our actions and words matter

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

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 has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

It was quite the experience the children of Israel of old experienced. Rescued by mighty signs and wonders out of Egypt, saved from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and then miraculous provision day after day in the wilderness. But their hearts evidently weren’t changed. Surely true of at least many of them. So that we as believers in Christ would write that off as not really applying to us. We have our sins for sure, but our hearts have been and our changed. But Paul in God-breathed (or God-spirited, inspired) scripture didn’t see it that way.

We give ourselves a pass, and others. Instead we need to take these words of scripture as seriously as they are written. Or are they conveniently left behind, instead our focus being on the precious promise? Interestingly one such promise is tucked right into this passage, at the end. We refer to that one quite a lot, but do we know its context? And do we take it seriously?

Well that promise is there to help us avoid the very things destructive to us such as idolatry, sexual immorality, and yes, grumbling. Notice that they had a great spiritual experience according to the text. Yet God wasn’t pleased with most of them. And there were severe consequences as a result.

We don’t want to minimize God’s grace in forgiving us. That’s a needed encouragement, because we all fail along the way, hopefully not in “great transgression,” but even then as we see in scripture, God’s forgiveness is available and offered to us. But we will experience the consequences of such.

God’s call to us here, to me, is to simply take what we do seriously. To not in the name of grace give ourselves a free pass. And to help others both by how we live, and through prayer. And as this passage tells us, God will give us the way out, so that we can endure temptations to do such. In and through Jesus.

like Jeremiah, our need of ongoing repentance

Lord, you understand;
    remember me and care for me.
    Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
    think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
I never sat in the company of revelers,
    never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
    and you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unending
    and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
    like a spring that fails.

Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“If you repent, I will restore you
    that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
    you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
    but you must not turn to them.
I will make you a wall to this people,
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
    but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
    to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
“I will save you from the hands of the wicked
    and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

Jeremiah 15:15-21

It is so easy to find fault with one’s lot. There is almost always something wrong somewhere. Admittedly there can be seasons which are especially difficult and challenging, even for no fault of our own.

Jeremiah certainly ran into plenty of trouble because of his prophetic call from God. He was to deliver a message which would put his life in jeopardy again and again. He had his enemies who wished to see him dead. And it seemed to him at times that even God was against him. He is aptly called “the weeping prophet.” Some thought Jesus was Jeremiah (Matthew 16:13-14). I tend to want to go back to Jeremiah again and again because I kind of identify with him myself, at least in some of the moods he was in, as well as trying to speak the word of the Lord into a world which is often indifferent, or sometimes hostile to it.

In the passage quoted above (the link is Jeremiah 14 and 15) Jeremiah is in the midst of trouble, and is tired of it. He has had enough, and God seems not only helpful, but deceptive to him. His attitude has turned south and is sour. He even likens God to “a deceptive brook” and “a spring that fails.”

God wastes no time in calling the prophet to repentance. Once again (Jeremiah 1) God gives him the commission, this time conditioned on his repentance. No matter what the outlook, God will see him through, albeit in a difficult task for sure.

This for me is a good and needed word. I too often complain at what in comparison to what Jeremiah went through is nothing. Although it can seem life threatening to me in a different way. And certainly not easy. But repentance of wrong attitudes toward God is basic, if we’re to continue on in God’s will. And a wrong attitude toward life is essentially a wrong attitude toward God when you boil it down for what it really is.

God is sovereign, and nothing happens apart from God, even apart from his will. God is great and God is good, and he is love. We have to persevere in faith in the midst of difficulty. Otherwise we end up becoming part of the problem. And we can no longer figure into God’s solution.

Like Jeremiah, some of us might carry with us a predisposition to easily fall into the pit of discouragement and despair. And like him, we need to heed God’s call again, and when need be repent of charging God with wrong in our complaining and grumbling. What is essential for us is to grasp God’s call and keep coming back. Knowing God will see us through, and with the blessing of the gospel for others, in and through Jesus.

projecting on others

How we look at others and how we perceive others look at us is important. We’re to love God first, and then love our neighbor as ourselves. But we can heap on others what we would never want to receive ourselves. Or we can be misjudged and ridiculed by others.

