the world of the Bible

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Karl Barth preached a sermon in 1917 entitled “The Strange New World within the Bible.” In it Barth helps us see that beyond the plain ordinariness and sometimes offensiveness of the text, there is a Hand at work. Yes, through fallible human authors, but if we’re attentive, open, and even desirous to mine the gold, the wisdom and whatever else there is in the pages, God will surely by and by grant that to us.

The Bible elicits a vision of both the old world, and a new world breaking in. There’s the vision of both. It is fulfilled through God’s calling to Israel, culminating in Jesus Christ. There’s no end to the unfolding of this from the pages, if we give ourselves fully and attentively enough to that. God will make it known to us individually and as community. Something meant to be ongoing throughout our lives. In and through Jesus.

“be instant in season, out of season”- KJV

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

2 Timothy 4:1-5; NRSVue

I love the King James Version‘s rendering in this passage, “be instant in season, out of season.” The idea as we read above is to keep doing what we’re called to do no matter what. Whether it’s convenient for us or not, or for that matter even convenient to others. Of course, we want to be helpful to others, but the only help they’re going to get which matters is help from God. It can be through us, but definitely from God. Just as all help we ever receive ourselves is from God, though often through others.

We need to be ready, prepared, above all in our spirit, in our heart, through prayer, through trying to walk day by day, every moment, through every time whether good or bad, whatever the case may be, we need to always be ready to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. The gospel is at the heart of that, but the specific calling, though we might divide it in general categories such as speaking and serving and for many of us, some combination of both, will be as different for each of us as each of us is different ourselves.

The point though is to be ready. And the test of that will come when we’re especially feeling not ready, maybe under siege, under spiritual attack. We must not give in then, because that actually can end up being the time of greatest blessing. God can pour out God’s Spirit in answer to prayer, and never forget that the Lord’s power is made perfect in our weakness. It’s never about us, but only about what God has given us to do, and the love of God made known in the good news of Christ.

In and through Jesus.

proceeding according to one’s gift

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these, for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:38-40; NRSVue

The first big event after David was anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as king of Israel is the account of David slaying Goliath. Maybe it’s still a mainstay with many children Bible story books, but not sure how parents should approach that passage today. It seemed innocent enough when I was growing up, but I wonder if it shouldn’t be included in the passages for more mature audiences. Of course, how such stories are told can make a big difference, too.

The point I want to take from this account is the simple fact that David couldn’t proceed the way Saul wanted him to in taking on the giant. David was a shepherd who knew how to wield a slingshot with stones to protect the sheep from predators, having become quite adept at such. To fight the way the Israelite army did was outside of his parameter; he had never been trained for such. Later he would be very much accustomed to normal warfare, and in fact because of the bloodshed in doing so, would not be allowed to build the temple. Though he was allowed to make important preparations, the actual building of it would be left to his son.

The point here is that David did what he was accustomed to. And we need to take that home for ourselves. What might work for others, may not work well for us. That’s not to say that we can’t learn new and better ways of doing things. But our gift is as different in operation as we ourselves are. We should never think that we have to do it exactly like someone else does, whose gift we admire. No. We should be happy to proceed in our own gift, how we do it, and let that develop. Maybe in David’s case, and probably quite likely, what he learned in protecting the sheep was somehow utilized in his later practice of warfare which may have helped set him apart, and perhaps could have influenced the mighty men as they were called in David’s fighting entourage. We don’t know since Scripture doesn’t say.

The point though is that we should be happy to use whatever simple gift we have in the simple way we do it. God gives such gifts and God is in them. We don’t want to do it differently, since when we do, we’re no longer operating in that God-given gift, so that God is no longer in what we’re doing, at least not in the same way. Something to prayerfully think about and try to apply. In and through Jesus.

to avoid condemnation: a living, active faith

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

James 5:9, 12

James would argue, and I believe Paul supports that if we consider every part of Paul’s writings, that it’s not enough to believe, to simply have faith in Christ to avoid condemnation. Faith apart from works certainly involves receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But James points out that this faith which receives is also to be a faith which gives in response to God and God’s gift and favor given to us. Otherwise there is no true saving faith at all, and one is left condemned because of their commissions and omissions in failing to love God and love one’s neighbor as themselves. But in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ (note James 2:1; NRSV) we are called to a faith that not only rests in God’s promise in Jesus, but is also active in pursuing together God’s call for us in Christ. 

when weary, keep going

Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.

Judges 8:4

Gideon and his three hundred arrived at the Jordan and crossed over. They were bone-tired but still pressing the pursuit.

Judges 8:4; MSG

First of all, we read these passages today, all for our profit in some way, but not all are prescribing or describing how we’re to live as followers of Jesus. Much that is recounted actually was not good even in its time. So we can’t use this passage to sanction un-Jesus-like activity, such as violence, even when considering it just. We do see in what follows that Gideon sought to provide needed food for the men with him. So that’s indeed a good takeaway for us. We need to take care of ourselves, not just let the candle burn on both ends until we burn out.

But a good point for us to take home here is that when we’re weary, bone-tired, we need to keep doing whatever it is we’re called to do, or fulfilling the sense of calling God has given us. Yet remember the needed rest and sustenance, especially directly from God, both physically and spiritually.

