we follow Abraham in and through Jesus

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

Genesis 13:14-17

Abraham’s story is remarkable for a number of reasons. He was an ordinary man in many ways, yet extraordinary as well. I really think that mirrors us. After all, though we’re ordinary too, we are made in God’s image which is extraordinary in itself. If you read Abraham’s story in its entirety in Genesis (11:27-25:11), you can readily see what I mean. In the above passage, he let Lot choose whatever land Lot wanted, so that there would be enough room for both of their flocks and herds, and to end the quarreling between their servants. Lot chose what was then the best land for himself. And then God gave the above promise that every direction Abraham could see would end up being his.

God called Abraham out of a culture of idolatry, to simply trust God and God’s promises. He promised Abraham land, and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and the sand on the seashore. Abraham believed God, and God credited that to him as righteousness.

But Abraham was not perfect. He and his wife Sarah both struggled since they were now old, and had no child, no son to be the heir. The general tenor of his life was an unwavering faith, just as Paul says in Romans 4. But we can see that along the way he and Sarah tried to help God fulfill the promise. Of course to no avail, though a son did come out of it: Ishmael, through Hagar a servant given to Abraham by Sarah for that purpose. God would bless Ishmael too, but not in the blessing of the promise God had given to Abraham. Finally 25 years after the initial promise, Isaac was born. And more follows.

We read in the New Testament that we’re to walk in the footsteps of our father of faith, Abraham (Romans 4). Which seems to me a major point of the Abraham narrative in Genesis and of the passage quoted above. As Abraham learned to walk by faith in what humanly speaking was an impossible situation, so we are to walk in that very same faith, as a way of life for us. Through everything, come what may. In and through Jesus.

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God’s promise of anxiety-overcoming peace

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 4:6-7

Like so many things in the Christian life, the directive here is radical and goes beyond our understanding of things, or what we might do left to ourselves. Off and on I’ve struggled with anxiety. Oftentimes I’ve more or less given up, and just learned to live with it.

It could be translated that we’re not to worry or be anxious, either one. There are few things more debilitating than anxiety. It seems to eat at the core of our being, and take the heart out of life, so that what we do is a mechanical grind. When we’re anxious, we’re failing to trust and rest in God’s provision for us in Christ.

This Scripture probably is helping us both to avoid anxiety or worry, or know how to deal with it when it strikes us. We’re told in every situation what to do. The same thing: with thanksgiving, pray. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. Specific requests to God with thanksgiving.

I know that in the past I’ve done this even in a poor way, and found the promise to be true. It’s an act of faith. And God does come through.

Sometimes it can be particularly difficult. I’ve gone through days into weeks in the past, basically not realizing this peace, surely because I failed to follow this directive. Likely a part of the spiritual warfare all believers experience (Ephesians 6:10-20). The enemy knows that anxiety is one way to trip us humans and strip us of God’s peace. And they know our weak, vulnerable places, as well.

The answer in the passage quoted above is simple. We’re to do it. God will help us through whatever we’re facing. But he wants to do so while we have his peace. The peace of God which goes beyond any understanding we have. That is our call and privilege in and through Jesus.

accepting limitations

I think Christianity and faith seems to bring with it a tendency toward an idealization in which this and that are to be just so, or at least there’s growth toward the good, what’s best. With that comes an expectation which sets one up for discouragement when it’s not met, or regularly falls short.

I think what ends up being the case is not the idea of having expectations at all, but misplaced expectations. We don’t understand God’s promises in Christ and how they work out in real life. I believe an important aspect of that ends up being our need to accept limitations. Limitations in ourselves, in others. And with that, we need to understand and accept our weaknesses along with that of others.

I want to be careful here. I’m not referring to out and out sin such as people giving into this or that which they know is wrong. Yet at the same time, if we are caught up in any sin, God’s promise in Jesus along with his promises in Scripture are for us as well.

Does this mean we expect less from God? Hopefully not. Actually it can mean that we understand better how God works. Through weakness, brokenness, even failure. Through our ongoing keen realization of our need for him. Through the way of Jesus which is the way of weakness in taking up one’s cross and following (2 Corinthians 13).

