scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

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the kind of help God gives

Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:8-12

For whatever reason, many of us can find ourselves in a pinch, maybe a pickle. Of course no one escapes trouble. It will come regardless. Some of it can be self-inflicted for sure.

The psalms have many instances of people in trouble, even complaining to God about their lot, or about life. I’ve picked up from some that to be worked up emotionally over a matter which affects us is unacceptable. What actually is unacceptable is when we don’t handle such times well. And the psalms over and over again give us examples of people turning to God in the midst of such trouble, emotionally spent (and spending).

The perspective in the passage quoted above is helpful. It’s good to consider it in the context of the entire psalm of course (link above and here). It’s instructive how God is at work for our good even in what in itself is not good. But God isn’t just at work to bring us through it, essentially out of it. But for our good, to make us better human beings, more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). In the end God indeed wants to bless us, and make us a blessing. But a big part of the blessing is the impact for good as a result of our response to the trouble. If we look to God in faith and keep doing so, God will be at work in that way. We have to be willing to go through the trouble in faith, not just escape it.

It may be perturbing at times, but part of the beauty of the above passage is that it’s specific in an instructive kind of way, while being general enough to encompass all kinds of situations and people. It is best to meditate and pray on it, and go from there. Scripture is for life, no less. God will see us through as we look to him. Not just to get past the trouble, solving the problem. But to change us through it. Yet at the same time yes, to help us, to see us through. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s call to follow

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

Jesus calling Matthew, the tax collector is quite interesting on a number of levels. Tax collectors were despised, and especially those who as Jews worked for what was considered by many to be the enemy, the Roman government. They collected taxes which could be costly, especially to a poor family. And often added extra money, not required by the Romans, for themselves.

But Jesus, as he was prone to do, is willing to upset the apple cart, so often challenging the norms of Jewish religious life, actually by just doing what he did, while maintaining other customs such as teaching in the synagogues. Jesus walks right up to Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth, and tells Matthew to follow him.

It is a call, and Matthew answers the call by literally getting up, and following Jesus. Such a call was based on the premise that the one calling was a rabbi. A rabbi, or we often translate that, teacher, is actually more than a teacher, say in a classroom setting as we’re accustomed to today. They certainly taught, but their students were more than just students, just like they were more than teachers. Their students were to be followers, to follow their example and emulate or imitate their life.

The story that unfolds here is instructive in itself, the Jewish religious leaders reaction, and Jesus’s response to them, pointing them to scripture, and their failure to understand, much less practice what it says.

Matthew goes on to write the gospel account that bears his name, part of which is quoted above. He answered Christ’s call, and left all to follow. Tradition tells us he was among the early Christian martyrs.

To be a follower means to follow someone, and to the Jews in rabbinic tradition, that meant to do what they did, to become like them (see Lois Tverberg’s books and writings, which are most helpful along this line).

By the Spirit through the gospel that call continues today. We answer the call in the affirmative like Matthew did, or we fail to heed the call at all. A call to leave all behind and follow the one not only in what we do and don’t do, but in who we are, what we are becoming, our very mindset, heart, and life. To become like Jesus, in and through him.

a key part of enduring: accept

Yesterday’s post was about enduring when our faith is tested. A key and important aspect of such endurance, it seems to me, faith being a given, is simply to learn to accept whatever place one finds themselves in, including the trial itself.

One of the most difficult aspects of trials is often our resistance to them. We want to escape anyway possible, to be rid of it, and we often imagine the worst. Instead of committing ourselves to God’s care and working, and willingly walking through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are happy about the trial itself. Our happiness in the midst of it is solely in the realization that God is at work both to bless us, and make us a blessing to others. Oftentimes God’s work of character development in us toward the image of Christ, along with his work for the good of others is occurring. What is important for us is to hold on in faith. And a part of that, of our trust in God, is to simply accept the experience, with all its hard knocks and difficulties. And both the external, as well as internal facets of it.

I have often found that it’s not long before a sense of resolution either in movement, or even finality sets in. Usually my own experience in this is that my reaction is worse than the problem itself, often one of anxiety and fear. Or just feeling numb from it all.

