a living faith

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11

Philosophical Nominalism is said to have plagued part of the church before and into the Reformation and beyond. Simplistically stated, it’s the idea that reality is in the words themselves apart from that actual realities themselves. And ends up actually putting a kibosh on the realities, even questioning their existence. This is said of those whose faith puts a priority on words, and precisely on the written word instead of the Word himself, Jesus. Those are the ones who deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and count it merely symbolical.

Suffice it to say that I consider such a charge mistaken. Faith is in God’s word counting on the realities themselves to be true. So that we base our entire lives on them. One might partake of Holy Communion every week, believing that in doing so, they are partaking of the body and blood of Christ, of Christ himself. Others might partake of it once and awhile, and see it as only a rememberance, the wafers and juice being symbolic. But if they have faith, they will receive and even now have the result of what that ordinance represents, a new life in Jesus.

According to the passage, the beginning of which is quoted above, faith is the difference maker. And it comes down to faith in God’s word, ultimately God’s word about Jesus, faith in Jesus himself. That’s what the Bible clearly calls us to again and again. Specifically the Final/New Testament.

What we all need– regardless of our church, and where it stands on some of the theological debates and differences, and where we might stand on such issues– we all need faith. A living faith which takes God at his word, and receives Christ as God’s final Word. A faith which enables us to hear and obey that word, remembering the Pioneer and Perfecter of such faith, Jesus himself. Our confidence and assurance ultimately resting in him.

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truth in life

I’ve read that Dietrich Bonhoeffer formulated theology not just from scripture, and the church tradition connected to that, but out of life itself. It was personal, communal, societal, and surely global as well. The gospel of our Lord Jesus touches every aspect of creation, either now in Jesus, or at his return when heaven and earth become one in him.

We have to try to not only speak truth to power, but truth to ourselves, as well. Scripture, and the gospel of our Lord which is the heart of it, is about life, real life in the here and now, in the nitty gritty, dark and dirty and difficult places of life, as well as in the good times, and in every place in between.

God speaks truth to us in scripture in and through Jesus. This is in large part why we need to remain in scripture all the time. We want to understand, and get into the flow of God’s revelation to us, to the world in Christ, of the Spirit, and of God’s grace (unfailing love and undeserved, unmerited favor) in him. Scripture certainly reflects real life, and therefore speaks into our lives with nothing less than a word from God for us in and through Christ.

The life, the eternal life took upon himself our life, created life, that we might take hold of the eternal life that is in him. When the Word became flesh/human, there was the ultimate truth in life in Jesus. A truth not just about head knowledge, as good and important in its place as that is. But about reality, so that we can rest in faith and in the grace of God present, which began uniquely in that little baby boy in a manger in Bethlehem, who is the truth for all of life, even the life of the world.

the basic importance of words

Does not the ear test words
    as the tongue tastes food?

Job 12:11

These words from Job himself, later echoed by Elihu, help underscore the importance of what we say, or more precisely the importance of words, and the signficance we give to them. We do weigh what is being said, or what we’re reading, whether we’re aware of that, or consciously trying to do so, or not.

Words are obviously important for us humans. They say that the most signficant factor for a child’s success in education is their ability to read. Words are crucial for us performing our work day after day. And important in helping us think through all kinds of matters.

Words are symbols corresponding to reality. They don’t determine reality, though they are important in helping us understand it. What is true and good, as well as real goes beyond words. And so words are pointers beyond themselves.

God gave us scripture as his word written, and meant to point us to his final Word, Jesus, who brings us into the life of the Trinity, and into the life of God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And so we have verfication from God of the importance of words. Such is not only an accomodation to humans, but indeed something which corresponds to God himself. We read from scripture that God spoke the world into being, and that God’s word continues to speak into what he has created.

And so with that in mind, I want to be all the more in the word, in scripture. So that everything else I come across can be tested by that measure. Scripture is far from just a bunch of rules or even principles for life. It is all about life, and not only about it, but participating in it. In other words, scripture gets into the nitty gritty, down into the dirt in which we live, not to leave us there, but to lift us up by God’s grace into God’s good will in Jesus.

We can take heart. We in Jesus are part of the royal priesthood of believers, who each have responsibility to weigh everything according to God’s word of scrripture and God’s Word in Jesus. We do that individually, but never apart from the rest of Christ’s body, the church. We contribute to the whole, as we are helped by others, all from God, from the one Lord by the same Spirit.

