no true faith apart from love

notFor in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

It’s interesting  and actually downright scary when one sees in scripture the examples of those who are devoted to the word, to scripture, but who actually don’t know God. They’re maybe given to knowing the words of the text, but lack the light, and release of the Spirit. They are trying to do what’s right, but they’re not loving well, or maybe not at all. Examples like that can be found strewn throughout scripture. Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees and scribes, who were the Bible scholars of that day, comes to mind.

Too often I’ve found myself too much in that company, or way of living. Knowing includes knowing the text of scripture, but the point of that is to know God, and others. Relationships come to the fore, of course, the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The light comes on when we are about our Father’s business, when we really love others out of our love for God. And that being true in all that we do in our work and life. And with an emphasis on helping the poor, and those in need, which would include the oppressed and helpless. If we want to find God’s heart, then that’s where we’ll find it: in a faith which is given to good works in love.

Hopefully this won’t seem trite, but we could ask ourselves what one good work we can do today, and practice those kinds of things daily. It really doesn’t have to be much, little things matter, and can make a big difference.

What is essential is that our faith is active and worked out in love. An important part of our life in God in this world, and actually in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

one of my go-to books and passages to help me when I feel either on edge, or overwhelmed

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12

Life can seem overwhelming to me much of the time. People around me may not know it from simply watching or interacting with me, but if they get to know me well at all, they’ll realize that I feel pressure about this and that. Challenges are of course a part of life. Some people don’t seem to struggle any with ill feelings, but I’m not one of them.

2 Corinthians starts out with Paul acknowledging despair for good reasons, even to the point of giving up on life entirely. But with the helpful twist that he felt the sentence of death in himself, so that he might no longer trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead, and who would deliver them from any deadly peril which faced them. The letter ends with the same theme, highlighting Paul’s own weakness, and then that of our Lord’s in his crucifixion.

I find it most helpful again and again and again, world without end, to accept the difficulties, and hard places. To simply accept them, period. Not radical in understanding, but radical in meaning, indeed. But for the same reason spelled out by Paul in the passage above (click the link to read it all): to help us be more completely dependent on God. I would like to add from other places in scripture, also more interdependent on each other, for that is the way God would have it. Even in 2 Corinthians, Paul is working with others, so that it’s a team. We do well to share our struggles, or what we might call over-burdens with each other for needed empathy, possible counsel, and prayer. At the same time learning to carry our own load better, while casting on the Lord the things which weigh us down. Above all, as 2 Corinthians makes clear, and especially this passage, we need to learn to accept and even come to delight in our weaknesses, in order that we might experience the Lord’s help and strengthening.

Something I can easily forget, but which I need to remember more.

learning to trust in God in real life

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Psalm 3

Some of us are more prone to anxiety and worry than others. I am, and my wife is not. She is just the opposite, which is nice, but also poses its challenges. There is good in being aware of dangers, and real problems, which might not be readily apparent, and trying to fix or deal with them, as best one can. But in my case, I find that a lot of my fears can be a direct challenge to faith. In other words, do I work at trusting in the Lord, or do I remain paralyzed in fear?

The psalmist was facing real dangers. They were bad things which indeed could happen. But it seems that the psalmist also came to rest in God, and God’s will, and within that, God’s protection, so that he could rest easily at night, confident that his life was in God’s hands.

For myself, I find that some good sleep can make a world of difference. I wake up refreshed, and feeling much better, what fears I had having dissipated. While the counsel we once received, to never act on our fears, or while we’re afraid, is sound advice we do well to keep, there may be some things we can do toward alleviating the problem, leaving the outcome to God.

But above all, we must trust in God, learn to trust in him. So that our hearts can be more and more at rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

keeping hold of the gospel

The gospel is at the heart of our faith, and therefore central to the well being, not only of us, but of the world. Faith, hope, and love depend on it. No wonder then, when it can become such a point of contention. I commend N. T. Wright and his writings, along with other writers and teachers such as Scot McKnight and Craig Blomberg, and many others.

The gospel essentially is the Jesus revealed in scripture, and all the truth that surrounds him in his person, life, teaching, works, death and resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his return. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage, but actually Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all accounts of the gospel. The good news in Jesus in which scripture is fulfilled.

It is imperative for us to hold on the gospel, not simply because of the life it promises after death, but also because of the life that is promised to us here and now. It is a life in God, one of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because of Christ’s redemptive work of the cross, and the freeing activity of the Spirit (Romans 8). I find that we have to hold on to faith to get out of survival mode, though in spiritual warfare, simply to stand our ground is all that’s required (Ephesians 6:10-20). This is all about the gospel: the good news in Jesus, and holding on to that.

God wants us in Jesus to be more than conquerors, actually in him we already are (Romans 8), victorious (Revelation 2-3) in and through Jesus by the good news, regardless of what we face, or our past, as well as present. It may be in the midst of much weakness, and fallout. Nevertheless God wants the truth of that gospel in Jesus stamped onto our lives, so that it defines and centers us in all of life. The good news, by the way, is as big as all of life, if one reads the pages of scripture in full. It is no less than new creation, God making all things new. It is not a matter of hiding in a cave somewhere with bread and water. At the same time, though, it does involve a following with others of Christ in identification with him, which in this life can spell trouble, even death. But in the midst of that, we know from the good news that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to pray and ask God to help us grasp and hold on to this good news in Jesus. That it might correct us where need be, and set us on the path of life, even of immortality, the eternal life and everlasting way in and through Jesus.

