keep improving

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

One of the things I notice when I’m trying to apply this passage or other passages like Philippians 4:4-8 is that over time I think I’m clearly seeing an improvement. If I try to measure it from time to time or over a short period of time, it might be discouraging, because there are those trials which seem especially challenging.

What we need to keep doing I think is to look to improve, keep getting better in learning to apply Scripture, God’s word into our circumstances. That certainly requires a commitment on our part. We have to keep doing it. We never arrive at a point in this life when it’s no longer necessary to do so.

It’s never fun in the midst of it, but God helps us along the way, as we look to God and God’s promises to us and seek to live in accordance with all that we understand as we seek to better understand everything. In and through Jesus.

resisting the devil

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7b

We’re told in James to resist the devil, with the promise that he’ll flee from us. That simple. We do need to consider the context (hit above link). Having done that, this evidently is something ongoing, just as much as our necessary submission to God, what we’re told to do just before this.

Someday we won’t have to face this any longer. We’ll be in eternal rest and peace. But now it’s ongoing, and we do well, in fact it’s a necessity to accept this, and do what we’re told to do. Resist.

This resistance takes different forms. God will help us understand what we should do depending. But we need to have the commitment to and attitude of resistance. Yes, in all of our weakness, in the midst of our doubts and wonderings, even in despair. Much of that can come from the enemy, yes the devil’s attack on us. When we feel overwhelmed and pushed under, that’s a sure sign that we’re being attacked. We’re told only to resist. We’re not given any more directions than that. Just resist.

Again, God will show us how each time if we have the commitment to resist along with the attitude of resistance. It won’t be any cakewalk to do that, but we have the promise that when we do, the devil will inevitably flee. 

Something we’ll have to continue to do in this life. In and through Jesus.

a peace that’s not only personal

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
he sets up walls and bulwarks as a safeguard.
Open the gates,
so that the righteous nation that maintains faithfulness
may enter in.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for in the LORD GOD
you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low
the inhabitants of the height;
the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
the feet of the poor,
the steps of the needy.

Isaiah 26:1-6;  NRSVue

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (KJV) is a well known verse turned into song. That this applies to us as individuals is wonderfully and blessedly true. But to be faithful to the biblical text, we need to read the context, the whole. We’ll then discover that it indeed has societal, global implications. It’s about a nation that maintains faithfulness. And that faithfulness as we see also in the context is with reference to justice, and specifically justice for the poor.

Yes, we can personalize and enjoy this passage ourselves. But we’ll miss a lot, even the point of this passage, if we focus only on that. One of the most serious weaknesses of precious promise books, whatever good they actually do have. It’s a city no less, given to justice for the poor. Something which needs to be heard loud and clear today. What churches should be about. A central part of the expression of our faith. In and through Jesus.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.

refusing to be troubled

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

John 14:1; NRSVue

The disciples had good reason to be troubled. Their Master who they had faithfully imperfectly followed for more than two years was soon to face execution. Not only would they ultimately feel threatened themselves, but their hopes seemed to be utterly dashed in what made no sense to them at all. But Jesus speaks into that mess with a message of peace, an inward peace that he wanted them to have even in the midst of that.

This word from our Lord was not only for them but is for us as well. We’re told to not let our hearts be troubled, but instead to believe in God and to believe in him, Jesus. That requires a commitment to act in that way. When Jesus originally said this, I’m not sure his disciples heard it well. Probably in varying degrees though surely none of them fully. They couldn’t help but see what was right in front of them, what was happening, and couldn’t see the good that could possibly come out of this. Although the Lord told them repeatedly that he would suffer, indeed be killed, but on the third day would be raised, they just didn’t get it. It made no sense to them. Jesus then gave them this promise along with what follows:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:2-7; NRSVue

I think a large part of not letting our hearts be troubled over the many difficulties and trials of life is in significant part accepting the reality that we’re just not going to understand it all. If we can just suspend, better completely drop the idea that we have to understand everything to have peace, then that might well be half the battle. The other half is that we’re simply to believe in God, to believe in Christ, which means we put our trust in them and in their word. That has to be our focus. Not on the trial or problem itself, but on our Lord and on our Lord’s promises to us.

