looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26

I’m not sure how many people actually look back to consider the past year, and then look forward in anticipation to what the next year will bring. Or even if very many see any value in that. Speaking for myself, I think in time’s past I’ve not seen much value in such an exercise, and didn’t see the change from December to January as anything more than a new calendar, parties for some, but for us or at least for myself, time off work.

This would be a personal exercise, not one you would want to necessarily write on and share. I’m sure for some of us the past year may have had parts we would rather forget, or maybe so bad that we’ll never fully get over it. Just heal with the remaining scars, painful at times, and go on. For others there may have been breakthroughs and some good results. Probably for most of us there’s a mixture of some of both.

Life is a journey, and the life of faith no less so. We do well to ask ourselves how we’re doing, whether or not we’re progressing in our walk with God. What improvements we’re making and what we still need to work on.

Challenges will lie ahead, but faith enables us to look forward to God’s answer to our prayers, so that we live in hope, anticipation of what God is going to do. And we certainly think in terms not just of ourselves, but of others. What does God have in store for our loved ones, our families? Our friends? Our churches? Our neighborhood, area, state, nation, indeed the world?

We can know that through it all, whatever new challenges we face, God is faithful. We can look to God in faith, knowing he will see us through. We do need to be in scripture, and in the fellowship of the church. But along with that, it’s our own personal interaction with God that will make the difference. Even as was the case with the writer of Lamentations.

We look back on the old year with thanksgiving for all God has done. And we look forward to what is yet to come, what God has in store and how he is going to work through whatever comes our way. In and through Jesus.

 

2 Corinthians 11:1-15

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles,deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

2 Corinthians 11:1-15

cast on God’s mercy

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

The older I get, it seems the easier for me to realize just how much I need to be cast on God and God’s mercy. The hard knocks and places of life, and my past poor and even ungodly reactions to them, along with my drifting before I finally started moving toward a better direction, all that part of the past helps me, and really helps embed in me the awareness of my complete and utter need for God and his mercy in Christ.

I love this parable our Lord told. Only those who don’t understand their own great need will look down on others. And it’s not like I no longer can’t become foolishly proud. But if I look into the light of God’s word and reality, and pray, then it won’t take long for that to dissipate and disappear. Or at least I would hope not.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace to understand our need for God’s mercy. A great gift to us from God in and through Jesus.

handling trouble in a godly way

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job lost everything except his wife: his livelihood, his seven children, and then his health. And the rest of the book is well worth reading, rereading, and pondering. But Job did not abandon his faith in God. He was up against it, at his wit’s end. The story ends well. But part of what can be instructive for us upfront and right away is Job’s initial response to all that happened.

It’s interesting how some seem to go along in life without little care. And that includes those who are responsible. While others of us seem to be chomping at the bit to descend into fear and the fretting that ordinarily accompanies that.

How much better to trust the heavenly Father, just as Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:19-34). To leave everything into God’s good, more than capable hands. To trust that the Father will see us through. And to learn to live in that prospect with the peace that accompanies it. So it’s a matter of trust versus fear.

Paul gives us what perhaps is the most direct, specific direction in dealing with trouble and troubling thoughts when they come:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Seems like an impossible command, I say loving directive, not to be anxious or worry when trouble comes. But instead, in every situation we’re to pray, and tell God our concern. And thank God for the good in our lives. With the promise that God will give us peace, a peace that goes beyond our limited understanding. That our hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus. I have thought that worse than nearly any problem is my own reaction to it. We do our best, but in the end, God is the one from whom all blessing flows. This world is not trouble free, even as Jesus told us. We simply need to submit ourselves to the Father’s care.

I wonder if this is a part of the spiritual warfare we’re up against as Christians. I’m sure the spiritual enemy does try to exploit whatever weakness we have. We do well to go back to Ephesians 6:10-20 and ponder that in prayer.

What is crucial for us is how we react when trouble comes. Job initially does well, and then we see the rest of the book, how he responds further. Of course he didn’t have all the revelation we have now, or the person writing the wisdom story, one of the oldest if not the oldest writings of the Bible. It’s not like there’s going to be no wrestling or anxious moments. But whatever we’re experiencing within or without, we need to commit ourselves to growth in doing so in a godly matter, depending on what God’s word tells us. In and through Jesus.

it doesn’t come easy

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]

Mark 9:14-29

I remember the story of George Muller, that he prayed for two people faithfully over his lifetime, but that they didn’t receive Christ until his funeral, at least one of them, perhaps the other one later. But that goes to show the necessity of persistence and perseverance in prayer, and how some answers don’t come easy. Muller was known for being systematic and consistent, as well as a man who prayed and seemed to have a special gift of faith, though I think he wanted to deny that. He wanted his life to be an encouragement to Christians to seek God for their needs, and not think it all depended on them. Christians in those days would often work sixteen hours daily, I suppose six days a week to provide for their families. In the case of Muller and his wife, they prayed for God’s provision for orphans, opening up an orphanage which I believe continues on to this day. And by faith they saw over and over again God’s miraculous provision.

