The Wilderness Journey of Faith

worship is like telling stories around a campfire

scripture is like the “trail mix”

disciplines are like setting up camp

the church is like your wilderness caravan

sin is like being lost and alone in the wilderness

Jesus is like the wilderness Trailblazer

Spirit is like the wilderness Guide

Parent is like the wilderness Native

creation is like a wilderness home

salvation is like a journey in the wilderness following the Spirit on the way of Jesus toward home with the Native

consummation is like being welcomed home to a feast

Faith, Works, & International Development

James, one of the first leaders of the early church in Jerusalem, includes a radical claim in his New Testament letter: “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”1 The apostle Paul agreed with James: “the only thing that counts is faith working through love [emphasis added].”2 These early church leaders were simply recalling the words of their Messiah who said that when his followers fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner they were actually serving him. Jesus and the New Testament authors did not invent these views concerning the necessity of making love known through action. It was an essential feature of Old Testament law; one which the prophets had to continually bring to Israel’s attention. Love and justice, peace and well-being, faithfulness to God and faithfulness to neighbor – these have always been inseparable in the story of God. The prophet Micah says it well: “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”3

"Catch God's Dream" Pamorama Jones

“Catch God’s Dream”
Pamorama Jones

At its best, international development is one way the people of God participate in God’s mission to establish shalom on earth. Shalom is the overflowing abundance of God’s presence in a community so that the entire community experiences the wholeness, fullness, and satisfaction of a holistic well-being in complete harmony with its environment. It is a comprehensive reality of peace founded on the active presence of Triune love being worked out in justice. International development seeks to contribute to God’s shalom through activities which increase the standard of living and overall well-being for those living in situations of poverty in hope that all people experience a life which reflects their inestimable value as God’s image bearers.

However, international development has too often been the work of churches from Western, “developed” countries who work with churches and communities in the “developing” world in order to make them look and feel more like Western church and communities. As David Wright notes, the mission agencies of Western churches which perform this work “have uncritically borrowed a politically oriented aid rationale that was born in the immediate post-War years with the Marshall Plan and fine-tuned during the long ideological struggle of the cold war.”4 When mission agencies employ such a politically, economically driven rationale for development work among their international neighbors, they create relationships lacking any real mutuality which “cannot be authentic or constructive” and usually end in “uneasy dependence or frustrated estrangement.”5 Bryant Myers identifies the cause of mission agencies’ uncritical adoption of these development theories as the Enlightenment-born divide between the spiritual and material world which asserts that “religion, faith, and values belong in the spiritual world” and “science, reason, and facts are part of the real world.”6 Mission agencies born in the West tend to separate the work of international development in the “real world” from the work of the church in the “spiritual realm.” This dichotomy facilitates the removal or cheapening of distinctly Christian values, methods, and goals from the manuals of mission agencies so all that remains are the values, methods, and goals of Western economics, politics, and culture. God’s shalom gets replaced by an “international” version of American or European society.

For international development to contribute towards God’s shalom, it must leave behind its dualistic, paternalistic ways. Myers calls development practitioners to break free from the grip of a modernist worldview and begin operating from a “holistic understanding of an integrated spiritual-physical world” in order to practice truly Christian development within a global context.7 In addition, Wright suggests four changes to be made to the “aid relationship” between Western mission agencies and those with whom they work: “we must restore mutuality to the aid relationship, develop and apply contextual standards to the definition of need/aid, moderate the effects of the bureaucratization of aid, and create full webs of meaning in which to situate aid relationships.”8 With these fundamental adjustments, the work of international development can become a vital, life-giving expression of God’s mission to establish shalom in all creation.

1 Jam. 2:17.

2 Gal. 5:6.

3 Mic. 6:8.

4 David W. Wright, “The Pitfalls of the International Aid Rationale: Comparisons Between Missionary Aid and the International Aid Network,” Missiology 22, no. 2 (1994): 187.

