what new world is opening up for us today?

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:36-42

When Jesus came, he opened up an entirely new world for any who might listen and be open. Israel was moved by story, and Jesus and the story he brings by his life and teaching, death and resurrection, really does upset the apple cart. It essentially turns the world as understood by the people of his time, specifically Jesus’ own people, Jewish, it turns their world upside down. Instead of a Messiah who would conquer by conquest, or by God thundering out of the sky to destroy the enemy, this Messiah would be condemned and nailed to a cross, the sure sign to them that he was no Messiah at all. On top of that, under God’s curse no less (Deuteronomy 21:23). But we know the end of the story. On the third day God raised Jesus to life. Then after forty days of appearing to his disciples and other believers, he ascends into heaven at the right hand of the Father. And through him, the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost. Then Peter speaks, pointing to a fulfillment of Scripture with a story which you can find hints of in the Hebrew Bible, but nevertheless is new. And an entirely new world is completely opened up, now within the apostles grasp because of the coming of the Spirit. And Peter articulates that.

The reaction from faithful Jews present who were living according to the story of Judaism in which they were raised, and we can say for all intents and purposes were largely faithful to God, or at least their understanding of God and God’s will is nothing short of shock and stop. They are ready for change, an adjustment of course which would be abrupt and radical. The story in which they had been raised was now seen to be incomplete. The story of Jesus brought a sense of fulfillment, but also even displacement of the story which they had understood, in which they had been raised. This doesn’t mean for a second that the story in the Hebrew Bible was not important for its place and time, nor that it no longer had anything to teach God’s people. It just meant that what it pointed to was fulfilled in Jesus. In God becoming human in Jesus in complete identification with humanity, so that humans could be identified with Jesus and find the new story which he brings, in which they’re forever to live, beginning even now, the only story that never ends.

For me this is most helpful. We don’t live according to any of the world’s norms, nor even the norms of God’s people of old except where those correspond with the new vision Jesus brings. We see everything along with all of life in terms of Jesus. And that brings nothing less than the beginning of an entirely new world opening up to us. One we get to be participants in as followers together of Jesus. That doesn’t mean that all is great or easy afterward, that we’ll have it all together, as we see clearly from the New Testament. It does mean that there’s an inevitable movement of the Spirit through the church to bring God’s light and love into the world in and through a cross-shaped, love-for-all life. The beginning of so much to come even in this life. In and through Jesus.

Correction in Saturday’s post, Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States): “May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this.”

Three books I referred to which influenced this post, all highly recommended: Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings. Acts by Beverly Roberts Gaventa. The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel by Justo L. González.

 

through the shock and storm

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[e] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job is an amazing book, chalk full of wisdom, but in a way, not one of my favorite stories in Scripture, not that that really matters. But for God to take up a wager with Satan over one of God’s servants, just seems to me to be strange at best, and then to let Satan do what he did, just a mystery. Well, if it’s truly a story which actually happened, then yes, I’ll just let it remain in mystery, a category that is becoming increasingly meaningful to me over time. But actually I hold it to be a wisdom story, telling a tale which actually did not happen. Where is the land of Uz? A story well worth going over again and again for the wisdom one can glean. Indeed part of the wisdom literature in Scripture.

What Job went through as indeed shock and awe, more like awful, one might say the shock and storm which followed. Although Job maintained his integrity and held on to faith in God, it was not without severely questioning God to the max. His three friends did well initially, just being with him in silence for seven days. But when they opened their mouths, their help became a hindrance. Or one can say, something Job had to work through as well, not just his own protests, maybe one might say doubts and surely wonderment before God, but also what surely sounded like pious platitudes in his ears, eloquently expressed by his three friends, with a young man adding some on at the end, although the latter might have been getting a little warmer to the truth in what he said.

