holding on to progress in the faith

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

Paul is referring to the high call of God in Christ Jesus. A cross-shaped life for sure as we see in the passage itself (click above link). All that is contrary to that is to be considered as nothing more than garbage.

It is wonderful to receive insight and make significant changes. And then it may seem that you’re at a new level, which actually may well be the case. But it is remarkable and disconcerting how almost invariably over time one not only can, but will drift back into the old attitudes or actions.

So Paul’s words here are helpful. They shouldn’t be isolated from their context, but still need to be considered carefully. The emphasis is on how we live. And the context for that is the entire book of Philippians, and for that matter we can say the entire Bible, according to the gospel which is its ultimate focus and fulfillment.

There’s no doubt that once we’ve stepped into a new light and air, it is egregious to us to drift back into the old. We can be sure that all of our advances will be challenged by Satan, and we can say, tested by God. Are we committed to the new course come what may? Or will we yield to the temptation to go back to our old ways?

We need to hold on to what we’ve attained, live up to that. That is part of pursuing the high calling of God in and through Christ Jesus.

do the next “good work”

…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Sometimes we live what we imagine is a necessarily frazzled existence. We fly by the seat of our pants in what amounts to essentially unmanageable situations at times. And can live there for a time or longer.

What I think God has been teaching me lately is to relax more, and simply go to the next “good work” God has for me. And when I think of good work, I’m not thinking of anything big at all. Just a bunch of little things, which in themselves may seem insignificant, but put together can mean a lot. Actually meant to be part of one’s life. God has done a good work in us, so that we might do good works for others.

I little know what might be next, but I take whatever I believe has been assigned to me, and try to do it the best I can. That doesn’t mean I’ll just take anything and everything. Of course I’ll do all within the sphere of my responsibility. But there are extras on the side we might try out, and find that although we might be able to do it, it just isn’t something that we resonate with, perhaps even disliking it. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to like everything that comes our way, which we have to do. But we need to differentiate between those things we’re called to do, and what we’re not actually called to do, but are for someone else.

So for me, late in my life, this is a breakthrough of sorts. Simply relaxing into my next “good work,” doing the best I can at it, before I do the next “good work.” With rest in between, in part finding my “rest” in all of this. In and through Jesus.

Jeremiah’s sorrow

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

Jeremiah 8:21-9:2

I remember a wonderful seminary professor telling us that pastors’ life spans are probably cut short due to all they have to go through, not the least of which, carrying the burdens of people in their hearts. Jeremiah is a most interesting, surely complex prophet. His book is actually the longest in the Bible, and he endured years of suffering both internally and externally.

Jeremiah shared in the suffering of his people, forbidden by the Lord to marry because of God’s judgment to come (Jeremiah 16). He suffered much, and is rightfully called “the weeping prophet.” The book of Lamentations, at least in his tradition if not written by him is remarkable in both its pathos and what is actually said.

The ability to enter into the suffering of others, to even share in that suffering, and especially so when it is the consequences of their own terrible choices is indeed a gift from God. It is much more likely that one shakes their head, with maybe a hint of grief, then carries on with their own life, maybe putting it out of mind on purpose. After all, who can carry such weight? And I know there are Christians who think that to do so is somehow not spiritual. How it is done may not be all that spiritual or Spirit led, but the idea that it’s done at all is surely marked with firm precedent in Scripture. And is not our Lord rightly called a man of sorrows, who wept over Jerusalem and its judgment to come?

Jeremiah had to carry a heavy burden. The Lord surely helped him, and enabled him to do it for so long. And not only people in his day were blessed because of that, but so were generations which followed right up to the present day who can read his writings and the account of that time. Lamenting is a part of life, even the godly life. Some are more inclined to it, but it is a gift for us all. Entering into something of the heart of God for people. In and through Jesus.

patiently finishing

The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride.
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:8-9

This for me is related to my recent post, in it for the long haul. This is about finishing what one has started along with not becoming easily worked up.

Not everything we start should be finished, at least not by us. Maybe we shouldn’t have started it in the first place, or it could be that it’s more like a project we have a part in.

It’s important to attempt to discern whether or not God has really led us to some endeavor, or at least given us the gift and peace to do so, or whether it’s something we’ve latched onto ourselves under some other inspiration such as being impressed by what someone else is saying or doing. This requires mature reflection over Scripture for a period of time as well as input from others. And prayer along with more prayer.

When we’re convinced that this is something God wants us to do, then we begin, but from the end. In other words we have something of the vision from God as to what we’re to become and do, our niche or place so to speak, and we proceed accordingly. We may want to do something different at times, but if we’re sufficiently impressed with the realization that what we’re inclined to do is not in line with what God has given us, then we can stop ourselves, step back and return to what we’re called to do. Patience finishes what is started, whereas pride is more than happy to barge in, or start something supposedly great, maybe even finish it. Patience plods along, while pride runs hard, often roughshod over others.

What can get us off track, or me anyhow, is being too easily provoked and as a result wanting to do something now. When I would be better off, and those around me, to simply pray.

This requires the ongoing discipline of being in God’s word and prayer. And continuing there. So that we can begin to understand and fulfill God’s direction for us. What we’re to finish in the patient endurance that is ours in and through Jesus (Revelation 1:9).

being a prophet, a lonely calling

Today we praise and appreciate the prophets of old, I’m thinking of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos come readily to mind. I have a friend who really is gifted and would be well received in any university setting including Harvard and the like. But his thought is on the edge against where people comfortably live.

