made strong for the fight

As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me;
your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.

Psalm 18:30-36

The lines are blurred between the physical and spiritual in this psalm, but make no mistake about it, even the psalmist was in spiritual warfare, in fact that was the basis for the physical warfare Israel was waging. Put better, their dependence on God was foundational to what warfare they waged.

For us today as God’s people, we are in a spiritual battle. But that plays out in physical ways, what we actually do and say, as well as what we refuse to do and say. You can’t entirely separate the physical from the spiritual, in fact in a certain sense you can’t at all since our faith is incarnational. Christianity is Christ-centered, meaning that the physical is met and even imbued with the spiritual. So that the expression of our faith is always resolutely down to earth.

We are in a spiritual battle. Half of the battle is to remember and accept that. And then to receive God’s strength and take up what he has given us (Ephesians 6:10-20). And carry on. In and through Jesus.

the weapons of our warfare

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

I suppose we shouldn’t forget that Paul was an apostle with a unique calling so that all that is said here might not apply to what we might call secondary apostles and servant-leaders in the church today. But it surely does apply in some sense, and in a secondary sense to all Christians.

I can hardly get my mind around all Paul is saying here. But one strong, obvious point is his insistence that he and those with him fought differently than the world. Surely in every way, the physical weapons of the world included, and of course not included with Paul and the apostolic band. Paul’s battle was spiritual. And this was a church matter. Paul even said he didn’t judge those in the world, but only in the church, since those in the church had committed themselves to the gospel.

It seems that his weapon was the preaching of the gospel, setting forth the truth plainly and therefore commending the truth to every person’s conscience, including the art of persuasion. You don’t see a hint of resorting to tactics common in the world. Appealing to his Roman citizenship did save him some pain and trouble, but what he was all about was one thing: the gospel, and the power of God for salvation that gospel brings.

Something for us to ponder and pray about as Christians during such a tumultuous time in our nation and the world.

defining God and God’s mission by our own expectations

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6:14-15

As Aaron Buer pointed out this past weekend, the Jew’s agenda, especially among the Zealots was to get free from Rome, for the Zealots get rid of Rome altogether by force. Aaron pointed out how we often see God and by extension Jesus according to what we expect God to do for us, instead of letting God reveal himself in his words and works.

There’s no question that what God is doing sometimes includes nations. The spread of the gospel was helped much by the Roman roads, even the empire itself, though certainly unwittingly. We can say that God not only used it, but in some sense orchestrated it to a greater end than what it was originally intended for. Not that human civilization and culture doesn’t have its place in the present.

Present day issues, just as in the past can be nagging and even biting. And it’s not like so much that’s up in the air politically isn’t important or significant even for Christ’s mission and the gospel, like the plight of the poor. But as Christians we have to step back and ask ourselves just whose agenda we’re on: our own, someone else’s, a combination of the above, or God’s?

In terms of the politics of this world Jesus would have none of what people wanted out of him. From a reading of the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament we see that the battle of the Lord is spiritual, not physical. And that Jesus conquered through the cross, through his death and resurrection, his ascension with the promise of his return not only marking that victory, but seeing it proceed by the gospel through the work of the Spirit right in the present time.

Nowadays it’s as easy as a click to get sidetracked from what God is doing and wants to do through us onto some other agenda, often set by well meaning people, even Christians, yet by that sidetracked from God’s calling to us in Jesus. And perhaps the most dangerous part is trying to sublimate as in include it in our gospel agenda, somehow merging the Lord’s work and man’s work into one, as if it’s a hand in hand endeavor. But as we see from Scripture, that’s not the case at all. It’s either the Lord’s work entirely, or it’s not his work at all.

Jesus would have none of what the people of his day wanted, indeed seemed to expect. What are we expecting today? Are we open to God’s work in Jesus? Or is it something else that matters more to us?

walking in the Spirit

Yesterday I mused a bit on the fruit of the Spirit, gentleness. If there’s anything more crushing and heavy for me, it’s considering the fruit of the Spirit as if we’re meant to live in them: love, joy, peace, etc. We can’t in and of ourselves. But that’s where again as always we need to consider context. So now more of the context (of course the entire book is the best context).

