Contentment

Jesus holding a sheep

I love the book of Philippians and return to it frequently when I am searching for God’s direction for handling problems.  As I continue on my daily journey through chaos, I find myself going back to chapter four in which Paul reveals what he learned from his own chaos journey.  He was in prison at the time of writing this letter to his favorite church, which he had himself founded as senior pastor.  In this chapter, Paul shares with his beloved church family a whole list of his greatest discoveries, which he derived from his chaos struggles.  Here is one that speaks to me at the very deepest level of searching for help in handling life’s challenges.  The great apostle writes,

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have…in any and all circumstances…”  Philippians 4:11-12 NRSV.

The word for content in the Greek manuscript is autarkes, which means “self-sufficient.”  Paul is telling his church that he is “just fine,” but not because he is strong or wise enough in himself to handle his tough challenges.  The surrounding verses make it totally clear that he is rejoicing in having discovered that God is with him always and continues to carry him through whatever chaos appears on his path.  In verse 13, Paul succinctly expresses the reason he is able to be content even as he exists on death row in his Roman imprisonment.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13 NRSV

When I remind myself in the experience of fear and trembling of the insight of Paul, and I claim my own relationship with God through Christ, which was the central teaching of Jesus to all of His followers, peace and hope replace the worry and weakness.  I feel nothing but gratitude for hearing the Father’s voice and feeling His smile, and a familiar whisper is heard, “Gotcha covered, Bill.”

Let’s keep on moving—more blessing ahead.  Rejoicing comes naturally in such moments.  Next time you hit a tough patch on your journey, find a little silence and let Philippians 4:13 be God’s presence and whisper to you.  That’s been its purpose from the moment Paul wrote it.

The Lord is our shepherd…We’re covered…Whatever happens…Rejoice and trust Him.

Bill

Grateful

catholic church altar.jpg

Life is full of “unchosen journeys” and the fact that they are unchosen brings with them a definite measure of chaos.  Any unplanned detour sets in motion anxiety, frustration and discomfort.  Jesus said as much, in teaching His disciples in preparation for a major unchosen journey—unchosen by the disciples.  He said categorically…

“In the world you have tribulation…”  John 16:33 NASB

Since my stroke nine years ago, we have experienced that unchosen journey into chaos.  I have learned much from that time on detour.  As I have tried to journal my thoughts through this trip, I continue to realize that from this journey, I have learned much about prayer which had been previously left undeveloped.  My prayer life from the very beginning of the chaos was binary in nature.  I asked God for two things.  First, I wanted His help in understanding what had happened to me and secondly, I asked His help in directing me as to what I could do in the midst of the difficulties of the detour.  My bottom line request became not simply to remove the problem detour, but to lead me in the covering of His will.  My perceived answer from the Father was, “And we will need to do that together.”

I now know that prayer is not as much talking to God as it is dwelling with the Father in Christ.  It is cultivating my relationship with Him on a depth level.  Any relationship is improved when the two participants understand their roles in sustaining the relationship.  I have learned that the Father’s role in our relationship is to direct my journey, and my role is to follow His direction.  I have discovered that obeying His commands has become a way of loving God back for the love He has extended to me by being willing to direct my path.  I resonate with the sentiments of Jesus Who said,

“So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.”  John 14:31 NASB

Because this prayer communion has become my life-connection, I am always seeking the Father’s orders.

I have found in my military experience that the key to effectiveness in the chaos of battle is clarity of the orders and fullness of obedience.  So, in my Bible study, I search for action verbs in the imperative voice which is a parsing used in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament.

In the New Testament, two-thirds of which was written by the Apostle Paul, I have found that Paul sought in his own relationship with God to be commanded and to be obediently situated in the Father’s will.  In Paul’s writings, he instructed other followers of Jesus in the same process.

