prayer can change things, and prayer can change us

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

James 5:16b-18

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:24-31

the book of Job (1-42)

It’s easy to see from the biblical account how prayer can change things. And any of us who have witnessed this kind of practice for very long at all can attest to the same in our experience. But it will become equally evident over time that prayer can change us as well. I don’t say here that prayer changes things and prayer changes us, but there’s surely value in all sincere prayer. Even if it doesn’t seem to hit pay dirt, and seems to make no difference at all, I don’t think there’s anything we can actually do that is as great as praying. Yes, we need to do other things as well, but prayer ought to precede them all.

From the above Scripture, we can indeed see that prayer matters, both in terms of situations, and how we are affected in the process of praying. True prayer involves thanksgiving to God, confession of sin, praise of God for God’s acts, the worship of God. And in both set as well as spontaneous praying, either can be just as effective and I believe we actually need both. But in praying for a situation, we end up not only grappling with our situations, but with ourselves in the process. We might be in the way of God’s answer, and in terms of something in our character, perhaps a specific sin issue. God works to help us see and work through that. And we can’t forget that prayer does oftentimes involves spiritual battle. The enemy does not want us to pray.

So we need to hold on to this truth, and above all put it into practice. In and through Jesus.

against feel good religion

[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

Mark 8:34-37

Melissa Florer-Bixler makes a good point in her article: “Worship can be boring, and that’s OK.” The title to this post (not to that article) may be strong or a bit misplaced, but feelings and emotions are a byproduct of what we’re about, what we do, not the aim of faith at all. As humans, experience is important and has its place. And “the dark night of the soul” is no picnic. It’s not like we want to be emotionless, or experience no peace and joy. That’s not the point.

It’s an emphasis on following and continuing on regardless of our own state of emotions, or whatever struggle we’re having. It’s following Christ to the breaking point and beyond, yes even to death if need be. Taking the way of the cross. Pressing on that direction, no matter what. Oblivious to how that feels. In company with others who are doing the same. In and through Jesus.

singing in church

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:1-7a

One thing among others which should characterize any gathering of God’s people as church is simply singing together. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, as Paul put it (Ephesians 5:19). To sing is mentioned over and over again in the Bible, note especially the psalms and the last book, Revelation.

There are various types of songs and hymns. Songs of worship, praise, along with lament. Songs of testimony to God’s faithfulness. Special songs for such seasons as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. And down to earth songs, expressing ourselves honestly and fully before God.

Ongoing singing takes commitment along with effort. I am not really a singing person myself, though if you get me into a congregation that is singing, then I’ll join in. And I’m not thinking of the big- what comes across to me oftentimes as productions of bands revving it up, hopefully not too loud, with large screens, and people moving and swaying to the rhythm, hands uplifted, tears in some eyes, and some singing. That’s okay, probably with real good. But instead, I’m thinking about simple singing together, yes, even from hymnbooks, with or without instrumentation preferably both. 

This is something I really haven’t given sufficient attention to over the years, and have not practiced much at all, certainly not enough. But part of what is given to us for our good, both individually in our lives, and corporately together. In and through Jesus.

 

we need each other

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

In our individualistic culture in which everyone is supposed to look out for and take care of themselves, the idea that we need each other, that we’re our brother and sister’s keeper is all but lost on us. That is not something enmeshed in my white, western culture, at least not where I’ve lived. In fact, I’m pretty certain we don’t believe this at all. We rarely even pay lip service to it. How many times have I heard the thought that the best church is out in nature somewhere by one’s self? And when people do gather together for church, it’s often just to get something out of the message for one’s self, maybe say hi to the few along the way or just the greeters, then head back home.

But Scripture calls us to something else, something we not only fail to practice, but that we’re not acclimated to in the first place, out of our comfort zone for sure. A commitment to each other in Jesus which plays itself out in regularly meeting together, and being ready at least potentially in our spirits to give and to receive. God actually wants to help us through each other no less. Not just directly, but through others.

If we’re followers of Christ and thus Christians not in name only, then we can’t escape God’s call to us to come together since after all we’re one body in Christ. There may be unusual times such as the past year with COVID-19 when we can’t gather in person in the same way as before. But technology did allow us to meet virtually. Yes, not a great substitute for meeting in person, but better than nothing, and some of us we’re able to talk face to face with people we otherwise never would have. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. At the same time, mercifully, such times are only temporary. We need to find the good in them and that can come out of them, and go on.

