Distraction! 1 Kings 11.1-13

Some years ago our family sat in our Honda minivan at an ordinary intersection in our medium-sized Midwestern city. My fellow drivers to my right got their yield light and the lead car moved out. Only, this driver didn’t drive with purpose as you’d expect; he kinda jerked his way in the direction of his destination, like the wobbly, unsteady way a turkey buzzurd flies. A glance at the driver diagnosed the problem: he was staring (mouth open) at his phone, only generally aware of his other responsibilities. A second car moved through the intersection; same thing, only this driver was (not making this up) driving with her knees and composing a text with her thumbs. A third driver rolled through staring at a piece of paper.

“Is anybody really driving today?!” I said, turning to Amanda. But before she could respond the fourth driver rolled through. We recognized him as a friend of ours from church, and (oh, joy!) he had both hands on the wheel and was watching the road!

Today we live sixteen miles from the nearest traffic light, but the lesson of that illustration holds true: we are a distractible and often distracted people, are we not? And, as we move into the summer months when we’re out of our regular routines and thus vulnerable, we need to help each other think about what our response to distraction says about where we put our trust. Are we truly trusting God to order our lives, or does our fiddling around in the world of distractions indicate a self-dependence that needs to be confessed and made right before God?

We get help here. From the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve, to Lot, to Esau, Jacob, Moses and the Nation of Israel, we have rich material from which to study what our responses to distraction say about our heart conditions. But, my favorite study is King Solomon. Consider the heights from which he fell. Solomon had received wisdom from God (1 Kings 3.12); Solomon’s subjects flourished under his practical wisdom (4.20); Solomon even served as a kind of priest-king, thinking especially of his intercessory role in the dedication of the Temple (8.22-23). Still, he got distracted, and he fell, badly.

My response to distraction shows my heart! Solomon’s desire to order his kingdom through his many wives was revealed in his heart-response to distraction (1 Kings 11:1-8).

That Solomon took many wives would not have been considered unusual for a king. Kings did this to show their virility, but also to manage their material holdings. Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites (peoples to the east) are mentioned; then Sidonites (to the northwest) and Hittites (to the northeast) are mentioned. Israel had either conquered (1 Samuel 8,10) or begun trading with these peoples (1 Kings 8,10).

Conventionally wise as this might have been, God had told Israel, “Don’t do it”: … you shall not intermarry with them (Deut 7.3-4) and [your king] shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away (Deut 17.17).

So, it should not surprise us that Solomon’s distraction with his many wives (and their gods!) moved from the material to the spiritual, but not all at once and not right away: When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God … (:4-8).

That’s a frightening statement for me. It means that Solomon served the better part of forty years becoming more distracted with his heart growing colder toward God and God’s things.

What are the distractions of our age? We’re in a hinge of history, aren’t we? As a Gen-Xer I can remember a world without personal computers, without cell phones, without email. (My family’s first cordless phone was exciting.) But, today, some futurists are predicting that the day is coming (probably in about 2050) when virtually nobody alive will be able to remember what it’s like to live off-line.

Theological David Wells writes,

There is no doubt that the pings and beeps of the internet are highly distracting. But the real question is, What is this doing to us? What is it doing to our minds when we are living with the constant distraction? How do we live in this parallel universe? It’s a universe that can take all the time we have. So how do we share our time between the virtual universe and the real universe? What happens to us when we’re in constant motion and addicted to visual stimulation? 

My response to distraction matters! Solomon’s desire to order his kingdom through his many wives was met with consequences for himself and for others (:9-13).

And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded (:9-10).

The story is a sad one. The most prosperous of Israel’s kings, who had been been given wisdom by God and who had been promised that obedience would result in an everlasting throne, had the kingdom torn from him and from his son: … I will tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant (:11).

Even so, there’s good news here. Like a tiny trickle of water that bubbles into a brook and then widens into a mighty river of grace, God will fall back on His previous promise to David, recorded in 2 Samuel 7.14, in which He had promised David an eternal throne. Look at verse 13: However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen (:13).

This is all Christ-language, isn’t it? The tribe is Judah, and Jesus will come from Judah to be Israel’s king (Isaiah 11.10). Solomon’s failed response to distraction resulted in a Savior, by God’s grace. And Jesus, as the final son of David, will not fail his people but will respond to God with whole-hearted devotion, winning salvation for us who trust in Him.

But, again, what does it look like to respond to the particular distractions of the Digital Age in a way that shows that we’re whole-heartedly devoted to God? We in the Digital Age are often dealing with technologies that are morally neutral. Smart phones can be used to draw people together for Christ’s purposes, or they can enable us as we waste vast amounts of time. Theological Dougles Groothius, writing in The Soul in Cyberspace, reminds us that, “Everything is a trade-off … A wise person will not shun technology but will ask what are the benefits? And what do I lose? And what do I gain?”

