do we have the right ear?

Recently I went through the book of 1 John. And what jumped off the page for me was the encouraging words at the end, particularly 5:14-15. But throughout the book there are words and concepts that are largely foreign to our ears, not hardly ever mentioned or even thought about in our circles. It certainly involves problems within the time the book was written, people infiltrating the church who really did not hold to the teaching of and about Christ, and were therefore, in John’s words, the antichrist.

There are other thoughts which we do regularly refer to: our need to confess our sins, God’s complete forgiveness for us in Jesus, and truth and love are a large theme in John’s writings. While we are definitely under that influence as Christians, we do well to listen to the entire song so to speak, to read and take in the whole letter, and the two short letters which follow (1, 2 and 3 John). As we do, we’ll surely appreciate what we’re more familiar with and more regularly turn to, all the more.

Advertisements

do we have a diminished view of Jesus and God?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

A friend who is a scholar as well, wrote to me recently, an important aside in our conversation:

…the Lord Jesus Christ…perfect humanity…undiminished deity…united in one Person forever…

Seeing the end of the film, Paul, Apostle of Christ gets me to thinking on this as well. In the important recognition that God became flesh, that God is with us in Jesus, that Christ is indeed fully human, I think what can easily get lost in the shuffle is that God is other than us, and that Jesus is not only human through and through, but God through and through.

We who have been raised in the church, my churches always within the evangelical sphere, we have been taught from little on up, and we take such truth for granted, even when we don’t (and can’t) understand it. Yes, God is one God in Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yes, Christ is one person with two natures, humanity and deity, the God-Man, or I would prefer, the God-Human.

What I’m trying to get at for myself, as much as for any other reader in thinking along these lines, is that I think we tend to diminish God and Christ into simply one of us by failing to really grapple with the fact and reality, that he is not. Yes, through the Incarnation Christ is just as human as we are, so that God is united with us in our humanity forever. But Christ is also still God, and God is other than us, period.

When it comes right down to it, some of our problems with God, life, faith, what we read in scripture might be boiled down to our futile attempts to domesticate God. We want a god we can fully be at home with, be comfortable with, fully understand, and even identify with. And in Christ we are indeed taken up into communion with the Trinity, even given the very life of the Triune God.  But in the end, in Revelation, we can only bow down and worship the Mystery revealed to us in the image of the Throne, the Lion of Judah being a Lamb looking like it had been slain (Revelation 5:5-6). And God is revealed to us in Christ supremely on the cross. But the cross carries with it both salvation, and severe judgment for those who do not receive it.

Yes, God is with us, having become one of us in Christ. God understands us in an experiential, firsthand way. And God is love through and through. God is also God and we are not. God is holy, other than we are, and that certainly includes Christ.

Something I think needs to become a deeper part of my faith, and reflection on it. In and through Jesus.

following the way of Christ in suffering?

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

1 Peter 2

I’m not sure this is in our Bibles. Well it is, but it seems to not make much headway into our teaching, and even less into our lives, I’m afraid. Yes, the Spirit is at work in our lives to help us become meek as the Lamb. And I’m not attempting to address the question of whether Christians can participate in the military or police force. I may have my own view on that, and I am empathetic with having to use restrained force as only a last resort against evil. But back to the question: Why has this teaching not only in the Sermon on the Mount, but all throughout the New Testament not made much headway into our hearts and lives, into the church? Or am I mistaken?

I’m not trying to share my limited observations and opinions on this. This blog post does come in part from that, but mainly from scripture, and is really based on scripture. We shouldn’t care what we think or anyone else thinks in comparison to what scripture says.

It is a growing concern for me. It seems like this teaching is either off the table, or not on it. I have hope for good Bible teaching churches like the one we’re a part of, that even though they are not in the pacifist tradition, they will take such passages from scripture seriously. But in doing so, we must beware of giving them “short shrift.”

