understanding one’s weak points

I remember Jesus expressing disappointment, maybe even consternation at times over his disciples’ lack of faith. There are general areas we need to keep growing in, some weak spots we need to shore up. There are weaknesses common to us all as humans, then there are especially vulnerable points peculiar to each one of us.

It seems to me that it would be good to have some understanding of our vulnerabilities so that we might not only be aware of such, but somehow work on trying to understand how we can do better.

There’s a whole list of the possible weak points we might have. One can think of the so-called “seven deadly sins” for a start (see Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung). We would do well to learn from the tradition of the church, wisdom God has given the church through the ages.

We often react more than anything else, and our reactions usually aren’t helpful. We often fail to get to the root of our problem, much less deal with it in any effective way.

We need wisdom from God gathered, yes by the Spirit and the word (Scripture), but within that we’ll find that we need the help of the church, counsel from others. In the meantime we need to do the best we can with what we have, where we’re at.

This is not a snap of the finger, quick fix. Such a remedy is more like a bandage which might be good to stop the bleeding, but may fail to deal with the cause. We need to take the long look, to patiently work at finding what our problem is, and what Scripture prescribes for that. We need to quit jumping with our limited knowledge along with lack of knowledge, even misunderstanding, trying to solve the issue ourselves. Otherwise we’ll never get very far, and we’ll always struggle in certain areas, susceptible to the enemy’s attack.

This will be a lifelong endeavor. We’ll be making progress in some things, only to find we need to work on something else. Part of the journey we’re on here and now. In and through Jesus.

change is part of life

If you’re a human being, than you’re in for change. You might say it’s in our genes. Hopefully change for good as we grow into adulthood, although each stage of life is special in itself. And not for good in that we inevitably age and eventually will die.

Change in other ways is good or not so good. Probably something of a mixture of both in most of us. We might be gaining ground in something, possibly a breakthrough here and there, only to find ourselves not doing so well in something else. Sometimes real failure might be the back door to something good.

We often look at life in terms of success and failure. But God sees beyond our small sense and appreciation of things. God has made us hard wired for so much more beyond whatever actual failure and imagined or real success in our lives. We might and indeed will actually revert back into old ways now and then, hopefully nothing damaging to ourselves or others. But even in them God can and will teach us if only we have a heart to listen. Ears to hear along with the heart to change comes from God’s grace and working. God is out to change us into no less than the image and likeness of his Son. The good change which is happening, and is to come. In and through Jesus.

 

what’s next?

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

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 1:1-8

James was probably the best known pastor of the early church, certainly of Jerusalem. And as such, he was a pastor at heart. You can tell from the way he starts out the letter from him we have in our Bibles in the New Testament. He wastes no time, but gets to the trials believers face. The trials of many kinds covers it all: any kind of trial.

James takes more of a constructive than comforting approach. They’re to consider it pure joy because of the maturity it can bring. Namely because it tests their faith which leads to endurance or perseverance, which leads to mature well rounded out character.

The testing of one’s faith is related to seeing that it is genuine through and through. We can have a saving faith, enough to be forgiven and enter into life. But God wants more, and in our heart of hearts as God’s children, so do we.

Nevertheless a trial is a trial. It’s not something that in and of itself we’re going to like. And James expresses that there are many kinds of them which intimates that perhaps we will receive quite a few ourselves. The critical point is our faith essentially meaning our trust in God and God’s promises to us in Scripture. Everything stands or falls over our faith or lack thereof.

But it’s good to hold the big picture in view, in fact that’s what James’s words tell us. Faith results in perseverance which results in character. That’s more constructive to me than comforting, though we might say it’s something of both. And more of that comes when James points to the needed wisdom we can receive from God in answer to prayer. With the additional thought that if we fail to believe that the generous, gracious God will give us that wisdom, then we will remain stuck in whatever condition we’re in.

Perhaps we need to work on the very first point then all else will more easily follow. That is, we’re to count such pure joy. Instead of shrinking in horror, or whatever our conditioned response is from such experiences over the years. Knowing what God says the outcome will be, and what we’re to do in the meantime.

