unlearning our striving

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

In Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage, Jesus invites us into “the unforced rhythms of grace,” learning that. It’s in terms of a yoke, like oxen yoked together, Jesus carrying the load. But who also says that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It is a discipling relationship. We get to learn from the Rabbi, but that kind of learning wasn’t like what we ordinarily think of as education. It was living with Teacher and learning their way of life. Learning to see life as they see it, and act as they act, live as they live.

This is something we choose to accept, but then it depends on the Lord taking us on, and fulfilling the promise he makes here. None of this is anything we can do. And yesterday I heard someone making the point that we have to unlearn our own striving. How we think it all depends on ourselves, our effort. And imagining God rewards that. A big part of the American way, and seemingly what most evangelicals actually believe. And that fits in perfectly with the attitude in all of life that might and success are what matter. But not at all the truth or reality found in Jesus. But hard for us to break away from, so ingrained in us, even from childhood.

No, instead we need to learn straight from the Lord himself the unforced rhythms of grace. Something only he can teach us by the Holy Spirit. And learn to live more and more in that. In and through Jesus.

 

remaining in the truth and life God gives us

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

I remember the good, gifted servant of the Lord, Chuck Swindoll and one of his books entitled Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back. I think of that book title when I think of this subject, holding on to the progress and growth the Lord gives us. Paul makes the point in this great passage in Philippians that we’re to continue in the new way or place growth in Christ brings us. It is certain that we’ll at least be tempted to drift back. I think I remember hearing Swindoll say that for every three steps forward we go in the Christian life, we go two steps backward. That seems to play out in experience, unfortunately.

It’s important for us to hold on to the growth we have. And the only way to do that is simply to continue to grow (2 Peter 1). But it’s important not to backtrack and settle for the old, thinking what breakthrough or growth we experienced is not ours to remain in. Again I remember hearing Swindoll say in the past that if God gave something at one point, it is still always good at that point, not something to surrender, words to that effect.

It’s by faith and effort, more faith and prayer, more prayer and effort and faith that we do this. In and through Jesus.

 

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.

grace enables

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11

God’s divine power given to us in Christ is how we can live a godly life, details aside, but coming. It is through knowing him, and then the passage builds on that. The words above speak for themselves.

It’s important to remember that our strength comes from God and from knowing him. That we have the “precious promises” of his word to help us continue on in this new life. And that effort is never opposed to grace, but enabled through God’s grace. In and through Jesus.

 

 

no quick fix

When I read Scripture and life after over four and a half decades of being a Christian, at least it seems to me that there is no quick fix or great spiritual breakthrough awaiting us if we can just find it. Yes, it can make a big difference when we learn to depend on God and less on ourselves, and when we learn to “walk” more by the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, etc. All of that surely does make a world of difference, the difference between light and darkness.

But it’s best to settle down into the realization that there simply is no quick fix. Change for us is incremental and takes time, and yes, effort, on our part. God’s grace underlies it all, and without God’s working, there will be no change at all. But we have to apply what God has given us, and do it again and again and again, so that new habits replace old ones. For example my first natural reaction to problems will be to grumble and complain, maybe utter something under my breath that I shouldn’t. But as I learn God’s way given in Scripture, I might instead learn to rejoice and give thanks, and pray to God, and at least not grumble. Or if I do complain, to do so to God.

Christians waste their time trying to find the big breakthrough, maybe some great spiritual experience, instead of simply endeavoring to follow Christ and stay in the word and pray, and remain in the fellowship of God’s people. And just accepting the fact that life will be a struggle in this world, that the world, the flesh and the devil aren’t going to disappear because of some mountaintop experience.

The sooner we accept this, the better. That God will be with us through it all. In and through Jesus.

does the Bible really say that?

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

This is a good passage out of which this part is shared here (click link) to critique popular theology. Paul’s voice seems so foreign, yet it actually resonates with Jesus’s voice, and that of the rest of the Bible on matters like sexual immorality, idolatry, and simply putting God to the test instead of in faith, trusting and obeying him.

One popular take out of pastoral concern (as a friend pointed out to me) is the point that indeed God doesn’t give us more than we can bear; he actually does, so that we won’t depend on ourselves, but on God to see us through. There’s truth in that when you consider it with the rest of God’s word. But I want to take seriously just what is actually said in these scriptural passages.

