that we might love more (and better)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more…

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; MSG

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

Rich Mullins probably in at least one song wrote how we really don’t love others well, certainly not the way we’re loved by the Lord. Life down here is not easy. There are so many demands, and when you either live with someone or work with them day after day, certain deficiencies in each other can rub the wrong way. Hopefully in the case of spouses and families, this is just a part of healthy growth together, because it’s inevitable given our incompleteness as well as actual sin as human beings.

But love is at the heart of the Christian message, the gospel, what Jesus Christ brought and brings. Yes, through his atoning sacrifice for us, we’re both taught what true love means, as well as recipients of that love from God which we enter into by simply receiving this in faith. And that gift sets us on a course of both love to God and to our neighbor, to everyone, even our enemies, and especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We need to grow in this love. A vital, even crucial part of our development as God’s children. So we need to make the effort from what’s already planted in our heart by God’s word and the Holy Spirit. And we need to pray and ask God to help us grow deeper and deeper, on and on in that love. In and through Jesus.

accept darkness (the needed darkness before the light)

A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried,
and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30

There is one thing none of us like, what’s called “the dark night of the soul,” when any sense of God and of spiritual insight is gone. When it seems like we’re on our own.

Seasons of darkness vary. Sometimes we feel like we’ve taken a battering from the spiritual enemy if we’ve been taken for another ride in their deception, having failed to resist that. Or it might be over some sort of struggle we’re having in our attitudes, or in overcoming sin, maybe something which has plagued us, even an addiction, whatever it might be. There are times too when we really can’t put our finger on it. Maybe we’ve drifted, unbeknownst to us, but for whatever reason we feel dry and lost.

Seasons of darkness, even of dryness we can and should see as opportunities to seek God and hopefully find God in something of a new and fresh way, breaking through into our lives in some ways God hasn’t before. Maybe times for needed confession of sin and repentance (James 4). And such times can serve to confirm our faith rather than unsettle it. If we only hold on and look to God and not give up.

When the light does start breaking in, because by and by it will, we need to accept that. Be thankful and live in that gentle light of God. Realizing the next time darkness come settling in on us, that light will eventually come.

All of this for our good. In and through Jesus.

keep on praying

Are you hurting? Pray.

James 5:13a; MSG

Prayer, simply praying to God is underrated. Or at least it seems that way to me. Though the further you grow in maturity in Christ, the more likely you’ll agree with that thought. But it’s another thing to do what we know we should. It’s something we have to deliberately practice.

James’s directive here when we’re “in trouble” (NIV) or hurting is to pray. When we have God’s peace and joy, it’s just natural for us to praise and thank God. But when our hearts are heavy, or we’re carrying a heavy burden, sometimes seemingly unbearable, or we’re concerned about this or that, we’re to pray, pray, and keep on praying.

By and by we’ll find that in a way prayer itself is the point. And in the parched, dry places where our soul is deeply hurting, that’s where our prayers might ascend and hit pay dirt more than we imagine. We know that when we have the sense of God’s Presence and peace, we also have the sense that our prayers are effective. But when we can feel nothing but heaviness, then we won’t have that sense, and may not pray at all. Instead we should pray all the more.

Such experience humbles us, and hopefully our roots grow deeper into God, into our dependence on God, and commitment to him. And that can help our prayers all the more, even if we think they’re not making a difference at all. Gradually we’ll begin to sense and see in small ways that our prayer is being heard, being answered.

So trouble and hurt while in themselves not something we want, can actually be a help so that we pray all the more, as well as deepen us in our relationship with God. In and through Jesus.

we are in process

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-6

Over and over again, I’m reminded that we are people in process. The good and most important thing to remember is that it is God at work in our lives. We likely wish we were further along than we are, I know I do.

We really need to hold on to this truth that we as followers of Jesus. And that it is God doing the work, not we ourselves. God who began this good work in us will indeed carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, when Jesus returns.

