the necessity and blessing of self-control

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith…with self-control…

2 Peter 1:5-6

I almost entitled this “the necessity and blessing of good old fashioned self-control” but thought better, since what we’re referring to here is not some stoic (as we mean that nowadays), self-made operation or effort. God’s grace underlies all, as seen clearly in this passage (click link).

But I would like to highlight self-control in a way which puts an emphasis on it. A good friend pointed out to me that it is not self-control, but God’s control which we’re after. Okay, I get the point. But I would counter with something like this: God’s grace and work, and if you want to put it that way and surely this has validity if understood correctly- God’s control, under all of that, we have to exert self-control.

And it’s not like we don’t have opportunities to do that. They are surely multitudinous, many. Think of whatever it is that can get us offtrack: Worry/anxiety, fear, greed, jealousy/envy, lust, anger, harsh words, and rabbit holes of many kinds. You name it. In all of that, in all of life we have opportunity time and again, over and over to exercise self-control.

And we especially need to do this when we feel dead inside, and when all of our impulses would move us otherwise. That may seem like an us-thing and not a God-thing, but self-control is self control. Yes the Spirit can and will help us in this, as it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit which in essence is love (Galatians 5:23). But I want to once again emphasize: This is something we do yes with God’s help, but we still do it. We’re not automatons; we do this one might say in cooperation with God. Yes, God’s grace underlies all, every good thing is a gift. But we still end up having to do what is not automatic in and of itself.

In the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament and I think carried over into the New Testament, God seems to expect people to do better, and over and over again takes especially God’s people to task for doing otherwise. We need to hear this and take it seriously. We will fail along the way, but then we need to exercise self-control then as well, and get out of that ditch through confession and doing what needs to be done to do what is right and good.

A great opportunity for us.

the call to excel to true excellence

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence…

2 Peter 1:3-5a

We are weak and off the mark in any number of ways. It is good to hold on to that with humility. At the same time God calls us to something higher, beyond our own grasp. But because of God’s act in Christ, the power and promises accompanying that, we’re to will and work (Philippians 2:13), desire and act accordingly.

Of course, excellence includes any number of things, many of which are not in harmony and are completely the opposite of the excellence to which God calls us to. We’re referring here to that which is in fulfillment of love to God and to neighbor. Whatever it is we’re thinking about pertaining to our lives, we should want to excel in it. Not trying to outdo anyone but trying to do the very best we can.

We’ll have to pick and choose, because we can’t excel at everything. But depending on our own gifts and how life is falling out, we will do well to want to excel at whatever we’re doing, especially where we sense something of a calling. At the same time, we need to realize that this is a quest. We never fulfill perfection in this in this life. But that should not stop us for a second to aspire and work toward this. Seeing God’s gift in it along the way. Even as we see and benefit from that same excellence from others. In and through Jesus.

getting a gain from a loss

…all of us make many mistakes.

James 3:2a

Like a dog that returns to its vomit
    is a fool who reverts to his folly.

Proverbs 26:11

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

James 1:5

How often do we get hit with something which can come from our own mistake, or even if not, we let get to us and bring us under so to speak? Instead we would do well to develop a mentality to not only learn from a mistake or whatever has happened, but to grow from it, so that afterwards we’re at a place where we weren’t before.

This can be considered a part of spiritual warfare, and just as a part of life as well. We would rather not have to learn from mistakes or trials, but we’ll inevitably make mistakes and face trials. The important thing is to make progress in our walk with God and in this world, and not to act and react the same way over and over again years on end.

We certainly will need to ask God for wisdom to go with the wisdom we’ve already received from God. Asking for counsel and for others to pray for us is all good and not only good, but surely underrated.

This involves a process which will take some patience, perseverance, even endurance, and time. We just want to rush through things, get a good answer, and go on merrily through life. But the bumps and bruises, fits and starts, and whatnot, all that we have to face in this world is simply a given. We need to learn to settle down in what really is.

