doing the same thing over and over again

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest.

Proverbs 6

In Jeff Manion’s new book, Dream Big, Think Small: Living an Extraordinary Life One Day at a Time, in his chapter entitled, “Ant Power,” Jeff competently and pastorally writes about the power of doing the good, right little things over and over again, so that over the long haul, such can make all the difference. Although doing something big at a certain point in time, for example going to a weekend for marriage enrichment, might be huge in changing the course of a failing marriage, only doing the same things over and over again, even from such a time, will make the difference needed.

This has to do with simply plugging away, day after day, in often thankless tasks that seem to go at least largely unnoticed, maybe apparent to no one, and which may seem in themselves quite mundane. But so much of that is not necessarily trivial. Whether we feel like it or not, we open the Bible day after day, and throughout the day, and we keep reading and pondering. Over time, since it is the word of God, that will make a big difference, of course our response to it being crucial (James 1).

We can’t let up, and we have to continue on, even if there seems to be little or no fruit coming out of it. Let God decide, or bring to pass whatever, but for sure the most important thing will be happening: our character is being shaped and will be forged. As we do this with each other in Jesus, the same things over and over again, to transform us more and more into the image and likeness of our Lord.

another take on James 5:16b on the prayer of the righteous

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:16b

Without backing down at all on what I wrote on yesterday’s post, I want to briefly consider another possibility in line with the other way of interpreting, and thus translating this passage. Remember that all translation involves interpretation, say from German to English and back. Which is largely why we have differences in our Bible translations, which together make no impact at all on basic Christian doctrine.

The rendering adopted by the NIV (see NRSVNET, etc.) might be correct, and is certainly possible. The emphasis then would be simply on the prayer of a righteous person being powerful and effective. Even if the other way of translating is getting more to the original writing’s intent (I don’t know), what is said in this post still holds significance. And maybe a bit more so, if the NIV rendering happens to be more accurate.

A righteous person, or the righteous, in meaning is probably a bit different in the book of James then it is in Paul’s writings. The righteous in Paul, are those who are “in Christ,” who share in Christ’s righteousness, whether it’s an alien imputed righteousness, or not. The emphasis is that this righteousness comes from Christ, and is not part of the Law. And that it comes by grace through faith, as well as through baptism. It is worked into one’s life by the Spirit, and thus imparted by God through Christ to the one who has faith. So it’s not like it isn’t worked into real life. It’s just that the emphasis is on faith, and that faith in and of Christ.

In James, righteousness is different. Which is why Martin Luther disliked the letter, calling it “a right strawy epistle.” Paul referred to Abraham as simply believing God’s word, and thus being credited righteousness. James refers to Abraham being obedient so that he was considered righteous (NIV) or justified by what he did, so that James says justification is therefore by works, as well as faith, and not by faith alone. Actually we don’t see James contradicting Paul at all. It’s a different perspective, which is present but expressed in a different way in Paul’s letters. We could say that his faith produced works, and therefore was shown to be genuine faith. Through Paul and elsewhere we learn that we can’t save ourselves through our works, that we can only trust and have faith in God’s word, and specifically in the message of the good news in Jesus. Through hearing that message, and believing, like Abraham, we are justified, made or declared righteous. But if we are saved by grace through faith, we are saved for the good works which God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The righteous in James are those who live by the royal law that gives freedom, namely “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And that makes a difference not merely in what they believe (the demons believe God is one, and they shudder, says James), but in what they say and do. Certainly belief is important to James, but faith must be accompanied with works to prove its authenticity. Without works, faith is dead.

And so to the passage. The righteous person’s prayer is one who adheres to righteousness as spelled out in this relatively short book. They don’t just listen to the word, but they do what it says. They have humbly accepted the word planted in them, so that they are being saved. True religion includes keeping a tight rein on their tongue, helping orphans and widows (the needy) in their distress, and keeping themselves from being polluted by the world. And echoing Jesus, which James probably does more than Paul, and perhaps more than any other New Testament book, the poor seem to be more inclined toward faith than the rich, and thus are rich themselves in faith, and heirs of the kingdom of God, promised to those who love God.

