no matter what, keep on keeping on

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:25-27

Life is what it is. It’s full of disappointment, conundrums, and if we’re not careful, we can become disillusioned. We have to take hold and hold on to find the vision God has for us. And that will require some serious effort on our part, especially through certain terrains.

But no matter what, we need to simply keep on keeping on. We need to keep our eyes ahead and steady. Think and pray, pray and think. Remain the same in the Lord, day in and day out. Stay on track. And avoid evil, which may seem unnecessary to say, but we have to remember that evil can be subtle, and even seem right, in fact evil might at times seem to be good. I’m not thinking of blatant wrongs, but wrongs that are every bit as evil, but couched and hidden in what seems entirely justified, but is entirely not.

Simple, yet equally profound. In and through Jesus.

peacemaking and persecution

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:9-12

At the end of what has often been called the Beatitudes, Jesus possibly juxtaposes two thoughts side by side which are related, but at odds with each other.

How can you be a peacemaker, yet be on the short end, indeed experiencing violence? Enter the world of Jesus.

Jesus was indeed a peacemaker, from Scripture we say by the blood of his cross, and that’s for sure. He took human wrath on himself to end human wrath. We say God’s wrath, but I would prefer to say God’s wrath against evil. God in judgment took the wrath of humankind on himself there at the cross, to end it once for all. And peacemakers following Jesus indeed need to point this out.

Peacemaking as Jesus was describing it here definitely was related to the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation later established by the cross. For us on the ground now it’s a matter of promoting peace on God’s terms, the peace of the kingdom established in Jesus. It is a peace grounded in faith and allegiance to King Jesus, and a peace based on his teaching and life. Made possible again through his death. We can’t do this on our own.

But even when we are people of peace, the peace spoken of here, that doesn’t mean we don’t end up becoming victims of war, violent opposition, violence in one form or another (Psalm 120). Certainly in being cursed, verbal violence, but sometimes suffering physical persecution. For us in the United States, this seems remote, of another world for good reason. We rarely if ever face one such incident of actual physical persecution during our lifetime. That probably speaks more of the society in which we live, but I wonder if we were more faithful in following Christ if we would see some incidents of it.

Is our persecution really because of righteousness and what is just, as well as for Christ? A good test might be if we’re truly becoming peacemakers in the way of Christ. Otherwise the “persecution” we experience might indeed need to be put in quotes, more about ourselves and our offenses, and less if at all about the offense of Jesus.

Would that life would be this black and white. Unfortunately there are times when it is partly our fault. We may not understand why, it may be nothing blatant or known on our part. Then there are the times we stumble and know better. Ironically those end up easier for us to make peace by simply asking for forgiveness. The other times, we know that somehow our weakness might be in play, but we have knowingly done nothing wrong.

It is hard to know what to do. To be as wise as serpents, but harmless as doves is surely something we need to be considering here. But we may just have to take what persecution comes our way, hopefully God doing a work for good in the one persecuting us, so that they might repent and change due to the love of God present even through us, in and through Jesus.

facing the challenges of life

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121

There is certainly no escape from the challenges of life. They come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak. And many. Expected and unexpected. 

God’s promise to us is that as we look to him, he will help us. Whatever we face, big or small. We can count on God’s help, and as we read in this psalm, God’s protection as well. 

The Lord watches over us. We can count on that. What we need to do is hear the words of this psalm and take them to heart. To hopefully steady us, and take away our fears. To ground us in the way God has for us. In and through Jesus.

the necessary resistance

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.

Ephesians 6:10-18

I have often gone to this passage in my personal life as a believer, and also on this blog. And I believe what I’ve said carries some weight and truth. What I have failed to factor in is I think a more balanced view tied to both second temple Judaism and passages in Isaiah which help us understand the context and understanding of the original writing. Here’s some good work from scholarship by Kurt Willems to give us a much needed balance on the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6. Not only personal, but systemic. Not only defensive in resisting, but offensive in readiness for the victory of Christ. Not individualistic, but necessarily the entire church involved.

We’ve got to be awakened to the work of the demonic powers, yes in our personal lives and the lives of others, but also in systems, in structures, wherever these forces of evil intrude, yes even through earthly rulers, to oppress people, what empire necessarily does to be empire. But not relegated to that, but including everywhere where such tyranny is practiced, not only in governments, but in any institutions. What is referred to here is not only individual evil, but also systemic evil. Both surely work hand in hand. For example there was a Hitler. But there was also a system in place through the narrative of the Third Reich and the fascist governing of Nazism.

The necessary resistance will be to the structures and powers which are antithetical to God, to God’s reign in Christ, to the shalom which God intends and brings through God’s kingdom in Christ. And this resistance is from the church as a whole. Not only this letter, Ephesians, but this passage is addressed not just to individuals, but to people, to the church. The church should be aware of not only the nature of the battle it’s in, but also its scope. While at the same time holding to the gospel of Christ as the church’s God-given remedy to the ills afflicting individuals, people, society. And seeing victory manifest to change both individuals and systems.

