Jesus’s blessings and woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Perhaps an echo of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy, Jesus gives his version, which like almost everything Jesus did was surprising, often turning expectations on their head. And even to this day, though we’re used to the idea that these words exist, we hardly take them seriously, much less live by them.

We want to live in the full flourishing of the kingdom now. We want everything to be okay, good, great. And at least we want to have our slice of “the American dream.”

But Jesus calls us to accept something entirely different. Really, just how he lived. It’s not like he didn’t take responsibility. We can see that he did, the first thirty or so years of his life. I mean responsibility in the way we think of that: earning a living, providing for one’s family, etc. But when it was time for him to fulfill the Father’s calling, and his ministry, then it was done in complete dependence on the Father. Jesus’s words here are not something he didn’t live out himself. God’s riches we’re not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others. There was never to be a moment of self-sufficiency, but instead an utter trust in God for God’s ongoing provision. We see this all through Jesus’s life along with his teaching, including the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

The blessings and woes are meant to encourage and warn. Encouragement to those of us who struggle from day to day, maybe due to no fault of our own, or more likely with some fault, but seeking to live in God’s will. And warning for those who are self-sufficient, well able to take care of things themselves, often with their own agenda. The woes are meant to be warnings that the rich would hear so that they would change. One classic example that comes to mind of a rich person changing is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

So we need to take heart, regardless of where we might fall on the spectrum. God will take care of everything as we endeavor to follow Jesus. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

the blessing of the biblical accounts: David

God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

Acts 13:22b

The biblical account of David (1 Samuel 16-2 Kings 2; 1 Chronicles 11-29) like the gospel accounts is theological in the story it tells. It doesn’t diminish David’s failures or hide his blemishes. This is in large part why the Bible is so believable. David is a man after God’s own heart, but not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

This encourages us, because this too is where we live in Jesus. We are forgiven for sure, through Jesus and his death for us, but we’re not without fault. We still have our sins, and our lives can be messy at times. Of course we’re always in need of God’s grace, not only for forgiveness, but to live in the new life God has for us in Jesus.

But back to David. We can learn much from his account, which of course is what is intended in one way or another through all the Bible. Things that will both resonate with us and can help us. His is a story worth reading through, reflecting on and studying. Remarkably many of the psalms are in David’s name.

God did not put him on the shelf because of the great sin he committed, but David is on the shelf so to speak for all to see and learn from. That we might see the good we can emulate, and the bad we’re to avoid. Along with the grace that is ours. In and through the son of David, Jesus.

 

the need for faith and patience

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6:9-12

It is easy to get discouraged in the midst of life with all its setbacks, issues, and problems. And especially so in the midst of some prolonged trial. We can be tempted to begin to doubt whether our faith really matters.

The writer to the Hebrews was dealing with something similar with them. Except they were under the threat of persecution. They were evidently discouraged and indeed afraid, and we’re thinking about returning to the safety of their former Judaism.

I can find myself worn down, and simply tired. We need to rest, take care of ourselves, not push ourselves beyond what is healthy. At the same time we’re not to back down in the least from the calling and responsibilities the Lord has given us.

And while this is for others: we’re indeed blessed to be a blessing, it’s also necessarily for ourselves. We shouldn’t dismiss the danger we ourselves face, as the NIV heading for this passage puts it, “Warning Against Falling Away.” If we think that couldn’t happen to us, then it would seem to me like we’re not taking this passage of scripture, God’s word seriously.

We need by faith and patience to continue to believe and do good, hear the word and put it into practice, as James says. How that looks in my life will be different when it comes to specifics, then from someone else. But the same fruit of the Spirit.

It would be good to read the entire book of Hebrews with the above passage in mind. A pastoral letter written to encourage a discouraged people. For us all in and through Jesus.

meditation day and night

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

While the point of the Bible is the gospel, we still need every detail written in it, to best understand the whole, including the gospel. And for the interactive relationship with God we need.

Scripture is challenging, but also encouraging, and everything else we need. While helping us look heavenward, it is down to earth where we live.

We have to be in the word day and night, taking it to heart, and letting it change us through and through from the inside out. And we view all of life in this world through its pages.

God meets us as we do so, with all that we need: the promises, blessings, warnings, etc. In and through Jesus.

