past the “Why?” to the “What next?”

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9

Yesterday at our Ada Bible Church service, Jeff Manion spoke on this passage. I found it helpful on a number of levels, but the one that stood out for me for my own application was the point Jeff drew from the passage quoted above. Instead of asking why, or assuming some bad reason for the difficulties and tragedies of life, we need to look for God’s good hand in it all at work for the good of us his children (Romans 8:28). We need to see such trials not as crises, but as opportunities for God to work out his will in and through Jesus.

And one of the ways God will always be at work in any situation is to shape the character of those involved. Romans 8:28 just cited above needs to be connected to what follows it to be properly understood:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8

I remember reading somewhere recently that someday many of the things which bothered us the most won’t matter at all, so that they may not really matter now anyhow, except in how we handle them. But there are other things which are troublesome and at least in some way are challenging. In those things we need to look for God’s work in our lives. How in it all is God working for the good of others, and to make us like Jesus?

An important question for us all as we continue on in faith in and through Jesus.

 

when faced with a difficult situation, the need for wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1

Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.

“During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”

The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”

But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.

The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”

Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

1 Kings 3

There are those times and circumstances in which we are in a quandary to know what to do, maybe what to say and not say. Special times during which we need wisdom. The James passage quoted above is about facing trials, while the passage on Solomon’s ruling over the two women’s dispute comes in the narrative right after Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. We can be sure, James tells us, that God will give us wisdom when we ask, God being generous and not fault-finding. Solomon received that wisdom in spades, coming from his sincere request with the great responsibility that he faced as king of Israel. Ultimately sadly he failed, though just maybe the book of Ecclesiastes lends us in part some of a new wisdom discovered after his failure.

We have to keep looking to God for wisdom, and we must be determined to carry it out, to live what we learn. But we can be sure that if we ask and wait, God will give us the wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

toward greater things

I sometimes wonder, and this is true even when I read the psalms, but all the more true when I look at my own life, just what value there is in being taken up with troubles so close to home, when the world at large is suffering so horribly. The problems I’m absorbed in can be just as threatening at times, but by and large they pale in comparison with the trauma the world is suffering in so many places.

And yet I believe that God wants us to do well with the problems at hand right in front of us, in faith and reliance on him. With a special emphasis on loving God and loving others, especially those God has entrusted to our care.

Although we should bear the weight of our own responsibility, we can’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. And we’re not even required to carry any burden at all which weighs heavily on us. We’re told to cast our burdens on the Lord, and to cast all of our cares on him as well. To come to him when we are burdened and weighed down, with the promise that he will give us rest. That is hard for some of us, because we can be prone to take more responsibility than is reasonable. It is not always easy to figure out just what responsibility we have, and where it ends. And we are told to help each other at times, to carry one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ which is love.

Nothing is foolproof in this life, except seeking to live in God through Jesus. Although that in itself seems deceptive to us, since we’re at least prone to be bent in the wrong direction. And we never arrive in this life, as if its struggles and dangers are over. We await our Lord’s return with God’s promise of a different world in which all troubles will be gone.

What is certain is God’s promise of help for us now in and through Jesus. We keep pressing on, even in the midst of trouble, believing that God is good and is at work, and that we can be recipients of that work. And as we receive God’s help, our heart can be set free to yearn in prayer for the help of others in the world. And especially for the salvation of all, beginning in this present life in and through Jesus.

learning humility

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

There are all sorts of ways God seeks to teach us humility. Scripture over and over notes that God will seek to help people become humble through adversity. That if God’s kindness doesn’t lead people to repentance, then hopefully the hard places and even consequences of their sin will. And we find in scripture, as well as in real life that people do respond to that, and they don’t.

But the deepest and truest way to learn humility, and eventually the way God would have everyone learn it is through Jesus. Yes, through his example in his incarnation, life and death (Philippians 2:1-11). And that’s important to keep in mind. And through the Spirit, Jesus’s own humility rubbing off on us, and in that dynamic, on each other. A humility that is of Jesus, no less. One that loves and lives and if need be dies for another.

