the good’s shepherd’s presence in the midst of danger (or threatening circumstances)

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

We live in a time of upheaval when people for one reason or another feel threatened. And there’s no seclusion or real safety from the dangers of this world. Darkness threatens us in one way or another, the absence of light.

What is likely pictured here is evil in terms of life threatening enemies (see Psalm 23:5). The rod and the staff comforting the sheep with the awareness that the shepherd is present to protect them (see NET Bible footnotes).

Maybe we’re not faced with actual life threatening enemies. Darkness can still overtake us for many reasons. As Christians we know we’re up “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-20). What is called “the dark night of the soul,” is a part of life. And there can be struggles with mental illness which from what I’ve read can be a choking deep darkness.

Whatever darkness or lack of light we face, we can know by faith and be assured that the good shepherd is present with us. That our experience is not what’s definitive, but God’s promise to us in Jesus. That God in Christ experienced the deepest darkness to help us through our dark places and bring us into his wondrous light.

Life and certain seasons of life can seem threatening, certainly not for the faint of heart. But our dependence is not to be on ourselves and what courage we might be able to muster. But on God, who promises to see us through everything, whatever it is. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

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the Lord is my shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

Yesterday for a time I was simply quoting to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Sometimes it’s good to just stay on one thought so that hopefully it can sink in. It needs to be put in context for sure, but it needs to be held, as well.

“I lack nothing” along with the rest of this great, well known psalm is helpful. But we might want to jump to that without sufficiently appreciating the simple thought that God is our shepherd. The rest of the psalm does flesh out what that means, but still it’s good just to rest on one thought for a time. Again, to let it sink in, and with fresh applications for one’s life in a way which actually helps one know in experience the Lord’s shepherding.

I believe in the church, and I know being in this together in Jesus is at the heart of what our faith is all about. But we are also individuals on our separate, unique journeys. This psalm is for each of us as individuals. And to get back to the main point, the thought that the Lord is our shepherd, we need to just sit back with that for awhile. Let its truth and light expose our error and penetrate our darkness. In and through Jesus.

don’t be anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

If there isn’t one thing to be anxious or worried in this life, there’s another, and plenty others. There’s really no end to the number of things we can be upset over or worried about. Some are more prone to worry than others. There are people who seem to take life in stride, everything in stride, though often enough, if you would really get to know them, underlying that appearance is a cloud of anxiety within.

Remarkably believers in Christ are told not to be anxious about anything. Though it’s imperative tense, I take it to be more of loving directive as from a father. But it does come across as an absolute with a promise.

I have found over and over again as I do this in my own broken, disheveled way, but sincerely do it, God does in time meet me with his peace, a peace here which is experiential, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Of course not just not being anxious, but praying with petitions and thanksgiving.

God has it all in tow. We don’t and cannot. We can rest assured in God’s provision for us regardless of what circumstance we’re facing. God’s peace will see us through that and everything else. In and through Jesus.

 

struggling to receive God’s peace

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

If you take this passage seriously, then you have to acknowledge that it’s not easy to receive God’s peace. Certainly in answer to the prayers of others, we might find ourselves experiencing it. But from this passage it comes through believing prayer, reflection on what is good and true, and imitation of Christ, and specifically those who follow him. Far from automatic, or from being easy, for that matter.

God’s peace experienced is a sense of well being with the assurance that no matter what, somehow all will be well. At least a sure confidence in God through it all.

I love the experience, but I don’t see knowing in Scripture primarily in terms of experience. The feelings come and go, but faith remains the same. Faith by nature means trust and trust involves a dependence which means “hands off.” And yet there is our part, as we see in the above passage.

I often find in a given matter, it’s not without at least some struggle and prayer and time before I get a sense of peace one way or another. God is faithful and God wants us to find his peace always, through it all. By faith in and through Jesus.

love in this life is in part, too

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

This passage from Paul makes clear the primacy and permanence of love, that when the gifts are no longer needed, that’s what will remain. I think both from Scripture and clearly seen in experience, love in this life is in part as well.

Not that we don’t experience something of the fullness of God’s love shed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). We do experience something of the fullness of God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit, no doubt. But it is intermittent. Like our knowledge we receive by faith, it seems in part. Maybe there are notable exceptions among those with a special disposition, or some are more given to this experience than others. I’ve been in that ocean of love a few times, but most of the time I have lived only in trickles or dew drops of it most every day, though there have been dry spells. Though I think that dryness is often due to our hearts being hard, and not soft enough to receive God’s love. Somehow we are off on our own schemes, whatever, essentially in idolatry, and don’t need God. There is also “the dark night of the soul,” which might be entirely something else.

I also think that even as we sincerely seek to keep close accounts with God, and walk humbly with him in this life, love is still partial, in part. We have that grace in our hearts to want to love, to actually love, and to receive that same love of God from others. So through Christ we definitely have the capacity to sincerely love. It’s just that in this life it seems that it’s something we fail at again and again, and something we have to cultivate and work on.

That seems clear in Paul’s description of love, or at least is suggestive that way to me:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Then Paul adds:

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:8

That’s in contrast to prophecy, tongues, and knowledge as in the gift of knowledge by the Spirit, that to end when it’s no longer needed. So love is what’s needed in everything, all else having its place in this life, but nothing without that love.

But back to the list quoted above in verses 4 through 7: I think this is to evaluate ourselves, our lives, to understand how we’re to live especially in our relationships with each other as Christians, but also with others. God will make all of this real to us, but it’s not like we’re going to do any of it perfectly in this life. I think it’s in part a reminder of what this love in essence is as to how we’re to live it out.

Quite real, but not fully realized in this life. As we look forward to its full realization when “we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In and through Jesus.

 

 

accepting weakness

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

I keep coming back to this again and again. It’s probably because I haven’t sufficiently learned it for myself. It’s only when I simply accept whatever I’m experiencing, especially inwardly, but I suppose outwardly as well, that you might say, I find faith, and eventually God’s peace and rest.

And it’s important in this to accept the humility which comes with it. We are beset with weakness in whatever malady afflicts us, and in that we feel a dependency like never before. Maybe to some extent on others, but completely cast on the Lord.

This is where we’re to live from day to day. At times it’s especially acute, so that once again we have to accept it. It’s not wrong to ask God to remove it, but God may not. In Paul’s case, certainly unique in that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and received astounding revelations (click link above to see that). But applicable to all of us who name the name of Christ. In and through Jesus.

is God really love?

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:7-21

I am having a hard time on my own believing that “God is love,” as the Scripture tells us here. There’s just too much evil, and even so-called “acts of God” to make one see God as love. Little children killed in accidents, or even in natural disasters, etc., etc. And on top of that one might have a hard time accepting love for themselves, since their experience because of sins against them and their own sins have made their inner life mostly a desert.

But this passage from the beloved disciple John, the one who leaned on Jesus’s breast, and seemed maybe more than all the others to have received God’s love in Jesus most deeply, is at least helpful to me. And a passage I need to dwell on, and take in more for myself.

I lament the lack of love in our world, and even among Christians, those who profess to follow Christ. If we don’t live in love then nothing else we do matters. Do we really believe that? What we believe is evident from just what we think, and  out of that, how we live.

In the end I have to trust the testimony of God in Jesus, in the good news: the gospel. That gives hope, and hopefully impacts life in a way that can make the much needed difference. So that one will really believe what they do, or even their existence matters. For one reason: love. From the source of all real love in creation and new creation, the God who is love, and is revealed in and through Jesus.