the blessing of the biblical accounts: David

God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

Acts 13:22b

The biblical account of David (1 Samuel 16-2 Kings 2; 1 Chronicles 11-29) like the gospel accounts is theological in the story it tells. It doesn’t diminish David’s failures or hide his blemishes. This is in large part why the Bible is so believable. David is a man after God’s own heart, but not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

This encourages us, because this too is where we live in Jesus. We are forgiven for sure, through Jesus and his death for us, but we’re not without fault. We still have our sins, and our lives can be messy at times. Of course we’re always in need of God’s grace, not only for forgiveness, but to live in the new life God has for us in Jesus.

But back to David. We can learn much from his account, which of course is what is intended in one way or another through all the Bible. Things that will both resonate with us and can help us. His is a story worth reading through, reflecting on and studying. Remarkably many of the psalms are in David’s name.

God did not put him on the shelf because of the great sin he committed, but David is on the shelf so to speak for all to see and learn from. That we might see the good we can emulate, and the bad we’re to avoid. Along with the grace that is ours. In and through the son of David, Jesus.

 

a breathtaking view

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians, especially the first three chapters in our Bibles, is written to see something of the vast panorama of God’s working in the new creation in Christ, with a special emphasis on the church. Unfortunately for too many of us who have been in the Bible a number of years, it can come across differently than how it did originally. That’s when we maybe need to step back, slow down, move through it slow enough, then stop, and note the beautiful portrait and scene in our mind’s eye.

The passage quoted above is very much like that. The thoughts to the original readers would have been breathtaking in themselves, and Paul surely almost breathlessly himself, unravels a glorious picture before us. So that what we end up with is a breathtaking view.

Contrast that to what is presented today as glorious, maybe even the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor as maybe through a vision, the devil showed the Lord in Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. Really, all the world has to offer can’t compare with what God reveals to us by the Spirit in God’s word through the gospel. No, it can’t compare. In fact what comparison we do end up finding by the Spirit’s help is the difference between darkness and light. At best between what is provisional and good in its place for now, and what is perfect and to last forever.

The entire Bible especially taken together is like this. And the book in it we call Ephesians. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s resurrection: the beginning of the new creation

The nuts and bolts of scripture are so important, and where we live, but we also need to step back and take a look at the whole. And get a breathtaking sweep of what’s going on. Or try to get some sense of that. If we don’t, we may too easily miss the point of it all. Yet it’s something that we need to keep working at. Which is why we need to be in all of scripture, as well as in each part of it, especially noting some of the places of beauty and grandeur such as Romans 8, Isaiah 40 and 53, etc., along with many beautiful scenes along the way. Not to mention a good number of difficult ones as well. Such is life. And we need to pay attention to life. And know that God will show up in unusual, unexpected ways in some of its most difficult, and to us, unlikely places.

But having just celebrated Easter yesterday, remembering Jesus’s resurrection day, we now enter into, what’s called on the Christian calendar, Eastertide, or Easter season. Since we’re no longer a part of a church which observes the Christian calendar, except for the big holy days such as Christmas and Easter, I won’t dwell much on tradition. Just to say that those practices can help us center on the gospel, which in the case of the resurrection is about a new life which begins now through faith in Christ (and baptism, see the New Testament; although it’s symbolic, it seems to be a symbolism which helps us appreciate and perhaps enter more fully into the reality: note Romans 6 and elsewhere).

As C. S. Lewis indicated in his classic, The Great Divorce, “Heaven”, as we call it, is not going to be something more mystical, but actually more material and solid than what we know now, so that if we were to step into the new heaven and new earth without the change to come in the resurrection, we wouldn’t be able to endure it. Heaven coming down to earth and becoming one, is central to the new creation in Jesus which begins at his resurrection (N. T. Wright), so that the new creation in Jesus begins there, he being the firstfruits of those to be raised from the dead, who have fallen asleep in death (1 Corinthians 15).

And this new creation in Jesus does not just include the resurrection of our bodies, but the resurrection and renewal of all things, actually a brand new creation, making all things new. The God who created all things, can make a brand new creation, one not subject to the physics and destiny of this old creation. Just as Jesus’s body was not subject to the limitations our bodies have now, or for that matter his body had before his resurrection, so the material world will then be different. I think there will be those who carry on the work of science during that time. They will be just as astounded as now, probably all the more. There will be an endless amount of worlds to explore, discoveries to be made.

