we are in process on a journey

Many bumper stickers I don’t care for, including the one we sometimes used to see, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” or something to that effect. While it did communicate something important, it seemed to let Christians off the hook for behaving less than well. The wonderful writer and teacher Dallas Willard used to call it “bar code Christianity,” when people somehow thought their profession of faith to get to heaven was enough, with little or no life corresponding.

There is no doubt that it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and not be our works, so that no one can boast. But that passage goes on to say practically the key of that thought. We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has planned for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Faith in Christ, in the gospel gives us assurance of eternal life, for sure. And our sins: past, present and future are taken care of. But it also puts us on a journey in a totally new direction. Faith in scripture is always submissive, and involves repentance. That involves a lifelong renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and instead, often against the grain of even ourselves, following the Lord through thick and thin, no matter what.

We are essentially those in process. We in Jesus never arrive in this life, but we are on a journey. There is a pursuit that keeps us going, even hungry. The completion of everything is promised only at our Lord’s return. Being in Christ, found by God and finding him, means we are on an entirely new pursuit. One aspect of that Paul describes in his great little letter to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

see Philippians 3

This is indeed a growth process. We should be becoming more and more like Jesus, over time. This involves an ongoing renewing of our minds which goes against the grain of conformity to the world (Romans 12:1-2).

And so there’s an ongoing tension in the sense that we are on a journey in which we have not yet arrived. Along the way we might mess up, and we will in some way or another. So that an essential part of it is the ongoing confession of sin, forgiveness and corresponding cleansing. And part of that is the necessity that we walk (or live) in the light, as Jesus is in the light (1 John).

And so we never have a sense in this life of having arrived. Yes, we have those moments, seasons, and times, even if they might seem to be rare, when we especially feel close to God, and when all seems well. But it won’t be long in this life, with the presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, when we will be put both on the defensive, and the offensive, as we take up the word of truth, scripture and the gospel, and by the Spirit seek to follow on with others in Jesus. Someday the journey will be over, and we will arrive to the fulfillment of all things in Jesus. Until then by grace we press on toward and even in the beauty of our Lord.

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prayer

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

life is hard, but God is good

I am not for trite, predictable sayings, but I have to admit to thinking that this one is good. We need to hold on to both. The reality is that life is indeed challenging on a good number of levels. As a follower of Christ, one has to keep praying, and doing what one can, trying to stay on top of so much. But the bottom line, when all is said and done is that God is good, period. As my sister reminded me, God is on top of everything.

Just the realization that God is good helps relieve the distress. The trials and troubles may not go away, and likely there will always be something of that in this life. But to know that God is present, at work, and our helper, means a lot. And that no matter what happens, God is there in the end to take care of it. That ultimately everything will be alright.

Words I need today, and everyday, as I consider my loved ones, my own life, the life of others, and the promise given to us in Christ.

finding the way of escape from temptation to sin

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10

There is a meme or thought that has been going around on the internet for some time which states that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Years back, our Pastor Jack Brown pointed out the fallacy of that statement, that in fact God does allow us to have more than we can handle ourselves, so that we will learn to trust in him, finding his strength in our weakness, words to that effect.  2 Corinthians is a great book to read with that theme in mind. As someone wisely pointed out recently, the 1 Corinthians 10 passage is not referring to struggles and burdens, but only to temptations.

I think the thought behind the meme might have had the above passage in mind, the truth that God won’t let us be tempted beyond what we are able, since he will provide the way for us to escape the temptation to sin. We need to keep both thoughts in mind. We live in weakness, up against forces and even the circumstances of life in a way in which we can’t navigate, or handle ourselves, so that we need to learn to cast ourselves on the Lord, and in our weakness depend on him and his strength. And we realize that we don’t have to yield to the temptation to sin in a given situation. That there’s a way out for us to escape. Think of Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39).

In the prayer Jesus taught us, we are to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” That certainly is an admission of our weakness, and complete dependence on God to deliver us from evil, spiritual warfare at least hinted at there. In passing, it’s good to note that the classic spiritual warfare passage, Ephesians 6:10-20 while involving armor and a weapon, is also to be accomplished in one simply standing their ground, not either turning back in flight, or advancing in conquest. That doesn’t suggest a passivity, nor is it to be confused with the advance of the light of the gospel even into places of darkness. This is certainly an important thought since our Lord taught us to regularly pray it.

It’s important not only what we do, but also what we don’t do. Temptation in this world through the flesh (James 1:13-15) and from the devil is very real. We had best not minimize it, but be prepared, because it is in fact a part of the present life. We can’t escape from the temptation itself, but we can escape from the sin which we’re tempted to commit. Temptation also includes sins of omission, in that we’re tempted to not do what we ought to do.

