our one confidence as we look to the future

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:14

Years come and go, a natural rhythm as the earth orbits the sun. And decades, as well, into centuries, what humankind devises in our measurement and consideration of time.

Our one and only confidence as we look forward to a new year and decade, is the same confidence we have in the present, verified as we look back on the past with the eyes of faith. God is God, and is faithful. God is the I AM, always reliable to be faithful to his promises. But not to be confined to our conception of him, because God can’t be. God will be God in God’s way; God will work as God works.

God is good, as well as great. We can depend on that, on God’s revelation given to us in Scripture, and fulfilled in Jesus.

So as we look to whatever lies ahead, we can be assured of this: the same God present for us now and in the past will be present in the future. We can depend completely on him, and rest assured that whatever comes our way, God will be present and at work. We trust in him in and through Jesus.

the danger of extra-biblical teaching

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

2 Timothy 2:15-18

The Spirit guides the church through Scripture. There is always danger from those who claim to have something the church doesn’t have, something more. What that actually amounts to is something more than Scripture, or even a better take on what Scripture actually says, maybe they would call it more spiritual, deeper, closer to the heart of God.

Where churches might actually disagree on interpretation of Scripture is secondary, and not at all what is meant here. Such discussions must be grounded in Scripture itself, and over time be accepted as a viable possibility by the church at large. What is mentioned here goes beyond that, beyond what Scripture actually says. It might seem harmless at first, and even good, but when it becomes divisive and actually cuts other churches and believers off, then we have more than yellow flags up, but we see red.

Beware of all such. And keep a discerning eye open, because they pop up here and there, and will continue to do so throughout this time before our Lord returns. We have to warn them, and warn others who may be influenced by them, which means everyone, and especially those who may be under their influence. The Passion Translation is sadly an example of this. You certainly find it in other places, as well.

What we need to come back to and remain in is the teaching of the word, and yes, what the Spirit has taught the churches even over the centuries as to the meaning and truth of that. If we paid attention to what Scripture actually says, yes, some things indeed hard to understand, but others pretty straightforward, we would be at that all of our lives, growing in the truth that is found in Scripture and fulfilled in Jesus. Part of that, and what the church is called to, especially church leadership is discernment between truth and error. Stay away from people who claim to have something more. What they say should be exposed and summarily rejected.

Not pleasant, but essential, and part of the church’s calling. In and through Jesus.

Mark 9:42-50

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’

Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Mark 9:42-50

the blessing of unity in God

A song of ascents. Of David.

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

Nowadays much is made out of unity and disunity. In my nation, it’s right in our name: the United States of America. But we’re probably more polarized and divided than ever in my lifetime. At the same time you find people united under all kinds of identifications or causes. And they find a kind of fellowship in that. “Birds of a feather flock together.”

The psalmist is remarking on something that is much deeper and longer lasting. Other matters may indeed have their importance and place, but in and of themselves are limited in what they can bring about in contrast to this. God’s people living together in their unity in God is the unity that is lasting not only in its own duration, but the change it brings through that unity. The very blessing of God for and through God’s people. In and through Jesus.

do well in your calling (whatever it is)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

I remember decades back hearing someone say that if their job was a milkman, then they would want to be the very best milkman around in fulfilling their calling to God. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who suggested that whatever our work may be is at least our current calling from God? I think you can make a case for that in Scripture, of course provided that the work we’re doing is not something that is contrary to God’s will.

The context is actually addressed to slaves. One needs to look at the entire New Testament to understand the nuance provided in the truth and power of the gospel eventually undoing the entire institution of slavery. But in the meantime, Christians found themselves in what probably was less than a desirable life for many of them, not something they would have likely chosen for themselves, at least not over the long haul. But the word for them is to be wholeheartedly faithful since what they were doing was not merely service to their master, but actually service to Christ.

How much more true is that for us who are in jobs and perhaps life circumstances that we find less than agreeable, certainly not what we would aspire to ourselves? And with that comes the temptation to let down, despair, at least struggle since what we’re doing is so far removed from what we would like to do. But that’s when we need to settle ourselves down, and prayerfully look to God to do well in the place and responsibilities we have. Not to despise what might seem mundane, wearisome, or of little consequence to us. But to prayerfully do as well as we can in the grace God gives us.

We remember what Christ did in becoming one of us, and then in the humble life he lived, as well as the death he died. All of that to many would seem a waste, or at least falling short of the ideal for living or blessing others. But that is precisely where God’s blessing came, in the most humble of places. We need to remember that, and do our best even in what seems a secondary task. Trusting God will use that in whatever way God chooses, to his glory and for the benefit of others. In and through Jesus.

