no true faith apart from love

notFor in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

It’s interesting  and actually downright scary when one sees in scripture the examples of those who are devoted to the word, to scripture, but who actually don’t know God. They’re maybe given to knowing the words of the text, but lack the light, and release of the Spirit. They are trying to do what’s right, but they’re not loving well, or maybe not at all. Examples like that can be found strewn throughout scripture. Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees and scribes, who were the Bible scholars of that day, comes to mind.

Too often I’ve found myself too much in that company, or way of living. Knowing includes knowing the text of scripture, but the point of that is to know God, and others. Relationships come to the fore, of course, the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The light comes on when we are about our Father’s business, when we really love others out of our love for God. And that being true in all that we do in our work and life. And with an emphasis on helping the poor, and those in need, which would include the oppressed and helpless. If we want to find God’s heart, then that’s where we’ll find it: in a faith which is given to good works in love.

Hopefully this won’t seem trite, but we could ask ourselves what one good work we can do today, and practice those kinds of things daily. It really doesn’t have to be much, little things matter, and can make a big difference.

What is essential is that our faith is active and worked out in love. An important part of our life in God in this world, and actually in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

a proper stimulus: the word, tradition, scholarship, and pastoral reflection

Having internet access and many books, probably best not in that order, but probably in that order in our practice, can be helpful to provide a stimulus for the body of Christ, to help us do the works of service to which we’re called.

We need to be in the word, and tradition, both. The word, scripture, is the final authority, but an authority dependent to some extent in its outworking on tradition, the church, by the Holy Spirit.

We benefit from good biblical scholarship feeding tradition, the church, whether or not we delve into it ourselves. It shapes how we approach scripture, and through that, all of life.

Pastoral reflection is just as serious in the mix of what we humans do in response to God’s revelation, as anything else. In fact the shaping on the human side goes both ways: the insights we need from scripture are best worked out in a church setting, in the church itself. A good pastor, and good theology is reflective of listening to God’s voice and seeking wisdom and direction within the context of real life, and the community in Christ, the church, is the kingdom in which this life takes root and bears fruit.

I have been a word person, but not enough a person of the church, though I’ve always either attended or have been a part of one, so that it has rubbed off on me, or at least has been present in the good ways that come from the Spirit.

What we need to realize is the reality and importance of the stimulus, and we could say stimuli which God provides for us in Jesus. We need to acknowledge what already affects us in that, and deliberately take it in all the more, with an emphasis on the word of God and prayer. All of this together, in and through Jesus.

keeping hold of the gospel

The gospel is at the heart of our faith, and therefore central to the well being, not only of us, but of the world. Faith, hope, and love depend on it. No wonder then, when it can become such a point of contention. I commend N. T. Wright and his writings, along with other writers and teachers such as Scot McKnight and Craig Blomberg, and many others.

The gospel essentially is the Jesus revealed in scripture, and all the truth that surrounds him in his person, life, teaching, works, death and resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his return. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage, but actually Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all accounts of the gospel. The good news in Jesus in which scripture is fulfilled.

It is imperative for us to hold on the gospel, not simply because of the life it promises after death, but also because of the life that is promised to us here and now. It is a life in God, one of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because of Christ’s redemptive work of the cross, and the freeing activity of the Spirit (Romans 8). I find that we have to hold on to faith to get out of survival mode, though in spiritual warfare, simply to stand our ground is all that’s required (Ephesians 6:10-20). This is all about the gospel: the good news in Jesus, and holding on to that.

God wants us in Jesus to be more than conquerors, actually in him we already are (Romans 8), victorious (Revelation 2-3) in and through Jesus by the good news, regardless of what we face, or our past, as well as present. It may be in the midst of much weakness, and fallout. Nevertheless God wants the truth of that gospel in Jesus stamped onto our lives, so that it defines and centers us in all of life. The good news, by the way, is as big as all of life, if one reads the pages of scripture in full. It is no less than new creation, God making all things new. It is not a matter of hiding in a cave somewhere with bread and water. At the same time, though, it does involve a following with others of Christ in identification with him, which in this life can spell trouble, even death. But in the midst of that, we know from the good news that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to pray and ask God to help us grasp and hold on to this good news in Jesus. That it might correct us where need be, and set us on the path of life, even of immortality, the eternal life and everlasting way in and through Jesus.

