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.

someday this will all be over

Over, and done. Yes, someday this will all be over. “This too, shall pass.” And out of the mass and mess of it all will arise the grace of God in Jesus in the new world, fundamentally not different from this world in terms of creation, but good in every sense of that word in the new creation.

Everywhere I turn there are grave concerns. But I’m not, neither are any of us, or all of us together, God. It is God to whom we must commit everything, including our loved ones and ourselves. God alone can and will take care of it.

In the meantime there is a significant part of us which looks forward to the end of all things as they are now. All the strife, as well as the natural disasters in this world. Yes, in the midst of much good to be sure. All pointers to the great good to come in the grace and kingdom of God in King Jesus.

So now we want to do the best we can, completely because of God’s grace in Jesus; yes, we must live in that grace through faith in Jesus: in his life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension to ultimate power and authority, with the promise of his return. We know that all of this, all of the trouble, and real concerns will someday end, and be a thing of the past, even forgotten. But we fight through now, out of love, the love of God in Jesus, in love for others: our loved ones, others in Jesus, all people, even our enemies. We want to embrace the way of the cross, the way of Jesus. And go on.

The end is not that far away. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

embracing the hard places

With a here we go again attitutde, we can shortchange the changes God wants to make in our lives. There are problems, places, and let’s admit it, people, who at times along with us can be challenging, disappointing, and downright irritating. And it doesn’t help when we might be tired, and a bit battered and bruised from what life has brought our way to begin with. While it is true that we as humans are made in no less than the image of God, it is also true that we are dust.

In all of this, of course, we need grace. We need to wait on God so to speak, even in the midst of the flow of life. We should have a sense of expectation in waiting on God to work everything out according to his purpose for us and for others, as well as just his purpose in general, in Jesus. That takes both time and faith. We need to hold on, as it were.

And by faith, we should learn to embrace the hard places with outstretched arms as a kind of sign of the cross as part of a cruciform, cross-shaped life. We do this, not because we want to, or because that is the place we would ever go, but because we do want to follow Jesus in all of life, the one who taught us a good number of hard sayings and teachings (see Matthew 5-7, and read the rest of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Of course we will and do fail along the way. We have forgiveness already in terms of salvation, but we do need to continue to confess our sins to God, and when appropriate at times to others, and walk in the light God gives us to maintain fellowship and communion with God and with each other through Jesus’s blood cleansing us from all sin (1 John).

Embracing the hard places is most certainly an act of faith. We do so believing that good will come out of it from God, as well as to avoid the evil and the problems which come out of our refusal to accept such things. A part of the maturing process which is ours together in Jesus.

being cheerful in the midst of adversity

To have trouble and struggle seems to be part and parcel, practically the norm of this present life. There is the day-to-day common problems which easily are seen as a nuisance, and time an escape from such. But then there are those special problems which may be legitimate or not, but can be grating, and even burdensome. We’re not meant to carry all of it ourselves, in fact more often than not, it seems that we’re to get rid of it. We are to carry our own burdens, as in responsibilities. But others are to help us with our overburdens (Galatians 6), and we’re actually to cast all of our burdens, big and small on the Lord.

Regardless of the nature of the problem, it can lend to us a humility which helps us not look down on others, getting rid of that natural bent of broken humanity. And there are times when the problem is blaring out to us so loud, that we can’t escape it, a sure sign that while it needs to be dealt with, we also ought to view it with some suspicion. I have noticed that the pressure to act immediately often proves to be either frivolous, as in not mattering, or simply a deception which we will come to regret.

To the main point of this post: I want to learn to be cheerful in the midst of the most uncheering of circumstances. Let’s say it’s a bad health report such as cancer (or even worse for me, Alzheimer’s). Or something which really hits our buttons and ordinarily leaves us in a tizzy, whatever that might be.

Let me suggest to myself, as true from scripture and appropriate to real life (and something Ann Voskamp might have just jogged me on to from her first book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are), we should work on cultivating the practice of being cheerful when our own impulse would be just the exact opposite, taking us into any number of other alternatives in which people regularly live, such as gloom and perhaps panic, etc.

This is not a denial to take seriously the problem at hand, but instead to apply faith right where we live, right in the midst of it, and see the outcome from that. Philippians 4:6-7 and for that matter the entire chapter (better yet, the entire, short book) is helpful here. We’re not to merely pretend our problem doesn’t matter, because in one way or another, it most certainly does. Instead, we’re to bring it before the Lord in prayer, our cheerfulness so to speak expressed to God in thanksgiving in the midst of what would naturally cause us anxiety, or worry, or perhaps more precisely for many of us in our weakness, in the midst of such anxiety. My way of arriving toward that place has been to remain in the word, come what may, slowly working through it in a meditative manner throughout the day. Of course if that’s to do any good, then we need to seek to apply what is written. It wouldn’t hurt for me to include some of the Philippians 4 passage here:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.

