a breathtaking view

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians, especially the first three chapters in our Bibles, is written to see something of the vast panorama of God’s working in the new creation in Christ, with a special emphasis on the church. Unfortunately for too many of us who have been in the Bible a number of years, it can come across differently than how it did originally. That’s when we maybe need to step back, slow down, move through it slow enough, then stop, and note the beautiful portrait and scene in our mind’s eye.

The passage quoted above is very much like that. The thoughts to the original readers would have been breathtaking in themselves, and Paul surely almost breathlessly himself, unravels a glorious picture before us. So that what we end up with is a breathtaking view.

Contrast that to what is presented today as glorious, maybe even the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor as maybe through a vision, the devil showed the Lord in Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. Really, all the world has to offer can’t compare with what God reveals to us by the Spirit in God’s word through the gospel. No, it can’t compare. In fact what comparison we do end up finding by the Spirit’s help is the difference between darkness and light. At best between what is provisional and good in its place for now, and what is perfect and to last forever.

The entire Bible especially taken together is like this. And the book in it we call Ephesians. In and through Jesus.

the conflict of the flesh and the Spirit

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.

Galatians 5:13-18

Scripture makes no bones about it: There’s a flesh/Spirit conflict. You can see it throughout, and Paul spells it out in his letter to the Galatians. The flesh often means all that is opposed to God in the world. It is set in its ways, in an underlying rebellion against God which might be disguised as anything other than that. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit of God in Christ, actually a person within the Triunity of God: Father, Son and Spirit.

Just try to be led by the Spirit, and keep at it, and you’ll run up against the flesh somewhere at some point. Either those “in the flesh” will just ignore you as irrelevant, or they’ll challenge you directly or indirectly. With some that will be pure opposition, but with many others it can be a mix. They’ll regret their weakness or at least wonder over it, and the Spirit might well be at work in their lives for something much better. Only God knows all that’s going on under the surface. We need to hold our ground, and seek to walk and be led by the Spirit.

Of course we’re not always going to get it right ourselves. After all, who knows what it actually means to walk by the Spirit? I mean, we might actually be able to biblically or theologically describe or put some definition on it. But when it comes to actual life, we can’t have a handle on it ourselves. It is something by prayer and faith we seek to practice.

But again, make no mistake about it, when we do so we’ll run up against “the flesh.” That will be present, and we might as well expect it, so that we can be prepared for it. But the only preparation and follow through for us is simply to continue to walk by the Spirit. Continuing in that “way” in and through Jesus.

against greed

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Luke 12:15

Jesus’s words here are followed by what is called, “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” But it’s assumed in our society that a lot of money is good, so that for many people careers are successful more or less depending on how much money is made.

Jesus warns against that. We have to consider all of Scripture as well. Wisdom books tells us it’s good to avoid debt, to not try to hit the jackpot but save little by little, to work hard. And we’re told that money itself is not the sin, but the love of money. That those who are rich should be generous with their wealth. And that helping the poor is a priority to God.

It seems like just to make a living one gets sucked into a vortex predicated on profit. Wall Street lives on that, it’s all about profit. God’s provision for many of us will involve being a participant in that. It’s the way of the world, but we live in the world, and there’s surely no escape for most of us. That means minimum wage jobs for too many, or wages not much better, sometimes for long work hours, and with next to no benefits, dependent on whatever government might provide, or government and volunteer services.

What Jews lived in during Jesus’s day was probably not much better. Roman taxation, not to mention occupation, along with the greed that all too characterized religious leaders made life hard for many. So it’s not like we can expect to find something better in what Scripture calls “the world” as in the world’s system. It seems like it will always be a struggle. In the society in which I live, the rich seem to be getting richer, arguably and I think often plausibly at the expense of the poor. Supposedly the rich will take care of the poor through jobs made and fair wages. Yet the gap between the rich and the poor increases.

What does this have to do with Scripture, or the passage above? We need to understand the times in which we live, so that in light of what God tells us, we will know what to do. That’s an ongoing project, needing all who are interested. As for me, I’m more dependent myself on those who would want to work through that. But I think it’s plain enough for us to see through what many see as the dream to aspire to, looking up to those who seem to be doing well in living it.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:13-21

 

 

the gospel is what we’re to be living out, as well as witnesses to

We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.

