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.

love fearlessly

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:16b-21

The sermon I heard yesterday, “Love Fearlessly,” seemed to turn the normal interpretation of this passage on its head, I might say in typical Anabaptist fashion. The passage itself bears this interpretation. If we know that God’s love for us is absolute and sure no matter what we face or even what we’ve done, then we can love others with that same kind of love. And God’s love experienced and lived in by us banishes our fear, so that we can love others fearlessly.

Christ took care of sin’s claim on us through his death, so we need not fear. Instead we can accept God’s love for us and share that same love with others, all others. This is the love that through Christ truly wins forever.

Our experience goes in and out so that we can’t wait on experiencing God’s perfect love to the point that our fear is gone. Yes, we’ll experience that at times, but we need by faith to accept that love in spite of our fears. And we need to love others even when we’re afraid. Loving fearlessly means we push through our fears with that love which ultimately drives out all fear.

To be lived out in community and in our individual everyday lives. Something I want to be working on from every conceivable angle. In and through Jesus.

the most basic truth for us: God loves us

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

1 John 4:17-19; MSG

There is nothing more basically important to us than the fact that we’re loved, and loved by God no less. We really have to hold on to that and not let go of it. God loves us, each and everyone God has created. God wants relationship with us, even longs for us. And God wants us to live in loving relationship with each other.

We humans are easily given to fear. We’re afraid of this and that, and for understandable, good reasons. But what is more important than that is God’s love. No matter what we face, no matter what happens or might happen, God is love and loves us. And we know because of that, God will take care of everything, that ultimately all will be well. So that even in the midst of the troubles of this life, we live in God’s love. And continue on knowing we’re loved both in our mind and experience.

And out of that love we seek to love others in practical, down to earth ways. In so doing extending God’s love to them in a way in which they’ll hopefully find that same love which exists for themselves.

The God who is love really wants the entire human race to live in that love. And out of that love in love with each other. Even now. In and through Jesus.

no, I’m not a piece of whatever

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…

Ephesians 3:17b-19b

I’m a believer in dreams and visions from God, and it just might be that I received one recently. I so easily nod off no matter what I’m doing if I’m sitting down. Recently I was opening our new Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together, and thought I saw a song, or perhaps one of the readings simply stating that God calls us good, that we’re his beloved children, that we are not what we call ourselves. Really to the point, and actually better than what I expressed it just now. And just at a good time for me, because I was berating myself under and over my breath as I have off and on over the years. But after searching for it days before, and going through the entire hymnal today, I failed to see it. So maybe it was a dream, clearly to me, a dream from God.

That touched me deeply, and I knew it resonated with what we learn from Scripture, just how much God values each and everyone of us. And calls us to be close to him in his very family in and through Jesus. This is so helpful, to have this truth dawn on us, to begin to really believe that God loves us, yes “loves me.” Even when I have a hard time liking myself for many reasons. God’s love is wide and deep, and never lets go. We see the truth of that in Jesus, God becoming human in him, and doing what he did for us. God’s love in Jesus will pursue us.

We need to accept what God calls us. And quit calling ourselves what is nothing less than a lie from the pit of hell. God is helping me this way. In and through Jesus.

connecting God’s heart to us to our heart to others

“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

God’s heart of love knows no bounds. We can come to God, indeed should, asking for whatever we need, and for the good of all. If we test this, we’ll indeed find it so. Instead we think God is like us. We might be generous in spurts, but by and large we’re thinking only about ourselves. When God’s grace in Jesus enters into the equation, that will begin to change. We’ll begin to have a genuine concern for others even more than ourselves.

So we see the possible connection here between Jesus’s words encouraging us to look to the Father in prayer and what’s called “the golden rule.” Something to ponder and let sit, as well as remember and put into practice. In and through Jesus.

the danger and futility of anger

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

Ephesians 4:26-27; MSG

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

James 1:19-21; MSG

These passages from Paul and James are quite different. They both deal with anger, and both put a lid on it, even if not discounting it entirely. Perhaps Paul gives anger the benefit of the doubt the most, yet warns against it the strongest. But both passages are in sync that while human anger might be good and have its place, it has its limitations and downright dangers for us humans.

God’s anger which we see again and again in Scripture is completely rooted in God’s love. We read the passages and automatically project on God our own anger or the anger of humans. But that’s not at all the way it is. Again, God’s anger is rooted in God’s perfect, pure and unremitting love. And how it works is rather mysterious if not completely lost to us. It appears on face value in some Scripture passages that God does what humans might do. But what God actually does, and how God does it along with the motivation behind it is entirely different. Largely what seems to happen is that God lets humans have their way with the consequences, spiritual forces involved as well, while continuing to hold out the hope and promise of redemption and restoration to all provided in Jesus.

