“what can you say that hasn’t been said?” and a thought on Holy Week

One of my favorite books in Scripture is Ecclesiastes, because it takes a rather admittedly cynical, realistic look at the world and life. While the Teacher is weary of words, there is little let up when you consider the book itself, and the summary. His life was given to observing life, seeking wisdom, and finding just the right words, the right way to express it. In my much more limited way, I can identify with the Teacher. I too tend toward skepticism, questioning and observing while holding onto the fear of God and faith in Christ.

This is Holy Week. Much can be said and we ought to prayerfully listen. When all is said and done what are we left with? That’s the question. I think it is good to reflect on the cross, our Lord’s sufferings and death, his burial and the empty tomb. Then we’d best get on with it. Following our Lord in this new resurrection life, but a life now lived with both Jesus’s death and resurrection important for our faith and experience now. We are yet to be fully glorified as our Lord has been. We remain here in a sense partaking of both his death and resurrection in the present. In and through Jesus.

 

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the cross first, then resurrection

In the Christian faith the triumph comes only after the tragedy (Mark 8). We call Friday of Holy Week “Good Friday” because God brought good out of evil, and indeed while human intent was bad, God intended it for good. The reality, hard for Jesus’s disciples, and not easy for us now, even after having the revelation from Scripture and the Spirit to help us understand and begin to enter into it– is that death in Christ comes first, then resurrection in Christ into the glorious newness of life in him pictured in baptism (Romans 6).

In this part of existence we Christians live in kind of an in between state in one sense. We will die, and we can be martyred now. Yet we partake of the eternal full life in Jesus now, as well. Which means for us a change of life, living in God’s kingdom in the present by the Spirit. So that we are turned in a new direction and can work on character issues to get rid of the old and put on the new in Christ.

And so during this Holy Week, let’s remember that our Lord did what none of us could even begin to dream to do, so that we too in and with him can, and actually must follow. But we do well to simply be quiet and meditate on our Lord’s suffering, crucifixion and death and just remain there, not being in a hurry to get to the resurrection. There is no Christian resurrection apart from crucifixion, there is no Christian life apart from death– all in and through Jesus.

 

why we don’t shut up (about our faith)

…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:20b

First off I want to say I’m thankful to live in a nation in which I am not persecuted for my faith, and I would say, for the faith. Unfortunately persecution of Christians worldwide today is on a scale perhaps worse than ever. I’m grateful to live in a nation, the United States, which maintains freedom of religion. Of course there may be subtle ways of persecution here, but not the kind in which one’s property or life is at risk. So I’m blessed to live in freedom in that regard. Our persecuted family in the faith are blessed, in the words of our Lord, to face persecution as they continue on in the faith (Matthew 5:10-11). And we need to support them with our love and prayers (see Open Doors, one of the ministries working to help such).

The words of Peter and John quoted above, before the religious authorities who were persecuting them, are instructive, and actually enlightening as to why we Christians persist and won’t let up in our witness. Maybe it’s especially true for those set apart for ministry, but actually all Christians are called by God to be a witness. We are witnesses first of all in the change of our lives and how we live in love for others, and in what we say about our faith and the faith.

The apostles saw the Lord, witnessed his life, his words, deeds, and just who he was. As well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead, the point in the narrative above after a man over forty years of age and lame from birth was completely healed. The apostles found something that was not just life changing for them, but amounted to good news for the world no less, in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And we follow in their train.

I am personally not only convinced intellectually, but by what I’ve seen. Changed lives yes; lives for the love of others, including enemies. Rational argument is good, and actually there’s a convincing rationale for Jesus’s resurrection, which has turned one skeptic after another into a believer. I don’t deny others have abandoned the faith. All I can say is there’s one thing that keeps me going on and wanting to be a witness: what I continue to see and hear. I see the difference it makes day after day, or at least over shorter and longer spans of time in my own life. And though I often don’t understand well enough what Scripture is saying, the words are compelling and point me to God’s Word himself: Jesus.

This is personal to me, but it’s more than that, it’s for the world. The gospel, which is the good news of God in Jesus is for the world. It will never be the center of any nation state in this present age, but is always manifest only in the church scattered amidst all the nations. Part of this good news in Jesus is the promise and “hope” of his return, when he will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom in him will be set up when heaven and earth are made one in him.

So we carry on. Yes, in the midst of difficulty, our own darkness, our stumbling, and so on. But we continue to follow. To show and tell the difference this makes in our own lives, meant for all others as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

love is at the heart of this crazy world with the promise that it won’t end here

We have a new kitty, Cloe. We already have a male cat, Ashton, a nice talkative, but relatively to himself cat, who does want occasional petting on the head. Cloe was a thin, hungry kitten confined to a then cold outdoors, meowing frantically outside a home where folks couldn’t have a cat. So we rescued her. She’s a healthy kitten now, full of life and play. And quite a cuddler. She reminds us so much of another kitty we had, Sarah Belle, who was so affectionate with everyone, but sadly died of feline leukemia. Cloe will put her face against yours if you let her, her nose against your nose.

We’re told in Scripture that God is love (1 John). That may seem far fetched given all we see and know about nature and humankind. Of course Christians mark that down as part of the Fall as recorded in Genesis 3. I see it more as part of creation and the promise of what is to come. The God who created all things which in themselves have their limits, can create a new world in which those limitations are gone. That is seen in the new creation in Jesus begun at his resurrection from the dead into a new sphere and dimension of life, which has some radical discontinuity with the present, along with complete continuity in love by the Spirit.

