pressing ahead to God’s peace

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

There are times which trouble human souls (as the saying goes). And in this world, even during the best of times, there can and will be things which are unsettling. Scripture never promises us that all things always in this life will go well, that nothing bad will happen. No, not at all. But we do have promises that God will be with us, that Christ is with us, that no matter what we face, we can navigate it, even go through it well with God’s help.

We should be careful not to act out of fear or in reaction to whatever it might be. We do well to hold back, to try to look at the larger, even big picture, to pray and seek wise human counsel, and then let it go and wait. We’re going to be spinning our wheels, getting deeper in the dirt, going no where if we keep proceeding with a sense of panic.

It is hard at the moment and during that period of time, but we can actually grow substantially through it in ways we could never imagine. It has to be experienced, we have to be taken there, to a better place than we were before. A process which doesn’t end in this life, though I’m probably too glad myself for the intervals in which I’m okay in the inevitably imperfect state I’m in.

remembering why we’re here

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

John 4:32, 34

It’s more than easy to be caught up in what we might call nonessentials, but things that seemingly have to get done. Add to that preoccupations we choose to do which may well be innocent in themselves, and may even be alright in their place. For example a hobby or pastime. Actually all of this can serve to the greater good of life. God is present with us in everything, so that nothing has to be wasted. Unfortunately with us, we all too easily fall into making this and that along with something else, I think usually one thing at a time, into idols (Calvin).

What we need to keep in mind, and the Spirit will certainly help us in this, is that we are here for basically one reason: to love God and love others, and to do the work that God has for us to do, whatever that might be. Jesus tells his disciples in the above passage (click above link) that they are working in a field of harvest in helping others see the light of the gospel, and enter into that blessedness. Whatever our work here, it’s related to that, even if not directly that endeavor. We are light in the Lord, and all of our lives are meant to be lived in that light, whatever we do, so that others might see the light of God’s love for all in Christ.

This actually will help us. Jesus described it as food for himself. This helped Jesus, and it will help us as Jesus’s followers. Not only something more than ourselves, but what is most important of all.

why I believe in God (and what doesn’t matter or make the difference that way)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Yes, I believe in God, in a creator and supreme being somehow behind it all. And not because that makes sense to me, though that does seem to make some sense in my case. Not really because of rational argument. And not because of an inerrant Bible, because I don’t believe there is any such thing. Not because somehow I think I have an objective answer, or can prove the resurrection of Christ along with what that is supposed to prove in the Christian faith. My answer is subjective, but really, isn’t everyone’s? How can anyone really know by some supposedly objective standard, as if God laid it out, and all people have to do is see it for themselves?

I believe in God and that Mystery which is as much beyond human comprehension as quantum physics, simply observable in something like a metaphysical kind of way, even escaping the best that scientists can muster. I believe because somehow quite beyond me, quite beyond us, God makes God’s self known. Probably in many ways on earth, and I happen to believe that Christ is central to that. It is like God’s world is opened to me as I read scripture- the Bible, and interact with life, just enough to keep me going, but not in some rationalistic way which can be defended apologetically. It’s like when you know someone is present, even while you may know next to nothing at all about them. That’s something like what I’m describing here.

Faith. Not a moonshot and a mere wish. But more like a knowing we would describe as in our hearts much more than in our minds. But then reaching out to the mind and somehow all of life.

That is how I would describe why I believe in God.

 

where is God present perhaps more than anywhere else (individually and corporately)?

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9:11; NIV

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:26

We really don’t know what we’re doing when we pray (the same holds true when we read scripture), because it is really quite over our heads. It’s as they say, a God-thing. God is in it. And I am referring to real prayer.

When we have a sense of being caught up in that, it’s wonderful, or at least we have the sense that it’s more than just ourselves. But even when we feel lost, oppressed, and it seems like we’re doing nothing, we still do well to make the attempt, to continue in prayer. Real prayer is not dependent on us, but on God. However we have to make the attempt. From some scripture, I have to wonder if God doesn’t count the tears and cries of people in trouble as prayer. I think so, but whatever may be the case in that, we do well to lift up our hearts, thoughts and concerns to God. God meets us there. God is very present there.

