the need for faith and patience

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6:9-12

It is easy to get discouraged in the midst of life with all its setbacks, issues, and problems. And especially so in the midst of some prolonged trial. We can be tempted to begin to doubt whether our faith really matters.

The writer to the Hebrews was dealing with something similar with them. Except they were under the threat of persecution. They were evidently discouraged and indeed afraid, and we’re thinking about returning to the safety of their former Judaism.

I can find myself worn down, and simply tired. We need to rest, take care of ourselves, not push ourselves beyond what is healthy. At the same time we’re not to back down in the least from the calling and responsibilities the Lord has given us.

And while this is for others: we’re indeed blessed to be a blessing, it’s also necessarily for ourselves. We shouldn’t dismiss the danger we ourselves face, as the NIV heading for this passage puts it, “Warning Against Falling Away.” If we think that couldn’t happen to us, then it would seem to me like we’re not taking this passage of scripture, God’s word seriously.

We need by faith and patience to continue to believe and do good, hear the word and put it into practice, as James says. How that looks in my life will be different when it comes to specifics, then from someone else. But the same fruit of the Spirit.

It would be good to read the entire book of Hebrews with the above passage in mind. A pastoral letter written to encourage a discouraged people. For us all in and through Jesus.

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what do we love?

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:97-104

When it comes right down to it, what do we honestly love? What do we come back to again and again? And admire, so that we want to emulate it? And what does that make us hate? The psalmist loved God’s law, scripture, put it into practice in life, and therefore hated every wrong path.

Life tends to either make this hazy, or clarifies it, of course our response by faith needed. When we run up against trials, we can run to God in prayer and by that find blessing. A big part of this psalm overall, even if not in the section above. But the passage quoted (מ Mem in the NIV) focuses on one’s love of God’s law or instruction, scripture itself. A love which doesn’t just delight in that word, but puts it into practice in one’s life. It is a game changer, meaning a life changing word from God.

The point of the word is not so much the word itself, though every word from God is important for life and precious. But it inevitably points and directs us to its fulfillment in Christ who came to fulfill all. So that our love for God’s word naturally results in a love for Christ himself.

Again, this is a good question to ask: What do we love? Sometimes after getting up from sleep, there’s a freshness that helps us appreciate what matters most to us. And other times it comes through the hard knocks of life. Love for something less than how God’s word directs us will leave us high and dry and often troubled. A good sign that we’re off track, and that we need to come back to scripture, and get our lives redirected by God in the way fulfilled and given to us in and through Jesus.

2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5

Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.

In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5

what are we becoming?

It’s interesting how people think that if they repent and say they’re sorry, and maybe even ask for forgiveness, that then they’ve changed. The point of repentance actually is more than confession and reparation. It is indeed change. And the needed change doesn’t come overnight, even though in initial repentance one is turned from wrong to right. Thorough change of heart and life ordinarily if not always takes time, and even in a true sense, a lifetime.

Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm expressed woeful sorrow to God for offending God over the sin done, and asks for changed heart out of which can come a changed life. A good question is simply: What are we becoming? And another: What factors are involved in that, or behind it. Often there can be a mix of things in the works, even contradictory. We can be pulled this way and that. But we can’t go two directions at the same time. Whatever form the flesh takes is the flesh still. It’s either the flesh or the Spirit, serving God or serving Mammon/money, or whatever. Which in part is why we’re told in Proverbs:

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

It is a scary thought actually, the idea that we can be becoming something other than what God would want, and actually therefore, what we would want as well. Just something small can get hold of the heart, take over, and eventually change us through and through. Or the good thought and hope, that as by grace we pick up just something of the goodness of God, what can help us in the way in Christ, that too can permeate us, and put us on the road to Christ-likeness and the restoration of our true humanity in the new creation.

What God did in the Incarnation which we especially remember this time of the year: becoming one of us, fully human, in the Son uniting his deity with our humanity (Gregory of Nazianzen). God changing so that we might change, humanity forever elevated through new creation to fulfill the goal of creation through the Incarnation and the salvation which came through the death and resurrection of the God-Man, the Human One. Amazingly God became human so that we might share in God’s nature. In and through Jesus.