Job is a case in point of what we need to do when we face hard times, hardship in whatever way it might come, difficulty, and even rejection from our friends and yes, companions in the faith. Job’s friends were each men of faith from different perspectives, maybe different traditions of practice of it. Well meaning to be sure, and sincere to the nth degree. In the end Job had to pray for them, which in itself is instructive to us, but God somehow required that for their forgiveness, which again is a word to us to try to avoid their error.

Through the shock and the storm we must hang in their and remain in faith, in the faith. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to go through it, though faith surely will lessen if not the difficulty, at least the harm done to us, and should hopefully mitigate or diminish, indeed negate any harm to our souls.

Surely Job was never the same afterwards. He had known of God he said, but through the experience he had come to see God. And he lost his first seven sons and three daughters forever in this life. But God brought him through. A lot of this a mystery to me, but maybe part of the brutal necessity of this life, living in this broken world. God will see us through to the other side as long as we hold on in faith, come what may. In and through Jesus.

in the new normal

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7

What happens when the heavens feel like brass, when one seems to have no peace, or it comes, but mostly is gone. Read the amazing wisdom story of Job. It’s a wisdom story, not necessarily a story about an actual event. That’s how some take it, including myself, though it really doesn’t matter. But Job found himself in the depths of complete personal loss, except that his wife who remained, counseled him to curse God and die. In this story, God is actually wagering Satan in a sense, letting Satan take his worst shot at Job without killing him to answer Satan’s accusation that Job will dismiss God since he serves God for personal gain.

Job doesn’t take this passively, the loss of his children, loss of wealth and now stricken from head to toe in misery. He questions God, and even wishes for the reversal of creation, including of course his own existence. Yet Job hangs in there. He is still talking to God, and talking around his friends who had their nicely pat theological and seemingly life-oriented answers. Recently I read these friends were like first year seminary students. Some wisdom in that thought.

Living in the new normal is not a new theme for me. I’ve lived much of my life in difficulty of one kind or another, mostly inward, though in reaction to external situations, but just a steady dull, regardless. PTSD surely is something we all experience at different levels, since we humans live in a broken world. How do we live in “the new normal”?

I think we have to do what Job did. Hang in there with God; appeal to God. Ask questions. Determine to hope in God to the end. And learn how to live as well as we can “in the new normal.” There is no sense thinking we can escape it. As in the case of Job, only God can grant that. We have to keep after it in our faith, but learn to live as well as we can. Trusting that God will see us through and give us what we need. The breakthrough and change will come. In and through Jesus.

doubting one’s self (part of my story)

A lot of water has come and gone over the dam. Much good over the years, and much not so good, even some not really good at all. Although I can be thankful that I’ve been married to one woman, and have known only her, and want to be with her to the end and beyond in the next life (if she will have me).

I always wanted to be a pastor. And I do that kind of work Sunday after Sunday at a nursing home in leading a worship service which includes singing and preaching/teaching, along with prayer and visiting. And I would have enjoyed teaching as a job, either, but I have seen myself over the years especially as aspiring to a pastor’s heart.

But perhaps the strongest undertow that swept me out and that I failed to overcome by faith, which I could have by the way, was the lie that I was a nobody who would fail in life, just as I heard a close relative (not in my immediate family) say when I was 10 years of age or so. So that I not only doubted myself, but rarely if ever saw anything good. And no one else did either, or if they did, for whatever reason they failed to help me understand the gift God had given me, and encourage my development and growth in that. And by the way, I don’t imagine at all that my gift is any more special than anyone else’s. All of our gifts from God are special, so that we’re all special gifts from God in creation, and new creation in Jesus.

But the biggest problem was that I failed to break past that by believing in God and God’s goodness and assessment of me. Instead believing the old stories that had piled into and accumulated in my head, and by and by took over my heart. So that I came to the dangerous place, even after graduating from two schools with a Bachelor and Masters degree, one a seminary, in which I had given up and believed I never would fulfill my heart’s desire and become a pastor, one ordained into the ministry.

Around that was a sense of defeat instead of faith in which I failed to work through the difficult things of life, which are inevitable for us all. Though I always did hold down a job through the years, the Lord’s gracious provision for us in my factory work.

