against the fear of death

A Miktam of David.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16

The fear of death hits us in all kinds of ways, and it really doesn’t matter how old we are. Though as we get older, it’s more pressing, since we realize more and more that our time is limited. But even when we’re younger, and older years seem remote, we can be plagued with this fear. “What if we get some disease?” Or this or that. Sadly, so many have died from accidents and other things which can happen in this life.

This psalm points us to the hope we have in God. It’s distressing even to think about death, and what surrounds it. But it’s a fact of life we can’t escape. We do well to look to the One who will help us live beyond this fear while it’s present, and will see us through when it comes.

Meanwhile we don’t accept the attitudes of the world to run after something other than God, making that a god to us. Instead we throw in our lot entirely with others who are intent in waiting on and seeking God. And we experience God’s faithful love in the day, and through our sleep at night. Like a compass directing us, the Lord keeps moving our hearts toward his love, even in the midst of the troubles and even tragedies we face in this life. The Lord counsels us, and continues to give us the help we need.

The sense of God’s presence in and of itself brings fullness of joy. Ours even in the present, and unbroken and forever in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

when you’re tired

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31; NRSV

There are days when one is just tired, period. But when there’s little or no end in sight to the work that needs to be done, or that one has to do. Today is a day like that for me.

And we can be discouraged over so many things. Sometimes of our own making, many not.

But God wants us to get our eyes on God and God’s promises. Particularly for whatever help we need. Oftentimes given to us in surprising ways. Though as we learn to wait on God, we will know that it’s just a matter of time before God gives us the help and strength we need. Not that we should neglect proper rest. Which I intend to do right now.

In and through Jesus.

against an all too common inappropriate response in life

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.[a]

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

We can’t control what actually happens in life, nor can we avoid mistakes which occur for many reasons, or the many questions and concerns we’ll have. But we are responsible for our response to all of this.

This passage tells us in Proverbs that we need to be intent on one thing: trusting in God. The Message refers to God’s voice, and that lines up with the standard translation as seen in the NIV. All too often our response is to react as if God is not in the picture, or as if God might be present, but not in a way that makes any difference.

Instead we’re to see every situation as an opportunity to trust God anew. Do we really trust God? We trust God only to the extent we’re willing to lean on God and submit to God’s will when either something difficult happens, or when we’re troubled with doubts or questions over something. Do we have our hands on the controls so to speak, as if it all depends on us, maybe asking God to help us, but really believing it’s up to us? Or are we willing to leave everything in God’s hands, including letting God’s hand move our hands, the point being that even though we may be quite active, God is the one in control?

This is part and parcel of being a follower of Christ. Jesus tells us to totally trust the Father, to trust God without reservation (Matthew 6). We won’t like everything in life, indeed there are some things we should hate. It’s not a matter of denying reality. But it’s a commitment to put and leave everything in God’s hands. As if anything and everything depends on God, not on us. When we fail to do this we are essentially on our own. But when we truly, inevitably with much weakness, but truly put our trust in God, God will give us the exact help we need. In and through Jesus.

a hard fight to the finish

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20; MSG

It will help us if we accept the fact and reality that we who are followers of Christ are in the fight of our lives to the finish, until this life is over. It doesn’t matter as much what the specifics of that battle are as just the realization that this is what’s set for us. Otherwise we might think there’s something wrong with us, or think the problem is in the trouble and circumstances we face. But the devil is in the details.

This doesn’t make the actual warfare part something we necessarily like in any way, shape or form. But it helps us stand firm and continue, but only in the grace, power and humble likeness of our Lord. It’s not like we’re going to be perfect in this. But God is actually shaping us through this spiritual warfare. Not only directly in our own lives, but indirectly through the prayers of others for us, and through our prayers for others.

Perspective is an important part of this. We have to remember in this life that it’s not yet the life to come. We are in the realm of the Spirit in Christ, but we live in the midst of the world system at odds with that, and the flesh and the devil, all allied together against Christ and God’s kingdom come in him. So we can expect trouble in all sorts of ways, and in a sense it begins here, the spiritual battle we’re in.

But God has given us all we need in Christ, specific gifts as mentioned in the passage above. We indeed must take them and apply them, and keep doing so. It is God who then will make the needed difference for us. And help us continue on when left to ourselves we would never make it. In and through Jesus.

pray for yourself

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 6:1-4

In the morning and evening offices in our new hymnal, Voices Together (985, 987), there is the part toward the end when we’re offering prayers.

We pray for ourselves and those dear to us…

At first, when I was beginning to do this every morning and night, I gently resisted the idea of praying for myself, especially first. But I dutifully did it, knowing that I’m not as wise as the collective wisdom of others. And I began to more and more see the wisdom of doing so. If God doesn’t help me or I receive little of that, I certainly can be of little or no help to others. James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask God. And I’m reminded of the African-American spiritual,

It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

This really has been a tremendous help to me. We pray for “those dear to us,” “our community and…our neighbors,” “for the church,” “for the world,” “for other concerns we carry in our hearts.” But it begins with us. We can see that in Jesus’s high priestly prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. He first prayed that the Father would glorify him so that he could glorify the Father (John 17). I can’t help but think that when Jesus used to break away early mornings to pray to the Father that he lifted himself up for the help he needed, as well as praying for his disciples and others, whatever else he might have prayed. Certainly enjoying his fellowship as God. Yes, he is God, but fully human, too. And in this life in which he lived, he did so in full dependence on the Father.

