cast on uncertainty

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Hebrews 11

It seems like the walk of faith, rather than putting us on a track with a planned out, assured destination, actually casts us on uncertainty as to exactly where that faith might land us in this world, this present time, place, and existence. Abraham, the father of all who believe is said to have headed out in response to God’s call, an act surely crazy enough in itself to the people who knew him, or knew of him. For most of us this whole idea is not as glamorous, so to speak. It’s more like where we land when all the bumps and bruises of life, including the falls happen. But the same God who led Abraham, is also leading us. Which means we might expect some of the same kinds of issues and problems along the way. When God’s promises don’t seem to make sense given our situation, and even failures, sometimes taking matters in our own hands, as did Abraham, with less than good results, even though God in God’s grace can work in all of those things for good.

Abraham must have left a comfortable existence, or at least one where comfort would be assured, to something less than that, living as a stranger in tents, not settled, but headed toward a strange land, into a makeshift kind of existence it seems, in response to God’s call and promise (Genesis 12:1-9). But the book of Hebrews points out that Abraham was looking for a city beyond anything this world had to offer, which surely took some time to dawn on him, though maybe not. He was looking for a city, yes a city, with foundations, whose architect and builder is no less than God. But one on earth, I take it, though heavenly.

And indeed this seems to have been true with all of those living by faith:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

We are looking for a better country for sure. But we live now in this life, believing that in Jesus the beginning of the fulfillment all the promises of God are present now. The new breaking into the old to make all things new, something which will fully be completed when Jesus returns. All of this I’m trying to process and live in more fully now, in and through Jesus.

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pressing on regardless

But one thing I do…

Philippians 3:13

Of course there’s many things we have to do. But this refers to mindset. That plays out in just what we do, as well as choose not to do.

No matter what we face, and we’ll see what appears to be many obstacles along the way, we’ll have to keep our eyes on the goal: what God has called us to do, be and become, both individually and together, what Paul calls the heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.

If we let the deluge of problems cave us in, we’ll miss out on God’s help and deliverance along the way. We have to press on in faith regardless, even come what may. And go on. And on and on. To the end. In and through Jesus.

regrets

To regret something means that we should have known better and done something different. Surely everyone has regrets. Some of them can be so painful that we don’t want to go there, or we deal with it, and it’s something we can’t dwell on if we’re to remain Christian. But such matters can involve consequences that call it to mind. Other matters we can continue to be hammered on, because they can involve something which seems threatening to us, or has consequences to this day on a different, what people might call more practical level.

Paul’s well known words most people would pull out at first blush seem appropriate, then on further thought not, but when all is said and done, I think these words can help us:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:1-14

I know, I know. There are things after the time we put our faith in Christ that we might well regret. Both commissions, as well as omissions. And rightfully so. I’m not so sure it’s wrong to regret; it can’t be regarding certain matters.

But what Paul is getting at here is our mindset, the one thing we do. And what he is pressing toward, as if a runner, involves all in the Christian life given to us in Jesus to which we’re both to aspire to and begin to live out.

Paul’s past was of the flesh, even though it seemed so good to him and to many others at the time. Whatever is of the flesh is what we leave behind. We live in the new way of the Spirit, of God’s calling, yes his heavenward calling to us in Jesus.

Are we going to get everything right through being committed and following through in the pursuit of this call? Of course not. It is both an individual and group endeavor focused on a Person, the Person of Christ. We will fail along the way, and will have to keep applying this truth of forgetting what is behind, and pressing forward. In the large and the small. Day after day, whatever the kind of day we face, whether a work day, a day of rest, or of relaxation and fun. We continue on toward the mark that God has set for us in and through Jesus.

back to work

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul’s words need to be seen in context (link takes you to 1 Corinthians 9 and 10). This was all for the gospel, which is all about reaching people. It means the good news, so that is Paul’s aim given his mission. And by extension it seems clearly that he is calling the entire Corinthian church to the same commitment, of course in their various callings, but this one call directing all of that.

