the most basic truth for us: God loves us

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

1 John 4:17-19; MSG

There is nothing more basically important to us than the fact that we’re loved, and loved by God no less. We really have to hold on to that and not let go of it. God loves us, each and everyone God has created. God wants relationship with us, even longs for us. And God wants us to live in loving relationship with each other.

We humans are easily given to fear. We’re afraid of this and that, and for understandable, good reasons. But what is more important than that is God’s love. No matter what we face, no matter what happens or might happen, God is love and loves us. And we know because of that, God will take care of everything, that ultimately all will be well. So that even in the midst of the troubles of this life, we live in God’s love. And continue on knowing we’re loved both in our mind and experience.

And out of that love we seek to love others in practical, down to earth ways. In so doing extending God’s love to them in a way in which they’ll hopefully find that same love which exists for themselves.

The God who is love really wants the entire human race to live in that love. And out of that love in love with each other. Even now. In and through Jesus.

learning to feel good when feeling bad

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10; MSG

Yesterday I quipped to someone that I was learning to feel good feeling bad. And though I look up to him, he said he does the same. For me the dam broke then, and a peace eventually flooded my heart, taking away the angst and deadness which had me down for a couple of days. But getting home, something came to my mind, another problem, and by and by I was submerged in something of the same fear.

I turn back to the same passage, which has become go-to for me. And the part when Paul accepts the Lord’s word to accept his weaknesses, even that “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.”

I like the way Paul sums it up. As The Message puts it, taking limitations in stride, letting Christ take over. The first part might be easier than the second, but it seems a prerequisite, meaning necessary for it. We learn to live well with our weakness, in Paul’s case it seems both exterior and interior. Paul’s list would include all the above.

Naturally we humans resist any of that. How easily we drift when all is going well inward and out. We want to avoid problems. But life is lived in the midst of problems, including weaknesses and limitations. It’s how we deal with that which is important. Where is our faith? Do we trust God to see us through? To work in those things for good, even for our good? To deepen us and help us grow in ways we haven’t and actually can’t imagine?

We need the Lord’s help for sure. We want that sense of the Lord’s strength in the midst of our weakness. His grace is indeed enough for us. We keep doing what God has called us to do as we read in Scripture, “in Christ Jesus.” Knowing God will help us in ways that only God can do. In and through Jesus.

why is it so hard to follow?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Rich Mullins wrote a couple of interesting songs which speak of the challenge of following Jesus, just how difficult it can be for us: Hard and Hard to Get. I really enjoy what seems like and surely is the all too short seasons of feeling close to God when each step seems natural and unforced. All too often I’ve lived in the space where nothing comes easy and I just don’t get it, where I often feel a crushing weight inside. Usually I live somewhere in between, having some buoyancy coming from grace, but still more weighted down than I want.

I’m not sure why it’s so hard to follow, or why it often seems that the Lord is so hard to get. Such thoughts and experience seem to fly in the face of what Jesus tells us about his yoke and the rest he gives. That seems to force the question back on us. Are we really coming to him, taking his yoke upon us, walking alongside with him as he carries the burden? I’m not sure. A prerequisite so it seems for this coming is that we be weary and burdened. That surely includes all of us somewhere along the way.

I would like to enter into this yoke, or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “the unforced rhythms of grace,” and just stay there. It really does seem like I’m such a slow learner. I actually do think I’ve come a long way over the years, but I still easily disappear into the space where God’s grace seems all but absent, where life is drudgery, everything forced. Not as often as in the past, but too often. Maybe a kin to “the dark night of the soul?” I don’t know.

The invitation is present. We must simply respond in faith regardless of what we’re experiencing. Come to the Lord. See what God might teach us or be teaching us in everything, hopefully deepening us. We hold on in faith to the one we trust has hold of us and keep going. In and through Jesus.

nothing at all can separate us from God’s deep, unchanging love

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

1 We are often tossed and driv’n
on the restless sea of time,
somber skies and howling tempest
oft succeed a bright sunshine;
in that land of perfect day,
when the mists have rolled away,
we will understand it better by and by.

Refrain:
By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll tell the story,
how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.

2 We are often destitute
of the things that life demands,
want of food and want of shelter,
thirsty hills and barren lands;
we are trusting in the Lord,
and according to the Word,
we will understand it better by and by. [Refrain]

3 Temptations, hidden snares,
often take us unawares,
and our hearts are made to bleed for
any thoughtless word or deed;
and we wonder why the test
when we try to do our best,
but we’ll understand it better by and by. [Refrain]

Voices Together, 311

Also from Voices Together, 656God Weeps with Us. Cannot share lyrics due to copyright laws. A portrait of the song from another hymnbook here.

