devotion to closeness to God

Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 30:21

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

The NET Bible note says Jeremiah 30:21 is a rhetorical question with a “no” answer expected. That is not clear in the NIV nor the KJV, perhaps more “literal” in English from the Hebrew, but clearer in other English translations. No one would dare seek to draw near to the God of Israel on their own. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that the way has now been open to all of God’s people through the blood, the once for all sacrifice of Jesus in his death on the cross. We in Jesus are a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9), and “made…to be…priests to serve…God” (Revelation 1:6).

So the way that was once made open through only designated ones necessarily year after year is now made open to all through Christ’s fulfillment in his atoning sacrifice. Not that “Old Testament” people couldn’t draw near to God who were not priests. They could do so only through the sacrificial system when possible, of course through faith. Enoch would be a prime example before the law was given (Genesis 5:21-24), and David (Psalm 15) and Daniel afterward (Daniel 9-12).

The passage in James quoted above makes it clear that this must be both in attitude and action. We’re told of the need for ongoing repentance, keeping short accounts with God. As well as simply taking the time to come near to God. This must become a priority, maybe we should say the priority of our lives.

I have more or less tried to do something like this over the years. I would in theory seek to be doing this all day. I did have a few special times, one I can remember early on in particular, “a date with God” as I called it, of drawing near to God. But special times each day were not a part of my life such as what evangelicals call “personal devotions.” I thought I would more than less be seeking to do that all day. I think at least to some extent this was a mistake. It is better to err on the side of making sure one has that “quiet time” with God. I used to listen regularly to God’s word being read. And now open my little Bible off and on throughout the day. But there needs to be those special times in prayer and in the word, not just thinking we can do that as we run throughout our day. But God will honor our attempt to do that even in the midst of the rush of life. Yet we need those times in silence before God.

Then hopefully as a pastor friend, Marvin Williams reminded me, we’ll have the scent of Christ on us, and be enabled by the Spirit to lead others to him. In and through Jesus.

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the heart of the battle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish 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.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

Near the end of a letter which marks what God is doing on the earth through the gospel and the church, and the impact that’s to make in our lives and witness, we have this word: we’re in no less than a spiritual battle, all the way around.

It’s easy for us to get mired into other things, even other battles, be they political in different ways, and those of our own making perhaps connected to “the pride of life.” It’s not like all those things are necessarily out of bounds, though they may be for a time, so that we can step back, and regain our bearings.

The real crux of the matter which underlies everything else is spiritual. And not in the way of the early popular Frank Peretti writings, which I think he improved on later. To reflect Scripture, and real life, it’s more complex than that. But a reaction might be to remove the spiritual element entirely, particularly the thought of the demonic and satanic, relegating such to some bygone time when people didn’t know better. Like C. S. Lewis wrote, the devil would like us to either deny his existence altogether, or see him behind everything, probably preferring the former.

As those in Christ, we’re in a spiritual battle no less. And it’s a battle for the gospel and the difference it can make in the world. But each of us are individually, as well as collectively involved in that. We’re either strong in the Lord, taking up the full armor of God, and standing firm, or we’re not. Our provision is Jesus Christ and the gospel.

We would do well to memorize and mediate on this passage, quoted above. And we apply it in large part by remaining daily in the word: Scripture, and in prayer. If we’re looking for some place and experience that’s pleasant, than we best look elsewhere. It’s not like the Lord doesn’t give us rest along the way, but that he’s also with us through the darkest valley (Psalm 23).

To the extent that we Christians understand the spiritual battle we’re in, and prayerfully act on that, we’ll see God move in ways that are helpful for people, and societies. Yes, for ourselves. Whether we like it or not, that’s the reality in which we live. And as we accept that, and act according to God’s word, we are a witness to the world of the needed difference in our own lives and churches Christ makes. In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

If there’s one thing we should do more than anything else, we ought to pray. One could well argue that we ought to be in the word, and meditate on it as a first priority as well, and that’s true. And the apostles spoke of prayer and the ministry of the word, referring to the praying which must accompany their public teaching and preaching.

There are no shortage of things to pray for: our own need and the needs of others. Of course worship and praise of God and confession of sin are staples in our lives in Christ. Prayer here is probably in reference primarily to petitions to God on the basis of God’s promises and the revelation of who God is along with what God wills.

We’re told that along with such prayer, we’re to be watchful and thankful. Possibly watchful for God’s answers, as well as to understand what we ought to pray for in the first place. We’re simply to have an attitude of being alert, awake, again watchful, so that we can both see what to pray for, and anticipate the answer to come.

