the need for strict, ongoing self-discipline

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9

They say we often eat to feed not really our bodies, but our minds or hearts. That we do so from being troubled. The Christian life contra some of the early church fathers is not meant to be one of harshly treating the body. Not at all! Read Paul’s words in Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Of course the Christian ascetics did not have such a worldly system in mind in their fasting for the sake of Christ, and for their own spiritual good, so it is different. Yet the sameness might exist in thinking that harsh treatment of the body in itself can do good, as if the body is the enemy of the soul, a neo-Platonic way of thinking which surely infiltrated the church, even probably noticeable in perhaps the greatest of the church fathers, Augustine.

And yet Paul minced no words in the Corinthians passage quoted above. We by grace either discipline ourselves, and specifically our body, or we place ourselves in danger of losing out with reference to all that is ours in Christ. How God rewards in the end, I don’t think we can be sure, though we may have some inklings. But there are certainly some lines we’re not to cross in this life. We must pull out all stops to stop dead in our tracks, and not go past certain lines we might even be rushing headlong to. And we need to work on an agenda in which we are following a different path altogether.

And even if we have failed, that gives us no excuse to excuse ourselves from Paul’s example here. We need to do so all the more. We are weak in ourselves for sure. We need God’s grace to help us through. And we need sheer determination to persevere in that grace and not let up.

They say our brains are one of our most important physical organs. The brain does better with the extra flow of oxygen which comes from good physical exercise. And the mind certainly can affect the body. We surely need to have our hearts and minds set on Christ, and on the things of heaven where Christ is, someday destined to come to earth, and already present now by the Spirit. But we need to take heed of our focus, in order to have the kind of discipline Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s words there should be considered in their context. And interestingly enough, Paul’s warning in Colossians is followed up with the counsel to focus on Christ and might even seem austere by today’s standards. It is referring to a spiritual discipline, but there is no such discipline in which our bodies are not involved. Our bodies are part of our real selves.

And so what we do and don’t do does matter. God has indeed richly given us all things for our enjoyment, so that we’re not to deny ourselves of the good of creation (1 Timothy). But we must avoid counterfeit gods, which can include even our own stomachs (Philippians 3), and sometimes might involve making some major changes. Our goal is to pursue Christ and likeness to him until the very end. May God grant us the grace to do so together in and through him.

 

living on the edge (in the life of faith)

Some have seemed to commend living life on the edge of sin, seeing how close one can get to it without stepping over the line, I suppose. Something I would call careless, and not to be commended. Though one’s focus can be unduly in an unhelpful way on sin. What I’m referring to in this post is the fact that it seems to me that faith by its very nature in this life always involve risk and at least an implicit trust in God, and in Jesus and the gospel.

We would like a life where trust was easy, where problems were taken care of once and for all, where, yes with God’s help, we could at last arrive to a state of peace with no more difficulties. Except for brief respites as in breaks in which we’re led beside still waters, with our souls refreshed and restored (Psalm 23), that’s simply not going to happen in this life.

Faith involves risk in the sense that against so much, sometimes it seems against most everything (cf. Abraham), we are taking God at his naked word. And we’re learning to live in and as if that word is true. Not out of imagination, although God may help us to some good sanctified imagining. But because God is behind it all, and helping us to grow in the difficult process.

By nature we are unfinished in this life, and of course the world is unfinished as well, since all awaits the full redemmption to come in the new creation in Jesus. And so we need to learn to rest in God, in the Sabbath rest in Christ, even in the midst of the restless sea of this world, with all the problems this life brings. We do so, understanding that God is at work for our good in making us more and more into the likeness of his Son. As we share God’s love to all through his grace to us in Christ.

 

attitude

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

Colossians 3:22-4:1

Yesterday Jeff Manion spoke on our attitude when it comes to our work. Well worth the (view and) listen. I was thinking about that in terms not only of our work, which is powerful and thought provoking in itself, but in our attitudes across the board in all of life. We meet pressures with accompanying stress throughout our lives. Sometimes our sense of fairness and justice has been pummeled, and this is especially difficult when it makes life more difficult for us. Of course in Jesus we always have God to fall back on, and God’s grace in Jesus.

Paul addressing masters and slaves in his day, had nothing at all to do with accepting that institution, in fact we find the seeds for its destruction in this very same letter (3:11), and especially pronounced in the book of Philemon. He was simply dealing with life as it was. Ironically, because of the inherent injustice of such an arrangement, I think arguably that is helpful for us when we encounter what we perceive is not right or good, along the way. By the way, the slavery in that day at least to a large degree involved indentured service, so that those who had lost everything they had, used this recourse to survive, and even do relatively well in life. Just a sidenote.

Attitude, it’s all about attitude. Am I doing whatever I do for the Lord, so that whatever I am doing is sacred, set apart to him? And not just in the actual works, but in the attitude behind them. This may seem not so hard when everything is normal, and going well. But our mettle is tested when we seem to be violated. What then is our recourse, and what tact should we take?

We can always make our appeal and try to follow through until there is nothing more we can do, or it seems best to let it go, depending on the issue. Above all, people need to see the difference Christ makes in our lives. Do our actions speak well for him, put him in a good light, and show the difference he makes? Or are we no different than the world, flying off the handle, and saying something we later need to take back. It’s always better when we apologize and make it clear that we were wrong. But far better yet, is to avoid such wrong in the first place.

