entrusting ourselves to God

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot and all the possessions that they had gathered and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran, and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Genesis 12:1-9; NRSVue

The story of the faith of Abraham begins here. Often the emphasis is put on the passage in Genesis 15 when God takes Abraham out into the night sky and asks him to count the stars, which then must have been magnificent in all their stellar wonder. Then telling “Abram” at the time (as here), “So shall your descendants be.” Then Abraham believing God’s word, and God reckoning it to Abraham as righteousness. And of course the other, Abraham’s willingness to follow through on God’s word to sacrifice his son Isaac. Both are talked about in the New Testament. And often there’s an emphasis on the first in the idea that it’s our faith alone that justifies, but we get some seeming push back from James who insists that works must follow for faith to be authentic, pointing to Abraham’s willing sacrifice of his son.

All of this needs to be considered in the entire narrative we find in the Hebrew Bible/ Christian Old Testament. And we find there a story of a human just like us, yes surely gifted in some good ways like we are too, but also not having everything together, and his life along with his wife Sarai (later, Sarah) unavoidably open for misunderstanding and false judgment from others, and as it turns out unavoidably needing the miraculous blessing of God. Everything about their experience cried out as contradictory to God’s initial and ongoing promise as spelled out right at the start in the passage above. It ended up being a matter of entrusting themselves to God. And within what turned out to be a rather long drawn out existence as strangers, even aliens, in a foreign land, but the land of promise for what would be the base of what God was going to do through Abraham and Sarah for the world.

Abraham is the father of all who believe. And this is not just a matter of believing and that’s it. It’s no less than entrusting ourselves, our lives fully into God’s hands. And involved in that is always the idea that this concerns all of life. I don’t entrust myself to God and then go and do whatever. We entrust ourselves to God so that we might live in the will of God, a different life entirely than what we would live otherwise. Nothing less than that.

we can’t live on anger and hate

You must understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for human anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:19-27

Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.

Richard M. Nixon

There’s not a few things to be angry about and hate these days. And that’s surely true any time, just ratcheted up now. If you don’t react with anger and grief over many things, then you’re not human.

James doesn’t tell us in the above passage not to be angry. And it seems to me to be in the context of human relations into which James is speaking. We’re told to be slow to anger, and that human anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

We can’t live on anger and hate. I find myself believing that I don’t hate the people, but just what they do. That might be true at least to a significant extent, but does anything they do or say get under our skin, so that it becomes personal, and we hold it against them? If so, we’re probably off the green and onto the yellow or red.

As we’ve all probably found out to some extent, and some as in the quote above on public display, anger easily can at least border on hate, and if we’re living on those fumes, it neither helps ourselves or others. We end up going down. I certainly know that firsthand.

It’s far from enough just to abstain from this anger and the hate which so easily accompanies it. If we do that and that’s it, then our faith and religion according to James is empty. We have to act according to God’s word, which means we act in love for God, for our neighbor, for those in need, even for our enemies.

We remember that what we hate is not that far removed from ourselves. There are things in or about us or what we do which are also hate-worthy. We’re all in need of God’s grace. We extend that grace to all others, even the ones we consider totally undeserving, just bad, even dangerous.

We hate all that is wrong, but abstain from expressing such hate to those who are not loving. We do not do as they do, but instead we commit ourselves to living in love. Doing just what needs to be done, including what needs to be said but with careful wisdom, in that love only. And when we are not animated by that, we hold ourselves back and do nothing until we can get our proper bearings.

Avoiding the destructive anger and hate which will help no one. And committing ourselves to the love with which we’re helped to help all others.

(I’m having trouble linking right now.)

don’t lose your nerve

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my accuser.’ For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

There are so many reasons in this life that one might lose their nerve so to speak and become unsettled, unhinged. There’s the politics along with the culture war and all the dangers that come with that. There are the issues which are dividing families, friends and churches. The real world fallout which accompanies all of this. And you have the normal problems to look after. If there isn’t one problem, there’s another, likely a few others. Family, work, house, whatever.

