turning our attention to that which will last

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.

Philippians 4:8

Discernment is the call of the day. I suppose people will pay attention to different things, depending on what they consider valuable and good. We have to go back to God’s revelation in Jesus, found in Scripture. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us, and faithful leaders and teachers in the church committed to such.

There’s much that clamors for our attention. We need to be careful what we give our attention to both in terms of substance and time. Some things may be fine here and there, but not incessantly. While other things we may need to turn away from, or avoid all together.

As we practice this, we will more and more be able to see through that which is hollow, not meeting these standards. We need to humbly push toward what is the best and leave the rest behind. Even as we seek to help those caught in the lesser things. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

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just pray

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

In some ways prayer is the easiest thing we can do, in other ways the hardest. It can seem like our prayers don’t matter, a completely empty exercise. Or that we’re on our own. I think one point we can draw from this passage in Romans 8 is that we should simply pray. Just pray.

We are weak and our prayers often weak, seeming to amount to nothing. But the Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding for us probably through our wordless groans. In other words, we might be at a loss for words, but the Spirit more than makes up for that deficit.

But the point is, we just need to pray. Not give up, as we’re told elsewhere (Luke 18), but pray. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Our weakness is the opportunity for God’s moving through the Spirit to intercede mightily. For us, and on behalf of those we’re praying for. In and through Jesus.

the righteous requirement of the law: love

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us….

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 8:4b; 13:8-10

It is interesting how it seems that the reason for Christ’s atoning work and the Spirit’s work for believers is that they might love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus made it clear that includes everyone, that actually we’re to be a neighbor to all in actions of love for those in need (see the parable of the Good Samaritan). And that this is one command with the command to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength.

Of course we’re going to love no one perfectly in this life. Only God can do that. But love should be the overriding passion for all that we are and do. And it’s not a love defined by us or on our terms, what we might think love is. It’s always in terms of God’s commandments. A friend pointed out to me recently that the law of sin and death overcame the law (Torah) God gave, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus overcomes the law of sin and death (see Romans 7). And that’s so that we can love others, really love them in terms of God’s love.

That should be what moves us beyond anything else through the everyday routines of life, and the intricacies within the challenging, difficult places. And it’s a love steeped in God’s love. We love because he first loved us (1 John). Believing and knowing we’re loved, and living in that love through God’s grace and gift in Christ, will help us extend that same love to others. In practical, needed, down to earth ways. And in avoiding what is contrary. In and through Jesus.

wisdom in the real world

One of the major themes of Scripture is wisdom. We have wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, even Song of Songs. And some of the Psalms. I would like to include James from the New Testament, and you can find snippets of wisdom everywhere throughout Scripture.

What marks out Biblical wisdom is “the fear of God” which is foundational to it. But also it’s plain to see that the wisdom talked about in Scripture is for us as we really are, for life as it really is, not some idealized version.

I think this is important, because it might be easy for us to give up on the pursuit of wisdom, or think we really haven’t received it from God, because we’re so aware of our flaws. But the wisdom given is for flawed people, yes, to help us walk in the way of God, and not in our own way. But also to help us do better, both unlearn and learn, and continue, not only in the way of wisdom, but as life-long seekers of it.

We’re told that Christ is our wisdom. Ultimately we find God’s wisdom in him, and actually to understand all the rest is to see it in light of him. This is from Scripture, God’s written word, and the Spirit. So that means we don’t leave any of the Scripture witness behind. And we especially mark all that is pointed and helpful for us on our journey. As we continue on in the way of wisdom. In and through Jesus.

our struggle is not against people

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

If there’s anyone who struggled with people besides our Lord, it was surely the Apostle Paul. When you read the account in Scripture, it’s remarkable what all he went through especially from his own people, but sometimes from others as well. His life, like our Lord had previously indicated, was marked with suffering. And Paul did warn people about certain characters who were resisting the gospel and its messengers.

