don’t despise what’s simple (the example here for the anxious, like me)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

We can often look at the simple as simplistic. And maybe somehow beneath us? That may or may not be what we need to humble us. But whatever may be the case, we dare not discount and put aside what might seem too obvious, for something more sophisticated and complex, even if we think that our problem is complex. It surely is, but we need to remember too that what is simple is often quite profound.

And this is no less the case in the above Scripture passage. What if we like myself, who are so prone to anxiety would start to put this passage into practice? I know there might be some who would roll their eyes thinking that this is like using a precious promise book, strewn with maybe a hundred verses we’re supposed to claim. It would be good to read the entire book of Philippians, for sure, and meditate on it all, and we need to do that, too.

Remember, the exercise itself will be beneficial, even if one is still lost in anxiety. What is true about those who suffer anxiety as I have over the years, is that the real problem is not the problem itself, but the anxiety. If one is not anxious about one thing, they’ll be anxious about something else. When one anxiety is lifted, there will be another anxiety to take its place. And what one finds out is that basically the approach to life is to be anxious, more or less filled with anxiety.

Instead we need to take this simple yet not simplistic approach of mouthing the above Scripture passage, for example, maybe after we’ve memorized it. And seeking to put it into practice in the midst of our day. If we stay at it, we’ll find eventually that the cloud will lift, that God will honor that. Always in the context of a life in which we are committed to following the Lord. Yes, in view of the full letter of Philippians, and all the rest God has given and will give us. In and through Jesus.

questioning our identity, or acting foolishly on it

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 3:16-4:4

The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Matthew 3:16-4:4; MSG

Jesus’s baptism and temptation amount to him fulfilling what Israel failed to do, and more than that, we might say confirming his calling to be the Savior of the world. This was done for us, and in a certain sense none of it can be repeated. Just the same, we can learn important aspects of it for our lives, not the least of which is the importance of standing on Scripture when we’re actually tempted in some way to deviate from God’s will and grace to us in Jesus.

It’s interesting, the difference in the NIV and in most other English translations (not all) from Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message. Usually it is written and read as if the devil is tempting Jesus to question his Sonship, and hence him being the Messiah. But from Peterson and a few other English translations we might gather that what the tempter was trying to do was have Jesus act presumptively upon that Sonship. Either way, if the devil can get Jesus to depart from trust/faith and obedience, the devil wins. Jesus would have been sidetracked and diverted from his Sonship, his Messiahship.

Of course we know what Jesus does: He refutes the devil each time by quoting Scripture. Jesus stands firm on and in his Father’s will.

We can take for ourselves a couple of subcategory thoughts. We will be challenged about our identity, so that we might question it. Are we really God’s children by faith in Christ? Am I really loved by God in Jesus? Is God really my Father? When we question our identity in Christ, we’re in danger of acting as if that’s not so, even when it is. And we can either miss out on more than a lot, or we can cave in to that which a child of God should not be victim to.

The entire human race are created children of God. God has made the way for each person in and through Christ, by his life in his incarnation, his teachings and life lived, his death for our sins and resurrection for new life, new creation, and his ascension with the outpouring of the Spirit with the promise of his return when salvation will finally be made complete. But each of us has to put our faith in God through Christ. Trusting in God, that God can and will carry us through in Jesus. That God includes us in his special family in Jesus.

The other temptation is to act presumptively on our identity in Christ. We are God’s children, therefore we can throw caution to the wind. What can be lacking here is the proper reverential awe for God and realization that who we are is meant to be a representation of God to the world, of course that revealed in Jesus and given to us by the Spirit. As far as I can tell, this is less of a temptation for me, so that it’s hard for me to wrap my head around. It may be akin to some things we see going on in the world in the name of Christ which don’t have the scent of Christ on them at all, but instead, the stench of the anti-Christ. We have to be careful lest in our pride and arrogance, we act in ways that are evil in God’s eyes.

We are God’s dearly loved children in Christ. I want to remember that, and keep reminding myself of that again and again, so that I continue to cry out to God for all the help I need. And never to act pridefully on that help, as if somehow I’m something special apart from God. All is a gift, the greatest gift of all being Christ and what he did for us so that we might be included in God’s forever completely loved family. In and through Jesus.

avoid angry people, or becoming an angry person

Don’t hang out with angry people;
don’t keep company with hotheads.
Bad temper is contagious—
don’t get infected.

