Sunday, November 30, 2008

quote for the week: Edward T. Welch on hope

While our culture elevates riches and health, hope is one of the most coveted spiritual possessions. You get it by asking for it and practicing it. You practice it by remembering and meditating on God's story.
Edward T. Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, p. 251

prayer for the week: First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 29, 2008

pressing further for a bigger gospel

Yesterday my post suggested that the gospel is bigger than only personal conversion. Of course we must not abandon that, and it's an important part of our mission, in fact it is fundamental to where the impact of the gospel begins. It begins for each of us in a new relationship with God through Christ and Christ's atoning work for us.

What Christ has done however, has bigger implications than only getting people saved, as important and vital as that is. Christ's atoning work is for the reconciliation of all of God's creation to fulfill the purposes of God. To the part of creation which rebels, there will be judgment. But reconciliation of all things to God through Christ, needs to be factored into what we see as our mission in Jesus today. It must always include the call to evangelize individual people, helping them see their need of Jesus as their Savior from sin. But it needs also to take into account God's work in bringing in the kingdom in Jesus to bear on all things in creation and in the culture and world of humankind.

Since the meaning of the gospel for many of us is only about people's personal relationship to God through Christ, as important as that is, oftentimes we evangelicals, or others are left with co-opting worldly measures in politics, etc. We need to work on bringing to bear the gospel on everything, even in this present life and existence. Not an easy task. While at the same time we don't lose sight of the call to evangelize so that people may put their trust in Christ as Savior and Lord.

Any thoughts here?

Friday, November 28, 2008

the gospel for crises

What is happening in Mumbai has captured our attention in the news. It is certainly troubling, and is an attack on the very foundations of civilization, or civilized society. Of course it reminds us of what happened on "9/11."

What does the gospel of Christ have to say to this, and how does it address it? This is challenging. The stock answer for many Christians is that it may affect such only indirectly, through the regeneration of people, in which lives are changed. And of course we know in one way or another that wars and violence are inevitable in this world until God in Christ puts a final end to it in the completion of the shalom of the kingdom.

I believe the gospel does have more to say in addressing these crises. The good news in Jesus also is about an alternative way to be human. And there is only one way to move toward being a human in the full sense of what God intended in God's creation of humans. But in this world, in Jesus, it's a way which is marked by suffering.

How do we defeat evil? The stock answer of the world is to fight fire with fire. And indeed there would seem to be justification for that when we read Romans 13. The state is there seen to be "servants of God" no less in bearing "the sword" against evil doers. But is this the way God prescribes through the gospel? I think all Christians would agree that it is not. Though we would disagree on what relationship Christians can have with the governing authorities, or "the state". Some of us would say we should not engage in "the sword" aspect of the state, while others of us would say we can, and perhaps even should.

But let's lay that last question aside, as we consider the gospel way in Jesus of fighting evil. We overcome evil with good. And specifically with the good that is rooted in Jesus and in his death, which is the epitome and ground of overcoming evil with good, and of righting all wrongs. We're to live out in Jesus his redemptive life and even death, doing so as God's resurrection people in Jesus in this world. I believe this is at the heart of what it means to live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Of course we must start locally in how we live before others among us. But back to Mumbai. What are we to think and do about that? We must pray for all involved, including the terrorists. We must pray for God's intervention and for God's justice and mercy. And we should be praying for Christians who in these places can live out the light of the gospel in Jesus by the Spirit, even in the most troubling and trying circumstances. And for the church to be active in such places and times, as well as in every place and time.

Too often we've settled for a gospel that doesn't address all the needs of this world. I suggest that while this world will always have trouble and great need, the good news in Jesus does address these needs on every level. That the gospel has something to say about everything, while not losing sight of the reality that it's the power of salvation for all who believe.

What would you like to add to this?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

For us in the United States, it is Thanksgiving Day today. In Scripture one of God's indictments against humankind in our sin, is that we fail to give thanks to God. Scripture teaches us that every good gift ultimately comes from God, and that the problems of this life are traced back to the reality of a world that is fallen as well as awaiting the redemption and new creation to come in Jesus. To give thanks to God is most certainly an act of faith, and especially so in a world in which not all things are right or good.

Only in Jesus can we give thanks with the anticipation that God will make all wrongs right, and all things new and good in the end. And that by simple faith in Jesus, we can be a part and even facilitator of this new creation in Jesus beginning now. While we still richly enjoy all the gifts God has given us as part of this old creation. The best by far is yet to come, in Jesus!

I hope all those we know and love will end up being a part of that big celebration and life yet to come. That hand in hand, and heart to heart we will be together at that great celebration to come as we enter into a life we begin to have a glimmer and even experience of here and now in Jesus. A life which makes all the imitations we are so prone to wander toward and pursue in this life, pale in comparison. The end of the story helps us realize what we should be headed toward by simple faith in God through Jesus Christ.

What would you like to add to these thoughts?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

giving thanks

For some of us, thanksgiving is not something we just naturally do everyday. I believe the Lord is changing me in this regard. But it takes time. It's of the Spirit, but it's also something we're involved in as well, as with all, or at least certain kinds of workings of the Spirit. I recently was blessed in hearing a brother pray this week in our weekly start up meeting at work (we take our turns), who seems to pray in the Spirit and with thanksgiving marking all of his prayers. I'm sure God wants to use that to impact me and my practice of giving thanks.