2 Corinthians 10:14-16a

What seems beside the point in Paul’s addressing of his concern in passing, but really is at the heart of the point is what he was all about: not self-aggrandizement or self-glory, but only and always about the gospel of Christ.

Paul is getting after those who were set in opposition to him, claiming apostleship for themselves perhaps because they found themselves in opposition to Paul and somehow thought they could do better, or more likely out of an underlying self-ambition with a professed belief in Christ. But Paul wasn’t about self-ambition in the least, but again- only and always about Christ and Christ’s gospel.

Sometimes we may not feel we have anything to offer to others, or at least not anything they would accept. After all, people look at another according to their status, what they’ve achieved in life, or whether that other is beneficial to them, not to mention whether it all seems relevant or jives with them.

Paul was concerned about none of that, because the gospel is inherently weak and foolish in the world’s eyes, just as he had told them in his first letter to the Corinthian church. God takes the weak and despised and nothing things as his instruments to help others. The gospel is not only to be proclaimed, but lived out by those who proclaim it. Christ’s weakness in his death on the cross is to be embraced by his followers, that they might know God’s resurrection power in Christ. When we are strong in ourselves, then the only help people will get is what help we can give them, not God’s help.

And so we must continue on no matter what we’re facing or going through. Believing and knowing that we are on course only in the weakness of Christ for the good news that will bring others into the power and blessing of God. In and through Jesus.

the good shaking that’s needed

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Haggai 2:6-9

We live during a time when it seems like the very foundations of civilization are being shaken to their core. When one studies history, it has often felt this way given the disruptions taking place.

In the day when this prophecy was written, it seemed like much was lost, that there was little hope for restoration, at least not to the former glory. But God encouraged the leaders of his people to take courage and do as he had directed them. Building the temple, God’s special dwelling place on earth.

This is a good word for us today. The fulfillment is in Christ. What we see going on, sometimes understandably- oftentimes not, is what God is doing or letting happen. With the goal in the end of good: justice and peace. But fulfilled in Christ, who himself is the fulfillment of the temple where humans have access to God, the meeting place of God on earth where heaven and earth come together “in Christ.”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against the injustices and evils of our time. Note the prophets who did this, especially against the wrongs of God’s people. Not that we’re prophets and can do the same. But we need to be open to God’s correction from such.

Not only the whole world needs a good shaking, but our world as well. The writer to the Hebrews addresses that with this passage from Haggai with application not only for the struggling believers of his day who were tempted to leave the faith and actually faith behind, and go back to Judaism, but for us today, who can get caught up in something less than God’s agenda for us, and lose sight of what God has done and is doing in Christ.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12:25-29

 

 

 

does the Bible really say that?

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

This is a good passage out of which this part is shared here (click link) to critique popular theology. Paul’s voice seems so foreign, yet it actually resonates with Jesus’s voice, and that of the rest of the Bible on matters like sexual immorality, idolatry, and simply putting God to the test instead of in faith, trusting and obeying him.

One popular take out of pastoral concern (as a friend pointed out to me) is the point that indeed God doesn’t give us more than we can bear; he actually does, so that we won’t depend on ourselves, but on God to see us through. There’s truth in that when you consider it with the rest of God’s word. But I want to take seriously just what is actually said in these scriptural passages.

We’re told that God won’t let us be tempted or tested more than we can stand. But with that temptation will provide the way out, so that we can endure it. Plain and simple. Maybe not the way we want to hear it. We want somehow a miraculous breakthrough which requires no effort on our part. But as Dallas Willard pointed out, grace is not opposed to human effort. While God’s grace given to us in Jesus is nothing we can merit, earn, or deserve, that does not mean it is received passively by us. That happens, but it seems more often than not, we are active, at least in being attentive if nothing else.

If we think the Christian life isn’t without a struggle, or often against the grain of culture, then we have another thing coming. Or we may end up going, as a few leaders have in recent days, leaving the faith behind. There’s more to it than just this, much more. That is why we need to turn the pages of all of Scripture from beginning to end, and keep doing so. In prayer and with the commitment to a faith which receives and responds. Accepting the warnings of God’s word, even when they may seem to make little sense to us. So that God might do his work of grace in us, a process no less. In and through Jesus.

 

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?