true faith struggles, as well as rests

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

Again and again and again, we have to apply the words of scripture. Wouldn’t it be nice if we only had to do it once, and then it would be done, complete? But not so in this life, though we do want to grow so that when the same problem comes to us, or we find ourselves in the same state of mind, that somehow it is better than before. That would be good, even though at times we seem to be worse than before.

My goal in life in part is to live by faith. Living by faith does not exclude struggle, or feeling at times lost, and perhaps even undone. It does mean that in whatever we’re experiencing, or facing, we do so in faith, which means taking the words of scripture, God’s word, to heart, choosing by faith to act on them. Such times are every bit as much a part of the faith life, as the times when we’re at rest and peace. All of this a part of our lives here and now in and through Jesus.

paying attention to life

God speaks. Primarily through the words of the Bible, and actually that is a word meant for everyone, pointing us to the Word himself, Jesus. God also speaks through life, if we will only listen.

Life itself needs interpretation, actually scripture does as well. We have to depend on God for both, sometimes directly, but most often through others, through the church. In the end it has to be mediated to us. We are recipients of it. Certainly scripture itself interprets life.

And so this is an ongoing project.

What are we learning, not only from the pages of scripture, but also in our every day lives? About ourselves, and others, and the world around us.

Stay in scripture, in God’s word, but also pay attention to what we can learn from others, from experience, and what God might be saying to us through it all. In and through Jesus.

 

what are you looking at?

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.

Matthew 14; NLT

Years ago we had a youth group outing at a camp which included walking on a ropes course. The first year I got up there and barely made it from one tree to another, we were at least 18 feet high, I think higher, of course secured well with a wire overhead. I suppose I’m one of the “what if” people, so I was more than happy to get to the other side and get down. I did fall down on that one rope, and of course experienced the safety of the straps on me attached to the heavy wire over me. By the way, I had looked down to the ground during that short time, and given my fear of heights, I had been terrified, gripped with enough fear, that I was finished.

The next year, I had determined ahead of time that I would not look down to the ground. And I actually walked the entire ropes course without falling, though I think a good test would have come if I would have fallen. I did not look down, by the way. Maybe if I would have gone a following year, I would have advanced by being able to look down, though I’m not sure about that. I doubt though that I would have made it another time without falling.

This reminds me of faith, and of where we have our sights fixed. Is it on the Lord, and God’s promises in him, or is it on our circumstances? For Peter, at first, with his eyes on Jesus, he was actually walking on the water just like the Master. But when Peter took his eyes off the Lord, he was in trouble. With a stronger faith, surely the waves being whipped up by the wind wouldn’t have troubled him. But faith comes from God’s word, remember, Jesus told Peter to come, and from our focus on that, specifically on the gospel, and on Christ himself.

There are plenty of things in this world which can bring us down. No end to that. Perhaps some things are especially precarious for us, depending on what they are and our own disposition. For everyone, we need the faith of a child to keep looking to our Father, to God, and to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. We have to keep our attention and thoughts centered on him. As long as we do so, faith can become established and settled, and can grow. But when we look at the problem, we can become unsettled, and begin to struggle in our faith.

To Peter’s credit, as he began to sink after looking at the wind on the waves, he did cry out to the Lord to save him.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

That is my goal. Not to ignore the problems, but in all of that, to look to the Lord. To do what on my own I could never do. The main point here being, looking to Jesus. And keeping our eyes on him. May God help us to do that, so that we can overcome whatever it is that is bringing us down. And grow in our faith. In and through Jesus.

God understands

We say in Christian theology that God knows all things, the end from the beginning, in every minute detail with the big picture in mind. Precisely what that means might deviate some. Like I might ask, “Can God know what isn’t already in existence?” Surely yes, in that he can create and control all of that, but maybe no if he chooses not to control it at every turn, I am thinking of human volition. All of existence is out of God’s doing. And God can force us to choose or do whatever, if God so chooses, but it seems on the surface at least, that there’s a real give and take in life between the individual, as well as people, and God. Maybe some of this we do best to chalk up to mystery, and leave alone. But it does seem that God invites us to grapple with all he has revealed, while the hidden things remain with him, indeed surely outside of our limitation to grasp.

We can be at a place in which we’re challenged to know what to do. In small ways that happens a lot, and is usually fixable. In larger ways, sometimes that can be quite difficult, beyond our ability to navigate well, if at all. It is good during such times to be in prayer and in the word, looking to God to give us the understanding we need, and proceed from there. That is usually incremental, and one step at a time. God can be trusted to be present through all of it, but it seems to me like God leaves plenty of room for variation on our part, including even failure. God has the big picture in mind, but also wants to be present interactively with us through the small things, as well. That is lived largely in context of our day to day existence as individuals, but is best worked out in community with others in Jesus. Not to say that God might not use the broader human community as well, and another friend who does not yet know him.

