The Mystery of Growth

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Pastor Rudy preached this past Sunday on one of my favorite parables. It is brief and so I will quote it in full:

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29, NIV)

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One of the things Rudy observed was the unusual character of Jesus ministry. If he was going to introduce the “kingdom of God” into the world, he seemed to have an odd way of doing it. He calls a group of followers from the margins of life–working class guys, tax collectors, zealots–not the best and the brightest by worldly standards. Instead of marshaling political power or training a militia, Jesus preaches the fulfillment of God’s covenant law and promise to Israel in his person, and exemplifies it through healing the sick, liberating the demonized, and caring for those on the margins. He succeeds in forming a ragtag group of followers and so provokes the powers that be that they kill him. What kind of growth strategy is that?

It’s the strategy of someone who trusts in the mystery of growth, who knows that he is sowing good seed, and that it will result in a harvest. Jesus knew that the words that he had sown, his investment in the Twelve, and the sowing of his own life (cf. John 12:24) was good seed. As crazy as it seemed, as mysterious as the growth process might be, growth and a harvest were inevitable.

Rudy explored our anxieties about growth in the life of the church. At times we can be fearful where we see decline or nothing seems to  be happening. Sometimes we lose heart and just circle the wagons with the few and faithful. Equally, our anxieties can move us to driven and frenetic activity that assumes that if we do the right things, we can make the church grow. Neither is appropriate for people who have the good seed of the good news of the kingdom.

Rather, like good farmers, we keep sowing, and keep tending the farm. We understand what our part is and what is God’s part in this growth process. There is a place for both faith and faithfulness. Good farming involves hard work and yet no farmer considers a harvest guaranteed simply because of having done the hard work. Harvest comes through the mystery of growth. I’m struck with the phrase, “whether he sleeps or gets up.” Farmers know they have work to do in the day, and trust the process of growth as they sleep each night. And they are watchful. They expect a harvest and watch the crop for that moment when it reaches the proper ripeness.

This is a word I need in several ways:

1. I’m actually part of a “growth” initiative in the ministry I work with. I need to remember that the message of the kingdom of Jesus is good seed and that the strategies we pursue reflect faith and faithfulness in looking to God for growth. This frees us from the pressure of “making it happen” that releases us to the faithfulness of hard work and the trustfulness that rests in the mystery of growth.

2. Like the farmer, I need to remember that growth takes time. I’m struck that it is easy for me to be tempted to give up too soon when I don’t immediately see growth. Instead of faithfully tending the work, it can be tempting to try the latest “new thing.” Sometimes this is like plowing over a field just when seedlings are emerging. Similarly, the Word takes time to grow in people. It sure has in me!

3. Finally, this parable raises the question of expectancy. Am I looking for the growth of the kingdom, whether it is the ripening understanding of the gospel that results in a person coming to faith, or the growth of a community in the depth and breadth of its work as it listens to and enters into the words and life of Jesus?

We all live toward some vision of the good life. Rudy’s message encourages me to live toward the mysterious yet inevitable growth of the kingdom of Jesus that challenges me to the hard and expectant work and the carefree rest of someone who trusts the good and powerful King.

Cost of Work

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Rich’s sermon this Sunday was … dense. We could probably spend a couple of weeks on reflecting on the issues raised by the Christian “at work” particularly the ways work has evolved in this fallen world. For me the thing that probably sticks with me the most is the work that went into the things I have.

Ben TrubeBack a few years ago, when I started blogging more regularly, I did a series of posts on how the technology I use every day gets assembled. I’m kind of a gadget freak. While I may not be an Apple junkie, I have several computers, tablets, eReaders, and am always interested in assessing the next piece of technology. And to be fair, I use most of this stuff for my work, be it the writing or my day job. But still, I’m able to sit here writing to you on a cheap laptop because the parts were assembled by someone making a dollar or two an hour.

