the gift and necessity of reason

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

As I heard recently on a podcast, the emphasis on reason that remains with us from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment which followed is a blessing from which we have many gifts we take for granted today, such as modern medicine, which for all our complaints, is light years ahead of what was in the past, mortality being just one indicator of that.

We do have to be careful that we don’t make, as it were, an idol out of reason. As modernists found out, we won’t arrive to any final answer through reason, and they’ve made peace with that. But as the podcast I referred to pointed out, evangelical fundamentalists think that through reason they can prove the validity of the faith or more precisely for them, the Bible. While reason is a gift God has given us to use as we pore through Scripture, it can’t do what only God can do.

On the other hand, I think reason is often all but lost due to many things which effectually cancel it out. Like theology not worthy of the name. Misreadings of the Bible, for example in Genesis. Apocalyptic misapplications of passages like in Revelation, which end up casting out most all reason, being held captive to conspiratorial thinking or whatnot.

Reason is a gift from God, to be used not only in our reading of Scripture, but in all of life. Sure, there are many things we won’t be able to understand, but so many things that we will be able to reason through. We should try to apply logic in terms of comparison and contrast, and ask many questions.

Yes, as a friend reminded me, overthinking can be a problem, and I suppose I’m rather a prime candidate for that. But actually I often think due to laziness, or whatever else, I can be prone to underthinking, which might be good on an odd occasion or in a certain way as part of life. Not “ignorance is bliss,” but going on by faith, even when we don’t understand.

But as Paul reminds us in the above passage: There is so much both in the faith and in the world that we can and should think about. The terms from the Greek in the Philippians passage above seem to refer more to human culture than anything religious. And that actually is a blessing given to us. Maybe even akin sometimes to “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

remembering why we’re here

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

John 4:32, 34

It’s more than easy to be caught up in what we might call nonessentials, but things that seemingly have to get done. Add to that preoccupations we choose to do which may well be innocent in themselves, and may even be alright in their place. For example a hobby or pastime. Actually all of this can serve to the greater good of life. God is present with us in everything, so that nothing has to be wasted. Unfortunately with us, we all too easily fall into making this and that along with something else, I think usually one thing at a time, into idols (Calvin).

What we need to keep in mind, and the Spirit will certainly help us in this, is that we are here for basically one reason: to love God and love others, and to do the work that God has for us to do, whatever that might be. Jesus tells his disciples in the above passage (click above link) that they are working in a field of harvest in helping others see the light of the gospel, and enter into that blessedness. Whatever our work here, it’s related to that, even if not directly that endeavor. We are light in the Lord, and all of our lives are meant to be lived in that light, whatever we do, so that others might see the light of God’s love for all in Christ.

This actually will help us. Jesus described it as food for himself. This helped Jesus, and it will help us as Jesus’s followers. Not only something more than ourselves, but what is most important of all.

how does one “lose their soul”?

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.’ ” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not get back very much more in this age and in the age to come eternal life.”

Luke 18:18-30

Then [Jesus] said to them all, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?”

Luke 9:23-25

I think oftentimes we who have grown up or sat under church and perhaps evangelical teaching have more or less assumed that losing one’s soul has to do with the outcome after death in the heaven/ hell scenario that is told. But might I suggest, that losing one’s soul begins in this present life, hinging on decisions we make?

When we are caught up in this or that, and especially in what is classically called “the seven deadly sins,” say, even one of those, then we are in danger of losing our souls, our life, our true self. Greed is especially dangerous here, and it can include all, but especially seems dangerous to those who have more material wealth.

Jesus makes it an either/or in the above passages and elsewhere time and again in the gospel accounts. You either follow him all the way, intent to do that, or you don’t follow at all. There’s nothing in between. Having said that, just like the disciples of old, it’s not at all like we who are followers are not going to struggle, and sometimes fall into the pit of a diminished or lost life. We do. But our advantage can be that we know better, that through prayer and confession of sin, we get up and move in the right path again. Growing in that. Intent on that. Through God’s grace and help. Finding our true selves along with everyone else in our finding of Jesus.

 

how is God’s judgment evident, yes, on God’s people?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Matthew 23:37-24:2

What was true in Jesus’s day is just as true today. God’s judgment is on religious leaders, those supposedly the closest to God, I’m referring now to Christians. Not so much if at all on those they are leading, except to say that this is a case of the blind leading the blind which ends up disastrous for all. But the heavy judgment falls on the religious leaders.

