dreams and thoughts of what could have been

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Life makes philosophers of us all? Well, at least for those who take it seriously, though actually everyone has some philosophy meaning outlook on life. We can look back and see better, but mainly how God saw us through in spite of ourselves. And how hopefully we’ve come to see that what really matters is simple faith in and obedience to God. And to understand that our faith rests in the faithfulness of Christ, so that we follow together because of that. That can surely make all the difference in the long run.

If in your stronger more youthful decades you can put your all into following Christ in a community of followers of Christ, and seek to simply live in and from that reality, you will be truly blessed. Toward the end, the strength just isn’t the same, and the heart is often burdened down with the weight of other’s struggles, not to mention the inevitable troubles of life. And for most of us there’s regret and a wish that we could undo something or some things, and do other things all over again.

Lean on community in Jesus, and seek to be a follower of Jesus along with other followers of Jesus. Seek humility, above all just seek God’s love and will in Jesus by the Spirit, and with the desire to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. We’re in this primarily not for ourselves, but for others. Together, Christ’s body for each other and to be light in the world. God will take care of things. And in the end will bring a good end, weaving everything somehow in that for good. Far beyond us, and I doubt we’ll ever fully understand it, but all will end well.

In and through Jesus.

faith because of the faithfulness of Christ

In Paul’s letters, there are a number of places in which the literal translation would be “the faithfulness of Christ” as being front and center for our salvation. Of course our faith is factored into that, but our faith is not central. Oftentimes it is translated “faith in Christ,” which still puts Christ as the object of faith, but also emphasizes our faith. And there’s no doubt that there is an emphasis on human faith, such as in the case of Abraham in Romans 4. And that our faith is contrasted to our works, and specifically to the works of the Law. So that grace is grace only if it is by faith and not by works, I think not so much with regard to human effort, but more in terms of adherence to the Law of Moses. It’s a bit complicated, but even in that case in Romans 4, I think Paul is simply trying to show that it is faith in God’s word, and specifically in the gospel which justifies or brings salvation, and to think that works of the Law enter in, is to bring in a category which is actually as foreign to the First/Old Testament, as it is to the Final/New Testament. Abraham was justified by faith apart from the works of the Law, and before he was circumcised. The boasting Paul says is to be rejected is not really about one’s own effort, and not even a smidgen about some supposed moral perfection, even if Paul uses the latter to point out that those who emphasize Law/Torah keeping must not break any of it to remain in the clear with God. The boasting by the Jew would be in the Torah itself, and the fact that they possessed and sought to live by that Torah/Law.

But to the main point of this post. The faithfulness of Christ in his coming, life, and especially in his death, followed by God’s vindication in his resurrection from the dead, then his ascension to the supreme place of authority at God’s right hand, with the promise of his return when the final judgment and salvation come and in that, the new creation, is what our focus should be on. Not our own faith, but on the faithfulness of Christ. It is far better to have a small faith in a great object, instead of a large faith in a small object. The focus must not be on our own faith, but on the faithfulness of God in Christ, yes, on the faithfulness of Christ. That is the focus in which our faith can be established and grow.

an anxious foreboding

It is good for those who really don’t have all that much to worry about, at least materially speaking. They are well set; the Lord has provided for them well beyond their needs, so that any problems they encounter, they can get fixed. For many of the rest of us, everything is much tighter, so that luxuries are indeed luxuries. Part of the problem for us in a first world country is that we live with first world expectations, which sometimes due to setbacks in employment, or whatever may be the case, can’t be maintained. The overhead we end up having to maintain to survive is actually unnecessary in and of itself. If there was one thing among other important things I might tell a young person, or a young couple, it would be to seek simplicity in life which includes looking for the most basic, cost-effective way of living. That can free one up to give much more, and actually enjoy more as well.

That said, an anxious foreboding about what lies ahead is not foreign to any of us. Job expressed this, a man who had great wealth and was esteemed for his wisdom:

What I feared has come upon me;
    what I dreaded has happened to me.

Job 3:25

Scripture is full of honest, struggling people. And we need to grapple with all of it as we seek to go on, that is all of scripture along with all of our own experiences and thoughts. Of course the gospel is the heart of scripture, but all of it is written with details to instruct and encourage us, and to give us endurance and hope.

We need the basics: prayer and God’s word, along with the fellowship or communion of the church in the gospel. A little bit of that goes a long way, but it has to be faithfully followed over time, at least that should be our commitment. Sure, in our weakness we’ll have some breaches and falling out here and there at least as a rule for most of us, certainly to some extent true of myself.

What lies ahead may be challenging, and most certainly for everyone in some way or another will be. But that ends up being the opportunity for us to latch on to the God in and through Jesus who promises to see us through, not according to our own will, desires, or thoughts, but according to God’s will in Jesus. The end is the gospel which takes all of creation into the new creation in and through Jesus, into the eternal life of communion together with the Triune God.