Some of the tech jobs in low cost countries are a step up, but I feel that in many ways that’s just a way I can make myself feel better enough to ignore the issue completely. Even though I wrote about it for several months, and still care about how my stuff gets made, I stopped writing those posts when it became clear they weren’t getting read anymore. It’s not like I really changed my buying habits. There are no fair-trade computers as far as I know.

And I think sometimes about my job, and how it affects the world at large. I write software for data-centers. Data-centers are the backbone of the net, really of our culture. Everything that’s happening in today’s culture, from social media, to smart phones, to predictive marketing, is all made possible by the data-center (and in some very small part, me). There’s nothing inherently bad about the Internet, just a lot of the things we choose to do it. And admittedly a lot of the data being collected invades our privacy, tries to get us to spend money we don’t have, or just titillates us with the next bit of media or porn.

Nothing I do every day is directly harming the world, and yet in some way I am culpable (if slightly) for contributing to the world we are becoming.

When I was writing about these issues a few years ago, I found it hard to suggest tangible things for people to do about technology. This is one of those things I feel bad about from time to time, but really don’t feel motivated to much about. It would change so much about my life to put away technology (it is literally something I’ve been training for since Highschool and probably before that). It would be infinitely harder to thrive as an indie author without the net, and even this blog wouldn’t survive without being hosed somewhere.

So how am I as a Christian to act?

I think for starters I need to not ignore the work costs precipitated by the way our world does business. I need to be making conscious choices, and if something really goes against what I feel God is calling me to, I need to trust that he can provide. Right now I do feel called to working and writing about the technology center, but you have to be careful to not become to much of the culture in places like that. Fortunately my particular group of co-workers is all believers, so if we do have problems, it’s never hard to talk about them.

This is one of those things I’ll be figuring out for a while. And in the meantime I can at least help by not always buying the new, but figuring out ways to keep the old working (like *shiver* Linux).

Our World

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The sermon series we’re experiencing at Smoky Row Brethren Church has been challenging.

JeffWhitesideI’ve come to expect that- barring a freak accident- I’ll be healthy. I have come to expect that my neighbors will respect my presence, that I’ll be refreshed after every experience in which I play, that my definition of what it means to be a Christian in this country will always mean what I grew up believing. I’ve been challenged to maintain those routines in which my faith reveals itself, that I’ll maintain my responsibility to my congregation, and maintain my responsibilities to serve people outside the church. That my integrity will remain intact whether I’m in the presence of peers, in the midst of antagonists, or in the company of believers; that I’ll be a good employee, a loyal friend, and a humble Christian, a committed spouse and parent, and a man of who takes little for granted.

Yes, I knew that we live in a fallen world, that our experiences are affected by sin’s presence in this blemished world, and that only our transition to Heaven or the return of Jesus to earth can change our fallen reality. But some of my preconceptions have been shaken.

I’ve begun to change my expectations. I’ve held tightly to an expectation that my health, my job, and my civil rights are immune to the effects of the fallen world in which we live. After all, Christian people have the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence, in my expectation, creates a sphere of immunity that surrounds me. He keeps believers from ever going through any negative experience

That awful theology does not explain why Christian school children are still being held by kidnappers in West Africa, that Christian villagers in the middle-east need to flee to a mountain to escape persecution, and that saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes can earn a student suspension time in our own country.

I’m learning to realize that Christians are subject to two realities. First we are characterized by our membership in God’s domain. Whether you call this ‘God’s family’ or ‘God’s church’, the point is that God’s protection and provisions are available to his people. God responds to our prayers, and can and may bend and suspend laws of normal existence. But the other reality is that we are still part of the fallen creation for the time that we’re on earth. Bad things do happen to good people. Our bodies age, ail, and fail. Worry, panic, and anxiety, as Pastor Rich pointed out, coupled with loss and shame, are normal feelings for fallen human beings. That side of us continues to be a reality we face.

