breaking through from unbelief to faith in the trials of life

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

There are certain go-to texts we would rather not go to. But we live in the real world, with all of its issues, and we’re smack dab in the middle of it with issues of our own. I can’t think of a better example of that than this passage in James, though there are probably better examples I’ve essentially screened out.

Part of maturity, and specifically Christian maturity is to learn to accept each new situation or trying circumstance as an opportunity for growth in the Lord. That can get old and humdrum to us, but maybe that’s because we’ve not learned our lesson well, yet.

In this James passage, we find that difficulties, even trials or temptations can either end up working for our good or ill, depending on our own response. Maybe there’s some muddled up middle gray area since even with faith, we can still struggle in not really entering it as completely as we should. Scripture seems to make the case and it seems clear in this passage (click link above for the context) that we either enter into this blessing, or we don’t, one or the other. Ordinarily I think we might kind of live in the in-between realm, which means we don’t really enter into the “promised land” God has for us.

A side note, yet interesting, and surely pertinent in creation: neuroscience today is helping us understand the plasticity of the brain, and how it can be reshaped even in older age. And how it essentially is always being impacted by life.

This word of God from James puts forward to me a new challenge, maybe renewed, but coming across to me as new. I am personally weary of the same responses I have over and over again to trouble, especially in the form of threatening circumstances. My gut reaction is ordinarily always negative and I end up steeped in fear and anxiety. I am used to it. And I usually get over it more or less fairly soon, probably an improvement over the past. But that seems to indicate that I haven’t learned at least well enough to step past the line from unbelief to faith when it comes to such circumstances.

That is what by God’s grace I would like to change. Yes, according to this passage it’s up to me, not God, who has already done and is doing his part. God’s word of grace is present for me, God’s reality and truth. It’s up to me to learn to grasp and hold on to that. And thus be a doer of the word, and not just a hearer (James 1:19-27). In and through Jesus.

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Paul’s witness in trouble and weakness

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

We live in a society, in a world which is indeed allergic to trouble, as well as death. The American Dream isn’t directly about a trouble free existence, but for many, at least having all of our troubles taken care of by our own ingenuity and strength.

Enter Paul. Paul’s world was about following Christ, others following him as he followed Christ, living in Christ, living for the gospel. It didn’t exclude what is considered the mundane matters of life, in his case, tent making. Paul’s passion was Christ and the gospel. And his own witness was to let the gospel become evident in large part through his life, and specifically in his weakness. No, we’re not referring to sin here, but to his mortality and the inherent weakness of his body.

2 Corinthians is a beautiful book laying all of this out, a great read from start to finish.

Paul’s passion in and through Jesus ought to be ours. Yes, we are all weak in ourselves, but that’s exactly where Christ’s strength comes through. And we are broken, cracked jars of clay, as it were, but through that comes Christ’s light. So that we should never give in to despair, or the lie that somehow we’re not succeeding because life’s circumstances are at best difficult. We should see all of life as a window of opportunity for the light of the gospel, the good news in Jesus to shine even through us, through our brokenness.

When we have it all together, we’re on our own. But when we’re broken, in great need, and living on the edge of what seems to be death, if we’re seeking to live in and for the gospel in the midst of that, then Christ’s life will become evident even in us, in our lives. In and through him.

 

wisdom from the Lord

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Proverbs 9:10-12

Wisdom in scripture is all about life. It is taking scripture as God’s written word, and particularly our relationship with God, and through that, our relationship with others quite seriously. Proverbs may be the marquee wisdom book of scripture to read, but we need all of scripture. And particularly we need to begin to understand the fulfillment of wisdom, Jesus, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Jesus and him crucified is called the power and wisdom of God, and Jesus is said to be wisdom from God for us, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption, so that our boasting can be only in him (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

So wisdom is really all about life. It is where the rubber meets the road, right where we live, no less. It is not theoretical, but practical, down to earth.

We need to take it particularly serious as it’s given to us in all of scripture, and particularly as it’s fulfilled in Jesus himself. That means we have to walk lightly with consideration and thought over our ways. Taking care that we give wisdom in our lives not just lip service, but the place it deserves. Remembering that wisdom itself is fulfilled in a person: Jesus. And that we are in him. So that it is both given to us in scripture, and as close as the breath that we breathe, by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

faith when we can’t see

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

Sometimes in the midst of life, we feel like we’re in a place in which we’re not sure what is going on, or the exact outcome. Perhaps this is during a time of significant changes. And life always includes difficulties which result from living in an incomplete, broken world, our own limitations and shortcomings contributing to that.

