God meets us in conflict

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Genesis 32:22-32

Conflict of all kinds is part of this life. I’m not really referring to verbal or physical conflict, though that is all too prevalent. What I mean is conflict in our minds, which can impact our attitudes. Not to mention the conflict we experience with “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Jacob in the story above was having a big time conflict in his heart and mind. He knew before he left home some fourteen years or more earlier that Esau his brother was intent on killing him because of Jacob’s deception of their father Isaac, stealing Isaac’s main blessing before Isaac died. Only one would carry on the main covenant blessing of God, which frankly to my undereducated ears and understanding seems strange. But for all of Jacob’s faults, Esau’s heart did not seem as attuned to God as did Jacob’s.

Jacob upon returning home did all he could to assuage his brother’s anger, and hopefully to find favor. But left to his own thoughts, Jacob’s fears consumed him. He was not optimistic to say the least, and felt overwhelmed with his fears over the very real possibility that Esau and the four hundred men with Esau would do him and his family in. But God was at work having changed Esau’s heart, whether in an instant though Jacob’s struggle during this time, or more likely to me over time, but Esau would meet his brother in full embrace with weeping.

God met Jacob during this great time of internal conflict. And the same holds true for us today. Of course we want to avoid all such. But the silver lining in the storm cloud is that clear skies follow. We must look to God and seek God’s help in the struggle we are in. God will meet us there as we persist in the same way Jacob did long ago. In and through Jesus.

God meets us where we’re at

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Matthew 9:9-13; MSG

God wants to meet us all where we’re at. We have to come to God just as we are to be accepted. I think of the great hymn, Just As I Am. We come to him with all of our sin, all of our troubles. We don’t pretend to be something we’re not, as if that will make us acceptable to God. Nor do we try to overcome our troubles by ourselves. Coming to God involves trusting God to answer our prayers, to actually meet us where we are, and to do God’s needed work in us.

Matthew was as low can be in Jewish eyes of his day. Here was one of their own, doing work of the hated Romans, and siphoning extra for himself at their expense, making himself rich in the process. Jesus calls him right at his tax collector’s booth, and then eats with him and others like him. And of course gets called on the carpet for that by the religious leaders. What was missing for these leaders was the point of their religion: God’s mercy. For them, for all. 

I’m thankful I can keep returning to God again and again, not for who I wish I would be, or only when I feel good about life. But when I’m struggling, which honestly is at least a lot of the time, and when troubles are just a fact of life. God meets me there. Meets us all there, if we just come to God as we are. Even calls us, like Jesus did Matthew. In and through Jesus.

the good shaking that’s needed

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Haggai 2:6-9

We live during a time when it seems like the very foundations of civilization are being shaken to their core. When one studies history, it has often felt this way given the disruptions taking place.

In the day when this prophecy was written, it seemed like much was lost, that there was little hope for restoration, at least not to the former glory. But God encouraged the leaders of his people to take courage and do as he had directed them. Building the temple, God’s special dwelling place on earth.

This is a good word for us today. The fulfillment is in Christ. What we see going on, sometimes understandably- oftentimes not, is what God is doing or letting happen. With the goal in the end of good: justice and peace. But fulfilled in Christ, who himself is the fulfillment of the temple where humans have access to God, the meeting place of God on earth where heaven and earth come together “in Christ.”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against the injustices and evils of our time. Note the prophets who did this, especially against the wrongs of God’s people. Not that we’re prophets and can do the same. But we need to be open to God’s correction from such.

Not only the whole world needs a good shaking, but our world as well. The writer to the Hebrews addresses that with this passage from Haggai with application not only for the struggling believers of his day who were tempted to leave the faith and actually faith behind, and go back to Judaism, but for us today, who can get caught up in something less than God’s agenda for us, and lose sight of what God has done and is doing in Christ.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12:25-29




living in the present

It’s so easy to slip into the habit of living for the weekend, or for the next holiday or vacation, and to hate living in the muddle of the present. But that’s where God meets us, in the present with all of its challenges, and even rough and tumble.

It’s not like there’s no special places where we get not only needed rest, but have times where we seek to draw near to God. Yes, we need such times, and indeed do look forward to them.

But we need to embrace the moment now, instead of wishing for something different, or waiting for the time to pass. This should become a habit of life, so that as has been said, we’re fully present, even when that involves waiting on God for God’s answer and working. We don’t exist in the past or future, but only the present, where we’re at now. And we do so looking to God and for God’s help. In and through Jesus.

finding higher ground

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Sometimes we are either besieged by or inundated with trials or a trial. We are hard pressed to continue on, somehow feeling the sentence of death within ourselves.

Those are times with the psalmist to call out to God, to ask him to lead us to the rock that is higher than ourselves. The rock is actually God himself, God’s revelation of himself in Jesus.

Do we come out of this unscathed and unmarked? Not at all. Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life after he wrestled with God at Peniel and became “Israel.” We may never be the same, and in this case that’s good, even if with that there are things we may need to guard against. There is the truly good life to be lived in God’s presence with his people for his glory, as we see from the rest of the psalm. We are all a kingdom and priests, and the Lord has something special for each one of us. Above all the Lord gives us himself to be with us, and we with him in his saving reign.

And so I remember this psalm this morning as my heart grows faint. I ask God to lead me to the rock that is higher than I. That I might live well with others in Jesus together for the world.

Thomas Kelly on some true worshipers needed to help others become the same

Thomas Kelly notes that for a group to experience the Shekinah of God there needs to be some individuals who are already “gathered deep in the spirit of worship….In them, and from them, begins the work of worship. The spiritual devotion of a few persons…is needed to kindle the rest, to help those others who enter the service with tangled, harried, distraught thoughts to be melted and quieted and released and made pliant, ready for the work of God and His Real Presence.”

