ponder or perish

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:92

Real life means real need. There’s no end to the help we need along the way as we face challenges and difficulties. What I have found and still find to be true, is that the more I stay in God’s word, the more I’m able to navigate such times in a way that is helpful, even pleasant. And find my way into God’s way in just how to approach and work through such matters. In and through Jesus.

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are we willing to be led to who knows where?

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

One of the fundamental certainties of life is uncertainty. We not only can’t tell for sure what a day may bring, but we can’t be all too sure about any number of things. Like what the best decision is for us to make about this or that. Or even how to think about this or that, in the first place. Or what is reliable and what is not.

That is when we can, and hopefully before all those conundrums, go to God. We want to hear God speak to us, yes in the silence and amidst all the sounds of life, through life itself, and especially through Scripture.

Our goal in Jesus in this regard is to be led by him. We want to be followers of our Lord by the Spirit. We want to be led by God.

When you read the account of Abraham’s life in Genesis, you will see that he didn’t always get it right, that he sometimes didn’t really trust God like he should have, that sometimes the details of his life contradicted his commitment of obedient faith to God. That’s actually an encouragement to us. We won’t always get it right either, but we can depend on God’s faithfulness. God will lead. We need to listen and follow. In and through Jesus.

 

“preach the word”

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4:1-2

We need the simple word of God, period. Whenever I hear something other than that from a Christian teacher or preacher, I completely shut down. We don’t need anything fancy or new, in fact we should run from all such. And we especially need to beware of applications of God’s word, which really have nothing to do with it. Alas, many hear such and equate it with God’s word, God’s truth.

Does God’s word, Scripture have enough, or do we have to add more? We know the answer, but our thoughts and actions often betray us. We want more. Oftentimes the reason we want more is because we haven’t got into the word ourselves, so that we don’t appreciate its fullness and power.

Of course the written word leads us to the Word himself, Jesus. But that shouldn’t minimize the importance of Scripture. It is more than just a guide, certainly not just another guide. It is God’s word written. We best take full heed of it. In and through Jesus.

accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

the fake world of pop theology in denying the reality of mental illness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Another Christian, this time a pastor (we could say another pastor) has committed suicide. He was well aware of the danger, probably entered to a significant extent into the depths of others, and didn’t get out himself when he sank into his own depths of darkness. Once I led a team devotions at a Christian ministry where I work, going over this psalm. I asked if anyone there thought this psalm is meant for us today, and no one raised their hand. Based on what I gather, most would say “no,” though maybe it would be more like “I don’t know.” I think I remember at least one head shaking no.

I am glad to be part of a ministry that takes mental illness seriously. It’s not swept under the rug or attributed to the demonic or considered a sign that someone lacks faith. It is an honest illness which humans struggle with. Maybe the psalmist would have been diagnosed with mental illness such as a bipolar disorder. I think such a psalm and other Scripture similar to that can be helpful for such people to realize they’re not alone. That others struggle too with darkness.

I wonder if maybe I suffer with a mild case of something such. I don’t know. I have struggled not feeling good internally for years, decades, and that might be related to head trauma. So it’s easy for me to identify with Psalm 88.

There is within the Christian tradition, “the dark night of the soul,” hardly acknowledge in the evangelical Christian circles I’m a part of. I don’t at all for a moment think a person, yes a Christian has to be clinically depressed or mentally ill to experience such. There are all kinds of reasons in this world why we can get down. Of course there’s what’s considered normal depression, maybe over not meeting a goal, or losing a friend, even a marriage. Just maybe it would be helpful to consider mental health problems as also being like temporary sicknesses such as physically catching a cold or the flu, so that one might have a bout with melancholy over an extended period of time. Of course no one can possibly be the same after an unexpected death of a loved one.

The Bible reflects real life with all its complexities. For those who take Scripture at its word, spiritual warfare can be accompanied by a spiritual darkness. A time and space where God seems to be absent. And where hope seems all but gone, replaced by fear, or more like a gnawing shock in which little seems real.

At any rate, I take Scripture seriously in part because I find it takes life seriously. People of faith question God and struggle in their experience. The psalms are repeatedly helpful, this psalm a prime example.

Psalm 88 ends on a realistic note. Because God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want. We don’t always find the help we want. But we hold on in faith regardless, this psalm an expression of that. Something we should thank God for, helping us not only live through such times, but do so knowing that the Lord is somehow with us (Psalm 23:4).  The end of Psalm 88 is an end, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

theology for real life

The book of Job is a good case in point of how all of Scripture (the Bible) is meant for real life. No one is likely to be affected much by how many angels can dance on a pin, something allegedly, Christian theologians were contemplating in the past. It’s not like we have to look for only what seems relevant and ignore the rest. We need to prayerfully consider just what God might be saying to us through everything, especially through the words found in Scripture.

I like our church’s statement of faith, because it’s not simply about knowing or confessing something. It is about applying truth to life, or letting Scripture critique and change us.

The danger in all of this is that we want quick, pat answers. We think the Bible is written for us to solve all our problems and answer all our questions. Not. Scripture, God’s word is meant to shape us according to God’s will, which means conformity to Christ.

I am blessed too to work for a solid evangelical ministry which has the motto:

The mission of Our Daily Bread Ministries is to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.

We have to beware of piling in information which we’re not applying. According to James, that is a sure recipe for self-deception. We can think we’re doing well and in the clear just because of what we know. But what we’re given to know is meant to be applied, every single bit of it. We may not know how, but we should be in prayer over it. God’s word has some effect on us, whether we always get it or not. But our goal should be to listen and learn for faith and life. What we believe is meant to impact how we live. And how we live can either confirm or undermine what we believe. The two go together.

This isn’t easy. It’s not like, here it is, plain and simple, so do it. Yes and no. Because although that’s the clear path, it’s beset with challenges to our faith, so that either our roots will have to go deeper in search of God’s wisdom, or we’ll more or less give up, shrivel and die. To live in between is to remain unsettled and eventually sets us up for failure, because it won’t work (James 1:6-8).

So we have to set our sight on one thing: God and God’s will in Jesus in this life. Everything else is secondary and subsidiary to that. In and through Jesus.

continuing in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

It seems like what Paul is telling Timothy here is not to take his faith for granted, but to continue in it, and specifically in Scripture itself.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God[a]may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

I’m not sure what one has to go on, but there are a number of voices out there advocating something different, either a wholesale abandonment of the faith, or more likely, a modification of it, which can amount to the same thing in the end. Paul warns Timothy in both 1 and 2 Timothy of the same dangers during that time.

There’s nothing wrong with wide reading, and becoming acquainted with others’ thinking, in fact that’s good in its place. Paul himself was well acquainted with the various views of his time. But we need to remain well grounded in the truth as it is in Jesus, found in Scripture. And to do that, we can’t just pay lip service to it. We have to continue in it for ourselves.

Yes, Paul and Timothy were leaders in the church, but they weren’t doing what other Christians didn’t need to do themselves. They were to set the example in their faith and life for other Christians to follow, of course from their following of Christ tethered to Scripture and to life. They were gifted to do that, but that’s in large part what their ministry was about.

So these words by extension are for us, too. We’re to continue on in Scripture, in the gospel, in Christ. Grounded in that, so that we won’t be carried away by voices which sound compelling to others. In and through Jesus.