Waiting with purpose, a long obedience in the same direction, and other musings…

This Easter season has been a significant one for me – it started with a Holy Spirit-directed rediscovery of the significance of Christ’s suffering & Good Friday, & it continued with the waiting, uncertainty, & anticipation for the coming Resurrection Sunday. Coming out of Easter Sunday, I have been asking the LORD what & where He would like to work in me (& at Hillside.) What has continually come to mind has been the time period between Easter (the Feast of Passover) & the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church (the Feast of Pentecost.) I was drawn to Acts 1:1-11.

In this passage, we see that the Risen Christ spent about 40 days, post-Resurrection, with His disciples. His followers, believing that the time had FINALLY come for Christ to overthrow their Roman oppressors, couldn’t wait to question Him about the details on His presumed intentions for declaring & advancing a physical, political kingdom. His instructions, however, took them completely by surprise, as He told them their next steps were not to prepare for battle, but rather to return to Jerusalem TO WAIT for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me, for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Go back to Jerusalem. Wait for the promise. And then, you will receive the Holy Spirit – & when you do, you will receive power to be witnesses for Christ.

And wait they did.


Over these next weeks until Pentecost Sunday, our Sunday studies will be exploring what it means to wait, as well as different facets of what it might look like, to us individually & as a church, to wait & then, when it’s time, to act in Holy Spirit empowered actions. I’m looking forward to it.


Perseverance. Faithfulness. Patient endurance. These are some of my favorite phrases – probably because, to me, they so clearly capture what most of life in Christ is about. One of my favorite books is “A Long Obedience In The Same Direction,” by Eugene Peterson. The book is based upon the Psalms of Ascent, (Psalm 120-134, 15 songs that Jewish pilgrims sang as they climbed the hills leading to Jerusalem for the 3 main feasts of the year,) & it deals with what is necessary to live the Christian life, over the long haul. The title of the book comes from a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche:

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

During this time where I’ve got ‘waiting’ on my mind & heart, I’m revisiting “A Long Obedience…” & inviting our Hillside Learning Community reading group to join me in reading through & pondering the book (& these Psalms, in depth,) & then join together to discuss what God has been speaking to & forming in us.

Through the Gospels – Matthew 3

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 3

S – SCRIPTURE
Matthew 3:1,2;5-8 – In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…” Then Jerusalem & all Judea & all the region about the region were going out to him, & they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees & Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…”

O – OBSERVATION
Repentance is a heart-level, life-transforming response; it is a change of heart & mind that leads to a change of direction & action. John called people to REPENT because the kingdom of heaven was at hand, & that fact changed everything. People from all over, convicted of their sin & challenged in their heart, submitted themselves to the declarative & symbolic act of water baptism as a sign of a changed heart & life – it was a visible sign of their desire to be prepared for the advent of the kingdom of God.

But repentance wasn’t (& isn’t) just about the act of being baptized; true repentance will bear fruit, will show evidence of that changed heart, mind, & life – the proof of repentance is seen in the days, weeks, & months that follow, as the new life springs up & reveals itself.

A – APPLICATION
John’s challenge to the religious leaders of his day, (& to us reading this 2000+ years later) is to persevere in repentance, & not merely go through the outward motions of a religious experience. To be fundamentally shifted from my road to Christ’s. To live life, make decisions, establish priorities, & invest oneself in a manner that is congruent with a life of repentance; to not grow weary at doing good, but to persevere through difficulty & opposition so we may see the work of the Holy Spirit, righteousness & life, established in us. (Galatians 6:7-10).

