finding the wealth in poverty

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

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

Matthew 5

Scripture and especially in the way of Jesus is full of paradox in which the normal order of things seems upside down. What works in the world isn’t at all what works in the way of the Lord. Unless somehow the world’s values are imposed on the church, which all too often is the case, and which we need to guard against both in our personal lives, and together, in the life and witness of the church. Of course that’s not to say that somehow we don’t try to connect with others in following Paul’s example of being all things to all people to by all possible means save as many as possible (1 Corinthians 9).

The way Jesus starts out the Sermon on the Mount is especially near and dear to me, since most all of my life I’ve really struggled internally. And scripture and especially the gospel does answer much of that struggle, for example the Lord gives us his peace in his presence in the Father’s love by the Spirit which is for all of us, for all who believe.

I find over and over again that accepting the struggle and hard places of life, instead of trying to find an answer past or around them is key for me. I find the Lord in those places, his strength in my weakness. I also have found again and again that the Lord meets me in the depths, in the hardest places. And that I shouldn’t be afraid of either pressure or even controversy, both inevitable even as simple followers of Jesus. But I am more than happy for those times which are relaxing and in which there doesn’t seem to be a care in the world.

The poor in spirit is an apt description of myself and my own spirit and spiritual state. But I find that’s where faith is born, and grows, and even thrives. Not in a world in which everything is awesome with high fives. But in a place of struggle which encourages humility so that we’re cast upon God.

I get in trouble when I am trying to find the spiritual secret to getting out of my mess. But when I accept the poverty, then ironically I find the Lord’s hand to help me to a place that seems more like Jesus, in him. Paul’s thought in Philippians comes to mind here:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

Over and over again, we find this to be true in the witness of scripture, and in life. With that comes the danger of caving in, and not having the right attitude in the midst of difficulty. Instead we need to press on in faith, and learn to rest in Jesus and the Father’s love in him. Accepting poverty so that we might find true riches in and through Jesus.

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stepping over the line

There are points in time when one needs to take a dramatic stand in regard to their faith. I’m not thinking at all about anything public, or what’s seen by others. In fact what is unseen impacts life far more often than what’s seen. I think of Jesus’s words about praying to the Father in secret, or giving to those in need (Matthew 6).

We can’t do this on our own. We need the Lord’s help by the Spirit to do what we can’t possibly do in and of ourselves. Yes, we need wisdom from God, as well. But a part of that wisdom is a radical faith which is willing to do what might make no sense to us, or to the world, but is in line with faith and the faith, with God’s will and the gospel.

I would like to think of this more in terms of community, and in Jesus we’re never apart from his body, the church. But I also have to think of it as an individual. We have our own burdens and experiences which in some way might be shared by others, but in no way can be lived out by them for us. God includes every one of us. We are in a mess, the mess of this world, living within the sphere of the influence, influx, and indeed even control of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So why should we expect an easy ride, or everything to be wonderful? As Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

May God help us to know what lines we need to cross in our personal journey. And by faith, may we take that step, and press on. Always in and through Jesus.

true faith struggles, as well as rests

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

Again and again and again, we have to apply the words of scripture. Wouldn’t it be nice if we only had to do it once, and then it would be done, complete? But not so in this life, though we do want to grow so that when the same problem comes to us, or we find ourselves in the same state of mind, that somehow it is better than before. That would be good, even though at times we seem to be worse than before.

My goal in life in part is to live by faith. Living by faith does not exclude struggle, or feeling at times lost, and perhaps even undone. It does mean that in whatever we’re experiencing, or facing, we do so in faith, which means taking the words of scripture, God’s word, to heart, choosing by faith to act on them. Such times are every bit as much a part of the faith life, as the times when we’re at rest and peace. All of this a part of our lives here and now in and through Jesus.

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).

asking questions

If there’s one thing I might say characterizes my thinking, it is asking questions. Or let’s put it this way: one thing I’d like to be true in my case, that would be a good beginning.

Faith isn’t at all diminished, when we ask questions. The Bible has many examples of that, both in terms of serious probing, and simple anguish. In fact we do well to bring our questions to God. And when we look at scripture, we find that God himself is not afraid to ask questions to challenge or encourage people concerning their faith. Jesus asked questions. So it can work both ways.

We are blessed to live during a time when many answers, or something toward an answer is right at our fingertips with the internet. That can be good. But in the end, we need to ask the harder, and larger questions: Why am I here; what’s the meaning of life? What is the conclusion, when all is said and done (Ecclesiastes)? Who is Jesus, and what difference does that make? Why is the resurrection the heart of the Christian faith, so that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then our faith is null and void?

