the need for self-understanding

…we are dust.

Psalm 103:14b

It is important for us to understand ourselves. Weaknesses. What helps us, what doesn’t. Strengths, too. To find where we excel as well as what helps us be resilient in the inevitable drama and trauma of life. To find our gifts, what we enjoy doing, what comes more or less natural to us, as well as what doesn’t.

Scripture tells us we’re dust. And that to dust we’ll return. But in and through God become human in Christ we receive the hope in the form of a promise of resurrection from a mortal into an immortal existence. And we’re taken up into a great family, God our Parent, Christ our Brother, the Spirit our love breath.

I really get tired of certain aspects of myself which are not what I believe God intends in the long run. Especially challenging to me is my propensity to worry about this and that and something else, everything else. I manage this much better than in the past. I realize that it’s important how I carry myself, not to be fake, but in faith looking to God to help me do better, trust in God, cast the burden on God, and experience some release from this. And that is happening more for which I’m thankful, but I’m still beset with a tendency to worry. Scripture addresses that. Though that helps I simply realize that this is a weakness that is part of who I am.

Thankfully we find that God accepts us completely just as we are. That should be the reason we can do the same. God helps us in the midst of our weaknesses, indeed the Lord’s strength somehow becomes evident in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12).   If God loves this dust made in God’s image, then we need to, too. Love each other, even ourselves. Know ourselves, and that the God who knows us completely through and through, completely accepts and loves us.

In and through Jesus.

what is needed in this wilderness

Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.[a]

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3; MSG

We live in a wilderness in this life. We’ve not reached the Promised Land yet. In Christ we’ve stepped into something of the experience of God’s promise, but certainly not into its fullness and completion.

So what are we left with here, yes in this wilderness? Nothing less than God’s word. What do I mean by God’s word? Certainly Scripture is included in this thought, both in general, and specifically all that is meant. Again God’s promises along with God’s directives, commands, warnings, encouragements, blessing, etc., etc., etc. Karl Barth surely had a point that God’s word to us is how God actually speaks to us through the pages of Scripture (if I’m understanding that correctly).

So we have to hold on to God’s word. We live in the wilderness, and as the passage above makes clear, it isn’t easy. But God wants to help us through, to teach us a lot, all of that from our complete dependence on God. Of course we have to learn complete dependence as well, more and more living in that, deepening ourselves in it.

Again this doesn’t come easy. Just consider the story of God’s children under Moses’s leadership, Moses’s own struggles. But God offer’s God’s presence and all that we need as we remain in prayer, seeking to hear God speak to us especially through the words of Scripture. In and through Jesus.

faith must work to work

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:14-26

We can say we have faith in God, in God’s promises, and that’s all well and good. But it won’t make the needed difference unless we act on it. The difference certainly refers to others. In James’s words here, helping the sister or brother in need, or with reference to Rahab, for one’s own family as well as for Rahab herself. What I’m especially referring to here is one’s own salvation. When we experience that salvation, or in the words in this passage, justification, we naturally want to see everyone else experience the same. But when we’re struggling with a lack in being settled into that in our spirits, ourselves, then we can’t see our way to really have that same longing for others.

What is absolutely essential in a sense is being willing to burn all bridges down behind us, so that there’s no turning back, but that our faith is expressed in action. If we say we believe something, then we have to act on that, or in the words of James, our faith is barren, even dead.

Abraham is the stark case in point here. He was asked to sacrifice his son no less, Isaac, on an altar he would have to prepare himself as a whole burnt offering to God. Certainly a mind boggling, simply unfathomable thing to ask of someone, at least in our world. In Abraham’s world, from what I’ve read, it may not have been as shocking. We read elsewhere that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be to fulfill God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations, heir of the world, and that all nations would be blessed through him (Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:13, 17; Galatians 3:8). Just the same, it couldn’t have been easy.

But as we see in Genesis 22, there’s no hesitation to fulfill what God commanded. Maybe there was something in Abraham’s mind, like, “Let’s get this over with.” We don’t know what precisely was in his mind, except as mentioned above, because Scripture doesn’t tell us. But Abraham went all the way with no hesitation, hard as that had to have been. And raising the knife was stopped by the angel of the Lord before plunging the knife into his beloved son, the son who was to be heir, and through whom God’s blessing was to be extended to all.

James is telling us that we’re to have this same kind of faith. We either do it, and that includes the hard thing which maybe at the time makes no sense to us. But we do so in obedience to God, resting on God’s promise of blessing and good. In and through Jesus.

not for the faint of heart

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in princes.

