mind games

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:3

Certainly a gnawing, paralyzing fear is a tip of the hand, dead give away that God is not behind it, but an enemy bent on destruction, or at least on making us lose our footing or even resolve.  Another sure sign is when we are troubled over something which is within our sight, but not troubled when it’s out of sight. Two signs there: Simply being troubled at all, when rather we can pray with thanksgiving, and act on it in an appropriate way at a good time. And the fact that when we’re occupied with other things, the fear is gone. If something is of God, we won’t be able to escape it. It will gently and lovingly persist, and move us in a helpful direction, not in the direction of paralyzing fear or even torment.

The bottom line for us everyday should be a desire to live in a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Whatever else we have to do and be occupied in, that should be where we live.

It is vitally important that we learn to recognize these things. Whether we like it or not, we are in a spiritual battle. We have to persist in the way of God whatever thoughts and fears might be bombarding us. Holding to faith, standing our ground (Ephesians 6:10-20) and not giving into the crafty deceptions of the enemy. In and through Christ we can do that, and we must.

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the value of difficulty

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to tremendous difficulties.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It is interesting how often some do well in life in spite of difficulties which could have easily put them on a different course. Probably with most of us it’s a mixture of the two. Because of stresses or problems we have faced, perhaps we have not done as well as we could have. But along with that, have found something we can excel in.

I think of community, and specifically the church. In China the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds, still under persecution. And the church in the southern hemisphere both in Africa and again in the east seems to be growing exponentially in number day after day. There’s something to be said for that as we see in the book of Acts. Of course we don’t just want growth in numbers, but in spiritual depth as well.

Meanwhile the church in the west is either dying, or just holding its own with some exceptions to the rule, but even those exceptions at the current time seeing declining growth. Could it be that like arguably Europe in the past, this is becoming a Laodicean age for the church in the northern hemisphere, rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing (Revelation 3)?

For faith to be real faith, one’s life must be on the line. Of course when people first come to faith in Christ, they are not necessarily going to see that implication that is present. But they will learn to see it over time. God by the Spirit will not let us off the hook. Of course one’s eternal life is taken care of. But all of life is to be included in our utter dependence on God. So that when we’re up against it through whatever difficulties we face we must learn to commit it all to God and press on ahead, regardless. Following Christ means doing so no matter what.

So today that is my stand. To push ahead in faith, and do the best I can regardless of what I face. And to do so, thanking God for his promises and provision for us along the way in everything in and through Jesus.

learning to live in weakness

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Just an opening thought on my blogging: it might be and to some extent surely is a telling critique to suggest that blogging everyday does not allow the blogger or whatever reader audience may be present to really process and digest what is written. I have been blogging for more than ten years now and it was suggested in the early days when blogging was hot that to have the most effective blog, one should blog daily. So I soon adopted that, which has long been a habit. I enjoy writing, so that’s part of it. But if you look at my blog, you’ll notice that some of the same themes come up again and again. And more than less, nearly every posting is a continuation of the thought, or likely more like a variation of it, which has been hashed through a number of posts previously. That could be in part because I tend to always process thoughts over time.

Weakness is one of the major themes I keep coming to time and time again. That’s probably because I’m a slow learner on it, but it’s also because it’s not an easy lesson to learn, at least not for me. Who wants to live in weakness?

I’m not referring to a weakness in giving into sin, but weakness in the midst of resisting sin. Not to say we can be sinless, either. But I am referring to the kind of overcoming by faith which lives in the midst of weakness.

For me, one aspect of this is my struggle against anxiety, which can be a sin in not trusting God. And what I’m coming to find is that my quest for certainty often leads to a gnawing and then choking anxiety, which by the time I get to that, I can easily see the enemy at work, so that I can give the lie to that thought, and accept only God’s work and the peace which accompanies that.

Of course there’s no real certainty in this world (except, as they say, of death and taxes). Nothing seems totally foolproof here, or as if there’s an arrival to some kind of eureka in which all is well, try and try again, as we all do, and as certain projects have. We do well to accept that, and even embrace it. At the same time doing the best we can, but recognizing that at times, that too will not be enough. And in a certain sense never is since God’s hand must accompany or hold, and most accurately even be what is behind the work in the first place.

I think I might be coming to a new place in learning to live with weakness, which has been incremental with seeming breakthroughs along the way, only to be tested time and time again. I hope by God’s grace to continue to grow in this. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

fight on

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

Life alone throws enough hard challenges due to all the inherent limitations as well as the brokenness present in creation. But add to that being bearers of the gospel, the good news in Jesus in the midst of the world, the flesh and the devil, and the fight is on.

Paul told Timothy, at the end of that great letter 1 Timothy, to fight, of course nothing more and nothing less than a spiritual fight, “the good fight of the faith.” Really in Jesus that’s what we’re supposed to be all about. Not fights over politics, or even religion. Not fights over who is right or wrong about whatever. Certainly not fisticuffs.

