act beforehand (as well as necessarily react)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20; NRSVue

It is important to react in an appropriate way when need be, but just as important and in some ways more so, we also need to act ahead of time in a way which might lessen the need to react later and will at least get us in the proper frame of mind and heart so that any necessary reaction later will be better. I am thinking here about the spiritual warfare we’re told about in this passage, written as it were from Paul or from someone else as if Paul had written it, which doesn’t matter for our purposes since either way it’s holy scripture.

It’s important for us to do all we can on the sunny days in preparation for when the cloudy, overcast, stormy days hit us. It’s easy to do otherwise, to just rest, relax and enjoy when all seems good and at peace. But this passage explicitly tells us to do otherwise. Even when it seems unnecessary, we’re to do this, so that when the inevitable comes, we’ll be ready for it.

I think some interpreters see the evil day as ever present, so that it’s just something we have to do all the time since we’re ever engaged in this spiritual battle. And that could be. It does seem like in experience that there are especially some difficult days, and for some of us if we have to do certain things, like maybe teach or give a message or lead a discussion from scripture, we can almost mark it down that we’ll be in a tussle before that time to trip us up and make us ineffective in what we have to do. That has happened over and over again for me, right up to the present day. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” If we know that ahead of time, then we can prepare ahead of time, and indeed we are clearly told to do just that in this passage for the spiritual warfare which is part of our existence now. Let me add to that that the difficulty and darkness can hit us at the most unexpected times as well, any time really.

If Paul asked for prayer to help him in what he had to do, proclaiming the message of the gospel, we might say all the more so for us, but really, we’re all in the same boat together on that one. A difference with Paul was that he was probably fully exercised this way all the time, whereas we are not. But we’re all in the same need, and we all have the same resources. This is something we’re to realize and grow more and more into in our application and practice of this. Something we’re to take seriously in this life, because there’s no escape. And yet we have all we need in Christ and through the gospel, spelled out to us in detail here so that we won’t miss anything within that, all of it needed for life here and now. So that individually and together we might live in the light and be a light in and through Jesus.

the shepherd’s leading/guiding

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

What makes all the difference for the sheep? What is the difference between life and death for them? The shepherd. And specifically the care the shepherd takes of the sheep. And one important aspect of that: leading and guiding.

In our new hymnal, Voices Together, the Benediction for Morning Prayer reads:

God will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Amen.

Voices Together, 985

Notice that the shepherd leads, the shepherd does not drive the sheep or coerce them. They simple follow the shepherd’s lead. The shepherd goes before them. Jesus leads the way for us. Yes, by his example in trusting in his Father and following even to the point of the death of the cross. But clearing the way for us so that we can live in the same blessing in which he lives.

It’s vitally important for us, as Christ’s sheep to follow the lead of our Shepherd. The Spirit enables us to do that, along with Scripture. We need to be intent in simply following. Not going off and doing our own thing, which we’re ever so prone to be doing. As if we either have to figure it out, or have it figured out. That comes to a dead end, darkness, and finally, death. No, we move only with the Lord’s leading.

That will give us the light we need in our own darkness, in the darkness of this world. In and through Jesus.

reading Scripture differently

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:32

There is no doubt that we need the Spirit of God, Christ himself to give us clarity and understanding when we’re reading Scripture. Otherwise we won’t get it the way God wants us to get it. Something of that was going on here, no doubt. But also Jesus was surely teaching his disciples what the church has learned at least in the best of its tradition to do: Read Scripture, specifically the Old Testament, but all of Scripture in light of Christ and the fulfillment he brings. Otherwise we’ll tend to see it primarily through our own cultural lens. First and foremost we must see all of Scripture through the revelation which Christ brings.

But add to this, we as Christians can differ in how we read Scripture in another basic way. We can fall into what I think is the error of practically seeing Scripture as an end in itself, and miss out to a significant extent on its main point: the gospel, the good news fulfilled in Christ. Some make such an important matter out of an inerrant view of Scripture that they think Scripture depends on that being the case. But what Scripture actually depends on is the truth and reality centered in Jesus, in the gospel, in the truth of the resurrection. All hinges on that. Of course there’s much we can and should glean from the parts of Scripture, without losing sight of the whole, and the point of it.

We also need to read Scripture in the light God gives us elsewhere: in science, culture, from wherever that light may come. That doesn’t nullify a word in Scripture one iota. But it does help us understand its own historical context. And to see how Scripture points us to something which is above and beyond such contexts, yet can still be played out within any setting.

What is most important for us is that we seek to remain in Scripture, intent in believing and obeying God, intent in following Christ with others through the gospel.

faith is not sight

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

These words from Paul are in the context about living, dying and pleasing the Lord. And a distinction is drawn between seeing and faith. Someday we will see what we can’t see now. That is faith. Faith involves going on when the promise is not yet realized (Hebrews 11:13-16).

This kind of attitude is valued by God. Jesus said that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a miraculous sign, something they can see. But faith acknowledges that we really can’t see and understand on our own. That our dependence is solely on God, not on ourselves at all. For some reason God seems to want us to live in the dark so that by faith we can push toward the light, it breaking through at times, but the full light of day to come only when Christ returns.

So we press on. Tired. Not getting younger. With trials and questions. But finding even in those things an encouragement to genuine faith, different than seeing. In and through Jesus.

