not losing the fight

I once heard a wise teacher compare being a Christian with a milking stool. I remember my grandmother using one. Three legs: in the analogy: sons (children), servants (of God, of Christ, and serving others), and soldiers. I think that’s apt. The Bible seems to bear that out. If any reader can think of something more to add, or that should be considered, please feel free to leave a comment.

They have to be kept in tandem, all three, or like the milk stool, it won’t stand. Surely priority must be given to the fact that we’re children of God through faith in Christ. We’re of God’s family in and through Christ. And we’re servants of God by virtue of Christ being a servant not only to God, but to us, to all. And being his followers, we seek to be a servant to everyone. And we’re soldiers in nothing less than a spiritual battle. But it’s God’s prescribed battle, not our own, with the gospel at the heart of it, both in terms of our own standing, as well as what the actual warfare is all about.

We are soldiers of Christ, but again this is in a warfare that is spiritual, directly against the demonic, and then in a sense opposed to the world, the flesh, and the devil, since that is another three that are in tandem, inseparable in scripture.

We’re in a battle, but it’s not on any lesser ground than where the spiritual battle is actually being fought, or needs to be fought. Otherwise we may be galavanting onto territory on which we’ll be fighting our own battles, or others, not the Lord’s. This seems hard, since we live in a world in which religious battles are all too easily taken up with lesser matters than the gospel. Now this is where it might get a bit complicated.

Political and what not kind of battles have their place, if engaged on their own grounds and humbly remaining in certain parameters. Too often though, they break those boundaries and come to take on something bigger than life, onto the enemy’s territory in which the winners and wins are not to be taken as gospel-oriented. And we must always be aware even within those spheres of where the enemy might at work in its crafty, deceptive ways.

The point for us as Christians is that the battle which is the Lord’s is a spiritual battle which at its heart is all about the gospel, the good news in Jesus. How other matters might be addressed in such as issues like abortion and racism is both direct and indirect in that while hearts are changed, systems oftentimes are resistant to change. An example is that while enough people’s opinions were changed so that in the United States slavery was abolished, albeit at a terrible price, there still were Jim Crow laws in the south, and segregation in the north even more so. And we have to remember that there’s a world system which at its heart is not only resistant, but in opposition to God, even if it accepts a certain amount of religiosity, including a veneer so to speak of Christianity which goes along with it. We want to be a light to society by our good works, and so that others might see the difference by our example as the church, and in society. But we must beware, lest the battle we are caught up in is something other than the Lord’s.

In this we need wisdom beyond our own, together from God, in and through Jesus.

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our struggle is not against flesh and blood

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

What if we Christians were known not for being engaged in American politics, or politics elsewhere, but for sharing and living out the gospel, the good news in Jesus? Maybe it’s not a question of either/or, but and/both. I can hear dismissive sighs or more like silences on different sides, from both progressives and conservatives. If Paul were alive today and in the United States, would he be part of any group cozying up to any political party or president? I wonder. I think not, myself.

Does that mean we have to be disengaged? I don’t think so. But we need to remember where the battle really is for us who are Christians, who name the name of Christ, and profess to follow him. It is spiritual, in the spiritual realm, yes, even the spirit realm. We appeal to people with the good news in Jesus. And we refuse to alienate those caught up in any lesser battle or war. That’s if we follow Paul’s example in following Christ. Or am I missing something here?

An obvious enough problem to me is that when we start battling within the system, the spiritual warfare we’re called to in Christ is largely set aside, perhaps lost altogether. Does that mean people can’t engage in the political system at all, and be involved in the spiritual battle. I think they can. But it takes a lot of discipline. I admire some politicians and career military people, and I am confident they can have deep faith themselves. So this post is not at all a denial of that.

But part of the spiritual battle for us in Christ might very well be a resistance against getting sucked into something lesser and on a ground in which the enemy has some serious footholds. We lose out, and in the end, so do others.

