Posts Tagged ‘Faith’
Like many people right now, I am reading Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity, which was recently published by Waterbrook Press. I’m only two chapters in, but already I know the reason I bought the book and why I visited the late Spencer’s blog Internet Monk so frequently.
He tells his readers in the introduction exactly to whom he is writing and why:
Mere Churchianity is written for people who have come to the end of the road with the church but who can’t entirely walk away from Jesus. In the wreckage of a church-shaped religious faith, the reality of Jesus of Nazareth persists and calls out to them. I’m talking to those who have left, those who will leave, those who might as well leave, and those who don’t know why they are still hanging around.
And I’m writing to the outsiders who might be drawn to God if it weren’t for Christians.” (5)
I am one of those people to whom Spencer is writing. It’s a sad thing, really, that I am an ordained minister, have a Bible college education, earned my living from the church for the better part of fifteen years, and have been a Christian since I was at least thirteen, maybe sooner, and have very little interest, right now, in the church—and precisely because of the people who make up the church. I know it is a strange thing since I too am part of that problem, part of the church.
I’m not that far gone though. I still worship with the church on Sundays and when I am asked I am still willing to step to the pulpit and speak the word of God to God’s people. Truth be told, I love the church which is the main reason why it is so terribly painful to be living in this borderlands place that I am living right now. I know Jesus loves the church—ugly as the church is—and that he will never quit on the church no matter how far away the church wanders from or quits him. I know that I have no right to despise the body of Christ.
Yet I suppose that is the very temptation I have had to struggle with so much over the last eleven months of this pilgrimage: how can I not despise the very place where I have been so despised while serving as a pastor/preacher? Oh, it’s that grace thing I suppose and I’d rather not think of that; it’s much easier to keep provoking and nursing those needling thoughts about all I would like to say. The first time I was treated poorly by a church I went right back to the pulpit and took out a lot of frustrations on unsuspecting congregants. This time, the Lord is not so quick to allow me that opportunity again. So I have been wandering for nearly a year.
William Willimon wrote a smart little book he titled Sinning Like a Christian wherein he explores the so-called seven deadly sins. I was minding my own business tonight when my wife grabbed the book, opened to a random page, and began reading:
Maybe that’s why the Scripture tells us, ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’ Vengeance, once of the most popular motivations for indignation, righteous or otherwise, is not a gift God gives to us. Vengeance, the ultimate, final righting of what’s wrong with the world, is God’s business, not ours. Because our anger can be so self-deceptive and delusional, so very dangerous to ourselves and others, the church has called Anger a sin, and a deadly one at that. We are to guard against it, fight it with all our might, repress it and stuff it in because, not being wise or as loving as God, we are not to be trusted with Anger.” (76)
Well, I wasn’t too happy with my wife after she read that ‘random’ passage of Willimon to me. I would have been much happier if she had read me a love-letter or a birthday card or the menu from our favorite local Chinese restaurant. Truth is, it hit me hard.
In about five minutes, on June 23, I will turn forty. I don’t care any more. I had my mid-life crisis when I turned thirty ten years ago and celebrated with folks from the church who, nine years after that fact, terminated my employment and sent me into a tailspin of anger, church homelessness, and depression. Forty? Pshaw! I can do forty standing on my head in the snow.
But forty is a special day because it also marks the first day of the rest of my life and the beginning of another change I need to make. I haven’t been on good terms with my Lord for the last year; he is so patient. He gave me a year or so to sort it out or, rather, to wrestle with all the emotions that come from such a drastic change as I have had to make. July 12 is the real anniversary, but June 23 marks my fortieth birthday and it is also the day I have decided to open up my Bible again and begin to read it and pray it.
I needed a break from it. I needed to know that I still hungered for it. I needed to know that it was still the Word of the Living God. I needed to know that despite everything that had changed about me, the Word was still capable of changing me even more. Frankly, I had to know that I still believed what was written in the book. So I am breaking my fast (it hasn’t been as complete as I make it sound) from the Bible and beginning all over again again because I believe that the Bible was also written to misfits like myself—people who are on the brink of walking away—people like those to whom Michael Spencer wrote. And Spencer did not write to justify their walking away, or thinking of walking away, but rather to show there is a reason to continue loving the church.
The Bible too.
I will be reading the Bible afresh, with fresh eyes, with new perspective, and with a new confidence—not confidence that it has ‘all the answers’ to my questions or that God will all of a sudden reward my diligence with new sermons or jobs or ideas or anything of that sort. No, nothing like that at all. Rather I will be reading the Bible just to see what it says about God and his way of dealing with rebels like me.
I have known my anger. I have known my bitterness. I have known my disgust. I have known hatred and a desire for revenge. I have known rebellion, distance, and blasphemy. I have known cursing. I’m tired of all that. I’m tired of the exhaustion that comes from living apart from a real living faith and conversation with the Living God.
I want to know Jesus. Better, He still wants to know me. And maybe together, Jesus and me, I will learn how to love the church again like I used to; like he never stopped doing, the way He always does.
Today’s readings: Numbers 16:20-35. Romans 4:1-12. Matthew 19_23-30. Psalm 94.
Reflections on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009
“Faith has to do with marrying Invisible and Visible. When we engage in an act of faith we give up control, we give up sensory (sight, hearing, etc.) confirmation of reality; we give up insisting on head knowledge as our primary means of orientation in life. The positive way to say this is that when we engage in an act of faith we choose to deal with a living God whom we trust to know what he is doing, we choose a way of life in which bodily senses and physical matter are understood as inseparable and organic to vast interiorities (soul) and immense beyonds (heaven), and we choose to no longer operate strictly on the basis of hard-earned knowledge, glorious as it is, but over a lifetime to embrace the mystery that ‘must dazzle gradually/Or every man go blind.’ (Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, 44; the quote at the end is from Emily Dickenson, The Complete Poems.)
I preached from Ezekiel 37 this morning but only the first 14 verses. The Lord takes Ezekiel for a walk through a valley, a plain—maybe the plain of Meggido—and shows him the remains of what had probably been a battle. The dead, likely of the losing army, had been left on the battle field. Their bodies over time had decayed and been picked clean by the animals and birds. All that was left was bones. A valley of dry, very dry bones. And as Ezekiel retells the events of that day, he recalled that the Lord had showed him all around the valley that day after setting him down in the very middle of that pile of bones. Listen to Ezekiel recall the day’s events.
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
Ezekiel was shown a valley of desolation, a plain of hopelessness, the valley of the shadow of death. There was nothing there but death, dead, dry bones and that is all that Ezekiel saw. Ezekiel was far too literal; he hadn’t yet developed the eyes of faith, eyes that see what eyes cannot see. The Lord showed Ezekiel everything there was to see: A vast, endless, sea of dead, dry, very dry bones. From a purely human point of view, the question the Lord asked Ezekiel was unfair and I believe that Ezekiel’s answer betrays that: “Lord, you alone know.”
