shattering the freeze (of the “frozen chosen”)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Life is full of problems and sometimes you simply see yourself as trying to solve, or at least mitigate the problems. The question for us as Christians is simply how do we respond to trouble when it comes our way. Maybe the same thing over and over again, so that it’s naturally irritating to us.

God’s written word tells us what to do. Too often as Christians what we know and say we believe is not what we practice. It’s not like we can’t complain to God. See the psalms. But we need to practice rejoicing in God always, since God is God, being good, not to mention great, and is true to his promises. And to thank God again and again for all the blessings of life, for all of God’s goodness to us. And in the midst of that, as the passage above tells us, to pray, and to keep on praying.

We need to break through our natural reticence to do this. Just do what God tells us to do, and we’ll find God’s help in doing it. And then we need to keep doing this, forming a new pattern and practice that becomes a part of who we are, so that this becomes our natural response to the inevitable difficulties of life.

Something I’m in the midst of working on. In and through Jesus.

rejoicing in the Lord (spiritual warfare)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4

I haven’t actually wondered much over this exhortation from the Apostle Paul. I think I’ve summarily dismissed it during difficult times. And too often I’ve been in a thinking mode which might hide a lack the humility needed to simply praise the Lord no matter what. It’s not like I haven’t tried to put it into practice. I can exist in lament much of the time when I think about the troubles near me, maybe even on me, as well as the problems of the world.

Yesterday for a time I felt overcome in a kind of spiritual malaise and darkness accompanied with fear. Usually there’s some kind of reason behind it, even if it’s not entirely rational. Sometimes there’s really not much of any reason at all.

Then I thought of this exhortation or imperative, even command, although I prefer to take it as a gentle pastoral directive, that we’re to rejoice in the Lord, or be glad in him always, yes always. That made no sense to me in the present, but by faith that is exactly what I began to attempt to do.

What I found by and by, and actually sooner than not was a lifting of the clouds, darkness and chill, and a return of a sense of the presence and peace of God. By rejoicing in the Lord, even when I didn’t at all feel like it. By faith. All of this, as always, in and through Jesus.

being cheerful in the midst of adversity

To have trouble and struggle seems to be part and parcel, practically the norm of this present life. There is the day-to-day common problems which easily are seen as a nuisance, and time an escape from such. But then there are those special problems which may be legitimate or not, but can be grating, and even burdensome. We’re not meant to carry all of it ourselves, in fact more often than not, it seems that we’re to get rid of it. We are to carry our own burdens, as in responsibilities. But others are to help us with our overburdens (Galatians 6), and we’re actually to cast all of our burdens, big and small on the Lord.

Regardless of the nature of the problem, it can lend to us a humility which helps us not look down on others, getting rid of that natural bent of broken humanity. And there are times when the problem is blaring out to us so loud, that we can’t escape it, a sure sign that while it needs to be dealt with, we also ought to view it with some suspicion. I have noticed that the pressure to act immediately often proves to be either frivolous, as in not mattering, or simply a deception which we will come to regret.

To the main point of this post: I want to learn to be cheerful in the midst of the most uncheering of circumstances. Let’s say it’s a bad health report such as cancer (or even worse for me, Alzheimer’s). Or something which really hits our buttons and ordinarily leaves us in a tizzy, whatever that might be.

Let me suggest to myself, as true from scripture and appropriate to real life (and something Ann Voskamp might have just jogged me on to from her first book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are), we should work on cultivating the practice of being cheerful when our own impulse would be just the exact opposite, taking us into any number of other alternatives in which people regularly live, such as gloom and perhaps panic, etc.

This is not a denial to take seriously the problem at hand, but instead to apply faith right where we live, right in the midst of it, and see the outcome from that. Philippians 4:6-7 and for that matter the entire chapter (better yet, the entire, short book) is helpful here. We’re not to merely pretend our problem doesn’t matter, because in one way or another, it most certainly does. Instead, we’re to bring it before the Lord in prayer, our cheerfulness so to speak expressed to God in thanksgiving in the midst of what would naturally cause us anxiety, or worry, or perhaps more precisely for many of us in our weakness, in the midst of such anxiety. My way of arriving toward that place has been to remain in the word, come what may, slowly working through it in a meditative manner throughout the day. Of course if that’s to do any good, then we need to seek to apply what is written. It wouldn’t hurt for me to include some of the Philippians 4 passage here:

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.

The most important point in this for me is that to be cheerful when down is a radical act of faith. It makes no sense in terms of the real world, and where we live. And none of us wants to be phony, or at least we shouldn’t want to be. Problems are still problems, regardless. The crisis point for us should invoke in us the decision to practice a cheerfulness as an expression of faith in God, who has it all covered in one way or another. So that even when on the inside I’m cringing and anything but cheerful, on the outside I learn to practice what by and by can become true for me even in the midst of difficulty and suffering, as God honors a faith in him and his word, in and through Jesus.

