where is our attention turned?

Nowadays with social media we have everything good, bad, and in between at our fingertips. There’s no end to what we can access, and to the time we can waste on things that may not be bad in themselves, but are not the best.

Yes, we have certain hobbies, or interests which usually are perfectly legitimate in themselves. And actually we should enjoy such. But we need to beware lest we lose out on what is most important.

We need to turn our attention to God’s revelation in Christ, and to the Scriptures to see this. Yes, to Scripture, because it, the Bible, is God’s written word pointing us to God’s Word in Jesus.

This will make all the difference. Like as in light and darkness, good and evil, peace and unrest, hope and despair. Trying to grind through another day, or instead trusting in God, depending on him for all the help one needs. And to work one’s way through the difficult places of life. In and through Jesus.

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why we don’t shut up (about our faith)

…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:20b

First off I want to say I’m thankful to live in a nation in which I am not persecuted for my faith, and I would say, for the faith. Unfortunately persecution of Christians worldwide today is on a scale perhaps worse than ever. I’m grateful to live in a nation, the United States, which maintains freedom of religion. Of course there may be subtle ways of persecution here, but not the kind in which one’s property or life is at risk. So I’m blessed to live in freedom in that regard. Our persecuted family in the faith are blessed, in the words of our Lord, to face persecution as they continue on in the faith (Matthew 5:10-11). And we need to support them with our love and prayers (see Open Doors, one of the ministries working to help such).

The words of Peter and John quoted above, before the religious authorities who were persecuting them, are instructive, and actually enlightening as to why we Christians persist and won’t let up in our witness. Maybe it’s especially true for those set apart for ministry, but actually all Christians are called by God to be a witness. We are witnesses first of all in the change of our lives and how we live in love for others, and in what we say about our faith and the faith.

The apostles saw the Lord, witnessed his life, his words, deeds, and just who he was. As well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead, the point in the narrative above after a man over forty years of age and lame from birth was completely healed. The apostles found something that was not just life changing for them, but amounted to good news for the world no less, in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And we follow in their train.

I am personally not only convinced intellectually, but by what I’ve seen. Changed lives yes; lives for the love of others, including enemies. Rational argument is good, and actually there’s a convincing rationale for Jesus’s resurrection, which has turned one skeptic after another into a believer. I don’t deny others have abandoned the faith. All I can say is there’s one thing that keeps me going on and wanting to be a witness: what I continue to see and hear. I see the difference it makes day after day, or at least over shorter and longer spans of time in my own life. And though I often don’t understand well enough what Scripture is saying, the words are compelling and point me to God’s Word himself: Jesus.

This is personal to me, but it’s more than that, it’s for the world. The gospel, which is the good news of God in Jesus is for the world. It will never be the center of any nation state in this present age, but is always manifest only in the church scattered amidst all the nations. Part of this good news in Jesus is the promise and “hope” of his return, when he will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom in him will be set up when heaven and earth are made one in him.

So we carry on. Yes, in the midst of difficulty, our own darkness, our stumbling, and so on. But we continue to follow. To show and tell the difference this makes in our own lives, meant for all others as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

God’s word keeping us keeping on

Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

Psalm 119:89-96

The entire passage is important of course, and we need to read any part in its context, but I want to focus especially on one part of it:

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

That is what I do, where I live. In the real world in all its brokenness. And what sees me through is God’s word. When I refer to God’s word, I mean Scripture, the Bible. But I also mean the gospel to which that word points, to the Word himself, Jesus.

The word doesn’t save me in ways I anticipate or come up with myself. In some intellectual sense, I might anticipate such, but when you’re afflicted and feel lost, you’re living in an experience, and what you’re thinking has limited if any effect.

I know there are people who think the Christian faith is mostly all psychological. And let me acknowledge that it’s not like one’s attitude and frame of mind isn’t important. But God’s word goes way beyond that. We are given hope in the midst of utter despair and brokenness. Belief that through God’s word in and through Jesus there’s always salvation.

What God requires is faith. And how we get faith is by hearing or reading about and focusing on the object of faith, God’s promises, and especially God’s promises in Jesus.

I can testify again and again, and actually every day that this make all the difference in the world for me. I get up with God’s word in mind, and begin to look at it immediately ideally. And going to bed in prayer ideally, after being in the word. God’s word is multifaceted, and therefore, our response to it. A response of faith. Through which God sees us through in and through Jesus.

 

in this rubble

We heard of the terrible, heart breaking tragedy of a young mother who struggled with mental illness, first shooting her children, an eight year old girl who was a good reader, a rambunctious six year old girl, and a two year old boy who was a smiler, before taking her own life. A year ago she had sought help for mental illness.

We live in a world of heart breaking tragedy. It usually happens on less dramatic levels, but telling in lasting ways for those involved. I can make no sense out of it. There is a part of me which wants to question God like the prophets of old, and other places we find in Scripture such as the Psalms and Job.

It is a sad fact of the matter that we live in a world in which there is insanity with unspeakably horrific consequences. There’s no escape from that. Common grace, called such because God gives it to all humanity keeps it from being worse.

I can only lament over such tragedy. And at the same time believe that God is somehow present through it all.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis

I can only go back to God and to the cross of Christ as the hope through which I carry on and live. That somehow in the end God will sort through this mess. That even now God is at work in redeeming what is in bondage, putting together what is broken, bringing beauty into the ugliness of this world.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s our own sin and yes, evil, that brings in a world of hurt. But that God stepped into this world, fully taking that hurt on himself on the cross. With the promise of resurrection. In and through Jesus.

looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26

I’m not sure how many people actually look back to consider the past year, and then look forward in anticipation to what the next year will bring. Or even if very many see any value in that. Speaking for myself, I think in time’s past I’ve not seen much value in such an exercise, and didn’t see the change from December to January as anything more than a new calendar, parties for some, but for us or at least for myself, time off work.

This would be a personal exercise, not one you would want to necessarily write on and share. I’m sure for some of us the past year may have had parts we would rather forget, or maybe so bad that we’ll never fully get over it. Just heal with the remaining scars, painful at times, and go on. For others there may have been breakthroughs and some good results. Probably for most of us there’s a mixture of some of both.

Life is a journey, and the life of faith no less so. We do well to ask ourselves how we’re doing, whether or not we’re progressing in our walk with God. What improvements we’re making and what we still need to work on.

Challenges will lie ahead, but faith enables us to look forward to God’s answer to our prayers, so that we live in hope, anticipation of what God is going to do. And we certainly think in terms not just of ourselves, but of others. What does God have in store for our loved ones, our families? Our friends? Our churches? Our neighborhood, area, state, nation, indeed the world?

We can know that through it all, whatever new challenges we face, God is faithful. We can look to God in faith, knowing he will see us through. We do need to be in scripture, and in the fellowship of the church. But along with that, it’s our own personal interaction with God that will make the difference. Even as was the case with the writer of Lamentations.

We look back on the old year with thanksgiving for all God has done. And we look forward to what is yet to come, what God has in store and how he is going to work through whatever comes our way. 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.

gaining new strength

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

There are times when we’ve simply had enough. When our strength has reached the end, and there’s nothing left. Well, we need to get our rest, for sure. But as God’s people we need to find strength in God.

We’re called here in Isaiah to wait for, hope in, or trust in God. That as we hope in him, we’ll find our strength. Strength for the day to finish our tasks. To do God’s will by God’s grace and enabling.

When we’re at a loss with no strength, that’s the opportune time to wait on the Lord to give us the strength needed. God will give that to us as we hope in him as Isaiah tells us clearly here. In and through Jesus.