a resolution that can stick

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8; NRSVue

I’m not much into New Year’s resolutions. I do have kind of a half-hearted one that I’m not sure exactly how to carry out, but that’s not really relevant here. I will say that not only would I break resolutions in New Years past (probably distant), but I would likely forget them altogether.

Scripture has a special pull and not only influence, but power in that it is inspired by God so that God’s word, especially in Christ and the gospel, but also in specific ways related to life can come to us. But we have to have ears intent on listening and hearing along with a heart set on doing whatever it is that we believe God is telling us.

In this case from the scripture quoted above from the book of James, we’re referring to a mindset, even a discipline in how we approach the inevitable trials of life. We’ve touched on this before. What is interesting is the recent revision of the NRSV telling us that we need to “let endurance complete its work, so that we might be complete and whole, lacking in nothing” (emphasis added). This actually seems to be quite true to the Greek, and clever when you think about it. Again, we’re to let endurance complete its work, so that we end up being complete and whole.

If we set ourselves to do this, committed to that, it’s actually one of the many things from scripture which can be fulfilled. I’m not talking about perfection, as if we’re always going to get it right, and never break it. So in that sense, not. But in the long haul, yes, this is a kind of resolution as we’re resolute to follow through on this, even when at times we need reminding. And life itself will remind us, when we’re up against it, and failing in this regard.

God will help us continue on and grow, so that we get better at all of this, even if it does seem painfully slow at times with numerous setbacks. But if we keep at this, in time we’ll begin to see the difference, so that it isn’t just more breakthroughs for us, but becoming more of a settled disposition in us for good. That indeed God did help us in this as we become more and more complete and whole, at least clearly on our way to that. In and through Jesus.

be preoccupied with “the gold”

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

In the internet, smartphone information age, we’re hard pressed to keep our minds on what really matters, what is special, what is true good. Our minds are often distracted in a thousand different ways, to what is seemingly necessary, or to a lot of things which are entertaining diversions at best. And in so doing, our mind is rarely if ever on “the gold.”

Only God can help us get our minds off what they need not be on, and on to what matters, what lasts, and what ennobles us. Everything else we need to learn to see for what it really is. We need discernment. We begin to see with God’s appraisal of things, appreciating all the gifts of God found in God’s image bearers: humankind. Along with understanding what really is bad, often a distortion of the good.

As we set our minds on this, God will help us. We need to accept the struggle rather than settle into the same old same old: the lies, deceptions, empty things which make a strong appeal to us in our broken, fallen state. We must persist to break beyond that, not expecting to do so at a snap of the finger, yet at the same time knowing that a turn in a different direction can make all the difference in the world, what is needed to really begin to see “the gold” and appreciate it more and more. In and through Jesus.

“this too shall pass”

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

“This too shall pass” is a Persian proverb, and common in wisdom literature. And certainly said at least indirectly again and again in Scripture. We live in a day when headlines are hot day after day, and people are hot, angry and upset. That’s the whole goal of some, and the something which is behind that. To get people all hot and bothered, and really a matter of control for confrontation, showdown for a good butt-kicking. I know that’s crude, but it’s an especially crude time in which we live. Even if we “kicked butt” what good would that do? We end being caught up into the same catastrophe.

James gives us much needed help here. Our natural fallen human response is to react in anger to whatever the provocation might be. To be carried along a certain track, manipulated as it were, almost like puppets. Instead James tells us that we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Those two need to be held together. We always have a response to perceived evil. Instead we’re to listen. Yes, listen, not speak. Can’t do both at the same time. And we’re to be slow to become angry. Anger just breeds more anger, not only in us, but in those who are upsetting to us. James goes on to tell us what we need to do instead.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:21

In essence, we need to keep listening not just to others, but to God. And respond as God would have us. We do that by responding to God’s written word, as well as by hearing his voice. That requires ongoing listening and effort on our part.

This takes discipline and time. Yes, time. Commitment. It’s not a snap of the finger, simply fixing something matter. But remember, and we’re going have to keep remembering: “This too shall pass.”

 

in insane times

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

Paul basically tells us two simple yet profound things here. He says essentially to guard our thought life, not so much here by what we don’t take in, though that’s important, but what we actually do think about and reflect on. And Paul tells us to live as he did. That should be a check on us, on how we often live and act, or react to things.

This is a challenge because Christians are not to turn a blind eye to what is wrong, impure, ugly, shameful, and deserving of rebuke and censure. That’s always to be found, and people are thankfully metaphorically, but still sadly nearly at each other’s throats nowadays. It is a maddening time.

But what’s a Christian to do? Do what Paul tells us here, a part of God’s written word. Settle down and settle in to what is better. In doing so, maybe then we can be helpful to influence what is not. In and through Jesus.

keep your eyes on God

A psalm of David.

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
do not let me eat their delicacies.

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
from the snares they have laid for me.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by in safety.

Psalm 141

We live during a most difficult time given the pandemic which has hit us, and the division that is exacerbated because of it. And we all have our unique challenges to face.

Like the psalmist here, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. Nor do we want to lose sight of the big picture. The psalmist does neither, as they address God in prayer and with their own thoughts, inspired or not.

