the psalms: where we live

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Psalm 4

Part of the reason I think the psalms are so valuable is they talk a lot about experience. And that after all is where we live. We have our highs and lows, where we usually live, and oftentimes they’re punctuated with doubts and fears, being troubled. Then there are those times of peace and rest, sometimes even a sense of a kind of exaltation and joy. Well-being. But we sooner than later normally fall back into our default mode, which is whatever that might be. Hopefully with an increasing intentional drawing near to God as we go on, but sometimes mired in the depths.

But that is in large part why the psalms are so valuable and invaluable to us. We do well to read a psalm or two daily. And it is good from time to time to go meditatively through all the psalms. A part of God’s help for us as we live in the limitations and difficulties of this present existence and life.

In and through Jesus.

God meets us in conflict

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Genesis 32:22-32

Conflict of all kinds is part of this life. I’m not really referring to verbal or physical conflict, though that is all too prevalent. What I mean is conflict in our minds, which can impact our attitudes. Not to mention the conflict we experience with “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Jacob in the story above was having a big time conflict in his heart and mind. He knew before he left home some fourteen years or more earlier that Esau his brother was intent on killing him because of Jacob’s deception of their father Isaac, stealing Isaac’s main blessing before Isaac died. Only one would carry on the main covenant blessing of God, which frankly to my undereducated ears and understanding seems strange. But for all of Jacob’s faults, Esau’s heart did not seem as attuned to God as did Jacob’s.

Jacob upon returning home did all he could to assuage his brother’s anger, and hopefully to find favor. But left to his own thoughts, Jacob’s fears consumed him. He was not optimistic to say the least, and felt overwhelmed with his fears over the very real possibility that Esau and the four hundred men with Esau would do him and his family in. But God was at work having changed Esau’s heart, whether in an instant though Jacob’s struggle during this time, or more likely to me over time, but Esau would meet his brother in full embrace with weeping.

God met Jacob during this great time of internal conflict. And the same holds true for us today. Of course we want to avoid all such. But the silver lining in the storm cloud is that clear skies follow. We must look to God and seek God’s help in the struggle we are in. God will meet us there as we persist in the same way Jacob did long ago. In and through Jesus.

the necessary calm in the face of the storm

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.

Psalm 73:15-17

This psalm is not only one of the most interesting, but also if you can say this, one of the most beautiful (click above to see the psalm in its entirety). The psalmist is struck and grieved over what they see which seems to fly in the face of what is supposed to be. And down in the mouth as a result.

But the psalmist gets a necessary grip on themselves in noting that honesty to their children, to their progeny about this would be not only be bad for them, but unfaithful to God. Interestingly we have all of this set in front of us for all to see within the psalm itself. The exact struggle the psalmist is going through, not uncommon by the way, in Scripture. And the breakthrough into an answer that is otherworldly and requires faith. Helpfully, all of that is set before us.

But how does this translate into our lives? We are completely honest to God, pouring out our entire heart such as it is to God, seeking to cast our burden entirely on God. But before others, especially those who would not be ready for what we would share, as well as the realization that so sharing to others may not be timely and could even be unhelpful, we hold our peace.

Notice that the psalmist doesn’t say anything to anyone about this entire episode until after they enter into the sanctuary of God. I take that to refer probably to the temple, certainly the idea of entering God’s Presence. Then they speak/write the whole, but not until then.

So when we face the latest cloud within our experience, we do well to pray, and keep it to ourselves. Maybe sharing it only with a mentor, close significant other, or friend. But maybe keeping it just between ourselves and God might be a good practice. Seeking to draw near to God to get the needed vision and help. Then what we’ve experienced might be a help to others. In and through Jesus.

Jesus is with us. are we with him?

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:1-17; MSG

Christ’s words to his disciples echo to us today. We often want to do much for our Lord, even out of love, so we give it our best effort and inevitably fall short. It seems here that Jesus is telling us that a first priority is to be at home in organic, intimate relationship with him. I really like how Eugene Peterson puts it. And this is both an individual and communal endeavor. Jesus talks about individual branches which bear no fruit, but is talking to his disciples as branches on the same plant, who are to love each other.

I think oftentimes God lets us have success, but then the well dries up because we have something more to learn, at least better. This is a lesson from our Lord he gave his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse the night before his crucifixion. It was and we can say is something close to our Lord’s heart, something he practiced in relation with the Father, and wants us to practice in relation with him.

Too often we tend to downplay relationships in our emphasis for doing, getting the job done. I know that all too well in my many years it turned out to be, in factory work. At this late time for me, I’m learning more the importance of relationships, working with people whose ethnic practice is much more relational and communal, even though they work quite hard as well.

