a reviving hope

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

It is easy in this world given all the sin, our own included, simply to lose hope. We fail along the way, or have failed. Others let us down. The circumstances of life weigh heavily on us. We lose hope.

Something like that had happened to Israel of old. They were guilty to be sure. They had not listened to God, had not been faithful to God. And yet God was moving in judgment and salvation to call his people back to himself. That in itself is a note of hope.

Israel might have felt they were past the point of no return. Not true with God. There is not only hope in this life, but we find that hope in God. We may think we’re undeserving, and that’s certainly the case, or that we may have crossed a line outside of God’s mercy and grace. That all there’s left for us is judgment. But God has something different to tell us.

We’re to hope in God and not give into despair based on our own limited understanding. When we put our hope in God, certainly waiting is part of that, but it’s more like God meets us then and there at least to strengthen us to carry on, as we await God’s good work. What we can count on here and now. In and through Jesus.

 

the danger of idle time and more

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 11

2 Samuel 11 is the horrific account of David and Bathsheba. All of scripture is written for us (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11), so regardless of what we think about the bloodshed in military battle, and by the way, God would not let David build the temple because of all of this killing (1 Chronicles 22:8), we can and should draw out some lessons which should be warnings to us.

First of all, idle time is not necessarily our friend. It seems like the culture is more and more about entertainment, rather than doing something productive. It’s about watching TV and playing video games. Or whatever it is that you like to do. Or perhaps more to the point, don’t like to do. We don’t like the grind of daily work. We like leisure, and time when we don’t have to do anything. And we need times like that, even regularly, as well as vacations when we get away from it all in a different setting.

But back to the point: We live for the weekends, and work is often just a nuisance we put up with in the countdown to the weekend.

I would challenge that notion. Work is a blessing, as we read in Ecclesiastes. And the right balance of leisure and work is praised in that book (5:18-20).

When it comes to work, there seem to be two extremes at play in the world today. One is the incessant pounding for more and more work to meet a certain quota, which tends to be more and more after time. Oftentimes more is demanded from less. Very common today. Then there’s the other extreme of trying to cram all the work into one part, maybe with an added emphasis to not work hard, but smart. So that one can have at least a three day weekend. The push is to get the work done and out of the way, the other being the pull that the work is never done, so that not only too many hours are spent at work, but people do that work at home (or make the workplace their home), oftentimes 60 hours a week or more. Neither is good. Somehow we have to find a good balance and get a good rhythm going between work and play, busyness and leisure.

The other thing we might think about from the account on David, isn’t explicit in the text, but is important for life and evident in scripture. We ordinarily don’t fall overnight without weakening over time. It’s not like anyone can’t fall at any time. The attitude that we are fall proof is dangerous. But ordinarily we change so that what at one time would have been at least unthinkable and unlikely, is now the very thing we want to do, or will find ourselves open to doing. Surely something was wrong in David’s heart. And note that after this terrible act of committing adultery, and what followed, which was just as bad, if not worse, David did not repent right away as he should have. God was at work to convict him of his sin (Psalm 32) and some months later through his prophet (2 Samuel 12). Afterward David resumed his work as king, such as it was in those days.

What are we becoming? And what are we either doing, or failing to do, likely both, in what could be a gradual change for the worse? That change hardly noticed, and fully accepted by us.

Whatever our own life circumstances, we need to discern God’s call for us, what God wants us to do. We want to avoid a soul sickness which puts us in danger. We will do well to keep at the work God has for us, and get the rest and leisure time we need, especially in being alone with God, as well as attentive to, and at play with others. In and through Jesus.

a marathon

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Hebrews 12:1-2; VOICE

In the United States, we love the sprinters, “the world’s fastest humans,” and we pay little attention to marathons, though perhaps that has been changing in recent times. Part of that might be our penchant for instant entertainment and results. We probably are not all that good at processing things, therefore we prefer a song (which might be good) of three to five minutes duration over a symphony any day. Anything that takes time and involves process is not what we’re all about, or programmed for.

But all of that said, the Christian faith and life is all about process and longevity. It is not about some great flash into arrival and unending success. If we don’t believe that, maybe we would do well to read the passage linked above which includes all of Hebrews 11. But much of our Christianity seems to be different. It is about greatness now in the sense of doing great things, and in some sense having arrived. But I don’t see scripture, and life that way at all.

We never know what a day may bring, but we have to be in it, committed for the long haul. We have to have a marathon runner’s mentality, not the sprinter’s. Many things will happen along the way. Seeming failure, setbacks, mistakes, challenges, unforeseen problems, whatever it might be. But we go on, maybe get up and go on, but definitely go on. We’re in it for the long haul. Looking to, indeed fixing our eyes on Jesus. What we’re called to. In and through Jesus.

 

making peace with one’s past

Awhile back I had to laugh even out loud when I heard a friend around my age say that looking back on his life, he had absolutely no regrets. I think if he would have explained it further, I would have been able to connect the dots to make sense of what he was saying, but given the fact that others were present and time was limited, I understood (or misunderstood) it to mean, no regrets about past decisions, period.

Of course hindsight is closer to 20/20 and we’ll always be learning more later, which will put some decisions which seemed right at the time in doubt. Life is complicated. As scripture says, we don’t know why we do the things we do at times, but the Lord can direct us in spite of that, or lead us on a path that is good and brings glory to him.

I have plenty of regrets, things I wish I would have done differently. I could have done better in most things simply by adhering to what I knew scripture said which in most cases would have helped me make a better decision. More times than not, I was moved by fear. Only a mature understanding of scripture and God’s way revealed in it could have helped me prevent some of the mistakes of the past. Other errors were over matters which I surely rationalized, but deep down I knew better. These are more like the obvious in your face actual sins.

