joy, peace and overflowing hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Interestingly, this more or less ends a section in which Paul is dealing with Christians weak in their faith and how Christians who are strong in theirs are to deal with that. Yes, with a word of instruction to the weak, as well. Much to be said about that within its context. But I’ll just say this about myself. I know I can feel exceedingly weak for one reason or another in my faith. Which is all the more reason to rejoice with Paul’s words of benediction or well wishing here.

Yes, God has this for all of us in Christ: the weak as well as the strong. We’re going through a decidedly difficult season now, with uncertainty ahead about the health and well being of our loved ones, of neighbors, of people in general, and with the economic fallout which is accompanying this.

But this wish is not dependent on our circumstances, but in God filling us. As we learn to trust in him more and more. In and through Jesus.

Jesus: our example of faithful endurance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

This Holy Week we think of Jesus having set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem knowing full well what was awaiting him there, just as he had told his disciples three times, doing so either for the joy set before him, or instead of. The Greek word, ἀντὶ (transliterated, anti) can mean “instead of,” or “for.” Either way Jesus endured, scorning the shame of the cross. That was the worst form of Roman execution, reserved for non citizens. And whoever was hung on a tree was said to be under God’s curse in Jewish Scripture, yes indeed, in God’s word.

Instead of the joy set before him might mean something like the idea that Jesus was ready to undergo the Father’s will, even when it went against his own will, evident from his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. I probably prefer the other way it can be translated, for the joy set before him, with the idea of doing something in exchange for something else (see BAGD Greek Lexicon). There surely is mystery in Christ’s sufferings for us. But the intent of this passage is to strengthen us in our suffering. So that we can endure because we know the good that awaits us at the end of what’s set before us. Or persevere against our own wishes. Following the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus. In and through him.

light for life

נ Nun

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.[a]

Psalm 119:105-112

God’s word is a light for our lives. But for that to be so, there must be the commitment on our part not only to receive it, but to daily live in it through all the difficulties and troubles life brings.

The psalmist remained in God’s word through the danger he (or she) faced, undeterred and determined, finding reward and joy in that word. Our privilege also in and through Jesus.

 

 

the deep sadness of life

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

John 17:13

I am reminded too often of the tragedy of living in this world, often senseless, seemingly heartless tragedy of such. Except that I believe there’s a heart of love that somehow beats behind it all.

Jesus’s prayer to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion is so deep, worth pondering, and a fitting climax to all that precedes in his “upper room discourse” to his disciples. And the part of the prayer quoted above is especially moving to me. Life is a struggle, marked at times with deep sadness. But in the midst of that, we can have our Lord’s joy, even the full measure of such within us.

Admittedly the sense of that ebbs and flows, and for me too often just seems absent. But I believe it is something that can more and more mark our lives, as we simply press on in faith, seeking to follow our Lord in everything.

In the meantime we have to face the fallout of this world, all the issues and problems. Like our Lord we can pray. In fact there’s nothing greater we can do than that. I do well oftentimes to quit doing anything to change things for better, because if that’s all I do, then whatever change for good that might happen probably has little to do with what I do, in fact at least somewhat in spite of it. But if I get out of the way and pray, maybe the Lord might help me say or do something which actually helps. But I really don’t need to do anything except pray. It is God’s work.

And throughout all of life, God is with us in Jesus. Our Lord’s full measure of joy no less being our own. In and through Jesus.

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

muddling through life

muddle through

phrasal verb

If you muddle through, you manage to do something even though you do not have the proper equipment or do not really know how to do it.
We will muddle through and just play it day by day.
They may be able to muddle through the next five years like this.

I am more or less a fan of muddling through life. I’m sure this can be misunderstood, and actually is not an easy position to come to. By nature, there’s so much in life that’s trial and error. And some of us seem to be easily overcome emotionally, or whatever is the best way to describe it. So that life itself can seem overwhelming, a challenge, a heavy burden, even suffocating at times. I’ve been there, and still am there more often than I like.

It doesn’t matter how many times you go through such an experience, it’s so awful, that although you hopefully handle it much better, and guard yourself from letting things get to you, you’re going to hate it just as much, and want to be rid of it. And if you so much as catch a whiff of it, you would like to turn tail and run, have nothing to do with it. But then you’re caught up in it again.

I would like to say you can get rid of it by the right thought, prayer, or whatever. Maybe rarely that happens, but by and large it doesn’t and won’t. We do well to address the source of it, as best we can, hopefully having light from God to understand that, and then act on it. And not give up, but keep doing that.

But I’ve found, oddly enough, that the darkness and heaviness begins to dissipate, when I simply at last come to accept it. As a wise pastor from our past told us, we can’t simply snap ourselves out of fear (or a bad experience), and neither should we act on it. An important aside. But again, when I at last accept it, and determine to live with it by God’s grace, maybe something like Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 he asked the Lord to remove three times, but the Lord didn’t, then, usually sooner than later, the heaviness and darkness will recede, and the light of the Lord’s joy and peace will again be more or less present.