We want to keep at it full bore, giving it everything we have, of course not just working hard, but smart as they say nowadays. Putting our full heart and strength into it. Even when we are so tired.

Rest is essential. But I’m talking about those times and days when it’s not easy to keep going, or you think you’re reaching the end of your strength. Remember that in our weakness the Lord’s strength is somehow perfected. We want to depend on the Lord, and look to God for renewed strength. We need that inwardly and outwardly, both. God will provide. We will make it through in all our weakness and imperfection, as we seek to follow the Lord, and what we know is good, right and true. In and through Jesus.

a justified life

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

The evidence that we’re in Christ and his followers will be a changed life of love for God and for our neighbor by good works, the things we do. A justified life is living out God’s mercy in the world. We hope for justice as well, that is addressing wrongs and making things right even in this life. Christ took on himself all the injustice humans could possibly give him through the cross. Ironically in that way God’s justice could break through beginning in the lives of his followers, and out from them into the world. But always in the same way of Jesus, the way of love in the cross.

A justified life certainly involves both faith and works. Only God can set us on this path as we respond in faith and baptism to his calling. Like Abraham and Rahab, and all the faithful, we need to respond in faith. That will certainly involve a change of life, and along with that, the new course God gives us. In and through Jesus.

to the quiet

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

The older I get, the more I would like to stay out of endless controversy. Yes, you might score some points on someone’s ledger here and there, but to what avail? I do appreciate those in difficult callings, such as political, who try to work through difficult policy issues in seeking to govern and represent the people who elected them. Nowadays there’s no end to the strife which accompanies it.

As people of God, I think we have to ask ourselves just what our calling from God is. And to understand that, we must turn to God’s word, Scripture, the Bible. And pastors and teachers, and I’ll add scholars, must lead the way. But there’s a place for everyone, regardless of what part we might play.

My role I think is mainly to be a witness of God’s work of grace in my own life. I would like to say more, since I am a person of words. But I’m learning to be quiet. And to listen. And then maybe offer a word or two probably more for my own benefit than anyone else’s. In and through Jesus.

discouraging thoughts

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

We are all wired differently. Jeremiah seems to have been a person who was easily, or at least often discouraged. When you consider what he was up against right from the get go, that he was submerged in discouraging thoughts is hardly a surprise. That he was able to continue on and be faithful to God’s calling to him for nearly 40 years is a testament of God’s faithfulness in his life. The fact is that for Jeremiah God’s word overrode everything, including his discouragement.

When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
Lord God Almighty.

Jeremiah 15:16

That was said in the midst of turmoil. God and God’s word made the difference needed. Both in settling the prophet, as well as the message he had to set before others.

This is written for us today, and surely should encourage us in the midst of our own difficulties to keep on keeping on in the path God has for us. We can take consolation that it wasn’t easy for Jeremiah, either. Of course we can’t compare our situations with his. Most of us experience nothing so actually dire. But our experiences are just as real.

God will keep us going as we continue on in God’s word and prayer, whatever we have to deal with, no matter what comes. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

holding on to progress in the faith

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

Paul is referring to the high call of God in Christ Jesus. A cross-shaped life for sure as we see in the passage itself (click above link). All that is contrary to that is to be considered as nothing more than garbage.

It is wonderful to receive insight and make significant changes. And then it may seem that you’re at a new level, which actually may well be the case. But it is remarkable and disconcerting how almost invariably over time one not only can, but will drift back into the old attitudes or actions.

So Paul’s words here are helpful. They shouldn’t be isolated from their context, but still need to be considered carefully. The emphasis is on how we live. And the context for that is the entire book of Philippians, and for that matter we can say the entire Bible, according to the gospel which is its ultimate focus and fulfillment.

There’s no doubt that once we’ve stepped into a new light and air, it is egregious to us to drift back into the old. We can be sure that all of our advances will be challenged by Satan, and we can say, tested by God. Are we committed to the new course come what may? Or will we yield to the temptation to go back to our old ways?

We need to hold on to what we’ve attained, live up to that. That is part of pursuing the high calling of God in and through Christ Jesus.

do the next “good work”

…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Sometimes we live what we imagine is a necessarily frazzled existence. We fly by the seat of our pants in what amounts to essentially unmanageable situations at times. And can live there for a time or longer.

What I think God has been teaching me lately is to relax more, and simply go to the next “good work” God has for me. And when I think of good work, I’m not thinking of anything big at all. Just a bunch of little things, which in themselves may seem insignificant, but put together can mean a lot. Actually meant to be part of one’s life. God has done a good work in us, so that we might do good works for others.

I little know what might be next, but I take whatever I believe has been assigned to me, and try to do it the best I can. That doesn’t mean I’ll just take anything and everything. Of course I’ll do all within the sphere of my responsibility. But there are extras on the side we might try out, and find that although we might be able to do it, it just isn’t something that we resonate with, perhaps even disliking it. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to like everything that comes our way, which we have to do. But we need to differentiate between those things we’re called to do, and what we’re not actually called to do, but are for someone else.

So for me, late in my life, this is a breakthrough of sorts. Simply relaxing into my next “good work,” doing the best I can at it, before I do the next “good work.” With rest in between, in part finding my “rest” in all of this. In and through Jesus.