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.

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

think biblically

In the firestorm of today’s news, some of which is exceedingly sad, and perhaps all the more in the political climate of today, and any day, for that matter, we need to aspire to learning to think biblically.

Just to look at the Bible alone, as if we could do so, as it were, in a vaccum, which is impossible, but again, just to consider the Bible alone is challenging. I resort to what has been called a redemptive hermeneutic (hermeneutic essentially means interpretation), so that the Bible is a story which points to an ultimate conclusion, which is a fitting end to the beginning, but takes seriously everything in between. So that, while there’s harmony in the sense that the story follows a certain path, we find unexpected twists and turns along the way, even in the First Testament alone, but especially so in the Second, Final Testament, when Jesus fulfills all of scripture in ways which were not anticipated by those who lived during that time, or prior. But the seeds of which one can arguably clearly enough find in the First Testament.

From there, we have to consider present day thinking, where that came from, how it is entrenched in society, and in our own thinking. If we’re beginning to get the first goal of arriving to good Biblical thinking, true to that text and its fulfillment in Jesus, then we are ready to consider how we really think in everyday life, what our thinking actually is, which likely will be a reflection of the thinking of the world in which we live. And we have to critique that in the light of biblical thinking.

Where I live, the United States, our language and thinking is derived from the Modernist Enlightenment. Even how we think biblically is in large part impacted by that, so that we actually end up imposing the understanding of the age upon the text of scripture. Rather, we need to remain in the text of scripture, so that we can more and more think truly biblically, and be able to critique our present day thought.

Does that mean we expect the world to conform to biblical thinking? Certainly not. But we in Jesus are not to be conformed to this world, but rather, transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we might come to understand what is the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). That is not something we’ll arrive to overnight, indeed it involves a lifelong process together with other believers.

I believe this is critical, mainly because I think we think in ways that are not so much informed and thus formed by the Bible, but more by society, with especially profound, and too often, I think, egregious/tragic results, especially seen in the political realm. Like everything else in life, this is surely a mixed bag. We do get some things more or less right even on this track, but are amiss in other things, I’m afraid. A big problem from our inheritance of the Modernist Enlightenment on which the United States was largely built, is the emphasis and insistence on individual rights. So that the rights of the individual, however that is manifested politically takes priority over everything else. While “rights” and the individual surely arguably have their place, we have to ask ourselves if that has the same place in scripture that it has in our world. And if not, then what informs it, or what context in scripture might we say it exists, its place.

This is not a proposal to imagine that biblical thinking can be imposed on the world, but to seek to be true to it ourselves, so that we can better live in it, through learning to think and therefore live according to what scripture teaches, and its fulfillment in Jesus, rather than what any political party of this world insists on. The new way of thinking and living in the grace and kingdom that is ours in Jesus.

Christ is the center

There is an Antiochian (Eastern) Orthodox church in our area which has a fitting mural on its domed ceiling of Christ with apostles and prophets and perhaps other people of the church surrounding Christ as witnesses to him. I think this is quite apt. We don’t really preach the word, as Paul charges Timothy to do, unless we’re preaching Christ.

Jesus himself pointed out to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection that scripture, the Law and the Prophets taught that he must suffer and die and be raised on the third day. That was certainly a revelation to them, and it should be instructive to us. But I’m afraid that many times in our evangelical churches, Christ gets lost in the details of our message on a given passage and passages from scripture. Which is ironic since evangelical means pertaining to the gospel. Scripture is not meant to be read as it was originally received. We are to read it now with Christ and gospel centered eyes, with that lens in place. Christ and the gospel is the point and end of every passage of scripture, the point of the Story of scripture.

If we don’t do this, then we’re not preaching the word, period. Of course to some extent every evangelical church will preach the word to the extent that Christ is proclaimed. But the message can all too easily become geared toward the individual hearers helping themselves with the truth of the word. And there’s no doubt that all kinds of wisdom can be found in the words of scripture, even at the most obscure places. But Christ himself is wisdom from God, in him are all the treasures of wisdom, so that ultimately we don’t find true wisdom apart from him.

