turning old troubles into new opportunities

At this point I have quite a lot of life I can look back on. If I care (and dare) to reflect on it, I can somewhat see from my own perspective, hopefully with something of God’s help, how and why I either made mistakes, or was stuck in certain patterns I never really got out of.

Nowadays I’m more and more seeing old troubles that inevitably come around as new opportunities to trust God and be obedient to his word as never before. This involves spiritual growth with its fits and starts. Of course it’s not easy, but by grace it’s definitely doable. And it’s not at all to say that new troubles won’t come along. But working through the old in a committed faith in God will help prepare us for whatever is to come. The God who came through before will surely come through again as we trust in him.

This can be considered not only about troubles, but whatever else we need to work on in our lives which is lacking. All of it should be done in prayerful dependence on God as we continue in his word. In and through Jesus.

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practicing God’s word

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:19-27

I’ve gathered a good bit of biblical theological knowledge over my life, but mostly in my head, and not so much into my heart and life, I’m afraid. Not that one can belittle what God actually has done in making us his children by faith. There certainly is a big change which accompanies that. We are turned from darkness into light. Although that’s a complete turn, it’s actually only the start.

We can say what matters most is not where we begin, but where we end. And not just what we believe, but what we practice. Not that what we believe isn’t important because after all, what we believe is what we’re to practice. Christian practice is built on Christian belief, Christian teaching, or the doctrines of the faith. But as James puts it, even the demons believe, and shudder.

So that is my intention, to begin to practice much better what I preach. Not just say something is true, but act on it. Faith is never in opposition to effort, but only in imagining that somehow we can merit or deserve God’s grace through our actions (Dallas Willard). Grace comes through Christ, not only to forgive us, but to enable us to grow through that grace. To quit doing what is not pleasing to God, but rather, what is pleasing to him. As James aptly and succinctly puts it, to not just hear God’s word, but put it into practice. In and through Jesus.

people are the problem (including me)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:37-42

Jesus reserved his harshest words, or basically got after those who pointed the finger at others. Especially the Jewish religious leaders, who were critical of those who did not line up with their traditions largely put in place to keep people from breaking God’s Law, but missing the heart of the law: love for neighbor demonstrating one’s actual love for God.

If we’re generous to others, we’ll experience generosity, but if we’re harsh, then harshness. Those who lead others do so in how they live, whether or not they really put God’s word into practice or not, whether they come to Jesus, hear his words, and put them into practice, which includes how they view others (Luke 6:46-49).

To be upset over shortcoming in others in itself should raise our suspicions: What about us? When people do light into us, what’s our reaction? Is it helpful? Is there some blindness to it, so that we can’t really see what actually was meant by the other person and why? Often enough there is fault on the other side, and maybe they are largely or entirely to blame on a given matter. But we need to step back a bit, and consider how we can grow as in grow up more toward maturity in Christ.

There may be a time to confront, but in the end, and really throughout, we need to love. To make sure our lives line up with that love toward others. Taking the plank out of our own eye, so that by our example, they might see the speck of sawdust in their own eye. In and through Jesus.

faith is ultimately never on our terms, but God’s

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Genesis 22:1-2

I usually don’t care too much or even enough about titles for blog posts, which are more or less important to the overall post. But in this case, I think the idea that faith is never on our terms, but God’s, is actually crucial, the point of the post. What I’m wanting to get at is simply the idea that faith to really be mature biblical faith has to venture out into territory that none of us left to ourselves would do. Think of Jesus’s life on earth. And the passage above, where God tells Abraham what is infinitely awful, and just as infinitely makes no sense.

This doesn’t mean in the least that we shouldn’t bring all of our troubles and cares to God, because indeed we should. We need to come to God as the Father God is, and let God know the details that we are concerned about. Of course for our benefit and faith, thanking him for blessings, at the same time (Philippians 4:6-7). God as our Father does care about our wants and needs (Luke 11:11-13).

Faith finds God’s answer which oftentimes is simply God’s rest and peace through the most difficult circumstances, when we refuse to take matters in our own hands, and instead, put them in God’s good hands. Casting all of our cares on God, since he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). But this requires a faith which holds on regardless of what the situation looks like to us. Oftentimes a big part of our problem is our focus. We are fixed on the problem itself, instead of the God who can fix the problem, and help us go through it. Of course sometimes the answer is simply to let it go.

