hold that thought

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; NRSVue

In pop western culture we want answers, and we want them now. No ambiguity, no having to sort through things; we want the quick fix or the right answer right away. There’s a place for that in some things for temporary or relatively trivial matters. But for the big questions and trying to figure out what to do in the rough and tumble, the tussles, in real life, that’s completely something else.

So much is involved in this. We’re processing through our own thoughts as we seek God’s help. And much of what we’re thinking through has truth in it. But we can’t stop. We have to keep going, to keep asking questions, to look into good Bible commentaries and good study Bibles.

We always need to error on the side of mercy, grace and kindness, trying to cut others slack, remembering our own faults in the past and present, with the willingness, indeed set disposition to forgive. We keep asking questions, we keep praying for ourselves, for others, for the situation at hand.

And we have the promise stated above that God will see us through as we seek to get God’s help, no less. In and through Jesus.

torn from limb to limb (living in the real world)

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a laborer?

“All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.”

Job 7:1; 14:14b; NRSVue

Job had not only lost his children to disaster along with being devastated from head to toe, but he had no real human support. His wife had told him to curse God and die, and his friends’ promise in being with him seven days without a word turned into a correction which was nothing more to him than hollow, empty platitudes.

When one is beat up physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, you name it, we can easily add to that spiritually, because it’s easy to become despondent and potentially prey for more. Thankfully though that’s not the end of the story in Job, nor of our own story, or the world’s story.

But we have to be ready for such an experience, although really you can never be quite ready, if so at all. But at least when it comes it doesn’t have to take us completely by surprise.

God will help us in answer to prayer. Like in the case of Job, we might have to argue with God with a faith that doesn’t let go, but insists on God’s answer, God’s help.

Faith in such darkness and difficulty doesn’t put on a happy face and pretend all is good. Yet such faith also always looks insistently to the One who can and ultimately will intervene and is present before that day comes to help us all the way through. In and through Jesus.

“be instant in season, out of season”- KJV

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

2 Timothy 4:1-5; NRSVue

I love the King James Version‘s rendering in this passage, “be instant in season, out of season.” The idea as we read above is to keep doing what we’re called to do no matter what. Whether it’s convenient for us or not, or for that matter even convenient to others. Of course, we want to be helpful to others, but the only help they’re going to get which matters is help from God. It can be through us, but definitely from God. Just as all help we ever receive ourselves is from God, though often through others.

We need to be ready, prepared, above all in our spirit, in our heart, through prayer, through trying to walk day by day, every moment, through every time whether good or bad, whatever the case may be, we need to always be ready to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. The gospel is at the heart of that, but the specific calling, though we might divide it in general categories such as speaking and serving and for many of us, some combination of both, will be as different for each of us as each of us is different ourselves.

The point though is to be ready. And the test of that will come when we’re especially feeling not ready, maybe under siege, under spiritual attack. We must not give in then, because that actually can end up being the time of greatest blessing. God can pour out God’s Spirit in answer to prayer, and never forget that the Lord’s power is made perfect in our weakness. It’s never about us, but only about what God has given us to do, and the love of God made known in the good news of Christ.

In and through Jesus.

doing what is right

Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

James 4:17

It is Advent season, and while I’m thinking of writing some posts related to that, in a sense we’re always in the attitude of Advent in that we await the return of Christ. Advent involves a longing anticipation. We long for Christ to return and set the world right. Even while we await now the celebration of Christ’s first coming as nothing less than a baby boy born into the world, albeit a miraculous conception and fully human birth.

In the meantime we carry on, yes, as the passage tells us above, always seeking to do what we know is right to do. In the above context (click link) it’s about being humble about one’s plans, acknowledging that all depends on God’s will. Not supposing that we are in control of our lives and their outcome. And this attitude of knowing what is right and then doing it covers just about anything and everything imaginable.

It’s not like we can do this in our own strength and resolve. We can’t. But by God’s grace and the help that comes with that, we indeed can, however faltering and weak it may be. And God can help us gain strength so that regardless of internal and external pressures opposing us, we set ourselves to do what we understand to be right, so that this becomes a part of what we do, who we are. And so that when we deviate from that, we quickly repent, make things right as necessary, and go on in the correct practice and attitude which follows.

