living the faith not through doctrine, but through the body of Christ

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

Philippians 4:17-18

Having lived in an evangelical world for decades as a Christian, I have lived in the air that doctrine above all else is what mattered. If we had our squares right about Christ and the gospel, and we believed, then we were all set to go, born again and assured of eternal life. Add to that the necessity of believing in an inerrant Bible, every jot and tittle without error at least in the point being made or what was said. And with all of that, the necessity of witnessing so that people would be saved from eternal hell fire in torment forever. No one or very few lived up to all of that, and those who took it seriously the most seemed to put a lot of nuance on most everything.

I live and will always live with some respect for evangelicalism, even though I have long been adrift from it, and now no longer identify as such. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take Scripture seriously as sacred or see the gospel as something other than central in my life and the life of the world, active in the church. I believe all of that and more, and don’t see doctrine as something that is unimportant.

But I believe what makes all the difference, and actually the only thing that does make the difference is Christ’s presence. Is Christ present? is the question. Because of that presence, yes we will come to accept and believe certain things. And together we will read and discern from Scripture with reference to God’s will on earth now, not just for our individual lives, but also for the church, and for the life of the world, in all the complexities of that. The richness and tapestry of Scripture certainly gives us much to pause and reflect on as we consider everything.

The main point I want to make briefly is that we live the faith not through doctrine, but through Christ’s body the church. Each of us contribute to the whole, living as we really are in our real struggles, in all the struggle, but with the light and life of Christ present in each. And from that reflection from Christ, we are light to each other, indeed even called “light in the Lord.” We are real, we struggle, we are not perfect, but we also love and seek to love, and to be entirely true to the full will of God. But we do this in relationship, especially as church. This is so central, but I’m afraid is all but lost today.

Because of this, through the Spirit I can live as a follower of Christ in each situation, in the challenges faced, even in what might seem threatening. We in Christ are in this together. Somehow Christ’s light on others seems channeled as it were to ourselves and inexplicitly way beyond our understanding the light of Christ might even help others in the same way through us.

All in a normal day, in the normal life in and through Jesus.

the testing will come

Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tested by the devil.

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2a, 13

Although in comparison to Christ, ours is small potatoes; like him as we follow in the way that he set, that he is for us, we can be sure that testing will come, challenging every advance we’ve seemingly made, even everything we’ve received from God through Christ.

Like Jesus we need to be those who are in Scripture (in his case, well versed) and remain in prayer. God will help us through every single testing as we do that. Unlike Jesus we will stumble at least in moments of time. But like Jesus and through him we can resist. God will give us the answer we need through Scripture and prayer. It’s not up to us to come up with the answer, we must receive our needed help from God. If we persevere through the testing God will inevitably always come through. It’s up to us to continue following in this, long as it may seem to be.

Part of life now in God through Christ by the Spirit living in this world. In and through Jesus.

7

keep improving

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

One of the things I notice when I’m trying to apply this passage or other passages like Philippians 4:4-8 is that over time I think I’m clearly seeing an improvement. If I try to measure it from time to time or over a short period of time, it might be discouraging, because there are those trials which seem especially challenging.

What we need to keep doing I think is to look to improve, keep getting better in learning to apply Scripture, God’s word into our circumstances. That certainly requires a commitment on our part. We have to keep doing it. We never arrive at a point in this life when it’s no longer necessary to do so.

It’s never fun in the midst of it, but God helps us along the way, as we look to God and God’s promises to us and seek to live in accordance with all that we understand as we seek to better understand everything. In and through Jesus.

learn from (and don’t ignore) history

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did, as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not engage in sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

1 Corinthians 10:1-15

I’m afraid that all too often our theology or teaching we’ve taken in trumps what Scripture actually says. In the same way I’m afraid that any ideology of the world can make reality take a back seat or get out of the car altogether. But reality doesn’t work that way. Unless we take seriously what Scripture says along with the voices that are raising concerns now, and unless we are willing to look at the past square in the eye, and seek to learn from it, and adjust ourselves accordingly, unless we’re willing to do all of that, then we’ll have to suffer the consequences, and others along with us.

All of Scripture somehow has meaning for us now, although I acknowledge that places in Leviticus seem without application to me. But you have to factor all the details of that book in as well, and see that as part of the whole, which might help us understand the present through considering the past along with the projected future.

Something similar is true for world and national history as well. Why we can’t look at the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly which is inevitable in any such history, and why that’s considered divisive or whatever else negative is a sign that we’re caught up in some ideology. To be devoted to an ideology as if it’s right and true, one example the myth surrounding any nation’s greatness and goodness, is to at least be on the precipice, if not already fallen into idolatry itself. We must be willing to hear the voices that speak out of pain. Of course, they’re not going to be infallible, but neither should we dismiss them as irrelevant with no truth and nothing to say that we can’t learn from. We must listen and listen and listen. Only then might we have something to say which might help, and maybe not. But we need to seek to learn. Only then will others come to respect what we might have to contribute for good.

