remain in the word

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.

Psalm 119:105-112

I am one of those Bible Christians. We “Bible Christians” get plenty of bad raps nowadays from people who want to point out deficiencies in our theology. I’m sure there’s plenty of that to go around for everyone. It’s not like we shouldn’t listen to the criticisms or critiques of others. But the main point I would like to make here is that we need to remain in the word: God’s written word, Scripture, the Bible. And to keep doing so day after day after day. With the intent of faith, trust, and obedience. All else is secondary to that. In and through Jesus.

 

back to the nuts and bolts

א Aleph

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

Every day, and particularly at the start of each week after a kind of short sabbatical from normal life, one has to remain where the structure and life is found in Christ, Scripture. Psalm 119 is a fascinating psalm, especially from the Hebrew.

It’s interesting in this first section how the ideal is presented, and then how the psalmist seems to lament that they don’t live up to it. While their heart is set on that, they find themselves not entirely living up to it. And yet that ideal remains embedded in their heart and mind, so that they continue to pursue it.

It is interesting too, to note that there’s ongoing learning. It’s not like we know it all, not at all. But our learning and endeavor is with the goal of obedience to God, specifically to God’s word.

God’s word, Scripture is the primary way God speaks to us. But through that, God speaks to us in other ways as well. Scripture opens the door to learning from God. We need to walk through that door and find our way into God’s way for us. In and through Jesus.

listen up

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

1 Samuel 3:10-11

One of the essentials if we’re to truly be followers of the Lord is to develop a keen awareness of his voice. We need to listen and we need the discernment that comes from the Spirit of God to understand. In fact of course we need God to open our ears in the first place.

The boy Samuel needed the priest Eli’s help to set himself to listen for God’s voice, or in this case discern since Samuel had earlier heard the voice calling him. I think we best hear God’s voice in the midst of life as we remain in God’s word, Scripture. God speaks to us through the Book and directly.

Our regular hearing should improve dramatically when we take the attitude of a servant. We aspire as those who would be the Lord’s servant. Our goal is obedience to God. But even more basic is our desire to commune and thus to know and walk faithfully with God.

God’s grace is key in all of this. We may think God will no longer speak to us when we either mess up or have attitudes that are wrong or at least questionable. In reality I think it’s accurate to say the Lord is always speaking. But whether we’re keen to listen is the question. In and through Jesus.

a different direction

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus’s words, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount will probably be met with a sigh and a dismissive shrug if even that, nowadays. The small gate and narrow road seems so confining. People often either want to keep their options open, or just go with the flow.

Instead, Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural in following him. It’s to be small in that Jesus and his words, the good news in him is how we enter and remain. And it’s narrow in that we follow him by paying attention to his words, and to God’s word in him given to us in the gospel and in Scripture.

I think Jesus’s words have a lot to do with focus and intent along with follow through. The title of one of Eugene Peterson’s books comes to mind: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. No matter what, we continue on. With ongoing confession of sins, and change along the way, to be sure. But we continue on. In and through Jesus.

paying attention to God’s commands

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

It seems hard and almost old fashioned, at least open to question nowadays, the necessity or even importance of keeping God’s commands. For one thing we live in a relatively Bible illiterate day, when it seems like year after year, people who attend Bible teaching churches know the Bible’s content less and less. At least that has been the case. And we live during a day when there’s a major cultural shift arguably accompanied with a hermeneutical shift, how Christians interpret the Bible. With the obvious changes from the Old (or First) Testament to the New (or Second, we could say Final) Testament such as found in Leviticus, for example the prohibition of sowing two different fabrics together to make clothes no longer being in effect comes the protests that sexual mores have now been changed as well. The idea that sexual relations are confined to a woman and man who are married is considered odd and a thing of the past, almost taboo at least among many in their practice.

Among Christians who fall prey to none of that, there can be such an emphasis on grace, that keeping God’s commands is nearly beside the point. Impossible since that is considered falling under the law, which is only meant to indicate that we’re sinners, incapable of keeping the law. With others it might be a decided shift in emphasis due to priorities which determine more what we’re to do and not do than Scripture itself. It’s almost like Scripture is present to help achieve what is considered most important, often referring to priorities in one’s personal life, or from the political sphere.

