strongholds

I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you but bold toward you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5; NRSVue

The strongholds here refer to everything that is set up in opposition to the knowledge of God, all that is contrary to God. I think now of systems of evil benefiting some, often a relatively small number of the rich and powerful at the expense of many. Oftentimes such an arrangement is seen as necessary for this or that reason, with arguments like that’s the way things are, and that’s the way life works. Those on the bottom rung can be thankful they have work and an existence, even if it’s dismal. But the dismal aspect is ignored if not denied on the basis that somehow this is all these people deserve or are able to achieve. And that those over them even somehow are being generous. That is so antithetical to the good news of God in Christ which is not only about the individual soul, but about all things, all of life. Unless the entire Bible doesn’t matter. Only through reading it all can we fully understand and appreciate the good news in Christ.

What Paul is directly talking about here is everything set up against the knowledge of God as given in the good news of Christ. This is especially critical to those who do not have faith, who have not yet received it. But Paul is writing here to a church that indeed has received it yet are thinking and acting in ways contrary to it. The good news in Christ is meant to crush all strongholds. And what is especially critical in Paul’s mind which we see time and again in his letters, not the least in this letter is the relationships believers have with each other and how believers relate to the world. It’s meant to be all in love in accordance with the gospel.

When I think of strongholds, I typically think of that which hinders us from the fullness of experience of the gospel, by God’s grace the righteousness and peace and joy that accompanies it. It is noteworthy that just two chapters later in our Bibles, Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, the tormenting messenger of Satan that Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. But the Lord wanted Paul to live in that. It’s hard to parse this out, because I don’t believe such weaknesses would include bents toward sin which would leave us susceptible. But such experience can help us draw near to God in ways we otherwise would not.

I believe we need to seek to claim and live in God’s promises which are “yes and amen” through the good news of Christ. We need to plead and insist that God answer. Such prayer is probably entirely necessary for us, because we’re so given to being not that serious about whatever it is. So it’s good that we keep praying for ourselves and others and not let up. And even wrestle with God in the process.

It is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which tears down all kinds of strongholds, whether systemic evil in the world, the sin which binds people, or the struggles we experience as believers in the spiritual battle we’re in. Something to think and pray about. God will help us as we persevere. What once was a stronghold can be like Paul says above, destroyed. With the new thoughts Christ gives us as we commit ourselves to full obedience together. In and through Jesus.

a good prayer to regularly pray

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

Psalm 139 is a remarkable psalm, one I think I want to dwell on in coming days. Interestingly it begins with a similar thought.

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.

As Christians, we have a sensitivity to sin, and hopefully first and foremost, sin in our own hearts and lives. As God’s children through faith in Christ, we no longer want to sin, but instead, we want to please our Father. But still, sadly enough, we sin in this life. We just haven’t arrived. Or we make mistakes with no evil intent, at least nothing wrong we’re aware of. But maybe not the better part of wisdom. We know somehow that we’re lost in the weeds, so to speak, our witness surely impaired.

Of course we confess our sins to God, and where need be, to the one we’ve sinned against. And on other matters, we do well to lay low, and simply be quiet. While at the same time praying the prayer of the psalmist quoted above, again and again. We are looking to God to change us. To make us people who are wiser, more like Jesus. In the words of the psalmist, people of no offense, not hurtful (NASB) in our hearts and thoughts.

A prayer I want to be praying more in coming days.

the prayer of examen during difficult times

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4

I have been frankly unhappy with the continued tacit and even open endorsement of the Republican nominee’s candidacy for the US Presidency by some Christian leaders. And I’ve accepted as prudent to prayerfully consider recommendations from other Christian leaders to vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party. And Facebook and the media has been caught up in a firestorm.

All of this has given me pause. I’m left wondering, not so much just what we’re caught up in, and where it is going, though considerations over such matters are good, but where my heart and mind is in all of this. Is Jesus really central in this deliberation and exercise of mine? And just what does my reactions to what is going on in the American political scene reveal about me that is not altogether good?

I can’t dig this up myself, even though I need to be attentive to it. I need God’s help, indeed his light to shine on my darkness, so as to reveal what needs confessed, forgiven and cleansed. Of course this is not a once for all exercise, but ongoing. And we need to remember that God’s revelation to us of our darkness is always ultimately uplifting to us, for our good, and to help us be his witnesses.

This is not to put myself or anyone else on some guilt trip. But it provides an occasion and pushes us to come before God in prayer, and ask him to reveal to us anything that is offensive and not pleasing to him. In the tradition of the church what has been called the prayer of examen. And that is always a good thing.

And so that is what I’m hoping to do, as I meditate on scripture and go about my work today (and beyond). Better yet would be to spend some time alone in quietness before God, with this petition and question on our hearts and lips. In the words of the psalmist:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

judging ourselves

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is a passage about the Lord’s supper or meal which the Corinthian church was failing to practice in a way that was fitting or honorable to Christ. In fact, the meal itself, symbolic of the oneness that was theirs in Christ, was instead turned into a debacle in which the rich ate (some even getting drunk) up before the poor arrived late (probably from their work). Paul makes it clear that there was sickness and even death among them, because of the failure by some to recognize the Lord’s body. Referring not so much to the breaking of the bread, but to what that symbolized in their gathering. That they themselves are the body of Christ. Paul said that if they would judge themselves, God would not have to judge them. But that since they failed to, God would, so that in the end they wouldn’t be condemned with the world.