For us, thinking about distraction does involve evaluating moral content. That was the case with Solomon, since God had warned him off the gods and women. But, our situation also requires us to check our hearts to see what our responses to technologies says about whom we’re really allowing to order our worlds. It could be that we’re attempting to order our world in a way that indicates we’re not content to trust God.

My salvation is not in managing all the different realities of my life but in being changed by faith in Christ. My response to distraction shows me where I put my trust. 

Try this exercise in what I call “real space”:

Spend an hour reading a book. I get it. This will be hard, but feel your mind relax as it follows a sequence of ideas, and you give your mind time to process ideas one after the other.

Then, take a walk. And, as you do, ask the LORD some questions:

“How am I doing?

Are my affections (heart) being turned so that I’m trying to find my happiness in anything other than You?

Do I need to limit my use of technology to put it in its proper place? (Maybe shoving my phone in a drawer during dinner, or when I’m relating intentionally to my family or friends?).

Do I need to “fast” from my device for a time?

Then, read Psalm 46,

Be still, and know that I am God/ I will be exalted among the nations/ I will be exalted in the earth!

The LORD of hosts is with us/ the God of Jacob is our fortress. 

 

 

 

Stand in Warfare: Ephesians 6.10-20

This week at Woodland we finish up a good journey. We come to the end of our study in Ephesians.

We’ve seen how God has called out a people to be His church (chapters 1-3), and we’ve seen how we’re to respond as God’s “called out” ones (chapters 4-6): by walking … in unity, holiness, love, light and wisdom.

And now, suddenly, we’re to stand. Big bump of a contrast, isn’t it? While feeling like we ought to be advancing, we’re suddenly NOT to think about moving forward. The reason is that we have an enemy. And this brings us to our next and final unpopular idea—maybe even more unpopular than the submission and obedience we’ve been considering in recent weeks.

We westerners like spirituality. Who among us would ever get criticized for really living for something we can’t see, feel or touch? The problem we have in our culture is that we like to define the boundaries of our own spiritual experience. We like to be in charge, to manage things.

And now, suddenly again, we meet God’s enemy. And, he and his legions are a lot more than we can handle! For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (:12, ESV).

And God’s enemy (with his legions) hates the church. He hates us because while we rebelled with him, he isn’t made in God’s image, and he isn’t redeemed. We who have trusted Christ are.

So what are we do? We’re to put on God’s provision (:10-13)  … be strong in the strength of his might (:10) This not only describes how we’re to contend, but where our strength lies and whose strength we’re relying on.

Superb! But even while our salvation comes from outside us, we’re not passive in this. There’s still something for us to do.  … Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil … that you may be able to withstand in the evil day and having done all, to stand firm (:11 … 13) In other words, having been chosen in Christ and placed in the church, we’re still about to be attacked. The purpose of making use of God’s provision is to be ready for the particular attacks of the Evil One.

So … stand with God’s provision (:14-20). What follows is a description of a fully outfitted and equip soldier. While some have thought that Paul might be modeling his description after a Roman soldier (he might have been chained to one while he wrote), he isn’t describing a Roman soldier. He’s describing you! (if you’re trusting in Christ). And he’s describing God’s provision you and I must equip ourselves with BEFORE we’re attacked.

Before the particular attacks of the Evil One we are to take up truth, righteousness, peace and faith. These are likened to the belt, breastplate, boots and shield of the soldier. All these implements of warfare helped ancient soldiers stand TOGETHER. Then, just before combat the “helmet of salvation” and “sword of the Spirit” must be snatched up. These complete the soldiers defenses and give him an offensive weapon.

A picture of ancient warfare helps. Soldiers would stand side-by-side in an interlocking formation called a phalanx in which they would guard one another with their shields. The enemy would hurl pitch-drenched and flaming javelins into the wall of shields hoping to ignite the defenses, or at least disable the defenses so that the shields would have to be abandoned. Once members of the phalanx had been disarmed the enemy would rush in carrying short swords called  gladii. Hand-to-hand combat would result. If the soldiers could be separated from one another, the enemy would prevail.

Fascinating history lesson, isn’t it? But, we’re not talking about history, we’re talking about the church and our lives and right now. What does this warfare look like for us?

A good rule of application is that the response to any passage is organic to the passage itself. So, in Ephesians, we’ve just been told to walk … in unity, holiness, love, light and wisdom. We’re to do this as God’s church, together. What does God’s enemy want? He wants to divide us, so that disunity, lack of holiness, consuming self-love, spiritual and moral darkness and the quenching of the Spirit of God result. Salvation isn’t hanging in the balance, but fruitfulness, blessing and God’s glorification in our lives are.

Can you sense when that’s happening? That’s the “evil day” (:14). Even so, the faithful follower of Christ will prevail in the day of temptation and attack, because she has been outfitted with God’s provision.

To stand in spiritual warfare, put on God’s provision. 

We’re either under attack or we’re about to be attacked. That’s life between Christ’s two comings. Even so, we have everything we need to flourish in the Christian life. And, we have one another in this remarkable creation called the church. That’s the message of Ephesians.