But what does all of that matter for us now? At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul nails it down with the point that since the resurrection of Christ and all that follows is true, then we’re to give ourselves fully to his work, knowing that’s it’s not in vain.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

As N. T. Wright suggests, the tie is surely to what preceded it, the point of the resurrection. Otherwise, as the same passage says, we might as well eat and drink and be merry, live it up now, because tomorrow we die, so that there’s no point in thinking what we do now matters beyond this life. But beside the point that it can actually matter greatly for better or for worse in this life, we need to remember and hold on to the truth that somehow in Jesus what happens in this old creation impacts what will be true in the new creation. The subtleties of that, how it will be worked out remain to be seen. We just have to believe it to be the case, so that on the basis of Christ’s resurrection we know that what we do now in him does matter. Not only for this life, but also for the life to come. In and through Jesus.

the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

back to scripture

נ Nun

105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
    that I will follow your righteous laws.
107 I have suffered much;
    preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
    and teach me your laws.
109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
    I will not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a snare for me,
    but I have not strayed from your precepts.
111 Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart.
112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees
    to the very end.d]”>[d]

One way or another, I think there’s nothing more basic to the Christian life, to the follower of Jesus than to get back into scripture, God’s written word. Of course there’s never any shortage of questions on just how one should do that, how our reading is flawed now, how we should study, just a number of problems in how even Christians approach the Bible. And we need to listen and weigh these things, and consider just how we might do better.

But the crucial point is that we need to get into the word little by little, and all of it. Best case is to both be reading it through, and meditating on it along the way. I have listened to scripture either being read in a conventional way, or dramatically for years. Now I mostly read it for myself all the way through, as well as another track much slower, thinking on each part.

We need to see the whole, and see scripture as God’s story with all its different sometimes seemingly at odd parts, the 66 books all contributing uniquely to the whole, each one important in its place.

This is not about following some kind of religious prescribed order. It is more about both relationship and community together in God in and through Jesus. It is both individual and corporate, so that we find our own God-given place within the community of believers in the church. Where did that come from? From scripture itself. And that’s the entire point: We need to be in all of scripture, see it as the unfolding story of God which comes to its dramatic fulfillment and conclusion in Jesus. We find that while we have to take each part seriously in its own terms, in the end we see it in light of Jesus, and the fulfillment of it all in him, through the gospel, mediated by the church, and in mission to the world. All of that together. Not discounting how God impacts us individually as we get daily into God’s word.

At the church where we’ve been attending to take our grandchildren, and plan to soon join, they emphasize what they call the row, the circle and the chair. The row being our coming together weekly to worship and hear God’s word taught. The circle being the small groups which they strongly encourage people to become a part of, coming together to consider God’s truth in Jesus. And the chair, which is called personal devotions. I guess I have not really practiced personal devotions in the conventional evangelical way over the years. For me the point is that we need to be regularly, daily in God’s word and in prayer ourselves. But to have a space of quiet time before God would certainly be good. I try to do something like that throughout the day, whatever activity I’m in, simply picking up in my little New Testament where I’ve left off throughout the day, a small clip allowing me to open the page I’m on.

Again and again I get back to this theme. Back to scripture. Because I believe God is uniquely at work through it. And through the good news of the gospel. Saving us from so much for so much in and through Jesus.

the importance of being in the entire word

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Much of my Christian life, now well over forty years has been spent listening to scripture being read, so that I would hear the entire Bible at least twice a year, and often more. I haven’t been doing that lately, but continue to read through the entire Bible, though slowly. But I’ve begun to listen again through Bible Gateway. You could start here and/or here.

There are parts of the Bible that are ponderous and downright difficult, along with other parts that are exhilarating, interesting, and downright beautiful. We have to take it all together for it to have the effect needed. It’s a matter of reading in context, and it’s important in taking in everything, just as we have to take in everything in life: the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

So that’s my challenge for all of us during this new year, 2018. To read and listen to the word, all of it. Yes, to meditate on it as well, and even to study it. But the point today is the importance of being in all of it. As we go on in all of life in and through Jesus.

the gospel from us evangelicals

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:13-18

I frequently have seen critiques of evangelicals which to some extent ring true. One of the most common is the charge against us that we focus too much on individual piety, and on a personal relationship with Christ, and how our view of the gospel’s impact in the world doesn’t go much further than that. Unfortunately I think there’s all too much truth in that. But at the same time, in spite of it, I see evangelical concern for justice and for the poor made evident both within churches, and through organizations like World Vision and Compassion International.

