the dangers and possibilities of each new day

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:1-3

Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
my groans and cries?
King-God, I need your help.
Every morning
you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning
I lay out the pieces of my life
on your altar
and watch for fire to descend.

Psalm 5:1-3; MSG

We as humans are very experiential creatures. And the psalms are lock stocked with the language and sentiment of experience. We often go from lows to highs and then back to lows. Some of us experience this quite pronounced, others of us not that much variation, and probably most of the rest of us somewhere in between.

Psalm 5 is a good passage to remind us how to start each day. I think both the evening before we go to sleep, and the morning when we arise are important in how we do this. To read Scripture, maybe a liturgical prayer book for night (Compline) is good. To arise and be in Scripture and prayer, morning prayer and reading is good. We can’t take for granted that a good day at least in how it worked out will carry over into the next day.

It’s not about us having a good time, and that’s it. Instead it’s about living in God’s grace and all that means in terms of forgiveness of sins and new life, and having the vision to see what God might have us do, or be pleased to help us do in the new day. And even if it’s just filled with the routines of what we have to do, to do that in the breath and love of God.

At any rate, for some of us this is a matter almost of survival, at least of experiencing and living out this salvation from God well. Growing in that. So we have to take this seriously. Every day is God’s and for us that’s a good and ultimately happy prospect. We bring ourselves to God each new day, and look to God for his answer and help to us. In and through Jesus.

losing one’s focus (and one’s mind)

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38

The call to follow Jesus is singularly one of focus and then acting accordingly. Certainly within the entire picture is all of Scripture, sorting out what is Jesus-like and in accord with the fulfillment Jesus brought from that which is not. Just because some person of God did something in Scripture does not make it right, or at least not right for us today. Remember Elijah calling down fire from heaven, and Jesus rebuking his disciples for wanting to do the same?

How Jesus’s words to his disciples during that time translate into our day is no small order, though I think there’s surely some direct corollary. We don’t have crosses now, but we must embrace the path of suffering for following Christ, and not just in some kind of western religious, salvation kind of way where nowadays so much about that at least expressed is about religious freedom. No, the way of Jesus can often strike right in the face of religious leaders, and certainly runs against the grain of the world’s way of thinking and action. Might doesn’t make right in God’s kingdom in King Jesus, nor lording it over others. Sacrificial, even suffering servant love wins the day in God’s eyes.

I have to ask when I see the mess today: “Are we losing our collective minds?” It’s so easy for us to lose our focus. And then go off on all sorts of directions other than where the Lord is going.

If we’re going to be true followers of Jesus, we need to learn to put first things first, get back to basics in what we’re focusing on, thinking about, and then practicing. It’s a matter of unswerving devotion to Christ, nothing else having that same place. It is also about being changed by the renewing of our minds so that we do not live in the ways of the world. We are called to follow Christ with the difference God’s kingdom brings- into our world, into all the world. In and through Jesus.

self-care

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:30-31

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

Mark 7:24

These two incidents in Mark’s gospel account were unsuccessful attempts by Jesus to withdraw and rest with his disciples, even perhaps by himself, as we see in the second instance. Surely this was a practice, something he had his disciples do with him on a regular basis interspersed between all the activity in their full days.

Self-care has never been high on my list of things I actually cared about. At least not explicitly, in my thinking, though really most of us do it to some degree automatically, somewhat like moving your finger off something that’s too hot.

I am finding for myself that self-care actually is helping me come around and get my bearings in ways I previously haven’t.

Self-care doesn’t mean self-indulgence or laziness. Taking care of oneself physically and spiritually, of course mentally and socially in that mix as well. The physical part can be underrated. We surely see something of that in the two passages above. We as humans are physical. You can’t disconnect that part from who we are. That affects everything else. If I don’t get enough sleep, then I’ll likely suffer the consequences later on, being dog tired at work, or irritable, not feeling good, whatever. So we have to take care of ourselves. Eating well, also.

