at peace in God’s will

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

If there’s one thing this pandemic has pressed home, it’s the uncertainty of human plans, even of life itself. All is subject to the Lord’s will. And we’ll do much better if we work at learning to rest in that. In and through Jesus.

willing to live with feet in the air

One never knows what a day will bring forth (see the book of Job). Yet there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes). Things are set in place, the only difference being variations of the same.

I’m not one that’s fond of heights, though I have gotten up when I have to. I like safety, feet on the ground. Real life and the life of faith seem to involve feet in the air, unpredictability in place. Not that feet on the ground is completely safe, either.

The life of faith in this world involves an element of uncertainty. We don’t know what we’re going to face from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, and beyond. But with that there’s the certainty that faith brings. God is faithful, and God’s promises in Jesus for us and for the world are true, trustworthy, and certain.

So no matter what today or tomorrow might bring forth, God will see us through if we only trust in him. In and through Jesus.

 

no paradise here

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:13

Utopianism is the push to find, or more precisely, create the perfect place for people to live. It is an ideal striving in that direction to minimize risk and maximize safety and well being. The goal of a flourishing human community is good of course, and actually biblical in the vision from the prophets carried over into the New Testament of a promise of a new world to come, a new creation in which the old is made new.

We might as well face it: we live in a fallen world. The story in Genesis 1 through 3, then beyond, makes that clear. And it’s right in our faces day after day, week after week, year after year. There’s no escape. Money and the best that is known may help alleviate some of it for a time, but even that’s not foolproof. Life is good, and we should thank God for all the good we experience in it. But it’s uncertain. Actually, given all the problems, it’s remarkable it’s as stable as it is. I guess that depends on where one lives. Some areas are not as stable.

So we do well just to get on with it, and deal with the problems we face, hopefully one at a time, and learn to enjoy life in a world in which so much is not ideal. We learn to breathe the air of the new creation, which we look forward to in its completion. When all will be well. But until then we wait, and live in a world that is broken, our own brokenness included. And make the most of it, as we seek to live in God’s will in and through Jesus.

a good plan and what is not, according to James

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Planning is good, and especially planning with good in mind, as in having others in mind. James’s words here are not at all undermining the value of planning. But as in the wisdom tradition we find in Proverbs, James is simply stating that in the end it is God who will determine not only the outcome, but whether or not it takes place at all. All must be subject to God’s will.

It is often a matter of wanting to be in control, in fact that is the default attitude of so many of us much of the time. I think of entrepreneurs. And of course it’s not wrong to be one. A good one will plan and yet be able to adjust with the flow of things, and figure out what it takes to be successful. And yet behind that can be either an unwillingness, or more likely, not even taking into account any possibility that God might want something entirely different.

James chalks that up to boasting in one’s arrogant schemes. And we can be sure that such plans are not in line with God’s will. There is the lack of humility in acknowledging God and God’s will. And there’s the lack of appreciation for just how uncertain life is, both in terms of what might actually happen, and whether or not one will actually live to see it. It is as if someone is taking the place of God in their own attitude. Certainly not the mind of Christ whose delight it was to do God’s will, and submitted to it even when it was against his will as he did in Gethsemane.

James is warning believers, but he’s also encouraging them to submit their plans to God. That those plans might have value in God’s eyes, so that God may see them through.

learning to live in weakness

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 12:1-10

Just an opening thought on my blogging: it might be and to some extent surely is a telling critique to suggest that blogging everyday does not allow the blogger or whatever reader audience may be present to really process and digest what is written. I have been blogging for more than ten years now and it was suggested in the early days when blogging was hot that to have the most effective blog, one should blog daily. So I soon adopted that, which has long been a habit. I enjoy writing, so that’s part of it. But if you look at my blog, you’ll notice that some of the same themes come up again and again. And more than less, nearly every posting is a continuation of the thought, or likely more like a variation of it, which has been hashed through a number of posts previously. That could be in part because I tend to always process thoughts over time.

Weakness is one of the major themes I keep coming to time and time again. That’s probably because I’m a slow learner on it, but it’s also because it’s not an easy lesson to learn, at least not for me. Who wants to live in weakness?

I’m not referring to a weakness in giving into sin, but weakness in the midst of resisting sin. Not to say we can be sinless, either. But I am referring to the kind of overcoming by faith which lives in the midst of weakness.

For me, one aspect of this is my struggle against anxiety, which can be a sin in not trusting God. And what I’m coming to find is that my quest for certainty often leads to a gnawing and then choking anxiety, which by the time I get to that, I can easily see the enemy at work, so that I can give the lie to that thought, and accept only God’s work and the peace which accompanies that.

Of course there’s no real certainty in this world (except, as they say, of death and taxes). Nothing seems totally foolproof here, or as if there’s an arrival to some kind of eureka in which all is well, try and try again, as we all do, and as certain projects have. We do well to accept that, and even embrace it. At the same time doing the best we can, but recognizing that at times, that too will not be enough. And in a certain sense never is since God’s hand must accompany or hold, and most accurately even be what is behind the work in the first place.

I think I might be coming to a new place in learning to live with weakness, which has been incremental with seeming breakthroughs along the way, only to be tested time and time again. I hope by God’s grace to continue to grow in this. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

when everything seems uncertain, unsettled, with upheaval and change

There are times and seasons when one is in the midst of it. Where so many uncertainties exist, and when a number of issues can be hanging in the balance. Add to that the fact that bad things can and sometimes do happen. One is left with an uneasy sense of deja vu, either of “here we go again,” or what one dreaded coming to pass.

That is when we need to continue all the more in our practice to be grounded in God and God’s word. “This too will pass,” and how we are in terms of both our disposition and actions is critical during such times. There may indeed need to be adjustments made, and life itself can force that on someone. We need to take one thing at a time, and go from there. We can be assured in the midst of it all, that God will be with us in Jesus. And that God will help us by the Spirit.

