plodding on with scripture

I notice sometimes that people are trying to help others by coming up with something novel, maybe even new. That reminds me of how ancient philosophers used to gather regularly around Mars Hill in Athens, doing nothing more than listening to the latest new idea, or thoughts. Maybe it was in part a search for truth, which actually in itself is good. But it seems that all too often it’s more of a search for notoriety, to become famous, well known, respected. Not to say that saying the old things in a new way isn’t valuable. Or that God might even give some new insight to his church through his word, at least for the times that are faced.

I believe, while it’s perfectly all right, in fact good to read widely to some extent, that we Christians need to major on scripture, and plod along in that. We need the whole of it, along with every part.

It has been well noted by someone that scripture is an education in and of itself. A big one. But it won’t make people on different spectrums prevalent today altogether happy. Unfortunately we read into it our own thoughts, and force it into our grids. Instead, insofar as possible, we need to work at letting it speak, and God speak through it to us. We do need the church, and what the Spirit is and has been saying to the church at large through God’s word. And we need to remain in scripture in the midst of all of that. We need to let God’s word critique us, our lives, and our world. And through that, find God’s good will, and salvation, in and through Jesus.

a good plan and what is not, according to James

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Planning is good, and especially planning with good in mind, as in having others in mind. James’s words here are not at all undermining the value of planning. But as in the wisdom tradition we find in Proverbs, James is simply stating that in the end it is God who will determine not only the outcome, but whether or not it takes place at all. All must be subject to God’s will.

It is often a matter of wanting to be in control, in fact that is the default attitude of so many of us much of the time. I think of entrepreneurs. And of course it’s not wrong to be one. A good one will plan and yet be able to adjust with the flow of things, and figure out what it takes to be successful. And yet behind that can be either an unwillingness, or more likely, not even taking into account any possibility that God might want something entirely different.

James chalks that up to boasting in one’s arrogant schemes. And we can be sure that such plans are not in line with God’s will. There is the lack of humility in acknowledging God and God’s will. And there’s the lack of appreciation for just how uncertain life is, both in terms of what might actually happen, and whether or not one will actually live to see it. It is as if someone is taking the place of God in their own attitude. Certainly not the mind of Christ whose delight it was to do God’s will, and submitted to it even when it was against his will as he did in Gethsemane.

James is warning believers, but he’s also encouraging them to submit their plans to God. That those plans might have value in God’s eyes, so that God may see them through.

the push and pull to the illusion and emptiness of fame

…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 20

A recent post on wanting to be well known even as a Christian leader is well worth the read: Pride and Humility at War. The professor who has taught many years in a well known evangelical seminary (and extensions of it) has picked up that many of the students have it as part of their drive in what their doing, that they should somehow become well known. And how this self-ambition is dangerous and at odds with their actual calling.

Greatness according to Jesus is to serve, become servant of all. And in that way to be like Jesus. Ironically, it is those who exalt themselves who will end up being downgraded by God. Whereas those who humble themselves before God, God somehow exalts. Of course the epitome of humility that God honored is Christ himself (Philippians 2:5-11).

Whenever I hear someone talk about themselves or what they’re doing, as if somehow that stands out, I wonder. Yet I’ve done the same thing myself. I always wanted to find where I fit and it seems like to a large extent, it alluded me. Though if I step back and see what I have been given to do, I can find plenty of places along the way, as well as regular, that the Lord has given me. And it’s not just what we do. Relationships end up being a big part of this, and actually more than that: they’re central.

We humble ourselves before God, and we desire that others see Christ, not us. I know for sure that for people to know me will be no help to them at all, except insofar as they find Christ in me, not seeing me, but him. There is an aspect of us through Jesus, our unique true selves which ends up being a gift to others, while we receive the same gift from God in them.

We must beware of wanting anything more than our Lord’s approval and fellowship. Among the lowly, those like ourselves. And desiring nothing more than that Christ would be made known. Something we all need more of, and want to share with all others, in and through him.

Peter’s denial

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

Mark 14:27-29

During what we call Holy Week, not long before Jesus’s crucifixion, we find one of the disciples, Judas, betraying his Lord and friend, and another who was more or less the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denying him even with curses. I think sometimes we just push Judas to the side as a reprobate, without understanding Jesus’s love for him, and disappointment in what he did. On the other hand, I think we also tend to minimize what Peter did in denying the Lord, chalking it up to just the weakness of the flesh. While that is indeed the case, and Peter failed to lead the way in praying in the garden of Gethsemane as the Lord told them to (Mark 14:32-42), what Peter did was indeed serious, a grievous sin in openly denying his Lord. Of course after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, he would boldly proclaim his Lord in the face of strong opposition, even death. But in the story surrounding Holy Week, we’re certainly not there yet.