This is blessedly true in our individual lives, and we should make a daily practice of this. But it is all the more true in our corporate “church” life. When we pray together, maybe we can say Christ is not more present, but all the more present. It’s as if that Presence becomes exponential from our hearts being joined together, part of what is central in God’s will.

Yes, God is quite present in our prayers. Poor as they may be. And most of mine are. And the ones that may not seem to be are only from what God gives me. God is with us in Christ and by the Spirit. And especially in our prayers.

Note: God is present everywhere, but in this post I mean God’s manifest presence. Where God’s presence is somehow made known.

it will come

I will stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faithfulness.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves
and collect all peoples as their own.

Habakkuk 2:1-5

This prophetic, poetic book is poignant for our times. We too live in the midst of destructive, even self-destructive machinations on the part of nations as well as tribal allegiances in such nations. And in this, as well as in so much of the world’s history, God seems all but absent.

But as I was reminded recently in our church fellowship, we have hope as a discipline, and indeed like in the case of Habakkuk of old, that hope is given to us from God. Hope, as Paul tells us elsewhere (Romans 8) is not something we already possess, but rather something that we wait for. But somehow such hope sustains us.

All the while we continue in the struggle for what is good, just and true in the sphere of a sustained, responsible, whole love which in the end is for the very best for everyone and for all.

God’s accommodation

The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.

Exodus 15:3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us

John 1:1, 14a

God lives where we humans live. God accommodates God’s self to us humans. These are two basic statements which describe the faith we find in scripture. This is no Deist God, happy to remain apart and aloof from creation, but a very present, active God, hidden only because of our lack of faith or to help us grow in some new way in our faith.

God helps us according to the help we need, and not only that, but even according to the help we think we need even if God’s will is to by and by get us to grow beyond that. The truth that the Word became flesh, that God became human, one of us is certainly something that is central and close to God’s heart, a nonnegotiable part of God’s will. But that God meets us in other ways, even in the midst of our sin without participating in that sin, but in love holding us accountable to help us confess and forsake such is also a given.

And yet there are aspects of God in scripture which are hard if not impossible to reconcile with God revealed in Christ. Christ comes and refuses all violence, will not resist those who physically abuse him, and tells his followers that they must do the same if they’re to truly be his disciples. And yet the God we find in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament does not seem averse to violent acts against evildoers. At least God as God is understood by God’s people.

But make no mistake about it: God will meet us where we’re at, and will help us there. As we have the desire to have a heart intent on doing and living in God’s will. God will help us where we’re at. Not where we ought to be, or where we think we ought to be. God has always done that, and will continue to do so as God finishes the work God has begun. In and through Jesus.

becoming content to live in discontent (and thus avoid idolatry)

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity….

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:8, 13-14

How many of us like everything to be in neat apple pie order, all in place, every jot and tittle correct? I tend to be that way about life in general, though less so about some of the particulars. How many of us like to live out of our comfort zone where we feel safe, and all is right and good? Probably no one, or at least very few.

But maybe Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” is an exception. But not before Qoheleth learned through life the emptiness of all pursuits and life in itself “under the sun.” That wisdom book remains one of my favorite books from scripture.

One main point from Ecclesiastes perhaps: We need to learn to be content living in discontent, we could even say becoming content through discontent. I heard someone suggest that finding contentedness in things, even in the best things can be a form of idolatry. And that includes our own conceptualization of such things, including even the Bible and God God’s self.

Anything replacing God is idolatrous. I may not want in the least the best of what the world has to offer, but I might not be happy if certain things aren’t in perfect or at least “right” order. If I find contentment in anything other than God and God’s will, then am I not at least on the outskirts of idolatry?

