the word sorting out the clutter of life

…others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4

Life is challenging. There ends up being much more on our plate than we asked for, or imagined could be. We can feel overwhelmed, and hardly know what to do, or which way to turn.

Jesus’s parable here seems suggestive to me in this. We need to remain in the word, come what may. That ultimately means in Jesus, but it definitely also means in the written word, scripture, the Bible.

What can easily become the worries of this life will be present, but they need not choke out the word. In fact the word can help us navigate those, so that they are something through which we receive and learn more wisdom along the way.

So that our hearts are like the good soil, which accepts the seed: the word, and produces a good crop. That should be our aim, whatever we face in this life.

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the one thing needed to be a fresh witness

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Colossians 3:16

I am actually thinking here primarily of teaching or preaching, but this applies in any aspect of witnessing, and I’m referring to the verbal aspect of it, just as Paul did in this passage. Why is it that in some circles and churches the word is fresh and new and powerful every week. We can well say, “Let the word be the word, and it will be powerful because that’s what it is.” It surely can fall on deaf ears due to hardened or unprepared hearts. But that’s another subject.

There is nothing more important than seeking to be interactive with God’s word, which today we might well say is the word or message of Christ, both in terms of fulfillment, as well as from and through Christ by the Spirit.

In the struggle of life, in all that makes up our existence, it’s important that we seek to live as those who are not only accountable to God, but also in a living relationship with Christ by the Spirit. So that our lives are an expression of Christ, both from us and from him (see this post).

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The important point here is that we’re sharing what’s a part of us. It’s not contrived, or something we have to put on, or act out. Not that there isn’t a struggle at times. But we share what God gives us to share with others, and receive the same from others, as well.

Yes, this is from Christ by the Spirit. But it’s necessarily tied to the word as well, which comes from the triune God. It’s the word, but one might truly say it’s Christ expression of it, certainly a Christo-centric, Christ-centered reading and telling of it, even as Jesus opened the scriptures to his disciples to help them see that he is the fulfillment of what is written. It’s a faithfulness to the word, to scripture, which is only possible now, in and through him. Fresh, and as new and life-giving as ever, in and through Jesus.

 

neither underestimate nor misunderstand the grace of God (nor think we can comprehend it)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

We find again and again in scripture that God’s grace is key in our lives, in the lives of others. There are differences in teaching on this, as one might and should expect. There is what theologians call “common grace,” in which God pours down his blessings on all, in sunshine and rain, and provisions for life and more. This is not the grace described in this passage which brings salvation, according to scripture.

This is a big subject, but this post will touch mainly on one aspect of it, while addressing one common misunderstanding. God’s grace is alive and well in the world, and there is the light which enlightens every person (John 1). But the goodness and kindness of God is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2). There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. It’s not just that somehow in an inexplicable, mysterious way that in the end all are saved through Christ. The NIV avoids this misunderstanding in the translation above, even if less literal. God’s grace is at work in all kinds of ways, but the special grace of salvation is always linked to repentance which means a turning from sin to God, and to faith, which means a trust in God and in God’s word, the message of the good news in Jesus.

Theologians also refer to “prevenient grace” which means the grace by which people receive the good news of the gospel for themselves by simple faith and trust in Jesus. Through Jesus’s death for our sins, and resurrection. We trust in what God has done for us through Jesus’s death, and receive forgiveness of our sins and new, eternal life.

So the grace which saves, to which the passage above refers, is not a cheap grace by which people get in with no change of life. Not at all. But at the same time grace is at work in spite of us, not because of us. That’s not to say that our efforts toward understanding and entering into this grace are a waste of time. Grace termed as prevenient by theologians might well include some of this striving, making every effort to enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4). But also we have to remember that we still sin and have indwelling sin (1 John 1). And that is all the more true of those who have yet to cross over from death into life. They are sinners, period. Maybe Christians are both sinners and saints (Luther), depending on what you mean by that. God’s grace at work in people’s lives is in spite of so many things. God in his grace accepts us completely exactly where we’re at, but in God’s good grace, he certainly doesn’t leave us there.

Grace means we’re satisfied with nothing less than God’s salvation, which doesn’t mean only the forgiveness of sins, but also new life, a new way of living. By the Spirit in the love of God. Which means a changed life, a transformation both complete at conversion, and incomplete until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6), meaning there is a process involved.

This grace gives us hope, and helps us to get out of God’s way, simply presenting the gospel, and trying to be responsive to God’s word. But this grace teaches us, teaches others. God’s full, unmerited, undeserved favor in helping us in ways beyond us, but in ways that indeed reach us in and through Jesus.

becoming Bible people with tradition and in spite of prevailing thought

There is no question that simply being in the Bible and citing scripture is not foolproof against the deceptive wiles of the devil. Numerous sects and heresies which is a term meaning deviations from the truth have been spun out of just that sort of practice. So the answer can’t simply be to just get back to the Bible, unless that’s qualified as to specifically what is meant.

Scripture itself points to the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth, so that any biblical interpretation apart from consideration of what the Spirit has been saying to the churches and the church at large is automatically suspect. Individuals have divided over mistakenly supposing the Spirit had given them insight which either contradicted others, or gave a needed insight. The richness of scripture and Christian orthodoxy, the Christian tradition is apparent when one begins to look and dig deeper into scripture itself, and the patristic (church fathers) sources.

