scripture, the gospel and the church, and paradigmatic changing books (and *Our Daily Bread Ministries*)

One of the reasons I very much like the ministry I’m working for, Our Daily Bread Ministries, is that it doesn’t get fancy and try to impress, nor does it get tangled up in controversial matters, but it faithfully teaches the truth of God’s word, with an emphasis on its fulfillment in the good news in Jesus. The stated mission of the ministry is “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.” And the vision: “to see people of all nations experiencing a personal relationship with Christ, growing to be more like Him, and serving in a local body of His family.”

It is home of possibly the most well known Christian devotional in the world, Our Daily Bread, but there’s much more, as you’ll discover when you visit their/our website (see first link above). The devotional in my opinion, by the way, is great by itself, but there’s much more, and it’s all good. I listen everyday to Discover the Word which is an approximately 14 minute conversation in matters grounded in God’s written word, scripture.

I have worked there since December of 1999, and am glad to be part of this ministry. It frankly has grown on me. I have a propensity to ask hard questions and be open to different ways of interpreting and seeing things, and I tend to do that. Though as I get older, I am less apt and happy to do so. But sometimes that’s needed, and not just individuals doing that, but believers together. So I’ve found that the influence of working for so long at this ministry has grown on me for good. The ministry is strong in terms of scripture, the gospel, and the church.

It doesn’t at all for a second, by the way, matter what I think. I would much rather say what we believe as Christians and let it go at that. But I also share on this blog my thoughts, so it’s hard to avoid expressing it that way. We all have our unique perspectives from our experiences which we bring to the table. It is best by far when we listen well to each other, all in the mix together.

I have had paradigmatic shifts through various books, the first I can recall being N. T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, then Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed along with another book of his, The King Jesus Gospel. Add to that Allan R. Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness. And now I think I may be on the cusp of another paradigmatic shift through Greg Boyd’s book, Cross Vision. I have in recent years thought that my theology of the cross is not strong enough. If nothing else, Boyd’s book should help me that way. I’m not sure precisely where I’ll land, but I very much like where he’s going and what he’s trying to do in the book.

Theology and science have plenty of similarities. They’re open ended in their search for truth, so that the quest continues. While at the same time, they’re solidly based in certain givens, in theology (I mean Christian, of course), the truth of the gospel. Like hypotheses being tested in science by peers (peer reviews), so it is in theology both by professional theologians, and by the church at large. So I look forward to praying and thinking through with others Boyd’s thoughts in days to come. All of us likely won’t agree on all the details, including Boyd’s. But we want to all remain united from scripture in the centrality of the good news in Jesus, and the mission the church has in helping us receive that good news for ourselves, and come to share it with others. That is our hope, our goal, indeed, our passion. By God’s grace in and through Jesus.

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the word and the world

John R. W. Stott, was one of the greatest writers of my lifetime, himself a pastor and theologian, and astute Bible teacher wrote a number of books, all of them helpful. One of them which stands out to me is Between Two Worlds. In it he presents a compelling case for in that time having the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Of course today one has to be wary of much of what passes for news, particularly on the internet. You’ll find plenty of bogus, or misleading stories, either the headline not supported by what follows, or the article misleading at best. So one has to dig, and try to find news sources which will present actual facts in a balanced way so as to give the true picture. While letting people from all sides have their say. A challenge, and some outlets are better at that than others.

Although the book is geared to preaching, we can take plenty away from it for our witness. Even the idea itself is stimulating in helping us think through just how we’re to reach our world. A simple witness of what the Lord has done in our lives is helpful, and all the more good if it can speak to where others live, not an easy task, since there are different challenges people face. And different perspectives, along with views on life, which we do well to become aware of.

I’m a strong believer in being in scripture day and night (Psalm 1). But I’m also a believer in trying to keep tabs on what’s up in the world near and far; locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. To especially try to see everything in terms of the gospel making inroads especially into places it hasn’t before. We care about the world, because God cares about it, and it’s only human to do so. We want the best for our loved ones and for others.

A central part of the case Stott adeptly laid out was the need to study and seek to understand culture. He speaks in the book of he and some clergy friends going to a films, and then afterwards discussing their meaning and the ramification of that for understanding culture, the world in which they lived. One of the terms I find unhelpful is timeless, saying God’s word is timeless for example. There is truth in it if we mean the word is in a sense above and beyond time, but it always speaks into time. No, it is better to use a word like timely, since even though scripture was written within a certain cultural context and time, we are to prayerfully study and reflect on how it speaks and impacts our own day. In missional language which used to be commonplace, it is called contextualization. In the words of scripture, we seek to understand the times and what we as God’s people should do. Especially together as the church, each of us individually having our part. And we do better to grapple with these things together.

