accepting spiritual conflict and the discomfort that comes with it

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:10-13

When I have to do something public even simple, oftentimes, in fact almost always I experience what I would call a spiritual conflict in something more or less sudden and troubling. So that whatever sense of well being I have is taken away. And then too often what I had to do was affected by it in a way which didn’t seem helpful.

Instead what I’m learning is that we have to do our best to draw our strength from God, put on what’s called here in the passage above, “the whole armor of God,” and stand, or you might say, take our stand. That means I pray and fight spiritually and seek God’s help. But also why I’ve been looking at this passage often lately, memorizing it in a new (for me) version of Scripture, and seeking to apply it. I’m finding that it’s important to be willing to go through the most difficult part of that, not bailing out by trying to do it my own way, whatever that might be. But doing what we’re told to do in the rest of this passage.

Standing when all inside of me doesn’t want to. Hopefully as I learn better application which follows below, that will help. Although to a significant extent because of what I do understand and practice, this has already been in place, though it needs to improve. And then simply to stand in God’s strength with God’s armor for this spiritual battle when it may seem pointless.

Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

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. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:13-20

In and through Jesus.

did the Father pour out wrath on the Son at the cross, and did the Father abandon the Son there? No!

to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses…

2 Corinthians 5:19a; ASV

There is a common understanding, which I agree is a misunderstanding, that the Father poured out his wrath on the Son at the cross, and also abandoned him there. But no biblical text says that. Texts are patched together and misread to arrive to such a conclusion. But this is a common understanding, especially the belief that the Son was abandoned at the cross by the Father.

There are certain things even God can’t do. God can’t cease to be God. And that’s exactly what would have happened if the the Father separated himself from the Son. As Jesus taught in John 14 and 17 on the eve of his crucifixion, the Father is in him and he is in the Father. And the Spirit is in all of that. The Trinity is Three Persons, but not in the sense of three human beings. God is One through and through, but also Three. A mystery indeed. To separate the Trinity even for a moment would mean that God is no longer God or eternal.

And just as bad if not worse is the idea that the Father poured out wrath on the Son at the cross. Instead we learn who God is supremely I believe by looking at Jesus on the cross. This is a misreading of Hebrew Scripture which attributes all that happens to God, when it says in Isaiah that God struck him. The idea is that Jesus was made sin, that God can’t look on sin, and that God poured out his judgment on Christ at the cross. The Father is wrathful while the Son takes that wrath in love in this false picture. We’ve heard this in my circles for so long, we almost don’t even blink an eye or give it a second thought. It’s like the same reaction we have when we hear the unbiblical notion that God pours out his wrath on sinners forever in hell. All of this is dead wrong.

Instead of going on, I would much rather stop here, and share a helpful, if somewhat lengthy article with a full explanation. Did the Trinity break at the cross?

staying on the cross where the resurrection power of Christ resides

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:19b-20

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him,[a] but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

2 Corinthians 13:4

In Timothy G. Gombis’s most helpful book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry we are given a paradigmatic shifting truth which can make all the needed difference in our lives if we just hold on to it, and let it do its work in us. Well, I just finished the book this past weekend, and did read it over like a month or more, so that the truth there could hopefully begin to sink in some.

The idea and truth is that resurrection power is at the cross. This is not just for our salvation, but for all of life. As Tim says in the book, and has said in his podcast, something like, we need to take our rightful place on the cross in Christ, and stay on it, and suffer the indignity that comes with it, and as we do so, the resurrection power and life of Christ will be present.

I have found this so helpful. Just thinking of myself nailed on a cross, not coming down when tempted to do so, of course the thought much more convenient than the actual harsh physical reality of such. But just the same, spiritually we’re to take up our crosses and follow, think of ourselves as crucified with Christ and live as though nothing else matters except the resurrection power, life and love of God in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

what is God like?

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

John 14:8-9

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being…

Hebrews 1:1-3a

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2

When we think of God, what comes to mind? Do we think of a God of judgment, ready to catch us in our latest misstep or sin? Do we think of God as an angry wrath-full God, with whom sinners should be on more than edge, even shuddering? Or maybe we think of God as something like a complacent Teddy Bear who doesn’t care and with whom everything is fine. Or maybe God is just something we haven’t given that much thought to. Perhaps we chalk it down to mystery, and just don’t know.

