Total Pageviews

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

To Live a Public Faith

January 4, 2015

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
    or as his counselor has instructed him?
14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
    and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as dust on the scales;
    see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
    nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him;
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

          The Lord measured the earth’s waters in the hollow of his hand?  Weighed the mountains on a scale?  Can anyone reasonably-minded person believe such claims?
          But wait, someone says.  This is poetry, not to be read literally.  Of course, of course.  The speaker here, the prophet referred to as Second Isaiah, is an artist and words are his colors.  Still, his poetry points to what he claims as reality – the reality of an able, powerful, interested God.  He says ‘all nations are as nothing’ before him.
          All nations seem to be more than ‘nothing.’  He spoke and wrote in Babylon, a nation so big and powerful it enslaved entire peoples, the people of Judah being just one to fall under the Babylonian might.  How can he say Babylon is nothing before God? It sounds nice but does not appear rooted in reality.  How many American men and women have died in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan?  They are all much smaller countries than America, but I bet the families of the fallen soldiers would not consider these small countries nothing, countries some might refer to as ‘backwater.’
          The claims about God made by the prophets and especially in Isaiah 40-66 are so audacious, they sound unbelievable.  There is a lack of physical evidence.  We cannot scientifically research whether or not God can measure the depths of the ocean in the hollow of His hand.  How would we go about verifying that sort of thing?  The church today – the group of people who claim to represent this God – often appears no more righteous or helpful than other human institutions.  We’re supposed to be a holy body, but we are so infested by sin, we do not serve as evidence to God’s sovereignty. 
          Other religions make grandiose claims about God just as we do.  This scripture we rely upon, Isaiah 40, is something we inherited from our Jewish cousins.  They do not believe Jesus is the Messiah.  We cannot believe the scriptures that come from them could ever be fulfilled unless Jesus is the Messiah and Savior.  Muslims, the third relative in monotheistic faith also tell many of the Old Testament stories revered by Jews and Christians, and Muslims also talk about Jesus.  But for them, he cannot be the Son of God, and for them the stories of scripture only make sense when understood in the interpretation of the prophet Muhammad whom we do not recognize as a prophet.
          How can believe what we read in Isaiah 40?  How can we claim that God is the source of all wisdom, justice, and knowledge?  How dare we assert that this is true not just for us, but is universally true and defines the way the world really is?  But we do dare to make such claims.  We would not be a church of Jesus’ disciples if we didn’t.
          Isaiah 40 says the Lord sits above the circle of the earth (v. 21), not as a distant observes, but as a God who sustains everything.  The world would not spin were it not for God’s constant, active, involvement.  Do we believe it?  Of course!  We are all sitting in church.  It is Sunday morning.  Here, with great enthusiasm, we shout, yes, we believe!
          What about the rest of the time?  Away from church, in the normal places of our lives, do we believe this stuff about God that we find in the Bible and our songs and our tradition?  Do we believe in a way that is seen in the choices we make every day in life?  Do we make decisions based on our rock-solid assurance that God is real, is pay attention and is truly in charge?  Does this belief we claim reveal itself in how we manage our lives?  Does our faith determine how we see the world?  Does our “Yes, we believe” define us to the core?
          In 2015, we as a church body will explore what it looks like to live a public faith.  We live our Christianity out in the open.  None of us will be a secret, under cover disciple.  By this I do not mean we announce every time walk in a room, “Alert, alert, Christ-follower on board.”  I do not mean we constantly wear “Jesus saves” t-shirts.  I do not mean we throw away our CD’s and replace them with recordings of hymns.  If you enjoy hymns, great.  If you want to listen to Bruno Mars or Taylor Swift, do so.  I wear shirts that might described as ‘witness wear,’ or ‘spirit wear.’  I also wear shirts that have message about my favorite sports teams.  And sometimes I have conversations with people away from church and I am not trying to convince them of Christianity.  I am trying to convince them the Lions will win a playoff game. 
          When I say we are to spend significant time exploring what it looks like to live a public faith, I mean we will attempt to live in our Christianity so that it defines us.  Through prayer, through conversation with fellow believers and with nonbelievers, through reading and study, through worship and missions, and in numerous other ways, we are going to examine and try to live out a Christianity that is essential to who we are.  You could not be you apart from who you are in Christ.  I could not be who I am apart from Him. 
          We will live for this in 2015 and additionally, and this is a natural development of living a public faith, we will explore how to live in such a way that our lives are pointers.  People see us and come to us and realize that our lives are pointing them to Jesus.  They discover through us – through our witness – that in Jesus there is comfort, forgiveness, joy, healing, abundant life, and eternal life.  A public faith is a life that bears witness to God as we know God in Jesus.
          One source among many that will be a helpful guide is Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf.  He offers several thoughts on how a public faith interacts with the broader culture.  Another way of saying this is how we live in the world – a world disinterested in the Christian testimony about God.  Here are four of his observations[i]:
1.    Christian Faith that is Public Faith is prophetic.  It seeks to mend the world by being active in every arena of public life.  Arts, business, production, science, education, government – Christians participate in all arenas seeking to mend the world which is most certainly broken.
2.    Christian Faith that is Public Faith brings grace and is marked by the way we give grace.
3.    A Christian living a public faith cares for others and works for their flourishing.
4.    A concern for human flourishing is what brings the Christian into the public conversation.  Our mission is to announce that Jesus Christ is Lord, that with him comes the eternal Kingdom of God, and that salvation for all is found in him.  What propels us into public debates is our commitment to human flourishing – humans living as God intended, as God’s image-bearers. 

