a proper obsession

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:7

Last evening in our church small group, my wife leading our book study from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, the chapter on being obsessed, I was reminded of my current reading through the gospels. If you don’t call that an obsession, what Jesus was doing, and his disciples following him, learning to do the same, I don’t know what an obsession is. To be obsessed is to be intensely occupied with something. Jesus’s life was wrapped up in his Father, obedience to him, and in doing so, being a servant to all, even unto the death of the cross.

The quote from Isaiah above is from what is called the servant songs, fulfilled by Jesus. And the idea of setting his face like a flint is echoed in the gospels when Jesus set out to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing this visit would end in his crucifixion.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

That was the culmination of Jesus’s obsession. Just begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see that they’re marked by a singleness of vision and devotion to that. And in and through Jesus, we carry on that same life. We either follow Jesus in that way, or according to Jesus, we’re not following him at all. That’s the life to which we’re called by God in Jesus. The life we’re redeemed to in turn for the redemptive good of others. In and through Jesus.

 

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how faith is confirmed

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Hebrews 11:1-4

Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, faith is a struggle in this life. It is challenged on nearly every turn. The great passage on faith in Hebrews 11 to the beginning of Hebrews 12 begins with the confidence and blessed assurance that faith brings along with how we know by faith. But it doesn’t end there. The rest of the chapter is about how people who had such faith lived. They acted on that faith.

I think faith normally involves a process. We pray and hear, or perhaps hear and pray; we respond with some kind of inner “amen” to what we believe is from God. And then we act on that prayer in some sort of specific way, even as we see in the many instances of Hebrews 11 (click link above). Certainly a changed life is involved, and is touched on in this passage when we consider Moses by faith forsaking the treasures of Egypt for a greater reward and seeing him who is unseen. But by and large the passage is filled with acts of faith.

It does no one any good to have some sort of, shall we say, feel good experience, or sense what they should do, unless it is acted on and done. It’s not at all like we should try to do something to either prove we have faith, or even bring faith about. Not at all. We need to be those who act from faith so that there needs to be some kind of confidence, assurance, and understanding which precedes such an act.

Yes, we should not be hasty. We should have a certain firm settledness in what we’re supposed to do. But then we must follow through and do it. Confident in God’s faithfulness, that God will see us through to the very end. As we await the fulfillment of all that our faith will bring, which includes the growth of our faith in this life, as well as good outcomes in God’s blessing through it. In and through Jesus.

 

Eugene Peterson

One person who has surely touched as many households as any in my lifetime is Eugene Peterson, now with the Lord. I have a good number of his books, most of which I believe I’ve read, and benefited greatly from. One might not readily recall details from the best writing, but it will inevitably have a lingering effect on you. Such was the writing of Eugene Peterson.

Writer of over 30 books, including The Message, and first and foremost a pastor. Well studied, in depth thinker in the Presbyterian tradition. With a Pentecostal background. Grounded and seriously committed to scripture, certainly within the tradition of orthodox Christianity.

Eugene Peterson was not about show, but substance, day in day out. “A long obedience in the same direction.” You couldn’t find fault with his writings. The one critique might be leveled against his best known work: The Message, but it is meant to be a rendering of scripture, rather than a standard translation. And you would do well to read through it, or listen to it. He once said (or wrote) that he disliked it when people said, “Here the word of the Lord,” and then began to read from The Message. He noted that they should use a standard Bible translation when doing that.

Eugene Peterson was about substance and simplicity. And a big part of that is simply in slowing down. He wrote: Read slower, not faster; less books, not more. I think from what I’ve gathered from him, that he simply wanted to live as much as possible in what God was about, whatever that was; to be still enough to know God, and be in the flow of what God is doing.

He will be missed, but his influence will linger on especially through people, as well as his writings from generation to generation. Until Jesus returns.

God’s word a 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.[d]

Psalm 119:105-112

There is something about scripture which is unique. It is written for us in this world. Most if not all of it is actually not written to us, but all of it ends up being for us, so that in an indirect way, it is written to us. God’s written word for God’s people individually and together.

We certainly have to read it in context, and together, depending on the Spirit as well as how the Spirit has directed God’s people, even the church, staying away from interpretations which deviate from that.

It is called a lamp for the psalmist’s feet, and a light on their path. We often don’t seem to put the same value on the word. Or we do, but we fail to avail ourselves of it.

That thought needs to be considered with the rest of this segment (called, pericope). It is in the context of commitment, suffering and prayer. Along with delight. For us today, all of this in and through Jesus.

what life throws at you

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books. And it’s about not so much what life throws at us, but what we want out of life. We want to suck it high and dry, as if somehow we’re going to get life out of that. But the writer as well as the observer and “Teacher”, the one who experienced this said that it was all futile, even meaningless.

It’s not like the details of life don’t matter, because they certainly do. We want to do all that we should, and do it well. Although in the nature of things, we are limited. And there is always more that either needs to be or could be done. As long as life shall last.

Maybe the conclusion of the matter at the end of Ecclesiastes, along with wisdom woven throughout, is what we need to set our sights on. Particularly that ending that declares when it’s all said and done we’re to fear God and keep his commandments. We let life get to us, with all its obligations, demands, and expectations (real or imagined) pressing in against us.

Maybe it’s time to stop and ask what really matters. To really fear God, and be intent on keeping God’s commandments in and through Jesus is what in the end matters. At the same time, we need God’s wisdom to navigate the bumpy, rough, and sometimes puzzling terrain of life. Enjoying all the good gifts from God, and even finding satisfaction in the work we do. Maybe we can find a rhythm in it all, which can help us live in what is really life. A challenge indeed. God will help us in and through Jesus.

following through

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:23-25

Not sure the direct analogies we can draw that are intended. Certainly the word reveals ourselves, and our flaws in not conforming to God’s will, our sins. And that’s of vital importance. And when you consider not only the immediate context, but the entire letter, change in our lives is a major focus. But it’s not only change to get rid of vices, but also to develop virtues, particularly related to relationships, how we treat each other.

James wants us to look and keep looking, with all the intent and follow through of actually practicing or doing what “the word” tells us to do, God’s word no less. Called “the perfect law that gives freedom.”

And with our attempts to do so, as imperfect as they inevitably will be, we’re promised God’s blessing. A blessing we want not only for ourselves, but for others. In and through Jesus.

head knowledge is not enough

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

James 1:22

Bible listening or hearing in scripture means obeying. This is especially clear in the Old Testament. One doesn’t really hear God, unless they’re intent on following through with what God has said. Samuel is a case in point. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3). And with one intent only: to serve, to obey.

James makes it clear that we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re alright, “religious” (verse 26), just because we know truth, or have it in our heads, having heard it through our ears. But has it reached the heart, and worked its way into our lives, is the question. Are we attempting by God’s grace to put it into practice? Do we at least want to, even if it’s a struggle to us, sometimes even over our desire?

It’s about “getting down to brass tacks,” the essentials. If our Christianity is not something we practice, then it’s of no value at all. It helps neither ourselves, nor anyone else.

We need God in this. It’s not some personal self-help endeavor or project. God must be in this, or it won’t work at all. And God is at work in this way in his grace in and through Jesus. But it’s up to us to do it. God won’t do it for us. But God makes it possible for us to hear and follow through so that we not only hear the word, but do it. In and through Jesus.