truth is stranger than fiction

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Psalm 22

Experiencing what we’re going through right now in the United States and the world does bring to my mind the accounts in Scripture, and especially in the Revelation (symbolic though much of it is), and helps me see just how the world can be shut down, and how vulnerable the world economy, the economy of all the nations actually is. Covid-19 is not something to be blinked at; it is indeed dangerous. But one can at least imagine worse viruses, and scientists have been warning us that these things will happen, so that we need to try to be better prepared for them.

Psalm 22 speaks of great suffering, but then a great ending. Bible students will easily recognize scenes from Christ’s suffering here. But then the vision goes to God’s blessing. It seems to make little sense.

But when we factor in the reality that the gospel is about life coming from death, specifically new life, that of the new creation in Christ, then we can start putting two and two together. And somehow Christ’s sufferings, though once for all accomplishing salvation and the beginning of this new life, go on in us, those who are “in Christ” in this existence.

Going over this psalm recently, I was struck how it seems to me that truth is often stranger than fiction. The truth we find in Scripture may often seem strange to us, and of course I call it truth because I’ve accepted it as such by faith. And by faith have come into the “blessed assurance” that it brings. But we will find that it rings true and exposes all that is a fraud, all that’s false. But to see that requires faith and time.

Thanks be to God (I would say, thank God, and mean it, but too often that comes across to me as too much like, “Oh God”) for what he accomplished and will accomplish in and through Jesus.

the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

being open to the Holy Spirit

Most all of my Christian life I have more than dutifully listened to the Bible being read (on cassette, and now on CD’s). Except for one period of time. For a few years we went to a Vineyard church. I had a personal crisis and we up and left the church we were part of. I had been dissatisfied with my Christian life to some extent, and had considered considering Roman Catholicism at one point. I had believed in all the gifts or manifestations (as I might want to emphasize now) of the Spirit through the writing of Gordon Fee. Now we were in a church in which a number of the gifts cited in scripture, particularly in 1 Corinthians, likely would be “in play.” And over time we found out that was the case. Probably not as intense as in some Vineyard and charismatic or Pentecostal churches. But just as surely present.

Back to the Bible point, for the first time and I think the only time in my decades of being a Christian, I quit listening to scripture for a time, was using a different version than the NIV, the new NLT, and was simply trying to be open to the Spirit and get into worship. The worship, while one dimensional in the sense that it was one kind of music, was excellent in quality of music, but more importantly, it was about worship. For people to be lying on their faces, at times dancing, all of us moving with hands in the air, was the norm. God’s presence in conviction and sweetness was often palpable for me. I believe the Lord helped me emotionally during that time, and to know more (even though still not enough) of the presence, power and person of the Holy Spirit. I entered a bit into some of the manifestations of the Spirit.

I was there a few years, and though I was impacted on the “charismatic” side, I felt like I wasn’t being used, wasn’t really needed there, I felt like somehow I didn’t entirely fit in. And eventually we left for the church we are members of now. I came to miss the charismatic side, but I also thought that sometimes people on that side don’t have their feet sufficiently on the ground. Probably unfair and that Vineyard church had an unusual amount of artists and creative people, which means they will seem off the beaten path, oftentimes more than not. I believe the church we are at is open in theory and a little in practice to that side, the charismatic side.

I do think that an emphasis on the Holy Spirit is much bigger than the distinctions of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. At the same time, I think a significant chunk of the manifestation of the Spirit is missed when we aren’t that open to works like prophecy, tongues, healing- laying hands on others and healing the sick in Jesus’ name, discerning spirits, both in regard to utterances, and perhaps with reference to those who may be demonized, either possessed to some degree or another, or troubled by a demonic spirit, etc.

