God behind and before us

For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight,
for the LORD will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 52:12

Right before the “suffering servant” passages we have this promise for Israel in the midst of subjugation by the foreign world power of that time, Assyria. All the promises of God we’re told are yes and amen in and through Christ. So, there’s something we can take from this for ourselves this day and time.

God is behind and before us to guide and protect us. We need to live appreciating that. It might well be true for us and is as long as we have faith. But we may not much if at all have any sense or experience of it. This truth should help us not to be afraid or panic as the passage above tells us. Because we have a certain inward rest even in the midst of difficulty, trial, whatnot, just all the inevitable twists and turns that life brings.

God will take care of it. God has our backs and knows all that lies ahead. There’s a certain mysticism which faith in God elicits. We can’t explain or understand it fully, except we know there’s one that fully understands, and though much seems out of control, and is definitely beyond our control, we also know that God is at work in all things for good, somehow in control in the midst of it all. So that our full confidence is only in God. In and through Jesus.

keep going (walk through it)

Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33; NRSVue

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

John 14:1; NRSVue

One of the most important things any of us can do who have struggled with anxiety is to just keep walking through life rather than allowing ourselves to be gripped with anxiety. That doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge the problems or situation we’re facing. We do, but our focus all along needs to be on Christ.

Peter was gangbusters with his faith, part of his personality, also probably in part why he often took the lead among the apostles. He made his share of mistakes, but learned in the process. We learn faith only by faith or one might even say by doing faith. It’s not just something good to store in our heads, but we have to do it, to work it out in our lives.

Peter accepted that it was the Lord walking on the water, and somehow thought that if Jesus could do that, then so could he. After all, the apprentice is supposed to learn to do what their master does. And when it came right down to it, it was a matter of faith.

Unfortunately Peter took his gaze off Jesus, instead quickly becoming captured with the reality of the waves being beaten by the strong wind. He began to sink, but had the faith to cry out to the Lord to save him.

The situations we face in life are real. The question is how to face them. When our faith is weak we probably are best to avoid considering them altogether, but instead to turn our attention to Jesus in prayer along with meditation on scripture.

Years ago our church group went to a ropes course. The first year I was terrified and couldn’t even walk across the first rope and got down. I am not fond of heights. Of course we were strapped well. As I recall it, I tried, but might have fallen, suspended in midair, and that was enough for me. I think I looked down that first year, a terrifying sight for me. I knew we were going back the following year, and decided to not look down, as I recall it fifteen feet or likely somewhat higher. That year I actually did the entire ropes course, never one time looking down which I knew would be my downfall. I wonder what would have happened if I would have fallen. I don’t know, though I’m not optimistic.

But when our faith becomes stronger, knowing that Christ will hold us, will see us through, then we can work on the problem, even giving our attention to it, yet all the while not letting our hearts become troubled since our trust is in Christ. What if in this story, Peter’s faith would’ve been stronger. He might have noticed the wind whipped waves and as I imagine of him, simply laugh, continuing on toward Jesus, then both of them walking to the boat and getting in.

The point is that no matter what we face, God is with us in Christ. God will see us through. But for this to take hold and make the needed difference in our lives, we’re going to have to simply be willing to keep going with our attention turned toward the Lord, receiving the Lord’s help to us as we stay in scripture. As we do that we’ll learn by experience that the Lord always upholds us through what otherwise would be nothing but being caught in the grip of our latest anxiety or fear. No, we just keep walking by faith, and refuse to let any circumstance stop us. And as we do, then in time and sooner than we likely think, we will be able to receive God’s help so that we have a better perspective. And part of that is receiving God’s peace in Christ Jesus which actually surpasses our understanding and lack thereof and indeed even guards our hearts and minds (see Philippians 4:6-7).

Life is full of trouble and problems, no doubt. And true faith does not simply ignore such or pretend it doesn’t exist. But true faith in following Jesus also refuses to give in to a troubled heart and mind. We’re told to not let our hearts be troubled, but rather to trust in God. In and through Jesus.