One of my favorite writings of Paul is his letter to the church at Thessalonica.  Paul was the founding pastor of that church and 1 Thessalonians is his earliest canonical book which he wrote to the church that was experiencing a great deal of tribulation—another example of “unchosen journeys.”  As he comes close to the close of his letter, he summarizes how to find and live in the will of God in the midst of chaos with these words,

“Rejoice always; Pray without ceasing; In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB

There are three clear imperatives Paul uses here and they all go together to be able to do any one of them.  I have found that the third imperative may be the most crucial of all three.  At least it has been that way for me.  “In everything give thanks.” 

How is it possible to give thanks when things are not going as expected or desired?  How does one give thanks when he doesn’t feel very grateful?  I have learned that in any and every circumstance there are valid reasons to express gratefulness to God.  Number one is because God’s name is ‘God is with us.’  He does not leave us alone to try to find our way out of the mess.  Instead, He is with us and loves to transform messes into masterpieces as we journey together.  So, we can always be thankful for His presence and secondly, we can always be thankful for His victorious love through Jesus’ sacrificial atoning death on the cross.  Because of that sacrifice, we can all always know that our sins are forgiven and will not separate us from the Father’s love.  And nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from that love.  The Greek verb in the imperative Paul uses here in verse 18 is eucharisteite.  It is the word which the English word, eucharist, comes from.  The Eucharist is the central event of the mass for Roman Catholics as it focuses on what God did through Christ on the cross for us.

When I was a boy going to mass with my father, I would gaze for long times at the statue of Jesus on the cross behind the altar in the church.  Now, when I contemplate this image, I see my Savior with arms extended upward and outward in love for all of us and my heart melts into gratitude. I understand more clearly what Paul meant as he taught that the road through chaos and tribulation is the road of gratitude.  I also believe that Jesus was choosing that road of gratitude as He gave His life that we might discover how God can and will transform detours into destiny for all who choose, as Jesus did, to live in the will of God.

In all things let us give thanks,

Hang in there,

Grateful Bill

Ready for the Day

jazz funeral procession

It’s Wednesday morning.  Linda and I are in Florida visiting one of our daughters and her four children.  Our first assignment for the day is to transport our elementary school grandchildren to school.  As I sat in the car during that drive and listened to the sounds of our grandkids, I found my mind flashing back to the times I had the privilege of dedicating each one of them to God and I breathed a prayer to the Father for His guidance in Nana and Papa’s lives which could please God and help guide our beloved grandkids in His paths for their lives.

I was quickly reminded that I had used one particular scripture in the dedications of all of my grandchildren—it is Psalm 118:24—

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” NASB

Psalm 118 is a song of ascents.  King David wrote it for the congregation to use as they gathered in procession and walked into the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was used antiphonally. The worship leader would initiate the worship with the words, “This is the day the Lord has made,” after which the congregation would respond with “let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

A couple of years ago, I had taught that responsive beginning to the kids who were gathered in the backseat this morning.  So, I reminded them of that little Bible study I had done with them and invited them to join with me in starting our day that way together.  I called out the first part, and their voices joined together harmoniously, almost as a cheer, saying, “let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  I smiled because they had used, without even knowing, the accurate translation of the Hebrew text which uses the imperative voice of the verb rejoice.  It makes the point that rejoicing is presented as a command rather than a simple suggestion and therefore the response is a statement of obedience, anticipatory obedience, which includes excitement for the immediate future under God’s direction.

As we pulled up to the unloading awning and they began their disembarking ritual, I reminded them that rejoicing means looking for God’s little joy surprises in all they would do throughout the day.  I prepped them by asking them to tell me what the joy surprises were when we picked them up after school.

I have learned to use this biblical direction in my own journey through chaos, and it has always given me a sense of God’s directing presence and it is easy to be filled with gratitude from such an awareness.  So, I settled down after returning to the house with another look at the text of Psalm 118 and I discovered once again that David, under the inspiration of the Spirit, was calling for rejoicing with a background of chaos rather than a luxurious life of the Jamaican slogan “no problem, man.”

Rejoicing is God’s direction for partnering with Him in the midst of a world where evil is real, yet, is always conquered by His steadfast love.

