Paul’s witness in trouble and weakness

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

We live in a society, in a world which is indeed allergic to trouble, as well as death. The American Dream isn’t directly about a trouble free existence, but for many, at least having all of our troubles taken care of by our own ingenuity and strength.

Enter Paul. Paul’s world was about following Christ, others following him as he followed Christ, living in Christ, living for the gospel. It didn’t exclude what is considered the mundane matters of life, in his case, tent making. Paul’s passion was Christ and the gospel. And his own witness was to let the gospel become evident in large part through his life, and specifically in his weakness. No, we’re not referring to sin here, but to his mortality and the inherent weakness of his body.

2 Corinthians is a beautiful book laying all of this out, a great read from start to finish.

Paul’s passion in and through Jesus ought to be ours. Yes, we are all weak in ourselves, but that’s exactly where Christ’s strength comes through. And we are broken, cracked jars of clay, as it were, but through that comes Christ’s light. So that we should never give in to despair, or the lie that somehow we’re not succeeding because life’s circumstances are at best difficult. We should see all of life as a window of opportunity for the light of the gospel, the good news in Jesus to shine even through us, through our brokenness.

When we have it all together, we’re on our own. But when we’re broken, in great need, and living on the edge of what seems to be death, if we’re seeking to live in and for the gospel in the midst of that, then Christ’s life will become evident even in us, in our lives. In and through him.

 

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learning to be at rest

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Mark 6:30-34

There is no question that we all need some rest from our work. Which is why the Sabbath was made for humans (not humans for the Sabbath), as Jesus said. Although Israel added cumbersome laws, even allegedly from God which could make what had been intended as a blessing, a burden.

In this gospel account quoted above, Jesus is recognizing the need of his disciples (and perhaps himself, as well) to get away and get some rest from the incessant clamoring crowd. But they couldn’t escape, and Jesus had compassion on them, and his teaching was followed by the feeding of the 5,000.

So in this case, and surely in many other cases servants of God don’t get the rest they want, and frankly think they need. What is to be done when such is the case?

We have to be faithful and serve those in need. But we also need to guard our downtime to some extent. We need to plan for safe getaways, but be ready to have our plans altered. There are times when there’s no escape from pressing need.

During such times, we need to be at rest in our minds and hearts, in our spirit. In dependence on God through trust in him, we can learn to experience rest in the midst of busyness and even tumult. We need to learn to live in God’s rest, and in the yoke that Jesus offers us. But not supposing there is no end to what we can do. We are human, and we need our sleep, for one thing. We need quiet and rest. But we also need that in our spirits in the midst of a busy life.

The words of Jesus are for us today:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

the Jesus way is the way of the cross

In the gospel narratives: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, one is pressed in one direction: the cross of our Lord. And even the resurrection’s meaning and significance is derived from the cross, our Lord’s death. And the lives of Jesus’s disciples were to actually be with him on that same journey:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9

If we think post-resurrection or post-Pentecost might be different, here are these words from the Apostle Paul, just one of many passages which makes it clear that a Christ-centered, crucified-shaped (cruciform) life is the norm for all of Christ’s followers today:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2

Everyone of Jesus’s apostles laid down their lives in martyrdom, the only exception being John, who tradition suggests was exiled and perhaps miraculously delivered from the same fate.

This is the Christ-shaped existence to which all believers in Christ are changed by the Spirit. As Paul says elsewhere:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

where Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* takes us: classic Christianity

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12

Far from being heretical, Greg Boyd’s recent work in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 and Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence simply directs us into the full classic Christianity. Not to say at all that one has to accept his view of how to read the violent texts of the Old Testament to be Christian. But simply to say that the less than constructive critics likely to arise may be removed a bit from that Christianity themselves due to their metaphysics or epistemology, which is simply to say the philosophy they’ve added to the biblical text, unlike, I might say, Paul, who knew nothing else except Jesus and him crucified. And actually the only things I’ve seen so far from the scholarly world is just a bit of constructive criticism, and not much even in the way of that, but that will likely change. I use the word “classic” here in the sense of what conforms to the teaching of Christ himself in scripture, and which the church has acknowledged, even if often not living up to its light.

The chapter on the centrality of the cross for the gospel, knowing God, and for the Christian life, “A Cruciform Through Line” alone is easily worth the price of the book. It gets us back to “what is of first importance,” what is basic to the Christian life if one is to be in Christ and a follower of Christ.

