returning again and again to the source

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.

Psalm 119:105-112

My default practice is to turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. Since I believe Scripture is God’s word written, I keep returning to it again and again throughout the day, to gain whatever it is that God wants to give me. It’s not like I do this very well. There are all kinds of variations in it. I might go real slow for a while, then pick up speed and keep moving through, whether anything seems to be getting through to me or not, then slow down again. As I stay at it, sooner usually than later it seems like God might somehow be getting through to me. I’ll begin to pick up a better perspective than I have.

God’s word is our lamp for life, but we’re also to be intent in being shaped and transformed, our lives directed by it. Oftentimes to be honest, I really feel at a loss, maybe hurt over this or that, or tired of whatever, at a loss. So I just keep going back to Scripture, and I find help, but help in God’s way, not my own. Going through Scripture slowly gives one the opportunity to pause and reflect and pray. Or simply realize how we don’t get it. That has value too. An important part of what Scripture is intended to do: help us turn to God, hopefully seek him, and find his will. Indeed turning to God’s word can be our way of turning to God. And find our lives more and more shaped by that. In and through Jesus.

directions for life

ב Beth

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, LORD;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

There is nothing more important we can do than turn to God’s word in Scripture, and be attentive to what God is saying to us. We need to slow down, stop, and then keep going. In doing this we’ll find our way into God’s way. But it’s not a once-for-all move. It’s ongoing, day after day after day, even hour after hour. In and through Jesus.

the upside to being down

Job is a book that is hard to figure out, unless one reads it superficially. You might just pass over it, shrug your shoulders, and go on, which I think to some extent I did for years. But that changed when we had an in depth group Bible study at a church some years back. I had a different view and understanding of it after that.

I take it as a wisdom story, which whether just a story told, or something which actually happened (and I don’t think the rest of the Bible, including Jesus’s words determine that) rings true in ways that mirror the complexity, indeed consternation of life. There are no two ways about it: Life often makes little or no sense to us so that in the end, we have to trust all into the Creator’s hands, while realizing that we aren’t capable of tracing God’s paths or fully understanding his ways.

I love the book of Job, because there’s a unique wisdom to be drawn from it, not readily apparent or received by us, which actually requires the work of a lifetime. Of course the other wisdom books have their unique contributions they bring as well: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and we can include Song of Songs, and even the Psalms.

Job was as down as a human can get, with the exception of our Lord in his partaking of the cup of suffering. I think those of us who are older can appreciate the aspect of the story that really when all is said and done, it can’t be happily ever after this side of heaven. Impossible. And that’s after Job’s suffering when a new family was given which really could not replace the family he had lost, but was still just as great a blessing as the first family.

Job certainly had a new appreciation of God, and of himself as well. It was a new humility in view of God’s revelation of his greatness in creation, so vast and quite beyond humans, so that Job realizes he is required to simply trust, both in God’s greatness, and as we see from the end of the story, in God’s goodness as well. And surely it speaks to the limits of this life, and the hope of the life to come.

Job probably reminds me of a favorite biblical book of mine, Ecclesiastes, since it is not an easy book to pin down, indeed its meaning to some extent can allude us. And that means that if we’re wise, we keep coming back for more.

One basic I think I understand now from Job is that there’s an upside to being down and out, to being at a complete loss. That is when we can find what we otherwise never would: a trust and hope in God which goes well beyond anything we can understand and comprehend in this life, and perhaps even in the next. We simply know in the end that all will be well. And that we’re to work at understanding what we can, and leave the rest to God. A part of what faith in God involves in an existence in which all of our questions might only expose our lack of understanding. The answer in which we by faith now begin to live, in and through Jesus.

God understands

We say in Christian theology that God knows all things, the end from the beginning, in every minute detail with the big picture in mind. Precisely what that means might deviate some. Like I might ask, “Can God know what isn’t already in existence?” Surely yes, in that he can create and control all of that, but maybe no if he chooses not to control it at every turn, I am thinking of human volition. All of existence is out of God’s doing. And God can force us to choose or do whatever, if God so chooses, but it seems on the surface at least, that there’s a real give and take in life between the individual, as well as people, and God. Maybe some of this we do best to chalk up to mystery, and leave alone. But it does seem that God invites us to grapple with all he has revealed, while the hidden things remain with him, indeed surely outside of our limitation to grasp.

We can be at a place in which we’re challenged to know what to do. In small ways that happens a lot, and is usually fixable. In larger ways, sometimes that can be quite difficult, beyond our ability to navigate well, if at all. It is good during such times to be in prayer and in the word, looking to God to give us the understanding we need, and proceed from there. That is usually incremental, and one step at a time. God can be trusted to be present through all of it, but it seems to me like God leaves plenty of room for variation on our part, including even failure. God has the big picture in mind, but also wants to be present interactively with us through the small things, as well. That is lived largely in context of our day to day existence as individuals, but is best worked out in community with others in Jesus. Not to say that God might not use the broader human community as well, and another friend who does not yet know him.