The gospel is about reconciliation, and while certainly in terms of individuals to God through Christ, also about all of humankind being reconciled and ultimately brought together as one family under Christ. And this reconciliation, while breaking down the basic barrier between Jew and Gentile, also breaks down all other barriers as well, we might say all other dividing marks which put one party over or against another: slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).

So I think it’s not a matter so much at all about what we evangelicals have taught, but more of a matter of what we either fail to teach, or more likely are simply lax in. So that when we consider one’s personal relationship with God and walk through Christ, we need to think of it in terms of community as well as their own personal experience. So that such is always factored in as part of the whole.

I no longer look for a church which has it altogether. I have lived long enough to doubt the existence of such a church. We all have our flaws, weak points, and at times, even blind spots. I realize too that I’m prone along the same lines as everyone else. I too have probably emphasized personal piety in my reading, meditation and teaching of scripture to the exclusion at times of the bigger picture. There’s always the possibility of gradually improving as one sees that picture in scripture.

So we need not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead we need to be thankful for the strong points, which are valid and helpful in their place. To thank God for that, and make the most of it. Even as we continue to work on understanding the expansiveness of the impact of the gospel, how it’s meant to bring in no less than a new creation of the old, making all things new only in and through Jesus.

back to the Bible

I have a call for both progressive and conservative Christians, and really for everyone regardless of what stripe or tradition in Christianity we might be. We all need to get back to the Bible.

I know no one reads the Bible without interpreting it, just like any other book. And theology informs that reading of scripture, just as scripture ought to inform one’s theology, shorthand here for one’s understanding of the faith and the gospel. But the Bible by itself will impact you if it really is God’s breathed out, written word. In your heart, mind and practice.

Back to the Bible is one of my favorite Christian organizations, probably second to Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work. I love what they try to do, and look like they’re still doing in a helpful new way. I remember the days of Theodore Epp, who used to be, and in a sense still is one of my favorite Bible teachers.

I would like not only to see any theological system challenged probably mostly in refining, but perhaps with some bigger changes through the reading and study of scripture. But just as importantly, each one of us. We need to go back to scripture again and again, pore over it, ask the hard questions, and keep reading and praying. We won’t be disappointed if we continue to do that. And like Charles Spurgeon noted, there’s never an end to the depths we find in scripture as well as the life in and through Jesus.

a marathon

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Hebrews 12:1-2; VOICE

In the United States, we love the sprinters, “the world’s fastest humans,” and we pay little attention to marathons, though perhaps that has been changing in recent times. Part of that might be our penchant for instant entertainment and results. We probably are not all that good at processing things, therefore we prefer a song (which might be good) of three to five minutes duration over a symphony any day. Anything that takes time and involves process is not what we’re all about, or programmed for.

But all of that said, the Christian faith and life is all about process and longevity. It is not about some great flash into arrival and unending success. If we don’t believe that, maybe we would do well to read the passage linked above which includes all of Hebrews 11. But much of our Christianity seems to be different. It is about greatness now in the sense of doing great things, and in some sense having arrived. But I don’t see scripture, and life that way at all.

We never know what a day may bring, but we have to be in it, committed for the long haul. We have to have a marathon runner’s mentality, not the sprinter’s. Many things will happen along the way. Seeming failure, setbacks, mistakes, challenges, unforeseen problems, whatever it might be. But we go on, maybe get up and go on, but definitely go on. We’re in it for the long haul. Looking to, indeed fixing our eyes on Jesus. What we’re called to. In and through Jesus.

 

love as Jesus has and continues to love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15

In the passage on the vine and the branches, Jesus tells his disciples that he loves them, with the implication that is love is always present. He simply tells them to remain in that love. That sounds really good.

But then there’s the caveat, a condition: They must obey his commands, just as he obeyed his Father’s command. By doing so he remained in the Father’s love, and they will remain in his love. Oh no, not so good! Sounds like a very conditional love indeed, and therefore puts that love into question: Is it really love?

But then comes the command: Simply to love one another as Jesus had loved them. With the added word that there’s no greater love than to die for one’s friends, which of course Jesus did on the cross. 1 John echoes this: the command there being to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and love one another, as Jesus commanded us (1 John 3).

Of course this is not a weak “all you need is love,” kind of thought, but has all the meaning of the example, teachings, and life, as well as death of Jesus. That is how we know what love is in its essence, it is humble and self-sacrificing, lived out for the good of others. In essence reciprocating God’s love in Jesus to each other, and to the world. What that means is best understood in the reading of the entire Bible, and especially the New Testament, grappling with the story there, and the good news at the heart of it. All of this given to us by God in God’s grace by the Spirit in and through Jesus.