faith, hope, and the greatest of all, love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

In the midst of another terrible disaster (praying for them), when there is challenge after challenge in life with hardly any rest, when being tired is the norm and exhaustion is what one tries to, but doesn’t always avoid, when it seems like one is left alone in their own thoughts, when dreams have long been forgotten and one is trying only to survive, when it seems like life has taken a turn for the worse, fill in your own blanks, whatever it is that we’re facing, in Jesus faith, hope and love always remains.

Faith means we believe and trust in God, in God’s promises to us and to the world in Jesus, even when, and we might say especially when they make little or no sense to us. That doesn’t mean they don’t make sense in the overall scheme of things, or when one is considering and comparing worldviews, including the view which might question such an endeavor. Faith ultimately looks to God’s promise in Jesus which is focused on the cross and the life which flows out from that. It is our crucified, resurrected Lord we follow as God’s resurrected people, and the heart of our faith is always the turning point of the cross, of Jesus’s death. All the promises of God are dependent, hinge on, and ultimately find their meaning in that.

Hope is a confidence by faith (Hebrews 11:1) that what God has promised, he will fulfill and bring to completion in and through Jesus. It keeps us going, when all other hope seems gone. Hope of course is needed by humans. There seems to be nothing worse than a hopelessness given to a despair which simply gives up on life, and might simply muddle through it in a set cynicism, or even worse, think of ending it all. We all need hope, and that hope is ultimately found in Jesus and the good news in him, of course Jesus and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

And then, last, but not least, there’s the greatest of all: love. In the context of the passage written above, it is described:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13

It is found in Jesus who is the revelation of God, of who God is, of what love is, again ultimately through the cross. It is again, Jesus crucified. That is the kind of love that changes and moves us to love in return. And with that same kind of love. Certainly a gift of the Spirit, to us. And that keeps giving and giving (and receiving and receiving, as well), to the very end, no matter what. Of course a discerning love, as well (Philippians 1:9-11). A love in which faith and hope find their true meaning.

And so we have faith, hope and love, whatever else is happening, all very much needed in this existence, in and through Jesus.

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where does our confidence lie?

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

Oftentimes, especially in this world, we really can get out of sorts, because of all the evil going on, along with the nagging problems which are not easily resolved. We can see so much depending on this or that entity, or even ourselves, and we can become both overwhelmed and afraid. Add to that our own struggles, probably in part coming from that, so that at times we may seem to be suffering spiritual setback.

Jeff Manion in his new series on the book of Philippians, “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” “Week 2/The Partnership” adeptly led us through that passage. This was a relatively young church, around 10 years old in the Lord, faithful to the gospel, but struggling under some persecution and internal conflicts, with the danger that some might become discouraged to the point of completely losing their faith. Hence this great letter from the imprisoned Paul. Well worth the listen and watch.

The gospel is both the heart of our witness, and the heart of our existence. How in the world do we think we’ll make it? And how is the world itself going to make it? Ultimately only through the gospel, period. Other things are good and important in their place, but there is only one “good news” which will prevail while everything else falls to the wayside. That of Jesus and his death for us, out of which comes the new life for us and for the world.

God who began his good work in us through that good news/ gospel will complete what he started. We only need to hold on in faith to that good news in Jesus for ourselves, for others, indeed, even for the world. We can have confidence that whatever else might happen, this gospel in and through Jesus and his death will prevail, changing us into his likeness in this world, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3) toward the children of God in Jesus which we were created to become in the new creation all in him are destined for.

Something to celebrate, look forward to, and rest in, even in this life, when so much else can be up in the air with no certain outcome. What matters most is in process even in the midst of a world which at times seems to be unraveling, and is not eternal in and of itself. We can rest assured that God’s good will in Jesus will prevail. Confident in that no matter what else happens. In and through Jesus.

the right time and way

For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
    though a person may be weighed down by misery.

Ecclesiastes 8

For people who act in the moment such as I, and who don’t really plan that much in advance, this is a needed, and wise word. Over the years I’ve come to realize more and more just how important this is, so that I’m much better in doing it than I used to be.

The danger might be in refusing to do anything at all, because no one can know for sure if the time is right. It might seem so, but long experience in life tells us that what might seem to be the case, is really not necessarily so at all.

It is important to pray, and to pray some more, and usually to sleep on it, at least. To not be in a hurry is absolutely essential if one is to act in wisdom. Oftentimes what is needed, or most helpful won’t come to one’s mind and heart except over sufficient deliberation and time. And besides that, we need to be in prayer for God’s preparation of whoever we might be talking to, that God would prepare their hearts to be receptive to whatever wisdom we might offer.