This battle is ongoing. There will be no completion of it before Christ returns. The evil powers are restless. So we too, together must be alert and ready, realizing the battle we’re in. Ready to resist and see the victory of God in Christ make inroads to change individuals and influence societies for good. In and through Jesus.

to be blessed mourners

[Jesus] said…

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:2b,4

Jesus taught that those who mourn are blessed. He means what we might call the righteous mourners. Mourning over sin, beginning with their own. Mourning over the brokenness and degradation of the world caused by evil. Mourning over the abject suffering that continues in the world unabated.

Jesus mourned. We see this when he wept over his friend Lazarus who had died, sorrowful over that, but also empathetic with others who were weeping. And he wept over Jerusalem, since they had failed to receive him as their true King. He wanted to bless them, but couldn’t.

There is no end to the sadness of this world. If we in Christ don’t enter that, then we’re not following or becoming like the one we profess.

 

true religion today

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amos 5:21-24

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

It is a sad time, and a difficult one indeed, worldwide. With the pandemic, and all that has swirled around that, and now with the murder of another black person at the hands of a white person, even one who is supposed to enforce the laws of the land. There’s little wonder over the reaction that has taken place, terribly mistaken as it is, from years and years of pent up frustration and anger and loss of hope.

The anger on all sides is nearly overwhelming. You have Christians on the religious right holding the line steady on abortion being the evil of the day, and too often minimizing other evils, in my opinion, though not always. Then you have Christians on the religious left who too often it seems to me think that a political change can solve the problem. I don’t deny at all that political process and change can’t make a difference.

But what both Amos and James are getting at demands more than religious services with lots of words on how to fix the problem. What seems needed is an underlying passion for justice, and a heart set on making a difference. This goes well beyond politics, how one thinks in terms for example of American politics: left, right, moderate, whatever. It doesn’t leave those behind, and I think there can be good points in them all. But what is at the heart for Christians and for the church is nothing more or less than what Amos and James were getting at.

What is needed is a change of heart that can lead to the other changes needed. And this should be seen in the church, in its care for each other, and for its community and beyond. And it must touch the troubles of the day with the healing hand of Jesus. Our politics of this world should not even enter into the picture. There should be the kingdom of God influence which permeates all we say and do. “The politics of Jesus.” When people look at the church, they should not be able to figure out what American or other national political persuasion we’re of. They should instead think something like, “Wow, these people really love each other and everyone. They care about the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, pregnant women, the unborn, the born, everyone.

I am confident that’s already true across the board. But that’s not seen when we make a big deal out of our American political stance. All that does is alienate others. We should not care ourselves one bit as to where we do stand politically. That’s all beside the point. The wise words of Abraham Lincoln can help us here:

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

None of us at all are on God’s side. But yes we can be and are, and we need to live accordingly, only in and through Jesus.

 

“deliver us from evil”

There is nothing good about what has happened and continues to happen in the United States to African-Americans. Where is justice? We will be judged.

Of Solomon.

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
    the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
    your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
    the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
    and save the children of the needy;
    may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
    as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
    like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
    and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the desert tribes bow before him
    and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.
May grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
    and thrive like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed.

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

in insane times

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 4:8-9

Paul basically tells us two simple yet profound things here. He says essentially to guard our thought life, not so much here by what we don’t take in, though that’s important, but what we actually do think about and reflect on. And Paul tells us to live as he did. That should be a check on us, on how we often live and act, or react to things.

This is a challenge because Christians are not to turn a blind eye to what is wrong, impure, ugly, shameful, and deserving of rebuke and censure. That’s always to be found, and people are thankfully metaphorically, but still sadly nearly at each other’s throats nowadays. It is a maddening time.

But what’s a Christian to do? Do what Paul tells us here, a part of God’s written word. Settle down and settle in to what is better. In doing so, maybe then we can be helpful to influence what is not. In and through Jesus.

where we live now

For the director of music. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the LORD silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the LORD.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the LORD are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.

You, LORD, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.

Psalm 12

This is almost a lament, but kind of a mixture between that and petition and praise for God’s answer. It’s the space in which we live. There’s much to lament in the world. Yet we have God’s promise of intervention. We believe in the end that God will make everything right.

Often we don’t see the answer. I think of some of the most difficult places on earth to live with totalitarian regimes. But sadly, even in free nations there’s much that goes on that isn’t just and right.

We need the insight to see through those who may be misleading. And we need to hold on to the one sure confidence and hope we have: that God somehow is at work now, and will eventually right all wrongs in the judgment and salvation to come. Part of the gospel, the good news, in and through Jesus.

watch your mouth

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

James 3:2b

Although outright murder is worse, there’s nothing more destructive, other than that, than the tongue, what people say, the harm we inflict on others. Many a child grew up with the voice ringing in their ears, or the wound remaining in their hearts over what they were told as a child, more often than not, time and time again.

Knowing this, it seems some people employ their tongue as nothing less than a weapon to destroy others. One might think they’re attempting to destroy evil, but on closer examination, it’s really more like what the text in James says, it’s really to put down someone else, yes, to destroy them. Or so it seems to me.

It is better to be silent, or if one has to speak, to choose one’s words carefully. And with the goal of listening well along with the realization that in the end God and God’s will prevails, regardless of what humans do.

But to do that, one has to be careful not to be caught up in the evil that the tongue ignites.

The tongue…is a fire, a world of evil…

James 3:6a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18