This is difficult. Of course there are issues we’re all rightly concerned about. And we should address those issues along the way, but with much wisdom. Because our priority is on the one answer we stake our lives on: the gospel of Jesus.

fixed on what will last

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Sometimes we think of James as the book to the point, and stark in its black and white. But John in the first letter seems to come across much the same. And in this passage, John makes it clear that to be taken up in the things of this world, meaning the world system, is to be taken up with something that won’t last.

The world, the flesh, and the devil have been called the unholy trinity. Whether that’s really apt or not, they are an alliance in scripture, particularly in the New Testament, which you can’t really break apart. John describes all that’s in the world in terms which certainly fits all three together. We can easily see the lust of the flesh as the weakness and sin of fallen humanity, the lust of the eyes as something more of the same, and the pride of life as something akin to the devil. Of course people justify all such to the point that it is subtly framed into what it takes to be successful in life. It’s all apart of getting to the top, and just needs the right controls on it. Nothing bad in itself.

But for the Christian, the believer and follower of Christ, all such attitudes, drives, even passions, are out, no place whatsoever for them, not even in the tiniest corner of one’s heart and life. There’s one thing and one thing only that’s to drive and motivate us, of course faith, hope and love present and paramount in all of this: Doing the will of God.

John gets right to the point, painting stark contrasts, and this is one such place. We either are taken up in the ways of the world, or we’re doing the will of God, period. Nothing in between.

That does create challenges for us for sure. And we can start in the small spaces of life, where we live, and what takes up our time. Do these even have a hint of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life? I’m not referring to things we enjoy necessarily. We ought to appreciate the good God has given us. But it can be small, subtle, and easily justified, and has the tendency to take up too much of our time.

Instead we need to be intent on one thing: Doing God’s will. That is the goal or required end result of faith, hope and love. Those absorbed into the things of this world will end up lost with it in the end. But those doing God’s will find that which lasts, and will last with it. A will that is good and lasting for us and for all, in and through Jesus.

the thorn in the flesh: my reluctant go-to passage

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

One of my favorite parts of the recent Paul, Apostle of Christ film was their treatment of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and showing how it tormented him all of his life as a Christ-follower. And how that was addressed immediately after he was beheaded. Love is the only way I can describe my reaction to that. What they chose as his thorn in the flesh was a possibility I had never heard of before, and was rather compelling, at least for the film. But the main point is beside the point of what it actually may have been. The fact of the matter is that everyone who seeks to follow Christ will be living in opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we will experience opposition in terms of what is expressed in scripture from the devil, the demonic. And like Paul, these are actually allowed into our lives to keep us from becoming proud, which for reasons far less than Paul’s we are all too prone to become. To keep us humble, and dependent on Christ, and I would add, interdependent on each other.

I am faced with this myself, maybe not as much as in the past, yet it seems to come crashing in on me just as hard, usually in one form in my life. I think there is genius so to speak behind the concealing of what specifically Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him, was. We simply can’t say for sure. There has been more than one reasonable answer. That means whatever it is that torments us as we seek to follow Christ, we can chalk up as something of the same, in fact our thorn in the flesh. Flesh could mean physical weakness, but in scripture it’s most basic meaning is one’s life. It may involve some physical debilitation or weakness, but doesn’t have to, and I would go so far to think, most often doesn’t. What it doesn’t mean is out and out sin. We deal with everything, and especially our sin through Christ’s death for us, confessing it, and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing as part of our ongoing walk in Jesus.

Who likes to be tormented? In the film as I recall Paul seems to be frequently tormented in his thoughts, and clearly in his dreams. And yes torment is a good word to capture this experience. I don’t so much dread it, myself, as simply hate going through it. Going through it is a good way to describe what it’s like for me. For Paul it may have been more chronic, ongoing, something present with him all the time. I tend to think so. My weakness which gives rise to this activity in my life is certainly as close to me as the next thought, which could hit me at any time when all was well, or okay before.

It’s the experience part which frankly I hate. Life is hard enough in itself, without having to feel miserable, yes tormented inside. But it seems in part what at least some of us who are believers in Christ will be up against in this life.

