in the uncomfortable spaces

I find myself sometimes in most difficult spaces, sometimes because of my foibles as a human being, some might say follies, and just because of life itself. I think those can be the places where God might be trying to teach us something new and formative to shape our lives. Or deepening what God has already taught us.

I find myself in such places more given to prayer, more thoughtful, more alert, hopefully more aware. At the same time, I also find the experience difficult at best. Such that I have to look to God, try to cling to him.

I do that by going back again and again as actually just a habit of life, to the word. My mind is distracted from what troubles me. And what I read and ponder on actually informs and forms me yes, about the uncomfortable space, or what my own response to that should be, a resolute and firm trust in the God who saves.

Too often in the comfortable places I drift. Yes, we need those places of rest, as we see in Psalm 23. But as we also see in Psalm 23 this life is not entirely like that. So again and again, today and every day by God’s grace I will be in the word, in prayer, voicing my concern for what is troubling me, and hoping to get beyond that. In and through Jesus.

in insane times

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

Paul basically tells us two simple yet profound things here. He says essentially to guard our thought life, not so much here by what we don’t take in, though that’s important, but what we actually do think about and reflect on. And Paul tells us to live as he did. That should be a check on us, on how we often live and act, or react to things.

This is a challenge because Christians are not to turn a blind eye to what is wrong, impure, ugly, shameful, and deserving of rebuke and censure. That’s always to be found, and people are thankfully metaphorically, but still sadly nearly at each other’s throats nowadays. It is a maddening time.

But what’s a Christian to do? Do what Paul tells us here, a part of God’s written word. Settle down and settle in to what is better. In doing so, maybe then we can be helpful to influence what is not. In and through Jesus.

in the new normal

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7

What happens when the heavens feel like brass, when one seems to have no peace, or it comes, but mostly is gone. Read the amazing wisdom story of Job. It’s a wisdom story, not necessarily a story about an actual event. That’s how some take it, including myself, though it really doesn’t matter. But Job found himself in the depths of complete personal loss, except that his wife who remained, counseled him to curse God and die. In this story, God is actually wagering Satan in a sense, letting Satan take his worst shot at Job without killing him to answer Satan’s accusation that Job will dismiss God since he serves God for personal gain.

Job doesn’t take this passively, the loss of his children, loss of wealth and now stricken from head to toe in misery. He questions God, and even wishes for the reversal of creation, including of course his own existence. Yet Job hangs in there. He is still talking to God, and talking around his friends who had their nicely pat theological and seemingly life-oriented answers. Recently I read these friends were like first year seminary students. Some wisdom in that thought.

Living in the new normal is not a new theme for me. I’ve lived much of my life in difficulty of one kind or another, mostly inward, though in reaction to external situations, but just a steady dull, regardless. PTSD surely is something we all experience at different levels, since we humans live in a broken world. How do we live in “the new normal”?

I think we have to do what Job did. Hang in there with God; appeal to God. Ask questions. Determine to hope in God to the end. And learn how to live as well as we can “in the new normal.” There is no sense thinking we can escape it. As in the case of Job, only God can grant that. We have to keep after it in our faith, but learn to live as well as we can. Trusting that God will see us through and give us what we need. The breakthrough and change will come. In and through Jesus.

at peace in God’s will

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

James 4:13-17

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

our lives are in God’s hands

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

James 4:13-17

James was a pastor, but he could be blunt and was certainly to the point. This is a good example of that. And it’s the kind of word we often need. It seems like if we hear something that comes across to us as only a nice suggestion, we easily slough it off, and forget it. But this is a word that braces us for our full attention, and doesn’t leave an out, another option.

If we can get it into our heads that we’re only a mist, our lives are here one day, and gone the next. That’s hard for us at any age, although as one gets into their senior years, there’s no escape from the realization that our bodies are slowing down, and that we’re indeed aging. Sadly anyone’s life can be snuffed out in an instant, in a car accident, or over a short time with an unexpected illness.

James’s words don’t exclude planning. It’s fine and good to plan, even important, but always with the contingency that all depends on the Lord and his will. Our lives are in God’s hands, not in our own, thankfully. So we can rest assured in that, submitting our plans to God, indeed our very lives, that he might direct us and give us wisdom in everything according to his good will. In and through Jesus.

taking an inventory of one’s life

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” These words from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church echo down the corridors of time all the way to us. 2 Corinthians was written in large part to get the Corinthian church back on track, as many were being influenced by false teachers within the church. We may think we live in a different day and age, but if we pay closer attention, we’ll know better. 

