when there’s no fear of God

I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong.

Psalm 36:1-4

At work we just finished running “The Wisdom Books: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes” in the Our Daily Bread Ministries Discovery Series, Understanding the Bible, by Tremper Longman III. Quite good. One part that stood out to me is just how apart from the fear of God, little else matters if you’re looking for godly wisdom. Or just wisdom period as spelled out in the Bible, specifically Proverbs. Longman points out how there are sayings in the book of Proverbs that anyone might agree with, but that all of them are to be seen in the context of the fear of God. Which is awe and respect, even reverence for who God is, God’s mighty power and even love.

This is a fundamental difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. I’m not saying that no others have any fear of God. But only in Christ who himself is the ultimate wisdom does one come into a saving relationship with God. And the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs). Without it there’s no godly wisdom at all.

The psalm quoted above makes the point that those who don’t have the fear of God don’t have any of the humility that goes with that. The fact of the matter is that God is God and we’re not. That should help us pay attention to our thoughts and attitudes, and put many of them on check with some repentance along the way.

After thoughts on those who don’t fear God, the psalmist turns their attention to God, asks God for his protection, and expresses certainty of the wicked’s downfall and demise. A primary difference between those who fear God and those who don’t is that the former turn to God, while the latter most certainly don’t. Christians pray for those who persecute them. So looking to God when troubled by others is both prayer for God’s intervention and their salvation. In and through Jesus.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

 

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the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

a benefit of slowing down

Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:6

Life is busy, sometimes quite demanding. We have automation nowadays, but that only increases expectations of more efficiency at less cost. And with that comes pressure to make it work. But I think a lot of that pressure we impose on ourselves. And that’s related to all our other expectations to succeed and even excel, to be better than someone else, to uphold our own imagined high view of ourselves or our ability, or the reputation we’ve gained.

When you read the book of Ecclesiastes, that’s all poppycock. Just a waste of time, effort, literally a passing breath. The text above tells us it’s better to have less with tranquility, rest, or quiet (compare NIV with NASB and NRSV from link above). It depends on how one translates it, but the idea is essentially the same. Putting one’s whole heart and life into something doesn’t mean what we’ve thought and maybe been taught: to run ourselves ragged.

This is not at all downplaying the importance of hard work and diligence. But it’s saying that we need to do so out of heart of tranquility, rest and quiet. And I think for most all of us, certainly for me, that means we have to slow down. Part of slowing down is not only physical, but inward. We pause, become more thoughtful. We pull out the stops here and there when need be, but we’re willing to shut the operation down rather than try to do what is barely manageable, if at all.

When we refuse to slow down, expectation builds to maybe do better, or keep up what often amounts to a brutal pace. Or we have other expectations, like being better than someone else at this or that, or persuading others that we’re right and they’re wrong, whatever. The list could probably go on and on.

Instead we will do much better if we learn to slow down, be satisfied with something less than before, which actually will become something more. Our tranquility can help others. Our expectation is always from God, not from ourselves. And it’s God’s work, whatever God considers important. Oftentimes that will be a change of heart in ourselves which comes only in stillness and rest as we look to God.

It’s a learning process, not something we can step into easily overnight, but something indeed that we need to do. The same problems exist, but we can now engage them more prayerfully and thoughtfully in faith. And find the rest meant for us in and through Jesus.

come to Jesus just as you are

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It seems to me that Jesus’s invitation here is clearly to all, and it’s an invitation into rest in a yoke beside him. So it’s a call to discipleship.

Jesus terms it in conditions of being beaten down, tired, weary, worn out. So it’s not like somehow he is calling those who are prepped to go on all eight (or more) cylinders, those doing well because they somehow deserve it, or as if he’s looking for the elite. Not at all. He is looking for the broken and downtrodden, those who may have failed along the way, and who of us hasn’t failed in some ways?

And Jesus doesn’t set any qualifications. Remember who he said is blessed: the poor in spirit, the poor, the meek, yes, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart (disposed to one thing), etc. So it’s not like you think you can dabble in the world, do your own thing, yet come at the same time, like include Jesus in the mix. It’s a call to come as you are, whatever that is, but it’s a call for all of life. Not that life isn’t to be enjoyed. In fact it can only be life to the full in Jesus.

No qualifications are set here by the Lord. He simply invites us to come to him, to take his yoke upon us, and learn from him. Not complicated, but something we must do.

I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t feel qualified. But it’s the ones who think they’re qualified and deserving who actually are not and often not disposed to heed Jesus’s invitation anyhow. Remember the parable of the Pharisee who thanked God about how good he was, and the tax collector who beat his breast and cried out, “God have mercy on me a sinner!” The latter was justified or considered acceptable by God, but the former, not.

This is my goal, to come to Jesus just as I am, and it’s honestly not much except what is broken and lost and disheveled and on and on. But at the same time I come as one who is willing and realizing that this is a call into an apprentice kind of relationship no less with Jesus himself by the Spirit. In and through him.

 

a truly Christ-centered life is for others

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3b-4

We’re naturally centered in ourselves. That’s understandable. From birth, while babies hopefully bond with their mothers and fathers, they understandably live an existence within themselves, completely dependent on others to take care of their needs, and it’s a need centered existence. Hopefully with healthy bonding, growth beyond “just me” begins.

But too often in our sin and brokenness our existence is all about us, and our world revolves around what we want, and anything other than that we simply put up with, or try to make it somehow satisfy us.

Christ exemplified something completely different. In becoming one of us, even made, so partaking of our lowly humanity, Christ chose to live not only where we live, but completely in our existence. Becoming human was the way for God to reveal himself in the most personal, intimate way, again both right where we live and in our very experience.

