Sermon on the Mount #2

Last week was the first installment in our series that will take us through the Sermon on the Mount. Pastor John set the scene and began to share with us what Jesus taught about what living in the kingdom looks like. If you missed our post from last week, it may be helpful to go back and read it before we dive into the remaining six beatitudes–you can do that here: Sermon on the Mount #1.

Pastor John told us last week–and shared with us again on Sunday–that in this famous sermon, and specifically the Beatitudes, Jesus is telling his followers how to be in the world. We covered the first three:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

(Matthew 5:3-5, NIV)

We pick up this week right where we left off. In the fourth of nine beatitudes, Jesus tells us:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

(Matthew 5:6, NIV)

Pastor John told us that this beatitude has to do with putting God and his kingdom first in our hearts, that it means being “rightly related” to God. When we see the word righteousness, our minds naturally take us somewhere other than where the verse intends for us to go. For a more complete understanding of what this verse communicates, it is helpful to see it in another translation and take a deeper look into what it means.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.

(Matthew 5:6, NLT)

Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation titled, “Blessed are Those Who Hunger for Justice,” (February 2018) writes:

“This Beatitude is surely both spiritual and social. Most Bibles to this day soften this Beatitude: “hunger and thirst for what is right” or “for righteousness” are the more common faulty translations. But the word in Greek clearly means “justice”. . .”

The word Rohr writes about is the Greek word dikaiosynē, derived from the root word dikē, which means “equitable, just.” There are many occurrences of the word righteousness in our English translations of the Bible that originally meant justice, equity–which is a fuller understanding of exactly what Pastor John talked about: being rightly related to God, which will always include being rightly related to all others. Rohr’s meditation continues:

My friend John Dear, who has spent his life in the struggle against the injustice of violence, writes about this Beatitude:

Righteousness is not just the private practice of doing good; it sums up the global responsibility of the human community to make sure every human being has what they need, that everyone pursues a fair sense of justice for every other human being, and that everyone lives in right relationship with one another, creation, and God.

. . . Jesus instructs us to be passionate for social, economic, and racial justice. That’s the real meaning of the Hebrew word for justice and the Jewish insistence on it. Resist systemic, structured, institutionalized injustice with every bone in your body, with all your might, with your very soul, he teaches. Seek justice as if it were your food and drink, your bread and water, as if it were a matter of life and death, which it is. . . . Within our relationship to the God of justice and peace, those who give their lives to that struggle, Jesus promises, will be satisfied. . .”

The next verse reads:

“How satisfied you are when you demonstrate tender mercy! For tender mercy will be demonstrated to you.” (5:7, TPT)

The word mercy, according to Strong’s definition, means to be compassionate, with the help of divine grace; to desire to help another who is afflicted. It is more than a feeling. It includes action because, as we’ve written about before, compassion is co-suffering with another. It is a visceral, from-the-depths-of-our-guts response. It is empathy that comes alongside another. As Pastor John shared, mercy is moving toward all those who may be far away, with the same mercy we have received from our Jesus who always moves toward us. In Jesus’ kingdom, we don’t push people away. Withholding mercy is not–and has never been–a kingdom principle. We honor the inherent dignity and worth in all others rather than judging them, because this is what we ourselves have experienced from our loving God.

Following mercy, Jesus tells his listeners about the importance of being pure in heart. The Message paraphrases it this way:

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” (5:8, MSG)

I love this particular wording of this beatitude. It communicates the importance of wholeheartedness to readers who may find it all too easy and comfortable to live a duplicitous life. When our minds and hearts are set right, undivided, wholly focused on the One we worship, we’ll see God everywhere. What is alive within us we will see all around us, as we live committed to following the voice of Jesus.

“Blessed [spiritually calm with life-joy in God’s favor] are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they will [express His character and] be called the sons of God.”

(5:9, AMP)

The Amplified Bible really captures what this seventh beatitude means. We often read in more familiar translations, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” In this translation, we read that it is the makers and maintainers of peace who are blessed, for in working for peace, they express the character of Jesus himself, who is the embodiment of peace. Pastor John referred to one of my favorite verses when he reached this point in his sermon. It is Ephesians 2:14, and it reads,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… (emphasis mine)

I have loved this verse for a long time, because in it we find that peace isn’t an elusive feeling or state of mind to chase after. Peace–the Shalom that brings wholeness, equity, and completeness–is a person. The person of Jesus. If we know him, we know peace, peace lives within us, peace is part of who we are. And then we, as we become more and more like the one we follow, become makers and maintainers of that same kind of peace.

Jesus brought all of humanity into the fold. His Shalom breaks down barriers and erases divisions. He did it when he walked the earth, and he is doing it still. It is a kingdom value to connect with one another as equals–equally dependent on the vine that sustains  every branch, each of us. There is no room for hostility, for “us vs. them” mindsets, for attitudes of superiority in the kingdom Jesus brought to earth. Instead of adding to conflict, chaos, and confusion, we are invited to engage in the process of making and maintaining peace–with everyone.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.” (5:10, MSG)

“Blessed [morally courageous and spiritually alive with life-joy in God’s goodness] are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of [your association with] Me. Be glad and exceedingly joyful, for your reward in heaven is great [absolutely inexhaustible]; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (5:11-12, AMP)

The eighth and ninth beatitude are similar, but not the same. Verse 10 relates to verse 6. The persecution the eighth beatitude speaks of is the persecution we face when we work for equity and justice, when we seek to bring the kingdom and its values to all people. Verses 11-12 speak to a more general persecution, the kind that may come simply because we love Jesus and follow his ways.

As Pastor John shared on Sunday, what Jesus is saying in these verses is radical–then, and now. He is flipping the script on what it means to be called blessed. He is elevating the leasts and the lasts, and calling the firsts and the greatest to lives of service and humility. He offers points of connection in these nine kingdom principles–ways to bring equity to unjust systems, structures, and mindsets. Just as many did not take kindly to his words then, many of us may not want to take them at face value now. John articulated the struggle with these words:

“God says through Jesus on the sermon on the mount:

GOD SAYS, Blessed are the poor in Spirit… BUT WE SAY, blessed are the rich.

God says, Blessed are those who mourn. But we say, blessed are the self satisfied.

God says, Blessed are the meek. But we say blessed are the aggressors.

God says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. But we say, blessed are the self fulfilled.

God says, Blessed are the merciful… But we say, blessed are the manipulators.

God says, Blessed are the pure in heart… But we say, blessed are the extreme.

God says, Blessed are the peacemakers… But we say, blessed are the powerful.

God says, Blessed are those who are persecuted… But we say, blessed are those who play it safe.

God says we are blessed when we are persecuted because of him… But we say blessed are those who are not persecuted at all.”

He’s right, isn’t he? We do tend to bless the opposite of what God calls blessed. Many of us are used to being comfortable. Our lives are full of good things, things we label as “blessing” or “favor” from God. Even though we all face hardships, if we can read and write these words and access this blog online, we are among the world’s most privileged. That means that we don’t naturally fit into the categories of the blessed that Jesus speaks of in this sermon. But we can be… Luanne wrote last week,

“God gives us the opportunity to set aside our privilege, or leverage our privilege for the sake of others like Jesus did. We are invited to humble ourselves, stop clinging to or grasping what we have, admit our complete and total reliance on God acknowledging that all we have belongs to him (including our very lives) for the sake of the reign of God and the advancement of his kingdom on earth. “This total reliance upon God is the doorway into the kingdom realm.”

Jesus came to even the ground for each one who bears his image–that’s all of us. Every single human being. It feels like that comes at a great cost to those of us who have more. But it is actually an opportunity to more fully identify with Jesus and embody his nature, if we’re willing to embrace his ways. This sermon pushes back against the kingdoms we build that revolve around ourselves and invites us to join him in his kingdom of self-emptying love, where everyone has a seat at the table and no one is elevated above another. It is a kingdom where no one has too little and no one has too much, where we recognize value and worth as inherent to each one as children created and formed in the image of God. It is a kingdom where barriers are broken and flourishing is the result; where conflict finds its end in connection and brokenness is the doorway to wholeness. This is the way of Jesus–

The question is: Do we really want to live like this?

–Laura

In the Old Testament, after God delivered the Israelites from slavery, Moses (their leader), went up on a mountain and received the Ten Commandments from God. These commandments were to be the behaviors that identified God’s people as being different from the nations around them. They were intended to be so different (in a good way) that they would draw those nations to God. Moses received these commandments, came down the mountain and shared them with the people. If we read the commandments with the right heart, we will see that they are all about loving God and loving others. Don’t hold anything else in your life above God, don’t worship anything other than God, don’t misuse God’s name, honor God (and yourself) by having a healthy work/rest balance, honor your parents, don’t kill people, don’t cheat on people, don’t steal from people, don’t lie about people, don’t covet what someone else has. The core message of the commandments is how to live righteously– in right relationship with God and others; however, they became flat rules to follow and were/are used for comparison, exclusion, and oppression.

Quite a few centuries later, God, clothed in flesh, goes up on a mountain and sits down to teach those willing to learn about being. Jesus teaches that the attitudes and behaviors of God’s kingdom people will be formed from the inside out.  The beatitudes are a radical departure from the ways of the world and the common ways of being human.

If we recall what was happening during the time of Jesus’ earthly life, he was born into a people group oppressed by Rome. Rome ruled with power, conquest and violence. They mistreated people just because they could.  And, within Jesus’ own people group, the religious system had also become one of oppression. The religious leaders tried to legislate morality and monitor people’s choices and behaviors. They were the self-appointed gatekeepers who determined who was acceptable to God and who wasn’t; they weren’t afraid to use their power to resort to violence.

Into this environment the Sermon on the Mount is spoken. Jesus, the true Messiah, the King of kings, the Prince of peace, teaches what his kingdom on earth is to look like. It is the antithesis of worldly power, oppression, violence, and force. In referring to the Sermon on the Mount, Brian Zahnd writes in his book Water to Wine: “Unlike all other political agendas, the supreme value of the politics of Jesus is not power but love…..The kingdom of God persuades by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need by, martyrdom–but never by force. ….In the politics of Jesus the world will be changed by non-coercive love or not at all.”  

