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.

hold that thought

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40

There are all kinds of thoughts that come our way in the course of a day, for ill and for good, and everything in between. We are often caught up and captured in such thoughts. Even consumed by them.

But there is only one word which endures, when all the rest will be gone. And that is the word of God, scripture itself, which points us to the Word of God, Jesus himself.

We need to be in the word day in and day out, year in and year out. It doesn’t matter whether we’re always “getting” what we’re reading. We need to keep at it; the Spirit will help us. Of course a big part of how this happens is through the church which indeed has a special place in God and in God’s working: nothing less than in Christ, as Christ’s body by the Spirit. So that is important if we’re really going to be adherents of God’s word, of scripture.

We have to make other things secondary to our intake of God’s word. Of course I’m not referring to the necessities we must do daily. But when all is said and done, we live by one word, the word from God.

…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8

Many thoughts will come to us, and they have varying degrees of significance. But the promise of good both for this life and for the life to come is found in one source: God’s word in scripture, and in Jesus. We live by that word, and die with it in hand, in and through Jesus.

 

dialing down expectations

One of the greatest problems of society, and of us in our lives is the problem of unrealized expectations, or probably more accurately and helpfully put, unrealistic expectations. One of the most in your face and crudest kind out there is that of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel preachers. They are a dime a dozen, and not worth any of it. I would not mince my words to one, whose letters and whatever it was he sent back, was aimed at a poor man who was grasping on to whatever hope he had to recover from the dementia which was setting in, sending in x number of dollars to get this or that blessing from someone who is (or was) exceedingly wealthy himself.

I am not referring here, I hope, to lack of faith, so that we don’t expect God to fulfill his promises, and rather than shoots six or seven or more arrows out there, we only shoot three like that faithless king of Israel of old. Not at all. We ought to trust in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus, even literally. So that we do expect nothing less than the righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit promised to us in the kingdom now present in Jesus (Romans 14). Yes, we do ourselves and no one else any favor, when we don’t believe God’s promises to us.

But we need to read the entire Bible, not just the precious promise part. There’s plenty in there which you’re either not likely to find, or never would see in a precious promise book, whatever good such books might actually do. Yes, we need the “very great and precious promises” of God (2 Peter 1) for sure, and we need to hold on to them for dear life. But we need to see them in the context of taking up our cross and following, and being ready for “the dark night of the soul,” as well as arming ourselves for the spiritual warfare by being willing to suffer as Christ did (1 Peter 4).

I don’t care for that kind of message, myself, or at least there’s a large part of me which doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s another part of me which does, I suppose the inherent skeptical part, and for the good of me and others, it is best that I swallow the entire revelation of God given to us in the word, and through Christ, not just the parts that I like. The parts which may not taste as well at first, anyhow, may be the most nourishing and good for the soul, but we need it all. We need to really take in, and perhaps dwell at length on sections we might, left to ourselves, ignore, like the book of Lamentations, to name just one book among many other such parts of scripture.

Dialing down expectations might help us sift the wheat from the chaff, as we learn the way and freedom of self-restriction in place of the lie of unlimited freedom (Alexander Solzhenitsyn), the way of Jesus, and as we embrace that way both outwardly and inwardly, the way of the cross. And then find the true love of God and abundant eternal life as we look forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, in and through Jesus.

“let go and let God” -really?

This past summer we enjoyed a wonderful concert by Michael Card at the Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference Tabernacle. At the front on top in the center, I noticed a small sign in large letters, “LET GO AND LET GOD.” In light of my recent read of The Cure, referred to yesterday, and the recent emphasis on trying to better understand and live more fully in God’s grace in Jesus, I thought I would consider this slogan, and its viability in light of scripture and the gospel.

To begin, I have noticed critiques of this saying, which cast it on its head as something to be either thorougly rejected, or at least held at arm’s length as incomplete. I think misunderstandings of it are certainly not only possible, but probable, and almost endemic (a given), due to the lack of Biblical, theological knowledge so many people have, even within the church. And even if there is some significant knowledge and understanding gathered from a good number of years of being in the church and reading scripture, I fear that the possible truth behind this slogan can be all but missed, so that in our life and practice, we completely miss whatever might be true in its meaning.

First of all, what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we’re saved now, and that’s all that matters, so that we shouldn’t be concerned about our lives, or what’s going on around us, that we can let all of that go, and let God take care of it. Since after all, God is on the Throne, and whatever happens here doesn’t change his rule, or will one iota, as if God’s will will be carried out regardless. That’s subtle in that there’s some truth in it, but misses an important point. And it doesn’t mean that what we do, or fail to do doesn’t matter. However that’s tricky, as well, since we often live as if that’s all that matters, or at least is key.

I think what it is getting at is in terms of the teaching of grace as opposed to law. Not a grace that is in opposition to the Law of God, but a grace by which one can fulfill the requirement of that Law, which essentially is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture makes it clear that we can’t fulfill God’s Law, by that Law itself, a repeated theme. We were never intended to be able to do it on our own. The grace of God that is in Jesus is key here, that grace being proclaimed in the gospel. It is only through what God has done in Jesus, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, that we can have life, and really live. It’s not in our own efforts either before, or after coming to Christ for salvation.

Letting go means that faith itself, the faith by which we began the new life in Christ, is necessary in continuing to live in that new life. And it’s a faith that is not in anything at all about ourselves, nor a faith which becomes dependent on ourselves in any way, shape, or form, at any time. It’s a faith only in God’s word in Christ in the gospel, so that the life which we do live is lived only in God’s grace, “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We will fail. Let that be in not only large letters, but bold ones. We will fail. If it depended on us, this Christian life, then we can sign, seal and deliver that we won’t make it, and not only that, we won’t really even begin to be settled in it, even if God in his grace allows us to have a good taste of it in our lives. No. What we enter into by sheer faith, must be lived out by sheer faith in the grace of God in Jesus. Through his death, death and sin and condemnation are done away with, once and for all. Insofar as we’re settled on that, we’ll begin to experience the difference that should make. The Christian life doesn’t depends on us even a little, but on Christ, and the good news in him. The source for our new life and living, is completely in him, not in ourselves. Even though we find it in his union with us, and the change that brings.

