getting through a difficult time

Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live;
    do not let my hopes be dashed.
Uphold me, and I will be delivered;
    I will always have regard for your decrees.

Psalm 119:116-117

There is no doubt that there are periods of time which can be trying for a number of reasons. I like the way scripture throughout, as well as in specific places leaves room for all of us to be able to identify in some way with what is written.

The psalmist is living according to God’s promise, so that their hope is both set and based on God’s word. And specifically God’s promise, perhaps meaning here the promise of being helped and being the Psalmist’s Help. We might liken the psalmist’s hope to having a dream of what might be. Both for the psalmist and for myself, it’s likely more in terms of a hope with an outcome not envisioned. At least for myself. Though I do have specific prayer requests along the way.

I must return again and again to God’s word, to scripture, to be both braced for what I need to be aware of and for living, and to be buoyed up so as to begin to think and live that way. And part of that process is going through difficulties, even hard times. Trials for the trying, testing, and refining of faith is a major theme in scripture.

And of course it’s in the way of the Lord, in devotion to God and God’s will. We live for God’s good purpose in Jesus and find fulfillment in that. And remember, “This too shall pass.” Better times are coming. Especially in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

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prayer for the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

a turning point for me

I may have the inclination, but that’s where it ends, to be able to weigh in on controversial matters such as Greg Boyd’s recent work. From now on I want to stick with the simplicity of what I do, with the Bible’s normal reading by the church, as my guide. I’ll let the scholars and theologians grapple with the other stuff, and try to learn from them. And if I make any judgment, I’ll hopefully qualify it sufficiently, so that the reader or listener will put weight on the biblical text and the church’s interpretation, and not on my own interpretation of it.

What I mean is that I am going to do what I think I’m gifted at doing, and what I’ve come to do, given everything, and leave those kinds of matters more to scholars, theologians, and those inclined to take them on. And if I wade into anything controversial, I will try to do so with a kind of disclaimer, which I think I haven’t adequately, if at all at times done in the past. I simply don’t have the breadth of study needed to make such judgments. But I will listen and weigh what others say. I know to say anything at all puts one on a theological fault line. Strictly speaking, there is no one just normal way of reading scripture by the church. But I would say the normal way of reading scripture as the church has, allows for diversity reflecting the richness of the text, as well as some variance in understanding.

We do need those especially gifted in a kind of prophetic way, and others in the wisdom way to be sure. And the church has to develop discernment in weighing everything. And we need some steady feet, not wandering all over the place. But theology does push us sometimes to places we might rather not go. But it must be somehow in submission to and in step with the church. The biblical text will cause the needed affront to us all with the help of the Spirit, as the word of God, and point us to the good news in Jesus. I state what I think is the obvious, which is what I try to do.

And we are all indebted much to gifted scholars and theologians, but the older I get, the more I just want to get back to the text of scripture, what it actually says, and go from there, which I’m sure is question begging/logical fallacy for some. I may be either under or over thinking here, or somehow both. But still reading from scholars and theologians. That’s where I’ll settle, myself. Psalm 131.

following God’s peace

There are times when we would like to work at resolving issues in a way which seems strongly reasoned and fair. And we are full of words. And actually there might be plenty of truth in what we’re saying.

But if we can look beneath the surface and have some discernment beyond what is obvious, we might find out that there’s more to be thought and said. We need to look for other possibilities as to what is happening and why. At the same time being careful not to put the worst case scenario with reference to ourselves in that case, although being open to any sin of ours which either might be clouding our thoughts (such as pride), or factors into what we’re concerned about.

And above all, we need to seek God’s peace. What might God have us do, as well as not do in the given situation is a good question. Where God’s peace lies, is another important consideration here.

This is all together, since deliberation in search for discernment is ordinarily part of the process that God wants of us as his children, and as such, as those who are responsible and in a certain sense, adults. There are exceptions to the rule when we might not be able to put our finger on why, but we just have the strong sense that God’s peace lies in a certain direction, but not in another.

By God’s peace here, I mean an inner feeling and sense that would be considered mystical. But through Christ by the Spirit, through faith, we can indeed experience this, at times quite strong, at other times, simply present. Ideally it is experienced with others in Jesus. But often enough, it will be experienced only by ourselves. If it’s of God, it should be persistent and prevailing.

This can be especially important at certain junctures of life, when change is in the air, and decisions are being made. We should expect a kind of general peace along the way from God, but I refer here to something stronger to help us either avoid what is wrong, or go in a better direction. In and through Jesus.