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s anything but easy to accept weakness. And when we do so there’s always the danger of rationalizing sin, excusing ourselves when we do. What I’m referring to here is more of an existential awareness that at times, maybe much of the time for some of us, we will not be in any kind of on top of the world experience. And problems will come and sometimes mount in number and intensity.

We must not simply throw in the towel and give up. Though if we do we need to remember God is present for us then as well. All of this is the opportunity for us to push deeper into God and God’s provision for us in and through Jesus.

to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

why we don’t shut up (about our faith)

…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:20b

First off I want to say I’m thankful to live in a nation in which I am not persecuted for my faith, and I would say, for the faith. Unfortunately persecution of Christians worldwide today is on a scale perhaps worse than ever. I’m grateful to live in a nation, the United States, which maintains freedom of religion. Of course there may be subtle ways of persecution here, but not the kind in which one’s property or life is at risk. So I’m blessed to live in freedom in that regard. Our persecuted family in the faith are blessed, in the words of our Lord, to face persecution as they continue on in the faith (Matthew 5:10-11). And we need to support them with our love and prayers (see Open Doors, one of the ministries working to help such).

The words of Peter and John quoted above, before the religious authorities who were persecuting them, are instructive, and actually enlightening as to why we Christians persist and won’t let up in our witness. Maybe it’s especially true for those set apart for ministry, but actually all Christians are called by God to be a witness. We are witnesses first of all in the change of our lives and how we live in love for others, and in what we say about our faith and the faith.

The apostles saw the Lord, witnessed his life, his words, deeds, and just who he was. As well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead, the point in the narrative above after a man over forty years of age and lame from birth was completely healed. The apostles found something that was not just life changing for them, but amounted to good news for the world no less, in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And we follow in their train.

I am personally not only convinced intellectually, but by what I’ve seen. Changed lives yes; lives for the love of others, including enemies. Rational argument is good, and actually there’s a convincing rationale for Jesus’s resurrection, which has turned one skeptic after another into a believer. I don’t deny others have abandoned the faith. All I can say is there’s one thing that keeps me going on and wanting to be a witness: what I continue to see and hear. I see the difference it makes day after day, or at least over shorter and longer spans of time in my own life. And though I often don’t understand well enough what Scripture is saying, the words are compelling and point me to God’s Word himself: Jesus.

This is personal to me, but it’s more than that, it’s for the world. The gospel, which is the good news of God in Jesus is for the world. It will never be the center of any nation state in this present age, but is always manifest only in the church scattered amidst all the nations. Part of this good news in Jesus is the promise and “hope” of his return, when he will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom in him will be set up when heaven and earth are made one in him.

So we carry on. Yes, in the midst of difficulty, our own darkness, our stumbling, and so on. But we continue to follow. To show and tell the difference this makes in our own lives, meant for all others as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

willing to live with feet in the air

One never knows what a day will bring forth (see the book of Job). Yet there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes). Things are set in place, the only difference being variations of the same.

I’m not one that’s fond of heights, though I have gotten up when I have to. I like safety, feet on the ground. Real life and the life of faith seem to involve feet in the air, unpredictability in place. Not that feet on the ground is completely safe, either.

The life of faith in this world involves an element of uncertainty. We don’t know what we’re going to face from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, and beyond. But with that there’s the certainty that faith brings. God is faithful, and God’s promises in Jesus for us and for the world are true, trustworthy, and certain.

So no matter what today or tomorrow might bring forth, God will see us through if we only trust in him. In and through Jesus.

 

simple faith can be underrated, overlooked

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.

Matthew 9:27-30a

I think too often we can overlook the importance of simple faith. Faith in God, in our Lord, for sure, but just pure unadulterated faith.

Instead somehow we think we have to do it. Yes, with help from God, maybe even by God’s grace, but still it’s up to us. Actually faith is up to us, the rest is up to God. Not to say that once we put our faith in God we’re automatons, passively carried along by God. Not at all. We’re active, but it’s completely different.

In the case of the two blind men, whether or not they had faith in God, in our Lord, in Jesus’s ability to heal them mattered to Jesus. It may seem that we don’t have much faith, but we’re to put what faith we have completely in God, in Jesus. And by simple faith receive what Jesus has to give us. That can make all the difference in the world.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30