And it definitely means taking care of myself spiritually. I want to do so in communion and participation with others of God’s people. We miss church meeting now, though we’ve met outdoors with our small group, socially distanced in the warm breezy summer air. And seeking to shore up on the basics: Scripture reading and meditation, and prayer.

Self-care has its place. Otherwise it’s replaced with all kinds of things which may not be good. Better to get back to square one and see this as nothing less than a responsibility.

Jesus was fully human, so needed it himself. How much more do we? God will help us; Jesus understand fully, and will help us.

In and through Jesus.

what does Jesus say? (not, what does the Bible say?)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

Ever since I prayed to know the Lord better, to know him at all it seemed to me, shortly thereafter I’ve been undergoing a slow revolution. It’s liberating, but difficult on a number of levels. One of them is to reject all the more what’s called a flat Bible. 

By a flat Bible, I mean the tendency to want to see a straight correlation between any passage and us today. At the same time there is some application we can receive from any given passage, even if it’s remote and indirect. But to get there, we Christians have to see everything in the context of what Jesus taught, and the revelation that Jesus brings in his fulfillment of all things. The difference that makes, and it does make a marked and even contrasting difference at certain points.

For example consider the woman caught in the act of adultery. Wasn’t the man there, too? But that’s another issue, yet relevant when you consider Jesus’s life and teaching. But to the point: Jesus rejected the Law’s prescription: stoning. Instead he tells the men present that whoever has no sin should cast the first stone. And we know what happened. Beginning with the oldest, they all departed. Then Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more (John 8:1-11). We know that Jesus ends up taking on himself all condemnation, guilt and sin heaped on him at the cross. And because of who he is through that takes on himself what we deserve, so that we’ll never have to receive that ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important what the Bible says. But as Christians we read every bit of Scripture in light of the revelation of Christ, God’s final word. We have to see everything in light of Christ’s teachings, and his life. It’s the way of the cross for us always, the way of love and forgiveness, the way of mercy and grace in the reality that justice is no longer something Christ followers have to satisfy. That is taken care of in Christ himself. 

All of that to say, this certainly doesn’t make it easy. Easier in a way in that we’re now hopefully walking more squarely in the way of Christ. But harder- given the world, the flesh and the devil. Even for Jesus that way was heaped with ridicule, scorn and eventually the abuse and thorns before the cross. That is the way for us as well.

Difficult to understand. Yes. We need the Spirit’s help. Even more difficult to live, though again through the Spirit we can begin to walk in these steps. As we seek to read and understand all of Scripture in the light of Jesus. In and through him.

Jesus our true vine, not my true vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:1-17

To read this correctly, we need to keep in mind that Jesus is addressing his disciples. The “you” is always plural in this passage. Unfortunately that often doesn’t come out in our translations. Ideally it’s best if we can read the Koine Greek ourselves, though not essential. But here, Jesus is talking to his followers as those who are together, part of a group. We were never meant to live the Christian life, more specifically to follow Christ on our own. We’re meant to be in this together always. Sometimes the group might be quite small. It really shouldn’t be too large except that we can have smaller groups within the larger assembly. But the point is that it’s not only a matter of abiding or remaining in Christ as individual branches. But it’s also being with other branches as part of the one plant.

We don’t do nearly as well when we read the above passage as just applying to “me” as an individual. But that’s ordinarily how we do it. We need to train ourselves to think and do otherwise. Yes, we’re individuals for sure, but we are not meant to live individualistic lives, nor just lives between us and the Lord. Yes our faith is personal, but it’s also communal, meant to be lived in community. The world needs to see how we live together in community, and not just that, but we actually need this ourselves. God made us for each other, as well as for relationship with him.

This emphasis on community needs to be a vital, weekly part of our faith. But the way even the best churches operate is often more just a “me and God” proposition, with everyone gathered more or less intent on that. And we miss a lot as a result. We can’t do it alone. We are meant to function with others. Otherwise our faith and growth will be stunted. Yes, we abide or remain in the true vine, Jesus, but we do so as branches together. We’re in this together. In and through Jesus.

