I'm reading and talking about New Testament Christianity by J.B. Phillips. The book Your God is Too Small is also a book worth reading and pondering especially in the context of working with children and youth. It forces us to take a second look at how we see God.
In New Testament Christianity, Phillips is looking at the New Testament and the early church, exploring themes he saw as he translated - surprisingly appropriate for the Christmas season. The nature and purpose of the God of the scriptures and His untainted Word are at the heart of his commentary.
His book isn't a how-to but he draws attention to mega-themes that effect how we think. He talks about God historically visiting a tiny dot in the universe for which we should be eternally humbled and grateful. He talks about faith as a muscle, the bridge between God's reality and our own reality - the reality of living in a physical, social, cognitive world. He talks about faith based on fact.
Then he talks about hope; not hope as wishful thinking or "pious hope" but again, hope based on fact, work, and God's realities. Faith and hope, as he describes them, are based on what is real and true of God's nature and God's purpose, even if we don't know or understand what that purpose is.
He briefly touches the historical context of the New Testament; how brightly the faith and hope of the early Christians shined in such a dark culture. At one point he says, "To the pagan mind to take a man's life was to take his all, but to attack Christians by sword, torture, or the atrocities of the arena was to invite defeat. Even if you killed them they slipped through your fingers to be with their Lord for ever!" ( pg 48) I've read Eusebius. The historic account of the early church is incredulous - humbling and inspiring.
He ventures to say that the New Testament is more about faith than depravity. He shares brilliant metaphors to explain how he understands the relationship between faith, hope, our actions, and God's. He ventures to explore the challenge of living in the world but not of the world - holding to the realities of both the physical and the spiritual (living, working, believing) knowing we're being prepared for the latter.
More to come. I'm about halfway through.
Why do these tiny adult books matter if I'm working with children? Children start off with a faith, hope, and love uncharacteristic of most adults. We are given charge (parents, teachers, friends, family) to nurture faith muscles, hope muscles, and the muscles of godly love. In order to set children up to succeed, they have to learn how to tap into the God of the Universe as revealed through Christ Jesus and His Holy Spirit in their day to day life. God help us if we give them what is counterfeit and set them up to fail.
Sometimes we get so caught up in things that don't matter that we miss what really does matter. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:13.
The scriptures tell us of true faith, hope, love founded on the reality of Who God is and His own eternal purpose. We have an obligation to tend and grow what is true to the God of the scriptures - faith, hope, love that will last a lifetime and beyond, not counterfeits that can't stand up to life in this world. Can I tell you where the lines are? No, I've just started pondering this.
How did the early church know they were on target? Their faith, hope, and love stood the test of the world they lived in. God's reality became their reality. Their eyes were always on the Father and their lives and actions reflected that love in tangeable ways that even the world could see. They were different. The God of Creation, the God of the Universe, walked with them.