In and through the midst of everything, our Lord encourages us not to lose heart, but pray. I find it easy myself to fall into something other than faith and when doing so I find that prayer seems irrelevant, beside the point, even though I know better. But at that point I’ll be flailing away trying to come up with good answers and find peace. And it is important that we try to understand issues as well as where people on every side are coming from. All of that is good, but we have to be careful not to forget just where our faith is and proceed from that.

It’s not in human institutions and humans, even while we hope and pray for needed change and good to come. But in all of that we have to remember that our faith can be in none such. Only in God. Only in God. Yes, only in God. This faith is not just an individual venture, but even more, together as church. We are to be people of faith demonstrated in prayers which Jesus tells us here are to be done always.

Something I have to keep reminding myself of and especially at certain times, again and again.

we never outgrow the careful, prayerful application of Scripture

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

On the one hand, you have the evangelical concern for Scripture, almost as an end in itself, so that what can lose out is the purpose of Scripture itself, to point us to Christ, and Christ-likeness. On the other hand, you have for lack of a better word, the liberal dismissal of Scripture as yes, a good book, even sacred, but on something of an equal par with many other “inspired” sacred texts. Neither one is very helpful, but in spite of both, the Word can break through in both the public and private reading of Scripture.

A primary thing that is needed is the careful, prayerful application of Scripture. We never outgrow or get beyond that. Some seem to have suggested that we start with Scripture, and basics we derive from it, but that we’re not meant to stop there, but actually get beyond it into the sphere to which Scripture leads. That sounds interesting, and can be at least somewhat compellingly argued for, but really does not entirely make sense on the face of it.

For example, the above scripture from James is something that has to be applied in this broken, difficult existence, in this life, and that ongoing. We will never arrive to a place in this life in which such application is no longer necessary. If we think we’ve outgrown it, we’ll soon find out otherwise. Life itself will teach us differently. God has given us provision, yes through Scripture, somehow even all of it (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It’s up to us to take it, and prayerfully apply it. Indeed that’s indispensable.

faith living in the real world

He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:5-6

Abraham’s story is in many ways not that far removed from ours. Sure, as far as culture goes, it was worlds apart. But like ours it was chalk full of contradictions, conundrums, we might even add conflicts as in conflict of interest. Abraham was responding to the call and vision from God as he understood it. But life itself didn’t seem to match up with it at all, and Abraham’s (Abram, here) solutions, though still blessed by God, were not God’s fulfillment of the promise.

I find this so very true for myself and my own life and situations. I call him my mentor, a good friend who faithfully meets with me, and who leads a small group my wife and I are a part of. He has encouraged me time and time again to trust God. And sometimes it’s easy to just think something like, “Well yes, I certainly trust God. After all, I already have made a faith commitment to Christ.” And just shrug your shoulders, go on, and more or less forget it.

But what my friend tells me I think is not only quite appropriate for me, but even sorely needed in the ongoing unfolding of whatever time is left. We often look at narratives in scripture such as Abraham’s and shake our heads in wonder when we read in the New Testament for example, how Abraham didn’t waver in his faith, how he is a leading exemplar of faith for us, the father of all who believe. And yet if we really take an honest careful look at ourselves, are we really any better, or even as good? We live now in our time with supposedly more light than Abraham had, though I think that somehow is fiction because light in a sense is more or less the same in experience regardless of what era. I doubt that it was any easier for Jesus’s disciples to have faith, then it is for us today, since faith is not strictly speaking about seeing. God somehow makes it possible and real to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe.”

So this is something I want to center on more, myself. Simply believing, trusting. While faith has the sense of allegiance to, as well, I’m thinking more of the entrusting of one’s life, and to the end of doing what is right and good, as well as for well-being. Of course not just for myself, but as was certainly true in the case for Abraham (in his case, for the world) for others. In Jesus others actually first, but ourselves included. Yes, faith in the middle, maelstrom and mess of life. Faith in God. Faith in God’s word. Faith in the Word himself, Christ.

the church is the center in Christ

And [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:22-23

So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:19-22

there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling….

speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:4, 15-16

Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.*

Ephesians 5:22-32

The church has fallen on hard times in the western and northern hemispheres. For many reasons. People have said and thought that while they like Christ, they don’t like the church. “Nones” is a phenomenon at least in the United States in which often devout believers in Christ have left church forever. And I know such who have been looking but not finding, although they do have a church in mind. Since I have been a Christian, I’ve always been a part of one church or another. Since leaving a Mennonite expression of the faith not long after my boyhood church closed down, I’ve been a part of too many churches. Some of that stands to reason, but I admire those who have been part of the same church tradition all their lives, or at least I think doing that is admirable. All of this is understandable given the issues and explanations.