This was, I believe, Ezekiel’s way of giving a perfectly orthodox theological answer without being committed to faith: “You alone know Lord.” Yes. The Lord knows. I think it was Ezekiel’s way of saying something like, “Lord, you can do anything, but I seriously doubt that this valley of dry, very dry bones can or will live. You alone know, Lord; yes, I agree. But this is a valley of dry bones. That’s all I see. There’s no hope for this valley of dry bones. And yet, Lord, I will obey; I will speak.”
The thing is, that’s not what the Lord saw. Later we learn what the Lord saw. Listen to what the Lord told the prophet.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off. Therefore prophesy and say to them: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ “
That’s the difference between God’s view of things and our view of things. God sees the things that we do not, or cannot. God sees life where there is death; hope where there is hopelessness; the House of Israel where there is only a valley of dry bones. God sees things that we cannot. You might say that God has a sort of faith that we do not. I might say I want that sort of faith.
Maybe Ezekiel wasn’t quite ready to give up control; maybe I’m not. He knew what he saw: A valley of dry, very dry bones. Maybe he wasn’t ready to give up sensory control or his insistence upon a purely intellectual, visual, orientation to life. It’s not easy to live in that sort of, from a human point of view, randomness. We like control. We like knowing, seeing, hearing. We do not like things being out of the ordinary; we like routine. Faith is a way of living that says, if I may, ‘to hell with routine; to hell with what I know, see, hear; to hell with control.’ I know that sounds almost like anarchy, but I assure you it is actually the sort of life (the only sort of life) that can say, “Yes Lord I will take my son, my only son, whom I love, and sacrifice him on a distant mountain even though I don’t see the sense of it;” or “Yes Lord I will prophesy to a valley of dead, dry bones even though I don’t think anything will happen when I do;” or “Yes, Lord, continue believing in you even though there are people who want to kill me for doing so;” or, “Yes, Lord, I will dance and become even more undignified even though people will mock me, people from within my own family; or, “Yes, Lord, I will go to the world with your hope even though they will reject me and crucify me.”
That kind of faith is the kind of faith that defines the people of Christ. And it is also the kind of faith that we are asked to exercise in every situation. The hardest times to exercise such faith are the times when we happen to think that such faith isn’t actually necessary. “Oh, it’s a small decision. I can make it on my own. God doesn’t care what sort of toaster I buy. All I need here is common sense and Sunday’s ads.” But that is not faith. Faith is that extraordinary trust, small and often indiscernible, even when things seem simple and uncomplicated. It might be easy to display a herculean sort of faith during times of great stress and pressure and attack, but I think it is most important to practice such faith when things are at their easiest and least complicated. It shows that we don’t trust ourselves at all; that we need guidance in all ways.
If we don’t practice such faith then, do you think we will practice such faith when life is up in arms and the enemy is crowding us, desiring more space in our lives, when things are really, really hard? If I won’t have the faith required to preach faithfully to a captive audience (let’s face it, a valley of dry bones is a rather captive audience; they’re not going anywhere; they can’t do anything but ‘listen’), then how will I faithfully preach to a living body of Christ? (Maybe it says something about Ezekiel that the Lord entrusted him to preach to a valley of dry bones first before he asked him to preach to the ‘whole house of Israel’.) It’s a small thing to preach to dry bones; it’s quite another thing to preach to the Living Body of Christ. I notice Ezekiel did preach to the bones; we are not told that he preached this particular message to the ‘whole house of Israel’ (See vss 7, 10, 12-14.)
I know I am mixing up all these words: Faith, faithfulness, God’s ‘faith’, my faith. What I’m getting at though is that perhaps faith is the letting go of what we know and see and hear and the living of life that comes from knowing, seeing and hearing and instead living a life that is oriented around what God sees, hears, and knows. I mean think about it, what’s better? Preaching to what we see, that is, a valley of dry bones or preaching to what God sees, the whole house of Israel? But until we have the sort of eyes that see what God sees, the whole house of Israel, our efforts, our preaching, our faith—indeed, our very lives–will be full of frustration and futility.
We live by faith, not sight. But it’s that kind of faith; God’s kind of faith. So Ezekiel prophesied.
And there was a noise, a rattling sound.
Here is my first installment of this week’s Lectionary notes. These notes are on Psalm 23. For part of the time while I was writing these notes I was listening to David Crowder*Band’s A Collision or 3+4=7. There are ten (10) pages of notes that include relevant cross-references and quotes and personal observations about faith. An obvious choice of books in this lesson is Philip Keller’s Psalm 23: A Shepherd Looks at the Psalm 23. I have chosen not to utilize this source, but it is available for others if they so choose. My notes sort of play with the themes of Presence, Abundance, Dependence and Journey. The notes are in semi-random order. You can download them from my box.net account.
Update: I turned this lesson into a Bible School Lesson. Access here at box.net.
Asleep in Anxiety
Genesis 7, Psalm 3-4
There are wounded people all around the world. There are people whose lives are under constant threat from enemies. There are people whose lives are under constant strain of economic instability. There are people whose lives are marked by constant floods and the daily concern of what to eat and drink.
Enter Psalms 3-4. “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me? Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’” We are entering the prayer of someone whose life is in serious danger. This is a person who says ‘tens of thousands assail [me] on every side’ (6). (Well, he says he will not ‘fear’ them, but even if its merely hyperbole, the point is the same: This is a person in serious trouble from other humans.) The story of Absalom’s rebellion against David is a terrible tragedy and David must have truly felt that the world was against him.
Still David can say, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.”
As the reader of the Psalms, or the prayer of the Psalter, moves into Psalm 4 he is confronted with a similar situation. Here is someone calling out to God because he is in trouble again. “Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” I suspect that during much of the day such prayers are going up before God and I have no doubts that he hears all these cries of the oppressed. It could be that this Psalm speaks very poignantly to our current situation in America: “Many, Lord, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’”
Again, the Psalmist writes, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
I’m confused. I thought, and I could be wrong, that we smart people were supposed to stay awake all night long and worry about the turmoil in our lives? You know, like when the world (‘tens of thousands’) are rising up against us; or when the economy (‘grain and new wine’) is faltering. I thought we were supposed to struggle through these things, fill ourselves up with all sorts of anxiety and fear and turmoil and stress and allow these things to slowly dismantle us from the inside to the outside. I don’t remember anywhere being told that we should, let alone can, sleep during times of discomfort and distress.
Kind of makes me wonder if Noah ever had any sleepless nights, full of restless anxiety, while he was on the ark full of animals, his children, and his wife. Nah.
Asleep in anxiety? Can it be? At some point the Psalmist realized that he was in so deep, surrounded by so many, undone by so many struggling economic issues that if God would not rescue him or could not rescue him then he was hopeless. I think it takes just enough faith to allow us to sleep well. You might say there is a fine line between faith and fatalism. Still, it seems to me that when we don’t sleep well in the midst of all such turmoil it is likely because we are not trusting in God who is able to rescue us. (See Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel’s Gospel.)
Is it naïve of me to think that rest can come so easily? I don’t know. In Psalm 3, David is confident that the Lord will answer his prayers (v 4). In Psalm 4, David is not so confident (v 1-2). David sleeps either way. It seems to me then that there is a sort of faith that is even greater than the mere expectation of an answered prayer. That is, David puts his faith and hope and confidence in the God who hears prayers (4:3), not in the answers (either with thunder or silence) to the prayers.