And we either struggle or are weak in believing in both God’s greatness and goodness. Somehow we think it depends on us, when God in God’s infinite wisdom and grace, is going to work everything out for good somehow. The best we can do is far from foolproof. But what God does in his wisdom is ultimately meant for salvation.

We know how the story of Abraham and Isaac going to Mount Moriah ends. Abraham is pushed to the brink in trusting God, ready to plunge the knife into his son. God intervenes at that point. But when it came to God’s Son, Jesus, God did not intervene, not even in answer to Jesus’s plea to take the cup from him if possible. For Jesus it was a matter of not his will, but the Father’s will. For the joy set before him, enduring the cross, even scorning the shame. In and through Jesus, faith believes in God, therefore committing everything to God in trusting and obeying him.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

 

what do we love?

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:97-104

When it comes right down to it, what do we honestly love? What do we come back to again and again? And admire, so that we want to emulate it? And what does that make us hate? The psalmist loved God’s law, scripture, put it into practice in life, and therefore hated every wrong path.

Life tends to either make this hazy, or clarifies it, of course our response by faith needed. When we run up against trials, we can run to God in prayer and by that find blessing. A big part of this psalm overall, even if not in the section above. But the passage quoted (מ Mem in the NIV) focuses on one’s love of God’s law or instruction, scripture itself. A love which doesn’t just delight in that word, but puts it into practice in one’s life. It is a game changer, meaning a life changing word from God.

The point of the word is not so much the word itself, though every word from God is important for life and precious. But it inevitably points and directs us to its fulfillment in Christ who came to fulfill all. So that our love for God’s word naturally results in a love for Christ himself.

Again, this is a good question to ask: What do we love? Sometimes after getting up from sleep, there’s a freshness that helps us appreciate what matters most to us. And other times it comes through the hard knocks of life. Love for something less than how God’s word directs us will leave us high and dry and often troubled. A good sign that we’re off track, and that we need to come back to scripture, and get our lives redirected by God in the way fulfilled and given to us in and through Jesus.

a proper obsession

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:7

Last evening in our church small group, my wife leading our book study from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, the chapter on being obsessed, I was reminded of my current reading through the gospels. If you don’t call that an obsession, what Jesus was doing, and his disciples following him, learning to do the same, I don’t know what an obsession is. To be obsessed is to be intensely occupied with something. Jesus’s life was wrapped up in his Father, obedience to him, and in doing so, being a servant to all, even unto the death of the cross.

The quote from Isaiah above is from what is called the servant songs, fulfilled by Jesus. And the idea of setting his face like a flint is echoed in the gospels when Jesus set out to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing this visit would end in his crucifixion.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

That was the culmination of Jesus’s obsession. Just begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see that they’re marked by a singleness of vision and devotion to that. And in and through Jesus, we carry on that same life. We either follow Jesus in that way, or according to Jesus, we’re not following him at all. That’s the life to which we’re called by God in Jesus. The life we’re redeemed to in turn for the redemptive good of others. In and through Jesus.

 

how faith is confirmed

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Hebrews 11:1-4

Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, faith is a struggle in this life. It is challenged on nearly every turn. The great passage on faith in Hebrews 11 to the beginning of Hebrews 12 begins with the confidence and blessed assurance that faith brings along with how we know by faith. But it doesn’t end there. The rest of the chapter is about how people who had such faith lived. They acted on that faith.

I think faith normally involves a process. We pray and hear, or perhaps hear and pray; we respond with some kind of inner “amen” to what we believe is from God. And then we act on that prayer in some sort of specific way, even as we see in the many instances of Hebrews 11 (click link above). Certainly a changed life is involved, and is touched on in this passage when we consider Moses by faith forsaking the treasures of Egypt for a greater reward and seeing him who is unseen. But by and large the passage is filled with acts of faith.

It does no one any good to have some sort of, shall we say, feel good experience, or sense what they should do, unless it is acted on and done. It’s not at all like we should try to do something to either prove we have faith, or even bring faith about. Not at all. We need to be those who act from faith so that there needs to be some kind of confidence, assurance, and understanding which precedes such an act.

Yes, we should not be hasty. We should have a certain firm settledness in what we’re supposed to do. But then we must follow through and do it. Confident in God’s faithfulness, that God will see us through to the very end. As we await the fulfillment of all that our faith will bring, which includes the growth of our faith in this life, as well as good outcomes in God’s blessing through it. In and through Jesus.