We have to fight on, and we have to fight hard. And to the end. Paul’s last letter would seem to verify that:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

So hopefully I’ll have the grace of God to keep doing that, along with others in Jesus to the end.

fear or love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

The older I get, the more I realize just how important it is to understand the experience of living in God’s grace/favor in terms of love. So that if we fear, somehow we are falling short of what we have in Christ: namely God’s love.

God’s love is not merely theoretical, or something we know in our heads. It is indeed something we’re to enjoy in our hearts. Bringing us peace, not fear.

So in a sense we should always be running away from fear toward love.

I am coming to judge more and more God’s direction in terms of whether or not I have God’s peace about something, which comes out of his love. A note: This is from John and in John’s gospel account of Jesus’s Upper Room discourse on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus ties peace and love together, that in him his disciples are to have peace, so that they’re not to let their hearts be troubled. That they’re live in his love, just as he lives in the Father’s love (John 13-17).

If I am quite troubled, or fearful about something, that’s a good indication that God is not in it. I’m not referring to a healthy fear, which is something entirely different. For example a fear that I will hurt someone in some way. But rather a debilitating fear in which one’s existence in some way or another feels threatened. In God’s love in Jesus there is always peace, even the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). And that includes God’s convicting work of our sin, as well. It is never condemning in Jesus, the point of the 1 John passage quoted above. The devil’s argument to us is that God is out to get us in condemning us, rather than the truth that God is out to love us in and through Jesus. And as Jesus said, that he had not come to condemn even the world, but to save the world.

It’s either one or the other. Of course that doesn’t mean we have God’s peace apart from God’s love. God’s love certainly involves living in Jesus, which means living in God’s will. We don’t just do whatever, and think that we’re living in God’s love. God’s love for us in Jesus is always present, but we have to return home, and live in that love, not in the pigsty and deception of the world (and the flesh and the devil). We learn to live in the Father’s embrace, as imperfect as we are, even when we might be a mess, and struggling with a sin issue. Always and forever it is God’s love in Jesus which makes the difference for us, a love which we share with all others. The love of God in Jesus.

deficits becoming helps

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Some of us are challenged in significant ways. Actually all humans are likely challenged in some way or another. In a sense, just because of sin, we all are.

Some problems can be rather life threatening. Sin can put a choke hold on anyone, and there can seem to be no way out. It takes the form of addictions and sometimes simply liabilities which threaten our sense of well being.

Redemption in Christ frees us from sin’s consequences by freeing us from its power over us. That comes by faith. We look to the crucified, risen Lord for the salvation we need, and we begin to live the new life that brings. And it involves a process which takes time, along with the fellowship of the church and prayer.

In the case of the Apostle Paul and his team, they were evangelizing, sharing the gospel in areas where it had never been proclaimed. And as a result, they were up against it from people who opposed such a message, which seemed to strike at the heart of what they were all about, and ultimately does, although it sets us on the course of being truly human, toward fulfilling our own humanity. And they as well as we face the spiritual enemy, which is bent on keeping people in blindness and chains for ultimate destruction.

One of the truths I find in my own life, which actually is both discouraging, but ultimate encouraging is that the struggles I face can by and by help me to a stronger, deeper faith. What can be discouraging is not only the problems themselves, but the fact that the same old problems we overcame can be back again later, after we think we had overcome them. And rationality is a challenge when we’re cast in the midst of darkness, when all seems lost, and we’re at a loss. But during those times we need to hold on to faith and pray. And have others pray for us, as was true in Paul’s case (see passage above). “This too will pass.”

And so deficits can become helps. I dislike an opposite word or something like it which would mean positives. It’s the way of Jesus, the way of the cross that we are taking. Inherently in the way of our human weakness (read the entire book of 2 Corinthians). But through that, coming to know the Lord’s strength. In and through Jesus.

God has the answer

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7

There is no question that at times we’re befuddled and wondering just what is going on in a given situation. When it seems like God has all but abandoned us, or others, and things are falling through. When it may not seem even rational, at least when factoring in God’s work and peace which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6,7).

God has the answer. We have only to ask. God looks for faith, and seems to treasure that even above love, in a sense. While loving God supremely with all of one’s being is the first and greatest commandment, without faith it’s impossible to please him. We may profess love, and engage in acts of love for God, maybe religious acts, and perhaps those will be acts of faith. But what God is looking for first is faith in his word, and especially in God’s word about his Son, Jesus (1 John 5:9-12).

Of course the answer might not actually be what we asked for or anticipated. That is where we need to have an openness, and seek to have ears to ear what God might be saying, and a heart to understand and be open to any possible unanticipated changes which may be coming.

God has the answer. We need to hold on in faith, a faith which in the words of our Lord keeps on asking, seeking and knocking. Knowing that God will come through in God’s time with his good answer, whatever that might be. In and through Jesus.