being like Jesus in our struggles

If there’s one thing for certain in life, it’s that we’ll have struggles of one kind or another. I was watching a clip on war torn, disease ravaged Yemen today, and I also think of North Korea where to profess Christ would bring a death sentence. Comparing those two places, not to mention a good number of other places in the world (Haiti and Venezuela come to mind on our side of the world, but a number of other faltering states as well), and I begin to see that much of what I think I have to be concerned about pales in comparison. And yet problems here can seem like life and death matters at times, even while we live in relative comfort and safety. We need to be in prayer for the people who lack basic care, and whose lives are in danger.

How are we like Jesus in our own struggles? I think we have to pay attention to the things that Jesus did, as well as what he taught in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And see how that is expanded on in the rest of the New Testament. Our goal should be that we are more and more becoming like him, whatever difficulties we face. And hopefully to see such difficulties help us grow in ways we couldn’t imagine otherwise, as we learn to walk in Jesus’s way, no matter what. In and through Jesus.

in the uncomfortable spaces

I find myself sometimes in most difficult spaces, sometimes because of my foibles as a human being, some might say follies, and just because of life itself. I think those can be the places where God might be trying to teach us something new and formative to shape our lives. Or deepening what God has already taught us.

I find myself in such places more given to prayer, more thoughtful, more alert, hopefully more aware. At the same time, I also find the experience difficult at best. Such that I have to look to God, try to cling to him.

I do that by going back again and again as actually just a habit of life, to the word. My mind is distracted from what troubles me. And what I read and ponder on actually informs and forms me yes, about the uncomfortable space, or what my own response to that should be, a resolute and firm trust in the God who saves.

Too often in the comfortable places I drift. Yes, we need those places of rest, as we see in Psalm 23. But as we also see in Psalm 23 this life is not entirely like that. So again and again, today and every day by God’s grace I will be in the word, in prayer, voicing my concern for what is troubling me, and hoping to get beyond that. In and through Jesus.

connecting all joy in whatever trial with prayer for God’s wisdom

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 1:2-8

When we’re in the pressure cooker, it’s easy to revert to something less than helpful. We need something better than fight or flight. And James gives us something much better here.

We’re to count it all joy when any given trial hits us, because through that God can do a deeper work in us. We need to persevere through it, so that we can grow in whatever way God has for us.

I think we can connect that with the directive to ask God for needed wisdom. Maybe it can stand alone as well, since James is more like Proverbs than any other book in the New Testament. Either way, it only makes sense to ask God for wisdom in trials. God will give it to us as we go on imperfectly as it will be, with a heart set on living in his will. In and through Jesus.

an advanced faith?

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91

Recently I read somewhere someone suggesting that when Jesus said that if one believes, what they have asked for in prayer is granted, that this is true only for those with an advanced faith. Many a person, myself included has asked God for all kinds of things, hopefully that would be good, and have believed God could answer. Admittedly, in my case, I might struggle with unbelief for whatever reason, probably primarily due to not knowing God well enough, and therefore not trusting his word. A weak and wobbly faith. We’re not supposed to remain there, but grow in our faith, learning to trust in God  to help us and see us through, come what may.

To me, this psalm tells us that we’re invincible in God’s will. Satan used a line in this psalm in his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. And Jesus immediately quoted other Scripture, telling Satan that we should not test the Lord our God. Yes, God will protect us, but only in God’s will, and in his time. Life remains a mystery, so that we’re not going to have an answer for why everything happens. But we can be assured that God will see us through in his will, as we trust in God and continue in his way, in what he has for us. In and through Jesus.

James on trials and uncertainty

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 1:2-8

James, though a pastor comes across, at least to us as rather blunt, and certainly to the point. He doesn’t waste words. His letter is considered the one New Testament book more in line with the wisdom writings of the Old Testament: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

James lived during a time of uncertainty. The church was young and he was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, Peter certainly a pastor, but more of an apostle to the Jews at large in the world of that time. God had given the church as he does today the gift of the Spirit to be a witness to the gospel by deed and word, first by the difference evident in their lives, and a witness as to what makes that difference.

Fast forward to today. We live in a different time for sure. And depending on where we live, possibly quite different circumstances. But one thing is for sure, as evident in this passage: trials will come, and many kinds of them.

As this passage makes clear, our response to such will determine whether or not we grow in Christian maturity, and to what extent we do. None of us will get this perfect. And there will be moments and maybe even times when we don’t consider such pure joy. But when, apart from our feelings, thoughts or anything else we choose to consider such pure joy, then we can begin to enter into what God has for us in the midst and through such trials.

We’re invited when we lack wisdom, which in ourselves is always the case, to ask God for it. That’s a relief, because left to ourselves, we more often, or at least I more often than not resort to something that is less than that, and can even be foolish. I’ve seen that time and time again in my life, since I’ve either failed to ask God for it, or operated as if God wasn’t much in the picture. Maybe a bystander who created everything, but then is not involved in that creation, certainly not the God of the Bible. It’s interesting how we might believe something intellectually, but act as if we don’t. We need to then ask ourselves if we believe it at all. God can help us with our lack of faith, as we call out to him, like the man did to Jesus.