 

being willing to be in process

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64

One of the most necessary aspects, indeed realities, in being a Christian, in following Christ, is being in process, unfinished, but on the beginning track of being conformed by God into the image of his Son, Jesus. This can be quite uncomfortable at times, and we can bail out of the hard places by flinching from them, rather than setting our face like a flint and going through them. Not easy, nor fun, I speak from experience.

We are people of experience, especially it seems, in this time. Existentialism to some extent, has gained the upper hand. “If it feels good,”, or it works, and we seem to be doing fine, we don’t give many things that maybe we once questioned, or even thought were wrong, a second thought. Of course God is a God of grace who will work in our lives in spite of us. Just the same, we do reap what we sow. And God’s word means what it says in its words of warning, as well as encouragement.

A most important thing to note here is that God is at work. This can help us in faith to hang in there, counting on God’s faithfulness. If we persevere, then God can do a lot that otherwise would not be done. So that later down the road, we won’t be back at the same place which wasn’t completed earlier. Each part is a juncture toward the end when God will complete his work in us, in and through Jesus.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1

continuing in the word in the Word: “in Christ” and “in Christ…crucified”

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

John 14

Regardless of what happens in the unexpected twists and turns of life, the Christian, or follower of Christ is grounded in the faith: dependent on Christ, but also calling one to faith. I would like to say, calling us to faith, since it’s a community endeavor. Being in the word in the Word is key.

Perhaps Greg Boyd is getting at some vital, even though I’m not sure I would end up agreeing with some of his conclusions (see his tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. I await the shorter version due, I read, in August). But I am confident that at least there’s something to be said for the idea of reading all of scripture through the lens of Christ, and Christ crucified. As Christians, we endeavor to read the text in its original context, and ultimately as something fulfilled by Christ, so that in a certain sense the text is in Christ, or to be read in the light of Christ. And at the heart of Christ and his coming is his crucifixion, his death on the cross, and the God who is love being revealed in that light.

While scripture doesn’t talk explicitly about being “in the Word,” “in Christ” is repeated over and over again in the New/Final Testament, especially in Paul’s letters. It is shorthand for what is most essential in understanding the faith for our faith. So that no matter what I’m facing, or what we are facing together, the reality of remaining “in Christ” remains intact. And an important aspect of that is to remain in scripture, in God’s word. I take it that we feed on Christ both through the word and through the sacrament, Holy Communion/the Eucharist. For those of us (and I live among them) who don’t accept the view of the church at large since early times that somehow Jesus is especially present in the bread and the wine (not in the way the Roman Catholics suggest, but perhaps more like the Eastern Orthodox, or better yet for me, the description of that given by John Calvin), we at least acknowledge that we can feed on Christ by being in the word, in scripture. As we read it in the light of Christ’s fulfillment, in our union in him.

All kinds of things change, we get older, new problems and sometimes grave difficulties face us. But one thing remains for us, whatever else happens in our world, and in the world: In the faith by faith we are “in Christ,” and in that union both as individuals, and together, dependent on God through his word. Each of us must do this, but part of that is to do so in communion with all the saints, in the fellowship of the church. In and through Jesus.

against paralyzing fear

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

1 Peter 5

The most often repeated command in scripture is to not be afraid. I often carry with me nagging fears about this or that, but ordinarily relatively benign. Like the need to replace a non-functioning turn signal, or check to make sure the roof is not leaking. Even those can have a cumulative, wearing effect on us, so they do need to be addressed, even if the solution is simply to let it go as not worth the trouble. The big problem comes when fear wins over faith, when the fear we’re experiencing all but knocks out our faith.

In the passage above, a lion can gain advantage over its intended prey by paralyzing it with fear. Just a long enough hesitation can be all that the lion needs to pounce on it for the kill. Paralyzing fear is a sure sign that it’s not a legitimate fear, but one to be rejected. And that involves nothing less than spiritual warfare, even as we see from the text above (and see Ephesians 6:10-20). After working through that, we might be able to find some legitimate underlying fear, which we can take care of.

Faith in God certainly doesn’t preclude responsibility on our part. A good example of that is when the devil tempted Jesus with the words that he should simply throw himself off of the top of the temple, depending in faith on God’s promise that the angels would be there to protect the righteous when they fall. Jesus countered that text taken out of context by the devil with the scripture: “You shall not test the Lord your God” (Matthew 4). Which means expecting God to deliver what God has never promised. In faith we depend on God without reservation. While in prayer, we do what we’re supposed to do, or what might solve a problem, and settle a legitimate fear.

In all of this, no matter what we face we must have faith in God. That God will fulfill his promises, and ultimately take care of everything. And in that process, help us make decisions, and ultimately grow in wisdom and in the likeness of his Son. Individually, but also together, in and through Jesus.