theology for real life

The book of Job is a good case in point of how all of Scripture (the Bible) is meant for real life. No one is likely to be affected much by how many angels can dance on a pin, something allegedly, Christian theologians were contemplating in the past. It’s not like we have to look for only what seems relevant and ignore the rest. We need to prayerfully consider just what God might be saying to us through everything, especially through the words found in Scripture.

I like our church’s statement of faith, because it’s not simply about knowing or confessing something. It is about applying truth to life, or letting Scripture critique and change us.

The danger in all of this is that we want quick, pat answers. We think the Bible is written for us to solve all our problems and answer all our questions. Not. Scripture, God’s word is meant to shape us according to God’s will, which means conformity to Christ.

I am blessed too to work for a solid evangelical ministry which has the motto:

The mission of Our Daily Bread Ministries is to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.

We have to beware of piling in information which we’re not applying. According to James, that is a sure recipe for self-deception. We can think we’re doing well and in the clear just because of what we know. But what we’re given to know is meant to be applied, every single bit of it. We may not know how, but we should be in prayer over it. God’s word has some effect on us, whether we always get it or not. But our goal should be to listen and learn for faith and life. What we believe is meant to impact how we live. And how we live can either confirm or undermine what we believe. The two go together.

This isn’t easy. It’s not like, here it is, plain and simple, so do it. Yes and no. Because although that’s the clear path, it’s beset with challenges to our faith, so that either our roots will have to go deeper in search of God’s wisdom, or we’ll more or less give up, shrivel and die. To live in between is to remain unsettled and eventually sets us up for failure, because it won’t work (James 1:6-8).

So we have to set our sight on one thing: God and God’s will in Jesus in this life. Everything else is secondary and subsidiary to that. In and through Jesus.

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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.

when strength fails

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

Why do we sometimes lose what strength we have? A good question. Humans have been given great strength and resilience from God, but there’s a limit. We are, after all mortal creatures, and life doesn’t go on forever.

Strength is grounded to purpose, it’s not an end in itself. We often lose strength, because we lose heart. It seems like there’s little to no use, because what we’re involved in has failed.

God in addressing Israel is seeking to revive and reestablish a fallen, broken people, his covenant people. To understand the setting, it’s important to read the entire chapter. But the end of it quoted above is sufficient for a summary.

God’s limitless understanding and strength are appealed to. As Christians we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. But that’s not sufficient in itself. What that mean for us personally and corporately is the question.

We’re to accept the revelation of God and God’s will given to us in Scripture. And we determine that by God’s promise in Jesus, we live and carry on, and by nothing else. That revelation certainly includes the whole of human life, every part.

We’re called to “hope” in God, which carries the meaning of waiting in expectation and anticipation. And then God’s promise: our strength will be renewed. So that whatever we have to do, we can fully accomplish. And with the sense of having more than enough.

This involves receiving a sense of vision from God, along with the strength to accomplish what is set out before us, just what part we play in God’s story. In and through Jesus.

the flourishing to come

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah 35:1-10

I am much interested in Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun’s book, For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference (Theology for the Life of the World). It seems that they advocate for policies for human flourishing within the pluralistic world in which we live. I personally am all for that. I don’t know what else they say, but I’m sure they agree that full flourishing will come only at Jesus’s return when God’s promise of salvation and new creation will be fully realized.

Human flourishing is at the heart of God’s will for the world, for humankind. It’s when all is well, humans are individually well themselves, and living in the relations in which they’re meant to live with each other. Each realizing their full potential, and enjoying the outcome of that together.

Unfortunately in this present existence, simply put, there’s too much resistance against God’s will. There’s both lack of faith, and actual desire to live in God’s will. Although in common grace there’s much in common (not to repeat the same word so closely) with God’s will. There is goodness and righteousness along with evil, whether or not the educational elite can or are willing to recognize that.

We long for the breakthrough to come when the world will at long last be what God intended it to be. Paradise restored and human culture meeting its full potential in the life and love of God. In and through Jesus.

how do we face the evil and trouble of this world?

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Live and you will see trouble. You don’t have to look for it. Sad to say, even evil, as well.