Everything we need is present in this passage. As we go on from day to day in this life in and through Jesus.

back to basics: knowing firsthand

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

It is amazing how much help is available online nowadays. You can find something of whatever you might imagine, and it’s usually helpful. I would hardly know where to begin, but I’m impressed with The Bible Project. The Our Daily Bread devotional along with Bible Gateway is helpful in getting us into the word, and I’ll add Bill Mounce’s site in getting into details of the Greek New Testament (and note his version of the New Testament on Bible Gateway.  There’s much more.

It’s fine to get help in knowing about something, but we can’t stop there. We need to get into it firsthand ourselves. For me that is simple as far as an ongoing day to day practice. I simply get into the word, Scripture, one line or thought at a time, meditating and praying over that. And along with that, I have a daily reading through an Old Testament passage, a Psalm (Psalm 119 I divide up according to section), a Sermon on the Mount or Sermon on the Plain reading, and a New Testament reading, one NIV heading at a time. At times I’ll work at reading through a section of Scripture. Though it’s more than I normally do at one sitting, last night I read through the book of Revelation. And certainly not least is hearing the teaching of God’s word Sunday after Sunday (or weekends) at the church gathering.

The goal in this is to taste the goodness of God for ourselves through God’s word. There’s absolutely no substitute for that. It’s good when other things help, but we must get into the word for ourselves. That we might grow in our faith with others toward full Christian, meaning Jesus-like maturity in and through Jesus.

 

people are the problem (including me)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:37-42

Jesus reserved his harshest words, or basically got after those who pointed the finger at others. Especially the Jewish religious leaders, who were critical of those who did not line up with their traditions largely put in place to keep people from breaking God’s Law, but missing the heart of the law: love for neighbor demonstrating one’s actual love for God.

If we’re generous to others, we’ll experience generosity, but if we’re harsh, then harshness. Those who lead others do so in how they live, whether or not they really put God’s word into practice or not, whether they come to Jesus, hear his words, and put them into practice, which includes how they view others (Luke 6:46-49).

To be upset over shortcoming in others in itself should raise our suspicions: What about us? When people do light into us, what’s our reaction? Is it helpful? Is there some blindness to it, so that we can’t really see what actually was meant by the other person and why? Often enough there is fault on the other side, and maybe they are largely or entirely to blame on a given matter. But we need to step back a bit, and consider how we can grow as in grow up more toward maturity in Christ.

There may be a time to confront, but in the end, and really throughout, we need to love. To make sure our lives line up with that love toward others. Taking the plank out of our own eye, so that by our example, they might see the speck of sawdust in their own eye. In and through Jesus.

training for godliness

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7-8

The Bible teaches us that we are born in sin. And that therefore it is just natural to us that something is wrong, and that we are wrong ourselves. Although given the entire story of scripture, it is not naturally human, but tends toward being inhumane. Our humanity recovered in and through the one true human of creation, in whose image we’re remade in the new creation: Jesus.

It is true that when we’re older, what we are has been developed through many days, months, years, even piling into decades of choices. Amidst that there  are hopefully adjustments along the way for needed change, which by the way in themselves are not snap of the finger creations. Usually it takes us awhile to slide into bad habits, and only good habits practiced awhile will get us out of them. A change of heart is always involved, so that we end up in the long run having a new desire entirely, and don’t want to do what we wanted to do before. But before we get there, we likely will have to engage ourselves in some rigorous training, which will involve disciplining ourselves to do what we are not prone to do, and to avoid what we would do, left to ourselves. The self-control which is part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit in our lives, the heart of which is love, and is actually relational (see Galatians 5) figures in prominently here.

I believe it all begins with God’s word, scripture, and with the gospel. We meditate on that, and take it to heart and life. And we make no compromises with sin. And when we do sin, we confess it, and hold on in faith to get God’s help and victory over it. And we make repentance and change of life an ongoing part of our faith, and of growing up together with others toward full maturity in Christ, and therefore full Christian maturity.

We have to be intentional about this, and remember it’s all in the context of love for God and for others. It’s not meant to be lived in a vacuum, and yet there is the aspect of it that is between ourselves and God. But it never ends there. God insists that it is also between ourselves and others. And in the context of the passage quoted above, a pastoral letter, it is about Timothy’s relationship to his congregation of believers and followers of Christ, and how he is to lead them as a pastor. He is to be an example himself, so that they not only learn from his words, but also from his life. And part of that example is the pastor’s commitment to train for godliness, to be in that process. Not having arrived in the sense of God’s work being finished, but stable in a number of ways in the change that God brings in and through Christ.

turning the corner

Sometimes I feel and seem to be in a place in which either my wheels are turning slow, or they’re stuck. And I can’t get any uplift, the joy of my salvation largely absent. Life can then seem to be a grind, the oil of the Holy Spirit seemingly absent. So that one essentially feels like they’re on their own.