Some of us face many challenges and disappointments or worse. I think of a friend who is struggling with cancer. Some of us have carried burdens or voices in our head from the past we've listened to far too long. Though we may be making progress, and in the Lord we should be, yet we just often don't have it in ourselves to be bubbling over to God with thanksgiving (and of course this is a work in us of God's grace). Actually it seems strange to me that I seem to have little trouble thanking people, but too much trouble thanking God. Something just doesn't add up there. Though God while personal is different for sure than others. We often ask in different ways, "If God is so great and so good, why this, this and that in this world, and this in my life?" Giving thanks ends up being a crucial part of learning to walk by faith in God and in God's promises in Jesus, and not by sight.

I think it's important to learn to give thanks for the little things, for all God's gifts, great and small. But to get some of us who are late bloomers going, maybe we need to dwell on those things which are bedrock truths for our life in God through Christ. We can get going in giving thanks to God consistently on such ground truths, and then from there begin to give thanks to God for everything, doing so in creative ways, as well. Like giving thanks to God for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus, in the sense of seeing or sensing or anticipating God's hand in all things for good, even in our trials.

I thank God for his great and good work of creation, new creation and redemption through Jesus Christ our Lord. And that this great work most definitely includes me. And that I'm part of a wonderful community of brothers and sisters in Jesus locally in our church, at work, in the blogging community and worldwide. We are most wonderfully blessed to have Jesus and to have each other in Jesus.

I thank God for Scripture as God's word to which I turn daily. I thank God for his voice and the story of God we find in it, and in which we can find our place today. I thank God for the gospel of Christ by which I've been saved, and want to be an instrument of God's peace to others through this gospel, helping others come to a saving faith in our Lord Jesus.

I thank God for my wife, Deb, who is a wonderful help meet and my best friend. Also I thank God for our daughter, Tiffany, for her baby Morgan, and for her boyfriend Chris. God has made each one of these three so very special. I am thankful for them and look forward to seeing how their lives unfold in coming days and years.

I thank God for his great faithfulness in our lives. It is new every morning. And for the "Our Father" prayer we're to pray, as well as for the gift of prayer as we walk by faith and not by sight in this world.

I thank God for the hard times, even though I don't like trials in themselves. Yet through them God helps me to grow and become more like Jesus, as I press on through them with the Lord.

God is good. Far beyond our understanding and grasp of goodness. And God is great. We need to trust God to work that out in and even through our lives, and thank him daily for his work in and among us in Jesus. And we pray that God's work will go on in and among us out to a world that is in great need. And we anticipate God's good working in us to that end, in whatever form that takes, beginning with prayers. As we await the great day of thanksgiving when God makes all things new in Jesus.

What might you like to add to this note and post of giving thanks?

Linked from L.L. Barkat's post, A Bite of Pie and Thanks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

the gospel and relationships

The gospel is more about relationships than it is about law. In other words at the heart of the gospel is the restoration of broken relationships between God and humans, and between humans with each other, as well as with God's creation. Sin breaks relationships, and the gospel restores them.

God in Christ did this by becoming one of us in the Incarnation. God became flesh or human to restore us humans into a relationship with himself. The heart of the law is love to God and love to our neighbor. When we break God's law by our sin, we're violating relationships. So it's more than just disobeying a command, but it's breaking or diminishing a relationship.

We as Christians should be known for our love for God, our love for each other, our love for all people including even our enemies, and our love for God's creation. We should be known for that, that is what should mark us.

I'm again rereading Scot McKnight's fine book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us, and it's a good and (always) timely reminder of just how big the gospel is, and its aim. Its aim is nothing less than love, which of course is the heart of God in the gospel as we know in probably the most beloved Bible verse of all.

As we work on understanding and more importantly living out the gospel, we need to live out this love which Jesus carried out to the full, and by which God has reconciled the world to himself in Jesus, so that all sinners might find their true home and be at home with God and others and look forward to the completion of this beginning of the new creation in Jesus.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I am actually amazed at just how down I might be over something one day, or just exhausted, yet how a new day brings with it hope and expectation. I see this as part of God's ongoing faithfulness in our lives in Jesus.

Our hope and expectation in the Lord is not just something about the sweet by and by, but is for now. But an important key here is that we just have to remain open to God's will and working. In other words we can't know just what we're to expect, except in general terms as God gives us from his word. Like we find in the "Our Father" prayer.

If we keep our expectations grounded in God through Christ, we won't in the long run be disappointed, even if what we experience in this life would never meet our own expectations. We need to learn to see life more and more in terms of God's expectations and working for us in Christ.

But though this is beyond us, it's truly wonderful how God keeps putting this sense of expectation in us over and over again to help us keep going on in Jesus, through all the trials and life that comes our way.

What would you like to add to these thoughts?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eugene Peterson on the priesthood of believers

One of the severely crippling misunderstandings of the Reformation assertion of "the priesthood of all believers" is to assume (or worse, insist) that each of us can function as our own priest - "I don't need a priest, thank you, I can do quite well on my own, me and Jesus." But that is certainly not what Martin Luther intended when he included the priesthood of all believers as a fundamental tenet for reforming the church. He meant that we are all priests, not for ourselves, but for one another: "I need you for my priest, and while we are at it, I'm available to you as your priest."

The priesthood of all believers is not an arrogant individualism that, at least in matters dealing with God, doesn't need anyone. It is a confession of mutuality, a willingness to guide one another in following the way of Jesus, to assist and encourage, to speak and act in Jesus' name. In the community of the baptized, there is no one, absolutely no one, who is not involved in this priestly leading and being led, for even "a little child shall lead them" (Isa. 11:6).
Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way, p. 14.

prayer for the week

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 22, 2008

faith and science

Lately I am doing some interesting reading on faith and science (a book I'm in now). Nowadays in evangelical circles science has a bad name, and in some respects that is deservedly so, due to the deference paid to naturalism as part of its tenets. Of course naturalism is drawing metaphysical conclusions which are not to be confused with the science itself, though at times can impact it.