I also find, frankly, that ordinarily I have the sense of muddling through life, since in my own experience, I’ve had to face quite a few times when I feel inadequate and lost in and of myself. But I find that the Lord is present, as I seek to do his will regardless.

I am not much of a fan of the idea that everything should be great, that we should be on a high on some mountaintop experience, that if we were living the normal Christian life, we would bring heaven down to earth, and others would catch it from us. Actually that might indeed end up being the case from learning to live in the valley, in the depths. Finding there, that in our weakness and lostness the Lord is present, and that we are experiencing something of his strength. That he resides with the broken and poor in spirit. And even want to help others through us. All of this in and through Jesus.

experience or the word, or both?

Sometimes we rightly are critical of an emphasis on experience which is not grounded in God’s word, scripture, and in the gospel, the heart of that. We can make all too much of experience. How we feel, or how it’s going, or if we have a sense of wellness is considered more important than anything else.

On the other hand, as we see from scripture, it’s not like experience isn’t important. We find the psalmists over and over appealing to God for a better experience, for escape from distress, sorrow, and death through deliverance into God’s salvation which involves rejoicing, and even singing and dancing.

We need to be grounded in scripture, and the heart of that, which is the gospel. Scripture takes seriously and addresses all experience. It is not counter or in opposition to experience at all, but about real life, where we live.

So in the end, it’s not really a case of either/or, but from being grounded in scripture, building our lives on that which is solid, through Jesus. So that whatever we are experiencing in life, we can more and more by faith rest in God’s promise in Jesus both for the present life and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

the need for humor

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22

I have heard (or, read) that Jews make the best violin players, and the best humorists. It is likely that many of them are among the best of those. It seems like the people who suffer the most, can have the most appreciation of something which not only takes such suffering seriously, but honors it, such as a good violin piece. And the gift of humor is especially important for those who can find little or no humor in life at all, or who have suffered much.

They say that laughter releases endorphins which are good for one’s physical well-being. At least there needs to be a sense that all is well, or at the very least that one does not have to be on the edge of disaster, but is somehow taken care of. Faith lends itself these gifts. When I’m beside myself over some matter or another, usually one at a time, I simply keep plugging into scripture, into the word, and sooner or later such trouble dissipates. What eventually replaces it is a sense of well being because of a faith that God will take care of it, more precisely usually a mind that is turned toward some truth about God through the gospel in scripture, and therefore a mind off the troubles.

And out of no where can come the gift of humor and laughter. As long as it’s not coarse, as in dirty, or denigrating of others, as well as not profane, then I think it’s open, and surely in some measure a gift from God. It is not something I try to force. It comes and goes. I take it that there’s a time for abject seriousness, and there’s a time for unbridled laughter. We need both. And we need a regular dose of the laughter, because the serious side is the default and place where we all live. But we can trust in the God who laughs, and know that in the end all is well in and through Jesus.

 

seeing through the disappointments and hardships to the blessings

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

In our broken world in which if something can go wrong, chances are it might, we need to learn to look for and find the blessings. In the many little things, as well as all that doesn’t go wrong. And yes, somehow even in the wrongs themselves.

A key for us in this is somehow to believe that God is at work in some way perhaps unimaginable to us, that if we were told, we might not even be able to appreciate. We can appreciate the general point which we are told in the passage above: God is at work in everything in our lives, to make us like his Son, into his family likeness, as his daughters and sons, as well as sisters and brothers. And that surely doesn’t mean that all will be glum; in fact it surely includes something of the opposite which we could experience no where else, nor in any other way. We get to experience the joy of God: the joy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, a communal, as it were, family kind of joy. As together we are shaped more and more into the full humanity which is in Jesus.

And so we look for that joy, and for the good, even in the midst of the difficulties, what might not be so good, even what might be evil. We choose to find the good hand of God at work for good in everything. And to look for the blessings, big and small. Certainly to be enjoyed by us, and shared with others in and through Jesus.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

This Memorial Day we remember those who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way, and those who suffer, or have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Most of the time those in that service can’t escape the possibility of danger and death.

Our Lord calls anyone who would follow him to count the cost. What might be exacted is nothing less than life itself. In the case of our Lord, the call is for complete, total devotion to the end. There are no ands, ifs, or buts, no strings attached. We either follow completely, or we don’t really follow at all. At times I feel like I’m in that gray area in which I am struggling over this or that matter. It’s not like I’m purposefully no longer following. But taken up with imagined or even real troubles, I am struggling to come to terms with the matter, which for me will always mean getting back to going on in the Lord with others, come what may.

To count the cost is to come to terms with the truth which requires the commitment that because Jesus is the Lord and King, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” we follow him no matter what, even when we have to struggle to do so. Which for me means more or less a struggle most of the time.

Jesus wants us to count the cost so that we will learn to keep following no matter what. And with the realization that at the end all will be joy and peace for ever in his Presence, in God’s salvation of the world in and through him.