I’m not much into the idea of understanding it better by and by, in the life to come. I’m kind of the persuasion that I won’t care about trying to understand, being bathed in the love of God. Though that thought might come from living such a privileged life compared to so many others in our world. I think now of specific situations and sometimes we have to lament in horror, and then I soon forget about it, though hopefully it leaves an indelible mark on us so that we’re changed over time. And pray and do our part to alleviate human suffering.

Both of the hymns mentioned above spoke powerfully to me recently of how much God loves us no matter what happens, no matter what we’re up against. God’s love is always present and can become palpable, felt, if only we will learn to more and more trust God.

This is needed encouragement for me day after day when facing new difficulties, and considering the hard times so many are going through. God’s love is with us through everything. We need to count on it, so that no matter what we’re facing or how we’re feeling, we won’t accept the lie that somehow we are separated from God and God’s love. The words above say it better than I can. And note the second hymn as well. Given and present for us in and through Jesus.

the dangers and possibilities of each new day

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:1-3

Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
my groans and cries?
King-God, I need your help.
Every morning
you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning
I lay out the pieces of my life
on your altar
and watch for fire to descend.

Psalm 5:1-3; MSG

We as humans are very experiential creatures. And the psalms are lock stocked with the language and sentiment of experience. We often go from lows to highs and then back to lows. Some of us experience this quite pronounced, others of us not that much variation, and probably most of the rest of us somewhere in between.

Psalm 5 is a good passage to remind us how to start each day. I think both the evening before we go to sleep, and the morning when we arise are important in how we do this. To read Scripture, maybe a liturgical prayer book for night (Compline) is good. To arise and be in Scripture and prayer, morning prayer and reading is good. We can’t take for granted that a good day at least in how it worked out will carry over into the next day.

It’s not about us having a good time, and that’s it. Instead it’s about living in God’s grace and all that means in terms of forgiveness of sins and new life, and having the vision to see what God might have us do, or be pleased to help us do in the new day. And even if it’s just filled with the routines of what we have to do, to do that in the breath and love of God.

At any rate, for some of us this is a matter almost of survival, at least of experiencing and living out this salvation from God well. Growing in that. So we have to take this seriously. Every day is God’s and for us that’s a good and ultimately happy prospect. We bring ourselves to God each new day, and look to God for his answer and help to us. In and through Jesus.

growing in the grace and knowledge (understanding) of our Lord

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:17-18

But you, friends, are well-warned. Be on guard lest you lose your footing and get swept off your feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers. Grow in grace and understanding of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Glory to the Master, now and forever! Yes!

2 Peter 3:17-18; MSG

The letter of 2 Peter lays the foundation of God’s grace in Jesus, and our hard effort from that. Then warns us against false teachers, those who are religious, even Christian. With more. Then ends on the above note.

The grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is like a spectacular, breathtaking scene in which we’re delighted yet terrified at the same time. We’re not acclimated to it. We’re so used to living in our own make do, get by world. Even trying to do our religion there. Finding it a constant struggle to even keep on going, much less doing it.

Truth is, we just can’t. Not the real thing anyhow. Instead we’re called to live in God’s idyllic world, even here and now in and through the grace of Christ. We just can’t believe it’s that easy or simple. 2 Peter begins and ends making that point. Without it, there’s nothing in between. We might have some little spurts of grace now and then. But God wants us to have so much more.

So, as we’re told at the end of this letter, we’re to grow in the grace and knowledge or understanding of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grow in it. To grow in it, we must live in it. It’s like either the light is on or off.  No matter what we’re experiencing, God wants us to live in that. And grow in it. Becoming more and more acclimated to the new. Living there. The only place we really can live, live this new life. In and through Jesus.

the breakthrough we need

A David Psalm

When I call, give me answers. God, take my side!
Once, in a tight place, you gave me room;
Now I’m in trouble again: grace me! hear me!

You rabble—how long do I put up with your scorn?
How long will you lust after lies?
How long will you live crazed by illusion?

Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him.

Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.
Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking.
Build your case before God and wait for his verdict.

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day

Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.