And so I feel most at home with a Bible in hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. And NPR* along with the internet not far away. I need both, as long as I don’t get caught up and taken away into something going on in the world.  Instead we seek to be those who are present in Jesus, the one who is Emmanuel, God-with-us to God’s people, and for the world.

*And other news outlets. Good to listen to perspectives one does not share, and some of that is achieved on NPR, but good to go to other places as well, to listen and weigh what is said.

the free fall in our society– the church and the state

I really struggle over the relation of the church and the state. I respect scholars and Christian traditions in their various takes on the matter. I think there’s often good we can take out of varying viewpoints.

That said, I also think the so-called “Constantinian turn” of the church when the Roman Empire became formally Christian, was in some sense the death knell of what the church is called to be in the world: a witness to another lord, the one true Lord, and to the one good news in him. One can plausibly argue otherwise, and surely some of what they say will have plenty of truth in it. But a major problem I see today in the United States is the emphasis on the importance of the morality of the state, as if it somehow ought to be Christian in some way or another. This is the case from both the religious left and the religious right, the former emphasizing world peace and the right to do whatever, and the latter emphasizing a certain morality as in “family values.” Both have a code of ethics, but the attention is turned almost completely to the state, it seems.

Regardless, this is my take on the current sea change in the United States, of course same sex marriage, etc., all in the equation. The church needs to hold the line both on the teaching of the gospel: the good news concerning Jesus, and righteousness: God’s will in Jesus. And of course, that is to be a witness for the world, hopefully impacting the state for good. But the church must neither be influenced by the world, nor expect the world to be influenced by it. If I read the Bible right, that is. But to hear people both from liberal, progressive and conservative perspectives, you would have to think that much depends on what the state is doing, that is all that essentially seems to matter, and the church is present to applaud and support that.

It doesn’t matter one whit what the world does, what the state does, the church must kindly tow the line, holding to the teaching of our Lord, of righteousness. The church always must pray for the state, and be a witness to it of the power of Christ and the gospel. And it does need to be present for the good of all, including the state, praying for its blessing, as well as for the good of all people.

But the church must be careful not to compromise its calling to be a witness to the one good news in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus.

for the gospel

I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9

Why do we do what we do, and don’t do what we don’t do? We in Jesus endeavor to do everything for the sake of the gospel, God’s good news in Jesus. And we do that for the world: for our loved ones, for ourselves, for each other, for our neighbor, and yes, even for our enemies.

Sometimes we’re amiss in what we do even when sincere. We unnecessarily alienate others by imposing on them standards which have nothing to do with the gospel, or at least are a distraction. So many things might be good, if cleansed through faith in the good news by the cleansing work of the Spirit. See 1 Corinthians 9 (the link above) to note Paul’s own example in his sharing of the good news. He certainly proclaimed it, but he shared it with his very life. Everything he did was for that good news. We may not be called to proclaim it like he did, but we are all called to believe and live it out, and grow up together through it.

Does that mean we live as friends with others with strings attached? No, not at all. We simply believe that this good news is true, and the good news by which everything else is judged. And therefore, we think it’s the best for our friends. But it’s never ever coercive for a second. We live with others in full respect of our many differences, and we depend on this good news to do its work in changing us, as well as drawing others into that same conversion and transformation in and through Christ. But the good news is truly our passion.

All of this possible only in and through Jesus, who himself is that good news.

what in the world is God doing?

I was listening on an interview on NPR to someone quite experienced and knowledgeable, who, in his opinion sees the positions so far of the new President of the United States, as well as what preceded him, as an indication that the world order, which in his view has promoted stability since the end of World War II through the Cold War, is changing, and not for the better. I am not sure what to make of all of this. My opinions and inclinations really don’t matter. I would think there has been both plenty of good and plenty not so good in what the United States has done the past fifty plus years. I could see the US as an empire, not an evil one, but still an empire. It certainly has been the number one world power since the end of the Cold War. Like in the real world, there is much good and evil mixed together. And to give oneself fully to any nation or leader of this world without reservation surely amounts to idolatry.

What if God is doing something in the world which might just shake up the nations a bit? Much has happened in my lifetime, the unimaginable, big and small. When we read scripture, we find that God is the Sovereign over all the nations, somehow at work in ways inscrutable and beyond us. We see a shaking and sifting going on quite often, but wish to see much more, like in the case of what appears to be purely evil regimes who abuse and murder. We long for the end of all the injustice in the world, looking forward to the promise of Jesus’s return when at last the long awaited good judgment will come, and the nations will be put in their place under the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

In the meantime, our focus as those in Jesus needs to be on our calling as the church through the gospel. Somehow a significant part of God’s work is through the church, Christ head over everything for it, through the gospel (Ephesians 1). We need to be invested in is in that. That is our calling in Jesus. As hard as this may be to accept, what else happens is beside the point. While at the same time, all Christians, wherever they live, wish for the good of their nation and people, as well as the good of all other nations.

