the fear of the Lord providing security

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
    and for their children it will be a refuge.

Proverbs 14:26

The fear of the Lord is called the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, referring to something of an inside understanding from God. There is certainly a reverential awe with surely a sense of wonder. But never a cowering fear. Through Jesus we know God as a loving Father, whose love knows no bounds (see Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son, which also could aptly be called the Prodigal Father). But this God who is love is still God.

This fear of God paradoxically makes one secure, in a sense fearing nothing. We read in 1 John that there is no fear in love, that perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with judgment. Although we know that in ourselves we are unworthy, yet living in the fear of God and what he has provided for us in Jesus gives us a security that is not only like being a part of the family, but actually is. Somehow, in whatever way this might best be expressed, and probably in a number of ways, we find security, or a fortress of safety in fearing the Lord, and best of all along with that, this is a refuge for our children. They too can find it, as we live in it. A wonderful reality for us all, in and through Jesus.

faith as allegiance

I am more than a little bit averse to easy constructs in theology to describe the whole of what is going on in scripture in the story of God. But I ran across a post, worth the read, which I think provides a good summary of one important aspect of faith, from a scholar, Matthew Bates. I wish he would describe things more in a way which puts the cookies on the lower shelf. If you read him, you may have to use a dictionary and work at thinking through what he is saying, which really is not a bad exercise in itself. Here are three points Scot McKnight draws out of Bates’s thoughts about what faith is:

  1. Mental affirmation/intellectual agreement: certain enough to yield.
  2. Professed fealty to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9-10).
  3. Enacted loyalty to the king, as in the obedience of faith.

I do think this point made of scripture making faith to be at its very basic, allegiance, does reflect what scripture actually teaches when one considers faith in the context of Jesus, and again, the post admirably sets that forth. I also want to see faith as somehow basically family-oriented, in that we are children of God through faith in Jesus, and that the faith of a little child is required, if one is to enter into the kingdom of God. So yes, allegiance to King Jesus the Messiah, as Lord, but also faith within the context of family, as God’s children. Of course we need scripture to fill out all the parameters of what allegiance to Jesus and living as God’s children in God’s household means.

Faith as allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and trust in God as Father is important in becoming our orientation in the rough and tumble of everyday living. We do things not out of some personal, self-centered goal, nor thinking that it ultimately depends on us. Instead we do everything out of loyalty to Christ, trusting in the Father to bring good out of everything, and to meet all of our needs together with others. All of this in and through Jesus.

anxious about nothing

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

A theme of faith I keep coming back to again and again is the command -yes, as  loving directive, but still a command- not to be anxious or worry. By the way, Amy Simpson has written a most helpful book on this subject, well worth the read: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

Yesterday a new matter which greatly bothered me at first was coming to my attention so as to bother me again, as has often been true about various things in the past. And the thought hit me: we’re not only not to be anxious or to worry, but we’re not to be anxious about anything at all, period.

That seems so counterintuitive, but goes along with another passage that has been impressed on my heart and mind:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yes, it’s important to be aware and do the best we can given the responsibilities and situations present. But first and foremost, we’re to pray, in this context to pray about whatever is a concern to us, before it gets to us and becomes a bother and burden. If it gets that far, we’re to cast that burden or care on the Lord, knowing that he cares for us, and that he will sustain us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22).

Easy words to say, but hard to put into practice. But that’s the call to faith in this world we’re to live out. That hopefully more and more will become second nature to us. Potentially freeing. Confidence in a loving, wise Father who oversees everything and is at work in the world through his Son, our Lord Jesus, in the power, presence and person of the Blessed Holy Spirit. When we are tempted to or actually do become unsettled, we need to turn to him. And yes, not be anxious (or worry) about anything.

holding conversation with God

Our priest, Michael when praying for me in terms of spiritual warfare which was bringing to the fore a major weakness of mine: anxiety with accompanying fear, challenged me to a “fast” in which I would take a week off from blogging and reading other than reading scripture, to concentrate in part on conversing with God. I initially largely dismissed the notion, thinking to myself that I indeed do converse with God, albeit surely in a limited way, in praying in the sense of talking to God as God, but also like I would talk to anyone else. But actually I was and still am weak on this score I think, at least relatively speaking. While I accept that God can and does speak to people in specific ways, I tend to dismiss a good portion of that as imagination or something other than conversation with God. Inclined at the same time to accept at face value what any one I know might be saying in terms of their own experience.

