to be poor in spirit

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

To be poor in spirit in some respects is to be like Jesus. Jesus was poor in the world’s eyes, not a boaster, not self-willed, not posing as someone great. Utter humility in becoming one of us, but that’s who he was before. But this became evident when the Creator became a creature. And gentle and humble in heart. Not forcing his will on others, but giving space to them, even to the point of suffering at people’s hands, to the point of death.

When we look at poor in spirit, we think of the fact that we’re poor and needy sinners in need of forgiveness. Yes, that surely has application here. And it could mean something like living simply and being generous with what one has to help others in need.

At any rate, we in Jesus as his followers are among the blessed when we’re poor in spirit. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s word speaks into our lives, into life

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

If you read the Bible, God’s word from cover to cover you’ll find out God’s priority of love for God in response to God’s love, and love for our neighbor as we love ourselves. Justice along with mercy is a major theme, the end of the story, shalom: universal flourishing, prosperity, and peace in the new creation in Jesus.

If God’s word is to have the impact needed, we must be in it every day, day and night. And we must hear God’s concern for the poor, the oppressed, for the foreigner, the disenfranchised, those pushed to the margins. It isn’t only about my personal relationship with God, but it’s also about my relationship with others. And it’s about God’s people together in love as a witness to the world of God’s goodness and kingdom come in Jesus, feet on the ground and hands in love helping those in need.

It’s a new vision by which not only the world is ultimately judged, but which should impact the world to at least be held to a higher standard.

That’s part of what we have when we hold a Bible in our hands, open it up, read its pages, and respond to God’s word in faith and prayer. And keep doing that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

against full knowledge in this world or even in the word

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12b

Sadly, too many Christians nowadays seem to think they have some sort of inside scoop on what’s going on in the world. Or that they unlike most other Christians possess some superior knowledge of God’s word and the gospel. Either thought is dangerous.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I believe any idea of some inside scoop or full knowledge of anything should be dismissed, or at least viewed with profound suspicion.

Yes, God does give us revelation of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit, and helps us through the word, no doubt. But we have to be humble, especially when it comes to what we think we understand about what is going on in the world. We need to stick to what God plainly tells us in the word, and refuse to get sidetracked on what too often become tangents that get us sidetracked from God’s will for us.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t push hard for truth and what is right, just and good. It does mean that we do so believing that only God understands and knows and works in God’s own sovereign way, as he sees fit.

We do so in full confidence of nothing other than God and God’s work through the word in the world. In and through Jesus.

 

returning again and again to the source

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.

Psalm 119:105-112

My default practice is to turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. Since I believe Scripture is God’s word written, I keep returning to it again and again throughout the day, to gain whatever it is that God wants to give me. It’s not like I do this very well. There are all kinds of variations in it. I might go real slow for a while, then pick up speed and keep moving through, whether anything seems to be getting through to me or not, then slow down again. As I stay at it, sooner usually than later it seems like God might somehow be getting through to me. I’ll begin to pick up a better perspective than I have.

God’s word is our lamp for life, but we’re also to be intent in being shaped and transformed, our lives directed by it. Oftentimes to be honest, I really feel at a loss, maybe hurt over this or that, or tired of whatever, at a loss. So I just keep going back to Scripture, and I find help, but help in God’s way, not my own. Going through Scripture slowly gives one the opportunity to pause and reflect and pray. Or simply realize how we don’t get it. That has value too. An important part of what Scripture is intended to do: help us turn to God, hopefully seek him, and find his will. Indeed turning to God’s word can be our way of turning to God. And find our lives more and more shaped by that. In and through Jesus.

at peace in God’s will

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

If there’s one thing this pandemic has pressed home, it’s the uncertainty of human plans, even of life itself. All is subject to the Lord’s will. And we’ll do much better if we work at learning to rest in that. In and through Jesus.

God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

when discouragement sets in (Ecclesiastes)

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

The end of a fascinating book helps us keep straight what we have to keep our eyes on as we live life “under the sun.” Tremper Longman is helpful here:

The second wise man commends Qohelet as an example of honest thinking about life “under the sun.” In essence he’s saying, “Son, Qohelet is 100 percent correct. Under the sun, life is difficult and then you die.”

