on trials

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

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4; MSG

I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this opening directive from James. Every part of it touches exactly where we live.

We hate trials, and think somehow to escape them seems to be a mark of maturity. But God wants us to know that trials are meant to mature us. I have a particularly hard time with trials in which I’ve had a hand in them developing or coming to be. Not to say I don’t struggle with other trials, but especially those. But no trial is excluded here. Trials of many kinds would include all trials. A trial is a trial, even if we were the unwitting cause of it. I was thinking of mistakes we make. But this could include sins, even serious sins, and the fallout and trial we face after committing such. Surely that would be included here, too, but with the added counsel that we confess our sin to God, to the church, when need be to others, repent, and undergo whatever is needed for full restoration. All of that would be a trial to us, needed for maturity in Christ, for sure. But again, I’m just thinking here about trials in general, whatever kind they take.

It’s really hard to see tests and challenges as a sheer gift. Instead we’re prone to see trials in an entirely negative light. The idea of tests to help us as well as challenges is simply a fact of life we need to accept. Trials are inevitable. More important than the actual trial is the good which can come out of it. If we look past the trial itself to whatever it is that God might want to do through it, that can help us.

Under pressure our true self comes out, and often it isn’t pretty. The Lord wants that to improve over time. We need to face the music, not try to escape it. To hang in there, even when it’s hard. To even consider it all joy. To let God teach us what is needed through the process, as well as reshape us more into Christ’s image.

It’s not like we have to be preoccupied with trials all the time. The more we accept this reality, as trials inevitably hit us, the more we can experience what God wants to bring out of them. For our blessing and good, and therefore for the blessing and good of others around us. Not to let go of any of this. To persist in it, our will set to live in and do God’s will. In and through Jesus.

double-mindedness as in not believing

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 1:5-8

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:5-8; MSG

We normally equate double-mindedness with something other than failing to trust God. It might be in terms of people trying to be devoted to God, but also devoted to getting rich, a precarious position to be in, but a subject perhaps for another day. Or a supposed allegiance to God and country, as if the two are compatible with each other, not that we shouldn’t strive to be good earthly citizens, being concerned for our country out of love for our neighbor, while we remain beyond everything else, citizens of God’s kingdom. Or holding on to whatever sin it might be, as we continue to be religious. Double-mindedness.

But James equates it here with something we often consider much less harmful, if even a case of double-mindedness at all: the lack of faith. Do we trust God or not? That’s the question. The kind of faith and maturity God wants from us is to simply trust God through thick and thin, no matter what. When we don’t, we essentially are saying that we know better, or else we want to be in control, or we think somehow life depends on us, and that God is only there to help us in some kind of secondary, assisting way.

Instead James is telling us that God is calling us in the midst of trials to look to God, to trust God for needed wisdom. And that the issue is whether or not we believe God is willing to help us or not, and not only willing, but whether or not God will come through for us. We need to learn to rest assured in God’s goodness and faithfulness in whatever situation we’re facing. That God is with us in the trial. And that as we see in the context (click link above), God is working in our lives to make us complete in our character.

The last thing James is suggesting is that the trials we’re going through either are easy, or will become easy if we trust God. But James is certainly saying that trusting God will make a world of difference for us both in changing us over time, and in seeing us through. Both are essential, because what’s often worse than the trial itself or at least just as bad is our reaction to them. God wants to work in our lives to temper that down and help us instead to consider such situations pure joy, since we know God is at work in our lives, and that God will indeed help us, God the one in charge and not us. As we look to God in trusting prayer. In and through Jesus.

we are in process

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-6

Over and over again, I’m reminded that we are people in process. The good and most important thing to remember is that it is God at work in our lives. We likely wish we were further along than we are, I know I do.

We really need to hold on to this truth that we as followers of Jesus. And that it is God doing the work, not we ourselves. God who began this good work in us will indeed carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, when Jesus returns.

This helps me as I consider my own life as well as the lives of others. We need to take our hands off. It’s God’s work, not our own. The change in our lives comes only because of that. Maybe this means we need to be more in prayer.

There are things I’m not sure about. It does seem clear to me that we can get in the way of God’s working, and impede it. But God works around and even through those ways that we can get in the way, I suppose. I often wish I could just do what I know I ought to do. Like rest in God’s peace instead of being anxious about this or that. It’s a maturing, growth process, and all of Scripture in one way or another is meant to help us in that.

The one thing we can take away from Paul’s words here for sure: God who began the good work in us in Christ will finish it. We can mark that down in stone, but more importantly God has written that change into our hearts to unfold in our lives toward the goal of making us the people we’re supposed to be, through Jesus fully human and unique in our person as God intended. All of us together in this, Paul addressing not just individuals here, but the entire church. In and through Jesus.

avoid angry people, or becoming an angry person

Don’t hang out with angry people;
don’t keep company with hotheads.
Bad temper is contagious—
don’t get infected.

