the necessary calm in the face of the storm

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.

Psalm 73:15-17

This psalm is not only one of the most interesting, but also if you can say this, one of the most beautiful (click above to see the psalm in its entirety). The psalmist is struck and grieved over what they see which seems to fly in the face of what is supposed to be. And down in the mouth as a result.

But the psalmist gets a necessary grip on themselves in noting that honesty to their children, to their progeny about this would be not only be bad for them, but unfaithful to God. Interestingly we have all of this set in front of us for all to see within the psalm itself. The exact struggle the psalmist is going through, not uncommon by the way, in Scripture. And the breakthrough into an answer that is otherworldly and requires faith. Helpfully, all of that is set before us.

But how does this translate into our lives? We are completely honest to God, pouring out our entire heart such as it is to God, seeking to cast our burden entirely on God. But before others, especially those who would not be ready for what we would share, as well as the realization that so sharing to others may not be timely and could even be unhelpful, we hold our peace.

Notice that the psalmist doesn’t say anything to anyone about this entire episode until after they enter into the sanctuary of God. I take that to refer probably to the temple, certainly the idea of entering God’s Presence. Then they speak/write the whole, but not until then.

So when we face the latest cloud within our experience, we do well to pray, and keep it to ourselves. Maybe sharing it only with a mentor, close significant other, or friend. But maybe keeping it just between ourselves and God might be a good practice. Seeking to draw near to God to get the needed vision and help. Then what we’ve experienced might be a help to others. In and through Jesus.

when under siege: silence

When you are disturbed,[a] do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Psalm 4:4

The context of this psalm is a faithful person or persons being verbally attacked with the implication of physical danger lurking somewhere behind (click above link for entire psalm). The psalm is attributed to David who certainly knew more than his share of such trouble. Most of us experience nothing like that, but given the time we’re in, there definitely is something of this in the air, evident largely in what people are saying, and sometimes in what some have done. And plenty of disturbance (and anger, see above footnote) can accompany that.

What we’re called to here is silence. In this day when our ears are filled with music and podcasts, the news and whatnot, that can be challenging. We’re better off to plug our ears during such difficulties and simply remain in meditative silence. According to this Scripture, the alternative is to sin. Somehow to figure things out ourselves, to get it over with ourselves, instead of casting ourselves on God.

In the midst of the tumult and settling despair, we need to silence ourselves and ponder. Not just something we do in an instant and it’s done. But what we do until it’s done. God will answer, giving us what we need. In and through Jesus.

living/writing in privilege, or in the trial?

Rescue the perishing;
don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.

Proverbs 24:11-12; MSG

We live in a precarious, difficult time, and that’s especially so for some people. Some of us are more or less shielded from the trouble through the privilege of having plenty, and living in a society that is largely set according to our own expectations. Others of us are not as fortunate. We have to work in person during this pandemic, and added to that for many is living in a world where there are many extra hoops to pass through. Sometimes it is more than difficult for some. Extra help is needed if they’re going to make it, and hopefully begin to realize their God-given potential.

I really wonder when I consider what people write or don’t write, or what they’re doing or not doing, just why. I think we have to be slow to judge, and ask questions. In the end Jesus is the final judge (Matthew 25:31-46). In the meantime silence can be deadly. There’s a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7b), and everyone has their own task. We certainly can do nothing greater than pray.

I have more or less struggled all my life inside of myself, so it’s easy for me to identify more with the down and outs, with those who struggle, because after all, I’m there. Including all the ignorance I carry.

Just something to reflect on.

leaving the war of words

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:20-22

Here in the United States we live in a democratic republic which includes free speech up to a point. One can say what they like, any wise or foolish thing, whatever, unless it amounts to harassing or threatening others. Nowadays we know that hardly anything is spared, be it on Twitter or other social media. And even when trying to engage in reasonable discussion, what one believes is true is considered false by the other. It certainly takes the wisdom of Solomon, and the wisdom James shares about the tongue and a life that makes the needed difference (James 3).

It is hard to know how to thread the needle. Some seem to think that one should say hardly nothing at all about the issues of the day. This seems to me to be mistaken, even wrong. But the question would be just what we should address, and then what we should say. While I’m not sure Jesus and the faithful in Scripture would have passed the test here, I think this post is definitely worth considering, not denying the need to speak at times, but making the test stringent. When you think about it, it’s probably much better to err on the side of less said, and try to understate everything. Maybe just point people certain directions so that they can make up their own minds. After all, none of us is Jesus. Though at the same time to never point out what might be wrong just seems to me to be off the mark. And consider what others are saying. Though maybe many of us are just called to pray.