It seems to me that there is a peace that transcends the circumstance and confounds the flesh. David continues to pray. Sometimes he hears the voice of God shake the world from ‘his holy mountain’ (3:4) Sometimes David has to keep beating on the doors and pleading for God to hear him while he is being humiliated and embarrassed (4:2). Still, David sleeps; rests.
I wish I had that sort of faith. I wish I had the sort of faith that could sleep well regardless of whether or not God answers the prayers. I wish I had the sort of faith that is more confident in God than in my ability to rattle the heavens with words and petitions. I wish I had the sort of faith that could sleep through a storm, or a flood, or an economic downturn.
These Psalms really challenge our ideas of confidence.
I’d like to share some personal reflections concerning president-elect Barrack Obama and how I have chosen to respond to his recent election to the highest office in our land (save for that of the local church preacher.)
I shall state from the beginning of this post that I am a conservative. That does not mean I am a Republican. Nor does it mean I am not a Democrat. What it means is that I believe certain things about fiscal responsibility, certain things about morality, and that I believe certain things about personal responsibility. It does not mean that I am a misogynist, homophobe, redneck, indigent-phobe, or racist.
It does mean that I think homosexuality is a sin (although for some conservatives it does not mean this at all), men are men and women are women and we are not alike, and that America has come a long way in its race relations since the Emancipation Proclamation. It does not mean I think America is the best place to live for everyone, but it is the best place for me to live (and that our history is rich, diverse, and blessed.) It does not mean I think America is perfect. It does mean I think a lot of places in the world would be rather bad-off if the USA didn’t exist. It does not mean I love war and violence. It does mean that I am not so naïve as to think a world, fallen as it is, will be devoid of war apart from the reign of Christ. It does not mean that those in elected-office get a blank check from me, but it does mean that I respect the office they hold and that per the Scripture, I should pray for them. It means that I think abortion to be one of the most despicable, heinous and outrageous crimes a person can perpetrate against the human body, against life. It does not mean that I think those who have had abortions have committed the unforgivable sin.
Being a conservative gets a bad rap because most think it means being intolerant of those who are living differently or believing differently—as if God’s grace depends upon the rightness of our opinions and convictions. Being conservative does not mean we are intolerant of people even if we are intolerant of certain ideas that people hold or certain lifestyles that people, for whatever reason, live. For that matter, intolerance does not mean or equate to hatred. My conservatism flows out of my being a Christ-follower and not the other way around. It doesn’t mean this for everyone, but it does for me. Being conservative means not being liberal. Neither idea means being less than or more than human. It means having ideas about things that matter this much.
I have made a very difficult decision to champion Barrack Obama. I have written critically of President-Elect Obama and some of his (political and theological) views at my own blog. I had an argument with family members at a summer picnic because they already supported him (actually they just opposed President Bush). I have harbored terrifying thoughts about what an Obama presidency might hold for America. I have read the blogs of those who also live in terrific fear of what an Obama presidency might hold. Like here. And here. And here. (And there are many, many more just like this.)
Suddenly it came over me last week at a prayer meeting, as I listened to a man I know speak about some of his concerns and how God is using this shake this and squeeze that and how the church needs to get ready, that I don’t need to or have to fear a so-called liberal president. Why should I fear? Whom shall I fear? The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in horses and chariots, but we trust in the Lord our God.” Whom shall I fear? I will not live the next four years of my life in constant fear of some imagined agenda people have put into his mouth. I have other things I’d rather worry about—like prayers, Scripture, those God has put in my life and the lives that God has shoved me into. Fear is not high on my list of fun ways to live, nor is it on my agenda for tomorrow.
So I have decided that I will be a supporter of Barrack Obama for a few different reasons.
First, I will be a supporter of Obama because it is not in my nature to act like an ADM. That is, I will not be one of those who will sit back and engage in schadenfreude. The writers of .info have always impressed me not because I agree with the position they take in regard to everything, but precisely because they do not engage in delight at the failure of others. I don’t want him to fail. Granted, I hope some of his policies fail and do so miserably. But I can hope for him, without supporting his particular ideas about morality.
Take abortion for example. When I went to Great Lakes Christian College in 1991, I remember gathering one night to pray for upcoming elections. The candidates were Bill Clinton and George Bush. We had one issue, mostly, on our minds: Abortion. Then Clinton was elected, much to the chagrin of many people. And you know what? Not a thing happened concerning Roe v. Wade for 8 years of the Clinton Administration. Then George W Bush was elected. And not a thing has happened to Roe v. Wade for 8 years of his administration. I’ll grant that Mr Obama is a flaming lunatic when it comes to his opinions on abortion, but I’m not naïve enough to think that John McCain, had he been elected, would have suddenly swung the pendulum so far right that Roe v. Wade would have been overturned. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m just saying that perhaps it is time for Christians to find alternative ways for dealing with the abortion issue besides putting all our stock in a presidential candidate who will ‘get the right people on the Supreme Court and get Roe v. Wade overturned.’ I think that is a pipe-dream at best.
To the point, I will not engage in schadenfreude when it comes to Pres-E Obama. I am not an ADM and I never will be.
Second, I don’t have to live in fear of him. He is a man and I just find it impossible to believe that it is his stated or secret goal and purpose to ruin the America we all know and love. Fact is, if he produces policies that differ from my point of view that is fine. If he produces legislation that is forcibly contrary to God’s Law, I have the biblical obligation to disobey. I don’t have the obligation to live in fear of Obama any more than liberals had reason to live in fear of George W Bush or than first century Christians had to fear Caesar. I will not conduct myself or raise my family or practice my faith based on fear of any man or woman in political office. The only fear I have a right to practice is fear of God.
The bottom line for me is this: God is still Sovereign. I heard someone say the other day that our fate lies in Obama’s hands. Pshaw! I saw an ad on facebook that has a picture of Obama with the word “Hope” underneath. Pshaw! I have heard people comparing him to the Messiah. Pshaw! I hear people say that the president of the United States is the most powerful man in the world. Horse****! He is none of these things for me because Christians are strangers, pilgrims, sojourners and aliens…I have as much fear of him as I do for the little old atheist lady who lives next door. Christians live under the sovereign watch-care and covenant-love of God Almighty. Whom shall I fear? This is not so much about should I support him, as much as can I support him. The answer is yes. I didn’t vote for him, but I’m not about to abandon him either. This is a matter of trust: Do I trust God who loves me or fear a man who cannot do me any harm?
