find the good

We know that all things work together for good[u] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

First of all, we’re prone, at least some of us, to find the problem and become focused and caught in that. So that it is not only a problem in itself, but something which puts us on edge, and potentially over the edge. It can become something which is not only disruptive to us, but changing us especially over time in a number of ways which are not healthy.

There’s certainly no shortage of problems and what is not good in the world. We don’t have to look any further than what’s in front of us and around us. And we can get turned inside out, upside down when we consider world affairs, politics, tragedy, ongoing issues, etc. There’s no end to it. I’m not at all advocating in this post that we should simply ignore the bad, or even try to avoid it. There’s really no escape from it, and if we’re lovers of God and people, then we’ll be concerned for justice and mercy anywhere and everywhere. Not that we should try to take the world on our shoulders. We need too to realize our limitations.

But the point of this post is simply that we need to look for the good that could come out of what is bad, or at least perceived by us not to be good. As we see in the above passage of Scripture, God is involved in this. Yes, for all who love God and are called according to God’s purpose. But just as God’s people are blessed to be a blessing to the world, so God’s intent is to bring good to all, to the world, as we see as we read through to the end all of Scripture.

So we need to find at least in our hopefully sanctified imaginations, and in answer to prayer, what good might come out of any and every situation. God is at work, and no matter what it is that might trouble us, or actually be trouble, God can work in it for good, or somehow it all works together for good, God certainly being in the details.

Something which should be part of our psyche impacting our thoughts, attitudes, words and deeds. In and through Jesus.

faith must work to work

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:14-26

We can say we have faith in God, in God’s promises, and that’s all well and good. But it won’t make the needed difference unless we act on it. The difference certainly refers to others. In James’s words here, helping the sister or brother in need, or with reference to Rahab, for one’s own family as well as for Rahab herself. What I’m especially referring to here is one’s own salvation. When we experience that salvation, or in the words in this passage, justification, we naturally want to see everyone else experience the same. But when we’re struggling with a lack in being settled into that in our spirits, ourselves, then we can’t see our way to really have that same longing for others.

What is absolutely essential in a sense is being willing to burn all bridges down behind us, so that there’s no turning back, but that our faith is expressed in action. If we say we believe something, then we have to act on that, or in the words of James, our faith is barren, even dead.

Abraham is the stark case in point here. He was asked to sacrifice his son no less, Isaac, on an altar he would have to prepare himself as a whole burnt offering to God. Certainly a mind boggling, simply unfathomable thing to ask of someone, at least in our world. In Abraham’s world, from what I’ve read, it may not have been as shocking. We read elsewhere that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be to fulfill God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations, heir of the world, and that all nations would be blessed through him (Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:13, 17; Galatians 3:8). Just the same, it couldn’t have been easy.

But as we see in Genesis 22, there’s no hesitation to fulfill what God commanded. Maybe there was something in Abraham’s mind, like, “Let’s get this over with.” We don’t know what precisely was in his mind, except as mentioned above, because Scripture doesn’t tell us. But Abraham went all the way with no hesitation, hard as that had to have been. And raising the knife was stopped by the angel of the Lord before plunging the knife into his beloved son, the son who was to be heir, and through whom God’s blessing was to be extended to all.

James is telling us that we’re to have this same kind of faith. We either do it, and that includes the hard thing which maybe at the time makes no sense to us. But we do so in obedience to God, resting on God’s promise of blessing and good. In and through Jesus.

blessedly not let off the hook (by James)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, 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

James gets right to it, but throughout the letter from start to finish there’s no letting up. He’s certainly a pastor, but gives us needed insight into one aspect of pastoral ministry as well as what the church is to be. Yes, there’s mercy and patience. But for those who really follow Christ, there are certain nonnegotiables.

If we’re to follow Christ we do what we’re told here. If we fail to do that, and I’m referring to sincere honest attempts, not letting up, then we aren’t following, indeed can’t follow Christ. We either consider it nothing but joy, whatever trial we’re in, letting endurance have its full effect toward full maturity in Christ, or else we’re not. We either ask God for wisdom, as indeed we’re all lacking in that of ourselves, and ask in faith without doubting. Or we plain don’t. There might be something in between, but James would tell us that’s a part of being double-minded, and thus unstable in every way. As Eugene Peterson points out in The Message, that can be simply a matter of “keeping all your options open.” No, we either trust God or we don’t. The difference between darkness and light.

This has been helping me immensely, but I can’t let go of it. And it’s not like we’re passive and no longer involved in life. But that God is there to help us through whatever it is we’re facing, whatever responsibilities we have to fulfill. God wants to use all of life to mature us, and to help us gain wisdom. As we not only commit ourselves to this course, but follow through on it, God helps us to live in God’s peace, as well as get God’s help.