So, we pray  …  at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (:18a). keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints … (:18b)

All of this allows Paul to end his letter like he began. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible (:23-24).

 

Think a bit about what this passage looks like in your life. 

When are you (and God’s other people with you) most prone to attack?

What does putting on God’s provision actually look like for you, in your thinking, attitudes and behavior? 

Why is God’s enemy worthy of your respect but not your fear? 

 

 

Walk in Wisdom—Followers & Leaders: Eph 6.1-9

Last week’s message and post from Ephesians 5.22-33 dealing with the topic of submission took us through some emotionally-charged territory. This week’s passage, dealing with obedience, is not much different

Like we’ve talked about, both of these passage belong to the same basic unit in Ephesians. In 5.18 we’re told to ” … be filled with the Spirit.” The Spirit, then, equips us to submit to one another out of reverential awe for Christ Himself.

And, whether we’re submitting or obeying, it’s ultimately Christ we’re serving!

How then do we show this reverence for Christ in our various human relationships—as wives and husbands, children and parents, “bondservants” and leaders? That’s where we’re going with this …

Children … obey your parents, because this is right (:1-3). Have you, parents, ever given the because-I-say-so answer  to the adolescent-cheeky “why?” question? Paul shades in that direction here: Because God has set things up so that children serve Him by obeying their parents. That’s why. But, he really does better than that. He quotes the law, the Ten Commands, “Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise)” (6.2; Ex 20, or Deut 5).

But, wait! says the teenager. That’s not the first commandment; it’s the fifth. Right you are. But how else are children to know the commandment “You shall have no others gods before me” (The First Commandment)? The Fifth Commandment (also thought by some among the ancients to be the first of the commandments dealing with human relations) functions as a kind of primary commandment for children. Honor and obey your parents and you will (generally speaking) live a long and prosperous life.

And, as with submission, Jesus honored this commandment with His own obedience to His Father in the work of redemption, didn’t He? It’s critical to see, how with the example of Jesus, both submission and obedience turn from the negative to the positive.

Parents … don’t frustrate, but disciple and instruct (:4). Now, fathers, in particular, are addressed with their own imperative. While our children are learning their obedience, we’re to make this obedience as sweet as possible.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger …” How do we do this, Dads? Maybe, by demanding perfection according to some standard of our own. Or, maybe, by being passive and unemotionally unresponsive.

As I’ve pondered the connections within this teaching, it seems we frustrate most when we try to modify behavior without being concerned for the inner attitudes of our heart. Maybe, we can get away  with this when the child is very young: “Don’t run in the street!” But, as our children grow into the later elementary years, we get called out on this one.

Positively, “bringing up” has about it the idea of nurturing. And then “discipline” carries with it the idea of activity—doing something together where there is practice with correction. “Instruction” carries more of a verbal idea. Now, the child is being spoken to about what’s going on. The picture I get here is of a father with his son or daughter talking their way through life together. The father isn’t just aiming for right behavior, but the heart!

Certainly, the dad is realizing that power and authority isn’t enough to nurture children in wisdom. He is realizing that the Spirit of God needs to be at work too. And, the Spirit is the One whom the father is depending on to do that spiritual work in his child.

Dads, where are we doing this with our kids? Where are we (in activity and words) contending for our kids in those matters of the heart where we can’t obey for them? 

Those accountable to others … obey those who lead as you would Christ (:5-8). In the second half of this double-header passage, it’s important to identify what we’re NOT talking about. This is not chattel slavery (the horrific practice of our own nations’s past!), but bonded service. People in the ancient world could enter into bond service for a variety of reasons—like not being able to pay their bills, or not wanting to pay high taxes. And, sometimes, life might not be too bad for the teachers and accountants and household managers who found themselves in bonded service.

Still, they were not at their liberty. ” … obey your earthly masters … as you would Christ,” they are told. Significant here is the little distinction ” … masters, according to the flesh”. These are your overlords for now, in this life at the most, but not forever. You’re to serve them “as you would Christ”—with “fear and trembling … a sincere heart … not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers … doing the will of God from the heart … rendering service with a good will as to the Lord” (:5 … 8).

The reason given is that social status won’t be important in the future, but spiritual condition will. And, there will come a day of reckoning when our hidden service will be returned to us (Think: 2 Cor 5.10).

Curious, isn’t it, that Paul isn’t a social revolutionary. While encouraging bondservants to get their freedom when they can (for example, 1 Cor 7.25), he’s more interested in seeing individuals grow in godliness within the social norms that exist. Once again, emotionally-charged stuff for us Moderns.

Those accountable for others … don’t threaten, but know your own Master (:9). ” … do the same to them, and stop your threatening,” masters are told. In other words, all that has been said regarding bondservants is true for those accountable to God for them. And when the day of accountability comes, there will be no partiality with the judge. Partiality, “to have a face.” God isn’t going to give a pass because we had face recognition in this life.

