needed strength from God

[God] gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Isaiah 40 is the Romans 8 of the Old Testament. It is a great chapter of encouragement for God’s people. Like Romans 8, Isaiah 40 ends on a momentous, uplifting note, speaking about the hard places of life where we live. We need to take into our heart and bones all these great passages are telling us.

The point at the end of Isaiah 40 is that God will give us the needed spiritual and physical strength to keep on keeping on, regardless of what we’ve went through and what we’re facing. 

Oftentimes our weariness is a combination of being tired in spirit and in body. I can overcome a lot of physical tiredness if I feel strong, good, or okay in spirit. But when I’m down in spirit, then physical strength seems hard to come by.

We’re told to hope in or wait for God. That as we do so, God will renew our strength. It’s a strength of resolve to keep on going in the midst of difficulty, whether discouragement, doubt, even despair. As we wait on the Lord, the Lord will give us the resolve and ability we need.

Physical rest and asking for prayer from a good friend or one who is mentoring/directing us are important. While we also look at the great encouragement Scripture passages like this give to us, right where we live no less. In and through Jesus.

we’re on our way in this life, so keep going (don’t stop)

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Philippians 3:12-16

The sense of having arrived, so that one thinks they’re all set as far as their lives are concerned is not a good place to be, even a dangerous place, frankly. If Paul could say he hadn’t arrived, then all the more so true of any of us. In fact Paul calls it a mark of maturity to acknowledge that, as well as to keep pressing on.

We are on a journey. It has inevitable difficulties along the way. One can’t help but think of John Bunyan’s epic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Although my own theological understanding in many ways does not line up with his, that entire story is a great illustration of what I’m trying to get at in this post. For “Christian” there are difficulties and challenges right to the very end on his journey to the Celestial City.

There ought to be the sense of having arrived only in the practices we ordinarily always do. But there is that sense in our hearts that indeed we’re still on the way, anticipating what we can hardly imagine, what apart from the Spirit’s help we can’t imagine at all, seeing Jesus as he is, and becoming like the one we love.

Let’s not forget that it’s always not only about us individually. “…the arc of history is long and bends toward justice…” God in love is working God’s purpose out, and God will get God’s way. Within that thought, we long for Christ’s return to at long last clean up this mess, and put in the new order.

But until then, and until our end in this life comes, we want to press on, in fact we have no other choice but to keep doing so. God will see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

don’t go there

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11

It’s always important to look at the context of any particular passage, and the above passage is no exception. It has to do with an issue in the church involving one who needs the kind of help that only the church can give them. The person does respond to the church’s action with Paul’s help (some interpretation, here), and now Paul presses home the need to move past that, not as if nothing happened, but in a wise way in which the person knows they are fully accepted and loved.

Just the same, we can still pull something out of the above thought. Our spiritual enemy is out to trip us up wherever and whenever it can. Yes, at opportune, strategic times, as well. They know our weaknesses, what pushes our buttons, and indeed are active in setting us up for “the evil day” as well. We don’t want to be people who focus on the spiritual enemy. But as we seek to keep our attention on the Lord, we do need to be aware of what they can be up to, so that we can begin to sense and discern that in our lives, as well as in the lives of others so that we can pray for them.

All that said, this simply means that we need God’s help to refuse to take the bait, the allure the enemy drops or sends our way. We need discernment to understand when this is taking place, and to understand how this is developing. And how we may be unwitting accomplices in it.

Don’t go there! Yes, resisting that will amount to resisting the devil. As we seek to keep our attention fully on the Lord, that we may be led by him in all of this. This is a step of faith which may not be easy, in fact will likely be hard, being counterintuitive to us, since we have given into it so many times before. But as we take that step and follow through, God will help us in this. In and through Jesus.

This podcast from Tim Gombis, “Faith Improvised,” only 36 minutes in length (finish it, to get the benefit) was helpful to me on this subject, certainly applying on a host of issues.

borderline gossip

Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors…

Psalm 15:1-3

I’m sure we’ve all heard it, likely at some time or another even have been participants in it. Concern is being expressed about someone, and before you know it, details are coming out accompanied with a kind of interest that seems to have departed from the original intent. And it goes on and on, not stopping. In what has become “borderline gossip.”

Maybe when we talk about others in such contexts, we would do best to talk about them as if it were ourselves. We want to express the concern, but do so humbly, acknowledging that our perception is limited. That above all, we want to take it to God in prayer. And not go on and on, framing them in a demeaning way. 

There certainly are those times when the person or people we’re concerned about seem to be taking a clearly wrong turn. Of course those are the times we need to plead for God’s mercy upon them.