I for one am determined to learn and do better, be better. That will include something which it seems to me a lot of Christians buck up against and not only resist, but don’t believe in. It’s often thought that because of grace, we should not struggle or work, that there’s no value in that, that instead we need simply to rest in God and in God’s promises. Yes, we must always trust in God, but part of that is to simply do whatever it is we have to do and refuse to do what we should not. That will be up to us, our willpower no less. We won’t grow more towards growing up, otherwise. All of this in and through Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation to the weary, heavy burdened ones

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30; NRSVue

Jesus gave an invitation during his earthly ministry which written here is still open to us today. It’s made possible through the ascended Christ’s presence everywhere by the Spirit.

And if we’ll just accept it and seek to enter in and remain in that, this will make the needed difference. It’s offered in grace to us, and it’s up to us to avail ourselves of it. We’ll be enabled to follow in the way of Christ. And as Jesus tells us here, we’ll find rest for our souls, since unlike our crushing, heavy burdens, the yoke we take with him will be easy, the burden light. As we learn from the one who is gentle and humble in heart. In and through Jesus.

the underrated, underappreciated, relatively unpracticed activity of radical decision

After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Luke 5:27

It seems to me that a common idea which is mostly taken for granted is that decision-making is of little to no value at all, that we will do what we do for a host of reasons, and that includes all the decisions involved in that. The thought of decision I’m referring to here are life-altering or at least life-improving decisions. Decisions in order to make things work along the way is certainly accepted, but life-altering or even improving decisions are often looked upon with suspicion. Yes, people try, but almost inevitably they sink back into their old ways. There are exceptions to this as when people acknowledge that it is possible to break free from serious, destructive addictions with the help of others, over time, and not apart from significant difficulty.

I think we’re all well enough aware of habits of life that either are not helpful to us, or may even be harmful. We might see them as innocent in and of themselves, but they may be distracting us from what’s most important. And for the follower of Christ, the initial radical decision to follow Christ involves what at times are difficult decisions along the way to leave this or that behind, as not in line with this following.

Levi (who also is named Matthew, one of the apostles, writer of the first gospel account) left everything to follow Christ. In that decision involved in answering Jesus’s call, there was a power at work to help Levi follow through and keep on following Jesus.

Levi’s life did change in a day, but much about Levi was the same. But because of the decision, and the completely different trajectory it took, we can be sure that Levi was significantly differently a year from that initial decision, and all the more so by the end of his lifetime. In other words what I’m trying to say is that a decision at a certain point can make a world of difference.

The way we see decision, it’s small wonder that it makes little to no difference. So that we make almost silly New Year’s resolutions at times, because we don’t take the idea that seriously in the first place. Or that anything we might at least want to take seriously is usually broken soon, because we don’t really take decision-making with much seriousness at all, certainly not enough, so that often we forget we even made the resolution, and hence, break it.

The difference is the purpose involved. Is our decision about following Christ, or connected to it? We can be assured that if such is the case, God will help us remember and follow through on making and fulfilling all the necessary decisions which follow that initial decision. All and everything that is not in line with following Christ, we are meant to leave behind.

I do want to add to this that I think the importance of humans being able to make important, life-altering decisions, in and of itself is not taken seriously enough. Certainly help is needed along the way, but to say that humans can’t make important decisions themselves and see good things come out of such in time, I think is failing to appreciate the special ability within humans as those made in God’s image. And this thought carries through to followers of Christ, as well. Let’s not minimize our own human decision, even while we acknowledge that all really do need God’s help and the help of others along the way.

God will help us if we’re intent in doing this. We can be assured of that. And when we forget and fall back, we simply repent of that, and resolve all the more to follow through on the decision made, difficult as it may be, especially in the beginning and earlier stages. God will help it become shaped and confirmed and part of our lives. In and through Jesus.

rejoicing all the time?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

Lament is a missing word in our vocabulary. I remember once leading a short devotional time on Psalm 88, and asking everyone if they thought it might apply to us today. They didn’t think so. I think it does.  So what’s up when Paul tells us more than once in this letter, and others elsewhere in Scripture to rejoice in God, to rejoice in the Lord, no matter what?

