breaking through from unbelief to faith in the trials of life

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.

James 1:2-4

There are certain go-to texts we would rather not go to. But we live in the real world, with all of its issues, and we’re smack dab in the middle of it with issues of our own. I can’t think of a better example of that than this passage in James, though there are probably better examples I’ve essentially screened out.

Part of maturity, and specifically Christian maturity is to learn to accept each new situation or trying circumstance as an opportunity for growth in the Lord. That can get old and humdrum to us, but maybe that’s because we’ve not learned our lesson well, yet.

In this James passage, we find that difficulties, even trials or temptations can either end up working for our good or ill, depending on our own response. Maybe there’s some muddled up middle gray area since even with faith, we can still struggle in not really entering it as completely as we should. Scripture seems to make the case and it seems clear in this passage (click link above for the context) that we either enter into this blessing, or we don’t, one or the other. Ordinarily I think we might kind of live in the in-between realm, which means we don’t really enter into the “promised land” God has for us.

A side note, yet interesting, and surely pertinent in creation: neuroscience today is helping us understand the plasticity of the brain, and how it can be reshaped even in older age. And how it essentially is always being impacted by life.

This word of God from James puts forward to me a new challenge, maybe renewed, but coming across to me as new. I am personally weary of the same responses I have over and over again to trouble, especially in the form of threatening circumstances. My gut reaction is ordinarily always negative and I end up steeped in fear and anxiety. I am used to it. And I usually get over it more or less fairly soon, probably an improvement over the past. But that seems to indicate that I haven’t learned at least well enough to step past the line from unbelief to faith when it comes to such circumstances.

That is what by God’s grace I would like to change. Yes, according to this passage it’s up to me, not God, who has already done and is doing his part. God’s word of grace is present for me, God’s reality and truth. It’s up to me to learn to grasp and hold on to that. And thus be a doer of the word, and not just a hearer (James 1:19-27). In and through Jesus.

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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.

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.

dependence on God and the peace that follows

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
    for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

Isaiah 26:3; NIV

You will keep the mind that is dependent on you
in perfect peace,
for it is trusting in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
because in the LORD, the LORD himself, is an everlasting rock!

Isaiah 26:3; CSB

You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith,
for they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD from this time forward,
even in Yah, the LORD, an enduring protector!

Isaiah 26:3; NET Bible

The NET Bible note on one key difference in the translation we’re focusing on here (see the entire note for explanation of why the nation is in view rather than individuals):

In this context שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”), which is repeated for emphasis, likely refers to national security, not emotional or psychological composure (see vv. 1-2).

We are blessed today with reasonably priced Bible tools on line. My guess is that the Logos Bible software is as good as they come, but I haven’t looked into it. Yet it’s amazing what we have at our fingertips that is completely free (the first level of Logos is free as well). I use Bible Gateway, and sometimes the NET Bible with its substantial extensive notes.

Putting all of this together on this well known verse of scripture, it seems that what is probably spoken of here is the shalom which includes all human flourishing. Yes, safety from enemies, in the note above, “national security,” but contrary to that note, “emotional” and “psychological composure,” as well. The Hebrew Bible context of shalom is a fulfillment of what a people, including individuals were created to be: blessed to be a blessing. So that actually both the NET Bible rendering, along with the more traditional understanding of that passage are likely apt together. Although the same word can have different meaning depending on its context.

A key help for me is from the CSB rendering which brings out the need for dependence on God. Add to that this insight from John N. Oswalt in the first volume of his outstanding Isaiah commentary:

To experience the security of God’s city one thing is required: a fixed disposition of trust. This is the opposite of James’s “double-minded man” (Jas. 1:6-8) or Jesus’ servant of two masters (Matt. 6:24). This person has cast himself upon God without any reservation. To trust one’s ability partly and God partly is the surest prescription for insecurity and anxiety (8:11-22; 57:19-21). That person will never know the wholeness (shalom) which having all his or her commitments in one place may mean. This is not to say that we denigrate or deny God-given abilities. But it is to say that we refuse to believe the lie that we are independent and have in ourselves the keys to ultimate success in life. The person who…steadfastly looks to God can know an inner oneness which makes possible a confident outlook on the darkest scene. For our mortality, short-sightedness, and weakness, we receive in exchange God’s immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence. That is security.

So the crux of the matter of entering into and holding on to a faith which lives in this peace is a complete dependence on God. Of course not denying our own abilities, but not depending on them, either. Our very thoughts as well as actions are to be dependent on God, and not on ourselves, or anyone else. That’s of course not to say that God won’t use other’s thoughts, maybe even our own seemingly, to direct us. The point that must not be lost by us is that we need to commit ourselves to a dependence on God which is fixed, regardless of how we feel and the circumstances we are going through. It involves a commitment which is to help us to a fixed disposition in which we live.