They had their agenda and believed that God was all about doing their bidding, or that’s what they wished. And they got their way. But we see what followed. In Jesus’s day, the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. We see now religious leaders, prominent, not only defending but even promoting what amounts to an abomination in the eyes of God. Completely oblivious, evidently, to Jesus’s call of judgment on the rich and powerful, and blessing of the poor and marginalized.

The only correct posture before God for us all is one of humiliation and repentance. That is not what we’re seeing today, and we see God’s judgment in letting them go their way, along with the beginning of what follows as a precursor of what may come.

And for those who can’t figure this out, remember, as Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruits.” Good people do what is good, bad people bad. Love for one’s neighbor, in Jesus’s teaching including love for one’s enemies. Love being love, period. Not tied to whether or not they do what we consider or think is right. Unconditional. Like God’s love displayed in Jesus on the cross.

And as some wise writer said, Idolatry is quite hard to get out of, to repent of, and much easier to work at avoiding.

May God give all of us ears to really hear and hearts to really begin to understand.

 

where does our security lie?

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:25-33

In the United States we have on our paper money the words, “In God We Trust.” It raises an interesting question: Do we really trust in God, or in money itself? It’s not like money is evil in itself. It’s the love of money which is called a root of all kinds of evil. Our lives and well-being are not dependent on our material wealth, but on God. Do we really believe that?

It’s not easy to write about things which hit so close to home. Words can be so deceptive, an actual substitute for substance in actually doing and becoming what is being talked about. Of course it’s a matter of the heart, of worship, and that always plays out in what we do and don’t do.

No matter how much one is worth or not worth money-wise, our trust should always be in God. This will never be like a slam dunk, in other words it won’t be like we’ve arrived in this life. But as far as we know, and what we should forever and always be striving for is nothing more nor less than total and complete trust in God.

Which means we’ll want to be obedient and will take the steps to do so, giving to those in need and seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first and foremost in our thoughts and actions.

We’ll never really be secure unless our security comes from God which is where our only true security lies.

becoming content to live in discontent (and thus avoid idolatry)

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity….

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:8, 13-14

How many of us like everything to be in neat apple pie order, all in place, every jot and tittle correct? I tend to be that way about life in general, though less so about some of the particulars. How many of us like to live out of our comfort zone where we feel safe, and all is right and good? Probably no one, or at least very few.

But maybe Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” is an exception. But not before Qoheleth learned through life the emptiness of all pursuits and life in itself “under the sun.” That wisdom book remains one of my favorite books from scripture.

One main point from Ecclesiastes perhaps: We need to learn to be content living in discontent, we could even say becoming content through discontent. I heard someone suggest that finding contentedness in things, even in the best things can be a form of idolatry. And that includes our own conceptualization of such things, including even the Bible and God God’s self.

Anything replacing God is idolatrous. I may not want in the least the best of what the world has to offer, but I might not be happy if certain things aren’t in perfect or at least “right” order. If I find contentment in anything other than God and God’s will, then am I not at least on the outskirts of idolatry?

God is actually the air we breathe, since the breath we have is from God. God is a love that’s closer to us than anything else. And all of that has been brought out into the open through Christ. What God wants for us, for all through Christ is to be willing to live through the most difficult experiences with the acceptance that God is present with us and will see us through. We’re not to want to escape them and find some type of spiritual Disneyland. We find contentment in God, yes with thanksgiving for all God gives us, but through thick and thin, the good and bad, for better and for worse. Individually and together in and through Jesus.

confidence in a mere human, or God?

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the LORD.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the LORD test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.

Jeremiah 17:5-10

We see it over and over again in scripture and right up to the present day: God’s people putting their trust in a human being, usually a man instead of God.

God lets them have their way along with the consequences. Why should we think today will be any different?

a nation coming apart

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORDStand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah, you who enter these gates to worship the LORDThus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave to your ancestors forever and ever.

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail.

Jeremiah 7:1-8

We certainly live in a different day and nation. But I think, considering the Christian nationalization taking root and the fruit we’re seeing, I would suggest that judgment is practically on us already, and the worst of that is up ahead.

The false prophets of Israel were all too ready to pronounce their amen and blessing on the religious, civil leaders who maintained a status quo which favored the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor, the orphans and widows. You clearly see the same thing today, those celebrating political leaders and even guns in contrast to the true prophetic vision which clearly sees through them.

