Advent and God’s help to ̶t̶h̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶h̶e̶l̶p̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶m̶s̶e̶l̶v̶e̶s̶ ̶the helpless

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

Light is coupled with life in scripture, and is indeed necessary for the life which truly is life, the eternal life in God through Christ, and the life to be lived in this present darkness. And God is the one who gives all light, and specifically, that light. What humankind comes up with may have some good with its actual source in God’s gift within them, but is not the “great light” spoken of in the text above. As we see from the rest of that text, that light is in Christ and the kingdom (or rule) and goodness he brings.

Yes, it’s good for us to try to help ourselves. But if what we mean by that is to get along well enough by ourselves, then we fail to see what we ultimately need, yes, in this life. All the while we should acknowledge that actually anything good we do is because of the Creator. But in our moral and spiritual darkness and in our limitations as human finite creatures, we really need more than that. It’s good and necessary for us to realize that we are helpless in ourselves to attain to this ultimate good needed. We are all, each and everyone of us, in need of God’s grace.

And that is what happened. God’s people and all peoples were actually helpless in the way needed, whether they were aware of it or not. And they looked for God’s help, and according to the promise for the one to come who would save the world. Part of the light which breaks through is to help us see the need for light in our darkness. And to look to that light for the full light needed. A part of the Advent promise.

free grace and Advent (as well as Christmas)

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:12-14

Advent is the promise of God’s grace to humankind. It’s a gift received. It is for all humankind. How that plays out, I don’t know. Faith is required, in other words people must receive the light, and in more specific terms the light of the gospel.

Advent is anticipation of something beyond us but to come, present, for and with us. The Christian faith includes imitation of Christ. But we can’t do that on our own. It is a gift given to humankind, one really does have to say, offered, because it ought to go without saying that not all receive the light. Yes, we often live in the shadows, and don’t walk as in the fullness of day. But we are told to cast off the works of darkness, and put on the light.

Advent is the promise of grace for joy to the world. For life, for all we need even in this dreary world. Not only to get us through, yes that, but also to help us do so as those of the light. In the love and grace of God for all. In and through Jesus.

what are we here for?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-20

After the “beatitudes” and the salt and light portion, in what’s called “the Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus says the above. What he is saying about fulfillment of the Law and Prophets and the necessity of the righteousness of his hearers exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees, those considered the foremost religious leaders of that time certainly involves piety along a host of issues such as alms giving, prayer, marital relations just to name a few. But it surely also involves an awareness of how the Law and the Prophets along with the rest of Scripture needs application then and in our present day within society itself. If what we’re about only has to do with our personal piety and the personal piety of those gathered with us, along with trying to bring others into that same circle, all with the goal of entering the kingdom of heaven, then we’re definitely not going far enough, and could well be missing the point. What after all is our piety for? Just for our own good and the good of those joined with us? Or for the good of all, even of the world, with a sensitivity to what is right and just and good.

Churches that major on individual application of Scripture, thinking that’s the way to help not only individuals, but society at large, really fail to see the entire picture or see it correctly, what is evident in the Prophets and elsewhere. We as God’s people are after all the salt of the earth, the light of the world, what Jesus said just preceding the above quoted Scripture. Salt and light is meant to make a difference in the world at large, not only in individuals in the world. Or at least so I think. If concern for the world and systems in it is added on as something going beyond what is required, as an extra, that’s not enough. Such actually should be a part of the whole.

Yes, only in Jesus is this worked out and completed toward the perfection and shalom that God wants. But that light that we have in Jesus should expose the darkness of the world, and at least advocate for something better within the systems in the world. As we await the return of the one who will clean up the mess once for all and forever. In and through Jesus.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer along with certain kind of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

Prayers of all kinds for ourselves and for others should be a practice which we regularly do. We should have a special prayer time along with prayer punctuating our days. Again, all kinds of prayers. For needs, but also with praise and thanksgiving. But looking to God. Waiting on God. Wanting God’s help, even breakthrough for whatever problems we and others are facing.

Usually when we read Paul’s personal request in the above passage, we think of it mostly if not completely in terms of souls getting saved. While that’s certainly included, the ramifications of the gospel are often all but lost. We should be praying for those in strategic places, who are in the open, that the word which goes out from them will not only save souls, but shake and shape the world in terms of the gospel. That all the barriers of “race” might be broken down, that the principalities and powers embedded in the world system might be served notice not only that their day is going to come, but that in a sense it’s already here, as we anticipate the curtain closing on them when the present kingdom of God finally enters in in its fullness at Christ’s return.

We need to begin to understand that the wisdom of God through Christ and the way of the cross is not only the power of salvation for all who believe, but also through the church serves notice to the principalities and powers of the world order that something good is coming, a light penetrating the darkness, and indeed exposing them for what they truly are. That is the way of the cross, the way of the love that comes from Christ. So that the world will be shaken, and ultimately turned upside down, really right side up. As we anticipate the Day when all of this will be finalized once forever when Jesus returns.

In and through Jesus.

light breaking through

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

Access to your words gives light,
giving simple folk understanding.

Psalm 119:130; CEB

Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Psalm 119:130; NET

“The better angels of our nature” is something akin to what I’m referring to here, that is, in our experience. We’re often frankly mired in what might be acceptable mindsets, attitudes and even addictions, all more or less acceptable as far as the world is concerned, acceptable to and often celebrated by most people. But we know better most of the time, at least deep down inside.

If we step out in faith, God’s words to us can help us, God giving God’s thoughts to us through Scripture and especially God’s revelation in Jesus. We have to purposefully commit ourselves to hearing a different word and adopting a different understanding to move us away from conformity to the world, to the spirit of the age which is antithetical to God, toward a formation more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

We need to pay attention, to be sensitive to where that light might be breaking through. To see all in a better, more full light. With grace toward all. A light as we seek to see everything, which can help not only us, but others through our embrace of what we get a good glimpse of and act in accordance to. A light which pours out God’s life and love to us. The light in which we’re to live more and more, even in the midst of this present darkness. In and through Jesus.

