when all seems lost

There are times when one feels like they no longer matter. Even though that thought can’t really be sustained by reason, the feeling leaves one with no uncertainty.

When I consider the psalms, let alone the rest of scripture, I’m not one who tells people just to buck up and get over it, or simply to think positive, not negative. Life is real and some of what we experience indeed does seem larger than life itself. But we have to go on, in spite of and in the midst of our experience. But we simply can’t, nor should we (with some possible exceptions) set experience aside. It is a part of who we are as human beings. The Bible from cover to cover certainly does not deny that, indeed it does give that fair play and some people might say, “And then some.”

We in and through Jesus have to go on by faith knowing it is God in Jesus who is the Savior. What is not redeemable? We may be crying over the wasted years, over the failure in our lives, over whatever it might be. But in and through Jesus we are part of God’s good work in the world through the gospel. The gospel is that it is Jesus who is in the center, that God is working out his purposes through him by the Spirit, that Jesus as Messiah is king. God’s reign in and through Jesus is indeed quite redemptive taking in all of creation in its brokenness. And that includes all of us in ours.

And so by faith I hold on and go on. Believing in spite of as well as because of. It is God’s work I’m somehow taken up into and included in. In and through Jesus.

taking refuge in God

As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.

What are we depending on? Where do we go when we’re in trouble or in need? The older I get the more I realize how futile it is to depend on anyone but God. Yes, we need each other. But not one of us can be anyone else’s salvation. We can and indeed should be through Jesus priests in various ways for each other in helping us live in God’s grace.

To take refuge in God is to look to God for protection (see NLT translation – verse 30 – in link of above passage). Refusing to resort to anything else. We indeed need protection from enemies both externally and internally to us. Some people might want to see us fail in some way. Behind that are spiritual entities against which we struggle. And we need to be protected from ourselves. No one apart from God can be our savior, including ourselves.

This is a matter of faith: faith in God, faith in God’s word. Mediated in and through Jesus. For us and for others. Finding God to be our protection and protector, the shield we need. As we go on in the spiritual battle of this life.

going on in the haze

Sometimes life is anything but comfortable. There can be certain factors at work in that both rather known and unknown. It is nice to have sunny blue skies and the air clear. It is good when the threatening weather comes and the storms pass through with no one hurt, perhaps only having to clean up some debris. There are times when life seems cast in a haze and there is little else we can do but go on.

We might ask ourselves if some of the thoughts we’ve entertained have contributed to this “air” pollution. Perhaps we didn’t dwell on them at all, but just the same, their impact was rather formative on us, on our psyche, so that much of the comfort and joy of life had seemed all but displaced. Perhaps it’s circumstances which are not comfortable in one way or another. Oh for the nice getaway when our focus can be elsewhere in rest and pure enjoyment.

Over and over, fortunately here and there – not all the time – I’ve had to go on in the haze. Not sure where I was going, what was going on, what might come out of it. But going on just the same in faith that God would see me through. Even learning to relax and rest in something other than ideal circumstances. Perhaps attuning one’s self to life as it really is and not as we wish it would be.

In the process circumstances may not change soon, but perhaps it is we who are changing, at least in learning how to go through them with our faith in God not only intact, but somehow strengthened. Perhaps in ways we couldn’t have conceived of beforehand as well as in ways we don’t notice ourselves, even if others might sense some difference in us.

Comforts such as peace and joy are wonderful to experience and we can cherish those moments and times. But by and large that doesn’t seem to be where life is lived. It is more on the edge which mostly seems simply uncomfortable. We need to get used to that and find our life all the more in God in and through Christ. As we look forward to the day when all the haze will forever be gone.

faith’s focus: attention fully on God

There are those days when pretty much everyone seems to have abandoned you, when life seems to be falling off the hinges. Oftentimes the problem for me is my focus. It’s not like I’m to ignore the problems (real and imagined) and pretend they don’t exist. It’s that I need to turn my attention to something and someone else.

