God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

what makes the difference in the Christian life? (not politics)

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:22-24

A cursory reading of Paul and his ministry makes it evident that the gospel is the heart and soul of what he was about. And it is clearly evident that Christians share in that, Philippians 1 along with the rest of that letter being a clear example.

When we read the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Amos, etc.) along with the rest of the Bible, it becomes clear that justice in terms of the love and righteousness of God’s will in totally loving God, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is front and center. It is not something on the side that we can get to if we are so inclined, or find the time, while simply evangelizing, getting people “saved” takes up the bulk of our time. No. Evangelizing and discipling involve inculcating people in the reality of God’s love and truth, the witness of the gospel, the good news in Jesus being made clear in the church itself in the forgiveness of sins and the new life found in Jesus.

Fastforward to the United States today, and politics. You find good people divided on virtually anything and everything, including Christians. But guess what? Jesus’s heart beat is not Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Progressive, Conservative, whatever. No. It’s God’s grace and God’s kingdom come in him. It’s essentially his own heart beat given as a gift to us by the Holy Spirit. So that in love we can live past whatever differences we have with each other, as hard as that might be at times.

When we buy into something less than that, then we’re into idolatry, pure and simple. Our passion, our heart beat, and frankly how we evaluate everything comes from God in Christ and the good news in him. We’re to do it in all humility and love. Not simply dissing the significant importance of earthly politics in its place. But knowing that what we have goes beyond that, so that ironically it can impact it in a heavenly way. Being heavenly-minded so that we can be of earthly good. But living through and for Jesus and the gospel. In and through him.

rejecting lies

Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

Isaiah 44:20

If there’s one thing that’s harder to get rid of than anything else, maybe it’s any lie that’s accepted for whatever reason. Often we know better, that what we’re accepting is at least questionable, or if you would analyze it, not bringing out all the best in us. And as one would well expect, lies are often subtle. They come with truth, sometimes half truths, or with good along with the fatal flaw.

In Scripture as in the passage above, idolatry is tied to the lie, anything that takes the place of God in our lives. The appeal is to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, as old as the first sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).We are caught up and carried away by something that we as Christians ought to have no part in. Again, on the face of it, it may seem innocent, or at least have justification. The result of idolatry is exactly what is stated above: feeding on what is not good with a deluded heart.

Left to ourselves we’re helpless. We need God’s grace in Christ, otherwise we’re likely to replace one lie with another. Instead we need to repent, when we’re willing and ready to be humbled, rather than remain in our own pride. In and through Jesus.

 

what can God redeem?

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

In this passage is the curious idea that God repays something, as if it is owed. In the context, judgment had come on God’s people through locusts devouring the land. But after the people repented of their sin, God’s promise was to restore what the locusts had eaten, the devastation they had caused. And repay is the word used in a number of translations.

Redemption has the idea of paying a price to claim something or someone. And then in this biblical analogy and indeed, reality, the one bought is set free to fulfill their purpose for existence. To be themselves, yes, but redemption in Scripture involves not only being set free from one master, but belonging to the one who paid that price. Ultimately everything is made for God, and is fulfilled within that purpose. We not only have the propensity, but it’s like an addiction to us to seek fulfillment apart from God. When we do that, we become slaves to our addictions, which includes self-fulfillment. But when we find our fulfillment in God, then we can enjoy and appreciate the goodness of God’s gifts without becoming enslaved to any of them.

The human condition is a difficult one, and all of us know and experience that. We all need redemption which comes from God’s mercy and grace in Christ. When that happens, somehow God graciously restores to us something of what was lost. To all humankind in and through Christ, someday a new heaven and a new earth in the new creation already breaking in. In and through Jesus.

does the Bible really say that?

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

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

This is a good passage out of which this part is shared here (click link) to critique popular theology. Paul’s voice seems so foreign, yet it actually resonates with Jesus’s voice, and that of the rest of the Bible on matters like sexual immorality, idolatry, and simply putting God to the test instead of in faith, trusting and obeying him.

One popular take out of pastoral concern (as a friend pointed out to me) is the point that indeed God doesn’t give us more than we can bear; he actually does, so that we won’t depend on ourselves, but on God to see us through. There’s truth in that when you consider it with the rest of God’s word. But I want to take seriously just what is actually said in these scriptural passages.

