belief in God

When one considers the world, both a skepticism from a cynicism can set in. Yes, there is much good we can find everywhere in the form of beauty and what seems noble and right. But no matter where we turn we also find trouble, and brokenness, oftentimes right in the midst of the great good we find, so that the good can seem spoiled, or at least in danger of being undermined or lost.

Many do come to faith in God usually connected to personal matters I would guess, but also in response to something of the beauty found in creation and in the message of the gospel. But some have abandoned faith in God. The randomness of evil or misfortune in the world, the great suffering often accompanying that, along with what is not good oftentimes threatening what otherwise is, all of this can make people doubt the existence of a good God who is like a Father and love. So that a person can become either an agnostic, or even an atheist, the latter usually to some degree agnostic, but with the belief that it’s impossible to really know, and maybe beside the point.

There are some reasons which might move me toward faith in God. The wonder of creation, or one could say, nature, is one of them. What we do find good in societies, in spite of all the evil might be another. Art in the form of music and other work helps us appreciate beauty and might suggest to us a Creator behind the creativity we find within humankind and ourselves.

But the only thing that really keeps me from descending into something like the writer of Ecclesiastes had (one of my favorite books of the Bible, by the way, which shows where I might naturally go apart from the gospel) is the gospel: the good news in Jesus. This good news addresses both the brokenness we see all around us, including when we look in the mirror. And helps us see that both for the present, as well as for the future, there is redemption and salvation in terms of reconciliation, justification, and regeneration. The old creation, good, but broken down in so many ways to be made new, the new creation in Christ to ultimately take over everything and make it turn out more than okay, for the life of the world, and in our lives as well.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas in God becoming flesh, completely human in the Person of the Son, Jesus. God not only with us, but becoming one of us. And fulfilling all God set in motion for humankind in God’s call to Abraham and what followed, in spite of all the brokenness we find in that story. Addressing that by becoming broken himself on the cross, experiencing death in order that we might have the life which followed, swallowing up that death, and ultimately all death.

The good news in Jesus. Our one hope, and what keeps my faith in God intact from my own perspective, the Spirit from God at work in all of this now, in and through Jesus.

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faith and money

Looking at life and the Bible might make one wrinkle up their nose and shake their head. It seems like some things are irreconcilable, or don’t make sense. But then one needs to step back and look at the whole, and try to process it all as much as possible. And then simply trust God. I am thinking right now about faith and money.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount about treasures in heaven and not worrying about one’s life (Matthew 6:19-34) are classic in trying to understand and sort through this. And then we have passages that encourage us to not get into debt and save, although in the Biblical world, when one could save, that is taken for granted that they should. But that they shouldn’t hoard, meaning store more than they needed, and that they should be generous to the poor and needy.

Jesus in the passage referred to above suggests that we can end up serving God or money, but not both. The idea is that money can become an idol, money itself not being an evil, but the love of money a root of all kinds of evil, as we read in 1 Timothy (6:10).

I have to wonder at the Christian leaders who actually are worth millions and millions of dollars. I don’t try to judge them for a second and I’m not critical, except when their life styles are exorbitant. Or when their teaching ties one’s material wealth to one’s spirituality. This has been a problem with the health and wealth preachers who seem to suggest that material wealth is indicative of the faith one has. They have great faith, therefore they have the material wealth. And people are to follow their example, especially, too often, by giving to their ministry. I take it for granted that we should give regularly to our church both for the continuation of the ministry in the gospel and in teaching, and in outreach for those who are in need.

Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay his head. And he taught us to pray that the Father would give us our daily bread. Translated for us today in America, that doesn’t mean we have to live from paycheck to paycheck. But that we should be devoted to God in how we handle money, and be generous in giving, and not trust in our material wealth. And a big trap for us here in the United States is debt, whether through student loans, or even through credit cards which we mean to pay off right away, but all too easily accumulate with interests which even if on the lower end then make them hard to pay off.

Faith looks to and depends on God, and what God gives us we are stewards of, in other words we’re responsible to handle that money in a way that honors God. Helping the poor and needy is central to honoring God (Proverbs 14:31). We want to do well with the money we have, but we don’t want to be devoted to money and making more of it, but only to God. All of this requires faith and wisdom, prayer and dependence on God.

Our Father is the one we count on to meet our needs, and that together, as we continue to grow and mature in and through Jesus.

the idolatry of certainty

In recognizing and dismantling the idols of my life (and lifetime), one particularly subtle one which has come starkly into the light lately has been the idol of certainty. I’m not referring to the assurance we have by faith through the gospel. But the idea that we can be certain about this or that apart from God. In more practical terms where I live, it’s the idea that somehow I can rest secure because I have all the ducks in line in a row, everything done right and well.

