what is needed in this wilderness

Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.[a]

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3; MSG

We live in a wilderness in this life. We’ve not reached the Promised Land yet. In Christ we’ve stepped into something of the experience of God’s promise, but certainly not into its fullness and completion.

So what are we left with here, yes in this wilderness? Nothing less than God’s word. What do I mean by God’s word? Certainly Scripture is included in this thought, both in general, and specifically all that is meant. Again God’s promises along with God’s directives, commands, warnings, encouragements, blessing, etc., etc., etc. Karl Barth surely had a point that God’s word to us is how God actually speaks to us through the pages of Scripture (if I’m understanding that correctly).

So we have to hold on to God’s word. We live in the wilderness, and as the passage above makes clear, it isn’t easy. But God wants to help us through, to teach us a lot, all of that from our complete dependence on God. Of course we have to learn complete dependence as well, more and more living in that, deepening ourselves in it.

Again this doesn’t come easy. Just consider the story of God’s children under Moses’s leadership, Moses’s own struggles. But God offer’s God’s presence and all that we need as we remain in prayer, seeking to hear God speak to us especially through the words of Scripture. In and through Jesus.

no exceptions to God’s rule

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Ephesians 6:10-11

I don’t ordinarily like to string Scripture passages together, but I think these passage can help us understand something of the devil’s tactics against us and how we struggle to think straight when it comes to God’s rule not only in general, but in our lives. There are no exceptions to God’s rule.

By rule I mean both God’s reign and the rule God lays down for that reign. For me, like I’ve said in posts before, I probably have struggled with anxiety and worry more than anything else. Although I’ve managed that better over the last year or more, I still long for more of a breakthrough in overcoming it.

God’s rule for us his children is that in whatever trial we’re in, we’re to consider it nothing but joy, and that we’re not to worry about anything, but instead we’re to pray with supplication- humble request, along with thanksgiving, we’re to make our requests known to God. With the promise that when we do that God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What we’re prone to do is make exceptions to God’s rule. The devil is in the details of that, just like in the story where the serpent challenges God’s word in the garden (Genesis 3). The same holds true for us today. The enemy and/or our own overactive mind will suggest to us that because we had at least some blame for such and such or whatever, that somehow, that no longer applies to God’s rule. This is when we need to discipline our minds and hearts to insist on keeping to what Scripture plainly says. Yes, in certain passages directly pertinent, as well as considering Scripture as a whole. We have a grace-filled, loving God who watches over us and not only can but will take care of it, will take care of everything if we just trust God.

We have to acclimate ourselves to the truth that there’s no exceptions to God’s rule. The enemy will be whispering, yelling, then again whispering in our ear that indeed there are some things which don’t apply. We have to resist the devil with the promise that he will flee from us (James 4:7).

There are no exceptions to God’s rule. We must hold on to that. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

don’t forget this

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:10-18; MSG

I find Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this Scripture helpful on a number of points. You get a sense of how this spiritual battle we’re in is ongoing and frankly, horrific. I wish it were not so. It would be quite a different experience. For those whose life is a walk in the park, and an ongoing happy time, I think something like: “Wow. Great!” But then it makes me wonder if they know this aspect of life. All who are “in Christ” do, even if somehow that realization is hidden from them.

And then the idea that we can’t do this on our own. That we are dependent on God and on all God gives us in Christ. Especially helpful is the point that we’re to apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation to our lives, as taught to us in Scripture. And God’s Word expressed as a weapon, perhaps referring to God breaking through to us as we read Scripture, that word coming home to us. And the need for ongoing prayer. I find that when I feel up against it, I am often pressed to pray, and end up praying more persistently, sadly, then I would otherwise. On the other hand when I have a break from this spiritual warfare, I can be encouraged to pray, at times having a sense of God’s presence and peace. But by and large I keep at it more faithfully when I feel pressed for one reason or another. It’s not hard for me to realize the need for this.

And how we’re to pray for each other. Having been within the evangelical tradition most of my Christian life, I’ve been well taught on the need to apply Scripture to my own life, but not as well taught in how we’re all in this together, and the responsibility which comes with that.

To apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation both for our own lives, and for the world, into the lives of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. And for everyone else as well. But Paul here seemed to particularly mean it for the believers at large, I would say especially individually, and then collectively, together. Definitely an ongoing personal application. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:12-14

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-14

I remind you, my dear children: Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. You veterans were in on the ground floor, and know the One who started all this; you newcomers have won a big victory over the Evil One.

And a second reminder, dear children: You know the Father from personal experience. You veterans know the One who started it all; and you newcomers—such vitality and strength! God’s word is so steady in you. Your fellowship with God enables you to gain a victory over the Evil One.

1 John 2:12-14; MSG

John might just tell us here something like we’re equipped by God for the time, to meet the demands before us. A lot of that is just the continuing on in every day life, in the necessary work we have to do. Another essential part of this is the love we’re to show to others, particularly our own family.

