shattering the freeze (of the “frozen chosen”)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Life is full of problems and sometimes you simply see yourself as trying to solve, or at least mitigate the problems. The question for us as Christians is simply how do we respond to trouble when it comes our way. Maybe the same thing over and over again, so that it’s naturally irritating to us.

God’s written word tells us what to do. Too often as Christians what we know and say we believe is not what we practice. It’s not like we can’t complain to God. See the psalms. But we need to practice rejoicing in God always, since God is God, being good, not to mention great, and is true to his promises. And to thank God again and again for all the blessings of life, for all of God’s goodness to us. And in the midst of that, as the passage above tells us, to pray, and to keep on praying.

We need to break through our natural reticence to do this. Just do what God tells us to do, and we’ll find God’s help in doing it. And then we need to keep doing this, forming a new pattern and practice that becomes a part of who we are, so that this becomes our natural response to the inevitable difficulties of life.

Something I’m in the midst of working on. In and through Jesus.

when overwhelmed with darkness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Sometimes, especially for some of us, we feel quite down and not far from despair. At times lack of sleep may be the culprit; we need proper sleep. But some of us easily drift into this state of despondency when so much seems wrong to us, or when at least we don’t feel good inside.

This is so very true with the psalmist here. Someone said they made darkness an idol. I don’t agree at all. They were simply stating their experience to God.

The crucial point for us to hold on to when we’re struggling is the importance of addressing our concerns and baring our heart to God, holding nothing back. We can see that eloquently done in this psalm.

I like the way this psalm ends with a sense of being stuck in the mire, lost in the darkness, akin to “the dark night of the soul.” Because it’s real to life, not some phony pretense of saying “All is well” when it’s not.

Fortunately the Bible and the psalms don’t end there. God is good and God will work everything out for good. When we don’t see the good, when essentially we don’t feel good, we need to practice what the psalmist does here. Cry out to God, and keep talking to God, looking to God for the help that only God can give. In and through Jesus.

(Medical and/or psychological help may also be needed. Some of us are just more prone this way, but others need special help. And that can include any of us. So we need to be open to that possibility, as well.)

“God is good” confirmed by the incarnation and resurrection

The claim that God is good is seen over and over again in the Bible. And God’s people took it by faith that such was the case, seen in God’s mighty acts, such as the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian army by the parting and collapse of the Red Sea. So they could take it be faith that such was the case, God demonstrating it by signs and wonders for the protection and preservation of his people

But ultimately it would be challenging to make a case that God is good if we didn’t have the rest of the story. After all, God’s people did not live up to their calling, even after their return from exile. And generation after generation came and went essentially doing no better. Even with God’s calling and help, humans would inevitably fail him.

Enter into this picture something that was never imagined. The God, yes the God actually becoming completely human. Unfathomable, something that doesn’t make the least bit of sense. And yet true. Shockingly true. What in Christian theology is called the Incarnation: God becoming flesh, or human through the Son coming into the world, born of a woman in miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, yet no different than any other fetus. Though still God, completely human.

In that we see how seriously God takes our plight. God comes to our rescue, not from the outside, but from inside, becoming one of us. God-with-us, yes, but as one of us. Of course without sin, and a unique being indeed: God-human. Completely human with undiminished deity, but human. To show us by his life and teaching how he is the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring in God’s kingdom. Jesus.

But this happens in another completely unexpected, unanticipated way: Through Jesus’s death on the dreaded, despised Roman cross, would come God’s breakthrough to defeat Satan, more than save humanity, and ultimately bring in a new world through the new creation. That death spelled the end of death through Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.

“God is good” is thus confirmed, which means we can thank God for every blessing, knowing that what we see now with all the danger and despair is not the end. God’s goodness will leave nothing untouched in the end through the full judgment and salvation Jesus achieved at the cross, when he returns. All the repentant, believing, faithful will know that all is well, at last fully at home in the eternal life and new creation of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In and through Jesus.

the insight and strength needed

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s one thing some of us need in the midst of our work and schedule, it’s strength. For one thing, we expend not only physical energy, but emotional energy as well, which makes us all the more tired.