This helps me as I consider my own life as well as the lives of others. We need to take our hands off. It’s God’s work, not our own. The change in our lives comes only because of that. Maybe this means we need to be more in prayer.

There are things I’m not sure about. It does seem clear to me that we can get in the way of God’s working, and impede it. But God works around and even through those ways that we can get in the way, I suppose. I often wish I could just do what I know I ought to do. Like rest in God’s peace instead of being anxious about this or that. It’s a maturing, growth process, and all of Scripture in one way or another is meant to help us in that.

The one thing we can take away from Paul’s words here for sure: God who began the good work in us in Christ will finish it. We can mark that down in stone, but more importantly God has written that change into our hearts to unfold in our lives toward the goal of making us the people we’re supposed to be, through Jesus fully human and unique in our person as God intended. All of us together in this, Paul addressing not just individuals here, but the entire church. In and through Jesus.

can the Lord help us through each situation?

There are so many passages of Scripture which could help us. The problem with quoting any one of them here is that we can too easily almost make the passage itself nearly like a fetish by which I mean having power in itself apart from its true meaning. But we need to keep going back to Scripture again and again, because through that we find God’s revelation to us in Christ, and the details surrounding that.

Yes, yes, the Lord indeed wants to help us through each situation. This actually takes hard work on our part, akin to the thought in Scripture that we’re to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. We are so used to doing it our way, so “programmed” or set in that way, it’s so much a part of who we are, that sadly we’re at a loss to give that up. But we need to set ourselves in the straight and narrow of being determined, even if it makes us sick to our stomach, to commit everything to the Lord, and then depend on him. Prayer, talking to the Lord. A little bit of this goes a long way. And I mean a sincere, honest effort on our part. And not wavering, as James puts it, being two-faced, actually “double-minded.”

This has to be our ongoing commitment, and I speak for myself, so that this attitude and corresponding action becomes more and more a part of who we are, what characterizes us. Something I hope by God’s grace to continue to work on. In and through Jesus.

“we all need a home”

Someone recently told me that. It is wonderful, the family settings we can live in. But even the best of them is not without some hurts and wounds along the way, even with some cracks and brokenness. And tragically, sometimes those fractures are not mended and there can be a parting of ways. Home together as family does involve a commitment.

When it comes to church, we Christians at least here in America I think have some difficulty seeing it as family or being comfortable there. Why? It could be in part because of our own experience as family. And churches in our society are like a dime a dozen. Unlike days of old when there were parishes, and you had your church according to your location, in which you may well attend and be part of for a lifetime, now people so to speak go shopping for church. Wherever it’s the right feel, or serves the needs of one’s family, or their own needs, we stop and shop there. Maybe for a few years, maybe more, but often less. Until we move on to our next church and church experience. The older I get, the more I value the practice of those who have been in one church for decades, even entire lifetimes. Unfortunately not true of myself. Though there are times, sadly, to leave a church.

But the church in Jesus is meant to be our primary family, in a certain sense more family than our own family. Though of course each have their unique special place. Jesus made it clear that his sister, brother, and mother were those who did God’s will. And we find in the New Testament letters an emphasis on a community held together in the bond of love in Christ, with the fruit of the Spirit moving that fellowship, and the gifts of the Spirit helping it, all toward growth together into maturity in Christ.

We need a home where we don’t have to perform and have it all together. Where we can be our honest, even broken selves. I’m not saying at all, excusing our sin. But really being honest with ourselves and others. Just that sense given to us together by the Spirit who leads us to the broken body and blood of Christ for us individually and in our relationships with each other.

We need a place where we’re at home. Where people really care for us. Grace-oriented, so that by and by we can start measuring up, but not at all about measuring up, even while there is loving accountability. Where we realize that we’re all in this together, that when one suffers with whatever, we all suffer. Where when one rejoices and is happy, we all are happy for and with them. The sense that we’re indeed not in this life alone. But we’re present and in place for each other. And together for a broken world. In and through Jesus.

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.