I’m afraid culture, and an interpretation of history have penetrated our thoughts, into our hearts and lives far more than the words and life of Jesus and the apostles on this subject.

I write few posts anymore which might be considered rants. This is one expressing concern with questions. Any thoughts from a reader out there? Why is Jesus’s teaching along with the apostles on this not (more of) a staple in our understanding of the faith?

the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

the wheels turning slow, more often than not, a good thing, but must be turning

The Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a momentous occasion in the history of the faith, when what is required of God’s people with reference to the coming of Christ and what we now call the old covenant, was nailed down. But it wasn’t something that was just slapped together in a trial and error kind of way in reaction to a problem. And when you think about it, it required some significant time to have the substantial basis for the answer the apostles and elders agreed to.

It was at least eight years after Peter had first proclaimed the message of the gospel to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believing Gentiles through hearing the message. During that time Paul’s testimony of how many Gentiles came to faith during his missionary journeys agreed with that. Surely I would think that it didn’t take long for a group of believers, or some leader to insist that circumcision and old covenant requirements remained intact. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking that such was probably taken for granted by much of the early church, comprised entirely of Jewish believers, along with those Gentiles who had converted to Judaism as God-fearers.

On the other hand, as one can see from the text, it was in response to a problem which had arisen, that the council was called in the first place. So that we can surmise that it’s not good to put every problem on the back burner. Or maybe better put, we keep the wheels of deliberation turning, without some hasty reaction, which might have to be taken back, even repented of, later.

The council was called in response to a problem, like councils in the early church that followed and hammered out the teaching of scripture for the church such as Christ’s two natures: fully God, and fully human, along with the Trinity. All in response to teachings in their day which were off the mark.

I think it’s wise to move slow, and with consensus, especially among those who are leaders in the church, in harmony with the Spirit and the entire church. And yet there’s a time to make the critical move and perhaps the pronouncement which comes with it.

This doesn’t mean we should be afraid to act, or speak something into a situation. Maybe God is leading us to, maybe not, but when we have an inkling of that, we would do well to gently, but firmly do so. Yet at the same time, we live with the realization that change takes time, and actually that we’re a part of that. We need the time ourselves, to reflect on our own journey. In the case in Acts, it took Peter some time to come around and then be fully convinced and confirmed in the change. And not without a struggle, even backsliding (see Galatians 2).

God will keep us faithful to the gospel, even when we inevitably misstep along the way in details of how we’re to live it out, and be a witness to it. And it’s a process of growth into that, not something which happens overnight. With the new life in place, we might think we have all we need to do everything. But it’s much wiser to stay the course over time, looking to others, and to the church at large, as we continue in scripture ourselves.

May God give the church wisdom in all of this in whatever days and years remain before Christ’s return.

faith

If there’s one most basic thing the Lord calls us to, it probably is faith. Faith in God, in God’s word, in the gospel, the good news in Jesus.

Faith at its bare essential is receiving from God, so we do well to be in that posture. At its onset it comes from hearing the message about Christ (Romans 10).  Faith ushers us into a new relationship and reality. We know God and are a part of God’s family. And that involves a number of basic things for sure. All expressed in love, and with hope; faith, hope and love being joined together.

But even though I’ve been on this faith journey for decades, in some ways I’m afraid I never matured, at least not much. Anxiety has been my number one “besetting” sin. God has been working on that, and teaching me to let go and live in his peace more, but still I find myself in need of doing the same thing over again, and again and again. I wish I could settle more into a disposition of rest and peace in God’s grace.

There are Christian traditions which seem to make much of the faith, the gospel, and there are other Christian traditions which seem to make much of faith, the response to the gospel. Of course we need both. Faith comes from the faith, and is dependent on that. But the faith gives faith and instills that in us.

And so as I face a new day, I want to do so with a renewed commitment to faith in God, come what may. Believing in God, receiving his word, trusting in him so that I can do the works that come from a faith characterized by love and sustained by hope. In and through Jesus.