But in Ephesians we read something that is remarkable in itself and yet given the message of Scripture and what is more and more revealed along the way is arguably not all that surprising. There are underlying spiritual entities at work both to resist us and resist our witness. They are active and at work in usually the most subtle ways, though sometimes not so subtle. C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a remarkable read that lifts the veil off what they’ve been doing the past few centuries right through to the present day, even with anticipation of what’s beyond. Without getting into that, which I’m not prepared to do anyhow, I want to insist that what Paul calls us to here is nothing short than living in the truth of the gospel, as we share that gospel as a witness to others.

What do we tend to do instead? We fall right into the enemy’s trap by doing something different. We might fight fire with fire. We might enter into the struggle as if it’s against other humans, perhaps a political or philosophical battle rather than a spiritual one. That doesn’t mean that something of philosophy or politics might not find its way into what is going on, though the gospel should always be front and center. The point is that we’re no less than in a spiritual battle, with the Holy Spirit at our side to help us through prayer and our attempt to do in the Lord’s strength, what God calls us to do here.

With these things in mind, we want to beware entering into the enemy’s turf by stooping to something less than what we’re called to do. Yes, there’s always grace for us in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing what’s best or most pleasing to the Lord. So we want to avoid insofar as possible partisan politics, like siding either against or for some particular politician or government official. This seems to be a major way in which the enemy is either tripping us up, or our witness. That said, we also need to be willing to take some controversial stands which will be considered political. The gospel is not just about one’s personal relationship with God and their salvation. It includes so much more, at the very least in its impact on all of life. If we fail to take that into account, then we’re not following Paul’s example or heeding what Scripture says. But we want to do so as those who are “as wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.”

This really all begins with our own walk. We should not imagine that God has something “great” for us to do day after day. The great God wants done is that we see to ourselves, as the text above says, and pray. God will let us in on other things along the way, but it must always be first things first, the basics in place. We must seek to live in the strength and provision from God, realizing that we are in a battle, a spiritual one. In and through Jesus.

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.

 

some further thoughts on Jesus’s invitation to rest

“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

It is refreshing when living in a culture so individualistic to have Jesus’s personal invitation into rest and full participation with him with the further rest and strength that participation brings. I appreciate our church, and in general all the churches we’ve been a part of. And we’re part of a small group which meets twice a month and once during the summer. And on top of that I work at a ministry and thus am in daily Christian fellowship. But still by and large what the New Testament teaches in regard to what the church is to be is not practiced enough. Our church service has good coffee, good worship in song, great teaching from Scripture on the screen to our campus, so in many ways it’s my cup of tea. As long as I have my ear plugs (and I barely need them, but trying to protect the hearing I have at an older age) I’m good to go. And it helps if in my comfort zone, or just being more or less chronically tired, I don’t doze off.

Jesus’s invitation is no less personal than it was when he made it I assume not only among his disciples, but when teaching the multitudes. It is an invitation open to all, certainly one to enter into a relationship of discipleship we might say. It refers to a double yoke which oxen we’re hitched to. The Lord himself is alongside of us, in the time he taught it in person, but especially fulfilled, even for the people of his day after he would ascend and pour out the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit, he would come to them, and thus this invitation would be fully open to all. (Not to be confused with his actual return, when he comes bodily, bringing heaven to earth.)

This invitation is no less radical than when it was made. It is not only for all of life, but an actual relationship with Christ by the Spirit. In a sense it stands on its own, but in another sense, not. That is, it is a powerful dynamic in and of itself, the Lord being present with us, and directly teaching or at least impacting us in this communion by the Spirit. And it seems that it is indeed a working relationship. It’s about rest, but it’s also about taking up a yoke and moving with the Lord. So it stands on its own that way. But it’s not apart from what Scripture teaches so that we’re to be active in the word day after day.

This is the breath of fresh air we need for ourselves and for our help to and participation with others. In and through Jesus.