experience or the word, or both?

Sometimes we rightly are critical of an emphasis on experience which is not grounded in God’s word, scripture, and in the gospel, the heart of that. We can make all too much of experience. How we feel, or how it’s going, or if we have a sense of wellness is considered more important than anything else.

On the other hand, as we see from scripture, it’s not like experience isn’t important. We find the psalmists over and over appealing to God for a better experience, for escape from distress, sorrow, and death through deliverance into God’s salvation which involves rejoicing, and even singing and dancing.

We need to be grounded in scripture, and the heart of that, which is the gospel. Scripture takes seriously and addresses all experience. It is not counter or in opposition to experience at all, but about real life, where we live.

So in the end, it’s not really a case of either/or, but from being grounded in scripture, building our lives on that which is solid, through Jesus. So that whatever we are experiencing in life, we can more and more by faith rest in God’s promise in Jesus both for the present life and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

someday this will all be over

Over, and done. Yes, someday this will all be over. “This too, shall pass.” And out of the mass and mess of it all will arise the grace of God in Jesus in the new world, fundamentally not different from this world in terms of creation, but good in every sense of that word in the new creation.

Everywhere I turn there are grave concerns. But I’m not, neither are any of us, or all of us together, God. It is God to whom we must commit everything, including our loved ones and ourselves. God alone can and will take care of it.

In the meantime there is a significant part of us which looks forward to the end of all things as they are now. All the strife, as well as the natural disasters in this world. Yes, in the midst of much good to be sure. All pointers to the great good to come in the grace and kingdom of God in King Jesus.

So now we want to do the best we can, completely because of God’s grace in Jesus; yes, we must live in that grace through faith in Jesus: in his life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension to ultimate power and authority, with the promise of his return. We know that all of this, all of the trouble, and real concerns will someday end, and be a thing of the past, even forgotten. But we fight through now, out of love, the love of God in Jesus, in love for others: our loved ones, others in Jesus, all people, even our enemies. We want to embrace the way of the cross, the way of Jesus. And go on.

The end is not that far away. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

hold that thought

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40

There are all kinds of thoughts that come our way in the course of a day, for ill and for good, and everything in between. We are often caught up and captured in such thoughts. Even consumed by them.

But there is only one word which endures, when all the rest will be gone. And that is the word of God, scripture itself, which points us to the Word of God, Jesus himself.

We need to be in the word day in and day out, year in and year out. It doesn’t matter whether we’re always “getting” what we’re reading. We need to keep at it; the Spirit will help us. Of course a big part of how this happens is through the church which indeed has a special place in God and in God’s working: nothing less than in Christ, as Christ’s body by the Spirit. So that is important if we’re really going to be adherents of God’s word, of scripture.

We have to make other things secondary to our intake of God’s word. Of course I’m not referring to the necessities we must do daily. But when all is said and done, we live by one word, the word from God.

…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8

Many thoughts will come to us, and they have varying degrees of significance. But the promise of good both for this life and for the life to come is found in one source: God’s word in scripture, and in Jesus. We live by that word, and die with it in hand, in and through Jesus.

 

accepting limitations in good faith

We dream big, then life happens. There’s a certain sadness in that. I like our Pastor Jeff Manion’s thought, the title of his new book:

dream big,
think small

This is the title also of a sermon series starting in February, of which we got a card, with a further explanation on it: “Exploring the power of daily faithfulness.” In fact he gave a message yesterday at our weekly chapel service on this very thing, citing Samuel of old as an example, along with Fred Rogers (of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood“) as pristine examples of faithfulness over many years, resulting in something profound, exponentially beyond the many moments of being present and doing the ordinary, mundane things of life daily.

I titled this post, “accepting limitations in good faith,” because I see out of faithfulness over time, God can do remarkable things, not necessarily obvious to the naked eye. We in Jesus see with the eye of faith; “we live by faith, not by sight,” not just in regard to the life to come, but also with reference to this present life. So that we accept all its in and outs, ups and downs, and the fact that it is only so long, and we look for God in all of that.

There are some traditions which accentuate the miraculous, and great experiences, what we often call great highs. For example people go off to some weekend event, are pumped up, and then primed as they go back home to change their world, to at least do better. That could have its place, but by and large all of life happens mostly in the boring, and sometimes even frustrating, often thankless tasks of everyday living.

And more important than the things we do, as important as that is, is who we are, and our faithful presence. I realize that often I really have nothing much if at all to offer, except to be present and listen and participate in that way, as well as do whatever needs to be done in that place and time. In the process of all of this, God is at work in Jesus, to make a world of difference, us playing our small yet important part in that along with others, in and through Jesus.

 

grace comes through real life

Too often we are so caught up in how we feel, or what we’re up against, that we can become discouraged and be tempted to despair, even while we continue to plod along. And add to that, the ideal put in front of us that we shouldn’t be that way, that we should be on top of the world, feeling well and fine and dandy. That can make us feel all the more down.

But God’s grace in Jesus comes through in the real and rugged parts of our lives. We need not despair, even when we feel in despair, and sometimes for some good reason. God in Jesus is present. Remember: Emmanuel: God-with-us. We are not alone, and we’re not on our own.

We certainly face challenges along the way. On a number of fronts in our world, life can indeed be hard. It is the real world, after all. Certainly there are blessings as well, along the way, and we need to “count [our] many blessings,” no doubt. We should be thankful to God for his rich provision for us. At the same time, we don’t need to pretend that all is well. In the real world all is not well. Obviously there are sicknesses out there, as well as broken places everywhere, some especially broken in need of serious help, and divine intervention where there seems to be no answer. Yes, we live in the real world.

