unanswered questions and where our confidence lies

The Bible is full of places where God’s people, even his servants question him, wondering about this or that, especially in terms of God’s justice and even goodness. Habakkuk is a good case in point, as we heard in the message (week one: “Honest to God”) yesterday. Another great example is Job, who in the end didn’t have all his questions answered, but it didn’t seem to matter. Actually in the case of Job, we might say he was intellectually satisfied, and probably more importantly, satisfied in his heart, because the essential answer which God gave him is that the God who created everything in all that wonder is beyond the scope of Job’s ability to comprehend and fully appreciate. God does give us what we need to carry on and do well in the faith which is in him in and through Jesus.

I too often, probably just occasionally have questions which while not necessarily large scale often have no quick and easy answers. Proverbs tells us that it is the glory of kings to search out a matter, so it doesn’t hurt at all for us to pray and investigate and find out what we can in trying to arrive to some satisfactory answer. But do all of our questions have to be answered? The really essential one for the Christian faith is the reality or not of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Our faith depends on the veracity of that as a historical and not just religious truth. It either happened, and therefore our faith is true, or it didn’t happen. And since our faith purports to be dependent on that, and not just some tradition or religion we do, we have nothing according to Paul if it’s not historical fact (1 Corinthians 15). The evidence from the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is quite compelling, and coupled with Luke’s account in Acts followed by the rest of the New/Final Testament and what follows in history afterward, we can say we have good reason intellectually to accept that as true. And we have found that confession of faith to be life changing, setting us on a completely new course in life (Romans 10:9-10). It’s other nagging questions along the way which subtly can eat away at our faith, at the practice of it.

And that leads me to the main question for this post: Where does our confidence ultimately lie, in God himself, or in having all of our questions answered? And the easy answer is that our confidence is in God alone, apart from whatever questions which might remain unanswered. But the more complex, true to life answer is that we can continue to wrestle with God (the meaning of the word Israel, by the way is one who wrestles with God) and ask whatever hard questions we have, big or small. We can struggle and wonder and simply not know. But ultimately we can be at rest even with that tension, because our confidence is in God. So that by and large that tension is relieved without having all of our questions answered. Even as we continue to ask and search for answers to our questions. In and through Jesus.

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“proof” of the resurrection of Christ is in the pudding

Christianity Today has an interesting review on the new film now out in the theaters, “The Case for Christ,” telling the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from an atheism to evangelical Christianity. The story by itself probably makes the film compelling enough to want to watch, though I’m not much of a film watcher myself. And I admit to avoiding watching Christian films, since I think what is often painted is an unreal world. Which is sad and difficult, since something of what those films convey is usually valuable and even important.

Christian apologetics concerns both the defending and argument for the veracity of the faith, so that in perhaps what at best is a kind of C. S. Lewis approach, an appeal is made for the argument of the truth of the gospel, specifically here, of Christ’s resurrection. Not completely on a rational basis, but even an appeal to experience and beauty gets put on a rational scale in the end. I admit that I like that approach for myself. But good as that might be for people like me, who like to see intellectual arguments pro and con, that actually ends up not being the most satisfying approach in the sense of life changing. And when one puts all their weight on the intellectual side, there is always the possibility that the something more we don’t know might tip the scales another way; we just can’t know for sure. Although many a person who either practices law, as a lawyer, or approaches life from that perspective has concluded that the evidence in favor of Jesus having actually risen from the dead is quite telling and compelling.

To consider the gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week before his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a good exercise, as we see the perspectives of the four evangelists in telling that story. And then Luke’s story continues on in Acts, which tells us about the beginning of the early church and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world.

What ends up, I believe, being most persuasive in appealing for the faith of the gospel and the truth of Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the change that occurred in Jesus’s followers. That is in terms not only of this really taking place, but of its significance, as well. If Jesus simply rose from the dead with the promise that someday we who have faith in him will likewise be resurrected into that same life, that has wonderful meaning, to be sure. But it might not impact us much in this life, at least not in the way that scripture tells us it does.

We begin by faith right now to share in Jesus’s resurrection life. This is clear throughout the Final/New Testament, Romans 6 being one example, but all throughout. Romans 6 speaks of participation by faith and baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we can now, by grace begin to live this new life. It might be seen as a more “religious” argument, but Christ’s resurrection is at the heart of the faith, of what Christianity essentially is according to scripture. It is a partipation not just in seeking to follow Christ’s teachings, or the teachings of the church, as important as those are. But it is an actual participation no less in the very life of Christ, yes, his resurrection life, beginning even prior to the resurrection to come, in our lives now, by the Spirit.

We live because he lives, and our life in him is distinct. And while it is in anticipation of the resurrection to come, it partakes of that resurrection in partaking of Christ right now in this life. In changing the way we live, the breath that we breathe, in other words what motivates us, and how we want to live. More precisely, what God is making us to be over time in becoming more and more like Jesus.