I say all of this to encourage any reader to do better, to avoid the pitfall I experienced.

I am grateful to God, knowing it could have been worse. And if I have health and some years after retirement, I hope to serve in something like a chaplaincy role.

We can learn from the past, and work through it for some healing, but we also live in the present. This is where we live, and we want to do well here and now. To have the faith and everything toward God which honors and pleases him, who alone is the Faithful One. To hold on to that, and continue on faithful to the end. With others, in and through Jesus.

the word and experience

I believe in the Bible as God’s word written. I can’t sort out everything discussed theologically from that, but base it largely on what Jesus says, and from what we can gather from his words,what he believed, and on what the Bible itself says. And first and foremost, the Spirit gives God’s people a witness of its truth through their own experience or intake of it.

But I also believe that we don’t understand the Bible in some kind of objective, isolated sense. Everything is subjective, actually, lived and understood within time and space, therefore there being no such thing as “timeless truth” strictly speaking, though when that term is used, it means truth which transcends periods of time, and maybe time itself, God himself having created time. I would prefer to call it “timely truth,” if we’re going to use something like that term at all. It is truth written within a certain time and place, but for all times and places. And I prefer to see this truth as within story, with the task left to us to understand its meaning for our story, and better yet, how our story fits into the whole, God’s story.

But the main point I want to make in this post is that our experience is a huge factor in approaching and understanding God’s word. It’s not at all like we simply go to the parts of scripture, maybe books, or more often I think for people, verses, to help us in the problems we face in life. Though there really is a place for that. But it is imperative that we press on throughout all of scripture, even if and inevitably when we have no clue at all how that passage relates to our lives. The question ought to be not how it relates to our lives as much as how our lives can relate to it. We need the Spirit for this both directly to us, and just as importantly, through the church, since we are all in this together. The Spirit speaks primarily to the churches, therefore to the church as a whole, not primarily to individuals. Yet we do individually receive what the Spirit says to the churches. Not to say that the Spirit doesn’t speak directly to us.

So experience is vital. That is why those who are in ivory towers, shielded from real life might not have much to say of any value or use to others. Everyone needs to participate in life, though life has a way of working its way into everyone’s experience. One can’t escape real life. The question then becomes just how we participate in it. And the best answer for that is within the fellowship of the church, of believers, being dependent on the Spirit, and patient over time for the Lord to teach us.

The word and experience go hand in hand. I need that word to get me through each day, and all the pitfalls that day may bring. All of this in and through Jesus.

trying to make sense of it all

When it comes right down to it, often life both in the short-haul, and frankly in the long-haul has some head scratchers. It doesn’t take long, or much effort to observe that. We’re left with gaping holes, and no explanation for some things. In fact life itself can seem quite counterintuitive to our sense of how it should be. Maybe like in the Job story where Job himself is never told the full scoop, and in the end to simply trust a God too awesome for him to understand.

We like to read novels, or watch films with many unpredictable twists and turns, and with enigmas that leave us wondering, and turning the pages. Life is simply not like the nice, and even to some extent good Hallmark films. We’re sometimes, maybe even often left wondering.

Scripture in a true sense is story, yes true story, but story. Humankind is made as the crown of creation, and yet is not true to their Creator, and therefore the brokenness that follows. God calls Israel to a mission to redeem and restore humanity, essentially to bring in God’s reign to an earth which wants nothing of it. Jesus is the fulfillment of that calling, which today is known and witnessed to in the church.

We all have a story to tell. It may be quite broken and disheveled, but it has its harmony and beauty as well. Somehow in and through Jesus, our story is taken into God’s story. To wonder about that, we need to look no further than the pages of scripture. Somehow something good will come out of the trouble we face in this life.

For me, having lived as long as I have (now over sixty), and continuing to see what I see, I don’t worry much about trying to make sense of everything, or even anything. I try to stay focused as much as possible on the big story, God’s story in Jesus. I want God to deal with all the scattered, broken, or lost pieces of life, according to his will. And go on.