We can’t rightly or even possibly consider the Bible apart from tradition. Our translations of scripture are dependent on interpretation to some extent, an interpretation that does do justice to the Book at large, but does provide answers where interpretations might vary. The church in the early centuries is an example of this: reacting to various heresies, like the idea that Jesus had a beginning and is a created being, not God. The church instead came up with the truth from scripture that Jesus is both completely God and completely human, two natures separate, not intermixed, yet indissoluble (permanent) in the one person. And the teaching of the Trinity, that God is one God, so that we can speak of God that way as one person, yet three equal Persons in that one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the Protestant Reformation occurred, these past formulations were not under consideration for revision. Martin Luther didn’t want to leave the church, but reform it. But when what is called the Radical Reformation occurred, it was essentially a restorationist movement, with the goal of becoming strictly a church in accordance with scripture, specifically the New Testament. The Anabaptists were one such group, and Menno Simons early on was misunderstood to be a heretic when it came to those early formulations, and soon realized that one can’t leave tradition behind. He made it clear that the Anabaptists accepted the teaching of the Trinity, and of Christ’s two natures as formulated by the church in those early councils.

It does seem to me like we live in a day in which people need to get back to scripture. Certainly not to read it as a flat book, as if it is all equally applicable today. To see it as the unfolding story it is, fulfilled in Christ, and to be completed when he returns. But scripture itself seems to have fallen on either deaf or complacent ears to a significant degree among believers. The diminishing of biblical knowledge among church goers seems to have been occurring incrementally for decades now. And today, either people don’t know, or little care, or they easily misread scripture in defense of an agenda which is actually based on something other than God’s word and will. Not to say that any of us are immune to any of this; we most certainly are not.

Maybe we lack interest in scripture in part because our expectations are elsewhere. We love this or that, and feed on such, with just a bit of time left to maybe get to a reading from the Bible. We fail to dig and ponder, read and wonder, study and think, and pray. We connect elsewhere, finding scripture irrelevant.

Instead in this day maybe like in none other, we need to regularly plug in and find our way through God’s word, which is called a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path. We need to look at current thinking in light of scripture and the gospel. Including of course our own thinking and practice, which so easily is and can be misguided.

And we need to find our way to a church which believes and practices the word, with of course the realization that the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus is the point of it all. And all the richness and vitality that comes out of that.

May God help us to live out what we are as God’s people together by the Spirit through the word in and through Jesus.

 

guarding our heart

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

This is a section in Proverbs, the fourth chapter of that book in our Bibles with the heading in the NIV , “Get Wisdom at Any Cost.” Proverbs directly addresses wisdom. And what is contrary to it.

And here, we’re told that it’s up to us. We’re to guard our hearts above all else. The heart in scripture, especially in the Old Testament means the thoughts, emotions, and will.

For me this means not only to keep some thoughts from getting in and taking over. Like thoughts of worry, or regret, or even second thoughts at times. Lustful thoughts certainly can be included. Anything that is contrary to God’s will.

And it means letting good thoughts, and specifically, God’s thoughts in, from God’s word, from scripture. Letting them sink in and take over.

But this is not automatic. As the text tells us, it’s up to us. It’s all in the way of wisdom, which is from God (see the link above for more context). In and through Jesus.

hearing (reading) and doing

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

One of our biggest challenges as believers in Christ (James 2:1) is put  God’s word into practice. As those who are born from above, we naturally love God’s instruction. And that means that we’ll want to obey it, and will be unhappy, or at least unfulfilled when we don’t. James calls this a deception, actually a self-deception, when we hear or read God’s word, yet don’t put it into practice.

It seems like the fallacy here is to know, but fail to do. We somehow think knowing is enough. To hear and read God’s word is important; we do need to pay close attention to it, just as James says in the passage above. But for James that means, not only to hear it, but do it.

Of course in order to do, we must know what to do. So a certain kind of knowledge precedes doing. We have to be careful here, especially in an age when knowledge seems to be just about everything. It’s not enough to know God’s will. It’s evidently easy to be deceived into thinking that’s enough. At the same time, we need to be in the process of reading and meditating on all of scripture. And basic before that, humbly accepting the word planted in us, which can save us (James 1:21).

And after this, after the passage quoted above, James gives us a word to apply:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

peace of mind and heart

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Usually when I turn to this passage, which naturally I know quite well by now, it’s when I’m already lost in anxiety or worry over something. And that’s quite alright and good. We need to go to such promises as this when we’re struggling, or not doing well. But what if we could apply this passage in such a way as to simply avoid worry and anxiety altogether? Or more realistically keep growing toward that ideal, so that any lapse would be short lived, and increasingly rare.

Easier said than done. But words are where we start. And the Word (John 1). Scripture which points us to Christ and the gospel. But the importance of the specifics in scripture should not be minimized.

Trying to apply the passage above means that whenever something happens which might cause anxiety, immediately we bring it to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Praying as best we can, but looking to God for the answer. And more importantly, simply resting in God, or more precisely, as it says, in God’s peace, which surpasses and transcends, or is greater than our understanding, or all understanding, for that matter. To have our hearts and minds guarded in Christ Jesus is what more and more should be the norm for us. But we have to keep bringing the concerns that come our way to God in prayer. And in a sense we can say, leave them there. In and through Jesus.