Proverbs 22:24-25; MSG

We live in an angry time. Actually it has been building up for years, and now is in danger of even violent release in too many places, some of that violence seeping out already. And it’s not like there’s nothing to be angry about. If we’re not angry about some things, then we need to get a checkup to see whether or not we’re human, and I mean human in a good way, in the way God intended us to be. But at the same time, since we still do struggle with sin, having not arrived yet into full likeness to Christ, we need to keep a strict check on our anger. We’re to be slow to become angry remembering as James tells us, that our anger does not bring about the righteousness God desires.

We do well to avoid angry people, not hanging around them. We also need to stop being angry people ourselves, or becoming that way. There are outlets in our culture in which people are basically angry, strident in their anger. It’s what seems to characterize them. It’s an anger couched in arrogance. When we humans do this, we’re moving well beyond what we can actually do well and legitimately as humans. We better leave what only the God who is love can do well, and humbly let our anger move us in profitable directions such as lament and good works of love, as well as prayer.

I can get angry easily over some things, like one particular machine at work. I need to turn that anger into an attitude of seeking the good that can come from the problem, particularly in my own formation as a Jesus follower in becoming like him. The last thing we need to do is become known for our anger. If we don’t want to hang out with angry people, but hopefully influence them in love, then we don’t want people to want to avoid us for the same reason.

Anger puts us in dangerous territory. We’re not to let the day end remaining angry because we give the devil a foothold in our lives. No, anger is too hot for us to handle. We need to grasp it, and let it go. Finding what God would have us do instead. Together with others likeminded in and through Jesus.

are we being changed into people through whom God might change others?

My son, give me your heart
and let your eyes delight in my ways

Proverbs 23:26

It’s amazing, the challenge of Scripture, and how that can hit you in new unexpected ways. Through my current trek in the Proverbs this hit me, and I stood in wonder. I can see God, the Lord telling us this. But us saying this to someone else? Of course we know full well that Paul tells us to follow him as he follows Christ. We’re to find those kind of people whose lives show the difference Christ makes, and learn to think, act and live as they do.

Maturity in Christ involves becoming people who others can see not as a pain, but something wondrous, beautiful, true, a person that at least they can truthfully say is worthy of respect, and someone that in some way they can look up to. That should never be our goal, to have others admire us, never. But if we can reflect something of the beauty of Christ in our lives more and more, than that could be a way of others finding their way to that same beauty.

We struggle ourselves to find our way in Jesus. But he is there for us. And especially through those who are much further along in that way than ourselves. So that hopefully in turn by and by others through our own struggle and the ongoing help God gives might find their way to this as well. In and through Jesus.

letting God help us grow in the hard places

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4; MSG

If you’ve read my posts now and then, you’ll sooner or later gather that I have almost what might seem to be an anxiety disorder. It’s something I’ve lived in for so long, that I’m not sure I’ve ever been without it. Of course there’s the normal anxiety we all face, to meet our responsibilities, do our jobs well, etc. But this goes beyond that. And you come to realize that while it might be helped with counseling and even at times, medication, that it seems to have a life all its own. I enjoy the times when it seems to be abated, nonexistent, and I either just enjoy those times, or try to take advantage of them by doing what I think might be useful beyond what I normally do.

But lo and behold, I find myself slammed again and again by such. But I have been much better in recent times and growing in seeking to manage such through faith, in prayer and Scripture. While facing another challenge yesterday, I turned to James in the Bible I’m reading through now, Eugene Peterson’s The Message. “So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely” stood out to me. When you’re in a trial, if there’s any way out, any escape route, it’s only natural for us to go for that, no questions asked. We want out, and we want out now.

But James tells us we need to hang in there, and let God see us through. Not only out of the trial itself, which is what I all too often have only cared about, but through the trial into more of the fully formed person God wants us to be in Christ. This is an important part of our calling now. Trials will come, but so will God’s help if we just trust God, praying and asking for wisdom through it all (click above link for that part). Along with the needed change in us. But only if we don’t try to get out it before God’s work is done. In and through Jesus.

“we all need a home”

Someone recently told me that. It is wonderful, the family settings we can live in. But even the best of them is not without some hurts and wounds along the way, even with some cracks and brokenness. And tragically, sometimes those fractures are not mended and there can be a parting of ways. Home together as family does involve a commitment.

When it comes to church, we Christians at least here in America I think have some difficulty seeing it as family or being comfortable there. Why? It could be in part because of our own experience as family. And churches in our society are like a dime a dozen. Unlike days of old when there were parishes, and you had your church according to your location, in which you may well attend and be part of for a lifetime, now people so to speak go shopping for church. Wherever it’s the right feel, or serves the needs of one’s family, or their own needs, we stop and shop there. Maybe for a few years, maybe more, but often less. Until we move on to our next church and church experience. The older I get, the more I value the practice of those who have been in one church for decades, even entire lifetimes. Unfortunately not true of myself. Though there are times, sadly, to leave a church.

