life in the pressure cooker

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

Have you ever noticed how through the difficulties and pressures of life you grow, but when things are easy, you can flounder? I speak for myself in saying that I readily identify with that thought.

Fortunately life is quite full in terms of both challenges and responsibilities. It is good to learn how to rest well, even to relax and enjoy, in fact probably more vitally important than what we think. I remember our Lord’s words to his disciples, “Come apart, and rest awhile.” They weren’t able to rest for long, though, with the clamoring crowds all around them.

I turn again and again to scripture, to God’s word especially when I feel under siege, but I want to do so through thick and thin. We can do that no matter what we’re facing, certain of God’s faithfulness through it all. Even in the trials, that God is at work for good. Therefore we need to hang in there, hang tough even in our weakness through the difficulties. Confident of a good outcome in and through Jesus.

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

the shaping of a saint

Recently I have been thinking of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do.” What stands out to me is the thought that we are God’s handiwork. God is shaping us to be his saints, his holy people. Certainly for the good works he has prepared for us to do.

If we are to be fully formed in every aspect of our lives, no part is going to be excluded. Even those parts that in our own wisdom we most certainly would leave unchanged, thinking our way is better. And sometimes in the process we may think we’re not able to bear it. That somehow or another the process will do us in.

We have to remember that it is God’s work, and that we want to be completely yielded to that work, even as the clay to be formed into a jar is completely yielded to the potter. We are indeed the work of God’s hands (see Isaiah 64:8). It may seem hot at times, and we may not understand the shape we’re taking, or this or that which may be changed. We need to entrust ourselves into the hands of the God who is good, trusting that what he is doing is good, and that the outcome will be good.

continuing on

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV ); see 3:10-4:8

It is good to have encouragement along the way in the form affirmation through the words of others and especially in one’s heart and mind. A shaft of light bringing clarity and along with that some inner joy and peace. Most of the time however it is more of a case of needing to plod along in spite of this and that, in spite of many things. Sometimes in the face of great trial, and often with this or that trouble.

We must go on regardless. Ever mindful of our need of God and ever engaged in his word. Not only in reading it, but in both seeking to practice as well as teach it. Notice the reference to “the Holy Scriptures” and what they are able to do: “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” While this passage refers to the servant or minister of Christ, it has application for all of us. As we follow Christ we are all spiritual leaders of someone: whether in our families as parents for children, or to our neighbors who may not know the Lord. These words apply secondarily to us, even while applying to those who are set apart as examples as well as ministers to the church.

That is my thought for myself today. Whatever else I do I want to be much in the word. And not just today but everyday as I seek to continue on along with others in the light and life of the gospel for us and for the world.

never give up

One of the primary tactics of the spiritual enemy the satan and its cohorts is to get people to simply give up in despair for any number of reasons. The list could go on and on as to why, some major mistakes and sometimes major failings. All the way to the minor ones and the accumulation of such.

But in and through Jesus there is forgiveness and a way out of the wilderness, even if the way out takes some time. We need to be grounded in Jesus, that is putting our faith in him and his once for all sacrifice for us on the cross, for our sins and for new life. We need as well to be his followers, seeking to follow him in all of life come what may. Obeying his commands, yes, and seeking to live close to him in his love and in the love and kingdom of the Father by the Spirit.

I now look back on my life and wish I would have lived it with more thoughtfulness at times, especially pertaining to one matter recently. And I wish I would have lived with much more maturity in the past, refusing to justify attitudes or actions which were not in line with scripture. Not that I don’t have any blind spots now. I hope that if I know better I will repent and seek to do better. If scripture is true then I can but only in and through Jesus, not in my own strength.

The point of this post is to never ever give up and give in to the lie that we can’t go on in Jesus and do better and end up doing well in and by God’s grace. We need to do whatever it takes to do that, prayer and fasting, and especially seeking to live in humble obedience even in all our brokenness before the Lord and others.

We want to do so in love by the Spirit, not by our own strivings. And yet striving in God’s strength, a striving which will include serious resting in Jesus, in God, but a rest out of which we can live in love and do the good works God has for us to do out of love for God and for our neighbor and particularly to help those in need, especially the poor. This is what I want my mindset more to be now until the end.

strengthened with all might for great endurance and patience (from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit)

…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience…

Yesterday was a day in which just to do what we had to do was to be quite active. But to finish everything in good order would take nearly a superhuman effort. I like challenges like that for awhile, and sometimes you grow into being able to do something like that ongoing. But with circumstances and the enemy rearing its head with one of the same old same olds, I was rather at the height or you might say the depth of discouragement, thinking about packing certain things in. Wanting to be open to the Lord in whatever way, but just wanting to throw in the towel, even as I would continue to do what I would have to do.

And I was meditating when I had the opportunity on Colossians. And this verse (quoted above) especially stood out to me. Like a shot in the arm, even if I could hardly believe it could apply to the likes of me.

Though what I needed was strength and plenty of it, and I’m used to that in the kind of work I do, what I found encouraging was how God’s power and might, not my own, would help me to live with great endurance and patience. Yes, that thought at first seemed incredulous to me, but then it seemed to come from God as the needed shot in the arm.

We don’t know what we’ll face from day to day, much less what the future holds. But we can be assured that God in and through Christ by the Spirit will give us all we need and more to go on and finish well, which is my hope and aspiration.

And then I read the next lines:

and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

I am not anywhere near as thankful as I ought to be. I more than less, I’m afraid, take for granted all the good blessings God has bestowed on me. The one exception to that, I believe, is my wife. It’s not at all like I’m not thankful for my job and all the many good things God has given me. It’s simply that I’m not nearly thankful enough. Well, here comes the line about joyfully giving thanks to the Father for qualifying us to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. And his wonderful rescue of us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Yes, the salvation in Christ for us and for the world is rich indeed. We in Jesus are to live in and live out that great salvation, spelled out in Colossians in terms of setting our sight on heaven in terms of Jesus and the heavenly life for us on earth. While giving thanks, yes- joyfully to the Father for this gift.

I need this power from God for life: endurance, patience and all we are called to grow into in Christ. An endurance and patience in life in terms of living out God’s will in Jesus. Not that we won’t fail here and there, even as we begin to know something more of this. But that it can become more and more characteristic of us, of our lives in the world for others. Through Jesus by the Spirit to the glory of the Father.

faith- continuing on no matter what

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfected of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”      -Hebrews 12:1-3

There are times when our faith may seem weak and failing. Those are especially the times when we need to look to Jesus. There is no stopping of the race marked out for us. To not keep running is inviting failure, or I would rather put it: stumbling or being slowed down maybe even to a standstill.

But running the race is not enough. There is only one way we can continue on this race and do well. And that’s by looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfected of faith. Living as he did by first of all considering as in paying close attention to his way of life, the way of the cross. Of course we can live in this “way” only in and through Jesus, in relationship and communion with him by the Spirit.

By this we can have not only the needed “shot in the arm,” but we can learn to endure and persevere come what may. This is our calling individually and together in Jesus for the world.