As we move through this sermon over the next few months, we will see Jesus mention some behaviors, but he begins the whole thing by saying–this is how my followers are to be. The “being” comes before the “behaving”.  Our authentic behavior flows from our being.

It’s important to remember that each of the nine beatitudes are connected to the others. None of them is a stand-alone. When they were written, there were no chapters and verses. And, like the Old Testament commandments, the beatitudes are all about loving God and loving others.

Using The Passion Translation, I’m going to write the beatitudes out in reverse order. I chose that version because it’s translated from Aramaic rather than Greek. Its fresh perspective will keep us from skimming due to familiarity. I will include some of TPT’s  footnotes in parenthesis. Consider reading it through one time without paying attention to what’s in parenthesis, and then a second time including the parenthetical parts. This is how Jesus’ followers are to be:

How ecstatic you can be when people insult (criticize) and persecute you and speak all kinds of cruel lies about you because of your love for me! How enriched you are when you bear the wounds of being persecuted (rejected) for doing what is right (for the Righteous One)! For that is when you experience the realm of heaven’s kingdom. How blessed you are when you make peace! For then you will be recognized as a true child of God. What bliss you experience when your heart is pure (full of innocence)! For then your eyes will open to see more and more of God. How satisfied you are when you demonstrate tender mercy! For tender mercy will be demonstrated to you. (Mercy…comes from our innermost being. The [Aramaic] root word for “mercy” is the root word for “womb”.) How enriched you are when you crave righteousness (goodness, justice)! For you will be surrounded with fruitfulness. What blessing comes to you when gentleness lives in you (implies being both gentle and flexible)! For you will inherit the earth. What delight comes to you when you wait upon the Lord (The Hebrew word for “wait” and for “mourn” is almost identical.) For you will find what you long for. (The Aramaic is see the face of what (or who) you long for. The Greek is be comforted). What wealth is offered to you when you feel your spiritual poverty (humble and totally dependent upon God)! For there is no charge to enter the realm of heaven’s kingdom.

This morning, my devotional reading was in Acts 7 and was the account of the stoning of Stephen. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but recognize the beatitudes in Stephen’s story.  In Acts 6 we learn that Stephen was chosen to help in the ministry of distributing food to both Hellenistic and Hebraic widows There had been inequitable treatment between these two groups and a dispute had taken place. Stephen was chosen because he was  a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (6:5), and in verse 8 we learn he was a man full of God’s grace and power, [and] performed great wonders and signs among the people. 

Among the religious leaders, opposition rose against Stephen. They argued with him but could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke (6:10) So they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God” (6:11). They produced false witnesses...(6:13). 

While all this craziness was going on the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (6:15) . 

In Acts 7, Stephen is given the opportunity to defend himself, and he shares with the leaders their own history of persecuting the prophets and their role in murdering Jesus. The religious elite don’t like this message at all.  As the frenzy escalates, Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (7:55-56).  The religious leaders lost all self-control; they yelled at the top of their lungs, they rushed him, grabbed him, dragged him outside the city, and began to stone him. (57-59).

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (59-60). 

Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit, full of grace, full of wisdom, full of the power of God, falsely accused, brutally murdered, asks God to forgive his perpetrators, and dies.

What does this have to do with the beatitudes? Everything. We read Stephen’s story and are inspired by his faith–but do we want to be like him? I’m certainly not implying that there is any part of me that wants Stephen’s story (except for the wisdom, grace, and Holy Spirit part). But blessed are we when people falsely accuse us, persecute us, and  when we make peace, have a pure heart, demonstrate tender mercy, crave rightousness, act with gentleness, mourn (feel deeply for others), wait upon the Lord, and live in utter dependence upon God. All of that is demonstrated in Stephen’s story.

It’s sobering to realize just how very different the principles of God’s kingdom are from the the principles that we’ve adopted from our societal culture. Scroll back up to Laura’s post and read the God says….but we say… statements. Written out like they are really highlights the things we value that are not the same things God values. I’m not sure that we can sort out kingdom culture from worldly culture and kingdom politics from worldly politics without tremendous humility and reliance upon the Holy Spirit to guide us. To live so counter-culturally requires incredible courage. Even in this day, living according to Jesus’ teaching is misunderstood and can lead to division–even (maybe especially) among Christians. So what are we to do?

Just as there are nine beatitudes, there is another list in the New Testament that contains nine elements. It’s found in Galatians 5:22-23 and says: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

As we ponder the words of Jesus, as we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our inner beings, as our attitudes become more and more like the attitude of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit will flow out of us and we will live in the realm of God’s kingdom, seeing more and more of the face of the One we long for, and changing the world by the non-coercive love of God.  Blessed are…

Laura asked: Do we really want to live like this?  

Do we?

–Luanne

The Beatitudes – Ipswich Catholic Community

His Kindness: Patience, Presence & Peace

After everyone had their meal, Jesus instructed his disciples to get back into the boat and go on ahead of him and sail to the other side to Bethsaida. So he dispersed the crowd, said good-bye to his disciples, then slipped away to pray on the mountain. As night fell, the boat was in the middle of the lake and Jesus was alone on land. The wind was against the disciples and he could see that they were straining at the oars, trying to make headway. When it was almost morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the surface of the water, and he started to pass by them. When they all saw him walking on the waves, they thought he was a ghost and screamed out in terror. But he said to them at once, “Don’t yield to fear. Have courage. It’s really me—I Am!” Then he came closer and climbed into the boat with them, and immediately the stormy wind became still. They were completely and utterly overwhelmed with astonishment because they failed to learn the lesson of the miracle of the loaves, and their hearts were unwilling to learn the lesson.

(Mark 6:45-52, The Passion Translation)

Our passage this week is a continuation of last week’s story. Immediately following the miracle meal of the loaves and fish, Jesus sends his disciples off in the boat. He dismisses the enormous crowd–probably not a quick or easy thing, considering that all of them had personal needs they might have wanted Jesus to address–and then climbs a mountain so he can pray. His disciples are struggling out at sea. Jesus sees them as they struggle. He comes to them several hours later, walking on the water. He starts to pass by them. They notice him and are terrified. He gets into the boat and comforts them. The wind subsides. The disciples are amazed and overwhelmed because they hadn’t understood the miracle of the meal.

There are so many things we could highlight in these seven short verses. I’m going to focus on the part that stands out the most to me. Before I do, though, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that, like the disciples before us, there is so much we don’t know. The same will be true for those who come after us. We can read every footnote and commentary there is, look up the etymology of every word, and still end up with zero solid answers to some of our questions. That’s why it is so crucial that we hang onto what we do know about Jesus regarding his love, his kindness, and–as Pastor John highlighted on Sunday–his patience.

The patience of Jesus plays a key role in this passage. And it is frustrating and difficult to understand, just as it often is when Jesus loves us with his patience in the middle of our personal stories. We like to emphasize the love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness of Jesus. These fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) show up a lot when we talk about what Jesus is like, and we’re pretty comfortable with them. But there are two other fruits less often associated with Jesus’ way of being in the world: patience & self-control. We can see both in this story.

Jesus sends his disciples out in a boat, sees the storm come up against them, sees them struggle… and then waits to go to them. This reminds me of when his dear friend Lazarus died and he waited four days to show up. Or when Jairus’ daughter was dying and he chose to stop to listen to the woman who touched him; he waited while she told her whole story–even as Jairus’ daughter died.

Why did he wait to go to where the disciples were? He could see their struggle, knew their fear. Why did he wait?

This question, while frustrating, is not the most disturbing question that rises up in me as I read this story. Verse 48 tells us that Jesus “started to pass by them.” Other translations read, “He intended to pass by them.” What?? I looked up the Greek word that was translated intended, started, or about to depending on the version, and was unnerved to find that the original word indeed means “intended, willed, resolved, desired, wished, delighted in.”  Jesus wished–and was delighted–to pass by them? What the actual heck?

I don’t have a framework in which this makes sense. This doesn’t fit with the person Jesus has revealed himself to be… He watches them struggle for hours and then when he finally goes to them, he is intentionally passing them by?

Unless…

Perhaps this “passing by” of Jesus is connected to another time when God passed by a man named Moses…

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. (Exodus 33:21-22, NIV)

Moses longed to see the glory of God. God granted his request, but with conditions. He couldn’t see the full glory of God revealed.

Jesus’ disciples couldn’t either.

Except, this time, it wasn’t God’s decision to hide the full revelation. They were the ones that didn’t have eyes to see and hearts that could understand. Jesus came as the full revelation of God. But the world wasn’t ready to see him–not even his closest friends. I don’t know what Jesus was praying about on the mountain. Maybe he was praying that the miracle of the loaves and fish would sink in, that at some point, his friends would stop straining and realize that even though he wasn’t in the boat, he was with them. Maybe his time in prayer was also his patience on display. Like a parent who longs to rescue their child from hard circumstances but knows that their child needs time to see what they couldn’t see before. Maybe he thought that if he waited, surely then they’d be ready to see the full revelation of who he really was. He didn’t have to cover them the way Moses had to be covered. His glory was now on display. Hadn’t they just seen that with the 5,000+ others who had witnessed it?

But they weren’t ready. They couldn’t yet see or understand. They were, instead, afraid. 

And Jesus… Sweet Jesus… What does he do? He doesn’t pass by, leaving them in fear. He doesn’t lose control of his words, lashing out at their unbelief and un-woke hearts. He sees them, as he’s seen them all along. He meets them where they are, in the way that they were accustomed to experiencing him, because they weren’t yet ready to experience him in a new way. And he loves them with his kindness that speaks peace into their fearful hearts, and also brings peace to the storm around them. The Passion Translation footnotes and commentary suggest that his miracles “hadn’t yet penetrated their hearts”, and notes that he was “quick to comfort” them in their terror.