This is both an individual and joint venture, to be sure. But the key is Christ and his resurrection. We follow one whose life is now our life, which means a difference now, and all the difference in the world beyond this life, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

And so the truth and reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead will be seen by me today, not in considering once again the way the story is told in the gospel accounts. But the difference this reality makes in my life right now, through the nitty gritty and sometimes downright difficult circumstances of life. Does Christ make a difference there, and in what way? That’s the question, answered more than well enough for me time and time again. In and through the risen Jesus.

reading and meditation for Easter

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”(which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist, which means proclaimer of what in her case she was a witness to. She was the first of many eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection.

It’s interesting that the Lord appeared to her and angels proclaimed Jesus’s resurrection to the women before Jesus appeared to the Eleven. This would surely later come across to the Eleven as a rebuke, since they initially did not accept the women’s witness, which in that day was not considered as credible as men’s testimony.

It is also interesting that Jesus in his resurrection state is not immediately recognized by those who knew him. There is at least something different in his appearance. But at a certain point, he is recognized, or his identity acknowledged. It’s hard to know what precisely to make of that except to say that with the resurrection the old has gone and the new has come, not by the old being obliterated, but by the old becoming new. There is a change in us who by faith have entered into the promise of Christ’s resurrection, beginning now in this life. As we look forward to the final change to come, when the world and all creation is included in Christ’s resurrection in the new creation.

We live in the beginning of that new day now, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.

encouragment to keep on keeping on

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15

For many reasons, it’s easy to want to give up at times, to throw in the towel. There is often so much pressure, and so much that could go wrong, and at times does go wrong. And we live in a world in which evil too often gets the upper hand and seems successful, and in which there’s little good that doesn’t have some admixture of evil. And if we honestly look at ourselves, we have to admit that we’re far from perfect, flawed and definitely not all together. We most certainly haven’t arrived. And all too often it can feel like our wheels are spinning.

But then we turn to scripture, and specifically to the great resurrection gospel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. The conclusion of it, quoted above suggests that it is meant to be an encouragement, as well as careful instruction during a formative time in the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people. Because of Christ’s death for our sins, and resurrection from the dead, we are given assurance that somehow what we do here and now in this present state matters. That it has effects beyond what is apparent, what the eye can see.

So the resurrection to come in and through Christ is not ony something we look forward to as a present day hope for the future, but also is meant to impact our lives in the present, that not only are we now living in the resurrection power by the Spirit, even while still in our mortal existence, but that this promise gives lasting significance to what we do in the here and now.

If this wasn’t the case, then it would most certainly seem indeed that “all we are is dust in the wind.” But God has promised to bring that dust back together beyond this mortality into immortality. And somehow with that, our works which proceed out of faith, as well.

And so that gives me pause, to not only want to do well, but to also avoid doing poorly. A straight arrow to us that what we do, our work matters. Both in our words and deeds. As we look forward to the time when all of our labor in the Lord comes together to be shown that it was not in vain, and we continue on in the love, goodness, grace, and indeed the life of our risen, resurrected Lord.

the real thing

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:19-20

There is no one who enjoys a coffee, and even better yet, a beer with a friend, then I do. And how about some good Beatles music, and better yet, Bach? And what about a trip to sight see, like for example in the Rocky Mountains? Or to relax and chill in some resort area, a real vacation? Do we enjoy weddings, and what matters from that beginning, the marriage which follows? Of course. It’s not like we Christians can’t enjoy good things that are a part of creation. It’s just that we know there’s more, much more. And we won’t settle for second best.

As usual, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But the marriage analogy not only surely helps, but hopefully will make the point. What day is more happy than one’s wedding day? We might say especially so for the bride, but is it really less so for the groom? I’ve only been a groom, so I can’t say. Ha. But what follows, probably beginning with the honeymoon, but especially after the honeymoon experience begins to wear off is real life. Life in a relationship between two flawed individuals, who little know what they’ve gotten themselves into, given the seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day together existence of marriage. Having to learn to work though issues together, such issues including shortcomings and indeed, even sins, especially of the tongue which need to be taken care of in confession to each other, and forgiveness given. But to get back to the point of this post, marriage is an apt analogy of the reality that there’s more, much more which needs to break into this old creation: nothing less than the new creation in and through Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15 (link above will take you to the entire chapter) is a remarkable chapter in which Paul advocates the resurrection, and specifically the resurrection of Christ as at the heart of the gospel. And for Paul, his entire life was lived in service to Christ and to the gospel, to the point which other things in comparison hardly mattered at all to him in his personal life. Others had a wife or husband, but Paul didn’t. Others received compensation so they could continue on in preaching the gospel, whereas he (at least, often) refused such (1 Corinthians 9). He certainly lived a difficult existence to say the least (1 Corinthians 4; 2 Corinthians not letting up on that theme one iota). To him to live was Christ, and to die, gain (Philippians 1). He was at the front of the new movement of the gospel, the good news who is Jesus with all that means, and one would expect serious opposition to that, and not an easy road for a number of reasons, not the least of which was God’s work of preparation to help him to be ready to suffer for Jesus’s sake. And Paul tells us (through the word/scripture, by extension to us today) to follow him as he followed Christ.

