do we have confidence in God’s word, or not?

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4

The NIV‘s heading for this section is entitled, “A Final Charge to Timothy,” and includes this well known important passage:

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.

Something I’ve noticed in my lifetime is that often the word isn’t preached. I think I’ve been blessed with the churches we’ve been a part of to be used to the exception. But as a rule, it seems like an appeal to the word is only from something other than the word itself. Somehow there just doesn’t seem to be adequate confidence in scripture as the written word of God.

I’m not referring to a lack in expository preaching. That can be good, but it’s interesting when you read the sermons in Acts, that actually none of them is preaching a text expositionally as at least was popular in many evangelical and fundamentalists circles, and you still find a few holdouts here and there. I think it’s alright. In fact I think it’s probably safe to say that such a method is much better than much of the pablum which passes for sermons today. Somehow it seems like the goal is to get people’s interest and keep it, and somehow through that, get in something of the word of God.

My question becomes, Do we really have confidence in the word of God itself, because it is God’s very word? And is that a measure of our confidence in God?

Scot McKnight has an excellent post that hits on this very subject in what is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (“The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?“). He states that the Reformers were marked by their deference to scripture, by opening the Bible and reading it. I think it’s good to refer to theological concepts which point to the truth about scripture (or what Richard Wurmbrand said is “the truth about the truth.”). And there’s no doubt that the art of biblical interpretation, which includes kind of a science to it, as well, is important. And we need to reject the Cartesian Modernist, scientific approach (Rene Descartes) as in relentless examination and induction of the biblical text (see John Locke). I am rusty when it comes to philosophical figures, not that I was ever heavy into them, but they are important in helping understand the times in which people live.

Our appeal must be to scripture, and it must start with ourselves. If we don’t see it as vital, and of central importance in our own lives, then we certainly won’t see it that way for others. Of course it points us to God’s final word in Jesus, and the good news in him. But we must be in the written word itself to find the Word himself.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4

And so the measure of our actual faith and confidence in God will in large part be our confidence in scripture itself, the word of God. To be biblical we must get back to the Bible like the people of God in the Bible did, including even Jesus himself. We need to have the utmost confidence in scripture as God’s word first for ourselves, and then for everyone else. And live with that in hand, in and through Jesus.

the missing sermon from the Bible

I am increasingly convinced that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; see his corresponding Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6) is essentially off the radar for many Christians, not a real consideration at all. And the ironic thing is that Jesus ends that sermon (both sermons) with the analogy of the man who built his house either on the rock, or on sand. That this teaching from our Lord is actually foundational.

I believe our heart by the Holy Spirit is often better than our heads. Christians often have a kind of sixth sense, so to speak, by the Spirit, so that they do much better in life, akin for example to what our Lord says about loving our enemies, etc., in the sermon. And those whose theology actually takes it out of consideration can be grace-filled, loving believers. But good theology, Biblical interpretation, and God’s written word matters. We need to be in all of it from Genesis through Revelation. And certain passages need to be underlined and probably emphasized depending on the culture in which one lives. Surely the Sermon on the Mount fills a needed dearth among many Christians in the United States.

We must beware of seeking to apply these words of our Lord to nations and unbelievers. Rather, they are for believers and followers of Jesus. But we must apply them, indeed. We can respect and want the US Constitution and foundation for this nation to be adhered to for the continuation of this liberal democratic state, liberal not in the way spoken of today, but according to what was meant at the nation’s inception, though much of what carries over from that might logically follow. But for us in Jesus, we need to be in all of the word, and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount should certainly be a staple of our thinking and living. Along with my psalm, Old/First Testament, and New/Final Testament reading, I read from either the Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon on the Plain, daily. Hopefully more and more of that will soak in and make a difference. Something for the entire church to help make the difference that’s needed in our lives and witness in and through Jesus.

 

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

reading and hearing the Bible together

Probably more than anything else, I’m a Bible person. Two things I like to carry and likely am carrying are my little New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs and coffee. It is good for us to read the Bible, or listen to it, in fact I highly recommend it. That’s in large part within our historical context the result of the Protestant Reformation. And within and around that are both good and not so good influences. A good: examining the translated original texts for ourselves. A not (necessarily) so good: the questioning and often rejection of authority, especially religious authority. But I live in a part of what has come out of that mix. And again, there is great good there, along with that which is not so good.

In churches of the Great Tradition, so much more scripture is read Sunday after Sunday through the lexical readings, so that essentially the entire Bible is read through over the course of I think four years. That is a great benefit, and such churches are blessed. Where we have been attending, taking our grandchildren, the Bible is wonderfully taught in a 45-55 minute message, preceeded by some (surprisingly enough to me) good worship in song, my earplugs intact with the guitars, keyboards and drums (though most Sundays I really could get by without them). But we don’t hear the Book read through except for passages related to the teaching. I would be surprised if most Christians, aside from services, and teaching times, read much scripture at all for themselves.

