encouraging one another in our faith

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Hebrews 3:13

The word translated “encourage” in the NIV might better be translated “exhort” (as in the NRSV) except for the fact that we don’t use that word today. “Warn” (NLT) fits the context, yet might be too strong. And there’s another Greek word which means to warn or instruct. Perhaps a good rendering might be to “strongly encourage.” (See Bill Mounce to consider that word in the New Testament transliterated parakaleo.)

The book of Hebrews was not written to us, but is definitely for us. It was for a group of either Jewish believers, or believers who as Gentiles had previously been God-fearers in Judaism, now under pressure, being persecuted for their faith (at least the beginnings of it), and tempted to go back to Judaism. But no one should think they are signed, sealed and delivered, as to their faith. We need according to the text, daily encouragement, mutual encouragement in our faith (Romans), but also some pointed loving words, to help us stay on track. When we see faith in others which encourages us, we should let them know, so that they might be encouraged by what we see.

The nature of scripture is– what had application for others, now has application for us. We have to consider the writings in their original context, but we must look at it in our setting, circumstances, and situation of life, as well. There has to be a measure of contextualization. But in that process, we have to be careful not to think that their needs were different than ours. At the heart of it, the need is the same. Wherever we find ourselves, or more precisely in this context, others, we need to take this seriously, and apply it to our lives. We need each other in Jesus to help us along, especially through the most difficult and potentially dangerous times. To not turn back, or drift away, but go on in Jesus toward full maturity in him. To the very end.

the beauty and brokenness of life

We see everywhere both the wonder and brokenness of life. There is something wonderful about our world, even about us. And yet there’s something broken as well, that needs fixed. Beauty and brokenness all around us, yes, even in our midst, and within us.

We can get so used to it, that we live in it without much complaint, but bearing its weight. This reminds me of Jesus’s healing of a woman:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

And it also reminds me of the prayer the Lord taught us to pray, this part:

Our Father in heaven…
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10

So we live in a beautiful, yet broken world. And the promise in Jesus is both for the present and the future: this present existence, and the life to come. So that we want to pray and work against the brokenness present now, especially the worst of it. I think of slave trade, ongoing injustice against African Americans and against other people in other places, abortion, etc., etc. There are hands on practical ways in which we can help. And of course the ultimate answer is in Jesus, and God’s good news in him.

May God help us see where this healing can take take place now and what place we can have in that, and may we hold on to the hope of the ultimate healing to come, when heaven and earth become one at Jesus’s return, in and through Jesus.

running a marathon

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

I’m in a particular work situation with quite long hours, but less days per week as a rule. It is not something I’m easily catching on to, nor even want to take on. But with the minor car accident I was in last year, the recent speeding infraction going what I believe is the correct speed limit, but at the wrong time (I didn’t see the lights flashing), it seems that God has me on an agenda to slow down, and even relax where I can.

Much of my work is not really conducive to relaxing. It requires a degree of ability, plenty of discipline in perseverance, and attention to detail. In some ways that reminds me of something I’ve never done myself, but have to take second hand from others: running a marathon (42.195 kilometers, which equals 26 miles 385 yards). I think I could train and do it, though I don’t think I want to, and at my age it’s probably not the best idea, unless I would do it wisely, and perhaps keep doing it. But I’m realizing as I face a number of upcoming weeks with an extra work day, that I need to take it on as a marathon, and less as a sprint, or with sprints along the way. I want to be relaxed about the entire endeavor, insofar as that’s possible.

And that is a part of my life, and therefore something God must be using to help me better find my way in his way. I could name at least another change or two in my life lately, suggestive in the same way. The context to the passage above on running the race focuses on Jesus’s suffering, and therefore our identification with him in that before the world, as the writer to the Hebrews was trying to make clear to the recipients of this letter (and see what follows in the writer’s counsel to them). Hebrews 11 as marked in our Bibles is part of the context of this passage as well. That cites certain actions of Old Testament saints (of course we in and through Jesus are all saints, marked out as God’s holy people), and in the case of Abraham points to a number of actions which had come to characterize his life. So including my work situation into the mix of the larger picture, I think is surely apt.

I must proceed by faith: “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And to do so according to God’s specified program, which is a matter of God’s revealed will found in scripture in and through Jesus and the good news in him. We never know what a year, a season, a month, a week, and for that matter, a day might bring forth. But we need to try to take life in stride as much as possible, in the context of the full run we’re called to in Jesus.

We’re to run this race marked out before us with endurance and perseverance, getting rid of anything which is a hindrance in doing so. And we’re to do that, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, especially marked by his suffering and death on the cross. So that whatever comes our way, we can be ready. Realizing that sinners will oppose us along the way, and that God’s loving hand of discipline is necessarily on us as well, to make us holy, that we might share in God’s holiness.

