fresh starts

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

Psalm 51 is the great penitential psalm written in light of David’s great sin (2 Samuel 11). There had to be repentance for restoration, and deep contrition over time for needed change. There’s no two ways about it. We can’t think that confession and a wave of the hand changes everything. All of us in some way need a new start.

What we’re in need of is God’s grace for the forgiveness of our sin, for the cleansing needed in our lives, and for new life and direction. We need to be determined to continue in that grace, and when we get off track to be able to quickly get back on. To continue in the way God sets before us, with all its turns and changes along the way and daily renewing. And when need be, more fresh starts. In and through Jesus.

the rest the Lord gives

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3a

It’s interesting that the Lord takes the initiative here. I’m reminded of Jesus’s words, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b). I think the main meaning is what we might call soul rest, but surely there’s physical rest as well as spiritual rest (Psalm 127:2). Certainly Jesus’s words to his disciples were for their physical rest, as well as spiritual.

Quietness is also a part of the picture here. We’re off somewhere without all the noise of a busy world, even without what noise we like, music or whatever it might be. And we’re off some place where in the silence we can hear God’s voice (1 Kings 19:12). I like music playing most all the time, if I don’t have something else on. At least I like less volume than especially in my younger years, but silence, no. But even I find silence valuable because it seems to awaken in me more of a sensitivity to and appreciation for the Lord’s voice. It’s not like we can never hear God’s voice above all the noise. And music might actually help us that way (2 Kings 3:15-16, and note that the psalms are often set to music along with other passages in Scripture). But being silent and finding quiet can help us hear God’s voice, and is also restful in itself.

And the Lord refreshes our soul. That probably means something like renewing our strength (see NET Bible footnote and parallel versions). The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NIV means “life” or an individual person or persons. Times of rest should be times of refreshment when our strength is renewed. A kind of restoration to face life again with anticipation, ready for the long haul or whatever awaits us is surely in the cards here. We can see from the rest of Psalm 23 that all of life is pictured. So that this blessing is meant to prepare us for such, as we continue under the leading and care of the good shepherd. In and through Jesus.

 

 

love is not piecemeal

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:9-15

Genuine love does not pick winners and losers. We in Jesus love all, period. That is part of who we are in Jesus. But it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes people can say or do things we find quite offensive, maybe even on a personal level, so that they might, so to speak “get under our skin” a little. And then there’s the case of simple blatant out and out hatred toward Christians, which while rare where we live, does happen, and certainly is known all too well in certain parts of the world.

Our mindset, the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) involves aligning ourselves with the new heart and spirit God gives us in the new covenant in and through Jesus. Put more simply, we need to put into practice who we are in Jesus, and leave the old person we used to be behind. Which means we’ll have to go against the grain of what we’re used to at times. We may be new in Jesus, but we have to act on that, which involves getting rid of old habits and ways of thinking, and putting on the new ways in Jesus. Ephesians and Colossians both have some important things to say about that.

And so our professed love of the Lord is real insofar as we love others with that same love. We may say we love the Lord, and think we do, but if we withhold love from others, that puts our love for God in doubt, and certainly contradicts that, as we’re reminded in 1 John 5.

And so we want to love, period. A love which isn’t mushy, and may challenge others along the way, but which is genuine and true, marked by gentleness along with the rest of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). In and through Jesus.

we are in process on a journey

Many bumper stickers I don’t care for, including the one we sometimes used to see, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” or something to that effect. While it did communicate something important, it seemed to let Christians off the hook for behaving less than well. The wonderful writer and teacher Dallas Willard used to call it “bar code Christianity,” when people somehow thought their profession of faith to get to heaven was enough, with little or no life corresponding.

There is no doubt that it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and not be our works, so that no one can boast. But that passage goes on to say practically the key of that thought. We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has planned for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Faith in Christ, in the gospel gives us assurance of eternal life, for sure. And our sins: past, present and future are taken care of. But it also puts us on a journey in a totally new direction. Faith in scripture is always submissive, and involves repentance. That involves a lifelong renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and instead, often against the grain of even ourselves, following the Lord through thick and thin, no matter what.

We are essentially those in process. We in Jesus never arrive in this life, but we are on a journey. There is a pursuit that keeps us going, even hungry. The completion of everything is promised only at our Lord’s return. Being in Christ, found by God and finding him, means we are on an entirely new pursuit. One aspect of that Paul describes in his great little letter to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

see Philippians 3

This is indeed a growth process. We should be becoming more and more like Jesus, over time. This involves an ongoing renewing of our minds which goes against the grain of conformity to the world (Romans 12:1-2).