Of course we ask the lesser questions too, which all have their place of importance: Have humans impacted the climate, and if so, what can be done about it? And a whole host of questions on issues which in some cases are debated. Asking questions helps us find and better understand issues and problems, and can help us work toward possible solutions.

In the end for me I have to get in the word, and then the questions I have are in relation to what I’m reading and meditating on there. I find that gives a perspective like surely nothing else can. After all, I’m getting into God’s word written. And that helps me to major on what is major, and minor on what is minor, not that I achieve that well, all the time, or perhaps anytime at all, for that matter. We all need God’s grace in Jesus always. It’s not the case of asking the right questions. But faith takes God’s word seriously, and the nature of faith is interactivity with God. Questions can be one aspect of that.

And so we can continue to ask questions. But we do so, looking to the Lord to either answer them, or more likely to give us the grace to carry on in spite of not having any answer, although scripture gives us what we need for a life lived well before God. More and more we find that the answer to all of life somehow ultimately lies in God himself in and through Christ and by the Spirit. Of course many details addressed along the way as well, since God’s gifts figure in that equation, also.

And so keep asking questions. That is indicative of a faith that is alive and growing. Or could help one toward the beginning of faith. And look to God for the answers, through his word, and prayer. The way, the truth, and the life found in Jesus, so all of this actually in and through him.

 

enduring hardship/suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2 (NASB)

There are times which test one’s mettle, as they used to say. There may be someone who clearly dislikes us no matter what we try to do to make peace and good will. We likely face tremendous difficulties in one way or another. Life is difficult, period; there are always enough challenges. When one sets themselves to pray and keep praying, it often seems that all hell breaks loose.

Whatever may be the case, we have to remember that we’re no less than in a war. Yes, Jesus Christ won the victory on the cross in his death and resurrection. And we stand in that victory. But we do so as those who remain on earth as Christ’s mystical Body, awaiting his return when all enemies will be vanquished. It is indeed a spiritual battle, not a physical one. We do not take up arms and kill other human beings. Because our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual entities which underly the evil of this world. God judges humans; somehow we his people end up judging angels, which perhaps(?) includes demons. God uses the state, the governing authorities to bring judgment on evildoers. In the end God judges everyone. It is our task to keep our own house, the church in order. We’re to judge ourselves individually and corporately.

It won’t be easy and we’re grateful for periods of rest. But a battle continues on. Satan may be bound in that we have authority over him and his minions through the gospel. But they are still active doing their evil work here on earth.

We do well to press on, knowing that the Lord will be present with us to the end. He will give us the strength and peace we need. Not left to ourselves in the struggle, though sometimes it may seem that way. We will be buoyed up and carried, lifted on our feet to continue on until the end.

asking God to search our heart

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:19-24

I’m not much impressed with a lot of the critiques that circulate these days from standards which are taken for granted. There usually is some truth in error, but like so many things, the issues end up being more complex than that. Certain standards are set forth by the world and even by us Christians. And yet we need to read our entire Bibles. Every verse. I would say even in ecclesiastical/church settings (or at least in our own reading), even if we have to explain some of it in terms of Ancient Near East writings, the context in which it was written, so that the meaning may not be precisely what we think. And we need to keep reading the entire Bible, cover to cover. That would help solve some of the tendencies prevalent among us.

Having said that, I in no way am exonerating all the words of the psalm quoted above, as if we are to conform to such as followers of Jesus. Jesus taught a new way indeed, that we are to love our enemies and pray for them. And yet there’s something to be said for all of this. The imprecatory psalms asking for God’s intervention, even judgment on the enemies of the faithful seem to me to be echoed in the last book of the New Testament, of the Bible, Revelation (6:9-11). Or perhaps the martyrs were praying for their enemies, for their salvation, while at the same time praying for God’s judgment on them. We know the latter is true.

There is also no doubt that we are caught up at times in an air in a relationship which is both on edge so that it can go over the edge at times. Although this isn’t precisely what the psalmist was saying above, we can harbor wrong attitudes even in our struggle over perceived injustice, which although perhaps having merit, isn’t of the grace of our Lord that we are to carry toward others. If only we could see ourselves in that same light sometimes.

And so the prayer to ask God to search our hearts is appropriate, especially certain times in our struggle. And sometimes we need to keep it going, even after some breakthroughs, over longstanding grievances or difficulties with another. We need God’s help and that need will be ongoing in this life.

I like the New American Standard Bible’s rendition of this prayer in the words: “And see if there be any hurtful way in me…” And of course the end of the prayer: “and lead me in the way everlasting.”