pray in secret

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:5-6

It’s encouraging to be told by someone that they are praying for you. Usually such people really take prayer seriously and faithfully practice it. Of course on media such thoughts can at least seem cheap. Which is why we need to follow through, and I would think, most people do.

To actually be prayed for is a blessing. And to be praying for others. If we’re concerned that others know about our prayer life, their knowing might be our only reward, as our Lord tells us in the above passage. If there’s one thing we should do above anything else, as far as an act goes, it should be praying.  But if we want others to know about our prayer life, then we don’t have the heart of prayer God wants. Part of that heart is a broken and contrite spirit, acknowledging our faults including the desire to be seen and noticed at times, so that people might look up to us.

The heart in prayer God wants is that prayer might be our life breath, but also as utterances throughout the day, and on special occasions. As well as having a heart to listen to whatever God might be saying to us. And with the desire not to be noticed, but for God’s blessing on others to God’s praise. In and through Jesus.

what desires in us are temptations to sin?

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved.

James 1:12-16

When we read the above passage, or think of temptation in general, it seems to me that most of us, at least myself, generally think of sexual temptations. And there’s no doubt that’s a strong impulse in us as humans, ripe for deception and sin. But when you look at all of James along with the rest of the Bible, including the temptations of our Lord, we find all kinds of different harmful things we can fall into.

James 4 notes the coveting which can take place and cause disputes and dissensions. We want our own way, or we think others need to bend and conform to our wishes or expectations. And 1 John refers to “the pride in riches” along with the “desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes.” Really it is anything which violates love for God shown in love for our neighbor, even including love for our enemies. Whatever does not conform to Christ and likeness to him.

All temptations should be included in our minds when we read the above passage. So that we might see and reject all that is wrong in us, that our desires would be refined and changed. In and through Jesus.

hit unexpectedly

To the leader. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
“Flee like a bird to the mountains;
for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 11

When I was a boy, I used to root for the Cincinnati Reds, “the Big Red Machine.” Unfortunately they moved out of cozy Crosley Field into Riverfront Stadium, and I think maybe lost something of the edge they had just over that. Such stadiums were fashionable in those days, all the dimensions being the same, you might arguably say, having no distinct personality. I remember when games were being played around 5:30 in the afternoon or so, baseballs from the pitcher would be flying out of the sun into the shadows at home plate, so that the batter had a harder time picking up the spin of the ball. The ball would almost as it were, like disappear, certainly diminished, much harder to hit.

That reminds me of what is going on in this psalm when the wicked shoot from the shadows, actually in the dark at the upright in heart. I take the wicked today to mean spiritual enemies, though they often do their work through humans, particularly authorities, or those who imagine themselves as such. We should expect that in this life.

The answer in the psalm is God’s presence, intervention and love. And the fact that God sees through everything clearly. And that includes the righteous, so that we will have to adjust ourselves and hopefully through that, be changed along the way, albeit gradual, incremental change which often is hard for us to see.

That is part of what we will experience in this life. But we have the Lord with us to protect us, and see us through all of it. With the word that God will take care of it. In and through Jesus.

just keep on trusting

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

“Keep on trucking” is an idiom to encourage people to go on with what they’re doing. Or a friend tells me and I think others at times: “Press on.” Here’s perhaps a more difficult one, because while we need to do it, our dependence is not on ourselves.

We’re told to trust in the Lord, to trust in God with all our heart. What does that mean? What does that look like? I think it means through thick and thin, whatever we’re experiencing, however down we may feel, whatever challenges we’re encountering, whatever discouraging thoughts come our way, we’re to trust, trust, and just keep on trusting in the Lord. Trusting in God’s words to us in Scripture. When we sense God’s voice speaking into our lives.

What does it mean to do this with all one’s heart? Who doesn’t love it when emotions rise, and we’re moved to do such and such? Depending on what it is, at least being moved means that we’re deeply touched, maybe to the core of our beings, perhaps entering into the suffering of others, or feeling the evil of injustice, anger rising in us. But feelings come and go. I doubt that such really effects much change.

