no quick fix

When I read Scripture and life after over four and a half decades of being a Christian, at least it seems to me that there is no quick fix or great spiritual breakthrough awaiting us if we can just find it. Yes, it can make a big difference when we learn to depend on God and less on ourselves, and when we learn to “walk” more by the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, etc. All of that surely does make a world of difference, the difference between light and darkness.

But it’s best to settle down into the realization that there simply is no quick fix. Change for us is incremental and takes time, and yes, effort, on our part. God’s grace underlies it all, and without God’s working, there will be no change at all. But we have to apply what God has given us, and do it again and again and again, so that new habits replace old ones. For example my first natural reaction to problems will be to grumble and complain, maybe utter something under my breath that I shouldn’t. But as I learn God’s way given in Scripture, I might instead learn to rejoice and give thanks, and pray to God, and at least not grumble. Or if I do complain, to do so to God.

Christians waste their time trying to find the big breakthrough, maybe some great spiritual experience, instead of simply endeavoring to follow Christ and stay in the word and pray, and remain in the fellowship of God’s people. And just accepting the fact that life will be a struggle in this world, that the world, the flesh and the devil aren’t going to disappear because of some mountaintop experience.

The sooner we accept this, the better. That God will be with us through it all. In and through Jesus.

just pray

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

The older I get, and so much life gone over the dam, the more I realize that what I need to do is pray, pray some more, and keep on praying. It’s not only a matter of younger people thinking that what the older generation thinks is irrelevant. It’s more like I’ve come to see how it’s not a matter of what I do, but what God does that counts, and makes the needed difference. Only through God’s working will change come for any of us.

I sometimes think God withholds good from us when we don’t pray and look to him. God wants us to believe and trust, as well as be obedient. For me at this time, I do what I have to do, but largely lay low, stay out of the way, hopefully not getting in God’s way. And pray. Looking to God for what only God can do. In and through Jesus.

oblivious to all else

ו Waw

May your unfailing love come to me, LORD,
your salvation, according to your promise;
then I can answer anyone who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
Never take your word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
I will always obey your law,
for ever and ever.
I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.
I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame,
for I delight in your commands
because I love them.
I reach out for your commands, which I love,
that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:41-48

God’s word is authoritative, and grants authority to God’s people, to God’s servants. Every one of God’s people have weaknesses and not one doesn’t have this or that struggle. But God’s word can lift each one of us above and beyond that. We come to realize that it’s the most important word on earth and beyond. So that we not only fear nothing else, but witness to it by telling others, and especially how we live, the change that word brings. In and through Jesus.

God backs God’s word

ה He

Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.[a]
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.[b]
Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.

Psalm 119:33-40

Scripture is considered in every Christian tradition God’s word written. Unless you’re referring to those traditions that don’t have a high regard for Scripture, and therefore, in my view, are less Christian if Christian at all. To be Christian is to hold to the gospel, the good news of Christ, found in Scripture.

God backs God’s word. All one has to do is commit themselves to being in God’s word, and letting that word, indeed we can say, letting God shape us. As has well been said: It’s not we who are to critique God’s word; God’s word is to critique us. God’s word will change us simply because it’s God’s word. Of course, we must listen, and then attempt to be in submission to that word, in obedience and faith. In so doing, we’ll find what is good, what we indeed find delight in.

There is absolutely no doubt that it all depends on God, as the psalmist here says. If we trust God, God will fulfill what he says, all of God’s promises to us. And those promises include God’s work in changing us to live according to his will. God’s witness to ourselves, to those around us, to the world. In and through Jesus.

taking pride in one’s progress

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.

Galatians 6:3-5

This passage needs to be considered in context. It’s not about living in isolation. Just the same, it seemed to hit me in a new way recently.

First of all, the idea of taking pride in one’s self after testing one’s actions seems a strain to me. I have resisted the idea of being proud of myself at all. We do have to fight pride from time to time, and probably carry it in a sinful way more than we realize. After all pride is one of the “seven deadly sins,” said to be their fount.

The idea that came across to me is that it’s important to examine my life, to consider areas where I’ve struggled or not done well, and determine to become better and even make breakthroughs in such areas, so that what was once perhaps habitual would be rare or no more. Different habits would then replace my old knee jerk responses to what is thrown my way. Then I can be thankful for my progress, take pride in it, without comparing myself to others, but only with reference to God’s will. A pride that we actually might say is humble.

This takes the will to do so, and behind that, the faith in God to help us do what we can’t do on our own. Something I hope to keep working on the rest of my days. In and through Jesus.

accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

genuine repentance

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:11

This point is made to the church, not to any one individual. Yet it is the appropriate response to sin in both the church and an individual.

Of course confession of sin is at the forefront, but one needs to be sorry as well, not about the consequences, but about the sin itself.

Repentance means a change of mind, heart and life. It involves turning from that sin to God. The godly sorrow Paul mentions here, evident in the church at Corinth in dealing with sin in their midst is important, indeed necessary for change. We have to sorrow over our sin, or over the sin of others to be truly repentant. Of course we need to see to ourselves; we can’t be responsible for the behavior of others. At the same time the church is responsible to hold a sinner accountable, to help them toward forgiveness of sin and restoration.

The deep seated desire for change is part and parcel of God’s grace at work in our lives, or in our churches. Grace too often is viewed as passive, that we simply receive God’s gift and that’s that. But the reception of that gift brings not only forgiveness of our sins, but a new life. We may possibly fall into serious sin along the way, but God’s grace will give us the wherewithal to not only hate and renounce our sin, but change over time, so that we over and over put the stops on to be sure it doesn’t happen again. But no one should think that just because they’ve been through that, with a thorough repentance, that it couldn’t happen again. So we must beware.