Ecclesiastes continues to be one of my favorite books. We need all of scripture, even if we can’t understand it all, track with it, or even like every part of it. Of course we find the end and final answer to it all in Jesus. In and through him. But that doesn’t mean that we neglect any of it. And Ecclesiastes in particular is one book I will continue to rather major on, I’m thinking, in trying to unravel the complexity of life. As I seek to be a follower with others of our Lord.

God has the answer

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7

There is no question that at times we’re befuddled and wondering just what is going on in a given situation. When it seems like God has all but abandoned us, or others, and things are falling through. When it may not seem even rational, at least when factoring in God’s work and peace which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6,7).

God has the answer. We have only to ask. God looks for faith, and seems to treasure that even above love, in a sense. While loving God supremely with all of one’s being is the first and greatest commandment, without faith it’s impossible to please him. We may profess love, and engage in acts of love for God, maybe religious acts, and perhaps those will be acts of faith. But what God is looking for first is faith in his word, and especially in God’s word about his Son, Jesus (1 John 5:9-12).

Of course the answer might not actually be what we asked for or anticipated. That is where we need to have an openness, and seek to have ears to ear what God might be saying, and a heart to understand and be open to any possible unanticipated changes which may be coming.

God has the answer. We need to hold on in faith, a faith which in the words of our Lord keeps on asking, seeking and knocking. Knowing that God will come through in God’s time with his good answer, whatever that might be. In and through Jesus.

scripture, the gospel and the church, and paradigmatic changing books (and *Our Daily Bread Ministries*)

One of the reasons I very much like the ministry I’m working for, Our Daily Bread Ministries, is that it doesn’t get fancy and try to impress, nor does it get tangled up in controversial matters, but it faithfully teaches the truth of God’s word, with an emphasis on its fulfillment in the good news in Jesus. The stated mission of the ministry is “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.” And the vision: “to see people of all nations experiencing a personal relationship with Christ, growing to be more like Him, and serving in a local body of His family.”

It is home of possibly the most well known Christian devotional in the world, Our Daily Bread, but there’s much more, as you’ll discover when you visit their/our website (see first link above). The devotional in my opinion, by the way, is great by itself, but there’s much more, and it’s all good. I listen everyday to Discover the Word which is an approximately 14 minute conversation in matters grounded in God’s written word, scripture.

I have worked there since December of 1999, and am glad to be part of this ministry. It frankly has grown on me. I have a propensity to ask hard questions and be open to different ways of interpreting and seeing things, and I tend to do that. Though as I get older, I am less apt and happy to do so. But sometimes that’s needed, and not just individuals doing that, but believers together. So I’ve found that the influence of working for so long at this ministry has grown on me for good. The ministry is strong in terms of scripture, the gospel, and the church.

It doesn’t at all for a second, by the way, matter what I think. I would much rather say what we believe as Christians and let it go at that. But I also share on this blog my thoughts, so it’s hard to avoid expressing it that way. We all have our unique perspectives from our experiences which we bring to the table. It is best by far when we listen well to each other, all in the mix together.

I have had paradigmatic shifts through various books, the first I can recall being N. T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, then Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed along with another book of his, The King Jesus Gospel. Add to that Allan R. Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness. And now I think I may be on the cusp of another paradigmatic shift through Greg Boyd’s book, Cross Vision. I have in recent years thought that my theology of the cross is not strong enough. If nothing else, Boyd’s book should help me that way. I’m not sure precisely where I’ll land, but I very much like where he’s going and what he’s trying to do in the book.

Theology and science have plenty of similarities. They’re open ended in their search for truth, so that the quest continues. While at the same time, they’re solidly based in certain givens, in theology (I mean Christian, of course), the truth of the gospel. Like hypotheses being tested in science by peers (peer reviews), so it is in theology both by professional theologians, and by the church at large. So I look forward to praying and thinking through with others Boyd’s thoughts in days to come. All of us likely won’t agree on all the details, including Boyd’s. But we want to all remain united from scripture in the centrality of the good news in Jesus, and the mission the church has in helping us receive that good news for ourselves, and come to share it with others. That is our hope, our goal, indeed, our passion. By God’s grace in and through Jesus.

the challenges of life

If you live long enough, whether rich or poor, you’ll sooner or later acknowledge that life itself is challenging on nearly every level. It is not automatic, unrelenting bliss, like some might imagine especially when they’re younger.

