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.

Advertisements

true faith is ongoing

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:60-69

A basic teaching of Scripture is the truth that it’s not enough to start. We must continue on and finish. You see this over and over again in story and specific directive teaching.

The life of faith is not just a beginning, but a process with an ending. It involves ongoing change. And difficulty in understanding it all or at all at times is part and parcel of it all.

Note the passage above (click link for context). Many disciples, yes disciples left Jesus at a certain point. They wouldn’t follow any longer; his words were just too much for them.

Are there times when we simply don’t know, but by faith continue on? Yes, yes, and yes some more. Peter’s words are instructive for us here. They center not on specific teaching per se, but rather on Christ himself. For me, it’s continual, to some extent, constant interaction with God’s inscripturated word, which itself points to and is fulfilled in the Word himself, Jesus. But in ways not always readily received or appreciated.

The point is that we need to continue on following Jesus. In and through him.

 

 

a different direction

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus’s words, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount will probably be met with a sigh and a dismissive shrug if even that, nowadays. The small gate and narrow road seems so confining. People often either want to keep their options open, or just go with the flow.

Instead, Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural in following him. It’s to be small in that Jesus and his words, the good news in him is how we enter and remain. And it’s narrow in that we follow him by paying attention to his words, and to God’s word in him given to us in the gospel and in Scripture.

I think Jesus’s words have a lot to do with focus and intent along with follow through. The title of one of Eugene Peterson’s books comes to mind: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. No matter what, we continue on. With ongoing confession of sins, and change along the way, to be sure. But we continue on. In and through Jesus.

the heart of the battle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

Near the end of a letter which marks what God is doing on the earth through the gospel and the church, and the impact that’s to make in our lives and witness, we have this word: we’re in no less than a spiritual battle, all the way around.

It’s easy for us to get mired into other things, even other battles, be they political in different ways, and those of our own making perhaps connected to “the pride of life.” It’s not like all those things are necessarily out of bounds, though they may be for a time, so that we can step back, and regain our bearings.

The real crux of the matter which underlies everything else is spiritual. And not in the way of the early popular Frank Peretti writings, which I think he improved on later. To reflect Scripture, and real life, it’s more complex than that. But a reaction might be to remove the spiritual element entirely, particularly the thought of the demonic and satanic, relegating such to some bygone time when people didn’t know better. Like C. S. Lewis wrote, the devil would like us to either deny his existence altogether, or see him behind everything, probably preferring the former.

As those in Christ, we’re in a spiritual battle no less. And it’s a battle for the gospel and the difference it can make in the world. But each of us are individually, as well as collectively involved in that. We’re either strong in the Lord, taking up the full armor of God, and standing firm, or we’re not. Our provision is Jesus Christ and the gospel.

We would do well to memorize and mediate on this passage, quoted above. And we apply it in large part by remaining daily in the word: Scripture, and in prayer. If we’re looking for some place and experience that’s pleasant, than we best look elsewhere. It’s not like the Lord doesn’t give us rest along the way, but that he’s also with us through the darkest valley (Psalm 23).

To the extent that we Christians understand the spiritual battle we’re in, and prayerfully act on that, we’ll see God move in ways that are helpful for people, and societies. Yes, for ourselves. Whether we like it or not, that’s the reality in which we live. And as we accept that, and act according to God’s word, we are a witness to the world of the needed difference in our own lives and churches Christ makes. In and through Jesus.

is God really love?

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:7-21

I am having a hard time on my own believing that “God is love,” as the Scripture tells us here. There’s just too much evil, and even so-called “acts of God” to make one see God as love. Little children killed in accidents, or even in natural disasters, etc., etc. And on top of that one might have a hard time accepting love for themselves, since their experience because of sins against them and their own sins have made their inner life mostly a desert.

But this passage from the beloved disciple John, the one who leaned on Jesus’s breast, and seemed maybe more than all the others to have received God’s love in Jesus most deeply, is at least helpful to me. And a passage I need to dwell on, and take in more for myself.

I lament the lack of love in our world, and even among Christians, those who profess to follow Christ. If we don’t live in love then nothing else we do matters. Do we really believe that? What we believe is evident from just what we think, and  out of that, how we live.

In the end I have to trust the testimony of God in Jesus, in the good news: the gospel. That gives hope, and hopefully impacts life in a way that can make the much needed difference. So that one will really believe what they do, or even their existence matters. For one reason: love. From the source of all real love in creation and new creation, the God who is love, and is revealed in and through Jesus.

defining God and God’s mission by our own expectations

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6:14-15

As Aaron Buer pointed out this past weekend, the Jew’s agenda, especially among the Zealots was to get free from Rome, for the Zealots get rid of Rome altogether by force. Aaron pointed out how we often see God and by extension Jesus according to what we expect God to do for us, instead of letting God reveal himself in his words and works.

There’s no question that what God is doing sometimes includes nations. The spread of the gospel was helped much by the Roman roads, even the empire itself, though certainly unwittingly. We can say that God not only used it, but in some sense orchestrated it to a greater end than what it was originally intended for. Not that human civilization and culture doesn’t have its place in the present.

Present day issues, just as in the past can be nagging and even biting. And it’s not like so much that’s up in the air politically isn’t important or significant even for Christ’s mission and the gospel, like the plight of the poor. But as Christians we have to step back and ask ourselves just whose agenda we’re on: our own, someone else’s, a combination of the above, or God’s?

In terms of the politics of this world Jesus would have none of what people wanted out of him. From a reading of the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament we see that the battle of the Lord is spiritual, not physical. And that Jesus conquered through the cross, through his death and resurrection, his ascension with the promise of his return not only marking that victory, but seeing it proceed by the gospel through the work of the Spirit right in the present time.

Nowadays it’s as easy as a click to get sidetracked from what God is doing and wants to do through us onto some other agenda, often set by well meaning people, even Christians, yet by that sidetracked from God’s calling to us in Jesus. And perhaps the most dangerous part is trying to sublimate as in include it in our gospel agenda, somehow merging the Lord’s work and man’s work into one, as if it’s a hand in hand endeavor. But as we see from Scripture, that’s not the case at all. It’s either the Lord’s work entirely, or it’s not his work at all.

Jesus would have none of what the people of his day wanted, indeed seemed to expect. What are we expecting today? Are we open to God’s work in Jesus? Or is it something else that matters more to us?

the gap between hearing and doing

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

We believe and value the words of Scripture and we want to grow. But we little consider the gap between our hearing and reading of God’s word, and our actual doing of it. That can be a world apart, and while we know better, we also often take it for granted as being just the way things are. That there’s a gap in this life seems inevitable. After all we will never arrive to completion and perfection in this life. So on those grounds we pay lip service to what James says here, but in our hearts and lives, we sadly know we’ll fall short.

James would seem to accept none of that. His blunt words don’t allow for any such gap. You either hear the word and do it, or you hear it and don’t. The former are blessed; the latter are not. And the entire book carries this tone. Given our theology in which we see grace as covering our inevitable shortcomings, what are we to make of this?

Once again we have to go back to the plain words of Scripture. We let it speak for itself and critique not only us, but our theology. Reading all of James along with the rest of Scripture will help. James talks about confessing our sins to each other, and praying for each other. So he certainly does not deny God’s grace available for ongoing forgiveness. We endeavor to do what God’s word tells us. We do so perhaps in a clumsy way. Not feeling like we’ve arrived. It’s a work in progress, even as we are. And yet that is our goal. To become aware more and more what God’s will is for us in Jesus. And do it.