P – PRAYER
LORD – make me sensitive to Your Spirit – that I would be quick to repent, to turn, to change my mind to align with Yours. Make my heart simple & soft. And may the seeds of repentance & faith grow in my heart & mind, translated to action & a life that makes You famous.

perseverance in the face of persecution, & other musings from Acts 14

Then some Jews arrived from Antioch & Iconium & won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul & dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up & went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. After preaching the Good News in Derbe & making many disciples, Paul & Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, & Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. Acts 14:19-22

The Apostle Paul suffered violent opposition, persecution, slander, & threat of death for his persistence in declaring the gospel. In Lystra, the mobs that had been chasing him from town to town finally caught up with him, dragged him out of the city, & stoned him until he was dead. Or at least they thought he was.

Whether he was resurrected from the dead or somehow had “shaken off” the stoning & recovered enough to walk we don’t know. (And just how might one “shake off” being pelted with rocks as big as your head?) What we do know is that Paul got up, & moved on to the next city, Derbe, continuing to preach the gospel to any & all that would hear it. If that wasn’t enough, Paul & Barnabas soon went back to Lystra, Iconium, & Antioch of Pisidia, all places that angry hordes had either wanted to or attempted to kill them. And the message they preached was Good News – & that this Good News & following Christ was worth every bit of suffering & hardship that would come, something they all knew he had experienced firsthand.

It makes me think about the confidence that Paul placed in his relationship with God, & how much he depended on the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain him through a life of such physical difficulty & suffering. What’s more, his chose to set his mind on Christ, the author & finisher of our faith. To be steadfast, firm in his pursuit of the goal, the mission he’d been given: that all would hear & come to know Christ, our hope & glory.

When Paul challenged the disciples in each city he visited to stand firm in their faith, to boldly persevere in the face of suffering, he spoke from experience. He had discovered the very real peace of God that goes beyond circumstances, & had fully committed himself to the fact that God would sustain him until such a time that he died or was martyred. And this death (& even the threat of it) had no power or sway on him, for long before, he had chosen that whether he lived or died, it would be for the glory of God.

I pray for a fresh filling with the Holy Spirit for each of us. For boldness to live & declare the Good News without fear of what may come. And I set my eyes on Christ & purpose to follow in His footsteps, & encourage others to do the same after me.

living downstream from faith…

Paul & 275 others were in trouble. Their tiny ship was sailing towards Italy, & had been caught in a winter storm that raged without stopping for more than two weeks. It was so severe that the most experienced sailors had given up all hope of surviving (27:20.)

But not Paul – he knew that God had told him he would witness on His behalf before Caesar in Rome (Acts 23). And since God had told him, he believed it with all of his heart.

…last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as He said…

I’m struck by how Paul’s faith in God’s ability to keep His promises, even in the face of a deadly storm, not only saved Paul, but also everyone else on the boat.

When we exercise faith, we may not always know just how many other lives will be touched & influenced by it; faith is contagious, & the LORD looks for those who will take Him at His Word, & strengthens them. And then, like with Abraham, He blesses others through His faithful ones.

The eyes of the LORD run to & from throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him… 2Chronicles 16:9

a little encouragement to stand, & other musings…

I really appreciate the “little” reminders of God’s faithful protection and grace in my life. It’s not that I need to hear something every morning to keep me going, or come across The Perfect Verses Of Encouragement in my scripture reading to stay on track. In fact, it seems that most of my life has been “…a long obedience in the same direction.” However, some of my most difficult life situations were able to be navigated because of a well-timed encouragement from the LORD in prayer; or a note written by a friend who’d been praying for me & was prompted to pass something on.

One specific time, Dick Mills, a well-known and very prophetic Bible teacher, picked theBean & I out of a church service and quoted 2Samuel 23:11,12 – He said, “You’re going to go through hard, hard things. But you’ll remain standing, & will come out smelling like a rose!”

Sure enough, over the next months, we endured some of our most challenging times in our ministry and personal life… and many times, revisited and rehearsed the word we’d received, holding tight to God’s promises to bring us out the other side. He did, and I’m still thankful for those timely words.


