not having easy ready answers

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…

1 Peter 3:15-16a

The older I get, the more I question even my own questions or answers, for that matter. My typical response to things is “I don’t know,” or “It’s complicated.” That’s not to say that I don’t have some opinions on a whole range of issues. And even convictions. Although given the nature of things, much of it can be on matters that are rather open ended. The answer may be good insofar as it goes, but it’s open to refinement, and even some correction.

But when it comes to life itself, and what’s at the heart of it, I wouldn’t hesitate to think, and hopefully say, It is God in Jesus, and the good news in him in his incarnation and life, death and resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is something I believe without so much as a thought that it might need some correction here or there. Of course only God fully understands even the most simple gospel truth, such as John 3:16. We understand by faith as much as God helps us to, of these simple, yet profound truths, which are brought home to our hearts and minds by the Spirit of God.

And we’re to tell them to others. Not having all the answers, or being a know-it-all. But simply being able to point to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. In whom we have put our faith and hope, our all. And through whom we know God’s love, which we share with all others. Jesus.

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making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

for the downcast from the psalms

BOOK II

Psalms 42–72

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 

Psalm 42-43

“In many Hebrew manuscripts Psalms 42 and 43 constitute one psalm” (NIV footnote). I am working on memorizing and meditating on this passage right now. It speaks powerfully to me in ways I sorely need.

Anyone who would get to know me would learn I can be downcast. Though I’m surprised and relieved, really over people near me not picking up on that. But my wife knows. The psalmist here engages both in some self-talk, and in reflection before God within the community of faith. We sorely and desperately need that for various reasons.

The psalmist struggled with what we might call depression today. And with some good reason. Things weren’t the same as in days past, and people were questioning both his faith, and his God as a result.

But the psalmist turns to God in a questioning yet sincere faith, and finds hope. In fact to just turn to God was what we might say, the cure for his depression. Hope sprung to life in his heart. Even in the midst of the ruin and despair.

A good passage for me, for us all to reflect on, and pray over. In and through Jesus.

God weeps when we weep

In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

Isaiah 63:9

This present existence is broken. In time, and in some ways daily, we all experience it. But there are especially traumatic times when senseless tragedy hits someone, and some given family. This may seem an exception to the rule, but it happens all too often so that we realize that one can never know for sure what a day may bring.

God doesn’t seem to stop the bad things from happening, though surely God has on a number of occasions. Many of us have been in car accidents or what not when our lives could have easily been taken. But for some, the end comes, little ones left behind with a spouse, or whatever the circumstances may be. And they’re gone. Those affected are shattered and weep, and loved ones and friends weep with them. Where is God in all of this?

God weeps, too. God so to speak is shattered and weeps with us. He not only understands and empathizes, but he participates, more precisely is right in our midst, suffering what we’re suffering. God takes very seriously and holds as very precious the life and death of all, especially of his redeemed children.

We can be assured of this. Of God’s presence with us. Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. And he weeps with us now.

We look forward to the day when all death will be gone. And all of this evil will be completely forgotten. Never to come to mind again.

Until then we press on in faith, trusting in our Father no matter what. And knowing our Father cares and grieves when we grieve. And is present to help us with all the help we need by his grace through his Spirit and through others. In and through Jesus.

grieving the loss of one of Jesus’s loved servants

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.

Psalm 116:15; NIV

The church we’ve been attending, and are in the process of joining lost a faithful servant who I never had the pleasure of meeting myself. But a young woman, married with a daughter, who was in love with her family, in love with life, and most of all in love with the Lord. In a tragic car accident. She was a faithful servant with a heart for children’s ministry. I want to say that this church, mega though it is, with a number of campuses, does everything so thoughtfully and well. Most of all bathed in love and prayers, prayers and love. The church has a big place and heart for children, and for children’s ministry, as it should be. And this young (to me) lady had what she considered her dream job in being in children’s ministry, coordinating that ministry on the main campus.

We are deeply grieving, but how much more those who knew her, especially her loved ones? And those who were her friends, and served with her in the work of the Lord? So our prayers along with our hearts go out to her loved ones, and to the church at this time.

I couldn’t understand how this could be. I have been so grateful for the ministry of this church in so many ways, for so many reasons. We can never be the same after this, I’m sure. We need God’s grace to carry on. How much more those who knew and loved her, and served with her. You get so close to the Lord and then to others through the Lord through a ministry like this. Little does one realize what they have sometimes, until it’s taken away. Or sometimes, sadly, we may not appreciate someone enough until they’re gone.

In the context of Psalm 116, God had rescued the psalmist from death in answer to prayer, and the psalmist was praising God for that. I’m sure that psalm alone can be one for meditation and prayer in the coming days, although there are so many passages in scripture in which we can find some help, comfort and solace.

Note the differences in how Psalm 116:15 is translated:

The Lord cares deeply
    when his loved ones die.

NLT

The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes.

CEB

The Lord values
the lives of his faithful followers.

