focus on God

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me.

John 14:1

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

I’ve been enjoying the new hymnbook entitled Voices Together. Reading through new hymns and new songs (to me), as well as familiar hymns. And readings in the back, including morning, evening, and night liturgy, with prayers. Other than a Bible, this is the book I have in hand now every day.

What I’ve found is that it helps me get my focus on God, the same way Scripture does. Well, it’s meant to do that, as we raise our voice in songs, hymns and spiritual songs. With helpful readings and prayers in the back. The present day liturgy of the denominations Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus was telling his disciples some quite heavy things, not only more than they could wrap their heads around, but more than their hearts could bear. But he told them to believe in God, to believe in him. And to realize that in the midst of their troubles, he had overcome the world.

Scripture is replete with this theme. Trouble real and imagined. There is no end to that. But God wants us to lift our eyes up, off our troubles and onto God and God’s promises. We’re to be transfixed there. We can be either looking at our problems, or at God, one of the two, not both. I am speaking of focus here. It’s not like we’re oblivious to reality. But that’s not where we’re to live. We’re instead to live in God.

God will take care of it. Christ has won. What that means for us is that God wants us to learn to live above circumstances, so to speak. Still owning proper responsibility, but doing so in a way which puts God front and center. A matter of both perspective and expectation. Seeing everything more as God does, and finding God’s priority as well as God’s help. Learning to live in that. In and through Jesus.

God’s shalom on us

At that time, this song
will be sung in the country of Judah:
We have a strong city, Salvation City,
built and fortified with salvation.
Throw wide the gates
so good and true people can enter.
People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.
Those who lived high and mighty
he knocked off their high horse.
He used the city built on the hill
as fill for the marshes.
All the exploited and outcast peoples
build their lives on the reclaimed land.

Isaiah 26:1-6; MSG

This especially caught my eye yesterday:

People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don’t quit.

And this follows:

Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.

I am leery, basically suspicious of big breakthroughs, though I do believe they happen, especially over time. But I prefer the preponderance of building slowly over time, day after day, so that real and lasting change occurs. Not something fly by night, a great experience here today and gone tomorrow.

In this rendering in The Message, I sense the pastor coming out of Eugene Peterson. He is encouraging us to “keep at it” rather than look for some great experience in which we live, I mean the “perfect peace” as in the NIV, etc. The idea of “completely whole” probably better captures the meaning behind shalom.

What really hits home for me is the encouragement to “keep at it.” To not give up, to not give in to disparaging thoughts which come our way. But to set our minds on God and depend on God. God honors that. For the down and out, for the broken, for those who have no hope of fixing themselves. God makes a way, and gives them all they need.

We may or may not see ourselves in that category. But we need to take care of ourselves. And how we best do that is to put ourselves under God’s care. We look to God and keep doing that. Trusting in God to see us through, that all will be well. In and through Jesus.

where do we want to be?

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Psalm 84:10

I find it all too easily to be in places where really I would rather not be. Or is that really the case? If it were so, wouldn’t I leave and go there and stay? 

If you check out Psalm 84, you’ll find that God’s courts at least for us is likely metaphorical for where our heart is through all of life, whatever we’re going through. But that also includes regular special times to be with God, even as Jesus used to break away from his disciples at odd hours, usually early morning, to be in prayer to the Father. And really seeking to remain there best we can throughout the day.

It’s all too easy to remain too long in what is actually relative junk. The kind of thing which even in itself might be good and a blessing from God, but overindulged in becomes just the opposite. The good thing about that though is that, like the psalmist here, we’ll then experience a longing for God’s Presence- for God.

Where do I want to be? Yes, where Jesus would be in the hardest, most difficult places. But even in that, where God is. In and through Jesus. 

more of what John, “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say from 1 John 1:1-4 to us today

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

1 John 1:1-4; MSG

I’m not qualified to even guess what John the elder and beloved apostle would say to us if he were alive today. But I try to draw from others, as well as what little I understand myself. I’m imagining him as an old man when 1 John was written (along with 2 and 3 John letters).

I think John might emphasize to us the fellowship we’re to be a part of as well as what that means about all other fellowships. This fellowship doesn’t necessarily exclude other fellowships, but it holds preeminence and priority over all the others. Other groups or associations might have their place, but never at the expense of this bond we have together in God the Father and in Jesus our Lord by the Spirit. And the communion in which we live in Christ is not some private religious escape or whatnot which has nothing to do with the rest of life. It enters into everything, and determines our own lives, even at every step. What that means will unfold as we go on through this letter.

And our deepest abiding joy, indeed our true meaning for living is found only in this fellowship in Christ, nowhere else and never in addition to anything else. It stands alone. No other entity can demand the same allegiance or devotion. This means  that people can even be at variance in competing lesser fellowships, yet their unity with each other in the one fellowship in God the Father and in Jesus Christ remains intact, undiminished. And if that’s not the case, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong, that something that’s supposed to be representative of God and of what comes from God in Christ, indeed is not.

But…God

Light, space, zest—
that’s God!
So, with him on my side I’m fearless,
afraid of no one and nothing.

When vandal hordes ride down
ready to eat me alive,
Those bullies and toughs
fall flat on their faces.

When besieged,
I’m calm as a baby.
When all hell breaks loose,
I’m collected and cool.

I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.

That’s the only quiet, secure place
in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
far from the buzz of traffic.

God holds me head and shoulders
above all who try to pull me down.
I’m headed for his place to offer anthems
that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs;
I’m making music to God.

Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs:
“Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,”
my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!”
Don’t hide from me now!