How I prefer to see trusting in the Lord with all one’s heart is the idea of putting one’s self entirely into something. Not halfway, not three-quarters of the way. All the way, no holding back. What does that look like in terms of trust, and specifically, trusting God? I’m not sure. It involves experience, yes, but has to go deeper than that. It has to become a habit of our lives, what we do, and work into our very beings, so that is becoming more and more who we are. People who trust in God with no reservations. The Lord will help us. Remember the plea in the gospels: “Lord, I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

Part of what we aspire to in and through Jesus.

the heresy of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light….

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

1 Peter 2:9, 13-17

We are beset and besieged by a Christian nationalism which though present from the inception of the United States, is now bearing its full fruit.

Christian nationalism plain and simply is pure heresy. Heresy has to do with wrong theology and the wrong practice which results from that. And Christian nationalism at its core is idolatry. It doesn’t matter how it expresses itself, or who or what party is in power. When we see it as sacred so that it has God’s imprimatur or signature so to speak written on it, then we’ve entered into profane space, bringing into what’s sacred and of God’s kingdom something which is only provisional and subject to God’s judgment.

What is especially egregious about the present expression of this heresy is actually nothing new, but it seems especially rampant and endemic now. I speak sadly about its presence set in evangelical circles, but also found in other churches such as mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic. An easy manifestation of its likely presence is when an American flag is in a church building with a Christian flag.

We must never ever give what is provisional sacred status as if it somehow is part of God’s reign and kingdom in Christ. And yet that is what many do when they equate the sacrifice for the nation to be like Christ’s sacrifice for the world. Or see the nation in its founding as pure good and pure light, and as some ideal it is called to live up to.

We can and should appreciate the good that we find in any and every nation. The ideal within the United States that “all men are created equal” should be something appreciated, which we should hold up as a goal for which this nation should aspire. While we can appreciate all the good, we must not have a blind eye for what is not good, no matter where that may be found.

And more to the point of the post: We must never invest in what is not sacred, the thought that somehow it is. That God is on our side, or at least on the side of the United States as it was formed in the beginning. And yet this is what Christians did back then, and continue to do to this day. And that is blasphemy.

“You will know them or whatever it might be by its fruits.” Heresies often have the same effect as cults in the present day understanding of what cult means. It has a choke hold which won’t let go, no matter what the result. And as we see in the present day, the result is far from pretty or good.

To follow Christ together as church in God’s kingdom present now by the Spirit is something completely different, even antithetical to that. It is an existence of love for all, even for our enemies, just as Jesus taught. With the knowledge that there is only one holy nation and sacred kingdom. That of God in Christ. Only one Lord to whom belongs our allegiance. One word which we follow: The good news in our Lord and Savior, Jesus. In and through Jesus.

Season after Pentecost: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Proverbs 1:20-33

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

James 3:1-12

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

Revised Common Lectionary

the priority of the unity of the body of Christ, the church

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours

1 Corinthians 1:2

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

A priority which ought to mark every church is the desire for unity among all of God’s people in Christ, among all the churches. This is a difficult task since so many churches are given to an independent mindset with more or less the idea that only churches of their kind are truly Christian, or at least are the most sound and authentic to the Christian faith. That plays right into the hands of the spiritual enemy, actually coming from its hands as well.

A church is not worth its salt which fails to make unity within its own congregation a priority, and makes expression of the unity all have in Christ a priority as well. Decades back, ecumenical for me was a dirty word. Instead, we ought to downplay our differences as much as possible, and highlight our agreement, indeed our oneness in Christ. I would think on the ground that means churches should participate in ecumenical associations: Protestants with Catholics with Mennonites with Baptists with Pentecostals with the Orthodox and so on. 