The passage addresses both. Israel was complaining about their lot, failing to acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness. Isaiah 40 is a powerful vision of both. God is present to help his people in their lack of understanding and strength.

That we are weak, there’s no doubt, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we know better than God. When we push out hard on our own, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’ll either depend on our own insight and strength, or fold our hands in despair.

But God wants to give us vision to begin to understand by faith, and to depend on his enabling. God is always faithful as we proceed, our hope and confidence in him. Of course God wants us to look to him, to his promises, to his provision. To wait, hope, and carry on. And find our “wings like eagles,” soaring. In and through Jesus.

not giving up

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Luke 18:1

The point Jesus was making in the parable was that rather than give up, his disciples should always pray. Straightforward enough? The parable is followed with an application and challenge.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:2-8

Oftentimes we give up because we haven’t prayed, but have tried to solve the problem or bring about the outcome ourselves. One of the key things I’ve learned all too late is to get out of the way and just pray, pray, and pray some more. And watch God’s answer come, maybe oh so slowly in forming an answer which might take months and years.

Jesus would seem to be suggesting that we will either be people of ongoing prayer or else we’ll lose heart and despair. It’s either give up, or pray.

Our tendency is toward prayerlessness just as Jesus might be implying when he asks if at his return there will be faith on the earth. When I’ve given up and lost hope, it’s then I need to start a path in the opposite direction by simply praying. It will take time, but we’ll begin to see a change in ourselves before we see the change were looking for in answer to our prayers. Prayer will make the needed difference toward blessing in other people’s lives, even as we are changed in the process from those who have given up to those who believe in God’s goodness, and don’t stop looking to him in prayer for his answers.

It’s our choice. Either pray or simply give up.

devotion to prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

If there’s one thing we should do more than anything else, we ought to pray. One could well argue that we ought to be in the word, and meditate on it as a first priority as well, and that’s true. And the apostles spoke of prayer and the ministry of the word, referring to the praying which must accompany their public teaching and preaching.

There are no shortage of things to pray for: our own need and the needs of others. Of course worship and praise of God and confession of sin are staples in our lives in Christ. Prayer here is probably in reference primarily to petitions to God on the basis of God’s promises and the revelation of who God is along with what God wills.

We’re told that along with such prayer, we’re to be watchful and thankful. Possibly watchful for God’s answers, as well as to understand what we ought to pray for in the first place. We’re simply to have an attitude of being alert, awake, again watchful, so that we can both see what to pray for, and anticipate the answer to come.

And we need to be quick to give thanks to God for answers to prayer. As well as having a generally thankful attitude as we pray and await God’s answer. God is good and faithful to his promises. But we must continue in prayer, devoted to it. In and through Jesus.

prayer matters

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus’s words here in the Sermon on the Mount tell us that prayer matters. We’re encouraged to ask, seek, and knock, which implies a sense of urgency in the request.

And then Jesus points us to the goodness of the Father, that we pray to a Father who wants to give us good gifts if we just ask him.

In the end, if you can tie all of this together, as “so in everything” suggests, our prayers should be for the good of others. That we’re to do for others, what we would want them to do for us. The practice of love for our neighbor, as we love ourselves. Not excluding petitions for ourselves.

Prayer matters. It does make a difference. We need God’s blessing and gifts, ultimately to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

God is a judge(?)

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

Isaiah 30:18

If you click the link, you will be taken to Isaiah 30, which clearly indicates that God is indeed a God of judgment. A sample:

The voice of the Lord will shatter Assyria;
with his rod he will strike them down.
Every stroke the Lord lays on them
with his punishing club
will be to the music of timbrels and harps,
as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm.

Isaiah 30:31-32

In the case of Assyria, they were clearly an empire deserving of judgment. In their conquest, they brutalized and tortured. Israel was one of their victims, but Assyria’s day would come.

