God’s grace helps us where we are

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

Sometimes we think we have to be in a certain place before God’s grace works. But actually apart from God’s grace we can’t do anything that will be helpful. Grace might be nudging us simply to realize that. Grace here is meant God’s gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ. God’s grace helps us exactly where we are. And we’re enabled by that grace to do better, indeed we grow in and through that grace.

We need to remember this. All depends on God’s grace to us always. We not only go from there, but continually live from that. In and through Jesus.

do well in your calling (whatever it is)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

I remember decades back hearing someone say that if their job was a milkman, then they would want to be the very best milkman around in fulfilling their calling to God. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who suggested that whatever our work may be is at least our current calling from God? I think you can make a case for that in Scripture, of course provided that the work we’re doing is not something that is contrary to God’s will.

The context is actually addressed to slaves. One needs to look at the entire New Testament to understand the nuance provided in the truth and power of the gospel eventually undoing the entire institution of slavery. But in the meantime, Christians found themselves in what probably was less than a desirable life for many of them, not something they would have likely chosen for themselves, at least not over the long haul. But the word for them is to be wholeheartedly faithful since what they were doing was not merely service to their master, but actually service to Christ.

How much more true is that for us who are in jobs and perhaps life circumstances that we find less than agreeable, certainly not what we would aspire to ourselves? And with that comes the temptation to let down, despair, at least struggle since what we’re doing is so far removed from what we would like to do. But that’s when we need to settle ourselves down, and prayerfully look to God to do well in the place and responsibilities we have. Not to despise what might seem mundane, wearisome, or of little consequence to us. But to prayerfully do as well as we can in the grace God gives us.

We remember what Christ did in becoming one of us, and then in the humble life he lived, as well as the death he died. All of that to many would seem a waste, or at least falling short of the ideal for living or blessing others. But that is precisely where God’s blessing came, in the most humble of places. We need to remember that, and do our best even in what seems a secondary task. Trusting God will use that in whatever way God chooses, to his glory and for the benefit of others. In and through Jesus.

 

giving Jesus his due

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12

Traditionally we have the wise men, three of them in keeping with the gifts mentioned, when there were likely more, arriving at the manger, at least in paintings and in our manger scenes. They were actually magi: perhaps into a kind of astrology as we note the star in the story, and religious priests. And likely coming around two years after Jesus’s birth.

What is noteworthy for this post is how the magi were coming not just to see for themselves what their reading of the stars seemed to indicate, but to honor the special one born to be king in some special way. This was either worship, or something close to it, in acknowledgement of a one over them (see Mounce, NET Bible footnote 17). Perhaps paying homage, which was due only to superiors, normally to kings, or to divine beings. And they had their gifts in hand, which likely were a big help to “the holy family.”

This speaks to me in reminding me what our lives should be all about when considering Christ and God’s gift in him. Yes, we receive that gift gladly and the promise it brings, but in turn we live lives of gratitude in response, seeking to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

Christmas isn’t just about the good we get, and then simply enjoying it. It’s about that, but much more. Our response of faith, hope and love is crucial. The reception of this great gift doesn’t leave us unchanged. We endeavor to respond to that love in God’s grace given to us by a changed life. First honoring the God who gives and is in that Baby. And continuing that day after day as we seek to follow him.

In and through Jesus.

my own take on whether a fallen pastor/Christian leader can be reinstated

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

…God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Romans 11:29

Lately we’ve had a spate of Christian leaders actually leaving the faith, and right along there are examples of Christian leaders failing morally or in some other way. There’s no question that the qualifications for Christian leaders is high (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Their lives are to be an example to the church they serve.

But what if ordained leaders such as pastors fail? I’ve gone back and forth on this one myself. I mostly have believed, given the right discipline by the church which would include a significant time out of the ministry that yes, they can be restored and reinstated. It is one thing to repent; another to actually change (Psalm 51).

Of course such need to repent, and reform their lives, and use the gift God has given them for the good of the church and for others. I think when people do that, provided they remain on the straight and narrow, they’re still open to receiving the prize the Apostle Paul mentions in the 1 Corinthians passage above.