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:13-26

There’s a lot there, but I want to consider what it means to “walk by the Spirit,” and to “keep in step with the Spirit.” There seems like there are two possibilities for us: we either walk/live by the flesh or by the Spirit. I think the NIV footnote is helpful:

  1. Galatians 5:13 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit; also in verses 16, 17, 19 and 24; and in 6:8.

If the Spirit is in us, then we’re not “in the flesh,” perhaps meaning not controlled by it (Romans 8). God’s Spirit is God’s life breath given in both creation (Genesis) and new creation. Physical life and spiritual life are both in play here, we could say the physical to creation and the spiritual to new creation. But there’s surely some interplay between the two in both, even if we do well to keep the distinction. And in the end God’s life breath is the entirety of life for the human so that any distinction between the physical and spiritual will be all but lost, in the resurrection in Christ.

But I want to better understand, I might say understand period what it means to walk in or by the Spirit. When I consider it, it seems so heavy to me, like a burden placed on me. But then I know I’m approaching it wrong. The Spirit is our spiritual life breath. Our physical life breath is from God too, actually from the Spirit, but not in the same way. But there is some correlation between the two, while a clear distinctiveness, as well.

It is subtle, something present, and so important for all of life, especially for us living in the life of Christ. But it’s present not for itself so that when we examine it as if it is, we miss the point and perhaps lose out on what it’s doing. The Spirit draws our attention to Christ, who in turn draws our attention to the Father, who in turn glorifies the Son and is thus glorified himself in the Son by the Spirit. So the Spirit is God in us, as close to us as the physical breath we breathe, and actually our spiritual breath.

So we’re to walk or live by that spiritual life breath, not by our own impulses which are actually diametrically opposed to that. What that actually means in life, I’m not sure, and I doubt that we’re meant to pin down its meaning. There’s a certain mysteriousness about the Spirit like there’s a certain mysteriousness with God. It’s like it’s present, an important part of the picture, but not something we’re to be so focused on. To be aware of, yes, as God’s means to God’s end. Not that the outcome is mysteriousness as we see clearly in the passage above.

Something I’m working on as I consider what God wants our lives in Christ to be like, certainly gentleness being one characteristic of them.

 

get blunt

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:23

Peter had just made the God-received pronouncement that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus had just declared that Peter’s name, rock would be figurative for the rock on which Jesus would build his church, in some ways Peter and the apostles, but directly the message of the gospel of Jesus which they proclaimed. Jesus then tells his disciples just what he as Messiah must do: suffer and die. Peter rebukes the Lord. Then the Lord roundly rebukes Peter. Notice that this is not some outsider whom Jesus is seeking to win. Yet at the same time when I read the gospels you really don’t have to read between the lines much if at all to know what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is characteristically direct and clear, although it’s certainly always in love.

I don’t think we have picked up much of that needed air. Yes, all we do needs to be marked by God’s grace. We’re as much in need of God’s mercy and help as anyone else. So we don’t at all think or if necessary speak from any position of superiority. We’re all on the same level at the cross. We need to be as gentle as possible. And it can depend on the person who we’re trying to help.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Jude 1:22-23

We certainly don’t want to alienate others. Of course there are those to whom we can’t appeal at all. They may not be ready to receive it, or they may set themselves up in opposition to God and therefore against themselves. Such blunt language should be reserved only for those who can receive it.

Some would say that this is a case of reading scripture and identifying with Jesus instead of the disciples. It should be and/both. We can’t identify with Jesus all the way, but we should be able to fully do so as those who are seeking to follow him all the way.

In any case I believe the lives of many would have been much better served if pastors and churches, those who are spiritual would have had the wisdom to be blunt when needed. To warn others in no uncertain terms about the path they are on or considering.