I’m thinking of prophet in terms of the classical Biblical sense, and more in line with the Old Testament prophets, than the New Testament ones. There definitely was some foretelling of the future, but the brunt of their message was God’s word against sin, and specifically especially sins of injustice which violated loving not only God, but one’s neighbor as one’s self. And the message is ordinarily directed to God’s people who somehow are violating their covenant with God.

Prophets characteristically, while they have some following, are not treated well. They speak truth to power, and find plenty of opposition. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes clearly to mind, whom I consider the greatest prophet of the twentieth century, certainly in that mold. See Allan R. Bevere’s thoughtful post. Jesus certainly spoke about this (Matthew 23).

I consider myself a follower of the prophetic. I often feel compelled to take a stand against what I perceive to be unjust. And particularly when God’s people seem implicated somehow in that. I intensely dislike being involved in that. And almost inevitably, I see myself as sharing some guilt somehow in the matter. And feelings can be misleading. But if we never do what we’re moved to do, then we become something less than human. The key is whether or not we are being moved by God and wisdom, which actually is more than a moment of inspiration, but involves incremental growth over a lifetime.

For those who are prophets, as we see in scripture, and in life, it is indeed lonely. And even their followers can often share in something of what that prophet faces. If you leave the mainstream, especially of those around you, and are no longer “politically correct,” which simply means not in line with them, then you will lead a lonely life indeed. All prophets have to struggle with that. And with even worse at times, as well.

A difficult, lonely calling. Marked by mistakes along the way for any of them, but somehow having God’s signature.

Jesus’s call to follow

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

Jesus calling Matthew, the tax collector is quite interesting on a number of levels. Tax collectors were despised, and especially those who as Jews worked for what was considered by many to be the enemy, the Roman government. They collected taxes which could be costly, especially to a poor family. And often added extra money, not required by the Romans, for themselves.

But Jesus, as he was prone to do, is willing to upset the apple cart, so often challenging the norms of Jewish religious life, actually by just doing what he did, while maintaining other customs such as teaching in the synagogues. Jesus walks right up to Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth, and tells Matthew to follow him.

It is a call, and Matthew answers the call by literally getting up, and following Jesus. Such a call was based on the premise that the one calling was a rabbi. A rabbi, or we often translate that, teacher, is actually more than a teacher, say in a classroom setting as we’re accustomed to today. They certainly taught, but their students were more than just students, just like they were more than teachers. Their students were to be followers, to follow their example and emulate or imitate their life.

The story that unfolds here is instructive in itself, the Jewish religious leaders reaction, and Jesus’s response to them, pointing them to scripture, and their failure to understand, much less practice what it says.

Matthew goes on to write the gospel account that bears his name, part of which is quoted above. He answered Christ’s call, and left all to follow. Tradition tells us he was among the early Christian martyrs.

To be a follower means to follow someone, and to the Jews in rabbinic tradition, that meant to do what they did, to become like them (see Lois Tverberg’s books and writings, which are most helpful along this line).

By the Spirit through the gospel that call continues today. We answer the call in the affirmative like Matthew did, or we fail to heed the call at all. A call to leave all behind and follow the one not only in what we do and don’t do, but in who we are, what we are becoming, our very mindset, heart, and life. To become like Jesus, in and through him.

like Jeremiah, our need of ongoing repentance

Lord, you understand;
    remember me and care for me.
    Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
    think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
I never sat in the company of revelers,
    never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
    and you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unending
    and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
    like a spring that fails.

Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“If you repent, I will restore you
    that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
    you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
    but you must not turn to them.
I will make you a wall to this people,
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
    but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
    to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
“I will save you from the hands of the wicked
    and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

Jeremiah 15:15-21

It is so easy to find fault with one’s lot. There is almost always something wrong somewhere. Admittedly there can be seasons which are especially difficult and challenging, even for no fault of our own.

Jeremiah certainly ran into plenty of trouble because of his prophetic call from God. He was to deliver a message which would put his life in jeopardy again and again. He had his enemies who wished to see him dead. And it seemed to him at times that even God was against him. He is aptly called “the weeping prophet.” Some thought Jesus was Jeremiah (Matthew 16:13-14). I tend to want to go back to Jeremiah again and again because I kind of identify with him myself, at least in some of the moods he was in, as well as trying to speak the word of the Lord into a world which is often indifferent, or sometimes hostile to it.

In the passage quoted above (the link is Jeremiah 14 and 15) Jeremiah is in the midst of trouble, and is tired of it. He has had enough, and God seems not only helpful, but deceptive to him. His attitude has turned south and is sour. He even likens God to “a deceptive brook” and “a spring that fails.”

God wastes no time in calling the prophet to repentance. Once again (Jeremiah 1) God gives him the commission, this time conditioned on his repentance. No matter what the outlook, God will see him through, albeit in a difficult task for sure.

This for me is a good and needed word. I too often complain at what in comparison to what Jeremiah went through is nothing. Although it can seem life threatening to me in a different way. And certainly not easy. But repentance of wrong attitudes toward God is basic, if we’re to continue on in God’s will. And a wrong attitude toward life is essentially a wrong attitude toward God when you boil it down for what it really is.

God is sovereign, and nothing happens apart from God, even apart from his will. God is great and God is good, and he is love. We have to persevere in faith in the midst of difficulty. Otherwise we end up becoming part of the problem. And we can no longer figure into God’s solution.

Like Jeremiah, some of us might carry with us a predisposition to easily fall into the pit of discouragement and despair. And like him, we need to heed God’s call again, and when need be repent of charging God with wrong in our complaining and grumbling. What is essential for us is to grasp God’s call and keep coming back. Knowing God will see us through, and with the blessing of the gospel for others, in and through Jesus.