The final verse of Psalm 118 is a shout of victory, praise and thanksgiving.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  Psalm 118:29 NASB

Jesus knew this so well, which enabled Him to endure the horrible suffering of the cross looking toward the joy surprise of the resurrection.

I grew up in New Orleans and remember vividly seeing jazz funeral processions through the streets of the French Quarter and hearing the song, “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the mourners celebrated the ultimate joy surprise of eternal life for their loved one because of what Jesus did for all of us. I have learned that God is always ahead of us and can’t wait to see us celebrate when we find His prepared joy surprises.

So, here we go, “This is the day the Lord has made…”  Now, it’s your turn…live every step in joy.

Blessings,

Bill

After the Earthquake

**Originally posted on November 8, 2018, this blog was not posted on billelder.org due to a connection issue.  Some of my email subscribers may have missed it.  I’m sorry for the duplication.  Thanks for reading.

earthquake rubble

 

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” 

Sometimes life in this world looks like the aftermath of an earthquake, an overwhelming mess of destruction and rubble.  It’s a crisis time meaning a time for a decision.  What should be the attitude of a survivor as he contemplates how to move forward after such a loss and with nothing to work with but a huge mess?  Oftentimes, that’s where the seeds of despair and depression are sown.

There was a time when Jesus saw such an earthquake coming.  Out of love and concern for His friends and disciples, He tried to prepare them for the anguish and agony which was coming as the suffering and disgrace of execution by crucifixion drew near.  I have found that the insights He shared through this preparatory instruction has helped me greatly.

In my own journey, I have imagined that this lesson may have been taught in a rubble-evident area of which there were many in and around Jerusalem because of the many invasions and destructions that the city had experienced.  Jesus’ first words were an imperative, an order, not a suggestion.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled!  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  John 14: 1 NRSV

My seminary professor of New Testament called my attention to Jesus’ phrase, “in my Father’s house,” used here as a metaphor for all of creation and its experiences in addition to the image of heaven itself.  I can see Jesus raising His hand and arm in a gesture of the panoramic landscape and calling it “my Father’s house,” rubble and all.

The message Jesus wanted to communicate was that whatever happens to us God can work with it and creatively build structures for new beginnings and that Jesus, Who was called the logos, the creating Genius, through which God created the world to begin with (John 1:1), would be His instrument of re-creation.

Jesus wanted His followers to know that He was already preparing dwelling places, new homes, for them in which they could abide with Him in this rubble-ridden world and they would together abound throughout this life and into the life beyond in heaven.  What an amazing hopeful visionary promise for us to trust and count on.

No matter what happens, we can anticipate our Lord’s presence and production of real dwelling places in this real word, to be together with Christ and to continue following His lead into His gift of meaningful and joy-filled futures.

When we live with that sense of newness and expectation in receiving God’s limitless creativity, it becomes possible to carry out Jesus’ order to reject the temptation to allow our feelings of disappointment and worry to determine our handling of earthquakes which are part of life in our messy world.

In England when someone moves into a new apartment or flat, it is referred to as enjoying his “new digs.”  The 23rd Psalm expresses a similar kind of anticipatory joy that comes from knowing the Lord as one’s Shepherd.  It ends with this hopeful celebratory exclamation—

“Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23:6

So, let not your hearts be troubled and enjoy your “new digs.”

Bill

“How Ya Doin’?”

jesus washing disciples feet.jpg

 

I have learned from my journey through chaos when asked that question to answer, “Just grateful.”  I say that to remind myself that I have discovered that the right path to seek through the chaos is always the path of gratitude.  I have learned that God prepares the way for us by placing in our path little joy surprises.  It brings Him great joy to see His children find and receive His joy surprises, thus, I am truly ‘just grateful’ for the journey following Jesus.

I am also truly grateful for the many lessons on life He has taught and continues to teach me on this journey.  The number one discovery I have made which has become a major key in my life is that the steadfast life is the life of faith.  Steadfast means according to the Bible to keep moving forward little by little, step by step, never stopping, never quitting, without veering off onto some other path.