God promises to be faithful to the promise he has made with all believers, regardless of what we deal with. We are redeemed, but not yet perfected. We are being transformed, but we are not yet who God intends for us to be. Any feeling possible among human beings are feelings believers might have. We are tempted but provided with resources to be able to say ‘no’.

There is one stream of Christianity that teaches that after conversion to the faith, Christian people living with worry, anxiety, and panic show evidence of faithlessness, self-absorption, or even Godlessness. Why? They believe that believers in Jesus Christ have put those issues behind them. The Bible is clear that once a person has accepted Christ as Savior and Lord that they have been delivered from these human problems and have been delivered to life in the Holy Spirit and the accompanying peace, joy and love that can be found most deeply in him. I can’t disagree with that. However, what these Overcoming teachers fail to keep in mind is that we live in a world that is less than what the creator intended.

Our world is messed up. Sin crept into the garden, was embraced by our human ancestors, and the world has not been the same. God’s ideal was compromised by human failure. Yes, I’m holding Adam and Eve equally responsible for the situation, but the truth is that I would have done the very same thing they did. I’m convinced that in the identical situation, you would likely do the same.

So let me say that in the ideal world, the topics of this week’s blogs, fear, anxiety, and depression, would not exist. When Jesus returns, they’ll be wiped away with every tear that accompanies pain, regret, and failure. But until he comes back, we have to deal with living in a twilight zone a place where we have one foot firmly planted in this fallen world and the other rooted in God’s realm. It’s not an easy place to exist.  but may we take comfort in knowing that worry, panic, anxiety, loss and shame, will one day be a distant memory. Until then, they’ll continue to be part of the broken world we live in. May we increasingly take comfort in our Lord than in the world. May we increasingly find confidence in our Lord than in our circumstances. May we increasingly grow dependent on our Lord as we straddle life in two realities.

~Post written by Jeff Whiteside

Be Not Afraid–Seriously?

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Our pastor explored something in his sermon on Sunday that I think many of us struggle with and that is the clash between statements like “be anxious for nothing” or “be not afraid” and the worries, anxieties, and fear that dog our steps and often feel hard to shake off. Sometimes the words “be not afraid” sound a bit to us like “don’t think of pink elephants”. Once there, it is just not easy either to shake those visions of pink elephants dancing in our heads or those worries nipping at our heels.

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One of the most striking things about most of the “be not afraids” of scripture is that they are spoken by God, or those speaking for God. And this gives me a clue to this thing of dealing with fear that has been of great help to me. “Be not afraid” is not an order to “think positively” or to “make a positive confession” but rather they are God’s invitation to a relationship of trust. God’s invitation is not to try to suppress our worries by our own efforts but to trust them to his care.

I think I first understood this deeply when I was worrying about money a number of years ago. Things were often tight when I was growing up and there was at least once instance where dad was between jobs. I actually think my parents handled this pretty well, but the fear of not having enough carried into my adulthood. Strange then that my chosen profession involved depending on donations of others to pay the salary for the work I do. We were going through a patch where those donations were down and I was facing possible salary reductions, and perhaps worse, not being able to meet our obligations. At least that was what I was afraid of

My strategy for dealing with fear was a combination of worrisome talk that had to be tiring for my wife (who was far more hopeful about things) and “doubling down”, particular in efforts to raise the requisite funds. I even asked God to help me as I met donors and to supply my needs. I did everything except to go to my heavenly Father and say, “Daddy, I’m really scared of not being able to provide for my family and to meet my debts.” I continued coping with these pressures like this until I was doing a Bible study written by Dave Ivaska, a colleague, titled Be Not Afraid. There was a question at one point that asked very simply, “what are you afraid of?” For the first time, I named this fear to God instead of trying to deal with it or even asking God to deal with the stuff that caused me to be afraid.