One of the big problems we face is the same problem that church faced: we fail to take with sufficient seriousness the message of God’s word, the exact teaching. And when we do that, there is a rationale behind it probably that makes sense to us at the time, and we’re carried away into something other than God’s will.

It is crucial to pay close attention to God’s word and to our own lives, both. The message and teaching of God’s word is meant to impact our lives, no less. But in order for that to happen, we need to prayerfully go over our lives, especially being attentive to what God might be wanting to teach us now while also being open to how we might better process the past as we receive God’s redemptive healing. The point here is that we need to examine ourselves, of course to see if we’re in the faith, yes. And also to understand so as to truly practice our faith day to day in every circumstance so that we might not only recognize Christ in us, but that others may as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

no quick fix

When I read Scripture and life after over four and a half decades of being a Christian, at least it seems to me that there is no quick fix or great spiritual breakthrough awaiting us if we can just find it. Yes, it can make a big difference when we learn to depend on God and less on ourselves, and when we learn to “walk” more by the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, etc. All of that surely does make a world of difference, the difference between light and darkness.

But it’s best to settle down into the realization that there simply is no quick fix. Change for us is incremental and takes time, and yes, effort, on our part. God’s grace underlies it all, and without God’s working, there will be no change at all. But we have to apply what God has given us, and do it again and again and again, so that new habits replace old ones. For example my first natural reaction to problems will be to grumble and complain, maybe utter something under my breath that I shouldn’t. But as I learn God’s way given in Scripture, I might instead learn to rejoice and give thanks, and pray to God, and at least not grumble. Or if I do complain, to do so to God.

Christians waste their time trying to find the big breakthrough, maybe some great spiritual experience, instead of simply endeavoring to follow Christ and stay in the word and pray, and remain in the fellowship of God’s people. And just accepting the fact that life will be a struggle in this world, that the world, the flesh and the devil aren’t going to disappear because of some mountaintop experience.

The sooner we accept this, the better. That God will be with us through it all. In and through Jesus.

accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

sensitivity to wrong in our lives

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

We are told in this passage that we need to look intently at God’s word and at ourselves. An implication in this passage is that God’s written word exposes what is wrong in our lives, and that by application of that word, we can change and see change over time.

It’s important not only to be encouraged by God’s word, but also to be open and sensitive to whatever is wrong in our life, in our heart and actions. Jesus said that what defiles a person comes from the heart, and Proverbs tells us to watch over our heart since all we do comes from it.

We need the help from God through his word to address our problem. And we have to be sensitive to what is wrong with us. It is remarkable how quick we can be to pick up and pick on the perceived faults of others and be oblivious of our own. Or simply to sweep our own faults under the rug as insignificant or somehow justified, or we can fail to see them at all. As Scripture tells us elsewhere, we who judge others do the very same things ourselves.

Yes, others certainly have their faults sometimes in plain sight for all to see, though only God can see their hearts. But we have to acknowledge to ourselves that we’re in the same boat, that we’re often wrong, and keep our attention first and foremost on ourselves. As we continue in the word, making the necessary changes along the way. In and through Jesus.

 

mourn and weep, then laugh and dance

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    …a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

In this life there’s always plenty of good reason to mourn and weep. Plenty. Right at our doorstep. Not only around us, but over our own mistakes and failures. And there’s a time for that.

But saying there’s a time for that implies that it is meant to be only so long. There’s also a time to laugh and dance. Notice that these two opposites: grief and mirth are juxtaposed in the poetry of this passage so that one indeed can’t miss the contrast.

As humans we can’t carry the weight of our own burdens forever. We’re meant to cast them on God in prayer, and to carry each other’s burdens.

There is a time as well for us to carry our own burden. In taking seriously the harm we’ve done, or being weighed down by our concern for others.

And the time to relax, to let it go only in the sense of no longer stressing over it. Not that we let go of the actual concern. But even with that, through trust in God, we’re able to relax and enjoy God’s gifts, and especially God himself as we seek to contemplate on him.

In and through Jesus.