But the church in Jesus is meant to be our primary family, in a certain sense more family than our own family. Though of course each have their unique special place. Jesus made it clear that his sister, brother, and mother were those who did God’s will. And we find in the New Testament letters an emphasis on a community held together in the bond of love in Christ, with the fruit of the Spirit moving that fellowship, and the gifts of the Spirit helping it, all toward growth together into maturity in Christ.

We need a home where we don’t have to perform and have it all together. Where we can be our honest, even broken selves. I’m not saying at all, excusing our sin. But really being honest with ourselves and others. Just that sense given to us together by the Spirit who leads us to the broken body and blood of Christ for us individually and in our relationships with each other.

We need a place where we’re at home. Where people really care for us. Grace-oriented, so that by and by we can start measuring up, but not at all about measuring up, even while there is loving accountability. Where we realize that we’re all in this together, that when one suffers with whatever, we all suffer. Where when one rejoices and is happy, we all are happy for and with them. The sense that we’re indeed not in this life alone. But we’re present and in place for each other. And together for a broken world. In and through Jesus.

dig in (and deeper)

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6:1-12

This book is attempting to both encourage and warn Christians who were in danger, not only flagging and beginning to falter in their faith, but possibly abandoning it altogether. It can begin with a drift as we see earlier in the letter.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:1-4

Yes, their very faith was at stake. And drifting is cited here as a present and real danger. They needed to make sure they were well grounded in the gospel which is Jesus, and God in him in his Incarnation, life and teachings, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return when everything is completed and the full dynamic of the new world is in place.

Those professing believers were to press on into the ramifications of their faith, all that is involved, what we find in Scripture, and especially from Jesus’s teachings with all that follows. Best to begin though, since we’re in this book, with a thorough reading of this letter, Hebrews. It is evident that he was appealing to Jesus as better than what preceded him, indeed the fulfillment of that.

Are we grounded in the faith, settled, and learning to live and grow and mature in that, with good works of love for others? Or are we questioning our faith, even the faith? More likely, are we just drifting away, with hardly a realization of that until it’s too late and we no longer care?

Faith is not just a matter of assenting to a creedal expression of it, no matter how accurate that may be. We may be going through the motions, but our heart simply not in it, or more like our heart elsewhere. We have to work at this, as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear. To really begin to dig, even if it’s hard. And dig deeper. Into the life God has for us together. In and through Jesus.

back to basics in James: trials

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 is a great book in getting back to down to earth, practical, feet on the ground basics. In it is wisdom for life, right where we live from day to day.

We have our favorite places we tend to go back to in Scripture, and the passage above is a go to for many of us, and for good reason. Trials of all kinds are part of life. It’s not a question of whether or not we’ll face trials, but rather, just how we handle them. I like to use the word manage, although it’s not like we can take care of the trials ourselves. Of course we pray for wisdom, and going from that, do what we can. But the ultimate outcome of everything is in God’s hands. Part of that outcome does involve how we trust God is guiding us in the process as we ask God for wisdom, and commit ourselves to living in his will.

Considering it pure joy involves realizing that God is not only at work in the trials themselves, but also in maturing us through them. It’s often said that troubles can make you or break you. There’s some wisdom in that. We don’t just hold on and make the best of things ourselves. We are dependent on God, no less. We need God’s help, wisdom to know how to navigate it. With our eyes not only on God’s answer, but on the promise that God is shaping our character through the issues which come our way.

That’s another thing to remember: Make the most out of reversals, even trials in which we are part of the problem. We can ask ourselves just how we can improve through that trial, or really, whatever trial we’re facing. Not just ask ourselves and consider that, which is important, but ask God.

Whatever trial it is, and sometimes it feels like the internal pressure is worse than the external, or whatever it is that is troubling us. Our experience of it in itself can be a trial on top of the actual problem itself. All of that we bring to God. Does God make a difference or not? We can say we believe that, but do we really? We need to put that truth to the test, not because God needs to be tested, but because our faith does. Is our faith growing, really able to break through  beyond what we’ve experienced before? And we need to remember, that no matter what it is, we not only can bring it to God, but indeed, we should.

We also need to remember that we’re in this life together. We in Jesus are meant to help each other in prayer and in practical ways. God will help us. We only need to keep reaching out to him again and again and again. In and through Jesus.

sometimes the profound is the simple

My son, keep my words
and store up my commands within you.
Keep my commands and you will live;
guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and to insight, “You are my relative.”
They will keep you from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words.

Proverbs 7:1-5

Back to basics is never a bad word. Sure, we want to get into the deeper things, and not forever remain at the basics. But we always must be be standing and established on, that is living out what we know is basic. To love God and to love our neighbor, the two most grounding commands given to us.

It’s actually a sign of maturity and spiritual depth to remain strong on what seems to obvious: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t kill. Honor your parents. Etc. Those might seem so simple and basic as to be beneath us. But that’s the sign of lack of depth.

So let’s never turn up our noses at anything in Scripture as if it’s past us, that we’re beyond that. That’s actually a sign of lack of maturity. Instead we take it all seriously. Even as we do try to go deeper into God’s truth for all of life through the wisdom and insight God gives us. In and through Jesus.