Words are the starting point, but not the end all. God is revealed and we participate in God’s very life and will through both word and sacrament. Through the bread and the cup of Holy Communion. God’s word directing us to that reality. And helping us live and rest in the truth, not just to know, but actually to experience, to “taste” in and through Jesus.

 

the outcome of going through suffering

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:10-11

It’s pointed out in this passage, that the suffering referred to is the kind many of us in the west, and perhaps particularly in America know little or more likely nothing at all about. Unless one is caught up in the culture wars, which in my way of thinking has little or nothing to do with true Christianity and the faith, perhaps with some exceptions here and there. But every believer, regardless of where they live, is subject to harrassment from the spiritual enemy which often works through other humans; in fact we can all end up on the playing field for good or for ill in that way. If this passage applied only to believers who are threatened and to some extent experience physical persecution, then it would have no application to many of us today. But it does have direct application today to many sisters and brothers throughout the world who are suffering persecution just because they are Christians, including martyrdom.

As followers of Christ and one body in him as the church, we need to arm ourselves with the attitude that we are going to suffer, so that we might as well accept that. In fact this attitude needs to become a part of our psyche in our spiritual development and pilgrimage in this world in Christ. This same letter from Peter tells us that.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

1 Peter 4:1-5

It is good to read what follows this (see link). In fact, better yet to read the entire letter, which actually isn’t long. Reading through it will bring up questions, but read it in mind with the teaching on suffering. We have to remember the context into which the Bible was written. There is inevitably an accomodation which occurred then, and continues to occur now, as we apply the gospel to our culture and world, and see the changes that gospel will inevitably bring over time.

But back to the first reading above. We need to accept and even learn to embrace by faith the hardest of times which we’re going through, refusing to flinch from such, since we know the outcome. Of course doing so with the “means of grace” God provides through scripture and the church, the word and the sacraments. God’s will give us a peace which is not merely some escape from the storm, but an ability to live well through the storm, both in terms of its aftermath, as well as the inevitablity of more such in this life. There does seem to be a closure here. But that closure is not so much in terms of relief from sufferings in this life, in fact arguably not so at all. But more in terms of God’s working in our lives in and through Christ to help us not only survive through them, but actually flourish.

Words can be cheap (and too often  are), and there’s no doubt that this is not anything we would wish for on our own. But it’s reality, and if we’re going to live in the reality in Christ, then we have to accept both that reality, and God’s provision for us through it in Christ. And when we do so, we have God’s promise. A promise which can help us stand firm in the midst of the experience of such sufferings, as we carry on in the existence of the world, the flesh and the devil, with the help that comes from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That God might always and forever be exalted and glorified, even in this life, in and through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

 

the grace of trouble

The last thing any one of us wants is trouble. We would like a trouble free existence. But a healthy acceptance that each day will come with its own set of problems, and that there will come some major issues along the way, is surely a part of growth in maturity. It is almost certain that we will shrink back from what we perceive to be major trouble. That is when we purposefully need to apply our faith, all the more.

And that is at the heart of what I’m calling (and probably heard/read somewhere, as) the grace of trouble. There is no question that the challenges of life can help us grow. We hone our skills, and do what we have to do, not only to survive, but hopefully even to thrive. But it doesn’t come without a cost. The cost often is pain, and sometimes having to work through certain limitations so that we are stronger, or know better how to cope with the difficulties which come our way. This can be part of the “common grace” God bestows on the human race, a gift to help people through their troubles. But we need to not only acknowledge “the Giver of all good things,” but come to that Giver to receive help in our time of need.

The Bible, and I think particularly of the psalms is loaded with passages pertaining to the faithful believing being hard pressed in this life with all kinds of trouble coming their way, sometimes self-inflicted, oftentimes suffered from the hands of others. When trouble comes our way, especially the kind which can be debilitating to us in the fear and anxiety which set in, we need to avail ourselves of prayer and the word of God. And we need to do so in the communion of the church, our regular participation in that, which might call for our request for special prayer and counsel.

