unhealthy doubt

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 1:5-8

God does not despise the one who struggles with doubt. The classic example of Thomas the doubter comes to mind. There is a gentle rebuke in our Lord’s dealing with him, but the Lord did not reject him.  Actually the raising of doubt can be an expression of faith. We see it throughout Scripture, Job being one prime example. Job along with many psalmists questions God, raises concerns, in essence they are honest to God.

What James is talking about here is fundamentally different. In the context it’s referring to doublemindedness, no longer really grappling with God, or taking God at God’s word. According to James, it isn’t necessarily that the doubter isn’t praying. But evidently it’s either an empty religious exercise, or becomes that since the one praying is not believing God will come through, not trusting God. It comes across to me as a kind of half hearted prayer in contrast to the healthy doubter who is fully engaged in their wrestling with God.

What I believe we can be assured of is that God will honor our sincere attempt to pray as James (and our Lord in the gospels) tells us to here. It’s not like we have to be perfect, though God can give us a certain faith during such times. We seek to be fully committed to God, open to God’s correction along the way. God will help us to grow in faith and offer the prayer of faith, giving us the needed wisdom we’re asking for, or whatever else we may request in God’s will. In and through Jesus.

yes, trials of any kind

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…

James 1:2

Just the day before yesterday I shared how focusing on this one verse helped me. I think the main focus for me at the time was considering the trial nothing but joy. As always happens, whatever new ground one gains will be challenged. So I was confronted with something else that was bothersome, so I went back to this passage, and this time I dwelt on trials of any kind. Regardless of what it is, that I’m to consider that nothing but joy, again of course taking in the context (click James 1:2 link above for full passage).

Again, we can’t stop just at this one part, but need to consider the entire passage. Why we’re to consider just any trial nothing but joy. But again we do well to stop and get it down well that we’re not just talking about some trials, but any trial at all.

Some trials are certainly worse than others. But when the devil’s in the details, even the small stuff seems large, in our face, blocking everything else, including God’s peace. So we need to do what James tells us here. And add to that the prayer for specially needed wisdom. All of this is good. And for our good in the world with its challenges we regularly face.

In and through Jesus.

no, don’t give up. pray and pray and…

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

I think Jesus wanted to inculcate into his disciples a passion to pray, and at least the bent to practice it regularly. Luke’s gospel account emphasizes prayer more than the other gospels, and we find Jesus praying there more often. As far as what we actually do, I don’t think there’s anything the Lord wants us to do more than to pray.

Prayer is about dependence on God, as well as relationship to God. And it’s about getting the help we desperately need in this world. Interesting that in this parable, Jesus likens the one who prays to the widow pleading for justice in an unjust world. And how she doesn’t give up. The Lord compares that to us needing to cry out to the One who is full of justice and mercy and wants us to ask, and even more, wants to answer.

Yet the Lord makes the sad remark at the end that he is wondering just the same if when he returns there will be any faith on earth. Will people be asking to this more than generous, even eager God?

A good challenge to me and encouragement, when I’m discouraged even to the point when my prayers don’t seem to matter. That’s a lie from the pit. Yes, they do. So we need to keep doing it. Pray and keep on praying and don’t quit doing that.

In and through Jesus.

just keep on trusting

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

“Keep on trucking” is an idiom to encourage people to go on with what they’re doing. Or a friend tells me and I think others at times: “Press on.” Here’s perhaps a more difficult one, because while we need to do it, our dependence is not on ourselves.

We’re told to trust in the Lord, to trust in God with all our heart. What does that mean? What does that look like? I think it means through thick and thin, whatever we’re experiencing, however down we may feel, whatever challenges we’re encountering, whatever discouraging thoughts come our way, we’re to trust, trust, and just keep on trusting in the Lord. Trusting in God’s words to us in Scripture. When we sense God’s voice speaking into our lives.