To walk in wisdom (whether accountable to others or accountable for others) follow or lead in obedience to Christ. 

 

We move back and forth between following and leading, don’t we? Typically, we’re doing both at the same time in our different roles. But, whether we’re following (as a child or one who is accountable to another in a job or position) or leading (as a parent or in some supervisory role), we’re doing so in obedience or disobedience to Christ.

Whom has God given you to follow? Whom has God given you to lead? 

How is your heart doing in these different roles? Are you consciously aware that you are serving Christ? 

 

 

Walk in Wisdom—Husbands & Wives: Eph 5.22-33

“Fightin’ words.” That’s what she called them.

I liked this couple. They’d asked me to do their premarital counseling, and I found them dynamic, engaging and intelligent. In our sessions we’d started out looking at the marriage formula of Genesis 2.24: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (ESV). Two individuals, free and strong to love each other, joined into one new entity by marriage. Yeah!

But then we came to Ephesians 5.22-33, especially that corker of a first line: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. The look she shot me was unmistakable. “Those are fightin’ words for you, aren’t they?” I said. “Yeah, those are ‘fightin’ words,” she said, with conviction.

I know where she was coming from, and I don’t hold it against her. Since the social revolution of the 1960s our culture has largely held gender roles within marriage (and the lines of authority that go with them) to be self-chosen. Within my adulthood, gender itself has come to be regarded as self-chosen as well. All this brings us to the post-Obergefell era where self-chosen gender is (officially, according to the Supreme Court) who we are and not how we are.

All of this makes Ephesians 5.22-33 look just terribly antique, kind of like a pre-“talkie” black-and-white movie. (“I suppose they did it that way once.”) But, it also cuts against the basic teaching that we are (all of us!) image-bearers of God, created male and female (emphasis added, Gen 1.27-28).

But, positively (and in a much bigger way than the spirit of our times), God, in designed the human family, was making a picture about how the fellowship of the Godhead works (Father, Son and Spirit) and about how Christ would redeem creation.

So … wives, submit to your own husbands in the same way you submit to Christ (:22-24). Really important to catch here is what this verse is NOT talking about. Catch that word “own”? Women are not being asked to submit to somebody else’s husband. The teaching is not, strictly, about the relationship between men and women, or about the workplace, the military, government, or any other place where we serve together, including the church. It’s about marriage. And God has designed the marriage relationship to reflect the work of the Godhead who serves the church.

Behind all this is the spiritual reality that gives the reason: For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior (:23). Of course, the husband isn’t Christ, and he isn’t perfect, and he isn’t the wife’s savior, but he is what the Bible calls the “head”. And here the lights go out for most of us.

The reason for our confusion might be that we often mistake headship and submission for competency, or for superiority and inferiority. That isn’t the right picture, and it shouldn’t be a hindrance for us (see Galatians 3.28). The more serious problem we have, though, is that we’re also confused because we don’t understand Jesus’ role within the Godhead!

Consider these words by Jesus in Jn 12.49 (along with Lk 22.42; Jn 1.1; 1 Cor 11.3 and 15.28): For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 

The point is that everybody (except God the Father) is under authority and responsible to respond to somebody. God has organized the family to reflect the authority within the Godhead. Wives are to follow Christ in submission even as the wider church does.

But, there’s more … husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church (:25-33). Love your wives like Jesus loves us, husbands are told. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (:25).

There’s spiritual reality behind this as well. And what follows is a mysterious (see verse 32) description of Christ’s work in redemption, even as He is submissive to the Father. In the past, Jesus set apart at the cross those who would one day trust in Him. This is the grounds of our salvation where we were made clean, being washed with water (a metaphor for salvation) and with the word (think: the Gospel; also, Hebrews 10.22; John 17.17). In the future, Jesus will present the church to himself in splendor at His return. In the meantime, Jesus is making the church holy and without blemish.

Do you see where the church is now in the plan of redemption? Having been claimed by Christ at the cross, we’re being made beautiful in preparation for the bridegroom. And that, husbands, is our clue to how we’re to be loving our wives!

Are we helping our wives grow beautiful in their love of the Savior? Are we loving them with their best interest in mind, so that they increasingly desire the role God has crafted for them? 

Verses 28-32 is an application section taking us right back to the marriage formula of Genesis 2.24. Love your own wives as you love yourself. In doing so, you benefit, because you are (mysteriously again) one of the individuals who form one entity in marriage (Genesis 2.24). And so, we’re back to where we started … two individuals, one new entity, making a picture of Christ and His church.

Verse 33 sums up Christian marriage (what other kind is there, actually?): However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Practically, that about gets it, right? We men are simple. Food, intimacy, respect. That’s about what does it for us. Not easy for our wives, I’m sure, but simple. Our wives aren’t so easily explained, but what wife among us would not relish a two-step led by truly sacrificial love?