Christ took on himself the nature of a servant being made human. He willingly out of love for us and the Father took the lowest place of slave. And then stooped to the lowest depths in the death of the cross. Our attitude toward each other is to be the same.

So often when we’re engaged in life it’s really centered on us. We make it about us. To Christ it was about others. In a conversation we enter in with our corroborating experience, or maybe so we think. But it then becomes about us. And often people trade off back and forth that way. That actually can be okay if at the same time we’re fully engaged in what the other is saying about themselves. And it’s good if we can just listen and let them talk on, and then maybe offer something from our own experience which might help them in some way.

But the point of this great passage and Christ hymn is that we’re to live with each other in the same way Christ lived with us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

the danger and folly of human anger

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. 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 1:19-21

Moses’s story in Scripture is fascinating. He did seem to have an anger issue. Though at a certain point it seems to have abated, or wasn’t a factor. He had killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave, and had to escape from Egypt. Then he was forty years in the wilderness before God appeared to him in the burning bush, and called him to go back to Egypt because God was about to rescue his people. In Numbers 12, Moses is called the most humble man on earth, not the meekest, though being humble is not far removed from meekness. Moses displays some anger; he broke the stone tablets when seeing the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. But by and large it seems like anger is not something which characterizes him. Until near the end, when in anger he strikes the rock, after God had told him to speak to that rock, the water coming for the Israelite community, but Moses himself barred from entering the Promised Land because of his disobedience of God’s command.

I think I’m much more helpful to myself and others when I largely avoid anger altogether. In this life there’s plenty of things to get angry about. We probably get angry about this and that throughout the day, small burst of anger, like when people sit at green lights probably glued to their phones. Or when machines are not running well at work. We might dismiss such anger as not only insignificant, but all well and good, or at least okay, no problem. But we might be missing the opportunity to discipline ourselves to avoid the more serious and consequential outbursts, which could bring harm to others, damage relationships, or just put us on a trek where we really aren’t seeing straight.

Nowadays in the United States it’s easy for people to get upset and uptight about this or that, usually this and that, with all that is happening in the political realm along with the deep division. As servants of Christ and the gospel, we as God’s people need to be different. We need to be meek as in gently depending on God, not self-assertive (see NET Bible footnote on Numbers 12:3). Anger means we’re taking the bull by the horns either in action or attitude. We think we have it. Refusing such because we’re trusting in God, not in ourselves, and realizing that we are limited is the route of wisdom.

Human anger does more harm than whatever good might be accomplished. When we are angry, we’re not to let the sun go down on it, in other words we’re never to harbor anger (Ephesians). In James’s words, we’re to be slow to anger. So it’s not like we’re to avoid it altogether. But it seems to me that it ought to be rare, so that we do well to sidestep it as much as possible. Vengeance is God’s, not our own. We’re to continue to love, even our enemies.

I find that when I speak out of the deepest convictions on matter with great urgency, too much anger is too often mixed into that. And it’s neither helpful for myself, nor the one I’m talking to. Rather, I could say much the same thing, but in a quiet, humble tone, which is nevertheless firm in seeking to stand for truth. But is dependent on God, and humble toward others in a kind of interdependent give and take.

Interestingly, though Jesus did get angry in driving out the merchants out of the temple, by and large I see the trait of restraint marked in his life. Being God as well as human, whatever anger he did have was purely righteous. Yet in exchanges with the religious leaders in John’s gospel account, I find time and again that he is most restrained, and probably so because he was so dependent on the Father. I do hesitate to point to Jesus, because even though he is the one we’re to follow, and we’re being changed into his likeness, Jesus as God has complete self-control in perfect wisdom. I doubt that we can ever say that about ourselves in this life, except when the Spirit markedly is taking over in a given situation, so as to practically carry us through.

At any rate, this is a lesson I am trying to learn and cement into my life. Beginning how I react to this and that, the small and larger things. In and through Jesus.

washing each other’s feet

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:3-5

To get the full impact on what was going on, you can click the link and read the entire passage of our Lord washing his disciples’ feet on the eve of his crucifixion. What occurs is remarkable, but easily lost to us who maybe have read it time and again. Jesus took off his outer garment and embraced the attitude of a slave. In love, as the passage says, he washes his disciples as any servant or lowly slave would do.

Peter objects, thinking it is demeaning to Jesus, and definitely won’t let Jesus touch his feet. But Jesus in his kind response makes it clear that if Peter doesn’t receive this, then he has no part with Jesus. I have often heard this applied to the truth that we’re cleansed of our sin or forgiven once for all, but that this applies to the daily cleansing we need through Christ’s blood, and with confession, as well as for unknown sins, as we walk in the light (1 John). I tend to think we can make an application that way. After all, Jesus told Peter that he didn’t need any more than foot washing since he was already clean along with the other disciples (except Judas Iscariot). Later that evening he tells them that they are clean through the word he had spoken to them (John 15:3).

What I think Jesus was getting primarily at is brought out in the text (again, the full link above). If they were going to be his followers, they would have to do what he did. Take the path of humility in love to serve others, especially each other. But also others. I am a bit skeptical over whether foot washing should be an ordinance in the church, except that in such cases it can serve as a reminder of what our Lord was getting at in this passage.

Out of love, the same love of God in Jesus, we’re to reach out to each other, even in our weakness, and in humility serve one another. It is something we do, no less. We don’t wait until somehow what’s needed is in ourselves. We live in God’s love in Jesus, whether or not we feel it, whatever our experience. And we’re to take the lowly attitude of a servant in doing so. Paul expresses what our Lord was getting at wonderfully well in Philippians 2, Jesus taking on himself the form of a slave in becoming one of us in the Incarnation, and further to the very depths in his death on the cross. And how we’re to have that same mindset in our relationship to each other. This is the posture we’re to take no matter what, come what may, in and through Jesus.