being like Jesus in our struggles

If there’s one thing for certain in life, it’s that we’ll have struggles of one kind or another. I was watching a clip on war torn, disease ravaged Yemen today, and I also think of North Korea where to profess Christ would bring a death sentence. Comparing those two places, not to mention a good number of other places in the world (Haiti and Venezuela come to mind on our side of the world, but a number of other faltering states as well), and I begin to see that much of what I think I have to be concerned about pales in comparison. And yet problems here can seem like life and death matters at times, even while we live in relative comfort and safety. We need to be in prayer for the people who lack basic care, and whose lives are in danger.

How are we like Jesus in our own struggles? I think we have to pay attention to the things that Jesus did, as well as what he taught in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And see how that is expanded on in the rest of the New Testament. Our goal should be that we are more and more becoming like him, whatever difficulties we face. And hopefully to see such difficulties help us grow in ways we couldn’t imagine otherwise, as we learn to walk in Jesus’s way, no matter what. In and through Jesus.

in the uncomfortable spaces

I find myself sometimes in most difficult spaces, sometimes because of my foibles as a human being, some might say follies, and just because of life itself. I think those can be the places where God might be trying to teach us something new and formative to shape our lives. Or deepening what God has already taught us.

I find myself in such places more given to prayer, more thoughtful, more alert, hopefully more aware. At the same time, I also find the experience difficult at best. Such that I have to look to God, try to cling to him.

I do that by going back again and again as actually just a habit of life, to the word. My mind is distracted from what troubles me. And what I read and ponder on actually informs and forms me yes, about the uncomfortable space, or what my own response to that should be, a resolute and firm trust in the God who saves.

Too often in the comfortable places I drift. Yes, we need those places of rest, as we see in Psalm 23. But as we also see in Psalm 23 this life is not entirely like that. So again and again, today and every day by God’s grace I will be in the word, in prayer, voicing my concern for what is troubling me, and hoping to get beyond that. In and through Jesus.

character versus giftedness

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The fruit of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”) are not in competition against the gifts of the Spirit. But this passage from Paul makes it clear that without love, the operation of the gifts means nothing, at least not in God’s estimation of the person who practices them.

What I would like to tell any young, budding preacher would be something like what Paul is saying here. I would say, the gift part will come. That is important. But major on character. Make sure your life is in line with God’s call to love which includes living in and according to the truth.

Give me any day and every day someone who is faithfully plodding along with what might be considered a nothing out of the ordinary gift, but consistently and faithfully loves others, and loves God, their lives marked by obedience to God’s will. I’ll take that any day over a person who has an amazing gift, but is a bit fast and loose when it comes to character. The fruit of the Spirit is the goal in our lives toward Christ-likeness. The gifts of the Spirit are meant to help us move that direction. In and through Jesus.

connecting all joy in whatever trial with prayer for God’s wisdom

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. 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 1:2-8

When we’re in the pressure cooker, it’s easy to revert to something less than helpful. We need something better than fight or flight. And James gives us something much better here.

We’re to count it all joy when any given trial hits us, because through that God can do a deeper work in us. We need to persevere through it, so that we can grow in whatever way God has for us.

I think we can connect that with the directive to ask God for needed wisdom. Maybe it can stand alone as well, since James is more like Proverbs than any other book in the New Testament. Either way, it only makes sense to ask God for wisdom in trials. God will give it to us as we go on imperfectly as it will be, with a heart set on living in his will. In and through Jesus.

James on trials and uncertainty

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. 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 1:2-8

James, though a pastor comes across, at least to us as rather blunt, and certainly to the point. He doesn’t waste words. His letter is considered the one New Testament book more in line with the wisdom writings of the Old Testament: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

James lived during a time of uncertainty. The church was young and he was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, Peter certainly a pastor, but more of an apostle to the Jews at large in the world of that time. God had given the church as he does today the gift of the Spirit to be a witness to the gospel by deed and word, first by the difference evident in their lives, and a witness as to what makes that difference.

Fast forward to today. We live in a different time for sure. And depending on where we live, possibly quite different circumstances. But one thing is for sure, as evident in this passage: trials will come, and many kinds of them.

As this passage makes clear, our response to such will determine whether or not we grow in Christian maturity, and to what extent we do. None of us will get this perfect. And there will be moments and maybe even times when we don’t consider such pure joy. But when, apart from our feelings, thoughts or anything else we choose to consider such pure joy, then we can begin to enter into what God has for us in the midst and through such trials.

We’re invited when we lack wisdom, which in ourselves is always the case, to ask God for it. That’s a relief, because left to ourselves, we more often, or at least I more often than not resort to something that is less than that, and can even be foolish. I’ve seen that time and time again in my life, since I’ve either failed to ask God for it, or operated as if God wasn’t much in the picture. Maybe a bystander who created everything, but then is not involved in that creation, certainly not the God of the Bible. It’s interesting how we might believe something intellectually, but act as if we don’t. We need to then ask ourselves if we believe it at all. God can help us with our lack of faith, as we call out to him, like the man did to Jesus.

So there’s purpose and encouragement in this passage, both short term and long. This is true regardless of what we face, whatever trial it may be. As we respond in faith according to God’s word here, God will be with us, and continue to mature us, giving us the wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

little by little over time

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3b

Oak trees are among the most sturdy and long lasting trees, it seems. But they don’t grow quickly. The kind of growth required for the tree it is takes time.