And I think we need to be open to whatever the Spirit might do, including the phenomena of being slain by the Spirit. If this would happen in a church, I suppose it might come to be known as a full blown charismatic (or Pentecostal) kind of church, though I don’t think that necessarily follows. A problem has been the questionable interpretations and practice in regard to these gifts and the manifestation and power of the Spirit. There are “ministries” I would want no part of, engaged in this kind of thing (at least in appearance, and I don’t doubt there might be some power present, even from the Lord). But who are not well grounded in scripture, and are questionable in some way or another (or in a number of ways). In some ways I would just as soon go on and know church as I always have, but scripture indicates there is more in the sense of variety as well as degree, I suppose.

All of this simply to say, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit, to the ministry of the Spirit. The Spirit will emphasize Christ, that Jesus is Lord. And will empower us as witnesses about Jesus to the world. And he will move in power, if we are open to that, indeed if we pursue it.

Much more to say, and this opens me up to much misunderstanding. But I must end this post here. We by the Spirit are together in Jesus in this for the world.

moving in all the gifts: prophecy

Prophecy is highlighted in 1 Corinthians 14 and is found throughout the New Testament.  It isn’t what some have defined or described it as, preaching, or something strictly in keeping with what is found in the Old Testament, though it has overlap with that. Prophecy involves words or impressions from which words come. All of God’s children in Jesus, I believe, can prophesy, if we are open to this gift and more than open, if we actively pursue it. It is a great need in the church and in our individual lives, though I am convinced that churches who deny this as a gift for today, still experience it to some extent. And it’s important for us as individuals as well.

Prophesying is meant for “strengthening, encouraging and comfort,” for the edifying of the church. It is part of the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit, that sons and daughters, men and women will prophesy. It is a gift in which we must learn to hear God. God is speaking; the question is, are we listening and hearing?

It is relatively easy to learn to hear God, I have read, but harder to interpret what is said, and harder still to apply it, to put it into practice. In all of this, we need the help of the Spirit. Of course this presupposes that the prophecy has been weighed by others, and hopefully confirming prophesies have been received by others. It must come in the spirit and content of scripture. It is judged by the inscripturated word of God, the Bible. If in fact some of it is not in line with that, we reject it. We’re to test every prophecy by scripture. At the same time we must be careful not to put out the Spirit’s fire by rejecting prophesying. We need to be open to receiving it ourselves, as well as from others.

One person of God has prophesied to me more than once. The words they said were spot on, completely in keeping with what prophecy is supposed to be, and something that I believe could have come only from God. This person did not know me that well (even if they would have, they still would not have been able to say what they said). Prophesying is meant to help us along the way, but it is also meant to direct our way at key points. It comes from the Spirit through Christ’s body, the church, a part of the ministry within the body. But a prophecy can also uncover the secrets of the heart of those who don’t believe so that they recognize God’s presence and worship him.

I’m sure there is much more to say on this, although I would caution discernment in what is said. We have to judge everything, again, by the word of God. Much of what passes for prophecy has seemed amiss to me. We need to be in the word regularly. And we need those who are seasoned or growing in this gift, to help others like myself, who lack experience in this. Together in Jesus in this for the world.

As in all my posts, the basis is scripture, the word of God. Two books which influence this post, and which I believe are based solidly on scripture are Jordan Seng’s book, Miracle Work: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Supernatural Ministries and Gordon Fee’s book, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

the failure of Christianity

In a certain sense, and indeed even in a primary sense, Christianity can’t be a failure because Christ is at the heart of it, by the Spirit. And yet as an institution, Christianity has failed again and again. As Christendom it failed in its unholy alliance to nation-states. Christianity continues to fail insofar as it gets away from God’s calling to it in scripture. Should the church speak out with reference to what is going on in the world? Yes, I think so. But above all we have to live out the mission Christ has called us to of making disciples of all nations.