5 Wright, 192.

6 Bryant L. Myers, “What Makes Development Christian? Recovering from the Impact of Modernity,” Missiology 26, no. 2 (April 1, 1998): 145.

7 Myers, 149.

8 Wright, 201.

 

We Are Hebrews

This post was written for the Six:Eight Community Church blog. I’ve been serving as the pastoral intern at Six:Eight Church in Ardmore, PA, for almost a year now and blogging has been one of my regular duties. Sometimes I re-post the 6:8 blogs here on my personal blog just for kicks. You can view the original post on the 6:8 blog here: http://sixeight.org/rants-raves/we-are-hebrews.

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Exodus by Marc Chagall

Exodus by Marc Chagall

Over the next few weeks of summer, the [Six:Eight Community Church blog] will be a place to reflect back on the past week’s sermon. Hopefully, these reflections will help us process the messages we’re hearing on Sunday by offering some further ideas and insights or maybe asking a few more questions. No worries if you happened to miss the sermon – you can download the audio recording along with the full text and slides for every sermon over on the Sermons page. As always, we invite you to interact with the blog posts by leaving a comment below. Now that you know the plan, let’s get started!

In our last sermon, Pastor Jason preached on Abraham’s test recorded in Genesis 22 where Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his promised son Isaac. Abraham acts in obedience to God’s command, but God intervenes to save Isaac’s life just as Abraham has raised the knife to offer his only son on the altar. God provides a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac. God’s promise to Abraham to be the father of many nations through the offspring of Isaac is fulfilled. God is faithful; God provides; and life for God’s promise-people continues.

One interesting note that Jason made in his sermon was about the meaning of the word “Hebrew.” The people that grew from Abraham’s offspring as a result of God’s promise were known as “Hebrews.” The root word of the term “Hebrews” means “one who crossed over.” Think of God’s people crossing the Red Sea to escape from Pharaoh’s army in the book of Exodus.  In a sense, Isaac can be thought of as a Hebrew in the way he “crossed over” from death to life; of course, he didn’t actually die but he came pretty close to it! Isaac’s metaphorical crossing over points to the real crossing over in the resurrection of Jesus. As our resurrected Lord, Jesus is the ultimate Hebrew – the one who made the ultimate crossing over from death to life.

Pastor Jason ends his sermon with this admonition: we are Hebrews! In John 5:24, Jesus says that “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” We are Hebrews because we have put our faith in Jesus and have crossed over by God’s grace from death to life! Our hope is the same reality we witness in Jesus: bodily resurrection. But this new resurrection life doesn’t just begin when we die. Look at Jesus’ words in John closely: those who hear and believe have ALREADY crossed over from death to life. The Apostle Paul echoes this idea in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

This is really good news! For one thing, it means that our life of faith is not a test. Our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone – not by works. We have nothing to prove to God; nothing to earn. God’s love for us is pure gift, pure abundance, and entirely unconditional. God loved us first – period.

Of course, we still have work to do! We are empowered by the Spirit of God to live into, live up to, the new creation life God has secured for all creation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s grace is God’s complete acceptance of us but it is also God’s power for living new lives of freedom as partners and co-creators in God’s kingdom. While we have crossed over from death to life, this crossing is not yet complete – not for us individually and certainly not for all creation. We know this intuitively. We all struggle with sin, with believing the lies of the evil one and turning from God. We experience evil and suffering in our own lives and we see it in our world all the time. By faith, we have crossed over from death to life, but God is still in the process of bringing this work to its ultimate fulfillment. Abundant life is coming, and we get to taste it now, but it will not be complete until the day of Christ’s return.

In the in-between time, we are called – just like Abraham and Isaac – to a life of faith. God may not be testing us, but this doesn’t mean we won’t face struggle and pain as we follow Jesus in faith. Just before Paul makes his statement about our new creation life, he says “For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Paul knew by experience that living by faith includes trials, struggling, and “light and momentary afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17). As we follow Jesus as Lord and submit our lives to Him as King, we are up against the “rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11).

