faith, hope, and the greatest of all, love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

In the midst of another terrible disaster (praying for them), when there is challenge after challenge in life with hardly any rest, when being tired is the norm and exhaustion is what one tries to, but doesn’t always avoid, when it seems like one is left alone in their own thoughts, when dreams have long been forgotten and one is trying only to survive, when it seems like life has taken a turn for the worse, fill in your own blanks, whatever it is that we’re facing, in Jesus faith, hope and love always remains.

Faith means we believe and trust in God, in God’s promises to us and to the world in Jesus, even when, and we might say especially when they make little or no sense to us. That doesn’t mean they don’t make sense in the overall scheme of things, or when one is considering and comparing worldviews, including the view which might question such an endeavor. Faith ultimately looks to God’s promise in Jesus which is focused on the cross and the life which flows out from that. It is our crucified, resurrected Lord we follow as God’s resurrected people, and the heart of our faith is always the turning point of the cross, of Jesus’s death. All the promises of God are dependent, hinge on, and ultimately find their meaning in that.

Hope is a confidence by faith (Hebrews 11:1) that what God has promised, he will fulfill and bring to completion in and through Jesus. It keeps us going, when all other hope seems gone. Hope of course is needed by humans. There seems to be nothing worse than a hopelessness given to a despair which simply gives up on life, and might simply muddle through it in a set cynicism, or even worse, think of ending it all. We all need hope, and that hope is ultimately found in Jesus and the good news in him, of course Jesus and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

And then, last, but not least, there’s the greatest of all: love. In the context of the passage written above, it is described:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13

It is found in Jesus who is the revelation of God, of who God is, of what love is, again ultimately through the cross. It is again, Jesus crucified. That is the kind of love that changes and moves us to love in return. And with that same kind of love. Certainly a gift of the Spirit, to us. And that keeps giving and giving (and receiving and receiving, as well), to the very end, no matter what. Of course a discerning love, as well (Philippians 1:9-11). A love in which faith and hope find their true meaning.

And so we have faith, hope and love, whatever else is happening, all very much needed in this existence, in and through Jesus.

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where does our confidence lie?

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1

Oftentimes, especially in this world, we really can get out of sorts, because of all the evil going on, along with the nagging problems which are not easily resolved. We can see so much depending on this or that entity, or even ourselves, and we can become both overwhelmed and afraid. Add to that our own struggles, probably in part coming from that, so that at times we may seem to be suffering spiritual setback.

Jeff Manion in his new series on the book of Philippians, “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” “Week 2/The Partnership” adeptly led us through that passage. This was a relatively young church, around 10 years old in the Lord, faithful to the gospel, but struggling under some persecution and internal conflicts, with the danger that some might become discouraged to the point of completely losing their faith. Hence this great letter from the imprisoned Paul. Well worth the listen and watch.

The gospel is both the heart of our witness, and the heart of our existence. How in the world do we think we’ll make it? And how is the world itself going to make it? Ultimately only through the gospel, period. Other things are good and important in their place, but there is only one “good news” which will prevail while everything else falls to the wayside. That of Jesus and his death for us, out of which comes the new life for us and for the world.

God who began his good work in us through that good news/ gospel will complete what he started. We only need to hold on in faith to that good news in Jesus for ourselves, for others, indeed, even for the world. We can have confidence that whatever else might happen, this gospel in and through Jesus and his death will prevail, changing us into his likeness in this world, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3) toward the children of God in Jesus which we were created to become in the new creation all in him are destined for.

Something to celebrate, look forward to, and rest in, even in this life, when so much else can be up in the air with no certain outcome. What matters most is in process even in the midst of a world which at times seems to be unraveling, and is not eternal in and of itself. We can rest assured that God’s good will in Jesus will prevail. Confident in that no matter what else happens. In and through Jesus.

the Jesus way is the way of the cross

In the gospel narratives: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, one is pressed in one direction: the cross of our Lord. And even the resurrection’s meaning and significance is derived from the cross, our Lord’s death. And the lives of Jesus’s disciples were to actually be with him on that same journey:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9

If we think post-resurrection or post-Pentecost might be different, here are these words from the Apostle Paul, just one of many passages which makes it clear that a Christ-centered, crucified-shaped (cruciform) life is the norm for all of Christ’s followers today:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2

Everyone of Jesus’s apostles laid down their lives in martyrdom, the only exception being John, who tradition suggests was exiled and perhaps miraculously delivered from the same fate.

