not fiction, but reality

Recently I noticed the thought that some people, even leaders have left the faith because they were supposedly too Bible-centered, and not sufficiently centered and grounded in God and the gospel within the tradition God has given the church. While I think there may be some truth in that, I would like to push back a bit. (See this helpful post.)

Yes, there’s no doubt that the gospel and the church and the tradition in and from that is far more central to our faith than many realize, or at least they’re supposed to be. We can find that to be the case from the Bible itself.

Comparing real life with the Bible can be instructive. Yes, over and over again in the Bible, which calls itself Scripture and God’s word we find cases in point which either don’t make sense to us, or necessarily ring true at the time. But don’t we find that to be the case over and over again in life? Life just doesn’t make sense for so many reasons. The autistic child, a relatively young person just ready to enter their calling who dies, militias terrorizing common people with brutal killings, a loved spouse saying they love no more, a child who rejects the faith, the never ending problems of everyday life, etc., etc., etc.

It seems to me that the Bible doesn’t paint the picture any rosier than life actually is. There was once a well known painter who painted landscapes with human culture as if it all existed in Eden prior to the Fall. Something akin to that lies ahead. But such is not the real world now. Kudos to the Bible. It is rooted in a world that though culturally is often different from ours, in essence is the same, just as messed up as our own. Yes, with the promise of something wonderful to come. And it points us to where we can find the help we need to navigate through the storms, and even do well, come what may. But just like it presents life in its reality, not on our terms, so the blessedness that can be ours is not on our terms. It’s not the way we might write it. But in the end, it somehow will be better than all of that. At least that’s the case according to the Bible.

Life is hard, no doubt. It can seem that all of life is caving in. But we can find our way through the instruction, warnings, and encouragement the Bible gives. God’s very word to us and to the world. In and through Jesus.

trials, an open door

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. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

Trials seem to come like a door slammed in our face. I don’t care for any of them myself. But I’m beginning to learn the problem is more in my reaction than in the actual trial itself. Not at all to diminish the problem of the trials, and especially some of them. Usually they don’t involve life changes, but sometimes they do. You can be sure that the Lord does not think lightly of our trials; in all our distresses, he too is stressed (Isaiah 63:9).

It’s my reaction that’s the problem. I might take it to God in prayer, but at the same time act as if the answer to the problem depends entirely on me, that somehow I have to get to the bottom of it. It’s not like we throw our brain away, and toss knowledge to the wind. But where does our dependence lie? As Bill Gaultiere pointed out, we can either do it our way, or Jesus’s way, the way our Lord would direct us to do it.

James tells us to count it all joy because trials open up a door for us toward maturity in Christ. We’re especially glad when we get through them on the other side. But even when we enter them, as an act of faith we need to thank God for what God is going to bring about through them. That is part of the necessary answer: not just what God is able to do, but our reception of that through faith.

Often I’ve left James’s words about doubt out when reflecting on this passage, but I include them here because after all, they’re in the text. There can be the struggle of faith as it’s been called, and it’s not like we’re not tempted to doubt. But we need to act in faith apart from our feelings and how we’ve been conditioned to see everything so negatively and apart from God. As we ask the Lord for needed wisdom, we believe in him, that he will generously give it to us. And instead of doubting, we open ourselves up to receive that help from the Lord.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.

not taking back our trust in God

Chuck Swindoll shared the wise insight that we should never take back the light God gave us. That is not easy, since we’re so experience oriented. That is true of myself as well, even though I tend to want to remain on the rational side against experience, or more precisely against what I’m feeling. That can be good up to a point since our emotions can run all over the place. But certainly never at the expense of taking back what God gave us. When we’re tempted to doubt God, we need to stand firm in our faith.

Along the way, God will continue to guide us as we trust in him. By the Spirit, through the word, through others, and through circumstances. We can and should count on that. But let’s not make the mistake of no longer accepting what God once gave us. In the dark, let’s trust God all the more. In and through Jesus.

faith for doubt, rather than certainty

The hymn many of us older folks grew up with, “Blessed Assurance,” is certainly in line with what we read in scripture, and specifically in the New Testament. There is no doubt that by faith in Jesus we are assured of forgiveness and eternal life. But what if faith is at least as much for wrestling with God over our doubts and problems, as being assured that everything will be taken care of?

In scripture we find this again and again, even beginning with the father of our faith, Abraham, and most notably in characters like Job and Habakkuk, and reflected time and again in the psalms. I am convinced that faith is for struggle over life as it is, and perhaps even over just what God’s promises really mean. If such is not the case, then we could judge faith as superficial and unconcerned about the world right in front of us, to the ends of the earth. It could actually tend toward a heretical mindset, for example, that the material world doesn’t matter, when in fact God became human because it does. Humanity so to speak, in the center of that blessing.

Wrestling with God, and taking everything to God in prayer ought to be at the heart of what is characteristic of believers. But also at the heart is the good news in Jesus which directly and indirectly addresses everything, God at work in our lives and in the world through that. And the church, consisting of all believers in Christ somehow involved at least in much of that outworking.

God will help us to be at rest in Jesus, even in this life. But a rest born in struggle, because faith inherently is not just about rest in God and in God’s promises, but it faces reality with that, so that it’s a case of going through the real world, rather than escpaping it. Even as we look forward to the new world to come, present already in the new creation, in and through Jesus.

temptation to doubt God and God’s word

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Genesis 3

A basic problem Christians and just people in general face is the temptation to not really believe what God says. Christians and surely others will have some kind of belief or faith in God, but they don’t really take what God’s word says seriously. Maybe they don’t listen, or it just seems too good to be true, and not real to life. I should say we, because I face the same struggles, temptations, and at times, just plain blindness, and frankly the darkness which comes with that.