 

 

living in the Joy which is God

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

John 16

A friend shared something with me from C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Great Divorce, which is more than worth the effort to read slowly and thoughtfully so as to begin to grasp, as I had to yesterday:

Sarah, speaking to Frank, says:

“Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way around. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic…because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, ‘I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.’ You used your pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end…

Did you think joy was created to live always under threat? Always defenceless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was really misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself….”

Later, George MacDonald, the narrator’s teacher, explains why it is right that Sarah not be pained at her husband’s choice to be self-interested, rather than accept Joy:
“See what lurks behind it…The demand of the loveless and the self imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

…Ye must distinguish. The action of pity will live fore ever, but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak the truth….–that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken. ”
[but speaking of the action of Pity}
It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light, and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured; but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on ha still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.”

We are also told to rejoice in the Lord always by the Apostle Paul in that great letter of rejoicing, Philippians. It is not only something we experience, but more fundamentally something we do by faith, more and more learning to rest in that joy, in the peace which God gives us in Jesus. And this joy is no less than the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It is the joy of the Blessed Trinity, in a sense what one might aptly call the Joy who is God.

The C. S. Lewis passage read in the light of scripture is more than sufficient to prayerfully ponder, putting the rest of this post aside. But we do well not only to rethink where we live, but what it means for our lives in Jesus. There is inescapable suffering in this life, sometimes due to our own folly, oftentimes due to the sins of others, and simply part and parcel of living in a broken and incomplete world. No matter what we may be experiencing, we must choose by faith to not surrender or back down from the joy that is ours in God through Jesus. It is a joy the world cannot give or appreciate, a witness to help people find their way to God in the way which is Jesus, and the reality in which we in Jesus are learning to live.

thoughts on the beginning of Christmas season

In the Christian tradition, from the Great Tradition, some feast days follow Christmas, which can seem to be head scratchers. There is the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. And today the Feast of the Holy Innocents, who are considered martyrs as well, preceeding Stephen, so that in a sense we could say that they were the first martyrs of the faith. We feast, but we do so as those who have not yet arrived to the fullness of joy to come, but live in something of what Paul experienced:

sorrowful, yet always rejoicing

2 Corinthians 6

We take comfort in God’s care and vindication of what is right and true, all given to us in and through Jesus in much grace. God sees and understands, and in spite of our unworthiness, God helps us to want to follow to the end, with the knowledge that he will see us through even death itself, even if it comes through martyrdom.

Jesus has come so that someday death is to be no more. In the meantime, we do grieve and we struggle, all in the joy which God gives us in Jesus. It is something like the mix of Paul’s great letter to the Philippians, much joy and rejoicing in the midst of a life in Christ which inherently faces suffering in this life, in the way of Jesus, in the way of the cross. At the same time knowing something of the power of our Lord’s resurrection together as God’s people. As we celebrate the one who has come.

Advent and the call to rejoice

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 4:4-7

Philippians has been aptly called a letter of joy. This is not the only place in that letter where we’re told to rejoice in the Lord (see Philippians 3:1). Another place in scripture which repeatedly tells us to rejoice in the Lord is the psalms. We are told there to praise God with everything that we have, one could aptly say, with every breath, with our entire life. And we’re to do so in view of God’s goodness displayed in his works of righteousness, his saving works.

We do this by faith apart from feelings or circumstances. That is clear from the passage quoted above. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord apart from circumstances. And it is good to read the full letter to get and appreciate the context in which it is said. One might say that the letter has to do with Christ being our example and our life, described in a rich, nuanced way.

If there’s anyone in the world who needs to hear and imbibe this message, it’s me. I think I tend to be a naturally born skeptic, who tends to focus on the problems. It is good to know the problems, but we can’t stop there. That’s why it’s important for me to stay in the word daily. And to learn to rejoice much more in the Lord, and in God’s great salvation in him.

Advent and Christmas time affords us this opportunity to rejoice in the Lord, in his coming and great salvation, as we look back to King Jesus’ initial coming, and look forward to his promised return. We need to do so in the promise of who he is, and what he brings to us and to the world beginning even now in the present, and to be fully realized in the future.

And so by faith, today, I want to be repeatedly rejoicing in the Lord, as I go about my work, reflecting on God’s goodness in his righteous, saving works for us and for the world in and through King Jesus.

the anxiety/worry, which can rob Advent joy

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 4:4-7

Father Michael Cupp at Prince of Peace Anglican Church spoke at some length on Sunday on anxiety, or worry (see NRSV on link above) robbing us of the joy that is to be ours in King Jesus. And the context in Philippians 4 bears that out. The rejoicing we are to do is in the context of also obeying the imperative/command not to worry, but to pray (see NLT‘s helpful translation, as well).

The NLT gets it right with the translation, “the Lord is coming soon,” of the more literal rendering, “the Lord is near.” The promise of King Jesus’ coming, or return is embedded and therefore part and parcel of this passage. We need to keep it in mind. Advent is anticipation of King Jesus’ coming, as well as remembering when he came. I don’t think that has been a factor at all in my reading and understanding of this passage.

We’re to be marked with gentleness, or being considerate of others, since the Lord’s return is imminent, or soon. Depending on how one looks at it, it could seem soon, but more than likely we would ask, “Why the delay?” Or we can easily be put off by misteachings on the Second Coming, from well meaning teachers, but whose intepretations prove to be false.