In the first place in this life, we can only do the best we can. By nature, existence and all that goes into it has too many variables to be assured that all is or will be well. And we humans are marked by our limitations every bit as much as our abilities. It is hit and miss with us, and we might as well accept that, and again, just do the best we can.

But central to all of this for me is to know and acknowledge God as God. The God who made all things, and is making all things new in and through Jesus. I do the best I can which in part can be struggling to arrive to some decision, but all of this in prayer, because I don’t want to rest in certainty, but in God.

In God we do have certainty about the outcome of everything in the end, and of God’s goodness to the end. If all was well in this life, we would surely too easily lapse into a lack of dependence on God like the Laodiceans of old (Revelation 3). Not that we can’t worship God when things are going well. Of course in this life under the sun, not all is well in the human community at large, and sooner than later in our own households and families, either. Even with ourselves.

But a breakthrough I’m experiencing is to recognize my own inclination to want certainty above anything else. When what I really need is God, and God’s promise to us in and through Jesus.

God accepts us where we are

I know it’s hard to believe this given our own view of life and how we view God. And how we (mis)read of him in the Bible. We see God as someone like ourselves, but a better, even perfect version of that. But while we’re made in God’s image, God is still God. And I believe God is revealed and known preeminently in Jesus at the cross. The heart of God for all humanity, and for each and everyone of us is revealed there.

God loves and accepts each and everyone of us where we are. But –and I know that will bring a shaking of the head somewhere, but hold on. God loves us too much to leave us where we’re at. For our good, and yes, for God’s glory, God in love is going to work on us to help us to the true humanity in Jesus, what we were created to be. As to that creation, we are broken, each and everyone of us. But God wants to, and for all who have faith- is restoring what we were meant to be in the new creation in and through Jesus.

Since God accepts us where we are, we need to first of all see God for who God is, and accept that. In essence, God is love. Yes, God is holy, too, God is utter and complete perfection. But God is also merciful, full of mercy and grace. God loves, and God’s love is always present for us. God has already provided complete reconciliation to him for us through the cross, and calls us to accept that (2 Corinthians 5, 6). And the cross is where God showed his love to us in this mess, taking the brunt of our sin and evil on himself in his Son. Jesus and the Father are one heart.

So God accepts us where we are. Let’s rest in that thought, and find what it is that God wants next for us. Let’s keep moving in God’s direction in and through Jesus. Knowing God has not moved away from us, but that we drift and move away from him. But that he is always present to us in and through Jesus. And loves us too much to give up on us, or ever turn his back on us.

Let’s respond to that with thanksgiving and with a true repentant heart of faith, believing that we’re embarking on the path given to us from a God who is complete love and is for us and for everyone in and through Jesus.

understanding God through the cross

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

John 14

When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

John 8

I have had contact in recent years with those influenced by Martin Luther’s theology, which is a theology of the cross. And I have thought that my own theology of the cross is not strong enough in line with what scripture teaches, though hopefully I have all the basics covered well enough.

Enter Greg Boyd, and his recent work on understanding and interpreting all of scripture through the cross, indeed understanding God through that centering point. If nothing else, grappling with what he is saying can help us begin to see God and all the rest of scripture through the cross. If all of scripture is fulfilled in Jesus, it seems like Jesus reaches a kind of fulfillment even of his incarnation and all that followed in his healing and teaching, through the cross. Even the resurrection and its meaning comes from the significance of that cross, Jesus’s death. I follow in agreement with Boyd’s thought here.

I personally am beginning to think that Boyd is making a pretty good, maybe even solid case for understanding the violence attributed to God in scripture to God being willing to humble himself as is true at the cross, when essentially God was made sin for us in Jesus, being willing to be misunderstood for what God does not approve of or sanction. And also how God’s wrath which is shorthand for judgment is simply God in grief allowing evil to destroy itself at certain points of time. It’s not that God never gets angry. But all of God’s activity, I take it, is meant to be redemptive, or at least with that in mind as a hope and goal.

And so we understand God through Jesus, and especially Jesus crucified. Something I want to reflect on more in whatever days are to come. In the effort to know God better, and be more faithful to the gospel, in and through Jesus.

what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.

Deuteronomy 2-3

In Greg Boyd’s new book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence, Boyd makes some biblical theological assertions which have hardly been thought, much less spoken since the time of Augustine. Though a number of early church fathers prior to that time did. There is no doubt the Israelites thought they were commanded to kill all the Canaanites. Boyd’s contention does seems curious to me. Couldn’t have God made it clear to them that no, they were not to do such a thing?

Central to what makes this work for Boyd is the idea that the Israelites were so conditioned that when they heard the actual words of God, they acted on their understanding as well of what God meant in line with how all the people of the Ancient Near East saw their gods, even using some of the words of such peoples to express God’s intention. And the idea of accommodation, that God met them where they were at, to bring them along to the kingdom which would be fully realized in its grace and truth only in Jesus, something called progressive revelation.