We’re told that God won’t let us be tempted or tested more than we can stand. But with that temptation will provide the way out, so that we can endure it. Plain and simple. Maybe not the way we want to hear it. We want somehow a miraculous breakthrough which requires no effort on our part. But as Dallas Willard pointed out, grace is not opposed to human effort. While God’s grace given to us in Jesus is nothing we can merit, earn, or deserve, that does not mean it is received passively by us. That happens, but it seems more often than not, we are active, at least in being attentive if nothing else.

If we think the Christian life isn’t without a struggle, or often against the grain of culture, then we have another thing coming. Or we may end up going, as a few leaders have in recent days, leaving the faith behind. There’s more to it than just this, much more. That is why we need to turn the pages of all of Scripture from beginning to end, and keep doing so. In prayer and with the commitment to a faith which receives and responds. Accepting the warnings of God’s word, even when they may seem to make little sense to us. So that God might do his work of grace in us, a process no less. In and through Jesus.

 

prone to wander and blunder

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:8-11

Yesterday I wrote what for me I hope to be a life changing kind of post. Of course God’s word brings about change, or it’s meant to. I want to mention here that there’s a book I’m interested in reading which put me on this trek, so more on this in God’s will I plan to do later. The author, Bill Gaultiere (mentored by Dallas Willard) said or wrote that the hardest part is to enter and remain in Christ’s easy yoke, in that rest and walk, indeed dynamic with Christ. It’s not easy to enter, and easy to slip out, something I’ve found to be oh so true during my short time endeavoring to be intentional in following through on this. It is wonderful when you’re in it, and you just tend to forget at least the experience before, but the way we humans are wired once you’re back out, being in it as far as the experience is concerned is like a faint dream gone by.

This passage in Hebrews is important to consider in itself (Hebrews 4:1-13). It is about the Sabbath rest God has for his people. And I take it that it’s more than simply believing one’s eternal salvation is settled, that there’s nothing one needs to do to attain that. It’s surely referring to one’s experience, the rest one enjoys right in the midst of life. Ironically the passage refers to disobedience as well as the need to make every effort to enter into that rest. One might well think that to enter rest one needs to simply rest. That’s true except that it takes effort for us to do that since we’re so used to taking the bull by the horn ourselves and getting whatever job we need to do done. So this entire idea can seem so foreign to us.

As we can see from the rest of the book of Hebrews, we are to rest by faith in Christ’s once for all finished work of salvation through his death. I go back now to the passage I referred to in yesterday’s post, part of it, Jesus’s words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus’s invitation is wonderfully to all. It correlates, I think to the Hebrews passage at least in terms of the faith that’s called for. I have found the endeavor to accept this invitation to be helpful in itself. I then know I’m not there, but I’m making every effort to do so. I do this by quoting this passage again and again, hopefully prayerfully, trying to think and meditate on just what this means for me, what I’m to do, how I’m to enter into it by faith. In that I’m attempting to make the full effort.

By the way, it’s a mistake to think that somehow we have to be perfect on our side. We’re not going to be, plain and simple. God looks at the sincerity of our heart, and our dependence on him in the midst of all our weakness.

This is something I want to be committed to. There’s probably a lot more that needs to be said to counter mistaken ideas about this. But I leave it there for now. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

what’s a loving parent to do?

As God’s children in Jesus, we often would like life to be easy, or at least easier. But instead, we find ourselves embroiled in the midst and mess of the world, the flesh, and the devil against Christ and Christians. Not to mention the fact that we have our own issues. A basic problem for most of us would be our propensity to not trust in God, but trust instead in ourselves, or someone or something else.

God could bail us out and make life grand. And some even advocate something like that in their teaching. But scripture teaches us that God is concerned about our growth into maturity in Christ, that we would become like God’s Son. And if even Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered (Hebrews 5), mysterious thought that is, then how can we think we will be exempt from such? Scripture over and over again tells us a different story.

God as a loving Father desires the very best for his children, nothing less. To learn how to swim, we must be in the water. To learn how to live well, we have to live in the real world. And basic to that in Christ is the necessity of learning to trust in God, an unreserved trust in the heavenly Father.