Prayer, and continuing to do what is right and good and loving is key. And continuing to do so, even when it seems to make no sense, and every bone in our body wants to do otherwise. We need to step back and be quiet, or speak more softly, and tone it down. And above all, commit ourselves to God, to his grace to us in Christ. Knowing that God will see us through and work out everything for our good, as we pray for the same blessing and good to others.

what does God’s grace look like in our lives?

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

When we think of God’s grace, we often think of experience, and to some extent rightly so, because even in the midst of suffering, God’s love is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5). The peace with God through being justified, mentioned in this passage surely opens us up to the peace of God which surpasses, or transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Above anything else, God’s grace in Jesus for believers, enables us to live the new life in which we’re forgiven and cleansed from our former sins, with ongoing cleansing as we walk in the light, and regularly confess our sins. God’s grace in Jesus puts those who have faith in a new sphere. So that no matter what we’re going through, we approach life differently than before, with a new focus which puts everything else in a different perspective, of course on the one Lord through the Father by the Spirit.

God’s grace is at work in our lives, in and through Jesus, no matter what we’re going through. During hard, difficult times, it may seem to be lacking, and even absent, as a buoyancy is replaced with a heaviness, a rest with an unsettledness. There are those times of deepest darkness (Psalm 23), called “the dark night of the soul.” They are not easy to live in, much less maneuver through. Like Paul, whose experience is surely the extreme example of this, we may want to bail out, at least ask the Lord to remove it, as Paul did. It is interesting the prominent place God’s grace plays in that passage:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12

This is surely a passage to meditate on, in this regard. For me, being weighed down into depths of trouble seems to have been more or less the norm, particularly in earlier years as a Christian, but recently again. Those are not easy places to live, because it seems like the cushion to the heart is withdrawn, so that one is more sensitive to pain and trouble. But that’s where the different, perhaps revised understanding of God’s grace at work in our lives can make the difference, in this case the Lord’s grace being sufficient, since his strength is made perfect in our weakness.

God’s grace at work in our lives, is certainly about growing in holiness, in Christ-likeness, and in being zealous to do good works, as the Titus passage quoted above, tells us. It enables us to continue on, no matter what, giving us the help we need through the Spirit. Above all, it animates us to carry on in love. It is not about experience, but about living in love, doing good works out of love, acting and refusing to act and react, out of love.

It’s a new orientation, not welcomed by me. I would rather relatively feel good most of the time. I need to learn to live better in this new place, I suppose. Learning better the new way of living out God’s grace, even as I look forward to the day when every burden will be lifted, and the stress will be gone.

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.

seeing through the disappointments and hardships to the blessings

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

In our broken world in which if something can go wrong, chances are it might, we need to learn to look for and find the blessings. In the many little things, as well as all that doesn’t go wrong. And yes, somehow even in the wrongs themselves.

A key for us in this is somehow to believe that God is at work in some way perhaps unimaginable to us, that if we were told, we might not even be able to appreciate. We can appreciate the general point which we are told in the passage above: God is at work in everything in our lives, to make us like his Son, into his family likeness, as his daughters and sons, as well as sisters and brothers. And that surely doesn’t mean that all will be glum; in fact it surely includes something of the opposite which we could experience no where else, nor in any other way. We get to experience the joy of God: the joy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, a communal, as it were, family kind of joy. As together we are shaped more and more into the full humanity which is in Jesus.

And so we look for that joy, and for the good, even in the midst of the difficulties, what might not be so good, even what might be evil. We choose to find the good hand of God at work for good in everything. And to look for the blessings, big and small. Certainly to be enjoyed by us, and shared with others in and through Jesus.

wisdom and God’s will

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1

Yesterday at work we watched an interesting video from John Ortberg based on his book, All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door. What Will You Do?

What stood out to me was the insight that scripture doesn’t so much indicate that God has one particular plan that he shows us, or that God will simply tell us what to do along the way: who we’re to marry if we do marry, what job we’re to have, where we’re to live, etc. But God gives us wisdom so that we can discern what is good, and what is in harmony with his will for us in Jesus. And that the goal is not so much what we do, but who we’re becoming. Are we more and more like Jesus?

This seems so very much in line with scripture along with the best teaching I’ve received based on scripture. It’s not like God never makes something specific clear to us. The big question is just how God does that. Are we like zapped in a sense so that we just know just because God “told” us that we’re to do such and such instead of so and so? Or is it more like God leads us through helping us discern what is best, and what his will might be in the circumstances. I think clearly the latter. God might do something unusual along the way, but by and large we are left to discern what we should do according to what God has given us in his inscripturated word in line with the truth as it is in Jesus.

Of course we have to see all of scripture through the lens and fulfillment in Jesus, through the gospel. And we let God help us sift through it, pondering the truth that we find on every page. We pray and we consult others who are steeped in the truth of scripture and in how the Spirit has guided the church, sometimes in person, and oftentimes in books written, such as the one by Ortberg, linked above.

We want clear answers and essentially an easy life. God wants  us to work through the issues, to be fully involved in the process. Even though God’s work and wisdom and ways are quite beyond us, yet we are given something of God’s wisdom to enter into his work and understand his ways enough to proceed according to what is good in his will revealed to us in Jesus within scripture. We are helped both for the day to day and current decisions which need to be made, as well as for the long haul, during which we should grow in this discernment in and by this wisdom from God.

We are recipients of God’s gift to us in Jesus, and we are active in our faith in terms of how we live, and decisions which need to be made, big and little ones, day after day. As we seek to grow along with others more and more like Jesus.