A certain school of atheists nowadays make much of these kind of things, and indeed some of them are breathtakingly bad. Evil, yes evil is the right word. Of course not all those who name the name of Christ belong to him. And not all who are followers of the Lamb really follow him in all of life, or entirely in his way of  life. I don’t want to gloss over the failures of Christianity, which are many. Both inside and out. And yet something powerful is at work, even in spite of those failures, yes, even in spite of ourselves, not to excuse ourselves for a moment. We need to repent and change where that’s needed.

That something at work is God in Christ having reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, as God offers to the world through the church, this message of reconciliation. Jesus declaring that God’s kingdom is present in him, God’s grace in Jesus offered to all, as we await the coming of the kingdom in its fullness and completion when heaven and earth become one in Jesus. God powerfully present in Jesus by the Spirit so that we can proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and grace in Jesus, heal the sick, cast out demons, prophesy, and even raise the dead.*

Above all, we are to be in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ as individuals and as a body, a community. There is only one answer to the world, to the plight of the world, to all the wars and fighting in the world. Only one real answer, period. It’s not western liberalism, not western liberal democracy, not a conservatism which points to the past, though there is good in all of these things. No, the answer for the world lies only in Christ, in God’s kingdom and grace come in him. The answer comes through the church, but that answer must always be well grounded in God’s revelation in Christ, and in nothing less than that. For Christ followers it must be the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection, the way of love, even to all of our enemies, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. As we look forward to the day when Jesus will come and bring in the justice in mercy which is to begin in and with us here and now.  Together in Jesus in this for the world.

*Of course God doesn’t always heal, though I agree with Jordan Seng that we should assume that God wants to heal as a default position. And demons are real, though we in the west have managed to hide them quite well. The gospel, God’s power for salvation, can drive them out, but sometimes we have to take the matter in hand with the bratty, stubborn spirits.** God does want to speak to us directly and through others in various ways. And to raise the dead. Well, that’s one I can’t at all wrap my imagination around, except to say that this has happened in cultures in which spiritual power is more prevalent in the sense of being more evident and open. Miracles are a part of scripture. The fruit of the Spirit, in a certain sense does indeed trump the gifts of the Spirit, but it shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, but rather, and/both.

**I write that second hand from, I trust, a good source

imagination (prophesying, dreams, visions)

To one who likes to read scripture and books that emphasize scripture in terms of exegesis, theology and the life that is to flow out of that, I am not one given much to imagination as being a part of the life of faith, or a vehicle God may use in our lives by the Spirit. However if one wants to be biblical with reference to some details, I think one needs to be open to this.

Prophecy and related to that, dreams and visions all require at some point at least for many, some openness to imagination. A fundamental question might be: Does God speak only through the words of scripture, or does he speak in other ways as well? One gifted, godly church leader and academic I once heard say that God speaks only through the words of scripture. And I have no doubt at all that God spoke to them regularly that way. But that begs the question: What about the stories we read in scripture itself? Those things can’t happen today?

Symbols and interpretations, as well as ways the Lord may be encouraging and preparing to use us–we need to be open to all of that. Read the stories in scripture of the prophets and of the early church. We need to keep our eyes open to the details. And then be open to the idea that God can work in those same kinds of ways today. It is to the great loss of the church when we are not open to such things, for example, prophesying. The heart of the unbeliever or inquirer being made known, so that they exclaim: Surely God is among you! To see faith in someone. To lay hands on the sick and see people healed. To cast out demons.

The addition of these kinds of things in the power and love of the Spirit in and through Jesus does not make a full gospel. The gospel is much bigger than that. Nor are these kinds of things the end all. People need much more, in fact if it is only about such things, I’m afraid we’ve missed the point. They can be powerful pointers, and more than that, nothing less than a manifestation of the new life of the kingdom of God in Jesus here and now. But the whole counsel of God in terms not only of details, but of the big picture of God’s kingdom breaking in in and through Jesus and that the ascended Jesus seated at the place of ultimate power at the right hand of the Father is King over the earth now in fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel for the world–this is getting more at the fullness of the gospel.