Once we begin to live in this grace, we act not within the constriction of law, as a duty, but the compulsion of grace, as a response to God’s love and gift to us in Jesus. We let go of our own self-effort to commend ourselves to God, knowing that we’re already complete and have fullness in and through Jesus. We are in him, and he in us, and community in Jesus through the church is certainly a part of that. Our identity to find our true selves is in Jesus, not in us. We are identified in him, in his death and resurrection, even in his ascension.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, and say more than any of us can really take in, not that we’re meant to understand all of that right away anyhow, we need to settle in again, on the slogan itself. Do we really believe the good news is in Jesus, and God’s grace in him? Are we willing to proceed with a blind, and naked faith, depending only on God’s word to us in Jesus? Will we step across that line, with a commitment to not turn back, or at least keep coming back when we most likely inevitably do return to our former and dead end way of living?

These are questions which remain, at least for myself. I want to break through into a new sort of life in Jesus, which I have already tasted many times through a good number of years, for sure. But which I’ve at least in large part failed to be settled in. The theme of God’s grace, which has come to my attention in recent weeks, has taken on a new focus, which while not really new in knowledge, may become new in understanding as in application for me, something I hope to better live in and be a witness to in whatever coming days and months and years may remain, in and through Jesus.

going for what lasts (yet begins in this life)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold ofthe life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6

We are pummelled from every angle with this or that which is supposed to be better in some way or another, and our time easily gets swallowed up in things which, while okay, are not foolproof. And even if relatively certain, can keep us from the things which matter the most. I speak from experience, both in being taken in by such things, and in being often distracted.

Instead we need to set our sights on the something which will last forever, and yet begins in this life. It is in and through Jesus, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection that we can begin to take hold of the life that is truly life.

I have to turn away from lesser things for the greater thing all the time. Part of embracing the greater thing, in fact a large part of it, is to remain active in faith, hope and love, the love meaning being present for others in ways that meet both short and long term needs. And in all of it, to keep my focus on Christ, on the gospel, for me primarily- by being in scripture, and from that, in prayer. To lay hold and hold on to the real life found in and through Jesus.

summary of my life (what might be inscribed on my tombstone)

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

On our tombstone, my part might have this verse inscribed with a cross, to summarize my life. Not sure what my wife Deb would have inscribed to summarize her life, though the depiction of a horse might be included. And it would be nice to have a verse or something which summarizes Deb and I together. What’s inscribed on a tombstone is really not all that important compared to what is true in our hearts and lives while we are alive.

All I can say is that probably beyond everything else, I’ve been a word person the now more than 40 years of being a Christian. For many of those years I listed to the Bible being read. Now I try to be in the word (scripture/Bible) all throughout the day. In fact I find it to be my lifeline to keep me on track, of course that being the case through the gospel, through Jesus, and scripture itself meant to keep us on track with reference to the gospel, that our lives might be lived in and according to that.

I don’t know what details in specifics will continue to unfold in whatever days I have left in this life. But what has happened in recent years, and even more so now, confirms this track I am on. I am most at home where the word is central and the faith that comes from that word is proclaimed and taught with the goal of living it out.

It isn’t easy, but the alternative is worse. I either continue in the word with the goal of being a disciple of Jesus along with others in the church, or I veer off into my own way of coping with things, which is a dead end just like everyone else’s own way (Isaiah 53:6). And in reality, as I continue in the word, there I find life, the true and eternal life that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And so I continue on, plodding away, with others in Jesus. Knowing that our salvation and place is found in him, and that the word in all its challenge and wonder can keep us on track. As we continue in this path in and through Jesus.

living in the Joy which is God

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

John 16

A friend shared something with me from C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Great Divorce, which is more than worth the effort to read slowly and thoughtfully so as to begin to grasp, as I had to yesterday:

Sarah, speaking to Frank, says:

“Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way around. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic…because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, ‘I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.’ You used your pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end…

Did you think joy was created to live always under threat? Always defenceless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was really misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself….”

Later, George MacDonald, the narrator’s teacher, explains why it is right that Sarah not be pained at her husband’s choice to be self-interested, rather than accept Joy:
“See what lurks behind it…The demand of the loveless and the self imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

…Ye must distinguish. The action of pity will live fore ever, but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak the truth….–that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken. ”
[but speaking of the action of Pity}
It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light, and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured; but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on ha still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.”

We are also told to rejoice in the Lord always by the Apostle Paul in that great letter of rejoicing, Philippians. It is not only something we experience, but more fundamentally something we do by faith, more and more learning to rest in that joy, in the peace which God gives us in Jesus. And this joy is no less than the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It is the joy of the Blessed Trinity, in a sense what one might aptly call the Joy who is God.

The C. S. Lewis passage read in the light of scripture is more than sufficient to prayerfully ponder, putting the rest of this post aside. But we do well not only to rethink where we live, but what it means for our lives in Jesus. There is inescapable suffering in this life, sometimes due to our own folly, oftentimes due to the sins of others, and simply part and parcel of living in a broken and incomplete world. No matter what we may be experiencing, we must choose by faith to not surrender or back down from the joy that is ours in God through Jesus. It is a joy the world cannot give or appreciate, a witness to help people find their way to God in the way which is Jesus, and the reality in which we in Jesus are learning to live.