Living by sight means living by what we are trained/taught to expect from the dominant voices in our world. It means giving authority to the stories about what “really” matters in life that we hear from advertisers, tv shows, movies, and all other kinds of media. It’s the “vision” of the “good life”, the “American dream” that is embedded in how we practice life and make everyday decisions about how, where, and with whom we spend our time. Living by sight is living the unexamined life, just going with the flow, down the “broad path” Jesus describes in Matthew 7: the one that leads to destruction – not abundant life (Matthew 7:13).

Living by faith is being swept up as actors in God’s story. It is making our purposes align with God’s purposes. It is living as if God’s promises are true and everything else is a lie. Jesus is our perfect model of this life that is attuned to the voice of God’s Spirit: bringing healing, wholeness, and good news to those who trust and believe in him. Jesus makes this “invisible” life of faith “visible” for the world. As God’s people filled with God’s Spirit, we are called to be Christ’s body – to make visible the life of faith founded on God’s story, God’s promises, and God’s kingdom.

Do we know God’s promises? Are we familiar with God’s purposes? Is God’s story authoritative in our lives?  If not, we will live by sight and be deceived and led back to the ways of death, the ways of Egypt. Faith in God alone as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer is life – new, abundant, and restored. We are Hebrews. May we all, as a community of God’s people, follow God’s Spirit out of slavery towards resurrection as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly for the sake of our families, friends, neighbors, community, and world.

Will Campbell on Hope and Discipleship

[Jesus] never demanded of the people who wanted to follow him that they must first know this or that, this creed, or that catechism, the nature of the Trinity or the plan of salvation, or subscribe to an Abstract of Principles to the satisfaction of the Sanhedrin. He had not insisted on any systematic belief whatsoever.

He talked of such things as a cup of cold water. Ah, but we must build a global sprinkler system. And while we are appointing committees and electing boards and creating giant agencies to build the global sprinkler system the one near at hand perishes from dehydration as we pass by on the other side.

The inherent danger in creed, in belief over faith, Edith Hamilton said, is that belief is passive. Faith is active and leads to discipleship. Creed, or belief, simply requires recitation. What’s the point in believing a whale swallowed a man unless we understand that it is a story about justice?

The problem with biblical literalism is that it is biblical illiteracy. The words are known but not the tune. The Bible is a book. A book about who God is. It is not a scientific dissertation to be required in Caesar’s academy. But again I wander.

Where, then, is there hope? If not in institutions, in bigness, in belief, certitude or creed, where is it? In freelance acts of discipleship, I believe. Certainly grace abounds and there is hope.

…There is hope, for there the star of Christmas shines again and there the Star of David glows anew. For there is Immanuel: God with us.

Will Campbell, in remarks given to the Associated Baptist Press in 1994.

A tough word for a seminarian to hear, but a good word nonetheless.

Wilson-Hartgrove on the Challenge of Faith

The challenge of faith isn’t so much to trust God’s promises when we hear them as it is to continue trusting them when it does not appear to our best judgment that they are being fulfilled. Belief is not, in the end, an abstract consideration of whether I think God exists or whether the evidence suggests that Jesus did in fact get up from the grave. It is, instead, a man sitting with his wife, desperate to have a child, listening to the doctor say it is impossible. Faith is that man saying, ‘God can make a way,’ and continuing to live as if he will become the father of many.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice A Common Faith

Simple or Simplistic? Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

[CLICK HERE FOR THE AUDIO]

Morning yall. I’m Joe Davis and I’ve been serving as the pastoral intern here at 6:8 since September. So, as I begin, I’d like to start off with a confession. It’s just something I’ve noticed around 6:8 that has really bothered me. I don’t want to sound mean, but I think it’s my duty to say this. So, here goes: I’m sorry Jason and 6:8 but you just can’t call yourself a real church if you don’t have one of those customizable, changeable letter, marquee church signs! How are supposed to tell Ardmore about Jesus without a weird, corny, simplistic slogan that we change every week??? Just imagine how effective our church would be with a sign like this:

[“Hang out with Jesus. He hung for you”]

Or, how about this one?

