bracing grace

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God;with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6 (see the entire book)

When God’s grace is normally spoken of, it seems like it’s primarily about forgiveness and the new life we receive in Christ. And that’s certainly true and foundational to our faith. But grace is multifaceted in scripture. Grace includes as well the wherewithal, the ability to get up after one has been knocked down, maybe nearly knocked out.

I’ve certainly experienced that myself, probably a good many times. It’s when you think and feel that all is lost, or you’ve crossed a line of no return, and usually tied to some fear. However you might be impacted, God’s grace to us in Christ will eventually help us get back on our feet again and stand firm, even while remembering the occasion along with the reasons for bringing us down. And for the most part, even to forget such times.

God’s grace to God’s children helps us live responsibly and like God’s children. And as such, more and more in the maturity of Christ. Something I’ve noticed, something certainly needed. In and through Jesus.

 

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accepting hardship and disappointment instead of discouragement and defeat

Sometimes we have to make the best of a hard situation. Instead of caving in and giving up, and often along with that, feeling sorry for ourselves. And unwittingly, or maybe not so unwittingly, accepting our demise.

There are all kinds of reasons for this in a broken, fallen world of which we’re a part of in our own brokenness. Even apart from our own problems and shortcomings, indeed even sins along the way, life itself can present us with issues for which there are no good or easy answers.

And there really are limitations in this life. As humans we all have to eat, drink and sleep. While we can do some difficult things for a certain period of time, there are limits. And not everything in this life succeeds or turns out well according to plan. So we have to live according to realistic goals, and set our sights on that.

But we will be in some hard, difficult, and potentially discouraging places. That is inevitable, and we will do well to accept it as a matter of fact part of life and living in this present sphere of existence.

The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves. That means our disappointment and discouragement has caused us to accept our defeat. No. We have to do better going forward, no matter what. The biggest part of that better is to learn to depend on God in the midst of everything, and not on ourselves. But not baby ourselves, either.

A good passage to help us through all of this, as we consider the rest of scripture as well is found in one of the most down to earth books in scripture, James.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] 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. 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

May God help us be aware and awake to this problem, and learn to address it well with his wisdom and help in and through Jesus.

trials as opportunities

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

Who likes trials? No one. And for me they often come in the form of thoughts, but about real life situations. And so I try to ferret everything out as best I can. I try to pray according to Philippians 4:6-7, trying to practice all that verses 4-9 include. Certainly in an imperfect, broken way, but sincerely.

And by and by the Lord somehow gives me relief. And in one way or another, either a sense of growth, though that usually takes some time, not just over one episode. Though if I can handle it well enough, that is cause for encouragement. And another way is  through a new thought that comes my way, which itself may have nothing to do with the trial itself, but more with the kind of reaction I need to have regarding it.

At any rate, as hard as it’s going to be at the time, we need to develop the mindset and attitude that sees trials of whatever sort as opportunities. Just like the passage quoted above tells us.

Of course there are the places of deepest darkness through which we may need to pass which I’m not sure qualify for actual trials, but are more like life changers. I think of a person losing a loved one through an unexpected physical malady or accident. Maybe in some sense that might qualify as trials, but I hesitate to place it here, in what James is referring to. Perhaps what might fit into what James is saying, during such times, would be when we are faced with new problems which indeed are trials as the result of such happenings. But I hesitate to see even that in this category.  God is certainly at work in all things for our good, but that doesn’t mean at all that those things God is at work in are good themselves.  But we can be confident, whatever it is, that God will bring us through to the other side. And will be with us the whole way, throughout our lives in our brokenness and loss.

Trials as opportunities. May we more and more learn to see them that way with God’s help, as God’s word tells us to, in and through Jesus.

a hard earned faith

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:9-13

In the culture of praying the prayer and asking Jesus into our hearts, once saved always saved, the idea of a hard earned faith seems mistaken at best. It is interesting, considering Jesus’s parable of the sower, that one can believe with joy, but fall away when the trials come (Luke 8:13). In contrast to the one who perseveres, and by so doing yields a significant crop (Luke 8:15).

Trusting in God by trusting in his word and the sea-change that brings is at the heart of this. It is not just a one time thing, and it is not so much incremental. We can see in Jesus’s parable of the sower, that the person who ends up falling away, initially receives the word with joy, and for all intents and purposes looks genuine, believing for a while (Luke 8:13). But when testing comes, which we see in the other gospel can involve “trouble or persecution because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Matthew 13:21; see also Mark 4:16-17).