God is actually the air we breathe, since the breath we have is from God. God is a love that’s closer to us than anything else. And all of that has been brought out into the open through Christ. What God wants for us, for all through Christ is to be willing to live through the most difficult experiences with the acceptance that God is present with us and will see us through. We’re not to want to escape them and find some type of spiritual Disneyland. We find contentment in God, yes with thanksgiving for all God gives us, but through thick and thin, the good and bad, for better and for worse. Individually and together in and through Jesus.

casting out into the deep, venturing into the unknown at Christ’s word

Once while Jesus was standing beside the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to burst. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were astounded at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

This is an interesting, even amazing story at a number of levels. What I would like to dwell on is just one aspect of it. Jesus’s words to those he would subsequently call to be his followers. Telling them to cast their nets into the deep, even though they had just caught nothing after being at it all night. It surely made little to no sense to them. But they did it, and the rest and all that follows is history.

This is akin to what I’ve experienced in the last few years right up to the present time. I’ve been wanting to find a Mennonite fellowship, but none in the area where we moved a few decades back. At a certain point I was informed that there was a new fellowship which had met for some time but had recently become Mennonite. So I looked them up. They were clearly in the activist strain, which was okay to me, but took a strong stand of affirming LGBTQ+ for membership, leadership and marriage. Even though I had questions and tensions with the traditional view, that is where I still landed on that issue at the time. They also take a clear stand in regard to support for the riddance of systemic racism, and I and my wife were totally on board with that.

After getting together with them one Sunday online due to COVID, I decided we just couldn’t go through with this. Deb was leaning on me for the decision during that time, surely praying. And I had a great peace, I take it as psychological now, and slept like a baby. But oddly enough I had a strong sense, it is almost as if the Lord were appearing to me in my imagination, and telling me, You don’t have to come, but I’m very much present here. And so we showed up the next Sunday, and we’ve never turned back.

Around the same time, probably shortly after, it was as if the Lord told me that I need to be in the book of James. And I have ever since, and it has been amazing, even life changing, though of course that is incremental. I’ve come a way, and certainly have a long way to go.

Now something similar is happening to me with regard to anxiety. If you know me, or have read this blog much at all, you’ll realize that anxiety has been an ongoing, nearly always an issue with me. I’ve struggled with it, virtually lived in anxiety for years and decades. Although I think I’ve made some progress in how I deal with it, it still could set me back on my heels and worse. Well recently I think I’m beginning to hear the call to launch out into the deep and simply refuse to worry, to be anxious. And to see the newest thing that comes to mind that would have always made me anxious before, to simply be a new opportunity to refuse anxiety.

Of course, I do so dialing in to what God has provided in Scripture through Christ. We can do none of this on our own, it’s only God’s grace. We’re a part of a small group which has a strong emphasis on grace, and that has helped much. But paradoxically it will require effort on our part. We have to let go of all our strivings and devices, and make ourselves sit at Jesus’s feet.

This is all about launching into the deep at Jesus’s words. The difference maker is Jesus. Not our interpretation of Scripture, which by the way in regard to the LGBTQIA+ issue I think is suspect and is a door slam shut in the face of true Christ followers. Only Jesus. But we have to listen, really listen. And then we have to follow and keep following. Thankfully Christ is always ahead of us and with us. We’re not on our own. And that together. In and through Jesus.

things we do every day (regardless)

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the LORD;
that will I seek:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.

Teach me your way, O LORD,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

Psalm 27:1, 4, 7-9, 11a, 13-14; NRSVue

There are certain things to do most every day, regardless. There are those special days, say on vacation, where much of what we ordinarily do is dispensed, forgotten. But even on those days there’s certain basic things which followers of Christ will continue to do.

One of them is to be in scripture, like the psalm above. To be drawn by God to seek God’s face. To ask for God’s guidance and help throughout the day, even in those “kick back, relax and enjoy” days. To always desire to live in God’s Presence throughout the day, troubled as we see in other psalms when that Presence seems removed, when we’re not enjoying it.  Seeking God’s beauty and seeking to learn more.

Basics about us as followers of Christ, each and every day. In and through Jesus.

 

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.