what is needed in this wilderness

Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.[a]

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3; MSG

We live in a wilderness in this life. We’ve not reached the Promised Land yet. In Christ we’ve stepped into something of the experience of God’s promise, but certainly not into its fullness and completion.

So what are we left with here, yes in this wilderness? Nothing less than God’s word. What do I mean by God’s word? Certainly Scripture is included in this thought, both in general, and specifically all that is meant. Again God’s promises along with God’s directives, commands, warnings, encouragements, blessing, etc., etc., etc. Karl Barth surely had a point that God’s word to us is how God actually speaks to us through the pages of Scripture (if I’m understanding that correctly).

So we have to hold on to God’s word. We live in the wilderness, and as the passage above makes clear, it isn’t easy. But God wants to help us through, to teach us a lot, all of that from our complete dependence on God. Of course we have to learn complete dependence as well, more and more living in that, deepening ourselves in it.

Again this doesn’t come easy. Just consider the story of God’s children under Moses’s leadership, Moses’s own struggles. But God offer’s God’s presence and all that we need as we remain in prayer, seeking to hear God speak to us especially through the words of Scripture. In and through Jesus.

the one constant

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Scripture points us to Jesus, and God’s fulfillment of all things in and through him. One might want to say that Scripture is the constant, and it’s certainly central in all traditions of the Christian faith, of the faith itself, as we might put it. But it points beyond itself to Jesus.

This doesn’t mean for a moment that we shouldn’t pay close attention to all the details in Scripture, because indeed we should. Pre-Christ, during his time on earth, and post-Christ we might say, meaning after his ascension. Jesus made that clear:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18

And what is accomplished includes everything. The church should be the light in Jesus which both exemplifies the beginning of that, as well as speaking out on it by those who are pastors and theologians and lay people who learn from such and are so gifted.

Jesus is the one forever constant, and God’s will fulfilled in him. To bring us into the fullness of God the Source of All Being, the Eternal Word, and the Holy Spirit. To right all wrongs and make all things new.

And the church is central to the beginning of this now. In and through Jesus.

don’t forget this

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:10-18; MSG

I find Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this Scripture helpful on a number of points. You get a sense of how this spiritual battle we’re in is ongoing and frankly, horrific. I wish it were not so. It would be quite a different experience. For those whose life is a walk in the park, and an ongoing happy time, I think something like: “Wow. Great!” But then it makes me wonder if they know this aspect of life. All who are “in Christ” do, even if somehow that realization is hidden from them.

And then the idea that we can’t do this on our own. That we are dependent on God and on all God gives us in Christ. Especially helpful is the point that we’re to apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation to our lives, as taught to us in Scripture. And God’s Word expressed as a weapon, perhaps referring to God breaking through to us as we read Scripture, that word coming home to us. And the need for ongoing prayer. I find that when I feel up against it, I am often pressed to pray, and end up praying more persistently, sadly, then I would otherwise. On the other hand when I have a break from this spiritual warfare, I can be encouraged to pray, at times having a sense of God’s presence and peace. But by and large I keep at it more faithfully when I feel pressed for one reason or another. It’s not hard for me to realize the need for this.

And how we’re to pray for each other. Having been within the evangelical tradition most of my Christian life, I’ve been well taught on the need to apply Scripture to my own life, but not as well taught in how we’re all in this together, and the responsibility which comes with that.

To apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation both for our own lives, and for the world, into the lives of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. And for everyone else as well. But Paul here seemed to particularly mean it for the believers at large, I would say especially individually, and then collectively, together. Definitely an ongoing personal application. In and through Jesus.

addendum to “off the thrill ride”

Yesterday I simply made the point that we need to beware lest something we’re engaged in is giving us a satisfaction and even exhilaration when in fact it may not be the best or most healthy thing for us or others. Many things in this world can fit that category and the result can be what amounts to addictions and really too, just plain old fashioned idolatry.

Instead, I was suggesting that we need to settle in to simply the point Ecclesiastes makes at the end of that book. Fear God, and keep his commandments. Knowing that everything we do is under God’s scrutiny and ultimate judgment.

I do not want to be disrespectful, nor come across that way. The title, “off the thrill ride” may seem disrespectful, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have used a different more toned down title. The Teacher (or Quester- The Message) was able to try everything, and not only did he try it, but he gave it all he had, became fully immersed in it. You name it, he pretty much did it. But when it was all said and done, he was left high and dry, seeing it all as “meaningless,” or empty in the end. At least not delivering much bang for the buck.

Most all of us, certainly I included have been on a similar ride. We think we need this or that, even if that really goes against what Scripture tells us, and especially what Jesus taught, along with those who followed him. We think we know better, or at least behave like that. When in fact, we don’t.

We may feel that what we’re doing is for the good of others, and that may well be our intent. But is it within the category of fearing God and keeping God’s commandments? When we’re doing it, are we really following Christ, obeying his commandments? That is something we need to prayerfully ask ourselves and seek to discern with others.