 

reading the Bible through the revelation of Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

One of the problems Jesus followers have is Jesus’s fulfillment of the Old Testament. It’s not really a problem in itself, but it should end up impacting how we read the Old Testament, indeed how we read the entire Bible. If Jesus conquers in the way portrayed in the Old Testament, blasting his enemies, then that holds good today. We can justify such actions, and even try to Christianize them, put the name of Jesus somehow on them. But if Jesus’s way is the way of the cross involving loving our enemies, praying for them, and doing good to them, then we realize it just doesn’t work to engage in what is called a flat reading of the text, that is to think we can literally apply the Old Testament just the way it’s read. If Jesus didn’t, then as followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t do so either.

keep on keeping on in the word

I guess if there’s one theme you might pull out of this blog it’s this idea: that we’re to continue on in God’s word, Holy Scripture, the Bible. God himself has to take our blinders off. We can’t do that ourselves. It’s up to us to remain in the word, and continue in it. It is nothing less than God’s word. That makes all the difference.

Of course we need a mind that’s open, a heart that responds: we need faith. And somehow that comes to us as we prayerfully continue on in Scripture.

We need to process and practice it. But the bottom line is to find God’s grace for us in Jesus through the gospel. That makes the needed difference, so that we can appreciate and experience more and more the depth of the reality we find in God’s word. In and through Jesus.

the blessing of the biblical accounts: David

God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

Acts 13:22b

The biblical account of David (1 Samuel 16-2 Kings 2; 1 Chronicles 11-29) like the gospel accounts is theological in the story it tells. It doesn’t diminish David’s failures or hide his blemishes. This is in large part why the Bible is so believable. David is a man after God’s own heart, but not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

This encourages us, because this too is where we live in Jesus. We are forgiven for sure, through Jesus and his death for us, but we’re not without fault. We still have our sins, and our lives can be messy at times. Of course we’re always in need of God’s grace, not only for forgiveness, but to live in the new life God has for us in Jesus.

But back to David. We can learn much from his account, which of course is what is intended in one way or another through all the Bible. Things that will both resonate with us and can help us. His is a story worth reading through, reflecting on and studying. Remarkably many of the psalms are in David’s name.

God did not put him on the shelf because of the great sin he committed, but David is on the shelf so to speak for all to see and learn from. That we might see the good we can emulate, and the bad we’re to avoid. Along with the grace that is ours. In and through the son of David, Jesus.

 

the boring Bible

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] 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.’[b]

Matthew 4:1-4

Evidently we don’t have the time, or more like the will to regularly be in Scripture. Or at least that seems to be the case given the increasing lack of basic knowledge Christians have about the content of the Bible. We have all kinds of helps at our fingertips, not to mention the Bible itself in numerous translations.

Instead we’re obsessed with this or that, for many today it’s politics. Or whatever occupies your mind and time. That’s what moves us. If we’re attending a good Bible teaching or preaching church, we’ll get something good every weekend, if we have the appetite to receive it. God does meet us where we’re at, but we need to grow from the milk of the word into the meat of the word. But that requires the commitment of being in Scripture regularly day after day throughout each day.

And it’s best to take it slow, but not stop, to keep going. Two-pronged in reading (or listening) through the Bible in a year more or less, and in slowly going over especially the New Testament. Study of Scripture is good too, with good helps online as well. But most importantly in one way or another we need to have a consistent sustained practice of being in Scripture. Without that we’ll become weak and susceptible to becoming hollow in our faith, nothing much backing what profession of faith might be left.

Something we have to continue to pursue and grow in day after day. In and through Jesus.

 

directions for life

ב Beth

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, LORD;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

There is nothing more important we can do than turn to God’s word in Scripture, and be attentive to what God is saying to us. We need to slow down, stop, and then keep going. In doing this we’ll find our way into God’s way. But it’s not a once-for-all move. It’s ongoing, day after day after day, even hour after hour. In and through Jesus.