In reading through Acts 23, I think that the Apostle Paul appreciated the encouragements he received from the LORD. He’d been stoned at Lystra. Survived a riot at Ephesus. Navigated mobs at Thessalonica and Berea. Been threatened with violence and death countless times. And that’s not even considering the death mobs in Jerusalem. So when the LORD stood by him one night and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome,” it had to be a point of celebration, and a boost to his faith. Not because he was a fearful man, but because God was reminding him, “Don’t look at your circumstances. Don’t listen to the threats and plots against your life. I am your protector, and you still have a mission.”

So the next day, when he was informed there were 40 killers lying in wait to murder him, he didn’t worry what might happen next, for God was WITH him, and with absolute surety, Paul knew that He would never leave him or forsake him. No matter what.

And God even cared enough to encourage Paul, a little reminder of His goodness.

This is our God.

thoughts about Paul’s ‘mission from God,’ suffering, perseverance, & other musings…

Acts 21 tells of Paul’s intent to head to Jerusalem, and also the fact that he received several prophetic words and pictures declaring, “If you go to Jerusalem, you will be thrown into prison.”

I never understood why, after hearing these multiple warnings from the Holy Spirit of the imprisonment, persecution and suffering awaiting him in Jerusalem, Paul still purposed to go to Jerusalem. I even tried to come up with possible reasons WHY he might be so intent to finish this journey; none of the reasons made sense, especially considering the man the Apostle Paul was. So I asked the LORD, “What would make a man choose this path and persist in the face of what looks like preemptive warnings of danger and trouble from the Spirit?”

Immediately, an earlier portion of Paul’s story flashed into my mind, from the time right around his conversion (Acts 9:10-19.) From the beginning, God revealed that He had made Paul His “chosen instrument to testify of Christ and spread the gospel, before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” And one of the first things revealed to Paul was how much he would suffer for the sake of the Name of the LORD.

Aha! I get it. Paul was on a mission from God.

The single-minded purpose to get to Jerusalem wasn’t an exercise of stubbornness on Paul’s part – he simply understood that this was part of the living out of the mission given to him by the LORD years before. The fact that his obedience and persistence could (and would) result in imprisonment and suffering were almost an afterthought; the mission, and the spread of the gospel, were preeminent.

I think that we might have an underlying assumption that suffering is to be avoided at all costs, probably because suffering hurts. Digging deeper, we may have an unscriptural ‘karma-like’ belief about good and bad happening in our lives, e.g. if we’re doing what God wants us to do, life will be good, and if not, then that’s when the bad stuff happens.

Jesus told His disciples, “The servant isn’t greater than his master; if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20) If I’m living a life of obedience to the LORD, living for eternity and not just for comfort in the here and now, I will suffer. The good news is that any “present sufferings won’t even compare to the glory that will be revealed” in, through, and around us in Christ Jesus and by His Spirit (Romans 8:18.)

Paul was sure about one thing – God had given him a mission, and therefore, whatever it took to complete the mission, he knew that God would provide it.

I pray for such a faith to grow in my heart and mind, and for that kind of faithful perseverance to the calling and mission that God has placed in front of me. LORD, help me live life with eternity and Your values firmly in sight, and with a single-minded focus on my mission.

Thoughts from Jeremiah… pondering living waters vs. broken cisterns, perseverance, & other musings…

FWIW – this is the SOAP from yesterday… & a reading/journaling plan if you don’t have one..

S – Jeremiah 2:11-13 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, & hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

4:3,4 For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah & Jerusalem: Break up your fallow ground, & sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah & inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, & burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.


O – The word pictures God uses are rich in imagery & in depicting the futility of the pursuit of idols made of stone & wood – & God calls upon the heavenly host to be a witness to the unthinkable – that the people of His hand would exchange their glory, God, for something lifeless… the fountain of living waters, the source of life, a spring that never runs dry; reminds me of Jesus’ cry in John 4 & John 7 – that those who come to Him He will cause to have rivers of living water out of their hearts/heart of their being – & Israel/Judah have exchanged this never-ending supply of life giving water for a hand-made cistern, & a leaky, faulty one at that. And they’re content with it – & will die because of it, because the very thing they need, living water, they have rejected & have chosen instead their own ways & provisions.

