knowing what we’re up against

Yesterday in a helpful message on giving money (1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8, 9), Jeff Manion pointed out that it’s important for us to know what we’re up against especially in our own tendencies, as well as simply living in a world with values which might run contrary to our own so that we might feel pressure to conform. Know and grow were maybe the two big words in these two message on giving money in The Grace Effect series.

Yes, and so important, a really good opening up and application of those passages for us today. And I have to think along with that, this is a good word to us in general. We need to know and grow. Know where we’re at, what our goal is in Christ through the word, and what opposition we have. Of course we learn all of this from the word, from scripture, as well as simply from living in life, both. Scripture is the basis for our thinking and action, and life confirms it in various ways.

It’s all ongoing. Don’t we all wish we could simply step into the full and complete victory of God in Jesus? And it’s not like we never do, or in a sense already have in our salvation in Jesus, because that most certainly is the case. But from that we grow, because we’re left in this present existence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And make no mistake, the going is not always easy, sometimes brutally hard. And that is in large part to our own tendencies. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who insisted that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, and that we would find rest in that yoke with him (Matthew 11:28-30)?

But we know that we’re also up against an enemy which knows our weakness, and seeks to exploit it just at certain times. I definitely, and at times frequently experience that. As we’re told in scripture, we are in a spiritual battle, no doubt (Ephesians 6:10-20).

To be forewarned it to be forearmed, they say. To know does seem to be half the battle. Although in this case, knowing ends up being even more, since we have to understand our struggle, as well as what God’s will in Jesus actually is for us. Too many of us, and too often, as well as too long in our lives, settle into something far less that what God has for us in Jesus. We need to become more and more aware of that, as well as more and more aware of God’s victory in Jesus which is for us now. And how this need never ends in this present existence of the world, the flesh and the devil. But is overcome by the gospel, the good news in Jesus, through the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And incrementally through growth, but a growth which helps us to live fully, more and more in that salvation for us, present now in Jesus.

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anger and grace don’t mix

26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4

Literally, it’s “Be angry,” but the NIV probably captures the meaning well, since it likely is not an actual command to be angry, but rather an accommodation. In fact it is not saying that anger in itself is sin, but suggesting that it can lead to, or become sin.

Ephesians quotes from Psalm 4 (see other translations from the link below, and notice the context):

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
    Think about it overnight and remain silent. Interlude

Psalm 4:4: NLT

It might be okay to be angry. Anger is dangerous, and best avoided. But sometimes anger is not only acceptable and justified, but it might even be right. Of course the Lord’s anger is always right, what is called righteous anger. And given the evil in the world, it can surely sometimes be quite wrong not to be angry.

But justifiable anger needs to be given over to the Lord in prayer. We most likely will have to confess what is sin in our anger to God. We have to let it go, or at least give it to God as best we can. And we have to counter it with mercy extended to the one who might be in the wrong. Or dealing with the issue of just why we’re angry. Of course the Psalm 4 passage is good on this. Silence is most often wise, especially in the face of what is angering us, or most likely to. We dare not forget the deadly demonic force the tongue can be (James 3).

Anger and grace don’t mix. Do we want to endeavor to walk with God, and hear from God through his word? Then we dare not harbor anger. That opens the door to the devil, and to all the deception that comes with that. It is more than not worth it. It is bad in and of itself.

So no matter what the case, let’s deal with what is provoking or troubling us as best we can: in prayer, silence, pondering, more prayer, and definitely as well endeavoring to listen to God through God’s word. 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.

temptation to doubt God and God’s word

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Genesis 3

A basic problem Christians and just people in general face is the temptation to not really believe what God says. Christians and surely others will have some kind of belief or faith in God, but they don’t really take what God’s word says seriously. Maybe they don’t listen, or it just seems too good to be true, and not real to life. I should say we, because I face the same struggles, temptations, and at times, just plain blindness, and frankly the darkness which comes with that.

In the story of early humankind, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the serpent either inhabited by the devil, or else simply the devil himself, disrupts everything by putting into question God’s word, and thereby God’s character in terms of goodness, as well. God’s prohibition I think was a heads up not to succumb to the temptation to be independent of him, God dealing with the basic temptation he knew humankind would face. Eve listened, ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then Adam her husband followed. And they were driven out of the garden, out of shalom, because of this act of disobedience. And lacking that basic faith in God, humankind has been in dire straits ever since.

And now we follow in their train doing the same thing over and over again, and inclined to keep doing it. And that’s true even after we come to faith in Christ. Romans 7 talks about indwelling sin, and apart from grace and the Spirit, under the law, that sin inclines us entirely in the direction of going our own way rather than in the way of God’s will, his good, loving intention for us. But the gospel in Jesus by his death sets us entirely into a new possibility bringing forgiveness and new life with the beginning of the new creation which is to be fulfilled when the new heavens and earth become one at Jesus’s return.

I am still so tempted time and again to doubt God and God’s word, but in ways that are surely subtle and not readily obvious. It’s like sometimes that God and God’s word is not relevant in the discussion or consideration of real life. But that’s the problem: we are so used to living apart from God and God’s will. That’s like second nature to us. And when it comes right down to it, we even can doubt God’s goodness and the gospel.