We find out that Jesus is not only the promised Messiah, but that he fulfills time and time again prophecies which are attributed to God as if he were God or God was in him. And we find out that indeed it’s all of the above.

Jesus spoke about the Father again and again, particularly so in John’s gospel account. So for Thomas to inquire about just who this Father really is in a way is not surprising. I can picture myself doing the same, and in my imagination see myself in Thomas at least to some extent. But Jesus seems surprised and makes it clear that when Thomas and the others, and all of us see him, they see the Father.

We might well say that Jesus is God’s final word. He is after all “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14).

That doesn’t mean we don’t take into account all of what Scripture says about God. But it also means that we interpret all of that in light of Christ, who comes both to fulfill it, and as its fulfillment. And how he did that was more than a surprise, not anticipated at all. They expected God to send the Deliverer to a faithful Israel who would overthrow the Romans, the pagans, the godless, and set up a kingdom which would rule with an iron rod over all the nations, all of this according to the Pharisees, and one of their own, Saul of Tarsus (later to become Paul) with resurrection power.* So it should be no surprise at all when Christ comes and does completely different than that, that people wondered. Yes, there was no way to ignore him and what followed, but it just didn’t add up with their understanding, their interpretation of Scripture.

And then at the end, Jesus is hung on a Roman cross, thus under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). So there was no doubt that something was amiss here.

Oddly enough though, I believe that’s where we understand at least the heart of God and I believe who God is by looking at the cross and Jesus hanging there. God shows God’s self by becoming one of us in the Incarnation, faithfully lives and teaches and acts to help us, and then suffers the worst death of that time, the death of the cross. Suffering physically in an excruciating way, emotionally and spiritually over the feeling of being rejected by humans and abandoned by God. And all out of love. And all who put their faith in him are forgiven and receive new life, because in Christ’s death and resurrection, we are taken into a new existence by the Spirit, into the new creation beginning even here and now in and among us in Christ. A life for us now which paradoxically in resurrection power means taking the way of the cross, becoming more and more like Jesus in his death, and therefore more like God was and is and forever will be (Philippians 3:10; Hebrews 13:8).

And the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is the climax of all of this. Jesus is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, thus “lion” once in that book, and how? By being a lamb (28 or 29 times) right up to the end, on the throne with God. Coming with his robe dipped in his own blood with his faithful, the victory through his own death and the sword coming out of his mouth, in other words the word of his mouth, what he says. That’s how he unexpectedly fulfills God’s promises (Revelation 19:11-16).**

How do we understand God? Who is God? I believe we see it in a man hanging on a Roman cross some 2,000 years ago. And all else must be interpreted and seen in that light. Otherwise just like the Jews of old, we’ll indeed miss it, as I believe many are today.

In and through Jesus.

*See Tim Gombis’s most helpful book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry.     

**See Michael J. Gorman’s most helpful book, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.

Season after Pentecost: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you 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 to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Mark 9:38-50

Revised Common Lectionary

wisdom breaking through

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Psalm 51:6

There is a kind of direct wisdom God wants to give us aside from Scripture. Those who can receive it are surely regularly in Scripture as a rule. And the information and formation from Scripture figure into this. And there may be some who are limited in their access to Scripture. This wisdom is taught directly from God in one’s “secret heart” as the psalmist puts it here.

Usually such wisdom is learned in the crush, even cruciformity of life. It is not something abstract, that we can just tuck away into our heads simply to know. No, it’s about life and for life, right on the ground where we live. And again it meets us in areas where we haven’t been wise, or where we especially are in need of wisdom.

It has a character about it that is strikingly different than the run of the mill, off the wall wisdom we have. That is not easy to define, but some characteristics give some clues. If one is in a hurry, in a near panic, then that’s a sign we’re thinking to act on our own wisdom. But if there’s a settledness which accompanies it, with not necessarily all the answers, but at the heart of it, a trust in God, that’s a sign that we’re beginning to receive the needed wisdom from God.

Something I can be much too slow at, but which I’m working on and learning. In and through Jesus.

“in Christ” equals community in Christ

Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within. But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.

2 Corinthians 7:2-9

Like any community and any person for that matter, there are difficulties which are not easy to work through. The letters in the New Testament are to anything but tidy churches. If there isn’t a problem which needs serious attention now, there will be one soon. And that’s in part because relationships and building them, seeing them mature, just holding on to them is neither automatic nor easy.