In Isaiah, people are likened to oaks, those God is “planting.” When you read Scripture and consider the spiritual life, all of this takes time. Christian spiritual maturity is not arrived to overnight. Nor does some overwhelming experience add up to Christian maturity. In fact that can easily lend itself to deception, someone thinking they’ve arrived when they haven’t, or couldn’t. We need the young saplings, exuberant in their new life, glowing in their witness of that. But it will take time, wind, storms, sunshine and rain, and more time for them to grow into the sturdy, mature trees they need to become.

Some of us are pretty full grown, but as Christians we know our growth never ends in this lifetime. We have weathered many a storm, learned to stand firm in the winds with roots embedded in the water of life found in Christ and Scripture. And as part of God’s community, the church. But if we don’t watch out, we could become diseased and in danger of no longer standing. It is sad, the accounts of those who didn’t end their Christian lives well. Sometimes the older trees are not appreciated for all the blessing they give. It’s like, they’ve seen their day, they’re old now and not of much consequence, not to be paid attention to. But we need to keep growing, and in silence and prayer continue to bear fruit from and for God.

Little by little, over time. That’s what it takes. And to keep on doing that come what may. That God might be honored and glorified. In and through Jesus.

do we suffer for the Name?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

I’ve been impressed in going over 1 Peter this time the prominence suffering in the sense of being persecuted for Christ has. Most often our suffering is due to our own faults or sometimes the problems of others. It seems most rare that we’re actually suffering for the name of Christ.

I know there are more than a few Christians nowadays where I live (the United States) who think they’re suffering for Christ. In most cases I would beg to differ. At least not when you consider this letter (1 Peter) and church history. And start considering the world scene today, the many Christians who are undergoing persecution.

Just to simply draw near to Christ, to be faithful to him might draw some persecution here, although most of us where I live will never find our lives in jeopardy over our witness.

1 Peter doesn’t mince words or try to make it sound easy. The mark of a Christian is to suffer for Christ, and thus to be in participation with the sufferings of Christ. It makes me wonder about myself. Not that we’re to look for persecution, but are we ready to suffer for Christ if that time ever comes?

1 Peter seems like an austere book when you consider the theme of suffering etched in it. Surely not one of the most popular books of the Bible, except for the verse or two you’ll find tucked away in precious promise books. But needed for our full development into Christian maturity. In and through Jesus.

growing up in one’s salvation

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3

Aside from the question of precisely how to translate it, and exactly what it means, I was captured yesterday by this rendering in the NIV, “you may grow up in your salvation.” It could mean growing until one’s salvation is completed at Christ’s return, given what this letter says earlier. The idea is of babies growing or growing up to salvation, perhaps into that salvation. Whatever precisely this means, for me the idea as translated above begs the question just what growing up in one’s salvation might mean.

It’s always best to stay in the same book/letter when asking such questions, before scoping out beyond, and then to do so in similar book, like say, 2 Peter, and then beyond.

Salvation like sin has almost become a despised and therefore neglected word. It has been hijacked by “easy believism” and what Dallas Willard called “bar code Christianity,” in which salvation doesn’t mean much more than getting a one way ticket to heaven. But biblically speaking, it means so much more.

Salvation in the New Testament is past, present and future. All three have ramifications in what’s being said here. Because of God’s work in Christ, the Spirit shields us in the present in and for the salvation that is to come when Christ returns.

And that salvation is always from something to something else. From our sins, who we were before Christ, to the new person we’re becoming in Christ. All kinds of details are involved in that, as one can see from the passage above. It’s definitely a work in progress. Certainly we can say toward Christ-likeness and full maturity in Christ.

To be a part of our everyday lives now. In and through Jesus.

 

the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

what’s next?

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

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. 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 1:1-8

James was probably the best known pastor of the early church, certainly of Jerusalem. And as such, he was a pastor at heart. You can tell from the way he starts out the letter from him we have in our Bibles in the New Testament. He wastes no time, but gets to the trials believers face. The trials of many kinds covers it all: any kind of trial.

James takes more of a constructive than comforting approach. They’re to consider it pure joy because of the maturity it can bring. Namely because it tests their faith which leads to endurance or perseverance, which leads to mature well rounded out character.

The testing of one’s faith is related to seeing that it is genuine through and through. We can have a saving faith, enough to be forgiven and enter into life. But God wants more, and in our heart of hearts as God’s children, so do we.

Nevertheless a trial is a trial. It’s not something that in and of itself we’re going to like. And James expresses that there are many kinds of them which intimates that perhaps we will receive quite a few ourselves. The critical point is our faith essentially meaning our trust in God and God’s promises to us in Scripture. Everything stands or falls over our faith or lack thereof.

But it’s good to hold the big picture in view, in fact that’s what James’s words tell us. Faith results in perseverance which results in character. That’s more constructive to me than comforting, though we might say it’s something of both. And more of that comes when James points to the needed wisdom we can receive from God in answer to prayer. With the additional thought that if we fail to believe that the generous, gracious God will give us that wisdom, then we will remain stuck in whatever condition we’re in.

Perhaps we need to work on the very first point then all else will more easily follow. That is, we’re to count such pure joy. Instead of shrinking in horror, or whatever our conditioned response is from such experiences over the years. Knowing what God says the outcome will be, and what we’re to do in the meantime.

Everything we need is present in this passage. As we go on from day to day in this life in and through Jesus.