answer the questions we know, not the many things we don’t know

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

Over the course of one’s life, much seems to be shrouded in mystery. And I’m thinking not so much in looking back, though that’s true, but in living through it. And then there’s the nebulous in between stuff, which we had enough understanding to work through, and either did well, or well enough, or not.

It is critical in one’s life to take a radical stance in acting on what we do know, which includes a whole host of things. I can’t emphasize this enough to help others avoid my errors, but also for me in the present. The only way I can avoid self-deception along with satanic deception is to stay on the straight and narrow course of obedience to God’s word. And what that involves is both very gospel and church oriented. And again, it’s rooted in the word, but the goal of that being an interactive relationship with God in communion with the church. And of course our lives in all of this are to be a witness to the world.

In answering the questions we know, I am getting at plain old fashioned obedience to scripture, nonetheless. To take a lot more of it literally, than not. And that involves good reading, meditation, and study. Of course we read scripture as both a human and divine book. So that we don’t do fanciful things with it in working at getting at the plain sense of its meaning. And we consider it in its entirety, and learn from biblical scholars who do the same. We stay the course not only of scripture, but within the latitude and accepted parameters of the church’s interpretation and understanding.

Let me say again that this is crucial. Life is going to throw us some serious issues along the way, at least in our minds, but also in reality. Some of it in my own life has definitely been a matter of the mind. But others definitely real, as well as difficult. We need scripture and the church, and to be honest to God, and honest to others, particularly those in leadership, as well as a trusted, wise friend.

So let’s concentrate on doing well in what we know, and trust God to help us be faithful in that, as well as through the more difficult matters, along with what we don’t understand at all. And to learn to keep doing this, and growing in it, in and through Jesus.

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a hard earned faith

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:9-13

In the culture of praying the prayer and asking Jesus into our hearts, once saved always saved, the idea of a hard earned faith seems mistaken at best. It is interesting, considering Jesus’s parable of the sower, that one can believe with joy, but fall away when the trials come (Luke 8:13). In contrast to the one who perseveres, and by so doing yields a significant crop (Luke 8:15).

Trusting in God by trusting in his word and the sea-change that brings is at the heart of this. It is not just a one time thing, and it is not so much incremental. We can see in Jesus’s parable of the sower, that the person who ends up falling away, initially receives the word with joy, and for all intents and purposes looks genuine, believing for a while (Luke 8:13). But when testing comes, which we see in the other gospel can involve “trouble or persecution because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Matthew 13:21; see also Mark 4:16-17).

Back to the Hebrews passage, some of this might not fit all that well into our doctrine or what we’ve been taught in church. I think especially of churches which have taught once saved, always saved, though it all depends on all those churches teach. The point is that we can neither take faith for granted, nor be careless concerning it, just because we made some commitment once upon a time. That faith has to survive through all the rough patches and troubles life throws our way.  And according to Hebrews, that takes effort on our part. It seems like an oxymoron, but we’re to make every effort to enter into that rest. And this is an issue of obedience, whether or not we will obey God.

What we need is God’s word to help us along the way, by correcting us. We need to be committed to being under that word, to hear it and abide by it (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Sounds rather stark and threatening. But that’s not because God is that way, but rather because we are so prone to wander and get lost. God is faithful, and we can depend on God’s word. God will help us see what we need to see to keep going. And to learn to live in the rest God provides for us in and through Jesus.

the predicament of Mary and Joseph

Mary (Luke 1:26-38) especially, but also Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25) faced a predicament over Jesus’s miraculous conception as a full human in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. The church has called this the virgin birth. And it would have been as much a nose wrinkler and eye brow raiser then as it is today. No matter what Mary said, as noble a person as Joseph may have known her to be, Joseph was set to abide by the law of Moses, but to do so mercifully, avoiding the awful sentence of stoning, instead putting Mary away quietly and as privately as possible.

But then the angel appears to Joseph, and he finds out that something extraordinary has indeed happened. And that he is to be the step father of no less than the Son of God, the Messiah. How far along Joseph’s Christology was at this point, I don’t know, but we do know one thing for sure: Joseph was in a walk of faith over something he knew would be challenging in days to come, something he would have just as soon closed now. But with this new word from God, he did what for in all intent and purposes his wife, certainly his wife under the law already, what she had done. He obeyed God, even when in ordinary circumstances what he was doing made no sense, and even seemed to contradict his devotion to God.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Matthew 1:24

Mary, of  course was in the same dilemma, only her trouble was heightened. She was to be the bearer of the child when she had yet to be joined to her husband for this to be possible. Of course this was all revealed to her at once by an angel, so that she had the full understanding of what was to happen right away, whereas Joseph did not have that advantage, but had to wrestle or work through it before an angel appeared to him.