 

when Christians disagree

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

It’s inevitable that no two people who think very long at all are going to think exactly alike. We all bring a different intellectual and moral calculus to our deliberations in making judgments on life. Certainly our experiences factor in as well, as does a whole host of other matters, so that it may seem at least on the surface that we disagree with each other. It can be a case of talking past each other in misunderstanding, but there are times when we do disagree. Or for whatever reason we might even be disagreeable simply because we don’t easily get along with someone else.

Whatever the case may have been, Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies who contended at Paul’s side for the gospel were at odds with each other. For one reason or another, they weren’t getting along. On some level, evidently they weren’t seeing eye to eye. And there was division between them. This was not something tolerable to Paul, certainly understandable when you consider this entire letter.

Paul counsels them to be of the same mind “in the Lord.” I consider “in the Lord” key, because that can make all the difference in the world when there is honest disagreement. We might be helped to see that the other person might have a point, that we might possibly be missing something. Or at least that our disagreement is not to be compared with our agreement in the power and truth of the gospel. So that even if we’re not in agreement on something lesser, we can at least recognize that it is indeed not as important as what we agree on. The problem sometimes is when one or the other, or both simply won’t let go of the disagreement instead of agreeing to major on what they do agree on, perhaps finding ways their agreement in the gospel, in Christ addresses their problem.

Oftentimes we develop an attitude, at least of weariness or of thinking that we can’t escape the issue being front and center. This is a problem in this day and age when we find a polarization in society, which is seen within the church, as well. How can we live together well with such differences? The answer is surely in our commitment to, not to mention our dependence on the gospel.

Paul counsels the church to help these women. It had become such an issue, that the church needed to step in, not to judge them, but to help them find their way to peace so that they could live well together in the reconciliation that is in Christ. And in so doing, they could become a model for others in how to live in the unity of the Spirit in their oneness in Christ through the gospel, in spite of what differences they had, or may have still had. Something we need to aspire to today, in a day when lesser things can impede and imperil what is first and foremost: our commitment to Christ and the gospel, and our unity in that. All of this possible in and through Jesus.

giving Jesus his due

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12

Traditionally we have the wise men, three of them in keeping with the gifts mentioned, when there were likely more, arriving at the manger, at least in paintings and in our manger scenes. They were actually magi: perhaps into a kind of astrology as we note the star in the story, and religious priests. And likely coming around two years after Jesus’s birth.

What is noteworthy for this post is how the magi were coming not just to see for themselves what their reading of the stars seemed to indicate, but to honor the special one born to be king in some special way. This was either worship, or something close to it, in acknowledgement of a one over them (see Mounce, NET Bible footnote 17). Perhaps paying homage, which was due only to superiors, normally to kings, or to divine beings. And they had their gifts in hand, which likely were a big help to “the holy family.”

This speaks to me in reminding me what our lives should be all about when considering Christ and God’s gift in him. Yes, we receive that gift gladly and the promise it brings, but in turn we live lives of gratitude in response, seeking to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

Christmas isn’t just about the good we get, and then simply enjoying it. It’s about that, but much more. Our response of faith, hope and love is crucial. The reception of this great gift doesn’t leave us unchanged. We endeavor to respond to that love in God’s grace given to us by a changed life. First honoring the God who gives and is in that Baby. And continuing that day after day as we seek to follow him.

In and through Jesus.

the mystery of Christ’s conception and birth

I was struck this morning by the thought of how Christ was in the womb, soon to be born. The idea that God through a miracle, was fully human, to soon pass through his mother’s womb into the world as a newborn.

That is amazing in itself, a mystery of the faith to be sure. And evident of God’s triunity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We might say the Father oversaw it all, the Spirit was active in it, and the Son was the human embryo, nine months after conception to be born.

It is amazing, but somehow tied to God’s amazing work in our own lives.

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

 

real friends

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24

Friendship that is utilitarian, just “what I can get out of it” is no friendship at all. True friendship is being there and committed to another person, no matter what. I have found it quite rare. You find that true on both ends. When you extend friendship to others, you might find that it’s conditional, that if somehow you don’t measure up, your friendship is no longer valued. The same is true for those who seem to extend the hand of friendship. Yet when they really get to know you, that hand is withdrawn or gone.

Instead, the wisdom of Proverbs speaks here of a friend who sticks closer than a brother. It’s not like we can be close friends to everybody. But when we develop a closeness in friendship with anybody, we need to stay true to that, insofar as the circumstances of life allow for such. And when friends let us down, we know that ultimately the Lord never does. Still we want to be a needed friend as well as have the friend or few friends we too need. Something rare indeed, something we look for. In and through Jesus.

Mark 9:38-41

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

Mark 9:38-41