Read the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, and Luke especially, along with John, and you’ll find that Jesus didn’t mince words with those who were following him. We are blessed if we can both receive such words into our own lives, and then in grace pass them on to others. But bluntly at the right time, not harshly but gently, but with the force and emphasis needed to help the hearer wake up and change course in their thinking and action. In and through Jesus.

worship of God

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4:21-24

The Greek word here translated “worshipers”: προσκυνητής, simply means worshipers. προσκυνέω is the verb here (“will worship”; “worship”; “must worship”), the surface meaning: “to worship, pay homage, show reverence; to kneel down (before)”, the definition according to biblical usage of the term: “to do reverence, or homage by kissing the hand; in NT to do reverence or homage by prostration, Mt. 2:2, 8, 11; 20:20; Lk. 4:7; 24:52; to pay divine homage, worship, adore, Mt. 4:10; Jn. 4:20, 21; Heb. 1:6; to bow one’s self in adoration, Heb. 11:21” (Bill Mounce).

I am afraid that in our rationalistic way of approaching life, and I can speak well for myself, that the lifting up of hands, and bowing down is just something many of us don’t naturally do. And our romantic reaction against rationalism may not be much better. The passage here brings both together. We are to worship the Father in both spirit, and in truth. And of course the outward things we do might be empty religious exercises or rituals. Yet it seems both from the Bible and life that what we practice can change the way we both think and feel. As well as what we think and feel influencing what we do.

There are other words to consider, translated “worship,” in our Bibles, but I want to look at this one word for now. The word is used in other places (see passages listed above) for worship and adoration of Jesus, as well.

What we fix our minds on is ultimately what we worship. Or where we get our enjoyment. I’m not referring to necessary things we must give our attention to, nor enjoyment of the gifts God has given us. I am referring to what we value the most, what takes priority over everything else. And oddly enough in worshiping God, everything else as in the good gifts of God, is appreciated all the more, but in its proper place.

And worship of God is not something we do to get something out of it. We do it simply because God deserves every bit of it, and as a response to both who God is, and what he has done for us (Romans 12:1-2).

The worship spoken of here in John 4 and elsewhere, is what I want to intentionally purse and grow in, in days to come. In and through Jesus.

God’s promise of strength for the day

and your strength will equal your days.

Deuteronomy 33:25

In Moses’s final blessing for Israel before he died, these words are noteworthy in his specific blessing for the tribe Asher. And we are told that all of the promises of God are yes and amen for us in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). In other words we can somehow lay claim to them, either directly or indirectly. The original promise was given to a people, but surely individuals are included in that blessing.

In my case, I’m facing a new work schedule which for me so far has been challenging due to its longevity, and the short window of time I have in between work days during that time frame of the week. Necessary sleep at any age, but perhaps especially at my age is important. We have to take care of ourselves. We are physical beings, as well as spiritual. It is one thing to have a sleep deprived night for a good reason, such as an emergency, but even then some recovery is called for. But when we do this night after night, young or old, we’re setting ourselves up for either poor health, or an accident, perhaps both.

I haven’t slept enough in my life, and I’ve probably drank more than my share of coffee. But I’m realizing, especially after I talked with one of my sisters who struggles with her sleep as well, that I really have to make getting adequate sleep a priority the rest of my life. Which for me at this time means trying to get 6 or more hours of sleep, and when I can, more.

So God’s promise here is not an excuse for us to fail to take care of ourselves. The promise here is not only physical, but spiritual, and perhaps primarily so. Physical and spiritual were essentially one in the Hebrew way of thinking, the former derived from the latter, as we see clearly in the strange story of Samson.

For us in Jesus, we find the Lord’s strength in our weakness, to be sure. And that might include not getting enough sleep now and then. But we do our best to be good stewards of the life God has given us, which includes taking care of our bodies. And we have God’s promise that our strength will equal the days God gives us, a part of his blessing to us that we might be a blessing, in and through Jesus.

knowing God personally and in community through Jesus

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

John is writing about an incarnational faith, one that is both material and spiritual. Somehow the very life of God was not just spirit, but matter, indeed flesh and blood in Jesus. And the disciples knew Jesus in the way we all know other human beings. In relationship, as a friend. So this knowledge was something very much down to earth, right where they lived. Yet at the same time, heavenly. Bringing both a fellowship to the community of believers with the Father and the Son, and to each individual within that community, eternal life. That fellowship ongoing, not only for believers and followers of Jesus during that time, but for us as well in Jesus.

