against fear

One wise person years ago said that we should never act on fear. All too often in my life, I have. And while I may think I did what I needed to in order to alleviate it, it would invariably not lift the cloud that was over me. I’ve learned that only God can do that.

Yes, we need to redirect our sight, as my wife has often reminded me, getting our eyes off our trouble and onto the Lord. And as she also has often said, it’s Satan. Yes, we’re in spiritual warfare no doubt. Good, important reminders.

It is interesting that the most often repeated command in Scripture is “Don’t be afraid” or words to that effect. I find in my own experience it’s like going on an interesting, but terrifying roller coaster ride. You hang on and hang in there. What choice do you have? The exhilaration may kick in at a certain point, or you may simply be glad that the ride is over. I did learn in my days of roller coaster riding, to enjoy the ride. But I think sometimes, depending on the ride, that would be quite impossible.

For me, I’m sorry to say, and sorry to disappoint you: there’s no easy quick fix. What change that may help us would surely be incremental over time through taking good steps like being regularly in God’s word, in Scripture, and doing what God has called us to do. I have found that it’s like a process one has to go through. Different stages come along like denial or trying to get rid of it, whatever. But when we come to accept it, and just do the best we can with God’s help, sooner or later the fear will subside.

Of course this includes trying to apply the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6, getting someone close to you to pray for you, being in God’s word and prayer.

We need to hang in there. God will see us through, giving us the wisdom we need, and ideally, a new lesson learned. God is at work in the mess. In and through Jesus.

a kind of summation of Psalm 119

ת Taw

May my cry come before you, Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise.
May my lips overflow with praise,
for you teach me your decrees.
May my tongue sing of your word,
for all your commands are righteous.
May your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, Lord,
and your law gives me delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant,
for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119:169-176

One can see the last part of Psalm 119 as a kind of summation of this great psalm. There is a mix of faith, hope and love; a dependence on God in looking to God to do what only God can do. But an expectation along with that, that God surely will. And with that, an anticipation of what will come as a result: God’s goodness, and the response of praise to God for such. This is always the tension at play in our lives in God.

The end is appropriate. There is a sense of lostness, the psalmist’s fault and yet almost an inevitable part of our lives in this life now. We do stray along the way, but our response should be the same as the psalmist: a cry to God to find us, to come near to us, since in our heart we want to obey God’s commands. In and through Jesus.

 

 

prejudice, racism, and loving your neighbor as yourself

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan is considered a classic for good reason. And it really puts us on our heels in a number of ways, regardless of who we are. (Read or listen to this interesting piece.) The one who did good was part of a people who were not only looked down upon, but utterly despised by the Jews. Samaritans did not hold to the faith, and they were a mixed race. But Jesus singled out a Samaritan, as opposed to a Jewish priest and levite, as being the one who epitomized what it meant to love one’s neighbor, a staple of the Jewish faith, in contrast to the Jewish religious men who failed to do that.

There’s no way getting around it. We probably all struggle with prejudice. It’s not like we ought to simply accept that, but when we don’t understand another culture, it is easy to simply dismiss them as somehow not measuring up, yes to our culture. And surely they end up looking at us in much the same way. Just that realization should help us curb our tendency toward prejudice. We realize our own weakness and lack of understanding, so that we more and more refuse to prejudge anyone. Rather we might ask questions, or simply assume the best. While at the same time giving no one a free pass on what is plainly wrong.

Racism is another, more serious matter. It has a marked, troubling history in the United States, and actually is still alive today. And for one reason: humans are sinful, and inherently see others who are different as somehow inferior to themselves. Again, refer to the article linked above which I would say substantiates this Christian claim, even if people in it would not use the word “sin”. If we all struggle with sin, then to some extent, we might struggle with racism. Racism simply put is the opinion, even conviction that one’s own race is somehow superior, and that other races are somehow inferior. By race I mean one’s ethnicity, their ethnic roots, which oftentimes is marked by skin color and culture.

Scripture does not either deny the diversity within humanity, or try to tamp it down. Rather, as we see in the last book in the Bible, it acknowledges and one might even say, celebrates it. The gospel in the reconciliation it brings, integrates into the one humanity, all the different peoples. And that would include everything they have to contribute to the whole. This is all considered a gift from God in creation, and especially in new creation in Jesus.

Like “the good Samaritan,” it’s not enough at all to agree intellectually. We must act on that, regardless of what prejudices we still might have. And see ourselves not only as givers, but also as receivers of God’s good gift and blessing from others who we don’t readily identify with. More and more learning to see our differences as complementary, as we find our unity in the love of God that is in and through Jesus.

paying attention to God’s commands

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

It seems hard and almost old fashioned, at least open to question nowadays, the necessity or even importance of keeping God’s commands. For one thing we live in a relatively Bible illiterate day, when it seems like year after year, people who attend Bible teaching churches know the Bible’s content less and less. At least that has been the case. And we live during a day when there’s a major cultural shift arguably accompanied with a hermeneutical shift, how Christians interpret the Bible. With the obvious changes from the Old (or First) Testament to the New (or Second, we could say Final) Testament such as found in Leviticus, for example the prohibition of sowing two different fabrics together to make clothes no longer being in effect comes the protests that sexual mores have now been changed as well. The idea that sexual relations are confined to a woman and man who are married is considered odd and a thing of the past, almost taboo at least among many in their practice.

