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.

 

weeping willows and violins

I’m fond of violins, maybe not so much fond of weeping willow trees, though they have their own unique beauty. I’m not sure why there’s either an ambivalence or even abhorrence toward sorrow. It seems as if you can’t be a Christian and be down at any time.

Violins are one of the most beautiful of in fact many wonderful instruments. Jews and Russians are especially known for violin playing. It seems that those from backgrounds or ethnicities that have experienced profound suffering are especially proficient at the violin.

I can’t understand why Christians shouldn’t enter into the suffering of the world. I’m not at all saying that our traditions say we shouldn’t; it’s just that too often our Christianity is more attuned to the sound of celebration rather than lament. But scripture includes both. Certainly praise of God, but sorrow as well. Certainly over our own sin, and over the brokenness we experience. But also over the plight of others. In fact we ought to be present when others suffer, so that somehow we can empathize and enter into their suffering, and be a support for them. And in seeking to be a “faithful presence,” Christ can be present.

God’s grace helps us to be always rejoicing, even when sorrowful. But it also helps us to grieve over the loss of others, over the problems, indeed crises of the world. It is certainly true that we can only bear so much. That we have to cast our cares on God. But it’s not like we are then removed from the sorrow around us, or our own.

We look forward to the day when there will be no more sorrow, suffering and pain, when God wipes away every tear from our eyes. But now by grace we want to remain in the pain of the world, sharing in its suffering, knowing that through Christ’s suffering even now great help can come. To love others and find God’s comfort in our own sorrows, that in turn we might comfort others in their sorrow in and through Jesus.

face to face

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

2 John 12

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

3 John 13-14

An interesting experience I had a few years back, I quit reading from the psalms at lunch and sat at a table with co-workers that were friends, but whom I could hardly understand or altogether identify with. It became actually like a born again experience. I developed a bond with that group. They graciously included me, and I learned much from that, although I think it was more than that. It was an actual transforming kind of experience. There is nothing that replaces a face to face encounter and ongoing time with people.

And I’m not just talking about infrequent visits, though if that’s the best we can do because of circumstances, it certainly does not lack in value. There needs to be commitment to get together and just be together. Nothing spectacular, just be together. And with friends, warts and all.

John wrote to the church, and that certainly has extraordinary value in that it’s now a part of scripture. Pastors teaching the counsel of God from scripture continues to have transformative power on listeners who are intent to follow through since after all, it is the written word of God. But there’s nothing like being face to face, maybe over coffee. And practicing that over time.

What we remember this Advent, and celebrate at Christmas, the Incarnation, Emmanuel: God-with-us in the Christ child. Truly amazing. But sets the pattern for what needs to be priority to us as Christians. Yes, we share in words. But with each other, in a true sense sharing ourselves. Simply being present; Christ present with us. God with us in all of this, in and through Jesus.

at home in and through Jesus

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91:1

Psalm 91 is one of those striking psalms, picturesque, and easy to remember (especially in the old King James). What hits me about the promise here is how we’re simply to live (other versions) or dwell in the shelter of God. And in so doing find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Yesterday I was in the yard sawing and cutting off some branches and limbs of the two trees we planted in our front yard. It was a hot day, high noon. And while enjoying the sun, which is not a given where we live (we have many cloudy days), I certainly appreciated the shade. Certainly for relief, as well as protection from its damaging rays.

Here we have God’s promise of his presence to protect us as a shadow. In other words, God being near. Our responsibility is simply to dwell in that shelter, and so find rest.

One of my favorite memories of the past was visiting and spending a weekend at Saint Augustine’s House, a monastery. It is symbolic of God’s house where God is especially resident through the symbols in place, which depict realities. And actually God is present wherever his people are. Wherever two or more are gathered in his name. We are God’s temple, both individually, and together.

But the key for us is to live out what we are. And that begins by simply living or dwelling consciously, or deliberately in that existence. In faith, simply trusting in God. At home in and through Jesus.