So the story I want to focus on, and tell people about is God’s story in Jesus. And yet sharing my own story, and how it fits into that larger story. By faith we tell others God’s story, and the good news in King Jesus which is at the heart of that. And we wait to tell our own story, if and when that seems appropriate. As a witness to the larger story, to God’s faithfulness and love in his redemptive reign in Jesus.

no tell all memoir (from myself)

A memoir from what I can tell is simply a recounting of one’s experience in life. It might be as different as the author who wrote it. Memoir might imply creativity, or at least uniqueness, since we’re giving a subjective account, our actual impression as well as understanding of what happened in our lives. There really is no objective story if one means simply the facts, although in many venues such a goal is desirable, and probably even necessary.

A tell all memoir means no holds barred, which means one can simply let go and explore what one might write with no restrictions whatsoever. Of course we know right away that such a thought might not only be unedifying, but unworkable, or at least always subject to revision. And we need to remember again the subjectivity with which we understand and don’t understand, even misunderstand so much. Only God understands anything at all in all its complexity perfectly. Humility is the watchword here.

It’s interesting to consider the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are all written with a certain goal in mind, John’s account especially explicitly so. To consider Luke’s account (and he wrote Acts as well), Luke in how he wrote might be more in line with how accounts are written today. And yet he’s close enough to the other gospel accounts (especially Matthew and Mark, the three called the synoptic gospels) to help us understand that he writes with purpose, and not as a tell all. A tell all book of Jesus would surely be a lengthy volume.

But back to the main point about memoirs, and why I’m actually thinking about them: A good memoir would hold others in respect, and therefore would not be out to embarrass anyone. It again all depends on the writer, their take on life, what they think is respectful or not. And not all actions in life are worthy of respect, for sure. We can at least still look, long for, or regret the lack of redemption for an individual. Again I go back to the gospel accounts and think of Judas Iscariot. He ends up rather unseemly all the way, though not all that much is said. He was a thief, it seemed like the love of money was the idol that ruled his life and was his demise. The story told of him ends up being edifying toward helping others to avoid his path. I can well imagine if this is possible, Judas now wanting that to be so, although my view of the afterlife, subject to revision, is that likely this is not the case, given the nature of what Judas might be going through, as well as the fact that people in their character do not change in the afterlife. Jesus’s parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man might indicate otherwise, except that I’m not certain that parable was told as a window to the afterlife, but to simply make a point about this life.

And so I’m thinking about trying my hand at a memoir. Not a lengthy one, but one which like my blog might help a few along their way, and might help me to make more sense of the way I’ve been on, and still am. In and through Jesus.

 

“your word is a lamp to my feet” and my Sweets

When I first blogged, probably a few years into having my own blog, I used to never mention myself until a friend and writer (L. L. Barkat) encouraged me to do so. And so I see what writing I do as not only in significant part a sharing of the faith, but about my own faith as well, often couched in struggle.

Now as I look toward the end of my life since I’m nearing 60 (of course we could have a few more decades, but one never knows), I am thinking of what legacy I might have left. In reality I see as significant whatever God does by the Spirit in and through Jesus on a given day in a specific matter which I may somehow be participating in by prayer, being present, or some other way in my life. Looking back, what ends up mattering are especially the relationships closest to us, to me- my wife and daughter and her family. And above all my life in God through the gospel and the church in being a Christian and a follower of Jesus. How our story fits as a small part in God’s story.

It is a broken life in some aspects, a key for me being that I could hardly get my feet off the ground because of deep emotional brokenness early on. Something that in a way I never fully overcame by faith so as to fulfill the calling I sensed from God for a good number of years. And that led me to give up and never really come close enough to realize that it was truly in reach until much later, when in some ways it was too late.

