a good picture of the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus

Psalm 106 is a good picture of the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus. Glenn Paauw’s book, Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well helps us see the importance of reading scripture and considering its entire historical narrative before we start claiming its promises. That might be a bit overstated, but I think the point he makes in the book is an excellent one, and sorely needed.

I ran across the sentence perhaps in that very book, which makes the point that God’s wrath in judgment is directed against human machinations, and even against humans themselves, whose actions make not only a mess of things in this world, but bring much harm to others. Of course God is the God of mercy as well. And not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (1 Peter). Not desiring the death of the wicked, but that they might repent and live (Ezekiel). That’s the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus. The God who is to be feared, who is holy, righteous, just and good, essentially love, that love not cancelling out the rest, all else actually being an expression of that.

God is not the God so many seem to want to see as the soft, cuddly teddy bear who simply affirms all we do, the point a Christian brother (who happens to be Eastern Orthodox) was making yesterday. God is a God to be feared, as he would say, and yet all of what God is in all its awe and wonder is encapsulated in love. God is love. That comes across to us in Jesus, but beware of watering down what the Bible makes plain, even in the account of Jesus, including Jesus’s own words.

Psalm 106 in its entirety is an account of the picture scripture gives us of the God who comes to us in Jesus.

Praise the LORD.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD
or fully declare his praise?
Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.

Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.
When our ancestors were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;
he led them through the depths as through a desert.
He saved them from the hand of the foe;
from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them survived.
Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise.

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wilderness they put God to the test.
So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease among them.

In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.
The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.
Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.
At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.
So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;
they aroused the LORD’s anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.
This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.
By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;
for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips.

They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,
but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.
He gave them into the hands of the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.
Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.
Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented.
He caused all who held them captive
to show them mercy.

Save us, LORD our God,
and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.

Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.

Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the LORD.

biblical illiteracy and the United States

Scot McKnight has a most interesting post on the Bible’s place in the founding of the United States, and in US political, presidential rhetoric. If you read this, and stop there, you would do well.

My thought is on the great loss of being biblically illiterate, though if you’re into US politics heavy, you will still do better to read Scot’s post. Just a bit long, but well worth it.

The Bible is such an important document in the founding and fabric of the United States, though that’s a complex topic by itself, and I’m in no way suggesting that the United States was meant by its founding documents to be a Christian nation. Only that the Bible certainly significantly contributed to what the United States was and at least to a significant extent still is. But to get back to my own point for this post, I think it would be good and wise for those becoming citizens to have to read a shortened version of the Bible, maybe kind of like a Reader’s Digest condensed version, which would help people understand something of the values and structure on which this nation was founded and built.

We don’t do well as Christians to not be people of the Book. Yes, Christ is our center, who brings us into the life of the Triune God, and is the Savior and Lord of the entire world. But that faith, while centered on the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus, is found in scripture, in God’s written word. To say God’s written word opens up plenty of misunderstanding, but it is sufficient for now to say that the fulfillment of it all is in Jesus. But to understand that fulfillment and what it means from cover to cover, we need to read and reread and become steeped in the entire Book. And like a friend reminded me, the Bible itself is complex. A simple, child-like faith opens one up to the beauty and power found in its pages. But it can leave one gasping and grasping for answers. The Holy Spirit is our help together as we read scripture, meditate on it, and if you wish, commit some of it to memory. But there’s no doubt that we’ll be stretched in the process, which surely is part of the point of scripture, God’s written word.

But we’ve fallen on hard times when it comes to actual knowledge of the Bible. People still buy it evidently, but there are other ways to occupy time now, many. We’ve maybe read it through once, or at least heard large parts of it read, some of that over and over again. So we think we have it, that we really don’t need to read it at all. I hear that we need to do it, not read it. Well, I believe we need to both hear and obey God through it. We need an interactive relationship with God through scripture, and we need to come to it again and again to let its truth break through to us and soak in our bones over time. All of it, not just the precious promise parts of it, but the hard and seemingly mundane in it. The Bible mirrors real life, right to its very depths. But with the one good news for the world in Jesus.

Whatever we are doing, or out and about, we in Jesus, let’s lead the way in serious study and contemplation of scripture.Yes, certainly hoping the better for the United States and all nations on earth. But committed above all to what is mandated in scripture as followers of Jesus.