His “passing by” could have been a revealing of his God-ness, a picture of his glory, that would have deepened the disciples faith as they realized they were always fully wrapped in the presence of God. But they weren’t ready. Similar to the few of them on the road to Emmaus, whose hearts burned within them as they spoke with Jesus, but didn’t know it was he, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. But they weren’t yet ready to acknowledge what that meant. They hadn’t been fully awakened to the truth of who he was.

How often is this story about us? We know that Jesus resides in and among us, that his kingdom is here, now. We know that he’s not on some far-off mountain, waiting to show up, because he is always with us. But when he doesn’t show up in the ways we’re accustomed to seeing him, when he passes by in a new way, with a new layer of his glory on display, how often do we miss him? How many times is he right here in front of our faces as we cry out for his presence? How many times does he see our inability to understand what he is trying to teach us, and chooses–in his kind, self-controlled patience–to meet us where we are with his peace, until we are ready to see a new revelation of who he is?

There is so much we don’t know.  So much we may never see. But we, gratefully, have a kind and patient Jesus who is faithfully present to us in our weakness. One who, like a mama or daddy who longs for their child to learn and grow, recognizes when us kids aren’t quite past the fears that keep us from taking that next step into further revelation. One who chooses not to drag us forward kicking and screaming, and not to protect us from the wilderness that can rage around and within us–but to meet us in those places with patience and presence that knows no limit.

The fruit of our Jesus includes patience and self-control, and these are further proof of his kindness toward us.

–Laura

Jesus can sometimes be incredibly difficult to understand, and like Laura highlighted above, the times in which he allows us to wait, wondering where he is or if he cares are hard times!

Let’s back up in scripture and remind ourselves that before Jesus had a crowd of people to take care of, he and his disciples were headed to a solitary location to spend time together. The disciples were going to have time to tell Jesus all about the miracles and things that happened when he sent them out two by two. They were going to rest, they were going to eat, they were going to have downtime with Jesus.  That plan was a bust. 5000+ people chased them, consumed their time and they were required to serve those people even though they were tired and their plans were interrupted.

I wasn’t there, and I’m not the disciples–but I know myself. I would have been impatient, maybe even a little grumpy. I would have assumed that as soon as all the people left I would have my downtime with Jesus, and I would have looked forward to it. So, if Jesus had sent me away without him–I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have been overjoyed.

Here are the very tired disciples, in their boat, leaving the shore without Jesus. It’s been a long day. It hasn’t gone according to their plan. And now they’ve been sent off. To top it off, while these tired men are on the lake in the dark, a storm comes up and they find themselves “straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (v. 48).  They are not sleeping, they are not being refreshed, they are fighting the wind.

And Jesus…he had gone up on a mountainside to pray. Scripture tells us that Jesus could see the disciples struggling and like Laura asked above, why did he wait?

We certainly don’t understand the mind of God, we certainly don’t understand all of God’s ways, which is why it is so important to know God’s character.

I love Laura’s interpretation of Jesus almost passing by being like the Old Testament story of God’s glory passing by Moses. However, I’m going to throw out another possibility to consider, again stating that we don’t know the mind of God, so these are suppositions to ponder, and it’s always possible that it’s a both/and rather than an either/or.

I’m going to start at the end of our scripture passage because there we learn that the disciples “had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened”. (v. 52).  Hardened hearts. According to Strong’s concordance, the word “hardened” means “to cover with a thick skin, to harden by covering with a callus; to grow hard, callous, become dull, lose the power of understanding; blind.” 

In the King James Version, and in Young’s Literal Translation, and possibly other translations, that last line of this passage gives the group a singular heart… “their heart was hardened” (v. 52, KJV). The whole group together, the heart of the group was hardened. Had they been complaining, grumbling, murmuring, sharing their frustrations about the day with one another? Were they talking themselves into a collective funk? It’s certainly possible. Haven’t we all been in disgruntled groups talking ourselves into a collective hardened heart? It’s something to think about.

So, four to six hours after the heart-hardened disciples begin to struggle,  Jesus begins to walk out to them. They are fighting against the wind. Some of the disciples were professional fishermen before they became followers of Jesus. My assumption would be that they are the ones in charge at this moment. They are leaning on their own understanding as they battle against the wind, but the wind is fierce and they are tired. Are they yelling at each other in their frustration? I don’t know, but I imagine things weren’t calm and quiet in the boat. They were striving in their own strength–and Pastor John reminded us that sometimes in our own striving we can miss Jesus. Been there!

It’s also important to remember that Jesus doesn’t force himself upon us-he is always present, always available, yet he gives us opportunity to reach for him. Is it possible that he almost walked by because the disciples were so consumed by their own struggle that they didn’t see him, didn’t call for him?  Maybe they were even mad at him for sending them away and allowing them to be in the storm alone (even though Jesus had been watching them the whole time).

Someone eventually looks up from the struggle and sees something on the water. Fear ensues. They can’t even imagine that it could be Jesus. So Jesus, in his kindness, tells the disciples three things:

  1. Take courage.
  2. It is I.
  3. Don’t be afraid.

The root of courage comes from the Latin word “cor”, which means “heart”.  Jesus is saying “take heart”.  It is “I”–your Lord, your teacher, your friend, the great “I AM”; don’t be afraid…

In this instance, the word  “afraid” actually means: to cause one inward commotion, take away his calmness of mind, disturb his equanimity; to perplex the mind of one by suggesting scruples or doubts; to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread” (Strong’s).

Read those words again, and remember that collectively, as a group, their heart was hardened.

Jesus says to them, don’t be overcome by inward commotion, by doubts, by fear, by dread. Remember, Jesus hasn’t calmed the storm yet. He is saying these things while the storm is still raging–while they are still fighting against the wind.

Pastor John reminded us that sometimes we desire Jesus to take care of our crisis, but his focus is not our crisis, his focus is us.  We want him to sweep in and fix things for us so that we can have inner calm and peace based on peaceful surroundings, peaceful relationships, healthy bodies, healthy finances, cars that run like they should, etc. And Jesus, he is much more concerned about us in the midst of all of those things. Instead of saying “I’ve got this”, he says “I’ve got you”.  It reminds me of John 16:33 where Jesus says In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Is that enough for us? Is Jesus himself enough for us?

Natalie Grant sings a song whose chorus says:

Help me want the healer more than the healing
Help me want the savior more than the saving
Help me want the giver more than the giving
Oh help me want you Jesus more than anything

I think it’s hard to acknowledge that Jesus is enough, whether my crisis is ever taken care of, whether I get the answers to my prayers that I want, whether Jesus bows to my whims or not. I always have heart work to do in this area. Is he, alone, enough? Do I desire him above all else? Not always.

Then, after he has encouraged them with his words,  Jesus got into the boat, his presence calmed the wind, and they were amazed…for they had not understood about the loaves’ their heart was hardened.

Such an interesting way to end the account of this day. So much to ponder. Are you tired? are you frustrated? Do you need downtime with Jesus and can’t seem to get it? Do the needs of other people frustrate you? Does Jesus seem silent? Does Jesus seem distant? Does it seem like Jesus doesn’t care about your situation? Are you part of a group that is collectively disillusioned? What is the condition of the heart of the group? What is the condition of your heart?  Are you striving? Are you struggling? Are you leaning on your own understanding, your own expertise?

Jesus is near. Take heart. The great “I AM” is here. Don’t be afraid. Give him access, not only to your situation but to your being.  He will take our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. (Ez. 36:26). His presence is our peace. Do we trust the kindness of his heart?

–Luanne

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Dear Church–Philippians 4:8-9

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart], and the God [who is the source] of peace and well-being will be with you.  (Phil. 4:8-9 Amplified)

As I typed out the scripture above, I could feel within myself a deep longing to do better about living with the mindset that Paul is encouraging in those verses, and a deep desire to see the followers of Christ, the Church,  live like that. Our actions flow from our minds.  Taking our thoughts captive, renewing our minds, having the mind of Christ–these are all concepts that we are encouraged to put into practice, and we have the Holy Spirit living in us who truly does give us the power (the energy) that we need to live godly lives. But man–the mind is a battlefield!

In preparing for his sermon, Pastor John did a Google search and typed in the words: “Why are Christians so…”  The responses that come up are: mean, judgmental, miserable, intolerant…, yet Jesus said that his followers will be known by our love. What has happened? How did we get so off track-and what can we do to get back?

I think it’s super important that we each pay close attention to the voices that we are allowing to “disciple” us. To be discipled means to be taught. To be a disciple of someone means that you learn from them, that you model what they do. I’m afraid that in this culture of constant chatter, constant noise, constant opinions, choosing sides, etc….we are quickly digressing.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to be discipled by him when he writes: The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things [in daily life], and he tells us that the result will be the peace of God in our lives. When the peace of God rules in our lives, our mindset–our heartset becomes about the flourishing of others, and, as Jesus said in his sermon on the mount–the peacemakers will be blessed by being called–or recognized as children of God. (Mt. 5:9)

Pastor John pointed out something that has frustrated me for quite some time which I believe has led to our meanness, our misery, our judgmental attitudes and our intolerance. Somehow in our individualistic western mindset we have made Christianity about “self” rather than about building God’s kingdom. We’ve made personal salvation the main point–when personal salvation, or entering into a relationship with Jesus is the beginning point–the new birth that leads to a new way of life that is completely others focused. It is impossible to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the book of Acts and come to the conclusion that the ministry of Jesus is about self. The ministry of Jesus is about God’s kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven…and we’re the plan.

Yes–it all starts at the cross. Without the cross, we have no hope for a relationship with God. But there is a cross, and it not only reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is also a reminder of how we are to live in complete and total surrender to God.