That beautiful dance between a husband and wife reflects both the truth of Christ’s love for His people and Christ’s peoples’ response to Him that can only be lived out by the power of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, they’re “fightin’ words”. With Him, it’s a walk in wisdom by the Spirit of God.

To walk in wisdom, husbands and wives, love and respect one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

For those who are married, how does the picture of Christ and the church help explain some of your successes and failures in marriage? That’s a serious thinker, isn’t it? Maybe, it’s best saved for private discussion between husbands and wives.

More publicly, and including those not married, how does the broader picture of redemption help us make peace with the Bible’s concept of submission and authority we see in this passage?

Every Careless Word …

It’s quiet in the chicken house, for once. And that seems strange, because each morning for the better part of a year I’ve started my morning with Pepper, the Barred Rock rooster.

Pepper was an accident, as people sometimes say. A year ago when we picked up our box of peeps at the post office, we’d hoped for all “layers”. But something was different about Pepper. As spring turned to summer and our chicks grew, Pepper found (her?)self often rejected by the other girls and would wander off alone. When Pepper didn’t lay an egg and finally threw back his head and crowed like a lonely adolescent boy, we knew we had a rooster.

Pepper had his moments. In the fall when Grandma Katie’s Yorkie dog, Penny, escaped to pursue Sabel, everybody’s favorite Red Star hen, Pepper gave chase. It was a good picture—Sabel out front, Penny close behind, Pepper in hot pursuit of the dog, and eight-year-old Henry, coming up behind with Coco, the Toy Australian Shepherd on a leash. A lap around the house, through the garden and the woodpiles and Penny caught Sabel, but couldn’t execute the kill before Pepper was there to rescue.

Pepper won points that day, but there was another day. It was the day early this spring when Pepper got proud. He lost sight of who he was, a lowly chicken, after all. His day and night (by now) crowing came to mean, we understood, that he believed he could chase anybody he chose. As Pepper grew proud he began to jump on the hands, and bodies, of those who fed him. Jack and Henry grew afraid to approach the chicken house. Amanda slipped and fell once while fending him off. Then, Pepper came after me. Carrying a load of wood, I caught sight of him coming, lost my balance while spinning to address him, and then, under the weight of the crashing wood, landed in a bed of snow and mud. I fought him off with a six-inch stump of wood that had been broken in two as I’d swung it at the dandered-up rooster. I knew right then we’d reached the point of judgment.

After that—while Pepper crowed, staking his claim to the chicken house, the yard, and everything and everybody else—he was being discussed. We’d sit at the dinner table talking about Pepper. He might have even come up in our family prayers. He appeared in to-do lists: “deal with Pepper”. The universe, and Pepper’s responsibility in it, turned out to be a lot bigger than Pepper ever accounted for.

Then, two Saturdays ago, I took Pepper to a neighbor’s farm and, well—as farmers say—”moved Pepper on”.

There’s a moral lesson in all this. In Matthew 12.36-37, Jesus says, I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (ESV).

Those are striking words. They mean that there’s coming a day when each of us will have a conversation with God about His evaluation of our lives. In the context of Matthew 12, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had just stamped their judgment on Jesus: “Jesus isn’t from God, not worth listening to … from Satan, even.” This they crowed out in their own little chicken house while God the Father waited at the family dinner table, taking notice.

And so it is for us. God’s evaluation of our lives will be solely about how we’ve responded to Jesus. Did we ignore Him or abuse Him, starting in our actions, moving to our casual speech, extending to our thoughts even? Romans 2.16, speaking of those who don’t even have God’s law in the Bible, indicates the scope of God’s evaluation of our lives: … their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them, on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Every bit of our lives (actions, words, thoughts) will be used as evidence of what we’ve made of Jesus. Sobering, isn’t it? … But even that isn’t the point.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1)

That’s the point, and the Goods News! What redemption there isn’t for a rooster gone bad, there is for us. My actions, words and thoughts will be taken into account, but they’ll be covered by Christ’s work. And that I receive by faith. That’s the Gospel!

So, while the kids enjoy the chicken house now turned hen house, and while I wake up under my own power and listen to the morning quiet, these moments of  tranquility become their own pictures of my peace in Christ.

And that is truly a thought to wake up to!

 

“Taking advantage of every opportunity …”

White out!

And, just like that, the preparation of a week is buried in what, by tonight, will be several feet of Northwoods April snow.

This is a first for me. I’d thought, if ever church were snowed out, that I might be relieved to rest, to have a spare message in the hip pocket. But, I’m not. I’m disappointed! Sunday morning is the high point of the week. And, this week, we hoped to follow the momentum of last week’s baptism. This week we were looking forward to hearing Liz and Paul Bowman, here from Spain. This week, Tim and the worship team were ready; the slides were all done. Both Bryn and Lauren’s moms were here from Iowa to celebrate Lauren’s baby shower, rescheduled for the second time … White out!

