do we have confidence in God’s word, or not?

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4

The NIV‘s heading for this section is entitled, “A Final Charge to Timothy,” and includes this well known important passage:

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.

Something I’ve noticed in my lifetime is that often the word isn’t preached. I think I’ve been blessed with the churches we’ve been a part of to be used to the exception. But as a rule, it seems like an appeal to the word is only from something other than the word itself. Somehow there just doesn’t seem to be adequate confidence in scripture as the written word of God.

I’m not referring to a lack in expository preaching. That can be good, but it’s interesting when you read the sermons in Acts, that actually none of them is preaching a text expositionally as at least was popular in many evangelical and fundamentalists circles, and you still find a few holdouts here and there. I think it’s alright. In fact I think it’s probably safe to say that such a method is much better than much of the pablum which passes for sermons today. Somehow it seems like the goal is to get people’s interest and keep it, and somehow through that, get in something of the word of God.

My question becomes, Do we really have confidence in the word of God itself, because it is God’s very word? And is that a measure of our confidence in God?

Scot McKnight has an excellent post that hits on this very subject in what is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (“The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?“). He states that the Reformers were marked by their deference to scripture, by opening the Bible and reading it. I think it’s good to refer to theological concepts which point to the truth about scripture (or what Richard Wurmbrand said is “the truth about the truth.”). And there’s no doubt that the art of biblical interpretation, which includes kind of a science to it, as well, is important. And we need to reject the Cartesian Modernist, scientific approach (Rene Descartes) as in relentless examination and induction of the biblical text (see John Locke). I am rusty when it comes to philosophical figures, not that I was ever heavy into them, but they are important in helping understand the times in which people live.

Our appeal must be to scripture, and it must start with ourselves. If we don’t see it as vital, and of central importance in our own lives, then we certainly won’t see it that way for others. Of course it points us to God’s final word in Jesus, and the good news in him. But we must be in the written word itself to find the Word himself.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4

And so the measure of our actual faith and confidence in God will in large part be our confidence in scripture itself, the word of God. To be biblical we must get back to the Bible like the people of God in the Bible did, including even Jesus himself. We need to have the utmost confidence in scripture as God’s word first for ourselves, and then for everyone else. And live with that in hand, in and through Jesus.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

the Revelation: judgment and salvation

Revelation, the last book in the Bible, is a book which seems to have been more or less a quandary to many Christian theologians over the centuries, and a book which misinterpreted lends itself to quack theology. A book filled with symbolic, meaning, an apocalyptic, end of the world vision to be sure. It is not an easy book to interpret, though must be done so with a sensitivity to genre.

In it, God’s judgment against an evil world system and salvation in replacing that system with God’s kingdom come in King Jesus is front and center. And in the struggles in which we live, especially so in our following of Jesus, and this is so very true in so many parts of today’s world, and relatively completely unknown where I live, we are to see everything we are going through in terms of this Revelation.

Eugene Peterson has said that this is a book for worship (see his helpful rendition/paraphrase in The Message). The Lamb seated on the Throne with God and the seven spirits representing the seven-fold Holy Spirit are front and center in the book. And judgment like the rest of the Bible is primarily in terms of getting rid of the evil in this world. Such is always necessary for the salvation which follows, which in this book is about the bringing in of true shalom, peace and prosperity, true human flourishing when God’s kingdom takes over earth in the descent of the New Jerusalem. So that evil is vanquished and replaced with what is truly good in the new creation from God in which God’s Trinitarian love will have full sway in a world renewed to fulfill God’s original intent in creation.

Revelation will remain a challenge to wrestle through. While it is part of God’s written word to us, just what that word means, why it was given I don’t think we should begin to think we can pin down entirely. God’s written word, of course fulfilled in the Word, Jesus, has its purpose, and will achieve its goal. But part of that is surely to help us toward a healthy dependence on God and interdependence with each other in and through Jesus. Knowing where our ultimate hope lies. The end determining the means in which we live, in and through the Lamb, Jesus.

keep on reading the entire Bible

I don’t think I’m good with titles. Yesterday to me (ha) the post was interesting. When I had my blog on BlogSpot (or was it Blogger?) for a good number of years before it was lost for a year and a half, I had no statistics, so I wasn’t sure how many hits and reads I would get in a day, and I didn’t want to know. But WordPress, to which I switched, automatically provides that. And though perhaps it doesn’t catch everything, my blog is quite humble even in comparison to blogs like mine, I think, and exponentially so in comparison to ministry blogs, or blogs by scholars. So I will try to do better on titles (knock on wood), but today, related to yesterday, I want to emphasize one thing:

Keep on reading the entire Bible.