But then we also have to address the difficult times in which we live. What God wants us to be and do now. From this letter we can say it is the life of Christ in our midst that makes all the difference. John specifies certain things here: having our sins forgiven in Jesus’s name, knowing God, having God’s word in us: in our hearts, bones, lives. And thus standing in the victory of God in Christ over the evil one.

John would tell us that God gives us all we need for the present time. It’s up to us to live it out individually and together. We’re beholden to nothing more or nothing less. In and through Jesus.

accept the reality we’re in: Christian spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20; MSG

I think there’s truth and wisdom in what I heard years and years ago from a servant of the Lord. We as followers of Christ are children, servants and soldiers. He then likened that I think to the old stools people used to sit on to milk their cows. Three legs, so that if one of them is gone, the stool is gone we could say, as well. For different reasons I think we either want to avoid the soldier analogy, or we misapply it, pushing it into “the culture war,” or even into what is some ways is worse, actual military or paramilitary activity. Not what Christ taught, nor what Paul is teaching here.

We are not in a physical battle, but spiritual, and we’d better face that and get used to it, and act accordingly. It’s not just something we do and get it over with. We have to be ready and engaged day after day. It’s a kind of mentality, but also something beyond that. It is we can say spiritual in the sense that we are looking to God for God’s strength and help, no less, in all that God has provided for us in Christ. As The Message puts it: “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation” along with “God’s Word” and “prayer.”

All who are in Christ will sooner or later realize that they are in a spiritual battle. I remember a successful and loving pastor who seemed to suggest that we should ignore Satan. I may have well misunderstood him. Perhaps he was making the point that our focus shouldn’t be on Satan or spiritual warfare, the spiritual battle we’re in, but on Christ. And that is a good and important point. We succeed in resisting the onslaught of the enemy by getting our strength from God, and applying what God has given us in Scripture, in Christ.

There’s nothing fancy here. All we’re supposed to do is stand firm, holding our ground. It may not look pretty, and may not get us any style points. It’s not about us. We accept this difficult, heavy reality, after all, there’s really no escape from it. And we want to take it head on, not at all in our own strength, but only in the Lord’s mighty strength, the strength of his might. Again, living out all Christ has given us, all we are. Holding on. Not trying to overcome ourselves, but knowing we will overcome by standing firm through Christ. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

faith involves acting as if God’s word is true, regardless of how we feel

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Exodus 14:10-14; NLT

There are times when we’re completely at a loss, feeling lost, and out of sorts. We don’t know which end is up, we have no sense that things are alright. Yesterday that happened to me as I was reading about something going on in our world. And what sense of well being I had caved in so that all seemed difficult. 

The people of Israel panicked because of their circumstances. They faced danger, no doubt. The Egyptian army was heading their way, and they had nowhere to go, blocked by the Red Sea. But that’s when Moses directed them to stand firm, or as it says in the NLT to stand still and see the deliverance or salvation of God.

Oftentimes we just have to act as if what God says is true, even when it seems otherwise. What we’re experiencing and feeling may fly in the face of that, but by faith we just act as if what God says is true, regardless.

When we do that, and stand firm, God will act. God will give us the sense of well being that he has everything in hand. We will again experience that salvation. God will direct us further, as you can see was the case with Moses and the Israelites if you click the link above.

But we must continue to remember it all depends on God. Sometimes our act of faith is to not act at all. To quit squirming and worse, and just go on as if God will take care of it. Even when we have trouble believing that, we put all our eggs in one basket, and quit imagining as if somehow it depends on us. And we’ll have to continue to do that along the way. In and through Jesus.

 

a time to speak up and a time to shut up

A right time to shut up and another to speak up

Ecclesiastes 3:7b; MSG

For me Jeremiah has been an interesting prophet since I imagine I share something of an emotional affinity with him. He is called the weeping prophet, and may well have written the book of Lamentations.

Jeremiah didn’t care about sharing his opinions. He was captive only to the word of God, to the message God gave him to speak. He found it nourishing to him, but he also found large parts of it to be more than troubling. And he got to live out not just the blessed parts, but at least something of the results of the cursed parts, for example commanded not to marry since bad times were coming.

I don’t see in Jeremiah a person who wanted to win arguments. But I do see one who again and again was willing to speak out an unpopular message from God to God’s people, even though it tore Jeremiah up.

Surely there’s much we can learn from Jeremiah for us today. There are times that to remain silent is surely wrong. We need to speak up, hopefully with needed wisdom and humility, and with forthrightness and clarity. But then there’s times to simply shut up, be quiet, let it go. I can see that in Jeremiah when after the false prophets contradicted him, saying all would be peace, Jeremiah told them, may it be so. He soon received another word from God which again contradicted the false prophets, flatly contradicting their word.