But we need to be committed to what alas seems more than a stretch to many: gathering together to worship, pray, and just be with each other. In that dynamic Jesus is present yes in and through each other, and there’s not a one of us who doesn’t need that.

greed or God

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Matthew 6:24

There are no two ways about it, we live in an all too often greed driven society. The rich at the top are taking in exponential profit, siphoning off hardly enough for their workers to keep up with inflation. The gap between the rich and the rest keeps growing. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we find that those making mega bucks might be willing to do so not only in not paying sufficient wages, but often also not caring about the health of their workers or consumers. Just a sad fact of life.

If we love God with all our being and doing and love our neighbor as ourselves, then such a thought would never enter our minds. We want to do the best for others, as well for the good of all as we consider our planet Earth.

Jesus makes no bones about it. It’s either one or the other. Do we really love God? That will show in how we look at and use money. Do we trust that God will take care of our needs? That is tied together as we can see from this passage (click the above link).

Yes, money is important, useful, and can be a blessing from God for us to meet our needs and bless others. But it can also be a curse if we idolize it as in loving it, hoarding it and living it up as if this world is the end and we’re our own god or independent of God. Something we’re to reject, as we embrace the One who loves us and the world that One created. In and through Jesus.

rejoice in the Lord always

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

I’ve not been one, at least for the most part who has got into praise and worship music. I’m returning to hymns lately, since coming back to the tradition of my childhood, the Mennonites. And with them, some worship songs in the new hymnal. Singing can help us, a gift from God, and not just to help us praise, but to also help us lament along with all the other both proper and natural human responses from our experiences in this world.

For me it has been most helpful lately to simply rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice in God. In doing so, we rejoice in God, in the Lord just for who God is. We rejoice in God’s person. We praise God for God’s goodness, for God’s works. We worship God because God is deserving of highest honor and praise, awe and love. And we thank God for all of God’s answers to our prayers, for God’s mercy and grace.

I find that as I practice rejoicing in the Lord, in Jesus, in God- whether I feel like it or not, then it might begin to be a habit, and a habit which is accompanied with the joy of the Lord. One of the reasons we do this is because we believe in God, in God’s love, that God will take care of everything, that God is with us no matter what, and that in the end God will somehow make all things right and good. We trust in the Lord, our confidence in God. In and through Jesus.

one day and one step at a time, and keep going

By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.

Hebrews 11:8-10; MSG

Abraham’s story is a fascinating one and not without a lot of bumps, bruises, and some bumbles along the way. The account given here from Genesis by the writer to the Hebrews looks at it in its totality in a nutshell. What kept Abraham going through thick and thin, as well as the fits and starts he had along the way was the sense of a call from God with a much bigger goal than anything the world could offer, and indeed against the grain of what would surely be expected. The abandonment of all idols to serve the true living God; Abraham built a number of altars in worship of God along the way. And a trust in God’s promise which on the bare face of things was indeed impossible, or at best like a nice dream.

We are called to the same faith as Abraham, yes, for our justification before God in being declared in the right through faith now in Christ’s finished work. And really also for all of life. Like Abraham, we too are blessed to be a blessing. We are part of Abraham’s progeny here on the earth that all nations might be blessed through us, indeed through the Seed which would be the fulfillment and the way of bringing this to pass: Christ, Jesus, the Messiah.

For me that means one day at a time, one step at a time, and to keep going. With eyes on the big picture and on the goal: God’s will and calling for us in Christ Jesus. We have to have a sense of God’s leading in this. We need that, and then we proceed on. Yes, even when it makes little to no sense to us. We press on through the bumps and bruises and indeed bumbles along the way. God has it. We have to trust in God, in God’s promises to us. Together in this with others. In and through Jesus.

nationalism as a part of our faith is idolatry

They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods…

2 Kings 17:33a

For some, probably too many here in the United States, if you don’t vote a certain way you’re not godly, or maybe they’ll say, even a Christian. And Christian metaphors, even Christ himself are routinely replaced by American images. What often happens on a subtle level which may raise some eyebrows then be forgotten, can become blatant, indeed a part of our religion. Anytime you mix anything with Christ and God’s work and kingdom in him, you have syncretism, and that is exactly what we see here. We never place anything on a par with Christ and the reality present in him. To do so amounts to plain old fashioned idolatry.