I personally would include ordained ministry in that as well. What God gifts to be a blessing should be recognized by the church as such. Yes, the failure is always a mark left which cannot be blotted out. But by God’s grace there can always be full reinstatement as long as there’s repentance and change over time. The church, and especially the leadership of the church needs to be in charge of that.

I believe it is nothing less than a ploy of the devil for a leader to think that their ministry is ruined after they fall. At the same time, anyone who is tempted needs to grab themselves and take every measure possible to counter that temptation. Anyone who sins causes a world of hurt to their family and to the church, as well as to themselves. And you don’t just step out of the nightmare overnight. Though to think one can’t repent and be restored and reinstated over time is I think again a deception of the devil.

In the end, we need to all watch ourselves, as well as our faith in both belief and conduct. So that as we learn to follow our Lord more closely, others can follow our example. And for those who have fallen, that there may be hope for others who fail as people see that the repentance and change of life is genuine. In and through Jesus.

heeding God’s call

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord.

Amos 7:14-16a

There is a sense in which any of us who are in Jesus have some sort of calling from God. And the gift to go along with that. It really matters not what friends or even academics might think of that, although we should be humble and teachable, and learn what we can from their critiques. But in the end, we are answerable to God alone. We must pay attention, and be obedient to God’s call.

This doesn’t mean for a second that we’re infallible, or always get it right. Or that we think we’re something special, or a cut above anyone else. No. We’re all different, and everyone’s gift from God is a God thing and therefore a good thing. You shouldn’t compare as in putting against apples, oranges, pears, trees, etc. to each other. They’re all different, but all good in their place.

That’s what I attempt to do. I want to be accountable to the church, to others, and I’ve tried to be. And again, I know there have been flaws in what I’ve done, and that in some ways I’ve refined myself over the years. And yes, I have a hard time with some of what I do, as well. I don’t care at all about my own opinions, for example. But they are one person’s considered thought, weighing, as well as influenced by the thoughts of others, one who has lived a pretty good number of decades.

But in the end, what matters is God’s calling. And our answer to that. Let’s be faithful to the one we will answer to in the end. Together. In and through Jesus.

doubting one’s self (part of my story)

A lot of water has come and gone over the dam. Much good over the years, and much not so good, even some not really good at all. Although I can be thankful that I’ve been married to one woman, and have known only her, and want to be with her to the end and beyond in the next life (if she will have me).

I always wanted to be a pastor. And I do that kind of work Sunday after Sunday at a nursing home in leading a worship service which includes singing and preaching/teaching, along with prayer and visiting. And I would have enjoyed teaching as a job, either, but I have seen myself over the years especially as aspiring to a pastor’s heart.

But perhaps the strongest undertow that swept me out and that I failed to overcome by faith, which I could have by the way, was the lie that I was a nobody who would fail in life, just as I heard a close relative (not in my immediate family) say when I was 10 years of age or so. So that I not only doubted myself, but rarely if ever saw anything good. And no one else did either, or if they did, for whatever reason they failed to help me understand the gift God had given me, and encourage my development and growth in that. And by the way, I don’t imagine at all that my gift is any more special than anyone else’s. All of our gifts from God are special, so that we’re all special gifts from God in creation, and new creation in Jesus.

But the biggest problem was that I failed to break past that by believing in God and God’s goodness and assessment of me. Instead believing the old stories that had piled into and accumulated in my head, and by and by took over my heart. So that I came to the dangerous place, even after graduating from two schools with a Bachelor and Masters degree, one a seminary, in which I had given up and believed I never would fulfill my heart’s desire and become a pastor, one ordained into the ministry.

Around that was a sense of defeat instead of faith in which I failed to work through the difficult things of life, which are inevitable for us all. Though I always did hold down a job through the years, the Lord’s gracious provision for us in my factory work.

I say all of this to encourage any reader to do better, to avoid the pitfall I experienced.

I am grateful to God, knowing it could have been worse. And if I have health and some years after retirement, I hope to serve in something like a chaplaincy role.

