at the heart of the gospel

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1

It’s a little less than six months until Advent, but there’s never an inappropriate time to reflect on its beauty and meaning in the coming of the Messiah. Jesus comes as King, but in a way unlike that of the rulers and authorities of earth. He came and will come, and now comes by the Spirit through the gospel, and he comes to reign. In that reign is most certainly salvation, along with judgment, and from that, justice.

Israel is at the heart of this promise, receiving mercy from God ultimately to extend mercy to others. And Jesus himself is the fulfillment of what God promised to Israel and through Israel to the world.

And this gospel involves a shaking up which in part is the dealing with sin in each individual, including the high and mighty. This kingdom is for the humble, the poor, and the oppressed. The rich must beware, because unless their pockets are open in generosity, they will end up empty.

Mary’s Song is a shorthand for much of what we read in the Bible. The gospel is political, but not like the politics of this world. But don’t be mistaken, it does deal with the politics of this world ultimately, when Jesus returns. And somehow by Christ even now through the church impacts the rulers and authorities, both physical and spiritual.

A missing note I believe all too often in our understanding of the gospel.

For two outstanding reads on this, see Scot McKnight’s, The Real Mary, and The King Jesus Gospel.

no tell all memoir (from myself)

A memoir from what I can tell is simply a recounting of one’s experience in life. It might be as different as the author who wrote it. Memoir might imply creativity, or at least uniqueness, since we’re giving a subjective account, our actual impression as well as understanding of what happened in our lives. There really is no objective story if one means simply the facts, although in many venues such a goal is desirable, and probably even necessary.

A tell all memoir means no holds barred, which means one can simply let go and explore what one might write with no restrictions whatsoever. Of course we know right away that such a thought might not only be unedifying, but unworkable, or at least always subject to revision. And we need to remember again the subjectivity with which we understand and don’t understand, even misunderstand so much. Only God understands anything at all in all its complexity perfectly. Humility is the watchword here.

It’s interesting to consider the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are all written with a certain goal in mind, John’s account especially explicitly so. To consider Luke’s account (and he wrote Acts as well), Luke in how he wrote might be more in line with how accounts are written today. And yet he’s close enough to the other gospel accounts (especially Matthew and Mark, the three called the synoptic gospels) to help us understand that he writes with purpose, and not as a tell all. A tell all book of Jesus would surely be a lengthy volume.

But back to the main point about memoirs, and why I’m actually thinking about them: A good memoir would hold others in respect, and therefore would not be out to embarrass anyone. It again all depends on the writer, their take on life, what they think is respectful or not. And not all actions in life are worthy of respect, for sure. We can at least still look, long for, or regret the lack of redemption for an individual. Again I go back to the gospel accounts and think of Judas Iscariot. He ends up rather unseemly all the way, though not all that much is said. He was a thief, it seemed like the love of money was the idol that ruled his life and was his demise. The story told of him ends up being edifying toward helping others to avoid his path. I can well imagine if this is possible, Judas now wanting that to be so, although my view of the afterlife, subject to revision, is that likely this is not the case, given the nature of what Judas might be going through, as well as the fact that people in their character do not change in the afterlife. Jesus’s parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man might indicate otherwise, except that I’m not certain that parable was told as a window to the afterlife, but to simply make a point about this life.

And so I’m thinking about trying my hand at a memoir. Not a lengthy one, but one which like my blog might help a few along their way, and might help me to make more sense of the way I’ve been on, and still am. In and through Jesus.

 

the promise of the restoration of the years the locusts have eaten

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm[f]
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

One needs to read the entire (short) book of Joel to really appreciate what is said here (above link includes entire book). God’s judgment had been on his people, there was a call to repent, and then God is moved to make this promise. After that there is the well known promise Peter echoed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) of God’s outpouring of the Spirit. And then the final judgment to come when a good God roots out evil.

The promise of restoration and somehow being paid back for all that has been lost due to sin is certainly great. It is given not to an individual, but to the people of God as a whole. It certainly touches individual lives, but is corporate. We have to see that somehow we are part of the sin of our group, but upon repentance how we are part of God’s blessing given to his people, as well. We can be complicit in the sins of others, by ignoring or somehow even excusing it. Or we might participate to some extent in it ourselves perhaps without even realizing it.

We are in this together, and even the remnant which may have done better ends up suffering due to the unfaithfulness of the people. But I think we have to be careful lest we kid ourselves and think we are so far removed from the sin of our people. For most of us that probably won’t be a problem; we know all too well our sin, what we have done, or perhaps even what we’re doing. Even the faithful Daniel included himself in his petition to God of repentance in anticipation of Israel’s restoration to the promised land in keeping with Jeremiah’s prophecy (Daniel 9).

And then the promise. Overwhelming to be sure, but God wants his people, and really all of humankind to flourish. God is the God of blessing. Judgment is God’s “strange work,” but God’s goal and the end is always about blessing. And God blesses his people that they might be a blessing. Israel was to be a light to the nations, that being ultimately fulfilled by and now in Jesus himself.

And so even if it’s the eleventh hour for us, we need to take full stock, and in spite of everything find God’s blessing with his people in and through Jesus. To ask God to search us and know us so that come what may, together we might be led in the way everlasting.

 

waiting for the fruit to ripen and be picked

Once in a while, I wish it were more often, we might become aware of something new, either on the horizon, or which has arrived already, through which we are going to be challenged in a new way, our faith stretched and shaped to be more like Jesus. That is when we need to pray and wait and seek to live into and find what God has for us. Some trial and error almost certainly involved in that, to be sure. This is not found out on paper, but in real life.

Too often we jump to conclusions one way or another. Either dismissing it, because it doesn’t fit into our paradigm of faith we now have, or imagining we know already what we’re getting into, and the full significance of it. In doing so, we limit God, his working, and what we can learn, and most importantly our growth in the process.