The cosmic powers of this present darkness along with sin, death and “the flesh” are out to divide and destroy. Christ by the Spirit is present to redeem, save and heal. We can hopefully learn to appreciate our differences as distinctives to be brought into the whole. Yes, we have our different theologies, and that often seems to make the push for unity strange at best, and certainly strained and sometimes it can make it seem worse than that. But we can learn much from each other if we can look past our differences. Without thinking we have to be in complete agreement. It is only in and through Christ that complete unity will be found, and completely so at his return. Until then we’re to seek to find unity where it may be found by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

Especially the first sentence of the last paragraph was written under the influence of Tim Gombis’s excellent book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry. My application of that, so that what is amiss here cannot be blamed on Tim.

the joy of meditating on (even memorizing) Scripture

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

Meditating on Scripture is given to us from God to help us begin to see God’s will revealed to us in Jesus. The word translated “meditate” means to recite (see CEB in above link) to oneself. This may seem wooden, dead, and without God it would be. But the words somehow become alive, at least in many parts of Scripture, really in every part as we read, ponder, pray, and study, and keep doing that.

Scripture has all we need for every part of life. It is not exhaustive in actual needed information, like how to build an house, etc., etc., etc. But it does give us all we need to know how to approach such projects, along with problems and all of life.

We need to be in Scripture all the time, day after day, in the words of this psalm: “day and night.” It is what we practice: whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re going through, whatever we’re experiencing. We continue on, and find that while the words are often instructive in themselves, they ultimately lead us to Jesus, who is God’s most important Word, and in whom all the words of Scripture find their true meaning and fulfillment, even if in some cases setting them aside for the better which Jesus brings.

Memorizing chunks of Scripture can be quite helpful in this endeavor. Not just a verse here and there, though that might be helpful, too. But much better, understand the context, and memorize that too. This can help us meditate, recite to ourselves so that God can get through to us.

And so we’re to remain in Scripture: meditating, reciting, indeed finding ourselves somehow in that story from God. In and through Jesus.

what should be at the heart of being “a Christian?”

…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

I really ought not to presume that I can say what is at the heart of being a Christian, what that essentially means. Of course it involves so much, at the center (or heart), entering the life and worship of the Triune God. But to boil it down, just what does it mean for us on the ground who have to live in a world either not familiar with this special grace, or even being opposed to it? At least having to live in the same kind of world in which Christ lived.

The heart of being a Christian on the ground, in this life surely amounts to simply seeking with others to follow Christ, to imitate Christ, to be like him. Of course this involves a process, and prior to that a commitment to do so. All the teachings, sacraments and ordinances are to that end.

It is not a matter of simply having assurance that one’s sins are forgiven, and that someday they will be in heaven. Understood correctly, that is part of it. But too often people see Christianity as just a means to a future salvation, without sufficiently realizing what is at the heart of that salvation for the present. Of course based on what Christ accomplished for our salvation in the past. But this salvation is very much present as well as future, and involves salvation not only from our sins, but from our old selves, into the new person in Christ, partaking of Christ’s very nature and life. And that involves a participation together in which God is conforming us to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:15).

For myself, I just realize how far short I fall. But I also realize that the Spirit is indeed at work, partly with giving me something of that realization, though some of that is my own thinking in ways that are not helpful, and certainly not given by God. We simply need to be aware that being a Christian means being a follower of Christ, along with other followers. Something I hope to be day after day. With others. In and through Jesus.

work at praying

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:18

This is in the classic spiritual warfare passage, but doing what that passage directs is not supposed to be just on special occasions or situations that call for it, but ongoing, regularly, we might say daily. And though it’s to be done “in the Spirit,” we can see from “keep alert” and “always persevere” that it requires work.

It would be nice if we could just step in and do it, and I think in a certain sense that can happen, God encouraging us as a result. But for this to become a practice of our lives day in and day out will require long term commitment, effort, and growth on our part. To have the intent is necessary, but it’s the follow through which often falls through.  We shouldn’t despair because that will happen, but see that as a wake up call to pray.

I think this goes beyond lifting up others to God once a day, or maybe even more, though that’s good and needed. What we need to learn is what wrestling in prayer for someone and for all of God’s people looks like. If we’re ready to learn, God will surely teach us. I write this as a novice at best in this. But wanting to grow and find my way into some space in this way, some fixed place of significant, ongoing practice. In and through Jesus.