the difference maker

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:1-17; NRSVue

In and through Christ, God meets us right where we live. Of course, we’re to be active and alert and try to understand how we’re supposed to think, what we should do. Indeed dwelling within us to help us individually and together get through life in a way that is pleasing to God, even pleasing to ourselves and to each other in Christ (Romans 12:2), and ultimately for the good of all.

When we depend on our own spirit, our own thoughts, whatnot, then we’re going to find ourselves lost and burdened, definitely weighed down, because we’ll want to live up to God’s just standards of love in all things, something we’ll not do well enough, or have the discernment to know what really matters to God in the first place, what we should be concerned about or do in any given situation.

The Spirit is the difference maker for us. Otherwise, we’ll likely be in something like a religious mentality in which we’re trying to figure things out on our own. Yes, the Spirit helps us, and often through others in Christ, and at times even through those who make no profession of faith in Christ. The important thing for us to remember is that in this life we’re not left on our own. The Spirit is our needed difference maker, ever present, giving us the assurance that we’re indeed God’s children. And with that assurance giving us all that we need to navigate life. Yes, with our individual situations of course, often through each other, as well as through scripture, in answer to prayer, listening for that “still small voice,” and intent on doing and living in God’s will. In and through Jesus.

who are we the sheep following?

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

John 10:1-5

We sadly hear and read about “sheep” leaving churches. In biblical language, God and Jesus are called “my shepherd” (Psalm 23) and “the good shepherd” (John 10). There are women and men gifted to be what has been called “under shepherds” commonly called pastors. And the rest of us are called sheep, though in a certain sense that designation includes everyone.

The question today is simply: Why is there the scattering and division of God’s flock? If the sheep were all listening to and hearing the voice of the good shepherd, they would be together, one flock with Jesus. And under shepherds as we take in the rest of the New Testament are in the mix and arrangement as well. Of course the under shepherds themselves, that is the pastors need to be listening and hearing the good shepherd, Jesus, so that they might lead their flocks and be examples to them. But alas, today we have a crisis of sheep being scattered.

And why? Unfortunately we sheep are too often not animated by just the Lord’s voice, if by the Lord’s voice at all. But there are a cacophony of voices causing discord and confusion, along with division. The consensus is gone which can only be present when everyone is intent in following the Lord’s voice only.

What is the cure for this? Simple yet profound, and not easy once we’ve gotten off track. We need to get back to the basics, assess just what we’re hearing, what’s influencing us, and repent of whatever is interfering with the Lord’s voice, so that we can’t even hear him, or are not properly understanding what he is saying.

Not one of us is exempt from this. We need to pay attention to those who are over us in the Lord, as they commit themselves to hearing our Lord’s voice. As we too seek to hear that same voice day after day, and find our way back into safe, verdant pastures. Now and forever with, in and through our good shepherd, Jesus.

be careful to do it

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

James 1:22

We need to remind ourselves, but if we fail to, life will. James is a good book to settle into for life, of course always considering the rest of Scripture as well. James and life, life and James together will remind us of the straight and narrow to which Jesus calls us.

It seems to me that a major bent we have is to simply love receiving insight so that our basic stance is to understand. But we often fall short of fulfilling why that understanding is given in the first place. To help us grow and put into practice what we’re told to do. We need to be not just hearers, but doers of the word.

We need a keen sensitivity all the way around. Eager to hear God’s voice and pick up what God is saying to us. And understanding its meaning, how that truth is meant for our lives, for change, that we might confess our sins, repent of our ways, and do not only better, but do God’s will in the matter. However halting and imperfect that may be, so that the difference may become more and more a part of who we are, and of what we do. In and through Jesus.

“listen to your life”

Frederick Buechner is a writer of a number of books, whose favorite phrase may be “listen to your life.” There’s surely an ample amount of wisdom in that thought. 

As followers of Jesus, we need to be in Scripture, all of it, and especially the gospel accounts and what follows in the New Testament. We need to have our ears turned there, seeking to hear what God might be saying to us.

And we also need to be simply listening to our lives, what is happening, what we’re facing, paying attention to ourselves, how well we’re doing, even just how well we are.  We need to try to hear God’s voice, or just get a sense of God in that, also.

Direction from God is always related to life. Life in the big scheme of things, and our part in that. And life in general. So we want to be listening. Just that very attitude and act will help us with the potential to help us immensely. In and through Jesus.

in the midst of all the din- the continuous noise, follow the good Shepherd

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

John 10:2-5

I am amazed today at how caught up Christians are in the political mess. It’s like we’re taken up into the maelstrom and chaos, and we become part of it, frankly part of the problem, at least all too often. We can see this on media networks such as Facebook. And it’s not like I’m immune to this. Given the fact that I have a teaching bent, and tend to confront what I consider wrong, I am definitely vulnerable to getting caught up in this myself in ways that are not healthy, or even helpful. That’s a struggle for me. Maybe in my case it’s more a matter of how I do it, rather than wondering if I should do it at all. But regardless of who we are with our differences, we as followers of Christ need to do precisely that, endeavor to be following him.