That’s when I need to choose to be in the word (scripture) and in prayer to God. And turn my attention and thoughts away from the troubles. In doing so I can bring the troubles to God. By and by I should find that I’m no longer fixated on the problem, even though the temptation may remain strong to fall back into that.

Faith’s attention is fully on God himself and in God’s will and promises to us in Jesus. Not that we might have a weaker yet genuine faith in struggling to get our attention fixed on God. But the kind of faith we need is the faith in which one’s focus and attention is completely on God.

What we need to do is put matters into God’s hands and submit to his will. He is at work for our good and for the good of all in and through Jesus.

 

“add to your faith goodness”

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

From our modernist heritage we put the emphasis not on virtue, but on knowledge. One would think by now that we would understand that knowledge alone does not make one better, or the world better. It is of course what we do with that knowledge which counts.

I am one who likes to know as in learning as much as I can and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Notice the passage itself lists adding knowledge right after goodness. It is important and sometimes despised in reaction to our Modernist, Enlightenment world. Of course knowledge needs to be couched in the right context. Here it is couched in the context of of God’s divine call and enabling in and through Christ. The entire list is instructive for us. In fact rather ironically to read and consider such a list is toward knowledge, or an intellectual understanding of the same. But that does little good unless goodness accompanies it.

The heart of the matter in the life in Jesus is to live a life of love, of course in terms of our calling in Jesus. The world won’t necessary see all that we do and say with reference to that calling as good. For example Jesus is our king, and earthly masters have no total absolute authority over us. That’s not going to sit well in many places. And our confession that Jesus is Lord and the way to God along with the confession that there is one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is not going to be tolerated in some places. While there is indeed significant overlap in the goodness referred to here which Christians are to live out, there are some significant differences as well. What is crucial is that our lives are pleasing to God and that people have nothing justly bad to say about us.

We don’t stop at goodness of course (and the list is not strictly speaking sequential, though I find the order in some ways possibly suggestive), but we add the rest of what is on this list to our faith as well. And so we in Jesus should be known for our goodness in and through him.

 

when at a loss praying psalm-like

Sometimes life comes on us so hard in so many ways that we are at a loss. We don’t know which way to turn. We in Jesus want to follow the way of Jesus, but that can be more complicated than what might meet the eye. Yes in following Jesus we’re to take up our cross. We’re to love even our enemies, something unique to the call in Jesus. We leave vengeance in God’s hands.

One equation which may be lost to many of us raised in evangelical circles is the need to pray the psalms, or to pray psalm-like. Of course we can open our Bibles and actually pray a psalm here and there. But better yet to read them regularly, to imbibe something of their spirit, and then to offer our own prayers to God out of that.

One prayer I’ve regularly prayed in the past from the psalms when overcome with fear is “Into your hands I commit my spirit. Redeem me O Lord, the God of truth (or, my faithful God).” In the film The Passion of the Christ, Jesus is seen in the Garden of Gethsemane praying from the psalms, or psalm-like prayers, one of the numerous redeeming features in that film.

The psalms aren’t pretty. We don’t pray just the right prayers with a pious face and go on. We pray out of our gut feelings. Read the psalms. Not all the prayers in there are surely sanctioned by God, or all the lines pious in themselves. While by and large that is the case, there are numerous exceptions, so bad I don’t even like to refer or link to them here. Yes, we do well to pray for our enemies even while they’re stoning us (literally or figuratively) like Stephen of old, and if we’re going to follow the way of Jesus, we will end up praying that way. But perhaps to get there, or on our way, we might pray some prayers that are not so heavenly, or heaven for earth kind of praying. We express to God our real selves, every part of that, as we seek to entrust ourselves and our lives into his hands.

