the beginning of finding the end

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

Psalm 61

The beginning to finding the point of anything, probably not so much in terms of meaning, as in something of resolution, is to pray. The line above is the beginning of a great psalm, so formative for us in certain ways. It’s not long. Read it for yourself (the above link).

We must turn to God in prayer, and keep that posture of heart, mind, and life. We are usually struggling over something. That in itself is a help for us to turn with all our need to God.

We tend in our brokenness to want to solve life ourselves, or take in the latest popular advice. Instead, we need to turn to God, to the gospel. The Spirit speaks to the church.

We need to call out, and listen. And trust and obey. In and through Jesus.

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God weeps when we weep

In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

Isaiah 63:9

This present existence is broken. In time, and in some ways daily, we all experience it. But there are especially traumatic times when senseless tragedy hits someone, and some given family. This may seem an exception to the rule, but it happens all too often so that we realize that one can never know for sure what a day may bring.

God doesn’t seem to stop the bad things from happening, though surely God has on a number of occasions. Many of us have been in car accidents or what not when our lives could have easily been taken. But for some, the end comes, little ones left behind with a spouse, or whatever the circumstances may be. And they’re gone. Those affected are shattered and weep, and loved ones and friends weep with them. Where is God in all of this?

God weeps, too. God so to speak is shattered and weeps with us. He not only understands and empathizes, but he participates, more precisely is right in our midst, suffering what we’re suffering. God takes very seriously and holds as very precious the life and death of all, especially of his redeemed children.

We can be assured of this. Of God’s presence with us. Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. And he weeps with us now.

We look forward to the day when all death will be gone. And all of this evil will be completely forgotten. Never to come to mind again.

Until then we press on in faith, trusting in our Father no matter what. And knowing our Father cares and grieves when we grieve. And is present to help us with all the help we need by his grace through his Spirit and through others. In and through Jesus.

let go, relax, and be still, in a new orientation

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

In a psalm of great encouragement in the midst of the tumult and trouble of this world, promising God’s protection and help, there is the word to cease striving, let go, relax (see NASB text and footnote in link above), be still, and simply know that God is God. And that God will make that known.

We  think somehow that we have to take matters in our own hands, grab the bull by the horns, and get the job done. And there will be plenty for us to do when it’s all said and done. But it is God’s work, not our own. And this psalm puts the focus on God, and not on ourselves, or even on our part in what God is doing.

There is a time to simply step aside, be quiet and still, and look for what only God can do, not only in the world at large, but in ourselves, first and foremost. This call in the psalm is addressed to the listeners, or readers. It is a call to quit our own machinations, what we would say and do. And look to God. We can’t see the value of this, because we’re so used to looking on the plain of human endeavor, including and maybe even especially our own, so that we’re not even aware of what God is doing, since our focus is not on him. The fact of the matter is that we aren’t going to easily understand God’s hand in the midst of the affairs of life, particularly on the world stage. But what this psalm is getting at is God’s hand toward what will be the result of gospel, the good news in Jesus: God’s grace and kingdom come in our own world, as well as the larger world in all its tumult and trouble.

It is not about us, and what we’re about, and doing, but God. The word to us: Cease striving, be still, and know that God is God. So that we need not fear. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

idolatry in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me.Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14:1-6

Idolatry is everywhere. Some might think of it as something of a bygone era, when people used to make images representing gods, and bow down and worship the god of the image. But idolatry essentially is anything in our hearts we put before God, either in being devoted to it, or trusting in it. Anything, period, even things which in themselves in their right place are good. But also things which are either questionable, or not good.

Idolatry always exacts a steep price, and devastating consequences. Although much of it might be subtle enough to cover a lifetime, yet with some less than desirable fruit along the way.

I wonder myself. What do I put in the place of God? What can easily become an idol to me? Do I think that if I had enough money, I would be okay? Hopefully I am not under that illusion, knowing that some of the most empty people in the world are driven by money, and will scuttle truth and righteousness to make more of it. Knowing scripture and life. And yet those kinds of idols can still make their appeal to us.

Idolatry. It’s something to think and pray about, asking for God’s discernment to uncover where we’re most prone to it. We’re to have no other gods before us, but the one true God. And as Jesus told us, we’re to worship God in spirit, in the Spirit, and in truth, because the Father seeks such worshipers, and because God is spirit. God alone deserves our worship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

And in the process of wanting to learn what worship of God is, and wanting to put it into practice, we need to become aware of any idols we may have set up in our hearts. Things so close to heart that they are a part of us. But if idols, in an unhealthy way. And again, most of what we make into idols, in their proper place and in God’s intent, are good. But not all of them. Maybe some of them, at least for us, we need to get rid of forever. Or let go of for at least a time.

And it’s not enough to get rid of idols, if we don’t replace that with the worship of God. So that our practices of faith characterize our lives, who we are from day to day, and hour to hour. Something I frankly am not sensitive enough to, myself. And want to grow much in, in and through Jesus.

Jesus’s full participation in being an ordinary human (and what follows)

When it comes right down to it, every human being in an ordinary person, including Jesus, who though being God, became human, so that he is God and human at the same time. Remarkable. But yet somehow an ordinary human being.

When I say ordinary, I mean genuine, real, nothing more/nothing less. The truth of the matter about ordinary people is that really all ordinary people are extraordinary in the sense that they are made in God’s image, and therefore unique within creation. What it means to be in God’s image probably involves a number of things, including the special task God gave humankind at the beginning to be steward rulers, one might say, over God’s good earth. To rule under God, and to be in relationship with the God who essentially is Relationship as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus will forever remain unique, since somehow in mystery he is both fully God, and fully human. That God, yes God became human in and of itself is remarkable, because while God in essence is of course unchanged, yet God’s participation in humanity, even sharing in humanity by becoming human is a radical change. But it just goes to show how extraordinary, ordinary people are in the first place.

