accept the struggle against racism, etc.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish 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.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

We can’t forget, we need to always remember: we’re in a spiritual battle. That’s the way it is now, and there’s no escape, even let up from that. The battle does seem fierce at times, and other times it seems we have some rest. But we must always be ready, not caught off guard.

It is a fight over the long haul. And it’s a gospel fight, not a culture wars nor political one. We shouldn’t care who wins the culture war, or the political contests.* That’s not the battle we’re in. The problem with aligning ourselves in such battles it seems to me is that we’re getting our eye off the ball in the actual game we’re in, figuratively speaking. Of course it’s no game, but out and out war, spiritual war.

And part of the grip the powers don’t want to let go of is the grip of racism, specifically against Africans we stole and treated worse than animals, and still look down on to this day as a society. Christians, and specifically white Christians must be in the forefront of bringing the light of the gospel into that darkness.

With reference to racism in the United States specifically against African-Americans we need to listen well, pray, listen again, pray, and keep doing that, keeping our mouths shut, except to speak out in the ways God gives us. As we become more and more aware, we need to do what we can to stand against this evil. First beginning with ourselves, and that will be ongoing, the rest of our lives. Seeking to understand better how we’re in complicity with systemic racism, as well as how the church and we as part of that, can see this evil chain broken.

Nothing less than spiritual warfare, bringing the truth of the gospel to shine its light not only in people’s hearts, but against the darkness seen everywhere. Systemic racism, as well as the racial prejudice we will find if we’re honest, yes, in our own hearts. We want to confess our sins, repent, and see ongoing change. Even as we look forward to the Day when all of this will be gone. Until then, we are strengthened to stand firm in the spiritual battle. In and through Jesus.

*Not that we can’t participate as a citizen of a nation, either by voting, or abstaining from voting.

Jesus teaches his disciples (and us, hopefully disciples, too) on prayer

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:1-13

If you want Jesus’s teaching on prayer in a nutshell, you probably can’t find a better passage then here (see also the great passage in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:5-15).

Jesus tells us the general pattern we should use in praying. While we can see from Scripture, including Jesus’s own life, that all kinds of prayers are acceptable, we do well to evaluate our prayer life in comparison to the “Our Father” prayer Jesus taught us. And to even pray the words of that prayer together, as well as to God, ourselves. So much in that prayer that can become individual prayers. Like in confession of sin, letting God know our needs, etc., not to mention what is basic, God as our Father whose name is to revered, and whose kingdom we long for.

Then Jesus tells us that we’re to pray in expectation, knowing our Father will answer. We come as God’s children in Jesus, believing that God always has our best interest at heart. And committing our cares, our loves ones, ourselves, and the world to him. In and through Jesus.

 

vindication from God our Savior

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24

When I read in the psalms about God vindicating his people, I think how undeserving I am of such vindication. And this is a psalm of David, who doesn’t seem that worthy of vindication when you consider his great sin of adultery and murder. But maybe that is meant to be an encouragement to the rest of us who, while we may have not committed such an act, still know we’re so undeserving because of what we have done, left undone, and because of grievous attitudes in our heart at times.

Just to make it clear what vindication means, it involves someone being proven to be in the right. When one thinks about that, one can’t help but think of God’s grace without which none of us would ever be in the right in the first place.

What especially stood out to me today in reading this great psalm is the line: “They will receive…vindication from God their Savior.” I think that helps us understand how God’s people are vindicated. It’s not because of them, but the God who saves them.

N. T. Wright helped me see from the psalms how God’s righteousness is tied to God’s salvation of his people. God’s saving act includes vindicating his people, who apart from that would never be vindicated. Of course this goes beyond what we deserve, because when we read all of the psalms and the rest of Scripture we understand that no one deserves vindication in themselves. We’re all sinners.

We receive vindication from God because of our faith and the difference God makes in our lives. We are different through and through, not wanting to do what is wrong, but wanting to do what’s right, even while we do fail along the way. It’s God’s working that makes us want to face our true selves, repent, and walk in God’s way, and keep doing that again and again with our ongoing confession of our sins, and endeavor to walk anew and afresh in God’s will for us in Christ.

