the insight and strength needed

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

If there’s one thing some of us need in the midst of our work and schedule, it’s strength. For one thing, we expend not only physical energy, but emotional energy as well, which makes us all the more tired.

The passage addresses both. Israel was complaining about their lot, failing to acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness. Isaiah 40 is a powerful vision of both. God is present to help his people in their lack of understanding and strength.

That we are weak, there’s no doubt, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we know better than God. When we push out hard on our own, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’ll either depend on our own insight and strength, or fold our hands in despair.

But God wants to give us vision to begin to understand by faith, and to depend on his enabling. God is always faithful as we proceed, our hope and confidence in him. Of course God wants us to look to him, to his promises, to his provision. To wait, hope, and carry on. And find our “wings like eagles,” soaring. In and through Jesus.

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the difference resurrection makes

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in our Bibles tells us that if Christ was not raised from the dead, then there’s no resurrection of the dead for us who believe in Christ, and our faith is then worthless (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). In the context (click link above), Paul is talking about fixing our eyes on what lies beyond the weakness of this present life. He makes it clear that in their following of Christ, the calling they had, their lives were on the line. This was especially true of Paul himself, who was the target of relentless attacks from those who opposed the gospel, those determined to see his life come to an end.

Today it is no less dangerous to be a Christian in some places, in fact one’s life or well being is in some way in jeopardy in many places (see Open Doors for information on this). And as I get older, I realize more and more that my days in this present life are less and less, that they are indeed numbered.

Paul encourages us to press on, fixing our eyes on what is to come in the resurrection, so that we are willing to risk it all for Christ in the present, and also so that we don’t see holding on to life as the end all, because it’s not for those of us who are “in Christ.”

Paul is not advocating a “grin and bare it” approach. Instead we’re to rejoice in the midst of our weaknesses and sufferings, because Christ and his life is present with us now, someday to be completed in no less than our resurrection when we receive our new body, raised with other believers to be presented to Christ to the glory of God.

In the mean time we live in bodily weakness, even for those of us who have a measure of good health. We enjoy God’s good creation, but we live as those who look to the new creation in Christ as present in this life for ourselves and others, and the promise in that when this life ends. In and through Jesus.

the fake world of pop theology in denying the reality of mental illness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Another Christian, this time a pastor (we could say another pastor) has committed suicide. He was well aware of the danger, probably entered to a significant extent into the depths of others, and didn’t get out himself when he sank into his own depths of darkness. Once I led a team devotions at a Christian ministry where I work, going over this psalm. I asked if anyone there thought this psalm is meant for us today, and no one raised their hand. Based on what I gather, most would say “no,” though maybe it would be more like “I don’t know.” I think I remember at least one head shaking no.

I am glad to be part of a ministry that takes mental illness seriously. It’s not swept under the rug or attributed to the demonic or considered a sign that someone lacks faith. It is an honest illness which humans struggle with. Maybe the psalmist would have been diagnosed with mental illness such as a bipolar disorder. I think such a psalm and other Scripture similar to that can be helpful for such people to realize they’re not alone. That others struggle too with darkness.

I wonder if maybe I suffer with a mild case of something such. I don’t know. I have struggled not feeling good internally for years, decades, and that might be related to head trauma. So it’s easy for me to identify with Psalm 88.

There is within the Christian tradition, “the dark night of the soul,” hardly acknowledge in the evangelical Christian circles I’m a part of. I don’t at all for a moment think a person, yes a Christian has to be clinically depressed or mentally ill to experience such. There are all kinds of reasons in this world why we can get down. Of course there’s what’s considered normal depression, maybe over not meeting a goal, or losing a friend, even a marriage. Just maybe it would be helpful to consider mental health problems as also being like temporary sicknesses such as physically catching a cold or the flu, so that one might have a bout with melancholy over an extended period of time. Of course no one can possibly be the same after an unexpected death of a loved one.

The Bible reflects real life with all its complexities. For those who take Scripture at its word, spiritual warfare can be accompanied by a spiritual darkness. A time and space where God seems to be absent. And where hope seems all but gone, replaced by fear, or more like a gnawing shock in which little seems real.

At any rate, I take Scripture seriously in part because I find it takes life seriously. People of faith question God and struggle in their experience. The psalms are repeatedly helpful, this psalm a prime example.

Psalm 88 ends on a realistic note. Because God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want. We don’t always find the help we want. But we hold on in faith regardless, this psalm an expression of that. Something we should thank God for, helping us not only live through such times, but do so knowing that the Lord is somehow with us (Psalm 23:4).  The end of Psalm 88 is an end, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

a cheerful malcontent

George Will calls Barry Goldwater, “the cheerful malcontent” (see his recent book). I have found something of hope in that for me. For whatever reasons, not likely all good, I find myself to be something of a contrarian. I have liked to ask questions, questioning what is commonly accepted hopefully not for the sake of being contrary, but simply because I wondered. That is where we need some loving mentors to help us, maybe taking us under their wings for a time not to script us- getting us to think the same way they do, but in helping us learn to do it well ourselves with the unique gift and insight God gives us.