We need to read (or listen, both are good) scripture through, over and over again. The end all of scripture is to lead us to Christ and see it in terms of the gospel, which means, the good news in him. And that good news will inevitably challenge us in our thinking, in our living. How do we measure things, what value do we place on this or that, and why? If nothing else, it will humble us into realizing that we simply don’t know on a host of matters, even while we try to hold on to what we are beginning to understand to what might be called core values of God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

The gospel is as big as all of life, since it’s God good news in Jesus, not only for the reconciliation of sinners to God, but also of all things to God. So that a new order ultimately is put in place, the beginnings of which are found humbly in the church, in and through Jesus.

Which for us ought to put in bold relief the lie of the power of this world, and how even the best of it will fall short and fail. That doesn’t mean such doesn’t have its place and value, but that our hope is in King Jesus, and the good news in him, a good news at its heart- for the poor, which is to be expected by those who keep reading their Bibles (Matthew 11:4-5). Helping us look forward to a time we can hardly imagine now, even if we begin to see inklings of it both in actual life changes, and in our imaginations, and in what is on our hearts to pray.

the Bible and real life

Some of the critics of the Bible, and some of its most vocal critics nowadays are professing Christians, just don’t think it all sits straight with their view of the world, or what the world should be. It is true that it reflects a different time, which even within its pages changes, the change along with further change anticipated.

The naysayers perhaps fail on at least two counts. It’s a hermeneutical problem, that is an issue of interpretation. And it’s a theological issue, one that has to do with God and judgment. As N.T. Wright points out, we have to read the Bible as a Story with (I think) four chapters, or parts (perhaps he says five). The first chapter is part of the Story, but is not completely germane to the present chapter the Story is in. I see failures to take that into account again and again. Either by people who want to defend something which is part of a bygone era and is not sanctioned as a part of God’s kingdom in Jesus, or by others who want to explain away in some sense what is part of the Story, maybe a truly ugly part such as we find in the book of Judges, or what they consider a character defect in God himself as given in the narrative, and therefore, in their view, a human construct.

We have to read the Bible in terms of the life that once was and that continues to this day. While the culture was markedly different at certain places than our own today, underlying heart issues are the same. So that the problem today is strikingly similar to the problem we see throughout, the New Testament pointing to the Old Testament to underscore that idea. And the solution is played out in a real world, anticipating a fulfillment which can’t really be fully imagined until the King, Jesus, appears. Jesus comes not to take life, but to give up his own life, not to judge the world, but to save the world. Yet in the end, we end with a book, in the Revelation, which doesn’t let graphic judgment, albeit in symbollic imagery, so that we’re not sure precisely how that plays out or what that is supposed to mean precisely in terms of final events, but the Revelation does not let the God of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) go free for a better or “true” vision of Bible. So that if one is to find the God of the Pentateuch to be in some measure a mistaken conjecture of people’s, even the faithful’s minds, then we can say that arguably that could be said for the God of the entire Bible. And then where would that leave us?

So this is an issue of how we read the Bible, and an issue of how we read life itself. What does the Bible say and what does that mean in its own context as well as in the context of life itself are good questions to ask. And we need to consider that not just in terms of our own culture, but taking into consideration the entire world. And we need to consider the complexity of life, which I think the Bible also reflects.

We, and this involves the reading of the church, not only us as individuals, have to keep going to the Bible, to let the Bible as God’s written word help us get the Story, see the point of it, and begin to live in accord with the God of that Story. And to do so we have to take in the entire Story as a whole, as it is, in the world and life as it is. In and through Jesus.

“your word is a lamp to my feet” and my Sweets

When I first blogged, probably a few years into having my own blog, I used to never mention myself until a friend and writer (L. L. Barkat) encouraged me to do so. And so I see what writing I do as not only in significant part a sharing of the faith, but about my own faith as well, often couched in struggle.

Now as I look toward the end of my life since I’m nearing 60 (of course we could have a few more decades, but one never knows), I am thinking of what legacy I might have left. In reality I see as significant whatever God does by the Spirit in and through Jesus on a given day in a specific matter which I may somehow be participating in by prayer, being present, or some other way in my life. Looking back, what ends up mattering are especially the relationships closest to us, to me- my wife and daughter and her family. And above all my life in God through the gospel and the church in being a Christian and a follower of Jesus. How our story fits as a small part in God’s story.