However, the second wise man goes on to encourage his son toward what we might call an “above the sun” perspective: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of humanity. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).

I’m not qualified to offer my opinion on Longman’s overall interpretation of Ecclesiastes (see his commentary), along with other interpretations, or to offer my own. I think his quote above certainly rings true.

What is helpful to me is the plain point that when all is said and done we’re to simply fear God and keep his commandments, keeping in mind our accountability to God, how we will have to answer to him.

I don’t at all write off the rest of the book as having no value for us. We run up against its truth all the time in the difficulties we face and see everywhere. And I think interspersed throughout Qohelet’s (“the Teacher’s”) words are glimmers of light that see beyond the perspective of “life under the sun.”

That is the perspective we need if we’re to carry on well in God’s eyes. We have to get past the inevitable discouragement which faces here, all the problems, not to mention tragedy, and realize that even in the best scenario of “life under the sun,” there is a sense of not arriving, of futility, even a sense of meaninglessness.

What we need in this world is to see beyond that to the God who gives meaning in the midst of the madness. Who keeps us in his way, as we see him for who he is, and seek to walk in line with his will. In and through Jesus.

 

Jesus: our example of faithful endurance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

This Holy Week we think of Jesus having set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem knowing full well what was awaiting him there, just as he had told his disciples three times, doing so either for the joy set before him, or instead of. The Greek word, ἀντὶ (transliterated, anti) can mean “instead of,” or “for.” Either way Jesus endured, scorning the shame of the cross. That was the worst form of Roman execution, reserved for non citizens. And whoever was hung on a tree was said to be under God’s curse in Jewish Scripture, yes indeed, in God’s word.

Instead of the joy set before him might mean something like the idea that Jesus was ready to undergo the Father’s will, even when it went against his own will, evident from his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. I probably prefer the other way it can be translated, for the joy set before him, with the idea of doing something in exchange for something else (see BAGD Greek Lexicon). There surely is mystery in Christ’s sufferings for us. But the intent of this passage is to strengthen us in our suffering. So that we can endure because we know the good that awaits us at the end of what’s set before us. Or persevere against our own wishes. Following the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus. In and through him.

our lives are in God’s hands

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

James was a pastor, but he could be blunt and was certainly to the point. This is a good example of that. And it’s the kind of word we often need. It seems like if we hear something that comes across to us as only a nice suggestion, we easily slough it off, and forget it. But this is a word that braces us for our full attention, and doesn’t leave an out, another option.

If we can get it into our heads that we’re only a mist, our lives are here one day, and gone the next. That’s hard for us at any age, although as one gets into their senior years, there’s no escape from the realization that our bodies are slowing down, and that we’re indeed aging. Sadly anyone’s life can be snuffed out in an instant, in a car accident, or over a short time with an unexpected illness.

James’s words don’t exclude planning. It’s fine and good to plan, even important, but always with the contingency that all depends on the Lord and his will. Our lives are in God’s hands, not in our own, thankfully. So we can rest assured in that, submitting our plans to God, indeed our very lives, that he might direct us and give us wisdom in everything according to his good will. In and through Jesus.

what carries us away?

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

Hebrews 13:9a

“What are we carried away by?” is a good question. I don’t like to take a passage out of context (click link to see full context). What is referred to here is a fascination it seems over teachings from their old religion, which seemed to have a power in themselves. It’s important for us to consider how that thought might apply and have a hold on us today.

But what I’m thinking of here is whatever we might get taken in by, whatever might get a hold on us and essentially choke out the seed of God’s word in our lives. It can be a fascination over all kinds of things, be it sports, politics, gaming, whatever. It’s not like these things can’t have their place in terms of importance and pleasure, although some to be sure would obviously be wrong. It’s just that we have to always seek to have hearts in tune with God’s will, minds set on submitting to that will, and feet (lives) that follow.

It isn’t easy to avoid being swept off our feet by this or that, especially when we’ve more or less lived there for years. But whatever engagement we have with such needs to be tempered by God’s word in our lives, so that we remain grounded in what really matters: God’s good will for us. In and through Jesus.