living in every moment by the word

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

Yes, I know some might think I need to say living in every moment by faith, and that’s true. But it’s faith in what? In God’s word, essentially in the gospel, but inclusive of the details about and surrounding that. The following passages might help shed some light on what I’m getting at:

 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

1 Corinthians 10:11

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

How are we to negotiate this or that moment? Some things can be quite troubling to us, or maybe just not edifying as in a waste of time or worse. Or important growing points in which we need to have a different attitude.

Whatever the case, we need God’s word, scripture, and I mean all of it, from Genesis through Revelation to help us on our journey. We do well to listen to it as I used to do, and still do here and there, but I used to go through the Bible at least a couple times a year that way. Then I began to read through it, and now I do so much more slowly, both with a general reading through the entire Bible, and more of a meditative reading wherever I’m at or whatever I’m doing, when possible, through the New Testament.  A practice I have no intention of ending.

My goal is to learn to live better in the moment by faith in God, specifically through faith in God’s word. That takes discipline, but with that is the awareness that this is for my good and blessing, that I might be a blessing. As well as to simply keep me from being and doing quite the opposite.

And in every moment, so that the experience of those moments can change, but specifically on my part, what I do and don’t do through the word given to me from God, regardless of the experience. An endeavor I want to do not only by myself, but with the church. In and through Jesus.

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doing the word (not just hearing it)

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

It has been dawning on me recently, the idol I had made out of certainty in my life, and how I often am not at rest until I would have it for brief periods of time. Like so often, the realization of truth comes with some relief. “I can see it,” and “wow!” But it won’t be long before we will lapse into pretty much where we were before if we don’t begin to put it into practice.

In my case, I had been thinking about that just recently, and posted on it on Saturday morning, only to be besieged Saturday evening with new revelations which put me back into a kind of panic mode and desire to overcome my uncertainty. The Lord helped me to have the strength the next morning to be able to put that aside, and simply to attempt to act on the truth which I had posted the previous morning. But this reminded me of the necessity of putting into practice what we hear from God’s word.

For people like me who have been in all of the Bible for years, and who teach it on a regular basis as well, this can be challenging. And really all of us as Christians should be in the word on a regular basis, weekly at our church gatherings as we hear it proclaimed and taught, and during our own times throughout the week, hopefully daily, as well as in our small groups. We all need to be in the word, so that we can “hear” God speak to us through that word. And with that, it is critical that we begin to act on what God has said, and keep working at it, not letting it go, but letting it become part of the fabric of our lives.

I am thankful for the church we’ve been taking our grandchildren to, that they make this a big deal: both being in the word, and putting it into practice. This is what I want to major on the rest of my life, both reading for understanding, and putting into practice what God is telling me, is telling us, in and through Jesus.

scripture and God

“What does scripture say?” is an important question not just for Bible readers, but for anyone who wants to know God and what God says. If one wants to find the intersect of God and life, then one needs to turn to the pages of scripture. In a rather mysterious way, if one perseveres, they will indeed find that, with the challenge and possible blessing which follows.

Scriptural or Biblical interpretation, called hermeneutics, is certainly important in all of this. We exegete in the sense of letting the text speak for itself, taking pains to not read into the text our own biases, or what we want to get out of it ourselves. Instead we determine to “listen”, and we try to both learn and proceed from that.

Scripture by which I mean the Bible ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him. That is at the heart of both its point and fulfillment of creation in the new creation. It is essential to simply read it as is, but also to read it in light of its trajectory or goal. It ultimately points us to Christ and to God’s fulfillment of his promises in him. It really is not meant to be used as a guidebook for this and that, like how one handles their finances, or eats. Even if one will find some wisdom in those areas, like be generous and save, and don’t be a glutton.

And so we need to give ourselves anew and afresh to scripture, so that we can find the God who speaks to us in and through its pages. 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.

the righteousness of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and “hyper-grace”

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20

There are some within what is called the hyper-grace camp of the church who relegate Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount to his ministry to the Jews and as a function of the Law, simply to condemn them in their sin. Ironically what Jesus actually is doing is talking about a righteousness which can only be realized by grace, and comes from the inside out.

There are aspects of the old covenant in the sermon, such as Jesus’s reference to offering gifts at the altar. But the heart of the sermon is plainly the difference in the righteousness that comes with Jesus and the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom in him. Of course this is fully realized through Jesus’s death and resurrection followed by his ascension and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But to relegate the Sermon on the Mount to the old covenant and the Jews, and essentially what we’re delivered from is a misreading of scripture, and a terrible loss.