In the New Testament which was written in Greek, the word for steadfastness is hupomonè.  It is made up of two Greek words.  Hupo means ‘by’ and monè is from the verb meaning ‘to remain.’  When they come together they convey the meaning of ‘remaining by’ the One Whom we follow, the living presence of Jesus, Himself.

I am ‘just grateful’ to know that my faith, which makes possible the experience of Jesus’ gift of abundant and eternal life, grows when I seek to be steadfast.

The next most helpful learning for me has been God’s clarification on how to keep on keeping on.  I have found that to be steadfast, I must be able to defeat the temptations of the evil one.  I have learned that his favorite approach to taking me down is the attraction to self-exaltation, therefore the defensive movement—just like hand-to-hand combat—for defeating his attack is to get rid of the cravings for self-exaltation we have as human beings and replace them with actions that healthily nourishes our faith.  Jesus, Himself, worked on these disciplines and being in a covenant relationship with Him gives us His spirit to empower this maneuver.

In the 1st century church when people presented themselves for baptism as a covenant-making act in becoming a disciple following Jesus, the community of believers would sing a baptismal hymn.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross, therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Philippians 2:5-11 NRSV

One of Jesus disciples was the Apostle Peter who had to learn a lot about following Jesus into humility and away from self-exaltation.  This was a key learning for Peter who sought to teach the same lesson to the church which was being persecuted by the evil emperor, Nero.  Peter wrote in the midst of this persecution,

“Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt you in due time…discipline yourselves, keep alert.  Like a roaring lion, your adversary, the devil, prowls around, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” 1Peter 5:6-9 NRSV

Therefore, the lesson is that we must get rid of our cravings for self-exaltation, replacing them with 1. obedience, 2. servanthood and 3. exalting God ourselves in worship and obedience.

In Genesis 3, we read about how evil tempts people.  It is at the point of self-exaltation.  After God had given so much to the first couple and entrusted to them the roll of responsible dominion over His creation, He commanded them not to eat from only one of the many allowable fruit trees in the garden.  It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which is an Hebraic poetic way of saying the ‘knowledge of everything’ which was an attribute only of God.  It was a way of warning them not to try to make themselves God for themselves, thereby giving in to the temptation of self-exaltation, which is precisely the type of temptation attack the evil one brought on them.  The voice of evil sought to persuade them to doubt God’s love and veracity and we are told that they chose not to obey God, but gave in to the temptation of self-exaltation which is considered the great Fall of humanity—this same decision has been made by human beings ever since except for One, Jesus Himself.

After His baptism, Jesus went into the desert to confront evil and we read in Matthew 4 that the evil one came at Jesus with the same tactic of self-exaltation.  Self-exaltation means to lift up for praise and applause.  All three of his temptations appealed to Jesus at the point of self-exaltation:  turning stones into bread, jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple and compromising with evil for a shortcut to power over people.

Jesus rejected every thrust with a quote of scripture from the book of Deuteronomy whose theme is obedience and expressing exaltation for God.  The evil one failed because of the choices Jesus made in each case to trust and obey the Father.  And this explains the power and wisdom Jesus displayed throughout His life, even through the cross itself.  Jesus chose to remain in the disgrace and physical suffering of the cross and He rejected all cravings for self-exaltation, awaiting the Father’s lifting Him up in due time.  The Greek behind the translation ‘in due time’ (1 Peter 5:7) is one word, kairos.  It is a word for ‘time’ which means the intention of God for the moment not the quantity of time on a clock.  It means at the perfect time.

No wonder the very last words Jesus struggled to shout in His weakened state were, “It is perfect!”  That is a cry of victory, not ceasing or quitting, a cry of steadfastness.

I am ‘just grateful’ to be learning how His victory can become a daily experience for me as I seek to follow Him with the help of His own Spirit into obedience and servanthood.  When I choose that route, I do much better at finding God’s joy surprises on the battlefield of life.  Knowing and applying these learnings are moment by moment challenges, but have made all the difference as I seek to experience the steadfast life.