May the Lord help us to grow in our trust in God, away from our idolatrous trust in other things. As we pray for all, and await the Day of our Lord’s return.

 

black history month, why it’s important, and what our witness ought to be

February in the United States and Canada is designated Black History Month (October in the United Kingdom). It is important to remember the history of African-Americans, whose recent ancestors were stolen, enslaved, and all too often killed. It is a great error to see this as being “politically correct.” We need to recognize the achievements of those in our family who are African in their origin, as well as the difficulties and evils they encountered, more or less front and center at one time, but now often much more hidden, yet just as real. An example of what is especially a hidden, subtle form of racism is the part of the story in the film Hidden Figures, which wasn’t told.

At the heart of the outcome of the gospel is the destruction of all divisions within humanity, while celebrating the differences through God’s creation (see the book of Revelation, in which every tribe and nation in all their diversity worship God together). The fact that the church seems to make either little or nothing of this at all seems to me to be a grave mistake which needs prayer and correction. The good news of God in Jesus and through his death means a completely open access to God, and also to each other in the sense of living out our oneness as one family in him. There is only one human race, and the difference in ethnicities among us enhance humanity. We need each other, every part of the whole of the one family of humanity.

This should be fulfilled in Jesus, in which through the new birth and new creation, we are all one in him, in all our differences. The best witness of a church in that regard is to include different ethnicities on the staff, particularly in positions of leadership, certainly including the pastoral. The world needs that witness, and we actually need this as well, to break down the sin of racism, which is the hidden elephant in still too many places. When we overlook the hidden, or not so hidden racism among those around us, we can inadvertently make a place for it in our hearts, while never wanting to. We excuse something for which there is no excuse, and which brings grave harm to humanity, and is an affront to God, and above all grieves the heart of God.

So let’s do something if we haven’t yet, before this month ends, to both remember and celebrate our black brothers and sisters. And let’s pray that this can somehow be worked into our lives on a practical level so that we can enter more fully into the salvation which is ours through the good news in Jesus our Lord.

trying to understand different perspectives

Among the greatest needs in the United States on a social, as well as spiritual level is the importance of listening to others, to differing points of view. Politics, and issues which are put into that category is especially volatile, and the real war from all appearance seems to be waged on that front. Some moral issues which have other factors are part of that, along with the need for all sides to have their say. But it seems we’re nearing a tipping point, where there will be no compromise.

There is surely much to say about all of that, but that’s not my concern in this post. My point is simple: the need to learn to listen well to different perpsectives, with no agenda to correct or impose one’s own point of view. And in that process to better understand not only where they’re coming from, but what merits there possibly are, what truth actually lies there. So that we’re open to their perspective actually impacting our own.

In our culture today, such an attitude would seem rare at best. Part of that comes from what appears to be a largely nonnegotiable stance right from the top, meaning from the president, even though his administration appears to be more flexible. There needs to be a mature group which learns to listen well for the sake of the United States, yet which, even in the midst of differences: liberal or progressive, conservative, and whatever else, will hold feet to the fire with reference to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Amendments of the Constitution.

While that is important, there is something more important still, a matter which can be addressed only by the church and believers: the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and all the good of that out of God’s love for the world. We believers who live here in the United States and likely citizens of this nation do well to be concerned for the preservation of what is good in the ideals of this nation. But our most basic calling is to live lives completely devoted to Jesus and the gospel. In doing so, one of the first fundamental things we need to do is listen, listen, and listen some more, and say nothing (yet), at least be slow to speak, and simply love. And when we speak, talk about Jesus.

The goal is to win others to Jesus, and help them grow in their faith. Out of that hopefully will come real benefits for the United States, or any other nation in which the church is, but the outcome is in terms of God’s kingdom. As hard a statement as this is, I think it needs to be said: What God is doing with the nations, including the United States is rather beside the point. This is probably especially hard for us, since we’re a democracy, and either legitimately or not, we often have much invested in this nation. But our lives are to be lost for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mark 8). Christ is building his church, not nation states. And actually ruling the nations in some way through the church (Ephesians 1).

All of that more difficult stuff aside: We need to simply listen well, and be known as those who listen and love, even as we as witnesses hold firmly to God’s word in Jesus and in the gospel. Together in and through Jesus.