Paul makes the point that anger indeed might even be a good thing in its place. There is so much evil in the world, and if we never have an ounce of anger in us over it, then we should begin to question our morality. Do we care? But then we have to deal with it before God, in prayer and doing what we can do, what might be good for us to do about the issue. If we live in our anger, good as it may be, Paul tells us the devil will get a foothold into our lives. Not good.

James tells us to be slow to get angry, but quick to listen while being slow to say anything. And that human anger does not result in the righteousness God desires. That instead we’re to be marked with humility. That might mean bearing something of the brunt of circumstances that we might otherwise be easily angered over. And it probably includes replacing anger with love for those or the one in the middle of the difficulty.  A love which is based in truth, but bathed with much prayer. We need to recognize what is downright filth or garbage in our lives, and get rid of it. God’s intended outcome for all in every situation is always good. Our focus according to James in this should be what God wants to do in our lives.

In and through Jesus.

the very hairs of our head are numbered

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:28-31

We in Jesus need to live as if the words of Jesus are true. Here within the context of potentially dangerous mission, we’re told not to be afraid. That the Father’s care for his children is down to the last detail, even the number of hairs on our head. We need to let that sink in when we’re worrying about this or that. Granted, that thought might be taken out of context, but since we’re God’s children, in whatever circumstance we’re in, it applies.

Does the Father love us or not? And just what does that mean? Can we rest assured in him regardless of what’s we’re facing? I think sometimes we just have to take a deep breath and say to ourselves that no matter how we feel, or what we’re thinking, we are committed to the truth that is in Jesus. And part of the heart of that truth is God’s immense, immeasurable love for his children. I want to add too that God loves the world with all of God’s heart, which is seen in the cross. But to enter into that love out of the destruction and curse of our own ways, we must commit ourselves to faith in Christ, simply trusting in him, and God’s gift of salvation in him.

But back to the main point: God- the Father in Christ with the Spirit- loves, and has a special family love for those who have been born from above, and adopted into God’s family. So no matter what, we must commit ourselves to that. The sense that comes with that will come to us, as we hold on by faith. But we also need to remember that within this is a world of grace, God’s grace meaning gift and favor, which is greater than any “true” thought or fear we might have. Instead of this having reasons because of us, though I do believe God loves all he has created, it is also like “Just because.” I love Ted, or put your name in the blank, just because, and with all my heart.” But that also includes the wonder in God’s creation of all of us and his personal delight in design of and for us to more than fit into his family. We need to learn to go with that, out of our fear into God’s immense and personal love for each and everyone of us. In and through Jesus.

the high cost of not trusting God

When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”

God spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have fallen to pieces. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I commanded them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They’ve sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”

God said to Moses, “I look at this people—oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”

Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.

Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets—engraved them.

When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses said to Aaron, “What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?”

Exodus 32:1, 7-16, 19-21; MSG

This is one of those passages you don’t know what to do with, which I imagine is not in the lexicons for reading in the church, although I’m not sure. Jesus said that anyone who saw him saw the Father. Jesus is the revelation of God. All that proceeded that was somehow preparatory. There does need to be a certain kind of fear, reverence and awe of God. Not only the First/Old Testament makes that clear, but so does the Second/New. But God reveals God’s heart for the world in the Son, in Jesus, in Jesus’s Incarnation, life, ministry in teaching and healing in the arrival of God’s kingdom to earth, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, ascension with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, with the promise of his return. At the cross in Jesus’s death we see God’s love for the world, for everyone. You get glimmers of that same love throughout the First/Old Testament, but only in Jesus, and especially in his death do we see it uncovered, on full display.

We’re also told in the New/Second Testament that whatever was written for us in the past, that is in the First/Old Testament, was written to us, the church, for our instruction and as warnings. We have to take all of it to heart, if we’re going to read Scripture faithfully according to what it tells us. We can see for sure in the above passage (click to read it in its fuller context) that God’s people paid an awful price for not trusting God. We can certainly draw from that, we too are both susceptible, and will suffer the consequences when we fail to trust God.

I tend to think that God was acting this way in significant part to bring Moses to the point Moses needed to be as leader of God’s people. Maybe there was something lacking in Moses, and therefore God in God’s wisdom was working to make him more the person and leader he needed to be.

Back to the main point. It’s easy to think something like, “Well, I’ll take matters in my own hands right now, because I just have to. Just for now, because I just have to. But I’ll do better afterwards. I’ll quit doing this.” But when we do that, and seemingly solve the problem ourselves, the loss of not trusting in God lingers, and does not easily dissipate.

We’re talking both about a relationship and even idolatry. God want us in relationship with him through Christ. And God wants us to trust him completely. How we do that is given to us in the pages of Scripture. To trust in anything other than God, or in place of God amounts to idolatry. Something I’m working on in my own life. And trying to do so not just by myself, but in community with other followers who are committed to the same. In and through Jesus.