God is faithful, but we must take the way of escape. We must be aware of all of this, and instead of being upset because we are tempted, learn to find the way out which God provides. When we do sin, of course there’s always the confession of sin open for us. Although some sins will require much more as well, perhaps restitution, and carry a great cost. We should never trifle with sin of any kind, be it big (Psalm 19:13) or small. But some sin is to be avoided at all costs. There is a road back, no matter what the sin. But not an easy one, nor without serious consequences.

We look forward to the day when temptation to sin will be a thing of the past. Until then we take heed, and remain watchful. Trusting in God’s help and provision for us in and through Jesus.

a settled trust beyond reason

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

Life can be a struggle. Ask any homeowner, for example, who is trying to keep up basic repairs. Or concern over a host of other factors. Money is often involved, but other things as well. Priorities, and sometimes dealing with people. One can soon feel overwhelmed by it all.

Then we turn to scripture and read a passage like the one quoted above. In fact a couple years back this passage seemed especially impressed on me.

If there’s one thing I believe in humanly speaking, it’s the importance of reason. Too often people go on their emotions, or impressions, what might seem like the right, or best thing to do. I could wish to be like some who don’t seem to have a care in the world no matter what. Usually I get rid of my cares in a relatively short time, maybe in a day or less, and soon go on to the next care I have to deal with.

Scripture does not tell us to throw our reason away. In fact just to read scripture is in itself an appeal to our reasoning, but that appeal, while not suggesting we leave our reason behind, doesn’t stop there.

We are to employ our human reasoning the best we can, but in the end we’re to rest on God, to trust in him. No matter what we might cover through human investigation and reason, we can’t be foolproof. There will always be something more to know, which we may not uncover until years later, if at all. We do the best we can, but then let it go, and leave it in faith, in God’s hands.

This is a discipline with a much bigger goal in mind than simply succeeding in doing well enough in projects which need to be done, though we certainly want to do our best in them. We want to learn to live in a settled trust in God beyond our own human reasoning, and really all human reasoning. So that we live ultimately in dependence and submission to God. We want to be those who beyond anything else have an unwavering faith and trust in God.

That can be a struggle, since we’re so used to depending on ourselves, or others. But something for us to both aspire to, and grow in, through the normal day to day situations of life which we encounter. In and through Jesus.

negotiating rest

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6

I’m not the worst when it comes to rest, since I can do it just about any time, maybe due to a degree of sleep deprivation over the years. But when it comes to simply resting when on vacation, I chafe a little under the bit. Work for me is where it’s at. I need to be doing something.

Jesus’s words to his disciples came in the midst of a busy season for them, full of ministry to many people. And even when they were endeavoring to get away, a crowd pressed in, Jesus changed his plans, and what followed was the feeding off the five thousand.

Rest in our day surely means to unplug and stay that way, except for an emergency phone call. Being present for others certainly means that at times our rest stops will be interrupted. But we need to be committed to slowing down, even stopping. Simply being in a place where we can rest alone and in quiet. We are little aware just how much we need such times to undo our frazzled, ever moving interior experience, which we see as normal.

We need to learn to be at rest with the Lord, leaving our own propensity to strive and at times even panic, behind. Just the fact that Jesus called his disciples to this, and more than once, is instructive for us today. We need those getaways from our immediate surroundings, yes from the internet. If at home, simply in quiet. We need to simply stop and do nothing. In the presence of the one who can help us enter into the Sabbath rest in which we are refreshed and renewed. Something I want to learn to not do, but be in better. In and through Jesus.

seeking the Lord

He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.

2 Chronicles 12

In the First/Old Testament, we read repeatedly about the importance of seeking God. Perhaps this is the classic or most remembered passage:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55

We in Jesus have been brought near the most holy place, near to God through Jesus’s blood, his death for us. Probably the closest New/Final Testament passage in calling us to seek the Lord, other than Jesus’s words to ask, seek, and knock, are found in James in the context of the need for repentance.

I believe seeking God is still very appropriate for us today, because all scripture is written for us, as Paul makes clear, certainly including the First Testament, which is what Paul had in mind. And we are often said to not be naturally inclined to wander, rather than to seek God. I would like to challenge that, but within the complexity of life as it is, and we as we are.

Based on especially one book I’ve read lately, and I think on another book I want to soon read, and on what teaching I have received from the church, as well as my take of it, I would say that we in Jesus are inclined towards God. We want to come near to him, and remain close. We do have the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with in this life, so that it’s not always easy. And yet because of Jesus and the work of the Spirit, we can be close to God in the sense of communing, or being in God’s presence.

We often see, for example in a book like Ephesians, how this or that is said to be true of God’s people, and therefore God’s people are not to do certain things, but rather do other things, or live in a way that corresponds with what is said to be true. This has been called our position in Christ from which our practice and new life comes.

So I want to seek the Lord anew and afresh at this time. And I realize that in Christ, that is natural for me to want to do so, and by God’s grace and the help of the Spirit, I can and therefore should. The challenge comes in not letting other things crowd out such good intentions. And realizing that it is still ours in faith to do.

All of this possible for us in and through Jesus.