I can’t say that my fear magically disappeared. But in naming my fear to God and allowing God into that fearful space, the fear began shrinking and lost its hold in my life as I became aware that God didn’t just love me in an abstract sense–God loved me at the place of my fear. Rich talked about this idea that there is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

I’m still on this journey. Other fears about loss are becoming real for the first time. There are the fears of significant loss of physical or mental abilities that come as I notice bodily changes or take longer to remember a name or grope for the right word. There is the kind of loss of recognizing you are far from indispensable and wondering as you hand off to rising leaders whether there is anything left that you can contribute, or what all you did meant when much of it is changed!

Rich talked about how we often experience the love of God that drives out these fears through people in community. I need that! It is still tempting for me to just put on my game face and double down. That strategy never worked very well and I have less energy or time for it now. Perhaps it is in becoming a safe place to name and shed our fears that we become “the beloved community.” That’s the safe place we have with the God who says, “be not afraid.”

A Healthy Attitude Toward Sickness?

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A healthy attitude toward sickness? That sounds like a bit of an oxymoron but I think that was exactly what Rich was helping us move toward in this Sunday’s message. Rich elaborated some of the unhealthy ways we respond to sickness — our own and others:

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  • As a punishment for something we’ve done wrong. We often look for something to “blame” an illness on when many times, these just “happen”. Perhaps that is what’s scary and we are looking for some “cause” that can help us avoid a similar fate.
  • As a sign that we don’t have enough “faith” that God can heal us.
  • As a cause for shame, particularly those illnesses we class as “mental”.
  • That health is our privilege or right (which often comes with the capacity to “buy” health that may not be true for the less affluent).

The truth is, there is a lot of sickness around us. We share prayer concerns in our congregation each Sunday and I would bet that 90 percent of those concern sickness or health concerns in some form.  In earlier years, I wondered whether this might be an overly “negative” practice that failed to focus on other, more “positive” things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized much more that sickness is real in our community, that health is a gift and not a privilege, and that we both honor God and care for each other when we trust Him to restore our friends’ health or sustain them through illness.

Rich also named three kinds of sickness that are the lot of us all:

  • Sickness unto healing. That’s what we expect until we encounter extraordinary illnesses where we’re not certain of healing. Then we pray (interesting that we trust docs, medicines, and our bodies for the “routine” things — and only pray when we’re not certain these will do the trick –what’s with that?).
  • Sickness unto death. All of us will someday face an illness or other health concern that will lead to our deaths. Rich commented on the conflicts we face between grief and relief as we lose loved ones in many of these cases. This reflects something of our ‘sin-sick’ world. We are relieved that suffering is ended, but still grieve at the unnatural “interruption” of death.
  • Sickness unto sickness. Sometimes we pray and neither are healed nor die (at least right away). Chronic illness puts us in a place of waiting on God, and to somehow redeem the pain and suffering we experience.

I’ve taken the time to summarize Rich’s message because I found his honesty about these realities so refreshing. What this helped me see is that we experience the reality of our hope in Christ not in an approach that suppresses the hard reality of sickness, but as we lean into that hope in the midst of sickness. It also seems very “healthy” to realize that sickness happens — that it is not a punishment, nor a sign of inadequate faith, nor a cause for shame. We should not be surprised by sickness in a fallen world, but rather grateful for the seasons of health we enjoy.

The truth is, Rich’s honesty about these things reflects the Bible’s honesty about sickness. Psalm 41, Rich’s text, is the “unvarnished” plea of David for help from God in the midst of his enemies false statements about his illness and his friends discomfort and abandonment. I prefer this to the illness- and death-denying strategies we so often encounter both inside and outside the church. All that seems to me to be just counterfeit hope–a kind of feel-good religion that works only until you don’t feel good. I’d rather have the Bible’s honest talk about sickness and death and where we really find hope. To me, that actually seems healthy.

Away Games of Faith

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In the third part of Rich’s “away” series he talked about maintaining spiritual disciplines while on vacation. Spiritual disciplines can be things like reading the bible, praying, maybe even fasting, but more generally it’s about maintaining our “christian-ness” while away from our usual routine.