All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

Psalm 118:5-14

Faith in following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. The psalmist here is more than up against it, crying out to God for help. It seems like more often than not that we only seek God with all our hearts when we’re in trouble. Though hopefully we do so as well because of the trouble of others, especially those who are close to us in our own families, as well as in the family of faith in the world. But our concern and love should extend to all. And by the Spirit, God can and will help us that way.

But back to the main point. Following Christ and faith is not for the faint of heart. We’re in a spiritual battle now, definitely not a physical one. The faint of heart don’t obey Jesus’s words to not resist evil against us, but instead to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us, to do good to those who despise us. The faint of heart don’t even seek to apply faith in the most difficult situations in which their faith is either lagging, or not existent at all.

The devil is often in the details of this life, one of his emissaries attached to me. We have to understand what we’re up against, and as James tells us, to resist the devil with the promise that he’ll flee from us.

Look at God’s people in Scripture. Hebrews 11 into 12 is a good place to start. Real people as flawed as any of us are. All people of faith who were not faint of heart because of their faith in God, in God’s promises. And it ends with Jesus himself who went through so much more than we can understand as we consider Gethsemane and the cross.

Psalm 118, the passage quoted above does not end oddly, though at first glance that may appear to be the case. When we pour out our whole hearts to God and don’t let go, God comes through and rewards us with so much more. Notice how this psalm unfolds and ends:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 118:19-29

In and through Jesus.

peace of mind

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Shalom is the transliteration of the Hebrew word translated “peace” which means more than inward tranquility and rest. As translations indicate and considering the context, here it could mean safety (NET), as well as the flourishing of humanity and creation. Peace of mind comes with the sense that all is taken care of, that all will be made well, and in the end be well as in whole, no longer broken.

I think in this life we have to hold on to promises like this, because so much seems in flux, unstable, threatening: undermining what is good. We certainly do need peace of mind, which is often the way this Scripture passage has been applied, even if that’s not its precise meaning. It certainly is included. And notice that it’s dependent on whether or not we trust in God. When we do, no matter what, God will give us God’s peace. This reminds me of another Scripture passage, Paul’s words to us:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Notice that the promise here is not that everything will turn out just the way we like. We know better than that in this life. But that no matter what, God will be at work through our prayers is implied, with the promise that God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. We need to hold on to this promise and not let go of our faith, putting that faith into practice by doing what Paul tells us to do here. God will always answer. According to our faith, it will be done for us. And God values our efforts, even though inevitably imperfect.

We know that in the new creation we’ll live in God’s care with no concerns whatsoever, whole and fully at peace in the love of God. But even in a world which is often turbulent and tearing at the seams, we can still have God’s peace. Yes, right in the midst of the storm. And in spite of so many things we wish would be different. Peace of heart and mind. In and through Jesus.

blessed assurance in Jesus

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5:6-12; NRSV

I can’t help but think of Fanny Crosby’s great hymn, Blessed Assurance. In fact that was what I was thinking of when I entitled this post. We have blessed assurance in Jesus that our sins are forgiven and that we have new life in him. And a number of other passages in Scripture, and specifically in the New/Second Testament confirm this.

This helps us through the difficult, dark places. We are assured that God is with us in Christ through thick and thin, in the hard as well as enjoyable spaces. And we’re promised that the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us. So that this promise is not only for the life to come, but also for now, for this life.

A truth in our hearts that we need to hold on to. Seeing anything contrary to that as simply not being true as long as we are meeting the other criteria John lays down in this letter like obeying God’s commands, and loving others, along of course with believing in Jesus. In large part why this letter was written.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:13; NRSV

In and through Jesus.

Note the correction on yesterday’s post: what if we’re not meant to tie up all the loose ends? See last footnote there.

better days are coming

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

One of my favorite pastors used to say, “The best is yet to come!” And that’s true in God’s world. In the world in which we live, which in the end is also God’s world we see trouble piled on trouble, no end of it. If it isn’t one thing it’s another and another and then the next problem. There’s always something. And it’s not just problems we might solve, but issues far beyond us. And we can thank only ourselves collectively as well as individually for much of the mess we’re in.

But God’s promise in Jesus is that better days are coming. God can’t wait to forgive and pour out God’s love on us. This does require repentance of sins, of our own foolish ways. All we have to be is honest to God, to others. God will take care of everything in the end. In the meantime God helps us, setting us on a course to be a part of solution the world needs, nothing short of God’s kingdom and that kingdom come in Jesus.

But we can take solace and even find relief with the thought that good days are ahead. That the problem or problems, troubles and trials which weigh in on us will someday be a thing of the past. It will all be gone. This can help us in the present, not to ignore hard reality, but not be suffocated in it, either. God will help us now as we look forward to the day when it will all be gone. In and through Jesus.

focus on God

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me.

