not losing heart

Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31:24

It is easy in the midst of great difficulty, and when everything seems against you, to lose heart. When you see what the psalmist is up against in Psalm 31, that is a great case in point. And yet the psalm ends with the words above.

When we lose heart, we give up. We don’t do what’s needed, because we think there’s little or no hope. But that indicates that our focus is not on God and God’s promises. And sometimes we are cursing under our breath, or maybe out loud, just caving in to the pressure and all the wrong we see around us. If you read Psalm 31 (click above link), you’ll see that the psalmist was going through plenty. And that just maybe the psalmist’s thoughts in the midst of that we’re not altogether saintly.

Of course we look for relief and needed help. But key for us in Jesus is simply not to lose heart.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Luke 18:1

It is essential for us that we don’t give up, that we don’t lose heart, whatever is facing us, and no matter what. We have to entrust ourselves and everything else into God’s hands. That doesn’t mean we don’t appeal to God in prayer. That’s central in not losing heart. Nor does it mean that we never look to others. It does mean that whatever else happens, or doesn’t happen, our hope remains fixed on God. And therefore we persevere, and don’t lose heart. It’s much easier to lose heart, but it’s also harder to live with the consequences of doing that. We have no choice really. We either keep on keeping on in faith, or we lose heart. The latter is never an option for us.

So we endeavor to walk before God honestly, grounded in reality, but trusting that God will see us through. In and through Jesus.

 

intimacy with God in a brutal world

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:1-4

If you read Psalm 91 in its entirety, you can’t avoid the reality it’s describing: a brutal world. There’s no two ways of getting around it.

But even in the midst of that God not only wants to protect us, but be intimately close to us. God will take care of us, and help us flourish, even through the worst this life can bring.

But we have to hold on to this promise, and act on it. In spite of ourselves, sometimes God will break through in love. But this needs to be an ongoing daily practice, so that we experience more and more God’s protection and intimacy in a brutal world. In and through Jesus.

learning to depend on God when anxious

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 certainly have had other problems, but I think my longest, persistent problem has been anxiety. Sometimes in the past, smothered in it for days at a time. Better in recent years, but still not that good.

More recently, I’ve begun to experience what I think is something of a breakthrough for me. The passage above has been my main go to thoughts in trying to deal with this, and still is. The difference I think somehow might lie in the depth in which I’m pursuing this. But it’s probably more simple than that.

I tend to be a person of words, connecting with words, thinking through things with words, processing life largely that way, not enough with God’s beauty and in other ways. And I likely did that with this passage, thinking as long as I do such and such, then God will respond, but maybe more like on a conceptual level, than personally.

Maybe not that much difference, but now I realize it all depends on God, quite personal. It is kind of a mystical approach, but quite real for us Christians. I realize that when I’m concerned about something, whether as a possibility or a reality I’m having to deal with, that I can’t get rid of the anxious feelings which arise and often the numbness that follows. I can only bring my concerns to God, just as the passage tells us above. And wait for him.

Invariably, God comes through. That takes away panic, gives me perspective, and brings needed peace of heart and mind. Only from God in answer to prayer right in the midst of the struggle. In and through Jesus.

what does God’s promise to never leave us mean?

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

Repeatedly in Scripture we have God’s promise not to forsake his people. And Jesus made that clear at his ascension (Matthew 28), his presence being with them (John 14) through the soon to come outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1,2).

We need to take it in that Scripture tells us that we are in God through Christ, and God is in us. What we’re referring to here is like living in a sphere, even a bubble. Our struggle comes in part because we don’t understand this and therefore we’re not expecting closeness to the Lord, nor to be guided directly by him through the Spirit, and the means the Spirit uses: primarily Scripture and the church.

This makes all the difference in the world, the difference between night and day when we begin to act as if this is so, and to do that in the beginning will ordinarily be quite apart from our feelings. And this all really is not a matter of emotions. That will always come and go. But to have a sense of the Lord’s interactivity with us is indeed encouraging.

For us Christians, Christ is central in every way in this. We know it’s because of his life, death and resurrection and ascension that this new life is available to us. And it’s a life in which Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3). Our only hope is in him.