Third, why not give peace a chance and take him at face-value? Pres-E Obama said he is a Christian and that his hope is in Jesus Christ: Why should I believe differently? For example, I might not like the things his pastor (Jeremiah Wright) said, but on the other hand…I don’t suppose that Jeremiah Wright would like everything I said about America either (and who’s to say that behind the sound-bites and rhetoric Wright is not making a larger point about which he is, well, right?) Point is, as a Christian, I belong to God first and America last. I am happy to be an American, but I am not defined by my nationality in the Kingdom of God. I’ll give Obama the benefit of the doubt and accept his word that he belongs to Christ. It’s the ADM culture that calls other people’s confessions of Christ into question, not .info’s. Barrack may have worshiped at a church for 20 years that has some questionable theology, but unlike many politicians, he was at least worshiping. Besides, whom among us doesn’t have impaired theology? None of us, not one of us, has it all right.
Fourth, I will support him because Jesus told us to love. He said, Love one another. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love those who persecute you. Well, at this juncture, the worst Obama is is my neighbor. He’s hardly persecuted me. He’s hardly my enemy. In fact, if he claims Christ as he says he does (and who are we to question that?) then don’t I have a biblical obligation to love him as I love myself? Even when Jesus said, “Love your enemies” he did not put any conditional strings on that love. He didn’t say, “Love them until they do something that offends you.” When he said to pray for those in positions of authority, he didn’t say, “Pray for them so long as they make policy decisions that you agree with.” He said: Love. Pray. He left these terms profoundly undefined and agenda-less. If Obama is my brother in Christ…well, love keeps no record of wrongs. Is God’s grace only efficacious for those of us who are not politicians we disagree with fiscally and morally or preachers we disagree with theologically? Is being a liberal senator an unforgivable sin now?
Fifth, because I will not treat Barrack Obama the way liberals (and many conservatives!!) treated George W Bush. My heart breaks for President Bush because he is a good man who became president at the wrong time (or the right time!) and he has been treated like absolute garbage by everyone. It is downright shameful how people have treated that man, that fellow American, that brother in Christ (as he too claims). He has protected our country—perhaps in ways we disagree with—and done a good job. He was called to serve and did so.
I read an essay at Wall Street Journal online by Jeffrey Scott Shapiro who makes this very case. He wrote:
The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time. Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty — a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House.
You know what? I will not treat Barrack Obama that way. Jesus also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I will not stoop to the levels that many Americans have with respect to President Bush.
Finally, I will support Barrack Obama because I prayed that God’s will would be done and I trust that it was. Many Christians spent a lot of energy and blog space lamenting the campaign and election of Barrack Obama (I no less than anyone else). I have a friend who wonders how the nation is even going to survive the next 20 years. Well, you know what? It might not. We might all be swallowed alive tomorrow by a flying spaghetti monster, but does that matter? Tomorrow, the stock market may crash and we may have to actually start planting gardens instead of going to Wal-Mart for food. Or perhaps tomorrow the rights of the church will be taken away: We could lose tax-exempt status, or be forced to close our doors, or told we can ‘no longer speak His name,’ or perhaps people might start burning down our buildings and then what would we do without heat and air? So what? Do we think that this means God has suddenly abandoned us? Do we think that this means God’s will is suddenly being thwarted?
Are we the type of Christians who think that the election of one man to political office suddenly means that God has been escorted from his throne? Do we think God cannot handle such things? Do we think this is a mere eventuality to God? Do we think that this makes God shake and quiver?
I’m going to support Barrack Obama because I can, I should, and I must. I can because God is Sovereign. I should because he is my brother in Christ. I must because he is the president for the next four years. PT Forsyth wrote an amazing book back in 1917 called The Justification of God. It is a fabulous book written to the world in the midst of a Great War and a time of economic peril. It was reissued again after WWII. In that book, he said this:
“It is not easy to believe that the Kingdom of God is the greatest Empire now in the world—and especially at present it is hard. But faith’s greatest conquest of the world is to believe, on the strength of Christ’s Cross, that the world has been overcome, and that the nations which rage so furiously are still in the leash of the redeeming God.” (158)
He’s not my choice. I didn’t vote for him (neither did I vote for McCain), but I will support President Elect and soon to be President Obama because my faith is in God who is faithful. I will pray that he will be a vessel of God’s grace, an agent of mercy, an ambassador for freedom and liberty that we in America enjoy because of God’s grace and mercy. But I will not just ‘support’ him in some meaningless, backhanded way. I will go a step further and do for him what others have not done for George W Bush: I will love him, his wife, and his children, and give honor to whom honor is due. I can either work hard to make it hard for him and more difficult or I can love him and pray for him. I will love him because I am commanded to love, because I want to love, because I choose to love, and because I have been empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to love. Perfect love casts out fear and God has created us to love, not to fear; to love, not hate; to love without an agenda all those created in his image.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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This is the manuscript from part 6 of the series. We are reading through the Bible in 90 Days and at this point those who are participating are midway or so through the Psalms. This sermon, from Isaiah 60-66, is fairly simply and makes three major points–derived by scanning the entirety of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. One, that the new heavens and the new earth and their creation are something that God is about the business of doing. It’s not, no matter how much we are Advance Signs, something we can accomplish on our strength. Second, that there is necessarily a future element to this work. You will notice as you read through these chapters in the Prophet that he continually uses the word ‘will.’ Not everything is accomplished now, which is one of the paradoxes of Christian faith. Furthermore, I might add as a side note, just because we are doing things now as Advance Signs, just because our work now gives hints and clues of what God will do, this doesn’t necessarily translate into an exact representation of what God will do. For that matter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that God is even involved in what we are doing. We give hints, glimmers, sign-posts, but we are shadows. God is the Real and His plans for the New Heavens and the New Earth are likely vastly different than ours. Finally, I will conclude the sermon by noting that what God has done and will do have been inaugurated and completed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus uttered those word ‘it is finished,’ and we sense in those words a finality and Luke tells us in chapter 4:18-19 that Jesus said these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him! Yet Luke, when he begins the book of Acts, tells that he wrote the first book (Luke) to tell of all that ‘Jesus began to do and teach.’ This leaves us with the distinct impression that his second book (Acts) is about all that Jesus continued to do and teach by His Spirit through His disciples. So God has done it; God will do it. Admittedly, I have too much text. The idea, however, was not to exhaust Isaiah’s vision, but, much like we are to the world, to give just a hint, a glimmer, of what he was pointing us to and we see completed in Jesus. Then we ask: Is Jesus enough? jerry
90 Days with Scripture
Week 6: November 2, 2008
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
“Chapters 58-66 begin, as does the book as a whole, by exposing hypocritical and manipulative approaches to worship that insult the glorious God whom Isaiah has so powerfully portrayed. If the worship that is supposed to restore and sustain fellowship with God is itself sinful, how can the barrier of sin between God and his people be removed? The answer lies in God’s commitment to his purpose and in his creative power. The God who created the world will not cease to work until he has defeated sin, turned hearts to him, and established new heavens and a new earth. All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith.” (109, Briley)
I suppose that we cannot really begin to describe what that time will be like. I can’t even begin to imagine what that place will be like. Sure we have ideas and notions, but they are only ideas and notions; premonitions perhaps. I don’t know really. All I have to go one is Scripture. All I can do is take Scripture at its word and trust that God will make good on his Word.