And we have to accept what Paul tells us above. We need the fear of God in our hearts, but with the realization that such fear is meant to help us into the knowledge and experience of the fathomless and pervasive love of God. In and through Jesus.

taking Scripture seriously

That very night the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea, and when they arrived they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there, too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 

Acts 17:10-13

There is a tradition within Christianity among us that among other things is supposed to be Bible-centered. And really when you think about it, that idea in some form has especially been prominent since the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther reacted to the legalism he perceived in his experience in the Roman Catholic Church and understandably read back that experience into Romans where Paul writes that the just shall live by faith. Today we have what is no less than a culture war in which this view of the role of the Bible is supposedly central.

What Scripture is supposed to do, what it’s about is the light of the good news of God in and through Jesus. Details have to be seen in context, an important part of that in the covenants God made with humankind, what Christians call the old covenant and the new covenant. And the main point is the one which can’t be lost. It’s about God’s promise to creation of a new creation in which all the brokenness of creation is repaired along with the reconciliation of all things to God through Christ. Really, when you start to think about it, quite staggering.

Probably to a significant extent because of an engrained modernist enlightenment way of approaching the biblical text, details that may be relevant or not are parsed out and made to be more or less essentials, or at least litmus tests on whether or not one accepts Scripture as something more than just a human book, “the authority of Scripture.” I won’t name any of those issues here. They’re pretty obvious. But I will say that not only is the reading and interpretation sometimes stretched and at least questionable, but I wonder if the main point is being missed or at least pushed to the side.

No one took Scripture more seriously than the Jews in Thessalonica who opposed Paul and Paul’s message of the gospel. At least that is what they all thought, what Paul himself once thought along with them. They were dead set in defending to the letter and even if necessary to the death their interpretation of Scripture. And it turns out that they were after all was said and done, wrong.

The Jews in Beroea got it right because they listened to the gospel presentation from Paul, then sought to discern together from Scripture whether or not it was true. As a result, many of them came to faith. They weren’t hung up on what turned out to be side issues like circumcision in which Paul would at least ultimately contradict what Scripture, the Torah actually said. They were attentive to what turned out to be the main point, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus.

I would argue that this is what we must be about today. If we work on that, then details will be more apt to fall into their proper place in our interpretation and understanding. And we must try to judge our understanding of side issues in that light. When we do, we’ll find that Christ is central, God’s work in Christ. This will lead us to God, and to God’s good will. And it will help us to discern together where that good news is taking root and bearing fruit.

That in essence is what Scripture is all about. If we’re really to take Scripture seriously, that is the point we will be concerned about. And all else will be seen in that light. Yes, with the work of interpretation of the texts with all the relevant disciplines in play like biblical background studies in culture, etc.

We must take the Bible completely seriously for what it is. Scripture inspired by God to give us the word of truth, yes the saving good news of God in and through Jesus.

the ongoing challenge of Scripture and life

 

…the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7b; NRSVue

Scripture is so full, and we all know that life is. If there isn’t one thing, there’s another. Always something. 

Job is a great case in point. Avoid one way of looking at the book. Go to Jewish tradition and elsewhere. Even the way it’s translated is not set in stone. Job is just a great example of what is more or less true in all of Scripture. It points us to Christ, but the way it does is noteworthy.

Getting back to Job and the passage quoted above, Job is commended for challenging God. Job’s friends are rebuked, even humiliated (according to the NRSV heading) for stating the conventional doctrinal orthodox understanding of life, faithfully applying it to Job’s situation, indeed tragedy. There was nothing else to be said.

But Scripture and life is not like that. It is so much more open ended, not some closed system which we can set in stone in some kind of systematic theology. We’ll wrestle in life yes, but in Scripture too, and even with God if our faith is active and real.

Scripture is important but is never an end in itself. It mirrors real life and is meant to help us on. The point of Scripture and having to wrestle with it, is to lead us to Christ and to begin to understand all of Scripture in that light, really in a way that we can’t ever fully comprehend and capture. And so, the challenge goes on.  In and through Jesus.

 

prayer for a clean heart

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10; NRSVue

There are those who say that this prayer is not for today since God has given us a new heart and spirit in the new covenant. I can more than understand that thought, and I don’t really care to argue about it. It may well be true on a certain level. We indeed have a new heart and are partakers of the divine nature as believers in Christ. But that doesn’t mean that our hearts might not be carried away with something contrary to the goodness and righteousness that’s in Christ.

In John’s first epistle (as it’s called, or letter) we’re told that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). If that’s addressed to believers, and contrary to a few I think it plainly is, then it’s not a stretch to pray the prayer above from Psalm 51, and to benefit directly from that entire penitent psalm.

What we’re talking about here is real life. Yes, we’re forgiven in Christ through his once for all sacrifice for sins. But in God’s love and grace, God holds all of God’s children accountable. God expects more from us.