So there’s purpose and encouragement in this passage, both short term and long. This is true regardless of what we face, whatever trial it may be. As we respond in faith according to God’s word here, God will be with us, and continue to mature us, giving us the wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

remaining in the truth and life God gives us

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

I remember the good, gifted servant of the Lord, Chuck Swindoll and one of his books entitled Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back. I think of that book title when I think of this subject, holding on to the progress and growth the Lord gives us. Paul makes the point in this great passage in Philippians that we’re to continue in the new way or place growth in Christ brings us. It is certain that we’ll at least be tempted to drift back. I think I remember hearing Swindoll say that for every three steps forward we go in the Christian life, we go two steps backward. That seems to play out in experience, unfortunately.

It’s important for us to hold on to the growth we have. And the only way to do that is simply to continue to grow (2 Peter 1). But it’s important not to backtrack and settle for the old, thinking what breakthrough or growth we experienced is not ours to remain in. Again I remember hearing Swindoll say in the past that if God gave something at one point, it is still always good at that point, not something to surrender, words to that effect.

It’s by faith and effort, more faith and prayer, more prayer and effort and faith that we do this. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s grace helps us where we are

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

Sometimes we think we have to be in a certain place before God’s grace works. But actually apart from God’s grace we can’t do anything that will be helpful. Grace might be nudging us simply to realize that. Grace here is meant God’s gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ. God’s grace helps us exactly where we are. And we’re enabled by that grace to do better, indeed we grow in and through that grace.

We need to remember this. All depends on God’s grace to us always. We not only go from there, but continually live from that. In and through Jesus.

the boring Bible

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Matthew 4:1-4

Evidently we don’t have the time, or more like the will to regularly be in Scripture. Or at least that seems to be the case given the increasing lack of basic knowledge Christians have about the content of the Bible. We have all kinds of helps at our fingertips, not to mention the Bible itself in numerous translations.

Instead we’re obsessed with this or that, for many today it’s politics. Or whatever occupies your mind and time. That’s what moves us. If we’re attending a good Bible teaching or preaching church, we’ll get something good every weekend, if we have the appetite to receive it. God does meet us where we’re at, but we need to grow from the milk of the word into the meat of the word. But that requires the commitment of being in Scripture regularly day after day throughout each day.

And it’s best to take it slow, but not stop, to keep going. Two-pronged in reading (or listening) through the Bible in a year more or less, and in slowly going over especially the New Testament. Study of Scripture is good too, with good helps online as well. But most importantly in one way or another we need to have a consistent sustained practice of being in Scripture. Without that we’ll become weak and susceptible to becoming hollow in our faith, nothing much backing what profession of faith might be left.

Something we have to continue to pursue and grow in day after day. In and through Jesus.

 

little by little over time

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3b

Oak trees are among the most sturdy and long lasting trees, it seems. But they don’t grow quickly. The kind of growth required for the tree it is takes time.

In Isaiah, people are likened to oaks, those God is “planting.” When you read Scripture and consider the spiritual life, all of this takes time. Christian spiritual maturity is not arrived to overnight. Nor does some overwhelming experience add up to Christian maturity. In fact that can easily lend itself to deception, someone thinking they’ve arrived when they haven’t, or couldn’t. We need the young saplings, exuberant in their new life, glowing in their witness of that. But it will take time, wind, storms, sunshine and rain, and more time for them to grow into the sturdy, mature trees they need to become.

Some of us are pretty full grown, but as Christians we know our growth never ends in this lifetime. We have weathered many a storm, learned to stand firm in the winds with roots embedded in the water of life found in Christ and Scripture. And as part of God’s community, the church. But if we don’t watch out, we could become diseased and in danger of no longer standing. It is sad, the accounts of those who didn’t end their Christian lives well. Sometimes the older trees are not appreciated for all the blessing they give. It’s like, they’ve seen their day, they’re old now and not of much consequence, not to be paid attention to. But we need to keep growing, and in silence and prayer continue to bear fruit from and for God.

Little by little, over time. That’s what it takes. And to keep on doing that come what may. That God might be honored and glorified. In and through Jesus.

the poor in spirit are the Spirit-filled

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

The first of what’s called the Beatitudes in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount one might say is a bedrock to the rest. If pride is the first and fountainhead of the “seven deadly sins,” then Jesus meets that head on with the first words he speaks.

We might struggle with trusting God, and with other sins as well. But if we are living in pride, we’re all but lost. That must first go before we can deal with any of the rest. Otherwise we’re left on our own, since we think we can take care of it.

We might well say with C.S. Lewis that we indeed are proud people, and that admission paradoxically can be a point of humility. Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of one’s own limitation and sin.

We need to recognize and acknowledge our spiritual poverty. We need the Lord; we can’t do it ourselves. And that’s an ongoing need, not just a once upon a time need that we got taken care of, and now we’re good to go. We need the filling of the Spirit over and over again.

But a sign of really being filled with the Spirit is to ever know and acknowledge one’s own poverty of spirit. That may seem contradictory, but it is always the case. As long as we’re full of ourselves, we don’t need God. Or we may even think that God’s filling makes us able to take over and do it ourselves. Instead we need to realize that our need always and forever is Christ and Christ in us, as Paul says, “no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” Then we’ll be beginning to understand what Jesus was getting at here.