And so if you are righteous according to James, that’s saying something. The focus should never be on us, but to be righteous according to James, Jesus (see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) and the First/Old Testament prophets means to have a change of heart, a change of life. And right down into the nitty gritty of where we live, in what we say (and don’t say), as well as what we do (and don’t do), in good works or deeds for others.

If we are righteous in the way James describes as part of our faith, then our prayer can make a difference, in fact actually is powerful and effective. And the good takeaway here is that it isn’t just the emotionally charged, heartfelt prayer, but any prayer at all from the lips and heart of a righteous person. Of course all of this possible only through the faith that is ours in Jesus.

either God’s word, or our default

Something I have more or less known for some time, but it has come across to me like a fresh revelation, just now: I realize that if I’m not in God’s word, the heart of that word of course being the gospel, but with all the ins and outs involved in it, then I will always lapse into my default. Which for me is primarily glass half empty, grueling existence, but can be a number of things which scripture warns us about. Note the “seven deadly sins.”

I have known for some time that being in the word daily and regularly helps me to be in what seems to me to be a kind of interactivity with God. And also that it helps me avoid pitfalls along the way, which are not right, good, or helpful. Of course being in the word means seeking to apply it to our lives, to live by it. The only proper response to God’s word is to hear, believe, and obey it. And all of this is of course only in and through Jesus.

A good revelation to have, and to hold on to, in and through Jesus.

light and darkness and faith

I am at last slowly reading Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, and though it is a bit on the heavy philosophical side (though I think I agree that it’s not essentially philosophical), it seems to me to be essentially (to use that term again) about faith, and the primacy of faith. I may post again on the book I’m finished with it. Kirkegaard was an imaginative, as well as challenging writer.

Fear and Trembling (original Danish title: Frygt og Bæven) is a philosophical work by Søren Kierkegaard, published in 1843 under the pseudonym Johannes de silentio (John of the Silence). The title is a reference to a line from Philippians 2:12, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” — itself a probable reference to Psalms 55:5,[1] “Fear and trembling came upon me…” (the Greek is identical).

Wikipedia

It is about Abraham’s ascent to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his only son, the son of God’s promise, Isaac, in obedience to God’s command to do so (Genesis 22). How Abraham, after that three day journey, bound Isaac, and drew the knife to kill his beloved son, just about to do so, before God stayed his hand, commanding him not to. It is certainly not G-rated reading, and I think we tend to gloss over it, thinking of it in terms of the gospel, and having easy ready answers, while not considering the breadth and depth and significance of it, well enough. Kirkegaard meets it head on, from the standpoint, C. Stephen Evans says, of one who unlike Kirkegaard (I think), did not have faith, but very much admired it, and even seemed to hold it in highest esteem, that it is a leap into the absurd (this Kirkegaard in context did believe), which by that enters into infinity, but for finity, or one maybe could say also, into the eternal, but within and for the temporal. All that aside, I want to share one impression the book seems to be making on me as I slowly work through the New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs, which I carry around.

Faith for me, like Kirkegaard was getting at in this book, is a radical trust in a good God. It is the difference, no less, between light and darkness. If we have no faith, we might think we actually do have it by being religious, or making a profession of faith, all the while living in the status quo, or as a good member of society (again, I’m mixing my thoughts into what Kirkegaard may have been getting at). And in doing so, miss the radical nature of what trust in God in this life, in this world means.

For Abraham, it was certainly costly, and yet his entire life was already given to faith, and to the faith as he had received it, from a God who promised that all nations would be blessed through him (Genesis 12). So what took place in Genesis 22, was simply the culmination of his entire life. His choice to obey, as James tells us, was a kind of fulfillment of what he had been doing all along in simply believing God and God’s word, and living according to that.

