the tried, tested and true

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:38-40

It’s not like we don’t need to be stretched, and test and try different things. That can be part of our growth process, and is surely needed. It’s rather that when push comes to shove, we can get back to what we’re grounded in, what we’re used to in our walk in God. I’m referring to habits of life that keep us grounded in the faith, in our faith, in God and God’s good news in Jesus.

For me quite simply that’s being in the word and from that, prayer. And everything else is evaluated from that, so that there may be something quite valuable to gather besides: the wheat, and other stuff to ignore: the chaff.

I think it’s good to try new things. But I also think it’s important to develop habits through which we live, even approach the new things we’re doing. I am not one for big breakthroughs. I look at life more in terms of incremental ongoing progress in a process. Of course with steps backwards as in “three steps forward, two steps backward.”

And all of this in the underlying reality of realities: God is love. Learning to find and live in that love, and invite others indirectly and directly into that same life. In and through Jesus.

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to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

trials, an open door

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

Trials seem to come like a door slammed in our face. I don’t care for any of them myself. But I’m beginning to learn the problem is more in my reaction than in the actual trial itself. Not at all to diminish the problem of the trials, and especially some of them. Usually they don’t involve life changes, but sometimes they do. You can be sure that the Lord does not think lightly of our trials; in all our distresses, he too is stressed (Isaiah 63:9).

It’s my reaction that’s the problem. I might take it to God in prayer, but at the same time act as if the answer to the problem depends entirely on me, that somehow I have to get to the bottom of it. It’s not like we throw our brain away, and toss knowledge to the wind. But where does our dependence lie? As Bill Gaultiere pointed out, we can either do it our way, or Jesus’s way, the way our Lord would direct us to do it.

James tells us to count it all joy because trials open up a door for us toward maturity in Christ. We’re especially glad when we get through them on the other side. But even when we enter them, as an act of faith we need to thank God for what God is going to bring about through them. That is part of the necessary answer: not just what God is able to do, but our reception of that through faith.

Often I’ve left James’s words about doubt out when reflecting on this passage, but I include them here because after all, they’re in the text. There can be the struggle of faith as it’s been called, and it’s not like we’re not tempted to doubt. But we need to act in faith apart from our feelings and how we’ve been conditioned to see everything so negatively and apart from God. As we ask the Lord for needed wisdom, we believe in him, that he will generously give it to us. And instead of doubting, we open ourselves up to receive that help from the Lord.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.

an old standby: the need to pray when in need

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Prayer is something Christians often struggle with. As time goes on we likely pray more, but may feel that we pray less. Part of that I would guess is the growing sense we have of our need to pray. Ongoing growth means less satisfaction with where we’re at, whereas in our early days in Christ we simply enjoyed basking in the new found light and warmth of the Lord, finding that new life quite moving and revolutionary. It was in part God treating us as infants before “pruning” (John 15) us for growth.

Not that later on we can’t be relatively prayerless. Unfortunately we can, but I think the norm for those who are intentional in growing as Christians is to keep on praying, and gradually grow in doing so. Our inner poverty on the one hand can discourage us from praying, but on the other hand, can help us pray more, as we look to God for help.

In Jesus’s parable above, he is encouraging his disciples and us to persist in prayer, to pray and not give up. We’re to keep on praying no matter what, through good times, bad times, and everything in between. The context is especially when one is running up against need, even great need. The widow was in trouble, even in dire straits. And our Lord’s answer for us when we’re in a similar place: always pray and not give up.

Justice is in the picture. On the one hand, it’s not like we’re deserving of God’s help. And we’re often at least partly to blame for the predicament we’re in. But God is more than ready to give us what we need to do well and honor him in whatever situation we’re in. For too many Christians in the world, yes, injustice is rampant against them. They need our active love and prayers. And for us, yes, we need God’s help, as we try to work through difficult places in a way that both receives and dispenses what is right and just and good.