As I look back over my journey through chaos, I can truly say when asked, “How ya doin’?”, my answer is, “Just grateful.”

How ya doin’?

Bill

Stand Firm (previously published on 12.13.17

Stand Firm

bulldog

 

As you probably know, in my Bible study, I am always searching for imperatives or commands for living the life of faith in partnership and obedience with the Father which produces the living righteousness which Jesus ordered all of His disciples to constantly seek.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added as well.”  Matthew 6:33 NASB

Well, I found an imperative recently and I want to share it with you.  It was written by the Apostle Paul, who had discovered the joyful security of God in obeying God’s directions.  He was writing a letter to the mission-strategic church in Corinth which was having real problems making progress in the Christian faith for lack of paying attention to God’s call to righteousness which means abiding by God’s instructions and commands.  So, Paul was writing to share the basic foundational principles of the Christian faith and in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he spends the entire chapter focusing on the heart and cornerstone of Christianity.

New Testament scholars point to this chapter as the essential building block, the kerygma, Greek for ‘the message,’ of the entire faith and the main message to be proclaimed throughout Christendom—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In the very next chapter, he continues to build on the resurrection.  He offers a direction as to the kind of life which should accompany the understanding of the meaning of the resurrection.

“Be on your guard,” [Paul reminds his readers that even though the victory of the resurrection has already occurred, people of faith still must be aware that evil is still present in the world and that they live on a battlefield where there is constant chaos.]

Paul follows this imperative with another one…

“Stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.  Do everything in love.”[The word for love which Paul uses is agape, which is the strongest weapon that can be used against the evil one and his forces.  The verb used in the imperative mood is stekete.  So, I went to work doing a research word study.  My conclusion is that stekete is the command for how to handle times when we run into opposition and tribulation of any form. I believe it calls people of faith, regardless of the obstacles placed in their path by the evil one, to: stick to your mission until ‘mission impossible’ becomes ‘mission accomplished.’

My grandmother, whom I nicknamed at the age of two, Moo-Moo, taught her grandsons many things, always emphasizing the essential virtues of the Christian life.  She did not know Greek and Hebrew, but she had profound insight to the meaning of biblical revelation.  She would often make up her own words.  One of the instructional virtue words I recall from Moo-Moo was “stick-to-i-tive-ness.”  I think I know what she was talking about because she lived it—she demonstrated it constantly.  She was knocked down in many ways, but she never gave up.  She always got up and kept moving forward which I believe is at the heart of what it means to stand firm.

As I thought about where else I saw this virtue demonstrated, I remembered a true story about Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain.  Mr. Churchill was invited to speak at a commencement service for a very elite prep school from which he had graduated.  He took his seat on the stage and presented his familiar oversized bulldog-like visage as he sat and awaited his time to address the graduating students.  When his time came, with great effort he put both arms on the armrest and with the grimacw of a weightlifter, pushed his bulky frame to a standing position and pivoted toward center stage where the podium was prepared with a microphone. Then dramatically, but ever so slowly, he moved to the podium.  He lowered his head to maximize the assistance of the microphone and whispered with his sonorous, but clear tone the shortest commencement speech ever given.  Just five words—“Never, never, never give up!”  With that, he had completed and demonstrated his mission.

It’s Christmastime and I was studying and meditating on the nativity story.  It begins as a story of two teenagers—a boy named Joseph and a girl named Mary.  Their backstory was quite similar.  They lived in Israel and were both raised by religious Jewish parents. They attended Sabbath services every week where they were taught the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy—the Law) by rabbis. They were at the age of considering getting married and they fell in love.  They knew and believed that according to Genesis 2:24 that marriage was God’s idea and that it was intended to be a three-party covenant between a man and a woman under God’s authority.  They knew and believed that God had designed that covenant to be made and expressed in the context of coming together (the two becoming one) and that that sacred covenant commitment was to be saved for the beginning of marriage.  In their religious and cultural context, there was to be a betrothal (engagement) period which carried with it the same commitment to sexual abstinence.  They had both been faithful to this premarital teaching in looking forward to the beginning of their actual marriage experience.  Jewish teaching was that during the betrothal period, their future marriage would be valued and supported by remaining abstinent.

