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.

 

Advertisements

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.

temptation to doubt God and God’s word

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Genesis 3

A basic problem Christians and just people in general face is the temptation to not really believe what God says. Christians and surely others will have some kind of belief or faith in God, but they don’t really take what God’s word says seriously. Maybe they don’t listen, or it just seems too good to be true, and not real to life. I should say we, because I face the same struggles, temptations, and at times, just plain blindness, and frankly the darkness which comes with that.

In the story of early humankind, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the serpent either inhabited by the devil, or else simply the devil himself, disrupts everything by putting into question God’s word, and thereby God’s character in terms of goodness, as well. God’s prohibition I think was a heads up not to succumb to the temptation to be independent of him, God dealing with the basic temptation he knew humankind would face. Eve listened, ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then Adam her husband followed. And they were driven out of the garden, out of shalom, because of this act of disobedience. And lacking that basic faith in God, humankind has been in dire straits ever since.

And now we follow in their train doing the same thing over and over again, and inclined to keep doing it. And that’s true even after we come to faith in Christ. Romans 7 talks about indwelling sin, and apart from grace and the Spirit, under the law, that sin inclines us entirely in the direction of going our own way rather than in the way of God’s will, his good, loving intention for us. But the gospel in Jesus by his death sets us entirely into a new possibility bringing forgiveness and new life with the beginning of the new creation which is to be fulfilled when the new heavens and earth become one at Jesus’s return.

I am still so tempted time and again to doubt God and God’s word, but in ways that are surely subtle and not readily obvious. It’s like sometimes that God and God’s word is not relevant in the discussion or consideration of real life. But that’s the problem: we are so used to living apart from God and God’s will. That’s like second nature to us. And when it comes right down to it, we even can doubt God’s goodness and the gospel.

We need to return again and again to scripture, and especially the fulfillment of it in Jesus and his death and resurrection. And see that God’s commitment to us is one of complete love, that what he gives to us in creation now broken because of “the fall,” he wants to restore in the new creation completely with much more. Into a full, complete relationship with him by the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus.

The good news in Jesus is the heart of this. And Jesus’s death and the life that comes out from that is at the heart of that good news/gospel, taking us back once more to God as God really is. The God we can entrust our lives too, the lives of our loved ones, and indeed even the world itself. Believing fully in that God, and learning to rest in him and his word in and through Jesus.

the challenges of life

If you live long enough, whether rich or poor, you’ll sooner or later acknowledge that life itself is challenging on nearly every level. It is not automatic, unrelenting bliss, like some might imagine especially when they’re younger.

And just turn the pages of the Bible, and you’ll find trouble on nearly every page. Sometimes due to adverse circumstances, and more often due to what scripture calls the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It simply helps us when we realize this, and can help our focus. And actually I find again and again that trouble is what comes before faith. Salvation itself is a concept that talks about being saved or delivered from something, in scripture, from sin, death, and evil (and/or, the evil one). The consequences of sin can be the beginning of faith. And that’s both on a personal as well as cosmic level. We reap what we have sown, but that can cause us to call on the Lord, and enter into a life we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And we live in what from scripture we can rightly call a fallen world (“the fall” in Genesis 3), but what I prefer to call a broken world. The old creation was never meant to be the end all, but more like a window, as well as the stage in which a new world begins to emerge, destined someday in and through Christ to take over the old world.

Salvation is deliverance from, but also deliverance to. We are saved for God and God’s glory, and also for our good. And we are saved into a new world in the midst of the old, which while it can have some impact for good on the old, is the anticipation and even the beginning of the entirely new world to come in Jesus. So that the challenge of life involves living in an old world which by nature can’t fulfill what only the new world in and through Jesus can. See the book of Ecclesiastes for a good look at the attempt to make this old world the end all, and how, even when things are going well, it’s not.

So God won’t let us rest in this life. And actually, that’s a blessing since this life is not an end in itself, anyhow. For those who think they’ve arrived in this life, they either have their reward, or they’re in danger of losing out in what is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus, which is really about all that is promised in him.

So I take courage in the reality that if there’s trouble, that’s not in itself a necessary enemy of faith, but it can be the beginning of it, as well as a significant growing point for it. Let’s see our troubles, which by themselves are not good, as means to what is good, to draw us nearer to God, and God’s will and gift in Jesus. Even as we give all that is broken and really has no explanation, to him. As we await God’s full salvation to come in Jesus.

especially blessed can be the irregulars, those who don’t fit in

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6

When reading the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) one gets the impression that Jesus is especially at home with the misfits, those who are either uncomfortably normal, or normally uncomfortable. I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The characters in that story (I confess to having not read the book, but only seeing the film) can be off the wall, out of place, not obvious candidates for what they end up doing, but they band together into a group with a common purpose thrust on them, along with a seemingly mystical touch.