What does it mean to do this with all one’s heart? Who doesn’t love it when emotions rise, and we’re moved to do such and such? Depending on what it is, at least being moved means that we’re deeply touched, maybe to the core of our beings, perhaps entering into the suffering of others, or feeling the evil of injustice, anger rising in us. But feelings come and go. I doubt that such really effects much change.

How I prefer to see trusting in the Lord with all one’s heart is the idea of putting one’s self entirely into something. Not halfway, not three-quarters of the way. All the way, no holding back. What does that look like in terms of trust, and specifically, trusting God? I’m not sure. It involves experience, yes, but has to go deeper than that. It has to become a habit of our lives, what we do, and work into our very beings, so that is becoming more and more who we are. People who trust in God with no reservations. The Lord will help us. Remember the plea in the gospels: “Lord, I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

Part of what we aspire to in and through Jesus.

how do we grow? trials

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.

James 1:2-4

I recently heard a pastor say essentially that we don’t grow except through trials. I don’t know if that’s an overstatement. They have been in the ministry a good number of years and are older than many of us themselves, and I know they have far more wisdom through that pastoral experience and in their lives than I do. It seems to me we might mount an argument from passages like 2 Peter 1 to say that growth can occur apart from trials. But it does seem true to a significant extent as we consider our own lives and the lives of others. It’s so easy to drift, which results in actually diminishing in our spiritual life. We probably don’t just remain the same. We are probably growing or losing ground. Well, that’s some speculation.

But we’re clearly told here at the beginning of this letter how we’re to approach trials of any kind. That we’re to consider such as nothing but joy. That is not easy to swallow, but that is to be our mindset and attitude. It is sadly easier to wallow in fear, despair and grief. Instead we’re to approach each in an active faith, as well as passive in the correct sense, that of receiving from God. And we’re to look at life that way, all the problems and troubles we face, and again, whatever kind they might be. No exceptions.

I find this so helpful myself. There are many reasons left to ourselves to be down in the mouth and simply wanting to escape. But God wants us to meet all of life head on, but in full dependence on the Lord, along with interdependence on each other. But finding our way so that we can stand on our own, but only because of God, along with the help of others along the way. What God has for each one of us. In and through Jesus.

dreams and thoughts of what could have been

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Life makes philosophers of us all? Well, at least for those who take it seriously, though actually everyone has some philosophy meaning outlook on life. We can look back and see better, but mainly how God saw us through in spite of ourselves. And how hopefully we’ve come to see that what really matters is simple faith in and obedience to God. And to understand that our faith rests in the faithfulness of Christ, so that we follow together because of that. That can surely make all the difference in the long run.

If in your stronger more youthful decades you can put your all into following Christ in a community of followers of Christ, and seek to simply live in and from that reality, you will be truly blessed. Toward the end, the strength just isn’t the same, and the heart is often burdened down with the weight of other’s struggles, not to mention the inevitable troubles of life. And for most of us there’s regret and a wish that we could undo something or some things, and do other things all over again.

Lean on community in Jesus, and seek to be a follower of Jesus along with other followers of Jesus. Seek humility, above all just seek God’s love and will in Jesus by the Spirit, and with the desire to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. We’re in this primarily not for ourselves, but for others. Together, Christ’s body for each other and to be light in the world. God will take care of things. And in the end will bring a good end, weaving everything somehow in that for good. Far beyond us, and I doubt we’ll ever fully understand it, but all will end well.

In and through Jesus.

insecurity

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.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

Psalm 91

Maybe there is no better passage of Scripture to help those of us who often for one reason or another feel insecure. But we need all of Scripture of course, along with seeking to process all of life. Life comes at us with all kinds of reasons to feel insecure. But God in Christ by the Spirit is present and with us to help us through whatever it is we might be facing, in fact through all of life.

We have to remember that God is our loving Parent, that God is indeed love (1 John 4), that God is for us (Romans 8). And this is the case no matter what we face, nothing being able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (again, Romans 8).