Of course there’s always grace and forgiveness available in and through Jesus. The fallout from some past sins for some of us may well remain the rest of our lives. But God’s presence and peace can come and be ours in spite of what we may have to go through. I can’t help but think of the aftermath of David’s sin. When he repented, God forgave, but the consequence of his sin was grave for years to come. Even so, he died in peace, “a man after God’s own heart.” That was grace, grace, and more grace. That is the God who is, who we know and serve in and through Jesus.

And so we want to learn from our past, seek to do better in the present, and above all cast ourselves and our loved ones, indeed all of life on God and his mercy. Believing that the future is bright, that there is indeed hope for us and yes, for the world, in and through Jesus.

picking up the broken pieces

Some things simply can’t be fixed. You live with them the rest of your life, your whole life long. You can try to pick up the broken pieces, but in the process more wounds come. Over the wounds that run deep.

The best one can do is pray and seek to do what is right and good. Yes, to learn from one’s mistakes, perhaps even grievous sin, although such learning has to take more of the form of penance shown in a penitent heart and over time. Just a changed mind is not enough, there has to be a changed life.

There is always grace. That is our only hope to begin with. Grace to help us avoid disasters in the first place. And if one fails, to help them recover. This should be a loving church effort that seeks to bring the sinnner to full repentance and restoration. In grace we find our place and live and do well in that.

But in the meantime the grieving continues. Lost opportunities and the brokenness left behind. I can’t imagine anything worse except a spiraling into an abyss of failure away from God’s grace.

What is needed is comfort and consolation, even peace. To carry on well with all humility in a certain kind of brokeness in which one is being made whole. Even through that brokennes. Something beyond my imagination, but for which I pray for others as well as for myself.

not having it all together, nor having all the answers

It is good to live in grace and have an assurance that somehow all is well in God’s will, even though that will has yet to take hold on earth as it has in heaven.

I for one often find myself struggling over something. Usually it is something I get over less than a day (as opposed to the past when it could stretch into days- knock on wood). Sometimes it seems in life I’m going up a normal hill which is more like a sand dune. You’re gaining little ground, but getting a good workout in the process. Or this or that or something else is wrong, one of the many challenges of life which can hit us on nearly every side. Challenges which come both from being a human who doesn’t have it all together and living in a world in which problems are a part of daily life.

I know there are formidable obstacles. I seem wired to look at and go on to the next challenge, even as I gladly take some deep breaths and enjoy in between.

I am glad we can turn to the Lord who can work even in the hardest places for good, beginning with myself, my heart played out in attitudes and actions. Being overwhelmed with life and all the challenges that come our way can have its advantage for sure. Then we ought to look to the Lord all the more and find our consolation and hope in him. That means I’m all the more in scripture as well as wanting to be in the fellowship or communion of God’s people in Christ. And wanting to be a witness to the world of the difference that makes.

It is wonderful and best to have lived by grace in a straightforward Daniel-like kind of way, to show others that in and through God such a life of integrity and wisdom is possible. We also need those who having failed along the way or been held in one stronghold or another to have overcome so that their lives tell the story especially to those around them everyday, of God’s saving, sustaining grace in Jesus. I am more in company with the latter. All of us together pointing to the one Savior for us and for the world, our Lord Jesus.

Brennan Manning on “the victorious limp”

Make a radical choice in faith, despite all your sinfulness, and sustain it through ordinary daily life for Christ the Lord and His kingdom.

The mature Christians I have met along the way are those who have failed and have learned to live gracefully with their failure. Faithfulness requires the courage to risk everything on Jesus, the willingness to keep growing, and the readiness to risk failure throughout our lives. What do these things means, specifically?

Risking everything on Jesus: the ragamuffin gospel says we can’t lose, because we have nothing to lose. Faithfulness to Jesus implies that with all our sins, scars, and insecurities, we stand with Him; that we are formed and informed by His Word; that we acknowledge that abortion and nuclear weapons are two sides of the same hot coin minted in hell; that we stand upright beside the Prince of Peace and refuse to bow before the shrine of national security; that we are a life-giving and not a death-dealing people of God; that we live under the sign of the cross and not the sign of the bomb.

The willingness to keep growing: Unfaithfulness is a refusal to become, a rejection of grace (grace that is inactive is an illusion), and the refusal to be oneself….

The readiness to risk failure: Many of us are haunted by our failure to have done with our lives what we longed to accomplish. The disparity between our ideal self and our real self, the grim specter of past infidelities, the awareness that I am not living what I believe, the relentless pressure of conformity, and the nostalgia for lost innocence reinforces a nagging sense of existential guilt: I have failed. This is the cross we never expected, and the one we find hardest to bear.

One morning at prayer, I heard this word: Little brother, I witnessed a Peter who claimed that he did not know Me, a James who wanted power in return for service to the kingdom, a Philip who failed to see the Father in Me, and scores of disciples who were convinced I was finished on Calvary. The New Testament has many examples of men and women who started out well and then faltered along the way.

“Yet on Easter night I appeared to Peter. James is not remembered for his ambition but for the sacrifice of his life for Me. Philip did see the Father in Me when I pointed the way, and the disciples who despaired had enough courage to recognize Me when we broke bread at the end of the road to Emmaus. My point, little brother, is this: I expect more failure from you than you expect from yourself.”

The ragamuffin who sees his life as a voyage of discovery and runs the risk of failure has a better feel for faithfulness than the timid man who hides behind the law and never finds out who he is at all….

One night a dear friend of Rosalyn’s named Joe McGill was praying over this passage in John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….The Word was made flesh, he lived among us…” (John 1:1, 14). In the bright darkness of faith, he heard Jesus say, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.”

On the last day, when we arrive at the Great Cabin in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home” sign on the door.

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out, 185-187.