 

 

black history month, why it’s important, and what our witness ought to be

February in the United States and Canada is designated Black History Month (October in the United Kingdom). It is important to remember the history of African-Americans, whose recent ancestors were stolen, enslaved, and all too often killed. It is a great error to see this as being “politically correct.” We need to recognize the achievements of those in our family who are African in their origin, as well as the difficulties and evils they encountered, more or less front and center at one time, but now often much more hidden, yet just as real. An example of what is especially a hidden, subtle form of racism is the part of the story in the film Hidden Figures, which wasn’t told.

At the heart of the outcome of the gospel is the destruction of all divisions within humanity, while celebrating the differences through God’s creation (see the book of Revelation, in which every tribe and nation in all their diversity worship God together). The fact that the church seems to make either little or nothing of this at all seems to me to be a grave mistake which needs prayer and correction. The good news of God in Jesus and through his death means a completely open access to God, and also to each other in the sense of living out our oneness as one family in him. There is only one human race, and the difference in ethnicities among us enhance humanity. We need each other, every part of the whole of the one family of humanity.

This should be fulfilled in Jesus, in which through the new birth and new creation, we are all one in him, in all our differences. The best witness of a church in that regard is to include different ethnicities on the staff, particularly in positions of leadership, certainly including the pastoral. The world needs that witness, and we actually need this as well, to break down the sin of racism, which is the hidden elephant in still too many places. When we overlook the hidden, or not so hidden racism among those around us, we can inadvertently make a place for it in our hearts, while never wanting to. We excuse something for which there is no excuse, and which brings grave harm to humanity, and is an affront to God, and above all grieves the heart of God.

So let’s do something if we haven’t yet, before this month ends, to both remember and celebrate our black brothers and sisters. And let’s pray that this can somehow be worked into our lives on a practical level so that we can enter more fully into the salvation which is ours through the good news in Jesus our Lord.

when all seems lost (in this world)

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11

It is hard to put one’s finger on exactly what is going on in the world, the trajectory and back and forth, ebb and flow of it all. A well written history is indeed fascinating. I remember early on finding that especially so with American history, and especially that of the United States. We really can’t be sure where that is going all the time, and it seems like inevitably a mixed bag of good and bad. There is no doubt that we hope and pray for the good of peoples and nations, naturally first of all, our own nation, but not excluding any peoples, or nations.

So it’s not like we don’t care what is happening in the world. It’s more about expectations. We as Christians believe that God is indeed Sovereign over the nations, that somehow “God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year.” And that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in the place of ultimate rule and authority, somehow that rule flowing in and through the church as his Body in the world, through the gospel, from the Father by the Spirit. But what we see is at best incomplete, and at worst seems incoherent and subject to forces which begin to make all too much sense in terms which are not helpful, and even evil. As in all of life in this world, it’s not simply a matter of good and evil, since there seems to be an admixture of both as people like Abraham Lincoln knew all too well.

The answer that we in Jesus need to dwell on, which is not just for us, but for the world, has already been mentioned in this post. It is the rule of King Jesus through his body the church, a rule which is solely through the gospel, the good news in and of him. Again, there is much good that can happen since humankind is made in the image of God, albeit with undercurrents and waves of evil present. But the only sure-fire hope for the world is in Jesus through the gospel. And that gospel certainly pertains to the present life, but is also about the life to come. In fact, strangely enough, it brings something of the life to come into the present through the new creation in Jesus.

For us who believe in that hope in Jesus, which by the way means nothing less than a faith which simply anticipates and waits for the completion of God fulfilling his promises, that means we don’t settle into even the best this world has to offer. We are in a sense strangers and foreigners here, because we point to the only salvation in Jesus alone. A salvation not just in terms of the individual, though certainly about that as well, but for the entire world, and every aspect of it. A hope that seems planted in human hearts until all of that seems more or less lost. The hope for what the Bible calls shalom, which not only means justice, but goodness manifested in human flourishing along with the flourishing of all creation.