God as our loving Father wants that for us. What pleases God is faith (Hebrews 11), faith in him and in his word. Our effort alone won’t because we’re ever in need of God’s grace, God’s gift to us in Jesus. Faith in God’s word, the gospel in Jesus is essential. But even that is not enough. God wants us to totally trust in him. We might trust, yet hold back. We trust God for our salvation through Christ’s person and work, his life, death and resurrection, but we don’t trust God in the practical nuts and bolts of life. God lovingly looks on, but surely grieves over us. At times there are things not even God can do. God won’t override our will. It’s up to us to trust, to trust and obey.

Something I’m learning, even late in life as it is. Better late than never. In and through Jesus.

pay close attention (and don’t let up)

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Hebrews 2

I’m not sure exactly what it is, although surely it’s a combination of things. The message of scripture and the gospel is fascinating, powerful, and frankly spellbinding, in human terms, but it’s much more than that, since it’s nothing less than a word from God. I find once in a while something like an undertow which might carry a swimmer in the water through what are called rip currents, so that they are pulled out deep into the lake to drown, something which reminds me of that, seems to be not only at work in my spiritual life, but prevailing.

Certain factors can be involved, like being tired. Two Sundays in a row at church I’ve fallen asleep during a good part of the sermon, so that I didn’t get much out of it. But thankfully for me, I’m able to catch it online later, and was much blessed last night with hearing (and seeing as best I can on this tablet) it again, including the large chunk (maybe half of it, more or less) I missed. I want to catch this past Sunday’s message soon. But it seemed like more was at work then simply being tired, which itself should be addressed with more disciplined, regular sleep.

Surely at work in all of this is something diabolical, yes from the devil itself, the demonic. The words of scripture seemed empty, remote, and God seemed distant as well. I just didn’t seem to be connecting well.

Let me suggest that this is not just something which can happen, but is always present with us, which the Spirit through Jesus helps us overcome. Which is in large part why we need to pay the most careful attention to God’s word and the gospel which is at the heart of it, to avoid the dangers the book of Hebrews warns us about (read the entire book; one could start with the link above). That pull is always present, something we must resist, so that we can feed on God’s words and Word, and come close to God.

Paying the most careful attention is the hearing which in scripture is linked to a response by faith, a doing. This ends up being a trust and obey kind of practice, otherwise, we’re not really paying the kind of close attention called for in this text.

So if you sense you’re adrift, then cry out to God, and see this as a part of spiritual warfare. And let’s work to maintain a life that is disciplined in hearing and in faith obeying the word of God in and through Jesus.

the culmination and capstone of the virtues: love

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1

On Discover the Word, there was a quite good conversation on this passage (from a good series: “The Wisdom of Peter“), and on how the virtues which we’re to add to our faith, seem to be in a logical sequence, even if a lot of the commentators think that to be beside the point. I share this program on my Facebook, and have found it to be a good conversation in the study and application of God’s word. In this study we see that the result of the life in God given to us by faith, which we are called to be diligent in ourselves, is a life that ends in love. But it’s important to see the entire context, and note all the virtues which we’re to add to our faith along the way.

Let me say that even if the sequence is not the point in the passage, these virtues together, are. And it seems to me that ending with love in this case is not a list from the greater to the lesser, but rather a list meant to be seen together, with love as the result, indeed culmination and capstone of this exercise in our lives. And let me add, this is ongoing. We should be more and more known for love, since we are doing these things from the power that is ours in the divine life in and through Christ.

Maybe we’re not people of the Book, but rather people of the Lord, people of God. But the Book helps us to God, and to live out the gospel since its every fulfillment is in Jesus, and points to that end. We need to be those who meditate on scripture day and night (Psalm 1). And this passage is a prime example why. Today there seems to be a departure by professing believers from the word, away from scripture. This, I’m afraid, is not a case of the slippery slope, but rather more like abandoning faith altogether. Surely the good news is in the saving events of God in Jesus. But the word is the source from which we learn of such events. And the word is uniquely from God, and it’s to our loss if we don’t make it a center piece of our faith.

Love is the end, and a love that is from and like the love of God. Where all true love comes from, and where we find its perfection. And given to us to work into our lives, so that we more and more respond to such love, and grow in that love worked into our own character in and through Jesus.