This is the Christ-shaped existence to which all believers in Christ are changed by the Spirit. As Paul says elsewhere:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

where Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* takes us: classic Christianity

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12

Far from being heretical, Greg Boyd’s recent work in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 and Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence simply directs us into the full classic Christianity. Not to say at all that one has to accept his view of how to read the violent texts of the Old Testament to be Christian. But simply to say that the less than constructive critics likely to arise may be removed a bit from that Christianity themselves due to their metaphysics or epistemology, which is simply to say the philosophy they’ve added to the biblical text, unlike, I might say, Paul, who knew nothing else except Jesus and him crucified. And actually the only things I’ve seen so far from the scholarly world is just a bit of constructive criticism, and not much even in the way of that, but that will likely change. I use the word “classic” here in the sense of what conforms to the teaching of Christ himself in scripture, and which the church has acknowledged, even if often not living up to its light.

The chapter on the centrality of the cross for the gospel, knowing God, and for the Christian life, “A Cruciform Through Line” alone is easily worth the price of the book. It gets us back to “what is of first importance,” what is basic to the Christian life if one is to be in Christ and a follower of Christ.

A major stumbling block for some will be Boyd’s view on scripture, which while he says holds to its infallibility, does not mean for him that it’s inerrant in all matters. Inerrancy might hold depending on what you mean, and how that’s explained. I don’t know, myself. I’m inclined maybe a little more toward the view that without a doubt the Bible is inerrant in its main point, the point of it all, what it’s trying to do: lead us to Christ and the good news in him, and specifically, as Boyd would put it, and as scripture itself seems to indicate: Christ crucified. While our view of scripture is surely important: it is the God-breathed word, the written word of God, nevertheless the emphasis from many defenders of that in my lifetime in part has to be tied to a Modernist mindset which seems foreign to the Bible itself in the effort to defend its every part from the charge of error. Every word is important in its place for sure, Boyd tying that to its testimony of pointing us toward the cross of Christ either in God taking on himself the sin of his people and of the world, as well as God in Christ giving himself completely into the hands of sinners and evil, and by that reconciling the world to himself. Of course the cross always includes the resurrection, the resurrection deriving its meaning and significance through the centerpiece of the cross.

We’re saved through Jesus’s death, and we’re to live out that same death even now, a crucified life (Galatians 2:20, etc.) as God’s resurrection people in Jesus.

So please don’t jump to the conclusion that either Boyd, or others who may accept his proposals have jumped off the wagon of Christianity. Just maybe they might be closer to the essence and fullness of it in their emphasis on seeing Christ and him crucified as central to it all.

Earlier post: what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

Jesus’s nonsensical message

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10

For us raised in church and in Sunday school, we often shake our heads at how slow Jesus’s disciples were to understand Jesus. But to their credit, and certainly because of God’s grace and the work of the Spirit, they hung in there. And the Pharisees who were considered among the most religious Jews of Jesus’s day, and in fact are considered by scholars to be the group within Israel that were most like Jesus, were divided over Jesus, but the majority of them it seems were obstinate against Jesus’s message. We think they should have known better. And we wonder why they didn’t understand that Jesus had to die for their sins, as well as the sins of the world. And we shake our heads, thinking that they just didn’t understand God’s grace, and sought salvation by works. After all, that’s what we were taught from the cradle, so we take it for granted. And there is actually a grain of truth in it.

But reality was that what Jesus said did not line up with their teaching at all, not in the least. And what the disciples had been taught did not prepare them for Jesus’s teaching, either. At least not very much. Sometimes we pick up from some sources like in the Apocrypha, that there was a bit of what Jesus would bring seeping in. But by and large it made little sense against the backdrop of their Judaism. Though if one took their scriptures, they could find hints of it throughout, that something different was coming. Their view of God was not complete, in fact one might argue even off track to some extent. Jesus did tell the Pharisees that they didn’t know the Father. It’s interesting how the NIV (click link above) begins this section with Jesus addressing these words to the Pharisees.

John 6 is another more stark example of Jesus’s message making no sense to his disciples, so that many of them no longer followed him.

