accept darkness (the needed darkness before the light)

A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried,
and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30

There is one thing none of us like, what’s called “the dark night of the soul,” when any sense of God and of spiritual insight is gone. When it seems like we’re on our own.

Seasons of darkness vary. Sometimes we feel like we’ve taken a battering from the spiritual enemy if we’ve been taken for another ride in their deception, having failed to resist that. Or it might be over some sort of struggle we’re having in our attitudes, or in overcoming sin, maybe something which has plagued us, even an addiction, whatever it might be. There are times too when we really can’t put our finger on it. Maybe we’ve drifted, unbeknownst to us, but for whatever reason we feel dry and lost.

Seasons of darkness, even of dryness we can and should see as opportunities to seek God and hopefully find God in something of a new and fresh way, breaking through into our lives in some ways God hasn’t before. Maybe times for needed confession of sin and repentance (James 4). And such times can serve to confirm our faith rather than unsettle it. If we only hold on and look to God and not give up.

When the light does start breaking in, because by and by it will, we need to accept that. Be thankful and live in that gentle light of God. Realizing the next time darkness come settling in on us, that light will eventually come.

All of this for our good. In and through Jesus.

returning again and again to the source

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.

Psalm 119:105-112

My default practice is to turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. Since I believe Scripture is God’s word written, I keep returning to it again and again throughout the day, to gain whatever it is that God wants to give me. It’s not like I do this very well. There are all kinds of variations in it. I might go real slow for a while, then pick up speed and keep moving through, whether anything seems to be getting through to me or not, then slow down again. As I stay at it, sooner usually than later it seems like God might somehow be getting through to me. I’ll begin to pick up a better perspective than I have.

God’s word is our lamp for life, but we’re also to be intent in being shaped and transformed, our lives directed by it. Oftentimes to be honest, I really feel at a loss, maybe hurt over this or that, or tired of whatever, at a loss. So I just keep going back to Scripture, and I find help, but help in God’s way, not my own. Going through Scripture slowly gives one the opportunity to pause and reflect and pray. Or simply realize how we don’t get it. That has value too. An important part of what Scripture is intended to do: help us turn to God, hopefully seek him, and find his will. Indeed turning to God’s word can be our way of turning to God. And find our lives more and more shaped by that. In and through Jesus.

the negative condition of humanity: lost

If there’s one word I would use to sum up the condition humanity is in, I might say lost. Like most things in life it’s more complicated than that. There’s something wonderfully good about humankind. Each person is indeed a gift. But not all is well. There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Lost is the condition humanity is in biblically speaking due to sin. Sin is that which is in violation of God’s will, contrary to God himself, and actually against humanity itself, since we humans are made in God’s image. Because of that, we’re lost from God’s good intention for us.

We remember the biblical account of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden into a condition where life would be hard. The ground would be cursed because of sin, everything cursed actually, including humankind itself. Curse in Scripture is the opposite of bless. Its end result is condemnation and death, whereas blessing comes through redemption which brings life.

We are lost on our own. Being made in God’s image, we are left to thinking that there must be more, much more. But we’re at a loss to find it, indeed we can’t find it ourselves. That is why the Bible speaks of the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, the father rejoicing over the return of his lost, wayward son. We are lost, pure and simple. No rocket science. That’s just the way it is, and the sooner we come to acknowledge that, the better off we’ll be.

God seeks us before we seek God. In fact it’s only because God seeks us in God’s grace in Christ that we would ever turn a glance his way, and hopefully surrender and come running into the arms of the Father. It’s because Jesus himself was willing to be cursed, and lost for us so to speak, feeling forsaken of God on the cross, that we can be found in him, through simple faith in him, and God’s word: that good news. In and through Jesus.

giving Jesus his due

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12

Traditionally we have the wise men, three of them in keeping with the gifts mentioned, when there were likely more, arriving at the manger, at least in paintings and in our manger scenes. They were actually magi: perhaps into a kind of astrology as we note the star in the story, and religious priests. And likely coming around two years after Jesus’s birth.

What is noteworthy for this post is how the magi were coming not just to see for themselves what their reading of the stars seemed to indicate, but to honor the special one born to be king in some special way. This was either worship, or something close to it, in acknowledgement of a one over them (see Mounce, NET Bible footnote 17). Perhaps paying homage, which was due only to superiors, normally to kings, or to divine beings. And they had their gifts in hand, which likely were a big help to “the holy family.”

This speaks to me in reminding me what our lives should be all about when considering Christ and God’s gift in him. Yes, we receive that gift gladly and the promise it brings, but in turn we live lives of gratitude in response, seeking to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

Christmas isn’t just about the good we get, and then simply enjoying it. It’s about that, but much more. Our response of faith, hope and love is crucial. The reception of this great gift doesn’t leave us unchanged. We endeavor to respond to that love in God’s grace given to us by a changed life. First honoring the God who gives and is in that Baby. And continuing that day after day as we seek to follow him.

