faith must be challenged

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

James emphasizes that knowledge and profession of faith mean nothing at all, in fact, lend themselves to deception. And in this opening part of his letter, that faith actually has to be challenged to make the needed difference in our lives.

We often get out of sorts if things are not going wonderfully well, or when the bad comes. But a big part of life is learning by faith to walk through trials of all kinds which come our way pretty much everyday, and at least on a regular basis. Some of them might be imagined, and some real. But the point James makes here is our response to them. We’re to count it all joy, or nothing but joy when they come, because of what they can bring, if we are open to what God wants to do through them.

Maturity in the faith, in Christ, is not something to which we easily arrive. It requires effort on our part to hang in their through the difficulty, not allowing ourselves to be moved from our faith, but letting it be tested. Just what kind of faith do we have? Is it merely circumstantial, just good when things are going well? Or is it grounded in God, even when we don’t understand, or find it going against our understanding, or at least against what we think is good or acceptable.

God wants to work something quite good out of it. So it’s up to us to be willing to walk through it, to endure it, trusting God is at work in it for good, for our good to help us mature completely, so that we may lack nothing when it comes to what really matters: our Christian formation and character. In and through Jesus.

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character first and one might say, last

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13

One of the things that has been indelibly impressed upon me during my years at Our Daily Bread Ministries, through the example of the leadership during my time there, Mart and Rick DeHaan, is simply the importance of character, and specifically a Jesus-likeness marked by humility and love.

There are the gifts in scripture, called the charisms. And they have their place for sure. And all believers have their gift from God, which probably consists of specific gifts. And that’s important, and a part of it all.

But without a change of heart and life that is characterized by love in an underlying faith, any giftedness is essentially worthless, as we see above. Jesus made that plain as well:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

I would rather be around mourners and the broken who love, rather than those who are marked with greatness in what they do, but don’t love. For some it seems like it’s all about what they’re doing, instead of the love with which they’re doing it with.

When one considers the New Testament, the entire Bible for that matter, and life, it shouldn’t be a question of either/or, but and/both. We need the gifts God gives us as humans in creation, and the restored humanity in Jesus in new creation, for sure. But unless love accompanies them, they end up doing more harm than good, often feeding off the pride of those who have them, and that of their followers.

While I think I’ve come surely a long way over the years, though it can be so incremental, that one can at times only hope such is the case, I know also that I have plenty of room to grow. Of course with others into the maturity of the stature of the fullness of Christ is no small order indeed. I can withhold love at times, which isn’t Jesus-like. Being aware of such sins is half the battle in finding the change in Jesus that we need.

The gifts of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit, as well. In fact that fruit marking whatever gifts we have is what we all need, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

 

God understands

We say in Christian theology that God knows all things, the end from the beginning, in every minute detail with the big picture in mind. Precisely what that means might deviate some. Like I might ask, “Can God know what isn’t already in existence?” Surely yes, in that he can create and control all of that, but maybe no if he chooses not to control it at every turn, I am thinking of human volition. All of existence is out of God’s doing. And God can force us to choose or do whatever, if God so chooses, but it seems on the surface at least, that there’s a real give and take in life between the individual, as well as people, and God. Maybe some of this we do best to chalk up to mystery, and leave alone. But it does seem that God invites us to grapple with all he has revealed, while the hidden things remain with him, indeed surely outside of our limitation to grasp.

We can be at a place in which we’re challenged to know what to do. In small ways that happens a lot, and is usually fixable. In larger ways, sometimes that can be quite difficult, beyond our ability to navigate well, if at all. It is good during such times to be in prayer and in the word, looking to God to give us the understanding we need, and proceed from there. That is usually incremental, and one step at a time. God can be trusted to be present through all of it, but it seems to me like God leaves plenty of room for variation on our part, including even failure. God has the big picture in mind, but also wants to be present interactively with us through the small things, as well. That is lived largely in context of our day to day existence as individuals, but is best worked out in community with others in Jesus. Not to say that God might not use the broader human community as well, and another friend who does not yet know him.

I look to God for his wisdom, believing certain things are beyond me, really many things. Essentially what concerns God in us, I believe, is a character transformation rooted in God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It’s not like other things are unimportant, all within the old creation is included in the new creation in Jesus. Salvation extends to every part, but perhaps its outworking is strange to us. And the fact of the matter is that we may not be necessarily included, if we don’t look to the source which is found in Jesus. There might be some major bumps on the road, and brokenness on the way to that salvation.

