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.

the love which carries us through

I am not one much for what might be called “proof texting,” by which I mean trying to come up with a Bible verse, or even passage (though a passage is much better) to prove a point. Although one sentence can surely say a lot. Context is so important in good Bible reading and study, and most certainly includes the tradition of the church as in how the Holy Spirit has helped the church in seeing the truth of the gospel in any given passage, aside from the details which are bound to bring out different perspectives, and aren’t meant necessarily to be pinned down to one sure meaning, as we often do.

And so in trying to think of one passage which might get across what I want to think on now, I can’t come up with one off the top of my head. Instead I would say, go and read the entire Bible. Over time, of course. Maybe a one year reading program would be best. I like the idea of reading it all straight through. Or reading the New Testament twice, for every time one reads the Old Testament. My current plan is a bit haphazzard, except that I keep at it every day. But I’ll spare any reader any further details on that.

What we need is the grace of God, which one might call “unmerited favor,” and which I like to call a gift, sheer gift, and this in and through Jesus. And what we find is that we’re somehow taken up into that same love which characterizes the Trinity, the Love which God is. And also that this love is brought back down to earth in the exhaustion and failure which characterize our humanity down here. But a love which isn’t only present to make us feel better, but to lift our very lives into something much better.

Now what does that look like? Again, begin to turn the pages of a Bible, as you read it. You can read online, I do a bit of that through BibleGateway. My own preference is hard copy, a regular book, and my Bible translation of choice is the New International Version, while the New Revised Standard Version is probably my second preference and good in that it also translates the Apocryphal (called Deuterocanonical) books which are good for edification, even while not binding for teaching or doctrine (and I don’t think I’ve even ever read through those books completetly, though I want to). Another good resource online is the New English Translation, with helpful notes. And actually most any Bible translation is probably just fine, a good number of them on BibleGateway (see link above) itself.

The written word of God and prayer in the communion of the church and through the saving power of God in the gospel is what can help us by faith enter into this love. The love from God by which we live; the love which will carry us through come what may. In and through Jesus.

the Revelation: judgment and salvation

Revelation, the last book in the Bible, is a book which seems to have been more or less a quandary to many Christian theologians over the centuries, and a book which misinterpreted lends itself to quack theology. A book filled with symbolic, meaning, an apocalyptic, end of the world vision to be sure. It is not an easy book to interpret, though must be done so with a sensitivity to genre.

In it, God’s judgment against an evil world system and salvation in replacing that system with God’s kingdom come in King Jesus is front and center. And in the struggles in which we live, especially so in our following of Jesus, and this is so very true in so many parts of today’s world, and relatively completely unknown where I live, we are to see everything we are going through in terms of this Revelation.

Eugene Peterson has said that this is a book for worship (see his helpful rendition/paraphrase in The Message). The Lamb seated on the Throne with God and the seven spirits representing the seven-fold Holy Spirit are front and center in the book. And judgment like the rest of the Bible is primarily in terms of getting rid of the evil in this world. Such is always necessary for the salvation which follows, which in this book is about the bringing in of true shalom, peace and prosperity, true human flourishing when God’s kingdom takes over earth in the descent of the New Jerusalem. So that evil is vanquished and replaced with what is truly good in the new creation from God in which God’s Trinitarian love will have full sway in a world renewed to fulfill God’s original intent in creation.

Revelation will remain a challenge to wrestle through. While it is part of God’s written word to us, just what that word means, why it was given I don’t think we should begin to think we can pin down entirely. God’s written word, of course fulfilled in the Word, Jesus, has its purpose, and will achieve its goal. But part of that is surely to help us toward a healthy dependence on God and interdependence with each other in and through Jesus. Knowing where our ultimate hope lies. The end determining the means in which we live, in and through the Lamb, Jesus.

an old fashioned remedy for all that ills us in this life

Although this post will sound like it’s coming from a Protestant Christian, it is really hopefully in keeping with the traditional understanding of the entire church: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and all the other traditions within the Tradition of the church. Of course I know not a few will raise their eyebrows over that last thought. But back to basics.

In early centuries, people usually did not have their own Bibles, and often couldn’t read much to speak of, for that matter. That is perhaps in significance part why when one attends a liturgical church, much scripture is read, usually an Old Testament reading (called the historical reading in Anglican churches), a New Testament reading (often called an epistle reading in Anglican churches), a reading -often responsive- from the psalms, and ending with a gospel reading, from one of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. In this way the church congregation used to be taken through all of scripture in around four years, of course in their hearing the word read, often mentioned in scripture. The idea of reading scripture to ourselves, even silently, is a relatively new practice.

What I’m suggesting in this post is nothing novel, or new. And it’s not without its dangers. But all I’m saying is that we need to be in the word of scripture, in all of it over time, and little by little every day, or at least regularly. We need to take in both a lot, and look carefully at different parts in the context of the whole. And we need to keep doing this. The church needs to be doing this together, even as its congregants do it on their own as well. Both.

Dangers to anything at all exist. In this case we face the danger that as we individually read scripture, we’ll end up dividing over different interpretations. While there is room within the church for differences of interpretations in some, perhaps many matters, the danger in even that is missing the true point of the prose, narrative and poetry of scripture. What is most basic here is to realize that no prophecy of scripture is to be interpreted privately, as 2 Peter reminds us. We need to have a respect for tradition, in other words how the Spirit has led the church to understand the scripture which the Spirit gave to the church in the first place.

Maybe it’s not accurate to call us people of the Book, but instead, we’re people of God who receive from God through the Book.  We receive God’s promises and an understanding of God’s will and the grace from God through Jesus to begin to realize all of that in community as the church in our witness of the gospel to the world.

We need the big picture found in the whole of scripture, from creation to consummation in new creation. And we need the details within that story with its different acts. To understand God’s will for us now. What’s important and what is not. As well as what’s good, and what’s evil.

Scripture is a special gift from God, God-breathed (2 Timothy) and for all of life in the present. A unique, one-of-a-kind book. Through it we begin to enter into the interactivity of God’s love and work in the world in and through Jesus. The good news which helps us see what is important, and what is not, as well as what will last.

context matters (for a good Bible study)

I would like to say that any Bible study is good, but that is surely a stretch. In spite of us, God can and indeed does use his written word.

One of my complaints about what can happen in Bible studies is the failure to really consider well a passage in its immediate context, as well as general context. This is particularly challenging if not nearly impossible to do in a topical study, though I think a topical study done well, I mean really sticking to the topic, can do alright in this regard.

Scripture passages are not holy dust, simply to be read so as to give light to our days. That is where I think precious promise books, which quote Bible verses and perhaps short passages are limited. Not that they can’t be a blessing and do much good. And I’ll add that note even in regard to the type of Bible studies I’m complaining about. Again, God does use his word, often in spite of our failure to handle it accurately. However we still have the responsibility before God to work hard at handling scripture accurately (2 Timothy 2:15).

Context matters. And we might say that the point of every passage is the good news in Jesus, or perhaps better put, that is the plot of the story we’re reading, the rest of it, including teaching material such as Proverbs, etc., filling in the details, since this is to be lived out in real life. Remembering too, Jesus words, that all the law and the prophets hang on two commandments: to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22).

That is why my own preference, when leading a Bible study, is to settle down in one passage. I will try to share the context of the passage, and then guide us in a discussion which lends plenty of freedom for people to think and share preferably in relation to the passage. Each passage has so much in it, the topic at hand or the main points are so compelling, that there is no shortage to stimulate us in our thinking, and hopefully from that in our praying and living, to the glory of God in and through Christ.