Science can answer the questions to what is, and observe, while hypothesizing and continuing to test and observe what is, and keep on doing so, in a sense a never ending process. This doesn't mean science can't find things that are demonstrably true. Gravity is an obvious easy one. But of course science can never answer the questions of why we're here, or how it all began.

There is general revelation and there is special revelation. General revelation is God's creation seen in nature, and observed in science, while special revelation is God's word given to us in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. Both are important from God, so science can actually be a help and blessing to both believers and nonbelievers alike. Science itself must not be seen as the enemy of truth, but we do need to discern what is added to science apart from the science itself. God does not deceive us with the revelation he has given us. Both parts of revelation stand on their own in the ways they are intended to, as well as together.

A big battle over science has been ongoing and more is yet to come it seems, as far as evangelical Christians are concerned. This post is simply to say we should let science do its work and take it seriously as it stands. While at the same time we must critique the naturalism scientists mix in with their scientific work.

What might you like to add here?

Friday, November 21, 2008


C. S. Lewis wrote on pain, having experienced it toward the end of his life in a piercing to the very heart kind of way, which he had to work through to understand God and God's goodness even in death in a new way. His beloved Joy had died, and he missed his wife in ways he never would have imagined or known apart from this experience. But through it he was enabled to see pain in a new light, as well as reverse his focus from himself, Joy and God to God, Joy and himself.

We are told in Scripture that our present sufferings aren't worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us, in Jesus. But it is true that suffering precedes glory in God's working in us in Jesus in this life. And it seems that this suffering is ongoing if we're to really be embracing and living in the will of God. The suffering opens up new vistas for us of blessing for others, and learning to live in a way not only more pleasing to God, but paradoxically more pleasing even to ourselves, even through the real pain.

C. S. Lewis worked through this after losing his wife, Joy, who died of cancer. In this experience with her, he would note how she would get better only to have a great fall back into the depths of this illness and disease. Life in God through Christ here and now is not about happiness, but involves suffering, which Lewis had always maintained, but which was another thing to live through. In Lewis' continued working over this trouble and trial, he wrote a book that has been a help to many over the years, A Grief Observed, along with The Problem of Pain (written much earlier). In the end Lewis found a new joy from God even in relationship to his beloved Joy, though certainly not replacing her presence with him as his wife which he continued to sorely miss. But Lewis had a new appreciation for God's goodness and work which are still really beyond our human understanding in this life (and we'll never even fully grasp it in "eternity").

Pain is to be instructive to us, but also formative for our lives in God now. Pain helps us see our need for God, helps our focus be on God (even if it's with distress and anger at times; see a good number of the psalms), and helps us find where true joy lies: in God. So that we learn to enjoy God's good gifts of relationships and of God's creation through not only a new theological grid so to speak, but through a new understanding and experience of God. Of course this is not something one just steps in, but something we are to grow towards, I believe. One Biblical character who has come to mind as I've been typing this is Job (who is mentioned in the chapter). He certainly is an interesting case of what can happen through profound pain that reaches to the very depths of one's being and existence. This was surely ongoing for Job, pain existing with comfort the rest of his life. Robert Banks wrote this chapter, "C. S. Lewis on Pain," having lost his own wife of more than thirty years. A good chapter, surely helpful for us all, and especially for those going through this profound pain of bereavement from the loss of a loved one.

We must remember as C. S. Lewis reminds us in The Last Battle, that the best by far is yet to come, the fulfillment of all the good we've experienced in this life, as the resurrection of Jesus takes hold entirely and completely in all of creation and in our lives and relationships.

What would you like to add to these thoughts on pain?

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my all time favorite theologians, as well as favorite reads. If you've never read Bonhoeffer, these are the three books I'd especially recommend (though any of his are good): Life Together, Letters and Papers from Prison, and The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer, while living a fulfilling life in important respects, did live through disappointments on a number of levels. Bonhoeffer's work to awaken the church in Germany to the dangers and evil of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, generally failed. Even the confessing church he helped start did not stand through the long haul as a witness for Christ against the evils being done. And on a personal level, his love for Maria von Wedemeyer was never realized in marriage because of his imprisonment by the Nazis, and then his eventual execution.

"Hope does not disappoint." (Romans 5:5a). How does this apply quoted in the chapter of this book? Bonhoeffer gladly received all good as from God and did not try to deny human longings and aspirations. He rather saw all created as good, while at the same time necessarily under the cross of Christ. So that all is subject to God in Christ. But there's no doubt Dietrich was terribly disappointed over the church's failure to see through the evil happening in his day, and on a personal level was terribly disappointed that he and Maria could not live out their love together.

But Bonhoeffer refused to give up his high hopes. His passion had become to keep seeking to find and live out the will of God in this life. He seems to have seen each new day as a new enterprise and adventure in doing so, not that it was easy for him, because it wasn't. But God seems to have kept his life full, even in prison with his continued reading of books, writing and contact with the other prisoners. Bonhoeffer believed that each hope that was in his heart and a part of his life, would somehow reach fulfillment. He looked for that in his present existence, not in the sweet by and by.

"The day after the main plot to kill Hitler failed he wrote to console his friend [Eberhard Bethge]: 'By this-worldliness I mean to live unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world - watching with Christ in Gethsemane.'" (p. 121, quoted from Letters and Papers, p. 370)

Bonhoeffer seemed to live in hope, not of everything turning out as he planned, though he certainly felt strongly about his love for Maria and was much concerned for her. And he was hopeful that the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler, of which he was the moral, theological support in spite of his Christian pacifism, would succeed. But he refused to live life, no matter how bleak it appeared, as not having hope. Bonhoeffer surely found his hope always in the Lord and never in his circumstances. He hoped for better circumstances and good outcomes from God, but in the end when he knew his end had come, his testimony of peace and calm was striking to those who witnessed it, and were able to pass it on later. His last words: "This is the end - for me, the beginning of life."