Most of the time for me, such times are relatively short lived, and yet when they keep coming up again and again, and then one holds on and seems (I don’t like to use the same word too often, but it seems like I needed seems again) like it might never end, then one begins to wonder what’s up.

It’s not like there are no reasons for the difficulty; I can chalk it up most of the time to a trial which I could specify. It’s that there ought to be a word from God for it, and actually there always is something I can seek to apply from scripture. And basically simply seek the Lord in prayer, while I try to comply to his word.

I find inevitably that it’s simply a matter of time before I break into the clear again, and emerge into the sunshine of God’s grace, and begin to see a bit clearer. But again, when I keep going back again and again, and especially when it’s for the same reason, then I begin to think enough is enough. I’ve had it, and I want something different as a pattern of life.

I find that in the evangelical circles in which I am in, there seems to be no place for “the dark night of the soul” (see Psalm 88 for just one of the many examples of this from scripture). And because of that, we fail to learn how to navigate such times through scripture, and through tradition, surely to our great loss. Perhaps there are depths which may be needed before certain heights are accessible. At least for us to be deepened ourselves, we surely need to go through something of the depths.

Turning the corner in this is simply by grace through faith. Even as we were saved, we are being saved in the same way. Works come sometimes as a needed expression of faith I suppose, but by and large I see as the result of God’s grace and our response of faith. And what is needed is something of a glimmer of hope, which is certain to get stronger, along with the faith and love which accompanies it.

Is God true to his word, and just how great and good is our God, anyhow? I have to know, or at least ought to, that God will take care of whatever difficulty I’m in, and that in this there can be a greater purpose at stake. We are in the world not merely for ourselves, to somehow succeed, or live carefree, untroubled lives. We in Jesus are in the world in mission for others. We are to be a witness of God’s ongoing faithfulness in Jesus, of the faith that is in Jesus, the good news in him. That is why we’re here, and that is what God is about, both in shaping us, and in our experience in this life of the ongoing salvation that is in Jesus.

finding root problems, or better solutions

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,
    but one who has insight draws them out.

Proverbs 20:5

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

Life might sometimes bring out both the best and the worst in us. Surely at times, God lets us be encouraged, as God’s children, to be able to see something of the progress we’ve made in our spiritual journey in Christ. But at other times, this or that incident might bring out in us something that needs to be addressed as in exposed and healed, so that we can move on, having dealt with that problem as perhaps a besetting sin that needs to be confessed and repented of, so that hopefully we can get beyond that as far as our character formation in Christ goes. Not that such might never come back again.

This takes an openness before God and before others to see whatever is wrong in us exposed, and to find a better course, what really matters, beyond what we’ve clung to for dear life. In the end it is God’s will in the grace and truth of Jesus which really matters. We have to let go of what might be either not helpful in our own tendencies, as well as be open to what is best, what really matters.

For this to occur, we need nothing less than God’s wisdom, to receive such wisdom in answer to prayer (James 1:5), perhaps through the insight of a friend, or simply through our own struggle to understand. We look for truth, and we also look for the way, or a better way. This isn’t easy stuff we can slough through, or perhaps simply dismiss. We need to take seriously what sore spots and deficiencies in ourselves we find. And seek to address such with the truth of God’s word through the help of the Spirit. It ought to be a given, but it helps to have the ongoing mutual commitment of brothers and sisters in Jesus who live in a deep bond of trust and love, and therefore can be open to receiving and giving instruction or counsel when needed.

Part of what we’re to be about in our life in Christ.

Bible reading: the church and the mature in faith are guides

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:15-18

There is no question that it is the Holy Spirit who helps anyone understand or get anything out of the reading of scripture. Along with that, it’s vitally important that we remember that the church has been given the Spirit to understand scripture, in regard to what is of primary importance, especially in the matter of the gospel and the salvation that accompanies, or comes from that.

