a dissenting voice

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

He said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds dry up,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1:1-2

The tradition of the prophets in the Old Testament, echoed by Jesus (example: Matthew 23) seems all but absent in Christian circles, particularly my own tradition, the evangelical one. Of course if you speak out on any controversial issue, you are often assailed from all sides, because you don’t get everything right.

The prophets, Amos a prime example, certainly went against the grain of their times. This was about all of life, but the heart of it was the failure to love God and neighbor, the failure to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

The follower of Christ is called to follow him implicitly. That means back to holy Writ, Scripture, turning the pages, praying, and seeking to live this out in ordinary life, through all its in and outs, ups and downs. When doing so, one inevitably will be barraged with criticism.

The prophets had to live out the message God gave them. Isaiah and Jeremiah are stark examples of that. And followers of Christ are especially to live out the message of Christ and the gospel, the taking up of their cross. That is a huge dissent from the norm, the narrow way as opposed to the broad popular way (Matthew 7:13-14).

The goal is not to live in dissent, but to see God’s work bring change. Change first of all in one’s own life. And then perhaps through that, change in the life of others. Our part might not be necessarily to say much, but to listen and pray, to pray and listen. All God’s working. But not avoiding the difficulty of what the prophets faced. Part of the way of Jesus, in and through him.

against the heresy of prosperity gospel teaching

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 6:20-26

I hardly know where to turn first for a Scripture refuting the popular heretical teaching that Jesus wants you to be healthy and wealthy. I certainly believe that those who follow Jesus tend to do better in life in the United States. They won’t blow what they make on addictions, and will try to do what they can to take care of their families. But if you live in many places in the world, this becomes difficult, because Christians are marginalized at best, and persecuted at worst.

The idea that all is to be happy and great now is not rooted in the Bible, in the gospel accounts, or what follows. I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to simply start reading Scripture, beginning with the gospel of Matthew, and put aside everything else. Just read what Scripture says, not what some popular preacher or one purporting to be a Christian teacher says. Read Scripture and ask questions, the hard questions included.

Prosperity gospel teaching is heretical. Heresy is what is opposed to the plain teaching of Scripture, recognized by the church through the Spirit. The way of Jesus is not living it up in this world, but the way of the cross. Or did my Bible change? I think not.

Either we can be like Jesus, or the world. Following Jesus like Paul and the apostles did. There’s nothing in between, although I think that’s where many of us drift. Instead of double mindedness, we need to find our way in Jesus. Read the New Testament, then read the Old Testament, and the New Testament again. And see just how true this is. In and through Jesus.

in the midst of temptations and testings

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Matthew 4:1-4

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful;he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

Interestingly the Greek word translated tempted can also mean tested. What we can take out of just this simple thought is that what could be harmful to us could also be for our good.

Israel’s response in the wilderness wasn’t good. They faced a trial no doubt. But instead of trusting in the God who had delivered them and was providing for all of their needs, they grumbled and sinned against God. God’s judgment fell on them. One might say that due to their sin they fell out of God’s protection. These certainly failed the test.

Jesus entered the wilderness, led there by God just as Israel had been. But in his case he overcame. Unlike Israel, he was without food, yet he did not give into the tempter’s suggestion to make bread from stones, but rather submitted himself fully to his Father, citing Scripture.

The whole question for us is whether or not we’re going to trust God fully. And to do so means to believe not only in God, but in his word. Yes, the Word, Jesus, but also the written word, just as Jesus did. This means that no matter what our experience or even what we’re facing, we seek to live according to God’s word, and not by our own impulses or even deliberations.

How can we even know we’re in such a place? It’s when we consider our situation or something we’re facing a trial, and find ourselves prone to panic so that we take up our own devices rather than trusting in God. So we either will give into the temptation, or else we’ll find God’s help. One of the two.

In the end Israel was judged. Jesus was helped. The difference? Jesus of course trusted the Father, whereas Israel did not.

Jesus in the wilderness succeeded where Israel failed. We’re to learn from what he did. But we’re also to rest in the truth that what he did even there was for us. He succeeded where we fail so that he can help us live in the same way he did amidst trials. In complete trust in the Father. In and through him.

the gospel is what we’re to be living out, as well as witnesses to

We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.

