when all hell breaks loose: stand firm

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:13

There’s the normal day to day struggles and difficulties we all must face. And sometimes depending, we can get well sidetracked in that, hopefully learning from such experiences how to do better. The ordinary day to day worries Jesus mentioned. Sometimes that can morph into “the evil day,” or for whatever reason we get slammed into or we descend into such. Those can be times when we feel that our bearings are all but lost. When we feel more or less completely at a loss. When we can’t make much heads or tails about anything, because all is dark, or at least dim or harder to see like at dusk.

What we need is God’s word to us in Christ here: Stand firm. We do so not in our own strength or in our own resources, but in the power and resources God provides for us in Christ and in the gospel. We take up, in the words of the passage above (click above for entire passage), “the whole armor of God,” every part. And we refuse to back down even when feel like turning tail and running. We face it, believing God is with us in Christ, and that God’s word in Christ along with all that comes with and because of that will prevail. So, we stand firm.

Something I have to be reminded of from time to time. And all of us need to rely on when the going gets tough not just in our individual lives, but as community, too.

In and through Jesus.

be yourself (with all its foibles and flaws)

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

Ecclesiastes is in some ways the most fascinating book to me in the Bible, though others are as interesting in their place, and when considered together. This book reminds me of the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kirkegaard, and the book Kirkegaard: A Single Life, by Stephen Backhouse is a great read. I am sorry to see it so high on Amazon. Get it from a library. It was one of the few life-changing books I’ve read, though every good book should help us in life.

As I recall (thankfully, I have my own copy) the book points out how Kirkegaard sought to live a radical life of following Christ within what he considered an entirely dead Christendom of which he wanted no part. He stood out for that reason, but also because of all of his challenging, compelling writings along with his peculiar manner of life which certainly ran across the grain of the culture of his place and time. Called “the father of existentialism” but at the heart of what he was it seems to me: a follower of Christ. But I’ll certainly have to leave it to many others to help us, though the book mentioned above is said to be the best introduction to him hands down, with a summary of all of his works in the back.

Kirkegaard like all the rest of us made mistakes, his share of them. But life was to be lived, not debated about or philosophized or even theologized. To Kirkegaard, what it means to follow Christ is the point of existence, and the only way that is understood is by endeavoring to live it out, to be authentic in the sense of being oneself, to move forward in reality, in real life.

For me I think along with being in Scripture and prayer, I seek to understand in the midst of living. And there’s no escape from life. There are so many aspects of it. Ecclesiastes is all about that, life under the sun, and all the experiences one passes through here. How on the one hand vanity accompanies everything, I would think especially if it’s considered an end to itself. But on the other hand how we must go on and be fully present in it all, not only present, but a full participant as well. As the book in the end reminds us from the one who was sharing Qoheleth’s (“the Teacher’s”) thoughts, doing it all in the fear of God seeking to obey all of God’s commandments, aware of the judgment to come.

We will make mistakes along the way, no doubt. But God will help us as we realize that we learn from Christ only as we seek to follow Christ in all of life, in everything. And in the midst of a world in which so much is vanity, a chasing after the wind, in which most all of the best endeavors fall short of the goal, and even those which succeed at least in some sense don’t last.

I take heart in this. I have my foibles and flaws (just ask my wife). But I want to go on just as I am, but also with others who are attempting to do the same just as they are. We’re in this together for better and for worse.

And we have wonderful enigmatic books like Ecclesiastes to go back to again and again, along with the rest of Scripture, as we keep trying to make sense of what’s in front of us, and how we’re to carry on. Being each one of us our own unique God-given selves.

In and through Jesus.

reconciling broken relationships

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 5:21-26; NRSVue

One must pay careful attention to Jesus’s words here to not fall into serious, even dangerous error. For example a wife might be told that she must reconcile with an abusive husband, who has shown over and over again that he needs help. This passage gives no space whatsoever for that, nor anything else in the Bible. As can be seen in the passage, it was spoken in a different time, yet the ramifications come across pretty straight forward to our present time.

What I want to dwell on a bit is the importance of Jesus followers making their relationships a priority. But add to that, when you consider all Jesus said here, doing our best in every relationship.

First of all contempt has no place. Yes, we might be shaking our heads to ourselves, but we must never do that in public and if we do, make sure we make it right. We should express all our concerns to God, this after all is a good even important occasion for praying. Everyone deserves a certain basic respect as a human being made in God’s image. That said, we do need to proceed carefully because while many people fully intend good, others certainly don’t.

