being alert for the Lord’s coming

This time of the year is called Advent on the church calendar. I miss Advent, since the church we’re part of is not much into church liturgy. I think Christmas is a most special time of the year since we’re remembering and celebrating the birth of the Savior, our Lord Jesus.

Advent is simply about the Lord’s coming. And that includes his coming in full as given to us in Scripture, which means his first coming, already accomplished, and his second coming, which we look forward to.

Scripture likens Jesus’s second coming to a “hope,” even “the blessed hope.” Hope as in something we’re anticipating and again, looking forward to, not a kind of “hope so” attitude, where we’re not sure. By faith we’re certain and assured.

Still I wonder just how much anticipation I really have. Yes, chances are I’ll die before the Lord’s return. But that won’t much matter when the return takes place. The dead will rise first, and then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will all be together with the Lord forever.

The gospel accounts tell us we need to be alert. I am not much into the signs stuff and looking at events. I’ve been burned too often in my lifetime, and have long since dismissed such notions as poor Biblical understanding. But regardless of how we view things, we need to be alert with the imagination: What if Jesus actually would return today? Would we have been preparing ourselves? Or do we think and live like that could not possibly happen?

Faith, hope and love are a triad, love being called the greatest of these. They’re interwoven together, so that our “hope” in our Lord’s return comes from faith with love following and accompanying that. I think the most important thing we can do is to endeavor daily to be in an interactive relationship with our Lord through his word and Spirit, and paying attention in life. Then, through the grace he gives us, we can be ready when that moment arrives. In and through Jesus.

“God is good” confirmed by the incarnation and resurrection

The claim that God is good is seen over and over again in the Bible. And God’s people took it by faith that such was the case, seen in God’s mighty acts, such as the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian army by the parting and collapse of the Red Sea. So they could take it be faith that such was the case, God demonstrating it by signs and wonders for the protection and preservation of his people

But ultimately it would be challenging to make a case that God is good if we didn’t have the rest of the story. After all, God’s people did not live up to their calling, even after their return from exile. And generation after generation came and went essentially doing no better. Even with God’s calling and help, humans would inevitably fail him.

Enter into this picture something that was never imagined. The God, yes the God actually becoming completely human. Unfathomable, something that doesn’t make the least bit of sense. And yet true. Shockingly true. What in Christian theology is called the Incarnation: God becoming flesh, or human through the Son coming into the world, born of a woman in miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, yet no different than any other fetus. Though still God, completely human.

In that we see how seriously God takes our plight. God comes to our rescue, not from the outside, but from inside, becoming one of us. God-with-us, yes, but as one of us. Of course without sin, and a unique being indeed: God-human. Completely human with undiminished deity, but human. To show us by his life and teaching how he is the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring in God’s kingdom. Jesus.

But this happens in another completely unexpected, unanticipated way: Through Jesus’s death on the dreaded, despised Roman cross, would come God’s breakthrough to defeat Satan, more than save humanity, and ultimately bring in a new world through the new creation. That death spelled the end of death through Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.

“God is good” is thus confirmed, which means we can thank God for every blessing, knowing that what we see now with all the danger and despair is not the end. God’s goodness will leave nothing untouched in the end through the full judgment and salvation Jesus achieved at the cross, when he returns. All the repentant, believing, faithful will know that all is well, at last fully at home in the eternal life and new creation of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In and through Jesus.

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.

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.