a true friend tells the truth to help

Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:6; NIV

On the surface, there’s probably nothing worse than wounds from a friend. But if we can get past that, there’s probably actually nothing better.

Sometimes the only way truth and needed correction can get through to us is through a wounding. How that’s inflicted requires wisdom that is beyond us, or we could say also comes through long experience with God’s help. And it depends on each situation. And it’s not like we get it completely right in doing so. Maybe there’s wrong along with right in what is said, how it’s said. We need to be doing so always with the attempt to love. But love is not about making people feel good or in affirming their every thought and action. Not at all. If we do that, we’re not a good friend, in the true sense not a friend at all. But oftentimes it ends up being that we’re just not the friend they need. We may even be well meaning, but amiss. Love includes truth, what is right and just as well as good. So we need friends who hold us to that standard, and in turn we need to hold each other to the same.

But if we’re not regularly praying for someone, or not in prayer for them, then we should never attempt to correct them. And if we try to correct another, it should be done gently. Though maybe there’s a time for rebuke. We have to be careful not to see ourselves as more than we are, just another human in need of God’s grace, or to think we’re God’s spokes person. If we’re ever on the giving end of this, we should do so with much concern, in prayer, ready for God’s correction of us. And seeking to love.

If we’re on the receiving end of it, of course that’s harder. But if we’re maturing in Christ, than we’ll seek to hear what good is there, what actually might be helpful for us. Ever mindful of our need to grow, of the reality that we have our blind spots as well. And that God intends for us to progress in the faith significantly through the give and take of each other.

All of this not easy, but the help we need. In and through Jesus.

blessedly not let off the hook (by James)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

James gets right to it, but throughout the letter from start to finish there’s no letting up. He’s certainly a pastor, but gives us needed insight into one aspect of pastoral ministry as well as what the church is to be. Yes, there’s mercy and patience. But for those who really follow Christ, there are certain nonnegotiables.

If we’re to follow Christ we do what we’re told here. If we fail to do that, and I’m referring to sincere honest attempts, not letting up, then we aren’t following, indeed can’t follow Christ. We either consider it nothing but joy, whatever trial we’re in, letting endurance have its full effect toward full maturity in Christ, or else we’re not. We either ask God for wisdom, as indeed we’re all lacking in that of ourselves, and ask in faith without doubting. Or we plain don’t. There might be something in between, but James would tell us that’s a part of being double-minded, and thus unstable in every way. As Eugene Peterson points out in The Message, that can be simply a matter of “keeping all your options open.” No, we either trust God or we don’t. The difference between darkness and light.

This has been helping me immensely, but I can’t let go of it. And it’s not like we’re passive and no longer involved in life. But that God is there to help us through whatever it is we’re facing, whatever responsibilities we have to fulfill. God wants to use all of life to mature us, and to help us gain wisdom. As we not only commit ourselves to this course, but follow through on it, God helps us to live in God’s peace, as well as get God’s help.

An important part of what it means to follow Christ along with others in this life. In and through Jesus.

a believing faith(?)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:1-8

The title, “a believing faith” may seem redundant. Isn’t faith enough? The fact of the matter though is that our faith can be exceedingly weak. What James seems to be even railing against here is not the weakness of faith so much, as a lack of commitment to trusting God. Eugene Peterson’s rendering is helpful here:

People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:6b-8; MSG

We might struggle, even with doubt, some of us more than others. In spite of that we need to press on with the desire to be committed to faith in God, looking to God for the help we need in any given situation. I included the entire passage above, because though there may be and sometimes is value in taking a verse out of context, it’s always best seen, understood and applied in context, with the full intent of the passage in view.

So what we’re looking at here are the trials of life, any trial, which we’re to consider nothing but joy because of the endurance God wants to work in us through it, for our maturity toward full development as Christ followers. We are so prone to old default practices like taking matters in our own hands, hardly if at all looking to God. Trying to solve the problem ourselves, even if we pray to God to bless our efforts.

Instead God wants us to take what for us is the radical commitment of complete trust in God. In the words of Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

What God would be after here in part, it seems to me, is an entire renovation of heart, mind and practice. Much more for us than just trying to manage the next crisis, barely holding on, sometimes the wheels clearly falling off. No, God wants to change us over time. James does make it more abrupt than that, so that evidently, and quite frankly I think, we need that word. We’re so inclined to excuse ourselves, rationalize, and not change at all.