One of my go to passages again comes to mind:

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 4:6-7

That is one concrete way we can deal with the inevitable problems and troubling thoughts that will come our way. And we’re to cast what burdens we have on the Lord.

For me, again, the bottom line is dependence. If I depend on God, I won’t be depending at all on myself. If there’s even a little dependence on me, then my dependence on God for all intents and purposes is null and void, empty.  And in all of this as God’s people, when we consider the Isaiah 26 passage along with the rest of the Bible, we’re all in this together, so that somehow there is an interdependency among us all. One indication in Galatians 6 where we’re told to carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

And so if I am troubled over something, that’s a sure sign that I need to hand what troubles me over to God, to relinquish any thought that I might somehow be able to figure out and fix the problem. Of course, I may factor into God’s answer. But my part and set disposition should be to trust it entirely into God’s hands and therefore to simply do nothing, to let it go. Until I get a sense of what God might want me to do.

Something I continue to aspire to and work on so as to confirm and grow in the change into which I’ve recently entered. In and through Jesus.

a lazy faith

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3

I often find, sadly, that when things are going well, I can have a quite lazy faith. One might even say this can be a first world problem, because relatively speaking compared to many in the world, life is good for most of us. Although hard trials can barge in to any person or family, to be sure. What I don’t like are the very issues and problems through which I might end up much closer to God, and more like Jesus, than I would have been without them.

In the case of the Laodicean church, there was nothing the matter, and life was good. They were living it up in the lap of luxury. Thankfully for them, the Lord was not going to let them go. He stepped in to discipline them in love. He was longing for their communion with him, no less. This isn’t really a passage for salvation, though I’m sure God has used it that way to bring sinners into the fold. But it’s aimed at a church of at least professing believers, surely some of them born of the Spirit, but lazy in their faith to the point that faith was not something really needed for this life.

I can imagine that for some, the way they’ve been mistaught, faith is more or less about getting to heaven someday when they die, akin to what Dallas Willard used to call a “bar code” Christianity. But if we open our Bibles and keep turning the pages, we will see all the many ways that faith is for this life. And particularly when we’re up against it, our faith is awakened to possibilities which before were not needed. And we can grow in our faith, and from that in our development as mature people in a way we otherwise would not (James 1).

The Lord didn’t leave the believers who thought they had it all together alone, and he won’t leave us alone either. He loves us too much for that. Let’s respond to that love, and open the door, and let the Lord have his way in every part of our lives.

muddling through life

muddle through

phrasal verb

If you muddle through, you manage to do something even though you do not have the proper equipment or do not really know how to do it.
We will muddle through and just play it day by day.
They may be able to muddle through the next five years like this.

I am more or less a fan of muddling through life. I’m sure this can be misunderstood, and actually is not an easy position to come to. By nature, there’s so much in life that’s trial and error. And some of us seem to be easily overcome emotionally, or whatever is the best way to describe it. So that life itself can seem overwhelming, a challenge, a heavy burden, even suffocating at times. I’ve been there, and still am there more often than I like.

It doesn’t matter how many times you go through such an experience, it’s so awful, that although you hopefully handle it much better, and guard yourself from letting things get to you, you’re going to hate it just as much, and want to be rid of it. And if you so much as catch a whiff of it, you would like to turn tail and run, have nothing to do with it. But then you’re caught up in it again.

I would like to say you can get rid of it by the right thought, prayer, or whatever. Maybe rarely that happens, but by and large it doesn’t and won’t. We do well to address the source of it, as best we can, hopefully having light from God to understand that, and then act on it. And not give up, but keep doing that.

But I’ve found, oddly enough, that the darkness and heaviness begins to dissipate, when I simply at last come to accept it. As a wise pastor from our past told us, we can’t simply snap ourselves out of fear (or a bad experience), and neither should we act on it. An important aside. But again, when I at last accept it, and determine to live with it by God’s grace, maybe something like Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 he asked the Lord to remove three times, but the Lord didn’t, then, usually sooner than later, the heaviness and darkness will recede, and the light of the Lord’s joy and peace will again be more or less present.

I also find, frankly, that ordinarily I have the sense of muddling through life, since in my own experience, I’ve had to face quite a few times when I feel inadequate and lost in and of myself. But I find that the Lord is present, as I seek to do his will regardless.

I am not much of a fan of the idea that everything should be great, that we should be on a high on some mountaintop experience, that if we were living the normal Christian life, we would bring heaven down to earth, and others would catch it from us. Actually that might indeed end up being the case from learning to live in the valley, in the depths. Finding there, that in our weakness and lostness the Lord is present, and that we are experiencing something of his strength. That he resides with the broken and poor in spirit. And even want to help others through us. All of this in and through Jesus.