So when we are at a loss, perhaps struggling with perceived injustice and with our attitude in all of that, let’s endeavor to pray the psalms, or better yet, psalm-like. Committing our lives into the good hands of God, that we might follow in the way of our Lord Jesus.

keeping the gospel front and center

I have come to believe something like I believe scripture and that scripture is the written word of God because I believe in the gospel. And that I don’t believe the gospel because I believe or accept scripture as God’s word written. And that churches which in one way or more keep the gospel front and center are doing well, whereas churches that fail to do this are not.

While scripture itself and faithful exposition will to some extent help us against this, there is a tendency to fit what we understand of it into our own world view and goal for life. For example our goal may be to somehow find something of “the American dream.” Not all of that is necessarily bad in and of itself, but like anything good, it can easily become an idol. We can somehow think that following Christ can help us along to our goal, can make us a better this or that. On the other hand whatever our calling actually is can be well enhanced through the gospel, as we live for Christ and for the gospel and not for ourselves.

The gospel (gospel meaning good news) pure and simple is Jesus Christ and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. At the heart of it is Christ’s death and resurrection, ascension, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church for life and mission to the world and the promise of Christ’s return when heaven and earth become one in judgment and new creation. The gospel is that Jesus is Lord. It is a saving gospel, as particular as each one of us, but as large as all creation. Saving us from our sins and bringing us into new life.

How do we keep the gospel front and center? I like N. T. Wright’s teaching that we read and see all of scripture as part of God’s story which is actually a gospel story fulfilled in and through Jesus. That is the Christian way of reading the Hebrew Bible along with what we Christians call the New Testament. And I endeavor to look at all of life in light of the gospel. I measure politics in light of it since the gospel is indeed political in terms of the kingdom of God come in Jesus. Again the gospel is as big as all of creation encompassing human culture. Jesus fulfills God’s calling to Israel to be the blessing to the world which puts the world not only on the right track, but on a new track altogether. But certainly in fulfillment of God’s calling to humankind in Genesis which we see in the ending of the story in scripture in the Revelation. In all of this Jesus Christ and God’s work in him is kept front and center. The Spirit is poured out when that’s the case.

Good liturgy and regular participation in the Eucharist (the Lord’s Table, or Holy Communion) weekly in our church gatherings can help us keep the gospel front and center. I need the gospel myself, everyday. I  need to be not only encouraged to keep on keeping on because of that gospel, but I need to be confronted by the demands of that gospel as well, the call to regular confession of sin with the forgiveness in Jesus that accompanies that. And the call to take up my own cross and follow Christ to the end, and the many details involved in that.

The gospel is the vantage point from which I see all of life. I can’t explain everything in light of it, but I seek to view everything in its light, and I find whatever good is in anything (excluding sin) is fulfilled in the gospel to be realized in some measure now and completely later in and through Jesus.

And so I seek to carry on along with others in the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, the gospel of King Jesus.

For a full, succinct telling of the gospel, see Scot McKnight’s, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited.

embracing weakness

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.

I don’t think we naturally embrace weakness of any kind. And we may well feel threatened by such.

The Apostle Paul struggled with it himself. Whatever the weakness was that he begged for the Lord to remove, it was most certainly nothing less than “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” which tormented him. Maybe it was from the stoning he had survived, not to mention all the other troubles because of his witness. Whatever the case, he learned to accept and even delight in such. Because instead of Paul being strong, the Lord was strong in Paul’s weakness.

This is vital for us too, as followers of Jesus. That we would not shun whatever weakness we have, but accept it. Of course I’m not talking about weakness in terms of giving in to sin. Though when we commit even that to God for forgiveness and cleansing, God can change us over time and encourage others who so struggle through our witness.

This must be a continual attitude, not just one that comes and goes. I can’t hold on to strength and live by that today, and then embrace whatever weakness comes to the fore tomorrow. I must hold on to this attitude of embracing weakness in order that I may experience Christ’s strength instead of my own. That Christ might be seen in me for his sake and for the gospel.