Back to imagination. What I’m thinking I need to cultivate, and am experiencing a little of is simply the use of imagination in God revealing something of his will to me, not simply for me, but for others. Reading scripture, praying and being open is a simple place to start. All of us together in this in Jesus for the world.

“I have a dream.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fifty years ago today, gave a speech which has rightly been eulogized and remembered for all time. It was a great speech especially for that day, and as such remains a great speech for all time. The push behind that speech goes on to this day, although much has been gained since that time with regard to the crux of the issue then: civil rights in America for Black people.

A society free of racism continues to be a good goal to pursue in the public sector, one that ought to be lived out Sunday after Sunday in our churches, and in our daily lives as followers of Jesus. Today the push for civil rights includes gays and the LGBT community. Many either want or are open to gay marriage, at least accepting it. And of course there are many causes being pushed, some good, some not so good, and some probably indifferent to many of us.

Do we have a dream? As followers of Christ is that legitimate? I think of dream here as a vision of what is good, what we would like to see, even what we hope to see in this world. Such a vision will depend on one’s theology to a large extent. And I include those who hardly know the definition of “theology.” Theology I am thinking of in terms of what one thinks is possible as well as good in this life. Something to which individuals, communities and society at large ought to aspire. The aspiration for the world at large will vary, again depending on one’s view of what is possible as well as good in such.

For me I simply see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, come in Jesus, in the church, and out from the church into the world, as central to any dream I would have. This includes an emphasis on the gospel of King Jesus in terms of redemption from evils, wrongs, sins done. And reconciliation through that gospel across the board. And that is in terms of the offer of the good news of King Jesus to all, to the world. On the basis of Jesus’ cross- of his death, walls of separation, even hate can and will come down, as people both accept that cross objectively, as the focal point and mover and shaker for change, and subjectively as the way in which life is lived as followers of Jesus. Such a change is to come from the heart in relationship to God in Jesus by the Spirit. It cannot strictly speaking be legislated. And yet such an example from followers of Jesus, from the church shows a standard that perhaps is new to many of what humanity ought to look like, yes, even in this tragic, sinful world.

The other part of the dream I would have would be in terms both of the fruit as well as gifts of the Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit. We don’t just need right thinking or right theology. We need the experience no less than God’s love being poured out in our hearts by the Spirit whom God gives to all who believe in Jesus. We need the experience of the power and presence of God by the Holy Spirit. Yes, we need the faith to heal people, to cast out demons, to prophesy, to live in the movement of the Spirit in ways in which by and large most of us are not accustomed to. We need openness, but more than that we need to put this faith into practice. To grow in it.

I am of the persuasion according to my theological understanding that response and change within the world at large to God’s kingdom come in Jesus will be mixed. We can expect some persecution. Yet we can also hope for some good, some change. Only when Jesus returns will justice really prevail. The church should be an expression of God’s will for the earth. And that expression is not only localized, to itself, but missional. Although the expression as an example in itself, is missional.

And so I have a dream. God can give each of us dreams, perhaps on a smaller scale to contribute to the whole. God’s good will for the earth. We are in that good will together in and through Jesus for the world.

“Come, Holy Spirit.”

All who receive Christ by faith receive also the Holy Spirit. I doubt the Pentecostal theology of the baptism of the Spirit after conversion, after the initial reception of the Spirit. At the same time I fear that many of us in Jesus, much of the church is not open enough to the immediate presence and power of the Spirit in and out through our lives into the lives of others. In terms of witness as well as the works God has for us to do.

The prayer or invocation, “Come, Holy Spirit,” is a request and plea to God to come in power, majesty and authority. To in love, use us for God’s glory, to make Jesus known, yes, even to enable us to do mighty works, signs and wonders. We all need to be more open to God’s moving by the Spirit, to let the Spirit have his way in our lives.