[“Jesus will make you happy, happy, happy”]

Still not convinced? I saved the best for last.

[“Life scrambled? Jesus specializes in omelets”]

You know, we’ve been exploring the teaching of Koheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes for the past 11 weeks. Each week we’ve learned something new about what it means to be a wise person. IF we would have had an awesome church sign, we could have put up what we learned each week to remind ourselves, but since we don’t have one, I guess we can just review everything we’ve learned so far.

So, who is the wise person for Koheleth? It’s the one who…

  • surprises us in hopeless situations with the kind of strength that endures, yet is often forgotten
  • embraces all of life and lives in hope
  • has a good name formed in the crucible of life joys and pains
  • invests their resources in the kingdom of God
  • puts limits on desire to find healthy balance
  • lives by promise, not explanation
  • values, sacrifices for & invests in people
  • walks in reliance & faith through life’s seasons
  • understands wisdom as that which makes sense in light of eternity
  • chooses to be happy & does good
  • is not cynical, but hopeful
  • is boldly respectful, full of integrity & obedient to the voice of God

It all seems so simple. Don’t you think? It’s perfect material for a church sign! But, you know, now that I think about, putting this simple wisdom up on a church sign would probably make is seem simplistic, right? But, what’s the difference? What separates simple from simplistic? Good question.

We say something is “simple” when it’s plain, ordinary, easy to understand, clear, or profound. Truth is simple. We say something is “simplistic” when an idea is dumbed down, or an issue is trivialized, when the core of a problem is being avoided. A simplistic response gives the appearance of simplicity by ignoring the complex reality of the situation.

Church signs are almost always simplistic. Compare those signs we saw to the words of “Amazing Grace”: “twas Grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved… twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” Simple, profound, beautiful, truth. I don’t think this needs much explanation. The difference between simple and simplistic seems pretty clear.

Leonardo da Vinci described simplicity as “the ultimate sophistication.” Walt Whitman called it “the glory of expression.” Jesus calls us to have the simple faith of a child (Luke 17:18). Simple; not simplistic. I think we’re pretty good at detecting the difference most of the time. But what about this wisdom from Ecclesiastes? Is it simplistic? Or simple? That’s our question this morning.

Our text today is found at the very end of Ecclesiastes. Listen and follow along as I read Ecclesiastes 12:9-14: “Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

This passage is known as the epilogue to Ecclesiastes. It refers to Koheleth in the third person, while the rest of the book – except for the very first verse – refers to him in first person. That lets us know that these verses were not written by Koheleth, but by a later author – maybe even two different authors. We’re gonna look at this passage in two sections: verses 9-11 and then verses 12-14. To begin, we’ll take a brief look at the first section, v9-11, and then focus a little more on the second part, v12-14.

In verses 9-11, Koheleth is affirmed and endorsed as a trusted, wise sage. The author says that his wisdom is the real stuff; both pleasing and truthful, artistic and good for instruction. He uses images from animal husbandry to let the reader know that wisdom stings. It mentions a “goad,” which is like a cattle prod, and the reference to “nails” is probably talking about a stick with nails at the end for herding animals. Not exactly a fun image.

In verses 12-14, it gets really interesting. It’s basically saying, “Well, here’s all you need to know about Koheleth and his wisdom in a nice bite-sized, bumper sticker-church sign slogan!” We’ve spent 11 weeks talking on and on about this stuff and it all boils down to these 6 words: “Fear God and keep his commandments.” Really? If I were the Jewish student who just sat through weeks (months?) of learning all of Koheleth’s strange, grumpy teachings, I’m gonna be a little frustrated when I come to this verse. “This is Judaism 101! Of course we fear God and keep his commandments! What else is new! Why didn’t you tell me it was gonna to end this way!?!”

