faith pressing through the most difficult places

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samueland the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

Hebrews 11

All of scripture has value for us in some way. Because of Jesus’s teaching and example, I may not participate in physical warfare, but spiritual warfare is most certainly another matter. And just as important as that, if not more so is the reality that life is hard and continuing on in faith is challenging. There’s certainly a piece of spiritual warfare going on in that, as the world, the flesh and the devil are indissolubly linked together. But it’s even in the ordinariness of life when we need to pick up and keep moving, even when the energy and passion are long gone, faith is the victory we have within our reach in and through Jesus.

For some reason, actually for a number of understandable reasons lately, the peace of God in my life has subsided, which probably to some extent is my own fault, definitely surely my own lack of faith. Yesterday, besides the edifying time at my mother’s church in the Bible teaching class, the worship-song time, and the message, I was helped by hearing this message from Charles Stanley. What came across for me was the gentle voice of the Lord encouraging me to trust him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

But still the stress and strain of life can get to us at times, and the feeling of being overwhelmed can be the norm. What we need at that point is both a focus on the Lord, and the wherewithal to accept the hard place and go on by faith. In the Lord’s strength, rather than our own, and in spite of our sense of weakness. Being willing to walk through the hardest places, face the most difficult challenges, and still seek to stand in the Lord in the midst of it all, come what may. Another way of putting it perhaps, is to accept the iron in one’s soul so to speak to enable us, instead of disabling us, in the way and will of the Lord. All by faith. Just as those people of faith did long ago in the midst of their trouble. In and through Jesus.

prayer for the sixth Sunday of Easter

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; 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

the room of grace versus the room of good intentions

The small group we’re part of from our church has read and been discussing a most interesting book, The Cure: What If God Isn’t Who You Think He Is And Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall. In some ways it’s a bit of a challenging read, at least my copy of it, when you have a bit longish stories told in rather small italics. But it is well worth the effort. With good end notes to check the reasons from scripture a certain point is being made.

The book really gets down to life, where we live, and is life-changing in that it seeks to help us find God’s radical grace in the midst of it. I’m sure it has its weaknesses, but its strengths are readily apparent. I have thought that scripture and life is a bit more complicated that what it presents, yet the main point won’t let me go, and I can tell that its truth is changing me.

The theme is that it’s what God has done in Christ, and our position in Christ through trusting God and his word that makes all the difference. It’s not about our good intentions which will fail, although many of us put on masks to cover that up. It is about the real us, with all our troubles and struggles and failures along the way, being changed the only way scripture says we can be changed, by God’s grace through faith.

One example from the book, as I recall it: In the room of good intentions, everyone is set on doing their best for God, in doing God’s will, and everyone has a certain air about that. There’s plenty of pain in that room and house, because no one completely lives up to it. In fact failure ends up marking the entire project, because everyone hides from everyone else who they really are, and what they’re really thinking, and to some extent doing. Whereas the house and room of grace is full of broken people who are real with each other, who don’t try to put on any front. Who together with Jesus end up working through the mess of their lives, and find God’s grace very present through it all. The emphasis is not on what they are doing, but what God has already done through Christ.

I have been away from the book for awhile, but I think its message has found a place in my heart, working its way into my life. Again, it’s the message of grace. Not about measuring up to something by ourselves, but acknowledging our mess, how we fail and don’t measure up. But believing there is hope for us to actually change only in God’s grace that is ours in Christ.

One controversial point the book makes, which I believe (and have believed in the past) is true, rightly understood, is that we in Christ are no longer sinners, but saints, or holy ones. Martin Luther insisted that we’re simultaneously sinners and saints. The fact that we sin at all, and struggle in areas, known or maybe even unknown we could say makes us sinners. But the Bible does make a distinction between sinners and the righteous. In and through Jesus, we have the gift of righteousness in a right standing with God, and in a changed heart which contrary to the past, wants to please God.

All in all, it’s a good read. But be aware, it’s a life-changing read. One that will have you going back to scripture, and considering your own life.

Has any reader read it, and what were your impressions?

hard topics (and the tongue)

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.

rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

a living faith

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11

Philosophical Nominalism is said to have plagued part of the church before and into the Reformation and beyond. Simplistically stated, it’s the idea that reality is in the words themselves apart from that actual realities themselves. And ends up actually putting a kibosh on the realities, even questioning their existence. This is said of those whose faith puts a priority on words, and precisely on the written word instead of the Word himself, Jesus. Those are the ones who deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and count it merely symbolical.

Suffice it to say that I consider such a charge mistaken. Faith is in God’s word counting on the realities themselves to be true. So that we base our entire lives on them. One might partake of Holy Communion every week, believing that in doing so, they are partaking of the body and blood of Christ, of Christ himself. Others might partake of it once and awhile, and see it as only a rememberance, the wafers and juice being symbolic. But if they have faith, they will receive and even now have the result of what that ordinance represents, a new life in Jesus.

According to the passage, the beginning of which is quoted above, faith is the difference maker. And it comes down to faith in God’s word, ultimately God’s word about Jesus, faith in Jesus himself. That’s what the Bible clearly calls us to again and again. Specifically the Final/New Testament.

What we all need– regardless of our church, and where it stands on some of the theological debates and differences, and where we might stand on such issues– we all need faith. A living faith which takes God at his word, and receives Christ as God’s final Word. A faith which enables us to hear and obey that word, remembering the Pioneer and Perfecter of such faith, Jesus himself. Our confidence and assurance ultimately resting in him.

what keeps us going

There are many ways to become discouraged, and to essentially quit. Fear paralyzes and debilitates. Feeling overwhelmed over difficult challenges in life in which there is some inevitable stumbling. Or not measuring up to some self-imposed standard which one may have imbibed through their upbringing, experiences, ideas floating around, or a combination of a number of factors.

What keeps me going is the faith and hope and love in Jesus. To boil it down, for me, the written word and the Word himself, Jesus. I accept something of the Real Presence in Holy Communion, but I believe something of that is given to us in scripture, as well. So whether I feel like it or not, and I might say especially when I don’t feel like it, I keep going back to scripture, and seek to read it all in the light of Jesus who brings us into the life of God.

For me this isn’t a nice thing I do, or something I find enjoyable so that I do it, though there’s some truth in both. For me it’s a matter of life and death. I have to do this, but I want to want to do it as well. My want is good enough for a number of reasons, but essentially so because of God’s grace, that I just keep on doing it. When I wane in doing so, it’s not long until I feel and see the consequences.

In this is a matter of not just surviving, but in Jesus experiencing a sense of thriving. It seems like faith is always on that edge, the precipice of on the one hand falling into the abyss, though for us in Jesus, underneath are the everlasting arms. And on the other hand, finding ourselves in a kind of paradise right in the midst of a broken down world. That is known even in what can be the aloneness of life. I remember when Paul said that everyone had abandoned him, but that the Lord stood with him so that the proclamation of the gospel would go forward. God’s presence should be even more palpable, or perhaps better put, steadily manifest and tangible amongst God’s people, those in Jesus in his body, the church.

So for me, I carry on for a number of reasons I’m sure, all through God’s grace and working in Jesus. But essentially due to the written word which leads us to the Word, Jesus, Jesus actually somehow mediating that word to us through his fulfillment of it, all of this in and through the Spirit. That last sentence is breaking boundaries I ordinarily don’t believe in crossing. I am moving into what is too high for me, too much to understand. Mystery. Yet we know that it’s both the word then the Word, and the Word then the word. All of this, of course, in and through Jesus.