You’ve always been right there for me;
don’t turn your back on me now.
Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me;
you’ve always kept the door open.
My father and mother walked out and left me,
but God took me in.

Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street;
show my enemies whose side you’re on.
Don’t throw me to the dogs,
those liars who are out to get me,
filling the air with their threats.

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.

Psalm 27; MSG

All kinds of things are messed up in the world, a mess. And the main fault of that is us: humankind, as well as our own individual failures. The more you look, the more difficult it looks. That’s where we have to look elsewhere: to God no less.

What I like best about this psalm is the idea of living in God’s house, contemplating God’s beauty, and studying at God’s feet. And that being something daily, not just here and there like vacations. But right along, day after day.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not living in the real world. It does mean that we can face that world, whatever it is we’re up against, and whatever wrong and problems there are, not by ourselves, but with God.

So we need to say in the midst of the darkness and trouble of this world, “But God.” God is present for us in the here and now. To not only help us in seeing us through, but so that we might see God’s good hand in it all, in everything somehow. Righting all the wrongs including those in us, and bringing no less than the light of God’s presence in all its goodness and beauty into this sad and weary world. In and through Jesus.

the breakthrough we need

A David Psalm

When I call, give me answers. God, take my side!
Once, in a tight place, you gave me room;
Now I’m in trouble again: grace me! hear me!

You rabble—how long do I put up with your scorn?
How long will you lust after lies?
How long will you live crazed by illusion?

Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him.

Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.
Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking.
Build your case before God and wait for his verdict.

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day

Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.

Psalm 4; MSG

There are times when we may have quit in your spirit. Where there seems no where to go. When one feels hopeless. That is partly what is so great about the psalms . We encounter real people living in the real world. The psalms speaks our language, sometimes in ways that are uncomfortable, and probably a bit off the mark, sometimes more than a bit. Sounds like us at least in our private spaces at times, doesn’t it?

But we find just like the psalmist here, David, that God answers us. We may have to keep reading in the psalms before we land on one that meets us where we’re at. That was the case with me last night. So I opened my The Message Bible to Psalm 1 and began to read. But stopped after reading Psalm 4. And sought God’s help in prayer from that. And God helped me, removing the complete discouragement with a sense of peace, as well as an imagination for something that was encouraging.

So we need to find our space with God. The psalms are perhaps the best in helping us do so. Meeting us in our various circumstances and moods, God helping us as we enter them to find God and what we need from God. In and through Jesus.

the importance of sleep and resting in God

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to[a] those he loves.

Psalm 127:2

We recently received a picture of a baby in the most peaceful looking sleep you can imagine: idyllic, almost like angelic. It reminded me of how we need to rest in God. I’m reminded too of when Martin Luther equated sleep to faith that God was running the world.

For our physical well being alone, sleep is vital. Maintaining our circadian rhythm is important, as well. We need to go to bed and get up basically around the same time, while maintaining a healthy number of hours of sleep. I like to take naps when I can. All of this becomes more evident as we get older. We can’t do some of the crazy things we did when we were younger, or if we do, we learn that our body just can’t take it like it used to.

Getting our needed sleep or physical rest as we see in this psalm can be an expression of faith in God. We hurry, scurry and worry about this and that and everything else. In this life there is often no end to that. When God would have us do something much better. Learn to rest in him.

Of course this doesn’t mean at all that we skirt our responsibility, or that we don’t have legitimate concerns. But in all of that, we learn more and more to depend on God. And know in the end that our ability, even our effort, and the outcome all depend on God, God’s faithfulness in the end, and not our own. We thankfully are not God. Indeed we can rest in God and need to do so even when we’re awake. Helping us to get the sleep we need. In and through Jesus.

seeking understanding

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

Knowledge. We live in a world filled with wonder, and among people complex in their makeup. And we’re in the midst of it, our heads often spinning over this and that. There is so much to unravel, to understand.

We’re told here in Proverbs that the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, that the ears of the wise seek it out. Discernment and wisdom involve asking questions, probing questions, and not taking things at face value.

At the same time we are settled into the acceptance that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That fear amounts to reverence and awe over God and God’s ways. There is no end to knowledge because God is the fountain of  it all. The more we understand about creation, the more apparent that there’s both mystery as well as intelligibility behind it all.

So we keep on processing. Never arriving. Seeking to love God and our neighbor through it all, and in all we do. In and through Jesus.

God is in the ordinary

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-14

Eugene Peterson told how he learned to find God in the ordinary lives of the people he was pastoring. We all tend to think of God existing in the extraordinary, but fail to see that by and large God is in the ordinary.

I had a dear grandmother who was good at writing letters. She mostly would simply recount simple everyday things happening, what she and others were doing. I used to think there wasn’t much there. But God is in all of life. Not just in some great theological treatise, or mountaintop experience.

Yes, God is in the simple mundane boring. Even in our struggles, in places where we would least expect. We often just need to hang in there. We will find God in the midst of it, if we just keep looking. And if we remain in faith through the thick and thin, ups and downs, and ins and outs of life. Something it seems to me is somewhat parallel to what the book of Ecclesiastes is all about.

facing the challenges of life

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121

There is certainly no escape from the challenges of life. They come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak. And many. Expected and unexpected. 

God’s promise to us is that as we look to him, he will help us. Whatever we face, big or small. We can count on God’s help, and as we read in this psalm, God’s protection as well. 

The Lord watches over us. We can count on that. What we need to do is hear the words of this psalm and take them to heart. To hopefully steady us, and take away our fears. To ground us in the way God has for us. In and through Jesus.