May I just suggest that I think all of us Christians and churches ought to stop, back up, and go to square one. We need to return to the plain words of Scripture, of course read faithfully and in light of God’s revelation given to us in Scripture of Christ. We might be surprised at just how traditional it might come across. Not the air of today’s “brave new world” but the fulfillment of the old creation in the new creation in Jesus as spelled out in the Final “New” Testament itself. Something to which we should aspire, even as with the psalmist we lament in not arriving to perfection in this life. In and through Jesus.

what do we love?

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:97-104

When it comes right down to it, what do we honestly love? What do we come back to again and again? And admire, so that we want to emulate it? And what does that make us hate? The psalmist loved God’s law, scripture, put it into practice in life, and therefore hated every wrong path.

Life tends to either make this hazy, or clarifies it, of course our response by faith needed. When we run up against trials, we can run to God in prayer and by that find blessing. A big part of this psalm overall, even if not in the section above. But the passage quoted (מ Mem in the NIV) focuses on one’s love of God’s law or instruction, scripture itself. A love which doesn’t just delight in that word, but puts it into practice in one’s life. It is a game changer, meaning a life changing word from God.

The point of the word is not so much the word itself, though every word from God is important for life and precious. But it inevitably points and directs us to its fulfillment in Christ who came to fulfill all. So that our love for God’s word naturally results in a love for Christ himself.

Again, this is a good question to ask: What do we love? Sometimes after getting up from sleep, there’s a freshness that helps us appreciate what matters most to us. And other times it comes through the hard knocks of life. Love for something less than how God’s word directs us will leave us high and dry and often troubled. A good sign that we’re off track, and that we need to come back to scripture, and get our lives redirected by God in the way fulfilled and given to us in and through Jesus.

the difference faith in Christ should make

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

Activism is alive and well, and pushing agendas at many fronts. And though there’s a place for it for Christians in advocating for the poor and broken, for those who have no voice of their own, the works spoken of here and in scripture are largely those that come from God’s now messianic community. Those which are present in Christ. Our faith is empty, if it doesn’t show itself in good works for others, particularly for those who need help.

What James cites here are works of a very practical down to earth manner, which are near to the heart of God (see James 1:26-27). And obedience even when one can’t understand, but just knows that this is something God wants. But the latter are simply cited as examples from scripture (which is our Old Testament now) to back what James was saying to the readers. James’ application is taken up with the former: simply doing good works for those in need.

James was the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, which was well known for taking care of its own. Before the persecution which scattered the believers from there, people used to sell property and lay the money at the apostles’ feet to distribute where need be, so that everyone was taken care of among them (Acts 4:32-37). That doesn’t mean that people could simply live off others, or that handouts were (or are) the answer. The believers in Judea and Jerusalem for whatever reasons were known to be poor in comparison to many believers elsewhere, though not being wealthy was no stranger to many of the believers at that time. But Christians were well known for taking care of each other, as well as helping elsewhere. It was not a faith that made a big issue of the belief differences, even though such differences both on a basic paradigmatic, as well as ethical level were radical. They showed the difference which the Lordship of Jesus, and the community in Jesus made in stark contrast to the world of Caesar and Rome.

Today, what are we Christians known for? True, the world won’t give us any benefit of the doubt, unless somehow we’re compromising in giving into the world’s agenda and even that’s a bit complicated and can be misunderstood. It’s not like there’s no overlap. But the difference Christ makes should be readily apparent both on a collective, as well as individual level. Not only did the church in Jerusalem and elsewhere do well at times, but individuals such as Dorcas and Cornelius as we see in Acts, did a world of good themselves. What are we known for and why? That is an important question for our witness to the gospel. Does our heart beat where God’s heart beats (James 1:27a)? Or are we off in what could just as much be the world’s agenda as our own? There is more than one line we could fill in there. But there’s also many things we can do which express a genuine faith in Jesus, truly Christian through and through. In and through him.