The challenge that the LORD gives to Israel/Judah is to set themselves apart to Him – to plow the uncultivated, unplanted ground – a picture of neglect, laziness, & a call to diligence, & return to purpose. And to NOT sow among the thorns, but on the good ground. Not among the pointless & counterproductive – to not waste their seeds. To not have just an outward circumcision, but one of the heart; an inner set-apartness. Or the consequence will be fire & the wrath of God.

A – both Scriptures challenge me – the 1st to not exchange the provision of God, dependence on Him & His life giving Spirit for a ‘provision’ of my own making – self-sufficiency, & a denial of my very desperate need for Him.

The 2nd is a challenge to stay focused, to stay on task – to not forget or neglect the common or repetitive work – the preparing of the field, the planting of the seed in the RIGHT places – to not just go through the motions, but to mind the details, because what’s planted will grow – with interest.

P – LORD – I ask You to fill me with Your living waters – I’m dependent on You, & acknowledge my need for You & Your Spirit. I repent for self-sufficiency, for functioning on my own competency, for relying on my reserves, my strength, my abilities w/o bringing myself to You for Your direction, life, supply, shaping. Forgive me LORD.

And make me strong – someone that perseveres, endures, is faithful. Who stays on the little things, takes care of details, loves You in word & in action. Weave my fabric strong LORD.

Isaiah 50:7-9 ESV
But the LORD God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, & I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the LORD God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Walking through Philippians, thinking about life…

Our church family is currently going through through the book of Philippians… which for me means I get to spend time doing a few of my favorite things: lots of reading, researching, studying, & listening. In all of it, I’m finding myself really intrigued, captivated even, by the unfolding theme & message of Philippians.

The context of the letter is that it’s author, Paul, is writing to a church in a place called Philippi, a church that he helped to start. (Check THIS out for some background on it.)

The letter is sent to the Philippians while he’s in prison – in Rome, awaiting trial for his unswerving commitment to the declaration of the good news that people can have relationship with God & forgiveness of sins through the death & resurrection of Christ Jesus – he was specially commsioned to take this message to the Gentiles, something that really fired up some of the Jewish religious leaders… so much so that Paul was forced to defend himself in a Roman court of law.

One of the things that ‘gets’ me is that even though he’s in prison, it doesn’t seem to phase him. As a matter of fact, the main theme that keeps popping up throughout Philippians is Joy. And Rejoicing. And being joyful.

Huh?


Prison seems like a worst-case scenario to me; the kind of circumstance that would naturally lead one to use all their energy, effort, & focus to try to get OUT. Instead, Paul writes that he is rejoicing at his circumstances… because being in prison served to have the good news/gospel message advanced throughout the whole imperial guard, & to all the other prisoners.

Further, other Christ-followers were able to observe his clear, consistent, & faithful example in the face of suffering, shame, & the unknown… & from it were encouraged to tell of this good news, to speak God’s Word, without fear.

That’s why Paul rejoices. The gospel is being lived & declared, even in prison.


I’m confronted by my own fears… wondering at my own life-circumstances. What would I be focusing on if I were in Paul’s shoes? (Sandals?) Makes me think of the difficulties & messes I’ve been in, where the only thing on my mind was crying out for God’s help & deliverance… and it seemed that my only declarations centered around the theme, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

Paul reminds me that even in the middle of a bad situation (& prison is BAD,) God is still at work in my life. He’s never left me, never abandoned me. Even more, He’s right there with me in the middle of my trouble. And somehow, someway, He can & does manage to turn the situation for His glory. Somehow Paul sees that; & its not that he doesn’t want out of prison, (he does!) he just wants God’s purposes & plans in, through, & around his life more.