Violence is not only tolerated in our society, but even celebrated. Genesis 6 said God had had enough with humans because the earth was filled with violence. The way of Christ is completely the opposite, but frankly you would never know that with the “Christian” presence in America.

It’s alright because of the gospel and Jesus, they think. But God looks at the fruit, the heart, and the actions and inaction. What good is our profession of faith in Christ if we’re not living in the way of Christ? The gospel is reduced to empty words.

None of us are off the hook. We’re all accountable, yes to an entirely loving God who is love, a love which will not look past whatever violates that love.

We can’t do this by ourselves. We need to band with others, for us Christ-followers with other Christ-followers to better understand our times and what God’s people are called to do. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

the primacy of experience

O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

I was pleasantly surprised over a podcast I listened to of an interview of Richard Rohr by Pete Enns and Jared Byas. Although in another world, I can see where some of what he is talking about rings true to me, and the general picture he painted seems to be where I’ve been heading.

Rohr likened Christian formation to riding on a tricycle. And as I remember it, he definitely would make the front wheel experience, and the two back wheels scripture and tradition. According to Rohr, the Protestants have made scripture their primary authority and the Roman Catholic Church has made tradition its primary authority. And each have become idols. What I say further will likely be a mixture of my own thoughts along with Rohr’s.

In the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” based on writings of John Wesley, there’s scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In the Anglican version, there’s scripture, tradition and reason. Of course, reason is important, but ‘I’m imagining no doubt that Rohr would include that in one’s experience. We naturally reason through things as we experience life. Experience is not subsumed into reason as many of us have been taught. But reason is subsumed in experience.

That doesn’t mean that experience is infallible. Remember, the tricycle won’t be able to move at all without both of the other wheels, scripture and tradition. Scripture matters and what the church has thought and taught matter. But experience is the wheel at the front, meaning that to understand all of this, we have to live through it. And not only that, but experience will at times correct misinterpretations and misapplication of scripture and what might be unhelpful or mistaken in tradition, all the while holding on to all three as vitally important for the whole as Christ followers.

Instead, we have teaching or an understanding which leaves people with the idea that they have to hold on to certain truths from the Bible just as the church has supposedly always taught them, and that experience somehow comes out of that. It may somewhat be a case of and/both, and no analogy is perfect. But the point here is that God is present in Jesus by the Spirit through other Christ-followers, and frankly through life itself to help us onward and upward, together. Experience more than matters. By it we both find the truth of God, not mere head knowledge, and see it played out, active in our lives. A grounding reality in and through Jesus.

true security (and the love of money)

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If, then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts, for what is prized by humans is an abomination in the sight of God.

Luke 16:1-15

There is probably nothing more deceptive than money. “Wealth” in the passage is the word transliterated “Mammon” from a semitic word which probably means “that in which one trusts.” In the “enigmatic story” the Lord tells, the “dishonest manager” is praised by his master for being shrewd in reducing or cutting out his own commission to get himself out of trouble and perhaps gain new friends among his master’s debtors (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version).

There are few things in life more deceptive than money. Sex, money and power are often said to be what commonly grips and moves people. All are deceptive. Jesus likens money, “wealth”, actually “Mammon” into an object which takes God’s place. People gravitate towards trusting in money rather than trusting in God. And those with a lot of money seem to be at rest, but actually there is no rest, because their tendency is also to want more and more, never be satisfied with what they have, live in fear of losing it, and hoard. When all the while God wants everyone, and the rich in particular are told this elsewhere, to be generous, willing to share, thus laying up for themselves a foundation for the life to come. And told in the same passage not to put their trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who richly gives everything for human enjoyment (1 Timothy 6).

Probably one of the most difficult things for anyone in our affluent, money-driven, profit-motivated society is to see all that we have as not strictly ours, but God’s. Not to do as we see fit, but to help the poor, those in need, the oppressed, our own families, as well as supporting good works: material and spiritual.

And we do need to handle whatever money we have, seek to avoid debt, and set aside funds for retirement or old age and for worthy causes. We realize that not a penny of it strictly speaking belongs to us, but it is God’s provision so that we can give generously to others and have enough for ourselves.  Like the manager in Jesus’s story, when it comes to money we need to seek and practice wisdom.

Prayer will be necessary to help us let go of our fascination or longing or grip on money. Money itself is not the issue, but loving money is. Our trust must always be in God. Remembering the poor widow who Jesus said gave in the offering all she had to live on. A radical trust in God that sees money as a means to a greater end, something which under God we’re stewards of. Individually and together as followers of Jesus.