In my case, I’ve been more or less a malcontent for years, though not just that, thankfully. But what I take as a drop of wisdom, mentioned above makes me want to be a cheerful malcontent, and I seem to have a peace from God to enter into just that. Not grinding, or insisting that I’m always right when I know better than that. I am never spot on on anything, much less right in everything.

It’s not an easy road to be a malcontent. It can color our character, who we are, and make us dismal to be around even for loved ones, along with acquaintances and even friends, though hopefully we have a friend who stays with us through thick and thin, and we with them (Proverbs 18:24). And it can make us unlikable even to ourselves.

In the way of Jesus, to be a malcontent is always with the promise from God that through Jesus and some Day once for all, God will make everything right. That is certainly a tall order, but part of the “hope” that is ours as Christians, meaning the anticipation of what we look forward to. Even as we hope for something better in this life as well as the next for everyone. In and through Jesus.

*When it comes to American politics, I’m a registered Independent. In no way should this post be seen as an endorsement of any particular political persuasion.

when strength fails

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

Why do we sometimes lose what strength we have? A good question. Humans have been given great strength and resilience from God, but there’s a limit. We are, after all mortal creatures, and life doesn’t go on forever.

Strength is grounded to purpose, it’s not an end in itself. We often lose strength, because we lose heart. It seems like there’s little to no use, because what we’re involved in has failed.

God in addressing Israel is seeking to revive and reestablish a fallen, broken people, his covenant people. To understand the setting, it’s important to read the entire chapter. But the end of it quoted above is sufficient for a summary.

God’s limitless understanding and strength are appealed to. As Christians we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. But that’s not sufficient in itself. What that mean for us personally and corporately is the question.

We’re to accept the revelation of God and God’s will given to us in Scripture. And we determine that by God’s promise in Jesus, we live and carry on, and by nothing else. That revelation certainly includes the whole of human life, every part.

We’re called to “hope” in God, which carries the meaning of waiting in expectation and anticipation. And then God’s promise: our strength will be renewed. So that whatever we have to do, we can fully accomplish. And with the sense of having more than enough.

This involves receiving a sense of vision from God, along with the strength to accomplish what is set out before us, just what part we play in God’s story. In and through Jesus.

my go to passage nowadays

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

Life is utterly crazy in a good number of ways. I wish it was more laid back and less eventful, really. That’s true at home, as well as in the news we’re inundated with. Life comes crashing in. And for some of us, the life inside has not been any kind of paradise. Really, just the opposite. We press on, but in spite of raging voices or feelings inside of us.

I’m finding for myself that Psalm 23 is becoming my go to passage from the Bible nowadays. Something I keep repeating it over and over again, praying about it, until finally it seems to take hold and become part of my own experience. Or even if it doesn’t.

I’m just a sheep in need of the good Shepherd. That doesn’t excuse me, or any wrongdoing. In fact, that gives me hope that no matter how I might get off track for a moment, or even more, the Lord is present to help me, to be my help. That he loves me no matter what. I’m one of his sheep.

That gives me all the hope I need in the faith and love that is in Jesus.

why faith, hope and love are each vitally important

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We’re more familiar and maybe even more comfortable with what has been called “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, in which when all is said and done- faith, hope, and love remain. But God would not be good or just if a final salvation didn’t come which eventually ultimately clears out all evil in the world. You don’t have to look long or far to find what is best called out and out evil. And in one way or another, we all end up being implicated in it. Either by our silence, or actual often unwitting participation in one way or another.

But we know Jesus came in large part to take God’s wrath on himself, therefore God himself taking the judgment we deserve by accepting, and has been said, absorbing in himself the evil we heaped on him, and turning that into our salvation. Even our forgiveness and new life in his love, if we simply accept this salvation as a gift.

We in Jesus belong to the day in contrast to those who are of the night, still in spiritual darkness. The imagery that follows is spiritual battle. We’re therefore to put on both faith and love as a breastplate for our protection, along with the hope of salvation as a helmet, again for our protection. Faith, hope and love go together.

In God’s love we live, and dare to live come what may. Faith is the means by which we enter into the love and hope that is offered as a gift in Jesus. Faith and love are joined together in the passage. We can’t know and begin to experience God’s love apart from faith. By faith we are justified (declared righteous), and experience God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5).

Hope follows. It is something so important to hold on to, especially in the midst of the spiritual battle which oftentimes is personal, but inevitably extends to those around us: loved ones, “neighbors,” even enemies. Our hope is for God full and final salvation promised in Jesus. Hope for those in Jesus is anticipation of what is yet to come. We experience it anew and afresh when God’s love is poured out in our hearts. But we also hold on to it during the times when all seems pitched dark in the spiritual battle we’re in. And it should always be, along with faith and love a basic part of our lives day after day in and through Jesus.