running a marathon

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

I’m in a particular work situation with quite long hours, but less days per week as a rule. It is not something I’m easily catching on to, nor even want to take on. But with the minor car accident I was in last year, the recent speeding infraction going what I believe is the correct speed limit, but at the wrong time (I didn’t see the lights flashing), it seems that God has me on an agenda to slow down, and even relax where I can.

Much of my work is not really conducive to relaxing. It requires a degree of ability, plenty of discipline in perseverance, and attention to detail. In some ways that reminds me of something I’ve never done myself, but have to take second hand from others: running a marathon (42.195 kilometers, which equals 26 miles 385 yards). I think I could train and do it, though I don’t think I want to, and at my age it’s probably not the best idea, unless I would do it wisely, and perhaps keep doing it. But I’m realizing as I face a number of upcoming weeks with an extra work day, that I need to take it on as a marathon, and less as a sprint, or with sprints along the way. I want to be relaxed about the entire endeavor, insofar as that’s possible.

And that is a part of my life, and therefore something God must be using to help me better find my way in his way. I could name at least another change or two in my life lately, suggestive in the same way. The context to the passage above on running the race focuses on Jesus’s suffering, and therefore our identification with him in that before the world, as the writer to the Hebrews was trying to make clear to the recipients of this letter (and see what follows in the writer’s counsel to them). Hebrews 11 as marked in our Bibles is part of the context of this passage as well. That cites certain actions of Old Testament saints (of course we in and through Jesus are all saints, marked out as God’s holy people), and in the case of Abraham points to a number of actions which had come to characterize his life. So including my work situation into the mix of the larger picture, I think is surely apt.

I must proceed by faith: “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And to do so according to God’s specified program, which is a matter of God’s revealed will found in scripture in and through Jesus and the good news in him. We never know what a year, a season, a month, a week, and for that matter, a day might bring forth. But we need to try to take life in stride as much as possible, in the context of the full run we’re called to in Jesus.

We’re to run this race marked out before us with endurance and perseverance, getting rid of anything which is a hindrance in doing so. And we’re to do that, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, especially marked by his suffering and death on the cross. So that whatever comes our way, we can be ready. Realizing that sinners will oppose us along the way, and that God’s loving hand of discipline is necessarily on us as well, to make us holy, that we might share in God’s holiness.

All of this is not easy, but I’m trying to get into the rhythm of being able to get my necessary stride, so that in all of this I can grow together with others in God’s calling for us in Jesus, run the race God has marked out for me, and finish well, along with others in and through Jesus.

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what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

 

At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.

Deuteronomy 2-3

In Greg Boyd’s new book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence, Boyd makes some biblical theological assertions which have hardly been thought, much less spoken since the time of Augustine. Though a number of early church fathers prior to that time did. There is no doubt the Israelites thought they were commanded to kill all the Canaanites. Boyd’s contention does seems curious to me. Couldn’t have God made it clear to them that no, they were not to do such a thing?

Central to what makes this work for Boyd is the idea that the Israelites were so conditioned that when they heard the actual words of God, they acted on their understanding as well of what God meant in line with how all the people of the Ancient Near East saw their gods, even using some of the words of such peoples to express God’s intention. And the idea of accommodation, that God met them where they were at, to bring them along to the kingdom which would be fully realized in its grace and truth only in Jesus, something called progressive revelation.

What is central to Boyd’s thesis alone is easily worth the price of the book, though many will not want to deal with the odd parts, or will not take the book seriously because of them. The heart of Boyd’s proposal is that God is known only in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus crucified. That if we want to know what God is like, always like, and was always like, then we have to go to the cross.

A little hint of where this book goes: Elijah called down fire from heaven, and two of Jesus’s disciples thought they should do the same when a Samaritan town refused to welcome him to their town. Jesus rebuked those disciples, and told them they didn’t know what spirit they were of since the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives, but to save them. And many other examples.