 

holding on to faith and a good conscience

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 1:18-20

It would be nice to live in a world in which there were not challenges to one’s faith and conscience. For myself, I don’t mind doing the hard thing, going the extra mile, etc., although I realize I can be too easily tied into knots and worried about whether I did good enough, or even exactly what I should do. It’s when what I’m facing is up against what others are doing when it can be especially hard. Sometimes one doesn’t really know what to do, and you should always pray to begin with, and actually continue to pray. None of us will get it perfect, but we should try to do what’s right in God’s eyes, as best we can understand it. And remain in the peace God gives.

Fighting the battle well is how Paul frames it, written for us. A pastoral epistle written to a young pastor, so for pastors and Christian leaders today, but by extension for all of us, since we’re to follow their example, as they follow Christ. Just to realize we’re in a battle is helpful; it’s no cakewalk.

If we’re careless in regard to faith and a good conscience, we can suffer shipwreck with regard to the faith itself. In other words, we can lose out entirely. It is interesting though that when the Apostle handed over two who had done so, over to Satan himself, there was the potential that they would be taught not to blaspheme, or so it seems according to this scripture. That was what they were doing when they suffered shipwreck. For others of us it could simply be walking away and never returning without uttering a word.

Hopefully it would be hard for us to leave faith and a good conscience behind. Having a bad conscience is miserable enough. This may seem unrelated, though I think not. I have an interesting habit, especially when I’m at work, or out and about some, to pull out my little New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs, and pick up where I left off, a little metal clip making it easy to find. It reminded me last night of how people especially in times past, but probably more now then we might think, pull out a cigarette out of habit and addiction, and to calm them down, or whatever relief they get from that. For me, it’s a part of how I engage in the battle and in the endeavor to hold on to faith and a good conscience, come what may. God is good and gracious in all of this, understanding our weakness. Christ is right there with us to help us, knowing firsthand what it’s like.

Part of our learning and existence in this life in and through Jesus.

 

leaving superficial comfort behind

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:34-39

Unfortunately we live in a world that doesn’t welcome the comfort God gives in Jesus. Instead we want our own comfort and the comfort the world affords us. And it’s not comfortable to opt for God’s comfort in Jesus, because to have that comfort means no less than the way of the cross. And a different turn than what people ordinarily opt for.

I know this doesn’t make sense on a natural level. Jesus’s call then sounded just as radical as it does now. Many people followed for a time, but at a certain point when their expectations for comfort were not being met, they no longer followed. And that included many disciples as well, when Jesus lost them with words that didn’t match their expectations (John 6).

I really dislike leaving the comfort of just going with the flow on many things, sometimes on matters which in themselves seem trivial and technical. But I’ve lived long enough to know that “live and let live” is not good, either. It is best to bet one’s entire life on Jesus, then go with that flow. By faith let Jesus’s words, with their verdict hit us right where it hurts. So that we can get the only comfort that will last. And hopefully so others who also are naturally offended, will with us accept that offense, and follow the one who took the offense of the world on himself at the cross. So that all might along with us, believe and follow.

avoiding a destructive divisiveness

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:9-11

Just open your mouth nowadays and you’ll be controversial. There’s not much room for discussion or taking into account the complexity of anything. It’s black or white; you’re either for or against. And that actually does push people into a corner to have to decide that way, when so many issues are complicated and open to different interpretations.

It’s hard to know when to speak out, and when not to. The church as a whole does well to stick to the gospel and avoid divisive matters such as politics, while being willing to address moral issues, but in a way which does not support one political party or another. And that takes plenty of wisdom, but it’s worth the effort.

I wonder, and am inclined to think that some Christians can and should speak out in ways which might tip their hand as to how they think politically, even though there should be no doubt as to where their prime allegiance lies. There were prophets in the Bible, and I’m especially thinking of the Old Testament, who decried what was happening in society, especially the evil being done by God’s covenant people against the poor and downtrodden.

One thing for sure: We need to avoid a divisiveness which detracts from the gospel. What we are about and here for is to see the gospel impact people’s lives, and hopefully the world at large. And the gospel itself is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Any stands we take publicly as Christians, and especially as the church should be for the faith of the gospel. Anything less than that is detrimental to the gospel. For the gospel might include work done to influence or even undermine what is being done politically. But we should aim at it being a gospel work, not something that merely we ourselves do.

Much wisdom required; more than we ourselves have. But given to us preferably together by the Spirit in and through Jesus.