The necessity of hanging in there by faith, and knowing that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness is key here. We realize that God is at work in this malady, even when the source of it is from the evil one, the demonic. The world and the flesh in the sense of unredeemed humanity and creation included.

To come back to this passage, and yes, the entire book of 2 Corinthians, but especially this passage is always helpful for me. To remember that the Lord in love is at work in our lives in a way that helps us live as he did, in weakness, even the weakness of the cross (see the end of 2 Corinthians). Not where we want to go, except that there we find the Lord’s power at work in our own lives, and through us into the lives of others.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to say to some degree along with Paul that I have learned to embrace my weaknesses at least much more since in them I find Christ’s grace and power, and learn to be strengthened in that awareness and reality. In and through Jesus.

becoming Bible people with tradition and in spite of prevailing thought

There is no question that simply being in the Bible and citing scripture is not foolproof against the deceptive wiles of the devil. Numerous sects and heresies which is a term meaning deviations from the truth have been spun out of just that sort of practice. So the answer can’t simply be to just get back to the Bible, unless that’s qualified as to specifically what is meant.

Scripture itself points to the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth, so that any biblical interpretation apart from consideration of what the Spirit has been saying to the churches and the church at large is automatically suspect. Individuals have divided over mistakenly supposing the Spirit had given them insight which either contradicted others, or gave a needed insight. The richness of scripture and Christian orthodoxy, the Christian tradition is apparent when one begins to look and dig deeper into scripture itself, and the patristic (church fathers) sources.

We can’t rightly or even possibly consider the Bible apart from tradition. Our translations of scripture are dependent on interpretation to some extent, an interpretation that does do justice to the Book at large, but does provide answers where interpretations might vary. The church in the early centuries is an example of this: reacting to various heresies, like the idea that Jesus had a beginning and is a created being, not God. The church instead came up with the truth from scripture that Jesus is both completely God and completely human, two natures separate, not intermixed, yet indissoluble (permanent) in the one person. And the teaching of the Trinity, that God is one God, so that we can speak of God that way as one person, yet three equal Persons in that one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the Protestant Reformation occurred, these past formulations were not under consideration for revision. Martin Luther didn’t want to leave the church, but reform it. But when what is called the Radical Reformation occurred, it was essentially a restorationist movement, with the goal of becoming strictly a church in accordance with scripture, specifically the New Testament. The Anabaptists were one such group, and Menno Simons early on was misunderstood to be a heretic when it came to those early formulations, and soon realized that one can’t leave tradition behind. He made it clear that the Anabaptists accepted the teaching of the Trinity, and of Christ’s two natures as formulated by the church in those early councils.

It does seem to me like we live in a day in which people need to get back to scripture. Certainly not to read it as a flat book, as if it is all equally applicable today. To see it as the unfolding story it is, fulfilled in Christ, and to be completed when he returns. But scripture itself seems to have fallen on either deaf or complacent ears to a significant degree among believers. The diminishing of biblical knowledge among church goers seems to have been occurring incrementally for decades now. And today, either people don’t know, or little care, or they easily misread scripture in defense of an agenda which is actually based on something other than God’s word and will. Not to say that any of us are immune to any of this; we most certainly are not.

Maybe we lack interest in scripture in part because our expectations are elsewhere. We love this or that, and feed on such, with just a bit of time left to maybe get to a reading from the Bible. We fail to dig and ponder, read and wonder, study and think, and pray. We connect elsewhere, finding scripture irrelevant.

Instead in this day maybe like in none other, we need to regularly plug in and find our way through God’s word, which is called a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path. We need to look at current thinking in light of scripture and the gospel. Including of course our own thinking and practice, which so easily is and can be misguided.

And we need to find our way to a church which believes and practices the word, with of course the realization that the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus is the point of it all. And all the richness and vitality that comes out of that.

May God help us to live out what we are as God’s people together by the Spirit through the word in and through Jesus.