I’ve decided that I need to say less, listen more, and above all, pray more. I so easily get caught up in the windstorm of news and all the violence of words, including words spoken to try to tame down the storm. We do need people of wisdom who might be able to redirect all of us into something better, to true wisdom. But again just how to thread the needle is surely beyond our own ability. We need God’s wisdom and help. It’s too easy to get caught up and swept away, and really end up not helping at all. Jesus’s words come to mind, that we as his followers are to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). But God’s Spirit and wisdom on us doesn’t mean that all will go well for us. Stephen’s case comes to mind here, the first martyr (Acts 6:1-8:3). Of course none of us should imagine ourselves in the same shoes as Stephen. We have to humbly look to God, and find our place. What are we all about? Is it really about following Jesus and what that means for us at the moment? And that will certainly involve different responses from different people. Some of us will just pray. Others might speak out on one issue, others on another. And as Jesus followers we will all seek to be living in God’s love in Jesus.

We need to remember that silence and prayer are probably the better part of wisdom most of the time. And that if there’s a time to speak, we’d best choose our words carefully. We don’t want to get caught up into the war of words. We want to find and perhaps share God’s wisdom: the help we ourselves receive. Remembering that God alone can bring the needed change in us and in others. In and through Jesus.

self-care

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:30-31

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

Mark 7:24

These two incidents in Mark’s gospel account were unsuccessful attempts by Jesus to withdraw and rest with his disciples, even perhaps by himself, as we see in the second instance. Surely this was a practice, something he had his disciples do with him on a regular basis interspersed between all the activity in their full days.

Self-care has never been high on my list of things I actually cared about. At least not explicitly, in my thinking, though really most of us do it to some degree automatically, somewhat like moving your finger off something that’s too hot.

I am finding for myself that self-care actually is helping me come around and get my bearings in ways I previously haven’t.

Self-care doesn’t mean self-indulgence or laziness. Taking care of oneself physically and spiritually, of course mentally and socially in that mix as well. The physical part can be underrated. We surely see something of that in the two passages above. We as humans are physical. You can’t disconnect that part from who we are. That affects everything else. If I don’t get enough sleep, then I’ll likely suffer the consequences later on, being dog tired at work, or irritable, not feeling good, whatever. So we have to take care of ourselves. Eating well, also.

And it definitely means taking care of myself spiritually. I want to do so in communion and participation with others of God’s people. We miss church meeting now, though we’ve met outdoors with our small group, socially distanced in the warm breezy summer air. And seeking to shore up on the basics: Scripture reading and meditation, and prayer.

Self-care has its place. Otherwise it’s replaced with all kinds of things which may not be good. Better to get back to square one and see this as nothing less than a responsibility.

Jesus was fully human, so needed it himself. How much more do we? God will help us; Jesus understand fully, and will help us.

In and through Jesus.

keeping our mouths shut

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.

Proverbs 17:28

One of the great secrets of true success in life is learning to keep our mouths shut, instead of blurting out our true thoughts, things we would like to say. It often seems right at the moment, but if we give it some time, and pause, we’ll know better, and most of the time, we’ll be grateful we didn’t speak.

We have to be careful, too, because we “non-verbally communicate” as well. It’s amazing how oftentimes people around us can pick up our true attitude toward them. So we need to guard our hearts and be in prayer, that we might not have an attitude which is ungracious, and cuts others down and off.

James wisely counsels us in proverbial like wisdom to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). To be slow to speak means for a time to not speak at all. To keep our thoughts to ourselves, even as we lift up a prayer to God that he will help us be kind, listen, and if we speak, speak that which is helpful for the situation. In and through Jesus.

little by little over time

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3b

Oak trees are among the most sturdy and long lasting trees, it seems. But they don’t grow quickly. The kind of growth required for the tree it is takes time.

In Isaiah, people are likened to oaks, those God is “planting.” When you read Scripture and consider the spiritual life, all of this takes time. Christian spiritual maturity is not arrived to overnight. Nor does some overwhelming experience add up to Christian maturity. In fact that can easily lend itself to deception, someone thinking they’ve arrived when they haven’t, or couldn’t. We need the young saplings, exuberant in their new life, glowing in their witness of that. But it will take time, wind, storms, sunshine and rain, and more time for them to grow into the sturdy, mature trees they need to become.

