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.

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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.

growth in the hard places

Yes, “we believe…” But how much do we really believe? We might respond, “100% in my mind, I believe by faith in God’s word.” That might be a good start, depending, but not good enough.

We need to thoroughly embrace God’s word, and God’s promises for ourselves in Jesus. And more times than not, we need to do so in the crucible of hard life experiences in which we are cast on God’s mercy, and really dependent on his word.

Faith eventually means rest, but it also means effort, as a rule: effort to get into that rest.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:11

And that effort can mean nothing less than spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20). We need to remain in the word, in scripture, depending on the Spirit and the church (which includes the sacramental, as well as the common life), our faith being in Jesus and in the gospel.

God not only wants to make his will known to us, but he wants to enable us to walk/live in that will in and through his mercy and grace to us in Jesus. But make no mistake: this will require every effort on our part. And the trials that come, as we read in scripture can help us in the midst of a rock and hard place to really at long last find our way into the rest God has for us, for all, in and through Jesus.

 

the importance of doing something regularly

From our Protestant Reformation culture, especially through the Lutheran strain, good works and effort are nearly always feared. Somehow the thought is that we might think we are earning our salvation through our own meritorious efforts, or that by those works we are closer to God than others. We can fall into those errors, and both are mistaken. However it is true that works can actually help us in our faith. When we make the effort to come before God and to use the “means of grace” God has provided in reading scripture, good books, along with prayer (and some prayer books like the Book of Common Prayer can be valuable in helping us in that), we can begin to experience change in transformation of life, even if it is incremental and at times in fits and starts (“three steps forward, two steps backward”). When done regularly preferably daily maybe with one day off a week, these practices can become ingrained into us as habits which can impact us for good.

Scripture tells us to be angry but sin not, to not let the sun go down on our anger, and thus not give the devil a foothold. In other words we have to deal with what is wrong, what is troubling us, or it can become sin. We have to deal with everything in terms of accountability to God, in a sense to ourselves, and in best case scenarios with trusted friends and companions in the way of Jesus. We shouldn’t let things slide, or push them under the rug.

Some things we don’t necessarily do daily, but regularly, as in meeting with other believers as church on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. Most things I need to do daily, or else they’ll fall by the wayside. Good habits can wear well over time.

Of course just because we do certain things, good as they may be, doesn’t mean we’ll be impacted as we should. Our effort can help us be open and eventually acclimated to a new way from God in Jesus.  But we can fall into the same trap as the Pharisees of old who thought they were doing well by what they did when their hearts were not right toward God or man. Good habits must be done in search of God’s gracious work in us. We want to be changed from the outside in, as well as the inside out.

And so we go on. Often not feeling like it, though as it becomes habit, yes feeling like it. It simply being a part of us whether we feel like it or not. Regularly, usually daily. As we follow on to know God better and God’s will for us in Jesus.

dialing down

I love the phrase which I think came from John Wimber of the Vineyard (Christian Fellowship): Dial down. It has the sense of slowing down, relaxing, being casual, even as one continues in the presence of the Lord in ministry and life. I have been trying to do that in my life at least at work and in general, as I get older, for more reasons than one. Probably first and foremost, simply the physical. I have a job that is often fast and hard, and sometimes I’ve moved extra fast. Our team leader, and my friend advised me to slow down. So I took his word to heart, and that’s what I’ve done, the past couple years. I’ve tried to turn that into an art and a science, sort of.

But the best benefit I think I have gotten out of it, is spiritual. I think slowing down into a kind of rest and quiet is something that is part and parcel of learning to walk in the rhythm of God in Jesus by the Spirit. It’s a walk with others in Jesus, to be sure. It’s a pace we all need to learn together. When one is in a hurry, it seems more like one is trying to make life work (a phrase our Pastor Sharon uses) themselves, instead of living life out as a gift from God.

A book that I think has been important to me in the past couple years, is N.T. Wright’s, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. I think he wrote he would have rather had virtue in the title, but he doesn’t control the titles. The emphasis in the book is on Christian virtue, or goodness. I think adding to our faith, goodness, and so on is not just something spontaneous which happens in some mystical way when we surrender. Peter tells us to make every effort to do that. That is one big emphasis in this book, among many quite helpful things. Dialing down helps me to not just run through life in a mad rush, but to walk through it, in a pondering, thoughtful manner. That walk needs to be with God, before God, giving things over to him. Continuing to bring ourselves to him, just as we are, so that he can work his change in us. But at the same time, making every effort to live out this change day to day in the big and little things, in our lives.

This will involve ongoing confession and repentance, we will need the community of faith, and of course to be in the word/scripture and prayer. We do this together in Jesus for the world.