But then, this morning as I was skiing the two miles down the Pine Line to check in at the building to intercept any who didn’t get the cancellation message, a line from the morning’s message crossed my mind: Look carefully then how you walk … making the best use of the time … (ESV). Or, as a looser translation might say, “taking advantage of every opportunity.”

Now, here is an opportunity, this April white out. I thought of how, just an hour before, Amanda and I had (maybe for the first time ever in our married lives) made coffee, sat in bed on a Sunday morning and talked about what God has for us in the next season of our lives. Been looking for a chance to have that conversation, haven’t we, Dearie?  I thought of other married couples at Woodland who might have benefited from the same break in the routine.

Then we arrived. (Katja and Henry came up behind on snow shoes). We weren’t alone. A couple elders and a few others joined us. We made a circle, right where all the singing and sharing and teaching would have been, and we, well, made the most of the opportunity. We let our minds run over how God is the one doing the work at Woodland. While we pressed ourselves to prepare our parts for a service that was not to happen, God spent the week preparing a snow storm, so we’d have opportunity to “take advantage of the opportunity,” to pray for our Woodland church family, to have those over-due conversations, to rest even.

God is about 10,000 things at Woodland, isn’t He? We’ll take advantage of every opportunity, but let Him do the work.

And then, this coming week, we’ll go right down into the crisis of the week (there’s always one, you know), and we’ll trust Him to draw us together on Sunday, once again and as next week’s very own work of grace.

Walk Together, in Wisdom: Ephesians 5.15-21

I’ve long been a collector of wise quotes. Hear a bit of wisdom, and I jot it down in my black book. The best quotes make it into my computer file, where I’ve organized wise quotes by author. My favorite, recently, is by Confucius: He who chases two rabbits catches neither. 

Useful stuff, if you have an extra rabbit …

But, when we’re not just having fun, wisdom can be sobering. What is it, exactly? Do you have to be smart to be wise? How about old? Or, profound?

As it turns out … no … no … no! But, you have to live by the Spirit of God. And, the wonderful news for any follower of Jesus is that we can.

In Ephesians, Paul the Apostle describes God’s work in calling out a people to be His church (chapters 1-3). Then, (chapters 4-6), he tells us how to live together as God’s “called out ones”. In the repeated imperative of the second half of the book, we’re to “walk together” … in unity, in holiness, in love, in the light, and (in this week’s passage) in wisdom.

Take a look at Ephesians 5.15-21 and you’ll see one basic command: Look carefully then how you walk … (verse 15). It turns out that the Christian life is such that having received Jesus’ work by faith, we can then miss God’s blessing by not paying attention, by not being wise. Frightening!

But, we’re given help here. We’re told how to be wise. And, we’re told how not to miss the moment and the blessing in the Christian life.

The pattern in these verses is found in the three contrasts marked by “not … but”. We’re to walk (verse 15) not unwisely, but wisely. We’re to walk (verse 17) not becoming foolish, but perceiving God’s will. We’re to walk, not being controlled (by something other than God), but being filled by the Spirit of God (verse 18).

The example Paul uses is wine. Some of us have been closer to alcohol than this even, but we’ve all at least seen somebody teeter and totter and attempt to keep himself upright while under the influence. Try to reason with somebody in this state, and he won’t even remember talking with you. Ruin and wastefulness result.

That’s Paul’s picture of losing the moment, being unwise. It turns out that the Spirit of God typically won’t (not saying He can’t) do His work when we choose to bring ourselves under the influence of something else. But, the issue here isn’t really wine; it’s anything that controls us. Netflix binging, cell phone addiction, an obsession with checking email, or patterns of unforgiveness and anger.

Instead of being controlled by these things, we’re to be filled by the Spirit of God. This is the special work of God reserved for those who have already trusted in Christ by faith. It follows the baptism of the Spirit which is the once-for-all work of God that takes place the moment we trust Christ, in which God applies to work of Christ to us (Acts 1.5; Rm 6.3-4; 1 Cor 12.13). It follows the sealing of the Spirit, in which we’re claimed as God’s own (2 Cor 1.22; Eph 1.13). It even follows the indwelling of the Spirit, in which the presence of God Himself takes up permanent residence in the believer (Rm 8.9; 1 Jn 4.13).

The filling of the Spirit is the leading and guiding work of God that empowers us to please God and is also called “walking in the Spirit” (Rm 8.4-6; Gal 5.16-18).

And, it turns out, that’s what true wisdom is! To walk in Wisdom, be filled by the Spirit of God!

The Gospel is received by faith. Christ did the work of redemption; we receive it by depending on Him. In walking wisely, however, we get to cooperate with God’s Spirit. The result will be, as verses 19-21 describe, rejoicing in Christ. Speaking to one another in creative ways involving God’s truth (verse 19a), singing and “psalming” (literally, verse 19b), giving thanks (verse 20), and submitting to one another out of reverance for Christ.