Surprisingly enough to me, this is quite related to the turn in emphasizing God as my Father (in a sense, God is the father of all through creation, in another sense the father of all who are born of the Spirit- another subject). But I began to work on this. What I soon found to be the case for myself, God’s speaking to me was largely in terms of scripture, specifically especially promises in scripture.

What I’m finding now is that it is soon freeing to bring to God whatever thoughts and concerns I might have, that I soon come to the realization by the Spirit that God is indeed my Father, that he will take care of things, that no matter what, he is my Father and he loves me. That is freeing enough by itself, and so far seems to be in significant measure casting out the fear that can so easily beset me.

knowing God as Father

God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God in Three Persons, essentially one in being and nature, yet distinctive, so that there’s diversity in (the) unity in the One or Oneness of God. Jesus as the unique Son of the Father revealed the Father in himself and taught that the Father is greater than all, though we know that the Son is no less God in his being. I will stop at that.

And so we know God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The Father seems to me to get perhaps a bit of short shrift in our thinking and practice. It is true that our faith is Christ-centered. The Spirit too can be little more than an afterthought to us, but we live by the life and power of the Spirit in and through Jesus.

And so when I think of God as Father I’m thinking of the Father. But I also think of God in general, because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One. They can never be separated in their union with each other.

Now to my life, just to get this point started. I have struggled for years emotionally and in my faith in the sense of trust. What has made up for that only in small part is a relatively strong faith in scripture, enough to keep my faith afloat. But not enough to really help me live well enough in God’s will in Jesus. I plan to share more on this, more details in days to come. But suffice it to say here that knowing God as my Father, really accepting him as my loving Father who is there for me to see me through, but fundamentally before that, simply loves me period, whatever I may or may not do, apart from my performance, is just now in this later part of my life igniting a revolution. Or at least a breakthrough in ways I’ve never known before. More on that on a later post.

God is our Father in and through Jesus and we are his very children. A perfect father who is present for us. Or perhaps waiting for us (as in the Prodigal Son) to simply turn to him. His loving embrace and extravagant welcome, following.

Martin Luther on the Father’s wish for us in our distress

The world is insane. It tries to get rid of its insanity by the use of wisdom and reason; and it looks for many ways and means, for all sorts of help and advice on how to escape this distress. But the shortest and surest way is to go into a little room (Matt. 6:6) or a corner and there to open your heart and to pour it out before God, filled with complaints and sighs, but also with confidence and trust that as your faithful heavenly Father He wants to give you His help and advice in this distress.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, 231-232 quoted by Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary).

remaining like a little child

There is nothing I like better I suppose then some good intellectually challenging stuff, of course within the realm of my knowledge and education, even if sometimes I like to be pushed by something which seems altogether foreign. And there are few things I dislike more than trying to solve some matter intellectually, which is bothering me, something like a brushfire, not challenging the faith for me, but certainly a challenge to my own faith.

I think it is okay for me to ask questions, pursue answers, even working through difficult places. But one thing I don’t do well to forget or leave behind is the need to remain like a little child before my Father God.

Jesus told his disciples that unless they would change and become like little children, they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. This life we are called to in Jesus is a life of implicit trust, as well as implicit obedience. Something we probably have to learn and grow into, something which hopefully becomes more and more a part of who we are. “Trust and obey…” And living in joy, the joy of the Lord.

This can be all very much a challenge for me, since it has been almost characteristic of me to not only encounter trouble, but to be very much troubled. I suppose this is not all that uncommon, but if we are overcome with this problem, we may do well to ask ourselves if we really are one of God’s children through faith in Jesus. If we are, we need to remember that and act on it, which may often mean not acting at all.

A good psalm to remember and pray and aspire to:

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David.

doing the best you can

There is something to be said within wisdom in this present life for simply doing the best you can and then letting it go at that. Life is provisional, and there are certainly no guarantees. Mistakes of varying kinds are a daily occurrence, and we simply can’t protect ourselves from ill, or even calamity with any degree of certainty and finality. People who do try to do that can’t function well, because what is wanted is not true to the nature of living in this present existence and time.

We should research and learn what we can, consulting the Internet and friends, above all, praying in the process, and then we have to make our decision and let it go at that. Once the decision is made oftentimes there is no way of changing it later, or we can do so only with great difficulty.

What I am referring to as “best” is in the realm of wisdom in this present existence and life in trying to live in what is most fitting in our relationship to God, to our neighbor, and what is helpful for ourselves. To love our neighbor as ourself certainly means we need to love ourselves in a proper, fitting way.