Something that is to mark us, mark our lives, even in our lives together as well. In and through Jesus.

accenting giving thanks (yes, for answers, but) no matter what

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Scripture after scripture mentions giving thanks to God for the many blessings God bestows. One other passage might intimate this (Ephesians 5:20), but the above passage for sure tells us to give thanks not just for what God has done for us, but in anticipation of the good God will do regardless of the circumstance we face.

This is uplifting, just the help we need as far as our part goes when we thank God when something either not so good, or maybe not good at all comes our way. Instead of being down in the mouth, and perhaps cursing under our breath along with complaint after complaint, we’re instead looking to God the good God will do in it.

Of course that doesn’t make bad things good at all. It doesn’t mean that somehow God miraculously makes that so. But that God works for good in everything (Romans 8:28) and somehow redeems everything, even our wrongdoings. But we’re never to give thanks in the midst of our sin. That would be seriously misreading this passage. “In all circumstance” takes for granted that we’re endeavoring to walk in good faith, following our Lord.

So next time and times, since this will happen likely multiple times each day, but next time something either bad, or not really good happens, let’s give thanks to God. For the strength and help God gives us to see us through the situation, as well as for the good God will bring out of it.

In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11

It’s always important to look at the context of any particular passage, and the above passage is no exception. It has to do with an issue in the church involving one who needs the kind of help that only the church can give them. The person does respond to the church’s action with Paul’s help (some interpretation, here), and now Paul presses home the need to move past that, not as if nothing happened, but in a wise way in which the person knows they are fully accepted and loved.

Just the same, we can still pull something out of the above thought. Our spiritual enemy is out to trip us up wherever and whenever it can. Yes, at opportune, strategic times, as well. They know our weaknesses, what pushes our buttons, and indeed are active in setting us up for “the evil day” as well. We don’t want to be people who focus on the spiritual enemy. But as we seek to keep our attention on the Lord, we do need to be aware of what they can be up to, so that we can begin to sense and discern that in our lives, as well as in the lives of others so that we can pray for them.

All that said, this simply means that we need God’s help to refuse to take the bait, the allure the enemy drops or sends our way. We need discernment to understand when this is taking place, and to understand how this is developing. And how we may be unwitting accomplices in it.

Don’t go there! Yes, resisting that will amount to resisting the devil. As we seek to keep our attention fully on the Lord, that we may be led by him in all of this. This is a step of faith which may not be easy, in fact will likely be hard, being counterintuitive to us, since we have given into it so many times before. But as we take that step and follow through, God will help us in this. In and through Jesus.

This podcast from Tim Gombis, “Faith Improvised,” only 36 minutes in length (finish it, to get the benefit) was helpful to me on this subject, certainly applying on a host of issues.

borderline gossip

Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors…

Psalm 15:1-3

I’m sure we’ve all heard it, likely at some time or another even have been participants in it. Concern is being expressed about someone, and before you know it, details are coming out accompanied with a kind of interest that seems to have departed from the original intent. And it goes on and on, not stopping. In what has become “borderline gossip.”

Maybe when we talk about others in such contexts, we would do best to talk about them as if it were ourselves. We want to express the concern, but do so humbly, acknowledging that our perception is limited. That above all, we want to take it to God in prayer. And not go on and on, framing them in a demeaning way. 

There certainly are those times when the person or people we’re concerned about seem to be taking a clearly wrong turn. Of course those are the times we need to plead for God’s mercy upon them.

Let’s be careful what we say about others. Ordinarily keep it brief, to the point, and always with plenty of charity. Looking to God for God’s help and full blessing on their lives. In and through Jesus.

the underrated, underappreciated, relatively unpracticed activity of radical decision

After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Luke 5:27

It seems to me that a common idea which is mostly taken for granted is that decision-making is of little to no value at all, that we will do what we do for a host of reasons, and that includes all the decisions involved in that. The thought of decision I’m referring to here are life-altering or at least life-improving decisions. Decisions in order to make things work along the way is certainly accepted, but life-altering or even improving decisions are often looked upon with suspicion. Yes, people try, but almost inevitably they sink back into their old ways. There are exceptions to this as when people acknowledge that it is possible to break free from serious, destructive addictions with the help of others, over time, and not apart from significant difficulty.

I think we’re all well enough aware of habits of life that either are not helpful to us, or may even be harmful. We might see them as innocent in and of themselves, but they may be distracting us from what’s most important. And for the follower of Christ, the initial radical decision to follow Christ involves what at times are difficult decisions along the way to leave this or that behind, as not in line with this following.