An important part of what it means to follow Christ along with others in this life. In and through Jesus.

slow down

therefore thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”

Isaiah 28:16

According to the NET Bible, the Hebrew is “‘will not hurry,’ i.e., act in panic.” If there’s one simple word I have to keep reminding myself again and again of perhaps more than any other, maybe it’s this: Slow down.

Our culture is caught up in hurry and worry tags close behind. When we’re in a hurry, most of the time we’re mostly taking matters in our own hands as if all depends on us. God is distant, for all practical purposes as far as we’re concerned out of the mix. My work demands some degree of haste. And all too easily one can develop that attitude the entire time.

But I find that God usually seems distant when I’m doing that, and especially after I’ve been in that mode for a while. And when I tell myself to slow down, it’s usually just a matter of time and not long at that, that some sense of God returns. 

Slowing down is similar to keeping in step with God, in the words of Scripture: walking with God, being guided by the Spirit. We want to be involved in God’s life, in God’s work, not merely our own. When we slow down, God overtakes us so that we can begin to live and move and realize that we have our being in God. In and through Jesus.

not for the faint of heart

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in princes.

All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

Psalm 118:5-14

Faith in following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. The psalmist here is more than up against it, crying out to God for help. It seems like more often than not that we only seek God with all our hearts when we’re in trouble. Though hopefully we do so as well because of the trouble of others, especially those who are close to us in our own families, as well as in the family of faith in the world. But our concern and love should extend to all. And by the Spirit, God can and will help us that way.

But back to the main point. Following Christ and faith is not for the faint of heart. We’re in a spiritual battle now, definitely not a physical one. The faint of heart don’t obey Jesus’s words to not resist evil against us, but instead to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us, to do good to those who despise us. The faint of heart don’t even seek to apply faith in the most difficult situations in which their faith is either lagging, or not existent at all.

The devil is often in the details of this life, one of his emissaries attached to me. We have to understand what we’re up against, and as James tells us, to resist the devil with the promise that he’ll flee from us.

Look at God’s people in Scripture. Hebrews 11 into 12 is a good place to start. Real people as flawed as any of us are. All people of faith who were not faint of heart because of their faith in God, in God’s promises. And it ends with Jesus himself who went through so much more than we can understand as we consider Gethsemane and the cross.

Psalm 118, the passage quoted above does not end oddly, though at first glance that may appear to be the case. When we pour out our whole hearts to God and don’t let go, God comes through and rewards us with so much more. Notice how this psalm unfolds and ends:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 118:19-29

In and through Jesus.

a believing faith(?)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, 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 1:1-8

The title, “a believing faith” may seem redundant. Isn’t faith enough? The fact of the matter though is that our faith can be exceedingly weak. What James seems to be even railing against here is not the weakness of faith so much, as a lack of commitment to trusting God. Eugene Peterson’s rendering is helpful here:

People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:6b-8; MSG

We might struggle, even with doubt, some of us more than others. In spite of that we need to press on with the desire to be committed to faith in God, looking to God for the help we need in any given situation. I included the entire passage above, because though there may be and sometimes is value in taking a verse out of context, it’s always best seen, understood and applied in context, with the full intent of the passage in view.

So what we’re looking at here are the trials of life, any trial, which we’re to consider nothing but joy because of the endurance God wants to work in us through it, for our maturity toward full development as Christ followers. We are so prone to old default practices like taking matters in our own hands, hardly if at all looking to God. Trying to solve the problem ourselves, even if we pray to God to bless our efforts.

Instead God wants us to take what for us is the radical commitment of complete trust in God. In the words of Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

What God would be after here in part, it seems to me, is an entire renovation of heart, mind and practice. Much more for us than just trying to manage the next crisis, barely holding on, sometimes the wheels clearly falling off. No, God wants to change us over time. James does make it more abrupt than that, so that evidently, and quite frankly I think, we need that word. We’re so inclined to excuse ourselves, rationalize, and not change at all.

What we need to do is look past the present difficulty, be willing to walk through that instead of trying to escape on our own terms. And thus find God’s help, all the help we need in the process. Not only short term, but medium and long term as well. Toward the maturity God wants for us. In and through Jesus.

learning to rest in God

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2

Yes, Christians in too many places in the world are being persecuted. And people of other faiths, also. For us followers of Christ, the enemy which we struggle against is spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-20). We love all human enemies, while seeking to live in wisdom both for them and for ourselves.

Much of our struggle is tied both to our own weaknesses as humans and to the cosmic, spiritual conflict that is waging. So we need to see our troubled thoughts and troubles in that context. And we need to learn to rest in God. God is the One to whom we need to run and hide. God’s provision is in God’s Presence and with that comes our protection. I’m not referring to experience, that we have to feel that. Those feelings thankfully do come, but they also go. And sometimes they’re hard to come by at all because of our fears. This is simply something by faith which we do. Something we want to learn to be accustomed to doing. Where we want to live.