We pray for good, and against evil in the world, in the nations and governments. But our hope and expectation is in none of that. It is only in the Lord Jesus through the gospel, the good news in and about him. That is the one political reality and salvation we hold on to, both for the present world, as well as that to come. And in which we in Jesus have begun to live even now. Meant not only for us, but for the world in and through Jesus.

losing love

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24

It is easy to lose heart in more ways than one. We in the United States live in a society which is practically at war with each other. I don’t think close to actual physical arms, though there may be small fringes that aspire to that. But given the political divide, and deep divisions that come with that, we tend to see everything in stark black and white, and from that tend toward an apocalyptic attitude. Nothing new in American history, by the way, at least in various ways. And it seems to me to be a human tendency.

Jesus’s words quoted above are in the context of end times. We all know that everything must end some time. The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple did take place not long after Jesus’s words, within that generation. Oftentimes there is at least the threatened impending of something important that seems evident in the horizon.

We are to be aware of all of this as followers of Jesus. And we are to hold on to our priorities: the gospel, and the life that comes out of that. The good news in Jesus certainly brings with it both grace and truth. And the nonnegotiable that comes out of that seems to me to be a Calvary, cross-shaped kind of love, a love for one’s enemies, as well as the hard work of maintaining love amongst ourselves.

The one who endures to the end will be saved, Jesus said. So to hold on to love and truth, or truth and love requires endurance on our part, persevering in the faith which makes love and hope possible, though any of the three can be helpful to the others. But most basic is holding on to faith in the faith out of which a special kind of love flows, which is able to break through all the divisions of hate, and even systems of evil, though sometimes at great personal cost.

In this day and time we need to hold on to love and then truth. It is most basic in our relationships, in listening to each other, in respect even when we don’t agree. And above all for us in Jesus, our focus on helping others find him, so that we can look past what differences we may have, to that. And maintaining love with each other which is grounded in nothing less than the gospel, in Jesus himself. A big part of our calling in him now until the end.

going on in spite of whatever, by faith

By faith we understand (Hebrews 11), yet at the same time our faith is based on the faith, having roots in Jesus’s resurrection in history, which in an American court of law would surely pass muster in being accepted as true beyond any reasonable doubt. That latter point would be debated by some, but for those who have faith, it is a powerful reason to believe, and has moved more than one skeptic to faith. And the witness of God’s Holy Spirit to us helps us through the inevitable bumps and roadblocks in our journey of faith, along the way.

There are times when we are at a loss, maybe rather off our feet, or perhaps wobbly in our own personal faith, even if we may be doing well concerning the faith itself. Or this could well apply to us when we do have some genuine doubt or at least question in regard to the faith in general. By faith we proceed, even when we don’t know where we’re going (Hebrews 11, again).

That means that while we may not feel altogether inside, indeed we may be rather disheveled, or even quite a bit so, we go on the best we can, by faith, certainly an act of faith, itself. And rather defiant of whatever troubles us, in a way, but more like an entrustment of that concern to God, who certainly can take care of whatever problem it is, and no matter what, promises us the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

The devil’s strategy is to get us to grovel in the dust, and perhaps even eventually abandon faith altogether. Or at least to sideline us, so that our faith is not effective for ourselves or anyone else. But it’s a great opportunity, in the face of such opposition, to simply proceed in all of our weakness, by faith finding God’s ever present grace in Jesus. And we will, no doubt, if we simply go on by faith. God will keep all of his promises to us in Christ Jesus.

review of *Black Triangle*, by Patrick Davis

Black Triangle, by Patrick Davis

Usually when I do a book review I know the author- at least as an online friend. This is especially the case with this author who actually is married to my youngest sister. I respect him as a good brother in the Lord, exemplary in his life of faith. And a true friend. And I found out that he is an exceptional writer. Ordinarily I don’t read novels (to my loss). But I finally got around to reading his at least twice (maybe also in the distant past). That this is historical fiction helped and that it touched on the explorations and conquest of Spain into the new world caught my attention since I was once an avid reader of that part of early American history.

The book has much to commend. Yes, it is very well written. A movie could easily be made out of it, not having to add between the lines, because the book is quite detailed. I think for some readers that could get a bit daunting since so many asides are given. But the thrust of the narrative I think is sufficient to make up for that. Nevertheless I counted it a good exercise in making me a better reader. I also found myself at a loss over some of the language, a good example being nautical terms and phraseology. Perhaps the book could have provided a glossary or footnotes. However that would break up the flow of reading. Probably best that it didn’t. My reading in such places reminded me of some of my Bible reading in which even to this day I’m more or less dense, for example the layout of the temple and priestly practice. I found that the essence of the story was not missed by simply reading on, trying to understand as much as possible what I was unsure of. This was not throughout the entire book, but here and there, military terms and phraseology being perhaps the other prime example. Of course one does have recourse to the Internet. Still I do not see this as a major issue in reading the book. And in fact I counted it as a good education. There is no doubt that the author spent considerable time in research as is the case in many novels, and in fact, he told me that was the case.