 

when everything seems uncertain, unsettled, with upheaval and change

There are times and seasons when one is in the midst of it. Where so many uncertainties exist, and when a number of issues can be hanging in the balance. Add to that the fact that bad things can and sometimes do happen. One is left with an uneasy sense of deja vu, either of “here we go again,” or what one dreaded coming to pass.

That is when we need to continue all the more in our practice to be grounded in God and God’s word. “This too will pass,” and how we are in terms of both our disposition and actions is critical during such times. There may indeed need to be adjustments made, and life itself can force that on someone. We need to take one thing at a time, and go from there. We can be assured in the midst of it all, that God will be with us in Jesus. And that God will help us by the Spirit.

And so the watchword for us is faith: faith in God, in God’s word, God’s promise to us in Jesus. And endeavoring to find and become more and more settled into God’s will through it all.

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.

keeping at it faithfully, not drifting

Sometimes we experience such grief and downright consternation over life, personal concerns, matters, or whatever, that it seems impossible to keep heart since our heart is utterly broken, or breaking. Or perhaps life is good, and we feel good, with little or no worries. Either way, or with just what can become the numbness of day to day living, we can begin to drift from our God, and in so doing actually from ourselves, since to find and know God is to begin to find and know ourselves, a byproduct of that, not the goal.

I have found myself drifting a bit lately, not purposefully, to be sure. But whatever the challenges faced, it is the heart which one way or another is going to be attacked by the enemy, often through the mind, and when it seems that relationships even in family are not what they ought to be, even sometimes broken, or at least cracked. And so it’s seemed to me that what I do, and certainly whether or not I’m here matters not at all. It’s not like any of us are indispensable, or that God needs us. But God has chosen to include us during this time to his glory in and through Jesus in his good and great work, each of us having a part in that.

But to the point of this post: I realize afresh and anew that I need to keep on keeping on faithfully, for me beginning with my daily meditation in the word, in scripture. Certainly in that with a focus on the gospel, on Jesus. It’s not about looking for some great experience, or any experience at all. God is present with us in Jesus no matter what we’re going through or how we feel. It’s simply about faith in God, and being faithful to the calling of God, yes, in all our weakness, and sometimes sin, or struggle against sin. We want to plod on, and keep going, come what may, by God’s grace, no turning back.

In order to avoid inevitable drifting, we have to simply continue on in the Spirit direction God gives us. That may not always seem obvious, and actually may take some time for us to understand or have a needed breakthrough on a given matter. But part of how we get there is simply by continuing to meditate on the word, and seeking to grow in that meditation. Sometimes to ponder a matter slowly and prayerfully before we sense it’s time to move on. But not stopping. Continuing on in the word, that we might be on the path with others in following Jesus, in and through Jesus.

 

the promise of the restoration of the years the locusts have eaten

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm[f]
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

One needs to read the entire (short) book of Joel to really appreciate what is said here (above link includes entire book). God’s judgment had been on his people, there was a call to repent, and then God is moved to make this promise. After that there is the well known promise Peter echoed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) of God’s outpouring of the Spirit. And then the final judgment to come when a good God roots out evil.

The promise of restoration and somehow being paid back for all that has been lost due to sin is certainly great. It is given not to an individual, but to the people of God as a whole. It certainly touches individual lives, but is corporate. We have to see that somehow we are part of the sin of our group, but upon repentance how we are part of God’s blessing given to his people, as well. We can be complicit in the sins of others, by ignoring or somehow even excusing it. Or we might participate to some extent in it ourselves perhaps without even realizing it.

We are in this together, and even the remnant which may have done better ends up suffering due to the unfaithfulness of the people. But I think we have to be careful lest we kid ourselves and think we are so far removed from the sin of our people. For most of us that probably won’t be a problem; we know all too well our sin, what we have done, or perhaps even what we’re doing. Even the faithful Daniel included himself in his petition to God of repentance in anticipation of Israel’s restoration to the promised land in keeping with Jeremiah’s prophecy (Daniel 9).

And then the promise. Overwhelming to be sure, but God wants his people, and really all of humankind to flourish. God is the God of blessing. Judgment is God’s “strange work,” but God’s goal and the end is always about blessing. And God blesses his people that they might be a blessing. Israel was to be a light to the nations, that being ultimately fulfilled by and now in Jesus himself.

And so even if it’s the eleventh hour for us, we need to take full stock, and in spite of everything find God’s blessing with his people in and through Jesus. To ask God to search us and know us so that come what may, together we might be led in the way everlasting.