I think it is easy for us to excuse what amounts to out and out sin. We may not allow for a moment what we once excused or rationalized in years past. But sin is sin. And at the heart of sin most often is the failure to love: certainly to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We need to ask God to search us in this, and to reveal to us what’s not pleasing to him (Psalm 139:23-24NLT). And we need to judge ourselves in what we ought to know better and know already. We can’t excuse wrong attitudes toward others, particularly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, and expect to get away with it. God will judge, if we fail to. Sometimes we need to do it together as  body, but it is good when each of us takes on themselves to judge themselves. To refuse anything, no matter how justified it may be, that is displeasing to the God and not according to his will in Christ Jesus.

asking God to search our heart

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:19-24

I’m not much impressed with a lot of the critiques that circulate these days from standards which are taken for granted. There usually is some truth in error, but like so many things, the issues end up being more complex than that. Certain standards are set forth by the world and even by us Christians. And yet we need to read our entire Bibles. Every verse. I would say even in ecclesiastical/church settings (or at least in our own reading), even if we have to explain some of it in terms of Ancient Near East writings, the context in which it was written, so that the meaning may not be precisely what we think. And we need to keep reading the entire Bible, cover to cover. That would help solve some of the tendencies prevalent among us.

Having said that, I in no way am exonerating all the words of the psalm quoted above, as if we are to conform to such as followers of Jesus. Jesus taught a new way indeed, that we are to love our enemies and pray for them. And yet there’s something to be said for all of this. The imprecatory psalms asking for God’s intervention, even judgment on the enemies of the faithful seem to me to be echoed in the last book of the New Testament, of the Bible, Revelation (6:9-11). Or perhaps the martyrs were praying for their enemies, for their salvation, while at the same time praying for God’s judgment on them. We know the latter is true.

There is also no doubt that we are caught up at times in an air in a relationship which is both on edge so that it can go over the edge at times. Although this isn’t precisely what the psalmist was saying above, we can harbor wrong attitudes even in our struggle over perceived injustice, which although perhaps having merit, isn’t of the grace of our Lord that we are to carry toward others. If only we could see ourselves in that same light sometimes.

And so the prayer to ask God to search our hearts is appropriate, especially certain times in our struggle. And sometimes we need to keep it going, even after some breakthroughs, over longstanding grievances or difficulties with another. We need God’s help and that need will be ongoing in this life.

I like the New American Standard Bible’s rendition of this prayer in the words: “And see if there be any hurtful way in me…” And of course the end of the prayer: “and lead me in the way everlasting.”

the heartbeat of the faith

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The heart beat of the Christian faith is a fellowship in love. It is no less than the fellowship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is true Christian fellowship, nothing more and nothing less.

It is certainly real, down to earth, and very human, since it is incarnational at its core. The ordinary is never despised, Jesus lived quite an ordinary existence, one might even say in some ways extraordinarily so. Such fellowship might not be much back and forth in the way of theological discussion, or great wisdom. But the love of the Father through the Son by the Spirit, the love that is ours in Christ should always be present and be the element in which we share life together.

If it is not, then we need to ask why not. That requires prayer, since we cannot uncover our sin by ourselves. That something is wrong may be obvious to us, since we are people of the Spirit in whom the Spirit dwells. Not that we can’t be deceived, even self-deceived, because we most certainly can. Love trumps all, and so we have to ask God to help us in difficult places with difficult people to find the way of love with them, in and through Jesus.

Of course this love is a special kind of love. We might call it a holy love. One that is in accord with the will of God in Jesus. It is unique, even though it certainly overlaps with the love we find in creation. Of course the love in creation is impacted by sin. This is the love we find in the new creation in Christ. It is a love with a fire in its eyes at times, gentleness most of the time, but nevertheless, it is love.

We know of this love through the revelation of God in Christ. Which was shown with a little baby born in a manger so many years ago.  We do well to dwell on the wonder of our faith in Jesus, in his birth, in the story told us in scripture. That is where we find life: the true love which gives us the true life by God’s grace in and through Jesus. For us and for the world.

 

facing our pain

Pain tells us there’s a problem. Physically that’s a blessing. When people can’t feel pain, they live in danger. No signals to warn them of something either chronic or acute, and possibly threatening. The same is true with us spiritually. We may feel immense pain. As one of our pastors has taught us, that’s always a time to stop and ask the Lord to reveal to us what we need to understand from him. It may end up being something of our own patterns of life which do us or no one else any favor. Or God may want to reveal to us his way for us, in Jesus. Indeed, “the everlasting way.” It must be God who does this.

The prayer of examen is fitting here:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.