being under it

Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:8

When you think about it, or simply just by living –you really end up not having to think about it at all– you will usually for one reason at a time have great cause for concern or anxiety, so that you’re “under it.” And we sort of get used to living there, hopefully learning to flourish and so in a sense no longer be under the circumstances.

In the midst of it all, I want to please God. And a life of pleasing God involves walking through whatever it is that we are facing in a way, obviously, that is pleasing to him. And what way might that be? The way of faith, in the Spirit, in and through Christ, and of course Christ’s death and resurrection.

So that no matter what we face, regardless of how difficult it is, we can set our goal to simply be pleasing to God whatever the outcome. Walking through it might well be difficult with no answers along the way, relatively clueless. But our confidence ultimately must be in God, and in nothing or no one else. That is the one hope for us, and for everyone. Whether in the midst of great loss, or whatever we are facing. All of this in and through Jesus.

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belief in God

When one considers the world, both a skepticism from a cynicism can set in. Yes, there is much good we can find everywhere in the form of beauty and what seems noble and right. But no matter where we turn we also find trouble, and brokenness, oftentimes right in the midst of the great good we find, so that the good can seem spoiled, or at least in danger of being undermined or lost.

Many do come to faith in God usually connected to personal matters I would guess, but also in response to something of the beauty found in creation and in the message of the gospel. But some have abandoned faith in God. The randomness of evil or misfortune in the world, the great suffering often accompanying that, along with what is not good oftentimes threatening what otherwise is, all of this can make people doubt the existence of a good God who is like a Father and love. So that a person can become either an agnostic, or even an atheist, the latter usually to some degree agnostic, but with the belief that it’s impossible to really know, and maybe beside the point.

There are some reasons which might move me toward faith in God. The wonder of creation, or one could say, nature, is one of them. What we do find good in societies, in spite of all the evil might be another. Art in the form of music and other work helps us appreciate beauty and might suggest to us a Creator behind the creativity we find within humankind and ourselves.

But the only thing that really keeps me from descending into something like the writer of Ecclesiastes had (one of my favorite books of the Bible, by the way, which shows where I might naturally go apart from the gospel) is the gospel: the good news in Jesus. This good news addresses both the brokenness we see all around us, including when we look in the mirror. And helps us see that both for the present, as well as for the future, there is redemption and salvation in terms of reconciliation, justification, and regeneration. The old creation, good, but broken down in so many ways to be made new, the new creation in Christ to ultimately take over everything and make it turn out more than okay, for the life of the world, and in our lives as well.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas in God becoming flesh, completely human in the Person of the Son, Jesus. God not only with us, but becoming one of us. And fulfilling all God set in motion for humankind in God’s call to Abraham and what followed, in spite of all the brokenness we find in that story. Addressing that by becoming broken himself on the cross, experiencing death in order that we might have the life which followed, swallowing up that death, and ultimately all death.

The good news in Jesus. Our one hope, and what keeps my faith in God intact from my own perspective, the Spirit from God at work in all of this now, in and through Jesus.

the best kind of teaching

There are gifted teachers who sometimes help us see things we’ve never seen before. Two of them who have influenced me in my lifetime are N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight.  Both have helped many. Interestingly, McKnight, who has been a professor for many years (as well as a scholar and writer) teaches in a way to challenge others to have to grapple with what he’s saying, and put it together for themselves. He doesn’t necessarily put everything together, but enough so that the listener can figure it out for themselves. He wants interactivity, might be the bottom line. I really hesitate to speak for someone else, but I think that’s part of what’s going on. McKnight’s books do present a coherent whole. But part of the best kind of teaching is to get the listener to work through it themselves, not simply give ready made answers, so that the listener just passively receives that. The goal is to make learners or disciples who in our way of putting it, will learn to think critically, to think for themselves, but at the same time know how along with others to begin to follow Christ, to be the church. Of course the anointing of the Spirit is present in Jesus to teach us as well (1 John 2) as we wrestle through what is being taught.

We have been taking our grandchildren to Ada Bible Church, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how much I have liked it, usually wanting to avoid mega churches. Their ministry to children, and their simple straightforward teaching of scripture, with an emphasis on application is most helpful. And what I think it gets the listener to do is learn to engage with the text in the same way as it’s being taught. Another example of the best kind of teaching.

The first from McKnight is more challenging, and especially important for an academic setting. But I’m sure McKnight engages in something of the same that Ada Bible Church does. It’s not like he doesn’t give answers, but it’s more like he’s drawing out students to work through it for themselves, so that they might not only find such answers, but come up with something fresh themselves. Ada Bible Church’s task as a church is in part to feed and take care of the Lord’s sheep. And a big part of that is to help us learn to help ourselves, of course while under and following the Good Shepherd.

Where I work, Our Daily Bread Ministries, I believe does something of the same in its worldwide ministry, which I have come to appreciate more and more.

All of this to help us come to faith, and grow up together toward full maturity in Christ.

 

pressing on regardless

But one thing I do…

Philippians 3:13

Of course there’s many things we have to do. But this refers to mindset. That plays out in just what we do, as well as choose not to do.

No matter what we face, and we’ll see what appears to be many obstacles along the way, we’ll have to keep our eyes on the goal: what God has called us to do, be and become, both individually and together, what Paul calls the heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.

If we let the deluge of problems cave us in, we’ll miss out on God’s help and deliverance along the way. We have to press on in faith regardless, even come what may. And go on. And on and on. To the end. In and through Jesus.

the value of difficulty

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to tremendous difficulties.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It is interesting how often some do well in life in spite of difficulties which could have easily put them on a different course. Probably with most of us it’s a mixture of the two. Because of stresses or problems we have faced, perhaps we have not done as well as we could have. But along with that, have found something we can excel in.

I think of community, and specifically the church. In China the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds, still under persecution. And the church in the southern hemisphere both in Africa and again in the east seems to be growing exponentially in number day after day. There’s something to be said for that as we see in the book of Acts. Of course we don’t just want growth in numbers, but in spiritual depth as well.

Meanwhile the church in the west is either dying, or just holding its own with some exceptions to the rule, but even those exceptions at the current time seeing declining growth. Could it be that like arguably Europe in the past, this is becoming a Laodicean age for the church in the northern hemisphere, rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing (Revelation 3)?

For faith to be real faith, one’s life must be on the line. Of course when people first come to faith in Christ, they are not necessarily going to see that implication that is present. But they will learn to see it over time. God by the Spirit will not let us off the hook. Of course one’s eternal life is taken care of. But all of life is to be included in our utter dependence on God. So that when we’re up against it through whatever difficulties we face we must learn to commit it all to God and press on ahead, regardless. Following Christ means doing so no matter what.

So today that is my stand. To push ahead in faith, and do the best I can regardless of what I face. And to do so, thanking God for his promises and provision for us along the way in everything in and through Jesus.

Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.