hit unexpectedly

To the leader. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
“Flee like a bird to the mountains;
for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 11

When I was a boy, I used to root for the Cincinnati Reds, “the Big Red Machine.” Unfortunately they moved out of cozy Crosley Field into Riverfront Stadium, and I think maybe lost something of the edge they had just over that. Such stadiums were fashionable in those days, all the dimensions being the same, you might arguably say, having no distinct personality. I remember when games were being played around 5:30 in the afternoon or so, baseballs from the pitcher would be flying out of the sun into the shadows at home plate, so that the batter had a harder time picking up the spin of the ball. The ball would almost as it were, like disappear, certainly diminished, much harder to hit.

That reminds me of what is going on in this psalm when the wicked shoot from the shadows, actually in the dark at the upright in heart. I take the wicked today to mean spiritual enemies, though they often do their work through humans, particularly authorities, or those who imagine themselves as such. We should expect that in this life.

The answer in the psalm is God’s presence, intervention and love. And the fact that God sees through everything clearly. And that includes the righteous, so that we will have to adjust ourselves and hopefully through that, be changed along the way, albeit gradual, incremental change which often is hard for us to see.

That is part of what we will experience in this life. But we have the Lord with us to protect us, and see us through all of it. With the word that God will take care of it. In and through Jesus.

Jesus our shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Psalm 23

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep….

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 10:7,10b,11,14-15

David knew sheep firsthand, and what it was like to be a shepherd. David herded sheep as a boy before he became shepherd of Israel, as king. But David knew that he needed shepherding himself. Scripture tells us that we humans are like sheep. Just as God is like the shepherd of God’s people. Just as Jesus is like a gate where sheep can enter in, become one flock, all their needs taken care of.

The Lord, Jesus is our shepherd through thick and thin, whatever we face, through every stage of life, and beyond. The Lord will take care of it, will take care of us in his love. We are his bleating sheep, forever in the Lord’s care in God’s love. 

It really does help to remember that we are like sheep, and that the Lord is indeed like our shepherd. This puts less pressure on us. As we hopefully begin to experience the abundant life for us, even in this life with all its dangers and sadness. In and through Jesus.

cae

leave no one behind

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God…

Hebrews 12:15b

Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity.

Hebrews 12:15b; MSG

I wonder if we as Christians where I live and have lived for some time now really think and act like the writer to the Hebrews wants believers and the church to do. To leave no one behind.

Of course we can’t make anyone do anything. We’re in such great need ourselves, that to suppose we can somehow control others even for their good, is not even a good thought. What self-control we experience for ourselves is only a fruit of the Spirit.

That we’re all in need of God’s grace is exactly the point made in this passage (click above links for context). Much is involved in that, but in essence it’s about being present in love with each other, the love of God by the Spirit in Jesus. It’s being present for each other both in giving and receiving.

It seems to me that Eugene Peterson’s rendering is so helpful here, given the pastoral wisdom he had.

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17; MSG

It’s all about being in this together. We can’t make it, or at least certainly cannot make it as well or well enough on our own.

And let this be especially true for those who are marginalized whom our Lord would welcome with open arms. Be it anyone of the LGBTQ+ community, the poor, those ethnicities and immigrants who struggle in a system which does not make room for them or even worse. We especially need to be attentive to all such, to have God’s help through the Spirit and with each other to be aware. Acknowledging that we too need the Lord’s help in this ministry of Christ’s body, ourselves.

This is the heart the Lord wants us to have for each other. The heart God has for each one of us, for everyone. In and through Jesus.

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.