All of this is not easy, but I’m trying to get into the rhythm of being able to get my necessary stride, so that in all of this I can grow together with others in God’s calling for us in Jesus, run the race God has marked out for me, and finish well, along with others in and through Jesus.

training for godliness

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7-8

The Bible teaches us that we are born in sin. And that therefore it is just natural to us that something is wrong, and that we are wrong ourselves. Although given the entire story of scripture, it is not naturally human, but tends toward being inhumane. Our humanity recovered in and through the one true human of creation, in whose image we’re remade in the new creation: Jesus.

It is true that when we’re older, what we are has been developed through many days, months, years, even piling into decades of choices. Amidst that there  are hopefully adjustments along the way for needed change, which by the way in themselves are not snap of the finger creations. Usually it takes us awhile to slide into bad habits, and only good habits practiced awhile will get us out of them. A change of heart is always involved, so that we end up in the long run having a new desire entirely, and don’t want to do what we wanted to do before. But before we get there, we likely will have to engage ourselves in some rigorous training, which will involve disciplining ourselves to do what we are not prone to do, and to avoid what we would do, left to ourselves. The self-control which is part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit in our lives, the heart of which is love, and is actually relational (see Galatians 5) figures in prominently here.

I believe it all begins with God’s word, scripture, and with the gospel. We meditate on that, and take it to heart and life. And we make no compromises with sin. And when we do sin, we confess it, and hold on in faith to get God’s help and victory over it. And we make repentance and change of life an ongoing part of our faith, and of growing up together with others toward full maturity in Christ, and therefore full Christian maturity.

We have to be intentional about this, and remember it’s all in the context of love for God and for others. It’s not meant to be lived in a vacuum, and yet there is the aspect of it that is between ourselves and God. But it never ends there. God insists that it is also between ourselves and others. And in the context of the passage quoted above, a pastoral letter, it is about Timothy’s relationship to his congregation of believers and followers of Christ, and how he is to lead them as a pastor. He is to be an example himself, so that they not only learn from his words, but also from his life. And part of that example is the pastor’s commitment to train for godliness, to be in that process. Not having arrived in the sense of God’s work being finished, but stable in a number of ways in the change that God brings in and through Christ.

Christian meditation

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

In the Christianity Today edition on Billy Graham’s life, there is a most interesting article on his devotional life, or as Evangelicals call it, “devotions,” or “quiet time.” It is aptly entitled: “An Intentional Intimacy” with the subtitle: “Billy Graham kept the focus on God at all times. How did he do it?”

I’ve done some quiet times which were marked by God’s presence, and used to practice that to some extent, but by and large over my Christian life, I’ve really not been much of one to have a “quiet time” with God each day, or have “personal devotions.” My own way of doing something of the same thing was more to be in the word by listening to it being read over the years, and having my own copy of scripture close at hand. Now I try to be in the word in a number of ways throughout the day as much as possible. But I think I haven’t done as well as I could have in making it more personal between myself and God. Too often it is more or less just cramming a lot of scripture in my head. Since it’s God’s word, that can be good because it’s alive and active and brings needed judgment and correction to us, along with salvation. But there’s also the danger of not acting on what we know or profess, so that we are living in a measure of deception. And in becoming proud over what we think we know, over our head knowledge. But if we press on in scripture, and really ponder it before God, we should remain humble because of its depth, and the realization it gives of just how much we actually don’t know, along with how dependent on God we actually are.

Christian meditation can include tradition and experience, but is primarily marked by pondering the words of scripture, and the message found in it. There’s surely some importance in doing the former, but it is all necessarily based on the latter.

We are blessed, or truly happy, as we learn to meditate on God’s word day and night, giving both our attention, and our lives to it, in devotion to God and God’s will, in and through Jesus.

Billy Graham: a faithful servant of Christ

Christianity Today has an excellent issue on the life of Billy Graham. I consider it a must read even if you’re just into US history, because of his often intimate relationship with twelve US presidents. And all the more so if you’re a Christian, especially with spiritual roots in God’s working through Billy’s ministry.

Between my mother’s witness and prayers, and the preaching of Billy Graham, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction of sin and conversion of life through the new birth. And I am indebted to the ministry of the Mennonite church I was raised in, as well. I used to not want to hear Billy’s preaching, and yet I was captivated by it. I came to Christ, committing my life to God because of his death on the cross on that October afternoon in the milk bottle wash room at the dairy. And I more or less knew then, and know even more now the powerful impact of Billy’s preaching of the gospel on my life through the work of the Holy Spirit.

If Billy was active in ministry today, as he was for decades, you can be sure that he would not be known as either a Republican or  Democrat, liberal or conservative. And fundamentalist churches of varying degrees refused to participate in his campaigns because he would partner with Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. I remember all of that well. I believe Billy was right, and we have good fruit from that, as well as other roots contributing to God’s work in that, I think of the writings of Karl Barth, and the Second Vatican Council.