I have found that when I know I am disliked and judged that I tend to struggle to not see myself in that way when around such people. On the other hand when I am accepted and loved for who I am, with my foibles and sins, I seem more open to God’s grace to receive forgiveness and accept his view of me in Jesus as his beloved.

There is no doubt that we struggle in this life in our attitudes at times. To identify the problem, they say, is half the battle, and there is truth in that.

Where we err is when we make any final judgments on others, as if somehow we are a cut above them. We ordinarily do this from a distance; we don’t really know the person. And even if we try to get close enough to understand them better, we do well to be slow in thinking we really know them.

Do we see others, including those we have a hard time liking, as loved by God? It is hard when we know that they don’t really know us. But there is a tendency in many of us to live down to what others think of us, instead of living up to what God thinks of us through Jesus.

We live according to what we think. Our focus is to be on Jesus, and in Jesus we’re to be becoming like him. That is especially true, together, in other words we’re to be growing up together in community in Jesus.

We need to ask God to help us see others with the Lord’s eyes, seeing ourselves in the same way. So that we can be people of grace and truth for each other, and for the world, people who are becoming more and more like Jesus.

well spent

Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy, and his burden light. And that is an important truth to learn and hold on to, of course through actual practice. Nevertheless there are days and times in our lives in which we are spent. Spent in the sense of having to push so hard to get this and that done, or having to do a work in which there is unusual pressure. So that we are worn out.

For us humans the question is not whether we’ll be spent, but whether we’ll be well spent. In other words are we pouring ourselves out as an offering to God in what we are doing, in and through Jesus? Are we doing this out of a heart devoted in love to God, to the Master? Or are we bellyaching and complaining about this and that and everything else? Spent, and hating every minute of it.

It is good to do well without having to run at breakneck pace quite often. Of course there are those times. But however our times are spent, the question is, are they well spent? Are we doing this out of love for God, for our neighbor? Are we working in a way that reflects that? And when our strength seems gone so that we’re just holding on, do we seek the Lord’s strength (which actually, along with him, with his face, we’re to seek always, as the psalm tells us).

I pray by God’s grace I’ll do well the remainder of my life. That my life will be well spent. Along with others in Jesus. Together for the world.

pressure

Pressure is a part of life. Sometimes to the breaking point it seems, though when that happens new wisdom and strength can accompany it. I often can live in a kind of chronic, low grade pressure cooker, which doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in me at times, but the marination in the long run is good hopefully, making us more like Jesus, and more like Jesus in his death.

It’s when the big pressures come that hopefully the work from the chronic pressure becomes evident in us in that we find ourselves more like Jesus than we could have imagined. Though in my own life I can be such a mixed bag. Grumbling with salty language to myself (or to my wife), but then convicted and repentant, and growing more from it.

Pressure is most certainly a part of life which is inescapable. We do well to seek to live under it, and out of it- in and through Jesus. Learning more and more to rely on God in and through Jesus. In and out of the pressures of this life.

challenges

Deb and I had a nice get away in the northwest corner of lower Michigan, an area that has a beauty all its own, perhaps most notable there: the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Amazingly high sand dunes, and numerous trails; we were there just long enough to catch a good glimpse of the beauty and wonder, and do a little climbing of our own! The rest of our time was good as well, but with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. It was not the getaway I had envisioned and hoped for in some ways.

Challenges came our way, not big ones, but a multitude of little ones. Except for being together, not much else was falling out according to plan.

But I began to realize that in that, God was at work. That this was an experience which in some way beyond me, was good. Deb and I were going through this together with our God. And maybe, just maybe, God is trying to tell us something through it. Perhaps even about the rest of our lives.

Yes, we want to follow Jesus. But too often we want to do so on our terms, not his. I wonder how often Jesus’ disciples elbowed each other and rolled their eyes. Or at least grumbled to themselves, with a bit leaking out. Especially early on, in their following of Jesus. Jesus would not let up in moving about in expression of the Jesus Creed of loving God with one’s entire being and doing, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.

What do we do when challenges come our way? Especially when we want to take a break from normal life, and just rest, doing little or nothing. We need times like that, by the way. We can either grumble out loud or under our breath. Or just thank God for them, knowing he is at work in everything.