Ben TrubeBut in order to maintain a discipline you first have to have it, which for me is where I need to start. I’m good at practicing existing disciplines on vacation. I took two vacations this spring, each about a week long and on both I managed to write, research fractals, program, and maintain my skills in all the areas I give priority at home. If anything I had more time and discipline for writing on the road than my typical week affords me.

My second trip in particular would have been a classic opportunity to appreciate God. Cedar Campus, is a camp in the middle of the North woods of the upper peninsula where I used to go every year growing up. Not only is it a Christian camp, it’s simply beautiful and a great place to experience silence and the grandeur of God’s creation. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate these things when I was there, but the experience was casual at best and definitely not deliberate.

My trouble is I tend to jump in whole hog when I try to start a new spiritual discipline, like Bible study. I don’t get a whole lot out of simple devotionals and one verse thoughts, I like to dig deep. I like to read a passage, then answer a set of fifteen questions about it. And I do all this by hand because it’s somehow more pure than typing. The result of this is that I only have kept a regular bible study going for about two weeks before pooping out. With my writing goals I have learned to be more sensible, to be practical about the number of blog posts I write each week, the number of words each session. But with Bible study I have not practiced enough to know which things to keep and which to discard.

And praying for long periods is also difficult. I’m not a quiet contemplative guy. I’m always thinking about something, my mind is searching for the next plot detail, the next solution to my programming objectives, or the best bit of Simpsons trivia. Sitting quietly and just trying to listen or talk to God is pretty much the opposite of my personality.

I know the best thing is to start small, and I’m doing what I can to put God in my way, or myself in the way of God. I install Bible study programs in my startup menu, keep devotional books in easy access at all times, and try to find moments of peace where I can really talk to God (like my commute, surprisingly). Maintaining these disciplines once I have them doesn’t feel like it will be that difficult for me, since I’m a strangely ordered individual. I just need to establish these habits in the first place.

It doesn’t help that my Dad is all too awesome at this (just kidding 😉 ). Tomorrow you’ll hear from someone who does the regular discipline thing well.

Dreaming of Things That Never Were…

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“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” –Robert F Kennedy, Jr.

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Robert F Kennedy, Jr (photo is in the public domain)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week since Rich’s message about the connection of imagination and faith, and the role of faith in imagining and pursuing the dream of a world unlike the one we see every day. While I wonder if Robert Kennedy’s “faith” lay more in human potential than in the power of God at work in the people of God, I think that quote defines for me at least a choice of one of two ways to live.

Either I can look at the way things are and helplessly ask, why, and allow the world to leave me in a place of despair or cynicism.

Or I can begin to dream and imagine the reconciliation God would want to bring into a place of conflict. I could begin to dream and imagine what safety and wholeness might look like for an abused child. I can begin to imagine the dignity and hope walking home with a paycheck might bring to an unemployed worker.

Everything about our faith involves of dreaming of things that are not, and perhaps have never been. We who continually mess up in so many ways dream of full and free forgiveness, and the chances to begin life anew. We who are divided into so many subgroups begin dreaming of a community with “neither Jew nor Greek” and discover the amazing power of the cross to bring us together across our differences. We who in our most honest moments realize we are spending down a dwindling account of days dare to envision the resurrection of our bodies to life everlasting in God’s new heaven and earth.

Now I’m not into some power of positive imagination thing. It is not our imaginations that transform situations but the God with whom we trust our dreams at work through us and in our situations. And I find I must constantly offer my “imaginations” to God. Not all of these are in fact his best either for the church or the world. In Ephesians 3:20-21, Paul reminds us that what God thinks of and wants to do for the glory of Christ and his church are far more than I can ask or imagine!