In the story of early humankind, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the serpent either inhabited by the devil, or else simply the devil himself, disrupts everything by putting into question God’s word, and thereby God’s character in terms of goodness, as well. God’s prohibition I think was a heads up not to succumb to the temptation to be independent of him, God dealing with the basic temptation he knew humankind would face. Eve listened, ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then Adam her husband followed. And they were driven out of the garden, out of shalom, because of this act of disobedience. And lacking that basic faith in God, humankind has been in dire straits ever since.

And now we follow in their train doing the same thing over and over again, and inclined to keep doing it. And that’s true even after we come to faith in Christ. Romans 7 talks about indwelling sin, and apart from grace and the Spirit, under the law, that sin inclines us entirely in the direction of going our own way rather than in the way of God’s will, his good, loving intention for us. But the gospel in Jesus by his death sets us entirely into a new possibility bringing forgiveness and new life with the beginning of the new creation which is to be fulfilled when the new heavens and earth become one at Jesus’s return.

I am still so tempted time and again to doubt God and God’s word, but in ways that are surely subtle and not readily obvious. It’s like sometimes that God and God’s word is not relevant in the discussion or consideration of real life. But that’s the problem: we are so used to living apart from God and God’s will. That’s like second nature to us. And when it comes right down to it, we even can doubt God’s goodness and the gospel.

We need to return again and again to scripture, and especially the fulfillment of it in Jesus and his death and resurrection. And see that God’s commitment to us is one of complete love, that what he gives to us in creation now broken because of “the fall,” he wants to restore in the new creation completely with much more. Into a full, complete relationship with him by the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus.

The good news in Jesus is the heart of this. And Jesus’s death and the life that comes out from that is at the heart of that good news/gospel, taking us back once more to God as God really is. The God we can entrust our lives too, the lives of our loved ones, and indeed even the world itself. Believing fully in that God, and learning to rest in him and his word in and through Jesus.

going on in spite of whatever, by faith

By faith we understand (Hebrews 11), yet at the same time our faith is based on the faith, having roots in Jesus’s resurrection in history, which in an American court of law would surely pass muster in being accepted as true beyond any reasonable doubt. That latter point would be debated by some, but for those who have faith, it is a powerful reason to believe, and has moved more than one skeptic to faith. And the witness of God’s Holy Spirit to us helps us through the inevitable bumps and roadblocks in our journey of faith, along the way.

There are times when we are at a loss, maybe rather off our feet, or perhaps wobbly in our own personal faith, even if we may be doing well concerning the faith itself. Or this could well apply to us when we do have some genuine doubt or at least question in regard to the faith in general. By faith we proceed, even when we don’t know where we’re going (Hebrews 11, again).

That means that while we may not feel altogether inside, indeed we may be rather disheveled, or even quite a bit so, we go on the best we can, by faith, certainly an act of faith, itself. And rather defiant of whatever troubles us, in a way, but more like an entrustment of that concern to God, who certainly can take care of whatever problem it is, and no matter what, promises us the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

The devil’s strategy is to get us to grovel in the dust, and perhaps even eventually abandon faith altogether. Or at least to sideline us, so that our faith is not effective for ourselves or anyone else. But it’s a great opportunity, in the face of such opposition, to simply proceed in all of our weakness, by faith finding God’s ever present grace in Jesus. And we will, no doubt, if we simply go on by faith. God will keep all of his promises to us in Christ Jesus.

asking questions

If there’s one thing I might say characterizes my thinking, it is asking questions. Or let’s put it this way: one thing I’d like to be true in my case, that would be a good beginning.

Faith isn’t at all diminished, when we ask questions. The Bible has many examples of that, both in terms of serious probing, and simple anguish. In fact we do well to bring our questions to God. And when we look at scripture, we find that God himself is not afraid to ask questions to challenge or encourage people concerning their faith. Jesus asked questions. So it can work both ways.

We are blessed to live during a time when many answers, or something toward an answer is right at our fingertips with the internet. That can be good. But in the end, we need to ask the harder, and larger questions: Why am I here; what’s the meaning of life? What is the conclusion, when all is said and done (Ecclesiastes)? Who is Jesus, and what difference does that make? Why is the resurrection the heart of the Christian faith, so that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then our faith is null and void?

Of course we ask the lesser questions too, which all have their place of importance: Have humans impacted the climate, and if so, what can be done about it? And a whole host of questions on issues which in some cases are debated. Asking questions helps us find and better understand issues and problems, and can help us work toward possible solutions.

In the end for me I have to get in the word, and then the questions I have are in relation to what I’m reading and meditating on there. I find that gives a perspective like surely nothing else can. After all, I’m getting into God’s word written. And that helps me to major on what is major, and minor on what is minor, not that I achieve that well, all the time, or perhaps anytime at all, for that matter. We all need God’s grace in Jesus always. It’s not the case of asking the right questions. But faith takes God’s word seriously, and the nature of faith is interactivity with God. Questions can be one aspect of that.

And so we can continue to ask questions. But we do so, looking to the Lord to either answer them, or more likely to give us the grace to carry on in spite of not having any answer, although scripture gives us what we need for a life lived well before God. More and more we find that the answer to all of life somehow ultimately lies in God himself in and through Christ and by the Spirit. Of course many details addressed along the way as well, since God’s gifts figure in that equation, also.

And so keep asking questions. That is indicative of a faith that is alive and growing. Or could help one toward the beginning of faith. And look to God for the answers, through his word, and prayer. The way, the truth, and the life found in Jesus, so all of this actually in and through him.