God meets us in conflict

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Genesis 32:22-32

Conflict of all kinds is part of this life. I’m not really referring to verbal or physical conflict, though that is all too prevalent. What I mean is conflict in our minds, which can impact our attitudes. Not to mention the conflict we experience with “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Jacob in the story above was having a big time conflict in his heart and mind. He knew before he left home some fourteen years or more earlier that Esau his brother was intent on killing him because of Jacob’s deception of their father Isaac, stealing Isaac’s main blessing before Isaac died. Only one would carry on the main covenant blessing of God, which frankly to my undereducated ears and understanding seems strange. But for all of Jacob’s faults, Esau’s heart did not seem as attuned to God as did Jacob’s.

Jacob upon returning home did all he could to assuage his brother’s anger, and hopefully to find favor. But left to his own thoughts, Jacob’s fears consumed him. He was not optimistic to say the least, and felt overwhelmed with his fears over the very real possibility that Esau and the four hundred men with Esau would do him and his family in. But God was at work having changed Esau’s heart, whether in an instant though Jacob’s struggle during this time, or more likely to me over time, but Esau would meet his brother in full embrace with weeping.

God met Jacob during this great time of internal conflict. And the same holds true for us today. Of course we want to avoid all such. But the silver lining in the storm cloud is that clear skies follow. We must look to God and seek God’s help in the struggle we are in. God will meet us there as we persist in the same way Jacob did long ago. In and through Jesus.

this too shall pass

…on that evil day…

Ephesians 6:13

This is part of the classic spiritual warfare passage and I take the phrase above to mean specific times during this time instead of this time in general. There are simply bad days. Yesterday, except for the good time I had with my spiritual mentor/director in the morning, it was a difficult day for me, not so much outwardly, but inwardly. Sometimes it’s like something, or even a number of things come crashing in all together, and one can be left with a sense of defeat and despair. What’s even worse is when a practically irrational fear engulfs and takes over, so that one can’t escape, overwhelmed by it. Especially the latter was true for me yesterday, so I opened this passage and went through part of it trying to get it more and more in my bones (click above link for entire passage).

Part of what we need to remember is that such days and times and experiences are temporary. They will pass. Maybe we’ve not been taking care of ourselves to some extent, not enough sleep, not eating well, whatever the case might be. Of course we need to pray, and try to learn what we can from what we’re experiencing. And as the passage points out, we need to be strong in the Lord, in the strength of his power, putting on the entire armor of God named there, so that we can stand. So the idea here is that this is made to order so that we can stand, stand firm on such evil days.

The feeling is not good for sure. That’s a call and or reminder to us that we need to stand firm per God’s instructions to us from Paul. Remembering that such “evil days” come and go. God always being with us in and through Jesus.

how do we grow? trials

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

I recently heard a pastor say essentially that we don’t grow except through trials. I don’t know if that’s an overstatement. They have been in the ministry a good number of years and are older than many of us themselves, and I know they have far more wisdom through that pastoral experience and in their lives than I do. It seems to me we might mount an argument from passages like 2 Peter 1 to say that growth can occur apart from trials. But it does seem true to a significant extent as we consider our own lives and the lives of others. It’s so easy to drift, which results in actually diminishing in our spiritual life. We probably don’t just remain the same. We are probably growing or losing ground. Well, that’s some speculation.

But we’re clearly told here at the beginning of this letter how we’re to approach trials of any kind. That we’re to consider such as nothing but joy. That is not easy to swallow, but that is to be our mindset and attitude. It is sadly easier to wallow in fear, despair and grief. Instead we’re to approach each in an active faith, as well as passive in the correct sense, that of receiving from God. And we’re to look at life that way, all the problems and troubles we face, and again, whatever kind they might be. No exceptions.

I find this so helpful myself. There are many reasons left to ourselves to be down in the mouth and simply wanting to escape. But God wants us to meet all of life head on, but in full dependence on the Lord, along with interdependence on each other. But finding our way so that we can stand on our own, but only because of God, along with the help of others along the way. What God has for each one of us. In and through Jesus.

the love which drives out fear

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:16b-21

There are all sorts of reasons we humans are sometimes afraid in this life. And some fears are actually helpful, like the fear of making bad decisions or even honest mistakes which can be consequential. How we navigate such makes all the difference, so that hopefully we’re not lost in the grip and paralysis of fear.