And surely the key in the midst of the mess is to fix one’s eyes on God. This takes resolution and discipline, as we face the ongoing trouble, and lift our hearts and troubles to God. In and through Jesus.

soaking in the word

We were once part of a Christian fellowship in which there were times when some people would practice “soaking in the Spirit.” It was what today is called “charismatic” and I believe God was moving and helping people during such times.

What I myself try to practice on a daily basis is more like what I would call soaking in the word, God’s written word of Scripture. In that word we find light and life, and ultimately the Word himself, Jesus.

There are plenty of ups and downs in life. Disappointments along the way, along with difficulties. But we can get our bearings and much more if we stay in God’s word day and night. That is frankly a challenge, a discipline that as disciples of Christ we need to undergo. But the alternative is worse, left to ourselves and our own thinking and devices. Instead we need to be “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

We must beware of the idea that as we’re doing so we’ve arrived, or something of the sort. The word itself will help us from that foolishness, having plenty that will challenge us and help us see that we need God’s direction anew and afresh in our lives.

All of this given to us in and through Jesus.

self-control, or self in control

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

It’s important to consider context. What precedes has some significance to this passage, but what follows seems to have more bearing: warnings from Israel’s past in failing: testing God, idolatry, and sexual immorality. We downplay the importance of all of Scripture to our own hurt. Paul certainly makes that clear here, as well as in other places.

Part of being faithful in following Christ is to exert self-discipline even in a ruthless, non-compromising way. Sometimes people who emphasize God’s grace, as all of us Christians should, make much out of how we’re not to do anything, but just rest. Yes, we’re to learn to rest in faith for sure, but grace does not at all exclude effort on our part. We’re even told in Hebrews to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. Paul is certainly talking about effort here.

Sometimes it seems for one reason or another, maybe for many reasons there’s not a thing we can do, that we’re past the end of our rope, and there’s no use even trying. We’re in danger then of crashing, or more likely, gradually drifting before the crash comes. Those are the times when we especially need to take heed and discipline ourselves in the way of the Lord, and to fulfill God’s calling for our life. Our goal must be to make this self-discipline a part of who we are. With the goal in the end of somehow by God’s grace hearing Christ’s affirmation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But what if we’ve already failed? Of course it all depends on the specifics and to what degree. But take the worse case scenario. Of course consequences will follow. Certainly people have to wrestle through what they otherwise would have avoided. Confession of sin, repentance, where need be- restitution, change of life over a period of time, and reconciliation as much as possible. And all of this within the fellowship and oversight of the church, led by wise leadership.

Unfortunately that seems an exception to the rule. People ordinarily end up on their own, the church doing little or nothing to help them. Surely if such happens after people are ordained into ministry, it’s different, but too often there doesn’t seem to be sufficient means in place for restoration. So people are on their own. This is another subject, and a good reminder of part of why it’s vitally important to avoid all of this in the first place.

At any rate, regardless, this should be our goal: to follow Christ faithfully to the end, a part of that self-control over our bodily passions, so that we might avoid great transgression (Psalm 51), and fulfill the calling God gives us, to be faithful witnesses in word, deed, and especially life of God’s good news in Jesus.

 

the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

avoiding consequences

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:8-14

Some people may think it’s less than holy to abstain from bad behavior out of fear of the consequences. But scripture doesn’t seem to agree with that objection. Yes, we want high motives, above all love for God and for people. But it is wise to simply avoid impulses to respond one way or another, as we trust in God, and let God vindicate what is good. Otherwise we’re in for some rough sledding, if nothing more, God’s loving disciplining hand.

A big one we practice is being passive aggressive. We react to perceived slights, maybe even obvious enough. It is better for us to hold back. Make no reaction, but bring such to God in prayer. To turn such occasions into times of talking with God. And refusing to respond in kind, and especially avoiding the deceptive evil of being passive aggressive which really is the same heart as being actively aggressive. Maybe it’s more subtle, but consequences, even if seemingly subtle, will come.

As the passage above tells us, we’re to turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. This requires discipline on our part, but especially faith, we could say a disciplined faith. We do our best to do what we’re called to do, and entrust ourselves to God. We refuse to act or react out of fear. We trust in God, and continue to do good. Believing in God’s vindication, and that God is at work for good. In and through Jesus.

not neglecting God’s word

ב Beth

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

If there’s one thing that has stood out to me over the decades of being a Christian, it is the importance of scripture: God’s written word. Of course I’m referring to the “Bible.” If one reads the Bible and takes it to heart, they’ll come to realize that the Bible alone is not enough, because it points us to what else God provides for us in Christ, not least of which is the church. But we can say that scripture is foundational for life, for understanding God’s will, as well as God’s grace and salvation.

And scripture is important in helping us have an interactive relationship with God. Scripture is the primary means through which God speaks to us, at least being, again, foundational in that. We take our cues from scripture, God speaking to us both directly and indirectly through it.

It is easy to neglect God’s word, which is in part why I suppose the psalmist states that they will not neglect it. It takes commitment and effort on our part. And a willingness to simplify our lives around what is informative, formative, and vital for our Christian life. And we learn from those who are gifted and who study scripture to teach it week after week, as well as those who do the same in writing books.

We need to take this to heart and to life and keep doing so, in and through Jesus.