We’re told that God won’t let us be tempted or tested more than we can stand. But with that temptation will provide the way out, so that we can endure it. Plain and simple. Maybe not the way we want to hear it. We want somehow a miraculous breakthrough which requires no effort on our part. But as Dallas Willard pointed out, grace is not opposed to human effort. While God’s grace given to us in Jesus is nothing we can merit, earn, or deserve, that does not mean it is received passively by us. That happens, but it seems more often than not, we are active, at least in being attentive if nothing else.

If we think the Christian life isn’t without a struggle, or often against the grain of culture, then we have another thing coming. Or we may end up going, as a few leaders have in recent days, leaving the faith behind. There’s more to it than just this, much more. That is why we need to turn the pages of all of Scripture from beginning to end, and keep doing so. In prayer and with the commitment to a faith which receives and responds. Accepting the warnings of God’s word, even when they may seem to make little sense to us. So that God might do his work of grace in us, a process no less. In and through Jesus.

 

misplaced confidence

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

Fear seems at the forefront of much thinking today, even in Christian circles. There’s no end to what we’re afraid of. We could say often it’s fear about everything, but that would be a hyperbole. Actually those who are motivated significantly by fear have confidence in some things which not only alleviate their fears, but give them a sense of security. But when we get to the bottom of it, it can end up being a misplaced confidence.

In the United States we say, “In God we trust,” but when it comes right down to it, is that really the case? It’s too easy to slip into confidence in ourselves, our military might, our know how, our vision of how things ought to be, etc., etc. This besets people on every side, be they moderates, progressives, conservatives, whatever.

This can be subtle, hard to discern and uncover. Again, it’s not like we can’t profess confidence in God. Note that this psalm is written to God’s people, Israel, and by extension, to us all. Part of it is addressed to the nations, which might include Israel at a given time, to “be still” or “cease striving” as if everything matters on human effort and might.

True dependence on God does not mean security and at times even force is not needed. In a world of evil, there are times for such. It does mean that our dependence should not be on such to see us through, but only in God. Military action should be used as a last resort, and hopefully to help promote peace, certainly not war.

What if Christians actively took a role of advocating peacemaking, and reticence toward any military action? Instead we ought to be known as those who stand for peace, are opposed to war, and make that known at the ballot box. But in the United States neither major party can claim the high road here. This is not at all to dishonor those who have served and serve in the military. They deserve our honor, support and prayers. But it is to acknowledge that our ultimate dependence is only on God, and nothing else. Our hope is always and forever only in God. Who will judge what is done now, and finally put a stop to it once for all. In and through Jesus.

cleansing from idols

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

We read as the first of the Ten Words, which we call the Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:3-6

Idolatry is endemic to humanity. Simply put, it’s putting anything above God. We were created to be in relationship with God and with each other. And God is not only alone deserving of our entire devotion, but we find our true value and the value of everyone and everything in light of the revelation of God. And when we give God our complete love in response to God’s love, we actually find that our love for others is more pure and indeed sacrificial.

“Love” in the world is often more about what I want than what I can give. It often is essentially self-centered. Not to say that there aren’t people who love others self-sacrificially apart from worshiping, indeed even knowing God. That is part of the image of God in humanity. But sin has come into the picture, so that human beings are inherently self-seeking, turned in on themselves, their own interests, and not God’s interests. And ironically to put oneself first ends up resulting in loss, including the loss of one’s very self, according to Jesus. But acknowledging God as the one who is worthy of full devotion is to find one’s own self, and the true value of others, seeing the blessing of others through who they are, and not by what we can get out of them for ourselves.

But what we need is nothing less than a cleansing of the impurity of our hearts from idolatry. Only God can do that, and it occurs in what in theology is called “regeneration.” In the context quoted above in Ezekiel, it is a promise for Israel and involves the promised land as well. In Christ it’s fulfilled within the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of all nations, and thus inherit the world. So what is needed is nothing less than a change of heart. And ultimately, as the passage indicates, and as we read elsewhere in Scripture, only God can do that.

That is our need. It’s not easy, because ironically when we’re tuned into God and God’s love, we’ll love others all the more. It will be a love, not about us, or our wants and needs, but for the good of others, to serve them in God’s love. We genuinely love and care about others in God’s love. And we experience God’s love for us and others. It’s important to remember that we’re included, loved by God, who loves in a way that’s beyond our wildest imagination, with no end. But we know and experience that love only through the cleansing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Something we should ask for and value, basic to our lives. In and through Jesus.