Pastor John gave us three very practical ways to look at the cross:

  1. As a plus sign. In mathematical equations, the plus sign indicates things that are added. There is tremendous personal benefit in coming into a relationship with Jesus–no doubt about that. Jesus adds incomparably more to our lives than I think we can even fully recognize.  But the plus sign also serves as a reminder that we are to be about the business of bringing God’s peace, love, and message of His grace to those around us. His heart is for everyone to know about the life that He offers through Christ.
  2. As a minus sign.  Picture the crossbar as a minus sign (a takeaway), and the vertical  bar as the letter “I”.  If I take myself and my will out of the equation so that God’s will can be done in me and through me, I am much more inclined to be the light of the world and salt of the earth that Jesus said I would be. When I’m not worried about or focused on myself, I am much more inclined to lift Him up, and He said that when we lift Him up, He will draw all people to Himself.
  3. Picture the vertical bar as the symbol that God has raised us up to a place we could never be on our own, and the crossbar as the reminder to reach out beyond ourselves to others.

Pastor John shared with us the results of a study put out by the Center for Attitudinal Healing that stated all conflict begins with a mindset of “lack”; focusing on what we don’t have and allowing our thoughts to be obsessed over how to get what we don’t have. As I began to ponder that thought I saw a great deal of truth in it. Becoming aware can help a great deal. When we begin to feel angsty inside, rather than lashing out and reacting, can we begin to sit in that angst and get to the bottom of what it is that we think we lack?  Is it God’s love? Is it honor? Is it respect? Is it material goods? Is it a certain talent?  Is it political power and persuasion? Is it fairness? Is it inner peace? Is it not getting our way? What is it?  If we don’t figure this out, it will lead us to anger, bitterness, and conflict. Every war ever fought–whether a personal internal war, a domestic war, a cultural war, or war on a global scale is about someone trying to gain what they “lack”–whether lands, or power, or the obliteration or oppression of an entire people group so that the “conqueror” can have dominion and supremacy, or (on a much smaller scale) control over the remote control, a mindset of lack has led to it. Think about it…

This same Center for Attitudinal Healing said that the solution to conflict-the pathway to peace- is to learn to love others well, and to receive the love that is extended to you.   The Center for Attitudinal Healing is not a Christian Center–they are secular, yet their approach sounds just like Jesus.

Does it work? This week I read an article on nbcnews.com about a former white supremacist, former grand dragon in the KKK, former Nazi,  who was part of the Unite the Right Charlottesville march last year, but whose life has changed completely because of a woman of color who offered kindness to him as he was struggling from heat exhaustion at that rally. Her kindness began to change the narrative in his head, which led to him begin having conversations with an African-American neighbor, who just so happened to be a pastor–resulting in this former white supremacist coming into a relationship with Christ in an African American church. He was baptized in that church, he belongs to that church, and is now telling those who he used to recruit to get out of the business of hate–that it will ruin their lives. (Ex-KKK member denounces hate groups one year after rallying in Charlottesville  nbcnews.com). Love works–just like Jesus said that it would.

So, what does all of this have to do with this week’s verses? Everything.

In every situation, are we (am I/are you)  willing to have the mind of Christ? Are we willing to renew our minds and think with the mind of the Spirit rather than the mind of the flesh? Are we willing to pause, get our thoughts under control, examine what’s going on under the surface, surrender our wills to God’s greater will and purpose, and “be the change that we want to see in the world”? Are we willing to keep our minds focused on the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy?  Are we willing to put into practice the things that Paul is encouraging the Church to put into practice in his letter? If so, the peace–the shalom of God– will be with us and will naturally spill out to all of those around us-leading to their flourishing in all ways, and we will be known as Jesus’ followers by our love. His way is always the better way, and to know His way means to know Him- our true, noble, righteous, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy Savior.

–Luanne

We’ve said it over and over again since we began this series in Philippians: It is all about Jesus. And this week is no exception. Paul is writing to the church and exhorting them (and us) to think rightly so that God and His peace would be with them. Our passage, these two short verses, do not directly reference Jesus. But marinating in the words reveals what we have seen repeatedly in this letter–it all revolves around Jesus. Let’s look at the words Paul uses to tell the Church what to think on:

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise…”

True. Honorable. Worthy of respect. Right. Confirmed by God’s word. Pure. Wholesome. Lovely. Peace-bringing. Admirable. Of good repute. Excellent. Worthy of praise.

What do these words describe? I could use the word honorable to describe my husband. I might say the fresh snow is pure white, or use it in reference to the water in a mountain lake. I could call food or old T.V. shows wholesome. There are MANY things I call lovely–skyscapes, butterflies, flowers, birds, my dear friend who wrote the first half of this post… peace is used frequently and in a variety of contexts. We can call hard work admirable, and use the descriptor of good repute in reference to candidates we are backing. Excellent is used often in the world of academia as well as in athletics. Worthy of praise is less often used than the others, but we could find areas where it, too, could apply.

But can you think of one thing that all of these words together describe? One thing that fully embodies the meanings of each adjective?

I can. In fact, I can think of two…

Jesus.

And us, the Church, when we’re living in the fullness of His life in us.

These words do describe the things I mentioned above. But none of those things, on their own, fully embody the meaning of the word used to describe them. At least not when held up to the standard of Jesus himself.

So, without overreaching or hypothesizing too much, I think it’s fairly safe to say that when Paul told the Church to “think on these things”, he was encouraging them to keep their minds trained on the life, ways, and person of Jesus. Pastor John mentioned that Paul didn’t go into the meanings of the words he chose. He didn’t explain what he meant.  He wrote the words and moved on. Maybe that’s because if we know the real Jesus, we already have the most complete picture of what these words mean. Maybe his readers knew that. Because he goes on to say  “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing.” (vs. 9a, NLT) What did the church at Philippi (and what do we…) learn, receive from, hear and see Paul doing? Ultimately, what Paul modeled was what being a disciple looks and sounds like. He taught and gave what he learned and received from the person and ways of Jesus. The words he wrote in his letters are sometimes difficult to understand and to swallow, and we read things in them that appear to contradict each other–he was human, after all, and his work is most likely not without its flaws. He knew this about himself–he understood his own humanity, his own brokenness. And so he did two distinct things: He pointed his readers always to Jesus himself as the authority and standard. And–and it’s a big and–he had the audacity to imply that we, the Church, could actually live up to the standards of Christ, by the power of the Spirit at work within us. NOT by striving or trying harder to achieve all that we aren’t. But by accessing the power (energy) of the Spirit.

I also believe that “these things” include one another, when we’re operating out of the mind of Christ. We don’t think of one another this way if we’re operating out of our self-focused mindsets of lack. But if we understand the ways of the Kingdom, the life and character of Jesus, his way of abundant love that is available to us, then what we see when we look at each other is the Imago Dei. The image of God in each one, our shared humanity, made beautiful in the Agape love of Christ.

Luanne wrote above, “It is impossible to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the book of Acts and come to the conclusion that the ministry of Jesus is about self. The ministry of Jesus is about God’s kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven…”

None of us could refute that statement. It truly is impossible to come to the conclusion that the ministry of Jesus is about self if we actually read these accounts of his life. Nothing that Jesus said, did, or taught is responsible for the self-absorbed, I want more, individualistic “faith” many of us find ourselves trapped in today. In fact, it is precisely because we have ignored (if we’ve read them at all) the words and life of Jesus that we find the Church in the condition she is in today… full of people the world around us identify as “mean, judgmental, miserable, intolerant…”

We wonder why our lives are filled with conflict and chaos and we long for the peace we hear preached from the pulpit, the peace that Paul writes about at the end of our passage. He tells us to think on “these things”, to put into practice what we’ve heard and seen. And, “Then the God of peace will be with you.” (vs. 9b, NLT)

Remember when I said that the whole passage points us to Jesus? These final words are no different. If we read these verses and don’t pause to ponder their deeper meaning, we can read these two verses through an “If this, then that” filter. It sounds like cause and effect. Do this, think on these things, act this way–and then you’ll have the peace of God with you. I believe it’s a bit more nuanced than that…

In Ephesians, Paul writes these words:

For he himself is our peace… (Eph. 2:14a)

This verse has been a favorite of mine for many years because it always reminds me that peace isn’t a thing, or even a state of being. Peace is a person–the person of Jesus. He, Jesus, is our peace. He doesn’t give us peace. He IS peace. If we have Him (and He is accessible to any and all who desire to know Him–this has nothing to do with church and everything to do with relationship), then we have peace. Period.

So what does this verse mean then? And what about all the times we feel like peace is beyond our reach, even though we know Jesus?

I think, like many things we write about, this has a lot to do with choice. I can have a refrigerator full of food, but if I never open the door and take out food to eat, I’m going to feel hungry despite the fullness that is available. In regard to peace though, the study that John presented to us, that Luanne referred to, better shows us why we often find ourselves peace-less.

It is all about the mindset we choose. Do we choose lack? Or love? Is there never enough? Or is there abundance? Jesus, if we know Him, is always with us. His life lives in us. We always have Him–and He IS our peace. But the thing about the life of Jesus within us is that it’s like a faucet. The supply of water is no less present in a faucet that is turned off versus one that is on. But the water only flows when the faucet is open. And do you know the quickest way to turn off the water of Jesus’ life within you? Get focused on yourself. Because self-focused living is completely contrary to Kingdom living. It is impossible to experience the peace, the Shalom, the setting-all-things-right life of Jesus while focused on self. When the secular study declared that giving and receiving love is the pathway to peace, they hit on the central principle of the Kingdom, the only standard that mattered to Jesus and His ministry because everything else flows from it: Love God (which is impossible without learning to receive the love He has for you); Love your neighbor (Everyone. ALL people, everywhere–including yourself)Giving and receiving love is the opposite of living a life focused on self. And it is the only way to access the peace of Jesus that is always living within us. The well of peace does not run dry because it’s full of the eternal, unending, forever-flowing living water that is Jesus himself.

I don’t mean to diminish or minimize the letter to the Philippians by repeatedly stating that it’s all about Jesus. In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus is everywhere, if we’ll only look. And He is the authority, the rock, the foundation, that the Bible and every other created thing is built upon. Seeing how every word Paul wrote is made complete in the person of Jesus expands my heart and my mind, as well as my view of scripture–because I’m finding Him there. I hope it does the same for you, as we continue to dive into the depths together.