At any rate I strangely came away from our getaway, feeling refreshed and renewed. Ready to take on real life again. We need to remember that God works in different ways. As soon as we think we know how God will work, due to a past experience we’ve had, we’ll end up surprised. Challenges come our way to strengthen us in our faith, and walk in Jesus together in and for this world.

quieting disquieting thoughts

There are many thoughts that come our way over the course of a day. Likely there is a pattern in them which we need to look out for, for good or for ill. When there is a steady stream of grumbling over this or that, and often in regard to others, that is indeed for ill. We need to bring such thoughts in confession to God for forgiveness and cleansing. And we also need to learn the new way in Jesus in which we refuse to grumble, but seek in thoughtful and active ways to love our neighbor as ourselves. Even when they are annoying or hurtful.

In essence we’re to take every thought captive to obey Christ, not the primary application from the scriptural passage, but an appropriate one. By grace through the Spirit in Jesus we can do that. Though it’s likely to be imperfect with failings along the way. Fits and starts. But we keep on going so that by and by the new in Jesus displaces the old in Adam in how we live, in who we are.

It’s never enough to get rid of the old. We can only do that by putting on the new. Sometimes a song will pop into my head, maybe from bygone days, perhaps a song that I never liked. It may keep playing over and over again. I find that the only way I can get rid of that song is by playing some other music in my head, maybe singing or humming along with it, so that it replaces the old, unwanted song. But strangely enough that often is not easy at first. I most often have to work at it. I find the same true in my life in God. Old habits have to be replaced with the new ones in Jesus. And we must not let ourselves be discouraged because of the imperfection of how we do the new. That is a matter of growth in grace in Jesus.

Just being quiet, and bowed down before God, even in the midst of a busy day I’ve found helpful as well. Humility. We’re to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. He will lift us up at the right and proper time.

Thoughts from God through Jesus may disquiet us as well initially, but their result is quieting. Quietness and confidence before our God as we carry on together in love in God’s mission in Jesus for the world.

grumbling against God

In the Book of James, we do well to note the emphasis on the tongue, precisely on keeping it in check. We are told toward the end of the Book not to grumble against each other as God’s people. Since the Judge is standing at the door. But we also read in scripture that we’re to beware of grumbling against God. Time and time again under Moses, Israel grumbled about their lot in the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. Ultimately such a spirit kept many of them from entering the “rest” God had for them. And actually, as Moses pointed out to the Israelites of old, to grumble against people is really grumbling against God.

I wonder about us. I wonder about myself. When life doesn’t go like we would want, or expect. We may grumble about this or that circumstance, and grumble against people, or an entity that we think is not doing well enough by us. But in so doing, are we not actually grumbling against God?

God’s sovereignty is a powerful theme in scripture. I may want to avoid that theme because of what I think are theological aberrations of it within Christianity, something like I avoid future things because of “left behind” theology. But we should do neither. The reality of God’s sovereignty over all of life should give us more than pause over our tendency, over my own tendency to grumble when things are not going well, or we meet inconveniences and difficulties.

God’s sovereignty over all of life is about his greatness and goodness. God is in control always, even though we know God does not choose to control everything. And yet he works in everything for good. The nature of our existence in this life includes suffering as a way to glory in Jesus. That is in terms of our following of Jesus in a world which not only does not understand, but will not accept all that involves, or at best only tolerates it. Other suffering ends up for our good as well coming in the form of trials or testings to develop us in our character.

And above all, not only is this a matter of faith in God, and in God’s greatness and goodness at work in his sovereign hand. But it’s also a matter of love. Do we believe in the God who is love, showing us and the world that love in Jesus? And do we respond with love, so that we want to be careful not to grumble against our God and supreme Lover? Do we see life in this way? Or is it about us, and what we want, and think is best?

I once knew a man older than I, a professing Christian, who seemed to grumble about everything. Most all the time something was wrong, and he let his unhappiness be known. Life for him seemed to be cast in a mold that was not good, even no good. Yet he professed to believe and follow the God who has revealed himself in Jesus. But the prevailing theme in his life was not about God, but about this or that which was wrong.

I don’t want my life to emulate that. When people see me, I hope they see one who repents of grumbling when I do so sin, but also one who is characterized by a grateful attitude in life, word and deed–to God. Even though I am not like the friend just mentioned, I know I can fall into this sin all too easily. May those closest to me see me grow in Jesus in this way. The way of thanksgiving to our God as the faithful and loving God who is for us and for the world, in Jesus.