accepting the discipline of true life

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

Scripture makes it plain and clear that to follow Jesus, to be people of God involves going against the grain of our own fallen, broken human inclinations. For the most part we’re not inclined toward the good, nor to avoid what’s not so good, or even bad. Left to ourselves on our own way, we gravitate on a downward path which eventually leads to our undoing and destruction. It’s easy, because it’s simply the way we are apart from God’s grace in Jesus.

Life is hard, in and of itself. When we find out that following Jesus isn’t easy either, we may want to run and hide. Surely we can take a vacation from this, we might think. We do need times of rest, and vacations are helpful, too. But we’re never left off the hook in following Jesus, even during such times. Actually in so following, we find rest (see Matthew 11:28-30).

And so, we need to accept the discipline of following Jesus. It isn’t easy upfront, but it is the way of rest. The other way is the easy way to go, but in the end, it’s hard. Taking the way of life is possible, in fact we’re invited to it, in and through Jesus.

keeping at it faithfully, not drifting

Sometimes we experience such grief and downright consternation over life, personal concerns, matters, or whatever, that it seems impossible to keep heart since our heart is utterly broken, or breaking. Or perhaps life is good, and we feel good, with little or no worries. Either way, or with just what can become the numbness of day to day living, we can begin to drift from our God, and in so doing actually from ourselves, since to find and know God is to begin to find and know ourselves, a byproduct of that, not the goal.

I have found myself drifting a bit lately, not purposefully, to be sure. But whatever the challenges faced, it is the heart which one way or another is going to be attacked by the enemy, often through the mind, and when it seems that relationships even in family are not what they ought to be, even sometimes broken, or at least cracked. And so it’s seemed to me that what I do, and certainly whether or not I’m here matters not at all. It’s not like any of us are indispensable, or that God needs us. But God has chosen to include us during this time to his glory in and through Jesus in his good and great work, each of us having a part in that.

But to the point of this post: I realize afresh and anew that I need to keep on keeping on faithfully, for me beginning with my daily meditation in the word, in scripture. Certainly in that with a focus on the gospel, on Jesus. It’s not about looking for some great experience, or any experience at all. God is present with us in Jesus no matter what we’re going through or how we feel. It’s simply about faith in God, and being faithful to the calling of God, yes, in all our weakness, and sometimes sin, or struggle against sin. We want to plod on, and keep going, come what may, by God’s grace, no turning back.

In order to avoid inevitable drifting, we have to simply continue on in the Spirit direction God gives us. That may not always seem obvious, and actually may take some time for us to understand or have a needed breakthrough on a given matter. But part of how we get there is simply by continuing to meditate on the word, and seeking to grow in that meditation. Sometimes to ponder a matter slowly and prayerfully before we sense it’s time to move on. But not stopping. Continuing on in the word, that we might be on the path with others in following Jesus, in and through Jesus.

 

getting uncluttered in life

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Matthew 13

When you get older you start to think about getting rid of all the things in your house or garage that you haven’t used for years and years. Paring down, before others end up having to do that for you, or after you’re gone. I think something similar applies for all of us as followers of Jesus. We need to be unencumbered, free from what can weigh us down, and essentially knock us out, or at least greatly impair and hinder our walk in Jesus.

For me more than anything else, this involves the spiritual discipline if you want to call it that, of being in the word regularly. I feel it if for a prolonged time I’m not in the word, in scripture. And being in the word is nothing scintillating or entertaining, as a rule. Actually it goes much deeper than that, right to the heart, to the very core of one’s being, and out of that forming one’s character and what one does, over time.

There are any number of things, indeed no shortage of them, which can very much distract and burden us, yes, unnecessarily. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of responsibilities in place and challenges that come our way that we can simply ignore and forget about. It’s more like how we address those issues, what we do when we’re doing so. Are we endeavoring to walk with Jesus, to be in scripture in whatever situation we’re in? Are we active in the fellowship of the church, in a Jesus community? This is all an essential part of us being those who hear the word, understand it, and find God at work in our lives for ourselves and others in and through Jesus.

hard topics (and the tongue)

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

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.

rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

concentrating on what is at hand, on one’s calling

Life is full, busy, and actually good, but has its challenging aspects as well. And we see the bigger picture around us, as best we can. There are so many things we can get involved in, and many of them might be good. It is not bad, and actually commendable I think to work at understanding the basics of difficult topics in the world and the discussion and debate surrounding them.

I remember one much respected pastor and Bible teacher who said something like we in Jesus should say: “This one thing I do,” instead of, “These many things I dabble in.” I think we need to prayerfully endeavor to do well at what is in front of us, at the task at hand, and actually guard that. If we spread ourselves too thin, we won’t do as well. But more importantly, we might be taking our eyes off the calling God has for us.

That said, we still need to be open to new things, new directions the Lord might be taking us. At the same time making our priority what God has called us to now, what we are called to love and nurture. As we watch ourselves and keep trying to grow up together with others in Jesus.

the Bible for the real world as it is and our experience in it

Experience can be downplayed by ivory tower thinkers who don’t seem to live in a real world (though they do), but it is where we live. On the other hand, experience can become overplayed, so that it is our one focus, and even somehow mysteriously determines ethics.

The Bible strikes a wonderful balance in taking in all of life just as it is. The material, intellectual, social, even psychological, and yes, spiritual spheres. There’s room in the Bible for all kinds of people, really every kind you can think of, and with all the problems we each carry with us, some with quite special and at times even vexing issues, at least to some.

The Bible is a complex book because it is about real life, life where we live, even the life of the entire world. It was written in a different time and setting, but carries over into every time and setting with some work, and at least prayer and thought.

The Bible was written for experience no less, for real life, for life where we live. It is about the life God created, and the new eternal life which God offers in Jesus. The light which lightens every person coming into the world, even if they haven’t heard of Jesus (John 1). The light for life, for living in the real world, in and through Jesus.

The Bible is written for a real world, and for all of us right where we live. God speaks to us through it, and in other ways as well, as we will see when we begin to turn its pages. Don’t read it hastily, let it sink in. The whole book is important, but if you’ve never read it before, you might want to begin in the gospel according to Mark, and then John’s gospel account. It’s good to read both testaments at the same time, the First/Old Testament beginning with Genesis, and the Final/New Testament beginning with Matthew.

To keep myself on track in the way of Jesus certainly by God’s grace, I am in the word, in scripture, in the Bible daily and throughout the day. I try to read (or one can listen to) larger portions, and chew on, as in meditate or ponder on smaller bits. And it’s important to converse with others about it, like Discover the Word so aptly and helpfully does. And we need the church in its proclamation, teaching and witness to scripture, which ultimately testifies to Jesus himself, and the good news in him.

Life was meant for living in a real world, and the Bible is meant to help us find our way in the Way himself, Jesus, in the way we were created to live. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss out.