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.

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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.

 

when faced with disappointment

Broken dreams. Newer thoughts which seemed dashed forever. Present places which require faith to keep putting one foot in front of the other. An altogether different scenario than I could have imagined.

This requires the adjustments which might come to mind. While keeping our focus on God through Jesus. And while keeping the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus front and center.

In grace we are always and forever in formation. Change in us for sure, but change elsewhere can well be a part of that. We have to remain open.

character is what matters

Recently I came across something somewhere imagining what people would talk about at any given funeral. Of course I am referring to the deceased. Would they talk about their great successes in life, perhaps making millions and perhaps living a luxurious lifestyle as a result? Would they talk about their great intellect, how they solved or contributed toward some resolution of some great scientific riddle? Would they be speaking about the deceased’s tremendous speaking ability either in teaching or preaching, and what a formidable intellect they had? How they were successful in life?

No. Instead they would talk about things, if they could, like he (or she) was faithful to their spouse. She loved her children and grandchildren. He always had time for you, and he listened well. She accepted me as I am and was a true friend. He had a heart for the poor and he helped in practical, down to earth ways. She was a loving and humble person. Etc., etc., etc.

Scripture tells us that no matter what else, if we aren’t characterized by love, than we are nothing, nothing at all. We have flaws, and maybe at some point we did stumble badly in our lives. But what is critical is what we are about right now. What we have become and what we are becoming.

And are we working on character, on overcoming our deficiencies? We do so from grace, from God’s grace in Jesus, our participation in the divine nature- no less, as well as the reception of God’s precious promises. Are we acutely aware of this beyond anything else? If we’re concerned about success and fulfilling our gift and calling, that’s all well and good and can even be considered a part of this- in a certain way, definitely should be. But doing well in tasks alone doesn’t compare with this.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung on the value of the tradition of exposing “the seven deadly sins” for Christian spiritual formation

As for the early desert fathers, self-examination prepares us to look ahead to what we can and will become. It is not regretful or narcissistic navel-gazing. It is a first step toward becoming more than we are now.

The premise of this book is that the tree of capital vices, each vice rooted in pride and shooting out branches of further vice and sin, is a helpful tool for engaging in this type of self-assessment. These seven vices name perennial areas of human weakness and typical displays of pride’s provide-your-own-happiness program. To study them is thus to study yourselves. When you look closely, what do you see? And what does seeing yourself clearly make you yearn to become?

Examining the vicious malformation of character canvassed in this book is meant to prompt us forward, in a more clear-sighted way, toward being people of better character, people whose lives are well lived. In the Christian tradition, this is not a self-help project but a Spirit-empowered movement. At the same time, however, it is not a license to drift along, but an encouragement to be intentional, reflective, specific, and energetic about moving with the Spirit’s formative work. Like Augustine, when we look back on the way our lives are disordered by vice, we are moved to pray for the future, “Order me in my love.” The vices, their offspring, and the remedies traditionally suggested for them give us the language to identify and track the disordering of our desires we must actively resist. Discipleship takes discipline—the work of straightening what is bent, restraining and strengthening our capacities, working loose the bonds that constrain us.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, 182, 183.