We don’t read the scriptures well enough ourselves, if we don’t see the difference between Jesus’s teaching, and what had come before him. Jesus was bringing in a new covenant which in some respects fulfilled the old, but often cancelled out what was in it. What the New Testament tells us about that is a mixed bag, actually reflecting what had been said in the Old Testament prophet. The Law given through Moses was of a covenant which was not perfect, and not the end. A new covenant was to come, something which would fulfill the words and aspirations of the old covenant, but in a new way. Jesus is the one who brought that, and fulfilled it in and through his death. The resurrection following in which the new life of the new covenant is ultimately to be lived in the Spirit and by the grace of God.

Jesus’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection, with the ascension and promise of his return following is what marks us as Christians, no less and no more. We read and treasure all of scripture, but we find where we fit in the story in the New Testament, particularly after the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world of that time, and even then into remote places.

And hence just a hint of the difference that the faith through Jesus brings. And why we should no longer be surprised at how unprepared anyone was during Jesus’s time to make any sense of his ministry and words, particularly his death on the cross. Yes, hints were in their scripture, those hints teaching us to read those scriptures differently, even as we see them interpreted quite differently in the New Testament.

All of this in and through Jesus.

be on the side of mercy, God’s side

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

There is plenty of evil in the world. It can be found most anywhere, even in our own hearts at times. We long for justice against evildoing and evildoers. And for those who have been victimized, hopefully some kind of reparation that could be done. And if we’re of a Christian persuasion, we should want no less than restorative justice when that is possible. That the one doing evil will be held accountable, but also exhorted and encouraged, yes helped to do better, so that they can go back into society and live productive lives.

Mercy, especially in this broken existence, needs to be the watchword, indeed the passion for us who follow Christ. Just as we have freely received mercy from his hand, we’re to extend that mercy to others. The mercy of the gospel, yes, but also the mercy that comes from the gospel, or we could say is a part of it.

Lest we forget, we’re all in need of mercy everyday, and in a sense at every moment, since none of us in ourselves is worthy to stand before God being stained because of our sin. And we actually prove ourselves unworthy everyday by attitudes and corresponding actions, even if they’re only words under our breath. Unworthy of God’s mercy, justly judged to have fallen short.

But that’s an essential part of the Christian message, the heart of the gospel, that in Jesus there is always mercy and forgiveness extended to us, and to others. We are to accept that mercy for ourselves, and then live out this gospel by extending it to others, so that they can see that our faith is not about judging them, but extending mercy to them when they are undeserving. And of course mercy is not just about showing love at random to everyone. It is purposefully showing the same love to the undeserving that we ourselves receive through Christ.

Does this mean that others aren’t held accountable? Of course not. We all are. Mercy always takes seriously the sin that is being forgiven, or in love, covered over (1 Peter 4). We may need to gently confront or come along side those who are sinning (Galatians 6), or for those who do not know the Lord, we may simply need to show them the way of Jesus, which was love for his enemies, a pathway in which we’re to walk and live in our following of him. The way of the gospel. Not easy, but a picture of the good news in Jesus in which we live, so that others might see and believe, in and through him.

understanding God through the cross

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

John 14

When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

John 8

I have had contact in recent years with those influenced by Martin Luther’s theology, which is a theology of the cross. And I have thought that my own theology of the cross is not strong enough in line with what scripture teaches, though hopefully I have all the basics covered well enough.

Enter Greg Boyd, and his recent work on understanding and interpreting all of scripture through the cross, indeed understanding God through that centering point. If nothing else, grappling with what he is saying can help us begin to see God and all the rest of scripture through the cross. If all of scripture is fulfilled in Jesus, it seems like Jesus reaches a kind of fulfillment even of his incarnation and all that followed in his healing and teaching, through the cross. Even the resurrection and its meaning comes from the significance of that cross, Jesus’s death. I follow in agreement with Boyd’s thought here.

I personally am beginning to think that Boyd is making a pretty good, maybe even solid case for understanding the violence attributed to God in scripture to God being willing to humble himself as is true at the cross, when essentially God was made sin for us in Jesus, being willing to be misunderstood for what God does not approve of or sanction. And also how God’s wrath which is shorthand for judgment is simply God in grief allowing evil to destroy itself at certain points of time. It’s not that God never gets angry. But all of God’s activity, I take it, is meant to be redemptive, or at least with that in mind as a hope and goal.

And so we understand God through Jesus, and especially Jesus crucified. Something I want to reflect on more in whatever days are to come. In the effort to know God better, and be more faithful to the gospel, in and through Jesus.