NET Bible

I think the footnote of the NET Bible is helpful:

Heb “precious in the eyes of the Lord [is] the death of his godly ones.” The point is not that God delights in or finds satisfaction in the death of his followers! The psalmist, who has been delivered from death, affirms that the life-threatening experiences of God’s followers get God’s attention, just as a precious or rare object would attract someone’s eye. See Ps 72:14 for a similar expression of this belief.

We have to let this sit, while we sit before the Lord in silence. And while we reach out in love to those whose lives intersected closely with hers.

She is with the Lord she loved now, and I’m sure is full of complete joy and peace. I am not sure about whether or just how she might be interceding for those left behind, if departed ones do that. That could well be; it’s a tradition of the church, though I don’t think there’s any proof for it from scripture. But I’m sure she would want those left behind to continue on in the work of the Lord. And do well in it. In God’s love.

But some things can leave the heart numb for a time, especially in this case for those left behind. We want to ask the question, “Why Lord?” And we can. But we have to trust, as well. Even when it makes no sense at all. And when we say, we don’t care what good might come out of it. We don’t care at all. We don’t understand. But in the end, we have to entrust and leave it in God’s hands. And let it go at that. In silence. And in faith.

At the very end, when it’s all said and done, our lives are only a blink of time here. These awful happenings will be remembered no more. And we’ll all be together again. Let’s continue on with the same love, passion and ardent devotion this young lady showed to all by her life and service to Jesus. In and through him.

Jesus buried

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Mark 15:42-47

Jesus dead and buried meant to the disciples that whatever it was that was coming, that they were anticipating, even if they would acknowledge that they had more questions than anything else, was now dead and gone. Ended. Period.

Unlike the Eleven, Joseph of Arimathea (along with Nicodemus in another gospel account) felt far enough removed from Jesus to not feel threatened by his sentence and execution. He did what needed to be done in honoring Jesus.

Metaphorically, I would like to think that whatever dreams I might have, or have had in my life are to be dead and buried with Jesus, so that what can arise is nothing short of God’s will in the new life raised with him. Baptism is a picture of that (Romans 6). It’s not like God doesn’t give us dreams, but the point is that they need to come from God. So much of the flesh, not to mention the world and the devil can get in.

I wonder if something like that wasn’t happening even to Jesus’s disciples on that day. Their dreams were dead and gone. They didn’t get what Jesus had told him at least three times: that he would suffer, be crucified, and on the third day rise. That made no sense to them. So they were surely in despair. It is hard to put ourselves in the disciples’ place, even impossible since we can’t escape the knowledge of what followed, and all that has come from that.

We need to be ready to let go of whatever dreams we have for the dream and vision God would give us. We are to offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6). For nothing less than God’s good will in Jesus. In and through him: his death, burial, and yes, his resurrection. Amen.

getting rid of the “what ifs” and “if onlys”

Joel is a book that can be read or listened to in less than fifteen minutes. You will notice passages which are used in the New Testament, though the fulfillment in Christ seems somehow different in that in Christ is the day of salvation, God having taking on himself the judgment deserved by the world in Christ on the cross. Nevertheless there remains a day of reckoning for all, when the decision and result of our lives will be confirmed, and as it were, sealed.

But for so many, including myself, “What ifs” and “If onlys” can haunt and plague us. And we can rightfully wish that others will do better, that perhaps we can help them by gentle, wise instruction, and above all, by prayer. But we ourselves are left with the fallout of either the poor choices we made, or the lack of good decisions as well, or likely the combination of both. There is certainly nothing we can do in the present to change the past. But we live with God’s promises to us, each and everyone of them somehow fulfilled in Christ:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20

Back to Joel. A book that needs to be read in its own context, and then in the context of the entire Bible, and considered in how it is applied in the New Testament. For us today in this post, it will be in terms of the “What ifs” and “If onlys” of our lives. First I want to note the call to repentance God makes to his people, one that can still echo to us today:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

Joel 2:12-14

This call was given in the midst of God’s judgment. Hard times had come from the hand of God, arguably through others who in the end God would judge. So there’s the prior, necessary call to repentance. We are sorry, yes for the consequences our past actions or inaction has caused. But the heart of repentance is always with reference to God. We’ve abandoned God, and we’ve lost out on God’s will for us, as well. We have sinned against the goodness of God, turning to our own understanding and devices. Or whatever we have fallen for in the past, making idols of that, rather than worshiping the true God. Whatever our past, we need to work through it in terms of repentance which gets right to our heart, no less. So that our life will follow.

And then we have God’s gracious promise to help us move away from the “What ifs,” and “If onlys”:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

Exactly how that plays out, or what it looks like for each one of us, we do not know. We have to trust God in that.

All of this is in the context of the big picture, for Christ and for the gospel. It is not about us having our own dreams fulfilled, but rather, the dreams which God gives us:

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved

Joel 2:28-32a

We can be assured that no matter what our past, if we repent, God will somehow restore the years, so that we can serve him in and through Christ for the gospel. As witnesses by how we live, and what we say. In and through Jesus.