And so there’s an ongoing tension in the sense that we are on a journey in which we have not yet arrived. Along the way we might mess up, and we will in some way or another. So that an essential part of it is the ongoing confession of sin, forgiveness and corresponding cleansing. And part of that is the necessity that we walk (or live) in the light, as Jesus is in the light (1 John).

And so we never have a sense in this life of having arrived. Yes, we have those moments, seasons, and times, even if they might seem to be rare, when we especially feel close to God, and when all seems well. But it won’t be long in this life, with the presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, when we will be put both on the defensive, and the offensive, as we take up the word of truth, scripture and the gospel, and by the Spirit seek to follow on with others in Jesus. Someday the journey will be over, and we will arrive to the fulfillment of all things in Jesus. Until then by grace we press on toward and even in the beauty of our Lord.

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

Rodney Reeves on what the resurrection life of Christ looks like in the life of a believer/follower of Christ

So what does resurrection power look like on earth? On the outside it looks like death. It looks like weakness and groaning. It looks like loss, foolishness and failure. It looks like a hopeless cause, a problem that never goes away, a wasted effort. Indeed, it looks like a man who labors in vain. But even as “our outward nature is wasting away,” Paul believed “our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). “Because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen,” believers operate with an abiding hope that God is at work in our lives in mysterious ways. Our transformation is incomplete. Resurrection growth is hard to track. It isn’t quantifiable.  You can’t point to a measuring stick and say, “See how much I’ve grown this past year?” But that doesn’t stop us from counting up our days, taking inventory of our lives and wondering “out loud” like Paul whether our life’s work was in vain. It’s the human condition; we all want to know if we’ve made a mark on things, left an indelible impression, found immortality. That’s because we have no doubts about our mortality. We know we’re going to die. What we don’t know is whether we have truly lived. Thus the nagging speculation, how’s it going to end? is eclipsed by the more troubling question, did my life matter at all?

At times Paul acted like that question wouldn’t be answered until the parousia of Christ. He envisioned the day when he would be vindicated, when all doubts would be put to rest, when every question would be answered—the day he presented all of his converts to Christ as blameless children of Abraham. Then and only then would Paul’s boast be legitimized: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thess 2:19). Paul longed for the day when he would stand before Christ, with every Gentile convert standing behind him as an eternal witness to the truth of the gospel he preached. (By the way, I love Paul’s vision—that one day I will stand with all the Gentiles who have believed in Jesus Christ. A vast multitude behind the apostle to the Gentiles, we will all celebrate that his work was not in vain.) At the same time, Paul also spoke of a confidence, a boldness of resurrection faith that gave him courage to face every trial with a sense of divine blessing (1 Thess 2:1-2). Regardless of how things looked on the outside—his body wasting away, his enemies hindering his mission, his converts ignoring his instructions—Paul was convinced he was experiencing the resurrection of Christ on the inside. A renewed mind. An encouraged heart. A satisfied soul. An undefeatable Spirit. Indeed, only the glorious resurrection of Christ could explain how a man could undergo such a radical transformation from the inside out (2 Cor 3:4-4:1).

Rodney Reeves, Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, 172-173.

vain thoughts

How often in my life have I thought, “If only…?” If only I would have done this or that, or if only I would not have done this or that then just think of how much better life would be. Over and over again I can rehearse the same thing, keep going over it. So that it is an imbedded in my brain, and when forgotten easily remembered again.

We’re told in scripture that our thoughts are important, that we’re to think certain kinds of thoughts, and that in this context I believe, that faith can help us live in peace, not bowed down by troubled thoughts.

I would like to get a new brain track going, a new habit of life. One that is constructive rather than destructive. One that seeks God and God’s will in any given situation. That refuses to live in a kind of despair in regret over anything I can’t change.

The Spirit is present to help us, in part to counsel us, to be our advocate. So I must look to the Spirit when the track comes up for me to once again tread to  know how I might respond to start an altogether different track. One that is in line with God’s will in the truth that is in Jesus.

We need not only to abandon unhelpful, even destructive thoughts. But we need new ones in their place. I want God to direct my thoughts. I don’t want to do it on my own, nor can I.

That means I must be in prayer over a matter. Share it with a trusted person such as a pastor or wise friend.  Keep praying over it. Be in the word of course. And give it time. New ways of thinking replacing old are not snap changes. This takes time. But it also takes perseverance on our part. In all of this a dependency on God which is complete. But in accordance with his revealed will.

Something I’m working on. Wanting to see what is empty become something filled with God’s will in and through Jesus.

Father, Please give me new thoughts to replace these old ones which have plagued me for so long. Let me live according to your will in this matter in and through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.