That is when we need to grasp and hold on to the same kind of faith our father Abraham had. We continue faithful as best we know to the calling God has given us, to what’s in front of us, obedient to the Lord, even when we lack the kind of certainty most of us would like. We can learn to rest assured in God’s promise, confident in his protection and care, and ultimately of a good outcome, honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

seeing the bigger picture

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Colossians 4:12-13

Too often we’re caught up in our own problems, even microscopically analyzing them, and not letting go of that, or at least overmuch focused on it, so that we don’t see anything else well.

Epaphras of old was not like that. He was a true servant of Christ Jesus, a man on mission, and therefore one who was given to its fulfillment.

The Lord wants us to learn to get over our own problems in the sense of committing them to him, yes, working through them, but not so much caught up in them that we can see nothing else. And to remember, it’s never about us, but about our Lord and the gospel, and from that, about others. Yes, we’re part of that too, indeed blessed in Christ to be a blessing.

It is good when the Spirit helps us to widen the focus to others, to not only include them in our prayers, but to make that the center of our petitions in them. We are here for each other, and for the witness of the gospel to others.

May God grant us by the Spirit the same spirit and passion and kind of practice Epaphras had. In whatever form that takes, certainly including prayer. In and through Jesus.

the basic healing which awaits the final one

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

The healing that has taken place here is evident through the return of the one healed to God. It is through the cross, Jesus’s own wounding there, that we have been healed. And the healing refers, one might say, to the soul, to one’s very life, probably not so much a physical healing as a spiritual one.

We still all feel hurts, or wounds still present from our past. Or even if we are not aware of such, they can affect us, and change how we live, usually for ill rather than for good. The major healing for us is through Jesus and his death. And our return to him, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. I like that thought; I know I need it.

We focus on Jesus’s saving work for us, what he suffered, which sets us free from our suffering as sinners. And our return to God through him. The healing that is past is the balm of salvation resulting in forgiveness of sins and new life. And especially in this context, a return to God, to the Lord Jesus, who takes care of us as his sheep. So that we now relate to him as our Shepherd, the one who oversees us in watching over us and providing for our needs. As we await the final healing of ourselves and everything else through God’s redeeming and sanctifying work of love in Jesus our Lord.

the brokenness of the world: where do we begin? what lines do we draw?

Take your pick. There’s no end finding brokenness, and some things which might particularly distress us in the world. It never ends, and never will end in this life. At the same time, it’s hard to know when to take a strong stand, or know just how to do it. Our interests will be on different problems depending on our inclinations due to our disposition, constitution and experience, along with simply what we choose.

What we have to avoid is a spin-off into issues which are not at the heart of our own calling. I can easily get into political concerns during normal times, and all the more so during what I consider the present challenging time. And I believe Christians ought to pay attention to what is going on in the world, as well as remaining in God’s word.

Some of us have special callings, and we do well to hone our skills, and grow in those areas. But all of us in Jesus have one general call: to serve our Lord by being servants to the gospel, the good news in him of God’s grace and kingdom. The ultimate answer for individuals and for the world is found there.

Of course that doesn’t mean that other things don’t matter, maybe some, seemingly trivial, but everything important in its place. Not that we have to concern ourselves with everything. We probably need to pick our fights and where we put our efforts with care, quite well.

What needs to remain at the center for us in Jesus, is what truly is in the center: the reality of the good news in Jesus. And what we do needs to have some connection to that, either directly or indirectly. Our passion, how we see all of life, while we share much that is significant with everyone through creation, is at its heart Jesus-centered in God’s will in him. And that is a good news no less of love, the heart of that found at the cross. To show the lengths God would go, and did go.

So that is where I want to remain, centered in that, and from that taking the brokenness of our world seriously. Even as we look forward to Jesus’s return when at last all brokenness will be gone, and the healing complete. But until then we keep looking, and grieving, and sighing with our own brokenness, and the brokenness of this world. In and through Jesus.