It’s our mentality and attitude up front that is crucial, which is why we’re told that we’re not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul’s heart and mind were for Christ and the gospel, and involved in that is not only the message, but the medium for the message which must never contradict the message itself. Paul, and by extension we are that medium. Yes, not all of us are called to proclaim the good news like Paul was as the apostle to the Gentiles. But we are all called to be witnesses to it, which will involve both word and deed. Our lives must line up with what we say, otherwise our words will be empty.

It is utterly crucial for anyone in the ministry to take the hard discipline Paul exerts on himself to heart for themselves. When you read the passage in context (again, see link above) you will note that it’s about the gospel, and with reference to sexual immorality and idolatry. Money, power and sex, not necessarily in that order, have grounded many an aspiring person to follow Christ. Or perhaps it uncovered their true heart. At any rate, we are told in this passage that we all must be careful, and beware lest we fall into the same trap (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Yes, we are present to work, to roll up our sleeves and be in God’s work by his grace in Jesus. Whatever form that work might take. What God has put in front of us, what we can do and find joy in doing in that work, we must give ourselves to fully. Rest is good, and must be incorporated along the way. But the work is what we’re called to, and what we must not let go of. And that requires a commitment and the discipline that goes with that. All for the gospel in and through Jesus.

especially blessed can be the irregulars, those who don’t fit in

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6

When reading the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) one gets the impression that Jesus is especially at home with the misfits, those who are either uncomfortably normal, or normally uncomfortable. I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The characters in that story (I confess to having not read the book, but only seeing the film) can be off the wall, out of place, not obvious candidates for what they end up doing, but they band together into a group with a common purpose thrust on them, along with a seemingly mystical touch.

I for one have felt much out of place most all of my life. I have a hard time accepting myself, much less expecting others to accept me, warts and all. So I am amazed if anyone does put up with what is off in me, and still accepts me as a friend. It doesn’t seem to happen often. I am among those who have a cynical bent, and ask the hard questions. Yet I’m also more than happy to simply use that to more and more gently fit into a greater purpose than myself, or anyone else. Together with others.

In this world, if everyone was cool all the time with what is going on, it would be sad indeed. I wonder about a Christianity where everything is great all the time, in which one is always full of joy, and lets nothing bother them. It seems to me that real Christians ought to take seriously the sufferings of this world, and in and through Jesus and his suffering be able to navigate those hard places with the weeping followed by joy (in the morning, as the psalm says).

We need to make room and have a place for those who don’t fit, but may seem to be looking for a home. Can they find it with us in Jesus? Are we helping them to find their place in Jesus? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, and therefore calls each one to be reconciled to him. And many who are reconciled may not be at home with us, because we fail to see God’s love on them, even Jesus in them. They are often the irregulars, the misfits, those who don’t have, or find much of what this world holds dear. But who are really at home in and through Jesus.

an attitude grounded in faith

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land,  for we can certainly do it.”

Numbers 13

Chuck Swindoll is definitely one of my all time favorite evangelical preachers and writers. A breath of fresh air. Here is something he wrote which speaks needed wisdom to me:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. … The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.

more

One thing we can be certain of (click the link, “more”), we will face problems and adversity. That is a given. What isn’t certain is our response to them. Will we bail out? Will we endeavor to face them feeling overwhelmed and in the end completely worn out, so that we barely have enough to complete the task, or we do so gnashing our teeth in the process? Or do we acknowledge the reality, yet persist in the faith that God will be present, and will fulfill his promises to us in Jesus?

All Scripture is written for us (Romans 15:4). The account in Judges is challenging. Of the fourteen spies Moses sent in to give a report on the land, only Joshua and Caleb had faith in God and God’s word. The inhabitants there looked formidable, but their response was not to give into their fears, but press forward, and take the land, since God had both promised and commanded it.

What about us? What about me? Am I allowing myself to live overwhelmed over everything at hand, along with other looming issues, so that there’s barely enough strength, if that, to get through the course of a day? Or am I trusting in the God who fulfills all his promises to his people in and through Jesus, so that my main concern is holding on to faith, and being faithful?

Attitude. Not about believing in myself, but believing in the God who calls us, sends us, and equips us for the mission he gives us in and through 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.