Mary had a visitation by the angel Gabriel who shared God’s mission proposal which would involve her becoming the mother of God’s Messiah.  As a Jewish girl, she had been taught about the Messiah’s coming one day, but she never imagined her own participation in that mission and she was still a virgin at that point.  While the idea of such a mission was humbling and amazing, it was also problematic and disturbing.  It would be less complicated if she simply declined the possibility and settled down into the ordinary path leading to their nuptials.  But, Mary meditated and pondered and eventually chose to believe the possibility of a miracle conception through God’s Holy Spirit.  Thus, she continued on with their betrothal.  One can only imagine the shock for Joseph when he learned that Mary was pregnant.

In Matthew1:19, we are told that,

“And Joseph, her husband [during the betrothal period, the bride and groom were to abide by their covenant commitments even in advance of the wedding] being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” [out of compassion and love, Joseph, like Mary, stood firm and stuck to the mission in front of them even though it surely seemed impossible, yet because of their faithful obedience and sticking to it, it would one day become ‘mission accomplished,’ so, they pressed on.]

The gospel of Luke adds a brief picture of their standing firm together.

“Now in those days a decree when out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.  This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.  Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.”

Just imagine the hassle they were feeling, let alone the fact that neither of them had ever been through or had any training in birthing a child.  It would have been easier to simply opt out of the whole administrative necessity they were enduring at such a sensitive time, but they stuck to their ‘mission impossible.’

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped Him in cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:1-7 NASB

‘Mission impossible’ is becoming ‘mission accomplished.’

When Moses was carrying out his God-given mission to liberate the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, he constantly came to the point of deciding whether to stand firm and press on or give up his ‘mission impossible.’  In every case, he chose to stand firm and count on God for the results.  When the Pharaoh finally acquiesced, and let the slaves go, for a moment it looked like ‘mission accomplished’ was near, but then the Pharaoh changed his mind and tried to catch up with the departing mass of Israelites who were standing at the edge of the Red Sea.  Behind them were the Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers and in front of them was the threat of a watery grave.  What now?!  The people were panicking, frustrated, and even angry.

“As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so, the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord.  Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt you have taken us away to die in Egypt?  Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word we spoke to you in Egypt saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians.?’  For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”  Exodus 14:11-12 NASB

“Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…”Exodus 14:13 NIV

Because Moses chose to obey God’s imperative to stand firm, moving forward with bulldog stability and persistence, their ‘mission impossible’ became the miracle of ‘mission accomplished.’  So, in the nativity of Jesus and in the exodus of Israel, we see the faith journey which requires sticking to the mission.

Jesus Himself demonstrated this faithful choice time and time again.  It was why He chose to continue on and not be dissuaded from God’s plan for the redemption of humanity and insisted on going to Jerusalem knowing that the cross lay before Him. And even on the cross I believe Jesus recalled this stand firm faith principle and embraced it.  Jesus was nurtured in the Psalms and on the cross quoted Psalm 22 building on the heritage of faith He had as a son of David Himself.

King David had also found this faith principle and his success as the gold standard king of Israel is linked to this standing firm principle.  David wrote from this experience in Psalm 40 about how God sustains His servants who choose to be obedient in standing firm.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry, He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay.  And He set my feet upon a Rock, making my footsteps firm.”  Psalm 40:1-2 NASB

Just imagine what marriage and parenting could be if people would choose to stand firm and stick to it until their ‘mission impossible’ becomes ‘mission accomplished.’  I leave you with the last words of Jesus as He died while seeing the miracle coming, but not quite there yet, “It is complete!”  John 19:30 (My translation from the Greek text.)

So, this Christmas, let’s remember that we are the children of so many people of faith, children of God who chose to stand firm rather than to back off or give up.  Back to a favorite imperative, stekete!