And like the Scripture above tells us, he promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Whatever we have to go through he’ll intimately be there with us through it all. What we must do is act as if that’s the case, applying Scripture, like Philippians 4:6,7, etc., etc. And we’ll soon find out that this is indeed the case. But something we’ll have to do again and again, so that over time it can become more and more second nature to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

the warning not to fall away

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 5:11-6:12

I think it would be a most dangerous, senseless thing as Christians to take our salvation for granted. This passage seems to clearly say that it’s possible for a Christian to lose their faith, in the words of the passage, to “fall away.” It ends on a more hopeful note, for some reassuring that a Christian will not fall away as has just been suggested. My guess is that a better reading would be that this is a pastoral note of encouragement for them to continue in God’s grace in the new covenant in Christ. That God was for them and is for us in that. But with the direction to imitate the faith and patience seen in others.

Apparent and I think real Christians, as seems to me evident in this warning passage have abandoned the faith, apostatized, that is fallen away, and have either renounced their former faith, or just don’t care, certainly no longer professing faith in Christ. How we explain that will depend on how we, or more likely, our church interprets Scripture, along with the accompanying theology. But I’m not sure it matters who’s right or wrong on such interpretation. What we need to do is heed these words, taking them seriously. Not giving up or simply giving in, but keeping on keeping on in God’s grace. In and through Jesus.

dealing with the unexpected

Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:25-26

We have gradually for the most part been able to take in what is occurring worldwide with the coronavirus pandemic. It is unsettling for sure, and potentially life-changing. I am volunteering at my work place, Our Daily Bread Ministries which Michigan has allowed to remain open as an essential service. Most are staying at home, many being able to work from home. My work is factory, so we either work there, or not at all. The ministry is generously paying those who are staying home. Considering family, friends, and society at large and around the world, it is a sobering time indeed.

Strangely enough yesterday, after getting home from work, occasion took me behind the garage where I saw a new tree growing in our neighbor’s yard near the fence, between our two garages. I probably was seeing it for the first time, and it looks like a fast grower, already too big for comfort, its branches heading for our garage. And I felt gripped in fear. In the past we had to have a big tree cut down behind our garage, which if I would have taken care of when we first moved there, would have cost nothing. And so my relative peace and calm in spite of the trying circumstances of our time was replaced with an ongoing, gripping fear.

We read in the passage in Proverbs quoted above that we’re not to be fearful of sudden disaster. That seems like a mighty tall order, given all that can happen and sometimes does in this life. And I really don’t appreciate the disruption of the relative peace I had in the midst of the storm raging around us. I must admit that for me owning a home often seems much more like a home owning me, no doubt.

But we have to keep coming back to God’s word, to prayer, and simply waiting on God in his grace to answer us. God is for us as seen in the sending of his Son (Romans 8:31-32). I think it is important to see the immediate context of this passage:

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:21-26

We can’t just pull a “precious promise” out of the air, or a hat, or even the Bible which is the point here, and expect God to answer. We must consider the context of the whole, really the entire Bible, but first of all the immediate context of Scripture.

All of that said, I personally am tired of falling into the gripping fear which all too often has characterized my life over the years, although it is less than it once was. If I’m not experiencing that, it’s almost like I’m trying to fend it off. Worry has all too often hounded me. It’s almost as if I’m worried about becoming worried, anxious about being overcome and stricken with anxiety. And now it has overtaken me again.

I love how the passage quoted just above prioritizes wisdom. That seems to be the key to avoiding undue stress, the stress that should not be added on to the normal stress of life. Of course like most everything else, that’s easier said then done.

The promise spelled out is encouraging in both the tranquility God can give, as well as God helping us avoid what is not helpful, and often only exacerbates the problem, or at least causes us to dig ourselves into a deeper hole of fear. Taking matters into our own hands is not the answer. And just as I’ve been told in the past, we shouldn’t act on our fears. That is at least too close to panic, which is never good.

Of course I do want to act responsibly and do what can be done. With the neighbor’s permission, I could cut down the relatively young tree just on the other side of their fence. But if I can’t get the answer I want, then I have to leave it in God’s hands. And try to be entrusting that to God right along, by faith. Which leads me to share one more part of the general context, which has spoken significantly to me in recent years:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

May God help me and all of us to learn more and more to rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

an advanced faith?