We need to return again and again to scripture, and especially the fulfillment of it in Jesus and his death and resurrection. And see that God’s commitment to us is one of complete love, that what he gives to us in creation now broken because of “the fall,” he wants to restore in the new creation completely with much more. Into a full, complete relationship with him by the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus.

The good news in Jesus is the heart of this. And Jesus’s death and the life that comes out from that is at the heart of that good news/gospel, taking us back once more to God as God really is. The God we can entrust our lives too, the lives of our loved ones, and indeed even the world itself. Believing fully in that God, and learning to rest in him and his word in and through Jesus.

believing lies

[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

John 8

Lies are a dime of dozen, maybe simply more evident nowadays via the internet. There certainly was never any shortage of them. They can be blatant or subtle. And it can get to the place where it is hard to sort out truth from falsehood, fact from fiction. And it seems like we humans are bent and prone to error.

Oftentimes the lie is in the perception, failing to appreciate the intent, and often the complexity in what one is evaluating. That was true of the people in Jesus’s day who were failing to see him for who he really was: God become human, radical enough, but even more radical, God having become human to die even for them, for their sin, for the sin of the entire world. And to usher in a new world in which the truth would set people free.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8

Falsehood and lies blind and bind us. And most of it is on a personal level deep inside of us. Handed down to us from well meaning and maybe not so well meaning people of our past. Words which have echoed in our brain for years and years, and shaped us more than we would like to admit. But part of knowing the truth is to begin to understand the lies.

Truth in life, in our world is devastating enough. One could well lament forever, given the seemingly bottomless pit of evil in our world. But to know the truth involves taking in the entire picture. God became flesh, fully human in Jesus the Son, and completed what God called Israel to do, in bringing in God’s kingdom to earth. Through the cross, yes, the cross. Through Jesus’s death no less. And then came the resurrection life, the new creation, in which all of God’s good intentions are fulfilled, and sin and death, endemic in the old creation, are gone.

I struggle with lies throughout the course of many days, many moments turned into hours, I suppose, of many days. That probably is especially true when I’m tired, and not into scripture as much as I need to be.

We need to reflect on God’s Word in Jesus and the gospel, which is expansive in its impact in all of life, as seen both in scripture and in our lives. We have to begin to sort out truth from error from there. And anytime we sniff and end up discerning falsehood, summarily dismiss it.

Lies want to hold on tenaciously, with tentacles which grip our very souls and imprison us in their dark shadows. But

…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

We all need that freedom. Certainly I need it. I can still, even after all of these years in Christ, become a victim of lies. Instead we need to receive the truth as it is in Jesus, accept that, and find in it a gracious, loving Father who forgives all our sins, and makes us his children in and through Jesus. We need to find the freedom in the light which comes from that. And begin to become shaped by that truth, which in essence is a person, Jesus. It is through him and his death that we are brought into this new light and life.

So today in the midst of the dim roar of life with all its demands and struggles, I want to better discern falsehood, and learn more and more to live in the truth. Knowing in all of that my own limitations and even failures, but accepting God’s word about Jesus, and even ourselves, as well as all of life- in him. And there is much more to say on that (the book of Ephesians is not a bad place to start).

the challenges of life

If you live long enough, whether rich or poor, you’ll sooner or later acknowledge that life itself is challenging on nearly every level. It is not automatic, unrelenting bliss, like some might imagine especially when they’re younger.

And just turn the pages of the Bible, and you’ll find trouble on nearly every page. Sometimes due to adverse circumstances, and more often due to what scripture calls the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It simply helps us when we realize this, and can help our focus. And actually I find again and again that trouble is what comes before faith. Salvation itself is a concept that talks about being saved or delivered from something, in scripture, from sin, death, and evil (and/or, the evil one). The consequences of sin can be the beginning of faith. And that’s both on a personal as well as cosmic level. We reap what we have sown, but that can cause us to call on the Lord, and enter into a life we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And we live in what from scripture we can rightly call a fallen world (“the fall” in Genesis 3), but what I prefer to call a broken world. The old creation was never meant to be the end all, but more like a window, as well as the stage in which a new world begins to emerge, destined someday in and through Christ to take over the old world.

Salvation is deliverance from, but also deliverance to. We are saved for God and God’s glory, and also for our good. And we are saved into a new world in the midst of the old, which while it can have some impact for good on the old, is the anticipation and even the beginning of the entirely new world to come in Jesus. So that the challenge of life involves living in an old world which by nature can’t fulfill what only the new world in and through Jesus can. See the book of Ecclesiastes for a good look at the attempt to make this old world the end all, and how, even when things are going well, it’s not.

So God won’t let us rest in this life. And actually, that’s a blessing since this life is not an end in itself, anyhow. For those who think they’ve arrived in this life, they either have their reward, or they’re in danger of losing out in what is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus, which is really about all that is promised in him.

So I take courage in the reality that if there’s trouble, that’s not in itself a necessary enemy of faith, but it can be the beginning of it, as well as a significant growing point for it. Let’s see our troubles, which by themselves are not good, as means to what is good, to draw us nearer to God, and God’s will and gift in Jesus. Even as we give all that is broken and really has no explanation, to him. As we await God’s full salvation to come in Jesus.