In the entire scheme of things, that is what we need to learn, right from Jesus as he himself said in his invitation to the people of his day, and through scripture to us. The humility that will last, and grow on and in us to make us more like Jesus. By which we can see the emptiness of everything else, yet respond in love, knowing that the only final answer is in Jesus.

the Bible is from the real world for the real world

I’m reading this book (Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, by Glenn R. Paauw) and ran across the thought that the Bible comes from the real world, reflecting it, for the real world. Like Jesus came into the real world, sharing in its brokenness, apart from sin, of course. And that this strikes against the gnosticism which rears its head in a good number of ways, yes even in the church. A gnostic approach is to somehow avoid the real world with something from heaven that cancels out the earth. But the biblical message is about heaven becoming one with earth, the real earth, the real world, right where you and I and everyone else lives. A messy, broken, and sometimes ugly world. Transformative, to be sure, in and through Jesus, but touching all of life right where we live.

That helps me, because although I’d like to check out and not go through the mess (maybe like on a long vacation somewhere in Paradise), life doesn’t allow that. In the Bible, people are taken through the valleys, not out of them. We do look forward to the great Transformation to come when the troubles of this life will be over, and a new real world will be born. But until then, we are engaged in this good, yet broken real world, and through Jesus somehow that engagement will impact the new real world to come (1 Corinthians 15).

And so I don’t want to shun what might be unpleasant and even ugly. But to address everything through Jesus and God’s good news in him. We live out a gospel for the real world that is for the real world, all of it. It not only impacts it, but it gives an entirely different answer other than what the world gives, in and through Jesus.

That is what I live in and for with others. The only hope I have for myself, for others, and for the world. In and through Jesus.

when troubled

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.

James 5

Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

Job 5

Trouble is a part of life. We probably do well to gear ourselves for it. At the same time, we want to enjoy life, and gearing for trouble means we learn to be blessed in the midst of it. But with the blessing of God. Although there are especially difficult times when all sense of blessedness might seem to be gone.

Trouble they say can either embitter us, or make us better. But as James points out, and as we see in Job’s response to his great trouble, we should be inclined to call on God for help, and for God’s answer. And hopefully through it we will find God’s blessing not unlike Jacob did when he wrestled the angel of God, and was actually wrestling God himself (Genesis 32).

Little do we know the possible blessing of being in trouble. We want to avoid trouble like the plague, but instead, we need to be open and receptive to whatever God might be doing through it.

Above all, as James tells us, we need to dial down and simply pray. Refuse to take matters in our own hands. And wait on the counsel of God in answer to prayer, perhaps through others, through the word, or directly to us. Most likely in ways we can hardly trace, but with confidence that God will guide us and help us through all the troubles of this life ultimately to experience his grace to his glory in and through Jesus.

encouragment to keep on keeping on

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15

For many reasons, it’s easy to want to give up at times, to throw in the towel. There is often so much pressure, and so much that could go wrong, and at times does go wrong. And we live in a world in which evil too often gets the upper hand and seems successful, and in which there’s little good that doesn’t have some admixture of evil. And if we honestly look at ourselves, we have to admit that we’re far from perfect, flawed and definitely not all together. We most certainly haven’t arrived. And all too often it can feel like our wheels are spinning.

But then we turn to scripture, and specifically to the great resurrection gospel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. The conclusion of it, quoted above suggests that it is meant to be an encouragement, as well as careful instruction during a formative time in the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people. Because of Christ’s death for our sins, and resurrection from the dead, we are given assurance that somehow what we do here and now in this present state matters. That it has effects beyond what is apparent, what the eye can see.

So the resurrection to come in and through Christ is not ony something we look forward to as a present day hope for the future, but also is meant to impact our lives in the present, that not only are we now living in the resurrection power by the Spirit, even while still in our mortal existence, but that this promise gives lasting significance to what we do in the here and now.

If this wasn’t the case, then it would most certainly seem indeed that “all we are is dust in the wind.” But God has promised to bring that dust back together beyond this mortality into immortality. And somehow with that, our works which proceed out of faith, as well.

And so that gives me pause, to not only want to do well, but to also avoid doing poorly. A straight arrow to us that what we do, our work matters. Both in our words and deeds. As we look forward to the time when all of our labor in the Lord comes together to be shown that it was not in vain, and we continue on in the love, goodness, grace, and indeed the life of our risen, resurrected Lord.