God understands. And can be fully trusted. In and through Jesus.

intake determines output

A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Luke 6

Sometimes I wonder why I feel so empty. That may or may not be bad, but it might indicate that I’ve been lacking in not being intentional and diligent enough in my intake of scripture.

I can continue in scripture, but the practice can be more like an academic exercise, rather than pursuing God, and God’s will. In my opinion, it’s still good to be in scripture even from that angle, because scripture as God’s word does have a power and dynamic all its own. In fact, the mind angle is one important aspect, and not to be despised. God appeals to our reason over and over again in scripture. Reading scripture regularly helps us train our minds to think, as well as train ourselves to be godly.

And so what enters our minds and hearts impacts our lives for good or ill. Right now we’re in the climax of what surely was the worst US presidential campaign season in history. Two of the most disliked, polarizing nominees from the major parties, facing off against each other, one troubled with baggage which includes laundary not so clean, and the other vulgar and a boaster, who seems to want the focus on their supposed greatness, to allegedly make the nation great again. And plenty of media. So it’s easy to get steeped in that brouhaha to the neglect of God and God’s word. Or you fill in the blank as to what you might be filling your minds with.

While we will attend to, as well as enjoy other things, we need to be sure that our primary, first and foremost intake is the word of God, scripture, and its application in accord with the good news in Jesus. Day after day, in fact “day and night” (Psalm 1). Our minds fixed on what will last, as the world comes and goes. In and through Jesus.

the failure of character

A couple articles (here and here) recently have called my attention to the importance of character development. Even though giftedness is important, it ends up meaning little or nothing if the person is lacking in character.

When a line is crossed, fallout is inevitable. But what too often is not duly considered is the life which led to that failure.

Of course it is true (Luther has a point) that we are all sinners, even the righteous sin and struggle with it. And so regular confession needs to be made ideally both general in public and specific in private to God and to one’s trusted friend or pastor/priest. And we need to be open to the convicting work of the Spirit as well as to the disciplines needed to keep us from sin. The great sin is always preceded by “small” yet willful sins which all too often are excused or rationalized away so that the person ends up deceiving themselves when they actually know better.

Jesus Christ needs to be front and center and God’s gospel for us and for the world in him. When that is the case we will be regularly confronted with our sin, and fundamentally with who we are. If we’re true followers of Jesus we should indeed becoming over time more and more like him.

 

well spoken of by the truth

Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

I wonder how many of us might be well spoken of not only by those who are in the truth, but by the truth itself. Truth in this context certainly points to and has its fulfillment in the one who called himself the way, the truth and the life.

In the short letter from which is the quote above, Demetrius is in contrast to Diatrophes who loves to be first, who speaks against the apostle or elder John, and whose deeds are evil. Demetrius’ deeds are good and to be imitated by those in the church.

The truth is fully orbed, taking in everything of God’s will for humans and for each of us. We know better at certain points, but I wonder sometimes just how much better we are becoming through that knowledge. Maybe at times we need to become more and more broken in our weakness and indeed sin, so that the needed change can come. We won’t reach sinless perfection in this life so that the need for needed sensitivity to sin by the work of the Spirit and ongoing confession of sin continues throughout this life.

To be well spoken of by the truth does not necessarily mean to be well spoken of by others. But the faithful should have eyes to see what is good, even while others may not.

At any rate this is a good goal for ourselves. With God’s help that we will grow more and more to become those who are well spoken of by the truth itself in and through Jesus.

aspiring to what?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach…

In recent months the pastoral epistles are becoming alive to me in a way which they once were, but was lost in the lostness of many of my middle years, when I lost hope of fulfilling what I believed (and still do) was my call from God. When we view the passage in its context we see the qualifications set in terms of both giftedness and character.

I’m not sure and maybe doubtful at this late stage in my life that I’ll be able to step into something of this (though I already have in a way, through the years), but I find the desire to do better and to do well character wise a good challenge and even encouragement for whatever time I have left in this life.

Aspiring to good character in and through Jesus is not to think one can arrive to sinless perfection in this life. Nor is it to engage in some sort of ego trip in which I come to think I am better than others. It is instead to pursue a course in which character takes priority over everything else including one’s giftedness. On the latter point that means I am willing to forgo what I would like to do for the sake of growing more and more into the image of our Lord. That character transformation is always first priority.

But that doesn’t mean that what we do is therefore left out in terms of what gift we have from God.  It does mean that we do so humbly in our place, whatever place that ends up being. Intent on following Jesus so that who we are takes precedent over what we do, of course impacting the latter.

For me personally, I can’t separate everything, but I can desire to do the best I can with whatever I’m given. In the life in God through Christ by the Spirit in communion with all of God’s people in mission to the world.