It’s so simple. Or, is it simplistic? Most commentators point out that this teaching does not sound like something that Koheleth would say. At no point in Ecclesiastes does Koheleth link the fear of God to the keeping of God’s commandments. You know, Koheleth was a unique guy. One commentator I read described him as one who had “pitched his tent at the far edges of the camp,” meaning that Koheleth’s message was “on the extreme edges of ordinary biblical teachings.” Koheleth says some weird stuff unlike anything else found in the Bible. In light of the radical nature of Koheleth’s teaching, the thinking goes that verses 12-14 were added to intentionally smooth off those uncomfortable, “unauthorized” edges of Koheleth’s hard-to-swallow wisdom. Not that these verses contradict or undermine his teaching; they just reign it in and anchor it in the stream of traditional Old Testament thought. It tightens the ropes on Koheleth’s tent pegs to make sure he stays within the mainstream camp, even if he’s still on the edge a bit. So, is this summary teaching – “Fear God and keep his commandments” – just a simplistic gloss, that tidies up all of Koheleth’s complex, uncomfortable, untraditional, sometimes jarring questions so we can ignore them and move on? Or is it a simple, clear-eyed, profound distillation of Koheleth’s wisdom that should guide us on our own journeys?

The answer? Well, I think it depends. Let’s go back to verses 9-10. They say, “Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.” These verses are a ringing endorsement of Koheleth’s wisdom and teaching. But there is something implied here we must be careful not to miss, here it is: this wisdom did not fall from the sky, it was not written in a day, and it’s not a bunch of easy, shallow answers to life’s tough questions. Rather, it is wisdom forged in the fire of intellectual struggle, through repeated crises of faith. It is the end result of a quest for truth, for making sense of the world, a lifelong process of observing, wrestling, and questioning. This guy did the work, he put in the hours, and he found pleasing, truthful words.

What we need to know about Koheleth is that he is “the most real of the realist” of Biblical authors. He is the one “least comfortable with conventional wisdom, and the most willing to challenge its unexamined assumptions.”[1] Let that sink in. Koheleth is a sage; he writes wisdom. Wisdom literature in the Bible is not necessarily about God in the proper sense. It’s more about a human response to the words and acts of God and God’s creation. The books of Job and Proverbs and some Psalms fit into this category. Wisdom writers tried to make sense of life based on observation and practical experience in order to guide human beings into the path of successful living. Sages were about right being and doing – not just about right thinking.

Koheleth doesn’t pull any punches. He’s got real questions and he doesn’t pretend like he has all the answers. In Ecclesiastes 11:5, he admits to feeling a great deal of mystery concerning God: “Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.” Wow, what an image. Do you know how “the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb”? For Koheleth, knowing the works of God are even beyond that; God is mysterious, fearful for Koheleth. But, he keeps believing and keeps up his search for wisdom even with his uncertainty and his questions. He has a Hebrews 11 kind of faith; he was sure of what he hoped for and certain of things he did not see.

Koheleth doesn’t give up on God. Yes, what happens in this world may seem meaningless, but God holds us all responsible for following our hearts and eyes to find happiness. Throughout his teaching, we hear seven calls to enjoy life and rejoice in the good gifts God has given.[2] Yes, God is mysteriously sovereign, but God is also the giver of gifts that make life joyful. If Ecclesiastes were a song, Koheleth’s repeated cries of “Meaningless! Meaningless!” would be like the bass line, but the melody would be joy! And in any song, it’s the melody carries the theme – not the bass line. Verses 9-11 confirm that Koheleth perseveres through his trials and all his deep, vexing questions about life and God. He not only perseveres, he “counts it all joy” as James would say in the New Testament.[3]

So, back to our question on this teaching: “fear God and keep his commandments.” Is it a clear, profound, and simple teaching or a misleading, shallow, and simplistic slogan? Well, when we consider Koheleth’s life, we see that this teaching is not simplistic at all. He goes through the fire and his faith is refined. He didn’t back down on the hard questions. He wasn’t satisfied with any simplistic answers he was given. He didn’t gloss over the complexities of life. He faced them head on. He stayed the course. At the end of his journey, this is the simple wisdom that has sustained him: he feared God and kept his commandments and found that this path led to a fulfilled, joyful life. “Fear God and keep his commandments” is simply true and not simplistic because Koheleth lives it.