 

encouraging one another in our faith

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Hebrews 3:13

The word translated “encourage” in the NIV might better be translated “exhort” (as in the NRSV) except for the fact that we don’t use that word today. “Warn” (NLT) fits the context, yet might be too strong. And there’s another Greek word which means to warn or instruct. Perhaps a good rendering might be to “strongly encourage.” (See Bill Mounce to consider that word in the New Testament transliterated parakaleo.)

The book of Hebrews was not written to us, but is definitely for us. It was for a group of either Jewish believers, or believers who as Gentiles had previously been God-fearers in Judaism, now under pressure, being persecuted for their faith (at least the beginnings of it), and tempted to go back to Judaism. But no one should think they are signed, sealed and delivered, as to their faith. We need according to the text, daily encouragement, mutual encouragement in our faith (Romans), but also some pointed loving words, to help us stay on track. When we see faith in others which encourages us, we should let them know, so that they might be encouraged by what we see.

The nature of scripture is– what had application for others, now has application for us. We have to consider the writings in their original context, but we must look at it in our setting, circumstances, and situation of life, as well. There has to be a measure of contextualization. But in that process, we have to be careful not to think that their needs were different than ours. At the heart of it, the need is the same. Wherever we find ourselves, or more precisely in this context, others, we need to take this seriously, and apply it to our lives. We need each other in Jesus to help us along, especially through the most difficult and potentially dangerous times. To not turn back, or drift away, but go on in Jesus toward full maturity in him. To the very end.

encouragment to keep on keeping on

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15

For many reasons, it’s easy to want to give up at times, to throw in the towel. There is often so much pressure, and so much that could go wrong, and at times does go wrong. And we live in a world in which evil too often gets the upper hand and seems successful, and in which there’s little good that doesn’t have some admixture of evil. And if we honestly look at ourselves, we have to admit that we’re far from perfect, flawed and definitely not all together. We most certainly haven’t arrived. And all too often it can feel like our wheels are spinning.

But then we turn to scripture, and specifically to the great resurrection gospel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. The conclusion of it, quoted above suggests that it is meant to be an encouragement, as well as careful instruction during a formative time in the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people. Because of Christ’s death for our sins, and resurrection from the dead, we are given assurance that somehow what we do here and now in this present state matters. That it has effects beyond what is apparent, what the eye can see.

So the resurrection to come in and through Christ is not ony something we look forward to as a present day hope for the future, but also is meant to impact our lives in the present, that not only are we now living in the resurrection power by the Spirit, even while still in our mortal existence, but that this promise gives lasting significance to what we do in the here and now.

If this wasn’t the case, then it would most certainly seem indeed that “all we are is dust in the wind.” But God has promised to bring that dust back together beyond this mortality into immortality. And somehow with that, our works which proceed out of faith, as well.

And so that gives me pause, to not only want to do well, but to also avoid doing poorly. A straight arrow to us that what we do, our work matters. Both in our words and deeds. As we look forward to the time when all of our labor in the Lord comes together to be shown that it was not in vain, and we continue on in the love, goodness, grace, and indeed the life of our risen, resurrected Lord.

do we really believe?

In liturgical churches every Sunday, worshipers recite usually the Nicene Creed, which begins with:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.

I like that practice, though it’s seldom used in churches we’ve been a part of. It is suggestive of the reality that our faith is not just an indiviudal faith, but communal. Like Paul said, we can be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. And it is about what we believe in terms of what God has revealed in what theologians call general and special revelation. Fulfilled in Jesus and the good news in him.

The intellectual belief shouldn’t be underplayed; it is important. But if we really believe that, it means we’re taking God at his word, and therefore trusting him. It is a personal, experiential faith which concerns all of life. We believe in and trust the God who created everything, and promises to make all things new in the new creation in Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, our faith is pretty well worthless if it doesn’t involve the nuts and bolts of where we live, and if it doesn’t get beyond just our concerns to concerns for others, to God’s concerns, the interests of Jesus. Faith isn’t some mere religious belief which is nice for Sunday at church, but is hardly an afterthought in real life. It is about nothing less than all of life, or it is nothing at all since it’s not living up to what it is said to be.

We believe because of God’s testimony to us in Jesus, in the gospel, and because of God’s grace through that testimony. We have the witness in ourselves by the Holy Spirit, that even as the gospel accounts compellingly make clear, Jesus indeed rose from the dead, a bodily resurrection. And God’s promise in him won’t stop until all evil is judged, and all things are made new. And that hope begins in this life, with the faith and love which accompany it.