Some say that we currently are involved in the process of making things better in this world. We are, they say, Advanced Signs of what God is doing or will do. Those who live out their faith in practice are ‘making this a better place’ or at least showing the better place it will be when God finally finishes the work he has said he will finish. We are workers for justice, among other things, but we are we really? I know we are supposed to be working for justice and for freedom and shining our lights before men…but is man realistically speaking capable of such a thing?
Admittedly, I have too much text for today, but if I learned any one thing out of all that I learned this: What Isaiah was prophesying, what he was pointing to, what he was directing our attention to, what he was promising-is that what needs to be done on the earth, even if we are Advanced Signs, needs to be done by God. So consider what led into this chapter:
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
According to what they have done,
so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
and retribution to his foes;
he will repay the islands their due.
From the west, men will fear the name of the LORD,
and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood
that the breath of the LORD drives along.
“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the LORD.
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.
I think history demonstrates rather conclusively that human beings are not that good at fixing things. We really do want things to be better, but we have only a marginal notion of what ‘better’ even means and an even worse idea of how to accomplish that. It’s a terrible way to live, really, but we seem to take some comfort from the fact that every now and again slight progress is made. I have to be honest with you though, I’m not particularly interested in the sort of world that man makes better.
It’s not that I am a fatalist or anything. I’m a realist. I know who I am: I know what I think is a better world necessarily conflicts with what 90% of the population thinks is a better world. Faith then consists of the willingness to allow that God’s version of what is a better world is necessarily right and that my conception is necessarily right.
This takes us back to Genesis 3 where we started all this. It was there that man had the silly idea that having knowledge of good and evil was a good idea. It was there that man said, I want to be the creator of life, the creator of destiny, the creator of a standard of living. We have lived content in that place for a long, long time, scarcely acknowledging that God’s way is right, that his judgment is just, that his creation is good and ours is not.
God, however, does not just take us back to Genesis 3; he takes us back to Genesis 1. The opening verses of today’s sermon reflect that:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Here it is, then! Darkness covers the earth; thick darkness covers the people. And what sort of light to we want to cover the earth and raise our hopes? Artificial light? Fake light? Do we want light that man creates out of his conception of good and evil or do we want light of the glory of God? Well, truthfully speaking, we probably want the light of men. We are still likely convinced that man can solve all the problems that man has created.
I’m not so optimistic. I want better solutions. But the solution is not merely a solution. The solution is God. This is not about God setting the world right by our standards of good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about God setting the world right by His standards.
” ‘Hear the word of the Lord,
you who trembled at his word:
‘Your brothers who hate you, and
exclude you because of my name, have said,
“Let the Lord be glorified,
that we may see your joy!”‘
And God is not cautious in his description of what he means to do, in what he is already doing, in what he means to finish. But he does speak in futuristic terms. If it is something God does, it is something God will do, and something we will participate in.
- You will look and be radiant.
- Your heart will throb and swell with joy.
- I will adorn my glorious temple.
- Foreigners will rebuild your walls.
- I will show you compassion.
- You will be called priests of the Lord
- You will be named ministers of our God
- I will not keep silent till her vindication shines out like the dawn
- You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.
- I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds
- But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
- They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain
- See I will create new heavens and a new earth, the former things will not be remembered.
And there is more. All I am saying is that we may see Advance Signs now, we may be Advance Signs, but there is still an aspect of it that even we are looking forward to. In the meantime I believe we will find it terribly difficult at times to wait. We have to be ready, we have to be patient, we have to be busy. But we have to wait. It’s not all here now, even if it has been inaugurated.
Well, it will be a grad and glorious thing when it happens. He uses imagery that we can understand and relate to, images like weddings, wealth and prosperity, new clothes, great beauty, war, abundance, birth of a child, and more. He points us back to the beginning when God saw all that he had made and it was good. He tells us these days will be like those days of the Exodus when Moses led the people out of captivity. It will be a time marked by peace and joy and abundance and good food and justice and righteousness and peace (‘no longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates praise.’) He goes on:
“Then will all your people be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendor.
“The least of you will become a thousand,
the smallest a mighty nation.
I am the LORD;
in its time I will do this swiftly.”
Finally, this work, this mighty, mighty work, was announced in Genesis 3: You will strike his heal, he will crush your head. It was set in motion in Genesis 12: You will be a blessing to all nations. It was inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth when he quoted Isaiah 61:1-3 as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion–
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
Jesus said, after reading this Scripture: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today? Fulfilled? Already? In Jesus? You mean we are already living in the time when God has begun his work of renewing, restoring, and re-creating? Jesus announced the beginning and ending of Scripture’s fulfillment. Jesus did. No one else makes that claim, only Jesus of Nazareth. And should we be so disappointed then when he is found at Calvary?
What I love about these verses here in Isaiah is that by and large, far and away, they are mirrored in the book of the Revelation. And Luke, combined with John’s portrait in the Revelation, demonstrate to us that God’s plan has not changed. In Jesus we see an inauguration and an acceleration of the plan, but not a change in his plan. This is what Jesus came for, this is what God is working towards, this is the fulfillment of all things: A New Heavens and New Earth. A new life that is free from the tyranny of the urgent, free from the tyranny of tyrants, free from the tyranny of obligations to anyone but God Almighty Himself. As Cottrell notes, “What this means is that heaven is not the elimination of time itself, but the elimination of time limitations. No more deadlines! No more expiration dates! No more having to quit before the job is done! No more, ‘I just ran out of time’!”
Should we then be so surprised and shocked that this work of God involved the cross?
Jesus makes a bold statement. He says: I am the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah. He says, “I am the one whom the Lord has sent to start and finish this work.”
But as I noted at the beginning:
“All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith.”
So I am asking: Where is your faith? In whom have you placed your trust? I suspect that many of us live with some sort of apprehension or anxiety about today or tomorrow or Tuesday. Where is your faith? Do you have confidence that this God who began a good work in you can and will finish it?
I don’t need to be complicated this morning, and I don’t need to go deep. I just need to ask you: Where is your faith? Is your faith in the One who certainly cannot fail because He spared nothing, even giving his own Son to die? Is your faith in the world which is bound over to destruction? Is your faith in the One who has guaranteed His promise in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? Or is your faith here in the place and in the ones whose worm will not die, whose fire is not quenched?
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I printed the manuscript below for this sermon on Isaiah 3:1-4:1. The audio takes about 22 minutes or so-I am becoming much more efficient in my preaching. In this sermon, I follow on the heals of last week’s sermon which dealt primarily with trusting God. In this sermon, what I did was take that to it’s next step: What will we do when all vestiges of visible strength are removed? It is terribly important to remember that the prophet is speaking to God’s people specifically and not the population in general. Doing this makes the prophet’s message even more significant to people in our generation who believe that we can plunder God glory for our own ends. Israel plundered God’s glory and made their sin and shame their glory instead. As I conclude, it must not be this way for the church.
You can listen here: Plundering God.
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Always for His glory!