It may well be true that some find true wisdom through Christ, even if they don’t know of Christ and the gospel message. That God might be giving them that light insofar as that’s possible apart from the message of Christ and the faith that comes with that message, as C. S. Lewis might suggest, if I’m understanding him right. But the true light that comes into the world, enlightening everyone (John 1) is fully revealed in the Word who became flesh, and dwelled among us, and gave his flesh (and blood) for the life of the world.

It is also true, as one of the faithful pointed out to me, that we don’t preach Christ apart from living out the love by the Spirit, which is the fulfillment of the law, that is the torah of scripture. If we don’t live out that love, we are not showing Christ to the world. And it’s also true that this unique love comes only from Christ as the source. God in Christ the human, of course himself being God-in-the-flesh, fully human and fully God.

Christ is the center by whom we find through faith and baptism the life of the Trinity in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Apart from that Word, the written word has lost its way, falling short of the truth, and therefore having no life. If we don’t believe that, then we are missing reality, we are more or less missing the center, who is Christ.

 

 

when not knowing where to turn

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Acts 20:32

There is plenty of dribble and empty things to turn to in this information age online, and most of us have ready access to such. And I’m referring to matters even on the side of seriousness. Not to say that we don’t need some pleasant diversions along the way, some good, clean fun.

It probably is much easier to learn to tune out the political speak nowadays, since one finds that there is often not much substance to it at all. Not to mention that we too often are misaligned with the politics of this world rather than the politics of Jesus, the politics of the cross.

Sometimes when I write this post I don’t know what to write. Or sometimes I don’t know what to think or where to turn, even while we in Jesus know we need to turn to God in prayer. That is when we can be reminded that we need to turn again and again to the word of God in scripture, and the word of truth which is the gospel, the point of all of scripture.

That word has raising and staying power. As Paul told the elders of Ephesians, a word meant for them, but in turn for the entire church. The word of God’s grace, which is able to build us up and give us an inheritance among all those who are sanctified, meaning set apart to God and therefore holy.

Scripture gives us direction and hope, and a hope not only for us, but for everyone, for the entire world in and through Jesus. By faith and through baptism we enter into this reality in Jesus. By the Spirit we become grounded to God’s word, the inscripturated word of God, and particularly to the point of it all, the gospel which is the good news for us and for the world in and through Jesus.

And so, come what may, we need to be those who remain in God’s word in and through Jesus, finding the Word himself, Jesus in the midst of the word. And growing in the grace and truth of that, along with others in Jesus.

Bible reading: the church and the mature in faith are guides

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:15-18

There is no question that it is the Holy Spirit who helps anyone understand or get anything out of the reading of scripture. Along with that, it’s vitally important that we remember that the church has been given the Spirit to understand scripture, in regard to what is of primary importance, especially in the matter of the gospel and the salvation that accompanies, or comes from that.

It’s important eventually to read or listen to the Bible from cover to cover, taking it in as one whole Book, while at the same time acknowledging that there are many books within that, and chapters of what one might call the story of scripture. And there are the hard things, which seem off limits, and a very few which might be better off left for private reading, not read in keeping with the lexical plan which is incorporated in a good number of churches today. I actually think there’s probably some wisdom in that. While at the same time I think there’s wisdom in going through those hard places in an instructional, informal setting.

There are a few concerns I have which are far ranging. There is a book for children which I love to read to our granddaughter (and eventually to both of our granddaughters) which is wonderful in helping the very young get a view of the entire Bible. There was one reading though, in which I cringed, because certain details which could be misunderstood, and might not be worth bring up to little ears, were included, and while done so to communicate to children, the wording itself I would think may well have been different, to not contradict the scriptural text, but to say it in a way that when the time comes where they read the Bible for themselves, they’ll be hopefully prepared so as not to misunderstand what they’re reading.

Another concern I have might come from those who seem to use the Bible as a weapon against evil. They are always appealing to texts in a way which is always letting people know just how wrong they are. This is neither the spirit of the Bible, what we believe is God’s written word, nor is it the spirit of Christ himself. It is another spirit, perhaps simply human, but easily enough could well be of the world, the flesh and the devil, rather than of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And such can twist scripture as if it is speaking to certain pet hot button issues of the day. We have to not only beware of such, but call them on the carpet, and tell them enough is enough. At the very least ask them the hard questions. The church should hold them accountable.