2 Corinthians 10:14-16a

What seems beside the point in Paul’s addressing of his concern in passing, but really is at the heart of the point is what he was all about: not self-aggrandizement or self-glory, but only and always about the gospel of Christ.

Paul is getting after those who were set in opposition to him, claiming apostleship for themselves perhaps because they found themselves in opposition to Paul and somehow thought they could do better, or more likely out of an underlying self-ambition with a professed belief in Christ. But Paul wasn’t about self-ambition in the least, but again- only and always about Christ and Christ’s gospel.

Sometimes we may not feel we have anything to offer to others, or at least not anything they would accept. After all, people look at another according to their status, what they’ve achieved in life, or whether that other is beneficial to them, not to mention whether it all seems relevant or jives with them.

Paul was concerned about none of that, because the gospel is inherently weak and foolish in the world’s eyes, just as he had told them in his first letter to the Corinthian church. God takes the weak and despised and nothing things as his instruments to help others. The gospel is not only to be proclaimed, but lived out by those who proclaim it. Christ’s weakness in his death on the cross is to be embraced by his followers, that they might know God’s resurrection power in Christ. When we are strong in ourselves, then the only help people will get is what help we can give them, not God’s help.

And so we must continue on no matter what we’re facing or going through. Believing and knowing that we are on course only in the weakness of Christ for the good news that will bring others into the power and blessing of God. In and through Jesus.

holding on to progress in the faith

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

Paul is referring to the high call of God in Christ Jesus. A cross-shaped life for sure as we see in the passage itself (click above link). All that is contrary to that is to be considered as nothing more than garbage.

It is wonderful to receive insight and make significant changes. And then it may seem that you’re at a new level, which actually may well be the case. But it is remarkable and disconcerting how almost invariably over time one not only can, but will drift back into the old attitudes or actions.

So Paul’s words here are helpful. They shouldn’t be isolated from their context, but still need to be considered carefully. The emphasis is on how we live. And the context for that is the entire book of Philippians, and for that matter we can say the entire Bible, according to the gospel which is its ultimate focus and fulfillment.

There’s no doubt that once we’ve stepped into a new light and air, it is egregious to us to drift back into the old. We can be sure that all of our advances will be challenged by Satan, and we can say, tested by God. Are we committed to the new course come what may? Or will we yield to the temptation to go back to our old ways?

We need to hold on to what we’ve attained, live up to that. That is part of pursuing the high calling of God in and through Christ Jesus.

listen up

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

1 Samuel 3:10-11

One of the essentials if we’re to truly be followers of the Lord is to develop a keen awareness of his voice. We need to listen and we need the discernment that comes from the Spirit of God to understand. In fact of course we need God to open our ears in the first place.

The boy Samuel needed the priest Eli’s help to set himself to listen for God’s voice, or in this case discern since Samuel had earlier heard the voice calling him. I think we best hear God’s voice in the midst of life as we remain in God’s word, Scripture. God speaks to us through the Book and directly.

Our regular hearing should improve dramatically when we take the attitude of a servant. We aspire as those who would be the Lord’s servant. Our goal is obedience to God. But even more basic is our desire to commune and thus to know and walk faithfully with God.

God’s grace is key in all of this. We may think God will no longer speak to us when we either mess up or have attitudes that are wrong or at least questionable. In reality I think it’s accurate to say the Lord is always speaking. But whether we’re keen to listen is the question. In and through Jesus.

struggling to receive God’s peace

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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 4:4-9

If you take this passage seriously, then you have to acknowledge that it’s not easy to receive God’s peace. Certainly in answer to the prayers of others, we might find ourselves experiencing it. But from this passage it comes through believing prayer, reflection on what is good and true, and imitation of Christ, and specifically those who follow him. Far from automatic, or from being easy, for that matter.

God’s peace experienced is a sense of well being with the assurance that no matter what, somehow all will be well. At least a sure confidence in God through it all.

I love the experience, but I don’t see knowing in Scripture primarily in terms of experience. The feelings come and go, but faith remains the same. Faith by nature means trust and trust involves a dependence which means “hands off.” And yet there is our part, as we see in the above passage.

I often find in a given matter, it’s not without at least some struggle and prayer and time before I get a sense of peace one way or another. God is faithful and God wants us to find his peace always, through it all. By faith in and through Jesus.