What is referred to in this passage of Scripture is the fear of God’s judgment and possibly connected to that, the fear of death itself (click link for Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message). These can go hand in hand, though we humans are usually occupied with one concern at a time.

The John writing this is bringing God’s great love, in essence God God’s Self into the picture. That love, the love God is, is made known to us by the Spirit through Christ, something we especially experience as God’s children together, but also in our individual lives as we go about our days. 

This love casts out fear no less, the fear which can dominate and actually displace this sense of love from God, the love of God in Christ Jesus. So it’s either this unhealthy, paralyzing fear which can grip us, or the love of God poured into our hearts, one or the other. Though often we can go in and out between. But make no mistake, God’s love wins out in the end even in all things, including death itself.

What John tells us here is that we who know God’s love in Christ and therefore love God, are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well. I’m not sure we’ll ever reach “perfection in love” in this life, though I’m sure we can experience something of that in its fullness at times. But even keeping that in our memory, say from an experience, or experiences along the way, we should proceed accordingly. Refusing to allow our thoughts, actions, and words be dictated by fear, but rather by this love of God for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.

 

 

love fearlessly

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 4:16b-21

The sermon I heard yesterday, “Love Fearlessly,” seemed to turn the normal interpretation of this passage on its head, I might say in typical Anabaptist fashion. The passage itself bears this interpretation. If we know that God’s love for us is absolute and sure no matter what we face or even what we’ve done, then we can love others with that same kind of love. And God’s love experienced and lived in by us banishes our fear, so that we can love others fearlessly.

Christ took care of sin’s claim on us through his death, so we need not fear. Instead we can accept God’s love for us and share that same love with others, all others. This is the love that through Christ truly wins forever.

Our experience goes in and out so that we can’t wait on experiencing God’s perfect love to the point that our fear is gone. Yes, we’ll experience that at times, but we need by faith to accept that love in spite of our fears. And we need to love others even when we’re afraid. Loving fearlessly means we push through our fears with that love which ultimately drives out all fear.

To be lived out in community and in our individual everyday lives. Something I want to be working on from every conceivable angle. In and through Jesus.

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.

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.

ignoring the devil?

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7b

There’s no specific Scripture passage I can come up with that tells us to ignore the devil. So I was rather taken back not a few years ago when a respected pastor told us that he prefers to ignore the devil. I’m sure given his tradition that wouldn’t mean he would skip Scriptural passages or teaching about the devil. Just what he meant, I can’t be sure. I remember C.S. Lewis’s thought that Christians either pay too much attention to Satan, or prefer to carry on as if Satan did not exist at all. There has to be a balance. We have to be aware, but not giving more place to Satan and its activities, the demons, etc., than what Scripture gives them.

There is the newer understanding to deal with, the reality that the Satanic powers are at work in human systems. There is no way we can nor should ignore that. That’s another, but important matter. But we’re dealing here with our own struggles. Hopefully from that we can begin to see the struggles of others around us, including society at large in its implicit as well as explicit systemic evil.

I think one of the devil’s main tactics at least from my own experience is to get us distracted, our mind focused on something seemingly important that can’t wait, accompanied by numerous concerns and fears, maybe only one such, but consuming our thoughts, time and day. For each of us, it will be something different, but the main point is the same. It’s something which hits us out of nowhere at any time to the point that if you’re like me, especially in year’s past, I would dread its coming. I think during such times it is probably more than likely that simply ignoring this ploy might be just what we need.

We can’t do that by trying to ignore the thought. It’s in our head and there’s no way we can get rid of it ourselves. I would suggest that of course we can and should immediately ask God for help. But also we can resolutely set our attention on something else. Paul’s word can help us here:

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.

Philippians 4:8

When something is overwhelming us, just demanding our attention, putting us in a near panic, that’s a sure sign it’s not from God, but from the devil. Or maybe we’re so used to reacting to situations in that way, that’s it’s simply become a part of who we are. Instead we need to discipline ourselves to focus on something else. We might look into our concern a bit, but then we quit, after we’ve committed the matter to God in prayer. And we proceed with something else, something good for us and for others. And fill our minds with that.

I think this is one important way to resist the devil and its schemes. In and through Jesus.