A word from Jesus, “With God all things are possible.” Stekete,

Bill

Stand Firm

bulldog

 

As you probably know, in my Bible study, I am always searching for imperatives or commands for living the life of faith in partnership and obedience with the Father which produces the living righteousness which Jesus ordered all of His disciples to constantly seek.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added as well.”  Matthew 6:33 NASB

Well, I found an imperative recently and I want to share it with you.  It was written by the Apostle Paul, who had discovered the joyful security of God in obeying God’s directions.  He was writing a letter to the mission-strategic church in Corinth which was having real problems making progress in the Christian faith for lack of paying attention to God’s call to righteousness which means abiding by God’s instructions and commands.  So, Paul was writing to share the basic foundational principles of the Christian faith and in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he spends the entire chapter focusing on the heart and cornerstone of Christianity.

New Testament scholars point to this chapter as the essential building block, the kerygma, Greek for ‘the message,’ of the entire faith and the main message to be proclaimed throughout Christendom—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In the very next chapter, he continues to build on the resurrection.  He offers a direction as to the kind of life which should accompany the understanding of the meaning of the resurrection.

“Be on your guard,” [Paul reminds his readers that even though the victory of the resurrection has already occurred, people of faith still must be aware that evil is still present in the world and that they live on a battlefield where there is constant chaos.]

Paul follows this imperative with another one…

“Stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.  Do everything in love.” [The word for love which Paul uses is agape, which is the strongest weapon that can be used against the evil one and his forces.  The verb used in the imperative mood is stekete.  So, I went to work doing a research word study.  My conclusion is that stekete is the command for how to handle times when we run into opposition and tribulation of any form. I believe it calls people of faith, regardless of the obstacles placed in their path by the evil one, to: stick to your mission until ‘mission impossible’ becomes ‘mission accomplished.’

My grandmother, whom I nicknamed at the age of two, Moo-Moo, taught her grandsons many things, always emphasizing the essential virtues of the Christian life.  She did not know Greek and Hebrew, but she had profound insight to the meaning of biblical revelation.  She would often make up her own words.  One of the instructional virtue words I recall from Moo-Moo was “stick-to-i-tive-ness.”  I think I know what she was talking about because she lived it—she demonstrated it constantly.  She was knocked down in many ways, but she never gave up.  She always got up and kept moving forward which I believe is at the heart of what it means to stand firm.

As I thought about where else I saw this virtue demonstrated, I remembered a true story about Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain.  Mr. Churchill was invited to speak at a commencement service for a very elite prep school from which he had graduated.  He took his seat on the stage and presented his familiar oversized bulldog-like visage as he sat and awaited his time to address the graduating students.  When his time came, with great effort he put both arms on the armrest and with the grimacw of a weightlifter, pushed his bulky frame to a standing position and pivoted toward center stage where the podium was prepared with a microphone. Then dramatically, but ever so slowly, he moved to the podium.  He lowered his head to maximize the assistance of the microphone and whispered with his sonorous, but clear tone the shortest commencement speech ever given.  Just five words—“Never, never, never give up!”  With that, he had completed and demonstrated his mission.

It’s Christmastime and I was studying and meditating on the nativity story.  It begins as a story of two teenagers—a boy named Joseph and a girl named Mary.  Their backstory was quite similar.  They lived in Israel and were both raised by religious Jewish parents. They attended Sabbath services every week where they were taught the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy—the Law) by rabbis. They were at the age of considering getting married and they fell in love.  They knew and believed that according to Genesis 2:24 that marriage was God’s idea and that it was intended to be a three-party covenant between a man and a woman under God’s authority.  They knew and believed that God had designed that covenant to be made and expressed in the context of coming together (the two becoming one) and that that sacred covenant commitment was to be saved for the beginning of marriage.  In their religious and cultural context, there was to be a betrothal (engagement) period which carried with it the same commitment to sexual abstinence.  They had both been faithful to this premarital teaching in looking forward to the beginning of their actual marriage experience.  Jewish teaching was that during the betrothal period, their future marriage would be valued and supported by remaining abstinent.