But again, this practice is helping me immensely. I have not done this on a regular basis, as far as I know, ever. Just here and there, when I felt in need, which was a lot. But to do so regularly helps me find the help from God I need. In and through Jesus.

Note: In the morning and evening offices mentioned above, toward the end we also “Pray together the Prayer Jesus Taught: “Our Father…”

better days are coming

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

One of my favorite pastors used to say, “The best is yet to come!” And that’s true in God’s world. In the world in which we live, which in the end is also God’s world we see trouble piled on trouble, no end of it. If it isn’t one thing it’s another and another and then the next problem. There’s always something. And it’s not just problems we might solve, but issues far beyond us. And we can thank only ourselves collectively as well as individually for much of the mess we’re in.

But God’s promise in Jesus is that better days are coming. God can’t wait to forgive and pour out God’s love on us. This does require repentance of sins, of our own foolish ways. All we have to be is honest to God, to others. God will take care of everything in the end. In the meantime God helps us, setting us on a course to be a part of solution the world needs, nothing short of God’s kingdom and that kingdom come in Jesus.

But we can take solace and even find relief with the thought that good days are ahead. That the problem or problems, troubles and trials which weigh in on us will someday be a thing of the past. It will all be gone. This can help us in the present, not to ignore hard reality, but not be suffocated in it, either. God will help us now as we look forward to the day when it will all be gone. In and through Jesus.

fresh faith

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13

If there’s one thing we need day after day after day, it’s what we might call fresh faith. In other words faith which meets the new challenges, demands and problems facing us.

In this psalm, David (and/or whoever wrote this David psalm) is recounting the real world with real trouble, in this case threatening enemies. We would all like all to be well all the time. But that’s not this life or this world. We know there’s plenty of issues in every place, every nation, every household for that matter.

And besides, God doesn’t want God’s people to simply luxuriate in a trouble free paradise in this world. It’s not like we don’t need some rests and getaways from the normal day to day grind and everyday problems. But our lives as followers of Christ are meant to be lived in the real world, finding God’s help for ourselves, and in so doing having a renewed fresh faith by which we can seek God’s help for others. Through prayers, and being present with them. God doing the work, but we being present to be part of that work as we’re prompted in our hearts. In and through Jesus.

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.

finding the greater good

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They’ll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed…

Sometimes something more is at stake than the immediate relief or answer we’re seeking. If we can just see behind our own want or perceived need to what is actually good and important given our own bent and God’s will, we’ll be far better off. We have to shake away from old habits and patterns which have kept us on edge and bound for years and years. This isn’t easy.

We first of all need God’s help to discern this. Good friends, and especially a friend who we look up to as a spiritual mentor or director should factor into all of this. God is with us by the Spirit to help us hear and understand what is best, but most of the time it doesn’t come without significant struggle, not to mention lapses along the way. What we want is change for the good, finding what is most important, leaving what is unhelpful behind. And with God’s help, learning to settle and live well in God’s good will.

Hopefully this isn’t too nebulous, so that maybe it will apply across the board to a variety of problems and struggles. The thought is helping me. In and through Jesus.

recognizing what is happening and refusing the bait

 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Ephesians 6:10-11

in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

2 Corinthians 2:11

We don’t want to give Satan more credit and place than is due. The spiritual enemy is after all a defeated foe. At the same time, we need to try to have something of the same awareness that Scripture gives us. 

We need to learn how the spiritual enemy, call it Satan or the demonic works in our lives. And it won’t be one size fits all. While there are general categories in which the enemy works in our lives: fear, condemnation, despair, or maybe certain temptations such as lust, greed, avarice, whatever, we all have certain issues particularly troubling to us as individuals.

When we see a pattern in our lives in how this comes to us in whatever package it’s in, we need to take note and begin to call the bluff. I say call the bluff because in actuality the enemy is defeated through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. But that will do us little good in actual life unless we take the needed stand based on that victory against all the schemes of the enemy.

It is like a light come on to recognize this, and that will do for that moment, but it’s not enough. It’s then that we need to stand in the victory of God in Jesus. And that’s done by persistent specific prayer, asking for no less than God’s help and peace, yes God’s intervention, what God alone can do.

Both passages quoted above need to be studied in context. But pulling out the thought that the enemy has specific devices fitted for each person is the necessary point here. May God help us begin to recognize such, and see it for what it is. And then take the stand necessary through God’s strength and what is given to us in and through Christ. Tomorrow, possibly a post on the strategic importance of ignoring the devil as part of what we do in response to its schemes.