Some of us are pretty full grown, but as Christians we know our growth never ends in this lifetime. We have weathered many a storm, learned to stand firm in the winds with roots embedded in the water of life found in Christ and Scripture. And as part of God’s community, the church. But if we don’t watch out, we could become diseased and in danger of no longer standing. It is sad, the accounts of those who didn’t end their Christian lives well. Sometimes the older trees are not appreciated for all the blessing they give. It’s like, they’ve seen their day, they’re old now and not of much consequence, not to be paid attention to. But we need to keep growing, and in silence and prayer continue to bear fruit from and for God.

Little by little, over time. That’s what it takes. And to keep on doing that come what may. That God might be honored and glorified. In and through Jesus.

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.

 

the rest the Lord gives

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3a

It’s interesting that the Lord takes the initiative here. I’m reminded of Jesus’s words, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b). I think the main meaning is what we might call soul rest, but surely there’s physical rest as well as spiritual rest (Psalm 127:2). Certainly Jesus’s words to his disciples were for their physical rest, as well as spiritual.

Quietness is also a part of the picture here. We’re off somewhere without all the noise of a busy world, even without what noise we like, music or whatever it might be. And we’re off some place where in the silence we can hear God’s voice (1 Kings 19:12). I like music playing most all the time, if I don’t have something else on. At least I like less volume than especially in my younger years, but silence, no. But even I find silence valuable because it seems to awaken in me more of a sensitivity to and appreciation for the Lord’s voice. It’s not like we can never hear God’s voice above all the noise. And music might actually help us that way (2 Kings 3:15-16, and note that the psalms are often set to music along with other passages in Scripture). But being silent and finding quiet can help us hear God’s voice, and is also restful in itself.

And the Lord refreshes our soul. That probably means something like renewing our strength (see NET Bible footnote and parallel versions). The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NIV means “life” or an individual person or persons. Times of rest should be times of refreshment when our strength is renewed. A kind of restoration to face life again with anticipation, ready for the long haul or whatever awaits us is surely in the cards here. We can see from the rest of Psalm 23 that all of life is pictured. So that this blessing is meant to prepare us for such, as we continue under the leading and care of the good shepherd. In and through Jesus.

 

 

devotion to closeness to God

Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 30:21

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

The NET Bible note says Jeremiah 30:21 is a rhetorical question with a “no” answer expected. That is not clear in the NIV nor the KJV, perhaps more “literal” in English from the Hebrew, but clearer in other English translations. No one would dare seek to draw near to the God of Israel on their own. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that the way has now been open to all of God’s people through the blood, the once for all sacrifice of Jesus in his death on the cross. We in Jesus are a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9), and “made…to be…priests to serve…God” (Revelation 1:6).

So the way that was once made open through only designated ones necessarily year after year is now made open to all through Christ’s fulfillment in his atoning sacrifice. Not that “Old Testament” people couldn’t draw near to God who were not priests. They could do so only through the sacrificial system when possible, of course through faith. Enoch would be a prime example before the law was given (Genesis 5:21-24), and David (Psalm 15) and Daniel afterward (Daniel 9-12).

The passage in James quoted above makes it clear that this must be both in attitude and action. We’re told of the need for ongoing repentance, keeping short accounts with God. As well as simply taking the time to come near to God. This must become a priority, maybe we should say the priority of our lives.

I have more or less tried to do something like this over the years. I would in theory seek to be doing this all day. I did have a few special times, one I can remember early on in particular, “a date with God” as I called it, of drawing near to God. But special times each day were not a part of my life such as what evangelicals call “personal devotions.” I thought I would more than less be seeking to do that all day. I think at least to some extent this was a mistake. It is better to err on the side of making sure one has that “quiet time” with God. I used to listen regularly to God’s word being read. And now open my little Bible off and on throughout the day. But there needs to be those special times in prayer and in the word, not just thinking we can do that as we run throughout our day. But God will honor our attempt to do that even in the midst of the rush of life. Yet we need those times in silence before God.

Then hopefully as a pastor friend, Marvin Williams reminded me, we’ll have the scent of Christ on us, and be enabled by the Spirit to lead others to him. In and through Jesus.