I for one have felt much out of place most all of my life. I have a hard time accepting myself, much less expecting others to accept me, warts and all. So I am amazed if anyone does put up with what is off in me, and still accepts me as a friend. It doesn’t seem to happen often. I am among those who have a cynical bent, and ask the hard questions. Yet I’m also more than happy to simply use that to more and more gently fit into a greater purpose than myself, or anyone else. Together with others.

In this world, if everyone was cool all the time with what is going on, it would be sad indeed. I wonder about a Christianity where everything is great all the time, in which one is always full of joy, and lets nothing bother them. It seems to me that real Christians ought to take seriously the sufferings of this world, and in and through Jesus and his suffering be able to navigate those hard places with the weeping followed by joy (in the morning, as the psalm says).

We need to make room and have a place for those who don’t fit, but may seem to be looking for a home. Can they find it with us in Jesus? Are we helping them to find their place in Jesus? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, and therefore calls each one to be reconciled to him. And many who are reconciled may not be at home with us, because we fail to see God’s love on them, even Jesus in them. They are often the irregulars, the misfits, those who don’t have, or find much of what this world holds dear. But who are really at home in and through Jesus.

keeping at it faithfully, not drifting

Sometimes we experience such grief and downright consternation over life, personal concerns, matters, or whatever, that it seems impossible to keep heart since our heart is utterly broken, or breaking. Or perhaps life is good, and we feel good, with little or no worries. Either way, or with just what can become the numbness of day to day living, we can begin to drift from our God, and in so doing actually from ourselves, since to find and know God is to begin to find and know ourselves, a byproduct of that, not the goal.

I have found myself drifting a bit lately, not purposefully, to be sure. But whatever the challenges faced, it is the heart which one way or another is going to be attacked by the enemy, often through the mind, and when it seems that relationships even in family are not what they ought to be, even sometimes broken, or at least cracked. And so it’s seemed to me that what I do, and certainly whether or not I’m here matters not at all. It’s not like any of us are indispensable, or that God needs us. But God has chosen to include us during this time to his glory in and through Jesus in his good and great work, each of us having a part in that.

But to the point of this post: I realize afresh and anew that I need to keep on keeping on faithfully, for me beginning with my daily meditation in the word, in scripture. Certainly in that with a focus on the gospel, on Jesus. It’s not about looking for some great experience, or any experience at all. God is present with us in Jesus no matter what we’re going through or how we feel. It’s simply about faith in God, and being faithful to the calling of God, yes, in all our weakness, and sometimes sin, or struggle against sin. We want to plod on, and keep going, come what may, by God’s grace, no turning back.

In order to avoid inevitable drifting, we have to simply continue on in the Spirit direction God gives us. That may not always seem obvious, and actually may take some time for us to understand or have a needed breakthrough on a given matter. But part of how we get there is simply by continuing to meditate on the word, and seeking to grow in that meditation. Sometimes to ponder a matter slowly and prayerfully before we sense it’s time to move on. But not stopping. Continuing on in the word, that we might be on the path with others in following Jesus, in and through Jesus.

 

the authenticity we need

Authenticity is very much a staple word nowadays. Being “real” is practically valued above most anything else. And if understood correctly, that thought is helpful. But if not understood correctly, it is not.

What is unhelpful today is a kind of wearing one’s emotions on one’s sleeve approach in which what we ourselves feel and think about something is all that matters. This goes along with the postmodern mood which is a part of our culture. It’s not like what we feel and think doesn’t matter, that’s not the point at all. In fact, before God, and before any good counselor who hopefully is also a true friend, it is good to trust to the point where one can tell all without fear of being condemned, or looked down on and rejected. This is vitally important, and precisely where Job’s friends failed. The kind of authenticity which bears all before God, and appropriately confesses sin to God and to others is highly valued in scripture. “A broken and contrite heart, God does not despise.”

But we in Jesus must not stop with that aspect of authenticity, though neither should we abandon it. The kind of authenticity we need is expressed by James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1

The kind of authenticity pressed for here is a life that is not only vulnerable by being open before God, and when appropriate, before others. But a heart sincere and set in trying to be true by grace to living in accord with God’s word. An authenticity in being genuine not only in regard to who we actually are, without pretense, but also a genuineness in seeking to see our lives and God’s revealed will in scripture and in Jesus being brought closer and closer together.

Of course that’s a lifelong process, involving an ongoing brokenness and sorrow of heart over too often falling short. Yet also seeing the Spirit help us to actually grow more and more into Jesus’s likeness to a significant extent by taking in the word, and letting it expose us, then doing something about it.

The authenticity in Jesus that is desirable is one that’s committed to being conformed to the truth of God’s word, and the truth that is in Jesus, whatever the cost, without imagining that one will arrive in this life. And so an important part of that authenticity is an ongoing brokenness before God. Even as we find ourselves in some ways, enough to be encouraged, growing closer to heart and life conformity to God’s will in Jesus.