Psalm 4; MSG

There are times when we may have quit in your spirit. Where there seems no where to go. When one feels hopeless. That is partly what is so great about the psalms . We encounter real people living in the real world. The psalms speaks our language, sometimes in ways that are uncomfortable, and probably a bit off the mark, sometimes more than a bit. Sounds like us at least in our private spaces at times, doesn’t it?

But we find just like the psalmist here, David, that God answers us. We may have to keep reading in the psalms before we land on one that meets us where we’re at. That was the case with me last night. So I opened my The Message Bible to Psalm 1 and began to read. But stopped after reading Psalm 4. And sought God’s help in prayer from that. And God helped me, removing the complete discouragement with a sense of peace, as well as an imagination for something that was encouraging.

So we need to find our space with God. The psalms are perhaps the best in helping us do so. Meeting us in our various circumstances and moods, God helping us as we enter them to find God and what we need from God. In and through Jesus.

in trial

They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”

He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.

He came back a third time and said, “Are you going to sleep all night? No—you’ve slept long enough. Time’s up. The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up. Let’s get going. My betrayer has arrived.”

Mark 14:32-42; MSG

This is not really written for us when we are experiencing our very worst days, or difficult moments. Jesus did for us what none of us could ever have done for ourselves. And this was at the heart of that. He endured the hour of trial, so that we’ll never have to.

But as followers of Jesus, we indeed can, and should learn from this. First of all, when we face trials our first resort should be to do what Jesus did: pray. Yes, Jesus prayed alone, but he also had his disciples nearby; Peter, James and John just a stone’s throw away, close enough to hear and see him. It’s as if he needed their special support during this time, borne out in the synoptic gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) when you compare the ideas that they’re to stand and watch in prayer with him, as well as for their own sake. There are times when we need to carry each other’s burdens, which will include others helping us carry ours. That can be a tremendous help. In this case Jesus’s disciples were nearby, but he had to carry it alone.

For us, yes, we need trusted friends, and likely one we can see as either a mentor, or alongside with us to help us through our struggles. But above all we need to be in prayer ourselves. Committed to doing God’s will regardless of what we’re experiencing, believing that God will help us through, even as was true with Jesus.

back to accepting/embracing weakness

You’ve forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we’re at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don’t know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise—again, whether in or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard. This is the man I want to talk about. But about myself, I’m not saying another word apart from the humiliations.

If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10; MSG

This is one on which I go around and around. It never seems any easier, but I think it gets shorter, because even though it’s taken me some time, I think I’m more and more getting it. When I feel completely weak, I also don’t sense God’s grace present. I think we can safely say that something like that was going on in Paul’s own experience expressed here. Paul cried out to God three times for the weakness to be removed. But then accepted the Lord’s word to him, realizing that though it certainly didn’t feel good or sit well, it was for his own good, and most importantly, so that Christ might be made known through him.

And so we must first accept it. When we do, we might even learn to delight in it. And that’s because God’s grace meets us as we accept whatever weakness it is that seems to hold us down, make us feel lost, or whatever. That’s when relief comes. But that doesn’t mean the weakness is removed.

It needs to be spelled out clearly here that when we refer to weakness, we don’t mean out and out sin. Perhaps temptation to sin is a part of it. But it’s more in line with what Paul refers to: “a handicap” as well as “limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.” Perhaps what may have been a disease affecting his eyesight was in view here, but he adds more. So that will include whatever difficulties we experience, while seeking to remain true to Christ. 

Something I have to come back to again and again. A nice fresh rendering of it in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. The answer to help us through. In and through Jesus.

when living through sorrow and hurt

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

Who of us in this present life doesn’t experience sorrow and disappointment, indeed hurt? It is a difficult world, and hard to escape hurt inflicted on others. In fact we too have hurt others. There’s no sense in pretending otherwise.

Grace, God’s grace is what is needed. And God’s grace is what we get not only aplenty, but in every conceivable way possible. After all God became one of us in Jesus to live right where we live, to experience all that we experience, including the hurt and sorrow that accompanies that.

And we’re told here in the letter to the Hebrews that he is therefore uniquely able to help us through that, since he knows what it is like firsthand. Our call from God in this is to come to God’s throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need, whatever we’re facing.

Just remember, Jesus empathizes with us in our weaknesses. There is grace, grace, and more grace. We need to just keep coming, yes, just as we are to keep receiving all the grace we need. God will always give us more and more. And in ways that meet us just as we are in all of our weakness. In our sorrow and hurt, in whatever we’re experiencing. In and through Jesus.