So, perhaps, the question for those of us who are trusting Christ is, Where do we need wisdom in our walk with Christ? Stated another way, What places in our lives are under threat from being controlled by something other than God’s Spirit? (The answer, I suspect, will be found in those areas where we don’t find the rejoicing of verses 19-21).

Have a crack at that thought. And have a blessed weekend, walking by the Spirit.

New, in Christ! Romans 6.3-4

This week we’re in Easter Season!

Did you know there was such a thing? Well, think about it. We begin our Christmas celebrations with Advent, then build up to the big day celebrating Christ’s birth. But, with Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ victory at the tomb, then go through the rest of the year celebrating Easter Season, because Jesus is alive!

And, what better way to celebrate our new life with Jesus than through baptism? That’s what we’re doing Sunday at Woodland as Zoei, Jed, Jackson and Jack (I’ve known him his whole life) demonstrate their faith in Christ and show their desire to walk with Jesus all the days of their lives. And, to celebrate God’s grace to the five of you, the rest of this post is written right to you! …

So, group, what exactly is the connection between Christ’s work on the cross, the Father’s work at the tomb, the Spirit’s work of baptizing those who trust Jesus, and our work in the newly lacquered cattle tank we use as a baptistry at Woodland?

As it turns out, water baptism (like you’re doing Sunday) is an outward picture of the inner reality that those who depend on Jesus are new in Christ.

Romans 6.3-4 helps us with this: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (ESV).

Important to understand is that the baptism in these verses refers to the work of the Spirit of God that took place in your lives at the point when you first trusted in Jesus. This Spirit baptism means (in the full context of Romans 6) that you now have a new relatonship toward sin, because your old sins no longer stand between you and God. You’re forgiven, and you can now follow Jesus! Think of it this way …

There’s an inner reality. Jesus died and was buried, taking our sin on Himself. Then, Jesus was raised from the dead, showing the Father had accepted Jesus’ work for us. When we depend on Jesus by faith, we participate (this is deep!) in Christ’s death and burial, because we are joined by faith to Jesus. And (oh, joy!), we likewise participate in Jesus’ resurrection. That’s why we have new life with God.

This being joined to Jesus means that we’ve died to the sin that stood between us and God. And, it means that we have new life in Jesus, because we are new in Christ!

Then (and this is where water baptism comes in), there’s an outward picture. Going down in the water will point to your death to sin in Jesus. Coming up out of the water will point to your being alive to God in Jesus. And, all of this serves as a public demonstration that you are trusting in Jesus and desire to follow Him all the days of your lives.

Whew! … That’s a complex image, isn’t it? If it seems like a lot to take in, it is, and, like the Gospel itself, it’s worth spending the rest of your lives thinking about.

But, in this Easter Season, here’s the big truth that you can start to get your minds around:

Because the five of you (Zoei, Jordyn, Jed, Jackson and Jack) are depending on Jesus, you’re alive, because Jesus is alive!

Now, that is an Easter Season thought to carry with you all year, and the rest of your lives!

Bless you guys. I praise God for you … See you Sunday(:

 

For the rest of us, here’s a few thoughts to discuss as we think about being new in Christ

“Baptism is an outward picture of the inner reality that those who depend on Jesus are new in Christ.” How does this definition of water baptism help you understand what goes on when people are baptized? 

What about the picture of our death, burial and resurrection with Christ that we make in water baptism is particularly powerful for you? 

What about this complex picture is most difficult to get your mind around? 

“Because you’re depending on Jesus, you’re alive, because Jesus is alive!” How does this truth help you make the connection between the work of Jesus on the cross and your new life in Christ, if you’re trusted Jesus? 

What has been your own experience with baptism? 

Spring, … “around the edges”

Karen said it, said it to Amanda, who brought word back to me: “In the Northwoods, spring comes, but you have to look for it around the edges.”

Poetic, we thought, so poetic we had to pause and think about what it means. When much of the country has been in flip-flops for weeks now, we burn our woodpiles in single-digit nights and wait for the sap to thaw; so we can make our syrup, of course.

But, spring comes. What had only to be believed before can now be seen. Living things warm with the life within. Snow recedes from trunks of trees. Drips of sap tremble at the tips of the taps, and then drop—perhaps once each minute—into waiting buckets. Groves of pines now reveal their harvest of needles, dropped in a former season. The life, always there to be believed, grows to be seen.

Psalm 27 contains a favorite refrain of mine: I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living (:13, ESV)

“The land of the living.” That’s where God lives. And, the psalmist (take a look at earlier verses) had to believe that despite “evildoers” and “adversaries” God’s goodness was there, and he, the psalmist, would one day live in God’s land.

That’s a comfort, in all of life. While our lives slip from us, God’s goodness, always there, always to be believed, grows to be seen.

Where do you see God’s goodness? If you’re with us in the Northwoods, let our spring that thaws its way in from “around the edges” remind you of God’s goodness: Wait for the LORD; be strong, let your hearts take courage; wait for the LORD! (:14).