This week, think on “these things”: Jesus—in all of His beautifully simple complexity, and those all around you who bear His image and inhale and exhale His Life. As you do, love will replace the mindset of lack, and Peace will overflow…

–Laura

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Dear Church… (Philippians 1:1-11)

Pastor John began a twelve week series on the book of Philippians that will take us through the summer.  Without a doubt, Paul loved this body of believers. They held an incredibly special place in his heart, and he is not shy in telling them so. As is wise with all Bible study, knowing the context of the situation is always a good idea, so it’s important to know how this church began. Why were they so special to Paul?

Acts chapter 16 gives us the background story on Paul’s relationship with the people in Philippi. Paul had tried to go to a couple of different locations, but in Luke’s words the “Spirit of Jesus” kept him from following through with those plans. During this time, Paul received a vision asking him to come to Macedonia–so they went. Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia and that became the destination.

Typically when Paul went to a new city he started his ministry in the synagogue. Not in Philippi. He and his companions headed to the river to pray and came upon a group of women, one of whom was Lydia, a business woman and worshiper of God. Paul shared the love of Jesus with these ladies, God opened Lydia’s heart to receive the message, she and the members of her household were baptized and she invited Paul and his companions to stay in her home.

I don’t know how long Paul was in Philippi, but it was the city where he and Silas got in trouble with some wealthy folks for casting a demon out of their slave girl because the demon gave her the ability to make a lot of money for them.

Because Paul and Silas messed with the wealthy folks, they were arrested, flogged and thrown in jail. Instead of complaining about their situation, they prayed and sang, and the other prisoners listened. An earthquake came, all the prisoners chains came off and the doors opened. The jailer was sure they had all escaped and was ready to kill himself, but Paul called out and let him know that they were all still there. This encounter led to the jailer and his family coming into a relationship with Jesus. After Paul and Silas were released they went to Lydia’s house, met with the church and then left the area. He visited Philippi two more times. (Acts 20)

I wonder if the freed slave girl and the jailer were part of the group that met in Lydia’s home and received Paul’s letter? I wonder if the church in Philippi was different from the other churches Paul began, so many of whom were riddled with conflict, because he wasn’t battling a spirit of religion that sometimes accompanied those coming out of the synagogues, and sometimes plagues our churches today. Paul himself had come out of that rule following system–and he knew that trading one set of rules for another was not what following Jesus is about. Following Jesus is all about relationship, and the Philippian church was rich in relationship with Jesus, with Paul, and with one another. Lydia was a kind and gracious woman, the church in Philippi began with her. There’s a lot to be said for all the implications of that.

Paul wrote this letter about ten years after he had originally been in Philippi, and he writes to them from prison. He begins by greeting all of them and offers them grace and peace (Shalom) from God.  Paul moves into assuring them of his prayers for them and tells them that his prayers are full of thanksgiving and joy for them because from the first day he met them they partnered with him in sharing the good news of the love, forgiveness and new life available in Jesus–and they were still doing it. He encouraged them with these words: …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (v.6) 

That’s a verse many of us know extremely well, it gives us hope in the transforming work of Christ, but I think it’s important to note that the “you” in this verse is plural. He is writing to the church referring to  the good work that God began in and through His church in Philippi. Yes, the work He’s doing individually in each of us is important, the mission of the church will not happen without each of us growing in Christ, but like we’ve mentioned before, our individual relationships with Jesus are not just about us. When we surrender our lives to Him, we become part of His kingdom–His body, and together we work to bring others into relationship with Him. So, He who began a good work in you by giving you a place to belong and a purpose in His kingdom/body will be faithful to complete the mission He’s begun.

Paul goes on to express how this precious group of people are always in his heart and how he longs for all of them with the affection of Jesus. Then he tells them what he is praying:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (vs. 9-11)

The love Paul is writing about is agape–the unconditional, all encompassing, never ending, totally undeserved and complete love of God, and he is praying that this godly love will flow in abundance , that it will abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight….

What does it mean for our agape to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight?

Knowledge means just what you think it does, and it comes from the root word meaning to know thoroughly, to know accurately, to understand and perceive.

Depth of insight is a little more unusual. The word  translated into that phrase is used one time in all of scripture, and Paul is trying to convey something important in using this word. It means perception not only by the senses but also by the intellect, discernment, moral discernment, the understanding of ethical matters.

It’s intellect coupled with a deeper sense, a deep intuition, a knowing something beyond intellectual knowing, a sixth sense if you will. The phrase in the definition-the understanding of ethical matters– really catches my attention and my heart.

Agape love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; we can only have it when we surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives. As we allow the Spirit to do His work in us, our ability to know and discern–especially in moral ethical matters, becomes clearer.

Pastor John pointed out that love is not blind–God’s love is not blind. God’s love sees all and loves us despite our shortcomings. God’s love runs to embrace the returning prodigal, God’s love shows compassion and forgiveness to a woman caught in the act of adultery, God’s love hangs out with the marginalized, the ones rejected by the religious elite, the outcasts, God’s love reinstates Peter after his denial, God’s love makes a way through the costly death and powerful resurrection of Jesus for us to be in relationship with Him, God’s love knocks the terrorist Saul/Paul off a horse, blinds him, and then transforms his life in such a radical way that Paul gave his entire life to introduce others to Jesus.  God’s love doesn’t look like human love, and God wants His love to be what the world experiences when they experience us–His people.  His love—ever growing, wise, discerning, kind, undeserved, overflowing so that…

Right after the words knowledge and depth of insight is a “so that”.   It reads like this:

…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.  

The J.B. Phillips translation reads like this:

I want you to be able always to recognize the highest and the best, and to live sincere and blameless lives until the day of Jesus Christ. I want to see your lives full of true goodness, produced by the power that Jesus Christ gives you to the praise and glory of God.  

The Message translation puts it this way: 

Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Our Spirit given agape love produces in us the ability to see, know and discern the truth of a situation on a deep level. Then, being led by God’s indwelling, ever abundant unconditional agape love figure out what the God-like best response is. It may look nothing like the world’s response, because God is all about bringing people into relationship with Him, not about ostracizing and punishing them. If that were His heart, we’d all be hopelessly lost.

Acting on what the Spirit leads us to do keeps us blameless and pure before God because the fruit of righteousness means that we are rightly related with God and rightly related with others. Righteousness in this sense comes from the root word meaning equity which indicates that we are working to make things right for all people everywhere–that type of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.  When we live and love and see and restore and forgive and esteem and build up like Jesus does, the work that God has begun in us, His people, moves toward completion and God gets the glory for it all.

The implications of Paul’s prayer are huge for us. He is praying that we, His church,  will be bathed and growing in agape love, choosing the best as revealed by the Spirit, working in and through agape love to make this world a better place for everyone, carrying out the mission of Jesus so that God’s kingdom may come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven for the glory of God.

I will be meditating on and praying this prayer all week. I desperately want to be part of the body that is making Jesus Christ attractive to all…Will you join me?

—Luanne

As Luanne wrote, it is so important to understand the context of what we read in our bibles. The more I study scripture and the deeper I go in my walk with Jesus, the more I realize just how vital this is. It is important because it gives us a more complete picture of what we’re reading, but also because it brings the story of Jesus and His Kingdom alive to us in a whole new way. I found some interesting facts when I looked into the history of the city of Philippi…

Corneliu Constantineanu, a Romanian theologian and university professor, has this to say in his introduction to the book of Philippians in the God’s Justice Bible:

“The Great Roman Caesar Octavian Augustus established the city of Philippi as a Roman colony after a great victory in the battle against Brutus in 42 BC. After another victory over Mark Anthony in 31 BC, he named the city after himself, Colonia lulia Augusta Philippensis. This was in order to announce the good news of his great victory and, at the same time, to honor the great Roman Empire’s accomplishment of justice, peace and security! The Pax Romana, together with Roman law and justice, is the great news that the Roman imperial ideology proclaimed–as the dawn of a new era for humanity, as the greatest good news ever heard! But like the establishment of the city of Philippi, the good news of Roman peace and justice was brought about through violence and war and maintained by force and the subjugation of people.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul announces the real good news, the gospel--God’s action to put the world right, to bring his peace and justice to this beautiful yet fallen and corrupted world. He has accomplished this not through violence and war but through the self-giving life of Jesus Christ. This is the astonishing story we find in Paul’s letter to the Philippians–the significant and wonderful yet costly journey of God’s redeeming the world and bringing his peace and justice for the entire creation… This is the good news of the gospel that we read in Philippians.

As is always the case, the Kingdom of Jesus stands in complete opposition to the kingdoms of this world. A city that was established through war and violence was transformed by the gospel of peace and the power of Agape love.

Agape love is where the journey begins for each of us. Encountering the unconditional, complete love of God for us is the beginning of our relationship with Him. His real love draws us to Himself and, as Pastor John said on Sunday, plants that seed of Agape love inside of us. It’s the beginning of our journey… but we can’t let it be the end. If Jesus loves me is where we stop, we starve the seed that God planted in our hearts. God is the one that plants the seed, and He also tends it, by the power of His Spirit. I don’t want to jump too far ahead in this series, but we’ll see when we get into chapter 2 of Philippians that,

“…it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:13 AMP)

He is at work in us, and it is He who creates within us the longing and the ability to live His way. But–as we discussed in our last series–it is possible for us to resist and to quench the work of the Holy Spirit inside of us. For a seed to grow, it must be watered, fed, exposed to light; as it begins to grow, it has to be pruned in order to bear the best fruit. If we are willing to submit to the process and understand that this seed of love was never meant to stay buried in the soil of our hearts but, rather, to grow and bear fruit to feed the world around us, then we’ll experience what Pastor John described on Sunday. Our love, gifted to us by our Heavenly Father, will grow. It will grow real. And that real love will change the reality of the world around us. Facts exist all around us. But truth always supersedes fact. Jesus is truth. He is love. And the truth of His love has the power to change any reality. Mine. Yours. And the world around us.