The storm will subside, the clouds will break, and the sun will reappear, and once again brighten up the day, and our lives. What we need to do is hold on in faith, knowing that in the end it is God’s faithfulness in Jesus which holds on to us, and through which everything will be more than okay in the end. In and through Jesus.

the need for lament

To be successful it seems in too many quarters is to be on top of the world in some kind of dominant position, rather than in a vulnerable place of suffering. We want to be fulfilled, to have complete assurance through the working toward dreams being realized. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him in suffering, to learn what it means to live in participation of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. That is not what we thought we signed up for when we became a Christian. Of course accompanying that death is the real life, the power of Christ’s resurrection, but again the end is to be like him in his death (Philippians 3).

Lament is surely a big part of this, seen over and over in the psalms, as well as in an entire book, the book of Lamentations, in the longest book in the Bible, Jeremiah, and throughout the Bible, including from Jesus himself. To lament is to enter, or more accurately to realize that we are all entered into the brokenness and ongoing tragedy of this world, and instead of trying to escape it, seeking to live faithfully there through God’s faithfulness in Jesus, as those who suffer and groan along with it, so that it can begin to realize what ultimately will be true healing and redemption into the life that is truly life in and through Jesus.

To not lament is as much of a choice as to lament, but too often it’s because our hearts are hard because we are given over to other gods, maybe the god of consumerism, security, pleasure, “money, sex and power,” nationalism, etc., etc. But to be formed by the gospel is to become countercultural in the way of the cross, which ends up being the way of suffering service and healing lament all in and through the sacrifice and salvation that is in Jesus.

Somehow through lament comes healing, for ourselves, but just as importantly, for others as well. We’re blessed in that way, to be a blessing. Death being at work in us, so that life might be at work in others, all in and through Jesus. And so I want to embrace lament more and more, living where the deepest pain is, so that God’s joy and peace can find its way into those places, so that others might with us find the life that is truly life in and through Jesus.

Christmastide and the coming of the Savior

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

By creation we are God’s children, but we also need that distinction through the new creation. The law holds us as prisoners to sin, and acted as a guardian, or disciplinarian (NRSV) until Christ came. From that time we are justified by faith, simple faith in Christ Jesus. He came to redeem us from the curse of sin under the law through his crucifixion and death (Galatians 3:13).

Therefore we are God’s children and heirs of all God’s promises in Christ Jesus, since we are children of God in and through the Son of God and again, by his redemptive work for us. We are set free to live in faith and by the Spirit, and not under the law, which ultimately in and of itself would condemn us. Even though it also had its useful place in a formative period for God’s people. We are taught our need for God’s grace, our entry into that coming through faith and baptism in and through the faithfulness of Christ, in and through Jesus Christ himself. Whose coming was timely, according to God’s time and working.

 

the faithfulness of Jesus, or faith in Jesus?

J. R. Daniel Kirk, one of my favorite Christian theologian/Bible/New Testament scholars recently had a helpful post on living in the story of God in Jesus. And in the post he grapples a bit with the issue over how to translate a certain phrase in Paul’s writings. Traditionally this has been translated into our English, “faith in Christ/Jesus.” But more literally it would be translated, “the faithfulness (or, faith) of Christ/Jesus.”

I think the words of the Koine Greek text, and the larger narrative favor “the faithfulness of Jesus,” over “faith in Jesus.” Though if translated that way, there are still plenty of texts, including from Paul himself that make faith in Jesus to be important for us, even essential.

But in a practical way I find the faithfulness of Jesus in terms of what he did for us in his death and resurrection, in that saving work which the Spirit of God now works in accord with, I find that to be more helpful to me than thinking about my own faith.

It is Jesus’ faithfulness I can rest in, and not my own sometimes weak, wavering, and even battered faith. It’s not that I am excused not to hold on to faith, or keep the faith. But I can better do so by realizing that it’s because of the faithfulness of Jesus that I can continue in that stance of faith, and nothing more nor less. Of course the Spirit is at work in God’s grace in Jesus to help us,  all part of what comes out of the faithfulness of Jesus.

In the end either translation is acceptable. Though I prefer and surmise that one of them is better. But it can’t be disputed, I believe,  that Jesus is the just one who lives by his faithfulness and in that faithfulness lifts others up to do so. Yes, we must put our faith in Jesus, committing ourselves, our lives completely to God through him.

I along with others in Jesus will keep looking in faith to the one who in his faithfulness to us on the cross, and by the resurrection, will not only carry us through, but will help us to grow up and do well- in him, together in Jesus for the world.

justification

Scripture, and especially in Romans and Galatians, as well as James, teaches a justification which is part (some would say at the heart) of God’s salvation in Jesus. It is certainly in a foundational place. In Romans it seems to be in terms of a law court, with God the Righteous and Just Judge, and all humankind the guilty sinners. We find that God ends up taking the penalty for sin which is death, upon himself  in Jesus. Jesus being the mercy seat through whom propitiation (and expiation) of sins is made. So that God’s just judgment is satisfied. And by faith one is justified before God, and declared righteousness, or in right standing with God. By the faithfulness of Christ then, we by faith have peace with God through the salvation that is in Christ.