It is helpful that Paul gives it as something we’re to do. It’s not something he’s saying we’re caught up into, though that certainly may occur. It is part of the attitude we’re to adopt as Christ followers. Instead of groveling, being down in the mouth over difficulties, we choose to do something. Notice I didn’t say feel different. There’s nothing we can do directly to change our feelings, though what we do can indirectly result in our feelings being changed, given some time. We simply do something. We rejoice, and we rejoice in God.

Some do this loud and often, others like me don’t. Or depending on what we’re doing, we rejoice in the Lord under our breath. This is an important starting point for us, if we’re to live in the life God has for us in Christ. And it doesn’t mean we don’t sorrow or lament. Quite the contrary. If you return to the Psalms, unlike the Psalm mentioned above, you’ll notice that the psalms of lament and complaint are mixed with praise to God. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10a).

Something I’m working on, that helps lift my spirits when I’m weighed down with trouble. In and through Jesus.

to be poor in spirit

[Jesus] said:

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

Matthew 5:2b-3

To be poor in spirit in some respects is to be like Jesus. Jesus was poor in the world’s eyes, not a boaster, not self-willed, not posing as someone great. Utter humility in becoming one of us, but that’s who he was before. But this became evident when the Creator became a creature. And gentle and humble in heart. Not forcing his will on others, but giving space to them, even to the point of suffering at people’s hands, to the point of death.

When we look at poor in spirit, we think of the fact that we’re poor and needy sinners in need of forgiveness. Yes, that surely has application here. And it could mean something like living simply and being generous with what one has to help others in need.

At any rate, we in Jesus as his followers are among the blessed when we’re poor in spirit. In and through Jesus.

 

keep your eyes on God

A psalm of David.

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
do not let me eat their delicacies.

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
from the snares they have laid for me.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by in safety.

Psalm 141

We live during a most difficult time given the pandemic which has hit us, and the division that is exacerbated because of it. And we all have our unique challenges to face.

Like the psalmist here, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. Nor do we want to lose sight of the big picture. The psalmist does neither, as they address God in prayer and with their own thoughts, inspired or not.

And surely the key in the midst of the mess is to fix one’s eyes on God. This takes resolution and discipline, as we face the ongoing trouble, and lift our hearts and troubles to God. In and through Jesus.

taking on the challenge

Are there times when one can’t see the light of day, and would just as soon give up? Or when there’s not much more than going through the motions, trying to keep up well what one has to do, but nothing more than that? We live in a world in which it’s easy to lose hope.

For the Christian, the follower of Christ, there is the call to lay down one’s life for Jesus and the gospel. And a key for that is prayer. We’re to pray that the message of the gospel might go forward, and we’re to show by our lives the difference that gospel makes. And be ready to answer anyone in a conversation, on our part “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4).

We have to learn that through the worst, God is able to work, in fact it is often through the bad, troubled times, that God does his work. Of course it is through our weakness that Christ’s strength is made known, or “perfect” (2 Corinthians 12).

And so that is my own determination. To walk right through the hard places in order to fulfill God’s calling for us in Christ, no matter how hard that might be. It is a challenge, to be sure. But the way in Christ is the way of suffering for his sake, and for the gospel. We carry on, because we want to see God’s good will break through in difficult circumstances, and lives impacted and turned around through the gospel.

Dallas Willard on self-control

Self-control is the steady capacity to direct yourself to accomplish what you have chosen or decided to do and be, even though you “don’t feel like it.” Self-control means that you, with steady hand, do what you don’t want to do (or what you want not to) when that is needed and do not do what you want to do (what you “feel like” doing) when that is needed. In people without rock-solid character, feeling is a deadly enemy of self-control and will always subvert it. The mongoose of a disciplined will under God  and good is the only match for the cobra of feeling.

Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ, 127.