And so we can be encouraged with this thought. God’s vindication of us is completely not because of us, but because of God, as by faith he credits righteousness to us, and helps us to want to live accordingly, even in the midst of our inevitable stumbling. God will vindicate us, yes, each one of us, in and through Jesus.

 

how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

If I would choose one passage to summarize my life, it might be this, and with a hope so. Jesus begins here, and this is where we need to begin and keep beginning. This is not like a one time thing, and then we move on. It’s something that should always characterize our thought and attitude about ourselves.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace and if we look at our lives honestly, we’ll know that we don’t measure up both in terms of sins of commission as well as omission. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves or our sin. But it does mean that we acknowledge our need for ongoing forgiveness of sin through confession, and acknowledge too our utter need of God’s grace to grow spiritually. We should never dismiss or minimize God’s promise to not only forgive our sins, but cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I have often seen Christians who looked down on other Christians or churches as not being “Spirit-filled.” But it has seemed to me over and over again that too often what is exhibited in such attitudes is a demonstration of leaving this saying of Jesus behind. They somehow are beyond that, or maybe to them that only applies to people before they come to Jesus for conversion. Utterly false. I would rather be with the humble, poor in spirit any day, than with the Spirit-filled who have to look down on others. I’m at home with the “poor in spirit,” since I’m most certainly one of them.

At the same time it is the poor in spirit who will actually know more of the work of God’s Spirit in their lives. Especially in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) as we note that no matter what spiritual gift we might exercise, if it is not exercised with love, it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13). That doesn’t mean we leave the Spirit-given gifts behind, but only that we put first things first.

If we fail to accept the reality that we’re poor in spirit, then we’ll inevitably be proud and compare ourselves with others, favorably for us, of course. Instead we’re to take the way of Jesus who made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), who was humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). In and through Jesus.

fresh starts

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

Psalm 51 is the great penitential psalm written in light of David’s great sin (2 Samuel 11). There had to be repentance for restoration, and deep contrition over time for needed change. There’s no two ways about it. We can’t think that confession and a wave of the hand changes everything. All of us in some way need a new start.

What we’re in need of is God’s grace for the forgiveness of our sin, for the cleansing needed in our lives, and for new life and direction. We need to be determined to continue in that grace, and when we get off track to be able to quickly get back on. To continue in the way God sets before us, with all its turns and changes along the way and daily renewing. And when need be, more fresh starts. In and through Jesus.

accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

loss

Loss is a part of life. In games, yes. But more seriously loss of spouse, marriage, child; job, career, dream; friends; reputation, status, opportunity. You name it.

Loss in life can make one jaded. You don’t trust others; you know they won’t accept you because you won’t, you can’t measure up. And this is a world often bereft of grace. But sadly it seems all too oftentimes that even the church isn’t grace-filled. Grace meaning acceptance as human beings and individuals into a fellowship/communion of truth and love.

I think one has to lick one’s wounds and go on. You have to find a church that does seek to uncompromisingly live in God’s grace. This is messy since we’re all a mess. None of us have it all together, and we will at times fail at each other’s expense. Hopefully we’re not referring to major failures, but sin is sin. It divides us, and if we let it, apart from God’s grace, it conquers us. Confession of sins and forgiveness and cleansing always available to us in Jesus.

Not only do we need to find a church that is faithful as a witness to the gospel, but we also need to plug into a small group in which we can pray for each other, help where needed, and hold each other accountable.

And we need to remain in the word, in Scripture, ourselves. Loss occurs in everyone’s life, and sometimes significant loss can seem to mark us, that we are a failure. That we didn’t live up to others’ expectations, who never knew us in the first place. Or for that matter, far more seriously, the Lord’s expectations.

There may be plenty of truth in that, indeed there’s some, but in Christ there’s always and forever God’s grace offering forgiveness and new life. Life out of death. Redemption from “determinism” or the inevitable, from the addiction one can’t break free of.