But the life of Christ is found in community. Yes, between oneself and Christ, but it never stops there. God never meant humans to live alone. As we’re told at the beginning of Genesis, that’s not good. I am convinced that just one of the major tactics of the enemy is to isolate us, make us feel like we’re alone, divide us, anything but promote unity. Unless it’s a unity set against Christian unity. And even that unity is more than precarious.

I believe there’s a true sense in the thought that we find Christ in each other. But that doesn’t mean in everyone, and not even everyone who names the name of Christ. And this is especially the case when we’ve been absent for awhile or when life has hit us particularly hard like when we face threatening opposition or feel that all is lost and we as well. We need each other in Christ.

This coming together is about appreciating God’s grace in each of one us in Christ, thankful for the strengths and in love looking over the weaknesses. Holding each other up in prayer. It certainly includes ongoing repentance along the way.

The difference between night and day, despair and an adrenaline of hope, life and death. All in the love of God by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

part of God’s loving training: we’re on our own

[the LORD] stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
prudence will watch over you;
and understanding will guard you.

Proverbs 2:7-11

Not long ago I heard someone say that we just have to figure things out ourselves, make the best decision, the idea I think being something like God is not just going to hand out all we should do on a plate as it were. God wants us to make the best decisions we can.

Of course we should pray, and sometimes we will have a special sense of what it seems God wants us to do in a given situation. But by and large, we’re actually left to ourselves. But if we’ve been trained in wisdom and the knowledge that accompanies that, then we should be able to act and respond in ways that express love to God and to people, and honor God as God’s image bearers.

All the while seeking to take in and learn more of wisdom from God through life and faith. As we carry on in this world, especially seeking to follow Jesus together. In and through Jesus.

the spiritual discipline (according to Dallas Willard) of Scripture memorization

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

Joshua 1:8

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.

Psalm 1:1-3

I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

Going through one of Dallas Willard’s books in a small group I’m a part of, Willard lists some spiritual disciplines as they’re commonly called, and adds Scripture memorization as either the most important or his favorite of these disciplines. That sits well with me. I think we would all be better off in regularly practicing these disciplines, but I probably rarely practice most of them. I don’t have that book in front of me, but fasting and silence would be just two of them on most of the lists. You can see that I am not much in the practice of such myself, since I can’t even think of anymore of them at the moment.

But as far as I can remember, Scripture memorization is on no one’s list. Meditation of Scripture surely is, but not memorization. We think of memorization as boring and often mechanical and dead rote. But it surely is a necessary precursor to meditation, or at least can help us meditate, that is recite and consider the words of Scripture. There is the danger in memorization that when we have that down, we somehow think we have the passage down. And familiarity while not breeding contempt, might then make us think we don’t need to go over the passage right when it might be especially helpful.

I am working through the book of James this way, taking a paragraph or section if short (in my Bible) a day, getting memorization down as best I can. And I just keep doing that throughout the day, well that’s the goal. I’m not so good on weekends, so I need to shore that up. But I’m finding it helpful.

At the same time, I also find it a bit challenging on a certain level. I mean after all, why worry about getting a sentence down, particularly when it’s a bit oddly worded, or whether or not that’s the case? But I also find that it becomes my focus aside from other things and focuses I have to have throughout the day. And for me, this can become life altering. And at this point I’m trying to get James into my mind, heart, life, bones.

An easy in a way, but also challenging practice for us to keep working at day after day. In and through Jesus.

get rid of all ideals of community and self

…we, who are many, are one body in Christ…

Romans 12:5

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

What is meant here is that we must drop all the idealizations we have of church, of others, and of ourselves. That’s not easy to do, nor does it even make sense to us. Aren’t we supposed to hold to ideals for ourselves and others? Maybe on a certain basic level, yes. We have to get up in the morning, fulfill our responsibility during the day, care for our family, take care of ourselves, etc. What is spoken of here is something else. Expecting others to measure up to some ideal we have. Or turning away when people don’t.

We’re all in this together, for better and for worse, indeed one body in Christ. None of us measure up to ideals we impose on ourselves. What God has in heart and mind will prevail. But it will be worked out in this life only if we’re committed to hanging in together through thick and thin.

What we need to be about is simply committed to following Christ together. Realizing that throughout that will be the necessary confession of sin, caring for each other, even putting up with each other at times. But believing that God is going to do it, is in the process of conforming us together into the likeness of God’s Son.

In and through Jesus.