What we need to do is look past the present difficulty, be willing to walk through that instead of trying to escape on our own terms. And thus find God’s help, all the help we need in the process. Not only short term, but medium and long term as well. Toward the maturity God wants for us. In and through Jesus.

grace must mark everything

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:6

Grace should mark all that we are and do. By grace I mean God’s grace in kindness; undeserved, unmerited favor; pure gift to us in Christ. We tend to accentuate the demands of life, what we and others are supposed to do, in biblical terms, “the law.” Of course what the law boils down to is simply loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor which includes our enemies, as ourselves. So love is the demand. And love is the given, I mean what we receive from God.

Because of God’s grace, gift to us in Christ, we are able to love God and neighbor in the way God desires. The Spirit within that grace enables us to actually do that, though certainly not bereft of our limitations and sins. But we confess them, learn from life, and go on.

And it’s essential that what we’re to experience ourselves, we apply to others. We need to double down in making sure that if we accept and want grace, we apply it to others all the more. Whatever may cause concern for ourselves can be an occasion to seek to apply grace to others, both through our prayers and through our lives in love to them.

So whatever little word we might think we need to say, if it’s smothered in grace, in God’s love, and with the wisdom that brings, either we might not say it or even have to, or else it will be seen as nothing but helpful, hopefully.

In and through Jesus.

on trials

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

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4; MSG

I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this opening directive from James. Every part of it touches exactly where we live.

We hate trials, and think somehow to escape them seems to be a mark of maturity. But God wants us to know that trials are meant to mature us. I have a particularly hard time with trials in which I’ve had a hand in them developing or coming to be. Not to say I don’t struggle with other trials, but especially those. But no trial is excluded here. Trials of many kinds would include all trials. A trial is a trial, even if we were the unwitting cause of it. I was thinking of mistakes we make. But this could include sins, even serious sins, and the fallout and trial we face after committing such. Surely that would be included here, too, but with the added counsel that we confess our sin to God, to the church, when need be to others, repent, and undergo whatever is needed for full restoration. All of that would be a trial to us, needed for maturity in Christ, for sure. But again, I’m just thinking here about trials in general, whatever kind they take.

It’s really hard to see tests and challenges as a sheer gift. Instead we’re prone to see trials in an entirely negative light. The idea of tests to help us as well as challenges is simply a fact of life we need to accept. Trials are inevitable. More important than the actual trial is the good which can come out of it. If we look past the trial itself to whatever it is that God might want to do through it, that can help us.

Under pressure our true self comes out, and often it isn’t pretty. The Lord wants that to improve over time. We need to face the music, not try to escape it. To hang in there, even when it’s hard. To even consider it all joy. To let God teach us what is needed through the process, as well as reshape us more into Christ’s image.

It’s not like we have to be preoccupied with trials all the time. The more we accept this reality, as trials inevitably hit us, the more we can experience what God wants to bring out of them. For our blessing and good, and therefore for the blessing and good of others around us. Not to let go of any of this. To persist in it, our will set to live in and do God’s will. In and through Jesus.

don’t be overrighteous or overwise

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:

the righteous perishing in their righteousness,
and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.[a]

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

I believe just one of the many devices of the evil one is to get us to think life somehow depends on us, so that unwittingly we begin to do what in our heads we wouldn’t want to do, but in our hearts and lives are all too prone to doing: replace God.

Ecclesiastes is a notoriously difficult book to pin down, and maybe that’s part of not only some of the appeal of the book, but what God wanted from that book for us. To get us to wrestle with something of what the writer (the Teacher, Qoheleth) was wrestling with. Maybe “the Teacher” was making his (or her) writing somewhat nebulous due to his thinking that all is meaningless, rather pointless, fleeting- anyhow.

Note that we’re not being told here to not be righteous or wise. Just not overly so. I take that to suggest that we shouldn’t think all depends on us and on our own righteousness and wisdom. At the same time this passage is not at all telling us that we should throw our righteousness and wisdom by the wayside. Not at all. It’s just that we need to fear God as the writer tells us here. Which I think might point us in the direction that we think and act in the fear of God. That includes a reverential awe and respect, and a trust I believe, as well. We want to trust in God’s righteousness and wisdom to actually impact us and help us have a righteousness and wisdom not warped and therefore of no value or even dangerous by somehow thinking that its our own righteousness and wisdom. We know that Christ Jesus has been made by God to be for us wisdom and righteousness in a redemptive sense, which I think includes impacting our down to earth daily lives (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). What we have from God is both by creation and then new creation in Christ by the Spirit. So we need to learn to be wise and right in dependence on God, not on ourselves.

I think that means we need to say no to our own ongoing urge to take all matters in our own hands as if anything depends on us. Instead we just need to say no, even kick back, relax and enjoy (another theme in Ecclesiastes: God gives the gift, we work hard, and then enjoy). We still hold onto righteousness and wisdom. We need to do it though in a way which honors God’s righteousness and wisdom above our own, our own even being entirely dependent on God’s so that strictly speaking, it’s not our own. Through prayer, prayer and more prayer. Through taking responsibility. And not thinking for a moment that all depends on our righteousness and wisdom. Or else we’ll be violating what the Teacher in Ecclesiastes tells us. In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.