God works with imperfect, even broken people, people who don’t have it altogether

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…

Luke 2:8a

I go to the famous Christmas passage, but just to consider one aspect of it, we could say pre-Christmas, and fitting well into Advent maybe in the sense that God’s coming may take us by surprise. Shepherds did move around, but their way of life was the same. They lived with their flocks of sheep, taking care of them, especially on guard at night. The group here who witnessed the angelic hosts proclaiming the Lord’s birth were surely just as ordinary as any of us. But they also were each and everyone created by God, loved by God, and each gifted by God. Yes, in humble work, but didn’t our Lord live in obscurity? Surely good in its place, but not anything extraordinary. Our Lord has been there.

I’m so glad that God mercifully in grace reveals himself to us, and works with us right where we are. One of the many lies from the evil one (Satan, the satan meaning the opposer) is that if we get out of line this way or that, God will no longer deal with us. That is a plain out old fashioned lie. Christ died for our sins. In him we are forgiven as we accept that sacrifice of love for ourselves. God certainly wants to help us do better, and grow spiritually. But God will not abandon us, the work of his hands both in creation and now in new creation in Jesus.

Of course again, I’m not talking about us living in out and out sin. Even then God will seek to rescue us in God’s deep love. But none of us have it altogether. We all have our weaknesses, and faults along the way. So glad the Lord wants to meet us there, right where we’re at. So that we can receive his blessing directly and through others, and be a blessing to others. Just like the shepherds of old. In and through Jesus.

the need for repentance and lament

O Israel, come back! Return to your God!
You’re down but you’re not out.
Prepare your confession
and come back to God.
Pray to him, “Take away our sin,
accept our confession.
Receive as restitution
our repentant prayers.
Assyria won’t save us;
horses won’t get us where we want to go.
We’ll never again say ‘our god’
to something we’ve made or made up.
You’re our last hope. Is it not true
that in you the orphan finds mercy?”

“I will heal their waywardness.
I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out.
I will make a fresh start with Israel.
He’ll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring.
He’ll put down deep oak tree roots,
he’ll become a forest of oaks!
He’ll become splendid—like a giant sequoia,
his fragrance like a grove of cedars!
Those who live near him will be blessed by him,
be blessed and prosper like golden grain.
Everyone will be talking about them,
spreading their fame as the vintage children of God.
Ephraim is finished with gods that are no-gods.
From now on I’m the one who answers and satisfies him.
I am like a luxuriant fruit tree.
Everything you need is to be found in me.”

If you want to live well,
make sure you understand all of this.
If you know what’s good for you,
you’ll learn this inside and out.
God’s paths get you where you want to go.
Right-living people walk them easily;
wrong-living people are always tripping and stumbling.

Hosea 14; MSG

Hosea, like all of the Old Testament prophets (called a “Minor Prophet”, the first of twelve of them only because of the relative shortness of the writing) is not a light lift. You see at the outset that God calls Israel, the northern kingdom to whom Hosea was writing, “a whorehouse” (1:2; MSG). To read or listen to it, one ends up in quite an interplay between God’s exposure of Israel’s sin and its ugliness, what that means to God, along with the pronouncement of God’s judgment on them. Back and forth with different imagery, but by and large in terms of Israel having been married to God, but departing from him for other lovers. It is not pretty or comfortable, and we do well to not rush to the end of the book, until we’ve at least taken in all that was said before.

The prophets really don’t mince words, and some of what they say is indeed frightening, and abhorrent at least to our ears. The prophets like Hosea call us back to God, away from our sin, and the idols we so easily embrace in our lives. John ends his first letter warning his dear children to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

What the prophets call God’s people to, each and everyone of us, is repentance and lament. God wants us to listen, to catch something of God’s longing for us, and to respond in openness to God’s call. We can’t break our own hearts, they are often so hard to begin with. We want broken hearts, but the only way toward that is an openness to repentance and lament. Repentance has the idea of stopping what we’re doing, where we’re going, turning around and facing God, and coming back just as we are, in all our failure and guilt. Lament is the idea of brokenness before God. It was accompanied in the Old Testament and beyond by one ripping their garment, and dressing up in sackcloth and ashes, with loud cries. That could all be show, just as Hosea says in this letter, but God wants us to come to take his words seriously. Not for someone else, but for ourselves. A word for us together, but one in which each of us shares in the sin.

This is a necessary call to us from Scripture, from the prophets. They are not condemning at all. You can see that when you note the end of Hosea’s prophecy quoted above. God is always longing and determined after judgment to fully restore. God in love wants humans for himself, and wants them also to live in that love with each other. Something for us today, just as in Hosea’s time. In and through Jesus.