But we don’t move away from the feeling of insecurity overnight. And frustratingly, we can fall back into it, after experiencing a sense of God’s peace and watch care over us. This will take time, but God wants us to learn to live more and more in a settled experience of God’s peace. Resting secure because our rest is in God. In and through Jesus.

singing in church

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:1-7a

One thing among others which should characterize any gathering of God’s people as church is simply singing together. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, as Paul put it (Ephesians 5:19). To sing is mentioned over and over again in the Bible, note especially the psalms and the last book, Revelation.

There are various types of songs and hymns. Songs of worship, praise, along with lament. Songs of testimony to God’s faithfulness. Special songs for such seasons as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. And down to earth songs, expressing ourselves honestly and fully before God.

Ongoing singing takes commitment along with effort. I am not really a singing person myself, though if you get me into a congregation that is singing, then I’ll join in. And I’m not thinking of the big- what comes across to me oftentimes as productions of bands revving it up, hopefully not too loud, with large screens, and people moving and swaying to the rhythm, hands uplifted, tears in some eyes, and some singing. That’s okay, probably with real good. But instead, I’m thinking about simple singing together, yes, even from hymnbooks, with or without instrumentation preferably both. 

This is something I really haven’t given sufficient attention to over the years, and have not practiced much at all, certainly not enough. But part of what is given to us for our good, both individually in our lives, and corporately together. In and through Jesus.

 

what does it mean to really be a believer in Christ?

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

James 2:1

It was said somewhere recently that many today simply call themselves Christians with little to next to no understanding of what that really means. And one well respected writer, Dallas Willard refers to “bar-code Christianity” by which he means that people say a prayer or whatever to make sure they’ll get into heaven, but their lives are essentially unchanged, or at least there’s no intent to be followers of Christ.

James implies in his words here that to “really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” means much more, and certainly includes not showing “favoritism.” To believe in Christ then is not just passive as in receiving something, but it’s also active, doing what we believe such faith calls us to do. Just as James says in this very same chapter of our Bibles, it is a faith that proves it’s alive by its works.

Faith in Christ then is looking to Christ, beginning to take in what Christ is, and being changed accordingly. Lives changed, actions impacted. So that we want to live according to God’s will in revealed in Jesus, yes, “in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”

In and through Jesus.

God’s beloved

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….

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:12-17, 28-39

We in Christ are much loved by God. As Henry Nouwen put it: “God’s beloved.” I believe God loves all he has made, especially everyone made in God’s image. And there’s a special bond for all who are “in Christ,” in God’s beloved Son. We are taken up into that love by God’s grace through faith and baptism.

It is often hard for us to think good of ourselves. So much is conditioned against that. The push for more and more work, especially on the backs of the poor, but working its way right up to the top with those who want more and more. And then the negative conditioning we’ve received from someone always looking down on us with a critical eye, with never a thing we do measuring up, never quite good enough, and oftentimes no good at all. And we take that in, absorb it, at least many of us, and it leaves its indelible mark on our hearts and lives, so that we see ourselves in much the same way.

But God enters into this through Christ. Lifts us up as God’s beloved children. Yes, God sees the faults, but looks past that with delight to see the sincere desire to do better, to follow Christ, to do well, and improvements by God’s grace and the Spirit which follow.

Everyone in the human race is loved by God, and God desires to receive one and all into God’s special family through Christ. Those in that family are held dear by our God. This is true no matter what they’re going through, no matter what mistakes they’ve made, no matter what sins. God remains present eagerly waiting for, even anticipating their return.

But again, it’s not easy to really believe and come to accept this. We’re so conditioned otherwise. So easy for us to call ourselves something derogatory and curse ourselves for our latest mistake or sin. Instead, like God, we need to look past that, not neglecting confession of sin and repentance for sure. But see past that to who we really are in Christ. The Beloved children of God. Loved now and forever.

In and through Jesus.