In Galatians justification ends up being in terms of identity. By faith through Christ’s sacrifice, there is a new or reconstituted people of God, consisting of Jews and Gentiles. All barriers are broken down to bring all humanity into oneness in Christ, through Christ’s work, and by faith. Like Romans it is clear that it is by faith apart from the works of the Law, or Torah, that one is justified.

In James justification is by works, not by faith alone. Whereas in Romans it is by faith, not by works of the Law/Torah, and not by works at all. James is evidently demonstrating that there is a sense, in keeping with Jesus sayings, by which we are justified by our actions, or works. James makes it clear that faith is an empty profession unless it is accompanied with works. As those influenced by the Reformation want to say, works demonstrate, or show true faith, or that one’s profession of faith is not empty. James is stark in denying justification by faith alone, but he means something different than Paul. Paul, and the rest of the New Testament certainly agrees that a faith which leaves life unchanged, and no good works, is not saving faith.

Justification at its heart means being made, or declared righteous, as in right standing. In Jesus we are thus forgiven of our sins, put into a new community, and have peace with God and with all others in and through Christ. And by works we are justified in God’s gracious judgment, looking over our lives (Romans), and actions (James, and Jesus sayings).

Of course our assurance in this life is not through our works, but through faith. God evidently sees certain actions, or our works, and our lives as a whole, as being right, or justified, in his gracious judgment. But our assurance in this life of justification–peace with God, the grace in which we stand, is only by faith. And because of Christ’s faithfulness to us in his death for us.

Of course justification, while crucial, is one aspect of the salvation that is ours in Christ. This is a sketch of my own current understanding of justification.

God’s belief in humanity

I don’t subscribe to the teaching that God puts his faith in us humans, so that we should be encouraged by that. First of all we’re in dire need of grace, and whatever trustworthiness we have is completely a gift from God. On a certain level there may be some trustworthiness in humans through creation, but because of sin there is no trustworthiness at all in terms of God’s will in the new creation in Jesus. God’s kingdom come in Jesus calls for a righteousness that nothing in this world can bring about.

That God became flesh, that is human in Jesus speaks volumes about God’s value of humanity and humankind. God made humankind in his own image: male and female. And in Jesus God became fully human so that humans can become fully like God in their humanity. So God does believe in humankind, after all. But not in the way that is sometimes taught.

But in the grace of Jesus, God does put responsibility on us humans. We see that in scripture beginning with the call to Abraham through whom Jesus would come to bless the world. So in that sense through Jesus humans are indeed given a trust. The gospel is to be lived out, in other words, gospel, meaning good news, is good news all the way around in giving us a new life and ability to be trustworthy in God’s kingdom come, always and only through Jesus.

During this Advent season, we can give thanks to the God who alone is worthy of all our trust. And in Jesus who came to save us, and make us trustworthy in and by his grace. For the sake of others, and for the world.

commitment

Like trust, commitment can actually be quite freeing, as well as directing for us in our lives. Of course this works out in all kinds of ways in human experience. And it’s who and what we trust and are committed to that matters more than our actual part.

Commitment involves trust and obedience. And above all relationship. When one is committed to God through Christ one is in a commitment which will is meant to last forever. (There is to be no turning back.) But which begins in and is for this life, not just the sweet by and by.  And this commitment is hinged not only on what really matters, but on reality itself. And Reality in this case, in capital letters, because it is part of the work in love of the Triune God in the world through Christ.

The commitment is related to covenant. A covenant is an agreement and actually from that, a kind of union between two parties. In the Bible it involves God and humanity often tied to one individual, but for a community. With it is God’s promise which is often conditional on human faithfulness to the terms of the covenant. Humans inevitably fail across the board, which is why all the covenants in Scripture are fulfilled by Christ, and therefore through Christ.

Covenant as just expressed is important for our commitment. We then realize that our commitment is important, yet it ultimately depends on the faithfulness of Christ, not on our own. We will falter along the way. And if the outcome depends on us the outlook is not only good, but inevitably bad.

But because of Christ there is not only hope for us to remain true to our commitment, but an assurance that we will. But only through faith as we rest in God’s promises through Christ, as well as on Christ- the faithful one.

Sometimes I don’t understand the bumps along the road on my journey, though I understand all too well the fears that underly and accompany them. But Christ has walked through all of life for us, and now by the Spirit both in our own lives, and through the lives of each other, he promises to help us and indeed be all we need. Though that all we need includes his work through other brothers and sisters in him. I am grateful to my wife for being a blessing to me as one who faithfully prays and counsels me. And I’m thankful for our church with people who do the same.

So there’s one thing I know: God is faithful and through Christ he will see our commitment through to the end. And our commitment will matter in this life, many times in ways we may not see or understand well. At other times seeing some fruit. And while the fact of commitment can grow stronger in our lives, it can open us up to greater challenges. So that we are always well aware of our complete dependence on God through Christ, the faithful one. Not a comfortable place to be oftentimes, but we can trust God that he will see us through even in the midst of all the difficulty and weakness. And that his good work through Christ in and through us can and will be completed.

What does commitment and especially commitment to God through Christ, mean to you?