This was both a painful, yet important event for Peter’s sanctification in learning, awareness, and growth, just as it is for ours, as we look back on it, and probably experience something of the same in our own lives. Note how Peter probably saw himself, or was at least open to the thought that he was a cut above all the rest of the disciples. Pride. And of course we read in scripture that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Certainly this is an apt word for each one of us. Any of us are as capable of falling as anyone else (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). The moment we think we’ve arrived is the moment we’re in danger.

What was the difference between Judas and Peter? That’s a big subject, probably much to say from scripture and theology in trying to come up with some sort of answer for that. Simply here, after Peter’s failure, he had the grace of tears (Mark 14:66-72). But Judas seemed to be choked with self-condemnation, and the blame along with the destruction that can go with it. So that instead of a broken and contrite heart that could have led to repentance (Psalm 51), Judas succumbed to the enemy’s voice in rejecting the salvation that is always available in Jesus. Instead he heaped the blame on himself, taking matters in his own hands by tragically ending his life (Matthew 27:1-10).

We have all failed sometime along the way. We have either betrayed our Lord, denied him, or probably somehow both, at one point or another, perhaps a number of times. And maybe not overtly, but in more subtle, deceptive ways, so that we were failing to follow. Weeping while having a broken spirit, and contrite heart is good (again, note Psalm 51). Self-condemnation is not good. Only God is the judge, and God extends salvation to all who are under his just and righteous judgment. Of course on the terms that they would repent, just as Peter did. That possibility is open to us all.

And so, the great salvation of our Lord. Even to us deniers, who in our weakness and sin fail to follow at times. So that we might better understand, appreciate and experience what our Lord did for us on that cross.

Christian meditation

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

In the Christianity Today edition on Billy Graham’s life, there is a most interesting article on his devotional life, or as Evangelicals call it, “devotions,” or “quiet time.” It is aptly entitled: “An Intentional Intimacy” with the subtitle: “Billy Graham kept the focus on God at all times. How did he do it?”

I’ve done some quiet times which were marked by God’s presence, and used to practice that to some extent, but by and large over my Christian life, I’ve really not been much of one to have a “quiet time” with God each day, or have “personal devotions.” My own way of doing something of the same thing was more to be in the word by listening to it being read over the years, and having my own copy of scripture close at hand. Now I try to be in the word in a number of ways throughout the day as much as possible. But I think I haven’t done as well as I could have in making it more personal between myself and God. Too often it is more or less just cramming a lot of scripture in my head. Since it’s God’s word, that can be good because it’s alive and active and brings needed judgment and correction to us, along with salvation. But there’s also the danger of not acting on what we know or profess, so that we are living in a measure of deception. And in becoming proud over what we think we know, over our head knowledge. But if we press on in scripture, and really ponder it before God, we should remain humble because of its depth, and the realization it gives of just how much we actually don’t know, along with how dependent on God we actually are.

Christian meditation can include tradition and experience, but is primarily marked by pondering the words of scripture, and the message found in it. There’s surely some importance in doing the former, but it is all necessarily based on the latter.

We are blessed, or truly happy, as we learn to meditate on God’s word day and night, giving both our attention, and our lives to it, in devotion to God and God’s will, in and through Jesus.

humility and truth

Under our Modernist Enlightenment influence, we view truth as something verifiable, but rather open ended, and with both the objective and subjective sides. But it’s something we can more or less measure in terms of human observation. And there’s a grain of truth in that through creation. The Postmodern emphasis is on the subjective, and what we can’t really know, and how we really have no moorings except what might well be “true” for ourselves. And there’s actually some truth in that, as well.

The Biblical take is in a sense to equate humility and truth. Pilate asked Jesus skeptically, “What is truth?” Jesus had told Pilate that all who are on the side of truth listen to Jesus. We can say for our purposes here that truth is that which corresponds to reality, in other words, truth is that which is true. And humility is the acceptance of reality. But there’s more. At the heart of this in the Biblical take is the acceptance of God as the truth, Jesus and the gospel being the truth, and that truth revealing the truth about all else, especially ourselves, and our own need. We are exposed in that light of truth, and either in humility accept that verdict against ourselves, or in pride resist and reject it.

Both humility and truth are something we should seek (Zephaniah 2:3). We find it through the gospel, the good news of Jesus. And this is ongoing. It’s not just a one time entry point, when we find it and have arrived. No, we have to keep after it all the rest of our lives in and through Jesus and the gospel, because we are ever so prone to wander into pride and the subtle (and not so subtle) lies that accompany that.

character first and one might say, last

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13

One of the things that has been indelibly impressed upon me during my years at Our Daily Bread Ministries, through the example of the leadership during my time there, Mart and Rick DeHaan, is simply the importance of character, and specifically a Jesus-likeness marked by humility and love.

There are the gifts in scripture, called the charisms. And they have their place for sure. And all believers have their gift from God, which probably consists of specific gifts. And that’s important, and a part of it all.

