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. )

taking care of oneself, or “soul care”

I think for years I was more or less in the habit of failing to take seriously even the concept of taking care of oneself. Ironically I think I advocated something of that to others, though surely not nearly enough. Because I myself did not really buy into it.

What might be called “soul care” simply said means taking care of oneself. But unpacked in terms of following Jesus, we might say that it essentially involves learning to be directed in the nurture of one’s life so as to live in God’s presence and will. And it is for our flourishing in the way of Jesus, certainly in and through Jesus with an emphasis on the Jesus Creed of loving God and others.

Our longings to get away be it on vacation or on a retreat somewhere are likely in significant measure the desire to be refreshed and renewed ourselves. I am not really referring to some kind of “high,” though we may experience something of that from time to time, some of us more than others. Rather, a settled in kind of existence which is much more than existing but true life indeed, something of the life more abundant, overflowing, to the full which Jesus spoke about. The water he freely gives which becomes in the person who believes, the inner well of eternal life, referring to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Now that I’m older and starting to think of how to end well what remaining days and years I may have, I realize that daily soul care needs to be on my agenda and watch list. This is a part of me necessarily slowing down and seeking to live well in God’s grace to us in Jesus. It certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t live in weakness. Paul learned to live well in his own weakness, even in the torment which came from his thorn in the flesh. It was the Lord’s sufficient grace which made the difference so that Paul experienced Christ’s power all the more in that weakness and even learned to delight in that.

I have thought to some extent for years, though only this clearly for perhaps the past few that I was more or less living in God’s Presence in and through Jesus all the time. That I was having “devotions” so to speak all day. There may be a grain of truth in that, certainly in Jesus we live in God’s Presence by the Spirit. But not intentionally on a regular basis setting time aside to simply be in God’s Presence and love in God’s word and silence meant that my all day devotional was too often not all that devoted I’m afraid

It is hard to alter one’s routine and all the more that seems to be so when we’re older and more set in our ways. But hopefully with age comes something more of a maturity which would be ready to adjust and make room for what’s needed here. And so I’m starting by at least trying to repeat the Jesus Creed as I awaken (and along with that, the Lord’s Prayer is fitting and important). And opening my Bible to a particular passage to slowly work through day after day, right now Psalm 16, even as I prepare my breakfast.

And so in and through Jesus I hope to better take care of myself. To know God and God’s love better and to live in that love in and for the world in and through Jesus.

being quiet and still

I have probably always loved music. At one time I used to play my classic rock albums nonstop and not quiet, either; I think now of my poor parents. And since I’ve been a Christian, I have listened to scripture being read most years daily. Not to mention the many Christian music albums I have, along with almost as many classical music albums. And now I like to keep up on the news, listening mainly on NPR. As well as catching some other programs there. So I’m not exactly disposed to quiet.

And I want to be doing something. Usually reading, if not listening to the news. Or now being online. Plenty to read there, as well as wanting to interact some, socially. My wife Deb tends to be quiet, but once she is talking, I want to listen well to her. And I can fill her ears with more than what she wants to hear and more than what I should say.

And so being quiet and still are not strong suits of mine.

But practically by necessity, I am learning a bit to practice both. Not because I would have absolutely had to. For the first time since one other juncture I can recall, I’m not listening to scripture being read. I am getting into the Book much more now the normal way. And I am not listening at all to my classical CD’s except ones I burned for the car. That chosen necessity will come to an end, but I plan now not to revert to my old ways, but to remain and hopefully grow in what I’m doing now. Yes, I’ll enjoy listening to my classical music again. (I have been listening to some of that from a local FM station). But to get back to the point, I am starting for the first time to really value being quiet and still.

In seeking to practice these more, I am wanting to be more open to the Lord’s voice and moving. I want to avoid drowning that out with my own voice and activity. I do that, reading scripture, and along with that, more and more reading good liturgy. As well as interludes of nothing at all. As our Pastor Sharon has told us, such practice is not easy. It is hard for me to consider this as something I want to practice regularly. For me to learn to do anything regularly, I need, as a rule to do it daily. For me it is an achievement to have any silence at all, and along with that any stillness on my part. But I want to grow in that. I think extended periods of it at certain times can be most valuable. But it is best not to look for some big breakthrough from an extended time of this. It is better yet for this to become more and more a part of our regular, daily life. To become a habit. A part of us, of who we are. As we seek to draw near to God in and through Jesus. To seek God’s face even in our darkness.

when it doesn’t seem to matter

There are things which we may seem called to do which don’t seem to matter much at all anymore, at least not like they seemed to at one time. Blogging is one of them for me. I used to be in a fellowship of bloggers, was linked on a highly prominent blog and sometimes cited on it, having found out to my surprise, in the first place, that I could write a blog post at all. Of course anything good is a gift from God.

I am at a spot where my blogging doesn’t seem to matter anymore. I also don’t seem to be needed anywhere except at home and at the nursing home where I do a church kind of service many Sundays. At work I know I can be replaced, but I am appreciated because of my work ethic (I imbibed from my parents), ability (again, from God) and experience. And I appreciate the work as well, working for a good Christian ministry, even if it’s on the factory end of it. I am certainly used to factory work by now.

Of course the things which seem to matter to us may not matter much at all to God. God sees the heart, and he wants us to learn to walk in love in and through Jesus. To be a true follower of Jesus.

When it doesn’t seem to matter is likely especially a good time to draw near to God, to seek to listen and hear his voice. And to major on what is important to God: loving God and our neighbor, serving others humbly in love, continuing to grow in Jesus. Together with others in Jesus for the world.

“what if” questions

Some of us more than others struggle with “what if” questions. We wonder about a good number of possibilities, though usually it is one at a time we wrestle with.

It is good during such times, of course all the time to turn our full attention to Jesus, to look to him. In fact that needs to become a habit of life, no matter what, come what may.

Psalm 73 is a great psalm to meditate on and pray from concerning this. It reminds us of what’s at stake if we fail in our faith. And we are also reminded just where our confidence is supposed to be. And the life that comes out of that, beginning in this life.

We can learn to let go of the “what if” questions simply by filling in that space with the one who will not let go of us, who holds our hand and will see us through to the end for his glory. Together in Jesus in this for the world.