We can learn from the past, and work through it for some healing, but we also live in the present. This is where we live, and we want to do well here and now. To have the faith and everything toward God which honors and pleases him, who alone is the Faithful One. To hold on to that, and continue on faithful to the end. With others, 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.

follow on; just keep following

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said,“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

John 21

The context is rich and well worth the time to read it, including this being the end of John’s gospel account. Peter was being wisely and lovingly reinstated by the Lord, after Peter had denied the Lord three times. John is called the one who Jesus loved, and why, we’re not told. Except it may be that John simply had that revelation which others did not have, but which actually applies to us all, at least to every believer in a special, covenantal relationship with God through Christ. Or they may have had a special bond. Perhaps something of both. Jesus was human, and surely felt closer to some than to others. I prefer the former, but it is likely something of both.

Peter was reinstated and given a primary role in feeding and taking care of Christ’s lambs and sheep. He was to be a pastor, an undershepherd under the good Shepherd. But like we all do, Peter looked at John and evidently was comparing himself with John. Jesus made it clear that John’s own following of the Lord was not Peter’s business, but instead that he simply needed to follow the Lord, himself.

This for me is a rather life-giving word. Both in terms of how I look at others, and also in terms of how I might think others look at me. I have to continue on, even if I am misjudged, or considered of no account. My call is to simply follow. And to look at others the same way. Of course we’re not islands, or simply individuals, but our relationship to God through Christ means we’re in special relationship with all others in Christ. There is accountability. But within that, there is also respect for the fact that not only are we different, but that it is God in Jesus who is the God of us all, the one each of us is to follow, the one who directs our steps, as well as the steps of each and everyone around us in and through Jesus our Lord.

when it is unthinkable to go (left to ourselves)

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and saveIsrael out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The Lord answered, “I will be with you…”

Judges 6:12-16

I am slowly over time through many hurdles, but in the crucible of experience finally beginning to realize that it’s the Lord’s word, and precisely his will that makes all the difference. It’s not at all about me, in fact when I can think of myself as completely lost and out of the mix due to this or that, that’s when I can learn the most, and actually find the Lord most present.

One of the keys is to refuse to let what might be at the moment an obsession define us. Gideon let all his shortcomings in regard to how he saw himself define him, so that he was ready to argue with the angel of the Lord, and refuse the calling which seemed quite beyond him and his capabilities. And of course it was. But the point God was making to Gideon is that God would be with him, and God’s will would be done.

Along with the importance of not letting ourselves be defined by our own weakness and shortcomings, we also need to learn to define ourselves in terms of God’s calling and will for us in Jesus. So that we learn to move forward and keep on keeping on in the will of God, when it may seem more futile or with less promise than ever. What we need is the sense, or to hold on to the promise of God’s call. And to remember that the Lord’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

 

aspiring to what?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach…

In recent months the pastoral epistles are becoming alive to me in a way which they once were, but was lost in the lostness of many of my middle years, when I lost hope of fulfilling what I believed (and still do) was my call from God. When we view the passage in its context we see the qualifications set in terms of both giftedness and character.

I’m not sure and maybe doubtful at this late stage in my life that I’ll be able to step into something of this (though I already have in a way, through the years), but I find the desire to do better and to do well character wise a good challenge and even encouragement for whatever time I have left in this life.

Aspiring to good character in and through Jesus is not to think one can arrive to sinless perfection in this life. Nor is it to engage in some sort of ego trip in which I come to think I am better than others. It is instead to pursue a course in which character takes priority over everything else including one’s giftedness. On the latter point that means I am willing to forgo what I would like to do for the sake of growing more and more into the image of our Lord. That character transformation is always first priority.

But that doesn’t mean that what we do is therefore left out in terms of what gift we have from God.  It does mean that we do so humbly in our place, whatever place that ends up being. Intent on following Jesus so that who we are takes precedent over what we do, of course impacting the latter.

For me personally, I can’t separate everything, but I can desire to do the best I can with whatever I’m given. In the life in God through Christ by the Spirit in communion with all of God’s people in mission to the world.