It’s not like what we do doesn’t matter, and won’t help in God’s good grace. But it’s more like a little bit from our communion with Christ will go much farther, and be much more potent than all our efforts all day.

So it seems like first things first, we need to focus on our union and communion, indeed on our relationship with Christ. Of course it’s only in and through him that we have that relationship at all, through his life, death and resurrection, and by the Spirit through his ascension.

If we’re at an impasse, maybe we just need to stop dead in our tracks. And seek to draw near to God. Jesus already makes his home in us. We’re to make our home in him. So maybe for us for a time it won’t be a matter of doing, but just trying to settle into our friendship with him, loving each other, as he taught us. Knowing that the fruit, good things will inevitably come out of that. But learning to settle in and be settled in that.

intimacy with God in a brutal world

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:1-4

If you read Psalm 91 in its entirety, you can’t avoid the reality it’s describing: a brutal world. There’s no two ways of getting around it.

But even in the midst of that God not only wants to protect us, but be intimately close to us. God will take care of us, and help us flourish, even through the worst this life can bring.

But we have to hold on to this promise, and act on it. In spite of ourselves, sometimes God will break through in love. But this needs to be an ongoing daily practice, so that we experience more and more God’s protection and intimacy in a brutal world. In and through Jesus.

what does God’s promise to never leave us mean?

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

Repeatedly in Scripture we have God’s promise not to forsake his people. And Jesus made that clear at his ascension (Matthew 28), his presence being with them (John 14) through the soon to come outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1,2).

We need to take it in that Scripture tells us that we are in God through Christ, and God is in us. What we’re referring to here is like living in a sphere, even a bubble. Our struggle comes in part because we don’t understand this and therefore we’re not expecting closeness to the Lord, nor to be guided directly by him through the Spirit, and the means the Spirit uses: primarily Scripture and the church.

This makes all the difference in the world, the difference between night and day when we begin to act as if this is so, and to do that in the beginning will ordinarily be quite apart from our feelings. And this all really is not a matter of emotions. That will always come and go. But to have a sense of the Lord’s interactivity with us is indeed encouraging.

For us Christians, Christ is central in every way in this. We know it’s because of his life, death and resurrection and ascension that this new life is available to us. And it’s a life in which Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3). Our only hope is in him.

And like the Scripture above tells us, he promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Whatever we have to go through he’ll intimately be there with us through it all. What we must do is act as if that’s the case, applying Scripture, like Philippians 4:6,7, etc., etc. And we’ll soon find out that this is indeed the case. But something we’ll have to do again and again, so that over time it can become more and more second nature to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

devotion to closeness to God

Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 30:21

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

The NET Bible note says Jeremiah 30:21 is a rhetorical question with a “no” answer expected. That is not clear in the NIV nor the KJV, perhaps more “literal” in English from the Hebrew, but clearer in other English translations. No one would dare seek to draw near to the God of Israel on their own. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that the way has now been open to all of God’s people through the blood, the once for all sacrifice of Jesus in his death on the cross. We in Jesus are a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9), and “made…to be…priests to serve…God” (Revelation 1:6).

So the way that was once made open through only designated ones necessarily year after year is now made open to all through Christ’s fulfillment in his atoning sacrifice. Not that “Old Testament” people couldn’t draw near to God who were not priests. They could do so only through the sacrificial system when possible, of course through faith. Enoch would be a prime example before the law was given (Genesis 5:21-24), and David (Psalm 15) and Daniel afterward (Daniel 9-12).

The passage in James quoted above makes it clear that this must be both in attitude and action. We’re told of the need for ongoing repentance, keeping short accounts with God. As well as simply taking the time to come near to God. This must become a priority, maybe we should say the priority of our lives.

I have more or less tried to do something like this over the years. I would in theory seek to be doing this all day. I did have a few special times, one I can remember early on in particular, “a date with God” as I called it, of drawing near to God. But special times each day were not a part of my life such as what evangelicals call “personal devotions.” I thought I would more than less be seeking to do that all day. I think at least to some extent this was a mistake. It is better to err on the side of making sure one has that “quiet time” with God. I used to listen regularly to God’s word being read. And now open my little Bible off and on throughout the day. But there needs to be those special times in prayer and in the word, not just thinking we can do that as we run throughout our day. But God will honor our attempt to do that even in the midst of the rush of life. Yet we need those times in silence before God.