I look to God for his wisdom, believing certain things are beyond me, really many things. Essentially what concerns God in us, I believe, is a character transformation rooted in God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It’s not like other things are unimportant, all within the old creation is included in the new creation in Jesus. Salvation extends to every part, but perhaps its outworking is strange to us. And the fact of the matter is that we may not be necessarily included, if we don’t look to the source which is found in Jesus. There might be some major bumps on the road, and brokenness on the way to that salvation.

God understands. And can be fully trusted. In and through Jesus.

the one Lord

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Acts 10

Last night I watched the debacle, which was supposed to be a presidential debate. One of my Facebook friends posted, “He is not here. He is risen.” To which I later posted, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

When we look at the mess that is our world, certainly including our own country, we can only long for the return of the one who defeated all the rulers and authorities by his death on the cross, made evident by his resurrection from the dead, and ascension into the dimension of heaven at the right hand of God in the place of supreme authority.

There is one ruler today, and he rules in and through the church, but in the way of the cross, through his death and resurrection. It is a rule certainly at odds with the world, and with world rule, which has its place now in this evil age, while certainly out of place in so many ways. And destined to bow someday under his direct authority at his return. Even while now God works out his purposes in and through him, primarily through the church, but also in his sovereign wisdom over the nations, in the latter case in ways that are well beyond us, but in the former case, through the good news of that saving rule, in and through Jesus.

And so that is where I have my hopes. Not that I’m not interested in what is happening on the world’s stage. But my hopes are not there. But only in the one Lord, Jesus.

Job’s struggle

Job is a book comprised of quite a few words from Job himself in the midst of his great struggle. His seven children were gone, he was racked from head to toe with a miserable disease, and his wealth by and large a thing of the past. And his wife had told him that he should curse God and die. About as bad as it can possibly get.

One might think that Job would have done better to simply be mute before God, to be still and know that God is God. To be in silence before him. Of course there was seven days of silence at the beginning during his suffering, his three friends included in that silence. We could well argue that they would have done better to remain silence, and what God says in the end supports that. But scripture even quotes some of what they say for teaching, because even though they were wrong in their application, some of what they said was indeed right. And from Job himself we have memorable words that we hold on to, even though in the end God has to rebuke Job for darkening God’s counsel in speaking words without knowledge.

Yes, we often have to work through our struggles. Struggle is inevitable, although some of it may be ongoing before the needed breakthrough occurs. Indeed some of that struggle may be needed so that God can teach us through circumstances, or before we finally come to the end of our own resources and begin to better live out God’s word. God helps us as we set our minds, hearts and will on doing his will in Jesus. In the end God does not promise Job restoration. The breakthrough for Job came when he understood that God is God even in regard to his experience. That if God’s greatness in creation indicates that his ways are beyond Job, that includes God’s ways in the experience Job was going through, as horrific as it was. And so let us not despise our own struggle, even as we look to God and his promise to us in Jesus.

faith not knowing

I don’t really wonder how Job’s friends could have done better. They were with Job for seven days and nights, not saying a word, seeming to share in his sufferings, and I tend to think sincerely so before they gave full vent to their theological thoughts and understanding (actually, lack thereof) in the back and forth exchanges with Job. They started well, but as soon as they opened their mouths, whatever help they had been to Job surely went by the wayside. Except that they gave Job the opportunity to wrestle against such thoughts, against the common theological misperceptions of that day. Even against Job’s own misperceptions.

Part of the genius of the book of Job is that it opens us up to the possibility that in spite of all God’s revelation given to us in scripture and fulfilled in Jesus, certainly more than Job had (if Job was historical, which I consider neither here nor there, but certainly so in the story), there may be an element of wonder and simply not knowing, in a faith that is genuine, alive and well.

Yes, it is by faith we know certain things, like we’re told in Hebrews, that the world was framed/created by the word of God. But that very same faith is ready to acknowledge that it is God who knows everything and we don’t. It is God who is at work in the wonder of all that means, and we can’t fully track with it. One of our biggest problems is supposing that we have the answers to everything. We can point to the answer in Jesus: the way, the truth and the life. But often we have to leave it at that.

When Peter questioned Jesus about John, if John would remain until Jesus returned, Jesus replied, “What is that to you? You must follow me.” Is it wrong to ask questions like that, or ask and wrestle with the hard questions? Not at all. However we must come to rest fully in the one whose ways and thoughts are beyond our own. Like Job, we need a vision of God that keeps us keeping on.  The vision of God in Christ.

And so while one characteristic of faith is to know, another equally important characteristic of faith is to not know. Both are essential. As we go on in Jesus together for the world.