Among Christians who fall prey to none of that, there can be such an emphasis on grace, that keeping God’s commands is nearly beside the point. Impossible since that is considered falling under the law, which is only meant to indicate that we’re sinners, incapable of keeping the law. With others it might be a decided shift in emphasis due to priorities which determine more what we’re to do and not do than Scripture itself. It’s almost like Scripture is present to help achieve what is considered most important, often referring to priorities in one’s personal life, or from the political sphere.

May I just suggest that I think all of us Christians and churches ought to stop, back up, and go to square one. We need to return to the plain words of Scripture, of course read faithfully and in light of God’s revelation given to us in Scripture of Christ. We might be surprised at just how traditional it might come across. Not the air of today’s “brave new world” but the fulfillment of the old creation in the new creation in Jesus as spelled out in the Final “New” Testament itself. Something to which we should aspire, even as with the psalmist we lament in not arriving to perfection in this life. In and through Jesus.

the heart and soul of Jesus followers

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

There is nothing more fundamentally basic for human life than love, specifically loving each other, one’s fellow humans. It’s profound in its implications, and given the nature of us all, it can be a tall order. We have to look out for each other, and think about the best interest of the other. In fact in following the way of Christ, our best interest should be pursued so that we can serve the best interests of others.

As Jesus taught, echoing Scripture, we’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves. He put that in the same category as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We can’t love God if we don’t love our neighbor. And theo-logically, our love for our neighbor is rooted in, and comes out of our commitment to love God. It’s not just rote, but it can begin there. But out of love for God, we commit ourselves to loving our neighbor as ourselves. Something which should flow naturally out of that, but something also that we need to be committed to. Because given the nature of us humans, everyone of us, it would be easy to opt out. But then we would be abandoning love for God. Something we in Jesus cannot do.

Commands are given to us as necessary boundaries we’re not to cross if we’re to love our neighbor, which includes doing no harm to them. The ultimate goal of the law, or God’s word is love: love for God, for each other in Jesus, and for everyone else, including our enemies. This is fundamentally basic to us as Christians, but is not only the foundation in Jesus for how we live, but ought to be our heart and soul. It’s the cake and frosting and everything else. In God’s love in and through Jesus.

what life throws at you

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books. And it’s about not so much what life throws at us, but what we want out of life. We want to suck it high and dry, as if somehow we’re going to get life out of that. But the writer as well as the observer and “Teacher”, the one who experienced this said that it was all futile, even meaningless.

It’s not like the details of life don’t matter, because they certainly do. We want to do all that we should, and do it well. Although in the nature of things, we are limited. And there is always more that either needs to be or could be done. As long as life shall last.

Maybe the conclusion of the matter at the end of Ecclesiastes, along with wisdom woven throughout, is what we need to set our sights on. Particularly that ending that declares when it’s all said and done we’re to fear God and keep his commandments. We let life get to us, with all its obligations, demands, and expectations (real or imagined) pressing in against us.

Maybe it’s time to stop and ask what really matters. To really fear God, and be intent on keeping God’s commandments in and through Jesus is what in the end matters. At the same time, we need God’s wisdom to navigate the bumpy, rough, and sometimes puzzling terrain of life. Enjoying all the good gifts from God, and even finding satisfaction in the work we do. Maybe we can find a rhythm in it all, which can help us live in what is really life. A challenge indeed. God will help us in and through Jesus.

the command/directive not to be anxious about anything

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

I was thinking yesterday about the command or directive from God not to be anxious, or worry about anything at all. The Greek word translated “anxious” by some Bible translations, and “worry” by others is μεριμνάω which according to Bill Mounce means “to worry, have anxiety, be concerned.” It seems rather unreasonable given the nature of the world, and the responsibilities we have, so that it would sound not only like foolishness in the eyes of the world, but a mistake even to those who have faith in God through Christ. Radical, for sure. But the imperative doesn’t end there.

We’re to pray with thanksgiving, to let God know just what is going on instead of giving in to anxiety, or trying to fix the problem ourselves. It is easy over time to just kind of give up and lose hope due to a number of circumstances, but mostly due to lacking faith in God. We’re to believe not in ourselves, but in God’s promise and love, even his calling to us. Confident that he will bring it to pass, and enable us to fulfill that calling through the gifting God gives us. I’ve been there, and it’s not good. It doesn’t matter how we feel about something, whether anxious, or losing all hope. We need to pray, and keep praying, and not give up. Continuing to bring it to God in prayer.

The answer promised is not necessarily a nice fix of the problem like we might envision, or like. It is simply God’s peace. This suggests to me that our solutions, or even wishes may somehow be misguided, probably the basic point being that we are trying to solve the matter ourselves, rather than letting God work it out, rather than waiting on God. It’s not like we won’t end up doing anything in the end. It’s just that we need to do so not in anxiety and fear, but with God’s peace. Or to simply remain in that peace, not doing anything ourselves. All of this in and through Jesus.

the Father says don’t be anxious, period, but instead…

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

Sometimes I wonder if the absolutes are really absolute. I prefer to see a lot of the commands as loving directives by a Father, and in a sense, I’m sure they are. Tone matters. But the words still come across as absolutes in the sense that we’re to brook no compromise whatsoever, but simply do what we’re told to do.