In and through Jesus.

when not knowing what to do

Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

Psalm 143:7-10

Sometimes we can be at nearly a total loss, not knowing what to do. Left to our own devices, we might pull out all the stops, at least trying certain things. As we are older, experienced through the hard knocks of life, we will likely be more reticent, at least less likely to trust in ourselves.

This is an opportunity to do what we should be doing all along: seek God. This seems especially relevant, and even urgent, when we feel lost, not knowing what to do or where to turn in the midst of trouble.

One thing for sure: we won’t run short of trouble in this life because of the problems that come our way. Life is uneven at best, and tragic at worst. And presents its challenges along the way. Certainly true of the psalmist, whose life was in danger. We can feel threatened in some ways. Which is why we go to God for protection, and everything else we need. Looking not just for safety, but answers. Part of God’s will being that we would ourselves be in the way in which God blesses, and through which God blesses others. In and through Jesus.

 

an encouraging promise

The lions may grow weak and hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:10

When we are sometimes literally hungry, but I have to think of the times I may be down and discouraged, such a text from God’s word can be a great help. This was true just the other day for me.

The promise is for those who seek the Lord. And what’s promised is certainly all that is needed. To not lack any good thing.

Ultimately we know that will be fulfilled in the life to come through the resurrection in Jesus, when heaven and earth become one at his return, and God makes all things new. But in some measure in some way, this is entirely true for this life, as well. We lack no good thing to not only survive, but flourish in this life. It is in the way of the Lord, the way of Jesus for us. So that we’re not talking about luxuries, and living it up. Even though at times we might experience some of that. And God has given us richly, all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6). But we’re talking about the true riches, which just might include a contentedness to do without, in a happiness over what one has, instead of wanting what one has not.

And so this is a word of encouragement to me in the midst of difficulty and discouragement. To simply seek God, and be given all that I need to overcome and be at peace, in and through Jesus.

God is delighted in change

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9

I think it’s both interesting, and actually not authentic, as in corresponding to the truth, and not real when someone seems to think or act as if they have it all together. Change is something which is to occur not only at the outset of our journey of faith, but ongoing, throughout that journey. Scripture bears witness to that again and again, both in precept and in story. We as evangelicals emphasize conversion as being at the point of salvation, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But actually, I think it’s a process which extends from before salvation, and continues on afterward to the very end of one’s life, if I read the pages of scripture correctly.

I believe from scripture and from what I see and experience that God in his grace through Jesus delights in the smallest, real change in us for good in making us more like himself, more like his Son, Jesus. And I’m thinking of change in just any one area, when plenty of other areas in our lives may and will still need some serious work, God’s working of course, along with our active compliance. It’s not like God shakes his head and says something like, “Well, that’s good, but he/she still has a long ways to go.” No. I believe without a doubt in the God who delights in any change in his children, which brings them somehow closer to him, and to his family likeness.

And just as much as that, I also believe that it comes primarily through us praying. Paul’s case (then called Saul), quoted above, is interesting, as he was in the midst of an epic, earthquake-like life changing experience, and in the midst of it, he is praying. I think without a doubt that if we take what is wrong in our lives seriously, and quit excusing it, we will start by confessing it as an actual sin to God, and then begin to pray, seeking him for the needed change, however that should be played out. Certainly a change of heart to begin with, and a change in our lives.

We can’t do this on our own, and we won’t, even if we think somehow that we are. We should take heart that God is bringing us along, and wants our communion with him through prayer, as he continues to make us like his Son, and brings the one family in him more and more into the light of his love and life. In and through Jesus.

seeking the Lord

He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.

2 Chronicles 12

In the First/Old Testament, we read repeatedly about the importance of seeking God. Perhaps this is the classic or most remembered passage:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55

We in Jesus have been brought near the most holy place, near to God through Jesus’s blood, his death for us. Probably the closest New/Final Testament passage in calling us to seek the Lord, other than Jesus’s words to ask, seek, and knock, are found in James in the context of the need for repentance.

I believe seeking God is still very appropriate for us today, because all scripture is written for us, as Paul makes clear, certainly including the First Testament, which is what Paul had in mind. And we are often said to not be naturally inclined to wander, rather than to seek God. I would like to challenge that, but within the complexity of life as it is, and we as we are.

Based on especially one book I’ve read lately, and I think on another book I want to soon read, and on what teaching I have received from the church, as well as my take of it, I would say that we in Jesus are inclined towards God. We want to come near to him, and remain close. We do have the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with in this life, so that it’s not always easy. And yet because of Jesus and the work of the Spirit, we can be close to God in the sense of communing, or being in God’s presence.

