God is delighted in change

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9

I think it’s both interesting, and actually not authentic, as in corresponding to the truth, and not real when someone seems to think or act as if they have it all together. Change is something which is to occur not only at the outset of our journey of faith, but ongoing, throughout that journey. Scripture bears witness to that again and again, both in precept and in story. We as evangelicals emphasize conversion as being at the point of salvation, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But actually, I think it’s a process which extends from before salvation, and continues on afterward to the very end of one’s life, if I read the pages of scripture correctly.

I believe from scripture and from what I see and experience that God in his grace through Jesus delights in the smallest, real change in us for good in making us more like himself, more like his Son, Jesus. And I’m thinking of change in just any one area, when plenty of other areas in our lives may and will still need some serious work, God’s working of course, along with our active compliance. It’s not like God shakes his head and says something like, “Well, that’s good, but he/she still has a long ways to go.” No. I believe without a doubt in the God who delights in any change in his children, which brings them somehow closer to him, and to his family likeness.

And just as much as that, I also believe that it comes primarily through us praying. Paul’s case (then called Saul), quoted above, is interesting, as he was in the midst of an epic, earthquake-like life changing experience, and in the midst of it, he is praying. I think without a doubt that if we take what is wrong in our lives seriously, and quit excusing it, we will start by confessing it as an actual sin to God, and then begin to pray, seeking him for the needed change, however that should be played out. Certainly a change of heart to begin with, and a change in our lives.

We can’t do this on our own, and we won’t, even if we think somehow that we are. We should take heart that God is bringing us along, and wants our communion with him through prayer, as he continues to make us like his Son, and brings the one family in him more and more into the light of his love and life. In and through Jesus.

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the challenges of life

If you live long enough, whether rich or poor, you’ll sooner or later acknowledge that life itself is challenging on nearly every level. It is not automatic, unrelenting bliss, like some might imagine especially when they’re younger.

And just turn the pages of the Bible, and you’ll find trouble on nearly every page. Sometimes due to adverse circumstances, and more often due to what scripture calls the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It simply helps us when we realize this, and can help our focus. And actually I find again and again that trouble is what comes before faith. Salvation itself is a concept that talks about being saved or delivered from something, in scripture, from sin, death, and evil (and/or, the evil one). The consequences of sin can be the beginning of faith. And that’s both on a personal as well as cosmic level. We reap what we have sown, but that can cause us to call on the Lord, and enter into a life we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And we live in what from scripture we can rightly call a fallen world (“the fall” in Genesis 3), but what I prefer to call a broken world. The old creation was never meant to be the end all, but more like a window, as well as the stage in which a new world begins to emerge, destined someday in and through Christ to take over the old world.

Salvation is deliverance from, but also deliverance to. We are saved for God and God’s glory, and also for our good. And we are saved into a new world in the midst of the old, which while it can have some impact for good on the old, is the anticipation and even the beginning of the entirely new world to come in Jesus. So that the challenge of life involves living in an old world which by nature can’t fulfill what only the new world in and through Jesus can. See the book of Ecclesiastes for a good look at the attempt to make this old world the end all, and how, even when things are going well, it’s not.

So God won’t let us rest in this life. And actually, that’s a blessing since this life is not an end in itself, anyhow. For those who think they’ve arrived in this life, they either have their reward, or they’re in danger of losing out in what is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus, which is really about all that is promised in him.

So I take courage in the reality that if there’s trouble, that’s not in itself a necessary enemy of faith, but it can be the beginning of it, as well as a significant growing point for it. Let’s see our troubles, which by themselves are not good, as means to what is good, to draw us nearer to God, and God’s will and gift in Jesus. Even as we give all that is broken and really has no explanation, to him. As we await God’s full salvation to come in Jesus.

dependence on God and the peace that follows

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
    for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

Isaiah 26:3; NIV

You will keep the mind that is dependent on you
in perfect peace,
for it is trusting in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
because in the LORD, the LORD himself, is an everlasting rock!

Isaiah 26:3; CSB

You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith,
for they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD from this time forward,
even in Yah, the LORD, an enduring protector!

Isaiah 26:3; NET Bible

The NET Bible note on one key difference in the translation we’re focusing on here (see the entire note for explanation of why the nation is in view rather than individuals):

In this context שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”), which is repeated for emphasis, likely refers to national security, not emotional or psychological composure (see vv. 1-2).