We need to be present with all our deficiencies, realizing we’re not ready ourselves, and therefore waiting on God in faith. Not moving on our own, but trusting in God to guide us, to help us know and accomplish what we’re incapable of by ourselves.

In all of this, we continue to trust in God in and through Jesus, hold to the gospel, and keep going back to scripture in the fellowship of the church. Knowing that God is faithful and committed to us and to the salvation of all in and through Jesus.

 

rejoicing in the Lord (spiritual warfare)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4

I haven’t actually wondered much over this exhortation from the Apostle Paul. I think I’ve summarily dismissed it during difficult times. And too often I’ve been in a thinking mode which might hide a lack the humility needed to simply praise the Lord no matter what. It’s not like I haven’t tried to put it into practice. I can exist in lament much of the time when I think about the troubles near me, maybe even on me, as well as the problems of the world.

Yesterday for a time I felt overcome in a kind of spiritual malaise and darkness accompanied with fear. Usually there’s some kind of reason behind it, even if it’s not entirely rational. Sometimes there’s really not much of any reason at all.

Then I thought of this exhortation or imperative, even command, although I prefer to take it as a gentle pastoral directive, that we’re to rejoice in the Lord, or be glad in him always, yes always. That made no sense to me in the present, but by faith that is exactly what I began to attempt to do.

What I found by and by, and actually sooner than not was a lifting of the clouds, darkness and chill, and a return of a sense of the presence and peace of God. By rejoicing in the Lord, even when I didn’t at all feel like it. By faith. All of this, as always, in and through Jesus.

pursuing, being attentive to, and following the wisdom of Proverbs

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;
    for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
    doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
    and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
    the sayings and riddles of the wise.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1

I am going through the book of Proverbs right now in my slow ponderings. And I am reminded of a number of things. But I begin with the fact that when we read the Bible, we have to read it first of all in its original context as best we can. That may be limited, though we can get some good helps. But we have to remember it was written at a specific time in a specific cultural context. But if we read it no other way at all, then we have to read it from the context of all of scripture, and especially of Jesus, considering his fulfillment of it all. In Christ we are told are hidden all the treasures of wisdom (Colossians).

But back to the book of Proverbs itself, if we need to err in any way, we need to really seek to take to heart all it has to say. We don’t do everything literally, but the essence or point of every saying, or thought, what it’s getting at, the underlying principle one might say, we do want to understand, and seek to hold on to it for dear life. It is a matter of life and death, but too often we drift away from that, since we either think we know better, or we don’t take it seriously enough.

Proverbs helps us both explicitly and implicitly in giving us direct specific instruction and in helping us have discernment in areas in which it doesn’t directly speak. Proverbs helps inculcate in us a capacity for learning and implementing wisdom for life.

And of course this wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. We don’t trifle with God. God is love, and God is God. That sense of fear has to do with respect which becomes awe for pursuers of God, and dread for those who fail to pursue him. And that is all by grace in and through our Lord Jesus.

Read Proverbs slowly. The best reading is slow reading, I think. We need to let it soak into our bones, into our heart, and out from that, into our very lives day after day. An essential part of our growth in and through our Lord Jesus.

does God do a good job being God? (does our understanding of God measure up?)

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11

It’s common nowadays to question the God of the Bible in more ways than one. And as N. T. Wright points out, when people use the word God, they don’t at all mean the same being as much as they once did. For a good many people God just seems to fall short both in the Bible, and in life. Anyone who reads the entire Bible will understand that the Bible itself is about real life with most of its characters flawed, and even in the case of one remarkably unflawed character, Daniel, he includes himself in his confession to God of Israel’s sins.

But what about God in these pages? We find a God who again in the words of N. T. Wright is both passionate and compassionate. A God who takes seriously human decisions, and lets the weight of them (even if not fully), good or bad fall into place with the consequences. And yet we also see the God who created all things work to restore all things in a redemption and salvation which brings in nothing short of a new creation. And God does that through humans, specifically through choosing Israel to be his light to the world, coming to culmination and complete fulfillment in Jesus.

There is no question that at times in both the Bible and in life we can’t begin to make sense of at least parts of it, sometimes very large parts which can impact individuals and nations. Of course one would have to see the entire story and really get inside the story to really understand and appreciate what is going on. We often don’t have that vantage point. With scripture, we can read from cover to cover, from Genesis through Revelation and get the gist at least of the story in it, in all its complexity and beauty. If we want an easy read, and easy answer, it’s not there. But such is life. Yet with the faith of a little child, we can enter in, and begin to understand the account of a loving Father in and through Jesus.

As the doxology in the Romans passage quoted above suggests, we can’t follow God completely, it’s not like we can retrace God’s steps or fully comprehend what God is up to especially in the affairs of the world as the sovereign ruler. But the point in that passage is God’s dealings with his covenant people Israel in terms of the gospel and the change that brought. Romans 9 through 11 talk about that, and it’s an important read. And we can understand quite a bit, and at least what is essential for us to understand from that reading. But we do best in the end to echo the doxology which follows it, acknowledging that God is God and his working is beyond us. Yet at the same time we need to keep looking to God’s final word (Hebrews 2) Jesus, who himself is the essence of God, even as a human, of course one with the Father in the Triunity of God.

No, we don’t understand God all that well, except for what God has revealed to us, and actually it is quite a lot in scripture. But we need the Spirit of God to help us really begin to understand God beyond concepts, even if those concepts contain truth and avoid error. We need what begins as an acquaintance into a full relationship with God in and through Jesus. The God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the God who is love (1 John). We need to learn to not only accept the revelation of God in Jesus, but to learn by faith to rest in that God who comes to us in Jesus.