It’s not like the trial is unimportant. What’s more important is our follow through on this, than on the resolution of the actual situation itself. Do we believe that God is in the works, including in that so that we no longer have to be troubled? That is a stance or movement of faith.

We’re told not to let our hearts be troubled meaning that we actually have control over that. We can’t change a troubled heart in a moment but must do what Jesus tells us here. Better yet is to do that before we become troubled, but I know that’s easier said than done but that should be our goal in the long haul.

But for now, let’s believe that God will help us in whatever we’re facing. We won’t get it perfect; we won’t get it all right. But God will and God will see us through. All will be okay and more than okay in the end. We must believe and act accordingly. In and through Jesus.

we don’t grieve like those who don’t have this “hope”

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; NRSVue

We “in Christ,” especially those of us who were raised up in this tradition like me can hardly imagine the end of life being the end of one’s existence. That like the animals we are simply gone. But in and through Christ and his resurrection from the dead, we have the “hope” as actually God’s promise that we look forward to that God will indeed raise to new and glorious eternal life the bodies of all those who are “in Christ.”

It is a Greek thought not biblical that our bodies are not a part of our true selves. Every part of us is a part of God’s good creation and will be included in the resurrection. Yes, a new us, but new from the old, so that it’s the new you, still you, but made new from the lowly body subject to death down here which Christ shared with us, to the glorious new body like his now ascended, glorified body.

This will take place at Christ’s return. All that has been reconciled to God through Christ will be made new, which I take to mean all things, at least eventually. God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15). Christ is the first fruits of this, and we who have believed follow.

I’m thankful that aging, death and decay do not have the last word. No, a new life forever and ever in the newness of all things. In and through Jesus.

being awake and alert to the tricks of Satan

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11; NRSVue

The context of this passage is almost beside the point here, though it is quite important since it’s a part of scripture. We need to take it into account to receive all that we need to take in. But the point of this post is that we need to be awake and alert to any and all ways that our spiritual enemy might try to trip us up.

To understand this so that we have discernment is half the battle. We then need to by faith take action accordingly. Always in line with scripture, with God’s promises, seeking the help of the Spirit. And as we’re told in the classical spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6 (verses 10-20), taking the stand we need to.

All of this is easier said than done, but it’s necessary that we do it. And God will give us the strength along with the resources, all that we need. Although each instance is probably not going to be that complicated. We’ll know or become aware of what we need to do when we get there. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

 

how not to panic

thus says the Lord GOD,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”

Isaiah 28:16; NRSVue

There are any number of things which can cause panic and distress in this life. There’s really no end to that. It’s a given.

God’s people were not abiding by God and God’s covenant with them, so Isaiah was prophesying to them from God to help them find their way back to God. And the promise Isaiah laid out here is in terms of countering the experience of unbelieving, unfaithful Israel.

God wanted their attention to be drawn to his revelation given through God’s servants and centered in Jerusalem in the temple with the ordinances given. All to turn their attention to God, so that their hearts might be undergoing full renewal in God. All of that is fulfilled in Christ. Christ is the foundation and precious cornerstone. And we’re told that the one who trusts will not panic, from the Hebrew the idea being to be in haste or in a hurry in that panic.

When I feel panic, I’m ordinarily in a hurry to solve the problem, or find the solution. Not referring to necessary times of moving swiftly in certain situations. But talking about often unexpected situations we meet, not knowing what to do.

But the promise here is those who trust won’t panic. No matter what we’re up against, we need to hold our ground and trust. Trust in God and God’s revelation in Jesus along with all the promises that are yes and amen in Jesus.