God’s love factors into all else about God, not that we can even hope to track with everything about God. But we are made in God’s image, and we can like David be people after God’s own heart, grow toward that, in and through Jesus, who was and is the very heart of God, in the complete and full likeness of God, “in whom is the fullness of Deity in humanity” (Colossians).

We are loved by our Creator. He waits with open arms, looking for us to come. As we see in Jesus’s parable of the lost son (two lost sons, actually) he will receive us fully with no strings attached. Love. That’s at the heart of everything in this crazy world. With the promise of a new world to come in which that will be fully and forever realized. In and through Jesus.

the foundation of the reality in which we live

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…

1 Peter 1

I recently wrote about how faith is not psychological, but embedded in reality, and how this is a breakthrough for me. I was certainly referring to reality, but in terms of spiritual, and actually, the result of what happened materially, as well as spiritually: Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.

The main point of this post is that Jesus actually rose from the dead into a new state of spiritual, material embodiment. Our faith is grounded in Christ’s resurrection, after he had died for our sins. Paul said that if the resurrection of Jesus is untrue, than our faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15). For skeptics who want proof, the four gospel accounts weighed together: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, have pushed many a doubter or skeptic into acceptance of the possibility, and probability. And into belief of the same, which can lead to a living faith.

Our faith in Jesus is based on what happened in history with many eyewitnesses who saw him, and knew that while he still shared in their humanity, there was something markedly different. They knew he had died, and was buried, and lo and behold, that he was now alive, breaking bread with them, eating fish, but also disappearing before their very eyes. Not a ghost, since he indeed had flesh and bone. But somehow not a mortal any longer, either.

Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new creation into which all who have faith in Christ, all who are in Christ partake. To be fully experienced of course, at the resurrection when all things are made new. But begun now even in this life, even during the days of our humiliation as mortals here on earth. By faith we hope in the sense of anticipation in God’s promise of the new world to come, the Spirit within us being the guarantee, and assurance of what’s to come for us as God’s children, as well as for all creation. In and through Jesus.

neither underestimate nor misunderstand the grace of God (nor think we can comprehend it)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

We find again and again in scripture that God’s grace is key in our lives, in the lives of others. There are differences in teaching on this, as one might and should expect. There is what theologians call “common grace,” in which God pours down his blessings on all, in sunshine and rain, and provisions for life and more. This is not the grace described in this passage which brings salvation, according to scripture.

This is a big subject, but this post will touch mainly on one aspect of it, while addressing one common misunderstanding. God’s grace is alive and well in the world, and there is the light which enlightens every person (John 1). But the goodness and kindness of God is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2). There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. It’s not just that somehow in an inexplicable, mysterious way that in the end all are saved through Christ. The NIV avoids this misunderstanding in the translation above, even if less literal. God’s grace is at work in all kinds of ways, but the special grace of salvation is always linked to repentance which means a turning from sin to God, and to faith, which means a trust in God and in God’s word, the message of the good news in Jesus.

Theologians also refer to “prevenient grace” which means the grace by which people receive the good news of the gospel for themselves by simple faith and trust in Jesus. Through Jesus’s death for our sins, and resurrection. We trust in what God has done for us through Jesus’s death, and receive forgiveness of our sins and new, eternal life.

So the grace which saves, to which the passage above refers, is not a cheap grace by which people get in with no change of life. Not at all. But at the same time grace is at work in spite of us, not because of us. That’s not to say that our efforts toward understanding and entering into this grace are a waste of time. Grace termed as prevenient by theologians might well include some of this striving, making every effort to enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4). But also we have to remember that we still sin and have indwelling sin (1 John 1). And that is all the more true of those who have yet to cross over from death into life. They are sinners, period. Maybe Christians are both sinners and saints (Luther), depending on what you mean by that. God’s grace at work in people’s lives is in spite of so many things. God in his grace accepts us completely exactly where we’re at, but in God’s good grace, he certainly doesn’t leave us there.

Grace means we’re satisfied with nothing less than God’s salvation, which doesn’t mean only the forgiveness of sins, but also new life, a new way of living. By the Spirit in the love of God. Which means a changed life, a transformation both complete at conversion, and incomplete until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6), meaning there is a process involved.

This grace gives us hope, and helps us to get out of God’s way, simply presenting the gospel, and trying to be responsive to God’s word. But this grace teaches us, teaches others. God’s full, unmerited, undeserved favor in helping us in ways beyond us, but in ways that indeed reach us in and through Jesus.

not having easy ready answers

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…

1 Peter 3:15-16a

The older I get, the more I question even my own questions or answers, for that matter. My typical response to things is “I don’t know,” or “It’s complicated.” That’s not to say that I don’t have some opinions on a whole range of issues. And even convictions. Although given the nature of things, much of it can be on matters that are rather open ended. The answer may be good insofar as it goes, but it’s open to refinement, and even some correction.

But when it comes to life itself, and what’s at the heart of it, I wouldn’t hesitate to think, and hopefully say, It is God in Jesus, and the good news in him in his incarnation and life, death and resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is something I believe without so much as a thought that it might need some correction here or there. Of course only God fully understands even the most simple gospel truth, such as John 3:16. We understand by faith as much as God helps us to, of these simple, yet profound truths, which are brought home to our hearts and minds by the Spirit of God.

And we’re to tell them to others. Not having all the answers, or being a know-it-all. But simply being able to point to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. In whom we have put our faith and hope, our all. And through whom we know God’s love, which we share with all others. Jesus.