And just turn the pages of the Bible, and you’ll find trouble on nearly every page. Sometimes due to adverse circumstances, and more often due to what scripture calls the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It simply helps us when we realize this, and can help our focus. And actually I find again and again that trouble is what comes before faith. Salvation itself is a concept that talks about being saved or delivered from something, in scripture, from sin, death, and evil (and/or, the evil one). The consequences of sin can be the beginning of faith. And that’s both on a personal as well as cosmic level. We reap what we have sown, but that can cause us to call on the Lord, and enter into a life we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And we live in what from scripture we can rightly call a fallen world (“the fall” in Genesis 3), but what I prefer to call a broken world. The old creation was never meant to be the end all, but more like a window, as well as the stage in which a new world begins to emerge, destined someday in and through Christ to take over the old world.

Salvation is deliverance from, but also deliverance to. We are saved for God and God’s glory, and also for our good. And we are saved into a new world in the midst of the old, which while it can have some impact for good on the old, is the anticipation and even the beginning of the entirely new world to come in Jesus. So that the challenge of life involves living in an old world which by nature can’t fulfill what only the new world in and through Jesus can. See the book of Ecclesiastes for a good look at the attempt to make this old world the end all, and how, even when things are going well, it’s not.

So God won’t let us rest in this life. And actually, that’s a blessing since this life is not an end in itself, anyhow. For those who think they’ve arrived in this life, they either have their reward, or they’re in danger of losing out in what is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus, which is really about all that is promised in him.

So I take courage in the reality that if there’s trouble, that’s not in itself a necessary enemy of faith, but it can be the beginning of it, as well as a significant growing point for it. Let’s see our troubles, which by themselves are not good, as means to what is good, to draw us nearer to God, and God’s will and gift in Jesus. Even as we give all that is broken and really has no explanation, to him. As we await God’s full salvation to come in Jesus.

losing one’s nerve

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devoursthose living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Numbers 13-14

In this account in Numbers, it was God who commanded Israel to send some men into the promised land to either “explore” (NIV) or “spy out” (NRSV) the land. So Moses sent out one leader from each of the tribes of Israel (minus Levi, Manasseh making up for that as one of the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, the other tribe). We know the story. Ten returned with a firm “but” after praising what was good about the land, and spread among the Israelites “a bad report.” They most certainly lost their nerve.

One can surmise clearly that they were not men of faith. After all, God had promised this land; that Israel was to take it, and settle in it should have been a foregone conclusion. Actually the exploration may have been for a two-fold purpose of encouraging the people to anticipate the blessing they were to soon experience, and to give them a heads up on the faith needed. Unfortunately, even though ten men went in who were leaders of the tribes, not one of them had the sufficient faith to actually believe God’s word. Whatever faith any one of them might have had was surely defective at best. It’s the same as if I would say, “Well yes, Jesus died, they say he rose again, but I really can’t buy the idea that we therefore are saved given all the evil in this world. I can respect religious people who say otherwise, but I can’t go there myself. Let’s either avoid it, or pull out all the stops to make sure as much as possible that we’re not victims ourselves.”

Caleb and Hosea (Joshua) were the two exceptions. Caleb being the older of the two spoke up and plainly contradicted the bad report of the ten. He believed they could and therefore should, certainly because of the promise of God. But he was outnumbered, and the Israelite as a community was unfortunately not predisposed to faith. Even though they had just witnessed mighty signs and wonders in their redemption from Egypt, their default position was to doubt God’s word, and therefore to doubt both God’s goodness, as well as greatness. They essentially saw themselves as on their own. And they had exceedingly short memories, even wanting to go back to Egypt, to the bondage which eventually would again surely overtake them there.

I can lose nerve, too. Where can we begin as to what? There’s no end to it, really. There’s always plenty of reasons to doubt God’s promise in this life, to think of some worse case scenario, or many more likely outcomes which are not good. Rather than to accept God’s promise in Jesus along with the difficulties in this life which come with it.

Depending on how you see what was going on at the time, the Israelites would be moving into a hostile territory armed, and depending on God for God’s deliverance from those entrenched in what was to be their own land. According to the narrative, the time for God’s judgment on the inhabitants had come, and how God carried that out, or wanted to is not necessarily all together clear, biblically and theologically speaking. Maybe the Lord meant to send them packing in some way. But the narrative is clear that at least the Israelites thought that God was commanding them to wipe out all the inhabitants of the land. And since I tend to accept the text at face value, I simply accept what I can’t understand, and frankly try to avoid the subject in public. But see Greg Boyd’s recent book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence for what I tend to think will be a compelling defense of reinterpreting the text of scripture, while I await critiques, and intend to read the entire book myself, which was released just this month.

We must not lose nerve, but hold to the faith, meaning both to our confession as well as our practice of it, continuing to do that. And when we do lose nerve, we simply confess that, and seek to learn from it. Entrusting ourselves to the God who has revealed himself in Jesus.