Job challenged it head on, both complaining about God and to God. Although he maintained his integrity, and did not abandon his faith in God, God was not entirely pleased with him as we can tell from God’s answer to him out of the whirlwind indicating his displeasure (Tremper Longman III) later. Job received what for him was a new revelation from and of God.

There’s no escape from trouble in this world, both in simply being human, and in following the Lord. We live in the midst of it. I once heard of a community built to avoid it. But alas, it is in this life, in this world, the real world. That community I think, no longer exists. Such a place truly does not exist in this life. So we’d better get used to it. So what are we going to do about it?

It turns out that what we can do is often limited. Job’s friends did well when they simply sat on their hands in silence for seven days with Job. They didn’t do well when they began to open their mouths, neither did the young man at the end, for whatever truth they told. They had it all figured out. Job himself was trying, but more like challenging God based on what he thought he knew.

My only answer, myself, is that God is with us through the troubles. It’s not like God can’t deliver us from them, but ordinarily it seems like God is simply with us.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

And we take comfort in the fact that just as the psalmist says, God is at work in it. Indeed, as it says, comfort comes from God’s care over us. So maybe that means we simply need to settle in, in faith believing that God will see us through.

It can become more difficult in a way when our concern is for others. In fact it can become too heavy a burden to carry. We need to keep coming to God in prayer. God can do what we can’t possibly do. Even undo what has been done. And redeem. We need to hold on in faith, knowing that in the end, God and his good will prevails. Not only out of the trouble, but somehow through it. In and through Jesus.

 

patiently finishing

The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride.
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:8-9

This for me is related to my recent post, in it for the long haul. This is about finishing what one has started along with not becoming easily worked up.

Not everything we start should be finished, at least not by us. Maybe we shouldn’t have started it in the first place, or it could be that it’s more like a project we have a part in.

It’s important to attempt to discern whether or not God has really led us to some endeavor, or at least given us the gift and peace to do so, or whether it’s something we’ve latched onto ourselves under some other inspiration such as being impressed by what someone else is saying or doing. This requires mature reflection over Scripture for a period of time as well as input from others. And prayer along with more prayer.

When we’re convinced that this is something God wants us to do, then we begin, but from the end. In other words we have something of the vision from God as to what we’re to become and do, our niche or place so to speak, and we proceed accordingly. We may want to do something different at times, but if we’re sufficiently impressed with the realization that what we’re inclined to do is not in line with what God has given us, then we can stop ourselves, step back and return to what we’re called to do. Patience finishes what is started, whereas pride is more than happy to barge in, or start something supposedly great, maybe even finish it. Patience plods along, while pride runs hard, often roughshod over others.

What can get us off track, or me anyhow, is being too easily provoked and as a result wanting to do something now. When I would be better off, and those around me, to simply pray.

This requires the ongoing discipline of being in God’s word and prayer. And continuing there. So that we can begin to understand and fulfill God’s direction for us. What we’re to finish in the patient endurance that is ours in and through Jesus (Revelation 1:9).

glimmers of light in our darkness

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-14

Ecclesiastes is a remarkable book and makes a remarkable contribution in the Book. But much of it is hard to really get hold of, and it’s interesting how Bible scholars interpret it differently. It seems to me to speak much truth in the midst of mystery, in the struggle to understand life. It is a reflective and pessimistic view of life, considering human toil and the actual result: how everything comes and goes over and over again.

The idea of God placing eternity, or a sense of the present and future (NRSV), or even darkness as in ignorance (NETNIV footnote) in the human heart, that humans can’t understand what God is up to. That leaves us hanging a bit, but either way life ends up being a mystery. Either darkness, or with a sense of much more, yet not being able to come up with what that is on our own. Ecclesiastes to me seems to echo that last thought, frustration over the seeming randomness and senselessness, indeed meaninglessness of life. But with glimmers of light here and there, even as seen in the above passage. Even the idea that God has placed darkness as in ignorance in the human heart is itself a revelation, and therefore oddly enough, a light.

We have revelation and a sense of so much more, and yet we walk around in darkness. A part of our lives now. Which should help us reach out all the more, maybe even grope, but push and pull all the harder to look to God to live faithfully in his will in and through Jesus.