This is probably my favorite chapter in the book and draws alot from Bonhoeffer's writings. It speaks to me in my life in helping me to seek God's will in Jesus for each day above all, while seeking to live the life God gives now to the full.

What words would you like to add about disappointment and hope?

(From reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, entitled, "Bonhoeffer on Disappointment", by Brian S. Rosner.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


To be human in a fallen world, is to be anxious. Scripture sees anxiety as being both fearful of what might happen in a world where bad things do happen, and death is certain. But anxiety is also seen as a motivation to live out God's will in Jesus during this life, with a sense of personal responsibility in light of God's will, and for others.

Soren Kirkegaard is one who profoundly thought through the concept of anxiety. To Kirkegaard there was objective and subjective anxiety, as well as good and bad anxiety. Indeed to live as a human was to accept anxiety or else live in despair. Anxiety was meant to help one become what God intended for them in Christ. And a reality that never ends in this life. Though anxiety could have the opposite effect so that one can end up in despair, giving up and thus abandoning faith in God's promises in Christ, and therefore missing God's good will for them. Kirkegaard has a number of interesting things to say about anxiety in light of the fall and God's redemption in Christ, largely missed since philosophers referring to his insights into the human condition, have set aside Kirkegaard's theology. For Kirkegaard the proper end of anxiety is to rely on God's provision of salvation in Jesus Christ, and to (even joyfully) rely on Christ fully in one's ongoing existence.

Anxiety has been an ongoing issue in my life. I've grown in overcoming it much over the years, and handle it better when it comes now. I can see the wisdom of making the right kind of anxiety a part of my life, to help others by prayers and loving acts and words (1 Corinthians 7 has some examples, as well as Paul expressing his godly anxiety over the churches, and Timothy sharing in that). Most importantly I can see a good anxiety in endeavoring to live each day as one following Christ in the community of God's people and in mission to the world. Motivated to do God's will. Jesus himself seemed to express such in light of the cross, and in this sense anxiety can help us to order our lives before God.

As to the bad anxiety, we must be assured that in Jesus, nothing at all can separate us from God's love. Whatever we go through, God will be present for us, and the end will be good. This must become dominant over those matters which can deter us, and I know of them well. So that we learn to cast our anxieties on the Lord, knowing of his care for us.

Just a few thoughts on this; the chapter has many more. And what more would you like to add?

(From reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, entitled "Kirkegaard on Anxiety," by Peter G. Bolt.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


For Martin Luther despair, or the word "he...coined...for the black periods he experienced so often...his Anfechtungen" (p. 55) seemed to be a lifelong companion. Initially it was in regard to not finding any sense of peace with God even though he was quite religious and conscientious. But when he discovered (or in his mind, recovered) the truth that "the righteousness of God" in Romans is a gift from God received by faith, and not God's punishment of sinners, this started a revolution which goes on to this day.

But Luther's despair did not end. In fact he came to believe that only struggle, suffering and the cross, along with study of God's word, Scripture, makes one a true theologian and Christian. Satan, out to destroy the faith of Christians, in Luther's view becomes God's tool in God's ongoing work of grace in Christ in believer's lives. Not that one buys Satan's lies, but counters them with the truth of God in Christ. And when one is brought to the point of despair, one learns to no longer trust in themselves, but in God and in his word of promise in Christ.

Of course no one wants to live in defeat. Our victory however is never by our own efforts or resources, but only by grace through faith in God through Jesus Christ. I believe God lets us experience despair both as individual believers, and even together at times to keep us looking to him. We know in words something important of what God is doing in making us into the image of his Son. But just what that really means and what we need to get there is ever beyond us. God is dealing with sin in our lives, and also with our tendency to want to think we've arrived at a good place in our lives, when in reality God knows we need to keep growing.

Despair for me is both good and bad. It's bad if I give up and give in to something less than God's best or revealed will in Jesus. It's good though, when it awakens me again to my sense of ongoing need in God and reception of God's ongoing grace to me in Jesus, by the Spirit.

It's never a good thing to yield to temptation, though we must not forget God's ongoing provision in Jesus for our forgiveness and cleansing. When we are sorely tempted or struggling with temptation and sin, then we can be driven to recognize and acknowledge our great ongoing need for God. This hits me at times in big ways, and often just in little ways, and it does so most often in community. In other words this work of God in my life is most often worked out in community especially with other Christians, whether at home with my wife, at work where I'm with alot of other Christians or at church with the fellowship of believers there (or even in the blog world with Christians).

I've hardly touched on this, though it has been a factor in my own life. What would you like to add to this from your own life or thoughts?

(After reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, "Luther on Despair," by Mark D. Thompson.)

Monday, November 17, 2008


Augustine had more to write on love, and less on sex than many realize. His concern over obsession was over affections that are good, created by God, but disordered in fallen humanity. In other words I see something of the goodness of something of God's creation and instead of loving it in its proper place, I can begin to make it the center of my affections, displacing the Giver, God. All of God's gifts are to be received and enjoyed, but always with God as the center of our affection. We find out that when we know God's love and return something of that love to God, in other words when by grace we begin to live in God's love, paradoxically we appreciate God's good gifts in a way that actually brings more enjoyment and delight.