Let’s be careful what we say about others. Ordinarily keep it brief, to the point, and always with plenty of charity. Looking to God for God’s help and full blessing on their lives. In and through Jesus.

keep on going

…and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:4

When we feel up against it, something akin to what is being described in the first part of James (click above link to see context), a natural reaction is to want to escape as soon as possible. To get the answer needed, and the relief that comes with that.

But when we do so, we essentially short circuit the process. And according to James, it’s a needed process if we’re to arrive to some full-orbed maturity.

So we need to hang in there in the midst of weakness. To go through it, looking to God for help both through prayer and through the help of others, particularly the church. We have to get out of the habit of bailing out. God will see us through, yes into some good relief. But most importantly increasingly into the person we were created to be. In and through Jesus.

the underrated, underappreciated, relatively unpracticed activity of radical decision

After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Luke 5:27

It seems to me that a common idea which is mostly taken for granted is that decision-making is of little to no value at all, that we will do what we do for a host of reasons, and that includes all the decisions involved in that. The thought of decision I’m referring to here are life-altering or at least life-improving decisions. Decisions in order to make things work along the way is certainly accepted, but life-altering or even improving decisions are often looked upon with suspicion. Yes, people try, but almost inevitably they sink back into their old ways. There are exceptions to this as when people acknowledge that it is possible to break free from serious, destructive addictions with the help of others, over time, and not apart from significant difficulty.

I think we’re all well enough aware of habits of life that either are not helpful to us, or may even be harmful. We might see them as innocent in and of themselves, but they may be distracting us from what’s most important. And for the follower of Christ, the initial radical decision to follow Christ involves what at times are difficult decisions along the way to leave this or that behind, as not in line with this following.

Levi (who also is named Matthew, one of the apostles, writer of the first gospel account) left everything to follow Christ. In that decision involved in answering Jesus’s call, there was a power at work to help Levi follow through and keep on following Jesus.

Levi’s life did change in a day, but much about Levi was the same. But because of the decision, and the completely different trajectory it took, we can be sure that Levi was significantly differently a year from that initial decision, and all the more so by the end of his lifetime. In other words what I’m trying to say is that a decision at a certain point can make a world of difference.

The way we see decision, it’s small wonder that it makes little to no difference. So that we make almost silly New Year’s resolutions at times, because we don’t take the idea that seriously in the first place. Or that anything we might at least want to take seriously is usually broken soon, because we don’t really take decision-making with much seriousness at all, certainly not enough, so that often we forget we even made the resolution, and hence, break it.

The difference is the purpose involved. Is our decision about following Christ, or connected to it? We can be assured that if such is the case, God will help us remember and follow through on making and fulfilling all the necessary decisions which follow that initial decision. All and everything that is not in line with following Christ, we are meant to leave behind.

I do want to add to this that I think the importance of humans being able to make important, life-altering decisions, in and of itself is not taken seriously enough. Certainly help is needed along the way, but to say that humans can’t make important decisions themselves and see good things come out of such in time, I think is failing to appreciate the special ability within humans as those made in God’s image. And this thought carries through to followers of Christ, as well. Let’s not minimize our own human decision, even while we acknowledge that all really do need God’s help and the help of others along the way.

God will help us if we’re intent in doing this. We can be assured of that. And when we forget and fall back, we simply repent of that, and resolve all the more to follow through on the decision made, difficult as it may be, especially in the beginning and earlier stages. God will help it become shaped and confirmed and part of our lives. In and through Jesus.

First Sunday of Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Psalm 25:1-10

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:25-36

Revised Common Lectionary

light breaking through

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

Access to your words gives light,
giving simple folk understanding.

Psalm 119:130; CEB

Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Psalm 119:130; NET

“The better angels of our nature” is something akin to what I’m referring to here, that is, in our experience. We’re often frankly mired in what might be acceptable mindsets, attitudes and even addictions, all more or less acceptable as far as the world is concerned, acceptable to and often celebrated by most people. But we know better most of the time, at least deep down inside.

If we step out in faith, God’s words to us can help us, God giving God’s thoughts to us through Scripture and especially God’s revelation in Jesus. We have to purposefully commit ourselves to hearing a different word and adopting a different understanding to move us away from conformity to the world, to the spirit of the age which is antithetical to God, toward a formation more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

We need to pay attention, to be sensitive to where that light might be breaking through. To see all in a better, more full light. With grace toward all. A light as we seek to see everything, which can help not only us, but others through our embrace of what we get a good glimpse of and act in accordance to. A light which pours out God’s life and love to us. The light in which we’re to live more and more, even in the midst of this present darkness. In and through Jesus.

glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

Thanksgiving Day (USA): Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:21-27

A Song of Ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all

—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:25-33

Revised Common Lectionary