And there’s restoration. To the God-given special place for each one of us, helping us find and settle into the goodness God has for us in the good life and good works given to us. In and through Jesus.

peace of mind to the lowly in heart

And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
I will not accuse them forever,
nor will I always be angry,
for then they would faint away because of me—
the very people I have created.
I was enraged by their sinful greed;
I punished them, and hid my face in anger,
yet they kept on in their willful ways.
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners,
creating praise on their lips.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,”
says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
But the wicked are like the tossing sea,
which cannot rest,
whose waves cast up mire and mud.
“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 57:14-21

The peace described here is a rest in faith in God, which comes from a repentant heart, as we acknowledge our sin and need for God. The wicked are on their own, living in such a way that there’s no peace, no rest in God. They are restless in themselves, ever wanting more, oftentimes more in the way of money and power, status.

The passage, well entitled in the NIV, “Comfort for the Contrite,” is an encouragement for us to remain contrite and lowly in spirit, readily confessing our sins, and not thinking of ourselves as better than others. In doing so, we find our rest in God, comfort and provision from him, even praise of him on our lips from our hearts, in place of mourning.

The place where I want to live. In and through Jesus.

love imperfectly, but love

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

None of us have it all together. We’re all broken. We struggle in this way and that. And if we take life seriously at all, we realize that we fall short from our own ideal, and much more from God’s. But according to God’s word, the text above, love makes up for that.

I’m thinking not only of loving others so as to cover over their sins, look past them. But loving others helping cover our own deficiencies. That point is well made in this post.

That doesn’t mean for a moment that we should excuse poor attitudes like a critical spirit. No. And if we mess up or come across in a way that’s not helpful, we need to make it right as soon as possible. Nor does that mean we just let people run over us, and abuse us. But no matter what, our heart should be that love would always prevail.

Sometimes it’s hard. We may be tired, or feel unloved ourselves. That’s when we need to remember that no matter how we feel, God does indeed love us, that God has proven that in sending his Son, and not sparing him from the death of the cross, even for us. Indeed God in his love has led the way in covering a multitude of our own sins. And because of that we can do the same for others. And love, yes imperfectly, knowing that through that love our own deficiencies will be covered also. That people will indeed know we’re seeking to live in God’s love, and to love them and others. In and through Jesus.

what to do with pain

There are days when it seems like you get up out of the wrong side of the bed. When thoughts, usually one at a time, but they can then come in streams, trouble you. Add to that, you might have a chronic physical malady such as a headache, backache, or some other body ache from a past injury or physical condition. There’s no doubt that pain is a fact of life. It’s inevitable.

I think the worst pain is spiritual. Something gnawing in our souls. Actually the physical and especially the mental pain from discouraging thoughts often stem from the emptiness of, or any kind of attack on one’s spiritual well being. There just is no doubt, to underline the thought, that pain is a matter we off and on live with. Some chronic, like evidently Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Or acute, for a period of time, sometimes a long time, but sooner or later passing.

First thing I would like to say in addressing pain: don’t give into it. At the same time, pay attention to what might underlie it. Physical pain can be a blessing if it can point us to the source of whatever problem we might have, so that it might be alleviated. Whatever other pain we have is probably indicative of something beneath the surface, coming up so that maybe through confession and prayer, and sometimes through counseling and medication we can deal with it.

Not giving into pain does not mean we either deny its reality, or simply get rid of it with the right formula. Instead we want to stand steadfast in faith regardless of whether or not the pain can be relieved or not. A big test of faith is simply to remain in it in bad times and good.

Pain can be a blessing because God may be bringing something to our attention that needs prayer and simply being present. Ultimately since we’re in Christ, pain should not be seen as threatening. It is a part of this life. Scripture tells us that someday all pain will be gone, but not in this life. Until that time, let’s accept the inevitable, and in faith and prayer find what is helpful in it. Above all, finding God’s presence and help through it. In and through Jesus.