For Augustine, and for C.S. Lewis it was never a question of humans having too strong affections, but that they are disordered so that humans obsess over what can't really bring either the lasting or depth of satisfaction that God alone can bring. To begin to really know God's love and seek to live in that love towards God and others will translate into a joy for life, as we appreciate the good gifts from God for what they are. But left to themselves apart from this love of God, all the gifts from God while still good, lose their luster, and besides, none can replace God, since all else is hardly a poor substitute at all. And with that we become obsessed and enslaved to that which is not only not a god, but ends up dehumanizing us in the process.

I have found this so in my life. When by grace I am endeavoring in Jesus to live in God's love, life takes on a new delight. That's when I have to be careful because I can so easily set my heart on something less than God during such times, since I find such delight in God's good gifts. But then what I set my heart on I find to be a poor substitute for God, as I leave "the spring of living water" for "broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13). In the end we lose out entirely when God is not first in our affections. And we receive all things fully when God is first and supreme in our affections. Either way, that begins in this life, and even has fulfillment here and now.

What thoughts would you add to this? How do you look at this in your own life?

(After reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, "Augustine on Obsession", by Andrew Cameron.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

quote for the week: N. T. Wright on justification

[Justification] is God's declaration that those who believe are in the right; their sins have been dealt with; they are God's new covenant people, God's renewed humanity.

N.T. Wright, quoted from "Romans," 471 (in The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. 10) by Scot McKnight in A Community Called Atonement, 90.

prayer for the week

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 15, 2008


If there's a major quality we need in life to help us live well, it's insight. Insight is akin or synonymous to wisdom, and there's a good portion of the Bible that is called, "wisdom literature."

Insight helps us have perspective on life. It's a gift given by God to all humankind, inherent in humans being made in God's image. And some are particularly good at it. But the gift is given further meaning in getting towards the meaning of existence when given from God in Jesus in and for the new creation. This distinction held true during old covenant times as well. The Ancient Near East had its sages, but in Israel the fear of the LORD was, and is the beginning of a wisdom that helps us towards living well in relationship to God, to others, to ourselves, and to God's good creation.

I think alot of my struggles come from lacking perspective. If I could only "see straight" at times, that would help me immensely. I find that as I keep committing my life to God through Jesus, I in time receive something of the insight I need. This is not easy. It requires desire and effort on our part, and not settling for easy answers, or for something less. And it requires an ongoing sense of dependence on God and interdependence on others.

What do you find about the importance of insight in your life? What value do you place on it? What motivates you to seek it? Or other thoughts on insight.

Friday, November 14, 2008


In reading about Lactantius on anger I was given (or perhaps reminded of) a small new slant on how to view anger. Anger is a gift from God to humans, to be used wisely. It brings certain problems into the open and anger motivates us to do something about those problems. I think surely there's some truth here, but would like to hear your response to it.

Of course God's anger expressed in his wrath and judgment of sin, is also expressed at the cross, where anger and mercy come together (as Gibson on Lactantius says), and the result is forgiveness available for all. This is important, and we need to see everything in the light of the cross, of course. How that plays out in our anger would be interesting to work through.

How do you view anger? Is it a good or bad, or does that depend? Is it really a gift from God? If it is, do humans handle it well- and how can Christians do better?

The chapter by Richard Gibson takes to task the NIV rendering of the Ephesians 4 passage on anger (more accurately, Gibson cites Daniel B. Wallace and his exegesis of Ephesians 4:26-27 with the command to be angry as well as the second command to not let the sun go down on the source of the anger, but instead, to deal with the problem causing the anger):
26"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.
Gibson notes that literally it's a command to be angry, and yet to not sin in that anger. The NIV rendering is of course an interpretation as to what Paul meant.

We need to be slow to anger (like God that way), but there is a time for it. We need to be careful not to be living in anger, in other words we can't live there for long.

When I've been angry, initially there may have been justification for that, of course it's a response to what I see as wrong, or sometimes less nobly, something I dislike at the time. But I've found that it can lead to bad attitudes and probably toward bitterness (root of bitterness comes to mind) if I don't deal with it right away. It's easy to dwell on the object of my anger, rather than deal with the matter in a constructive way in the grace and truth, or truth and love that are ours in Jesus.

Considering the above questions or just this subject, what would you like to add to this, from your own life or understanding on anger?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

reading the Bible as story

One of my excellent seminary professors, Dr. Joe Crawford who taught systematic and historical theology, etc., now with the Lord, had a passion for truth which was infectious. I especially remember the time he got me excited about wanting to read Henri Crouzel's book on Origen. While I was there, Dr. Crawford talked about how reading the Bible as story, revolutionized his theology. He wrote a manuscript on that later. I think it was an evolving, growing process for him. On a lesser scale this is true of me as well. Scot McKnight's new, interesting and I believe excellent little book, Blue Parakeet.

I open this up. Do any of you identify? And what does reading the Bible as story look like, or mean for you and for your understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus? How might reading the Bible as story differ from other ways of reading it? Is it natural to the Bible itself? Is it reading the Bible contextually? And what about places in the Bible which are not narrative, such as wisdom literature (example: Proverbs, Song of Songs), or the book of Romans?

Of course we must read the Bible contextually. Good Bible reading and study should consider a passage, or verse in its immediate context, then in the context of the entire book, and then contextually in books by the same human author, next within the new or old covenant scheme, and at last with reference to the entire Book. Word studies can be helpful as well, as long as we note that the same word will mean different things at times, depending on its context. Good Bible reading and study does all of this either closely or by recall (not that we should think that we have to go through all of this consciously).

To understand any teaching sufficiently it must be put into the whole and in the context of story (Genesis through Revelation), but we take the entire teaching along into the story. We can't just take the part we want and leave the difficult or unwanted part of it, perhaps a difficult part to understand, behind. And it must be factored into the story.