Someone has suggested that the real problem of Christians is not that they are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good, but rather that they are so earthly minded that they are of neither heavenly nor earthly good! It is not that we become lost in the future. Rather, we believe and imagine God’s future and can’t help bringing it into the present. We imagine the great banquet at the wedding feast of the lamb, and we stock a food pantry! We think about the beautiful garden city of the new Jerusalem and we invite people to garden on our lawn! We imagine all the nations singing the praises of God in every language, and we begin practicing in our worship services.

Matt Redman captures this in his song, “There is a Louder Shout to Come” in these lyrics:

Even now upon the earth there’s a glimpse of all to come;
Many people with one voice, harmony of many tongues.
We will all confess your name, You will be our only praise;
All the nations with one voice, all the people with one God;
And what a song we’ll sing upon that day.

I am often moved to tears as I sing this song as I imagine all that’s to come, and think of the glimpses of that I see as people with Christian imaginations bring glimpses of God’s future into the present through everyday acts of faithful obedience.

I wonder if one of the things we might do in community this week is share something that our faith has led us to imagine or dream about. Perhaps something we might do as we listen to each other is to imagine ourselves as good gardeners invited to water and nurture those dreams. What things that never were might God grow among us?

 

Family Matters

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Pastor Rudy spoke Sunday of the various assaults on the family unit, and how to live the Christian life within the context of family.

Family can be a tricky thing to talk about and I’l admit I haven’t been exactly sure what to write about for this post (and not just because my Dad will be following up tomorrow 🙂 ).

Ben TrubeAs a young married person (well I guess more than five years now), life is about trying to figure out how to establish a new family able to function independently on its own while still respecting the needs and thoughts of both source families.

Let me put this more simply, kids tend to do one of two things: do exactly what their parents did, or do exactly the opposite. This is of course an over-simplification, but it rings true in many cases. And when we encounter another family, especially the family of our spouses, we evaluate the way we’ve been living against theirs.

For instance cooking on vacation was something my family almost never did whereas it was a fact of life for my wife. We’ve been able to compromise and enjoy eating in some meals giving us the chance to enjoy wherever we are going, while still taking time to go out and experience any fun local cuisine. Just recently we implemented this plan on a vacation with my parents and it went very well.

The biggest attack on family is sin, both dysfunctions that can carry down the generations, and the devil’s influence in our lives. The first murder was between brothers, one jealous of the other for seeming more worthy in God’s eyes. There’s pride, resentments, in some cases actual abuse. But even little things can cause us to sin against each other if we don’t communicate with patience and love.

1 Timothy also talks about caring for the people in our family who are unable to care for themselves:

1 Timothy 5:8 – Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The implication here is that even unbelievers take care of their own, and caring for family is a societal value. There’s an implied responsibility to provide for your own.

I’ve seen this modeled in the way my parents took my Grandmother in when she was declining, and in the many ways they’ve cared and supported for their parents. Indeed an important thing to recognize is that the way we care for others shapes the way people may care for us.

I’m not sure I have any conclusions to draw here other than that as Rudy said about the Christian life, living and growing as a family is not a sprint but a marathon. It’s something we continuously try to improve and with love and God’s help, we can.

 

OK You just have to [insert techno-babble here]

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Pastor Rich is beginning a series on the Christian life and generally what it means to be a Christian in society. As part of this introduction he talked about advice, specifically giving advice without listening to the whole problem first, or assuming our experience is exactly the same as someone else’s, simple advice.

Ben TrubeAs you might expect for a software engineer, a lot of what I get asked about is computers. Someone has a problem and they need me to solve it. Sometimes as soon as I walk over the problem goes away (I heard this phenomenon termed “probable user hallucination”) and admittedly it’s pretty easy to think that whatever problem they’re having it not only has an easy solution, it has an obvious one.

See, one of the things that comes from working with computers for hundreds of hours is a basic knowledge of how programmers think. Even when I have no idea how to do something, because the guy who designed Windows or Word or any other piece of software is a guy like me I have at least some insight into how they were thinking. If not, Google helps.