But there’s also the so called progressives, who I find quite frustrating. They will say many things I agree with strongly, things I think need to be said today. But it seems to me that they fail over and over again to look at the entire truth squarely in the face, and so they fall short of teaching the whole will or counsel of God. For some this seems particularly obvious. For others, it’s less so, because they teach much that is good. I am not thinking merely of one or two issues. I am thinking of how they approach scripture in their teaching, their hermeneutics or way of interpreting it, and whether or not that’s in line with good Bible reading and what the church has taught. Progressives too easily dismiss traditional understandings and love to beat up on the fundamentalists, in fact for some, it seems like it’s their preoccupation. For others, they may be working through some of the backlash of their experience in the group mentioned above, who seem to use scripture as a weapon.

Anyone can benefit from a reading of scripture, and the gospels of Mark and John might be great places to start for anyone who has never read scripture before. But we need a guide, even as did the devout Ethiopian eunuch of old (Acts 8:26-40). We need those who are well established and mature in their intake of “the meat of the word” to help those who are still on “the milk of the word.” As well as helping others come to the faith of the good news in and through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

the church’s mission and politics

America is in a presidential campaign that is so bad, it’s compelling. A presidential election here gets enough people’s attention, but is usually accompanied with what is considered, and to a large extent I’m afraid, rightfully so, the humdrum of American politics, often more about personalities and polls, than actual policy, style (and often bad, I’m afraid) over substance. This election is different in that one of the nominees is clearly outside the norm, but in ways that arguably, and I believe without a doubt is not for the good of the nation. Though maybe out of it some good can come. But hopefully not at the expense of this candidate getting elected.

This leads me to consider just what role the church might play in all of this. And front and center, for me, I’m not sure directly if the church should play much of a role at all. Because the mission of the church is to be a witness- in life, proclamation (which includes regular Eucharist), and deed- to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That gospel actually is political, because it addresses all of life, not only an individual’s relationship to God. Through Jesus in his person, life, teachings, death and resurrection, ascension, with the promise of his return. All of that is part and parcel of the good news of God in him.

What is left then, for the church to do with reference to the politics of this world? I think it gets tricky at this point, myself. Jeremiah 29 (see verse 7) might be a key in trying to think through what our role as God’s people can be this election season. I am looking forward to the release of a book to help us forward in this consideration and potential activity: Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity , by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. I think we have to consider the full sweep of scripture, beginining in Genesis 1, as well as the Story we find embedded in it. The church must not get sidetracked from its call to be a witness to the gospel in Jesus. But out from that call can come efforts to help even state institutions where that’s possible, without getting caught up by those insitutions, and merely used by them for their own ends.

Perhaps the most the church can and should do with reference to the politics of this world, and specifically considering the upcoming presidential election, is to be an example of what the true politic from the Truth (Jesus, the way, the truth and the life) looks like, and that in a broken world of which the church is a part. So that we are first to help the poor, to help women and the unborn, to help victims of evil in practical ways, etc., while we point everyone to the one hope that will endure.

Maybe from our midst might come those who like Daniel might sense a call to serve in some civic duty. If so, the church would do well to lay hands on them and pray, and always be present for counsel, while continuing to hold them up in prayer, even as they remain faithful as members of the one body in Christ.

What the church must refuse to do is take any partisan position, say either Republican or Democrat; conservative, libertarian, liberal, progressive, whatever. The church should not be known for taking such partisan stands. Even if there might be a time to take a difficult stand, as was the case with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Allan R. Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness, is a must-read, and crucial in considering this.

We as God’s people in Jesus, the church, will do our best work in a kind of inconspicuous, yet ever present way. We need to hold steady to our calling, which itself is much more communal than individual, and political than we have been led to imagine. Unfortunately we have given the political reins over to the state. In some matters, only the state carries on certain affairs, such as police action, and stopping evil doers, hopefully only when necessary with force. We live in the present with the promise of the future, the fulfilling of which begins here and now in Jesus. And we seek to promote good wherever we can, as we pray for the good of the nation in which we live. As witnesses of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Bringing light into the darkness in every corner, in and through Jesus.