Sadly, much of the church has become inundated with all sorts of idolatry. I think this idolatry is perhaps even more insidious than the sort of idolatry recognized by small statues in our front yards or shrines on the mantlepiece. This sermon is about Trusting God. This is what Isaiah was imploring the people to do when he said to them, “Stop trusting in human beings, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” (verse 22). That is the question I ask over and over in this sermon in one way or another. The audio is about 25 minutes and the print will be in a separate post. jerry
You can listen here: Trusting God.
Or use the inline player below.
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
A friend of mine gave me a copy of Hans Kungs On being a Christian the other day. I have had only a chance to browse through it a couple of times, but today, while studying the way in which the prophet Isaiah uses the word ‘justice’ (Hb tsadiq or tsadiqa), I opened it to see if he had any comments on it and came across this paragraph near the end of the book:
Obviously we are not going to make a sweeping attack here on achievements, good deeds, work, professional advancement, as if the Christian were not expected to make the most of his ‘talents.’ The Christian message of justification does not provide justification for doing nothing. Good deeds are important. But the foundation of Christian existence and the criterion for facing God cannot be an appeal to any kind of achievement, cannot be any self-assertion or any self-justification on man’s part. It can only be absolute adherence to God through Jesus in a trust inspired by faith. What is proclaimed here is an extraordinarily encouraging message which provides human life with a solid basis, despite all inevitable failures, errors and despair, and which at the same time can liberate it from secular pressure for achievement, bestowing a freedom which can sustain it even through the worst situations.” (588 )
Soli Deo Gloria!
Yesterday I came across that stunning quote by the late Mike Yaconelli. Today, during some more preparation, I came across this quote by David Garland in the NIV Application Commentary on Mark’s Gospel (5:21-43):
“Faith is impelled by desperation that Jesus is sufficient to meet whatever need one has. The ruler and the woman did not take their plight stoically but desperately sought Jesus. The woman refused to grin and bear it. One student of this text draws a strange conclusion: She applauds that Jesus broke through purity barriers and social barriers but comments that Jesus should have accepted ‘the woman as she was, even if she was bleeding. If that had happened, I would call it a true miracle.’ One wonders how the woman in the account would have reacted to this comment…She was physically ill and needed healing. She forces her way to Jesus, confident that he will provide a cure for her disease. She serves as a model for people who are shy, ashamed, or afraid to come boldly to Jesus for healing. Desperation drives one to him. Martin Luther once remarked that his insight into God’s grace came to him while was ‘on the toilet’ (auff diser cloaca). George points out that the phrase was a common metaphor for being in a state of utter helplessness and dependence on God.
“Where else are we more vulnerable, more easily embarrassed…? Yet is it precisely in a state of such vulnerability-when we are reduced to humility, when, like beggars, we can only cast ourselves on the mercy of another-that the yearning for grace is answered in the assurance of God’s inescapable nearness.’ (Tim George, Theology of the Reformers), 105 (as quoted by Garland in situ)
“Evil, sickness, and the death of little children continue to exist in our world. Not every touch heals, and those with faith still hear the dreaded word from the doctor, ‘your little girl is dead.’…If God intervened in every situation, we would never have to exercise faith…The little girl is spared from death for now but has not been given a total reprieve. The woman has been healed of now, but she will face new ailments as she grows older. Faith, however, is able to hold on in the face of death, knowing that God has conquered death in the resurrection of Christ.”-(David Garland, 228-229)
I wonder why it is that I keep coming across quotes like this this week? What is it about our desperation that is so remarkable? What is it about our desperation that causes us to seek out Jesus like the man and woman in Mark 5? Here’s Mark’s account:
“When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). 42Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
I love this story. Leon Morris concludes, “Jesus speaks of ‘your faith’; it is important that the woman understand that she had not been cured by magic…her cure had been the result of a mighty power in Jesus, but it came to her because of her faith, not because of magic in [her] touch.”
Faith. Desperation. What a wonderful couple.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I finished reading a book last week called The Challenge of Jesus by NT Wright. The book was amazing, if not difficult to read at times, but when I finished I was glad that I pushed on until the last two chapters and when the last two chapters concluded I was even more grateful that I had pushed on through to the end. I know that Wright gets a lot of bad press at times, and perhaps some of it is justified (I have not read enough large swaths of his material to formulate any real judgments just yet; I have only just started reading his newest book Surprised by Hope last night), but the real issue is, I think, not whether he is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (can any of us claim to be the former to the exclusion of the latter?) but rather whether or not he is thinking through the Biblical text. This I believe he is doing, and doing well. We may not like all the conclusions he comes to; that’s OK. I don’t think he expects us to. I think he expects to think, to learn, and to mature.
The problem I have been having with Christianity as of late, strange because I am one of those dreadful people, is that there are so many people clamoring for rightness, claiming to be right, and disavowing those who are living in, what they (the Rightness) perceive as wrongness (I am inventing words) instead of pursuing His Kingdom and Righteousness. At the end of the day, in other words, no one is likely to be saved because, again, each of us has the other going to hell in the proverbial hand basket which, in today’s climate, is more likely a fast moving motorized vehicle. I appreciate intellectual debate; I despise superiority based on some vaunted rightness. The White Horse Inn round-table that I have linked below is an example. Don’t get me wrong: I love listening to White Horse Inn, but every time I listen I notice the ‘yes, yes, yesses,’ and the ‘oh you’re book is fabulouses’, and the ‘absolutelys’ and other such things are getting louder and louder with each episode. Frankly, I wish White Horse Inn would add a panel member, a ‘token Arminian’ if you will, who disagrees just to make the show less pedantic and sycophantic. What sort of intellectual stimulation comes from listening to four men who are lock-step with one another theologically?
I am amazed at how confidently some people approach the Word of God. I am even more amazed at how some people take the Word of God and bandy it about as if it were their arrow and their laptop were the bow. Or, to use a slightly more ameliorating metaphor for those less inclined to war metaphors: I am amazed at how many people (ab)use the Word of God to set up their own theological systems that justify their own presuppositions and theological systems. The Word of God was not written, in other words, to justify us or our positions. Something I have learned from reading The Challenge of Jesus is that many of the things I presupposed, ‘truths’ I have guarded from a young age due to overwork in Church camp, Sunday School, and, worse, fear, need to be not just re-thought, but, in fact, abandoned altogether because they are based not on solid history but on fearful presupposition or tradition. This is no denial of orthodoxy or of faith in Christ. This is, rather, an honest evaluation of what has colored my vision of what the church is, what a Christian does, and what God has done and will do and is doing. It has not expanded my vision of God’s rule; it has stifled it profoundly.
The one thing that I have, for better or worse, prided myself upon is this: it’s (I’ll leave the ‘it’s’ intentionally vague) about the Bible. I believe very strongly the Bible is unique in its origins, transmission, and preservation. It alone, in my judgment is the only rule of faith and practice for the church and the Christian. The problem that so many have pointed out is that there are so many different translations of the Bible (all tinged with their own theological slant), there are so many interpretations (I can see from where I am sitting in my study about 10 different commentaries on Matthew none of which agree at all, if any, points), and there are so many manifestations of what is in the Bible (read: denominations, theological constructs, practical applications, etc.). What are we to do? Who can make sense of it? How can anyone be right when there are so many of us who are right? How can anyone be right when there are so many of us who are wrong?