1 Corinthians 15 (if you haven’t read it at all, or recently, it wouldn’t hurt to do so now) is a remarkable word on how the good news in Jesus in the resurrection in him makes living for today and this world without a thought for tomorrow, or specifically the life after this life, such a sad, even fatal mistake. In Christ we get caught up into a new existence which while enjoying this life, by faith knows that the real life is in him, bringing in the new creation, bringing us into the life of the Trinity, the true eternal life, beginning in this present life in the power of Christ’s resurrection, but destined to take over the world in the new creation. A destiny which sees this life as both the beginning and means through nothing less than death and resurrection in Jesus of arrival to what we have inklings and even real  beginnings of now, but can’t be imagined apart from the revelation of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2). And so, we continue on.

the difference between “progressives” and “conservatives”

Once upon a time I used to consider myself a “progressive,” until I found out what the term actually means in regard to one’s theology. The idea is that the spirit of the age, now Modernism and Post-Modernism, is a factor brought to the table in our understanding of God’s will. Well, we’d all agree with that. But the difference with progressives is that they will judge what is found in scripture by the spirit of the age.  Whereas so-called conservatives judge the age by the Book, or better yet, by the gospel revealed in the Book, in scripture, that understanding mediated by the Spirit through the church. And I think it’s evident that there is indeed something of what’s been called a “redemptive movement” hermeneutic in scripture, as God moves his people toward the goal of God’s kingdom in and through Jesus.

The teaching of the resurrection of Jesus, at the heart of the gospel and indeed, of the faith, is an example of the difference. For progressives, whether or not it was a literal, bodily resurrection, or simply metaphorical of how Christ lives on through his life and teaching, doesn’t matter. Unlike the Apostle Paul, who in 1 Corinthians 15 (see verses 12-19) saw the resurrection as essential to the Christian faith, these folks beg to differ. Of course Jesus’ resurrection body was spiritual in the sense of being made by the Spirit for the new order. But as we see from the post-resurrection appearances in the gospel accounts, which the progressives would simply call stories with the implication that they need not be historical, actual happenings, Jesus could be touched, indeed did eat, and did not appear to be any different than anyone else. Even though he could do things he couldn’t do before. Appearing and disappearing, evidence of that.

I dislike the term conservative, since I have problems with that term philosophically and politically. All these terms are not inherently bad, but carry baggage, and surely have their limitations. A follower of Jesus, simply a Christian, and a part of Christ’s body, the church suffices for me. But traditional, orthodox would also fit in the place where I stand with others in Jesus, because I believe it does justice to what scripture teaches, to the gospel itself. And for me, there’s no problem in believing the account of scripture in the four gospels concerning the resurrection. The way it reads actually lends support for its historicity in contrast to what likely would have been had the church been making up the story.

And the God who created all things certainly would have no trouble making a new creation, which is precisely what is promised and is already present in and through Jesus. Faith does not contradict science, nor science contradict faith. We have to let both general revelation (creation) and special revelation (scripture) speak for themselves, and keep working on our understanding of both. Even while we as the church receive what is the heart of the truth in the good news of Jesus. Something we can stand on and live by day after day, and as witnesses to, and on which we stake our very lives. The one hope for the world we can count on, as good as God’s word and promise to us.

 

doing what lasts forever

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

It is easy to simply dismiss what one does as not mattering. Perhaps anyone can do it, yes. What is lost in this is how everything we do matters, and how the touch of each one doing it is both a gift and stewardship from God. We fill our place with the touch of God through creation and new creation in Jesus, even with the contribution of all we are, including our brokenness. Not that we excuse ourselves so that what we do or don’t do doesn’t matter.

In light of the resurrection we are to realize that our lives have eternal impact somehow on this world and on others. Our labor in the Lord can make all the difference in the world. We must not lose sight of that.

I work in a factory setting. Many details are laid out for us and some of it is rather routine. Many if not everyone could do the job I do. But as each of us does the work given to us, we can do it in such a way that brings glory to God as we work at it with all of our hearts. In my case I’m doubly blessed in that I work for a solid, excellent Christian ministry: RBC Ministries, home of Our Daily Bread and much more. And so I realize that our work impacts people directly with the goodness of God in and through Jesus. As we participate in the mission to “make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”

Not just at work, but everywhere our lives can make a difference that lasts forever. We are a resurrection people in Jesus so that our lives, our deeds and our words can make that difference by the Spirit in and through Jesus. We’re not automatons by the way. We’re somehow part of this life changing work, regardless of how mundane it may seem and we may feel at times. And so we do not lose heart, but keep on keeping on. To the glory and eternal praise of God.