just don’t do it (and do what is good)

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is blind, suffering from eye disease, forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence but much more now in my absence, work on your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13; NRSVue

Grace in Christ enables us to do better. And when I say do better, I’m referring to breaking longstanding patterns of behavior in ourselves, especially in thoughts, attitudes, actions and words. This may sound very much dependent on ourselves, self-help, works of the flesh including our own self-effort. But strictly speaking, it’s not that at all. Grace in Christ by the Spirit from God underlies it all. We can do nothing apart from that grace extended to us in Christ. But within and through that grace, we can indeed make necessary and radical change. Some things might take hold overnight, but other habits we have may take days, weeks and more to be resolved. The important thing is that we’re heading in the right direction.

We need to stop ourselves in our tracks and say, “Enough is enough.” And not tolerate what we know is wrong or unhelpful, even when we’ve justified it and had good reasons for it in our own minds. God’s call in Christ is radically different, calling us to something much better, putting love for God and others at the forefront, with all humility and gentleness. What is being referred to here certainly includes everything. And it involves even something like a strategic mindset on our part, planning and catching ourselves when we either do the old thing or are about to do it. Being upfront about it. Yes, working on what God is working in us both in terms of willing and doing what is right and good.

In and through Jesus.

are we improving?

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11

We are often enough painfully aware of faults and shortcomings. That we certainly don’t measure up to the full stature and perfection of Christ. I really don’t like to chalk that up to being fallen. Yes, we are still recovering from all that we were, referring to the bad and the ugly. But “in Christ” we’re a new creation already, but needing to live out what God is working in us. In the words of this Petrine letter quoted above, we’re to put our full effort into living out of the new divine nature in which we’re participants.

The question is: Are we improving? You certainly can’t tell that from day to day. It takes time, more like from year to year or more to notice improvements. But it’s good to note such.

We first need to be aware of our faults, and not just shrug them off and forget about it. But take it seriously, seeking to change. And in the words above: make every effort to support our faith with goodness, then on and on.

Where do we start? Right where we live, on the very thing that is troubling us, in which we’re not doing very well. Perhaps in our reactions to it and all that’s involved in that. We may keep it mostly to ourselves, but it is still troubling us inside. Whatever it is, we want to see improvement over time, change. And we’re very much involved in that, as the text indicates above. And the above passage implies that it is not only an individual effort, but involves community in Jesus.

Along with our own effort is God’s enabling. Yes, it’s a struggle. But God is present to make the needed difference. But we must participate in what God is doing, otherwise as the above text intimates, it will not take hold, it won’t do any good.

So let’s not give up and give in, but carry on, with all the effort we can muster. To become what we’re not, seeing change toward that. So that just as we realize we’re different in some ways, even if it’s a humble difference, then say a year ago, we’ll also see a difference a year from now, should we still be alive in this present existence. In and through Jesus.

the underrated, underappreciated, relatively unpracticed activity of radical decision

After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Luke 5:27

It seems to me that a common idea which is mostly taken for granted is that decision-making is of little to no value at all, that we will do what we do for a host of reasons, and that includes all the decisions involved in that. The thought of decision I’m referring to here are life-altering or at least life-improving decisions. Decisions in order to make things work along the way is certainly accepted, but life-altering or even improving decisions are often looked upon with suspicion. Yes, people try, but almost inevitably they sink back into their old ways. There are exceptions to this as when people acknowledge that it is possible to break free from serious, destructive addictions with the help of others, over time, and not apart from significant difficulty.

I think we’re all well enough aware of habits of life that either are not helpful to us, or may even be harmful. We might see them as innocent in and of themselves, but they may be distracting us from what’s most important. And for the follower of Christ, the initial radical decision to follow Christ involves what at times are difficult decisions along the way to leave this or that behind, as not in line with this following.

Levi (who also is named Matthew, one of the apostles, writer of the first gospel account) left everything to follow Christ. In that decision involved in answering Jesus’s call, there was a power at work to help Levi follow through and keep on following Jesus.

Levi’s life did change in a day, but much about Levi was the same. But because of the decision, and the completely different trajectory it took, we can be sure that Levi was significantly differently a year from that initial decision, and all the more so by the end of his lifetime. In other words what I’m trying to say is that a decision at a certain point can make a world of difference.