The first passage strikes the scriptural balance between God’s judgment and salvation. God judges ultimately to save. That is a pattern seen again and again in Scripture, ultimately in the Cross itself. In Jesus God takes the judgment for sin on himself in being the lamb slain from the creation of the world, which takes away the sin of the world.

God’s judgment is not willy-nilly and certainly not nefarious. It’s altogether reasonable, just and good. God calls people to trust in him, in his goodness. That he is just and will perform justice even for us who in ourselves are not just, but made just by his goodness in the sentence of death God imposed on himself in his Son. So that through his death, we can escape our own death, and be taken into his resurrection life.

So we need to entrust our eternal life into God’s hands. And our day to day lives, as well, just as is made clear enough by this passage in Isaiah 30. In and through Jesus.

trials, an open door

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

Trials seem to come like a door slammed in our face. I don’t care for any of them myself. But I’m beginning to learn the problem is more in my reaction than in the actual trial itself. Not at all to diminish the problem of the trials, and especially some of them. Usually they don’t involve life changes, but sometimes they do. You can be sure that the Lord does not think lightly of our trials; in all our distresses, he too is stressed (Isaiah 63:9).

It’s my reaction that’s the problem. I might take it to God in prayer, but at the same time act as if the answer to the problem depends entirely on me, that somehow I have to get to the bottom of it. It’s not like we throw our brain away, and toss knowledge to the wind. But where does our dependence lie? As Bill Gaultiere pointed out, we can either do it our way, or Jesus’s way, the way our Lord would direct us to do it.

James tells us to count it all joy because trials open up a door for us toward maturity in Christ. We’re especially glad when we get through them on the other side. But even when we enter them, as an act of faith we need to thank God for what God is going to bring about through them. That is part of the necessary answer: not just what God is able to do, but our reception of that through faith.

Often I’ve left James’s words about doubt out when reflecting on this passage, but I include them here because after all, they’re in the text. There can be the struggle of faith as it’s been called, and it’s not like we’re not tempted to doubt. But we need to act in faith apart from our feelings and how we’ve been conditioned to see everything so negatively and apart from God. As we ask the Lord for needed wisdom, we believe in him, that he will generously give it to us. And instead of doubting, we open ourselves up to receive that help from the Lord.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.

what is important, what to be remembered for

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness…

2 Peter 1:5a

In the world in which we live, knowledge seems to be considered the end all, everything. And it’s assumed that if you know enough, you’ll do the right thing, or that this is true of society in general. What’s need is just more education. Ethics are considered quite secondary in education nowadays. If you start talking about ethics, then you’re pushing something beyond what is scientific or pure knowledge. The modern world has little regard for anything beyond what can be measured and verified scientifically. And so knowledge is on the throne, the kind that humans can gather especially in scientific ways, through ongoing hypothesis, testing, and observation. And a popular differentiation between knowledge and wisdom is all but ignored, at least too much of the time.

Actually in Scripture knowledge and wisdom are essentially synonymous. Both are revelatory, received from God for life. Knowledge might be somewhat for knowledge’s sake from God, but is never separated from who we are, who God is, and apart from the world in which we live. It is given for appreciation for and navigation through this world. And the proper term for this might be understanding. Knowledge and wisdom are given to us from God for our understanding of life both in reference to the world at large, and how we should live in it.

In the list from 2 Peter, we see that goodness precedes knowledge (click the above link). We’re to add to our faith, not first knowledge, but goodness, then knowledge. I know some Bible scholars say the order of the list is not important and beside the point, that they’re all to be added to our faith. I think that’s a fair point, but I also think their order is suggestive. Goodness carries the idea of what is helpful and fitting to be and do in love for others. God alone is good, but imparts goodness to his creation, particularly to those made in his image: humankind.

What the world needs, indeed what the church needs first of all is not more intelligence, but more goodness. Intelligence in and of itself does not automatically result or even tend toward goodness. But goodness does result in the kind of intelligence which is helpful to all. What is appreciated in God’s eyes, and truly godly, and what is really needed in the world is a high dose of goodness, then the intelligence that follows will be helpful. As God gives that to us in and through Jesus.