And now, if you will bear with me, I will share what I might like on my epitaph on a small tombstone. I would like to be buried beside my Sweets, my one and only sweetheart and love, Debra. Deb who I used to call Honey and now Sweets, has been my wife for 30 years this October. She has had to put up with my incessant anxiety and pointed criticism, which I hope is abating so as to be not as bad, hopefully moving toward not being offensive at all, since that should be my goal. I love her deeply with all my heart and life. There is nothing I would rather do than have a simple, nice getaway with her. In fact my favorite vacation ever (and I’ve had some mighty good ones) was when we spent a few days and nights on Mackinac Island during our 25th wedding anniversary.

Deb handles the finances and is right when we disagree I would say a good 90% of the time. I would have done much better if I would have listened to her even some of the time. But above all she is simply a wonderful companion. Quiet, which actually fits well with me, though sometimes there can be misunderstanding because of it. A person of strong, unwavering faith, not given even just a little to anxiety, worry, or fear, which is good, since I can struggle with all of that. They say there’s no perfect match, but if there was, I wonder who would be setting the criteria and based on what. And if in the end, such judgment would be found wanting. The Lord has used her to work on my difficult areas, to help me become aware of them in the first place. I feel completely at home with my Sweets. Of course there are problems we find with each other which are less than ideal. Welcome to training to becoming godly as we learn to submit to each other in the fear and love of the Lord.

Our daughter Tiffany is part of our family, though adopted, her biological mother being one of Deb’s sisters. We took Tiffany into our home and hearts close to her third birthday. It is a bit complicated, but she is as much a daughter as any other child would be. She belongs to us. Her life has taken some extremely hard turns and we try to be there for her and our dear grandchildren as much as we can, two precious granddaughters, Morgan and Mandie, and their father, Chris. They are always in our hearts and prayers.

We’ve been a part of too many different churches through the years. I admire those who are faithful in one church or denomination for decades. That is the ideal. This would easily take up too much space, so I would simply say that we love every church we’ve been a part of, no exceptions. The church has always been important in my thinking and practice of the faith, but has taken on new meaning through the sacramental life interpretation which I’ve adopted, along with the common life, all from the gospel of Jesus.

To bring this to a close, the word meaning scripture has been front and center in my life of faith for some time. Interestingly I work in the factory end for a ministry which is very much centered in the Bible, whose goal is to make its life-changing wisdom understandable and accessible to all: Our Daily Bread Ministries.

I used to listen to scripture being read, everyday for years, a good majority of the forty plus years I’ve been a Christian. Now I’m happy as long as I have both scripture (right now I carry a pocket NIV New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs pretty much everywhere) and a cup of coffee in hand. I try to slowly meditate over a book. I have that down pretty well on weekdays, and now am trying to get it down better on weekends. This is what keeps me going no matter what. To be in the word and hopefully get the word in me by the Spirit in and through Jesus, so that hopefully my life is becoming more and more conformed to his image. We need all of scripture. So I read the Old and New Testaments through as well in my complete Bible.

On our small tombstone I would like to have this verse engraved:

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

 Psalm 119:105

With a small cross probably after it.

And the a few words about my Sweets. Something like:

To the one, my dear one, who I love with all my heart, my companion in life and in following our Lord. Who deserved so much more. I love you, Sweets, and I hope we have a special place side by side forever, even as you get to be riding your horse, Duke, once again even with a paintbrush or pencil in hand.

My wife is often a person of few words, so not sure what she would want to have on it. And I know this post is only making a point. Whatever tombstone we may have will be much more simple.

Maybe this on the tombstone to end it:

As we await together the resurrection in the blessed return of our Lord Jesus.

And so is a shorthand summary of how I see my life. It would be interesting to see the same kind of summary from my friends and others. Of life now which is only the faint beginning of the life to come in and through Jesus.

the myth of “the wrong (or right) side of history”

Yesterday I was listening to people talking about the news of the week, when I heard someone say confidently in regard to a controversial issue that there is a wrong side of history. I guess especially in political circles, but actually beyond that (doesn’t politics swallow up everything?), this is a popular saying. It may be popular, but that doesn’t make it apt.