What is central to Boyd’s thesis alone is easily worth the price of the book, though many will not want to deal with the odd parts, or will not take the book seriously because of them. The heart of Boyd’s proposal is that God is known only in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus crucified. That if we want to know what God is like, always like, and was always like, then we have to go to the cross.

A little hint of where this book goes: Elijah called down fire from heaven, and two of Jesus’s disciples thought they should do the same when a Samaritan town refused to welcome him to their town. Jesus rebuked those disciples, and told them they didn’t know what spirit they were of since the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives, but to save them. And many other examples.

For those who have the inclination, time and extra money, his massive volume preceding this more popular version, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 would be in order. I might refer to it out of the library, but don’t intend to buy it myself.

A big question for many of us is Boyd’s view of scripture. Boyd claims to hold to a high view, that it is the written word of God, and infallible. And that God stoops down in the spirit of taking sin on himself at the cross, to take the sin of the Israelites on himself in their supposing that God wanted them to do what today we would call genocide. And actually by and large in Joshua, they didn’t do so. It is a rough story in the Old/First Testament, to be sure. Separation and purity were central to Israel. Jesus comes and essentially obliterates that, contradicting Moses in a number of places, bringing a new way and kind of holiness, we might say. But hints of what Jesus would bring seem to have come across during Moses’s time, as well as before and after. Boyd thinks that God’s ideal would have been for them not to kill with the sword at all, but let God fight their battles. There are instances of that kind of thought. And indeed the heavenly warriors were a part of what was going on during that time, not divided in their minds from the physical component, as we do today.*

I would say here, that there are a number of instances in the Old/First Testament which seem contradictory to what Jesus taught, and what culminated from that teaching, indeed where the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all seem to be pointed to: the cross. A couple examples, in Psalm 139 when the psalmist says he hates the enemies of God with all his heart, he has nothing but hatred for them. And in Psalm 137 where it says that happy are those who dash the babies of the Babylonians against the rocks. Of course that is understood by Christians (and Jews) to not sanction such action.

A quick word on theology. Jesus is the truth. Scripture is the truth about the truth. Theology is the truth about the truth about the truth. That’s imprecise, because actually theology is not on the same level as either Jesus or scripture, but it’s a necessary component which follows. We have to wrestle with God, with scripture, as to its meaning. And theology is open ended and never done. While it does shape our reflections on scripture, it isn’t the word of God, so we need to be humble and not act as if it is.

It’s the way of Jesus which marks us as Christians, and that way is the way of the cross, which includes the way of love even to our enemies. We pray for them, bless and do good to them. And we believe God loves all, and is grieved when in his “wrath” he has to withdraw, and let them suffer the consequences of their sin (Romans 1) in the hope that afterward they will repent. That too, is part of Boyd’s contention. Read on with me, if you’re interested.

*That thought in no way to Boyd, nor to myself legitimizes their use of the sword in physical violence, akin to Paul’s thought that our warfare is not physical, but spiritual.

God is delighted in change

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9

I think it’s both interesting, and actually not authentic, as in corresponding to the truth, and not real when someone seems to think or act as if they have it all together. Change is something which is to occur not only at the outset of our journey of faith, but ongoing, throughout that journey. Scripture bears witness to that again and again, both in precept and in story. We as evangelicals emphasize conversion as being at the point of salvation, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But actually, I think it’s a process which extends from before salvation, and continues on afterward to the very end of one’s life, if I read the pages of scripture correctly.

I believe from scripture and from what I see and experience that God in his grace through Jesus delights in the smallest, real change in us for good in making us more like himself, more like his Son, Jesus. And I’m thinking of change in just any one area, when plenty of other areas in our lives may and will still need some serious work, God’s working of course, along with our active compliance. It’s not like God shakes his head and says something like, “Well, that’s good, but he/she still has a long ways to go.” No. I believe without a doubt in the God who delights in any change in his children, which brings them somehow closer to him, and to his family likeness.

And just as much as that, I also believe that it comes primarily through us praying. Paul’s case (then called Saul), quoted above, is interesting, as he was in the midst of an epic, earthquake-like life changing experience, and in the midst of it, he is praying. I think without a doubt that if we take what is wrong in our lives seriously, and quit excusing it, we will start by confessing it as an actual sin to God, and then begin to pray, seeking him for the needed change, however that should be played out. Certainly a change of heart to begin with, and a change in our lives.

We can’t do this on our own, and we won’t, even if we think somehow that we are. We should take heart that God is bringing us along, and wants our communion with him through prayer, as he continues to make us like his Son, and brings the one family in him more and more into the light of his love and life. In and through Jesus.