What has to be factored in as the heart of this is what we’re about in Jesus: simply to follow him, come what may. Other factors up to life itself are secondary to that. Not that we’re to be reckless and not care about our lives. Part of seriously following Christ involves trusting completely in our Father’s loving and wise provision and care.

And so we go on, trying to do the best we can, learning in the process, and simply taking one day at a time, and all as a gift, while we set our priority on doing God’s will in Jesus, seeking first the kingdom, and being servants of our Lord and the gospel.

God’s providential care

I have often struggled over the fact that some people are born into much better circumstances, to say the least, than others. This is true in a good number of ways taking in the whole person: physically, mentally, socially, morally, spiritually. From slums to dangerous streets to isolated jungles, etc., there is no shortage of danger to humans. Add to that even certain problems in the most wealthy of neighborhoods and one gets the sense that there is no safe place to live, period. Enter into this the teaching in scripture of God’s providential care.

John Calvin and Calvinism in one of its better aspects, I say, grapples seriously with this subject, and sees God’s sovereignty as a factor in all of this. Chalk it up to that, do what you can, and don’t be dismayed. God’s providential care is definitely a part of this. As Jesus reminds us, the Father is even aware when one sparrow perishes, and he knows the number of hairs on our head, so we’re not to be afraid: we’re worth more than many sparrows.

What I struggle with is not so much being exposed to the problems myself, but being part of a system which passes on the problems to others, by and by. I know that in loving our neighbor as ourselves, we simply do what we can and go on. Sometimes there’s not much we can do. Or we hit a dead end and have to live with what is less than ideal or perhaps even desirable.

That is when I have to take note of the transitory nature of this existence, indeed the brokenness, and in the terms of theology and from scripture, fallenness of this existence. It is not what it is supposed to be in this old creation in contrast to the story of the idyllic garden of Eden in Genesis. This old creation was not made as the end all, but only the precursor or prelude to the new creation. The hope of the Christian faith is that all that we are up against now, is actually transitory. That a new creation which even now has broken in through Christ is destined to take over and indeed change the world.

Where does that leave us, though, in terms of where we have to live now? And as important, if not more, what we pass on to others? And where does God’s providential care factor into this? I see no easy answers here. Note the book of Job, and particularly God’s answer in the end along with the aftermath. Not sure that really settles the matter in ways we would like to see. In fact we can look at life ourselves and see just how uneven it is, even in our own neighborhoods, churches, yes, even families. It just doesn’t seem like justice is dispensed evenly. And in fact too often injustice seems to rule the day. Or at least some form of what we would consider to be unfair. Our sense or vision of what is ideal or should be is inevitably shattered.

Again, we have to return to God, to God’s care, to the temporary nature of our current existence, and to the promise of the new world to come. We can’t escape the problems of this life, nor shield others from them. We can do our best to lessen the danger for others, but we must learn to trust God to work his good, even in this brokenness, yes- even through it. Knowing that there is a new world in Jesus in God’s kingdom come in which God will right all wrongs (put all things to right- N. T. Wright) and make all things new. Until then, we willingly live in this good yet provisional world, entrusting ourselves, our lives, and the lives of others into God’s hands and mercy. Together in this in Jesus for the world.

looking beyond the problem

I am one who can easily become fixated on a problem. In today’s information age, in which we can get quite a lot of data at our fingertips, that is a habit which can end up draining one of time and energy. Draining spiritually, as well.

Such times are good times for me to practice the discipline of looking beyond the problem, to the Lord, the Creator and Redeemer and Sovereign over all. That doesn’t mean I can’t consider the issue at all, but I must learn at the same time to approach it, not in my own efforts in trying to resolve it. But looking to the Lord for his answer, whatever that may be. With the desire to radically rest in that, in all my weakness.

A big part of my problem is that somehow I think I can solve a problem. Some problems we can solve rather easily. And sometimes we receive information which helps. Nevertheless, it is good, and actually a blessing to be put in a place in which we can look only up, beyond the problem, to God himself.

Job is a good case in point of this. Much of that great wisdom book is taken up with Job and his three “friends” focusing on the great problem at hand: the misfortune and suffering of Job. In the end God appears and with that comes a resolution, but not of the sort either Job or his friends were looking for, or could have imagined.

I too need to practice this by not thinking that the solution to a hard problem lies with me. And there are so many problems which arise not only in our lives, but in the lives of our loved ones, in the lives of those around us, yes, in this world, to be sure.

And so I turn my eyes away, or look beyond the problem to the one who is our help, our hope and our salvation. Together with others in Jesus and for the world.