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.

healthy spiritual eyesight in the present dimness

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

1 Corinthians 13:12a

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23

I wish it were otherwise, but it seems that spiritual insight just isn’t as bright and clear here often enough to go enough beyond some creedal affirmation, which very well may be sincerely believed, but is too often not sufficiently felt. But when we are in those too rare times when we’re flooded with light as in the Presence of God, it seems like the other, sadly more normal experience is like a memory which we hope does not return. But alas, all too easily it does in this present existence.

Jesus makes the stark contrast between those whose eye is full of light and those whose eye is full of darkness. I think we would need to see this especially in the context of Jesus’ teaching in this Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. And doing so, I also tend to think or at least wonder if what is referred to here is not so much the actual experience of either the light or darkness, but instead whether or not we’re committed and set to walk in the light of God in Jesus spelled out by our Lord, or whether we’re sidetracked elsewhere. The sidetrack may be due to our weakness, though it may simply be part of the spiritual battle we’re in, even sometimes a combination of the two.

Jesus might tell us not to be discouraged when we’re struggling in the shadows and even darkness in our experience. But that we’re instead to be looking to him, “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Intent on listening well and soaking in his teaching in the commitment to follow him along with others to the very end. In and through Jesus.

reflecting a bit on America: shades of gray (no, don’t even think about bringing down the Washington Monument, etc.)

This is the fourth of July, and if you’re going to read only one blog post today, settle in on this one from Brian Zahnd, I Love You, America, But Not Like That.

There is no doubt to me that another part of the reckoning due to the enslavement and mistreatment of Africans has come for America. We are in a day when  some would see the dismantling of all of America’s cultural landmarks. Almost the entire tent coming down to be replaced with something else.

There’s no doubt that great evil was done, and that the founding father’s blindness or acceptance of slavery is plain downright wrong. There is no gray in that. And as George Will pointed out in his most recent (outstanding) book, The Conservative Sensibility, there would be no United States apart from the slavery which under girded it, and gave founding fathers the time to hammer out the foundation of this nation.

What we need to keep in mind is the whole. Not excusing any part that is wrong and actually downright evil. But remembering what was good. I shouldn’t neglect to mention the other part of what’s called America’s original sin: the stealing and killing of native Americans, “Indians.” Both African-Americans and native Americans suffer to this day.

Without trying to cover everything that should be, I just want to point out here that we need to see life as it truly is. I love biographies that are not hagiographies, but try to tell it, warts and all. That’s one thing among many others that I love about the Bible. It doesn’t try to hide the blemishes, blotches, and indeed complete failures of characters. A great case in point is David, said to be a man after God’s own heart no less. But his actions when you read the account we’re not altogether good. And what he did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah were downright evil. But do we dismiss and diss David? No we don’t. It’s not like the bad part is forgotten, because it’s not, and shouldn’t be.

Looking at American history, I can still respect men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Instead of just seeing their flaws, I can acknowledge their good points, and greatness in some respects. Ironically holding to ideals on paper, not lived out entirely in their lives.

Again, this is not to excuse what’s wrong, or say what’s past is past while failing to see the many ramifications and realities which live on to this day.

So let’s not bring down the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial, etc. If anything is idolatrous then yes, that ought to come down. But let’s leave memorials like what I just mentioned intact. We should not even be considering removing them. I’m not referring to monuments that honor those who rebelled against the United States, the Confederacy, etc. They ought to be moved into museums, no longer to be honored in public squares. We can set up with our iconic memorials, new works that remember what Africans had to endure, and the great contributions African-Americans have made to this nation. As well as memorialize the good native Americans have done.

God have mercy if any of our lives are looked at strictly in terms of good and evil. For some there is great evil, other’s great good, but for all, there’s some mixture, so that there’s a certain shade of gray. As we Christians look to the one light of the world, Jesus, to expose our own spiritual darkness, and all the spiritual darkness around us, for the good of all. In and through Jesus.

thoughts on hell

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

Revelation 20:14

Hell is the place or state we choose apart from God’s grace in Christ. It is beyond my comprehension, and I really don’t want to dwell on it. But it is sobering. We get what we chose in this life in the end maybe so to speak, in spades. We either choose the light God gives us, or recede back more and more into the darkness, our own as well as that of this world.

I don’t see it as a physical lake of fire, but as something that is tormenting us more and more, as we live life apart from God.

Whether or not hell is forever (I think from the Bible it is, but you can make a case that it might be temporary either in annihilation at a certain point, or actual purification, though I think myself the latter is more far fetched), and I hope not myself, people receive what they deserve.

I like C.S. Lewis’s view of it as something we choose for ourselves in this life carried on into the next life. Humans were made for relationship with God and with each other. But sin separates us from God and from others. So in the eternal state we keep moving further and further on the track we chose in this life.

It is hell to live apart from God on our own. If we make our own light or depend on another light other than that of the gospel, then we’re indeed in for great deception. Jesus said that if the light in us is darkness, then that darkness is great.

Hell is living apart from God and God’s good will. Even as Christians we can live in a kind of hell when we seek to live life on our own, or unwittingly give into either self-deception or satanic deception. That’s a far cry from living in God’s grace in Christ in which we trust and obey and depend on God to see us through.

It’s a big subject, just a few scattered thoughts here. God grant us to rest in Christ. God took hell for us in himself at the cross, so that we never have to experience a shred of it here (though we still do at least from time to time), and none in the life to come. In and through Jesus.