I like what I read from Michael Bird in his recent book, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, on the importance of not only knowing doctrine, but knowing God in and through Jesus. What I especially liked from Bird was the thought that this knowing of God impacts our understanding of doctrine. One can of course perhaps understand what scripture says intellectually without knowing God. But one cannot grasp its intended meaning apart from that knowledge of God. In other words the knowledge is indeed incarnational, meant to touch and somehow transform all of life.

This knowing is both individual and communal. In other words we experience it as individuals and in and through community —in Jesus. It is strictly speaking not at all what we know about someone, though that is not cut off as if unimportant. One can know everything about someone without knowing that person at all. To know someone is far more than the sum total of everything we might know about them. But of course it doesn’t mean that what we know about them is unimportant. In the case of Jesus there is no doubt that we need to accept God’s revelation about him. Life is what it is in many details, about us. But at the heart of that is a relationship, indeed a fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit, which we believers and followers of Jesus enjoy together.

abundance

Abundance is a big subject. It starts in God himself, in his person as three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. There is a richness in abundance in God that is boundless. From that abundance, we see God’s creativity of life on earth (probably elsewhere in some forms or whatever, but certainly true and abundant here).

Abundance is found on earth, but like all else in the old creation, has its limits. Which figures into human stewardship of the earth. Sadly we see some natural resources being threatened or pushed to the brink of extinction, upending or changing the balance of nature due to human greed and over consumption. While at the same time too many on earth face a day to day ordeal to survive, to get enough just to live. As the globe shrinks in size due to human ability to travel and communicate, we are all the more accountable for this problem. Though there are indeed a complexity of issues in the mix. But sometimes we make it all too complicated. We’re committed to a course in which there can be little or no turning back, or only with much difficulty. A course which does not have loving one’s neighbor as one’s self as the goal, but self-interest. At best a self-interest that preserves one’s own ability to do good.

Jesus said our lives do not consist in an abundance of possessions. But we want more and more. Not really believing the wisdom that says enough is never enough, that all is indeed vanity and meaningless in itself, apart from the Creator of all good things. While it is not wrong to be rich in this world, it is wrong to set our heart on riches. With what abundance we have, we’re called to be generous and willing to share, thus laying up treasure for the life that is truly life. We are not to hoard up wealth for ourselves, but we’re to learn how to be rich toward God, in other words good stewards of the abundance we have.

Scripture again and again speaks of God’s abundance to us, not only in material ways, but much more so in the spiritual sphere. By the Spirit from God through Christ we’re richly blessed with every spiritual, or Spirit-bestowed blessing in the heavenly realms. Yes, here and now. And we’re to come to know by God’s power just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, to actually know this love which has no bounds, that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I look at my own life all too often, and see nothing but deficit. I am empty, and just struggling at times to carry on. Where is this abundance scripture speaks about, over and over again? This reminds me of what someone said to me years and years ago in a kind of departing word, and it seemed to me with some emotion: “May the Lord deepen you, Ted.” Yes, I need the Lord’s deepening work in my life. A work that opens me up to his abundance to and through me to others, in and through Christ.

Abundance. May the Lord open us up to that life to the full, overflowing in and through Jesus, that we might be the blessing to the world we are meant to be in the heartbeat of God.

tired

I’m off to work again this Saturday, and I have to say right now I seem extra tired. Oh yes, work keeps you going, and it’s a blessing to have it, and especially so in a Christian ministry and organization. The Lord provides us strength according to the need of our day.

But just the same I’m starting to sense, indeed feel the need for more rest. Rest of every kind to be sure, but I’m thinking of physical rest. As humans we are physical beings, as well as spiritual. In Hebrew and therefore biblical thought our bodies, the physical part is just as much a part of our real self as is our “soul” or spirit. We don’t inhabit bodies; that’s Greek thought. We therefore await the resurrection through Jesus when we will be completely renewed. In the meantime we do well to take care of both soul and body.

Jesus once was tired from the journey, and at another point he summoned his disciples to come away and get some rest. Of course the phenomena of his ministry made that challenging. Paul experienced sleepless nights, likely due to ministry according to that scripture passage’s context. So there may be plenty of times when we have to press on when we’re tired.

Today will be one of them for me. But I trust the Lord will give me strength. And hopefully I’ll get some rest soon afterward. And hopefully you will as well. As together we live and move and have our being in and through Jesus and for the world.