both be corrected, as well as encouraged, and speak in word and deed, God’s good news in Jesus to the world. In and through Jesus.

not crossing certain lines

…train yourself to be godly.

1 Timothy 4:7

I think one of the most important things even we older Christians can do today is to train ourselves to be godly. What godliness means might to some extent be up for grabs, since different theological schools will emphasize different things. Really godliness is beyond us, both in really understanding it, and certainly in applying it. We have the Spirit along with scripture, the word, and the church, particularly those who are examples to us in this. Only God can give us light in both helping us see, and be changed, as we are enabled to walk, or live in the light in Jesus as found in scripture.

Here in the United States, we live in a precarious time. Much division and even some hate seems to more and more embed itself and even mark our culture. And we Christians are not above being taken into it and yes, becoming a part of it. It is hard, because there are certain issues that we feel strongly about. Abortion, and then depending on our views, other matters as well. We need to apply scripture and the gospel to critique our views. There are some matters that people will end up disagreeing on, including Christians with each other.

What we need today is the discipline to stay on track, and not get off onto rabbit trails which end up not helping anyone at all. Addressing certain matters such as injustice, and being “pro-life,” along with other contentious issues like environmental stewardship, even government, the church and state, etc. We also need to determine that there are certain lines we simply won’t cross, along with the discernment to know what those lines are.

More often than not the best wisdom is simply to remain silent (Proverbs 17:28). To listen, to gather our own thoughts, and above all, to seek God’s wisdom with others. And to keep doing that. To learn to be reticent to speak. Then God can help us to know better just when we should and must speak out. But our emphasis must always be on Christ and the gospel and never on anything less.

wisdom as skill in living

Put your outdoor work in order
    and get your fields ready;
    after that, build your house.

Proverbs 24:27

Life isn’t easy, nor is it foolproof. It sometimes seems like a crapshoot for sure. There are all kinds of self-help books to help people not only deal with problems, but navigate all different aspects of living. And knowledge is at our fingertips now with the internet.

Proverbs is the book known the most for wisdom in scripture. A significant part of the meaning of wisdom in Proverbs is simply skill in living, as reflected in the psalm quoted above. And we have the phrase, “the wisdom of Solomon,” captured well in what Solomon faced after he had received the wisdom he had asked for from God (1 Kings 3).

Remember that Solomon asked for this wisdom so that he could serve God in carrying out his duties as king, to govern with discernment, and know the difference between right and wrong. And Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (used almost interchangeably in Proverbs, basically synonymous there). And also that to know God is to have understanding (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Psalm 111:10).

So Proverbs is not at all a self-help book. And biblical wisdom has nothing to do with being worldly wise. I think of Jesus’s words, which I take not to be a rebuke against the righteous, but actually stating that God’s people can gain some wisdom from what unrighteous people do, but within the fear of the Lord:

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Luke 16

Jesus goes on to speak against the love of money in that context, certainly not holding up worldly wisdom as a virtue at all, but saying, I think, that we can learn something good from them as those made in God’s image. Such is the compelling, interesting aspect of wisdom within scripture, that it is complex, and something we are going to have to keep working on the rest of our lives, all within the fear of God, with faith in God.

James captures this theme of wisdom well, that book of the New Testament considered probably the closest in some ways to Proverbs:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1

We are reminded here that wisdom from God is down to earth, for life, and skill in living. But it is always and forever bound and intertwined with the fear of the Lord. Apart from that one will inevitably drift into again what is called, worldly wisdom, even as sadly, Solomon did.

Let us be inspired by reading and meditating on Proverbs, and the wisdom we find in scripture, learning from God for life, in and through Jesus.

the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

the brokenness of our culture and the church

There isn’t a one of us who doesn’t need the Lord. “People need the Lord.” And we need each other in the Lord. The church is nothing less than the body of Christ. It is supposed to lovingly take care of itself, of its members, through mutual care from the head, Christ. And it’s supposed to, in love, reach out to the world. Christ’s saving and healing presence is primarily through the church, at least in getting through to people, of course through the gospel. But it’s also directly mediated to us by the Spirit.

On Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, these two posts profoundly address this in much more detail: The Spirit And Discernment (Today) and The Death Of The Church: 1. If you don’t read another line of this post, and read those two, you’ll do well.

I am broken, too, of course. Just as in much need of God’s grace in Jesus from the Spirit, and through others, as anyone else. We can become more and more grounded in our faith and walk. But that doesn’t make us any less dependent on the Lord, and interdependent on each other, for sure.

May God give us the wisdom needed, and discernment to both be receiving the answer for ourselves, and helping others find the same help. In and through Jesus.

ignoring the sirens

I remember years ago at the Bible college I was at for a year, that a friend used to always pray whenever he heard a siren, probably for the people involved, particularly those in need, a good practice. My point is metaphorical, yet just as good, in fact quite important at least for me, in the walk of faith. I believe that there’s a sense in which we need to ignore the sirens that hit us off and on, sometimes repeatedly, over and over again for different reasons. The call is urgent and compelling; after all, I’m likening it to a siren.

Concern, even alarm, and urgent attention mark this call. Or maybe just plain dread. In biblical, and I would add, real life terms, we’re talking about what ultimately becomes a crippling fear, or an angst as in anxiousness, just plain, pure anxiety, which we cannot shake. These are all tell tale signs that something is wrong. And that these sirens in our head are getting us nowhere. If we respond to them, putting us on a never ending cycle of more and more of the same.

We simply need to ignore such siren calls, developing the discernment needed from God to tell the difference between the gentle, yet persistent promptings of the Spirit from the loud, edgy, restless, and ultimately accusatory, even condemning tones of what comes from the enemy. It might come from ourselves, and the way we have responded to life over the years, sometimes certain key factors or moments from childhood playing a part. Even so, in biblical terms the flesh and the devil, along with the world are all intertwined. I think of the world here as a system which does not acknowledge God, or God’s good rule. The flesh as our broken humanity which is set against God, even if religious, and trying to do what is well, right and good on our own. And the devil as the demonic element which while not at all equal to God, has full sway in both the world and the flesh, as depicted here.

There is no way we can simply get rid of fear and troubling thoughts from what we’ve taken in of the sirens that surround us, or come our way.  We simply have to turn our ears in a new direction, and get them in tune for a different sound all together, as well as learning to hear the other for what it really is, so that eventually we don’t hear it much at all, if at all, since we understand it’s actually a false alarm, not from God.

But in the meantime, we simply have to take the stand of faith, not letting such sirens move us. Instead, when we hear them, waiting for God’s direction, the still small voice, or gentle whispering of the Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). And accepting nothing less than God’s peace. And in that, finding God’s help to navigate all the questions, and difficult paths of life we encounter. In and through Jesus.