What I don’t tend to have a very good grasp on is listening to what people are actually telling me. And I’m not that good of a teacher. I can’t just sit back and tell them what to do. I have to be in the driver’s seat. Professionally this makes sense, since I’m hired to be an expert, but even in that situation it’s important to be able to teach others new skills, and to really understand what they’re trying to do.

No two programmer’s think alike. There’s about as much similarity between my programming and somebody else’s as Hemingway and Jonathan Franzen. And nobody’s life or way they think is exactly the same.

So how does this relate to the Christian life?

Well, one of the things Rich wants to avoid are simple answers, like “be like Jesus”. Sure that’s not a bad idea, but it isn’t very practical. It doesn’t parse life in all of its subtlety. Sure there are some big ticket things we can do, but how do we approach every situation like Jesus.

One way to do something may make sense for one task and not make sense for another.

And the Christian life isn’t about glossing over the details. As I wrote about previously, some parts of the Bible are just … awkward. If we ignore them we may be able to live happy ignorant lives, but not very deep ones, and we won’t have much luck talking to the non-Christians in our lives.

This series is going to cover a lot of ground, which will hopefully be great for some of you who come to this blog but wondered why we were talking about 1 Corinthians the whole time. Hopefully there will be something for everyone trying to live out the Christian life in the world.

If you have anything you’d like to hear about, I’m sure it could be passed along and we’ll deal with it either in the blog or in later sermons. Leave your comments here.

Stand Firm in the Faith

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Ben posted yesterday on one of the other phrases in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “be strong.” As I listened to Rich on Sunday, my attention was caught by the phrase “stand firm in the faith.”

Bob Trube2One of the things I most appreciated about what Rich said had to do with not confusing faith and certainty. I find this is a real problem with many. Unless they can be certain about God, or something God has promised, they don’t think they can have faith. Truth is, there is very little in life that I can say that is certain when I think carefully about this. Am I certain my wife loves me? I’m pretty sure of that and I trust her enough to fall asleep in her presence and let her prepare my food. But I can’t prove to a certainty that she loves me. I have faith in her love and after 35+ years of marriage, it seems pretty reasonable to trust her!

On the other hand, there are some who think that faith is simply irrationality–believing what we know isn’t true. Faith may be that for some, but what I propose is that Christian faith is reasonable faith–that God has given us sufficient reasons to believe that he is good and that we can trust Him. The resurrection of Jesus, which Paul argues for in 1 Corinthians 15 is perhaps the most compelling of these reasons.

At the same time, Rich focused on something else that is very important. Sometimes we know all the reasons to believe God and it is still hard to act on what we believe to be true. Rich spoke about the idea that sometimes faith is simply “keeping on”. That is what Paul means when he says “stand firm”. Sometimes the best way to “keep on” is simply to stay put!

This is hardest for me when I am anxious or fearful. One place where I struggle with this is money. Things were very tight for us when I was growing up, and I fear being in that place. Whenever the bills mount up, it is tempting to postpone writing those checks to the church and other places where I give regularly. And I’m more prone to think twice (or more) about helping with a special need. Standing firm or “keeping on” means following my regular routine in writing those checks first–and trusting God to get us through the tight patches.

I fear failure. Yet I find the life of faith calls me into doing new, risky things, at times. It may mean a new situation of speaking about Christ, or a new responsibility where I could crash and burn! The “firmness” in standing firm is not the firmness of success versus the shakiness of failure. It is that whether this new venture flies or flops, I am secure in Jesus–firm.

So a few questions for your reflection:

  • In what instances might you be looking for certainty when God has given you sufficient reason in scripture and your experience that he is good and can be trusted?
  • Where might you be attempted to stop “keeping on” in some practice of faith in your life?
  • Where might the Lord be inviting you to trust him to keep you firm and secure in some new, risky thing?