Though it is not necessary for anyone to engage in good Bible reading and study, to have background information as to the world in the day the Scripture was written, with reference to its culture and practices is likewise helpful (an understatement, really, especially with regard to some matters such as women and slaves).

When we do this we avoid what I believe is the error of "bullet lists" to teach a systematic theology. Taken by themselves they can be quite different than when taken up and read with reference to the whole story from Genesis through Revelation. Not that we want to change the meaning in its original context. But that this meaning must be factored into the whole of the story.

One example I posted on recently is predestination and election. If I study the relevant passages on their own, it would appear that many of them are only about assurance of salvation through the work of God, as our good friend Andrew, has so aptly pointed out in his comments on that posting. But considered in the story we find that there is more to consider. Other factors weigh in on that discussion as well, and on nearly any other discussion, factors on which Christians disagree. For example in my case, even though I believe God does a work in Christians to help them persevere, I believe the imperative to make one's calling and election sure, makes it clear that our assurance is dependent on us remaining in the faith, and that a true Christian can apostasize. But in the grace of God in Jesus, as we trust, we can be assured of salvation- in the present and future, based on the work of Jesus.

And aside from the differences Christians have over interpreting the relevant texts, we need to see such teachings in the sweep of the entire story of God. This means predestination and election are not just about one's salvation, as important as that is, but it's with reference to what that salvation entails. That in Jesus, we become a part of God's ongoing work in the world through him, a work that has to do with the new creation, thus touching all of creation, including human culture, as well as helping others come into this new life for themselves. We receive the light and become the light of the world, in Jesus.

This is an overly long post, and for that I apologize. But just a sketch and example as to why I believe we need to read and think through everything with reference to the entire story, and not just within its own immediate context. I am certainly working on this, myself.

What would you like to add here- and with reference to the above questions and thoughts?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

being taken over

I like the thought that the new life in Christ is not something we must live out by doing this and not doing that, even though properly understood there's truth in that thought. But it's something which more and more in Jesus, takes us over. This means more of what the Spirit puts in us, and less of our old selves.

I can see this in myself more and more in a growing love for God and for others, as well as a renewed desire to be more thankful. We still live in our unredeemed bodies, and God's good work in us in Jesus is not yet complete. Therefore I still struggle at times with anxiety, and at times still respond to people who I think are wrong, or have wronged me, in something less than love, even if that response is bottled up in me. And my wife can tell you and knows first hand, I've been known to look at as well as dwell on the dark side of things. Though usually every day now I don't live there for long, and even a good number of days it seems like that's gone, with maybe just remnants hanging on at times.

But it's good to be taken over by the resurrection life of Jesus even in this world. The new creation in Jesus breaking into the old. And anticipating in hope as well as actually realizing (see last verse of passage in its context) in some sort of way in all kinds of works done in God, the day when God makes all things new and all creation shares in that newness in Jesus.

What thoughts might you like to share here?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


What does civility mean to you? How does it square with some of the strong statements we read in Scripture? Do you think civility is a strong suit in our society or not? And why?

I contend that we live in a society where incivility is accepted and even infiltrates us as Christians. For me it comes from talk radio and from news television. Anything that smacks of that at all, leaves me behind and out the door. But I have to be careful, because in my disgust of incivility I can stoop to the same.

What should civility look like for a Christian, a follower of Jesus? How should this be played out in our discussions over important matters such as abortion, how to help the poor, the environment, etc.? Was Jesus "civil" in the gospels?

I don't like to take a contemporary term and our usage of it, and try to see where it might fit in Scripture and in the Story of God. But we at least can look for parallels, and see what importance it might have. Maybe I'm civil in ways that are not pleasing to God at times. While at other times I fall into the same incivility as the world which also is not pleasing to God.

One thing we need to remember in the blog world, and especially as Christians, we need to demonstrate a certain kind of civility as in being courteous, listening well, being moderate and understated while not watering down the truth at all (in other words, not exaggerating), etc. We need to consistently show a difference in the way we conduct ourselves before the world.

Any thoughts?

Monday, November 10, 2008

predestination and election

I am not one anymore who cares to get into theological debates, and I find any debate among Christians on predestination and election particularly tiring in that it tends to be divisive, with little or nothing to show for its efforts. Though I suppose it has its place.

For many Christians, their view on the biblical teaching of predestination and election marks them as to where they are, on the Christian theological divides. For me, I wish we'd get beyond all of that, I guess- hopefully not sounding like I'm above it or them. I for one have been on several sides. Once I would have counted myself as a moderate Calvinist, now I might say I side more with the Arminian side. But all in all, I'm not sure the Bible lines up with either side.

God's election of Israel in Scripture is culminated with God's election of his Son. We all know that the Son, Jesus, did not have to be elected for salvation. The election, then is for something else. For us who need Jesus and his redemptive work as Savior, this election certainly includes salvation. But it's a salvation not just to save people, but to get them into God's mission and his works. Whatever God is doing now on the face of the earth in Jesus in the new creation in God's kingdom, is what God's saved ones are to be doing.

Israel's error was to suppose that it was all about them and their salvation and that for others to join and be elected, they'd have to get into this exclusive club. I think Christians can promote the same error, and that even theologies on both sides (Calvinist and Arminian) tend to promote this error. Especially when their teaching on predestination and election is up front and at the fore center of their faith and actions in the world.

