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.

learning to rest in God

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2

Yes, Christians in too many places in the world are being persecuted. And people of other faiths, also. For us followers of Christ, the enemy which we struggle against is spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-20). We love all human enemies, while seeking to live in wisdom both for them and for ourselves.

Much of our struggle is tied both to our own weaknesses as humans and to the cosmic, spiritual conflict that is waging. So we need to see our troubled thoughts and troubles in that context. And we need to learn to rest in God. God is the One to whom we need to run and hide. God’s provision is in God’s Presence and with that comes our protection. I’m not referring to experience, that we have to feel that. Those feelings thankfully do come, but they also go. And sometimes they’re hard to come by at all because of our fears. This is simply something by faith which we do. Something we want to learn to be accustomed to doing. Where we want to live.

Notice the rest of the psalm (click link above). What we see is that God takes care of it. We’re still present, our faith active in complete dependence on God. The promise is that God will see us through trouble.

In the meantime I want to learn to rest more in God. And in that to truly learn to be at rest. In and through Jesus.

healthy spiritual eyesight in the present dimness

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

1 Corinthians 13:12a

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23

I wish it were otherwise, but it seems that spiritual insight just isn’t as bright and clear here often enough to go enough beyond some creedal affirmation, which very well may be sincerely believed, but is too often not sufficiently felt. But when we are in those too rare times when we’re flooded with light as in the Presence of God, it seems like the other, sadly more normal experience is like a memory which we hope does not return. But alas, all too easily it does in this present existence.

Jesus makes the stark contrast between those whose eye is full of light and those whose eye is full of darkness. I think we would need to see this especially in the context of Jesus’ teaching in this Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. And doing so, I also tend to think or at least wonder if what is referred to here is not so much the actual experience of either the light or darkness, but instead whether or not we’re committed and set to walk in the light of God in Jesus spelled out by our Lord, or whether we’re sidetracked elsewhere. The sidetrack may be due to our weakness, though it may simply be part of the spiritual battle we’re in, even sometimes a combination of the two.

Jesus might tell us not to be discouraged when we’re struggling in the shadows and even darkness in our experience. But that we’re instead to be looking to him, “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Intent on listening well and soaking in his teaching in the commitment to follow him along with others to the very end. In and through Jesus.

where do we want to be?

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Psalm 84:10

I find it all too easily to be in places where really I would rather not be. Or is that really the case? If it were so, wouldn’t I leave and go there and stay? 

If you check out Psalm 84, you’ll find that God’s courts at least for us is likely metaphorical for where our heart is through all of life, whatever we’re going through. But that also includes regular special times to be with God, even as Jesus used to break away from his disciples at odd hours, usually early morning, to be in prayer to the Father. And really seeking to remain there best we can throughout the day.

It’s all too easy to remain too long in what is actually relative junk. The kind of thing which even in itself might be good and a blessing from God, but overindulged in becomes just the opposite. The good thing about that though is that, like the psalmist here, we’ll then experience a longing for God’s Presence- for God.

Where do I want to be? Yes, where Jesus would be in the hardest, most difficult places. But even in that, where God is. In and through Jesus. 

But…God

Light, space, zest—
that’s God!
So, with him on my side I’m fearless,
afraid of no one and nothing.

When vandal hordes ride down
ready to eat me alive,
Those bullies and toughs
fall flat on their faces.

When besieged,
I’m calm as a baby.
When all hell breaks loose,
I’m collected and cool.

I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.

That’s the only quiet, secure place
in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
far from the buzz of traffic.

God holds me head and shoulders
above all who try to pull me down.
I’m headed for his place to offer anthems
that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs;
I’m making music to God.

Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs:
“Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,”
my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!”
Don’t hide from me now!

You’ve always been right there for me;
don’t turn your back on me now.
Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me;
you’ve always kept the door open.
My father and mother walked out and left me,
but God took me in.

Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street;
show my enemies whose side you’re on.
Don’t throw me to the dogs,
those liars who are out to get me,
filling the air with their threats.

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.

Psalm 27; MSG

All kinds of things are messed up in the world, a mess. And the main fault of that is us: humankind, as well as our own individual failures. The more you look, the more difficult it looks. That’s where we have to look elsewhere: to God no less.

What I like best about this psalm is the idea of living in God’s house, contemplating God’s beauty, and studying at God’s feet. And that being something daily, not just here and there like vacations. But right along, day after day.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not living in the real world. It does mean that we can face that world, whatever it is we’re up against, and whatever wrong and problems there are, not by ourselves, but with God.

So we need to say in the midst of the darkness and trouble of this world, “But God.” God is present for us in the here and now. To not only help us in seeing us through, but so that we might see God’s good hand in it all, in everything somehow. Righting all the wrongs including those in us, and bringing no less than the light of God’s presence in all its goodness and beauty into this sad and weary world. In and through Jesus.

what difference is there in Christianity???

I’ve been wondering lately about the Christian presence in the world. It’s in the headlines quite often lately, evangelical Christian leaders speaking out on politics. There’s much astir. You start to wonder if being a Christian involves a big emphasis on a particular brand of politics. And what you see and hear from political leaders seems to be the same air these Christians breathe.

I’ve also been wondering lately just where the Jesus community really is? You can go to any number of places and hear a good sermon, message, conversation, whatever they call it. And with worship music skillfully done. But is what’s being formed there Christian? What difference does it make? Is there any distinction between that and what we might find elsewhere in the world. Sometimes I’ve honestly wondered.