To do that we need to be listening to his voice. And with other sheep. That is a challenge during this time of pandemic. It’s always been a challenge, and from what I’ve seen and experienced, Christians overall are not that good at this. We often don’t listen well, nor do so together. And when we do listen, we fail to keep all of Jesus’s words in front of us. Our mistaken theology might keep us from considering passages like Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). If we’re to follow Jesus then we need to be in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with the rest of the New Testament, and then seeking to read the rest of the Bible in light of that.

We must leave the noisy din of this world behind us. It’s not like we should withdraw and not be involved at all. But at times we indeed should shut the noise off and take a break from it all. It ends up being a matter of just how we engage. Are we doing so intent on continuing to hear the good Shepherd’s voice? And ready at a moment’s notice to take a different path?

Just because something has some value doesn’t mean we’re to give ourselves to it. Instead we need to listen to the one voice, and set ourselves to be followers of the good Shepherd. Along with other sheep. In and through Jesus.

hearing God’s voice above the noise

ג Gimel

Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed,
those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:17-24

If there’s one thing true about living in this world, it’s that God’s word is not just given short shrift, it’s not considered at all. In fact, it’s considered at best, antiquated, and at worst unhelpful, even harmful.

That means we need to be in God’s word all the more. We cannot let up on that. That is where we find God’s directives, and learn to hear the voice of God above the clamor of all the other voices. In and through Jesus.

 

the rest the Lord gives

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3a

It’s interesting that the Lord takes the initiative here. I’m reminded of Jesus’s words, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b). I think the main meaning is what we might call soul rest, but surely there’s physical rest as well as spiritual rest (Psalm 127:2). Certainly Jesus’s words to his disciples were for their physical rest, as well as spiritual.

Quietness is also a part of the picture here. We’re off somewhere without all the noise of a busy world, even without what noise we like, music or whatever it might be. And we’re off some place where in the silence we can hear God’s voice (1 Kings 19:12). I like music playing most all the time, if I don’t have something else on. At least I like less volume than especially in my younger years, but silence, no. But even I find silence valuable because it seems to awaken in me more of a sensitivity to and appreciation for the Lord’s voice. It’s not like we can never hear God’s voice above all the noise. And music might actually help us that way (2 Kings 3:15-16, and note that the psalms are often set to music along with other passages in Scripture). But being silent and finding quiet can help us hear God’s voice, and is also restful in itself.

And the Lord refreshes our soul. That probably means something like renewing our strength (see NET Bible footnote and parallel versions). The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NIV means “life” or an individual person or persons. Times of rest should be times of refreshment when our strength is renewed. A kind of restoration to face life again with anticipation, ready for the long haul or whatever awaits us is surely in the cards here. We can see from the rest of Psalm 23 that all of life is pictured. So that this blessing is meant to prepare us for such, as we continue under the leading and care of the good shepherd. In and through 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.

what would Jesus do? Jesus is with us by the Spirit

WWJD bracelets used to be worn by quite a few Christians, standing for “What would Jesus do?” That is not a bad question. And in order to try to understand at all what Jesus might do in a given situation, we must certainly be in scripture, particularly in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And in prayer.

But something that can be missed in this endeavor is the reality that our Lord is indeed with us by the Spirit, that God is present in Jesus. As we seek to hear our Lord’s voice, we should refrain from raising our own voices, or depending on the voices of others. That certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to others, and try to take everything into consideration. But it does mean along with that that we pray and seek the Lord’s voice so that we can somehow grasp something of the Lord’s mind and heart on any given situation.

As Christians, believers and followers of Christ, we are said to have the mind of Christ. But it’s another thing to live by that. Too often we’re moved by our own minds that have been shaped by others who are not necessarily being shaped or moved by God to know God’s will.

Even when we do think we may have something of the mind of Christ, we need to be humble, and realize that we probably don’t have all of it for a given matter. We know in part; we prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13). Our part might indeed be an important contribution to knowing and sharing in the mind of Christ. We may be getting the heart of the matter completely right. But we need the contribution of others with their different gifts and experiences to contribute to the whole in that.

Something for all of us in Christ and a part of how we’re blessed to be a blessing.

tuning out voices contrary to the gospel

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

John 10:1-5

I am thinking today of the many discrepant voices that in one way or another can end up undermining the gospel, and drowning out the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Once you start hearing or even sensing the voice of Jesus, other voices are measured according to that, whether they are discordant, contradictory, or perhaps in harmony with his voice. But what is always needed is a hearing of the one distinct voice, which means disciplining ourselves to actually listen.

The problem is either the error of being taken up with other voices, or simply not being able to clearly hear the one voice needed. We tend to be listening to just one voice at a time as the predominating voice in our lives by which we measure all other voices. And too often it’s a voice which isn’t helpful whatsoever for our spiritual life in God through Christ.

I think I’ll be beating this drum for awhile, as I attempt to make this more a fixed practice and reality in my own life. In and through Jesus.