the good to come from the bad

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9; NRSVue

And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:5b-11; NRSVue

We don’t like the things that come our way which are threatening or troubling. And it’s easy to become unsettled. But what if God allows, maybe even orchestrates such so that good might come out of it? God of course is never the source of evil. But there is evil in the world, much of which we who are privileged are oblivious to. But what if God allows us to experience some of that to help us become part of the solution?

As we’re told elsewhere, trials come into our lives to make us more complete and whole, if we only respond in faith, believing God’s is at work in them (James 1). God wants to grow us and make us into people we weren’t before through whatever difficulty we face. And not only that, but to hopefully bring good into the situation for the people involved in whatever way. It is a work involving God’s love on one end, and in response our love on the other. A part of our life especially together, but individually as well, in Christ.

the peace of Christ in a world of trouble

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27; NRSVue

I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33; NRSVue

In his Upper Room Discourse, Jesus made it clear to his disciples what they would face, but also that they would have all that they need to stay the course, and follow in no less than his way, the way of the cross, the way of love.

I’m smacked up against trouble of one kind or another most every day. Some of it can seem threatening and dangerous, indeed is, not so much at this point because of my own faith, but just living in a broken, fallen world.

Christ promises us his peace unbroken in the midst of it all. Part of shalom I take it, but he is speaking here of an inward peace, a tranquility right in the midst of the storm.

I easily want to run from that, and do. But I want to do better, and I think I am at least in the sense of coming back to the posture of faith Christ calls me to. And it’s all the more powerful as we learn to do that together as Christ’s body through our regular gatherings.

The peace of Christ in a world of trouble promised just as much to us as to his disciples in days of old.

accepting the tension of life

But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands.

2 Corinthians 11:21b-33; NRSVue

Yes, this is Paul, but Paul does tells us to follow him, his example, as he follows Christ. The wear and tear of life are telling during a day, during a lifetime. Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled into an undertow from which there’s no coming back. The tension can be palpable. We could chalk that up to spiritual warfare, weaknesses we have which need to be worked through- like in my case over the years, anxiety, whatever it might be. But there’s no doubt, life has ongoing tensions related to responsibilities, challenges, problems, concerns, even dangers and tragedies. Life on planet earth is not for the faint of heart.

I’ve found over and over again that when I accept the tension of life, I gradually usually sooner than later start to sense help from God, and in time a nearly unsettling peace because it seems unreal, settles in. But life goes on with all the conundrums, with our own weaknesses. I wish we could live in that unsettling settled peace, and maybe if I live long enough, I’ll find that I live much more there than now. I can say that I do experience that peace more than in years past. But life isn’t easy for any of us. Just consider only for a moment what we’re facing today, and you can cut through the tension that easily comes with it, with a knife.

It’s not easy to accept the tension of life. It’s one thing when you’re on the other side where’s there’s at least some blessed relief, quite another when you’re in the thick of it. But that’s part of our calling in Christ, to live in that very same weakness in which Christ lived. In that we’ll find Christ’s strength and not just in our own lives, but in us together in this experience in Christ.

pray simply; simply pray

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

This command or I prefer directive is given to a church, by extension to us as church today, as well as to individuals of the church. And it surely refers to public and private prayers.

Prayer simply put is talking to God. To pray well requires listening, being in Scripture and in life over time. But really beyond all else, prayer is a matter of the heart, a matter of being, and then from that, doing, so that in fact, anyone can offer prayer to God.

Frankly in my case my default is often feeling empty, unready, or even worse. At times it can seem uphill at best to pray at all. Most of the time for me, it can seem mechanical, just something I do. But then there are those moments when it seems like I’m taking up into a space of God’s making in which I feel the love and peace, yes presence of God.

Whatever may be the case in our experience of prayer, we’re told that we’re to devote ourselves to it. Praying for ourselves and loved ones, for neighbors and community, for the church, for the world, for concerns on our heart, whatever is on our hearts and minds. But also people and things we consistently pray for, regardless of how we feel (thoughts from morning and evening prayers in the hymnal, Voices Together).

Nothing fancy, in fact perhaps the most eloquent prayer might be the most simple. Just pray. Speak your heart and mind. For me that often involves not knowing what to think or how to look at a situation so that I just lift the person or situation up to God. We pray and keep praying.

does God really make a difference?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Oftentimes the religious or what many of us would call faith experience is chalked up to mere psychology. It’s thought that in the evolutionary process somehow humankind came up with the idea of a superior being or beings and the Supreme Being which helped them cope in what ends up being nothing more than a material world. That their idea of spiritual was fanciful but helpful in some ways, but ending up being quite harmful in many other way, indicative in all the violence and destruction perpetuated in the name of religion, yes, even in the name of Christ.