When some occurrence has made a rift in a relationship with a sister or brother in Christ, then we need to do all we can on our side to mend that rift. And I would add to that any other person, whether or not they profess to follow Christ. We can’t force any kind of reconciliation, and only God can heal. Often either words or actions or some combination of both has broken the relationship and what fellowship there was before is gone. We’ll have to express our regret and seek forgiveness where we’ve been wrong.

Let’s be careful not to think we had no wrong in a given situation. That is strictly the case only with Jesus. But let’s not force some equal responsibility when clearly that is not the case.

If we take Jesus’s words seriously, this is something we need to take with the utmost seriousness. Do all we can, pray, and keep doing that along the way as needed. God can bring the needed change both in us and the other person. That we might live out the unity that is ours in and through Jesus.

seeing the big picture (not losing focus, taking our eyes off that)

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

A probably vast majority of my posts are on issues which hit close to home, and concern details of life, mostly in personal, isolated matters. While Scripture doesn’t address all specifics, it certainly gives us direction in how we face and work through everything. And all of that is important. As we’re told in Scripture, the very hairs of our head our numbered, so that every detail of our lives is important to God. And our well being, also.

Scripture is probably much more communal than the way we read it, for instance often the “you” in our translations is plural but lost on us, even though that always has individual application. But a communal aspect is often found in those passages which we normally all but miss. Even so we must not lose sight of the fact that God does want to relate to us on a personal level right where we live down to every detail, helping us to live responsibly under God’s guidance and care.

That said, we do well to try to see the big picture found in Scripture, and keep that in our sights and focus, even when we’re considering details along the way. That is challenging, and partly so because our spiritual enemy wants us to be preoccupied with minute details, lose focus, and be brought into a kind of tunnel vision in which we lose sight of what God wants us focused on, on the big picture.

This does seem counterintuitive when we have something difficult, seemingly impossible, and easily taking our peace away, even causing some panic. This does remind me of Job. The excruciating details the Job of that story goes through, we can well relate to, though certainly for most of us, never the scope and intensity of what Job experienced. Interestingly God never answered Job’s specific questions, but instead took Job’s sights away from his situation and troubles to see a much larger picture, something of the mystery of God’s work and power over creation. The point here, a bigger picture.

When we read the Bible from cover to cover, and do so trying to see the big picture, we begin to understand the true context in which we live, in which our struggles take place. That doesn’t mean for a second that the details spelled out in Scripture should get lost on us. No. But at the same time, this larger focus can help us see what God wants us to see, including how God wants us to see the matters which are troubling us.

As God’s people, we need to keep stepping back to see the big picture, work on keeping our focus on that, and not take our eyes off of it. Yes, even in the midst of the details of our lives that we have to consider and work through. If we have the proper focus, and don’t lose sight of the big picture, that can help us in each part. And most importantly, we can find our place in God’s Story playing out before us day after day. Every part of our lives, how we work though the difficulties of our lives, included. 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.

how do we “resist the devil”?

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10

James cuts to the chase and minces no words. The command to resist the devil needs to be seen in context. Click the link, and you’ll see that there’s a connection to the community yes of believers not getting along. James exposes that, and the reason why: “cravings…at war within you.” And warns against friendship with the world, and becoming enemies with God. So this command needs to be seen in context.

A close friend and mentor of mine expressed surprise that I don’t address the enemy directly, telling it to flee and pleading Christ’s blood, in other words Christ’s death which is the means for our triumph over our spiritual enemy. I think he’s right. We can see that precedent in Scripture, especially in the gospels when Jesus casts out demons. We need to address the enemy’s lie and thus not let the darkness settle in. And trust in God for God’s guidance in everything, as we continue to look to God.

No doubt we need to resist the devil with the promise that it will flee from us. And keep doing that. As we seek to deal seriously with our lives in light of God’s revelation to us in Scripture and in Christ. In and through Jesus.

we need each other

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

In our individualistic culture in which everyone is supposed to look out for and take care of themselves, the idea that we need each other, that we’re our brother and sister’s keeper is all but lost on us. That is not something enmeshed in my white, western culture, at least not where I’ve lived. In fact, I’m pretty certain we don’t believe this at all. We rarely even pay lip service to it. How many times have I heard the thought that the best church is out in nature somewhere by one’s self? And when people do gather together for church, it’s often just to get something out of the message for one’s self, maybe say hi to the few along the way or just the greeters, then head back home.