But that’s Koheleth. What about us? We’re obviously in a different situation; our journey is ongoing. We’re still in the thick of it. The ball is in our court. The jury is still out. Will “fear God and keep his commandments” be a bumper sticker for our lives? Just another simplistic slogan we memorize to make ourselves feel better? That’s one choice. I hope we don’t choose it.

Koheleth’s lifelong journey towards wisdom in Ecclesiastes shows us another way. When we live our faith like Koheleth, “Fear God and keep his commandments” can become the foundational, profound, simple truth of our lives as well. Will it be hard? Of course. We’ll be searching for deeper understanding and doing lots of practice, which means that we’ll probably get it wrong on a regular basis. Remember that image of the goad, the cattle prod? Wisdom is about guiding us, prodding us, out into the world where we experience all that it means to be human: joy, pain, sadness, grief, grace, love, forgiveness, and peace. In these experiences with God and each other, we inevitably run into some tough questions; some that may shake us to the core.

Have we really examined ourselves – as both good and sinful? What is the ground of our faith? Do we know why we’re here worshiping this morning? Who is this God we sing and pray to? Has our faith become simplistic? Are our eyes open to the reality of suffering and injustice or do we cover our ears and close our eyes to escape the pain? These are hard questions. I don’t mean to belittle anyone by asking them. These are questions I’m trying to ask myself, too. If these questions are new for you, that’s ok. If you’ve been ignoring them, that’s ok too. It is a scary process. We may come to different answers, we may get hurt a little along the way, but these are the kinds of questions we need to engage if we’re to follow Koheleth’s wise path.

Many of you probably know that today is Palm Sunday, which means Easter is next week, and we’d well to remember the story. This is the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The city is full of excitement for the Passover feast. Then, Jesus arrives – on a donkey! People say he’s the Messiah! The crowds gather and shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people of Jerusalem – the disciples even! – thought they knew Jesus. They thought they knew what the Messiah would do. Everyone had their expectations; many felt sure that he would overthrow the Roman rule and liberate them. But, they were all very, very wrong. By the end of the week, their shouts of “Hosanna!” had turned into “Crucify!” How does this happen? What allows a person to shout “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify!” on Friday? I think at least one major component is an unexamined faith built on simplistic slogans that we “know” in our heads but do not live out, and test, and refine in the everyday experiences of our life together.

Fear God and keep his commandments. Is it simple? Or simplistic? That depends on our response. As we submit ourselves to the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit, here’s a few things we should keep in mind about this teaching.

First, the word “and” doesn’t quite capture the depth of the connection between what it means “fear God” and “keep his commandments.” It makes it seem like you could have one without the other. However, the fear of God is evidenced by the doing of God’s commandments. But, can you really do God’s commandments without fearing God? Maybe you could for a while, but it probably wouldn’t last. The only person who can really do God’s commandments in a meaningful, sustained way is the person who fears God. You can’t separate the “doing” from the “being.” You can’t be a person who fears God without doing God’s commands and you can’t really do God’s commands without being a person who fears God. The “whole duty of everyone” is both “being” people who fear God and “doing” God’s commandments – all at the same time. We have to remember that our being and our doing are intimately connected; one necessarily affects the other.

As Westerners, we naturally focus on the “doing” part. We like “action steps.” So, we should probably begin with the “being” part. How do we begin to be people who “fear God”? Well, I mentioned earlier that this teaching was added in order to integrate Ecclesiastes into a more traditional, mainstream understanding of Old Testament faith. As it turns out, this teaching is almost literally straight out of Deuteronomy. When God rescued Israel from Egypt, God made a covenant, a deeply binding promise, with them. This covenant had laws attached to it that Israel agreed to abide by. They would be God-fearing people by “doing” the commandments contained in the covenant. In the context of a covenant relationship, “fear of God” is about loyalty to the covenant; it is the same as “love” and “service” and ultimately, it’s about worship. This is not the fear that creates distance, but the love that keeps us together in covenanted community. Of course, Israel didn’t live within the covenant. They failed again and again, but God remained faithful. Then, in Jesus Christ, God showed his great faithfulness once and for all. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God invites all people into a new covenant life through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have been included in a new promise.

