a proper obsession

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:7

Last evening in our church small group, my wife leading our book study from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, the chapter on being obsessed, I was reminded of my current reading through the gospels. If you don’t call that an obsession, what Jesus was doing, and his disciples following him, learning to do the same, I don’t know what an obsession is. To be obsessed is to be intensely occupied with something. Jesus’s life was wrapped up in his Father, obedience to him, and in doing so, being a servant to all, even unto the death of the cross.

The quote from Isaiah above is from what is called the servant songs, fulfilled by Jesus. And the idea of setting his face like a flint is echoed in the gospels when Jesus set out to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing this visit would end in his crucifixion.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

That was the culmination of Jesus’s obsession. Just begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see that they’re marked by a singleness of vision and devotion to that. And in and through Jesus, we carry on that same life. We either follow Jesus in that way, or according to Jesus, we’re not following him at all. That’s the life to which we’re called by God in Jesus. The life we’re redeemed to in turn for the redemptive good of others. In and through Jesus.

 

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preach the word

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

We in Jesus as Christians and churches are called to preach the word. And to do so with an orthodox understanding of what it means. Creeds have their place in reminding us what is central to the Christian faith, and the point of it all: the gospel. And the Spirit has spoken to the church as to what its meaning is. The Trinity: God is Triune, one God in three Persons; Jesus is fully God and fully human in one person through the Incarnation, God saves and will judge through Christ. Basic essential teaching.

Faithful teaching is required in churches, and should include matters that are often taken for granted with many of us, like the truth cited above. There was a time when the majority of churches did not hold to the Trinity, or Christ’s two natures in one person.

In my life I’ve seen the word preached and taught faithfully, but I’ve also witnessed what I might call preaching the word lite. The passage of scripture is almost treated like an aside, the stress being on what the speaker is making pertaining to one’s life, or felt needs. It is hard to describe, and I’m reticent to make such an observation since I really haven’t been a part of a church which didn’t preach the word. There’s no way I could have remained or participated in such. It’s almost by degree or grade when one can sense a tendency in that direction. But some churches are obviously there. In which scripture and Christian teaching is indeed secondary to what their message or way of approaching people is, week in and week out.

We shouldn’t take any of this for granted. If the Apostle Paul gave the charge to Timothy, and warned him that there would be a time when this wouldn’t be easy, then we need to make sure we shore up, and fulfill the trust we’ve been given. Christian leaders must be held accountable by churches, and Christian leaders must hold churches accountable to this. Until Christ returns. In and through him.

to remain in worship

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk (audio) is one of my favorite biblical books, though each and everyone is just as important in its place. Habakkuk is helpful to me, because it challenges God over God’s leading, will, and work. It seemed to Habakkuk that God did not make sense in terms of what God was doing at the time. Habakkuk wanted life to make sense in a world bent against God and God’s will. And it was certainly personal to Habakkuk, who stood as one of God’s prophets, proclaiming God’s word, often of God’s judgment in anticipation of God’s justice and salvation. But what was to unfold according to God’s word given to him as we see in the book seemed to make a mockery of justice. That God would use Babylon which engaged in practices more evil than the nation God was punishing, his own people Israel, made absolutely no sense to Habakkuk.

This single thought, to be taken from the book as a whole, is vitally important, if we’re to be true worshipers of God. Habakkuk ends up being a book of worship, though it is in the process of working through real life that Habakkuk finally gets to that. And part of that process was questioning God.

God did answer, and that’s vitally important for us today. We have God’s answer in spades, when you consider not only the book of Habakkuk, but the entire Book of the Bible. And yet to live through the process, not to mention to try to get our heads around it, or more likely, just to try to begin to understand it, is really beyond us. We need God’s grace and help for sure.

But there’s nothing more important for us as God’s people in Jesus than to be true worshipers of God. To remain in that posture, we will have to work through challenges to God’s goodness and greatness. But it’s vital to us that we are committed to being worshipers of God, come what may. The thought Habakkuk closes with, quoted above. In and through Jesus.

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.

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.