 

bracing grace

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God;with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6 (see the entire book)

When God’s grace is normally spoken of, it seems like it’s primarily about forgiveness and the new life we receive in Christ. And that’s certainly true and foundational to our faith. But grace is multifaceted in scripture. Grace includes as well the wherewithal, the ability to get up after one has been knocked down, maybe nearly knocked out.

I’ve certainly experienced that myself, probably a good many times. It’s when you think and feel that all is lost, or you’ve crossed a line of no return, and usually tied to some fear. However you might be impacted, God’s grace to us in Christ will eventually help us get back on our feet again and stand firm, even while remembering the occasion along with the reasons for bringing us down. And for the most part, even to forget such times.

God’s grace to God’s children helps us live responsibly and like God’s children. And as such, more and more in the maturity of Christ. Something I’ve noticed, something certainly needed. In and through Jesus.

 

making an appeal, rather than a demand

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your[c] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

Daniel 1

Daniel and his friends, captives from Judah were chosen by the King of Babylon to serve in a high position. But they would be required to eat and drink that which would not be kosher according to what was prescribed for them by God. And it would actually be a breaking of the commandment Yahweh had given them. Although in the circumstances they were in, they certainly wouldn’t be able to keep the covenant requirements, such as the festivals in Jerusalem, and the sacrifices required at the temple.

Daniel resolved to not to defile himself. At the same time, God made the official in charge of Daniel favorably disposed to him. Of course Daniel couldn’t just say we won’t keep the king’s order. Or at least that’s not the way he approached it. Instead he chose to appeal to the official, actually the guard under the official, to let them stick to their food and drink for a period of time, and see how they do. The appeal was in the interest of both Daniel and his friends, and for what the Babylonians wanted, as well. It was an appeal for a win/win, rather than a demand or stand against the king’s command, even though Daniel had resolved already not to follow it.

Of course Daniel would know that failure to keep the king’s command would mean his execution, along with the execution of any Jews who followed his example. It was certainly an urgent time, and set a precedent which we will see played out again in the book of Daniel. Daniel appealed to the authority over him, and placed everything into the hands of the Highest Authority of all, God. Although in Daniel 1, we don’t see Daniel praying to God. But he was endeavoring to live in God’s will. I’m sure he was praying, but the text does not bring that out. What it does bring out is his resolution, and appeal.

We can benefit from this when we’re up against what seems to be wrong. We should make our appeal in terms of what is beneficial not only for us, but for those in charge with whom we either might disagree, or might not out of conscience be able to do what they are requiring. In some cases that might cost us our jobs, or whatever opportunity was present. But we need to seek to be creative in thinking of ways in which our appeal will not only satisfy our own desire, need, or what’s required of us, but also how it will help meet the goal of the authority over us.

This story doesn’t tell us what would have happened if Daniel’s request would have failed, though I don’t think it takes much imagination to understand the difficulty he was in. But it does help us see how God helped him in those circumstances, his commitment to God, and his attitude, and how God’s blessing accompanied him in all of this.

This, like the rest of scripture is written for us, to encourage and give us instruction as needed for our own lives. In seeking to apply and live in the wisdom God gives us. In and through Jesus.

the tongue and the word

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1

James is a book that’s down to earth, and pulls little or no punches. It gets to the point. Like all the other biblical books, it is best read in context, both immediate as well as in its entirety. And then of course we consider that in light of similar biblical passages which in the case of James would be gospel accounts with related teaching from our Lord, as well as the wisdom book, Proverbs. And then in the context of all the rest of scripture.

In the passage above, we’re told to be good listeners, and slow both to speak and to become angry, as if somehow those two might be tied together. What James might have been getting at in part is how we react when someone is saying something. We may be tempted to push back even hard with what we see as a corrective statement. Instead the biblical text commends listening, and being quiet. And offering a word only after deliberation, and never in the heat of the moment, if we offer anything at all.

But we shouldn’t stop there, but read the rest of the passage. Which tells us for that reason we’re to clean house and humbly accept God’s word into our lives.

I find for myself that being in the word does help me avoid some of the pitfalls of life. But we are still weak and often prone to wander off into our own spaces. When we ought to remain in God’s space through his word in scripture and in Christ.

And so we need to keep at it, over and over again, day after day. Not letting up, but continuing in God’s word, which can save us from the sin we can so easily slip into. And into a life which is much better. Something we don’t just step into overnight, but more like gradually grow into. In and through Jesus.