breaking through “same old, same old” into new ground

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

We’re up against something that is either new, or maybe more likely something we’ve faced time and time again. And the experience of it has been nothing to write home about. Not good to say the least.

What if instead of accepting that kind of experience in the midst of trial, we determine right away to choose God’s will, specifically his promise given to us in Scripture? We do so by simply praying, looking to God in faith. We can’t expect our experience to change in an instant, but it will change.

And what can be underrated is the process itself. We are turning our face in a different direction entirely, away from the gloom and doom to God’s light. The effect of doing that will change us. And then we might be able to see some things that in the darkness we could not have possibly seen before. Persevering in endurance in that process, so that God might continue to grow us toward full maturity in and through Jesus.

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fear an opportunity for faith

In this world there are endless possibilities to be anxious about something. And there are indeed many things to be concerned about. I am the kind of person that when troubled can pray and get God’s peace, but can almost immediately think of something else that troubles me. And that really never stops when you consider the nature of things in this life. What if we lived more of an anxiety-less existence in the midst of the inevitable trouble that comes our way? Scripture tells us how, and perhaps no more clearly and to the point than here.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I think quite often our breakthroughs come when we’re in the midst of the worst of what we experience. When we’re in that kind of struggle, we need to be in prayer. And we need to go on what God gives us, the thought as well as whatever peace might come our way, of course I’m talking about inward peace. Maybe even our own thought, or so it would seem. Recently I had what I would call a major breakthrough on an issue, deciding that I was no longer going to concern myself so that I actually break that old rule and simply trust in God, come what may. We can fashion many ideas or practices simply out of fear. That’s a sign it’s not good. And as a former pastor told us, we should never act from fear.

Except that fear can oddly enough become an impetus to move us to faith. There are few things worse than living in fear. For some people they have certain phobias, fear of this or that. Or some may just live in fear of just about everything. These people need special help. Psychiatric counseling might be good; how many of us have seen a psychiatrist or psychologist? I have, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, and indeed can be helpful. But what I’m getting at here is more the fear we normally encounter usually over one matter at a time. As a good Christian man who worked where I work in the past used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Yes, we want to be alert and do what we can. It’s not like we just become passive in our faith. But we ought to start with prayer in faith in the midst of the worry. Keep praying. And act from there or not act at all if we are unsure of what to do. Of course we use common sense in seeking counsel (Proverbs).

In the end we bring all our fears to God. Believing he can take care of everything. Notice that the passage above says nothing about the actual outcome. The promise is that God’s peace will settle in, in a way canceling out our own understanding, certainly surpassing it (Proverbs 3:5-6). And so our fears can oddly enough become an opportunity for faith. As we keep turning to God again and again in and through Jesus.

 

developing an awareness of and sensitivity to systemic evil

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.

You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.

Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says:

“There will be wailing in all the streets
and cries of anguish in every public square.
The farmers will be summoned to weep
and the mourners to wail.
There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord.

Amos 5:10-17

We are very much aware of the evil of abortion. The supposed woman’s right to choose. What about the evil of “white privilege?” The only ones unaware of that are many of us whites who don’t face what African-Americans face here on a daily basis. And then there’s the poor. Yes, there are programs to help them, and of course we should do what we can as well. But all too often the system is stacked against them. Like being hired in places not full time, and not much over minimum wage. So that they are on their own as far as healthcare. And if you make a bit too much, you’re not covered. And often the poor don’t do what’s considered basic healthcare such as a biannual or even annual trip to the dentist, not to mention an annual checkup with a doctor. Supposedly healthcare is something people should figure out themselves, not provided as in every other first world nation. Not to mention that they don’t have a living wage. Of course everyone has to be held accountable, and there are no easy answers for everything. And climate change caused by human consumption, greed, misplaced values impacts especially poor nations and the poor.

I consider all of this, and there’s surely more, as nothing less than systemic evil. I’m tired of government being considered evil. And corporations are not? Please. They sold us down the river during the last recession, and we had to bail them out. Main Street bailing out Wall Street with taxes. And our nation continues to spiral into further and further debt funding the military with more money than the next several nations combined. So that the national debt it has to pay will soon exceed what is spent on the military. And yet we don’t have enough funds to provide needed healthcare to the poor and middle class, the latter losing their homes sometimes because they became ill or have some disease, lost their job, and didn’t have adequate healthcare insurance, which by the way, they couldn’t well afford in the first place.

All of this is chalked down to politics and then summarily dismissed. But it’s not at all about politics. And as far as I’m concerned the Democrats overall are just as guilty as the Republicans. I don’t even care to get into the political aspect of it, with all the finger pointing, and white washing that goes on. Washington is broken no doubt. And government with the political impasse is in crisis.