Now to the story itself. The focus is on one Hernandez Pizzaro (who is a historical figure) and his venture in tearing himself away from his home in Spain on the farm against his parents’ wishes under the influence of his Uncle, Captain Martinez Pizzaro, in pursuit of “the Grand Pizarro Military Tradition.” And we find that he’s in pursuit of something more which no matter how many times he may achieve it, could never be satisfied. A black cloud of guilt hung over him since at the age of nine he had watched his eight year old brother, Francisco drown, Hernando unable to swim himself so that all he could do at the time was to run to his father. He vowed to his dead brother never to let that happen again, death being preferable to that. So we find a troubled young man with great promise, ability and heart, but unable to do what was expected in the very thing he excelled in due to this darkness with which he struggled most any and every day.

The gospel is interestingly and adeptly woven into the story and from within and many would say -the author included- in spite of a Roman Catholic Church religious perspective. The story showed that the gospel is powerful enough to penetrate even through a religion whose ritual is often without a living faith, yet in itself carries something of the seeds of that faith, whatever errors may be present (for the author –and myself– transubstantiation being one such belief: the teaching that the bread and wine become the actual physical/material body and blood of our Lord).

Romance is in the story as well as Hernandez finds that he and Nahuaxica, the daughter of an Aztec high priest share a strong mutual attraction. That along with some good, lasting friendships is a pleasant part of what is often a less than pleasant experience, graphically told throughout the book: the aspect of conquest by the Spaniards in their exploration of the New World, what they called New Spain (Cuba) and beyond. What also stood out to me, encouraging as well as instructive was how Hernandez and another man of the military expedition come to respect each other with some degree of friendship whereas once they were nearly enemies.

In the story two other historical figures are prominent, the leader of the Spanish military expedition, Captain Hernando Cortes and Montezuma, ruler of the Aztecs. The whole idea of claiming the new world for Spain as well as bringing Christianity and the gospel to “the heathen” in a peace backed by the edge of a sword, not to mention a penchant especially on the part of some (sea Captain Gonzalo Serrao being the prime example in the story of that) for material wealth which the Aztecs had in abundance in their gold- makes one cringe. The reality of what the Aztecs did in regularly sacrificing humans to all kinds of gods on the top of grand pyramids, something practiced by other peoples in that land as well, points to the idea of something of the depravity and evil the Spaniards were facing, not to gloss over their own evil.

War is brutal, awful and nothing to glorify in and of itself, as Hernando Pizzaro soon found out. How he is at long at last even in the midst of that set free from his deep darkness of guilt is fascinating. And in the twist and turns of a narrative that is not predictable at all. The way the story is told, one almost feels like they’ve been a part of it. What I see over and over again is grace, grace and more of God’s grace in spite of what the “Christians” were doing. And in a context which reminds us of the need to try to understand in full the complete historical narrative insofar as that’s possible. There is no doubt that for all the evil the Spanish did in their military expedition against the Aztec nation, they were to stop arguably a greater evil, the sacrifice of humans to strengthen and appease “gods”- young and old humans alike- some from their own people, many from other peoples of their land. A zeal for tearing down the idols with a hate for the deplorable practice is prominent, seen in Captain Cortes himself.

Again the gospel, the power of God for salvation is wonderfully woven into the story. I also identified with what Hernandez Pizzaro did and what he needed to do instead, which the gospel wonderfully set him free to do, which actually spoke powerfully to me. Indeed Hernando Pizzaro’s spiritual journey is fascinating and so true to life.

I found reading the book an enriching experience. As one of the best reads, one is wise to read it slowly and thoughtfully. There are thirty-seven chapters, some nice breaks to gather one’s thoughts. But the story compels one to keep reading. So I commend this book as worthy in itself. I am grateful to have read it. Definitely enjoyable and so much more.