Note in Jesus’s parable the widow’s plea to the unjust judge was nothing fancy. It was a petition, indeed cry for help. We need not worry about some perceived need for some kind of fanciful churchy prayer language. We simply cry out in our own way of saying things. Yes, appealing to God’s promises in Scripture. But not holding back. Always praying and never giving up. Believing that God will grant justice, that God will help us in time of need. In and through Jesus.

 

press on

We can become weary and lose heart, indeed think all or most is lost for many reasons. And yes, things are lost along the way. Many of us make some bad decisions which God either protects us from, or not, but often with consequences of one sort or another. Or we lose friends who we once thought were truly friends, but we find out otherwise. And we doubt ourselves, still ringing in our ears voices from the past which put us down in discouraging ways.

It doesn’t matter. We need to press on, period. There’s much for us to live for now. Witnesses to Jesus and God’s good news in him. Prayer for loved ones, friends, all who are in need, even our enemies. Doing what we can to help others. None of this small in God’s eyes.

For me it’s the goal of an interactive relationship with God through ongoing Scripture reading and prayer during the course of a day. With the goal of devotion to God in loving God and others. And wisdom to make my way through all of life in a way that’s honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

finding peace (and holding on to that)

Peace in Scripture means a number of things. First in the Old Testament it is about human well being and flourishing and that in community. That involves justice and righteousness and mercy. In passages in the New Testament it is more in terms of one’s position through faith in Christ. Christ himself is called our peace in that in his Person and by the cross, his death, he has broken down the walls which separate people into warring parties, instead uniting them together in him. And then there’s the peace which surpasses or goes beyond all understanding. That’s the peace I’m referring to in this post. But the other aspects of “peace” found in English Bible translations are in play here.

You find this sense of peace by being willing to live at times without it. If you make living in peace the end all, then you might well miss out in it altogether. We can’t bring it about ourselves. It’s the peace of God, therefore from God, including what Jesus called his peace that he gives to his disciples which is referred to here.

For myself, I’ve lived much of my life in the absence of peace. Usually I’ve went from one anxiety or worry to the next one. And as a Christian, that is decidedly the weakest point I think, where therefore the spiritual enemy attacks. I’ll be fine, and out of the blue, or sooner than later I’m not fine anymore. I’m so used to it, yet it’s something you never get really used to, because it’s too unsettling.

But the opportunity out of that is that no matter what, and I mean no matter what, we can pray and find God’s peace. But that takes a commitment and refusal to lapse into the way we’re used to dealing with problems. It requires prayer. And the realization that we are indeed in a spiritual battle. I don’t think I can emphasize enough that it’s important in the midst of all of this to accept one’s lack of peace. That’s hard, but a part of faith. Only God can give us what we need. Yes, we can try to find answers in the realms of wisdom and knowledge. But in the end it is God alone who grants us peace. Something I’m always reaching out toward, and seeking to live in. In and through Jesus.

the deep sadness of life

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

John 17:13

I am reminded too often of the tragedy of living in this world, often senseless, seemingly heartless tragedy of such. Except that I believe there’s a heart of love that somehow beats behind it all.

Jesus’s prayer to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion is so deep, worth pondering, and a fitting climax to all that precedes in his “upper room discourse” to his disciples. And the part of the prayer quoted above is especially moving to me. Life is a struggle, marked at times with deep sadness. But in the midst of that, we can have our Lord’s joy, even the full measure of such within us.

Admittedly the sense of that ebbs and flows, and for me too often just seems absent. But I believe it is something that can more and more mark our lives, as we simply press on in faith, seeking to follow our Lord in everything.

In the meantime we have to face the fallout of this world, all the issues and problems. Like our Lord we can pray. In fact there’s nothing greater we can do than that. I do well oftentimes to quit doing anything to change things for better, because if that’s all I do, then whatever change for good that might happen probably has little to do with what I do, in fact at least somewhat in spite of it. But if I get out of the way and pray, maybe the Lord might help me say or do something which actually helps. But I really don’t need to do anything except pray. It is God’s work.

And throughout all of life, God is with us in Jesus. Our Lord’s full measure of joy no less being our own. In and through Jesus.