A major stumbling block for some will be Boyd’s view on scripture, which while he says holds to its infallibility, does not mean for him that it’s inerrant in all matters. Inerrancy might hold depending on what you mean, and how that’s explained. I don’t know, myself. I’m inclined maybe a little more toward the view that without a doubt the Bible is inerrant in its main point, the point of it all, what it’s trying to do: lead us to Christ and the good news in him, and specifically, as Boyd would put it, and as scripture itself seems to indicate: Christ crucified. While our view of scripture is surely important: it is the God-breathed word, the written word of God, nevertheless the emphasis from many defenders of that in my lifetime in part has to be tied to a Modernist mindset which seems foreign to the Bible itself in the effort to defend its every part from the charge of error. Every word is important in its place for sure, Boyd tying that to its testimony of pointing us toward the cross of Christ either in God taking on himself the sin of his people and of the world, as well as God in Christ giving himself completely into the hands of sinners and evil, and by that reconciling the world to himself. Of course the cross always includes the resurrection, the resurrection deriving its meaning and significance through the centerpiece of the cross.

We’re saved through Jesus’s death, and we’re to live out that same death even now, a crucified life (Galatians 2:20, etc.) as God’s resurrection people in Jesus.

So please don’t jump to the conclusion that either Boyd, or others who may accept his proposals have jumped off the wagon of Christianity. Just maybe they might be closer to the essence and fullness of it in their emphasis on seeing Christ and him crucified as central to it all.

Earlier post: what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

Jesus’s nonsensical message

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10

For us raised in church and in Sunday school, we often shake our heads at how slow Jesus’s disciples were to understand Jesus. But to their credit, and certainly because of God’s grace and the work of the Spirit, they hung in there. And the Pharisees who were considered among the most religious Jews of Jesus’s day, and in fact are considered by scholars to be the group within Israel that were most like Jesus, were divided over Jesus, but the majority of them it seems were obstinate against Jesus’s message. We think they should have known better. And we wonder why they didn’t understand that Jesus had to die for their sins, as well as the sins of the world. And we shake our heads, thinking that they just didn’t understand God’s grace, and sought salvation by works. After all, that’s what we were taught from the cradle, so we take it for granted. And there is actually a grain of truth in it.

But reality was that what Jesus said did not line up with their teaching at all, not in the least. And what the disciples had been taught did not prepare them for Jesus’s teaching, either. At least not very much. Sometimes we pick up from some sources like in the Apocrypha, that there was a bit of what Jesus would bring seeping in. But by and large it made little sense against the backdrop of their Judaism. Though if one took their scriptures, they could find hints of it throughout, that something different was coming. Their view of God was not complete, in fact one might argue even off track to some extent. Jesus did tell the Pharisees that they didn’t know the Father. It’s interesting how the NIV (click link above) begins this section with Jesus addressing these words to the Pharisees.

John 6 is another more stark example of Jesus’s message making no sense to his disciples, so that many of them no longer followed him.

We don’t read the scriptures well enough ourselves, if we don’t see the difference between Jesus’s teaching, and what had come before him. Jesus was bringing in a new covenant which in some respects fulfilled the old, but often cancelled out what was in it. What the New Testament tells us about that is a mixed bag, actually reflecting what had been said in the Old Testament prophet. The Law given through Moses was of a covenant which was not perfect, and not the end. A new covenant was to come, something which would fulfill the words and aspirations of the old covenant, but in a new way. Jesus is the one who brought that, and fulfilled it in and through his death. The resurrection following in which the new life of the new covenant is ultimately to be lived in the Spirit and by the grace of God.

Jesus’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection, with the ascension and promise of his return following is what marks us as Christians, no less and no more. We read and treasure all of scripture, but we find where we fit in the story in the New Testament, particularly after the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world of that time, and even then into remote places.

And hence just a hint of the difference that the faith through Jesus brings. And why we should no longer be surprised at how unprepared anyone was during Jesus’s time to make any sense of his ministry and words, particularly his death on the cross. Yes, hints were in their scripture, those hints teaching us to read those scriptures differently, even as we see them interpreted quite differently in the New Testament.

All of this in and through Jesus.

a biblically grounded faith

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3

Scripture is the written word of God. Every line, and every word is important within it. Of course it’s not flat. It has to be read in context, and from Genesis through Revelation as a story, essentially the story of God. We understand this from scripture itself, and from Jesus’s witness to it. Jesus considered scripture to be God’s word, of course Jesus himself being the Word, just as scripture says.

We don’t pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe, but we do read scripture in context. And in so doing, we find that new light does bring changes both in people’s understanding, and actions. As well as a new day dawning when Jesus appears with the kingdom of God in him being at hand.

But all of scripture is God-breathed and useful. So we need to be committed to reading all of it, and praying through it. And understanding it through its fulfillment, Jesus. And where we live now as followers of him.