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91

Recently I read somewhere someone suggesting that when Jesus said that if one believes, what they have asked for in prayer is granted, that this is true only for those with an advanced faith. Many a person, myself included has asked God for all kinds of things, hopefully that would be good, and have believed God could answer. Admittedly, in my case, I might struggle with unbelief for whatever reason, probably primarily due to not knowing God well enough, and therefore not trusting his word. A weak and wobbly faith. We’re not supposed to remain there, but grow in our faith, learning to trust in God  to help us and see us through, come what may.

To me, this psalm tells us that we’re invincible in God’s will. Satan used a line in this psalm in his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. And Jesus immediately quoted other Scripture, telling Satan that we should not test the Lord our God. Yes, God will protect us, but only in God’s will, and in his time. Life remains a mystery, so that we’re not going to have an answer for why everything happens. But we can be assured that God will see us through in his will, as we trust in God and continue in his way, in what he has for us. In and through Jesus.

faith not works puts us right with God

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Romans 4:4-5

It seems ingrained in us humans that being right with God depends on us, specifically on what we do. We think somehow that we have to earn so as to deserve God’s acceptance and favor. Paul here puts the kibosh on that. Of course we find this elsewhere in Scripture, even as this passage from Paul makes clear (click Romans link above).

No, faith puts us right with God. We’re justified by faith, not ever by our works. Works follow, and justifying faith does work for sure. But it has to be in that order. If we’re struggling to be accepted by God, we’re wasting time and effort. We need to stop and simply trust God, believe God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ.

God has done what needs to be done for us to be accepted by him. We simply have to accept and receive that. And only then do we receive the forgiveness of sins and new life which opens up an entirely new way for us. Certainly filled with love and good works. In and through Jesus.

how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

If I would choose one passage to summarize my life, it might be this, and with a hope so. Jesus begins here, and this is where we need to begin and keep beginning. This is not like a one time thing, and then we move on. It’s something that should always characterize our thought and attitude about ourselves.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace and if we look at our lives honestly, we’ll know that we don’t measure up both in terms of sins of commission as well as omission. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves or our sin. But it does mean that we acknowledge our need for ongoing forgiveness of sin through confession, and acknowledge too our utter need of God’s grace to grow spiritually. We should never dismiss or minimize God’s promise to not only forgive our sins, but cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I have often seen Christians who looked down on other Christians or churches as not being “Spirit-filled.” But it has seemed to me over and over again that too often what is exhibited in such attitudes is a demonstration of leaving this saying of Jesus behind. They somehow are beyond that, or maybe to them that only applies to people before they come to Jesus for conversion. Utterly false. I would rather be with the humble, poor in spirit any day, than with the Spirit-filled who have to look down on others. I’m at home with the “poor in spirit,” since I’m most certainly one of them.

At the same time it is the poor in spirit who will actually know more of the work of God’s Spirit in their lives. Especially in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) as we note that no matter what spiritual gift we might exercise, if it is not exercised with love, it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13). That doesn’t mean we leave the Spirit-given gifts behind, but only that we put first things first.

If we fail to accept the reality that we’re poor in spirit, then we’ll inevitably be proud and compare ourselves with others, favorably for us, of course. Instead we’re to take the way of Jesus who made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), who was humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). In and through Jesus.

God will wipe away every tear from our eyes

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Revelation 7:14b-17

Revelation is symbolic of truth in God’s final judgment and salvation. In the New Testament we’re in the last days, so something of much of Revelation could be present, as well as telling us the forever ending.

So those who have come out of the great tribulation could especially mean those who have suffered for their faith and witness. In a certain sense it might include all of us who name the name of Christ and by faith remain among the faithful.

The thought of the Lamb being our shepherd is touching, and that this shepherding will be forever, wonderful. We are sheep forever, redeemed, made perfect in a sense, yet still sheep in need of the Good Shepherd.

What is especially moving to me is the thought that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There is so much in this life to be sorry and sorrowful about. There’s no end. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, a lifetime of such. That God will wipe away all tears is the way this promise and blessing ends. Somehow there will be a resolution to everything. All in God’s good wisdom and will. To unfold in time in and through Jesus.