So I’m left with what seems to be a dilemna, and is most certainly a choice, either to follow God through following Jesus, by the naked choice, and continued choosing, living day to day in that commitment. Or to proceed in my own way, what seems good and right to me, and is most certainly acceptable to others, even if it is not necessarily altogether wise, and above all not really trusting in God. We seem to have it hard pressed in our genes, that we ourselves have to take care of ourselves, and that it all depends on us, so that we take the place of God on our own agenda, or at least on our way of being on God’s agenda. Instead of simply trusting God and God’s word.

And the difference is between light and darkness both existentially, in our experience, but more basically in our lives. Yes, faith is not just a head matter, but what we call a heart matter, and something which we test in tasting along the way, comparing that with our basic, and actually broken, though to us comparably safe place, or way of living. And yet God calls us to the same faith which our father of faith, Abraham had. Of course God does so with much grace, and in much smaller measure. And none of us would ever ever be commanded to do anything like what Abraham was told to do in Genesis 22, fulfilled when God did not spare his only Son, Jesus. And remember, that even then Abraham never for one minute sacrificed his love for Isaac, even as he had the knife in hand, ready to plunge it into his son. A most disturbing story indeed. And our world will be shook up much the same, if we take God at God’s word and by faith obey. But the difference will be no less than light, as opposed to darkness. Something I’m aware of now in my own life, as I try to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, as God works in me (along with all others in Jesus) to will and act, to fulfill his good purpose in and through Jesus.

spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There was a morning last week when I got up late, and could hardly make my way around, a pall hanging over me. It wasn’t like I wasn’t able to do what I had to do, but that I seemed to be aware of a sinister presence, probably at least once removed from reality. I had remembered a dream from that night, which itself seemed pretty obviously almost as if evil itself was directed at me, at my wife, and really the entire family and I.

Finally at work the need to meditate on this passage, Ephesians 6:10-20 dawned on me. And as I began to do that, the pall lifted.

I’m wondering how many of us are aware of the spiritual warfare we in Jesus are in. I’m not talking about the idea of seeing a demon behind every tree, and in everything, along with a good number of people, so that we (mistakenly, in my view) begin to cast demons out of people. That, by the way, is a real phenomena, but thankfully seems confined only to a few. Those in ministry who are trained to deal with that kind of thing should be involved in that work. The rest of us can help others, and help in that in more indirect ways. Actually not that different from how we help ourselves when plagued with something of a choking, numbing darkness.

Ephesians 6:10-20 is not just about actual physical rulers and authorities as some Bible scholars have maintained. A straightforward reading of the text makes it clear that it’s not against humans at all, but the spiritual entitities which are behind humans, as well as those who are opposed to us. So that we are in a struggle.

What is given to us for this struggle is no less than the mighty power of God along with the full armor of God. “Put on the gospel armor, each part put on by prayer,” is from a hymn which is an apt summary of how this passage can be applied. Every part of the armor given to us in Christ, is related to the gospel, or good news, by which we stand. And stand is the right way to put it, we’re to stand firm and resist in the evil day. Whether we see evil day as in some sense including all of this time before our Lord’s return, or we see it as particularly some days along that space. I think both is a good way to take it.

Too often we’re too slipshod in our application of God’s inscripturated word through the Word, Jesus, so that when we’re having ongoing issues, or problems, we may well ask ourselves if we’re really doing what we’re hearing (James 1). It’s certainly not the word itself which is deficient.

And so that’s my goal right now: to seek to better understand, to hear more fully, so that I may better apply, and do what this passage is telling us to do. Familiarity might not breed contempt at every turn, but it may lend itself to the deception that just because we know certain concepts, that we actually understand them, and are putting that into practice.

It’s not like there’s one perfect way to put something into practice, in fact the Spirit will help each of us to do this according to our particular bent and circumstances, and in the will of an all wise God. And the point of Ephesians 6:10-20, in the fire, and after all the smoke has cleared, is to stand, to stand firm in the Lord, and in the gospel.