But that’s in a way neither here nor there with me. What we as Christians need to address in word and deed insofar as we can along with much prayer are matters that have to do with loving our neighbors as ourselves. And loving our enemies as well, by the way. But Jesus was talking to his disciples, to be sure.

It is all messy, what to make of what’s going on, and trying to figure out just what our role should be as Christians, and as the church in relation to the state. It’s a tall order. But we shouldn’t be shy at expressing our thoughts and concerns. We shouldn’t be known as either Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, progressives, liberals, or whatnot. When people look at us they should have trouble pinning us down in ways like that. But they should know that whatever our mistakes, we are committed followers of Christ, and the church, not at all subservient to the state. Except to pray for government leaders, pay taxes, participate in the democratic process as we’re led to, as we choose, and wish the best for everyone.

We can’t cut the prophets out of scripture, in so doing cutting a large part of Jesus out, too. We must echo them. But always in love, along with justice and mercy always together. As we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In and through Jesus.

our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

when all seems against you

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it.
May those who curse days curse that day,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars become dark;
may it wait for daylight in vain
and not see the first rays of dawn,
for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me
to hide trouble from my eyes.

“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest
with kings and rulers of the earth,
who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
like an infant who never saw the light of day?
There the wicked cease from turmoil,
and there the weary are at rest.
Captives also enjoy their ease;
they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are freed from their owners.

“Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with gladness
and rejoice when they reach the grave?
Why is life given to a man
whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Job 3:1-26

One of the things I love about Scripture is the rugged, unapologetic, fully exposed truth about one’s experience and feelings. It is uncomfortable at times, even dreadful, yes, troubling, but it captures something of what we all experience in this life.

I return again and again to the wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes, especially for me, the latter. There’s plenty of wisdom to be gathered from them both, along with the standard essential wisdom we find in Proverbs.

This tells me that it’s okay to express our true thoughts, especially to God. Job was doing so with friends he trusted, but who, alas, turned out to be untrustworthy. That teaches us something, too. But Job was undeterred. He let them have their say, and he would have his. Back and forth it went. Until the end, when God intervened.

We have to read the entire story. We don’t want to remain forever in minor key. But somehow all of that is included in what we might call the song of Scripture. God didn’t erase these words of Job, this part from the story. Indeed, it’s an integral part. Without it, the story would be incomplete. It mirrors something of our own story.

God deals with us as we are, where we’re at. Not how we would like things to be. We come to God as we are, frankly confessing and simply speaking all that is on our hearts, and often troubled minds. And we wrestle through it, like Job did.

An essential part of genuine faith in and through Jesus.

avoiding consequences

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:8-14

Some people may think it’s less than holy to abstain from bad behavior out of fear of the consequences. But scripture doesn’t seem to agree with that objection. Yes, we want high motives, above all love for God and for people. But it is wise to simply avoid impulses to respond one way or another, as we trust in God, and let God vindicate what is good. Otherwise we’re in for some rough sledding, if nothing more, God’s loving disciplining hand.

A big one we practice is being passive aggressive. We react to perceived slights, maybe even obvious enough. It is better for us to hold back. Make no reaction, but bring such to God in prayer. To turn such occasions into times of talking with God. And refusing to respond in kind, and especially avoiding the deceptive evil of being passive aggressive which really is the same heart as being actively aggressive. Maybe it’s more subtle, but consequences, even if seemingly subtle, will come.

As the passage above tells us, we’re to turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. This requires discipline on our part, but especially faith, we could say a disciplined faith. We do our best to do what we’re called to do, and entrust ourselves to God. We refuse to act or react out of fear. We trust in God, and continue to do good. Believing in God’s vindication, and that God is at work for good. In and through Jesus.

the challenge and reward of trusting God

It’s a lifelong challenge, but there’s ever present, and pressing at times, the need to trust in God. Or we may not see that possibility, and think it all depends on us. Left to ourselves, we might actually do well. Though if we would only realize that our very existence, as well as what we can do is all a gift from God. But God wants to give us special help, if only we’ll look to him. In fact, God will let us fail, because we actually do need him.

I like to have a scripture passage on my post, or at least refer to scripture passages, but this is all over scripture. Open your Bibles most anywhere, and start to read, and it won’t take long to see something of this. Though of course scripture covers the entire gamut of life. But faith and trust in God is so central to what we need to do as human beings.

It’s also a lifelong opportunity. Instead of worrying ourselves sick, or trying to figure things out ourselves, we do well to turn to God, and to the counsel of scripture. Proverbs (see, I couldn’t resist mentioning some specific scripture) is full of practical, down to earth wisdom throughout. And we really need all of scripture. But that alone won’t do it. We also need to look to God as we’re in scripture, in God’s word and prayer. God will help us. In and through Jesus.