like Jeremiah, our need of ongoing repentance

Lord, you understand;
    remember me and care for me.
    Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
    think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
I never sat in the company of revelers,
    never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
    and you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unending
    and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
    like a spring that fails.

Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“If you repent, I will restore you
    that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
    you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
    but you must not turn to them.
I will make you a wall to this people,
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
    but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
    to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
“I will save you from the hands of the wicked
    and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

Jeremiah 15:15-21

It is so easy to find fault with one’s lot. There is almost always something wrong somewhere. Admittedly there can be seasons which are especially difficult and challenging, even for no fault of our own.

Jeremiah certainly ran into plenty of trouble because of his prophetic call from God. He was to deliver a message which would put his life in jeopardy again and again. He had his enemies who wished to see him dead. And it seemed to him at times that even God was against him. He is aptly called “the weeping prophet.” Some thought Jesus was Jeremiah (Matthew 16:13-14). I tend to want to go back to Jeremiah again and again because I kind of identify with him myself, at least in some of the moods he was in, as well as trying to speak the word of the Lord into a world which is often indifferent, or sometimes hostile to it.

In the passage quoted above (the link is Jeremiah 14 and 15) Jeremiah is in the midst of trouble, and is tired of it. He has had enough, and God seems not only helpful, but deceptive to him. His attitude has turned south and is sour. He even likens God to “a deceptive brook” and “a spring that fails.”

God wastes no time in calling the prophet to repentance. Once again (Jeremiah 1) God gives him the commission, this time conditioned on his repentance. No matter what the outlook, God will see him through, albeit in a difficult task for sure.

This for me is a good and needed word. I too often complain at what in comparison to what Jeremiah went through is nothing. Although it can seem life threatening to me in a different way. And certainly not easy. But repentance of wrong attitudes toward God is basic, if we’re to continue on in God’s will. And a wrong attitude toward life is essentially a wrong attitude toward God when you boil it down for what it really is.

God is sovereign, and nothing happens apart from God, even apart from his will. God is great and God is good, and he is love. We have to persevere in faith in the midst of difficulty. Otherwise we end up becoming part of the problem. And we can no longer figure into God’s solution.

Like Jeremiah, some of us might carry with us a predisposition to easily fall into the pit of discouragement and despair. And like him, we need to heed God’s call again, and when need be repent of charging God with wrong in our complaining and grumbling. What is essential for us is to grasp God’s call and keep coming back. Knowing God will see us through, and with the blessing of the gospel for others, in and through Jesus.

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the Lord’s faithfulness to his servants

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

To be a servant of Christ truly, is such a high and holy calling. Nothing should get in the way of that call, although a servant will want to do well by their family, if they’re wise. We have at least one biblical examples of a good servant who evidently may not have been as good when it came to his family. I’m thinking of Samuel in the Old Testament. Not that the children of all such servants might not lose their way for a time. But too often such servants can be neglectful of their families in their busy schedule of serving others. We need to try to be really present, both in terms of quality and quantity time with our children, and spouses. Yet there is little doubt that there will be some price they have to pay, as well as ourselves, to fulfill what God has called us to do.

Paul had the advantage of having no such ties, evidently having no immediate family of his own. Perhaps as a Pharisee he had a wife, but she evidently had died, because it is clear from the New Testament that he was not married when he wrote his letters (see 1 Corinthians 7). But Paul still had friends who served with him, and he needed companionship. And this was probably especially the case during trying and difficult times.

Paul was on trial because of his proclamation of the gospel, and had been abandoned by everyone, evidently because of their fear of being identified with him with their lives possibly at stake. Most of us today can’t really identify with that. But what we can understand is the sense of being alone, of others not in the work with us, maybe having a hard time finding anyone to serve where needed at all. And yet we can press on time and time again, often not really feeling like it, but still wanting to do it. And we find over and over again, that the Lord is faithful and stands with us. That somehow he is present, and through us he blesses others. That is what Paul experienced, and it is for all of us who endeavor to faithfully serve Christ, even when oftentimes, it’s not convenient. The Lord is faithful. And he will be with us to the very end, as in our weakness, we endeavor to be a faithful servant of his to others, come what may. All in and through him.

 

 

heeding God’s call

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord.