So when we’re tempted to panic or we fall into that, let’s get back to this stance of faith. I’m preaching to myself. Trust in God, in God’s revelation given to us in scripture, in Jesus. And refuse to act in haste, to be in a hurry. Instead to act in trust so that we really by God’s grace begin to enter into the experience of faith. In and through Jesus.

taking your eyes off the Lord, off the promise

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

What was happening when Peter took his eyes off the Lord? As the passage tells us, and this was immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, by the way, Jesus is walking, yes walking on the water. And the disciples had just witnessed the great miracle, so their imaginations were continuing to be changed. And after getting over the shock and fear of seeing Jesus walking on the water, Peter has the boldness to ask if he could do that too, at Jesus’ command. After all, Jesus is their Apprentice, and they’re to end up doing what he does, even while it’s only through Jesus that they can do it.

It begins wonderfully well. Peter is walking, yes miraculously walking on the water. One might ask what good walking on water is. Probably, unless you can’t swim worth much like me, probably of little to no value, and maybe even counterproductive in a world given over to sensation. Note that Jesus did not do this in front of the crowds, but only before his disciples. Maybe and maybe not people caught wind of it later. As we’re told in Jesus Christ Superstar when Herod asks Jesus to walk on the water of his pool, since Scripture does tell us that Herod wanted him to perform some miracle when he at long last had Jesus in his presence shortly before Jesus’s crucifixion. But this event was meant to be like a parable to us. So that no matter what we’re facing, our eyes so to speak spiritually are on the Lord, on God’s promise in him, and off the troubles we face.

This is difficult to say the least. The wind whipping up the waves was real. And there are situations and problems we face which we need to address in one way or another. I think what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples here, and by extension wants to teach us as well is that we’re to do what Jesus did. That we live in complete trust in God, boldly doing the unimaginable in the face of circumstances or reality as we might call it, which seems to make such a venture impossible. No, we’re not to literally walk on water, but in a sense we’re to live above the circumstances of life, and that includes in how we address such circumstances. Something I don’t have much of any handle on yet, although I probably and advanced compared to years past.

What happens when we take our eyes off the Lord and God’s promise in him? Like Peter we begin to sink so that our faith is not only failing us, but becoming weak and for all practical purposes, nonexistent. But when that happens, at least like Peter we should have the faith to cry out to the Lord to save us. And that’s what Peter did. But again, what happens? We no longer are thinking and acting like followers of Christ. That’s what was happening to Peter, and all too often happens to us, to me over and over again. I’m pretty strong in crying out to God when such happens, who isn’t? Unless one is not holding on to faith. Instead of being changed through looking to Christ and God’s promise in him, we are seized into the swirling, threatening trouble as if God didn’t exist, and as if we’re left to fate, left to ourselves.

Jesus wants to train us for something much better. Something Jesus wanted to get through to Peter and the other disciples, and to us as well.

Advent is looking to Jesus and God’s promise in him in spite of circumstances not only in our world, but in the world at large. We long for Christ’s return to clean up this mess, all the while trying to get his help to clean up our own messes along the way.

In and through Jesus.

hold on to the promise

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16

It is amazing in how almost every US presidential election, there’s a huge groundswell of hope, or has been up to this point, for something like a deliverer, who will bring about desired change. And almost inevitably a huge disappointment sets in, usually sooner than later, even if much later. It’s not like people shouldn’t have any desires to see better policies set in place. But expectations indeed have to be tempered.

But for us in Christ, we have sure promises which we know we’ll be fulfilled in time. It is a large part actually of what keeps us going. People who depend solely on the politics of the world will sooner or later become disillusioned, may give up hope entirely and look for something completely different. But for us in Jesus, by faith we anticipate something much better, and certain. Let’s clarify here, that this hope should have an impact on what we want to see come to pass now, and the good works we do to that end. Though admittedly we can get frayed in waiting for the full realization of this hope which though present already, is not yet, that is far from complete, life taking its toll; this is in significant part what keeps us going. This hope, along with the faith and love that is in and through Jesus.