For Jeremiah it was definitely not an ego trip. It was only with great cost that he spoke. Since his passion and commitment was to speak only God’s message, he wasn’t interested in sharing his own thoughts, except when he was simply dealing with the human element of his dilemma.

Few of us will be called to speak out like Jeremiah, and some of us may not be called to speak at all, but rather act in things God gives us to do. Nothing greater than praying, of course. But in good works showing love to our enemies, what God puts on our hearts to do.

If we do speak out, it should be as those speaking God’s word, God’s message. Or our considered, measured, hopefully mature human judgment, making it clear that this is our opinion, perhaps even conviction, but with humility.

In today’s noisy din of dissenting voices, to hear God’s voice and see God’s wisdom break through would be our hope. Ultimately that will happen. We should seek to be in that flow, willing to shut up, but also to speak up when need be. Hoping and praying that God is getting through to us, as well as to others.

find the fight

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:10-18; MSG

Fight-or-flight. Yes, it does seem like it’s either one or the other. Either we’re shuddering in fear, paralyzed in that, or we’re waking up to resist that, to fight.

Paul reminds us toward the end of Ephesians that we indeed are in a battle, a spiritual one. This is the case, not something we have to pass through once, or may avoid altogether like playing the board in Monopoly. No, it’s ongoing, even every day, though some times are especially intense. It is what it is, and we’re halfway where we need to be if we simply accept that.

As rendered above, the battle involves application of basics of the gospel into the substance of our lives, our day to day circumstances, our imaginations and thoughts. It certainly takes the Spirit of God to make this real, and make it matter to us. We must press on so that when it’s all said and done, we’ll still be standing.

And we can’t forget prayer, ongoing prayer for each other. That makes a needed difference. I think one basic reason it is so easy for us to get slack and let up in prayer is that the enemy knows all too well just how powerful true prayer is. Nothing fancy, not some mystical experience we wait for, though if that happens now and then, once in a great while, or even just a sense of that, that’s fine. But the hard work of prayer, of just simply praying. Not letting up in our prayers. Remembering who we are in Christ, what the gospel, the good news means for us and others. And refusing to be moved from that. In and through Jesus.

pay close attention

My son, keep my words
and store up my commands within you.
Keep my commands and you will live;
guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and to insight, “You are my relative.”
They will keep you from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words.

Proverbs 7:1-5

If there’s anything we need to hear and hear clearly, I was going to say especially during formative times, but really during any time, we need to pay close attention to what God might be saying to us, to our lives, to what Scripture says in all of this. And we need to see that in terms of its fulfillment in Jesus.

Experience plays into all of this. We don’t draw directly from experience for our answers, but experience confirms whether or not we’re on the right path, and that, over time. And yet is never the basis.

God is telling us in this passage in the Proverbs that if you go a certain route, you’ll indeed be burned. We do have to see the passage in terms of its meaning today since it is no longer Israel of old in a completely different culture. In what we now call the old covenant since we are part of the new.

Even so, we need to let these words into our hearts, our beings, and our lives. Pay close attention to the details, and quit thinking that somehow we might be above that, that they don’t really apply to us. Indeed, they do. God will give us discernment as we seek to hear and heed that we might be obedient children in and through Jesus.

At the window of my house
I looked down through the lattice.
I saw among the simple,
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
as the dark of night set in.

Then out came a woman to meet him,
dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
(She is unruly and defiant,
her feet never stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
at every corner she lurks.)
She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said:

“Today I fulfilled my vows,
and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you!
I have covered my bed
with colored linens from Egypt.
I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
My husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey.
He took his purse filled with money
and will not be home till full moon.”

With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.
All at once he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer stepping into a noose
till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
little knowing it will cost him his life.

Now then, my sons, listen to me;
pay attention to what I say.
Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.
Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.

we do not ultimately obey the Bible, but a person

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

Related to yesterday’s post, it is the Lord himself who is ultimately over all things, including Scripture itself. It might be a good start to seek to obey the words of Scripture, after all, at least many of us Protestants call them the written word of God. All Scripture is certainly God-breathed in a unique way, given to us for our salvation, and for all of life.

But they point to Christ, point us to Christ. For us as followers of Christ, I would say for me as a wannabe follower of Christ, we need to listen for the voice of the Lord. If we learn this, then Scripture might just start jumping off the pages at us.

Of course this is all played out in real life. All the hit and miss, violence often done verbally, the downright struggle that we’re often in. It is no paradise here. I think of Jesus’s motely crew of disciples. I would fit in well if they were more or less misfits. So am I.

All the more reason why we need to listen for the voice of Christ, yes in Scripture, along with all of life, both. And seek to respond. It’s much more than conforming our lives according to words, even if we believe it’s God’s word written. We have to respond to all such as responding not just to a book, but to a person. In and through Jesus.