We may not be able to make sense of everything in Scripture, and that for a good number of reasons. It’s better to ponder than simply dismiss something as irrelevant to us. All of Scripture is written for us if not to us. It will benefit us if we give it the time and space.

In this case I pray that God will indeed give me a clean heart and a new and right spirit. God is always at work to bring us into a new experience of God’s love and what that means for every part of our lives and out from our lives to others. In and through Jesus.

everything, but Scripture at the heart of it

Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and suffer reproach, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:7b-16; NRSVue

This entire passage is important, and not just for the woman or man servant of God in a pastoral role, but really for the entire church. After all, leadership is especially from those who live and serve in love. That’s not to say that the gift of pastor and the pastoral role is to be set aside. Not at all. But we can all aspire to what this passage is getting at where we each live and the responsibilities we have. And our part in the church in all of this.

For me Scripture is at the heart of all of this. All else flows out of that. After all, God’s word comes primarily out of the inspired holy writ, Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Ministry and all of life should be text driven, that is the text of the Bible. That is in part why next week, Holy Week, I intend at least at this point to have nothing more than Scripture texts from the Revised Common Lectionary on this blog. We do well to meditate and be silent more often, and no week more than Holy Week.

I look forward to that. May God help us all to together and individually be present and ponder Scripture, and God’s speaking and shaping of us from it. As we consider the sufferings, death and resurrection of our Lord.

In and through Jesus.

the problem of patriarchalism, gender and the Bible

“Pray, then, in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be revered as holy.”

Matthew 6:9; NRSVue

I recently read that the Bible is a sexist book, or something to that effect. That perhaps come across harshly. It was written into a patriarchal society in which men generally always ruled in government and were the head of their households. And often women were denigrated as second-class citizens, certainly below men in status. Scripture speaks into that world, but with the vision toward the kingdom (rule) of God promised in Jesus in which there’s no longer male nor female, master or slave, etc., but all are one in Christ (Galatians).

The best translations of Scripture in my view don’t obscure this reality, in fact you really can’t. What we need to do is read each part in its context, carry it forward to ours, and with the promise of God’s future rule in view. I think it’s important to see how Scripture deals with each cultural context. I tend to think that God accommodates God’s self to people and life as it is, to culture in general, but at the same time gradually pushes it toward what we see when Jesus comes and what follows with Pentecost and the church. And we also need to remember that Jesus needs to be the interpreter of Scripture, in other words we interpret it all through a Christological lens, and particularly in light of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

That brings us to the subject of God. I’m part of a church which really tries to be inclusive in language, even with reference to God. We know that strictly speaking God is spirit, neither male nor female, but that humankind both female and male are made in God’s image. Most of Scripture again and again and again ascribes masculinity to God. Though we can see the spirit of God as neuter since that’s the vocabulary, though we also certainly know from Scripture that the spirit is not only wind or breath but is also personal. And God as wisdom actually is feminine tense. God is also likened to a mother in different ways in Scripture.

It’s fine to have a secondary use of a translation, perhaps like the Inclusive Bible which while not without problem, actually ended up much better than what was probably generally anticipated. But I think it’s best to use as one’s main translation a Bible which translates all gender as it was in the original while at the same time not translating male when it doesn’t mean that at all. The NRSV and now NRSVue is considered the most accurate by scholars. The CEB and the NIV are also good and some others with them. But some are more or less good with some problems, seemingly wanting to highlight patriarchalism as if it’s God’s will in creation (and new creation).

By all means if you want to, read Scripture in ways that get around it. The newish hymnbook in my tradition, Voices Together does precisely that. And it’s okay to pray the prayer the Lord taught us (see above) with something other than Father. But forever the original will say father. And there will be some debate and disagreement for sure.

In the end we don’t do well to dwell on such things. We just go on, together humbly trying to understand Scripture in its original context, how to see it in and through Christ, and what that means for us today. That’s where we should dwell. Let the other go. God will help us and in spite of our differences in all of this.

just pray

pray without ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:17; NRSVue

We all breathe one breath after another without thinking about it. Prayer needs to become like that for us. We breathe so to speak one prayer after another without thinking about it. We are in an attitude of prayer even when we can’t pray. There will be plenty of times when it takes effort for us to summon ourselves to pray, when there seems somehow to be a resistance against us praying. Just pray.

Paul tells us to do that without ceasing. Prayer can be understood as two-way communication between us and God. We need to be in Scripture as well. Our desire is to hear from God, to receive God’s word as we continue to pray to God. Note that this is given to the church. This is where that starts, and maybe the main point. We pray together, we’re in that together. But from that it becomes a part of each of us as members of Christ’s body.

Prayer includes a good number of things in no particular order such as confession, praise, worship, thanksgiving, petition/supplication, lament, even silence before God as in waiting on God. The one thing that should more and more characterize us as people of God and followers of Christ is prayer, the practice of prayer, as we seek in love to God and to others to live in God’s will, to do good to all. In and through Jesus.