And so, along with the Jesus Creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the Jesus prayer (modified most of the time with just a basic plea for mercy), I have been praying this prayer as well. Wanting to be open and ready to receive more of the Spirit’s love and power, as together we in Jesus share God’s love to the world.

regrouping

During the difficult, trying time when David was fleeing from Saul, waiting on God for the fulfillment of him having been anointed and the Spirit having come on him in power to be king, and doing so by refusing to turn his hand against the Lord’s anointed Saul, even after two opportunities to do so- David experienced a most difficult trial.

All of David’s family, and the family of all the other men were taken by enemies who had raided their camp while they were gone. The men were bitter in spirit, and actually talking of stoning their leader David. David was greatly distressed. But then he found strength in the Lord his God. And he began to take action, through the priest inquiring of God, and ultimately seeing all the family members of each of the men brought back safe and sound.

David regrouped so to speak or recovered from being in dire straits. I like the word regrouped, because ultimately what David needed was communal in nature, with God. And that communion in the form of petition led to a regrouping together with the men to bring back their family members, which they did in response to David’s intercession and the word that came out of that from God.

While I believe our communion definitely begins with God through Jesus, we can also find that communion through community with God’s people. We need both. And yet there are times when we can feel completely forsaken, just as David did, Paul as well, and Jesus himself. And yet God was with them, and helped them through their lonely trial.

Regrouping is done in answer to prayer, and moving according to God’s revealed will in and through Jesus. While I believe in prophetic words from God through those in Jesus, for today (1 Corinthians 14), we don’t always receive such, partly because we are not open to this as God’s people, though often I believe he gives words to us anyhow. But God may choose not to, and want us to proceed according to what he has revealed to us through scripture and his people along with circumstances, and what he has impressed on us along the line. Through the struggle we may have the sense of knowing what to do. Of course it will always be oriented toward God and his will in and through Jesus.

It is sad when God’s people are not as bound together as we need to be. At the same time it’s always a challenge, because the enemy will seek to divide us, and sometimes we will have to seek reconciliation through prayer, confession and forgiveness. We need always to be regrouping among ourselves, seeking restoration and ongoing fellowship with God. Together in and through Jesus for the world.

faith and patience

It’s interesting how faith and patience go together in scripture. You see it well woven into the narrative (I can’t help but think of the father of all who believe, Abraham) as well as here:

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

God gives us insight, or just simply his written word of course pointing us to the fulfillment of that word in Jesus. But God gives us that word, and we’re to put our trust in God through Jesus by trusting in that word. Just a little more on the word itself. Yes, it can just be the plain words of scripture, in fact that for the most part is what it will be. But it also may be an insight one gathers from another Christian through their teaching, or through a word that comes to us as from the Lord through them. We then need to act on it in word and deed. And live in the light of that word, even though we don’t yet see the fulfillment.

Here’s another case where it seems faith is not enough (remember the words in the book of James that faith by itself, if there are no works or deeds, is dead). Faith and patience. I would see patience as part and parcel of this faith, one might say of this mature, or maturing faith.

Of course life being what it is, with all its limitations and weakness may well see setbacks along the way, in fact we do well to simply count on that. But again that is where faith and patience must continue.

In this life we can see real breakthroughs in life change in ourselves and others, and reconciliation of broken relationships. But we await the fullness in the resurrection when all is made right, and made new in the new creation. Of course all of this in and through Jesus.

Faith and patience considers God’s promise, but it also considers the issue or problem being answered. We do well to bring that faith to bear first on ourselves, on what needs to change about us. And then what we perceive as the problem itself in its totality. Of course with the realization that we know only in part, which is a part of this faith, trusting in the God who is at work in and through Jesus in all things.

And faith and patience continue on in this life until the end. Seeing many answers and much evidence of God’s working along the way. But awaiting the completion of all things in the hope we have in Jesus of the resurrection of all things. We live this faith and patience out in this life by love as well. Thankful that it is God at work who brings this about, and brings us through along with all of creation, in and through Jesus. As we continue on together in Jesus for the world.