Proverbs 22:24-25; MSG

We live in an angry time. Actually it has been building up for years, and now is in danger of even violent release in too many places, some of that violence seeping out already. And it’s not like there’s nothing to be angry about. If we’re not angry about some things, then we need to get a checkup to see whether or not we’re human, and I mean human in a good way, in the way God intended us to be. But at the same time, since we still do struggle with sin, having not arrived yet into full likeness to Christ, we need to keep a strict check on our anger. We’re to be slow to become angry remembering as James tells us, that our anger does not bring about the righteousness God desires.

We do well to avoid angry people, not hanging around them. We also need to stop being angry people ourselves, or becoming that way. There are outlets in our culture in which people are basically angry, strident in their anger. It’s what seems to characterize them. It’s an anger couched in arrogance. When we humans do this, we’re moving well beyond what we can actually do well and legitimately as humans. We better leave what only the God who is love can do well, and humbly let our anger move us in profitable directions such as lament and good works of love, as well as prayer.

I can get angry easily over some things, like one particular machine at work. I need to turn that anger into an attitude of seeking the good that can come from the problem, particularly in my own formation as a Jesus follower in becoming like him. The last thing we need to do is become known for our anger. If we don’t want to hang out with angry people, but hopefully influence them in love, then we don’t want people to want to avoid us for the same reason.

Anger puts us in dangerous territory. We’re not to let the day end remaining angry because we give the devil a foothold in our lives. No, anger is too hot for us to handle. We need to grasp it, and let it go. Finding what God would have us do instead. Together with others likeminded in and through Jesus.

back to accepting/embracing weakness

You’ve forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we’re at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don’t know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise—again, whether in or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard. This is the man I want to talk about. But about myself, I’m not saying another word apart from the humiliations.

If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10; MSG

This is one on which I go around and around. It never seems any easier, but I think it gets shorter, because even though it’s taken me some time, I think I’m more and more getting it. When I feel completely weak, I also don’t sense God’s grace present. I think we can safely say that something like that was going on in Paul’s own experience expressed here. Paul cried out to God three times for the weakness to be removed. But then accepted the Lord’s word to him, realizing that though it certainly didn’t feel good or sit well, it was for his own good, and most importantly, so that Christ might be made known through him.

And so we must first accept it. When we do, we might even learn to delight in it. And that’s because God’s grace meets us as we accept whatever weakness it is that seems to hold us down, make us feel lost, or whatever. That’s when relief comes. But that doesn’t mean the weakness is removed.

It needs to be spelled out clearly here that when we refer to weakness, we don’t mean out and out sin. Perhaps temptation to sin is a part of it. But it’s more in line with what Paul refers to: “a handicap” as well as “limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.” Perhaps what may have been a disease affecting his eyesight was in view here, but he adds more. So that will include whatever difficulties we experience, while seeking to remain true to Christ. 

Something I have to come back to again and again. A nice fresh rendering of it in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. The answer to help us through. In and through Jesus.

against full knowledge in this world or even in the word

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12b

Sadly, too many Christians nowadays seem to think they have some sort of inside scoop on what’s going on in the world. Or that they unlike most other Christians possess some superior knowledge of God’s word and the gospel. Either thought is dangerous.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I believe any idea of some inside scoop or full knowledge of anything should be dismissed, or at least viewed with profound suspicion.

Yes, God does give us revelation of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit, and helps us through the word, no doubt. But we have to be humble, especially when it comes to what we think we understand about what is going on in the world. We need to stick to what God plainly tells us in the word, and refuse to get sidetracked on what too often become tangents that get us sidetracked from God’s will for us.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t push hard for truth and what is right, just and good. It does mean that we do so believing that only God understands and knows and works in God’s own sovereign way, as he sees fit.

We do so in full confidence of nothing other than God and God’s work through the word in the world. In and through Jesus.

 

at peace in God’s will

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

If there’s one thing this pandemic has pressed home, it’s the uncertainty of human plans, even of life itself. All is subject to the Lord’s will. And we’ll do much better if we work at learning to rest in that. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s word on judging others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:1-6

I was reminded just now by a brother, and find it odd, how I have often felt on edge when being around judgmental people, and sadly I’m thinking of judgmental Christians. I’ll never meet up to their standards they impose on others. Not only do I fail in what I do, but they always know what to do.