May God grant us the grace and wisdom from the Spirit to do this in and through the Lord Jesus.

the authenticity we need

Authenticity is very much a staple word nowadays. Being “real” is practically valued above most anything else. And if understood correctly, that thought is helpful. But if not understood correctly, it is not.

What is unhelpful today is a kind of wearing one’s emotions on one’s sleeve approach in which what we ourselves feel and think about something is all that matters. This goes along with the postmodern mood which is a part of our culture. It’s not like what we feel and think doesn’t matter, that’s not the point at all. In fact, before God, and before any good counselor who hopefully is also a true friend, it is good to trust to the point where one can tell all without fear of being condemned, or looked down on and rejected. This is vitally important, and precisely where Job’s friends failed. The kind of authenticity which bears all before God, and appropriately confesses sin to God and to others is highly valued in scripture. “A broken and contrite heart, God does not despise.”

But we in Jesus must not stop with that aspect of authenticity, though neither should we abandon it. The kind of authenticity we need is expressed by James:

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

The kind of authenticity pressed for here is a life that is not only vulnerable by being open before God, and when appropriate, before others. But a heart sincere and set in trying to be true by grace to living in accord with God’s word. An authenticity in being genuine not only in regard to who we actually are, without pretense, but also a genuineness in seeking to see our lives and God’s revealed will in scripture and in Jesus being brought closer and closer together.

Of course that’s a lifelong process, involving an ongoing brokenness and sorrow of heart over too often falling short. Yet also seeing the Spirit help us to actually grow more and more into Jesus’s likeness to a significant extent by taking in the word, and letting it expose us, then doing something about it.

The authenticity in Jesus that is desirable is one that’s committed to being conformed to the truth of God’s word, and the truth that is in Jesus, whatever the cost, without imagining that one will arrive in this life. And so an important part of that authenticity is an ongoing brokenness before God. Even as we find ourselves in some ways, enough to be encouraged, growing closer to heart and life conformity to God’s will in Jesus.

knowing Satan’s schemes

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes.

2 Corinthians 2

Whether we like it or not, we in Jesus are in a spiritual battle. And the more serious we are about our walk in the Lord, the more real that warfare will become.

Yes, Satan and his hosts are defeated through the risen Christ’s death (Colossians 2:15). We in Christ have the victory, and can live in that by faith. But living within that is not automatic.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5

The world, the flesh, and the devil have aptly been called the unholy trinity, not that such is actually analgous with the Blessed Trinity, but because in scripture these three though distinct, are in sync with each other. The world refers to the world system set against God either subtely, or not so subtely. The flesh refers to humankind under the power of sin, manifest individually and systemically. And the devil is Satan, or evil personified, actually in a person which in their evil loses what is good of personhood, and disguises evil as good.

We in Christ by the Spirit and in the communion of the church need discernment from God to understand the enemy’s working, what they’re up to, and how they trip us up. There is no question that they do. And we need to be not only aware of that, but to learn to recognize it when it is happening, and know what to do to resist and overcome it. And we have to remember that in this present life this spiritual warfare will continue on (Ephesians 6:10-18) until the Lord returns.*

To be aware of this we might well say is half the battle, but we need to know what to do, as well. We certainly need to resist and stand firm, holding on to the gospel as the power of God to overcome sin, death, and evil. While seeking to remain responsible, our final hope and confidence lies only in the good news of God who is Jesus, with all the meaning that comes with that in God’s revelation found in scripture and taught by the church. There is no easy formula. It involves our entire life, and all of God’s revelation to us in Jesus, received not only once, but over and over again. Through a once for all salvation, which involves a process in growth in grace into increasing conformity to God’s will in Jesus. So that even though we through Jesus can do better and overcome some things, we must be ready for more. Hopefully getting better and better at it, as we look forward to our Lord’s return when evil will be vanquised forever and this spiritual warfare done.

*See C. S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters for a most interesting, informative look at this, told in an imaginative, true to life story.