I have no doubt that somehow in the evolutionary process something like this may indeed have happened. This seems pretty evident, or at least a strong possibility from what we can piece together from archaeology and probably other disciplines as well. But what if something beyond psychology is involved in this?

When I do what is told to do from the above passage in Philippians, is the peace that comes merely some psychological reaction from the myth of a God who makes a difference? Maybe, but based on fairly long experience now, I doubt it. And this doubt is not based only on experience but also on the tradition of Scripture given to us, and the witness of many. Admittedly it is based on faith and mysticism, but I find it as real as anything else in life, and somehow both transcendent while fully immanent in the sense of being present in down to earth, helpful ways, or at least that ought to be a part of the thought.

Why is it considered amazing that there’s more to everything than just nature? Even if science could get to what preceded the Big Bang, and I don’t doubt that it might, that in no way addresses the question of God. That is forever outside of science’s realm, even as any scientist would have to admit. Although what continues to unfold makes what science is observing more and more astounding, and less and less explainable, which might be taken as a clue.

All that said, in reality faith won’t be helped by that, but only by Christ, looking to Christ. I do agree with C.S. Lewis that when people in sincerity live in the light they have, that God honors that. But even though they may not know it, it is always and forever through Christ, who is the way to the Father. That is why if I were serving in hospice or in a chaplaincy and helping people near death, I would not try to get them converted to my faith. I certainly would pray for them, and be ready to pray with them. I would want to be fully present with them, and in so doing trust that Christ’s presence is with us.

But back to the question of this post. What difference does God really make? I believe without a shadow of a doubt, all the difference in the world. Yes, all the difference. We’re talking about night and day, light and darkness, from the edge leaning toward the abyss to the full light of day. Something like all of that. And what difference does God make? What we read in Scripture from cover to cover, and especially about Christ points us to what difference is intended. The God who made this astounding, wonderful, precarious world can and promises to remake, make all things new. That is the hope as in promise that we can begin to experience fully even as our experience is what it is, yes- in this life.

God does make the difference needed, but something we have to try to apply to all the broken places in this world. Opposed to all even in any religion that is opposed to the way of Christ. With the conviction that whatever good God does even through us now is somehow more than just a sign for the good world to come in Christ.

pressing ahead to God’s peace

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

There are times which trouble human souls (as the saying goes). And in this world, even during the best of times, there can and will be things which are unsettling. Scripture never promises us that all things always in this life will go well, that nothing bad will happen. No, not at all. But we do have promises that God will be with us, that Christ is with us, that no matter what we face, we can navigate it, even go through it well with God’s help.

We should be careful not to act out of fear or in reaction to whatever it might be. We do well to hold back, to try to look at the larger, even big picture, to pray and seek wise human counsel, and then let it go and wait. We’re going to be spinning our wheels, getting deeper in the dirt, going no where if we keep proceeding with a sense of panic.

It is hard at the moment and during that period of time, but we can actually grow substantially through it in ways we could never imagine. It has to be experienced, we have to be taken there, to a better place than we were before. A process which doesn’t end in this life, though I’m probably too glad myself for the intervals in which I’m okay in the inevitably imperfect state I’m in.

faith living in the real world

He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:5-6

Abraham’s story is in many ways not that far removed from ours. Sure, as far as culture goes, it was worlds apart. But like ours it was chalk full of contradictions, conundrums, we might even add conflicts as in conflict of interest. Abraham was responding to the call and vision from God as he understood it. But life itself didn’t seem to match up with it at all, and Abraham’s (Abram, here) solutions, though still blessed by God, were not God’s fulfillment of the promise.

I find this so very true for myself and my own life and situations. I call him my mentor, a good friend who faithfully meets with me, and who leads a small group my wife and I are a part of. He has encouraged me time and time again to trust God. And sometimes it’s easy to just think something like, “Well yes, I certainly trust God. After all, I already have made a faith commitment to Christ.” And just shrug your shoulders, go on, and more or less forget it.