I’ll say this about Wright, agree or disagree with his theological constructions, he is making people think about the practice of their faith–at least he is making me think about my faith. By this I mean not at all my faith that Christ is my hope, salvation, substitute, atonement, Passover Lamb, etc., but rather what it means to practice that faith in any reasonably God-fearing way, what it means to preach that faith in any reasonably orthodoxy way, what it means to let that faith be the substance of my existence in any reasonably meaningful way. This is a fearful road I am traveling down because, frankly, it is much easier to live in the bunker of what I know and or the tank of my own rightness than it is to re-think what I know or, more drastically, to throw away every sermon I have ever written and start all over again from scratch. I have no idea where this road is going to traverse, what bends it will take, what path it will mark out and, to be sure, I am a little afraid. But isn’t there something about faith in that too?
We dare not, as Christians, remain content with an epistemology wished upon us from one philosophical and cultural movement, part of which was conceived in explicit opposition to Christianity. One aspect of following Jesus the Messiah is that we should allow our knowledge of him, and still more his knowledge of us, to inform us about what true knowing really is. I believe that a biblical account of ‘knowing’ should follow the great philosopher Bernard Lonergan and take love as the basic mode of knowing, with the love of God as the highest and fullest sort of knowing that there is, and should work, so to speak, down from there. (NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, 195)
That’s what I am thinking about today. This is what I have been thinking about for the last 6 months or so since some people, once very close friends, decided to leave the church and go elsewhere. Then there’s also that seminary class I took on grace which still has me fouled up a bit. Funny, that. Strange thing grace.
Click here for an interview with NT Wright.
Here is my latest podcast. I have been on break because we have had some issues with our audio equipment, but I think we (the Church) are on track now. Anyhow, the sound quality is a little rough (one aspect I haven’t worked out just yet), but it’s clean enough that you can get the gist. The sermon is based on Colossians 4:2-6and lasts about 30 minutes. In it, I am dealing with the myth that our faith is practiced only in corporate worship and not ‘in the world.’ In 1 Corinthians the apostle wrote, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the people of the world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave the world.” (5:9-10, NIV). The point is that Christian faith islived and practiced ‘out there’ so to speak. The operating metaphor in Colossians is that we are both ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Colossae’ (1:2; this is brought out much more clearly in the Greek than say the NIV; NKJV is close.) We must not forget this. The sermon opens with four lengthy quotes from NT Wright’s book The Challenge of Jesus (IVP, 1999).
Soli Deo Gloria!
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This is part 5 of my current sermon series based on Colossians. In this sermon, I am dealing with the issue of people who want to pile rule upon rule upon rule as requirements for salvation. The apostle says, “don’t let anyone judge you.” Sound words in our age of internet ‘discernment’ (read: judgment) ministries. What people fail to recognize is that when we add to the requirements of salvation, we are not judging others but Christ and we are, in effect, declaring that Christ’s work is not sufficient. I do apologize for the poor audio. I am working on that. The sermon takes around 30 minutes. God bless.
Click here: Colossians 2:16-23 Sermon Audio
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Soli Deo Gloria!
Day 5, Colossians 1:5: Faith, Hope, and Love in the Truth
“…the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel [that has come to you]…”
“ ‘The Gospel’ for Paul, is an announcement, a proclamation, whose importance lies in the truth of its content. It is not, primarily, either an invitation or a technique for changing people’s lives. It is a command to be obeyed and a power let loosed in the world (Rom 1:16-17), which cannot be reduced to terms of the persuasiveness or even the conviction of the messenger. It works of itself to overthrow falsehood.”—(NT Wright, Colossians, 52)
What I see here is that faith, hope and love are all, in one way connected with the truth which is the Gospel. Their faith, hope, and love are all based upon whether or not the message that came to them was truth. If it was truth, then there is some substance and validity to the hope they have. If what came to them was not truth, then their faith, hope and love are based on a lie and are rather meaningless. Hope that is not based on truth is no hope at all. Faith in something that is a lie is not faith but stupidity. Love that is not based on truth self-serving and empty and a vague sentimentalism. How can anyone have a faith that is not based on the truth? How can I trust the love of anyone if that love is not based on truth? How do I know that love is sincere, actual, authentic? And what is hope if not based on truth? Will I really be any more hopeful if I have no guarantees of the veracity of that which I hope for?
He also said this: our hope is stored up for us in heaven. This is very similar to what Peter wrote to his congregations:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)
We have not yet fully taken hold of that which we have set our hope upon. It is not ours yet, but we persevere in love and faith because we know that we are looking to something that has been promised to us by God. And if this were not true, then we would be hopeless. Our hope is stored up in heaven for us: It is in the place where God is. It is protected by the God who is. It is surrounded by the grace of God and no one can take hope from us. People can come along in our lives and take everything away from us. Tragedy can come along in any of a million different forms but tragedy can never take away our hope. How can hope be stolen? How can hope be crushed? How can hope, protected as it is by Almighty God and guaranteed by the work of Christ, ever, ever, be snuffed out of our hearts? I thank God that he is the one guarding our hope and not me. It is a strong hope that He guards but in my hands it is fragile, susceptible to fracture. I will trust in Him.
So what is the content of that which we hope for? Is it mere eternal life? Is it the mere expectation of something better? Is it the wishful thinking and joyful rejoicing about the day when we shall be free from the shackles of this present darkness? Is it the mere glimmer of a life without pain, suffering, and death? Is it the glad thinking that someday all of our questions will have answers? Well, I suppose it is to an extent all of these things. But I also suppose that it is far more than we can possibly imagine. Paul later says in Colossians, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). You see the fullness of our hope is not any of those things I mentioned above, but rather Christ himself. He is our hope: He is what we expect, He is why we persevere, He is why we have faith, He is why we love; He is our hope and nothing short of Christ can even compare or satisfy. We expect someday at the last trumpet to meet Christ. I have to be honest here, nothing short of Christ would be at all satisfying to me. I couldn’t care less if my questions are answered, if my suffering ends, or if I have eternal life if I have not Christ.