Mary’s wonder along with her response are simply beautiful, and something for us to emulate, when we’re faced with God’s word, but would do something different if left to ourselves, something that may make all the sense in the world and seem right to us. It seems that Mary was not one who would come up with all sorts of objections and contrary thoughts. She was humble and open to whatever God would tell her, with a heart to serve the Lord in doing so, and considering what she faced, no matter what.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:38a

And so the ones to raise the Christ child would themselves faced something of the same trouble their son would face in the scandal of God becoming flesh and being the good news that all of us need. And we might face, in a different category for sure, but still just the same, testings of our own as to whether or not we’ll listen and obey God’s word, or not. And the results, while again not in terms of salvation for the world, will still have the same sort of impact on our own family, or friends.

Are we prepared to listen and hear God’s word to us, or not? What are we doing, so that might be the case? What practices have we adopted so that like Mary and Joseph, Christ might be known even in and through us?

May the Lord make this Christmas to be a time when Jesus is more fully made known, even in that manger, and beyond that through us as well. Through God’s word in and through Jesus.

doing the hard thing

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

John 6:60

There are some things I want to put off, and other things that are just plain hard to do. I don’t think we have to look long in scripture at all to find the latter. The hard sayings of Jesus is not an empty slogan. And even in and through grace, it’s not always easy to put to death the insistent flesh which wants to have its way. We certainly cannot do that in our own strength, but only in God’s grace in Jesus by the Spirit. And this is not just something that happens at salvation. So that from then on, if it’s grace, it’s the easy and natural thing for us to do. It can become more and more that, but to even take that step of faith and do what we’re called to do can be oh so hard. It’s so much easier to stay in our comfort zone, better yet, stay in bed, so to speak, and not get up to face the music that is playing. Not to say that some bad stuff we’re not to pay attention to doesn’t come, because it surely does. Guilt trips and condemnation have nothing to do with doing the hard thing in grace. In fact the hard thing then will be to reject all such because of God’s loving provision for us in Jesus. And accept God’s love and acceptance in Jesus.

I am a procrastinator on hard things which have no deadline. If it’s part of my work for the day, then I won’t hesitate to do it, but if it’s just something which needs to be done with no deadline, chances are it won’t get done anytime soon. They say for some who are that way, there’s the fear of failure, or sense that they won’t do well. Sometimes it’s just out and out dread of what has to be done, preferring to delay that as long as possible. This nearly gets us into another subject away from something like keeping the hard teachings of Jesus, maybe into the wisdom genre like we find in Proverbs. And I’m sure we could draw some wisdom from there to help us in this.

Grace calls us to go on in Jesus, to believe and do what doesn’t come naturally for us to do, what we really can’t do, left on our own. We can through Christ. And we do well to prayerfully attend to the difficult tasks put in front of us. Along with the difficult things, we would rather put off. Of course we know the difference between what we could let go for another year, and for whatever reason, what we need to address now. May God help us to know the difference, and by grace do it, as imperfectly as we will. In and through Jesus.

 

faith when we can’t see

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

Sometimes in the midst of life, we feel like we’re in a place in which we’re not sure what is going on, or the exact outcome. Perhaps this is during a time of significant changes. And life always includes difficulties which result from living in an incomplete, broken world, our own limitations and shortcomings contributing to that.

That is when we need to grasp and hold on to the same kind of faith our father Abraham had. We continue faithful as best we know to the calling God has given us, to what’s in front of us, obedient to the Lord, even when we lack the kind of certainty most of us would like. We can learn to rest assured in God’s promise, confident in his protection and care, and ultimately of a good outcome, honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

searching for meaning

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1

My go to book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes (one of my favorites, anyhow) is an acknowledgment in part of the futility of life, and of thinking that one can find any real meaning under the sun. The idea ends up simply enjoying what is, to the fullest, and not taking it too seriously, since in the end it will all be gone.

But there’s some stealth thoughts interjected along the way, such as the fact that God will judge, which is roundly stated in the end. And that we shouldn’t say much when we enter into the space where God is present for worship, but simply be silent. Those are clues that there may be more to this, to life than what often meets the eye. And in the end again, the charge to fear God and keep his commandments caps what has been an interesting read.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to what we regularly profess and confess. We need to let the weight of the narrative in Ecclesiastes have its affect on us. That is the way we’re to read scripture. And preferably with others.

I think it’s best to embrace the reality of how all these means which are made to be ends are not ends themselves at all. They have usefulness, to be sure, their place in life “under the sun.” But none of them in themselves can fulfill what only God and the promise of God in the grace and kingdom come in Jesus can. But we need to feel the full weight of the emptiness of the endless pursuit of humanity to arrive and achieve. While some satisfaction might be found in it, it will end, and then what? (Another theme in Ecclesiastes.)

We have to look “above” (or beyond) the sun to find meaning in life “under the sun.” The meaning we find won’t be in what is done in this life, but the transcendence which is imminent, and therefore gives meaning either to or in the midst of all that happens here and now. So that while these things in the present are empty and meaningless in themselves, they derive meaning and fullness in the Creator God, and the covenant God makes with humans. A covenant fulfilled in Jesus, full of meaning, which then translates to all the emptiness and meaninglessness down here. In and through Jesus.