The way we see decision, it’s small wonder that it makes little to no difference. So that we make almost silly New Year’s resolutions at times, because we don’t take the idea that seriously in the first place. Or that anything we might at least want to take seriously is usually broken soon, because we don’t really take decision-making with much seriousness at all, certainly not enough, so that often we forget we even made the resolution, and hence, break it.

The difference is the purpose involved. Is our decision about following Christ, or connected to it? We can be assured that if such is the case, God will help us remember and follow through on making and fulfilling all the necessary decisions which follow that initial decision. All and everything that is not in line with following Christ, we are meant to leave behind.

I do want to add to this that I think the importance of humans being able to make important, life-altering decisions, in and of itself is not taken seriously enough. Certainly help is needed along the way, but to say that humans can’t make important decisions themselves and see good things come out of such in time, I think is failing to appreciate the special ability within humans as those made in God’s image. And this thought carries through to followers of Christ, as well. Let’s not minimize our own human decision, even while we acknowledge that all really do need God’s help and the help of others along the way.

God will help us if we’re intent in doing this. We can be assured of that. And when we forget and fall back, we simply repent of that, and resolve all the more to follow through on the decision made, difficult as it may be, especially in the beginning and earlier stages. God will help it become shaped and confirmed and part of our lives. In and through Jesus.

prayer can change things, and prayer can change us

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

James 5:16b-18

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:24-31

the book of Job (1-42)

It’s easy to see from the biblical account how prayer can change things. And any of us who have witnessed this kind of practice for very long at all can attest to the same in our experience. But it will become equally evident over time that prayer can change us as well. I don’t say here that prayer changes things and prayer changes us, but there’s surely value in all sincere prayer. Even if it doesn’t seem to hit pay dirt, and seems to make no difference at all, I don’t think there’s anything we can actually do that is as great as praying. Yes, we need to do other things as well, but prayer ought to precede them all.

From the above Scripture, we can indeed see that prayer matters, both in terms of situations, and how we are affected in the process of praying. True prayer involves thanksgiving to God, confession of sin, praise of God for God’s acts, the worship of God. And in both set as well as spontaneous praying, either can be just as effective and I believe we actually need both. But in praying for a situation, we end up not only grappling with our situations, but with ourselves in the process. We might be in the way of God’s answer, and in terms of something in our character, perhaps a specific sin issue. God works to help us see and work through that. And we can’t forget that prayer does oftentimes involves spiritual battle. The enemy does not want us to pray.

So we need to hold on to this truth, and above all put it into practice. In and through Jesus.

be careful to do it

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

James 1:22

We need to remind ourselves, but if we fail to, life will. James is a good book to settle into for life, of course always considering the rest of Scripture as well. James and life, life and James together will remind us of the straight and narrow to which Jesus calls us.

It seems to me that a major bent we have is to simply love receiving insight so that our basic stance is to understand. But we often fall short of fulfilling why that understanding is given in the first place. To help us grow and put into practice what we’re told to do. We need to be not just hearers, but doers of the word.

We need a keen sensitivity all the way around. Eager to hear God’s voice and pick up what God is saying to us. And understanding its meaning, how that truth is meant for our lives, for change, that we might confess our sins, repent of our ways, and do not only better, but do God’s will in the matter. However halting and imperfect that may be, so that the difference may become more and more a part of who we are, and of what we do. In and through Jesus.

sins of the tongue

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:5b-8

It seems to me we kind of more or less excuse sins of the tongue, the tongue lashings we regularly give to each other and others. But the Bible is full of warnings against this. And just the relatively short book of James addresses this repeatedly.

What we say matters as well as what we refuse to say. We could even say that what we don’t say is more important that what we actually do say. A lot of our thoughts we should keep to ourselves for good reason. Are they wise, well informed? Are they gracious, merciful? If not, then we don’t need merely some kind of face lift as in changing our habits, but we need to get to what underlies that. We need a heart change. And the book of James addresses that as well.

If we can get a handle on this, and quit minimizing and excusing or even putting up with our sins of the tongue, that can end up helping us immensely. God wants to speak to us and get through to us in this. Not just a one time, or one day change, but an entirely new life. Bringing our disparaging thoughts to God. Refusing to lash out at others, even in our thoughts, but seeking God’s help for us and for them.

In and through Jesus.

when do we really “get it”?

