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.

what does the Incarnation mean for us as Christ-followers?

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

The Christian teaching, the Incarnation is simply the idea that God became flesh, fully human in Christ. God never ceased to be God, yet also became human. Mystery.

But on the ground here on planet earth where that occurred, what does that mean for Christ-followers and for that matter, for everyone. It surely ends up meaning a number of things a mile wide and a mile deep.

God comes to live right where we live. And not only that, but God becomes one of us. One of us. In other words we humans are already in identification with God through the Incarnation.

And so we can know that God feels our pain in a human way, since God has become human in Christ. God understands our limitations and mistakes along with all the rest since God limited God’s self in the Incarnation while yet somehow remaining God.

Among the many things the Incarnation means, it surely includes at its heart that it’s about us living fully present and engaged in life on earth. Seeking to find and do all of God’s will as best we can understand it, individually and especially together as the church. And that plays out in the gospel accounts. Jesus didn’t set up a monastery and isolate his followers. No, he fully engaged in the present, proclaiming in word, deed and life the good news, the gospel of God’s good rule.

We the church are now Christ’s body on earth. To live out the same life he did in thoughtful, reflective and healing ways. All because of the Incarnation itself.

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.

the world of the Bible

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.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Karl Barth preached a sermon in 1917 entitled “The Strange New World within the Bible.” In it Barth helps us see that beyond the plain ordinariness and sometimes offensiveness of the text, there is a Hand at work. Yes, through fallible human authors, but if we’re attentive, open, and even desirous to mine the gold, the wisdom and whatever else there is in the pages, God will surely by and by grant that to us.

The Bible elicits a vision of both the old world, and a new world breaking in. There’s the vision of both. It is fulfilled through God’s calling to Israel, culminating in Jesus Christ. There’s no end to the unfolding of this from the pages, if we give ourselves fully and attentively enough to that. God will make it known to us individually and as community. Something meant to be ongoing throughout our lives. In and through Jesus.

what remains a core essential in my practice of the faith

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105; NRSVue

…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.

James 1:21-22; NRSVue

There is nothing more important to me than remaining in scripture throughout any day. What I’m referring to here is to take one verse, phrase, sentence, the next part and turn it over and over again in my head for a time. One ought to be reading through scripture as well. You can listen to scripture online. The intent must be not just to know something, but to be changed by scripture, by God’s word that comes out of that.

I consider scripture inspired by God to give us the word of God and ultimately to point us to the Word himself, Jesus. It’s not like God doesn’t speak to people in other ways. Without a doubt God does. But scripture, “holy writ” has always been central to the church over the centuries as well as to God’s people before.

The gospel and the church are of course central to the follower of Christ, and a whole host of other things are important as well. But we understand all of that only through being in scripture. Note though that the church universal by the Spirit is quite important in helping us understand what we’re reading, even the point of it all.

For me it’s a matter of keeping myself afloat in my faith with the realization that while I do continue meditating on scripture, only God can give what’s needed. And I need it all. Somehow every part of scripture has its place, and some quite prominent in all the ways needed. As we read here:

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 3:16-17; NRSVue

In and through Jesus.

what is “the W/word of God”?

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 33:6

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1, 14

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

An evangelical pastor and scholar wrote to me that the Bible itself never claims to be the word of God. The church fathers of the early centuries made no such claim, calling it Holy Writ or Scripture. The canon in those days wasn’t complete and solidified as it is today. I am guessing, and from what I think I’ve picked up, the Bible was called the Word of God in the flow coming out of the Protestant Reformation, of course referring to the 66 books of the Protestant canon. 

All that aside, I believe the word, or if you prefer Word, though my own preference is to preserve the capitalization in reference to Christ, refers to God speaking to bring into existence and make things happen, to God’s Word Christ, and to the good news- the gospel message about Christ. So we might say that the word of God as found in Scripture is God’s spoken word, Christ and the gospel, and all related to each other. λόγος (logos) and ῥῆμα (rhēma) are the two primary Greek words translated “word” in our Bible translations. They are certainly related, and perhaps could to some extent be interchangeable. But λόγος refers to something established, existent, whereas we might say ῥῆμα is more of the act of something becoming established. It is good to note that distinction in various passages. And this post is not about trying to deal with that, which I’m not qualified to do anyhow, though we do have so many good helps in books, commentaries and online nowadays to at least give us a clue and some good direction on this.

Based on this, I go to Scripture to “hear” and receive God’s word to me. And I realize at the same time that the word is Christ, and whatever word that comes to us from God comes through Christ. And that the gospel, the good news in Christ is central in all of this. After all, the gospel is really the entire point of Scripture. All else is beside that point, because the gospel in Christ ultimately judges as well as shapes everything.

Scripture is not strictly speaking the W/word of God. But through it, God’s word comes to us. And I want to add here, that all of Scripture is important for this, every bit of it. I would add the Apocrypha to the mix, also called the Deuterocanonical books (see NRSV Bibles which include that, for the most complete inclusion of all accepted by Christian traditions). Inerrancy is unnecessary. All of Scripture is inspired by God for its express purpose, the gospel penetrating and changing our own lives, as well as ultimately everything else. So I’m ideally more than less in Scripture all the time. That is where God’s word breaks through to me more than anywhere else. But we do well to try to hear God’s word through our experience, through what others say, etc. Of course with discernment, and comparing with Scripture. But even Scripture itself is critiqued, and from no one less than Christ himself. But that’s another subject, well above my “pay grade.” 

And as I heard recently, and it seems to me to have merit: Scripture, tradition, reason and you can add to that with some caveats- experience can all be in the mix, and actually are so in different orders. We need the Spirit of God to help us sort that out, and central in that is to understand fulfillment to be not in Scripture itself, but in Christ.

All of this is not to relegate the Bible to some secondary status. It is actually central in helping us to hear God’s word, to “see” Christ, to hear and accept the good news of Christ. And I can guarantee you that I definitely need God’s word every single day. After all, just as Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Something we depend on not just every day, but every moment. And we need it. It definitely makes the needed difference for us. 

In and through Jesus.

glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

the joy of meditating on (even memorizing) Scripture

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

Meditating on Scripture is given to us from God to help us begin to see God’s will revealed to us in Jesus. The word translated “meditate” means to recite (see CEB in above link) to oneself. This may seem wooden, dead, and without God it would be. But the words somehow become alive, at least in many parts of Scripture, really in every part as we read, ponder, pray, and study, and keep doing that.

Scripture has all we need for every part of life. It is not exhaustive in actual needed information, like how to build an house, etc., etc., etc. But it does give us all we need to know how to approach such projects, along with problems and all of life.

We need to be in Scripture all the time, day after day, in the words of this psalm: “day and night.” It is what we practice: whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re going through, whatever we’re experiencing. We continue on, and find that while the words are often instructive in themselves, they ultimately lead us to Jesus, who is God’s most important Word, and in whom all the words of Scripture find their true meaning and fulfillment, even if in some cases setting them aside for the better which Jesus brings.

Memorizing chunks of Scripture can be quite helpful in this endeavor. Not just a verse here and there, though that might be helpful, too. But much better, understand the context, and memorize that too. This can help us meditate, recite to ourselves so that God can get through to us.

And so we’re to remain in Scripture: meditating, reciting, indeed finding ourselves somehow in that story from God. In and through Jesus.