Of course to have predestination and election as an important part of one's belief and actions in itself, I don't believe is off. But the church is chosen to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In other words the church, in Jesus, is chosen to be in mission. Certainly salvation is part of that, and it's important, and we must never lose sight of it. But we're missing the point if we simply stop there. Jesus brought the great salvation and redemption in his coming and once for all work for us on the cross. The resurrection in Jesus begins now (Romans 6, while in Romans 8 we still await the resurrection of our bodies, of course), and those of us in Jesus who participate in it begin to see the new creation in all our works in Jesus. Somehow each new work will find it's place in the new creation in Jesus, forever.

I write this under the influence of N. T. Wright's latest book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Of course while N. T. Wright has influenced me, I seek to base all of my belief and practice on Scripture. I think we can learn alot from him and others of course, but just like any other human, we have to judge his words from and by Scripture. I have found him quite helpful myself. The Challenge of Jesus, which I read around eight years ago, shook my theological world and was important towards fulfilling my theological paradigm, and I've remained convinced that there is much there that is helpful.

Do you agree or disagree, and why? Or what might you like to add here? And by the way, I won't be drawn into any long debates here. :)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

quote of the week - N. T. Wright on knowing

All knowing is a gift from God, historical and scientific knowing no less than that of faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, p 74

prayer for the week

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 08, 2008

what unites Christians

Recently I've been reminded again at just how Christians can differ over important matters such as politics, science, theology, and we can add more: spiritual gifts, culture, views on disputable issues like dancing, etc. So often these are brought to the forefront and end up dividing us who are actually one in Jesus.

We need a clarion call back to the unity we have in Jesus by the Spirit. We are to pray, "Our Father....", and we're to be united as one. Do I always do well in this? No. Sometimes I grow weary of disputes over what divide us as Christians, and just seek to withdraw. There is a time and place for that. But in the end we're all in this together, and we need to learn to live well together with all our differences.

We need to quit looking at other Christians under this label and that, and see that essentially we're all one in Christ, members of his Body, together as God's people in this world. We don't have to resolve all our differences to live well in this way. But it is a challenge at times.

What do you think the answer is to this problem? Maybe you encounter this reality over different matters, such as differing opinions by people who essentially agree on most everything else.

What ways any reader out there has found helpful towards the hard work of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4)?

Friday, November 07, 2008

remaining in the word

I think it's important to be in the word, the entire word of God, Scripture. It's important to test our theology, that is, what we believe, according to the word. We need good theology, but we must be careful not to read Scripture through our theological lens. Instead we should seek to read it alongside theology. Then our theological understanding is always put to the test of Scripture.

This is where the Reformers and Rome parted, and practicing this with the Reformers means I'm not beholden to them, either. I'm beholden to God's word only. But to think that with Scripture- tradition, reason and experience carry no weight is mistaken. We can learn from each other, and I've found it interesting how I can learn from someone writing on infant baptism for example, something I don't hold to. We need to be those who are ever applying ourselves to the reading and study of God's word, and learning from each other in this. Only then can we get the full orbed picture of Jesus, and of what God is doing in the world in Jesus.

Of course there are parts that are hard to understand and easy to misunderstand. Some parts I flat out won't understand. But faithful practice involves working at understanding. God's truth in Jesus is given to us by grace through faith to live out. Not just to believe. And it's also relational, not just didactic (teaching-oriented as in head learning), or maybe didactic as in a follower in a relational sort of way. So that we seek to so learn as apprentices of Jesus, to live in obedience to God.

How do you view theology? And what helps you to get into all of Scripture?

A book I'd recommend related to this, and which is my source for speaking of looking with theology and not through it is Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight. I believe you will find it an interesting, stimulating read.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

love confronts

Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, but when someone slapped him at his trial before his crucifixion, he asked why he had been slapped if he had said nothing wrong. There is a time for both love and truth in Jesus, in the need to confront others. But we need to do so in love, in the love of Jesus.

It is hard, and while we may be upset for the moment, it's easier just to write the other person off and seek afterward to avoid them. But God calls us to confront them in love. This calls for much prayer on our part, both for ourselves as well as for the person we're confronting. We do so in the hope that God will have mercy on them, and restore them into a right relationship with God and with ourselves.

There is nothing easy about this, and I for one have little stomach for it. On the other hand, if we aren't open to needed rebuke ourselves, or able to help others in that way, an important ingredient for change is out of the mix. Maybe we have to be more subtle nowadays in how we do it. Maybe we have to be like Nathan who told King David a story to help him see and confess the great sin he committed. I wonder if my approach is too quick the few times I've done it, with not enough prayer ahead of time, and if it would be more beneficial for me to take a more subtle and less direct approach. But sometimes one needs to be more direct, I'm afraid. Just thinking out loud here.

Would any of you like to share whatever wisdom God has given you on this?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

a new president

Scot McKnight has posted a prayer for us for President-Elect of the United States, Barack Obama, and we in Jesus are called to pray for him and others. I liked Obama's call in his acceptance speech, for responsibility to be taken on the part of all. Obama has been gifted with some real strengths. Two chief influencers in his thinking are Abraham Lincoln and Reinhold Neibuhr. Their thinking is reflected in his thinking, and that's overall very good. And of course Obama is an astute and gifted thinker.

A major strength that comes from Neibuhr's influence on him, is a realism that sees trouble in this world as inevitable, as well as no "pie in the sky" or utopia possible here. This is not to say that in my belief, God's kingdom in Jesus can't make inroads even into governments, as well as changing people in conversion to Christ. It can and has. But trouble will always follow. And this will be so until Jesus returns and God's kingdom comes and God's will is done on earth, just as it is done in heaven, when heaven and earth become one.