“a long obedience in the same direction”

From Eugene Peterson’s book of the same title taken from a quote yes by Friedrich Nietzsche, this phrase evokes something vital for Christ-followers. We must follow on no matter what, yes in obedience.

It is great to have breakthroughs along the way, to have answers to prayer over what troubles us. And we need to continue to ask God for such. Many of us are going to have plenty of days when fear rears its ugly head and fills our hearts and minds with troubling or at least distracting thoughts. Which in part is why we have to just learn to plod along, no matter what we’re experiencing with “a long obedience in the same direction.”

This isn’t going to be easy. We do need to hold on even at times to just the memory of the light we had when it seems like there’s little or no light left for us. We wish it was always light, but no, it just isn’t so. That’s the reality of the experience in which we live. We have to accept that, and settle into the commitment to follow on come what may.

Part of our problem is that we want life to work on our terms. But God knows what we need, and is working on us to complete that. Even when it’s our own weakness that makes it more difficult, we just have to keep going. That may not seem helpful, but it’s necessary and part of the grace given to us by God to see us through to the very end. In and through Jesus.

light breaking in

פ Pe

Your statutes are wonderful;
    therefore I obey them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
    it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
    longing for your commands.
Turn to me and have mercy on me,
    as you always do to those who love your name.
Direct my footsteps according to your word;
    let no sin rule over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
    that I may obey your precepts.
Make your face shine on your servant
    and teach me your decrees.
Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
    for your law is not obeyed.

Psalm 119:129-136

If there’s anything we need as followers of Christ, it’s the unfolding of God’s words to us. Often we frankly walk around in darkness, knowing where we should turn, but frankly not really getting it. Head knowledge is not bad, but it’s not enough. We need truth that penetrates into the heart, and from that into our lives to change them.

A large part of the faith life is the willingness to continue on in the darkness. God’s light does break through, but there are enough clouds and a few eclipses along the way, that we need to learn to trust even when we can’t see. When we can’t feel, maybe even when we can’t say anything. We can groan to God in lost prayer, the Spirit then helping us (Romans 8:26-27).

When you read the entire psalm, you’ll find that the psalmist is often struggling, feeling threatened, and not really connecting well with God. There’s lots of struggle, and sometimes thoughts that we as Jesus followers should not have. But then you run into this section. It’s like the lid is lifted, and the light comes streaming in.

This is what we long for, what we need. Not just to give us light to understand, but to live. To understand what God wants us to do. With love for God and for our neighbor being at the heart of it. In and through Jesus.

light for life

נ Nun

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, LORD, according to your word.
Accept, LORD, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.[a]

Psalm 119:105-112

God’s word is a light for our lives. But for that to be so, there must be the commitment on our part not only to receive it, but to daily live in it through all the difficulties and troubles life brings.

The psalmist remained in God’s word through the danger he (or she) faced, undeterred and determined, finding reward and joy in that word. Our privilege also in and through Jesus.

 

 

when all is said and done

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.

They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it[b]?”
They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.

But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.

The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!

Psalm 64

At times it seems like one is under a barrage of attacks in one way or another. It might even be partly our own fault, but still, just the same, that never justifies such attacks.

It is true that when we take any kind of stand for righteousness, we can expect to run into trouble. Such a stand can upend people’s agenda. So we should at least expect resistance whenever we might do so. Hopefully we take such stands in the Spirit, and not out of our own rage and anger. But even if we might perfectly do so, that might intensify the reaction all the more, since light exposes darkness, and darkness hates that. Of course I speak of the spiritual.

In the end we will see the victory of God in Jesus. Something that goes beyond, and actually judges all the pretenses of “man,” including our own. In and through Jesus.

the Lord is my shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

Yesterday for a time I was simply quoting to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Sometimes it’s good to just stay on one thought so that hopefully it can sink in. It needs to be put in context for sure, but it needs to be held, as well.

“I lack nothing” along with the rest of this great, well known psalm is helpful. But we might want to jump to that without sufficiently appreciating the simple thought that God is our shepherd. The rest of the psalm does flesh out what that means, but still it’s good just to rest on one thought for a time. Again, to let it sink in, and with fresh applications for one’s life in a way which actually helps one know in experience the Lord’s shepherding.

I believe in the church, and I know being in this together in Jesus is at the heart of what our faith is all about. But we are also individuals on our separate, unique journeys. This psalm is for each of us as individuals. And to get back to the main point, the thought that the Lord is our shepherd, we need to just sit back with that for awhile. Let its truth and light expose our error and penetrate our darkness. In and through Jesus.

where is our attention turned?

Nowadays with social media we have everything good, bad, and in between at our fingertips. There’s no end to what we can access, and to the time we can waste on things that may not be bad in themselves, but are not the best.

Yes, we have certain hobbies, or interests which usually are perfectly legitimate in themselves. And actually we should enjoy such. But we need to beware lest we lose out on what is most important.

We need to turn our attention to God’s revelation in Christ, and to the Scriptures to see this. Yes, to Scripture, because it, the Bible, is God’s written word pointing us to God’s Word in Jesus.

This will make all the difference. Like as in light and darkness, good and evil, peace and unrest, hope and despair. Trying to grind through another day, or instead trusting in God, depending on him for all the help one needs. And to work one’s way through the difficult places of life. In and through Jesus.