 

who is wise and understanding among you?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Who is wise and understanding among you? We ought to stop there and meditate on that. What is our own take on just what that means? Does it line up with what’s said here and elsewhere in God’s word? Probably many of us know the truth well enough so that it’s good to stop dead in our tracks and consider our own lives in light of that. We likely through Jesus will see some movement in our hearts and lives toward that ideal, but will also most certainly understand that we fall short of experiencing any of it at times, and need to grow both in depth, and in consistency in practicing such.

Remember that this word of James is in the context of what he was saying about the danger of the tongue (entire context: chapter 3 in our Bibles). We are good at talking, but not so good at walking. And our talk easily gets off track and out of hand. So James counsels slowness to speech and eagerness to listen, not to mention slowness to anger as well.

It’s our lives that will speak volumes, and either validate or invalidate what we profess, or say. Our words can certainly drown out our profession. “I hear what you say, but I see how you live.” On the other hand, our lives can make people want to know just what makes us tick. We show we’re receiving this grace from God through how we live in mostly small and larger ways each and every day.

Gentleness or humility is what should characterize us, demonstrated with good deeds. This is wisdom; this is understanding. It’s not a long or even short discourse that enlightens others. It’s our lives that speak, out of hearts receiving wisdom from God in God’s grace to us in Jesus. And it’s not something we can hardly put our finger on. We certainly can’t take credit ourselves. Perhaps we could say it’s shutting our mouths, and getting out of the way, so that we can finally be in God’s way in Jesus. Growing and living in that way.

A false wisdom, surely looked at as great, but phony is out there. Wrong ideas of greatness, and how to get there. Worldly wisdom which is linked even to the demonic. We can’t separate what scripture calls the world (system), the flesh, and the devil.

Then there’s the real wisdom, that which is from above, from God. Full of love and active for others in accord with what’s given to us, and needed by them. Marked by making peace in a way that promotes or at least doesn’t get in the way of righteousness. And we receive from others that good ourselves. Something always needed, which we need to grow into and begin to live out more and more and never let go of, in and through Jesus.

God’s faithfulness no matter what

Habakkuk has always been an interesting book to me, some memorable lines, but most of all just the entire letter. The sky was falling, things really bad, especially with what was right in their face: injustice and unfaithfulness on the home front, and what seemed even worse looming on the horizon from an empire on the move, the Babylonians.

I guess it depends somewhat on one’s perspective, but it seem like the sky is falling to many. It’s certainly not an easy time for a good number of people. There are not only concerns, but surely much that needs to be done. And in a certain sense that seems ongoing in this life. All one has to do is open up a good, substantive history book, and one can see that troubles await on every turn, that there’s little that seems to turn out entirely right, that with the good, there’s always the not so good, and sometimes even evil.

And this is not to slap those on the wrist who are activists, and tell them to simmer down, that everything will somehow be okay in the end. There certainly is a time to speak out, as well as to be silent. This is not at all to challenge someone who might be an important player in what’s going on.

But it’s simply to say that God is faithful no matter what. That God is at work in the world: our world, the world around us, and the world at large. And like with the prophet Habakkuk, in ways that we can’t imagine or conceive. Not that everything is good in the end. And not that we don’t bear some responsibility, either. But God is at work to judge and bring salvation.

Habakkuk couldn’t see that, nor would he have if God would have shown him. It evidently would have made no sense to him; he would not have been able to track with it. I think oftentimes that’s a major part of my problem. I want to somehow see the light somewhere, which is certainly at the end of the tunnel. But I can’t. And I can’t begin to see the larger picture like God does. Perhaps what I need to envision in my mind is an empty canvas, with God being the one who is painting, perhaps over coloring which seems dark and meaningless, perhaps even chaotic. And God might use our hand a bit in the painting, most likely so if we’re open to that.

God is at work in the world. It’s important for us to trust God no matter what, and to remain in faith in God’s covenant faithfulness in Jesus. And to worship. Just as Habakkuk did in his day, the letter bearing his name preserved for us to be translated into our day. In and through Jesus.