Amos 7:14-16a

There is a sense in which any of us who are in Jesus have some sort of calling from God. And the gift to go along with that. It really matters not what friends or even academics might think of that, although we should be humble and teachable, and learn what we can from their critiques. But in the end, we are answerable to God alone. We must pay attention, and be obedient to God’s call.

This doesn’t mean for a second that we’re infallible, or always get it right. Or that we think we’re something special, or a cut above anyone else. No. We’re all different, and everyone’s gift from God is a God thing and therefore a good thing. You shouldn’t compare as in putting against apples, oranges, pears, trees, etc. to each other. They’re all different, but all good in their place.

That’s what I attempt to do. I want to be accountable to the church, to others, and I’ve tried to be. And again, I know there have been flaws in what I’ve done, and that in some ways I’ve refined myself over the years. And yes, I have a hard time with some of what I do, as well. I don’t care at all about my own opinions, for example. But they are one person’s considered thought, weighing, as well as influenced by the thoughts of others, one who has lived a pretty good number of decades.

But in the end, what matters is God’s calling. And our answer to that. Let’s be faithful to the one we will answer to in the end. Together. In and through Jesus.

the wheels turning slow, more often than not, a good thing, but must be turning

The Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a momentous occasion in the history of the faith, when what is required of God’s people with reference to the coming of Christ and what we now call the old covenant, was nailed down. But it wasn’t something that was just slapped together in a trial and error kind of way in reaction to a problem. And when you think about it, it required some significant time to have the substantial basis for the answer the apostles and elders agreed to.

It was at least eight years after Peter had first proclaimed the message of the gospel to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believing Gentiles through hearing the message. During that time Paul’s testimony of how many Gentiles came to faith during his missionary journeys agreed with that. Surely I would think that it didn’t take long for a group of believers, or some leader to insist that circumcision and old covenant requirements remained intact. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking that such was probably taken for granted by much of the early church, comprised entirely of Jewish believers, along with those Gentiles who had converted to Judaism as God-fearers.

On the other hand, as one can see from the text, it was in response to a problem which had arisen, that the council was called in the first place. So that we can surmise that it’s not good to put every problem on the back burner. Or maybe better put, we keep the wheels of deliberation turning, without some hasty reaction, which might have to be taken back, even repented of, later.

The council was called in response to a problem, like councils in the early church that followed and hammered out the teaching of scripture for the church such as Christ’s two natures: fully God, and fully human, along with the Trinity. All in response to teachings in their day which were off the mark.

I think it’s wise to move slow, and with consensus, especially among those who are leaders in the church, in harmony with the Spirit and the entire church. And yet there’s a time to make the critical move and perhaps the pronouncement which comes with it.

This doesn’t mean we should be afraid to act, or speak something into a situation. Maybe God is leading us to, maybe not, but when we have an inkling of that, we would do well to gently, but firmly do so. Yet at the same time, we live with the realization that change takes time, and actually that we’re a part of that. We need the time ourselves, to reflect on our own journey. In the case in Acts, it took Peter some time to come around and then be fully convinced and confirmed in the change. And not without a struggle, even backsliding (see Galatians 2).

God will keep us faithful to the gospel, even when we inevitably misstep along the way in details of how we’re to live it out, and be a witness to it. And it’s a process of growth into that, not something which happens overnight. With the new life in place, we might think we have all we need to do everything. But it’s much wiser to stay the course over time, looking to others, and to the church at large, as we continue in scripture ourselves.

May God give the church wisdom in all of this in whatever days and years remain before Christ’s return.

remaining faithful (and seeing the big picture)

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness[g]

Habakkuk 2:4

Sometimes it feels like nothing is left so to speak, that at least everything is in shambles. And life itself does not make sense. If you read the three chapters of Habakkuk (you can through the link above), you’ll find that precisely to be the setting for the prophet Habakkuk’s complaint to God. Injustice was rife among God’s people, which made no sense, since God wasn’t doing anything about it. And then God’s solution in response to Habakkuk’s request as to what God would in time do made no sense to Habakkuk, either. God bringing on a nation, an empire of that day, which acted even worse than God’s people, and was less righteous in Habakkuk’s eyes.

What are we to do in such circumstances? God’s answer to us is that the righteous will live by faith, or more precisely by their faithfulness. Actually without faith, it’s impossible to be faithful. Both faith and faithfulness are tied to commitment in response to God’s word, promise, and command. We can say, covenantal in nature. Of course one has to believe God’s word. But within that belief has to be a trust which is a commital of one’s entire life to God. So that all depends on God, but we are in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties.