Proverbs 4:25

This is applicable in oh so many ways, but whatever it is, good as it may seem, important, usually urgent, or whatever, we can learn what distracts us from God’s peace, indeed from God’s good will. This is part of training in godliness, not to go where we think we have to go, often with the sense of fixing something, maybe even panic over some perceived problem. Or it maybe something that we know is no good, like eating too much of the wrong food at the wrong time. Or something even worse. Often though it can be things that are not at all wrong in themselves in the proper place and space and time. We have to be responsible. We don’t just throw everything to the wind with the idea that the Lord will take care of it. God will, but we’re part of that so that we have to be engaged and responsible in life.

But to the point of this post. No matter what the thought, now urgent it may seem, we will do well and find much help in simply refusing to go there. And a key issue here is distraction. Whatever might be distracting us from what we are doing at the time, the necessary and good thing we’re doing is a sign that God is not in the distraction. It has the mark and scent of the devil. The Lord will speak to our hearts with a strong sense at various times, but always with much freedom. It’s more like an invitation, and never with the sense of rush to throw us into panic. Though there may be directives from the Lord when we ought to act at the time in a specific way. We have to develop a sensitivity to what’s of God and what’s not.

The thought, again in all kinds of ways, just don’t go there, is helping me. We seek to be responsible in everything, in all of life, but always in the love, care and calm of our God. In and through Jesus.

carry each other’s burdens

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

We’re told explicitly in at least two places in Scripture to cast our burdens on God. So why do we need to carry each other’s burdens? As one of the ladies leading our church, and who is studying for the pastorate likes to say, it’s maybe not a question of one or the other, but both. We need to be present for each other.

How can we do this? In the context (click link) it is about those who are led by the Spirit gently restoring another who has sinned, doing so in all humility, not thinking for a moment that they’re better. And there’s a sense in which we are trying to help each other in our struggles.

Praying for each other is so underrated. And simply being present, listening, as well. Not necessarily having a word to say, but being sympathetic, by God’s gift empathetic. Taking seriously all their thoughts, seeking to understand their situation. Agreeing where one can agree. All this takes wisdom from God. We need to try to be steeped in God’s wisdom from the wisdom writings in Scripture, and from day to day interaction with God, seeking the wisdom we need here and there, ourselves.

This seems to be all but a missing art and practice in our churches. But when someone does it even a little bit, what a difference it can make. God can and will bless that honest attempt in love to help another. And we all need this from time to time, some probably more than others, but none of us excluded. In and through Jesus.

pray for yourself

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 6:1-4

In the morning and evening offices in our new hymnal, Voices Together (985, 987), there is the part toward the end when we’re offering prayers.

We pray for ourselves and those dear to us…

At first, when I was beginning to do this every morning and night, I gently resisted the idea of praying for myself, especially first. But I dutifully did it, knowing that I’m not as wise as the collective wisdom of others. And I began to more and more see the wisdom of doing so. If God doesn’t help me or I receive little of that, I certainly can be of little or no help to others. James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask God. And I’m reminded of the African-American spiritual,

It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

This really has been a tremendous help to me. We pray for “those dear to us,” “our community and…our neighbors,” “for the church,” “for the world,” “for other concerns we carry in our hearts.” But it begins with us. We can see that in Jesus’s high priestly prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. He first prayed that the Father would glorify him so that he could glorify the Father (John 17). I can’t help but think that when Jesus used to break away early mornings to pray to the Father that he lifted himself up for the help he needed, as well as praying for his disciples and others, whatever else he might have prayed. Certainly enjoying his fellowship as God. Yes, he is God, but fully human, too. And in this life in which he lived, he did so in full dependence on the Father.

But again, this practice is helping me immensely. I have not done this on a regular basis, as far as I know, ever. Just here and there, when I felt in need, which was a lot. But to do so regularly helps me find the help from God I need. In and through Jesus.

Note: In the morning and evening offices mentioned above, toward the end we also “Pray together the Prayer Jesus Taught: “Our Father…”

wait for God’s 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.”

Matthew 7:7-8

Jesus tells us here to ask, seek and knock. In other words not to let go until we have God’s answer. We need to look to God for answers to problems we have, as to how we’ll go about them. And wait until we get God’s answer. And then proceed accordingly. With the answer will come God’s peace. And we’ll need to continue to look to God in prayer as we go about resolving the issue, what to do, and what not to do. God will help us as we do that. In and through Jesus.