I think most people today are caught up in some of what’s happening more in theory than in practice. We all need to examine what we’re thinking, because sooner or later, we’ll act on it. And that includes all of us. We can all be on a “thrill ride,” each and everyone of us, which is not helpful. Even in our supposedly righteous response to what we think is wrong. Not to say that in following Christ there isn’t something we should be doing to do justice, while we love mercy and seek to walk humbly with God.

We’ll actually find our true selves, and the real life when we learn to make following Christ our primary endeavor. Everything else secondary to that. In and through Jesus.

accept the reality we’re in: Christian spiritual warfare

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

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20; MSG

I think there’s truth and wisdom in what I heard years and years ago from a servant of the Lord. We as followers of Christ are children, servants and soldiers. He then likened that I think to the old stools people used to sit on to milk their cows. Three legs, so that if one of them is gone, the stool is gone we could say, as well. For different reasons I think we either want to avoid the soldier analogy, or we misapply it, pushing it into “the culture war,” or even into what is some ways is worse, actual military or paramilitary activity. Not what Christ taught, nor what Paul is teaching here.

We are not in a physical battle, but spiritual, and we’d better face that and get used to it, and act accordingly. It’s not just something we do and get it over with. We have to be ready and engaged day after day. It’s a kind of mentality, but also something beyond that. It is we can say spiritual in the sense that we are looking to God for God’s strength and help, no less, in all that God has provided for us in Christ. As The Message puts it: “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation” along with “God’s Word” and “prayer.”

All who are in Christ will sooner or later realize that they are in a spiritual battle. I remember a successful and loving pastor who seemed to suggest that we should ignore Satan. I may have well misunderstood him. Perhaps he was making the point that our focus shouldn’t be on Satan or spiritual warfare, the spiritual battle we’re in, but on Christ. And that is a good and important point. We succeed in resisting the onslaught of the enemy by getting our strength from God, and applying what God has given us in Scripture, in Christ.

There’s nothing fancy here. All we’re supposed to do is stand firm, holding our ground. It may not look pretty, and may not get us any style points. It’s not about us. We accept this difficult, heavy reality, after all, there’s really no escape from it. And we want to take it head on, not at all in our own strength, but only in the Lord’s mighty strength, the strength of his might. Again, living out all Christ has given us, all we are. Holding on. Not trying to overcome ourselves, but knowing we will overcome by standing firm through Christ. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

“Jesus says/said” or “The Bible says”?

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

Matthew 5:21-22; MSG

Jesus’s words here are so powerful, especially in the present days when words are so cheap, and word hits on others seem like a dime a dozen. But that’s not what this post is about. We know the well known exclamation from Billy Graham, I can hear the words ringing from him: “The Bible says!” Someone recently quoted someone else suggesting that this is a weakness within evangelicalism, a downplaying of Jesus’s words through an emphasis over and over and over again on what the Bible says.

I do like the idea of getting back to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And really studying our Lord’s teaching, yes, what Jesus said. As well as his life. After all we’re supposed to be his followers. Are we steeped in his words, his example, his call to us? Of course preceded by Jesus as God’s gift to us. We can’t follow his example apart from the gift Jesus is to us.

I know some of the criticism. We don’t need red letter Bibles because every part of God’s (written) word is important. I’m not crazy about red letter Bibles, maybe for other reasons, and believe all of Scripture is important for us even to understand Jesus, to see his life and teachings in proper context. So every book has its place, even if its directions are not for today, a good case in point being most of the book of Leviticus.

It seems to me that it would be healthy for us to start examining our positions on issues in the context of Jesus’s teachings, and what follows in the New/Second Testament with the backdrop of the First/Old Testament in consideration. Yes, Jesus sheds more light, after all he said he was present to fulfill Scripture, to bring it to its intended conclusion, however precisely that’s done. Sometimes in direct analogy, but other times showing something better to the point that the other is really not analogous.

So yes, maybe we do need to adopt more of a stance concerned with Jesus’s words. But not over the Bible, but within the context of the Bible. Eugene Peterson’s rendering above I think brings that out. Jesus was not at all telling his hearers to set aside Scripture, or even a saying in Scripture, but rather pouring his light onto it. It had its provisional place in time, and the letter of the law may still apply. But Jesus was getting at the heart of it. The truth of everything revealed in Jesus himself, what he said and did. Who God is and what God is about found in and through Jesus.

can the Lord help us through each situation?

There are so many passages of Scripture which could help us. The problem with quoting any one of them here is that we can too easily almost make the passage itself nearly like a fetish by which I mean having power in itself apart from its true meaning. But we need to keep going back to Scripture again and again, because through that we find God’s revelation to us in Christ, and the details surrounding that.