Volf’s writings would serve as a guide as will other theologians and Christian writers and thinkers.  Our primary source for our living as witnesses to Jesus is the Holy Spirit.  First and foremost we are guided by the Spirit. 
We encounter the Spirit is within the Christian community, the church and the traditions of the church.  The Spirit is present in all places and speaks at God’s initiative.  We cannot predict when or where the Spirit will shout, when the Spirit will whisper, or where the Spirit will remain silent.  We seek, we listen, and live in acknowledgement that we are Spirit-dependent people.
We are connected people.  Not a one of us is a solitary Christian.  We live in relationship with one another.
The third essential primary source besides Spirit and Church is the Bible.  A lot of evangelicals put the Bible at the top of the list.  The great man of the reformation, Martin Luther, declared we are informed by sola scriptura – scripture alone.  Of course his own followers were not informed by scripture alone.  They met God in the Bible as Luther taught the Bible.  Evangelicals today, who furiously declare that their authority is the Bible and only the Bible, read the Bible through an interpretive lens.  They read as they have received from Augustine, Martin Luther, John, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and many others. 
In our quest to live as Jesus’ disciples publically, as witnesses, our primary sources are the Spirit, the church community (including tradition), and the Word (the Bible).  These three primary sources of guidance and truth are interconnected.  We understand each by way of the others. 
In January 2015, our focus at HillSong will be on Second Isaiah.  Some readers of the book of Isaiah believe one man named Isaiah wrote every chapter, 1-66.  Other readers look at the difference in themes and in life situations, and they believe the prophet named Isaiah is responsible for chapters 1-39, written before the exile.  Then an anonymous writes chapters 40-55 during the exile.  Then after the exile a third author, sometimes called 3rd Isaiah, writes chapters 56-66.  The Word of God does not change whether you think one man is responsible for the entire book Isaiah, or you are open to the possibility that there is a first, second, and third Isaiah. 
Either way, what we find in this incredible witness, is a person who follows God and lives his faith publically.  He makes incredible claims about God.  We are going to spend this month looking at those claims, deciding whether or not we can believe them, and whether or not we are willing to live our lives in complete worship and surrender to the God who is the subject of those claims. 

So, we see where we are headed.  In 2015, we are going to as individuals and as a body of believers strive to contribute to human flourishing as we announce the kingdom of God and salvation in Jesus in the everyday places of our lives.  We will do this by living a public faith. 
To set the challenge, we hear a bit more from Second Isaiah 40. 

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

          This week, read this chapter over and over.  In the depths of the soul ask, do I believe it? Ask, can I look into my own life and say, yes, right there, that’s where the belief I speak actually defines who I am?
          Also this week, acknowledge if you have doubts.  If you’re not sure if you believe it or not, go there, and name your doubts. 
          If you know someone who doubts the reality of God or the ability of God or the goodness of God, think about that person this week.  Pray for him or her and consider how your public faith can point him or her to Jesus. 
          Ask …
-         Do I believe it?
-         What are some signs from my life that show I believe it?
-         Do I have doubts
-         Do I know someone who has doubts?
-         How can I bear witness to the one I know who doubts?

I pray for all us that this week we begin in new ways to understand how to live our faith in the world. 

[i] Volf (2011).  A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good Brazos Press (Grand Rapids, MI), p.xv-xvi.

No comments:

Post a Comment