Myths come from the stories we tell. The myth may be true or not. We live by them; they can give impetus as well as structure to our lives. And whether or not its basis is sound, it becomes true to us. So that we end up making judgments on a “truth” we take for granted, which may be based on a faulty premise of belief.

Instead of confidently applying such a notion, people ought to pause and step back and really examine what they are saying. “The wrong (or right) side of history” based on what? And just what might be the motivation behind the call?

It would be far better to simply talk about the differences as a matter of fact and sort out from that why they exist. Those who so confidently assert a side of history with equal confidence that they are on the right side of it are every bit as religious in their belief as the people of religion or faith they may be (and often are) ridiculing. For example the naturalists who claim that faith can’t be taken seriously as a truth claim are themselves making a statement of faith when they say that. People need to humbly step back and examine what they are saying. If they are going to be humble and therefore truthful.

Maybe we ought to reject this phrase and notion entirely. Is there an elite out there which knows just where history came from and where it is going, and in the light of that, how we should live? To sort out the morass even in the present of such claims (and counter claims from those who are equally confident), and the mind boggling complexities any serious historical study will uncover in the human enterprise, not to mention all the uncertainties which surround it, leaves us with a certainty that we can’t really be certain. Or at least whatever certainty we might have should be tempered with the knowledge of the limitations inherent in such an endeavor. Read the book of Ecclesiastes with this thought in view (one of my favorite go to books of the Bible, by the way).

We who hold to the faith that is in Jesus do believe there is rhyme and reason that is discovered soley in Jesus and God’s revelation in him. A revelation which ends up being nothing less than good news, which is what gospel means. And we bank our lives on that, indeed life itself, which includes the world. But we do so knowing that there’s so much we don’t know, that we really don’t undertand well or get at all. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV), “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

If people want to keep this phrase as a way that makes sense of the world for them, they need to admit and explain their basis for such confidence. Just as we ourselves who as the church profess to live in King Jesus will do in terms of God’s will made known in and through him.

The church has indeed often gottten it wrong in many places such as the slavery and racism of recent centuries. We are not foolproof and we ought to be an example in acknowledging that. But neither are we in a hopeless abyss.

God in the Person of the Son did step into history in becoming a human being to take the needed judgment that brings salvation on himself, so that humankind along with all creation can flourish in a God-breathed and ordered existence of love. The beginning of that we have received in the start of this new life. Of which we would say, “Come and see. And taste and follow.”

perspective (what story do we live by?)

I was reminded yesterday from Scot McKnight’s excellent, challenging new book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, just how the story we buy into can make all the difference in the world for good or ill with reference to God’s kingdom come in Jesus. Here in America, whether in the political landscape, the evangelical culture, and elsewhere there are plenty of stories in which people land. Much to choose from. Not that we necessarily choose at all. It’s more like we imbibe and are drawn into certain stories for a host of reasons.

There’s the American political conservative position versus the American “liberal,” progressive one. There’s the American dream in which one “makes it.” And others, including variations.

A story is a narrative or ideal into which one “buys” into and by which they order their lives. And if they somehow fail to live up to that, at least much if not all seems lost. How they measure and assess their lives is in terms of that. Or how they judge the state or governing authorities.

While there may be good in these stories which we can sort out, any of them can become nothing short of idols. Or at least can get us off track of God’s calling for us in Jesus. This begs the question: just what is the story we are called to live in, in Jesus?

The church would say that the story is God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. It is one of seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness with the promise that all of one’s needs will then be met. It is life in Jesus in the fellowship of the church in the word and sacraments and in mission to the world. It is a value system at odds and clashing with all the other value systems, a story counter to the other stories. It is strictly speaking a story which stands on its own, even if it doesn’t fill in all the blanks in how to live that out in the cultural context in which we live.

We need to ask ourselves just what story are we buying into, or what story might be unduly affecting us, not for good, but for ill. And what story we need to understand better and live into more in and through King Jesus by the Spirit to the glory of God.