For any of us who may have been opposed to Obama, let's grow in being people of prayer for him, as God calls us to be. As Obama said, he won't make everyone happy with all of his policies, and some of his acts will not get off the ground, while others will fail. There is plenty of hope for him, when I listen to him. I must say I have liked him for some time (true also of my wife, Deb). We really believe he does care about people, including those of us who don't see eye to eye with him on abortion (though there is good in his thoughts on that, as well). And it is in itself wonderful, to have an African-American as President.

So let's be in prayer, and let's take responsibility ourselves, rather than thinking so many things are up to the government, all echoes of Obama's acceptance speech last night, but more importantly, what God calls us to in Jesus.

What would you like to add to this?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


One of my most helpful antidotes against worry or fear is to do something. Not just to exercise faith in some kind of passive way. Oh, of course there's a time for that. Sometimes we need to be still and know that he is God. Sometimes we have to shut up and listen. Sometimes we need to quit trying to solve the problem ourselves, and just rest.

Doing gets bad press among us Protestant evangelicals. After all, we're children of the Reformation which makes it clear that our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone apart from works. But as I was reminded today by N.T. Wright, what we do really does matter.

Yes, again faith can be passive. But quite often it's active. By faith I do certain things, whether or not it seems to make sense to me at the time or not. For example for me taking communion is important. All do it once a month at our church, but it's made available for any after each service. I think it keeps us close to being accountable as well as aware of the salvation of Jesus for us. Reminded of this great salvation through his death for us- his broken body and shed blood. And accountable to both receive and live in this forgiving, sanctifying (cleansing, making holy) grace.

Another important activity of doing for me is both reading and listening to God's word, Scripture. I have to keep at this, and every day. Like the manna that was to be gathered daily, we too are to live on the bread that God supplies in Jesus and in his word, Scripture. And it takes the whole word, not just bits and pieces of it, just as we need the whole Christ.

One more important activity I'll mention here is the necessity of praying. This is something we do. It has passive elements, and there's a dependence on the Spirit. But we have to pray whether or not we feel like it, or sense the Spirit in it or not. We need to keep praying to God. This is something we need to be doing. It's a matter of faith, but faith without doing, is no faith at all, according to James.

All of this needs to be done in the context of the Jesus Creed, by the way. This is of the utmost importance, and we dare not lose sight of it. If we're not moved by love for God and for others, our faith is empty and of no value (1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:6). Of course this is all "in Jesus". And ends up being a part of his special ongoing work of God in the world through the Spirit.

What would you like to add here?

Monday, November 03, 2008

praying without ceasing

Reading about desert fathers and mothers of the fourth century recently, reminded me of the imperative we in Jesus are given in Scripture, to pray without ceasing, because this is part of what they were attempting to do, even in the midst of their activities and interactions in the world. I find myself, that when I let up on the attitude to pray without ceasing, most often sooner than later, trouble follows. One then ends up learning the hard way.

Praying without ceasing is understood differently. I think it involves waiting in faith on God, praying all kinds of prayers, and seeking to listen to God's voice both from Scripture, and in our lives- by the Spirit. And I'm reminded of Jesus' words to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, that they were to pray, so that they would not enter into temptation, because while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

On the eve of the election here in the U.S., I think the greatest thing we Christians can be doing is praying. And we need to carry that beyond, and make it more and more a part of who we are in Jesus. That we are people of prayer.

It's a challenge I find that is often hard to enter in. It often seems more or less like a bare knuckled act of the will. Something I decided to do against the flow of how I felt. So we can't wait on when we feel like praying. It's a matter of obedience and priority for us.

What might you like to add on these few thoughts on prayer?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

quote of the week - Tom Wright to Christians on the US election

Which of the candidates is more likely to be open to the challenge (which it is up to the churches to pose) to enable this quasi-empire to order its affairs, and those of the rest of the world which comes under its influence, power and sometimes actual authority, in a way which honours God the creator and is aware that power itself is redefined, and all human power called to account, by the loving and generous nature of this God as redefined in and around Jesus of Nazareth?

N.T. Wright on the question of which of the two, McCain or Obama, we Christians in the United States should/might vote for on November 4. The rest of his words (not long) here.

prayer for the week

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 01, 2008

when Christ is not the center

When Jesus is not the center we Christians naturally run into all sorts of problems. Of course we're really on our own then, and operating according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit.

I think we can get off center as we put other things in place of Jesus, good things, and sometimes not so good, or even bad I'm afraid (for all of us). I believe in a Christian pacifist stance but that can become central to Christians in a way that misses the point of it, in Jesus. Then it's no longer lived out in Jesus, but we're on our own, and that can look sadly ugly. (not here to debate the issue of Christian pacifism, and even if this position is flawed, it does have something important and true to say, but only in Jesus- I believe).

We can get off center as Christians in the United States these days, as we consider the election. That it has to be this or that, even on such stands that are important, like the Christian stand for the sanctity of life. If Jesus isn't central in all this, then we end up acting and looking like the world, right before the world, and in the name of our Lord, and so we can sully his name.

When Jesus is not the center, then we in Jesus will quickly divide over any number of issues. Like how one is going to vote in this country on Tuesday. Or over what theological tradition we believe in. Or over anything at all, maybe a disagreement over something.

Jesus must ever remain the center for us, and as we look to him together, we can more and more see that our differences are secondary to that. That it is the Spirit who gives us oneness here and now, a oneness we're to work hard at preserving and maintaining. And that we have one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. So that we can live well together in spite of our differences because Jesus is at the center. All that is good and true for us to live out God's good will in his kingdom for here and now are found in him.

So let's make it a point, especially us Christians over here in the United States during this divided election season, to make sure Jesus is at the center. That we may simply agree to disagree, because what is central to us all is the same. Not always easy. But we need to learn to live this out before the world.

What would you like to add to this?