The Second Coming, or King Jesus’ return is part of the gospel, no less. Thinking about that,  called “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), surely can help us overcome the anxiety and fear or prolonged worry, which can rob us of our joy. The Lord is going to return! We need to see all of life in that light. He returns to make all things that are now wrong, right, and to make everything new. Such a promise is not only an occasion for our joy, but also for our preparation, as we seek to live as those who are ready should Jesus return at a moment’s notice, even today. Would we be ashamed, or would we at least be anticipating with the effort to be ready?

To get caught up in anxiety over any number of things can steal this joy away from us, can rob us of this joy. Instead we need to have this word of God planted in us so as to make a difference in our lives every day. We don’t know which day our Lord may return. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but we don’t know that. Part of our calling in Jesus is to be in antipation of such. Something I want to work on, beginning today. So that other concerns with the responsibilities they bring can be seen in the light of that. Not just our concerns, but the concerns of the world. Where is our hope, and do others know what our hope actually is, as part of our witness?

Yes, the King is coming! Come, Lord Jesus.

 

Advent and the lighting of the candle of joy

Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

“I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Yesterday, I lit the pink (the rest are purple) Advent candle of joy. And Deb and I read together out loud this passage from Zephaniah. Father Michael in his sermon spoke on the joy which we can experience now, as well as anticipate as we both look back and look forward to the coming of the Lord– King Jesus. (The passages along with this one: Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18).

Father Michael dwelt at some length on the problem of worry/anxiety, which as much as anything else can lead to sin, and can steal our joy. One can see that in this passage in Zephaniah. It seems that God’s very presence is what is needed to quell our fears, the God who both saves and restores, and in great love and delight, rejoices over us with singing.

I for one know what it’s like to be overcome with anxiety and fear so that worry can set in. Actually I am not as plagued that way as I used to be. But necessary issues of life, and the decisions those can involve can press in on one to the point that God can seem largely out of the picture. Of course we should be praying about everything, as we’re told in Philippians 4:4-7.

An important key, I think, to being able to rejoice is to be in the presence of the God who rejoices over us. No matter what else happens, that is the case. So that we can learn to rest in God’s love, and experience the peace which transcends all understanding and guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Certainly a tall order for any day, some would say particularly today. But just as certainly, assured in the blessed assurace that is ours in God in and through King Jesus.

And so we can know something, hopefully more and more of the joy that God has over us. We can respond with joy over God, and over God’s love and delight over us. Philippians tells us again and again that we’re to rejoice in the Lord. That is an act of faith, apart from our feelings or experience. We simply do it, but we do it based on the truth, based on God himself. And the promise of the coming of the King, Jesus, who will take care of everything, even now being present with us: God-with-us, to see us through in spite of whatever else, to the very end.

overcoming what is overwhelming

There are times in my experience where life seems nothing short of overwhelming. When the tasks at hand seem difficult at best. And sometimes due to mechanical machinery issues along with the pace in which we work the job is quite challenging, though most of the time we figure out a way through the problems. And by and large either way by God’s grace we regularly do well.

Add to this the issues of life which we face. Seasons when it is especially heavy and a burden. In which we can hardly carry on without crying out in our hearts, a sense of quiet (or not so quiet) desperation.

I have this kind of experience regularly. I tend to experience life as something which seems overwhelming. More than I can bear. I used to kind of wonder if I would make it; if maybe somehow I would fall apart inside, have some kind of breakdown.

What has surely helped me through the years in this is to be in the word and along with that to pray such as I have (which is not enough, though I hope and trust I’m growing in prayer). I’m not sure how many people out there experience something of the same on a fairly regular basis. My wife doesn’t and from what I gather there’s a good number of people who don’t. On the other hand some seem to, at least during certain times in their lives. For me it has been largely ongoing for many years, even decades.

A key for me over and over again is to simply come to that resolve to accept it, if not embrace it. Accepting it means I don’t try to fight it off or wish it away, or even pray it away, though prayer is probably always good to do at any time. What I want to work on is just how I accept it. I want to do so with joy, choosing to rejoice in the Lord always. And so one of the passages I want to focus on right now is the book of Philippians. I have learned the lesson rather well to accept the sense of being overwhelmed (or close to it), though every time I face it, it takes a bit of time for me to get to the acceptance part. What I haven’t learned yet is to rejoice during those times. Even when my inward being would cry out otherwise.

This is an embrace no less of an inner experience which is in keeping with what we are called to in Jesus, as his followers and people of God’s kingdom, the fulfillment of Israel. We are blessed as the poor in spirit, as those who mourn, the meek, and so on. Hopefully something of what we experience is an actual participation with Christ in his sufferings, because of our witness to the world of him. For me this is likely nothing more than the unhappiness expressed by a spirit (or spirits) over my desire to follow Christ. We hardly face any persecution here, as do brothers and sisters in other places in the world.

And so we go on. In and through Christ through any number of things. More than conquerors through him who loved and loves us. Together in this in Jesus for the world.