I also believe a loving Father sees our sincere attempts, as weak as they are, and in grace honors them. And then helps us. The help comes. It may not seem as immediate as we like, but then again, neither was our compliance to this directive immediate. Oddly enough the answer may have already come, but our brain and heart have to get acclimated to the new reality. Of course part of the answer will be to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), and that is a lifelong process, as well as renewing thoughts coming to us by the Spirit when need be.

Interestingly, we often turn to the above passage only after we have succumbed to anxiety and fear, and are perhaps steeped in worry. I would like to better apply this before the fall in that pit happens. To either try to lessen it, or avoid it altogether.

It is such a difference, either being in the light, or in the darkness. It is either a light or darkness which penetrates one’s very soul, their entire life. So that every act in the light is a delight, and in the dark is more like drudgery with difficulty. And at times, it seems I can be somewhere between.

Faith needs awakening, and so these times of being tempted, or even falling into the anxiety may serve that purpose. Nevertheless this passage, God’s word, tells us not to be anxious about anything. Pretty absolute from a loving Father. But instead in every situation to pray and ask God with thanksgiving with the promise that his peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I hope to be more alert and faithful in applying this, next time something comes to my mind that is troubling on that level for me. Part of my growth in grace, I take it, in and through Jesus.

searching for meaning

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1

My go to book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes (one of my favorites, anyhow) is an acknowledgment in part of the futility of life, and of thinking that one can find any real meaning under the sun. The idea ends up simply enjoying what is, to the fullest, and not taking it too seriously, since in the end it will all be gone.

But there’s some stealth thoughts interjected along the way, such as the fact that God will judge, which is roundly stated in the end. And that we shouldn’t say much when we enter into the space where God is present for worship, but simply be silent. Those are clues that there may be more to this, to life than what often meets the eye. And in the end again, the charge to fear God and keep his commandments caps what has been an interesting read.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to what we regularly profess and confess. We need to let the weight of the narrative in Ecclesiastes have its affect on us. That is the way we’re to read scripture. And preferably with others.

I think it’s best to embrace the reality of how all these means which are made to be ends are not ends themselves at all. They have usefulness, to be sure, their place in life “under the sun.” But none of them in themselves can fulfill what only God and the promise of God in the grace and kingdom come in Jesus can. But we need to feel the full weight of the emptiness of the endless pursuit of humanity to arrive and achieve. While some satisfaction might be found in it, it will end, and then what? (Another theme in Ecclesiastes.)

We have to look “above” (or beyond) the sun to find meaning in life “under the sun.” The meaning we find won’t be in what is done in this life, but the transcendence which is imminent, and therefore gives meaning either to or in the midst of all that happens here and now. So that while these things in the present are empty and meaningless in themselves, they derive meaning and fullness in the Creator God, and the covenant God makes with humans. A covenant fulfilled in Jesus, full of meaning, which then translates to all the emptiness and meaninglessness down here. In and through Jesus.

God’s revelation and our witness in the mess of this world

Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD strikes
with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29

God makes himself known through creation in terms of both creation itself, and what happens in creation. Creation in scripture ends up pointing to the promise of new creation, and in itself is limited. It is not the end all, since it cannot go on forever, and suffers cataclysmic changes. God’s greatness, and even his goodness is made known in the midst of that, both to his people and through them to the world, in and through Jesus.

Whatever we experience in this life, no matter what it is, God gives us peace: “the LORD blesses his people with peace.” And God gives us strength to carry on. All of this is the case because “the LORD is enthroned as King forever.” God “sits enthroned over the flood,” in other words, no matter what’s going on in the earth, God is in charge.

Passages like Psalm 29 shouldn’t be mined only for our comfort, but the comfort is there, and we do need it. We need to let such passages soak in us as we soak in them, in God’s word through meditation, which for me means plodding along slowly and prayerfully through each phrase. Psalm 29 helps us think on God’s power and majesty. The comfort that is a part of the revelation of God in this psalm reminds me of a familiar go-to passage for me, that I have to return to at times, again and again, and try, as poor as I might do it, to to put it into practice:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 4:4-7

It is often hard for me to really do this, which makes sense since when I need to do this, anxiety has often taken over, worry setting in. God eventually gives the promised peace in answer to prayer. That’s what we need to look for, and we need to remain settled in that, reminding ourselves of it the next time we are tempted to be swallowed up in fear over the same matter.

Why is that peace present? We don’t know, but we trust that it’s all good, because the peace is from no less than God himself. It will come. We need to apply, follow through, and hold on to God’s instruction, loving imperative, indeed- stark command.

God is at work in judgment and salvation in the world; we are in the midst of that, but God will see us through as witnesses, so that others might know that we are indeed his people in and through Jesus, that they also may come to faith in him.