But like a cup of coffee can help us get going in the morning, remembering that God in Jesus is for us, and that by faith we belong to him, can give us that needed spiritual boost to continue on with confidence and good cheer that God will help and see us through, and even that we are victorious, indeed “more than conquerors through him who loves us” (Romans 8). Right in the midst life in the real world. A word that I need this Monday morning.

light and darkness and faith

I am at last slowly reading Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, and though it is a bit on the heavy philosophical side (though I think I agree that it’s not essentially philosophical), it seems to me to be essentially (to use that term again) about faith, and the primacy of faith. I may post again on the book I’m finished with it. Kirkegaard was an imaginative, as well as challenging writer.

Fear and Trembling (original Danish title: Frygt og Bæven) is a philosophical work by Søren Kierkegaard, published in 1843 under the pseudonym Johannes de silentio (John of the Silence). The title is a reference to a line from Philippians 2:12, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” — itself a probable reference to Psalms 55:5,[1] “Fear and trembling came upon me…” (the Greek is identical).

Wikipedia

It is about Abraham’s ascent to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his only son, the son of God’s promise, Isaac, in obedience to God’s command to do so (Genesis 22). How Abraham, after that three day journey, bound Isaac, and drew the knife to kill his beloved son, just about to do so, before God stayed his hand, commanding him not to. It is certainly not G-rated reading, and I think we tend to gloss over it, thinking of it in terms of the gospel, and having easy ready answers, while not considering the breadth and depth and significance of it, well enough. Kirkegaard meets it head on, from the standpoint, C. Stephen Evans says, of one who unlike Kirkegaard (I think), did not have faith, but very much admired it, and even seemed to hold it in highest esteem, that it is a leap into the absurd (this Kirkegaard in context did believe), which by that enters into infinity, but for finity, or one maybe could say also, into the eternal, but within and for the temporal. All that aside, I want to share one impression the book seems to be making on me as I slowly work through the New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs, which I carry around.

Faith for me, like Kirkegaard was getting at in this book, is a radical trust in a good God. It is the difference, no less, between light and darkness. If we have no faith, we might think we actually do have it by being religious, or making a profession of faith, all the while living in the status quo, or as a good member of society (again, I’m mixing my thoughts into what Kirkegaard may have been getting at). And in doing so, miss the radical nature of what trust in God in this life, in this world means.

For Abraham, it was certainly costly, and yet his entire life was already given to faith, and to the faith as he had received it, from a God who promised that all nations would be blessed through him (Genesis 12). So what took place in Genesis 22, was simply the culmination of his entire life. His choice to obey, as James tells us, was a kind of fulfillment of what he had been doing all along in simply believing God and God’s word, and living according to that.

So I’m left with what seems to be a dilemna, and is most certainly a choice, either to follow God through following Jesus, by the naked choice, and continued choosing, living day to day in that commitment. Or to proceed in my own way, what seems good and right to me, and is most certainly acceptable to others, even if it is not necessarily altogether wise, and above all not really trusting in God. We seem to have it hard pressed in our genes, that we ourselves have to take care of ourselves, and that it all depends on us, so that we take the place of God on our own agenda, or at least on our way of being on God’s agenda. Instead of simply trusting God and God’s word.

And the difference is between light and darkness both existentially, in our experience, but more basically in our lives. Yes, faith is not just a head matter, but what we call a heart matter, and something which we test in tasting along the way, comparing that with our basic, and actually broken, though to us comparably safe place, or way of living. And yet God calls us to the same faith which our father of faith, Abraham had. Of course God does so with much grace, and in much smaller measure. And none of us would ever ever be commanded to do anything like what Abraham was told to do in Genesis 22, fulfilled when God did not spare his only Son, Jesus. And remember, that even then Abraham never for one minute sacrificed his love for Isaac, even as he had the knife in hand, ready to plunge it into his son. A most disturbing story indeed. And our world will be shook up much the same, if we take God at God’s word and by faith obey. But the difference will be no less than light, as opposed to darkness. Something I’m aware of now in my own life, as I try to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, as God works in me (along with all others in Jesus) to will and act, to fulfill his good purpose in and through Jesus.

continuing on (part umpteen)

Life oftentimes seems more than less a continued exercise of putting one foot in front of the other, and plodding on in largely the same path we have grown accustomed to. New paths may come, and there are variations along the way, but life goes on, and as time goes on, hopefully we learn to navigate it better.

For me, certain basic commitments are in place, the first and foremost being faith in God through faith in Christ practiced most basically in the reading of scripture and prayer, and common life with God’s people in the church, which includes the ministry of the word and sacraments.

Of course life has the tendency to throw us plenty of curveballs along the way. And a big part of coninuing on is learning how to negotiate such circumstances better. I often think on balance that life doesn’t get any easier as time goes on, some aspects perhaps easier, and others more difficult, along with unexpected challenges. So it’s important for us to learn how to learn to rest, be well and do well, in continuing on, hopefully by God’s grace to the very end. God’s grace in Jesus will always be present and there for us. We must take hold of that, and remain in it.

I have witnessed and read of how so many don’t live the latter part of their lives all that well, how life seems to be crashing in on them at the end, and their faith seems to be lagging, or not effective in helping them maintain their earlier witness. Change is hard, surely some change especially so.

Hopefully by God’s grace, which means God’s undeserved (unmerited by us) favor, and unfailing love, we can do well no matter what, to the very end.

It is good to be able to step back a bit from the routine of life, and try to see the big picture, and above all, simply come to God to listen and reflect. So that more of God might be in our footsteps, in our lives, more of God’s grace in and through Jesus. Together with others in Jesus and as a witness of the one good news in him for the world.