breaking through from unbelief to faith in the trials of life

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

There are certain go-to texts we would rather not go to. But we live in the real world, with all of its issues, and we’re smack dab in the middle of it with issues of our own. I can’t think of a better example of that than this passage in James, though there are probably better examples I’ve essentially screened out.

Part of maturity, and specifically Christian maturity is to learn to accept each new situation or trying circumstance as an opportunity for growth in the Lord. That can get old and humdrum to us, but maybe that’s because we’ve not learned our lesson well, yet.

In this James passage, we find that difficulties, even trials or temptations can either end up working for our good or ill, depending on our own response. Maybe there’s some muddled up middle gray area since even with faith, we can still struggle in not really entering it as completely as we should. Scripture seems to make the case and it seems clear in this passage (click link above for the context) that we either enter into this blessing, or we don’t, one or the other. Ordinarily I think we might kind of live in the in-between realm, which means we don’t really enter into the “promised land” God has for us.

A side note, yet interesting, and surely pertinent in creation: neuroscience today is helping us understand the plasticity of the brain, and how it can be reshaped even in older age. And how it essentially is always being impacted by life.

This word of God from James puts forward to me a new challenge, maybe renewed, but coming across to me as new. I am personally weary of the same responses I have over and over again to trouble, especially in the form of threatening circumstances. My gut reaction is ordinarily always negative and I end up steeped in fear and anxiety. I am used to it. And I usually get over it more or less fairly soon, probably an improvement over the past. But that seems to indicate that I haven’t learned at least well enough to step past the line from unbelief to faith when it comes to such circumstances.

That is what by God’s grace I would like to change. Yes, according to this passage it’s up to me, not God, who has already done and is doing his part. God’s word of grace is present for me, God’s reality and truth. It’s up to me to learn to grasp and hold on to that. And thus be a doer of the word, and not just a hearer (James 1:19-27). In and through Jesus.

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wisdom from the Lord

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Proverbs 9:10-12

Wisdom in scripture is all about life. It is taking scripture as God’s written word, and particularly our relationship with God, and through that, our relationship with others quite seriously. Proverbs may be the marquee wisdom book of scripture to read, but we need all of scripture. And particularly we need to begin to understand the fulfillment of wisdom, Jesus, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Jesus and him crucified is called the power and wisdom of God, and Jesus is said to be wisdom from God for us, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption, so that our boasting can be only in him (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

So wisdom is really all about life. It is where the rubber meets the road, right where we live, no less. It is not theoretical, but practical, down to earth.

We need to take it particularly serious as it’s given to us in all of scripture, and particularly as it’s fulfilled in Jesus himself. That means we have to walk lightly with consideration and thought over our ways. Taking care that we give wisdom in our lives not just lip service, but the place it deserves. Remembering that wisdom itself is fulfilled in a person: Jesus. And that we are in him. So that it is both given to us in scripture, and as close as the breath that we breathe, by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

holding on to what lasts

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

Essentially what seems to be at the heart of this picture is the curse of Genesis 3 being removed in what is nothing less than a new creation. Maybe making the old new, or making something brand new that has similarities to the old. Different, either way.

So much that occupies our minds is destined to be forgotten forever. I know this application is not quite what the passage above is getting at, but it’s nevertheless apt from it, I think. What I’m thinking of is perhaps made more clear by our Lord’s words in the parable of the sower:

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19

This reminds us of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, rather than treasures on earth, and not to worry about material provisions since we are in the Father’s care. But instead, to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, knowing all of our needs will be met (Matthew 6:19-34).

There is no question that we have responsibilities on earth that we would just as soon forget even now. But insofar as they are connected to that which lasts, we need to do as well as we can in fulfilling such.

What lasts is the love of God that is in Jesus and present to us by the Spirit. We want to live in that love, and share that love with everyone, particularly our families, where often the rubber meets the road as to just what kind of people we really are, and more importantly, are becoming. And we have special responsibility to them. I think of Paul’s words:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

So we can’t shirk our duties in the name of devotion to God, and think we are devoted to God. But in the midst of that, we must put first things first. Doing the best we can, realizing that in this life, much of it will be a crap shoot, meaning neither fool proof nor assured. But in all of that seeking to hold on to that which will last. A prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is helpful here:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

remaining/abiding in Jesus

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Whatever remainder of time I have left, I would like to learn more and more what it means in experience, to remain or traditionally, “abide in Christ”, as it was always put.

This entire discourse is suggestive to that end. Jesus was talking to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, telling them he must depart, but that he would return to take them where he would be in his Father’s house, which at a certain point will come to the new renewed earth. But in the meantime, and we still live in that time, he would not leave them as orphans, but would come to them in the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to be with them and help them.

The vine/branch analogy is quite helpful in conveying what Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples. Christianity lived out at its heart is all about life. Paul gets at this same thing from a different angle:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

People tend to look at the Christian life as a religion, and understood right, I believe religion can be helpful, though that can all depend, as well. It might be a hindrance if it simply is a set of rituals one practices which somehow can seem to become more or less ends in themselves. Here we see Jesus speaking in terms of relationship which certainly includes communion with someone, but a communion that is from a relationship, in this case as close a relationship as one can have. In fact Jesus suggested that somehow we’re taken into Trinitarian love, Jesus loving us as the Father loved him, and us loving him and each other in that same love, as we remain in his love, which clearly by implication is always present.