It is a broken life in some aspects, a key for me being that I could hardly get my feet off the ground because of deep emotional brokenness early on. Something that in a way I never fully overcame by faith so as to fulfill the calling I sensed from God for a good number of years. And that led me to give up and never really come close enough to realize that it was truly in reach until much later, when in some ways it was too late.

And now, if you will bear with me, I will share what I might like on my epitaph on a small tombstone. I would like to be buried beside my Sweets, my one and only sweetheart and love, Debra. Deb who I used to call Honey and now Sweets, has been my wife for 30 years this October. She has had to put up with my incessant anxiety and pointed criticism, which I hope is abating so as to be not as bad, hopefully moving toward not being offensive at all, since that should be my goal. I love her deeply with all my heart and life. There is nothing I would rather do than have a simple, nice getaway with her. In fact my favorite vacation ever (and I’ve had some mighty good ones) was when we spent a few days and nights on Mackinac Island during our 25th wedding anniversary.

Deb handles the finances and is right when we disagree I would say a good 90% of the time. I would have done much better if I would have listened to her even some of the time. But above all she is simply a wonderful companion. Quiet, which actually fits well with me, though sometimes there can be misunderstanding because of it. A person of strong, unwavering faith, not given even just a little to anxiety, worry, or fear, which is good, since I can struggle with all of that. They say there’s no perfect match, but if there was, I wonder who would be setting the criteria and based on what. And if in the end, such judgment would be found wanting. The Lord has used her to work on my difficult areas, to help me become aware of them in the first place. I feel completely at home with my Sweets. Of course there are problems we find with each other which are less than ideal. Welcome to training to becoming godly as we learn to submit to each other in the fear and love of the Lord.

Our daughter Tiffany is part of our family, though adopted, her biological mother being one of Deb’s sisters. We took Tiffany into our home and hearts close to her third birthday. It is a bit complicated, but she is as much a daughter as any other child would be. She belongs to us. Her life has taken some extremely hard turns and we try to be there for her and our dear grandchildren as much as we can, two precious granddaughters, Morgan and Mandie, and their father, Chris. They are always in our hearts and prayers.

We’ve been a part of too many different churches through the years. I admire those who are faithful in one church or denomination for decades. That is the ideal. This would easily take up too much space, so I would simply say that we love every church we’ve been a part of, no exceptions. The church has always been important in my thinking and practice of the faith, but has taken on new meaning through the sacramental life interpretation which I’ve adopted, along with the common life, all from the gospel of Jesus.

To bring this to a close, the word meaning scripture has been front and center in my life of faith for some time. Interestingly I work in the factory end for a ministry which is very much centered in the Bible, whose goal is to make its life-changing wisdom understandable and accessible to all: Our Daily Bread Ministries.

I used to listen to scripture being read, everyday for years, a good majority of the forty plus years I’ve been a Christian. Now I’m happy as long as I have both scripture (right now I carry a pocket NIV New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs pretty much everywhere) and a cup of coffee in hand. I try to slowly meditate over a book. I have that down pretty well on weekdays, and now am trying to get it down better on weekends. This is what keeps me going no matter what. To be in the word and hopefully get the word in me by the Spirit in and through Jesus, so that hopefully my life is becoming more and more conformed to his image. We need all of scripture. So I read the Old and New Testaments through as well in my complete Bible.

On our small tombstone I would like to have this verse engraved:

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

 Psalm 119:105

With a small cross probably after it.

And the a few words about my Sweets. Something like:

To the one, my dear one, who I love with all my heart, my companion in life and in following our Lord. Who deserved so much more. I love you, Sweets, and I hope we have a special place side by side forever, even as you get to be riding your horse, Duke, once again even with a paintbrush or pencil in hand.

My wife is often a person of few words, so not sure what she would want to have on it. And I know this post is only making a point. Whatever tombstone we may have will be much more simple.

Maybe this on the tombstone to end it:

As we await together the resurrection in the blessed return of our Lord Jesus.

And so is a shorthand summary of how I see my life. It would be interesting to see the same kind of summary from my friends and others. Of life now which is only the faint beginning of the life to come in and through Jesus.