John 14:1

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

I’ve been enjoying the new hymnbook entitled Voices Together. Reading through new hymns and new songs (to me), as well as familiar hymns. And readings in the back, including morning, evening, and night liturgy, with prayers. Other than a Bible, this is the book I have in hand now every day.

What I’ve found is that it helps me get my focus on God, the same way Scripture does. Well, it’s meant to do that, as we raise our voice in songs, hymns and spiritual songs. With helpful readings and prayers in the back. The present day liturgy of the denominations Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus was telling his disciples some quite heavy things, not only more than they could wrap their heads around, but more than their hearts could bear. But he told them to believe in God, to believe in him. And to realize that in the midst of their troubles, he had overcome the world.

Scripture is replete with this theme. Trouble real and imagined. There is no end to that. But God wants us to lift our eyes up, off our troubles and onto God and God’s promises. We’re to be transfixed there. We can be either looking at our problems, or at God, one of the two, not both. I am speaking of focus here. It’s not like we’re oblivious to reality. But that’s not where we’re to live. We’re instead to live in God.

God will take care of it. Christ has won. What that means for us is that God wants us to learn to live above circumstances, so to speak. Still owning proper responsibility, but doing so in a way which puts God front and center. A matter of both perspective and expectation. Seeing everything more as God does, and finding God’s priority as well as God’s help. Learning to live in that. In and through Jesus.

don’t despise what’s simple (the example here for the anxious, like me)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 4:4-9

We can often look at the simple as simplistic. And maybe somehow beneath us? That may or may not be what we need to humble us. But whatever may be the case, we dare not discount and put aside what might seem too obvious, for something more sophisticated and complex, even if we think that our problem is complex. It surely is, but we need to remember too that what is simple is often quite profound.

And this is no less the case in the above Scripture passage. What if we like myself, who are so prone to anxiety would start to put this passage into practice? I know there might be some who would roll their eyes thinking that this is like using a precious promise book, strewn with maybe a hundred verses we’re supposed to claim. It would be good to read the entire book of Philippians, for sure, and meditate on it all, and we need to do that, too.

Remember, the exercise itself will be beneficial, even if one is still lost in anxiety. What is true about those who suffer anxiety as I have over the years, is that the real problem is not the problem itself, but the anxiety. If one is not anxious about one thing, they’ll be anxious about something else. When one anxiety is lifted, there will be another anxiety to take its place. And what one finds out is that basically the approach to life is to be anxious, more or less filled with anxiety.

Instead we need to take this simple yet not simplistic approach of mouthing the above Scripture passage, for example, maybe after we’ve memorized it. And seeking to put it into practice in the midst of our day. If we stay at it, we’ll find eventually that the cloud will lift, that God will honor that. Always in the context of a life in which we are committed to following the Lord. Yes, in view of the full letter of Philippians, and all the rest God has given and will give us. In and through Jesus.

breaking new ground

While Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him:

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

“This is what God, the God of Israel, has to say about what’s going on in this city, about the homes of both people and kings that have been demolished, about all the ravages of war and the killing by the Chaldeans, and about the streets littered with the dead bodies of those killed because of my raging anger—about all that’s happened because the evil actions in this city have turned my stomach in disgust.

“But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jerusalem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive all their rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her.

Jeremiah 33:1-9; MSG

Jeremiah was in prison, and it was not a promising time. God’s judgment had come and was coming, and the people neither liked that, nor the messenger of it, Jeremiah. God’s promise here though is to see beyond that judgment to God’s restoration. Not that we should brush off the judgment as unimportant, or just a necessary nuisance until we get to the good part. Judgment is actually a necessary prelude to God’s blessing. What the passage is referring to is God’s judgment of the wicked to prepare the nation for what is just and good. In our own lives, God’s judgment comes in the form of loving discipline, to clean house in our lives in ways which we may or may not understand, and certainly we have yet to enter at least fully into that experience.

Breaking new ground is about God’s change in our minds, hearts, and lives. That’s the groundbreaking I’m thinking of here. It requires a commitment before God by us so that God can see that through with the least resistance from us, even cooperating with that insofar as God helps us do so. Again, the prayer God encouraged Jeremiah to pray is applicable to us here:

‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

Jeremiah 33:3; MSG

And later in this passage we see what we now know to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s answer to Jeremiah in Jesus:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Breaking new ground we can see from this passage begins with God’s word, God’s promise, and prayer. We have to expect God to answer, but not dialed down to our own expectation. But instead with answers and blessing we would never arrive to on our own, not even in a million years. In and through Jesus.