returning to our first love

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church. The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

“I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.

“But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall!

“Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

“You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too.

“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.”

Revelation 2:1-7; MSG

To really get a good overall picture, and just how we might fit into the scheme, or what God might be saying to us, we surely need to read each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. The first letter here as rendered by Eugene Peterson, or in any translation, for that matter, is striking and noteworthy. This church is as zealous as it gets, but their zeal while at least largely based on head knowledge, has left its/her first love, or the love this church had at first. And thus we might say it was bereft of heart knowledge, or a knowledge driven by love. Love for Christ, and the love which follows from that.

It’s a burden to try to apply these letters to us as individuals, and it’s important to see that they’re actually written to churches. But individuals make up churches, so we all have to ask how they might apply to us, what we might be contributing to the situation. Notice that the blessing at the end is applied to individuals who overcome. I would like to think that I fit, or would prefer to be part of a church like Philadelphia, having little strength, but faithful, and simply being told to hold on to what they have until Christ returns. But we need to prayerfully read and consider all these letters.

How do we fall from the first love we had? And Jesus makes no bones about it, they either have to repent as a church, or he’ll put their light out, so that they’ll be a church in name, only. No church was more active, but that’s doesn’t mean they were okay. Far from it, though Jesus does give them the nod of approval for their hatred of the works of the Nicolaitans, which he too hated.

I’m not sure. I think it can become more about what we’re doing than anything else. Maybe we need to stop in our tracks, shut our mouths, quit doing what we’re doing, maybe something like a silent retreat. Then maybe we’ll be able to hear what the Lord is saying to us. It’s a work of the Spirit, quite beyond us. It’s not like sitting in a schoolroom where we might possibly figure it out with the help of the teacher. No.

I will offer this from my own life and experience. I think the more we realize life is all about love, that God is love, and that Christ’s love for us is as great, deep and true as love can get, then that can help us. But it’s so easy to substitute doing, doing and more doing for the real thing. Let’s find that love, enter into it, live it out with each other, and out into the world. And keep doing that. Then what we do will matter. And Jesus’s life and love will continue among us as a light for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.

in these times and any time just pray

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

“He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

Luke 18:1-8; MSG

We have “Christian” militants today, some who stormed the US Capitol, and some of them seemingly bent on more violence to come. Then we have people like me who decry and reject all of that as being not of the Spirit of Christ. We both act and react. What if we all took the words of Jesus here seriously, and simply prayed? Instead we either think we have to take matters in our own hands to win a “culture war.” Or we shake our heads. What if we as God’s people, whatever our political persuasion or thoughts about democracy and what is now happening in the United States would just pray and love and be known for our good deeds and keep praying?

For me, aside from the mess in the world, it’s much more personal and close to home. I can fritter away too much time on good things which are important in their place, but miss what is better, what is best, what is most important. If we’re not spending time in prayer and making it the ongoing priority of our lives, then we’re missing out on what God is doing and wants to do, and us being a part of that. And perhaps the most important part of prayer is listening. We bring our requests, our cries for justice to God, and we listen and keep on listening. I believe listening is a part of true prayer. We keep listening. As we do, God will give us what we need.

Jesus ties the need to always pray with faith and his return. Some Christians are making much of Jesus coming back, and that is indeed an important part of our faith. But is prayer the priority as we anticipate that? While I don’t at all share their view of the Second Coming, at the same time I want to be in prayer, with heart awake, ears listening, eyes open. But much of the time we’ll find this all a struggle, that we have the sense of failing, that indeed it’s an uphill battle. And we must not forget the spiritual warfare side of this (Ephesians 6:10-20). God’s grace is always present for us in Christ. We need not despair, and we must not give up. Let’s all learn to pray, pray, and keep on praying. Remembering that listening is a major part of 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.

“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.

scratch where it’s itching

What is God teaching me today? I have to admit I really don’t like that question because it all too easily panders to an individualistic emphasis contrary to Jesus’s teaching. Each of us is important, but we’re in this together, and that can’t be emphasized too strongly given the paramount place individual freedom is given in our culture. 

That said, God still deals with us as individuals, yes, in community, but still as individuals. But when the question might come up about what God is teaching me, most of the time in the past, I’ve probably drawn blanks. I just don’t know. Whatever. 

But the truth of the matter is, God is speaking in many ways if we would only listen. Too often we’re distracted by this and that, and a number of other things. 

A good question to ask is, “What’s itching?” I mean what is troubling us, or how might we be troubling to others. Love for God and for neighbor is the watchword here. If I’m violating that in any way, shape or form, I can be sure that God addresses that in Scripture either directly or indirectly. I can at least pray, and then try to error on the side of love. 

In seeking to follow in the way of Jesus, we need to have an ear to hear what the Lord might be saying to us and to each other. We’re in this together, but each one of us needs to hear more clearly the word that might be spoken to us personally. What we might need to hear as we seek to continue on in the way of love, maybe even seek to get back into that way, following our good shepherd. 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.

“this too shall pass”

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

“This too shall pass” is a Persian proverb, and common in wisdom literature. And certainly said at least indirectly again and again in Scripture. We live in a day when headlines are hot day after day, and people are hot, angry and upset. That’s the whole goal of some, and the something which is behind that. To get people all hot and bothered, and really a matter of control for confrontation, showdown for a good butt-kicking. I know that’s crude, but it’s an especially crude time in which we live. Even if we “kicked butt” what good would that do? We end being caught up into the same catastrophe.

James gives us much needed help here. Our natural fallen human response is to react in anger to whatever the provocation might be. To be carried along a certain track, manipulated as it were, almost like puppets. Instead James tells us that we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Those two need to be held together. We always have a response to perceived evil. Instead we’re to listen. Yes, listen, not speak. Can’t do both at the same time. And we’re to be slow to become angry. Anger just breeds more anger, not only in us, but in those who are upsetting to us. James goes on to tell us what we need to do instead.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:21

In essence, we need to keep listening not just to others, but to God. And respond as God would have us. We do that by responding to God’s written word, as well as by hearing his voice. That requires ongoing listening and effort on our part.

This takes discipline and time. Yes, time. Commitment. It’s not a snap of the finger, simply fixing something matter. But remember, and we’re going have to keep remembering: “This too shall pass.”

 

be attentive

What is God teaching me, or trying to teach me? A good question to ask. Better, just part of what we need to be attentive to.

We need to be in the word, in prayer, and pay attention to life, and to ourselves. We especially need to check our attitudes, and keep a tight rein on our actions, especially what we say.

What is God teaching me? We probably have to look no further than the nose on our face. What about ourselves is wrong? What can we do better? What should we quit doing altogether?

In and through Jesus.

hold that thought

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

It is so easy to get what might seem to be an inspired thought, and I don’t mean from God’s word, but right now I’m referring to something we want to say. But if we would give it enough time, our thought might at least be tempered or revised altogether. It’s important to let time and life help us to better understand. Realizing just how little we know.

It’s not like we can’t speak out. There’s indeed a time to speak, and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3). And we will make mistakes along the way. That’s a part of being human.

But we need to emphasize to ourselves that there’s always plenty more to learn. And therefore listen, listen, and listen some more. To others, and especially to God.