United States nationalism I believe is part of the religion of many white evangelical Christians, their version of the United States. You start wondering when you see a flag in a church “sanctuary.” That is a part of tradition, and doesn’t at all necessarily mean the pastor or church is caught up in this idolatry. But it’s far better to remove any such symbol to help prevent any of that from creeping in.

Idols don’t come down easily. Just so much as tread on this territory, and you’ll get vehement, long protests, defenses and even attacks. That maybe you are not really grounded in the faith like you ought to be. Well for sure, one is not grounded in their faith, which sadly includes nationalism, yes even patriotism.

We can and I think even should love our country, but never with the attitude of total allegiance. Our one allegiance belongs to our one Lord, Jesus, and to no other. And we should love all other nations, too. We should see our nation as just hopefully a humble contributor to the whole, and at least trying to do good, and avoid what is evil. Unfortunately good and evil will be in the fabric of every nation state. We are mistaken to act as if that’s not the case.

God in Christ with the Holy Spirit is our one God. No other gods beside him. None. Something we’ll have to keep our eyes open for, because nothing can be alongside much less replace God. Only God is God. Everything else is phony in comparison, good in its place, but nothing more, and easily out of place.

May God help us, have mercy on us, that he may purge us, and that we might purge ourselves of all idolatry, and continue to do that. In and through Jesus.

Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ, marching to the beat of a different drum

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:33-38a

Jesus was in trouble not because he was advocating some new religion about an inward kingdom. Yes, he exposed the Pharisees for their focus and emphasis on externals and not the heart. One could find Jesus’s thought in the Prophets, which is why Jesus challenged Nicodemus, asking him why as teacher of Israel, he didn’t understand such things. This was a challenge to their authority over Israel. Jesus, if he was the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, would challenge, undermine and ultimately overthrow that.

And Jesus as Lord and Son of God was a direct challenge to Rome, which used the exact same terms for the Emperor. Here was this group coming along and using the same terms for one they considered the Messiah. Rome looked at what he did, and considered it relatively harmless. But ultimately when Christians would not give any of the allegiance that belonged to Jesus to the Emperor, to the Roman state, then Christians would not be meeting the requirements of the state, the occupying rule. And therefore would be persecuted. Pilate did want to let Jesus go, but the claims of Jesus and his followers, and how that might get Pilate in trouble with the Roman authorities over him probably did have plenty to do with Pilate handing Jesus over for crucifixion. Along with the pressure from Jewish leaders. Ultimately any nation state will be weary of Christians whose full allegiance is only to one kingdom and Lord.

Something I hope to be more and more in step with along with others. In and through Jesus.

 

 

giving Jesus his due

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12

Traditionally we have the wise men, three of them in keeping with the gifts mentioned, when there were likely more, arriving at the manger, at least in paintings and in our manger scenes. They were actually magi: perhaps into a kind of astrology as we note the star in the story, and religious priests. And likely coming around two years after Jesus’s birth.

What is noteworthy for this post is how the magi were coming not just to see for themselves what their reading of the stars seemed to indicate, but to honor the special one born to be king in some special way. This was either worship, or something close to it, in acknowledgement of a one over them (see Mounce, NET Bible footnote 17). Perhaps paying homage, which was due only to superiors, normally to kings, or to divine beings. And they had their gifts in hand, which likely were a big help to “the holy family.”

This speaks to me in reminding me what our lives should be all about when considering Christ and God’s gift in him. Yes, we receive that gift gladly and the promise it brings, but in turn we live lives of gratitude in response, seeking to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

Christmas isn’t just about the good we get, and then simply enjoying it. It’s about that, but much more. Our response of faith, hope and love is crucial. The reception of this great gift doesn’t leave us unchanged. We endeavor to respond to that love in God’s grace given to us by a changed life. First honoring the God who gives and is in that Baby. And continuing that day after day as we seek to follow him.

In and through Jesus.