Notice the rest of the psalm (click link above). What we see is that God takes care of it. We’re still present, our faith active in complete dependence on God. The promise is that God will see us through trouble.

In the meantime I want to learn to rest more in God. And in that to truly learn to be at rest. In and through Jesus.

a life which corresponds to the “no condemnation” given to us “in Christ Jesus”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:1-17

First of all, we need to hold on to the truth that “in Christ Jesus” there’s “now no condemnation.” This passage makes it clear why. It’s because of Christ and specifically Christ’s death. Sin is condemned in the flesh, it’s dealt with (see NRSV footnote there for other possible rendering: “and as a sin offering”). We see from the rest of this book, and from other parts of the New Testament that it’s through Christ’s death.

And yet we can live in ways which don’t correspond, don’t line up with this. Otherwise Paul wouldn’t have wrote (or have written since he evidently had trouble with his eyesight) this. We are to live lives with the realization that we’re not condemned because of what Christ did. But what we do and especially in relationship with others must line up with that. Christ cleared the way for us to live with no condemnation, which we enter into by simple faith. But our lives must follow suit. All too easily we can be careless, or we might allow ourselves to feel condemned when we should not (1 John 3:18-22 and 1 John 4:7-21).

That means that our intent should be to always live lives which cannot be justly condemned. I’m never talking about sinless perfection, which is impossible in this life. Based on that, everyone of us would be condemned even after we put our faith in Christ. I’m talking about the tenor of our lives, including making right what wrongs we do along the way.

We should be both intent in resting in Christ, and God’s verdict of justification through faith along with the no condemnation that brings and we should seek to live lives which correspond to that, we might say here justification by works (James). Not that we earn it, but that our lives correspond to our profession of faith.

Paul makes it clear here that this is possible only through the Holy Spirit. If it’s by the flesh, meaning anything apart from the Spirit, then we’ll fail to realize the freedom which is given and meant for us as God’s children. Because of Christ we end up free as a bird to simply live in the new truth that we’re not condemned. We’re to live as children, children of our heavenly Father, no longer as slaves with a sentence hanging over us. That is taken care of in Christ. But only by the Spirit is that possible. And if we’re in Christ Jesus by faith, we have that Spirit.

Something I’m working on, but all too easily for myself, I feel condemnation for reasons that are at least questionable. So I want to understand better what it means to depend on the Spirit, to live with reference to everything by the Spirit, to learn to better recognize and as is stated in the above passage even put to death the deeds of the body, whatever that precisely might mean in my case. Could it sometimes mean silencing an overactive mind, open to the enemies lies? At any rate again, something I’m working on. In and through Jesus.

to avoid condemnation: a living, active faith

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

James 5:9, 12

James would argue, and I believe Paul supports that if we consider every part of Paul’s writings, that it’s not enough to believe, to simply have faith in Christ to avoid condemnation. Faith apart from works certainly involves receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But James points out that this faith which receives is also to be a faith which gives in response to God and God’s gift and favor given to us. Otherwise there is no true saving faith at all, and one is left condemned because of their commissions and omissions in failing to love God and love one’s neighbor as themselves. But in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ (note James 2:1; NRSV) we are called to a faith that not only rests in God’s promise in Jesus, but is also active in pursuing together God’s call for us in Christ. 

peace of mind

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Shalom is the transliteration of the Hebrew word translated “peace” which means more than inward tranquility and rest. As translations indicate and considering the context, here it could mean safety (NET), as well as the flourishing of humanity and creation. Peace of mind comes with the sense that all is taken care of, that all will be made well, and in the end be well as in whole, no longer broken.

I think in this life we have to hold on to promises like this, because so much seems in flux, unstable, threatening: undermining what is good. We certainly do need peace of mind, which is often the way this Scripture passage has been applied, even if that’s not its precise meaning. It certainly is included. And notice that it’s dependent on whether or not we trust in God. When we do, no matter what, God will give us God’s peace. This reminds me of another Scripture passage, Paul’s words to us:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Notice that the promise here is not that everything will turn out just the way we like. We know better than that in this life. But that no matter what, God will be at work through our prayers is implied, with the promise that God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. We need to hold on to this promise and not let go of our faith, putting that faith into practice by doing what Paul tells us to do here. God will always answer. According to our faith, it will be done for us. And God values our efforts, even though inevitably imperfect.

We know that in the new creation we’ll live in God’s care with no concerns whatsoever, whole and fully at peace in the love of God. But even in a world which is often turbulent and tearing at the seams, we can still have God’s peace. Yes, right in the midst of the storm. And in spite of so many things we wish would be different. Peace of heart and mind. In and through Jesus.