All that said, no matter how hard it may be, we will do best I think, if we commit ourselves to a local fellowship of believers, a local church. That is an expression of who we are in Christ, not just individuals, but the one universal body of Christ of which we’re a part by the Spirit. No easy formula here. In the wave of Christian nationalism, not a few churches have lost their way. But in the many denominations present, surely one can find a church in which at least they can be in community with others in the faith and participate in liturgy, hear the word and partake of the sacraments. At the very least one might be able to settle into an Episcopalian church which requires nothing for basic participation. I have returned back to the tradition in which I was raised, but with respect for the Great Tradition, for Anabaptist roots, and what has followed.

But there’s no escape from this. In Christ the church is central. And if we’re in Christ, we’re part of the church, and we will do well to find our way into an expression of that.

*Note that the words in the Ephesians passage are within a patriarchal society, and so it’s written accordingly, not unlike the slave/master section soon after.

putting on the whole armor of God: the sword of the Spirit, the word of God

Takethe sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:17b

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7b

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we tremble not, for God has willed
that truth will triumph through us.
Though Satan rant and rage
and fiercest war engage,
such wrath we can endure,
for evil’s doom is sure.
One little word shall end it.

Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (traditional, Voices Together Hymnal)

One thing for sure: We are in a spiritual battle. I’m always glad for the respite and relief that comes after that. But I don’t think evil rests. God keeps us and is indeed a mighty fortress for our protection. But as this passage from Ephesians reminds us as followers of Christ and as the church, we face opposition that at its heart is as crafty as it is pure evil.

We are no match for this. So our strength is only in God and our hope to stand in the spiritual battle only in the armor God gives us to put on. And there is one offensive weapon in that armor: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

That seems to suggest a word that the Spirit gives. We could say it’s the word of the gospel in the Word who is Christ. It is perhaps more likely a needed and fitting word given and spoken at the needed time. Some say you have to say it out loud, even as the story is told, Luther used to do, throwing inkwell at the evil presence. I remain skeptical about that, thinking that these spirit beings might well be able to penetrate our thoughts. They certainly send thoughts our way. Not sure any of this matters one way or the other, though I stand to be corrected. It seems to me more than enough to accept the needed word from God, the rest taking care of itself, God taking care of it.

What we can be sure of is that while we’re to stand our ground firmly against the onslaught of evil, we also have a powerful, penetrating spiritual weapon at hand. God will help us by the Spirit to know what that needed word is in that instance, individually and especially together as church. In and through Jesus.

let scripture be

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

1 Corinthians 10:11

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. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Karl Barth’s 1917 address/sermon, “The Strange New World within the Bible” is definitely worth reading and rereading, at least certainly so for me. I was raised Mennonite, and while the Bible was an important book for us, from what I can recall and surmise from that time, we were not beholden to some kind of thought within which the Bible must fit, be it inerrant or otherwise. And now for me, given other influences that have entered in as well as my return to a Mennonite version of the Anabaptist faith, I am to some extent left wondering what to do or think about the Bible, even while I continue to read and ponder on it daily.

Don’t get me wrong. Even within that thought, I hold the Bible as somehow sacred scripture in some sort of exalted unique sense. While at the same time acknowledging that much of it was never meant to be read in some sort of literal, historical sense, that it’s often full of symbolic meaning, perhaps truth in some sense, but symbolic just the same. And that we simply don’t have to accept it at face value and stop there. Our perception will always be our perception, but what is needed just might be something beyond.