We are blessed today with reasonably priced Bible tools on line. My guess is that the Logos Bible software is as good as they come, but I haven’t looked into it. Yet it’s amazing what we have at our fingertips that is completely free (the first level of Logos is free as well). I use Bible Gateway, and sometimes the NET Bible with its substantial extensive notes.

Putting all of this together on this well known verse of scripture, it seems that what is probably spoken of here is the shalom which includes all human flourishing. Yes, safety from enemies, in the note above, “national security,” but contrary to that note, “emotional” and “psychological composure,” as well. The Hebrew Bible context of shalom is a fulfillment of what a people, including individuals were created to be: blessed to be a blessing. So that actually both the NET Bible rendering, along with the more traditional understanding of that passage are likely apt together. Although the same word can have different meaning depending on its context.

A key help for me is from the CSB rendering which brings out the need for dependence on God. Add to that this insight from John N. Oswalt in the first volume of his outstanding Isaiah commentary:

To experience the security of God’s city one thing is required: a fixed disposition of trust. This is the opposite of James’s “double-minded man” (Jas. 1:6-8) or Jesus’ servant of two masters (Matt. 6:24). This person has cast himself upon God without any reservation. To trust one’s ability partly and God partly is the surest prescription for insecurity and anxiety (8:11-22; 57:19-21). That person will never know the wholeness (shalom) which having all his or her commitments in one place may mean. This is not to say that we denigrate or deny God-given abilities. But it is to say that we refuse to believe the lie that we are independent and have in ourselves the keys to ultimate success in life. The person who…steadfastly looks to God can know an inner oneness which makes possible a confident outlook on the darkest scene. For our mortality, short-sightedness, and weakness, we receive in exchange God’s immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence. That is security.

So the crux of the matter of entering into and holding on to a faith which lives in this peace is a complete dependence on God. Of course not denying our own abilities, but not depending on them, either. Our very thoughts as well as actions are to be dependent on God, and not on ourselves, or anyone else. That’s of course not to say that God won’t use other’s thoughts, maybe even our own seemingly, to direct us. The point that must not be lost by us is that we need to commit ourselves to a dependence on God which is fixed, regardless of how we feel and the circumstances we are going through. It involves a commitment which is to help us to a fixed disposition in which we live.

One of my go to passages again comes to mind:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

That is one concrete way we can deal with the inevitable problems and troubling thoughts that will come our way. And we’re to cast what burdens we have on the Lord.

For me, again, the bottom line is dependence. If I depend on God, I won’t be depending at all on myself. If there’s even a little dependence on me, then my dependence on God for all intents and purposes is null and void, empty.  And in all of this as God’s people, when we consider the Isaiah 26 passage along with the rest of the Bible, we’re all in this together, so that somehow there is an interdependency among us all. One indication in Galatians 6 where we’re told to carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

And so if I am troubled over something, that’s a sure sign that I need to hand what troubles me over to God, to relinquish any thought that I might somehow be able to figure out and fix the problem. Of course, I may factor into God’s answer. But my part and set disposition should be to trust it entirely into God’s hands and therefore to simply do nothing, to let it go. Until I get a sense of what God might want me to do.

Something I continue to aspire to and work on so as to confirm and grow in the change into which I’ve recently entered. In and through Jesus.

no condemnation, or corresponding fear for those in Christ Jesus

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

I believe strongly that it not only doesn’t hurt to go back to some level one gospel truths. All biblical truth in a way, is gospel truth, since in one way or another it’s related to the gospel. But when you start looking at such truth in scripture, you do best to read all of it in context. This is like music albums, when certain symphony or classical pieces are on the recording. Those are nice to have, perhaps especially for those who don’t have an appreciation of classical music. Maybe akin to precious promise books, which have certain verses and passages from scripture. I have two such albums I especially like, one supposedly for morning, and another for going to sleep at night. We all return to certain verses or passages again and again. But it’s best to along with that, look and listen to the entire thing, if we want to gain a keen eye and ear, so that we can better process and appreciate every part. Such is the case with one of the great passages of scripture, itself like a mountain, or beautiful place, Romans 8.

Let me preface these thoughts then to point out that to gain the best appreciation of Romans 8, we need to consider all of this great book. And then to understand the book of Romans best, we do well to be working through the entire Bible. All of that is a project which takes time, to be sure. But even if we haven’t done much there, it’s so good to look at one short passage, maybe even a verse, and then look at a paragraph out from that in whatever translation of scripture you use. And from there a whole section, since most translations nowadays incorporate headings.