And so I like to highlight in my mind both just how ordinary we humans are, and how God in Jesus partook of that ordinariness. Remember during Jesus’s life that those who knew him noted nothing more remarkable than that he was the carpenter’s son, and the carpenter (Matthew 13; Mark 6). Not that such wasn’t good; it was simply in contrast to the work he was taking on, and the claims along with that.

But I also want to highlight that each and every human is also extraordinary, at the very least in creation and potential, and in ways we might not suspect or understand, and yet can begin to appreciate. That actually includes every human being. And how in Jesus, God takes us up into the full potential and meaning of what it means to be created in God’s image. Of course Jesus is the complete, exact, full, we could say unblemished image of God in humanity. As Colossians tells us, “all the fullness of the Deity…in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9; see also Colossians 1; Hebrews 1:3).

Humans are special in being uniquely related to God. That is evident in creation, and made clear in new creation, entered into by faith, with baptism accompanying that, picturing another aspect of why God became flesh, to take us humans through death into the fullness of life.

And so we need not diminish who we are, nor should we get any kind of big head about it. Humans are indeed humbled yet exalted in and through Jesus. We have a special place and identity in and through him. So that we should embrace our humanity in terms of God’s good creation and will for us fulfilled in new creation in and through Jesus.

the center for the new year

As we enter into a new year on our calendars, and reflect on the past year, as well as this new year to follow, we do well to consider just what is central to our existence, and to the world’s existence, and what’s not.

For children, especially toddlers, often they are the center. It is what they want or think they need that counts, and nothing else. And babies necessarily need special care, along with children, to be sure.

All of us enter into the new year with either new or renewed concerns. And we tend to center on the factors, oftentimes people, who are involved in those matters. And naturally we are often trying to figure out just where we fit, or what our response is to be. Or it may be responsibilities we have, which can be in the mix with the concerns. We either don’t know what to do, or we might in panic try to fix everything, or whatever else might go on in how we process and work out things.

In Colossians in particular, but also in Ephesians, we find the center, as far as scripture and the story there, the gospel (good news) puts it. It is no less than Jesus himself, who brings us and the world into the very life of God, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the case of the new creation breaking into the old, and to actually be completely in place, making all things new when Jesus returns.

The center is not any given mess in the world, in our world or the world at large. It is not the immediate concern we have, nor perhaps something at best hard, that we’re trying to navigate in our life. The center is always and forever, Jesus. Jesus is in the midst of everything, yes in the mess. And also according to scripture, the church is intricately woven into that (see the end of Ephesians 1). And so here’s probably the most important point, so that this post won’t be misunderstood: Jesus is the center, but it is always through the church and the gospel that this is so.

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1

That is our only real hope on a personal, family, neighborhood, local, state, national, and international level. Jesus somehow is in the midst of all of this, but always through the church and the gospel. Yes, mystically by the Spirit, but also through his teaching, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), through his death and resurrection. And though it’s always through the gospel and the church, yet in some sense Jesus is at work in everything. God is sovereign over all, and that sovereignty now is always and forever in and through Jesus. Even though there’s a day coming when the Son turns over the kingdom to the Father so that God might be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). Whatever that means, we can be sure that Jesus will be at the heart, and in the center of it all.

And so I look to the new year, wondering about some things. But not wondering about one thing: just who is at the center of all of this, who is in control even when things seem out of control, chaotic, and maybe heading in a bad direction. Not to ignore the things which are good. It is Jesus himself, who is with us through the good news of God in him. And through us and that, for the world. Jesus being the center.

belief in God

When one considers the world, both a skepticism from a cynicism can set in. Yes, there is much good we can find everywhere in the form of beauty and what seems noble and right. But no matter where we turn we also find trouble, and brokenness, oftentimes right in the midst of the great good we find, so that the good can seem spoiled, or at least in danger of being undermined or lost.

Many do come to faith in God usually connected to personal matters I would guess, but also in response to something of the beauty found in creation and in the message of the gospel. But some have abandoned faith in God. The randomness of evil or misfortune in the world, the great suffering often accompanying that, along with what is not good oftentimes threatening what otherwise is, all of this can make people doubt the existence of a good God who is like a Father and love. So that a person can become either an agnostic, or even an atheist, the latter usually to some degree agnostic, but with the belief that it’s impossible to really know, and maybe beside the point.

There are some reasons which might move me toward faith in God. The wonder of creation, or one could say, nature, is one of them. What we do find good in societies, in spite of all the evil might be another. Art in the form of music and other work helps us appreciate beauty and might suggest to us a Creator behind the creativity we find within humankind and ourselves.

But the only thing that really keeps me from descending into something like the writer of Ecclesiastes had (one of my favorite books of the Bible, by the way, which shows where I might naturally go apart from the gospel) is the gospel: the good news in Jesus. This good news addresses both the brokenness we see all around us, including when we look in the mirror. And helps us see that both for the present, as well as for the future, there is redemption and salvation in terms of reconciliation, justification, and regeneration. The old creation, good, but broken down in so many ways to be made new, the new creation in Christ to ultimately take over everything and make it turn out more than okay, for the life of the world, and in our lives as well.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas in God becoming flesh, completely human in the Person of the Son, Jesus. God not only with us, but becoming one of us. And fulfilling all God set in motion for humankind in God’s call to Abraham and what followed, in spite of all the brokenness we find in that story. Addressing that by becoming broken himself on the cross, experiencing death in order that we might have the life which followed, swallowing up that death, and ultimately all death.

The good news in Jesus. Our one hope, and what keeps my faith in God intact from my own perspective, the Spirit from God at work in all of this now, in and through Jesus.