For those who have the inclination, time and extra money, his massive volume preceding this more popular version, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 would be in order. I might refer to it out of the library, but don’t intend to buy it myself.

A big question for many of us is Boyd’s view of scripture. Boyd claims to hold to a high view, that it is the written word of God, and infallible. And that God stoops down in the spirit of taking sin on himself at the cross, to take the sin of the Israelites on himself in their supposing that God wanted them to do what today we would call genocide. And actually by and large in Joshua, they didn’t do so. It is a rough story in the Old/First Testament, to be sure. Separation and purity were central to Israel. Jesus comes and essentially obliterates that, contradicting Moses in a number of places, bringing a new way and kind of holiness, we might say. But hints of what Jesus would bring seem to have come across during Moses’s time, as well as before and after. Boyd thinks that God’s ideal would have been for them not to kill with the sword at all, but let God fight their battles. There are instances of that kind of thought. And indeed the heavenly warriors were a part of what was going on during that time, not divided in their minds from the physical component, as we do today.*

I would say here, that there are a number of instances in the Old/First Testament which seem contradictory to what Jesus taught, and what culminated from that teaching, indeed where the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all seem to be pointed to: the cross. A couple examples, in Psalm 139 when the psalmist says he hates the enemies of God with all his heart, he has nothing but hatred for them. And in Psalm 137 where it says that happy are those who dash the babies of the Babylonians against the rocks. Of course that is understood by Christians (and Jews) to not sanction such action.

A quick word on theology. Jesus is the truth. Scripture is the truth about the truth. Theology is the truth about the truth about the truth. That’s imprecise, because actually theology is not on the same level as either Jesus or scripture, but it’s a necessary component which follows. We have to wrestle with God, with scripture, as to its meaning. And theology is open ended and never done. While it does shape our reflections on scripture, it isn’t the word of God, so we need to be humble and not act as if it is.

It’s the way of Jesus which marks us as Christians, and that way is the way of the cross, which includes the way of love even to our enemies. We pray for them, bless and do good to them. And we believe God loves all, and is grieved when in his “wrath” he has to withdraw, and let them suffer the consequences of their sin (Romans 1) in the hope that afterward they will repent. That too, is part of Boyd’s contention. Read on with me, if you’re interested.

*That thought in no way to Boyd, nor to myself legitimizes their use of the sword in physical violence, akin to Paul’s thought that our warfare is not physical, but spiritual.

Update (2/3/18): My own take on Boyd’s work at this point is that I can’t track with him on this. It’s not how I read the Bible. Unless scripture itself qualifies something directly (or indirectly), I think we’re on precarious grounds to do so ourselves, which I tend to think Boyd is doing. 

God is delighted in change

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9

I think it’s both interesting, and actually not authentic, as in corresponding to the truth, and not real when someone seems to think or act as if they have it all together. Change is something which is to occur not only at the outset of our journey of faith, but ongoing, throughout that journey. Scripture bears witness to that again and again, both in precept and in story. We as evangelicals emphasize conversion as being at the point of salvation, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But actually, I think it’s a process which extends from before salvation, and continues on afterward to the very end of one’s life, if I read the pages of scripture correctly.

I believe from scripture and from what I see and experience that God in his grace through Jesus delights in the smallest, real change in us for good in making us more like himself, more like his Son, Jesus. And I’m thinking of change in just any one area, when plenty of other areas in our lives may and will still need some serious work, God’s working of course, along with our active compliance. It’s not like God shakes his head and says something like, “Well, that’s good, but he/she still has a long ways to go.” No. I believe without a doubt in the God who delights in any change in his children, which brings them somehow closer to him, and to his family likeness.

And just as much as that, I also believe that it comes primarily through us praying. Paul’s case (then called Saul), quoted above, is interesting, as he was in the midst of an epic, earthquake-like life changing experience, and in the midst of it, he is praying. I think without a doubt that if we take what is wrong in our lives seriously, and quit excusing it, we will start by confessing it as an actual sin to God, and then begin to pray, seeking him for the needed change, however that should be played out. Certainly a change of heart to begin with, and a change in our lives.