In his introduction to Philippians, Corneliu Constantineanu also writes, “Despite our tendency to limit redemption to our personal salvation and morality, redemption in the biblical narrative implies the entire creation, with the ultimate purpose of human flourishing and well-being for all”. I can’t help but connect his words to what Luanne wrote about the “fruits of righteousness” above:  “Righteousness in this sense comes from the root word meaning equity, which indicates that we are working to make things right for all people everywhere“.

It’s not about “me”. It must be about “us”. The proof that our love is real is that we don’t keep it to ourselves. Just as Paul shared in the joys of community, even from afar, we also are created to be in community, sharing in the goodness of God together, and working to bring the kingdom of our King to every corner of this world. It is the gospel–the gospel Paul brought to Philippi–the only good news with the power to change the world.

“Jesus is the gospel. Just as God brought the good news of justice and righteousness through Jesus, Christians will spread justice around them by following Christ’s example. As they are Christlike, they will be agents of God’s justice in this world. Only as they manifest their heavenly citizenship will they be responsible earthly citizens.” (Corneliu Constantineanu)

The church in Philippi understood what it meant to manifest their heavenly citizenship. It stood in stark contrast to the kingdom of the Romans, and it led them to live out their faith in the way of real love that changed the reality of their region. No earthly ideology has the power to connect all people and bring lasting peace. Only the good news of Jesus and His love for all of us can do that. He has planted the seed of His love in our hearts if we know Him–and left a perfect space for it if we haven’t met Him yet–and He stands ready to tend and grow that seed into flourishing plants that bear fruit to feed the nations. All He asks us to do is open ourselves to His careful hands and let Him. If we’ll lean into His words and His ways, we will begin to see the ways of His kingdom–that it’s never just for us individually. And as that knowledge and depth of insight grows, we’ll see transformed lives become transformed churches that God will use to transform the world. Because the Agape love of God lived out through the followers of Jesus will create the kind of body that Luanne said she desires to be a part of: a body that makes Jesus Christ attractive to ALL. I desire this, too. What about you? Will you join us?

–Laura

 

The Battle: Armor of God (Part 2)

 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:16-20 NIV)

I can’t count the number of times I have heard/read/studied/thought about the armor of God before I experienced this series. Suffice it to say, the number is quite high. The temptation, when we are presented with a familiar text or story, is to tune out and listen half-heartedly through the filters we have always had in place. I have been learning so much over the last year, especially, about how dangerous it is to default to my traditional understanding and maintain old filters–especially as it relates to Jesus and His Kingdom. Because of this, I try to be intentional about NOT tuning out when the story is familiar. And I am so grateful that I was able to listen to this series–and especially this final installment–with my heart wide open, filters set aside. Because my old understanding is  now being replaced with a more complete understanding, one that is filtered through one lens alone: Jesus.

Pastor John’s message on Sunday covered the remaining pieces of armor: the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit. As he preached on each piece, my mind was blown over and over again. My perception of doing battle God’s way has been forever changed.

In last week’s verses, Paul instructed us to stand firm with: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness and the shoes fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. He told us to clothe ourselves in them. We are to take–to grab onto, raise up–the remaining three pieces of armor. As we’ll see moving forward, the last three connect to the first three.

The first piece of armor that we are to “take up” is the shield of faith. The definition of the word translated “faith” here (pistis) is “firm conviction of the truth“. Our shield of faith hangs on our belt of truth. Last week, Luanne wrote:

“When speaking of “truth” it is incredibly important that we acknowledge that Jesus is truth…The belt held it all together. The Truth holds us all together…The real Jesus brings us all together and holds us all together, so that His Kingdom can come on earth as we, the capital “C” church, stand firm against the one enemy together”.

Our faith hangs on Jesus–the truth of who He is. It’s what holds us all together, as Luanne identified. The importance of our “togetherness” in Jesus is not only highlighted in the belt of truth, but also in the shield of faith that hangs on it. The Roman shield was a huge piece of armor, crafted out of wood, bronze, and animal skin/leather. As large as it was, though, it only covered two-thirds of the soldiers body when it was held correctly. What about the other third of his body that was vulnerable to attack? It was covered by his neighbors shield. And he covered the exposed parts of the neighbor on his other side with his shield. That’s how it was designed to work in battle. If they didn’t use their armor correctly, they and their comrades would find themselves exposed and vulnerable to enemy attacks. So it is with us…

Our faith, our conviction of the Truth–of Jesus, is incomplete if we choose to stand alone. Many cultures understand this. They model the type of togetherness that we’ve referred to several times throughout this series. Our Western, American, mostly white breed of Christianity, however, is not very good at this. There is a tradition of individualism in the West, and we have applied it to our faith. It has left us exposed and vulnerable to our enemy, because our model of faith hasn’t accepted or included (much less practiced…) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). We have been taught, and we still teach, that our faith is a personal one, that it’s “between you and God”. We have taken pride in our personal piety, and wondered why so many are hesitant to accept our message. We will explore this further in a moment, when we look at the next piece of armor. Before we move on, though, I want to emphasize that our faith is meant to be lived out in the context of community. It’s what Jesus and His disciples modeled. It’s how the early church in Acts expanded. It’s what you see in churches that are thriving rather than dying today. It’s how the Kingdom works. It’s the Jesus way, the abundant life way, the way that draws others in rather than pushing them away…

Which brings us to our next piece, the helmet of salvation. The helmet was the most notable piece of the Roman soldier’s armor. Not only did it protect the entire head, face, and neck area, but it was dramatically decorated, meant to be seen and noticed. For us, our helmet protects our mind, the place where our thoughts are formed. It is referred to as the helmet of salvation. Many of us have grown up with the understanding that our salvation is the moment we accept Jesus and give our lives to Him. It’s our ticket to Heaven. And just like our faith, this is generally a personal experience. We may share it publicly from the front of a church and declare it through baptism, but that’s as far it goes for many of us.

It’s very easy to think about our helmet of salvation as something to hide under. We feel protected because we are “saved” and we live from that place. Not only do we secure our helmets to keep out everything that doesn’t line up exactly with the way we understand salvation, but we add masks to the helmet–masks of performance, good behavior, and all the “shoulds” of false identity. If this helmet is decorated or notable at all, it is with the feathers of pride and the plumes of self-righteousness. This is not what the helmet of salvation is meant for. The meaning of the word “salvation” in this context embodies the process of being saved and bringing that salvation to others. It implies the understanding that we are works in progress. Again, this works best within community. Standing on our own, hiding behind a false identity, projecting a picture of perfection, of having already “arrived”, not only keeps us trapped in our own self-deception, but it pushes others away rather than drawing them in.

We don’t have to look very far in today’s culture to see this playing out in real time. We see many who have been “saved” and are now hiding under the false identity of perfection and rightness. This identity tends to include black and white thinking and makes harsh judgments about everything and everyone that doesn’t align with that way of thinking. Helmets that look like this are notably decorated, easy to see towering above the crowd, but they don’t bring salvation to others. What draws others in is acknowledging that we are continually being saved, transformed and made complete in Jesus; that we are not perfect and we know it, and we can be authentically who we are because we know that we are accepted and approved of just as we are by the God who made us. That is the salvation that our helmets are meant to be decorated with, what ought to be notable about us. It’s not about us at all–it’s about those around us being able to see Jesus when they look at us. Because, remember, Jesus is our armor.

I said earlier that each piece of armor we looked at this week connects to a piece we studied last week. The helmet and the breastplate go together. They protect our two most vulnerable places: our minds and our hearts. We are told repeatedly in Scripture to guard both. Both are protected by the assurance we have that as we are continually being saved and transformed–as we authentically submit to Jesus as Lord, and to His process, His ways–we are fully accepted and rightly related to God.

This brings us to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. This final piece of armor is the most intriguing of them all. Before I explain what we learned, I want you to think about your understanding of this piece of armor. What have you always been taught? What Sunday school picture comes to mind? Is it a picture of the Bible? Maybe with a cartoon soldier holding it, ready to wield it against the enemy? What if I told you that understanding is inaccurate?

My understanding has always been what I just described. It’s part of why I was taught that I should memorize Scripture, because God’s word is my weapon. Please know that I am absolutely FOR memorizing Scripture; I think it’s so important to know it. But that understanding in all its familiarity, is not what Paul originally wrote. This “word” is “rhema”, the spoken word of God.  As Pastor John reminded us, Paul, Peter and the other apostles of the early church were not carrying around a New Testament with them, teaching verses from the Bible we have today. They spoke the words that the resurrected Jesus had directly spoken to them, the words that had resurrected and changed their lives. That was their sword.

We learned last week that the “shoes fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace” are actually a formidable weapon to trample on our enemy, because what they are is our story of how Jesus came and brought Shalom to destroy his chaos-making authority in our lives. Our story of transformation is what we stand on because no one and nothing can refute what Jesus has done in our lives. They are our stories and we triumph over our enemy “by the word of [our] testimonies” (Revelation 12:11).

As you have probably figured out by now, these shoes are connected to our sword. Our stories–the very things we often try to hide and see as our greatest weakness, when they are transformed by Jesus and we bind them to our feet and stand firm in the truth of our transformation–become our sword, our greatest strength. Because our story is made up of the words Jesus has spoken to us. The words of peace that have brought wholeness to our lives and calmed the chaos inside of us. These words from Jesus are what we are to carry and speak to others.

I’ve heard it said that we need to “speak our piece”. We use that when we have to vent or get something out. Often, it’s this same mentality that leads us to beat people over the head with our bible verses, to talk them into submission, if you will. What we are actually called to do is to “speak our peace“. Share the words that Jesus has spoken directly to you, the story of how His resurrected life has resurrected your life. This is what we carry. The sword of Shalom. 