So we’re called not only to wait in persevering in endurance in the trial. But to accept everything, believing that God is at work in it in ourselves, and in the situation, for our good and the good of others. In and through Jesus.

forsaken

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

Mark 15:33-34

Jesus prayed the psalms, twice on the cross. He felt forsaken by God, and in the mystery of God, maybe somehow this did happen. I believe that since it’s impossible to separate the Trinity, it was utterly impossible for Jesus to be separated from the Father. But somehow in his experience, that may have occurred. Not in reality. Though that a real abandonment occurred is still the most common understanding I hear in my circles.

There is no question that as to what Jesus had to go through, the cup he drank, the cup of judgment, that he indeed had to face it and go through it himself. Of course he was in the Father, and the Father was in him. But as far as his experience of that goes, it seems that he felt utterly alone. The Father suffered with him in this, but at the same time in the mystery of the Trinity, the Father is somehow distinct from the Son. They are separate persons in the one person of God. We are using human language along with our limited understanding to try to understand what is beyond us. And maybe something of the same might be said for what actually did happen on that cross in Jesus being made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

I have felt abandoned, indeed rejected. I have seen people try to avoid me. It really hurts. Sometimes you can’t get it out of your mind. Whenever you see that person, that image often comes up. Or one can feel like they really have no friends. People can be friendly, but not really friends. I know better than that, that I have friends, that surely most all of us have some genuine friends at different levels. In my case certainly my wife is my best and closest friend. I can think of others, as well.

What Jesus experienced on that cross is indeed unique. It was for us, and for our sins that he indeed drank that cup of judgment. We are to take up our cross and follow, to become like him in his death, but we won’t ever do so as the Lamb of God did, to take away the sin of the world. We do so as those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Who live like Jesus, to be in the process of becoming like him, so that others might see him in us, and might be drawn to him. Jesus said that when he would be lifted up on the cross, he would draw all people to himself. He was abandoned to ultimately not be abandoned.

Now we look to Jesus and we look at him in terms of his suffering and death, in terms of the cross. We know that through that rejection which he suffered because of and for our sins, we ultimately have communion with him, with God, and with each other. That we are never left alone, that the Lord is present with us, just as he has promised. Even through his own experience of being alone in his suffering and death for us on the cross.

keep on forgiving

Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Luke 11:4a

Forgiveness is not something we withhold from others. We at least need to forgive everyone for whatever wrong they’ve done to us from our hearts. But there’s what I have called a functional forgiveness as well. Meaning that we forgive them only when they acknowledge their fault to us, being sorry that they did it. That kind of forgiveness is for their good. For some things, and especially concerning those in the church, people need to be held to a certain standard. And our Lord teaches us to do that (Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:15-20). But forgiving others from the heart includes both the functional forgiveness we extend, as well as forgiveness for all the other wrongs done to us, even by our enemies who might want to harm us all the more.

We might say that the functional forgiveness is primarily for the good of the other, the one who has sinned against us, while forgiving from the heart is not just for their good, but primarily for the good of the one who forgives. It’s a heart matter.

And being a heart matter to me suggests that it is more than functional, which we automatically do when someone acknowledges repentance to us. It is something we may well have to work through, in a heart by God’s grace of love, yes, forgiving them. But the wrong done to us may have been so bad, and perhaps the perpetrator is not even sorry they did it, that such forgiveness we may have to struggle through, and do again and again. God does this for us, and we need to do it for others.

We need to remember the example of our Lord on the cross when he prayed for his enemies, even for those who put him there, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But we also need to be honest to ourselves and to God, that there will be times when we are once again struggling to forgive someone for the wrongs they have done, either real or imagined by us. Once again, it’s a heart matter. Psalm 51 is a great passage to read about heart change. We often sin, and actually probably always do, when others sin against us. So that confession to God will be necessary, and perhaps to the person who sinned against us, if we responded in kind against them, returning evil for evil. If we just harbored it in our hearts we need to confess such to God, and work through it. We do this on the basis both of God’s mercy to sinners (Luke 6), and because of the cross where we find that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5).

And we may have to keep forgiving someone again and again. If we’re repentant ourselves over our struggle to forgive, God’s grace will be present, as it actually already is, to help us so repent. God will help us, and if need be again and again, to forgive the wrongdoer. It will probably take us awhile, and maybe will be something we keep doing the rest of our lives. Even if reconciliation with them is not possible. We forgive them, and release them into God’s hands, praying for their salvation, and for God’s good will to be accomplished even in the midst of evil, or what is not good. All of this in and through Jesus.

Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.