fresh faith

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13

If there’s one thing we need day after day after day, it’s what we might call fresh faith. In other words faith which meets the new challenges, demands and problems facing us.

In this psalm, David (and/or whoever wrote this David psalm) is recounting the real world with real trouble, in this case threatening enemies. We would all like all to be well all the time. But that’s not this life or this world. We know there’s plenty of issues in every place, every nation, every household for that matter.

And besides, God doesn’t want God’s people to simply luxuriate in a trouble free paradise in this world. It’s not like we don’t need some rests and getaways from the normal day to day grind and everyday problems. But our lives as followers of Christ are meant to be lived in the real world, finding God’s help for ourselves, and in so doing having a renewed fresh faith by which we can seek God’s help for others. Through prayers, and being present with them. God doing the work, but we being present to be part of that work as we’re prompted in our hearts. In and through Jesus.

in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. In and through Jesus.

to be like Jesus

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

I’m not sure that aspiring to be like Jesus does much good, though it’s a natural thought for Jesus followers, for those in God’s family. After all, Jesus makes his presence known to us not only through Scripture, but even primarily through each other. His image and likeness in each of us rubs off on each other in needed ways.

I think it’s primarily through God’s working through people that other people are impacted and want to be like Jesus. Paul told his readers/listeners to follow him as he followed Christ, and to imitate him and his way of life. It is said that truth is more caught than taught. Surely there’s plenty of wisdom in that axiom.

So we need to find those who are well grounded in the Lord in their lives, not putting on a show, a front at all, being honest, not perfect people, but people whose lives are being shaped by God into Christ-likeness. Steeped in humility and grace, trusting God and God’s work in them and in others. And pressing toward the goal of God’s upward call in Jesus.

Something present with us and at work in our lives. In and through Jesus.

double-mindedness as in not believing

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:5-8; MSG

We normally equate double-mindedness with something other than failing to trust God. It might be in terms of people trying to be devoted to God, but also devoted to getting rich, a precarious position to be in, but a subject perhaps for another day. Or a supposed allegiance to God and country, as if the two are compatible with each other, not that we shouldn’t strive to be good earthly citizens, being concerned for our country out of love for our neighbor, while we remain beyond everything else, citizens of God’s kingdom. Or holding on to whatever sin it might be, as we continue to be religious. Double-mindedness.

But James equates it here with something we often consider much less harmful, if even a case of double-mindedness at all: the lack of faith. Do we trust God or not? That’s the question. The kind of faith and maturity God wants from us is to simply trust God through thick and thin, no matter what. When we don’t, we essentially are saying that we know better, or else we want to be in control, or we think somehow life depends on us, and that God is only there to help us in some kind of secondary, assisting way.

Instead James is telling us that God is calling us in the midst of trials to look to God, to trust God for needed wisdom. And that the issue is whether or not we believe God is willing to help us or not, and not only willing, but whether or not God will come through for us. We need to learn to rest assured in God’s goodness and faithfulness in whatever situation we’re facing. That God is with us in the trial. And that as we see in the context (click link above), God is working in our lives to make us complete in our character.

The last thing James is suggesting is that the trials we’re going through either are easy, or will become easy if we trust God. But James is certainly saying that trusting God will make a world of difference for us both in changing us over time, and in seeing us through. Both are essential, because what’s often worse than the trial itself or at least just as bad is our reaction to them. God wants to work in our lives to temper that down and help us instead to consider such situations pure joy, since we know God is at work in our lives, and that God will indeed help us, God the one in charge and not us. As we look to God in trusting prayer. In and through Jesus.

do the best you can, but from God

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4-5; MSG

Our days, weeks, and lives are full of things that need to be done. Some can be left undone, but others require our attention and simply have to be done. God gives us the tasks, and however mundane they may seem, we want to do it all to God’s glory, which means we want God to receive all the praise in what’s being done, so that in a sense our work is simply serving others for the praise of God. I think that point is evident from what follows from Paul* in this passage:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10; MSG

We need to press on, not in our own strength and wisdom, but in the help received from God by the Spirit. This is ongoing, over time, but something we should be intent on each day. God will help us. We just keep doing it, whatever task is before us. Knowing that amazingly enough we’re involved in the very work of God. Along with others in and through Jesus.

*Here, Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Paul.

a meditation for Ash Wednesday: Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”

Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Luke 18:9-14; MSG

On this Ash Wednesday, as we enter into Lent, it is indeed a season of reflection and preparation. An important aspect of it is the acknowledgement and confession of our own sins. And of how we fall short of God’s perfection and will. We should never think we have a leg up on others. Yes, some sins are more devastating than other sins; we can’t escape that reality. At the same time, we too sin, and are sinners in that sense. We’re no longer sinners as before, as those declared and made righteous in Christ, so that we’re on a new path, the path of righteousness (Psalm 23). Yet we still have sin and sin (1 John 1).

It is particularly important during this time when some may think they’re better than others given what’s happening in our nation. We need to face the fact of our own complicity. Even the sin of simply not being present, of excusing one’s self, or not making the effort to understand what’s wrong, and how it affects actual people, including possibly some of our neighbors.

The point is that we need to accept that we too are in need of ongoing forgiveness, and a deeper repentance, which gets right to the heart of our own need, as well as the need around us.

This is not something we beat ourselves with again and again. But in a sense it’s where we live and is actually for our good. In the process we’ll more and more come to find the special place God has for us. In God’s love for all. In and through Jesus.

do we believe that God answers prayer?

Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

Matthew 7:7-11; MSG

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11

In the unbelieving age in which we live, just the idea of praying seems strange to many. Even for us followers of Jesus, though it’s like the breath we breathe, a part of who we are, it’s not without great difficulty much of the time. We stumble over what prayers we might try to offer to God. Often it becomes more or less like just a plea for help, help for someone else or ourselves, or some situation in the world.

But to the question: Do we really believe God answers our prayers? James and the prophets tell us that it can’t just be any old prayer. Prayer submissive to God’s will, wanting to hear God, to get God’s answer. And to be at peace with that.

Jesus tells us here to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, or simply to ask, seek, and knock. The Message tells us to be direct with God, to the point, specific, not beating around the bush. Dare to tell God exactly what is needed in another person’s life as we see it, or in our own. Of course God sees all, and will answer in time, already is answering. It may be as if nothing is happening, but God’s work is in the works.

Believing this in all our weakness, holding on to it, means that we just keep on praying about everything. Instead of taking matters in our own hands like we’re so prone to do, we just need to keep praying. Being specific. Patient. And keep on doing that. We will see answers. I know that not merely as something written down, but by experience. Though it still remains a struggle for me. And we’re to do this together, helping each other. Being thoughtful in that. The point that follows in this passage:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12

In and through Jesus.

don’t overreact to a bad day

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18; MSG

Paul had many many difficult days. He lived for long periods of time in difficulty, for that matter. We must remember exactly what Paul is telling us here. Day after day, God is doing his renewing work in us. And we proceed knowing that the outcome is indeed good.

It’s easy to have a good day, get up the next morning “on the wrong side of the bed” (or not want to get up at all) and just be down dingers. We can prayerfully ask ourselves how we ended the day before we went to bed which might have contributed to that. But we have to pick up and go on. Believing that God is at work. And that in the difficulty, as Paul points out again and again in the above letter, God is making himself known, yes even through our lives. In and through Jesus.

the center of God’s work

God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

Ephesians 1:20b-23; MSG

There’s not many concerned citizens in the United States who aren’t biting their nails right now. If you pay attention to the news, you know some of the many reasons why. And what happens in those places is important. We don’t do well to shrug it off and say for one reason or another that it doesn’t matter.

But we don’t do well, either, if we think or at least act as if that’s all that matters, specifically what people are doing in these civic and political affairs. We may advocate for good, important causes, raise legitimate concerns, and have our feet on the ground, somehow active in the political process. And there might well be some good that comes out of that.

But unless we remember where the center of God’s work actually is, we might become lost in all of that. Lost in not having the proper focus. Of course I’m talking about those of us who are Christ-followers.

I think we would do much more good if we made a concerted effort to focus on just where the center of God’s work is. It’s in Christ no less. And on God’s grace and kingdom present in him, found now, or at least primarily evident in the church. So that whatever we are about and do has both its vision and energy coming from that.

This doesn’t mean for a second that we should disengage in neither paying attention to events, nor failing to do anything. But it does mean that our passion and effort needs to come from the center of God’s activity: Christ himself. As the church, the body of Christ in the world, made up of all believers in local expressions of that, we need to center ourselves in that space and reality to find our place in what God is doing today.

This will help us be concerned about what God is actually concerned about, and less on what so many others, including many Christians, really, any of us might be concerned about. For example, it’s not about the preservation of human constructs, whatever good they might represent or accomplish. Nor for that matter are we about trashing such. Instead our focus is on God’s revelation and will found in Jesus. That brings a vision we gather from Scripture, fulfilled in Jesus, in God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. So that no matter what might happen elsewhere, that remains intact in our faith, because in actuality it will. But our participation in that will depend on our focus and response.

This hopefully can help us learn to relax more, fret less, and do what God has called us to do in Christ. Simply be who we are: together, Christ’s body in the world. Under Christ’s rule, who alone is sovereign over all things. Realizing that God can bring about more good through our prayers, love, and good works than we might imagine, or compared to just being even fully engaged in the political process. We want to follow Jesus, the politics of Jesus, and participate in God’s good work in and through him.

we are in process

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 1:3-6

Over and over again, I’m reminded that we are people in process. The good and most important thing to remember is that it is God at work in our lives. We likely wish we were further along than we are, I know I do.

We really need to hold on to this truth that we as followers of Jesus. And that it is God doing the work, not we ourselves. God who began this good work in us will indeed carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, when Jesus returns.

This helps me as I consider my own life as well as the lives of others. We need to take our hands off. It’s God’s work, not our own. The change in our lives comes only because of that. Maybe this means we need to be more in prayer.

There are things I’m not sure about. It does seem clear to me that we can get in the way of God’s working, and impede it. But God works around and even through those ways that we can get in the way, I suppose. I often wish I could just do what I know I ought to do. Like rest in God’s peace instead of being anxious about this or that. It’s a maturing, growth process, and all of Scripture in one way or another is meant to help us in that.

The one thing we can take away from Paul’s words here for sure: God who began the good work in us in Christ will finish it. We can mark that down in stone, but more importantly God has written that change into our hearts to unfold in our lives toward the goal of making us the people we’re supposed to be, through Jesus fully human and unique in our person as God intended. All of us together in this, Paul addressing not just individuals here, but the entire church. In and through Jesus.