“a mother in Israel”: a tribute to my mother for Mother’s Day

Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.

Judges 5

Deborah was a judge during difficult times since God’s people Israel were not faithful to God. The Song of Deborah is a celebration of the deliverance the Lord brought as a result of Deborah’s faithfulness in becoming a spiritual mother in Israel. That song and the entire account (not that long) is worth the read, gruesome as some of Judges is, at certain places, but nevertheless an inspiration for us today (Judges 4-5).

My mother is a spiritual mother, as well as, obviously a physical mother to me. Through her witness and prayers I came to faith, along with the preaching of Billy Graham, and the faithful teaching of scripture at our church. But more than any person I knew, my mother’s witness was key in me coming to faith. So she was and is a spiritual mother to me.

Like Deborah, Mom is willing to take the lead when others don’t. She is especially good and zealous at telling others about Jesus and the good news in him. She is not the least bit shy to do so, even though for us children, at least for me, anyhow, it was embarrassing at times. But it taught me something, actually a lot, in being faithful as a witness of Jesus to others.

And Mom had to put up, along with Dad to a long spell of rebellion during my teenage years. But through her prayers and faithful witness, often in her singing of hymns, I finally came to faith at the beginning of my senior year in high school. And to this day, by God’s grace, Mom’s witness remains the same, constant and faithful because of God’s faithfulness and grace in Christ Jesus.

And so we have witnesses we’ll never forget, whose influence by God’s Spirit rubs off on us to change us forever. Not perfect people, thank goodness, or I would be excluded. But people whose hearts are set on the perfect God. In and through Jesus.

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

the blessing of work

Labor Day is the last summer holiday in the United States before traditionally the school year begins, and summer vacation time ordinarily ends. The United States is known for its hard work, although certainly not all of that historically is honorable when we consider the slave trade of the past. And work easily becomes an end in itself, even idolatrous, instead of being a blessed means to a blessed end from God.

We can all thank God for the opportunity to work, whether in blue or white collar jobs, as well as for the education or training that is available to land a job. Work in itself is good, a part of creation. What is not of creation, but rather the fall, as the story is told in Genesis 3, and therefore not a part of the new creation, but the current old, broken creation is the toil and struggle inherent in work now.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19

And so there you have it: Work is a blessing subject to the curse in which trouble along with the limitations of being a human of this fallen creation (“dust”) are inherently a part. And so I can expect more problems at work on Tuesday, along with the blessing of the work itself, and what that work accomplishes.

Christians are to be known as exemplary workers: for our work and I think also for our rest. We should be diligent, reliable workers, yet not workaholics, who fail to enjoy the fruit of their labors, and miss a large part of the point of them (see Ecclesiastes).

…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

 Today is a day to relax, and thank God for the work we have. And pray for those who may be out of work. As we continue our work for the provision of our families, for the good it provides, and to the honor and praise of God.

taken up with what is important to Christ

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

Philippians 2

In a world full of challenges which often hit us square in the face, and sometimes seem to threaten our own well being, it is being different to take on the attitude of mind which Jesus Christ had (see all of Philippians 2)  and to which we in Christ are called. But that is what we’re called to. To have a heart for others, no matter what we ourselves might be going through. In fact to have a heart that lives for others in God’s will in Jesus, by grace endeavoring to do so to the very end.

Paul singles out Timothy in matters pertaining to the service of the gospel. Maybe it was something like Timothy being a deacon to a priest within the church, although it seems to me to be more about the work of planting and establishing churches through the gospel. Maybe something of both.

The point is to be taken especially for leadership in the church. But leadership is in place in large part to model a life seeking to live out the truth that is in Jesus. So that others might follow the leaders, imitate their faith in living with the same goal and passion.

Of course we all need to grow into this. It doesn’t come overnight, and not without struggle. Nor does one arrive to the place where they no longer need to grow in such. If our model is Jesus Christ by the Spirit, then it is evident why this will be ongoing throughout our lifetime. Not to mention that none of us arrive to the place in this life in which we are without sin (1 John 1).

This truth in Jesus, that we’re not only to look after ourselves, but especially to others is to more and more mark who we are, and what we do. What we are all about in our lives. And not just ourselves, but doing so with others. Seeking to grow up together as one body in the maturity that is in Christ (Ephesians 4).

 

Rich Mullins on why he became a Christian and on the proclamation of the gospel

I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity, but because there were people willing to be nuts and bolts.

I have attended church regularly since I was less than a week old. I’ve listened to sermons about virtue, sermons against vice. I have heard about money, time management, tithing, abstinence, and generosity. I’ve listened to thousands of sermons. But I could count on one hand the number of sermons that were a simple proclamation of the gospel of Christ.