I look to God for his wisdom, believing certain things are beyond me, really many things. Essentially what concerns God in us, I believe, is a character transformation rooted in God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It’s not like other things are unimportant, all within the old creation is included in the new creation in Jesus. Salvation extends to every part, but perhaps its outworking is strange to us. And the fact of the matter is that we may not be necessarily included, if we don’t look to the source which is found in Jesus. There might be some major bumps on the road, and brokenness on the way to that salvation.

God understands. And can be fully trusted. In and through Jesus.

a proper stimulus: the word, tradition, scholarship, and pastoral reflection

Having internet access and many books, probably best not in that order, but probably in that order in our practice, can be helpful to provide a stimulus for the body of Christ, to help us do the works of service to which we’re called.

We need to be in the word, and tradition, both. The word, scripture, is the final authority, but an authority dependent to some extent in its outworking on tradition, the church, by the Holy Spirit.

We benefit from good biblical scholarship feeding tradition, the church, whether or not we delve into it ourselves. It shapes how we approach scripture, and through that, all of life.

Pastoral reflection is just as serious in the mix of what we humans do in response to God’s revelation, as anything else. In fact the shaping on the human side goes both ways: the insights we need from scripture are best worked out in a church setting, in the church itself. A good pastor, and good theology is reflective of listening to God’s voice and seeking wisdom and direction within the context of real life, and the community in Christ, the church, is the kingdom in which this life takes root and bears fruit.

I have been a word person, but not enough a person of the church, though I’ve always either attended or have been a part of one, so that it has rubbed off on me, or at least has been present in the good ways that come from the Spirit.

What we need to realize is the reality and importance of the stimulus, and we could say stimuli which God provides for us in Jesus. We need to acknowledge what already affects us in that, and deliberately take it in all the more, with an emphasis on the word of God and prayer. All of this together, in and through Jesus.

more, not less, but also less, not more

Oh, how I love your law!
    I meditate on it all day long.

Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is the great psalm and scripture that one might call, in fact I am nearly sure I read this in connection with the psalm: in praise of God’s word. Of course we refer now to the written word, scripture, the Bible. I find that I need to be in the word more, not less, especially when there is so much on my plate in life, and pressures from various places seem overwhelming. It is often best to focus on one matter at a time, get that done, and then go to the next. In this life it’s never done; there’s always something more pressing us. And the world wants to crash in as well. There’s the tidal wave of US politics and all the controversy and divisiveness surrounding that. And all kinds of other things which can occupy so much of our attention.

I like liturgical churches, myself, where Holy Communion is celebrated every week, and it’s considered more than a symbol. And I read somewhere that instead of thinking one has to be in the word more, that kind of service helps us to be centered in the Lord apart from that, since most people just can’t sustain such a practice. I do think such a service helps keep the gospel front and center, and certainly the public reading of scripture is a big part of those times. And there’s always the danger of hearing, hearing, and hearing more of God’s word, while not sufficiently putting it into practice, as James warns us.

But I need to be lifted beyond my own thoughts, and perspective. And I need to get into the flow of God’s word, so that I can begin to see God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will, even God himself, of course in and through Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit. Reading scripture, and hearing it read (click the icon on the upper right to listen to Psalm 119, which is available in that translation from any scripture).

At the same time though, I also find that I need less, not more. Maybe in a sense that’s true of the word, though I think we both need to read, or hear read large portions of it at a time, and also slowly meditate on it. What I’m referring to now though is simply refusing to be taken into the more that needs to be done, and simply setting aside time to rest. Yes, unplugged. Even to do nothing, nothing at all, except maybe to simply be somewhere. With shoes kicked off, relaxing. Maybe in just hours of silence. Rest, and along with that something other than work, which we enjoy doing.

We need both more and less. A kind of rhythm in life in which actual physical rest is taken seriously so that we practice it. While we seek to remain in God’s word, in scripture. And along with that, in silence before him. Lifted beyond our own thoughts and troubles, and the chaos of this world, into God’s presence and counsel. Hopefully that practice along with the rest going together, in and through Jesus.

being willing to be in process

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64

One of the most necessary aspects, indeed realities, in being a Christian, in following Christ, is being in process, unfinished, but on the beginning track of being conformed by God into the image of his Son, Jesus. This can be quite uncomfortable at times, and we can bail out of the hard places by flinching from them, rather than setting our face like a flint and going through them. Not easy, nor fun, I speak from experience.

We are people of experience, especially it seems, in this time. Existentialism to some extent, has gained the upper hand. “If it feels good,”, or it works, and we seem to be doing fine, we don’t give many things that maybe we once questioned, or even thought were wrong, a second thought. Of course God is a God of grace who will work in our lives in spite of us. Just the same, we do reap what we sow. And God’s word means what it says in its words of warning, as well as encouragement.

A most important thing to note here is that God is at work. This can help us in faith to hang in there, counting on God’s faithfulness. If we persevere, then God can do a lot that otherwise would not be done. So that later down the road, we won’t be back at the same place which wasn’t completed earlier. Each part is a juncture toward the end when God will complete his work in us, in and through Jesus.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1