But back to the point of the text and this post: This begins by taking sin seriously. Not excusing it for any reason at all, certainly not sweeping it under the rug and forgetting about it. No. A sign that we are experiencing the godly sorrow which leads to repentance is that we’re indeed worked up over it and intent on day to day change, confirmed over time in real life. In and through Jesus.

my own take on whether a fallen pastor/Christian leader can be reinstated

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

…God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Romans 11:29

Lately we’ve had a spate of Christian leaders actually leaving the faith, and right along there are examples of Christian leaders failing morally or in some other way. There’s no question that the qualifications for Christian leaders is high (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Their lives are to be an example to the church they serve.

But what if ordained leaders such as pastors fail? I’ve gone back and forth on this one myself. I mostly have believed, given the right discipline by the church which would include a significant time out of the ministry that yes, they can be restored and reinstated. It is one thing to repent; another to actually change (Psalm 51).

Of course such need to repent, and reform their lives, and use the gift God has given them for the good of the church and for others. I think when people do that, provided they remain on the straight and narrow, they’re still open to receiving the prize the Apostle Paul mentions in the 1 Corinthians passage above.

I personally would include ordained ministry in that as well. What God gifts to be a blessing should be recognized by the church as such. Yes, the failure is always a mark left which cannot be blotted out. But by God’s grace there can always be full reinstatement as long as there’s repentance and change over time. The church, and especially the leadership of the church needs to be in charge of that.

I believe it is nothing less than a ploy of the devil for a leader to think that their ministry is ruined after they fall. At the same time, anyone who is tempted needs to grab themselves and take every measure possible to counter that temptation. Anyone who sins causes a world of hurt to their family and to the church, as well as to themselves. And you don’t just step out of the nightmare overnight. Though to think one can’t repent and be restored and reinstated over time is I think again a deception of the devil.

In the end, we need to all watch ourselves, as well as our faith in both belief and conduct. So that as we learn to follow our Lord more closely, others can follow our example. And for those who have fallen, that there may be hope for others who fail as people see that the repentance and change of life is genuine. In and through Jesus.

where wisdom begins and ends

Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning
and even among fools she lets herself be known.

Proverbs 14:33

It’s a struggle to find, live, and remain in wisdom. Lasting wisdom begins with “the fear of God” (Proverbs 9:10). So it’s relational, beginning with God, and then impacting others. But it has to find residence in our hearts. That means our inherent foolishness has to be owned up to, checked, and ultimately scrapped. Which is why it’s best for us to be slow to try to impose ourselves in any way on anyone else. We best make sure we’re in line first before we can even imagine that we can help anyone else. As we read elsewhere, when we judge others, we do the same things (Romans 2). It’s not like what we’re seeing isn’t a real problem. But wisdom reminds us that the best thing we can do is pray. And be slow, even reticent to do anything else.

Wisdom is given to us from God, into our hearts, first and foremost, so that we might change. It’s not so that we can impose our wisdom on others. It’s to receive God’s wisdom for ourselves, our own lives. As we do that, it’s our lives which can speak volumes to others. And that includes those caught up in foolishness, which of course none of us are above falling into. And like the text above tells us, even to fools. It’s how we live, but that starts from the heart. It must settle into our hearts in a way which impacts our lives. The book of Proverbs along with the rest of Scripture will help us understand what that means. It’s ongoing, never ending in this life. But it is something we need to deliberately pursue and be engaged in. Always for change in ourselves. And through that change, hopefully others will find their way into the same wisdom. In and through Jesus.

waiting for the change to come

“If only you would hide me in the grave
    and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
    and then remember me!
If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal[e] to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

Job 14:13-17

I’m not sure, but I like the NIV choice within the context here of “renewal” over “release” (NIV footnote). I would vote that direction, given the book of Job and its context. Job was wrestling through with a hope before God, but understandably feeling hopeless and in despair.

It is easy to despair when one considers their own weaknesses and shortcomings. And that can turn into a vicious cycle which actually feeds on itself and makes matters worse.

While I think I’ve experienced some substantial change over the years, I want more change in my life. It seems mostly all incremental, so gradual, so that it’s easy to miss any change that has occurred. And ironically the more light we receive and live in, the more acutely aware we are of the dark spots left in our character and conduct. Sometimes in just lacking what we wished we had, but too often in displaying thoughts and attitudes not worthy of Christ.

In the case of Job, and ourselves, that doesn’t mean there isn’t much good. Job was acknowledging his offenses and sin here, but he was a man of faith and good character, as we see from the entire book in the way he conducts his arguments, even if they may not be entirely blameless. It’s degree. Any misstep by those further along is more egregious.

I want to bracket this post dealing briefly with the charge that such considerations are mere navel gazing, just being all taken up with one’s character while not caring about the world at large both close and further removed. Can’t it be a case of being concerned with both? Actually in Job’s case he certainly was. He defended the cause of those who needed it, as we see from the book. A big part of the problems in the world is lack of character. And before we decry everyone else, we must see to ourselves.

The hope Job expresses is after this life. We know that when we see Jesus we’ll become like him entirely, since we’ll see him as he is (1 John 3). And somehow we’ll be completely open to not only reflecting that light, but being transformed by it. That actually does begin now insofar as we see Jesus by the Spirit through the gospel.

I look forward to my own change to come. I’m tired of myself, of my deficiencies. I look to God to help me grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. And I look forward to the day when all struggle in the way we do now will cease. My sins covered and removed, and with others set free to live completely in God’s love then by the Spirit in and through Jesus.