I am thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. And I look forward to meeting him someday. Until then, we want to press on by the same Holy Spirit, and be faithful to Christ and to the gospel, to the very end. In and through Jesus.

thinking God’s thoughts after him

I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.

Johannes Kepler

I love this thought attributed to this German mathematician and astronomer, even theologian, “a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution” (see Wikipedia article). Here is what he wrote where the above quote might have come from, although I don’t think that lessens its thought:

Those laws [of nature] are within the grasp of the human mind; God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.

Kepler’s Christianity

I know for myself, I can easily become confused in my own thoughts, although I have long since abandoned any belief in their benefit, except insofar as they are latching onto, and derived from God’s thoughts. And where can we find his thoughts except both in the book of nature (general revelation) and in the book of scripture, called God’s written word (special revelation). Not to say that we can’t find something of them even in humans who don’t acknowledge or know God, since they are created in God’s image. But we want to go to the source. So I seek to think something of God’s thoughts after him.

That is my only hope to get through and past what amounts to the confusion within the labyrinth of life, and the deceptive lies of the enemy, which we as fallen, broken humans are all too susceptible to. And so I make it my aim to be in the word as much as possible, throughout my days (and nights), as well as taking in God’s beauty in nature/creation, which I have not done nearly enough in my lifetime. Sleeping Bear Dunes is just one place in Michigan where we live, which helps one do that. I receive a lot of this general revelation through listening to classical music which gives us something of that through humans created in God’s image. And for me again, it’s a necessity for me to try to find and get immersed into God’s thoughts, rather than get literally lost in my own.

Psalm 19 is a beautiful encapsulation of all of this:

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

 

humility and truth

Under our Modernist Enlightenment influence, we view truth as something verifiable, but rather open ended, and with both the objective and subjective sides. But it’s something we can more or less measure in terms of human observation. And there’s a grain of truth in that through creation. The Postmodern emphasis is on the subjective, and what we can’t really know, and how we really have no moorings except what might well be “true” for ourselves. And there’s actually some truth in that, as well.

The Biblical take is in a sense to equate humility and truth. Pilate asked Jesus skeptically, “What is truth?” Jesus had told Pilate that all who are on the side of truth listen to Jesus. We can say for our purposes here that truth is that which corresponds to reality, in other words, truth is that which is true. And humility is the acceptance of reality. But there’s more. At the heart of this in the Biblical take is the acceptance of God as the truth, Jesus and the gospel being the truth, and that truth revealing the truth about all else, especially ourselves, and our own need. We are exposed in that light of truth, and either in humility accept that verdict against ourselves, or in pride resist and reject it.

Both humility and truth are something we should seek (Zephaniah 2:3). We find it through the gospel, the good news of Jesus. And this is ongoing. It’s not just a one time entry point, when we find it and have arrived. No, we have to keep after it all the rest of our lives in and through Jesus and the gospel, because we are ever so prone to wander into pride and the subtle (and not so subtle) lies that accompany that.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Luke 14:25-35

Jesus didn’t care about popularity, or even about being misunderstood, it seems. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want people to understand and follow. It’s simply that he knew better than to think that everyone would, in fact, just the opposite. He assumed most people would not (Luke 13:22-30; Matthew 7:13-14).

This passage fits into the “hard sayings of Jesus”. Hating loved ones, as well as one’s own life is not to be taken literally. It is a way of helping one understand just how supreme one’s allegiance to Jesus is to be. So that the disciple who does love their family, and in the proper sense their own life as well, does so out of their supreme devotion and allegiance to Jesus. And ironically to not love Jesus in that way would mean that one loves others and one’s self all the less. But when push comes to shove, there’s only one God and one Lord that we give our hearts completely to. And in so doing we find that there’s plenty of love to go around for everyone, even for, as Jesus taught us, our enemies.

We might as well face reality, because there’s no escape from it. Following Jesus in this world is not always going to be easy, and sometimes will end with the ultimate sacrifice. Indeed that was what Jesus was referring to in this passage, that whoever wants to follow him would have to take up their own cross, which meant one thing at that time: crucifixion. Jesus knew that only those who understood something of what they were getting into, would persevere. The call is stark here, but it is in the rest of scripture. We’re to have no other gods before God, and we’re to realize that the world in which we live is no friend of God’s. This is throughout all of scripture from almost the very beginning, to close to the very end.

Jesus calls us to count the cost. And to realize that unless we give up everything we have, we cannot be his disciple, which means his follower. It’s a matter of allegiance, as well as trust. It involves giving our all to the One who gave his all for us on the cross.

Jesus deserves all of this devotion because he is God. But also because he as God is completely human, one of us. So that he takes us with him on the one true way to life, through his death and resurrection. May we have God’s grace to follow, and keep following to the very end. In and through Jesus.