Back to the Hebrews passage, some of this might not fit all that well into our doctrine or what we’ve been taught in church. I think especially of churches which have taught once saved, always saved, though it all depends on all those churches teach. The point is that we can neither take faith for granted, nor be careless concerning it, just because we made some commitment once upon a time. That faith has to survive through all the rough patches and troubles life throws our way.  And according to Hebrews, that takes effort on our part. It seems like an oxymoron, but we’re to make every effort to enter into that rest. And this is an issue of obedience, whether or not we will obey God.

What we need is God’s word to help us along the way, by correcting us. We need to be committed to being under that word, to hear it and abide by it (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Sounds rather stark and threatening. But that’s not because God is that way, but rather because we are so prone to wander and get lost. God is faithful, and we can depend on God’s word. God will help us see what we need to see to keep going. And to learn to live in the rest God provides for us in and through Jesus.

trusting in the Lord when faced with difficulty

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

The Lord prayed the psalms, as is evident when he was on the cross. Perhaps this was one passage he prayed during the course of his life on earth. It is certainly apt for us, although our circumstances will likely be different than were that of the psalmist. But the crux of the matter, facing opposition, or something which threatens are well being can be the same.

Being afraid is a part of life. Our bodies when healthy feel pain through the nerve endings in place. That is protective. It’s not like all fear is bad. One evangelical evangelist said that to be afraid and trust in the Lord is good, but to trust in the Lord and not be afraid is better. Maybe so, but I don’t see the two that way myself. I do think we can go through them as stages, the first being the initial fear we naturally have over something overcome by trusting the Lord. The second simply being our disposition and choice, based on faith in God and God’s word, his promises to us.

How we face perceived danger might be the question. Faith insists that it will be alright in the end (see Psalm 23), no matter what we have to walk through. God is with us in Jesus, and will protect us.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

It may not be fun to walk through, but the Lord will be with us no matter what. The rod and staff in the Psalm was an instrument of the shepherd to gently guide the sheep, and to protect them from danger. We can gather from that thought that God will guide us and protect us from danger, from falling off the cliff, or going off by ourselves as if we can take care of it, or maybe simply out of fear. The Good Shepherd (John 10) will be present to keep us on track and comfort us.

Trusting in God must be our present and default position. I mean that whether things are okay, or not, we need to trust in the Lord. And at times we will need to renew that commitment, at other times simply grasp and hold on to it for dear life. But no matter what we face or ultimately have to walk through, we can know that God will be present with us to help us in and through Jesus to the very end.

when life doesn’t seem right

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk 1:2-4

If you’ve lived long enough, and for too many it’s too soon, you will know that something is not only not quite right, but too often just plain downright and perhaps even blatantly wrong. Habakkuk saw this, even an insight from the Lord which he received as a prophecy. He wrestled through, and received God’s response, and then worshiped with a confession of faith, in the end.

What do we do when we see injustice, and experience wrong ourselves? Too often we curse the darkness, or we complain and grumble to others. We don’t know if Habakkuk did any of that. We do know from the book, that he took his concern to the Lord, and that the Lord responded. An important key to the book is that God answered. That made all the difference in the world.

It’s not that God’s reply in its content is always welcomed, or easily understood, in fact it might provoke more questions, which was the case with Habakkuk. But he did not leave what amounted to a kind of conversation. And in the end, he had not only God’s answer, but a faith that would see God and worship him, as well as enable Habakkuk to glorify God in the midst of difficulty. Rather than disillusionment and despair, there was a faith and worship.

Hopefully the Lord can help me to that, today.

A great book to read on a Saturday, and prayerfully ponder.

 

Paul’s witness in trouble and weakness

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

We live in a society, in a world which is indeed allergic to trouble, as well as death. The American Dream isn’t directly about a trouble free existence, but for many, at least having all of our troubles taken care of by our own ingenuity and strength.

Enter Paul. Paul’s world was about following Christ, others following him as he followed Christ, living in Christ, living for the gospel. It didn’t exclude what is considered the mundane matters of life, in his case, tent making. Paul’s passion was Christ and the gospel. And his own witness was to let the gospel become evident in large part through his life, and specifically in his weakness. No, we’re not referring to sin here, but to his mortality and the inherent weakness of his body.

2 Corinthians is a beautiful book laying all of this out, a great read from start to finish.

Paul’s passion in and through Jesus ought to be ours. Yes, we are all weak in ourselves, but that’s exactly where Christ’s strength comes through. And we are broken, cracked jars of clay, as it were, but through that comes Christ’s light. So that we should never give in to despair, or the lie that somehow we’re not succeeding because life’s circumstances are at best difficult. We should see all of life as a window of opportunity for the light of the gospel, the good news in Jesus to shine even through us, through our brokenness.

When we have it all together, we’re on our own. But when we’re broken, in great need, and living on the edge of what seems to be death, if we’re seeking to live in and for the gospel in the midst of that, then Christ’s life will become evident even in us, in our lives. In and through him.