But Scripture calls us to something else, something we not only fail to practice, but that we’re not acclimated to in the first place, out of our comfort zone for sure. A commitment to each other in Jesus which plays itself out in regularly meeting together, and being ready at least potentially in our spirits to give and to receive. God actually wants to help us through each other no less. Not just directly, but through others.

If we’re followers of Christ and thus Christians not in name only, then we can’t escape God’s call to us to come together since after all we’re one body in Christ. There may be unusual times such as the past year with COVID-19 when we can’t gather in person in the same way as before. But technology did allow us to meet virtually. Yes, not a great substitute for meeting in person, but better than nothing, and some of us we’re able to talk face to face with people we otherwise never would have. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. At the same time, mercifully, such times are only temporary. We need to find the good in them and that can come out of them, and go on.

But we need to be committed to what alas seems more than a stretch to many: gathering together to worship, pray, and just be with each other. In that dynamic Jesus is present yes in and through each other, and there’s not a one of us who doesn’t need that.

finding the greater good

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They’ll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed…

Sometimes something more is at stake than the immediate relief or answer we’re seeking. If we can just see behind our own want or perceived need to what is actually good and important given our own bent and God’s will, we’ll be far better off. We have to shake away from old habits and patterns which have kept us on edge and bound for years and years. This isn’t easy.

We first of all need God’s help to discern this. Good friends, and especially a friend who we look up to as a spiritual mentor or director should factor into all of this. God is with us by the Spirit to help us hear and understand what is best, but most of the time it doesn’t come without significant struggle, not to mention lapses along the way. What we want is change for the good, finding what is most important, leaving what is unhelpful behind. And with God’s help, learning to settle and live well in God’s good will.

Hopefully this isn’t too nebulous, so that maybe it will apply across the board to a variety of problems and struggles. The thought is helping me. In and through Jesus.

what John, “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 1:5-2:2

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:5-2:2

This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.

If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.

1 John 1:5-2:2; MSG

My guess is that if John were here today with us, he might say something along the lines of why it’s essential that we walk in God’s light in Christ and see all other light as darkness. Where do we get our life from? Do we get it solely from Christ, or do we see something else as a necessary part of that light, or included in it?

We need to see everything, try to look at anything in the light of God in Christ. Therefore we view with a critical, by which I mean discerning eye all that is happening, noting what on the surface is good and what is not.

The only criterion by which we live is God’s light in Christ. We think and act and are accountable from that basis, and none other. Any divergence from it is considered a sin that needs to be confessed. And we in Jesus are in this together.

Just touching on what John might say to us today from this passage. I don’t think he would simply teach it as it is, and let it go at that. A good pastor takes note of the times, and seeks to guide the flock accordingly. In and through Jesus.

Jesus our true vine, not my true vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:1-17

To read this correctly, we need to keep in mind that Jesus is addressing his disciples. The “you” is always plural in this passage. Unfortunately that often doesn’t come out in our translations. Ideally it’s best if we can read the Koine Greek ourselves, though not essential. But here, Jesus is talking to his followers as those who are together, part of a group. We were never meant to live the Christian life, more specifically to follow Christ on our own. We’re meant to be in this together always. Sometimes the group might be quite small. It really shouldn’t be too large except that we can have smaller groups within the larger assembly. But the point is that it’s not only a matter of abiding or remaining in Christ as individual branches. But it’s also being with other branches as part of the one plant.

We don’t do nearly as well when we read the above passage as just applying to “me” as an individual. But that’s ordinarily how we do it. We need to train ourselves to think and do otherwise. Yes, we’re individuals for sure, but we are not meant to live individualistic lives, nor just lives between us and the Lord. Yes our faith is personal, but it’s also communal, meant to be lived in community. The world needs to see how we live together in community, and not just that, but we actually need this ourselves. God made us for each other, as well as for relationship with him.

This emphasis on community needs to be a vital, weekly part of our faith. But the way even the best churches operate is often more just a “me and God” proposition, with everyone gathered more or less intent on that. And we miss a lot as a result. We can’t do it alone. We are meant to function with others. Otherwise our faith and growth will be stunted. Yes, we abide or remain in the true vine, Jesus, but we do so as branches together. We’re in this together. In and through Jesus.