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

James 1:22-25

It’s interesting, the wonderful experience we can have when some light of truth among the many truths found in Scripture, dawns on us. It’s just as interesting how short-lived most experiences are. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value, but that in and of themselves they are only a good means to the good end.

We must act on what we see from Scripture, from God’s word to us. We have to put it into practice to really “get it” in having the understanding God wants to give us. That is where the rubber meets the road, when we not only understand an insight given, whether as in like a light shining in our hearts or just rationally in our heads, but when we also prayerfully determine to act on it, so that our lives can begin to be changed.

In and through Jesus.

finding the greater good

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They’ll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed…

Sometimes something more is at stake than the immediate relief or answer we’re seeking. If we can just see behind our own want or perceived need to what is actually good and important given our own bent and God’s will, we’ll be far better off. We have to shake away from old habits and patterns which have kept us on edge and bound for years and years. This isn’t easy.

We first of all need God’s help to discern this. Good friends, and especially a friend who we look up to as a spiritual mentor or director should factor into all of this. God is with us by the Spirit to help us hear and understand what is best, but most of the time it doesn’t come without significant struggle, not to mention lapses along the way. What we want is change for the good, finding what is most important, leaving what is unhelpful behind. And with God’s help, learning to settle and live well in God’s good will.

Hopefully this isn’t too nebulous, so that maybe it will apply across the board to a variety of problems and struggles. The thought is helping me. In and through Jesus.

breaking new ground

While Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him:

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

“This is what God, the God of Israel, has to say about what’s going on in this city, about the homes of both people and kings that have been demolished, about all the ravages of war and the killing by the Chaldeans, and about the streets littered with the dead bodies of those killed because of my raging anger—about all that’s happened because the evil actions in this city have turned my stomach in disgust.

“But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jerusalem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive all their rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her.

Jeremiah 33:1-9; MSG

Jeremiah was in prison, and it was not a promising time. God’s judgment had come and was coming, and the people neither liked that, nor the messenger of it, Jeremiah. God’s promise here though is to see beyond that judgment to God’s restoration. Not that we should brush off the judgment as unimportant, or just a necessary nuisance until we get to the good part. Judgment is actually a necessary prelude to God’s blessing. What the passage is referring to is God’s judgment of the wicked to prepare the nation for what is just and good. In our own lives, God’s judgment comes in the form of loving discipline, to clean house in our lives in ways which we may or may not understand, and certainly we have yet to enter at least fully into that experience.

Breaking new ground is about God’s change in our minds, hearts, and lives. That’s the groundbreaking I’m thinking of here. It requires a commitment before God by us so that God can see that through with the least resistance from us, even cooperating with that insofar as God helps us do so. Again, the prayer God encouraged Jeremiah to pray is applicable to us here:

‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

Jeremiah 33:3; MSG

And later in this passage we see what we now know to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s answer to Jeremiah in Jesus:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Breaking new ground we can see from this passage begins with God’s word, God’s promise, and prayer. We have to expect God to answer, but not dialed down to our own expectation. But instead with answers and blessing we would never arrive to on our own, not even in a million years. In and through Jesus.

don’t shun the process

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

We modern people don’t like process. People of first world nations often either have everything at their fingertips, or can get everything else in a day or two or three. Instant access. Anything that takes any especially considerable length of time is a conundrum to us. It’s just something which doesn’t register into our consideration.

And the triumphalism found in some churches plays right into this. We can meet God now, have it now. Why the struggle? Get slain in the Spirit or whatever, and you can go on, a new person. It’s not like unusual experiences might not be helpful in one way or another. But by and large it’s the process that we as followers of Jesus should be after.

Paul in the above passage was not referring to something that happens overnight. Becoming conformed to the pattern of this world takes time. It’s incremental but more and more complete as we imbibe the spirit and attitude of the world, almost like breathing the air and taking in what might be both healthy and that which is definitely toxic, not really requiring effort at all.

Instead we as followers of Jesus are to be changing by the renewing of our minds. That does require active participation on our part. The renewing of our minds by more and more understanding God’s will for us, not only in our heads, but in our lives, down to earth right where we live. This is not just a one time command or directive, but ongoing. Day after day after day, the rest of our lives. That we might increasingly know and settle into God’s good will for us. In and through Jesus.