The most important point in this for me is that to be cheerful when down is a radical act of faith. It makes no sense in terms of the real world, and where we live. And none of us wants to be phony, or at least we shouldn’t want to be. Problems are still problems, regardless. The crisis point for us should invoke in us the decision to practice a cheerfulness as an expression of faith in God, who has it all covered in one way or another. So that even when on the inside I’m cringing and anything but cheerful, on the outside I learn to practice what by and by can become true for me even in the midst of difficulty and suffering, as God honors a faith in him and his word, 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.

what does God’s grace look like in our lives?

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

When we think of God’s grace, we often think of experience, and to some extent rightly so, because even in the midst of suffering, God’s love is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5). The peace with God through being justified, mentioned in this passage surely opens us up to the peace of God which surpasses, or transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Above anything else, God’s grace in Jesus for believers, enables us to live the new life in which we’re forgiven and cleansed from our former sins, with ongoing cleansing as we walk in the light, and regularly confess our sins. God’s grace in Jesus puts those who have faith in a new sphere. So that no matter what we’re going through, we approach life differently than before, with a new focus which puts everything else in a different perspective, of course on the one Lord through the Father by the Spirit.

God’s grace is at work in our lives, in and through Jesus, no matter what we’re going through. During hard, difficult times, it may seem to be lacking, and even absent, as a buoyancy is replaced with a heaviness, a rest with an unsettledness. There are those times of deepest darkness (Psalm 23), called “the dark night of the soul.” They are not easy to live in, much less maneuver through. Like Paul, whose experience is surely the extreme example of this, we may want to bail out, at least ask the Lord to remove it, as Paul did. It is interesting the prominent place God’s grace plays in that passage:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12

This is surely a passage to meditate on, in this regard. For me, being weighed down into depths of trouble seems to have been more or less the norm, particularly in earlier years as a Christian, but recently again. Those are not easy places to live, because it seems like the cushion to the heart is withdrawn, so that one is more sensitive to pain and trouble. But that’s where the different, perhaps revised understanding of God’s grace at work in our lives can make the difference, in this case the Lord’s grace being sufficient, since his strength is made perfect in our weakness.

God’s grace at work in our lives, is certainly about growing in holiness, in Christ-likeness, and in being zealous to do good works, as the Titus passage quoted above, tells us. It enables us to continue on, no matter what, giving us the help we need through the Spirit. Above all, it animates us to carry on in love. It is not about experience, but about living in love, doing good works out of love, acting and refusing to act and react, out of love.

It’s a new orientation, not welcomed by me. I would rather relatively feel good most of the time. I need to learn to live better in this new place, I suppose. Learning better the new way of living out God’s grace, even as I look forward to the day when every burden will be lifted, and the stress will be gone.

against foreboding (a dreading fear)

Right now in the United States there’s an election of which many fear the consequences of the outcome on every side. And just to live in the real world, with the possible and actual problems we face day after day and beyond can instill within us a sense of foreboding, I mean something like a fear that comes from dread. Maybe our first experience of that was as a child at the doctor before a required shot, usually in those days at least, in the hip. I can still feel the pain. Such a dread comes from the experience that not all is pleasant, in fact some things we run up against and experience in life are downright painful.

Trouble in this life is inevitable, as scripture itself says. For all sorts of reasons. So that there’s a kind of fear that is actually healthy. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to stay put when under severe (and real) persecution, but to flee (Matthew 10:23). We need wisdom from God to carefully navigate the responsibilities put before us, in fact we need wisdom to properly assess them at all.

For me, the only way I can avoid the unhealthy fear that can assail me on every side, the large and small, is by being in the word, and prayer. I say it in that order, because for me (and I think basic for everyone) being in the word, in scripture instills and strengthens my faith. I pray from what I’m reading, and from the Spirit’s help in giving the faith that arises from pondering God’s word. Maybe most basic is that it helps our faith to be active, so that when we encounter problems, our natural response is to pray.

We have God’s promises in scripture, one of which is that God will meet all of our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). We always need to read the context of such promises, rather than pull them out of that, as we so often do. It is to believers who are partnering with Paul in the work of the gospel, both by their own witness, and by helping him so that he can carry on in that work, even if from a prison cell.

Foreboding and fear need to give way to faith, which doesn’t mean one doesn’t have a healthy sense of proper fear, or of the problems one faces. But that one believes in God’s help and provision in and through Jesus. So that we can move through the difficult places, maybe once in a while, even avoid them. As our faith grows even through those times, in and through Jesus.