For Habakkuk in a way that seemed easier since he was part of the covenantal people, Israel. But simply to be part of that nation did not mean at all that individuals lived up to that covenant obligation. So even then the call to the individual within community was in play. Today there is the challenge among many evangelicals to see God’s covenant in terms of a people, the church. We often don’t put sufficient emphasis on church, but see it more as a good help to our faith. But church is indeed a part of our faith in that the covenant we have before God in Christ is both individual and communal. That covenant is broken if we consider it nothing but individual, “between me and God.” We’re in this together. In New Testament terms, we are indeed one body, so that while each part has its place, and is important before God, we are important for all the others, as well. It’s never only about us and God. It’s about us and God and others in Christ.

So the call to faith and faithfulness is both in response to God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ, and together with others in Christ, and not just for the sake of each other, but in our witness of the gospel before and for the world. We remain faithful when life around us makes no sense and seems to be falling apart. But we trust God in all of that, and are committed to the good news of the gospel which is breaking in through God’s saving work now. God’s judgment at work in the world now, too, as needed. But an emphasis on God’s salvation, “today” being that time.

We all have part in this, so that we live now with that in mind. Through our faith and faithfulness. By God’s grace, God’s gift and giving in Christ. Assured that God is at work now and to the end, in and through Jesus.

God’s vindication

Vindicate me, Lord,
    for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
    and have not faltered.
Test me, Lord, and try me,
    examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
    and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.

Psalm 26

To vindicate means to declare someone innocent (NLT). In fact, read the NLT rendering of the psalm found in the link above.

We are not talking about sinless perfection, because if we were, God could vindicate no one, except of course, Jesus. And we’re not talking about a person who has no room for growth, perhaps especially in certain areas. If Paul didn’t think he had arrived at the goal to which God had called him heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3), how much less, we?

We are referring to a life of integrity, which actually would necessarily include making things right when one does wrong. A life devoted to God, growing in and through Christ. While we initially need to confine ourselves to the words of this psalm, we shouldn’t stop there. We also need to consider all of scripture, and particularly in the light of the revelation of Christ and the gospel.

Only God can vindicate. Self-vindication is not what we’re after. Although there are times quite trying, when we do speak in defense of ourselves and our lives and conduct, which is certainly the case of the psalmist here. Even though he is asking God for God’s vindication of his life, he is laying out his best case in defense of himself, even while asking God to probe his heart, and test whether or not these things are true.

Jesus is the one God vindicated, ultimately through his resurrection from the dead. And we are in Jesus, so that God’s vindication on us is through him. But within that declaration of innocence or righteousness, which begins by faith in this life, is a life of not only dependence on God, but devotion to him and his will in Jesus. Certainly a life in which ongoing confession of sin will be necessary, both to God and to others we have hurt.

God is the one who will vindicate us, our lives, our sincerity, and the reality of our walk in him in and through Jesus.

an attitude grounded in faith

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land,  for we can certainly do it.”

Numbers 13

Chuck Swindoll is definitely one of my all time favorite evangelical preachers and writers. A breath of fresh air. Here is something he wrote which speaks needed wisdom to me:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. … The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.

more

One thing we can be certain of (click the link, “more”), we will face problems and adversity. That is a given. What isn’t certain is our response to them. Will we bail out? Will we endeavor to face them feeling overwhelmed and in the end completely worn out, so that we barely have enough to complete the task, or we do so gnashing our teeth in the process? Or do we acknowledge the reality, yet persist in the faith that God will be present, and will fulfill his promises to us in Jesus?

All Scripture is written for us (Romans 15:4). The account in Judges is challenging. Of the fourteen spies Moses sent in to give a report on the land, only Joshua and Caleb had faith in God and God’s word. The inhabitants there looked formidable, but their response was not to give into their fears, but press forward, and take the land, since God had both promised and commanded it.

What about us? What about me? Am I allowing myself to live overwhelmed over everything at hand, along with other looming issues, so that there’s barely enough strength, if that, to get through the course of a day? Or am I trusting in the God who fulfills all his promises to his people in and through Jesus, so that my main concern is holding on to faith, and being faithful?

Attitude. Not about believing in myself, but believing in the God who calls us, sends us, and equips us for the mission he gives us in and through Jesus.