It’s important eventually to read or listen to the Bible from cover to cover, taking it in as one whole Book, while at the same time acknowledging that there are many books within that, and chapters of what one might call the story of scripture. And there are the hard things, which seem off limits, and a very few which might be better off left for private reading, not read in keeping with the lexical plan which is incorporated in a good number of churches today. I actually think there’s probably some wisdom in that. While at the same time I think there’s wisdom in going through those hard places in an instructional, informal setting.

There are a few concerns I have which are far ranging. There is a book for children which I love to read to our granddaughter (and eventually to both of our granddaughters) which is wonderful in helping the very young get a view of the entire Bible. There was one reading though, in which I cringed, because certain details which could be misunderstood, and might not be worth bring up to little ears, were included, and while done so to communicate to children, the wording itself I would think may well have been different, to not contradict the scriptural text, but to say it in a way that when the time comes where they read the Bible for themselves, they’ll be hopefully prepared so as not to misunderstand what they’re reading.

Another concern I have might come from those who seem to use the Bible as a weapon against evil. They are always appealing to texts in a way which is always letting people know just how wrong they are. This is neither the spirit of the Bible, what we believe is God’s written word, nor is it the spirit of Christ himself. It is another spirit, perhaps simply human, but easily enough could well be of the world, the flesh and the devil, rather than of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And such can twist scripture as if it is speaking to certain pet hot button issues of the day. We have to not only beware of such, but call them on the carpet, and tell them enough is enough. At the very least ask them the hard questions. The church should hold them accountable.

But there’s also the so called progressives, who I find quite frustrating. They will say many things I agree with strongly, things I think need to be said today. But it seems to me that they fail over and over again to look at the entire truth squarely in the face, and so they fall short of teaching the whole will or counsel of God. For some this seems particularly obvious. For others, it’s less so, because they teach much that is good. I am not thinking merely of one or two issues. I am thinking of how they approach scripture in their teaching, their hermeneutics or way of interpreting it, and whether or not that’s in line with good Bible reading and what the church has taught. Progressives too easily dismiss traditional understandings and love to beat up on the fundamentalists, in fact for some, it seems like it’s their preoccupation. For others, they may be working through some of the backlash of their experience in the group mentioned above, who seem to use scripture as a weapon.

Anyone can benefit from a reading of scripture, and the gospels of Mark and John might be great places to start for anyone who has never read scripture before. But we need a guide, even as did the devout Ethiopian eunuch of old (Acts 8:26-40). We need those who are well established and mature in their intake of “the meat of the word” to help those who are still on “the milk of the word.” As well as helping others come to the faith of the good news in and through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

turning setbacks into improvements

We are human, and we will make mistakes, and plenty of them. Sometimes though, we know better, but give into weaknesses. And then we can pay a pretty steep price depending on the gravity of the offense. Hopefully it’s not the great sin that David refers to in Psalm 51.

Whether it’s simply a learning process due to my limitedness as a human, or even if I have given into sin, I want good somehow to come out of it. Again, depending on the degree as well as what the particular offense is, there will be a certain amount of bad consequences that come out of sin, maybe largely imperceptible to us. We can surely ask God to at least counteract such consequences with good, and that is where the thought of this post comes in today, with a bit of a different slant.

I can look back on my life and see growth in some areas, and I’ve been wanting to see a breakthrough in one key area for me, the beginnings of which I think I’ve been stepping by faith into recently, even now. But I want to do better yet. In this is the need to discern God’s will, for sure. And part of that is to accept growth in incremental ways. We know we haven’t arrived, but we’re on our way to the goal, doing better.

To keep pushing toward the better, and the ideal in Christ, setbacks can help us. We need to keep in mind the lessons they bring in perhaps a Proverbs-like kind of wisdom, but not settle simply for knowing or understanding more, but for the life that such wisdom should give. We want to enter into that life more and more, the life to the full (and overflowing) that is in Jesus.

And so that is a big part of what I’m thinking about nowadays when I think about my own Christian spiritual formation. To learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins and be willing to take the more difficult path, and to be further ahead due to the setback experienced. The devil’s ploy being turned into the Lord’s play in conforming me along with others in him more and more into his image. That we might live increasingly in God’s will to his glory.