What we truly believe because of God’s grace in and through Jesus.

a simple word

I appreciate people who listen well, and try to say something encouraging and helpful in a given situation. The listening well part comes first, after which they might say nothing, except perhaps pray, or say they will pray. After that, some informative, constructive word can be uplifting, at least checking what might be a bit of a downward descent, giving us hope to not give up, perhaps find the silver lining, or move on and let it go, as well as seek to learn from it.

We need each other, certainly an ecomony in place within Christ’s body the church. We’re very much interdependent; we’re not meant to go it alone. And of course, we are completely dependent on God.

All of this is true, whether we recognize it or not. But it is to our loss when we fail to either recognize and acknowledge that. We need to put it into practice.

Above all, for me, I need to hear a word from God. And what I mean by that is something from scripture, from my daily, even hourly perusal or time spent in meditating on scripture.

Sadly, we oftentimes deny by our actions God’s word, and by that, fail to help anyone else. We need both God’s word to us, and we need to reinforce that word to each other. The book of Hebrews tells us that we’re to regularly, even daily encourage each other. Of course to do that, we must be encouraged ourselves with the encouragement that comes from God through his word to us found in scripture and through Christ.

A faith giving us a hope that enables us to carry on in love, in God’s will in Jesus.

looking for God’s hand/moving in one’s life

Yesterday in our team devotions, the chaplain who regularly leads them asked us to write down on a space specified for that on the handout, three ways we have seen God move in our lives. One of the team members asked if we had to settle for three, that they had more and more that they could tell about all day. And when their turn came to share one of the ways (this person was nearly bursting at the seams) they confined themselves to a quite unusual miraculous way in which God used them, just one of the many in their lives.

I initially sat there, quite tired, well spent from the work week and insufficient sleep of the night before, and hardly knowing what I would or could share, even though in my head I knew better. But my heart didn’t let my head see well at all. So that I might have next to little or nothing to say except that we know God is at work in our lives for good in and through Jesus. But I found the realization begin to awaken in me of just how much I really am aware, but in terms that wouldn’t be considered miraculous, or a personal boon and blessing. Probably occuring through the witness of my teammate I just mentioned along with the rest. Of course in Jesus we’re blessed to be a blessing.

As I listened to each one recount, it seeemed like the end of the time was going to cut me off, since I was last in the way the order was done, indeed the one before me, the chaplain said, would end it. But after his interesting story and the chaplain’s response, he looked at me almost as an afterthought saying I should say something, but that it would have to be quick. I was ready.

I expressed how nearly every day I’m aware of God’s moving in my life, and in the face and perhaps one can say even through the difficult challenges we’re currently facing and have been up against for some time. And how Bill Crowder of Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work (and of which I am a part of, even if it’s on the factory end) gave a most encouraging as well as convicing message the day before in our weekly chapel time on Leah (Genesis 29, 49), and how God is with the broken, and blesses the broken, how really every one and every family is broken. How we are all in great need.

Of course we daily have to remind ourselves and each other of God’s hand in our lives. This time in team devotions was a good exercise in us doing that. There most certainly is no end to it as we can see from the pages of scripture itself, sometimes miraculous, yes, but most often (at least for me) in the seemingly ordinary and mundane nuts and bolts of life. We need to look for God’s hand with the sanctified imagination of a faith that is formed and thus informed by the faith, the good news in Jesus, seen in the pages of scripture, and every day in our lives in and through Jesus.

 

bearing with each other

Sometimes we are not where we need and ought to be. We know better, but we need a little love. Maybe at times a fault needs to be pointed out, but only in the context of loving friendship and true caring.

I think we need to leave room for such spaces in each other’s life. Simply when we’re down, period. Good if we can, to get together with that person over a cup (or a lot more) of coffee.

A friend loves at all times. We need to be present for each other. And we need to accept the presence of another who cares for us. This is part of what it means to be in Christ’s body. Of course we need wisdom in all of this. We don’t practice what is unwise. And yet we must leave room for this ministry between us all in the church. And we need to be present for those in the world as well, in our following of Jesus.

Church too often is not about church at all, at least not church in terms of scripture, the New Testament. I don’t think there’s much of church at all, if there’s not ongoing relationships.

And so, let us be present for each other, a presence which is of the Spirit, in prayer. Together in Jesus, for the world.