what are you looking at?

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.

Matthew 14; NLT

Years ago we had a youth group outing at a camp which included walking on a ropes course. The first year I got up there and barely made it from one tree to another, we were at least 18 feet high, I think higher, of course secured well with a wire overhead. I suppose I’m one of the “what if” people, so I was more than happy to get to the other side and get down. I did fall down on that one rope, and of course experienced the safety of the straps on me attached to the heavy wire over me. By the way, I had looked down to the ground during that short time, and given my fear of heights, I had been terrified, gripped with enough fear, that I was finished.

The next year, I had determined ahead of time that I would not look down to the ground. And I actually walked the entire ropes course without falling, though I think a good test would have come if I would have fallen. I did not look down, by the way. Maybe if I would have gone a following year, I would have advanced by being able to look down, though I’m not sure about that. I doubt though that I would have made it another time without falling.

This reminds me of faith, and of where we have our sights fixed. Is it on the Lord, and God’s promises in him, or is it on our circumstances? For Peter, at first, with his eyes on Jesus, he was actually walking on the water just like the Master. But when Peter took his eyes off the Lord, he was in trouble. With a stronger faith, surely the waves being whipped up by the wind wouldn’t have troubled him. But faith comes from God’s word, remember, Jesus told Peter to come, and from our focus on that, specifically on the gospel, and on Christ himself.

There are plenty of things in this world which can bring us down. No end to that. Perhaps some things are especially precarious for us, depending on what they are and our own disposition. For everyone, we need the faith of a child to keep looking to our Father, to God, and to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. We have to keep our attention and thoughts centered on him. As long as we do so, faith can become established and settled, and can grow. But when we look at the problem, we can become unsettled, and begin to struggle in our faith.

To Peter’s credit, as he began to sink after looking at the wind on the waves, he did cry out to the Lord to save him.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

That is my goal. Not to ignore the problems, but in all of that, to look to the Lord. To do what on my own I could never do. The main point here being, looking to Jesus. And keeping our eyes on him. May God help us to do that, so that we can overcome whatever it is that is bringing us down. And grow in our faith. In and through Jesus.

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no condemnation, or corresponding fear for those in Christ Jesus

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

I believe strongly that it not only doesn’t hurt to go back to some level one gospel truths. All biblical truth in a way, is gospel truth, since in one way or another it’s related to the gospel. But when you start looking at such truth in scripture, you do best to read all of it in context. This is like music albums, when certain symphony or classical pieces are on the recording. Those are nice to have, perhaps especially for those who don’t have an appreciation of classical music. Maybe akin to precious promise books, which have certain verses and passages from scripture. I have two such albums I especially like, one supposedly for morning, and another for going to sleep at night. We all return to certain verses or passages again and again. But it’s best to along with that, look and listen to the entire thing, if we want to gain a keen eye and ear, so that we can better process and appreciate every part. Such is the case with one of the great passages of scripture, itself like a mountain, or beautiful place, Romans 8.

Let me preface these thoughts then to point out that to gain the best appreciation of Romans 8, we need to consider all of this great book. And then to understand the book of Romans best, we do well to be working through the entire Bible. All of that is a project which takes time, to be sure. But even if we haven’t done much there, it’s so good to look at one short passage, maybe even a verse, and then look at a paragraph out from that in whatever translation of scripture you use. And from there a whole section, since most translations nowadays incorporate headings.

The beginning of the Romans 8 masterpiece states that those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation from God based on the cross of Christ; his death taking care of the sinfulness of our flesh, our sin– the work of the Spirit in our life, corresponding to that. We can think we know these things already, but it’s important to keep meditating on them, and actually life itself along with our own propensities will make it essential for us to do so, if we want to keep growing, and going on with the Lord.

The end of this important section of this great peak in scripture is related to the beginning. Since there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there’s no fear of that, either, because such are indeed God’s children, the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit of that reality, as we live in dependence on that Spirit, and do not live according to the flesh, which means the myriad of ways people live apart from the Spirit in the way of this world.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:12-17

Again, to really appreciate this fully, we need to read it more fully in its context. But suffice it to say here that we are simply different people in Christ, because God is our Father, and the Spirit helps us to live out that reality. And front and center here, condemnation and the fear is therefore never to be accepted by us.

Romans 8 stands on its own as a tremendous piece that we need to get into our eyes and ears, into our hearts, and into our bones. Into the very warp and woof of our lives. All of this in and through Jesus.

the fear of the Lord providing security

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
    and for their children it will be a refuge.

Proverbs 14:26

The fear of the Lord is called the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, referring to something of an inside understanding from God. There is certainly a reverential awe with surely a sense of wonder. But never a cowering fear. Through Jesus we know God as a loving Father, whose love knows no bounds (see Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son, which also could aptly be called the Prodigal Father). But this God who is love is still God.

This fear of God paradoxically makes one secure, in a sense fearing nothing. We read in 1 John that there is no fear in love, that perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with judgment. Although we know that in ourselves we are unworthy, yet living in the fear of God and what he has provided for us in Jesus gives us a security that is not only like being a part of the family, but actually is. Somehow, in whatever way this might best be expressed, and probably in a number of ways, we find security, or a fortress of safety in fearing the Lord, and best of all along with that, this is a refuge for our children. They too can find it, as we live in it. A wonderful reality for us all, in and through Jesus.

faith as allegiance

I am more than a little bit averse to easy constructs in theology to describe the whole of what is going on in scripture in the story of God. But I ran across a post, worth the read, which I think provides a good summary of one important aspect of faith, from a scholar, Matthew Bates. I wish he would describe things more in a way which puts the cookies on the lower shelf. If you read him, you may have to use a dictionary and work at thinking through what he is saying, which really is not a bad exercise in itself. Here are three points Scot McKnight draws out of Bates’s thoughts about what faith is:

  1. Mental affirmation/intellectual agreement: certain enough to yield.
  2. Professed fealty to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9-10).
  3. Enacted loyalty to the king, as in the obedience of faith.