Rich Mullins, quotes from goodreads

following the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he followed the example of Christ

All but lost today, it seems to me, is a serious appropriation and adherence to Jesus’ cornerstone teaching of the ethics of the kingdom found in the Sermon on the Mount. Of course I’m referring to us who profess to be followers of Jesus, those of us who are called Christian. I’m afraid Christian has taken on a different and to some extent contrary meaning to what it originally had when the disciples in Antioch were first called Christian. The words of Jesus are either watered down or not taken seriously at all, it seems. They are hard, challenging words, to be sure. Love your enemies, pray for them. When struck, turn the other cheek. Don’t look lustfully on a woman, which in the heart is committing adultery. Don’t be angry with a brother or sister, or speak a word of contempt to or concerning them, which is on the edge of murdering them in one’s heart, and the first steps toward hell. Etc.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great man, I think the greatest American civil leader of the twentieth century. He was certainly flawed as well. He was a Christian along the lines of the more liberal wing, theologically. He was steeped in Jesus’ teaching and example, especially with reference to the Sermon on the Mount (the Sermon on the Plain, paralleling that) and with reference to the Hebrew/Old Testament prophets. The call was for justice for the oppressed, specifically for the African Americans, then called Negroes, who though emancipated from slavery were not seen as equals, were pushed to the margins in segregation, and too often brutalized by those who hated them. Indeed, their lives were sometimes in danger.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped into what amounted to be a civil challenge to the United States, to live up to the letter of the law by breaking down the laws of segregation. And to clamp down on those who threatened their very existence. He did so as a full participant, subjecting both himself and his family to the difficulties and dangers inherent in such a stand. And some innocents tragically did lose their lives. His family was protected, even if his home was not, though in the end he paid the ultimate price himself, for whatever reason gunned down, which may have come with the territory of being a high profile leader, and surely did have something to do with his stand. There is no doubt that there were people who could have been a threat to his life.

He faced pressures on all sides. Many of his fellow African Americans were not interested in nonviolent protest. They were willing to do whatever necessary to secure justice and freedom. But Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed the course, not only preaching and teaching nonviolent protest in the way of self-purification and love even for one’s enemies, but in living that out to the end. By doing so he won over many of his own people, of the African Americans, and many others as well, in fact in the end, virtually everyone. He led the way to what became a national sea change, even if racism and hate along those lines remains in some latent and more overt forms to this very day.

I have found him especially inspiring in his sermons or addresses to fellow Christians. More difficult for me, but what I have come in some significant measure to respect and admire is his work on the civil end with reference to America and what it stood for in law as a democracy, or a democratic republic. Calling the nation to radical change in policies  which would not merely keep order, but change the order kept. Front and center for Dr. King, I’m sure, was his understanding and appropriation of Jesus and his teachings and example.

It is one thing to teach truth, but quite another thing to live that truth out. That is where the inspiration comes. I can say such and such, but unless I begin to live it out, I will help no one. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others with him, did live that out, practicing what they preached. They uncompromisingly and unrelentingly spoke and acted against injustice with uncompromising, unrelenting love. They did not succumb to evil, so as to respond with evil in return. Hopefully more than just a few of them did so from a personal, communal faith. And we do well today to follow in their steps, even as they followed the example of Christ.

A good, even if rather long read, Martin Luther King. Jr. Letter From Birmingham Jail.

follow the leader

Follow the leader is a children’s game I can hardly remember playing (if I did) and had to look it up, so that I vaguely remember at least knowing about a game like that. Paul told the Corinthian believers to follow him as he follows Christ.

We tend to gravitate to those we admire and might want to emulate, as well as those with whom we hold something in common. There is a kind of fellowship in this which can range from a way of life- rare nowadays, to common humor and fun.

On the other hand there are those who for one reason or another we simply can’t track with. Rather than being attracted to them, we feel repelled by them. For some reason or another we simply can’t break into their fellowship. They are too high for us, or whatever may be the case.

The leadership Jesus calls us to is one of being a servant as well as follower of God. Somehow in life we’re to track with Jesus, the servant par excellence. Paul states that we do that by finding others who do that, whose way of life exemplifies that.

What we need to avoid is following one person as if they are the only one who follows Christ. That becomes sectarian, even cult-like. We can find those who follow Christ across any number of Christian traditions.

And so we go on. Finding those whose lives we can learn from. So that our lives too might be a light for others in the way of our Lord. Together in Jesus in this for the world.