get back to what you’re supposed to do, what you’re to be focused on

And say to Archippus, “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:17

This is Paul’s last word in this letter before his closing greeting or salutation. Archippus was evidently someone in the fellowship of those who received this letter who may have been older, or had some specific task assigned to him. It really doesn’t matter. Since we don’t know, we certainly can apply it to ourselves in various ways.

Oftentimes we get lost because we’ve gone adrift and we get washed up somewhere, ending up out of sorts. And that’s when we need to get back to how God is directing us. We’re almost certainly in such cases off track. What is our assignment now? What are we supposed to be doing?

This recently happened to me. I was sad and just not myself for over a day. Then it dawned on me, I need to get back into what the Lord seemed to want me to focus on to put into life. The book of James. In my case that doesn’t mean I can’t dither into this and that on the side. But whatever else I find to do, this needs to be a focus the entire time. And there’s plenty to that book. And as you might expect, it speaks to me in some important ways for my life. A relief and release to get back into that. Something I must keep doing right now.

In and through Jesus.

when do we really “get it”?

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

James 1:22-25

It’s interesting, the wonderful experience we can have when some light of truth among the many truths found in Scripture, dawns on us. It’s just as interesting how short-lived most experiences are. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value, but that in and of themselves they are only a good means to the good end.

We must act on what we see from Scripture, from God’s word to us. We have to put it into practice to really “get it” in having the understanding God wants to give us. That is where the rubber meets the road, when we not only understand an insight given, whether as in like a light shining in our hearts or just rationally in our heads, but when we also prayerfully determine to act on it, so that our lives can begin to be changed.

In and through Jesus.

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.

getting rid of worry (*and distraction*)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Our Lord’s words to a troubled, at this point exasperated Martha might be helpful to us, to those of us easily given to worry. It’s interesting how Jesus puts worry and distraction side by side in his reply to Martha. Her sister, Mary, who she was complaining about was attentive to the Lord’s teaching, sitting at his feet, taking it in. But Martha was busy doing what in her mind just had to be done. And feeling the burden and weight of that.

I notice in my own life that even the demands of life can blessedly remove me from what can too easily trouble me, that such demands are actually a blessing. But what is needed is to try to get to the root of the trouble. And key to defusing worry, or so it seems to me, is to not only get our minds off the problem, but onto the right things, even the solution, or maybe better put whatever focus God wants us to have.

Anxiety, worry and fear are signs that we’re likely distracted and not attentive to God’s word for us, to God. Yes, in our limitations and the difficulties of life now, we can’t just discount all fear and anxiety. But it seems to me that we can learn to disabuse ourselves of much of that, and by and by essentially all of it, if we learn to keep up the practice of attentiveness. Learning from Jesus about the love and care of our Heavenly Father (Parent), and how that touches on every single part of our lives, with no exceptions. I would like to add, we also need to want to get rid of the distractions which bother us.

Only God can give us the insight and wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

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.