And we need to be quick to give thanks to God for answers to prayer. As well as having a generally thankful attitude as we pray and await God’s answer. God is good and faithful to his promises. But we must continue in prayer, devoted to it. In and through Jesus.

prayer matters

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus’s words here in the Sermon on the Mount tell us that prayer matters. We’re encouraged to ask, seek, and knock, which implies a sense of urgency in the request.

And then Jesus points us to the goodness of the Father, that we pray to a Father who wants to give us good gifts if we just ask him.

In the end, if you can tie all of this together, as “so in everything” suggests, our prayers should be for the good of others. That we’re to do for others, what we would want them to do for us. The practice of love for our neighbor, as we love ourselves. Not excluding petitions for ourselves.

Prayer matters. It does make a difference. We need God’s blessing and gifts, ultimately to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

accepting weakness

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

I keep coming back to this again and again. It’s probably because I haven’t sufficiently learned it for myself. It’s only when I simply accept whatever I’m experiencing, especially inwardly, but I suppose outwardly as well, that you might say, I find faith, and eventually God’s peace and rest.

And it’s important in this to accept the humility which comes with it. We are beset with weakness in whatever malady afflicts us, and in that we feel a dependency like never before. Maybe to some extent on others, but completely cast on the Lord.

This is where we’re to live from day to day. At times it’s especially acute, so that once again we have to accept it. It’s not wrong to ask God to remove it, but God may not. In Paul’s case, certainly unique in that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and received astounding revelations (click link above to see that). But applicable to all of us who name the name of Christ. In and through Jesus.

for this July 4th

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

Here in the United States today we celebrate Independence Day when officially our nation began. What this nation stands for in principle is good, even though we’ve never lived up to it. Such is the human enterprise. We can’t reach that goal entirely apart from God’s grace and enabling in Christ. And that’s really at the heart of the fulfillment of the psalm quoted above. Only when Jesus returns when heaven and earth become one will that be fully realized.

But in the meantime, the United States should aspire in humility before God to occupy its own space for the good of all humankind. Realizing that it’s not in its own might or weaponry that it will succeed. But only by God’s mercy. As we know victory resides only in the King of kings, and Lord of lords, Jesus. And the United States should always be ready to acknowledge wrongs done, and try to make them right and do better.

This should temper our expectations, and help form our prayers, even as we thank God today for the good of the United States.

what difference are we Christians suppose to make?

I wonder how we Christians who don’t always agree on political issues, nevertheless might be a mediating, healing, even redemptive influence on a nation being torn apart. I am reminded of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29). They were to settle down and seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which they were exiled, to pray for it. It was going to be temporary for sure, seventy years.

That reminds me of us Christians here in the United States, or in any nation in the world, for that matter. We are temporary here, yes citizens of these nations, but our primary citizenship is in heaven. We don’t exist for the good of any nation or government. But we do wish the best for them, for God’s blessing so that people might be blessed. Government and the state does have a God-given place in this world (Romans 13).

I think the more we take all the words of Scripture seriously, especially those directed to the church, the more we might be helpful in the current impasse and worse. The gospel, God’s good news from God actually does the work, we don’t. We are witnesses to it in how we live in deed and word. First of all by our lives, even if we say nothing more at all.

…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Note the passage (click link) is in the context of an emphasis on love for each other, so that Christians strictly speaking are not independent, but dependent on God, and interdependent (not codependent) on each other. We Christians are in this together. Even when we don’t agree politically. We might be poles apart that way. And unlike me, you may not see climate change as something serious to consider, and we may disagree on a whole host of issues, even including the history of the United States.

In spite of all of that, just how can we be the mediating, healing, and even redemptive presence needed, if we think there’s value in that. If there was value in captive Israel being a blessing to Babylon, then surely there is for us now.

Getting back to Jeremiah’s letter to those exiles, we need to listen to what it might be telling us today:

…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Jeremiah 29:7

Prayer. If there’s nothing else we do, we should pray. Even shut our mouths and instead, pray. Not that there’s never a time to speak, as well as be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). But there’s nothing better we can do than pray. When we do, we’ll find ourselves somehow in God’s working, what God alone can do. What we do apart from prayer and dependence on God will do more harm than whatever good it might do. We can be sure of that, as well.

And so on the eve of Independence Day here in the United States, let’s consider carefully just how we might be a blessing in the midst of a mess which is certainly well beyond us. Above all holding on to the faith of the gospel, lights to the world (Philippians 2:14-16) in and through Jesus.