the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

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remaining faithful (and seeing the big picture)

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness[g]

Habakkuk 2:4

Sometimes it feels like nothing is left so to speak, that at least everything is in shambles. And life itself does not make sense. If you read the three chapters of Habakkuk (you can through the link above), you’ll find that precisely to be the setting for the prophet Habakkuk’s complaint to God. Injustice was rife among God’s people, which made no sense, since God wasn’t doing anything about it. And then God’s solution in response to Habakkuk’s request as to what God would in time do made no sense to Habakkuk, either. God bringing on a nation, an empire of that day, which acted even worse than God’s people, and was less righteous in Habakkuk’s eyes.

What are we to do in such circumstances? God’s answer to us is that the righteous will live by faith, or more precisely by their faithfulness. Actually without faith, it’s impossible to be faithful. Both faith and faithfulness are tied to commitment in response to God’s word, promise, and command. We can say, covenantal in nature. Of course one has to believe God’s word. But within that belief has to be a trust which is a commital of one’s entire life to God. So that all depends on God, but we are in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties.

For Habakkuk in a way that seemed easier since he was part of the covenantal people, Israel. But simply to be part of that nation did not mean at all that individuals lived up to that covenant obligation. So even then the call to the individual within community was in play. Today there is the challenge among many evangelicals to see God’s covenant in terms of a people, the church. We often don’t put sufficient emphasis on church, but see it more as a good help to our faith. But church is indeed a part of our faith in that the covenant we have before God in Christ is both individual and communal. That covenant is broken if we consider it nothing but individual, “between me and God.” We’re in this together. In New Testament terms, we are indeed one body, so that while each part has its place, and is important before God, we are important for all the others, as well. It’s never only about us and God. It’s about us and God and others in Christ.

So the call to faith and faithfulness is both in response to God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ, and together with others in Christ, and not just for the sake of each other, but in our witness of the gospel before and for the world. We remain faithful when life around us makes no sense and seems to be falling apart. But we trust God in all of that, and are committed to the good news of the gospel which is breaking in through God’s saving work now. God’s judgment at work in the world now, too, as needed. But an emphasis on God’s salvation, “today” being that time.

We all have part in this, so that we live now with that in mind. Through our faith and faithfulness. By God’s grace, God’s gift and giving in Christ. Assured that God is at work now and to the end, in and through Jesus.

getting through a difficult time

Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live;
    do not let my hopes be dashed.
Uphold me, and I will be delivered;
    I will always have regard for your decrees.

Psalm 119:116-117

There is no doubt that there are periods of time which can be trying for a number of reasons. I like the way scripture throughout, as well as in specific places leaves room for all of us to be able to identify in some way with what is written.

The psalmist is living according to God’s promise, so that their hope is both set and based on God’s word. And specifically God’s promise, perhaps meaning here the promise of being helped and being the Psalmist’s Help. We might liken the psalmist’s hope to having a dream of what might be. Both for the psalmist and for myself, it’s likely more in terms of a hope with an outcome not envisioned. At least for myself. Though I do have specific prayer requests along the way.

I must return again and again to God’s word, to scripture, to be both braced for what I need to be aware of and for living, and to be buoyed up so as to begin to think and live that way. And part of that process is going through difficulties, even hard times. Trials for the trying, testing, and refining of faith is a major theme in scripture.

And of course it’s in the way of the Lord, in devotion to God and God’s will. We live for God’s good purpose in Jesus and find fulfillment in that. And remember, “This too shall pass.” Better times are coming. Especially in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

the temptation to give up

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6

It is perhaps my biggest temptation nowadays just to cave in to despair, and give up, and retreat into an existence I’m not familiar with, and therefore have a hard time describing. Not that we can well describe where we’re at, anyhow. I leave that to God, really. Faith oftentimes is more like an aspiration, than a sense of having arrived, even though in the midst of it all, we can have that “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”

In the passage quoted above, it is about those who are of the Spirit being ready to gently restore anyone who has fallen into sin. About carry each other’s burdens. About helping support those who teach the word.  About doing good to everyone, especially to the family of believers. So kind of related, relational matters, but general enough that the encouraging exhortation to not become weary in well doing can apply in any endeavor for us in Christ in this life.

For me this is almost like a life rope. There are breakthroughs which are possible, but seem as far removed from reality as night from day. I sometimes have wondered why, in my words, God makes it so hard for us in this life. Why we have to pray and pray and pray for God to move and answer. There remains some mystery in this for me, but I think the simple matter of fact is that it’s all because we’re so stubborn and settled in our own ways. And God never coerces anyone against their will to trust and obey, to commit their lives to him. And God desires relationship with us, and wants us to walk in the victory that is ours in Christ, in both how we live and what we do.