So, believe what you see, around the edges. And have a good week …

 

 

Time’s (Almost) Up! Matthew 21.1-17

This week at Woodland we’re taking a break from our study of Ephesians to prepare for the great, high holiday of Resurrection Sunday! … Easter, we typically call it. And this Palm Sunday, leading up to Easter, we consider Matthew 21.1-17.

Probably because Amanda, the kids and I have been watching reruns of the The Great British Baking Show (where amateur bakers, working under the press of time and scrutiny of experts, are tested to their limit), I’m impressed with the sense of urgency we find in our passage.

In chapters 19-23, Matthew records Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem to show the servant-like manner in which Jesus entered Jerusalem to be rejected as King. And, for all those present, you can almost hear the prophetic timekeeper shouting, “Time’s almost up!”

Time’s almost up, to receive your King (:1-11). From Matthew’s careful account, we see what kind of king Jesus is. He makes preparation for His entry and shows (verse 2) that He knows everything. He knows there will be a donkey and her colt in the village ahead. And, He knows its owners will allow the use of the animals. He has absolute authority (verse 3) and shows this by instructing His disciples to commandeer the animals’ use. And, the king has power as Creator. This is the subtle point made by Matthew (and we have to fill in the gaps here with Mark and Luke) when Jesus chooses to sit astride the unbroken colt, rather than the trained donkey mare.

Most pointedly, the King enters in humility, because he’d come to die. Some, apparently, got the message: Baruk haba beshem Adonai! (“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”). Others recognized Jesus as a prophet from Nazareth (verse 11). True, but not the whole truth.

Now is the time to embrace Jesus! This is the message they were to understand.

Time’s almost up, to pledge loyalty to your King (:12-13). After entering the city (Mark shows this to be the next day), Jesus entered the Temple, and we see the rightful fury of the King! Jesus takes over the Temple, so that it might be clear that the way to God is open. In doing so, He restores economic justice, as the poor were apparently being defrauded as they purchased pigeons for sacrifice (Lev 5). Fulfilling Zechariah 14, Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7, Jesus drives the money changers from the Court of the Gentiles. Mark 11 adds the full quote from Isaiah 56, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations …” Jesus will soon open the way for all nations to come to God.

Jesus restores the Temple to its purpose as a place where the presence of God could be enjoyed. All of this prefigures the fulfillment of the sacrificial system in Himself. “I tell you something greater than the Temple is here” Jesus has said (Matt 12.6). If the King’s subjects won’t come to God rightly in the King’s Temple, they won’t recognize who Jesus is and pledge their loyalty to the King at all.

Now is the time to embrace Jesus!

Time’s almost up, to recognize your King (:14-17). The message of the Temple cleansing isn’t lost on everyone. Jesus draws three responses from those in the Temple, so that the condition of peoples’ hearts may be demonstrated.

The blind and lame respond. Ironically, Leviticus 21.17 excludes those deformed in body from joining in the worship of Israel, “For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long.” This is a picture of how we only come to God in wholeness. Jesus will soon fulfill the requirements of the sacrificial system: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (5.17).

And, oh how the children respond! They respond and recognize the King. The priests and scribes respond, and don’t like the shouts of the children’s one bit, “Do you hear what these are saying?” they ask Jesus (:16).

Jesus reminds them from Psalm 8 that children must shout!: “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise … (:16b).

Now is the time to embrace Jesus!

As Matthew recounts, the Nation rejected its King. But then, the King offered Himself for all peoples on the cross. And then, the Father raised Him from the dead and gathered Him back to Himself where He makes preparation to come again.

And that’s where we are today. Take a look at Revelation 19.11-16. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.”

Do you recognize that rider? He’s one and the same as the rider on the donkey. Only, He doesn’t come to die; He comes to reign. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2.9-11).

There’s two groups of people who enter into the Easter Season this year. There’s those who play at welcoming Jesus. Maybe, some believe right things about Jesus (“the prophet from Nazareth”), but they aren’t depending on Him. These need to consider that Jesus really died … and really arose from the grave … and really went back to the Father, where He prepares to really return! And, time’s almost up to embrace Jesus. 

There’s also others who have trusted in Jesus, but could (for sheer busyness and distraction) miss the opportunity to consider Jesus in the next week. For us, the need to keep on depending on Jesus is just as vital as our need to depend on Him was in the first place.

Palm Sunday is a wake-up for us each year, isn’t it? This year, let’s read those familiar passages in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with new vision. And then, let’s respond with urgency, dependence and thanksgiving.

And, let’s embrace Jesus, our King!

 

A few questions for you to consider with others:

Where do you see the urgency in Matthew 21.1-17? 

How is our urgency both different from  and the same as those whom Jesus first visited at his first coming, as the King of the Nation of Israel? 

How do you feel about the Easter season? What frame of mind does the season usually find you in? Are you typically flat-footed spiritually coming into these weeks? Or, are you typically ready? 

What typically helps you prepare your own heart to contemplate Jesus and His work at the cross? 

How can we help each other prepare?