It is just as important to have a healthy acceptance that trouble is part and parcel of life, as it is to come to God again and again with our trouble. We don’t want to live as those who are taken up all the time with our own problems. But we have to deal with them, and after doing so, yes, even in the midst of that, we can find that God’s help for us can extend into the lives of others. Each one ordinarily is having their own trouble. As God gives us help and relief even if that might be unbeknownst to us, we can end up being a blessing to others in similar trouble. Even if that blessing is in nothing more than an empathetic sigh and tear, and an offering to God in prayer concerning their plight, along with a plea for their blessing. As we look forward to the day when all the troubles of this world will be past in and through Jesus our Lord.

reserving judgment

“In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”

Proverbs 18:17 (NIV)

Although this proverb applies to legal matters, there is a principle we can gather from it for all of life. How often in the course of our lives have we been convinced by a presentation or argument without investigating the matter thoroughly or even at all? We fail to take into consideration other factors which may tip the scales the opposite way. What we’ve heard sounds right and conclusive so that we are taken in.

Wisdom too often gained by failure (I speak for myself) comes into play here. We often need to slow down and even stop. Part of the fallacy is to proceed on. How many times in previous years would I have been better off to at least sleep on something overnight. But the ones who put together or do the presentation know that. So a special deal is offered if you sign now.

The importance of reserving judgment plays across the board in nearly every direction. The one non negotiable for me is the commitment to follow Jesus within the bounds of the orthodox Christian faith. Other matters may or may not become more or less settled over time. So that one can add to their understanding. While other things may by and by become less important or chucked altogether. I want to add here that Christian theology while settled in some ways is a living even growing dynamic.

A humble critical realist approach is really what’s needed. One in which expectations are set according to the weight given quantitatively and qualitatively in the matter. So that for example I can appreciate living in a liberal democracy while not equating it with God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

While appreciating lesser things for what they are, we can go full bore in our calling in faith, confident that what is of God will continue on and bear fruit in this life and the life to come in and through Jesus.

 

limitations

I work at RBC Ministries and have begun to daily post the reading from Our Daily Bread on my Facebook page. Yesterday’s post has me thinking along the lines of what I’ve been thinking on lately, sort of forced to do so, actually, by circumstances.

What happens when one’s own ideal of what should be is utterly shattered? I’m thinking of a church context, though more specifically of relationships between believers. What happens when someone in your mind undoubtedly sins against you, you wait a few days (maybe too long), hoping they might repent, but finally you lovingly confront them, and they remain set in their way? I am not referring to online stuff, but in person, though it could pertain to any relationship which is in public.

Yes, we need to strive to obey Jesus’ commands. And we need to consider carefully both their context and the context we are in. All of that, prayerfully. That should be our goal. But we may need to keep in mind limitations we all have, remaining in prayer.

An openness to what we can learn from an ordeal may open up to us ways that we can do better in love. Ways that may have been offensive to another. I can’t help but think of hardness of heart. We all suffer from it to some extent at least at times, I’m afraid. Certain times in our lives it may be an issue that the Lord is going to make evident, even if to others, but in time hopefully to ourselves. That is why in love we may need to simply accept what we think is wrong in a given context. Provided we continue to pray for ourselves and the person involved. “Love covers over a multitude of sins,” but it does so with the goal of the best outcome for everyone. Sometimes it’s not necessary to bring up a matter, we can simply forgive and go on. Other times we may need to, and so we prayerfully do. And if there is still no repentance, we may need to follow through on the steps our Lord gave us, for their own good, and for the good of the church. Or in certain cases we perhaps should back off. In those cases maybe the Lord is trying to teach us something. And while what they did may indeed be wrong, and sinful, they may be right in ways we don’t understand. We may make the judgment that we should humble ourselves and acquiesce to their terms. Even when we don’t believe they did entirely well in what they did. Grace is what we’re to live in and embody. But it is a responsible grace. It forgives, but it also wants the ideal which is found in scripture.

Coming from a more Anabaptist perspective (and I’m sure this thought doesn’t belong to that perspective alone, among Christians) I like practices routinely carried out when need be as a matter of course. If I sin against a brother or sister I’m to repent to them, and they’re to forgive me. And other matters Jesus mentions in scripture such as blessing those who curse us. But it is evident that this ideal is not accepted by everyone. At the same time we all need to work through difficult matters. Yes, in our heart we need to forgive others. And we need to think of the very possible best in regard to what has happened, trying to put the best construction on their own action or words which was hurtful. In the end, we want to do what our Lord has commanded, but we do so imperfectly, to be sure. As those who must submit to the Lord’s judgment in the end, on everything. Thankful for his grace to us in and through Jesus, meant for each other. That he is at work in everything for our good. Together in Jesus in all of this, for the world.