We can’t do this on our own, and we won’t, even if we think somehow that we are. We should take heart that God is bringing us along, and wants our communion with him through prayer, as he continues to make us like his Son, and brings the one family in him more and more into the light of his love and life. In and through Jesus.

the room of grace versus the room of good intentions

The small group we’re part of from our church has read and been discussing a most interesting book, The Cure: What If God Isn’t Who You Think He Is And Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall. In some ways it’s a bit of a challenging read, at least my copy of it, when you have a bit longish stories told in rather small italics. But it is well worth the effort. With good end notes to check the reasons from scripture a certain point is being made.

The book really gets down to life, where we live, and is life-changing in that it seeks to help us find God’s radical grace in the midst of it. I’m sure it has its weaknesses, but its strengths are readily apparent. I have thought that scripture and life is a bit more complicated that what it presents, yet the main point won’t let me go, and I can tell that its truth is changing me.

The theme is that it’s what God has done in Christ, and our position in Christ through trusting God and his word that makes all the difference. It’s not about our good intentions which will fail, although many of us put on masks to cover that up. It is about the real us, with all our troubles and struggles and failures along the way, being changed the only way scripture says we can be changed, by God’s grace through faith.

One example from the book, as I recall it: In the room of good intentions, everyone is set on doing their best for God, in doing God’s will, and everyone has a certain air about that. There’s plenty of pain in that room and house, because no one completely lives up to it. In fact failure ends up marking the entire project, because everyone hides from everyone else who they really are, and what they’re really thinking, and to some extent doing. Whereas the house and room of grace is full of broken people who are real with each other, who don’t try to put on any front. Who together with Jesus end up working through the mess of their lives, and find God’s grace very present through it all. The emphasis is not on what they are doing, but what God has already done through Christ.

I have been away from the book for awhile, but I think its message has found a place in my heart, working its way into my life. Again, it’s the message of grace. Not about measuring up to something by ourselves, but acknowledging our mess, how we fail and don’t measure up. But believing there is hope for us to actually change only in God’s grace that is ours in Christ.

One controversial point the book makes, which I believe (and have believed in the past) is true, rightly understood, is that we in Christ are no longer sinners, but saints, or holy ones. Martin Luther insisted that we’re simultaneously sinners and saints. The fact that we sin at all, and struggle in areas, known or maybe even unknown we could say makes us sinners. But the Bible does make a distinction between sinners and the righteous. In and through Jesus, we have the gift of righteousness in a right standing with God, and in a changed heart which contrary to the past, wants to please God.

All in all, it’s a good read. But be aware, it’s a life-changing read. One that will have you going back to scripture, and considering your own life.

Has any reader read it, and what were your impressions?

embracing the hard places

With a here we go again attitutde, we can shortchange the changes God wants to make in our lives. There are problems, places, and let’s admit it, people, who at times along with us can be challenging, disappointing, and downright irritating. And it doesn’t help when we might be tired, and a bit battered and bruised from what life has brought our way to begin with. While it is true that we as humans are made in no less than the image of God, it is also true that we are dust.

In all of this, of course, we need grace. We need to wait on God so to speak, even in the midst of the flow of life. We should have a sense of expectation in waiting on God to work everything out according to his purpose for us and for others, as well as just his purpose in general, in Jesus. That takes both time and faith. We need to hold on, as it were.

And by faith, we should learn to embrace the hard places with outstretched arms as a kind of sign of the cross as part of a cruciform, cross-shaped life. We do this, not because we want to, or because that is the place we would ever go, but because we do want to follow Jesus in all of life, the one who taught us a good number of hard sayings and teachings (see Matthew 5-7, and read the rest of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Of course we will and do fail along the way. We have forgiveness already in terms of salvation, but we do need to continue to confess our sins to God, and when appropriate at times to others, and walk in the light God gives us to maintain fellowship and communion with God and with each other through Jesus’s blood cleansing us from all sin (1 John).

