belief in God

When one considers the world, both a skepticism from a cynicism can set in. Yes, there is much good we can find everywhere in the form of beauty and what seems noble and right. But no matter where we turn we also find trouble, and brokenness, oftentimes right in the midst of the great good we find, so that the good can seem spoiled, or at least in danger of being undermined or lost.

Many do come to faith in God usually connected to personal matters I would guess, but also in response to something of the beauty found in creation and in the message of the gospel. But some have abandoned faith in God. The randomness of evil or misfortune in the world, the great suffering often accompanying that, along with what is not good oftentimes threatening what otherwise is, all of this can make people doubt the existence of a good God who is like a Father and love. So that a person can become either an agnostic, or even an atheist, the latter usually to some degree agnostic, but with the belief that it’s impossible to really know, and maybe beside the point.

There are some reasons which might move me toward faith in God. The wonder of creation, or one could say, nature, is one of them. What we do find good in societies, in spite of all the evil might be another. Art in the form of music and other work helps us appreciate beauty and might suggest to us a Creator behind the creativity we find within humankind and ourselves.

But the only thing that really keeps me from descending into something like the writer of Ecclesiastes had (one of my favorite books of the Bible, by the way, which shows where I might naturally go apart from the gospel) is the gospel: the good news in Jesus. This good news addresses both the brokenness we see all around us, including when we look in the mirror. And helps us see that both for the present, as well as for the future, there is redemption and salvation in terms of reconciliation, justification, and regeneration. The old creation, good, but broken down in so many ways to be made new, the new creation in Christ to ultimately take over everything and make it turn out more than okay, for the life of the world, and in our lives as well.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas in God becoming flesh, completely human in the Person of the Son, Jesus. God not only with us, but becoming one of us. And fulfilling all God set in motion for humankind in God’s call to Abraham and what followed, in spite of all the brokenness we find in that story. Addressing that by becoming broken himself on the cross, experiencing death in order that we might have the life which followed, swallowing up that death, and ultimately all death.

The good news in Jesus. Our one hope, and what keeps my faith in God intact from my own perspective, the Spirit from God at work in all of this now, in and through Jesus.

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the unique authority of Jesus

In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

John 8

I was struck in my reading and meditation yesterday, over the obvious unique authority Jesus held in the minds of those who opposed him, and actually all who listened to him, something he didn’t distance himself from at all. The story itself, though not included in many ancient manuscripts, seems to have plenty of credence as at least a possibility of being included as a part of scripture. And it certainly fits. I for one have no problem including it in teaching.

Jesus over and over again speaks and acts as if he brings something entirely new to the table, which in a sense is built on the old, but actually goes beyond that, and in so doing, again and again clearly contradicts what preceded it. Oftentimes in Christian interpretation, the explanations for such differences has been either strained and not satisfying, or simply left as not really knowing what to do with it. But when we simply accept Jesus’s authority over all that went before him, that can help us grapple with the differences.

In the case of the passage quoted above, Jesus clearly does contradict what the Pentateuch commanded. Jesus is the fulfillment, but in terms of the cross, and what that means for everything. Which I think scripture demonstrates in the New/Final Testament letters. Jesus heading toward the climax of what he was about here on earth, starting with his incarnation (Philippians 2:5-11) is essential in helping us understand who God really is, and how we’re meant to be in Jesus, crucified with him even in this life, so that his life will fulfill what our lives are meant to be.

the Bible is from the real world for the real world

I’m reading this book (Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, by Glenn R. Paauw) and ran across the thought that the Bible comes from the real world, reflecting it, for the real world. Like Jesus came into the real world, sharing in its brokenness, apart from sin, of course. And that this strikes against the gnosticism which rears its head in a good number of ways, yes even in the church. A gnostic approach is to somehow avoid the real world with something from heaven that cancels out the earth. But the biblical message is about heaven becoming one with earth, the real earth, the real world, right where you and I and everyone else lives. A messy, broken, and sometimes ugly world. Transformative, to be sure, in and through Jesus, but touching all of life right where we live.

That helps me, because although I’d like to check out and not go through the mess (maybe like on a long vacation somewhere in Paradise), life doesn’t allow that. In the Bible, people are taken through the valleys, not out of them. We do look forward to the great Transformation to come when the troubles of this life will be over, and a new real world will be born. But until then, we are engaged in this good, yet broken real world, and through Jesus somehow that engagement will impact the new real world to come (1 Corinthians 15).

And so I don’t want to shun what might be unpleasant and even ugly. But to address everything through Jesus and God’s good news in him. We live out a gospel for the real world that is for the real world, all of it. It not only impacts it, but it gives an entirely different answer other than what the world gives, in and through Jesus.

That is what I live in and for with others. The only hope I have for myself, for others, and for the world. In and through Jesus.

identifying with the poor

In my culture here in the United States, there seems to be a belief that has taken hold of many, that people are poor for a reason, meaning the poor are essentially at fault for being so. I’ve heard it put quite starkly that way, as if there are no outside factors which have contributed to their plight. Let’s face it, everyone makes less than best decisions at time, surely all of us have even done foolishly sometime when it comes to finances. But those who have a steady job and especially with a good income, have a nice margin of error, whereas the poor, who may not get much over minimum wage, do not. Yes, there’s all kinds of considerations to be added, like how some (some would say many) want to live off the government, while they smoke their cigarrettes and sit in front of the television. Yet there are others who have given up because they felt marginalized and simply didn’t have the qualifications needed to overcome.