When Christians seem to indicate that everything is at stake like in the upcoming election, then I’m not seeing any difference. Christians seem to be just another power player. But if I can see people humbly trying to follow Christ, his words and example, if I see something of that, that’s when my despair begins to lift, and a little hope sets in.

The church is not supposed to be a power player in the world. It should be sensitive to issues especially when the lives and good of people are at stake. To speak up humbly yet firmly and resolutely on issues like racism along with other issues is certainly more than fine, but necessary. And there is rightfully what’s called “the politics of Jesus” (see Matthew 5-7, etc.).

There’s only one difference in Christianity, one and really no more. And if other things become prominent, then that’s a sign that difference might be all but lost. That one difference is Christ. Not just Christ and Christ alone as in saving us. But Christ present with us in all of our humility and brokenness. Christ present to us for each other in the church, and for the blessing of the world in doing good works of love. Jesus. Read the gospel accounts along with the rest of the New Testament, and this will become clear.

Christ is the difference. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. Along with the distinctions that will follow. There might be plenty of rubbish to clear out of the way.

our one confidence as we look to the future

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:14

Years come and go, a natural rhythm as the earth orbits the sun. And decades, as well, into centuries, what humankind devises in our measurement and consideration of time.

Our one and only confidence as we look forward to a new year and decade, is the same confidence we have in the present, verified as we look back on the past with the eyes of faith. God is God, and is faithful. God is the I AM, always reliable to be faithful to his promises. But not to be confined to our conception of him, because God can’t be. God will be God in God’s way; God will work as God works.

God is good, as well as great. We can depend on that, on God’s revelation given to us in Scripture, and fulfilled in Jesus.

So as we look to whatever lies ahead, we can be assured of this: the same God present for us now and in the past will be present in the future. We can depend completely on him, and rest assured that whatever comes our way, God will be present and at work. We trust in him in and through Jesus.

John’s word to us: love one another

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:7-12

We live in a day of deepening divisions, true to some extent even among God’s people. And there’s no question that out in the world there seems to be plenty of hate to go around. It may or may not be personal in nature, but the vexation level is high today; in other words, people are upset.

What do we Christians bring into this, or need to bring? Love for one another would be the Apostle John’s answer. We love each other in the midst and in spite of all our differences. Love overcomes and overrides all.

And it’s a certain kind of love: the same love by which Christ went to the cross for us, a sacrificial love from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a love that is to mark our lives as followers of Christ. No matter what else is true, we love one another.

When we do so we’ll find God present in a way we wouldn’t otherwise. His love at work in and through our lives in and through Jesus.

the good’s shepherd’s presence in the midst of danger (or threatening circumstances)

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

Psalm 23:4

We live in a time of upheaval when people for one reason or another feel threatened. And there’s no seclusion or real safety from the dangers of this world. Darkness threatens us in one way or another, the absence of light.

What is likely pictured here is evil in terms of life threatening enemies (see Psalm 23:5). The rod and the staff comforting the sheep with the awareness that the shepherd is present to protect them (see NET Bible footnotes).

Maybe we’re not faced with actual life threatening enemies. Darkness can still overtake us for many reasons. As Christians we know we’re up “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-20). What is called “the dark night of the soul,” is a part of life. And there can be struggles with mental illness which from what I’ve read can be a choking deep darkness.

Whatever darkness or lack of light we face, we can know by faith and be assured that the good shepherd is present with us. That our experience is not what’s definitive, but God’s promise to us in Jesus. That God in Christ experienced the deepest darkness to help us through our dark places and bring us into his wondrous light.

Life and certain seasons of life can seem threatening, certainly not for the faint of heart. But our dependence is not to be on ourselves and what courage we might be able to muster. But on God, who promises to see us through everything, whatever it is. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

how do we face the evil and trouble of this world?

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Live and you will see trouble. You don’t have to look for it. Sad to say, even evil, as well.

Job challenged it head on, both complaining about God and to God. Although he maintained his integrity, and did not abandon his faith in God, God was not entirely pleased with him as we can tell from God’s answer to him out of the whirlwind indicating his displeasure (Tremper Longman III) later. Job received what for him was a new revelation from and of God.

There’s no escape from trouble in this world, both in simply being human, and in following the Lord. We live in the midst of it. I once heard of a community built to avoid it. But alas, it is in this life, in this world, the real world. That community I think, no longer exists. Such a place truly does not exist in this life. So we’d better get used to it. So what are we going to do about it?

It turns out that what we can do is often limited. Job’s friends did well when they simply sat on their hands in silence for seven days with Job. They didn’t do well when they began to open their mouths, neither did the young man at the end, for whatever truth they told. They had it all figured out. Job himself was trying, but more like challenging God based on what he thought he knew.

My only answer, myself, is that God is with us through the troubles. It’s not like God can’t deliver us from them, but ordinarily it seems like God is simply with us.

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

Psalm 23:4

And we take comfort in the fact that just as the psalmist says, God is at work in it. Indeed, as it says, comfort comes from God’s care over us. So maybe that means we simply need to settle in, in faith believing that God will see us through.

It can become more difficult in a way when our concern is for others. In fact it can become too heavy a burden to carry. We need to keep coming to God in prayer. God can do what we can’t possibly do. Even undo what has been done. And redeem. We need to hold on in faith, knowing that in the end, God and his good will prevails. Not only out of the trouble, but somehow through it. In and through Jesus.