I find Barth’s words more than helpful, pointing us toward the something beyond the text which only God can give, even the very Word or word of God. I would say the Word is Christ no doubt, and the word is the message of God which comes across to us at least primarily through the words of scripture, the Bible. Barth says that the Bible is not the history of humanity, but of God, which may simply mean something like it tells us God’s story as recounted by humanity and for humanity so that we can enter into something of that same story through the pages of scripture but somehow for our own time and place.

And as Walter Brueggemann has said, in my own words: the Gospel, the good news in Christ is distinct from the Bible. We receive it through the pages of that scripture, but its message is a breakthrough that fulfills God’s intent through which the strange new world not encapsulated in words breaks into our old world destined to perish.

Let the Bible be, let scripture be. Let sacred scripture be what it is, and let’s quit making it what it is not. And instead of thinking we have to parse this and explain that, precisely what we mean, just maybe it would be better to acknowledge that we really don’t know. And that before God as faith communities and individuals, we simply commit ourselves to let scripture do whatever God would have it do for us. And that includes Genesis through Revelation including the most difficult, even appalling places along with the Apocrypha, which I consider at least helpful in the mix.

We especially together will find God’s will in love for us and for all in Christ, but not in some static, well defined way we’re then called to live up to, but instead in an ongoing dynamic, woven within the fabric of our lives and times as we continue especially together in that by faith.

Bible-centered or Jesus-centered? (yes scripture is sacred and wonderful and indispensable, but always the God-given primary means, not the end in itself)

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

…from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:15

Scripture is important. There is no other book like it in the world as far as we Christians are concerned. It is sacred, from God, telling us the Story of God (Barth), yes in human words and with human limitations as it were. There’s no book that compares to it for the follower of Jesus. We treasure scripture, and I want to keep it near me all the time both physically in a book (Hebrew Bible/Old or First Testament, Apocrypha, New or Second Testament) and on my phone. We can’t get enough of it and that will always be the case to the very end.

But what is the intent of the holy, sacred scriptures? According to scripture to lead us to Christ, to faith in Christ, in order that God’s Word which is Christ might break through to us. I prefer to make “word” lower case when referring to scripture, or more precisely for me God’s word breaking through scripture. Yet somehow every part of the writings are important for or a part of that. And make upper case “Word” when referring to Christ.

For Christians or Christ-followers, while there is so much we can glean from scripture, the wisdom within it is ultimately fulfilled and seen in Christ. The intent of scripture is to make us aware of God’s Story in creation, new creation and all that is involved in that in and through Christ. It’s to help us individually and especially in community in the church to become attuned to hearing God’s voice, and finding our calling within that.

Christ and the good news of God in Christ, the gospel is the end of Scripture. Scripture telling us the Story of God within creation among messy humanity, in the world as it is, to bring about the world as God intends it to be, beginning even now in the new creation present in and through Jesus.

is the word in us?

The prophets are nothing but wind,
for the word is not in them.

Jeremiah 5:13a

The words from Jeremiah refer to a specific time and place. Just echoing them does not mean that the word is in us. But often in our thinking, we equate words from the Bible as God’s word. Often the sacred text of scripture is called God’s Word. But Christ is the Word, and through scripture I take it that we can receive God’s word for us.

God’s word can come to us in different ways. There was a long period of time when God’s people were illiterate, when Bibles were chained to a church wall or whatever, because it took so long for scribes to hand copy a Bible. But God’s word was still alive and active among God’s people. Often in more mystical ways, which I think we find precedent of in scripture.

But the words here in Jeremiah is a searching question for me. I don’t care what I think I know, I don’t even care if I would have the entire Bible memorized, and believe you me, I don’t really have all that much word for word memorized, relatively little at all. That’s not the point. Is God’s word coming through me when need be? And from that, hopefully there can be a contagion of God’s word coming through others or vice versa, God’s word coming to me through witnessing it coming through others in the community of God.

The prophets reproved in Jeremiah were windbags, quite noisy, had plenty to say, and were evidently getting a good hearing. But though they purported to be speaking God’s word, the fact of the matter was that God’s word was not in them at all.

That’s the important thing: Is God’s word in us either when we’re going about our lives, or speaking? Something to pray about and ponder.