I wonder if there isn’t a form of Christianity which lends itself to this kind of thinking. It would affect even the most loving, who would have to catch themselves from being just their loving selves and be shamed into towing the line.

Jesus’s words emphasize that we need to be self-critical before we can be of any help to others. We can help others in the way God has helped us. The accent will always be on God’s grace, and from that, truth will be found.

Sadly there are some who will appreciate none of the jewels of grace we have to offer. We shouldn’t waste our time continuing to try, but should remain in prayer for them.

our lives are in God’s hands

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

James was a pastor, but he could be blunt and was certainly to the point. This is a good example of that. And it’s the kind of word we often need. It seems like if we hear something that comes across to us as only a nice suggestion, we easily slough it off, and forget it. But this is a word that braces us for our full attention, and doesn’t leave an out, another option.

If we can get it into our heads that we’re only a mist, our lives are here one day, and gone the next. That’s hard for us at any age, although as one gets into their senior years, there’s no escape from the realization that our bodies are slowing down, and that we’re indeed aging. Sadly anyone’s life can be snuffed out in an instant, in a car accident, or over a short time with an unexpected illness.

James’s words don’t exclude planning. It’s fine and good to plan, even important, but always with the contingency that all depends on the Lord and his will. Our lives are in God’s hands, not in our own, thankfully. So we can rest assured in that, submitting our plans to God, indeed our very lives, that he might direct us and give us wisdom in everything according to his good will. In and through Jesus.

how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

If I would choose one passage to summarize my life, it might be this, and with a hope so. Jesus begins here, and this is where we need to begin and keep beginning. This is not like a one time thing, and then we move on. It’s something that should always characterize our thought and attitude about ourselves.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace and if we look at our lives honestly, we’ll know that we don’t measure up both in terms of sins of commission as well as omission. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves or our sin. But it does mean that we acknowledge our need for ongoing forgiveness of sin through confession, and acknowledge too our utter need of God’s grace to grow spiritually. We should never dismiss or minimize God’s promise to not only forgive our sins, but cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I have often seen Christians who looked down on other Christians or churches as not being “Spirit-filled.” But it has seemed to me over and over again that too often what is exhibited in such attitudes is a demonstration of leaving this saying of Jesus behind. They somehow are beyond that, or maybe to them that only applies to people before they come to Jesus for conversion. Utterly false. I would rather be with the humble, poor in spirit any day, than with the Spirit-filled who have to look down on others. I’m at home with the “poor in spirit,” since I’m most certainly one of them.

At the same time it is the poor in spirit who will actually know more of the work of God’s Spirit in their lives. Especially in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) as we note that no matter what spiritual gift we might exercise, if it is not exercised with love, it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13). That doesn’t mean we leave the Spirit-given gifts behind, but only that we put first things first.

If we fail to accept the reality that we’re poor in spirit, then we’ll inevitably be proud and compare ourselves with others, favorably for us, of course. Instead we’re to take the way of Jesus who made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), who was humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). In and through Jesus.

the poor in spirit are the Spirit-filled

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

The first of what’s called the Beatitudes in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount one might say is a bedrock to the rest. If pride is the first and fountainhead of the “seven deadly sins,” then Jesus meets that head on with the first words he speaks.

We might struggle with trusting God, and with other sins as well. But if we are living in pride, we’re all but lost. That must first go before we can deal with any of the rest. Otherwise we’re left on our own, since we think we can take care of it.

We might well say with C.S. Lewis that we indeed are proud people, and that admission paradoxically can be a point of humility. Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of one’s own limitation and sin.

We need to recognize and acknowledge our spiritual poverty. We need the Lord; we can’t do it ourselves. And that’s an ongoing need, not just a once upon a time need that we got taken care of, and now we’re good to go. We need the filling of the Spirit over and over again.

But a sign of really being filled with the Spirit is to ever know and acknowledge one’s own poverty of spirit. That may seem contradictory, but it is always the case. As long as we’re full of ourselves, we don’t need God. Or we may even think that God’s filling makes us able to take over and do it ourselves. Instead we need to realize that our need always and forever is Christ and Christ in us, as Paul says, “no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” Then we’ll be beginning to understand what Jesus was getting at here.