And for that matter there is much that is rich for us in the Old Testament. God has always had his people, a remnant by grace (Romans 11:1-6). Abraham and David are held up as exemplars for us of God’s grace through their faith (Romans 4). Abraham who God promised to be the father of many nations is called the father of us all by his faith as both an example to us, and the one through whom would come God’s blessing of the Seed who would bless the world, the Messiah, Lord and Savior Jesus (Romans 4; Galatians 3).

The Sermon on the Mount is a centerpiece, perhaps the centerpiece of Jesus’s teaching in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6 the parallel to it, and Jesus’s Upper Room discourse the eve of his crucifixion also central to his teaching. Of course his teachings are sprinkled all throughout the gospels as in his parables (like the Good Samaritan, and the Lost/Prodigal Son), separate sayings, and his teaching on the destruction of the temple and the end times.

We read to some extent how Jesus’s teaching is fulfilled in the letters which followed after Pentecost. But Jesus’s words stand on their own, as well. To miss them by waving them off as a function of the law is a great loss to the church, not only in terms of losing the teaching, but in the failure to handle accurately the word of truth. Something we all have to keep working at, and hold each other accountable to, in and through Jesus.

what does scripture say?

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

1 Corinthians 10:11; NLT

Theology and Biblical interpretation is neither easy nor optional. A definition of theology here might be what paradigm we accept in understanding what we’re reading. I’m not thinking of a necessarily simplistic paradigm, either. There is the Arminian and Calvinist examples, as well as Dispensational and Covenantal. Biblical interpretation is perhaps more basic yet, though each can inform and form the other. Simply put, it’s how we understand any given passage in its own context, and for us today.

One of the best remedies against the weaknesses of theology and biblical interpretation is to simply keep reading all of scripture. I find something like N. T. Wright’s division of creation, fall, Israel, Jesus and church to be helpful, maybe with an additional Jesus’s return and the eternal state added on. To realize what part of the overall story we’re in is surely important. We have to take it as a whole, but appreciate the parts.

I take it that every theology as well as practice of biblical interpretation has its strengths and weaknesses. We can probably learn from each, even if in some cases it might be an example of what we ought not to do, like eisegesis instead of exegesis, which simply explained means to read into a passage what isn’t there, instead of letting a passage speak for itself.

Again the remedy is to read scripture ourselves, and the best case, to do so along with others. Last evening I read the book of Hebrews and found that refreshing in terms of letting that letter speak for itself. Something I want to continue to do, certainly a priority as a Christian who seeks to be a believer and follower of Jesus. All of this in and through him.

understanding scripture’s story

One of my favorite biblical scholars and theologians, N. T. Wright has explained scripture in terms of a five part story:

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Israel
  • Jesus
  • Church

I would like to add a sixth part which would would have to do with Jesus’s return, sometimes called the Second Coming, and maybe a seventh part could be added (to make it seven parts in all?) which would have to do with the final outcome, the eternal state.

To understand any part of scripture, one needs to see it in context, its immediate context, certainly, but also in the context of the whole, the entire Bible and witness of scripture.

I am leery of simply writing off any scripture as completely irrelevant for us today, since the New Testament, including the letters written to the churches clearly suggest otherwise. At the same time, we obviously don’t read the story well when we read it in what has been called a flat way, as if all of it has precisely the same application as when it was written. For example the rules in Leviticus 14 about mold in homes certainly do no apply in the same way for us today.

The cross, Jesus’s death is certainly a “game changer”, but what leads up to it does impact what follows. For our application today, we may need to especially emphasize what follows, but to understand that well, we need to see what preceded it. There is so much here that Christians don’t quite see or apply in the same way. But it’s a grave mistake on the one hand to think for example that the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John don’t have profound meaning for our understanding of the faith today, and even how we understand the letters written to the churches. Jesus was speaking mainly to Israel, but he was pointing out to them just what kind of kingdom he was bringing, certainly clearly anticipating what was to follow. On the other hand, it’s also a grave mistake to think that the cross in Jesus’s death did not make a profound difference in what followed: no less than the beginning of the new covenant of course in Jesus’s blood.

We have to keep working at, which means taking it all seriously, but seeing it in the context of the whole. The fulfillment coming, of course, in and through Jesus and through his death, the resurrection following.