I do think this point made of scripture making faith to be at its very basic, allegiance, does reflect what scripture actually teaches when one considers faith in the context of Jesus, and again, the post admirably sets that forth. I also want to see faith as somehow basically family-oriented, in that we are children of God through faith in Jesus, and that the faith of a little child is required, if one is to enter into the kingdom of God. So yes, allegiance to King Jesus the Messiah, as Lord, but also faith within the context of family, as God’s children. Of course we need scripture to fill out all the parameters of what allegiance to Jesus and living as God’s children in God’s household means.

Faith as allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and trust in God as Father is important in becoming our orientation in the rough and tumble of everyday living. We do things not out of some personal, self-centered goal, nor thinking that it ultimately depends on us. Instead we do everything out of loyalty to Christ, trusting in the Father to bring good out of everything, and to meet all of our needs together with others. All of this in and through Jesus.

anxious about nothing

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.

Philippians 4:6-7

A theme of faith I keep coming back to again and again is the command -yes, as  loving directive, but still a command- not to be anxious or worry. By the way, Amy Simpson has written a most helpful book on this subject, well worth the read: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

Yesterday a new matter which greatly bothered me at first was coming to my attention so as to bother me again, as has often been true about various things in the past. And the thought hit me: we’re not only not to be anxious or to worry, but we’re not to be anxious about anything at all, period.

That seems so counterintuitive, but goes along with another passage that has been impressed on my heart and mind:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yes, it’s important to be aware and do the best we can given the responsibilities and situations present. But first and foremost, we’re to pray, in this context to pray about whatever is a concern to us, before it gets to us and becomes a bother and burden. If it gets that far, we’re to cast that burden or care on the Lord, knowing that he cares for us, and that he will sustain us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22).

Easy words to say, but hard to put into practice. But that’s the call to faith in this world we’re to live out. That hopefully more and more will become second nature to us. Potentially freeing. Confidence in a loving, wise Father who oversees everything and is at work in the world through his Son, our Lord Jesus, in the power, presence and person of the Blessed Holy Spirit. When we are tempted to or actually do become unsettled, we need to turn to him. And yes, not be anxious (or worry) about anything.

holding conversation with God

Our priest, Michael when praying for me in terms of spiritual warfare which was bringing to the fore a major weakness of mine: anxiety with accompanying fear, challenged me to a “fast” in which I would take a week off from blogging and reading other than reading scripture, to concentrate in part on conversing with God. I initially largely dismissed the notion, thinking to myself that I indeed do converse with God, albeit surely in a limited way, in praying in the sense of talking to God as God, but also like I would talk to anyone else. But actually I was and still am weak on this score I think, at least relatively speaking. While I accept that God can and does speak to people in specific ways, I tend to dismiss a good portion of that as imagination or something other than conversation with God. Inclined at the same time to accept at face value what any one I know might be saying in terms of their own experience.

Surprisingly enough to me, this is quite related to the turn in emphasizing God as my Father (in a sense, God is the father of all through creation, in another sense the father of all who are born of the Spirit- another subject). But I began to work on this. What I soon found to be the case for myself, God’s speaking to me was largely in terms of scripture, specifically especially promises in scripture.

What I’m finding now is that it is soon freeing to bring to God whatever thoughts and concerns I might have, that I soon come to the realization by the Spirit that God is indeed my Father, that he will take care of things, that no matter what, he is my Father and he loves me. That is freeing enough by itself, and so far seems to be in significant measure casting out the fear that can so easily beset me.

knowing God as Father

God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God in Three Persons, essentially one in being and nature, yet distinctive, so that there’s diversity in (the) unity in the One or Oneness of God. Jesus as the unique Son of the Father revealed the Father in himself and taught that the Father is greater than all, though we know that the Son is no less God in his being. I will stop at that.

And so we know God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The Father seems to me to get perhaps a bit of short shrift in our thinking and practice. It is true that our faith is Christ-centered. The Spirit too can be little more than an afterthought to us, but we live by the life and power of the Spirit in and through Jesus.

And so when I think of God as Father I’m thinking of the Father. But I also think of God in general, because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One. They can never be separated in their union with each other.

Now to my life, just to get this point started. I have struggled for years emotionally and in my faith in the sense of trust. What has made up for that only in small part is a relatively strong faith in scripture, enough to keep my faith afloat. But not enough to really help me live well enough in God’s will in Jesus. I plan to share more on this, more details in days to come. But suffice it to say here that knowing God as my Father, really accepting him as my loving Father who is there for me to see me through, but fundamentally before that, simply loves me period, whatever I may or may not do, apart from my performance, is just now in this later part of my life igniting a revolution. Or at least a breakthrough in ways I’ve never known before. More on that on a later post.

God is our Father in and through Jesus and we are his very children. A perfect father who is present for us. Or perhaps waiting for us (as in the Prodigal Son) to simply turn to him. His loving embrace and extravagant welcome, following.