Yes, yes, the Lord indeed wants to help us through each situation. This actually takes hard work on our part, akin to the thought in Scripture that we’re to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. We are so used to doing it our way, so “programmed” or set in that way, it’s so much a part of who we are, that sadly we’re at a loss to give that up. But we need to set ourselves in the straight and narrow of being determined, even if it makes us sick to our stomach, to commit everything to the Lord, and then depend on him. Prayer, talking to the Lord. A little bit of this goes a long way. And I mean a sincere, honest effort on our part. And not wavering, as James puts it, being two-faced, actually “double-minded.”

This has to be our ongoing commitment, and I speak for myself, so that this attitude and corresponding action becomes more and more a part of who we are, what characterizes us. Something I hope by God’s grace to continue to work on. In and through Jesus.

letting God help us grow in the hard places

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4; MSG

If you’ve read my posts now and then, you’ll sooner or later gather that I have almost what might seem to be an anxiety disorder. It’s something I’ve lived in for so long, that I’m not sure I’ve ever been without it. Of course there’s the normal anxiety we all face, to meet our responsibilities, do our jobs well, etc. But this goes beyond that. And you come to realize that while it might be helped with counseling and even at times, medication, that it seems to have a life all its own. I enjoy the times when it seems to be abated, nonexistent, and I either just enjoy those times, or try to take advantage of them by doing what I think might be useful beyond what I normally do.

But lo and behold, I find myself slammed again and again by such. But I have been much better in recent times and growing in seeking to manage such through faith, in prayer and Scripture. While facing another challenge yesterday, I turned to James in the Bible I’m reading through now, Eugene Peterson’s The Message. “So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely” stood out to me. When you’re in a trial, if there’s any way out, any escape route, it’s only natural for us to go for that, no questions asked. We want out, and we want out now.

But James tells us we need to hang in there, and let God see us through. Not only out of the trial itself, which is what I all too often have only cared about, but through the trial into more of the fully formed person God wants us to be in Christ. This is an important part of our calling now. Trials will come, but so will God’s help if we just trust God, praying and asking for wisdom through it all (click above link for that part). Along with the needed change in us. But only if we don’t try to get out it before God’s work is done. In and through Jesus.

back to basics

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 4:1-4

Over and over again I have to remind myself of what I regularly do, or want to do. That’s be in Scripture. Just doing that makes a world of difference for me.

After his baptism with the experience of the Spirit coming down on him like a dove, and a voice from heaven saying that he was God’s much loved Son, Jesus was driven out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This world is like the wilderness to us, and the devil does indeed tempt us. Yes, Jesus meets this temptation in a sense to shield us from the worst of what the tempter can do through the cross and the good news that brings. But also as our example. When you click the above link you’ll see that Jesus meets each of the tempter’s suggestions with Scripture. Jesus was little known until that time. Almost thirty years in relative seclusion, surely taking in daily Scripture. Exactly what we need to do day in and day out. 

We need to keep seeking out God’s wisdom, listening to God’s voice, looking for God’s transformation of our lives over time. The needed change will occur as we seek to become and remain grounded in Scripture, especially in the gospel we find in it, the main point of it. Along with all the wisdom we find. In and through Jesus.

first things first

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

I too often have the experience of getting through one thing or another that troubles me, finding inward peace with the freedom to think beyond troubles, only to be assailed by a new problem. I think there’s some serious wisdom in seeking kind of a monastic existence apart from the cares of this world. In my case it would be a married monastery. Yet in having to go through the extra difficulties one can grow in faith and wisdom. I suppose if I were to choose, unblinkingly I would take the former. But I am stuck in the latter, at least for now.

There’s a good word for us from Paul that relates to this, I think. Paul had plenty of serious concerns, but they were all more or less related directly to the kingdom of God. He filled his mind with good things, which is more than evident in his writings. And remember when he said in what is allegedly his last letter that he wanted the parchments and the scrolls (2 Timothy 4:13). He was a reader, or he had someone read to him due to what seems to have been an eye condition. At any rate, he kept himself occupied with truth, knowledge and beauty both from God’s revelation of Scripture, and from other sources as well, evident in the terms used here.

For me that means I need to major on what is major, do my best to take care of the rest, but not let go of what’s most essential. In fact even in addressing problems, we can do so hopefully through ways which will actually add to our well being, instead of tearing us down. While we don’t let go of what is helpful and edifying, from Scripture, and from other sources, all part of God’s revelation, as we sift though those things.

And we must act. Paul says to look at his life, and do what he does, to follow him as he follows Christ. That is so important. We need people who have learned, or at least are learning to walk the walk. To learn from them over time, just to be around them. Sadly the way it is, church life is hardly church life at all in so many good places. You have to really take initiative in looking for small groups, maybe even a house church, and develop relationships. I’ve gained a lot from that in recent years, even though it has been limited in the numbering of gatherings. Faithfulness to Christ in love for God and for others in God’s grace must be lived out, yes in our imperfect sometimes broken ways. But that must be our priority, indeed passion.

So we need both commitments: To occupy our minds with good things. And to live in the faith God gives us, following the good example of others, that we might in turn be an example. In and through Jesus.