Embracing the hard places is most certainly an act of faith. We do so believing that good will come out of it from God, as well as to avoid the evil and the problems which come out of our refusal to accept such things. A part of the maturing process which is ours together in Jesus.

a monk at heart

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

Philippians 4

I am not sure to what extent I’m an ascetic, although what that precisely means in practice varies in monastic orders, but in some ways I see myself as a monk at heart. All in Jesus are called to be separate from the world system, since in Jesus we’re not of the world anymore than he is (John 17). How Christians live that out can vary as well. It is not a sin to happen to make a lot of money, and have worldly wealth, and surely a kind of built in monkish, or monastic discipline ought to accompany that.

Unfortunately in too many of our Christian traditions, to live simply on purpose for Christ and the gospel is not a focus, and not taught in our churches, I’m afraid. We don’t necessarily buy into the vision of the American dream, in fact, in many ways we may repudiate it. But we all too often live in the default of what we know, not realizing there may be other options, or ways to live, which may avoid much of the unnecessary overhead imposed on our society. Of course the American economic system is built on people buying more and more things they don’t need.

Paul was a model to the people of his day of one who followed Christ, and we should learn what we can from his example found in scripture to do the same. And a big part of that was contentedness, no matter what his lot. I’m sure when the extra money came in, while he may have not been averse to living it up a little, or enjoying this or that which otherwise he couldn’t have, by and large he used what extra he had to meet needs of others, to help the poor, a big priority for Christianity, prominent in the New Testament (and throughout the Bible, for that matter).

I don’t see my life as a good model for all of this, however I have awakened in later years to understand what it takes to live out what I actually originally set out to do. Yet failed to some extent, due to the influence of the world. Now, while it’s too late to change water that’s gone under the bridge, I can say that I’m more content than ever with simplicity, and the routine the Lord has given me with my wife and family, and with the job I have. As long as I can have a scripture in hand with a cup of coffee, and hopefully do good works and pray, and have my nose in a good book along the way, I’m happy. The extra frills, like a glass of wine, or a nice vacation trip are certainly good as well. We in Jesus learn to receive all of life as a gift from God, including the more difficult times. It is something we are to continue to work at and grow in, and as Paul indicates, true of his own experience, it’s an acquired discipline, one might even say an acquired taste. So that more and more this is the rhythm and pattern in how we live with others in the way of Jesus.

living on the edge (in the life of faith)

Some have seemed to commend living life on the edge of sin, seeing how close one can get to it without stepping over the line, I suppose. Something I would call careless, and not to be commended. Though one’s focus can be unduly in an unhelpful way on sin. What I’m referring to in this post is the fact that it seems to me that faith by its very nature in this life always involve risk and at least an implicit trust in God, and in Jesus and the gospel.

We would like a life where trust was easy, where problems were taken care of once and for all, where, yes with God’s help, we could at last arrive to a state of peace with no more difficulties. Except for brief respites as in breaks in which we’re led beside still waters, with our souls refreshed and restored (Psalm 23), that’s simply not going to happen in this life.

Faith involves risk in the sense that against so much, sometimes it seems against most everything (cf. Abraham), we are taking God at his naked word. And we’re learning to live in and as if that word is true. Not out of imagination, although God may help us to some good sanctified imagining. But because God is behind it all, and helping us to grow in the difficult process.

By nature we are unfinished in this life, and of course the world is unfinished as well, since all awaits the full redemmption to come in the new creation in Jesus. And so we need to learn to rest in God, in the Sabbath rest in Christ, even in the midst of the restless sea of this world, with all the problems this life brings. We do so, understanding that God is at work for our good in making us more and more into the likeness of his Son. As we share God’s love to all through his grace to us in Christ.