We will reap a harvest of the Spirit, if we don’t give up. I must remind myself of this, and keep after it day after day, along with others, in and through Jesus.

blessed to be a blessing

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”[d]

Galatians 3

There is no doubt that through faith in and baptism into Christ that we are all blessed. But what was the good news to Abraham? That all nations would be blessed through him. And greater is the one who blesses, than those who are blessed (Hebrews 7:7).

Abraham was blessed by God to be a blessing to others. He is the father of us all in not only being the source of blessing through the children which came through him, ultimately fulfilled in Christ, but also in being the example to us of faith, so that we’re to walk in his steps. I take it, not only in receiving the promise, but in seeing that promise extend to others. So that ultimately, we’re to be like Jesus, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and of course to lay down his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

That is why we’re blessed in and through Jesus, to be a blessing to others. And “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Something we’re to keep in mind to live out in and through Jesus.

cast on uncertainty

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Hebrews 11

It seems like the walk of faith, rather than putting us on a track with a planned out, assured destination, actually casts us on uncertainty as to exactly where that faith might land us in this world, this present time, place, and existence. Abraham, the father of all who believe is said to have headed out in response to God’s call, an act surely crazy enough in itself to the people who knew him, or knew of him. For most of us this whole idea is not as glamorous, so to speak. It’s more like where we land when all the bumps and bruises of life, including the falls happen. But the same God who led Abraham, is also leading us. Which means we might expect some of the same kinds of issues and problems along the way. When God’s promises don’t seem to make sense given our situation, and even failures, sometimes taking matters in our own hands, as did Abraham, with less than good results, even though God in God’s grace can work in all of those things for good.

Abraham must have left a comfortable existence, or at least one where comfort would be assured, to something less than that, living as a stranger in tents, not settled, but headed toward a strange land, into a makeshift kind of existence it seems, in response to God’s call and promise (Genesis 12:1-9). But the book of Hebrews points out that Abraham was looking for a city beyond anything this world had to offer, which surely took some time to dawn on him, though maybe not. He was looking for a city, yes a city, with foundations, whose architect and builder is no less than God. But one on earth, I take it, though heavenly.

And indeed this seems to have been true with all of those living by faith:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

We are looking for a better country for sure. But we live now in this life, believing that in Jesus the beginning of the fulfillment all the promises of God are present now. The new breaking into the old to make all things new, something which will fully be completed when Jesus returns. All of this I’m trying to process and live in more fully now, in and through Jesus.

marking the time in which we live

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

It all depends on what is meant by “the present crisis” (verse 26). Gordon Fee in his excellent 1 Corinthians commentary sides with something like the lot for all of us in this present age before Jesus returns (my words). It is not something “impending” (NRSV), that is, something to come. But present, a present crisis, or distress.

But it does indeed seem strange that these gifts of God inherent within our humanity in the created order, should be taken with a kind of grain of salt, or not necessarily received as they otherwise would, since “this world in its present form is passing away.”

The point is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, with a view to his return, the new creation is breaking in, and the old is passing. It is likely a matter of already/not yet theological thought, in that our salvation is present (along with the salvation of the world), but not yet completed. So that in the meantime, we live as those not rooted in the present, but in the future. Our lot is cast there, so that we don’t live like those whose lot is fully cast here (consider the book of Ecclesiastes).

Does this mean that we live escapist lives now, simply wanting to avoid this present evil age (Galatians 1:4)? Not at all! We live fully in the present, as those who are looking to God’s promise for the future to break in now, at this time, and someday to be complete when Jesus returns. And this is to be realized through the power of the gospel, and through the church, in the present. Something happening now, but its consequences only fully realized later.

Paul’s words here are to encourage a devotion to the Lord which singleness can bring, in one’s focus and time. But it includes those who are married as well, that their focus too should be singular. But in context, definitely not neglectful of their marital duties to their spouse, or the upbringing of their children.

These are words of encouragement to me today. I need to see everything in light of the present distress that all Christians live in during this present life. So that my sights are set on God’s will, and following Christ, rather than on the myriads of things people have their minds and hearts set on in this world. Not that those things don’t have their place. For example it is good to live and eat healthy, and for us as Christians, primarily out of devotion to Christ, but for our own good as well. But this is not a priority of first importance. For example, if God called a man or woman to a mission for the gospel that potentially put them in harm’s way, they might do well to go it alone, without a family, and the added concern that would cause. And their first priority would not be their own safety, but faithfulness to the mission. Not that safety wouldn’t matter, it just wouldn’t be first priority overall.

Another important word for us from God’s word. For us to pray over and grapple with, as we seek to live lives for the good of others, and for God’s glory now, in and through Jesus.