I have much to learn on this, and I’m thinking mostly of experience. But it’s amazing, the words Jesus used in the discourse, which tie in with the point he is making in John 15, well worth a slow read, and meditation. John 13-17.

 

believing lies

[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

John 8

Lies are a dime of dozen, maybe simply more evident nowadays via the internet. There certainly was never any shortage of them. They can be blatant or subtle. And it can get to the place where it is hard to sort out truth from falsehood, fact from fiction. And it seems like we humans are bent and prone to error.

Oftentimes the lie is in the perception, failing to appreciate the intent, and often the complexity in what one is evaluating. That was true of the people in Jesus’s day who were failing to see him for who he really was: God become human, radical enough, but even more radical, God having become human to die even for them, for their sin, for the sin of the entire world. And to usher in a new world in which the truth would set people free.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8

Falsehood and lies blind and bind us. And most of it is on a personal level deep inside of us. Handed down to us from well meaning and maybe not so well meaning people of our past. Words which have echoed in our brain for years and years, and shaped us more than we would like to admit. But part of knowing the truth is to begin to understand the lies.

Truth in life, in our world is devastating enough. One could well lament forever, given the seemingly bottomless pit of evil in our world. But to know the truth involves taking in the entire picture. God became flesh, fully human in Jesus the Son, and completed what God called Israel to do, in bringing in God’s kingdom to earth. Through the cross, yes, the cross. Through Jesus’s death no less. And then came the resurrection life, the new creation, in which all of God’s good intentions are fulfilled, and sin and death, endemic in the old creation, are gone.

I struggle with lies throughout the course of many days, many moments turned into hours, I suppose, of many days. That probably is especially true when I’m tired, and not into scripture as much as I need to be.

We need to reflect on God’s Word in Jesus and the gospel, which is expansive in its impact in all of life, as seen both in scripture and in our lives. We have to begin to sort out truth from error from there. And anytime we sniff and end up discerning falsehood, summarily dismiss it.

Lies want to hold on tenaciously, with tentacles which grip our very souls and imprison us in their dark shadows. But

…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

We all need that freedom. Certainly I need it. I can still, even after all of these years in Christ, become a victim of lies. Instead we need to receive the truth as it is in Jesus, accept that, and find in it a gracious, loving Father who forgives all our sins, and makes us his children in and through Jesus. We need to find the freedom in the light which comes from that. And begin to become shaped by that truth, which in essence is a person, Jesus. It is through him and his death that we are brought into this new light and life.

So today in the midst of the dim roar of life with all its demands and struggles, I want to better discern falsehood, and learn more and more to live in the truth. Knowing in all of that my own limitations and even failures, but accepting God’s word about Jesus, and even ourselves, as well as all of life- in him. And there is much more to say on that (the book of Ephesians is not a bad place to start).

Jesus, or Moses?

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:17

Law and grace is a theological theme from scripture. It is interesting how both John in John’s gospel account, and Paul handle this theme (see Paul’s treatment in Romans 7 for one example of his teaching on it).

The Law/Torah ends up being preparatory for the grace that would follow in Jesus. Essentially the Law is both directive, put in place for a new nation, Israel, certainly for individuals as well as the nation as a whole, and the Law was the means of convicting the people of their sin, that they are sinners, and thus the preparation needed for people to receive the needed salvation in Jesus. So the Law is important in its function and place. Another example from Paul, the Law a temporary guardian/disciplinarian to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), and see the entire book of Galatians.

We may think this is not an issue for us today. After all, aren’t we Christians, and not Jews? How could we be followers of Moses rather than Christ? Inadvertently so, I’m afraid. It’s our tendency to think that the answer is to know more and do more, and that’s essentially the effect of the Law front and center. And again, it’s needed in its place to convict us as sinners (Romans 3:20).

This is a big subject, a glimpse of it here, hopefully. Christ brings the grace and truth which Moses evidently didn’t and indeed couldn’t. Truth follows grace, which I think is a hint that what we’re talking about is more than truth as knowledge, but truth in life, ultimately found in Jesus himself (John 14:6) and yes, in his death. By his death we die as well, so that our salvation not only from, but to and for is begun only in and through Jesus.

scripture is rooted and grounded in the gospel

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

I am tired of Bible Christians who have all the answers and judge everyone else, especially those who don’t fall in line with them. Why do I say that? I know a good number of Christians who aren’t that way at all. But there are too many who seem more than willing to judge others, and whose judgments don’t really pass muster when given the test of the very scripture they use to judge. Why?

Because scripture is rooted and grounded in a gospel which is as alive and active and might I add as challenging as the Jesus whom that good news essentially is. There aren’t many cookie cutter easy Sunday School answers to life’s hardest questions. If you don’t believe that, then read and read Job and Ecclesiastes. And we need to keep reading the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Along with the rest of scripture.

I have heard the idea that “I read the Bible or heard it once, and I don’t need to go over it again.” But scripture is meant to keep us in an interactive relationship with God through the gospel. And in that dynamic relationship, there will be plenty turned on its head, just as Jesus did when he was present, both in terms of his society at large, and even his own disciples.

The good news is as big as all of creation both in its expanse, and in its depth, penetrating to the core of our being, and never finished in changing us in this life. But we derive not only a kind of proper understanding, but actual experience of that gospel, only as we remain in an active interrelationship with God through scripture and in the fellowship or communion of the church. That is what changes our lives, and what we are a witness to. A grace which is as discomforting as comforting in and through Jesus.