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.

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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.

understanding scripture’s story

One of my favorite biblical scholars and theologians, N. T. Wright has explained scripture in terms of a five part story:

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Israel
  • Jesus
  • Church

I would like to add a sixth part which would would have to do with Jesus’s return, sometimes called the Second Coming, and maybe a seventh part could be added (to make it seven parts in all?) which would have to do with the final outcome, the eternal state.

To understand any part of scripture, one needs to see it in context, its immediate context, certainly, but also in the context of the whole, the entire Bible and witness of scripture.

I am leery of simply writing off any scripture as completely irrelevant for us today, since the New Testament, including the letters written to the churches clearly suggest otherwise. At the same time, we obviously don’t read the story well when we read it in what has been called a flat way, as if all of it has precisely the same application as when it was written. For example the rules in Leviticus 14 about mold in homes certainly do no apply in the same way for us today.

The cross, Jesus’s death is certainly a “game changer”, but what leads up to it does impact what follows. For our application today, we may need to especially emphasize what follows, but to understand that well, we need to see what preceded it. There is so much here that Christians don’t quite see or apply in the same way. But it’s a grave mistake on the one hand to think for example that the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John don’t have profound meaning for our understanding of the faith today, and even how we understand the letters written to the churches. Jesus was speaking mainly to Israel, but he was pointing out to them just what kind of kingdom he was bringing, certainly clearly anticipating what was to follow. On the other hand, it’s also a grave mistake to think that the cross in Jesus’s death did not make a profound difference in what followed: no less than the beginning of the new covenant of course in Jesus’s blood.

We have to keep working at, which means taking it all seriously, but seeing it in the context of the whole. The fulfillment coming, of course, in and through Jesus and through his death, the resurrection following.

a biblically grounded faith

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.

2 Timothy 3

Scripture is the written word of God. Every line, and every word is important within it. Of course it’s not flat. It has to be read in context, and from Genesis through Revelation as a story, essentially the story of God. We understand this from scripture itself, and from Jesus’s witness to it. Jesus considered scripture to be God’s word, of course Jesus himself being the Word, just as scripture says.

We don’t pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe, but we do read scripture in context. And in so doing, we find that new light does bring changes both in people’s understanding, and actions. As well as a new day dawning when Jesus appears with the kingdom of God in him being at hand.

But all of scripture is God-breathed and useful. So we need to be committed to reading all of it, and praying through it. And understanding it through its fulfillment, Jesus. And where we live now as followers of him.

keeping hold of the gospel

The gospel is at the heart of our faith, and therefore central to the well being, not only of us, but of the world. Faith, hope, and love depend on it. No wonder then, when it can become such a point of contention. I commend N. T. Wright and his writings, along with other writers and teachers such as Scot McKnight and Craig Blomberg, and many others.

The gospel essentially is the Jesus revealed in scripture, and all the truth that surrounds him in his person, life, teaching, works, death and resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his return. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage, but actually Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all accounts of the gospel. The good news in Jesus in which scripture is fulfilled.

It is imperative for us to hold on the gospel, not simply because of the life it promises after death, but also because of the life that is promised to us here and now. It is a life in God, one of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because of Christ’s redemptive work of the cross, and the freeing activity of the Spirit (Romans 8). I find that we have to hold on to faith to get out of survival mode, though in spiritual warfare, simply to stand our ground is all that’s required (Ephesians 6:10-20). This is all about the gospel: the good news in Jesus, and holding on to that.

God wants us in Jesus to be more than conquerors, actually in him we already are (Romans 8), victorious (Revelation 2-3) in and through Jesus by the good news, regardless of what we face, or our past, as well as present. It may be in the midst of much weakness, and fallout. Nevertheless God wants the truth of that gospel in Jesus stamped onto our lives, so that it defines and centers us in all of life. The good news, by the way, is as big as all of life, if one reads the pages of scripture in full. It is no less than new creation, God making all things new. It is not a matter of hiding in a cave somewhere with bread and water. At the same time, though, it does involve a following with others of Christ in identification with him, which in this life can spell trouble, even death. But in the midst of that, we know from the good news that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to pray and ask God to help us grasp and hold on to this good news in Jesus. That it might correct us where need be, and set us on the path of life, even of immortality, the eternal life and everlasting way in and through Jesus.

 

reading and meditation for Holy Saturday

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

John 19:38-42

We can look back on it now and realize that this wasn’t the end, but for Jesus’s disciples, this was either the beginning of the end, or more likely, in the midst of living in a most hard part of an uncompleted story. Of course they would be assailed with doubts and fears. But something new, strange and wonderful was about to happen.