Levi (who also is named Matthew, one of the apostles, writer of the first gospel account) left everything to follow Christ. In that decision involved in answering Jesus’s call, there was a power at work to help Levi follow through and keep on following Jesus.

Levi’s life did change in a day, but much about Levi was the same. But because of the decision, and the completely different trajectory it took, we can be sure that Levi was significantly differently a year from that initial decision, and all the more so by the end of his lifetime. In other words what I’m trying to say is that a decision at a certain point can make a world of difference.

The way we see decision, it’s small wonder that it makes little to no difference. So that we make almost silly New Year’s resolutions at times, because we don’t take the idea that seriously in the first place. Or that anything we might at least want to take seriously is usually broken soon, because we don’t really take decision-making with much seriousness at all, certainly not enough, so that often we forget we even made the resolution, and hence, break it.

The difference is the purpose involved. Is our decision about following Christ, or connected to it? We can be assured that if such is the case, God will help us remember and follow through on making and fulfilling all the necessary decisions which follow that initial decision. All and everything that is not in line with following Christ, we are meant to leave behind.

I do want to add to this that I think the importance of humans being able to make important, life-altering decisions, in and of itself is not taken seriously enough. Certainly help is needed along the way, but to say that humans can’t make important decisions themselves and see good things come out of such in time, I think is failing to appreciate the special ability within humans as those made in God’s image. And this thought carries through to followers of Christ, as well. Let’s not minimize our own human decision, even while we acknowledge that all really do need God’s help and the help of others along the way.

God will help us if we’re intent in doing this. We can be assured of that. And when we forget and fall back, we simply repent of that, and resolve all the more to follow through on the decision made, difficult as it may be, especially in the beginning and earlier stages. God will help it become shaped and confirmed and part of our lives. In and through Jesus.

the psalms: where we live

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Psalm 4

Part of the reason I think the psalms are so valuable is they talk a lot about experience. And that after all is where we live. We have our highs and lows, where we usually live, and oftentimes they’re punctuated with doubts and fears, being troubled. Then there are those times of peace and rest, sometimes even a sense of a kind of exaltation and joy. Well-being. But we sooner than later normally fall back into our default mode, which is whatever that might be. Hopefully with an increasing intentional drawing near to God as we go on, but sometimes mired in the depths.

But that is in large part why the psalms are so valuable and invaluable to us. We do well to read a psalm or two daily. And it is good from time to time to go meditatively through all the psalms. A part of God’s help for us as we live in the limitations and difficulties of this present existence and life.

In and through Jesus.

accepting and being willing to go through the trial, and doing so to become more mature: itself a sign and mark of maturity

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

Trials are an inevitable part of life. We would rather not go through them, not face them, somehow be able to bail out. Some people attempt to do that, sometimes in unhealthy, even destructive ways. Or else we melt under the pressure, and don’t respond well at all. Or we allow the trial itself to have an effect on us which is not healthy.

What James is calling us to here is much better, but that doesn’t make it easy. A trial is still a trial. And going through it, the experience is not going to be a cakewalk, or anything thrilling. It might be more like chilling, but God is with us in Christ by the Spirit and through others in Jesus.

We do well to accept and be willing to go through it. At the same time asking for wisdom, and God’s help, even deliverance from it. What often gets us in a bad way here is the desire to go through a good experience, and not to have to struggle. We think what we’re going through surely comes across to others badly, and there’s no question, it’s no good as far as we’re concerned. We want to feel the love, peace, and joy of our Lord.

But God’s help will break through to us, if we learn to settle into what we have to go through, seeking to let the endurance that the testing of our faith can bring take full effect. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to get God’s answer and help concerning the trial itself. That itself is an important part of the maturing process. But while we do so, we refuse to squirm and try to wriggle our way out of it. Instead we accept it, we accept the element of simply having to endure, not enjoy something. If we hold on to that, God will not only see us through the trial itself, but will bring much good out of that. Even if we’re left with a limp from the experience.

One last word. I remember an esteemed professor from my past tell us something like, he thought that God especially values the effort of those who hold on to faith and persevere in the midst of great struggle, as compared to those who seem to joyfully sail along with little or no care at all. Thankfully God does give us peace and joy along the way. But going through the trial, fears and our weaknesses can and at times will beset us.

But I want to go through what is inevitable anyhow in the way prescribed here, getting the growth God wants through the trial, maybe not unlike the caterpillar struggling to get out of the cocoon, as it becomes a beautiful butterfly. In and through Jesus.