But without a change of heart and life that is characterized by love in an underlying faith, any giftedness is essentially worthless, as we see above. Jesus made that plain as well:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

I would rather be around mourners and the broken who love, rather than those who are marked with greatness in what they do, but don’t love. For some it seems like it’s all about what they’re doing, instead of the love with which they’re doing it with.

When one considers the New Testament, the entire Bible for that matter, and life, it shouldn’t be a question of either/or, but and/both. We need the gifts God gives us as humans in creation, and the restored humanity in Jesus in new creation, for sure. But unless love accompanies them, they end up doing more harm than good, often feeding off the pride of those who have them, and that of their followers.

While I think I’ve come surely a long way over the years, though it can be so incremental, that one can at times only hope such is the case, I know also that I have plenty of room to grow. Of course with others into the maturity of the stature of the fullness of Christ is no small order indeed. I can withhold love at times, which isn’t Jesus-like. Being aware of such sins is half the battle in finding the change in Jesus that we need.

The gifts of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit, as well. In fact that fruit marking whatever gifts we have is what we all need, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

 

love’s priority over knowledge

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

goodness precedes knowledge in Christianity/ in the faith

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

2 Peter 1

Most Bible scholars/ commentators insist that the order in 2 Peter is unimportant, that what the writer says we’re to add to is beside the point, that we’re simply to have all of those things. I beg to differ, but even if they’re correct, the Bible not only supports but comports (makes sense) in the truth that goodness precedes knowledge.

Of course in our society, even our liberal democracy, for all the good in that, this is turned around. They insist that knowledge is the key to goodness. Yes, there is much one can learn to help one do good, and do better. But I would argue that knowledge alone insures nothing. And that even in “real life,” as some people might want to put it, goodness can make the difference needed, so that the knowledge which follows will be put to good use.

In the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve in the garden, we know the fall occurred when Eve took of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and ate from it in defiance of God’s command. In that case, the serpent suggested that knowledge had priority:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3

Eve was deceived, as she acknowledges in this narrative. She wasn’t careful to take God at his word, and it is evident that she doubted God’s goodness. God had not told her she couldn’t touch the forbidden tree; maybe she had added that to keep her from the danger of eating it. And the serpent seems to clearly suggest that God is withholding what is good, and is thus less than good himself, in forbidding what the serpent seems to argue would be good. Deception, for sure.

The ultimate good scripture points to is of course in God and the good news in Jesus for a broken world. The good we bring on our own ends up harming us, because all good comes from God. Our insistence that we can handle it puts us in the place of God, something we’re incapable of fulfilling either pre or post-fall (Genesis 1-2, or 3 and after). We are made in God’s image, but God alone is God. And what goodness we have is all a gift from him in both creation and new creation.

The Peter text quoted above suggests that goodness comes from faith, that is, it’s a gift from God. And after goodness comes knowledge. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 8 that knowledge puffs up, brings conceit, whereas love builds others up, for their true good. And he suggests that no one knows as they ought to know apart from such love, such goodness.

The goodness we need is found in Jesus and the gospel, and we’re also helped to that goodness by the Spirit ironically through God’s word, meant to be spoken or read out loud, so that faith is formed and awakened. All is a gift. If we think we can go to scripture, and simply by knowing it, arrive, we are only kidding ourselves. We need faith to receive the gift from believing God’s word, which puts us on the track of goodness in and through Jesus, and through which we can begin to understand and live in God’s good will for us in him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

false knowledge versus true

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

2 Corinthians 11

The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. Those who think they know it all are barely touching water, whereas those who know better, find themselves in an ocean they had previously not known. Real knowledge inculcates/brings humility (see the entire book of Job). And with that there’s an awareness of how very dependent we are on God, and by God’s gift interdependent on each other. I think I was struck by this awareness my first year in Bible college as a young Christian, perhaps more than anything else.

Admittedly people can know a lot, and yet not know well. To know well is not merely a head crammed with “facts” and thus in our mind, power. Knowledge or success as they say, can go to our heads. Rather, we want to learn how to see things more and more the way God wants us to see them. And part of that, incredibly enough, is to begin to see life and everything from God’s perspective, in and through Jesus.

Knowledge is a gift from God, both in its basic form which children begin to learn from infancy at least through high school. And in a special gift of the Spirit given to some in the church to share the truth of scripture, of the gospel (1 Corinthians 12). And as we can draw out from the passage in 1 Corinthians 8 quoted above (and see 1 Corinthians 13) amounts to nothing, apart from love. True knowledge from God comes out of love, situated for life, for living.

Someday somehow by God’s gift in Jesus, we will no longer know in part, and the gift of knowledge as experienced today, will no longer be needed. We will have been ushered into what we begin to experience now by the Spirit, into the fullness of that reality, in and through Jesus (1 Corinthians 2). Until then, we realize fully that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13). And that part is always in love, if it’s the knowledge given by the Spirit, or the way God wants us to approach all knowledge in this life. As well as in the humility which attempts to see everything in light of the love of God in Jesus. And better yet, is seeking to rest in that love.