Mary had a visitation by the angel Gabriel who shared God’s mission proposal which would involve her becoming the mother of God’s Messiah.  As a Jewish girl, she had been taught about the Messiah’s coming one day, but she never imagined her own participation in that mission and she was still a virgin at that point.  While the idea of such a mission was humbling and amazing, it was also problematic and disturbing.  It would be less complicated if she simply declined the possibility and settled down into the ordinary path leading to their nuptials.  But, Mary meditated and pondered and eventually chose to believe the possibility of a miracle conception through God’s Holy Spirit.  Thus, she continued on with their betrothal.  One can only imagine the shock for Joseph when he learned that Mary was pregnant.

In Matthew1:19, we are told that,

“And Joseph, her husband [during the betrothal period, the bride and groom were to abide by their covenant commitments even in advance of the wedding] being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” [out of compassion and love, Joseph, like Mary, stood firm and stuck to the mission in front of them even though it surely seemed impossible, yet because of their faithful obedience and sticking to it, it would one day become ‘mission accomplished,’ so, they pressed on.]

The gospel of Luke adds a brief picture of their standing firm together.

“Now in those days a decree when out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.  This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.  Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.”

Just imagine the hassle they were feeling, let alone the fact that neither of them had ever been through or had any training in birthing a child.  It would have been easier to simply opt out of the whole administrative necessity they were enduring at such a sensitive time, but they stuck to their ‘mission impossible.’

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped Him in cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:1-7 NASB

‘Mission impossible’ is becoming ‘mission accomplished.’

When Moses was carrying out his God-given mission to liberate the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, he constantly came to the point of deciding whether to stand firm and press on or give up his ‘mission impossible.’  In every case, he chose to stand firm and count on God for the results.  When the Pharaoh finally acquiesced, and let the slaves go, for a moment it looked like ‘mission accomplished’ was near, but then the Pharaoh changed his mind and tried to catch up with the departing mass of Israelites who were standing at the edge of the Red Sea.  Behind them were the Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers and in front of them was the threat of a watery grave.  What now?!  The people were panicking, frustrated, and even angry.

“As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so, the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord.  Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt you have taken us away to die in Egypt?  Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word we spoke to you in Egypt saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians.?’  For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”  Exodus 14:11-12 NASB

“Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…”Exodus 14:13 NIV

Because Moses chose to obey God’s imperative to stand firm, moving forward with bulldog stability and persistence, their ‘mission impossible’ became the miracle of ‘mission accomplished.’  So, in the nativity of Jesus and in the exodus of Israel, we see the faith journey which requires sticking to the mission.

Jesus Himself demonstrated this faithful choice time and time again.  It was why He chose to continue on and not be dissuaded from God’s plan for the redemption of humanity and insisted on going to Jerusalem knowing that the cross lay before Him. And even on the cross I believe Jesus recalled this stand firm faith principle and embraced it.  Jesus was nurtured in the Psalms and on the cross quoted Psalm 22 building on the heritage of faith He had as a son of David Himself.

King David had also found this faith principle and his success as the gold standard king of Israel is linked to this standing firm principle.  David wrote from this experience in Psalm 40 about how God sustains His servants who choose to be obedient in standing firm.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry, He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay.  And He set my feet upon a Rock, making my footsteps firm.”  Psalm 40:1-2 NASB

Just imagine what marriage and parenting could be if people would choose to stand firm and stick to it until their ‘mission impossible’ becomes ‘mission accomplished.’  I leave you with the last words of Jesus as He died while seeing the miracle coming, but not quite there yet, “It is complete!”  John 19:30 (My translation from the Greek text.)

So, this Christmas, let’s remember that we are the children of so many people of faith, children of God who chose to stand firm rather than to back off or give up.  Back to a favorite imperative, stekete!

A word from Jesus, “With God all things are possible.” Stekete,

Bill