Finally, we see that our faith, our hope, our love all spring what we have learned in the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—which has come to you. The Gospel came to us; truth came to us. I don’t suppose that we went out of our way to pursue it even if we did accept it when we heard it and turned to the Lord in repentance calling on His Name. Nor do I suppose that we went out of our way to create truth. But here we see the Gospel as the pursuer, the hunter, the hound tracking us down. Truth comes to us and the truth is contained in the content of the Gospel, but I would also add this: The Gospel is Jesus Christ and not merely the sum total of the stories or traditions gathered around him. The Gospel cannot be separated from the person of Jesus Christ. I scoff at those who say stupid things like, “Well, it doesn’t matter if Jesus was real or not. What matters is that I hope he was. But either way…” Blah. Blah. Blah. Mindless drivel is what that is. If you take Jesus out of the picture there is no Gospel, and it certainly isn’t truth. Further,
“Neither Christians nor churches are created by accident. They do not emerge of themselves from the social milieu of any generation, nor fall unheralded from the skies. The creative agency can always be identified: “the word of the truth of the gospel. The power that convicts of truth and kindles life is the power of the Holy Spirit; the means He uses is the good news of Christ, the record of divine redeeming events, interpreted in light of prophecy and confirmed in the testimony of transformed men.”— (In Him the Fullness: A Study in Colossians, R.E.O. White, Fleming H Revell Co, 1973, 16)
I’ll close by nothing this: The truth, the Gospel came to the Colossians. I think this is a direct reference to missionary activity. Given the opportunity, most will be content in the bliss of their ignorance. Most are not going to go on a spiritual quest in the hopes of finding truth that saves, gives hope, motivates faith, and drives love. The Gospel must go and the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “My Word will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.” (Isaiah 55:9-11). The Lord is active in sending out his Word to the places where it needs to be preached, to the places where it needs to be heard, the places of darkness where people are living hopeless, faithless, truthless, loveless lives. The Gospel goes and the Gospel does its work.
“And I put my hope. And I put my Trust. And I put myself in you, Lord.”—‘My Hope,’ David Crowder.
Soli Deo Gloria!
The following paragraphs are from Elton Trueblood’s The Predicament of Modern Man, chapter 3: The Impotence of Ethics. You can access the entire work here. Isn’t it amazing how there is nothing new under the sun? Especially note the paragraph in blue, it is simply beautiful.
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“We understand much of the distinction between religion and other phases of our lives when we sense the profound difference between faith and belief. Faith is closer to courage than it is to intellectual assent. Faith is easily understood by the gambler as both Blaise Pascal and Donald Hankey knew because the gambler stands to win or lose by his play. This was brought out in Kirsopp Lake’s now classic definition, “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but life in scorn of consequences.” Faith, as the plain man knows, is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations.
The lesson of history is that those lacking such a faith are no match for those inspired by such a faith, whatever its object. The fearful aspect of the present situation is that those who have inherited the major tradition of the West now have an ethic without a religion, whereas they are challenged by millions who have a religion without an ethic. The former group will win the war, because they have the preponderance of men and resources, as well as a fortunate alliance with Russia, but that is by no means the end of the story. We should be gullible indeed if we supposed that mere military victory would end the powerful threat of the faith which is proposed as a successor to the religion of the West.
Little do we know what evil faith may grip our people when the war is over. Since men cannot live long without a faith, the choice is always a choice between competing faiths. The only practical alternative to an evil faith is a better faith. Though this is the lesson of history, we are now trying the utterly precarious experiment, in which the odds are against us, of attempting to maintain our culture by loyalty to the Christian ethic without a corresponding faith in the Christian religion that produced it.
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An ordinary man, merely in and of himself, is not of so great worth and may be a very poor creature. We shall not make an effective answer to the apostles of blood and soil by pointing to him. But there is something else to which we can point, as the late William Paton said in a memorable paragraph:
But if this humble and obscure man is in reality one whom God has made, whom He has made in love, so that he shall never know peace except in loving God in return; if this man is one to whom God speaks; if this man is the object of a Divine solicitude so great that the Word became flesh for his salvation, the Son of God died for him — if this be true, then this humble and obscure man has a link with eternity, with the creative love that made the world. He cannot then be rightly treated as a cog in a machine, or a sample of a racial blood-stream, or one of the individual atoms that make up a nation.(Paton, op.cit.,pp. 150, 151)
It is especially in our Christian tradition that we find the power which is so conspicuously lacking in mere moralism. We must not forget that, in the Roman Empire, Christ won, and won against tremendous odds. He won because the faith in Christ really changed the lives of countless weak men and made them bold as lions. He has taken poor creatures who could not even understand the language of moral philosophy and shaken the world through them. [My emphasis.]
This has been said brilliantly by John Baillie:
Christ did not come to earth to tell us merely what we ought to do; He came to do something for us. He came not merely to exhort but to help. He did not come to give us good advice. That, if it were no more than that, was possibly not a thing of which we stood greatly in need, for there are always plenty of people who are ready with their advice. Advice is cheap, but what Christ offered us was infinitely costly. It was the power of God unto salvation. (John Baillie, Invitation to Pilgrimage, p. 51.)
It is easy enough to hate Hitler, but what is it that we propose as an alternative to his proposal for mankind? We now have a good opportunity to know, since we see suggestions daily in our propaganda sheets and even more in the expensive advertisements that so many large commercial firms are using for the building of morale, now that they have nothing to sell to the average reader. They all say about the same thing. We are to oppose the new paganism in the name of humanity, liberty, brotherhood, the sacredness of the individual soul. These are all very fine, but the question is whether they go far enough. John Baillie’s analysis is so good that his words should be cited again:
These indeed are the ideals of the Christian ages, or some of them, or at least they sound very like them, but in the Christian Ages they were all deeply rooted in something bigger and grander, in something that was no mere ideal but an eternal reality. They were rooted in the love of God as manifest in Jesus Christ our Lord . . . . It was Christ who taught us the indefeasible value of the individual soul. It was Christ who taught us of fraternité when He said, ‘One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren’; and St. Paul when he said that ‘we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one member one of another.’ Hence the doubt that keeps raising itself in my mind when I read these fine pronouncements about our ideals . . . is whether these ideals have sufficient strength of conviction in them, or sufficient power of survival, in face of so powerful a contrary force, when they are no longer allowed to breathe their native air or draw daily sustenance from their original source.(Ibid., pp. 125. 126)
Moralizing cannot stand against a burning faith, even when that faith is an evil and perverted one. It is almost as ineffective as an umbrella in a tornado. The only way in which we can overcome our impotence and save our civilization is by the discovery of a sufficient faith. Goodness we must have, but the way to goodness is to find our peace in the love of God who, as the Source of goodness, makes us know that, even at best, we are not really good. This is the peace that passes understanding, though it is not a peace that negates the understanding.
Some of the hardest problems of our day are moral problems; rather than economic or political ones; but, moral problems as they are, many of them cannot be solved except on a religious basis. One example of this is provided by the problem of racial antipathy, a problem that has been accentuated rather than diminished in the recent development of our civilization. So great is the hold of race prejudice on men’s minds that it must be counteracted by something powerful and revolutionary. Men do not transcend the prejudice and hatred based on race by physical proximity or even by the reasonable evidence that all need each other. What is needed is a genuine conversion, striking at the roots of the sinful pride on which race hatred thrives. The great known examples of history in which this kind of animosity has been really overcome have been chiefly religious examples, like that of John Woolman. In all honesty we are compelled to state that religion does not have this effect universally, but that we should hardly expect, knowing what we do about the ability of the human heart to keep its cherished hatreds. What we can honestly state is that the religious approach is more likely to be successful in our particular culture than is any other. The reason for the greater probability of the success of the religious approach is that the problem is fundamentally a religious problem. Race hatred comes, primarily, not from ignorance, but from sin. We will not accept all men as brothers until we are really humble, and we are not really humble until we measure ourselves by the revelation of the Living God.
Soli Deo Gloria!