The beginning of the Romans 8 masterpiece states that those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation from God based on the cross of Christ; his death taking care of the sinfulness of our flesh, our sin– the work of the Spirit in our life, corresponding to that. We can think we know these things already, but it’s important to keep meditating on them, and actually life itself along with our own propensities will make it essential for us to do so, if we want to keep growing, and going on with the Lord.

The end of this important section of this great peak in scripture is related to the beginning. Since there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there’s no fear of that, either, because such are indeed God’s children, the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit of that reality, as we live in dependence on that Spirit, and do not live according to the flesh, which means the myriad of ways people live apart from the Spirit in the way of this world.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:12-17

Again, to really appreciate this fully, we need to read it more fully in its context. But suffice it to say here that we are simply different people in Christ, because God is our Father, and the Spirit helps us to live out that reality. And front and center here, condemnation and the fear is therefore never to be accepted by us.

Romans 8 stands on its own as a tremendous piece that we need to get into our eyes and ears, into our hearts, and into our bones. Into the very warp and woof of our lives. All of this in and through Jesus.

no one can answer, but the Lord

For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

2 Chronicles 20

Negro spirituals, or spirituals have a blessed heritage from the slaves who wrote and sang them, longing for the Lord’s deliverance from their unjust, abject, and at times exceedingly cruel state. We enjoy singing a few of them at the nursing home now and then. I surely thought there was a lyric somewhere from one of them that makes the point that no one can answer certain requests, except the Lord. Didn’t find any, but that’s the gist and backbone of some of their songs, I’m sure.

I love the prayer, or type of prayer which good King Jehoshaphat prayed when his kingdom was in great trouble. There was no where to turn, humanly speaking. There was no answer to the problem. But that’s when he turned in faith to God.

On the one hand, dire, perplexing circumstances can help us strengthen our faith in God through prayer. On the other hand, we might just give up, even as our Lord implicitly warns us (Luke 18), so that we fail to look to God at all. I suppose there might be something hazy, in between. But by and large, it’s either one or the other. We either turn to God in prayer, or we actually don’t.

In my life I’ve had times when I knew there was no answer to the problem other than from God. I knew only God could resolve the matter. Those ended up being times of faith being confirmed, and hopefully made stronger and more settled in my life. So that when I face a similar situation now, hopefully my first response will be to turn to the Lord in prayer. And keep praying, and not let go. Even if it takes some time. Instead of a breaking point, we can find God’s salvation,* and hold on to that. In and through Jesus.

*Salvation I use here, meaning deliverance from some trouble, just as the term is often used in the First/Old Testament. One such example: Psalm 37:39-40.

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.

God understands

We say in Christian theology that God knows all things, the end from the beginning, in every minute detail with the big picture in mind. Precisely what that means might deviate some. Like I might ask, “Can God know what isn’t already in existence?” Surely yes, in that he can create and control all of that, but maybe no if he chooses not to control it at every turn, I am thinking of human volition. All of existence is out of God’s doing. And God can force us to choose or do whatever, if God so chooses, but it seems on the surface at least, that there’s a real give and take in life between the individual, as well as people, and God. Maybe some of this we do best to chalk up to mystery, and leave alone. But it does seem that God invites us to grapple with all he has revealed, while the hidden things remain with him, indeed surely outside of our limitation to grasp.

We can be at a place in which we’re challenged to know what to do. In small ways that happens a lot, and is usually fixable. In larger ways, sometimes that can be quite difficult, beyond our ability to navigate well, if at all. It is good during such times to be in prayer and in the word, looking to God to give us the understanding we need, and proceed from there. That is usually incremental, and one step at a time. God can be trusted to be present through all of it, but it seems to me like God leaves plenty of room for variation on our part, including even failure. God has the big picture in mind, but also wants to be present interactively with us through the small things, as well. That is lived largely in context of our day to day existence as individuals, but is best worked out in community with others in Jesus. Not to say that God might not use the broader human community as well, and another friend who does not yet know him.

I look to God for his wisdom, believing certain things are beyond me, really many things. Essentially what concerns God in us, I believe, is a character transformation rooted in God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It’s not like other things are unimportant, all within the old creation is included in the new creation in Jesus. Salvation extends to every part, but perhaps its outworking is strange to us. And the fact of the matter is that we may not be necessarily included, if we don’t look to the source which is found in Jesus. There might be some major bumps on the road, and brokenness on the way to that salvation.

God understands. And can be fully trusted. In and through Jesus.