We often see, for example in a book like Ephesians, how this or that is said to be true of God’s people, and therefore God’s people are not to do certain things, but rather do other things, or live in a way that corresponds with what is said to be true. This has been called our position in Christ from which our practice and new life comes.

So I want to seek the Lord anew and afresh at this time. And I realize that in Christ, that is natural for me to want to do so, and by God’s grace and the help of the Spirit, I can and therefore should. The challenge comes in not letting other things crowd out such good intentions. And realizing that it is still ours in faith to do.

All of this possible for us in and through Jesus.

interacting with God

I know this post title sounds incredibly pretentious to many. Even many of us in the church can roll up our eyes and shake our heads over some of the claims our fellow Christians make. Yes, we can imagine God’s voice from our own imagination, even if God can speak to us through the imagination.

What I am getting at here is our need as those in Jesus to regularly interact with God. To keep the lines of interaction, even communication open. It is said that God is always speaking and wants to be heard. The problem is not with God, but with us, with our own blindness and stubborness of heart, or just our own condition and habit of not being in tune in heart and mind.

The good news from that, though, is that our very need and lack can become the means by which God’s grace is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit through Jesus. As we pray to God, even cry out to him about the needs we are concerned about, and there are plenty in this life, God will meet us, if in faith we pray to him and listen. Of course that includes the ongoing need for us to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:5-2:2).

This requires a commitment on our part. We’re naturally wired as human beings to see reality in terms of our experience now. So that unless we have the sense of God now, we feel completely lost. Like the difference between standing in the sun, or being in the shade, or a cloudy day and a sunny day. That analogy actually is apt in more ways than one: God’s presence still a difference maker, just like the sun, in either case. Felt presence, the difference here.

Jesus seemed to live his life on earth consciously in the presence of the Father. He often would get away in early morning hours to commune in prayer with the Father. Then in the course of a day, he would be doing this and that, often preaching the word and healing, along with teaching the disciples, so that he was busy. Of course in his case, though he was tempted to sin, and on the cross even felt abandoned by God (many say, because he was, although I don’t think so), he didn’t have the problem of sin which we still struggle with, and at times fall into, and in a sense live, though God’s grace in Jesus makes it in a way as if we do not.

Yet even that sense of our falling short or great need, including our actual sins themselves can help drive us to God. In the words of the tax-collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our great need can work like the thirst the psalmist described as those in a hot, barren land, a thirst for God, to meet God, yes to experience God (Psalm 63).

I know that I am in great need all of the time. I need God, and I need to interact with God, which I do by remaining in God’s word, in scripture. And from that, I pray. Of course we can pray, and it’s good to pray first, but I find that God’s word helps me to respond to God in prayer. And besides that, it’s good just to be silent before God, and especially so, as we continue to meditate on God’s word.

And so yes, I try to remain in a place of interactivity with God. Ironically enough in the rough and tumble of life, I realize my need more for this. Whereas when resting, and having some time to enjoy this or that, especially so during a vacation, it can be more of a challenge to continue this. But when one sees that this is where we in Jesus are to live, that this is real life, such interactivity surely enhances all of life.

And so my goal today, this Saturday, with this and that I need to do, as well as a time of relaxation which hopefully follows is to remain in that interactivity with God, through the word and prayer in and through Jesus.

intake determines output

A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Luke 6

Sometimes I wonder why I feel so empty. That may or may not be bad, but it might indicate that I’ve been lacking in not being intentional and diligent enough in my intake of scripture.

I can continue in scripture, but the practice can be more like an academic exercise, rather than pursuing God, and God’s will. In my opinion, it’s still good to be in scripture even from that angle, because scripture as God’s word does have a power and dynamic all its own. In fact, the mind angle is one important aspect, and not to be despised. God appeals to our reason over and over again in scripture. Reading scripture regularly helps us train our minds to think, as well as train ourselves to be godly.

And so what enters our minds and hearts impacts our lives for good or ill. Right now we’re in the climax of what surely was the worst US presidential campaign season in history. Two of the most disliked, polarizing nominees from the major parties, facing off against each other, one troubled with baggage which includes laundary not so clean, and the other vulgar and a boaster, who seems to want the focus on their supposed greatness, to allegedly make the nation great again. And plenty of media. So it’s easy to get steeped in that brouhaha to the neglect of God and God’s word. Or you fill in the blank as to what you might be filling your minds with.

While we will attend to, as well as enjoy other things, we need to be sure that our primary, first and foremost intake is the word of God, scripture, and its application in accord with the good news in Jesus. Day after day, in fact “day and night” (Psalm 1). Our minds fixed on what will last, as the world comes and goes. In and through Jesus.