It is so easy to simply get lost in the tumble and actually rumble of the spiritual warfare. In the passage above, Jesus informs his disciples that they needed to pray (and in some manuscripts, fasting is added) to cast out the demon. What often happens is that we more or less get sidetracked and kind of take a plunge down and out of the sense that all will be well, not just out of step with God, but in no step at all. What can be behind that is simply the spiritual reality and resistance we’re up against. To think it’s easy to break strongholds that have perhaps been in place for generations is naive at best, and dangerous at worst. Sometimes answers seem to come easily, but most the time what is required is perseverance in prayer.

Some might ask (and I’ve wondered a bit, myself) why doesn’t a good and great God simply answer and change the situation for good, especially by grace moving people’s hearts to trust and obey? I think the obvious hard fact of the matter is that God simply honors the free will of people. And that the process from our perspective can be arduous, long, and difficult. And we have to hold on by faith and over time. In the case of Jesus’s disciples above, without Jesus’s presence with them, they might have had to pray for a night over the situation, though I imagine simply praying would have sufficed. Some manuscripts add “and fasting” which suggests that it would take more time and effort in looking to God in prayer.

What we need to remember is the reality we’re in, and what is required. God will move, though I don’t believe forcing his way on anyone. People with God’s grace given (called prevenient grace) still are involved in that they have to respond to saving grace. Of course apart from the grace preceding, no one would. But prayer from others can be essential in helping the breakthroughs take place. I’m sure I’ve been the recipient of such. And I hope to be a blessing to others that way. In and through Jesus.

remembering the persecuted church

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

Open Doors is one of the best organizations in calling attention to and helping persecuted Christians. The recent report for 2018 makes it clear that there are pockets of what actually turns out to be a growing persecution of Christians worldwide.

Here in the United States and in the western world there is none of the persecution experienced elsewhere. We may have laws we disagree with, but one can still be an open witness of their faith without fear of suffering and loss. Not so in many places worldwide including a recent crackdown in China where both leaders and members of churches are being put in prison and tortured.

We need to become more aware of the plight of Christians and we need to be in regular prayer for them. To be a Christian here ordinarily costs us nothing, although we might miss out on a promotion or somehow be marginalized, or we might have to take some ethical stands that cost us. To be baptized as a Christian in many places elsewhere is practically to accept a death sentence, or at least be relegated to a status that is lower and subject not only to scorn, but to a more difficult existence.

There is no question that we here in the United States and elsewhere are shielded and even in danger of becoming complacent in our faith. America like Europe is becoming increasingly secularized to the point where faith is seen more and more as a relic of the past, and even an impediment to civilization. Although that can be exaggerated and misunderstood among Christians here, nevertheless there’s a real element of truth in it. Yet at the same time we don’t suffer the persecution our brothers and sisters elsewhere are facing.

…God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1 Corinthians 12:24b-26

Paul tells us that if one part of Christ’s body suffers, then the entire body suffers with it. Not unlike my foot which suffered injury some years back, and at times hurts probably due to arthritis that has set in. So that even though the rest of my body may be okay, yet I am not comfortable. Other parts sometimes compensate for missing or hurting parts of our physical existence, when they can.

We need to develop more and more an awareness which breaks the boundaries of ethnicity and denominations and traditions, not to mention nations, to see and begin to understand and enter into the world in which others of our faith live. That by God’s Spirit, we might be a help to them, even as by their faith they’re a help to us. And that together we might be a witness to the world in and through Jesus.

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

Micah 5:2,4-5a

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace

wannabe disciples

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23

Dallas Willard in his book, The Divine Conspiracy coined the phrase “bar code Christianity” to describe much of what he saw, the idea of people becoming Christian without becoming true and committed followers of Christ. It’s the thought of believing in Christ so that one’s eternal destiny is settled, but going on to live life as one chooses. Of course we know that one who really has committed their lives to God through Christ will experience the work of the Spirit to help them be satisfied with nothing less than following Christ. There’s truth in that, but at the same time we must beware of complacency which results in an inevitable drift and eventual falling away from the faith, if I read the book of Hebrews correctly.

Jesus made it clear that to be his disciple requires the same commitment to God and in life that he had. The exact same. And there was nothing halfway, except that we know the Lord accepts us just as we are, warts and all, with all our fallibility and predisposition to what is contrary to following him. His disciple Peter is a good example of such. And it’s not like this is something optional, only for those committed, let’s say to a monastic sort of existence. It’s for all, all who would name the name of Christ and be called Christian.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Luke 9:24-26

There’s no watering this down. At the same time, I see grace as helping us to fully embrace this call. And the distinction here is quite sharp. You either put all your eggs in one basket or another, living for one’s self, or living for Christ. Perhaps gaining much that the world holds dear, but in the end, losing one’s self. In other words, we find our true self, and our true lives in Christ as opposed to finding it in this world. And it’s an embrace of Christ and his teaching for how we live from day to day.

God’s one call to us in and through Jesus.

2 Corinthians 10

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:1-18