Now, it’s important to remember that God’s promises were with a people – not with individuals. We are called to live today as the body of Christ; many members, but one body. So how do we become people who fear God? We start by living in covenant, in promise, with each other. We call this community. It happens as we look each other eye to eye and confess our need for one another, that we’re in this together, that God has chosen us to be his people, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that we might proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[4]. We can’t become people who fear God on our own because loving, serving, and worshiping God is impossible outside of a covenanted promise with God and with other people. God has called us to be a people who make and keep promises to each other. Praise God! Our promises are not dependent on our own faithfulness, but on the power of our God who is always faithful. Will we break our promises? Sure, but God is ready to forgive us. We must be ready to forgive each other as well as we do God’s commands with “fear and trembling”[5] together in community. Is it simple? Yes. Is it easy? Nope.

I think the “doing” part is actually a little easier to wrap our heads around. When this teaching about doing God’s commandments was written, it would have referred to the Mosaic law found throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Since we unfortunately don’t have time to look through all those wonderful books of the Bible, we’ll just use one of Jesus’ statements. When someone asked him what the greatest commandment was, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[6] Only a person who fears God would do this command. Is it simple? Yes. Easy? No, not at all.

As we come to close, we need to recognize that we’re all at different places in our journey with God and with each other. If you come out to the Ignite class after church on April 8th, Lindley will be teaching you a very helpful model for how to understand the spiritual journey. According to this model, some of us are just in awe of God right now and soaking it all in, others are wanting to learn all they can, still others are leaders and teachers. Then there are some who have left leadership behind for a more inward journey, a few may feel like they’ve hit a wall – I think Koheleth hit lots of walls – but there could be some, who, like Koheleth, have made it through the wall and have been made new, who feel God’s love like never before and only want to serve God and others with all that they are.

Wherever we are on this journey, Koheleth’s life gives us a sure sign to guide us: fear God and keep his commandments. Our personal responses will not be the same, but they should all be pointing in this same direction. Will this be the simple truth that under girds our life of active faith lived out as a community in Ardmore, Havertown, and beyond? This is our whole duty. In the power of Holy Spirit, let’s be it; let’s do it – together.


[1] New Interpreter’s Bible Old Testament Survey, “Ecclesiastes,” 249.

[2] Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:8-12:1.

[3] James Limburg, Encountering Ecclesiastes: A Book for Our Time, 132-136.

[4] 1 Peter 2:9-10, NRSV.

[5] Philippians 2:12.

[6] Matthew 22:37-40.

Discipleship is Imitation

I’ve been blogging regularly now over at the 6:8 Community Church blog for the past few weeks, so I thought I would re-post some thoughts from this week. I was thinking about leadership and discipleship in light of Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Here’s my conclusion on the matter:

In summary, let’s identify the leaders in our lives. If we can’t, we need to think about who that could be and seek that person out. Let’s remember our leaders by taking the time to be with them so we can get to know the “outcome of their way of life.” Let’s get to know what drives them and consider what it would mean for us to be driven by those same things. Leaders, what is your vision? Take some time to reflect on that this week. How are you living out of that vision? Further, who can you begin sharing this vision with on a deeper level?

I think the words of Jesus in Matthew 6, verse 33, are appropriate as we all consider what it means to be disciples and leaders: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our vision is God’s vision: the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. What is your role in that vision? How are you growing into the person God has called you to be in the Kingdom? How are you leading others to seek the Kingdom above all else?

If you wanna hear more, just click here to head on over to the complete post on the 6:8 blog.