Yes, there are poor people in the United States who barely have enough to eat, at times not enough. But most are helped in some way by the government or private agencies such as charities. The world’s poor in comparison suffer a much greater plight, since they often don’t have the resources that the poor here do. I think of places in Africa in which there is starvation even of children, often war ravaged areas in which governments can’t stop evil militia groups, oftentimes the governments themselves being corrupt.

People removed perhaps on the other side of the globe are sadly easy to dismiss or forget. But people suffering where we live is another matter. And yet we so easily live in bubbles among those of our economic, political, religious status, seldom breaking out of them enough to even begin to get to know the “others.”

To identify with the poor is essentially the way of Jesus, whose entire life, in fact coming was about identifying with the poverty of the human condition by becoming completely human except that he never sinned.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8

So we must start with our Lord, and it’s good to see it in the context of the above passage just cited (the link goes to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to give monetarily, an offering for their poor brothers and sisters in Jesus in Judea. Some in their poverty gave generously for the help of others in spite of their own lack.

In and through Jesus, our hearts are to go out to the poor, and we’re to help them in practical ways in the love of our Lord, those who do not know him, with the good news of the gospel, itself.

We also need to be careful that Money doesn’t replace God in our lives. This is a life changing series, entitled, “God and Money,” which while saying a good number of things we may already know, is revolutionary in challenging us to see all of our resources as not only gifts from God, but also belonging to God, we being stewards of such. That needs to get into our hearts and bones to change our lives.

May the Lord teach us more in this direction, as we endeavor to walk together with him, longing for others to know the true riches we have found in him.

truth in life

I’ve read that Dietrich Bonhoeffer formulated theology not just from scripture, and the church tradition connected to that, but out of life itself. It was personal, communal, societal, and surely global as well. The gospel of our Lord Jesus touches every aspect of creation, either now in Jesus, or at his return when heaven and earth become one in him.

We have to try to not only speak truth to power, but truth to ourselves, as well. Scripture, and the gospel of our Lord which is the heart of it, is about life, real life in the here and now, in the nitty gritty, dark and dirty and difficult places of life, as well as in the good times, and in every place in between.

God speaks truth to us in scripture in and through Jesus. This is in large part why we need to remain in scripture all the time. We want to understand, and get into the flow of God’s revelation to us, to the world in Christ, of the Spirit, and of God’s grace (unfailing love and undeserved, unmerited favor) in him. Scripture certainly reflects real life, and therefore speaks into our lives with nothing less than a word from God for us in and through Christ.

The life, the eternal life took upon himself our life, created life, that we might take hold of the eternal life that is in him. When the Word became flesh/human, there was the ultimate truth in life in Jesus. A truth not just about head knowledge, as good and important in its place as that is. But about reality, so that we can rest in faith and in the grace of God present, which began uniquely in that little baby boy in a manger in Bethlehem, who is the truth for all of life, even the life of the world.

Jesus’s word which only faith accepts

Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

John 3

Jesus’s words to a religious leader of Israel still ring loud and clear and true for us today. Jesus spoke a word in words, from the Father. That is why they have a telling effect for all who believe. Jesus preached the gospel because he preached himself. He did it out of the utmost humility, having humbled himself in the Incarnation by becoming one of us, and taking that much further to the death of the cross for the worst from and of us. Jesus himself was a word from the Father, indeed the final Word, revealing God to us, “full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14).

This is the one word we in Jesus should speak, as well as by grace live and if need be die for. No other words, as important as they are, are on that same level. Though through that word, those lesser words might be shaped and perhaps could begin to share in its life and purpose, either directly or indirectly.

The world spoken by Jesus of Jesus is the word by which we in Jesus live, and which we should share with others, so that they too may come into this new life. The life who entered this world as a little baby boy so many years ago.

the nobody/everybody shepherds invited to Jesus’s birth

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2

A wonderful sketching by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, The Adoration of the Shepherds was shared in the message yesterday (the third in the series entitled Christmas Stories, to be available soon), and is included in the 1:10 beautiful beginning before each of these messages, which I highly recommend that you would listen to and see. Jeff Manion pointed out how the shepherds were among the nobody’s of that day, and from that we can say the anybody’s, or everybody’s. They were invited to share in the joy of Mary and Joseph over the birth of Jesus. An angel, along with a heavenly hosts of angels proclaimed to them this good news.

It is so encouraging that God offers himself to people like you and I, who would not only be among the last on the list in the world of those who might be invited to such an event, but would be among those on that list in our own estimation, as well. The shepherds surely must have been as surprised that they were invited, as they were overwhelmed with the angelic visitation itself.

In God’s grace in Jesus, God makes a point to reach out to the lowest, most unlikely in the eyes of the world, those whose status (so important in the Roman world, as Jeff Manion pointed out) was nil. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 are an encouragement to us:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1

And so the wonderful birth of the Messiah, the Son of God was in a place accompanied by animals, the newborn Jesus placed in a feeding trough. And people like you and I were invited, although in the end, God invites everyone. We are all included, none of us any less in great need than anyone else, though some may especially be falling through the cracks.

This Christmas let’s remember that the celebration of joy includes you and I. We are included into what appears to be the lowliest, but is in fact the greatest place to be, in the humility of God becoming flesh, living right where we live in the midst of it all. To lift us up to where he lives in the life of God, the eternal life. All through that little baby boy. Through Jesus our Savior and Lord.