Jesus tells His disciples-and us-in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid“. And Ephesians 2:14 says this: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...” In these verses, we are reminded that Jesus IS our peace. He speaks peace, He brings peace, He embodies peace. Peace is the way of His Kingdom. Not violence. Both of these verses use the Greek “eirene”, the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew “Shalom”. We fight with the sword of Shalom. We share the peace and wholeness that we have experienced as the life of Jesus has resurrected our lives. We speak what He has spoken to us.

What has Jesus spoken to you? Are you carrying a sword that you need to lay down, so that you can pick up the sword of Shalom?

–Laura

I have sometimes wondered why God chose for Jesus to come and His church to be birthed during the time when Rome was conquering the world by abusing their power and  using tactics of intimidation, fear, while committing ruthlessly destructive, cruel and inhumane acts– they were a dominating force.  Without a doubt, their weapons of warfare were powerful in the earthly realm. Their weapons stand in stark contrast to the weapons of the Kingdom of Heaven and become beautiful and easily understandable illustrations for Paul to use when describing the armor of God. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of this world (2 Cor. 10:3 )  God flips the world’s system on its head. Maybe He chose the Roman time period for Jesus and His church to be born, in order to contrast how very different the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is from the Empire of Rome and its human system of domination.

It’s important to understand the meanings of the seemingly insignificant words in the “armor” verses, so keep in mind that “with” means put in its proper place (belt, breastplate, shoes), and “take up” or “take hold of” means grab, hold tightly, raise upLike Laura wrote above, all six pieces of armor are intricately connected.

With the belt of truth in place we take hold of the shield of faith.

As we’ve mentioned, and I am mentioning again–Jesus himself is THE truth (John 14:6). The Roman shield was made up of three parts, a wooden core encased in bronze and the whole thing was covered with animal skin which was then soaked in water so that any fiery darts that came would be extinguished. The shield was meant to protect the soldiers from aerial assault. There is much symbolism for us in the shield. All the way back in the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve had believed Satan’s lie and decided to take life into their own hands they ended up aware of their nakedness and vulnerability. They suffered tremendous consequences for choosing their own way; yet God still cared for them. In Genesis 3:21 we see that the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Biblical scholars see this as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice. A death (the first death) was required for Adam and Eve to be covered. The death of Jesus was required for us to be covered so that we can be clothed in Him. (Heb. 9:22 …without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness). The fact that the animal skin was then soaked in water reminds me of Jesus’ words whoever drinks of the water I give them will never thirst– indeed the water I give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14). The verb tense that Jesus used indicates continual drinking….whoever comes continually… Is it possible that the soaked shield is an illustration of baptism by immersion in the Spirit? When we continually come to Jesus -clothe ourselves in Him-we are filled with the Holy Spirit and our shield is soaked and ready to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy which come our way from the heavenly realm. And as Laura mentioned above…our shield is not only for us individually. The Roman soldier held his shield above his head with his left arm. It covered 2/3rds of his body and 1/3 of his neighbor’s body. The formation only served to protect if each soldier did his part.

Do we see how vital it is that we understand this? None of us gets to sit this out. We are part of an advancing Kingdom based on the Truth of God’s love and revelation- carried out by faith–the conviction that Jesus is Truth and worth knowing. That conviction moves us to action, that conviction leads us to continually soak ourselves in Him, clothe ourselves in Him and move together side by side, supporting and protecting one another with the goal of advancing His kingdom.

With the breastplate of righteousness in place we take up the helmet of salvation.

With our heart protected by the covering of the righteousness of Christ, believing His truth that we are completely accepted by God, we can take up the helmet of salvation. Laura wrote above:

“The meaning of the word “salvation” in this context embodies the process of being saved and bringing that salvation to others. It implies the understanding that we are works in progress. Again, this works best within community..”  

This is an important concept for us to grasp. Not too long ago I heard someone say that when Jesus talked about the Kingdom and Paul talked about salvation, they were referring to the same thing–both are about belonging. Without the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, there is no salvation, no belonging to the Kingdom of God–interesting thought.

The process of working out our salvation must be grounded in Truth, and the mind is where much of that battle takes place. Paul encourages us to renew our minds-change the way we think (Romans 12:2), to think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:8), and tells us that letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (Rom 8:6)  All of our actions begin with thoughts, which is why Paul tells us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) which comes two verses after the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world. 

In the New Testament, the word translated as “repent” is metanoia which actually means to change one’s mind for better, to think differently. Taking up the helmet of salvation is imperative in the spiritual battles that are all around us, remembering that the way we battle looks NOTHING like the way of the world. Brennan Manning, in his book The Signature of Jesus, writes:

“The other side of metanoia is paranoia…(which) is characterized by fear, suspicion, and flight from reality…. Spiritual paranoia is a flight from God and from our true selves. It is an attempt to escape from personal responsibility. It is the tendency to avoid the cost of discipleship and to seek out an escape route from the demands of the gospel. Paranoia of the spirit is an attempt to deny the reality of Jesus in such a way that we rationalize our behavior and choose our own way. …None of us is immune to the seduction of counterfeit discipleship…” 

I find the comparison between metanoia and paranoia very helpful in determining whether I’m thinking with the mind of Christ or the mind of the flesh. Both types of thinking produce fruit. Galatians 5:19 lays out what the mind of the flesh leads to: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, hatred, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these, contrasted by the mind of the Spirit which leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.(v.22) A tree will be known by its fruit. (Luke 6:44)  It’s really clear in scripture what type of fruit the true helmet of salvation leads to, and it is fruit that values people,  treats them well and draws them toward Jesus. 

With your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace we take up the sword of the Spirit which is the SPOKEN word of God.

I loved how Laura contrasted “speak our piece” (mind of flesh) with “speak our peace”, (mind of the Spirit).  Our story of peace with Jesus becomes the powerful offensive weapon of the sword of the Spirit. The Romans traded their long swords for shorter ones when they learned from the Spaniards army short swords were more precise and effective. They were always ready with those short swords tucked into their belts. Are we always ready to share our story of peace precisely and effectively? People can argue scripture all day long, but our personal stories of transformation are hard to argue against. And…it doesn’t have to be long and drawn out. A sentence here, an offer of prayer there, an act of kindness, an offer of grace/forgiveness, a different thought process, all of those sown seeds will begin to bear fruit over time earning us the right to share more fully who Jesus is and what He means to us personally. The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say (Luke 12:12), so if He brings it to mind-say it!  And, if you’re walking with Jesus, it’s not a story of what He did one time when you surrendered your life to Him, there are fresh encounters to share always. Salvation is an ongoing, ever fresh process.

Paul wraps it all up by telling us to pray four times in two verses. Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.  (Eph 6:18-20)

One final thought–our battle is not against flesh and blood, it is for flesh and blood–body, soul and spirit. Jesus told Peter that upon Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah the church would be built, and not just built, but strong and powerful enough that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Mt 16:18)  If you are in Jesus, you are part of His church. You belong to His kingdom. His kingdom is advancing. We fight together with His weapons which are totally contrary to the weapons of this world. We fight together, not just with those in our local communities, but with Jesus’ followers all across the globe. We are one family with Jesus’ followers in Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Zambia, Syria, Russia, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Brazil, Madagascar, China, Vietnam, and every other country in the world. Jesus calls us to oneness, unity–but not uniformity. The way we carry out our mission may look different, but our Jesus must look the same. We must know Him, the real Him. Not the Jesus of our specific culture, but the Jesus who transcends all culture, the Jesus who reveals the God who loves the world. He is The TRUTH; we must know who we are IN Him, we must be in the constant process of renewing our minds so that we can be more LIKE Him, and be ready at all times to DECLARE our experience with Him. We do this in the power of His Spirit and with the camaraderie of one another, praying for one another, protecting one another, forgiving one another, and loving the world together into His Kingdom.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that… 

Are you in?

–Luanne

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The Battle: Armor of God (Part 1)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

Stand firm then

                   with the belt of truth  buckled around your waist,

                            with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

                                      and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from       the  gospel of peace… (Eph. 6:10-15)

Walter Wink in his book The Powers That Be gives us food for thought regarding the principalities and powers of this world. He says:

“Principalities and powers are not disembodied spirits inhabiting the air, but institutions, structures, and systems; they are not just physical…the Powers are at one and the same time visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly, spiritual and institutional…. The Powers are simultaneously an outer visible structure and an inner spiritual reality. (They are) the actual spiritual reality at the center of political, economic, and cultural institutions.”

Wink goes on to say:

“When a particular power becomes idolatrous-that is when it pursues a vocation other than the one for which God created it and makes its own interests the higher good-then that Power becomes demonic. The spiritual task is to unmask the idolatry…but this can scarcely be accomplished by individuals. A group is needed…that was to be the task of the church, so that ‘through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 3:10).

I had never heard this interpretation of The Powers until I read Wink’s book, but since reading it, I pay attention to the reality of the spiritual realm in systems, structures, institutions, etc. It helps me to grasp that the battle is not against flesh and blood (even though sometimes I forget). There are Powers at play in war, politics, social media, news agencies, media, advertising, shopping centers, grocery stores, homes, destructive ideologies like racism, classism, nationalism, in things like religious systems, the stock market, banking systems,  businesses, schools, homes, and sadly, churches as well. It’s important to be aware of these things. As Laura and I pointed out in a recent blog post, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), so we must be so, so, so very wise and discerning in order to fight the battle against the real enemy and not be fighting on his side against one another. I believe that’s why the belt of truth is the first piece of armor Paul tells us to put on.

When speaking of “truth” it is incredibly important that we acknowledge that Jesus is truth. (Jn 14:6). That we can know THE Truth, and He can set us free.  (Jn 8:32). It’s not what we think about Jesus, or how we interpret scripture about Jesus that is truth. Truth is Jesus himself. To know the truth, we must know Jesus.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we must read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) over and over and over. We must pay attention to what Jesus said, who He said it to, what His subject matter was, who He hung out with, who frustrated Him, what cultural norms He pushed back against, what He emphasized, what He cautioned against, how He loved…He is truth. We must be humble enough to allow The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to guide us into all truth-(John 16:13)-even if it’s different from what we were taught. Jesus is Truth. Truth looks like Him.