Then hopefully as a pastor friend, Marvin Williams reminded me, we’ll have the scent of Christ on us, and be enabled by the Spirit to lead others to him. In and through Jesus.

fights or grace?

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil,and he will flee from you.Come near to God and he will come near to you.Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:1-10

Jeff Manion at Ada Bible Church gave another helpful message (they’re all good from him, as well as from others there) on this passage (not yet available online, but it will be the fifth in the series).

Conflict is a fact of life. Over and over again we encounter it here and there. I’m thankful to experience little of it, but it does occur at times. Sometimes we hold it in, but that can’t last forever. One way or another, for good, but mostly for ill, it will come out. If we can let it out to God like the psalmists of old, that is good. And sometimes after we let it cool down, we might be able to address the problem, first in ourselves, and then maybe we can help someone else.

James points out that our problem is desire, maybe the desire to be right, respected, things that may or may not be legitimate, but certainly out of place here. At the heart of this is pure idolatry. James calls those who fight and quarrel adulterers, certainly meaning in a spiritual sense. His hearers/readers were at least primarily Jewish, steeped in what we call the Old Testament, in the scriptures, and knew the theme of spiritually adultery in God’s people departing from God to serve and worship other gods, which were no gods at all, but idols.

When God is God to us, then we are enabled by grace to love the God who loves us, who is love, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But when other things become our gods, idols in our hearts, which includes a whole host of possibilities, really anything, even including ourselves, we find that getting along with others can be a challenge, or maybe not on the table at all. God brings his people together in harmony, in contrast to idols which divide, in significant part due to the demonic influence behind them, which is bent on division and destruction.

Jeff Manion’s message is much better than what I just shared, a bit of what I’ve said reflected from it. The part that especially hit home for me from what he said is how God is the God of grace, who loves to give and give and give some more. How after these strong words, it is made clear that God gives more grace. What we need to do is ask in prayer, and not to fulfill our pleasures, either. God wants to give generously, over and over again.

Then there’s a list of what we’re to do, one thing after another, at least eight in all depending on how you count. We are to respond to this word, to take action, the starting point, submitting ourselves to God, after which we can resist the devil and do all the rest. We are to get serious about our own problem, rather than focusing on the problems of others. Coming near to God with the promise that as we do so, God will come near to us.

Grace from God to help us live in submission to him in our every day lives with others. In and through Jesus.

the nearness of God in the pressures of life

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.

Scripture is full of promises of God’s presence with his people. Especially in terms of living in the darkest most difficult places of life. God has made it so we need each other. But all of us together need God. God not only gives us physical life, but a life worth living. In a true sense that is given to all by creation. In new creation God’s original intention for humankind is restored and then some.

When I consider the challenges of life that are on me and what lies just ahead I realize more and more how I simply need God and God’s nearness. It is easy to simply wish to escape and we can do so in all sorts of ways. Instead we need to learn to draw upon our life in God through Jesus by simply coming near to him, asking God to come near to us, to be very close to us, to be our life and our very breath spiritually speaking.

Will life get easier as a result? Prayer can make a difference and walking with God will mean we’ll be much more in prayer. But circumstances may not be any better. We will simply have a new center so to speak from which to approach them. Which will help us to look for and actually see God’s hand and not just the troubles of this life. Actually living in God ourselves in a more conscious way, as we continue to seek his nearness in our lives in and through Jesus.

drawing near to God

“Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me— for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ declares the Lord.”

“Their prince shall be one of their own, their ruler shall come from their midst; I will bring him near, and he shall approach me, for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the Lord.”

The first translation of Jeremiah 30 : 21 from the NIV is more literal (see older translations), but the second, the NRSV rendering followed by English translations I checked probably brings out the sense better as an NET footnote suggests. The idea from scripture is that God makes a way in this case for a ruler over his people to approach him, even to draw near into his presence. In and through Jesus we know that God has opened the way into the Most Holy by no less than the blood of Christ (book of Hebrews).

This is in large part what good liturgy reflecting scripture helps worshippers do. God in scripture is holy, *other* than humans, so that he is unapproachable. That may be in terms of our own inability, not to mention unwillingness to do so. There is also no doubt in scripture that God himself is a God of judgment who even displays wrath against sin and wickedness. But who also in love makes a way to come near to him, sinners though we are, through the blood of Christ, through Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross for sin.

I probably would prefer something more like the NRSV rendering here, but perhaps bringing out something of both renderings. This is to be what we in Jesus are practicing in our worship gatherings and from day to day. A priority of life for us in and through Jesus.

(Admittedly confined, but for now, completely from a relatively small mobile tablet. )