Within Judaism there’s a practice of reading scripture together, and then discussing and often debating its meaning. I think we can take home something important from that, because we will ultimately better understand the message of scripture together, not apart by ourselves. The Spirit gives the entire church the understanding of scripture and the gospel, and that mediation is more rich and clear through the church, rather than through individuals here and there. Not to diminish the value of scholars who themselves gather from the entire church in their work of helping us understand the text, along with pastors and priests who do the same.

Yes, read the Bible for yourself, and keep reading it. But also find a context where you are reading it with others, and gathering insights from them. And read from the best pastors and teachers, and from scholars as well.

read the entire Bible (and keep reading it again and again)

Read or listen to the Bible, or both. Read it slowly, read it in large chunks. If it is God’s word written, it should begin to make an impact on our lives. And get into a church which either reads all of the Bible over time (through a lectionary), or preaches/teaches the Bible well (like the church we’ve been taking our grandkids to), preferably both.

Start children slowly, but wisely through the word, through the story and message of scripture. I think Our Daily Bread for Kids (and here) is a good place to start. Of course with the littlest ones, we’ll need materials or practices appropriate for them. Our Daily Bread for Kids Sunday School Songs (and here, scroll down) starts getting them to listen and eventually sing, which is good, even for the youngest age, I think.

The point is, we need to be in the word, day and night. And that word leads us to the Word, Jesus, the fulfillment of everything, bringing all things to their ultimate goal in God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

Why? Not for any other reason, other than the end itself. This is not a means to be a better American, a better world citizen, a better whatever, even though those things might be good in their proper place. No, it’s about being a true Christian, a follower of Christ, whatever the result of that may be.

Begin small, and keep at it. Bible Gateway is a good place to start to look for a Bible translation which might fit you. My preferred translation is the New International Version (NIV) which I think achieves an excellent balance between up to date scholarship, accuracy and readability. My second preference might be the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) , but there’s many other good Bible translations to choose from (again, see Bible Gateway).

I can’t end better than from the psalmist, but with the additional thought from scripture that this light is not just for ourselves, but for the world, in and through Jesus.

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

Psalm 119:105

hold that thought

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40

There are all kinds of thoughts that come our way in the course of a day, for ill and for good, and everything in between. We are often caught up and captured in such thoughts. Even consumed by them.

But there is only one word which endures, when all the rest will be gone. And that is the word of God, scripture itself, which points us to the Word of God, Jesus himself.

We need to be in the word day in and day out, year in and year out. It doesn’t matter whether we’re always “getting” what we’re reading. We need to keep at it; the Spirit will help us. Of course a big part of how this happens is through the church which indeed has a special place in God and in God’s working: nothing less than in Christ, as Christ’s body by the Spirit. So that is important if we’re really going to be adherents of God’s word, of scripture.

We have to make other things secondary to our intake of God’s word. Of course I’m not referring to the necessities we must do daily. But when all is said and done, we live by one word, the word from God.

…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8

Many thoughts will come to us, and they have varying degrees of significance. But the promise of good both for this life and for the life to come is found in one source: God’s word in scripture, and in Jesus. We live by that word, and die with it in hand, in and through Jesus.

 

spiritual warfare praying

The latter part of the book of Daniel (7-12), though full of apocalyptic visions, contains a prayer of Daniel’s (9) at the heart of it. He understood from scripture that the time for God’s people in exile to be restored to the land was imminent, so he set himself to fasting and prayer.

When one prays, really prays and continues to pray, there’s inevitably an element of spiritual warfare going on. At the end of the great passage on spiritual warfare, God’s people are called to pray (Ephesians 6:10-20).

I really like it when I feel inspired to pray, when the Spirit seems to be very much present, and it seems easy to pray. When that happens, I try to take advantage and really keep after it, praying for this and that, and something else.

But by and large for me, prayer seems to be an uphill battle. Part of it is surely myself in some way, in my lack of faith along with the human element involved in the heaviness which the baggage of life inevitably brings. But a major part of it is surely in the resistance that the spiritual forces arrayed against God, bring. There’s a saying somewhere that the only thing the devil fears is a weak praying saint on their knees. I believe the spiritual enemy will do anything to keep us from praying, including pleasant distractions.

If we want to feel good and enjoy life, then we should avoid this kind of praying, in fact prayer of any kind. But if we want the joy of the Holy Spirit, along with much resistance and pain, and perhaps some persecution for good measure added, then we will try to pray, and remain in prayer, and seek to grow in our prayer life.

In closing I quote one of the passages on prayer, marking the importance of our regular practice of it:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4