Paul tells us to Stand firm with the belt of truth buckled in place. “Stand firm” is the same Greek word used for “Resist” (“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7)  which implies all of us standing together against the one enemy… .

The Roman soldier’s belt was thick leather that protected the entire abdominal and groin area. It kept a soldier from literally being gutted. Not only that, it held the breastplate in its place, and held the other weapons. The belt held it all together. The Truth holds us all together.

I want to emphasize one more time that the Truth is Jesus and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17).  Truth is not our denominational bent, not our theological understanding, not anything that could lead us to any type of division. The real Jesus brings us all together and holds us all together, so that His Kingdom can come on earth as we, the capital “C” church, stand firm against the one enemy together.  The truth of Jesus is for all people everywhere. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17). We have to understand that Jesus is truth and live from that place.

The breastplate of righteousness also points us to Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that “He (Jesus) became sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  

The Roman soldier’s breastplate protected his heart. It only covered his front. The philosophy of Rome was that their soldiers did not need their backs protected because they would always be on the offense. They would not turn and run. They would not retreat.

Righteousness is huge for those of us who follow Christ. It means that because of Jesus, we have become totally acceptable to God. We are fully approved by God. We are in complete and total right relationship with God. We don’t have to strive for it. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t have to be “good enough” in our own efforts. Our righteousness is a gift of grace.

The covering of His righteousness keeps us secure in God and protects our hearts from becoming hard. The covering of His righteousness gives us permission to lay judgment and striving aside and focus on the things that are important to His heart–namely, people.

God tells us in Proverbs 4:23 to Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Keep it protected from anything that would make it hard, or bitter, or unkind.  Jesus himself gave us a sign to look for to determine the state of our own hearts when he said A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (Luke 6:45)  I know in my own life that the thoughts that come into my head that I want to say are the quickest indicator for me that my heart is not in a good place. Getting back into a better place requires sitting in the presence of God, owning what I need to own, and being reminded again of His grace, His mercy, His acceptance and approval of me, even in my mess.  As we stand our ground against the enemy’s accusations, facing him with our breastplate of righteousness tucked firmly into the belt of truth, his fiery darts cannot penetrate our hearts. We can be secure in who we are in Him, and get on with the business of advancing God’s Kingdom.

The shoes are such an interesting piece of armor.  The shoes are fitted for our feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  The Roman soldier’s shoes were thick-soled leather with hob nails in the bottom of them. They served to protect the soldiers’ feet, provide traction and momentum so that they wouldn’t lose ground, and as a weapon for stomping the enemy. I don’t know what their readiness came from–marching orders or whatever, but our readiness comes from the gospel of peace–the good news of peace.

Like the others, this piece of armor points to Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6), We have peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1) and Jesus himself tells us that he has given us His peace in John 14:27. His peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. There is no peace without Christ.

Pastor John said that our personal story with Jesus is how we take the good news of peace to the world. Your story with Jesus, my story with Jesus can not be dismissed. The Apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah wrote  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15) and the prophet Isaiah included the phrase “the good news of peace and salvation” (52:7).  This beautiful theme of peace is God’s heart. The Hebrew word for God’s type of peace is Shalom, translated into the Greek word ‘eirene’ in the New Testament. The English word “peace” can’t really capture all that Shalom is;  Shalom is the flourishing of all things–all things in harmony with one another, it is the restoration of the world to it’s pre-fallen state. It is about making all things new.

In Revelation 21:5 the One on the throne says “Behold, I am making all things new.”  The Apostle Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:17) And the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is about making all things new.

My favorite definition of Shalom is destroy the authority of the one making chaos. 

Your story of how Jesus has transformed your life and brought you the peace that passes all understanding (Ph. 4:7); your story of how His righteousness has made you righteous before God- fully approved and acceptable; your story of the Truth of who He is and His heart of love for you personally and for whoever it is you are talking to are mighty in  destroying the chaos caused by the devil, authorities, the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. They are no match for God and His mighty power that is at work within you, within us. Put on the full armor of God so that…

-Luanne

Luanne wrote, “Truth is not our denominational bent, not our theological understanding, not anything that could lead us to any type of division. The real Jesus brings us all together and holds us all together, so that His Kingdom can come on earth as we, the capital “C” church, stand firm against the one enemy together.  The truth of Jesus is for all people everywhere.”

Another author and pastor I love, Jonathan Martin, recently said, “Jesus is the prism through which all other Scripture is to be read and interpreted”. (Son of a Preacher Man podcast, Season 1-Episode 21)

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. 

It really is all about Him. Every bit of Scripture we read. Our understanding of any and all of it. It all has to go through the filter of Jesus. Or the framework of our theology will have some warped boards in its structure. This applies to everything we understand about the Kingdom that Jesus ushered in. The Kingdom will reflect the character, values, mission, and heart of its King. And so, as we take a closer look at the armor of God this week and next, we must look at it all through the lens of Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). This is exactly what Luanne did above, as she brought us back to Jesus over and over again in her descriptions of the armor. And I hope you’ll forgive my repetition as I continue in the same vein. It’s so, so vital that we get this. If we take any part of Scripture and view it through any lens other than the lens of Jesus Himself, we risk building a framework that cannot stand.

 

Jesus IS our armor. 

Period.

Full stop.

I have written and deleted multiple paragraphs to get to those four words. Jesus is our armor. Paul used language that his readers would understand, the description of a Roman soldier’s uniform, to highlight–as he so often did–the difference between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven. He used symbols of war and redefined them in the light of the Prince of Peace. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4) Every piece of our spiritual armor is only complete in the person of Jesus. Jesus is truth. He is righteousness, and all justice end equity-which are at the root of original Greek word we translate as “righteousness” in these verses-are found and made complete in Him. And He is our Shalom, our peace that destroys the authority of the one making the chaos. I’ll stop there, because we’ll cover the other pieces of armor next week. But you can see where this is all going. Our armor is Jesus. All that He is. All that He brings. His ways, his words. That’s what we are to put on–Jesus. Amy Layne Litzelman says it this way, “Putting on God’s armor is…coming to know the One who is our armor. When we put on God’s armor, we desire one thing: the fullness of Christ active in us”. (This Beloved Road Vol. II-Into the Source)

With this understanding, let’s go back to verses 10 & 11a in our passage:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God…” 

I love looking into the root words that our modern bibles were translated from. I especially love what I found when I did that today, with these verses. “Be strong” reads like a command, something we do, being active rather than passive. Journeying into the root words provides us with a more complete picture. What we read as “be strong” comes from root words that mean, “be made strong; be strengthened, enabled, empowered, confirmed”. And the tiny word that follows, “in”, is packed with meaning, too. The word translated “in” is a primary preposition denoting “fixed position, in the interior of some whole, within the limits of some space”. His “mighty power” more completely means, “great power and dominion, extent of His ability”. When we are told to “put on” the full armor of God in the verse that follows, the Greek word translated “put on” is the same one used in Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience”. “Put on” and “clothe” are from the same word, “endyo”, which carries the sense of sinking into a garment. If we pair this with our understanding that Jesus is our armor, then what this verse is saying to us is, “Sink into, be absorbed into the garment of Jesus. Wear Him.” So if I were to put all of this together and paraphrase it, it would sound something like this:

“Be strengthened and empowered, confirmed and enabled; your position fixed inside the limits of the space of the Lord and in His dominion and the extent of His ability. Sink into, be absorbed into, the garment of Jesus. Wear Him.”

Why? “So that you [remember this is the collective “you”, all of us together] can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Eph. 6:11b)

It is only when we wear Jesus-when we wrap His ways around us, when we are completely absorbed in who He is-that we can stand against the ways of our enemy. We can’t fight the way our enemy fights. The ways of Satan can’t drive out Satan (Matthew 12:26). Darkness can’t drive out darkness. We have to stand in the fullness of who Jesus is. We are powerless to stand on our own. We are only strong in Him. Never in ourselves. And that is what I love about how Paul presents the armor to us. He uses the imagery of the Roman soldier–the picture of strength, power, military prowess–and uses it to remind us of the upside-down Kingdom of Christ. The Roman kingdom depended on no one but themselves. They were victors, conquerors, battle-savvy war-mongers who decimated those who would dare oppose them. Their strategies were progressive, their designs innovative and their gear was state-of-the-art. They were second to none… or so they thought. The people they oversaw, ruled over and terrorized thought so, too. But there was-and there is-a Kingdom far greater, far more powerful, with longevity the Romans could have only dreamed of. The upside-down Kingdom of Christ. The Kingdom that came in on the back of a lamb led to the slaughter. The Kingdom that speaks blessing over the meek, the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the peacemakers. Paul takes the symbols of violence, of war and division, and rewrites the script for Jesus-followers. He replaces the earthly materials-the leather, metals, animal hooves-with divine weapons. Weapons that cannot be defeated because they come from another place. They’re not made of materials that can be destroyed. Truth, righteousness, justice, peace–and the others we’ll cover next week–are indestructible. Because they are the characteristics of Jesus Himself. They are the pure, undefiled goodness that has already defeated the evil of our enemy. And we get full access to these attributes in the person of Jesus. He is our armor. And we are never without Him. But in order to “wear” Him effectively, we have to be willing to do it His way. In our humanness, we like the picture of the Roman soldier better than that of our humble Savior. The idea of being strong, powerful, self-sufficient, respected and revered for our abilities and expertise is a lot more appealing to our flesh than the opposite. Which is why it is so important that we understand that Jesus is the armor we get to put on. And we get to follow Him. It is not us who rise up and fight our enemy; it is the Holy Spirit within us that rises up to fight in heavenly realms while we remain hidden inside the perfectly pure and just garment of Jesus Himself. He is the armor that both protects us and fights off our enemy. And He invites us to partner with Him in the battle. But we don’t lead it. And we do none of it in our own strength. We put Jesus on–all of Him. The ways of His kingdom become our clothing as we move into the world carrying the good news of His victory.

–Laura

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