But what my friend tells me I think is not only quite appropriate for me, but even sorely needed in the ongoing unfolding of whatever time is left. We often look at narratives in scripture such as Abraham’s and shake our heads in wonder when we read in the New Testament for example, how Abraham didn’t waver in his faith, how he is a leading exemplar of faith for us, the father of all who believe. And yet if we really take an honest careful look at ourselves, are we really any better, or even as good? We live now in our time with supposedly more light than Abraham had, though I think that somehow is fiction because light in a sense is more or less the same in experience regardless of what era. I doubt that it was any easier for Jesus’s disciples to have faith, then it is for us today, since faith is not strictly speaking about seeing. God somehow makes it possible and real to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe.”

So this is something I want to center on more, myself. Simply believing, trusting. While faith has the sense of allegiance to, as well, I’m thinking more of the entrusting of one’s life, and to the end of doing what is right and good, as well as for well-being. Of course not just for myself, but as was certainly true in the case for Abraham (in his case, for the world) for others. In Jesus others actually first, but ourselves included. Yes, faith in the middle, maelstrom and mess of life. Faith in God. Faith in God’s word. Faith in the Word himself, Christ.

know and accept yourself

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 (see also 12:8)

There is something very basic to life and living, which I think if we understood better, it would do us and others a whole lot of good. And it’s part of the point of one of my favorite books of scripture, Ecclesiastes. Simply the idea that if we would know and understand ourselves better, that could go a long way in helping us accept certain things about us, and in getting the help we need, and actually finding wisdom in the process.

To do this, I think we need to be attentive to life, just as “the Teacher,” Qoheleth was. And we need to pay close attention to ourselves: our tendencies; weaknesses; our interactions with people, especially those closest to us. If we think that this somehow is unbiblical or a waste of time, then maybe we need to reread Ecclesiastes (click the above link for the entire book).

Beginning to know ourselves won’t solve anything. But again, it can be the beginning of getting the help we need. And at least understanding why we struggle the way we do, why we do what we do. This is never meant to excuse ourselves. In the end, just like the end of Ecclesiastes, and really interspersed throughout, we need to come back to devotion to God, to attention to God’s will, and to keeping our attention on God. All the while seeking to understand ourselves better.

Accepting ourselves, and wrestling in all of that to find wisdom for life is also something for us in this life, if the example of Qoheleth is for us today. I think it is.

why I believe in God (and what doesn’t matter or make the difference that way)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Yes, I believe in God, in a creator and supreme being somehow behind it all. And not because that makes sense to me, though that does seem to make some sense in my case. Not really because of rational argument. And not because of an inerrant Bible, because I don’t believe there is any such thing. Not because somehow I think I have an objective answer, or can prove the resurrection of Christ along with what that is supposed to prove in the Christian faith. My answer is subjective, but really, isn’t everyone’s? How can anyone really know by some supposedly objective standard, as if God laid it out, and all people have to do is see it for themselves?

I believe in God and that Mystery which is as much beyond human comprehension as quantum physics, simply observable in something like a metaphysical kind of way, even escaping the best that scientists can muster. I believe because somehow quite beyond me, quite beyond us, God makes God’s self known. Probably in many ways on earth, and I happen to believe that Christ is central to that. It is like God’s world is opened to me as I read scripture- the Bible, and interact with life, just enough to keep me going, but not in some rationalistic way which can be defended apologetically. It’s like when you know someone is present, even while you may know next to nothing at all about them. That’s something like what I’m describing here.

Faith. Not a moonshot and a mere wish. But more like a knowing we would describe as in our hearts much more than in our minds. But then reaching out to the mind and somehow all of life.

That is how I would describe why I believe in God.


when love seems distant

At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

Thus says the LORD:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall adorn yourself with your tambourines
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the LORD our God.”

Jeremiah 31:1-6

Sometimes it seems like love is far away, distant, maybe even nonexistent. I’m talking about what it seems like in one’s thoughts, mood or experience. And all we do is like walking on sand or treading water, so much more difficult and like one is getting nowhere, often with the accompanying doubt that it doesn’t matter anyhow (see Ecclesiastes).

But just as God met God’s people of old, who surely had felt disenfranchised and at best put on the side, no longer relevant, God will do for us as well. God’s love can come to us from a distance, from that sense that the love is as remote as the sun’s warmth and light from Pluto. Yes, that love not only can, but because of God’s faithfulness will meet God’s people no matter where they’re at. God’s grace and faithfulness never ends. We’ll find it if we look, no matter how far removed we may seem to be from it.