And so the watchword for us is faith: faith in God, in God’s word, God’s promise to us in Jesus. And endeavoring to find and become more and more settled into God’s will through it all.

in the face of uncertainty

We’re looking toward the end of 2016 to the beginning of a new year as we mark our calendars, and one thing is for sure: this past year was filled with surprise, and we look ahead to what might seem to be an abyss of uncertainty. Of course while true on a national, international level, this certainly is a fact of our lives, as well. By and large we might be able to predict accurately much of what might take place in the year to come in our family and personal lives. But you never know, and the older one gets, the more one is aware just how much we don’t know, and how life can radically change in a moment, or be altered over time due to some new development.

We need all the more, then, to remain in the one certainty that will go on, after everything, including all of life, has come and gone. That one certainty is the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. After it’s all said and done, that will stand, and it will stand alone. Of course in that reality, all things will be in their proper place, and will come to life in the new creation in Jesus, to be in the place in which they were created to be.

This being the case, we should be all the more prayerful, and try to see everything, including all the inevitable change to come, good and bad, in light of the one constant which both remains, and somehow factors into it all. The gospel does bring the needed change, first in ourselves, and then hopefully in the world around us, the gospel itself always being the agent and power of that change, “the power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (Romans 1:16), as well as bringing us into that dynamic for others.

The more we are focused and given to the one thing which will not change, the better we will be enabled along with others to navigate the inevitable changes which will come, in and through Jesus.

living on the edge (in the life of faith)

Some have seemed to commend living life on the edge of sin, seeing how close one can get to it without stepping over the line, I suppose. Something I would call careless, and not to be commended. Though one’s focus can be unduly in an unhelpful way on sin. What I’m referring to in this post is the fact that it seems to me that faith by its very nature in this life always involve risk and at least an implicit trust in God, and in Jesus and the gospel.

We would like a life where trust was easy, where problems were taken care of once and for all, where, yes with God’s help, we could at last arrive to a state of peace with no more difficulties. Except for brief respites as in breaks in which we’re led beside still waters, with our souls refreshed and restored (Psalm 23), that’s simply not going to happen in this life.

Faith involves risk in the sense that against so much, sometimes it seems against most everything (cf. Abraham), we are taking God at his naked word. And we’re learning to live in and as if that word is true. Not out of imagination, although God may help us to some good sanctified imagining. But because God is behind it all, and helping us to grow in the difficult process.

By nature we are unfinished in this life, and of course the world is unfinished as well, since all awaits the full redemmption to come in the new creation in Jesus. And so we need to learn to rest in God, in the Sabbath rest in Christ, even in the midst of the restless sea of this world, with all the problems this life brings. We do so, understanding that God is at work for our good in making us more and more into the likeness of his Son. As we share God’s love to all through his grace to us in Christ.

 

when in midstream

Oftentimes in life we are betwixt two, in midstream where there is a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty, when for one reason or another we can’t see straight, our focus is not real clear and we can feel more or less unsettled. Usually I partake of a bit of that everyday and there are certain times during which it seems particularly acute.

I seek during such times to remain settled on my feet and resolved in my will, one might say steadfast in mind as in not being moved from truth, especially the truth, Jesus. Standing on God’s promises in and through Jesus found in scripture, whatever may seem most appropriate at the time. One such promise, how that God works in all things for the good of those who love him.

Much of life in one way or another, in either big ways or seemingly small ones is lived in midstream. There is no clear resolution. There is the strong sense that it is ongoing, yes with its successes as well as its troubles. Plenty of issues swirling around to make the whole so that there almost always seems to be a certain amount of ambiguity about it all.

That is where we want to grow as a result, with changes as needed. Even as we seek God’s peace, the settling and tranquility that can come with that. Something not just of the emotions, but deeper than that. To keep us in God’s love in and through Jesus. As we go on in the transient yet sacred existence which is this life.

 

the fragility of life

Yesterday in some respects was a challenging day which in answer to prayer turned out well. But then late in the day, when I was resting on the couch and coming up out of a doze, I again had trouble catching my breath. I could only inhale, not exhale, and I had to try to keep breathing through my nose until the saliva had passed through my windpipe (my layman way of putting this). No fun. I’ve went through this a number of times, and it is scary. Then I thought after perhaps close to a year with no incidents that I was over it, but have had a few (though less than what I used to have) since.

Life is fragile, for sure. We can seem to have a clean bill of health, and hopefully live well within a normal life span, though that too is uncertain. But we are a car accident away, or some physical malfunction from not being able to carry on, perhaps even the end for us here. We can’t count on another day. And although we rightfully write off all the possible end time dates set, the Lord could return any time (according to my understanding). We do well to live in the light of this.

And so, while I would like to come up with some answers which might help me live longer and well here, I want above all to live well in God’s eyes, in relationship to God and to others in and through Jesus by the Spirit. I want to walk the line in terms of God’s will in Jesus. And I want to do so both in community in Jesus and in mission for the world. I want the gospel, or good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus to be front and center. I want to share that good news as a witness through both my life and words. I want to be a blessing to my lovely, sweet wife, to our daughter and granddaughter, to our neighbors, to my brothers and sisters in Christ at church and elsewhere, to my co-workers in Christ at RBC Ministries, as well as to the poor and those in need.

I am thankful for the many days in which we’re relaxed and with no anticipation of the end, but enjoying good health. But we ever must be aware that even then nothing in terms of this life is certain. The one certainty we can hold on to through it all is that God is faithful in and through Jesus, that we can count on him to see us through. As we look to him to use even these frank reminders of the fragility of life to draw us closer to him.