Thomas Kelly, The Eternal Promise, 82-83, quoted by Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, 51.

study as in attentiveness

I have to give a talk on study, in between talks on piety and action. Many other talks lined up as well.

I value the intellect, and agree with Mark Noll that we evangelicals have been all too either anti-intellectual, or more like apathetic in, or downplayed matters of the mind. We need to learn to think well, if we’re truly to love God with all our minds.

But study is not just an intellectual endeavor. Along with that it involves all that makes up our humanity. We were made for relationship, and we were made for community. As well as the mandate from God for humanity, and mission in this world in following Jesus.

The question becomes: How does God get our attention? How does God keep our attention? How do we remain attentive to God, and to God’s word and will for us in this world, in and through Jesus?

I can tell my story how God captured my attention years ago. My response to that, and what has followed after. Too often I’ve seen life mostly in terms of knowledge, which is essential, but by itself not enough.

Yes, we need to be in God’s word, all of it. For me listening to something like The Bible Experience facilitates that well. And reading scripture also. Hearing it read in our church gatherings.

But God’s word is meant to lead us to God himself in Jesus by the Spirit. And in that, God’s will for us individually and in community in Jesus for the world.

I want to learn to be more attentive, really honed in on that even in the midst of all life’s demands and responsibilities.

There is much that could be said about attentiveness. It will look as different as each of us are, in its outworking in our lives. And yet it will have something of the same characteristics. Some people more on the intellectual side, others the mystical, etc. So that we benefit from each other. But no part of human life that is to be neglected in any of our lives.

What is God saying to us? How is he moving in our lives? What should be our response? And how do we know any of this to be so, in the first place? All good questions. An element of mystery to be sure in God’s working, but we need to give ourselves fully, by God’s grace in Jesus, so that we can begin to attend more and more fully to God himself, and to God’s good will for us in Jesus, together in community with others, in mission for the world.

tested and tried

It’s interesting how often I am tested on a certain matter the same day I post about it on this blog. Somehow I see the devil in those details, yet I also can learn to see the Lord. The devil of course tempts us, wanting us to fall. Out of love the Lord tests us, to refine us and make us holy.

Early church desert fathers and mothers from what I understand, spent extended time in solitude and experienced much of the temptation of the devil, there. Just as our Lord did when he was tempted forty days and nights in the wilderness. Such times were times of drawing near to God, and hearing God’s voice. Followed by rich blessing for many when they returned to society. I think especially of Anthony of Egypt.

I want to finagle my way out of such times. Instead of resisting the devil and drawing near to God, I want to complain. Alright, if I pour out my complaints to God as in the psalms.

Shouldn’t I develop a new attitude toward trials? I think so. I should see them as necessary in a process of my becoming like Jesus. I need to resist the devil in all of his schemes. Learning discernment in that. And I need to draw near to God, to hear God’s voice, and learn to see his heart and hand in everything.

Tested, tried and in the end found true. For all of us, in and through Jesus, that we might become more and more like him, together for the world.

meeting God anew

As we think of a new year according to how we mark our calendars, some in our culture think of coming up with a New Year’s resolution. I’ve never been much for this idea, at least not in recent years (or even, decades). But if I would think of something for the coming year, meeting God anew might be at the top of what I would consider.

When the church meets together, we meet not only to congregate with each other, but to congregate together meeting God. If there is one thing I think should be considered of first importance in this endeavor, it is the idea that meeting God anew should be sought after within the community of God’s people. That we should be doing this together. Hence the power in my estimation of monasteries, and the monastic life.

But to do this, meeting God must be our desire, and indeed passion. We need to endeavor to do this day after day in solitude with silence. In Jesus we indeed do live in God’s Presence. But we need to make closeness to God our priority and preoccupation.

We do so by the word of God, prayer and the sacraments. And to do all in solitude is impossible. All three are to be celebrated and done together with God’s people in Jesus, while we continue our own regular devotion to God through prayer and the word.

We have the promise that as we come near to God, he will come near to us. A promise not to be taken lightly, but to be remembered and practiced.

Sharon Brown on lectio divina (sacred reading)

Lectio divina (sacred reading) is an ancient way of listening to Scripture, dating back to the early Middle Ages. It is a slow, prayerful digesting of God’s Word.

In our information-overload culture, we have lost the art of lingering over words. Often when we read, we hurry through the material as quickly as possible, skimming for main ideas. But that kind of reading is counterproductive to spiritual formation. While it’s essential to read God’s Word, we must also allow God’s Word to read us.

Many people study the Bible without ever being shaped by the text. When we come to the Word with our own agenda, we put ourselves in the position of control. We may look for what we get out of it rather than ever allowing the Word to get into us. We so easily forget that reading the Word of God is meant to be a supernatural act of cooperating with the Holy Spirit. We’re meant to be listening to the Word with the ears of the heart.

At the beginning of his gospel, the apostle John wrote: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is the process of sacred reading. We read the Bible slowly and reverently, listening for the Word made flesh in our own lives. In sacred reading we aren’t studying the Bible for historical, theological, or cultural contexts. We are looking to encounter the living God. Lectio divina invites the Holy Spirit to bring the Word to life in a way that grips us and speaks to us right in the midst of our daily lives. We let the word descend from our minds to our hearts where it can penetrate and transform us.

As Jesus often said, “Let those who have ears to hear, hear.”

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes, 92.