faith involves acting as if God’s word is true, regardless of how we feel

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Exodus 14:10-14; NLT

There are times when we’re completely at a loss, feeling lost, and out of sorts. We don’t know which end is up, we have no sense that things are alright. Yesterday that happened to me as I was reading about something going on in our world. And what sense of well being I had caved in so that all seemed difficult. 

The people of Israel panicked because of their circumstances. They faced danger, no doubt. The Egyptian army was heading their way, and they had nowhere to go, blocked by the Red Sea. But that’s when Moses directed them to stand firm, or as it says in the NLT to stand still and see the deliverance or salvation of God.

Oftentimes we just have to act as if what God says is true, even when it seems otherwise. What we’re experiencing and feeling may fly in the face of that, but by faith we just act as if what God says is true, regardless.

When we do that, and stand firm, God will act. God will give us the sense of well being that he has everything in hand. We will again experience that salvation. God will direct us further, as you can see was the case with Moses and the Israelites if you click the link above.

But we must continue to remember it all depends on God. Sometimes our act of faith is to not act at all. To quit squirming and worse, and just go on as if God will take care of it. Even when we have trouble believing that, we put all our eggs in one basket, and quit imagining as if somehow it depends on us. And we’ll have to continue to do that along the way. In and through Jesus.

 

Bible stories which call us to radical faith

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

Exodus 14:10-18

We had a big Bible story book when we were growing up, along with Kenneth Taylor’s classic picture book walking children through the Bible. Of course those make great impressions on you as a child; my mother was faithful in reading them to us kids. What you take for granted as a child becomes a different matter when you grow up and become an adult, especially in today’s world. God is great and God is good, and we can depend on him and his word is replaced with the idea that it’s up to us, or at least that we have to do our part.

Contrast that with the message in the above Exodus event: to simply stand still and see the salvation of God. We struggle with that. Backing up a bit: not all the Bible is written to us, for example the book of 1 Corinthians. But everything from start to finish is written for us. So these stories telling of actual historical events are not just some kind of rare occurrence of the miraculous. They are that, but much more. They are present to encourage us in our own faith, into the same radical commitment that believes that come what may, God will save. That in a very true sense, we’re simply to stand still and see the salvation of God.

We have to get away from the notion and indeed the practice that we must take matters in our own hands. Instead we need to replace that with the commitment to leave everything in God’s hands and simply live by faith. Which means while it’s not like either that we’re automatons- although sometimes it will seem like God is carrying us, or that we never do a thing, after all the Israelites had to listen, believe, and move at God’s command through Moses, our dependence is not on ourselves at all, but on God. Neither do we depend on other lesser things than God.

We believe in the radical biblical way. Not just in a reciting of the creed, but through and through so that our faith carries through into all of life. That it’s first about finding God’s will and way and by faith living in that. Together as much as possible, while we endeavor to live there ourselves in and through Jesus.

when all seems in upheaval

Really everyday has its share of troubles, just as Jesus said (Matthew 6:34). But there are times when it seems all the more true. When there’s one problem after another, and some seem to resist any solution.

Psalm 46 is a great psalm to meditate on in the midst of difficult, troubling times. Things can seem out of hand, or this or that can really be nagging on us. God is with us, and we’re in this together, in Jesus.

What we need is what by the end the psalm gets at, and actually begins with. We need to take a deep breath and step back. Our problem is not helped by our near panic attitude, that somehow we have to fix it, or that there’s no solution. And at times we can even feel condemned for not stepping in and doing something.

But it’s best by far to refuse anything less than what God is getting at in this psalm. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our part, but our biggest part by far is simple faith. Through prayer and waiting on God we will find God’s direction for us, even in the midst of the struggle. And when we do get that answer, we need to hold on to it, even when under attack again. God is the one who saves, not us. We can trust in God completely, and rest in God’s goodness and greatness to see us through, and bring everything to a good end. In and through Jesus.

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Eugene Peterson

One person who has surely touched as many households as any in my lifetime is Eugene Peterson, now with the Lord. I have a good number of his books, most of which I believe I’ve read, and benefited greatly from. One might not readily recall details from the best writing, but it will inevitably have a lingering effect on you. Such was the writing of Eugene Peterson.

Writer of over 30 books, including The Message, and first and foremost a pastor. Well studied, in depth thinker in the Presbyterian tradition. With a Pentecostal background. Grounded and seriously committed to scripture, certainly within the tradition of orthodox Christianity.

Eugene Peterson was not about show, but substance, day in day out. “A long obedience in the same direction.” You couldn’t find fault with his writings. The one critique might be leveled against his best known work: The Message, but it is meant to be a rendering of scripture, rather than a standard translation. And you would do well to read through it, or listen to it. He once said (or wrote) that he disliked it when people said, “Here the word of the Lord,” and then began to read from The Message. He noted that they should use a standard Bible translation when doing that.

Eugene Peterson was about substance and simplicity. And a big part of that is simply in slowing down. He wrote: Read slower, not faster; less books, not more. I think from what I’ve gathered from him, that he simply wanted to live as much as possible in what God was about, whatever that was; to be still enough to know God, and be in the flow of what God is doing.

He will be missed, but his influence will linger on especially through people, as well as his writings from generation to generation. Until Jesus returns.

a psalm for the troubled times in which we live

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

We live in troubled, conflicted times. And there’s not much any of us can do to make it better. What we might do often brings unintended consequences. But we can’t fold our hands and do nothing. But just what are we to do?

We need to look to God. And God’s promise for us and ultimately for the world in Christ. And we have to remain there.

That is hard. It’s too easy to get caught up in the latest problem. And it’s not like we’re supposed to be mute in the face of evil. At the same time, we’re called to follow the way of Christ, who went like a sheep to the slaughter. But we do so as those in and of Christ. In God’s care. And as witnesses to the world of God’s salvation.

The call in this psalm when other voices would drown out everything, is simply to be still and know that God is God. To cease striving ourselves, and let God work it out. We are present as those in Christ, to be in prayer, and to be moved both individually, and especially together by God’s Spirit.

When all hell seems to have broken loose, or the the bottom seems to have fallen out, God is God. God’s will will be done. We only need in faith to believe, and in a sense let go. Not only for us, but for the world, for everyone. That is a senseless exercise, it would seem. But in doing so, we are putting our faith in the God who is at work, even in the world. Even in these troubled, conflicted times in which we live. God will work it out, actually regardless of whether we have faith or not. But we can learn to rest and remain in that rest for ourselves and hopefully for others. In and through Jesus.

let go, relax, and be still, in a new orientation

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

In a psalm of great encouragement in the midst of the tumult and trouble of this world, promising God’s protection and help, there is the word to cease striving, let go, relax (see NASB text and footnote in link above), be still, and simply know that God is God. And that God will make that known.

We  think somehow that we have to take matters in our own hands, grab the bull by the horns, and get the job done. And there will be plenty for us to do when it’s all said and done. But it is God’s work, not our own. And this psalm puts the focus on God, and not on ourselves, or even on our part in what God is doing.

There is a time to simply step aside, be quiet and still, and look for what only God can do, not only in the world at large, but in ourselves, first and foremost. This call in the psalm is addressed to the listeners, or readers. It is a call to quit our own machinations, what we would say and do. And look to God. We can’t see the value of this, because we’re so used to looking on the plain of human endeavor, including and maybe even especially our own, so that we’re not even aware of what God is doing, since our focus is not on him. The fact of the matter is that we aren’t going to easily understand God’s hand in the midst of the affairs of life, particularly on the world stage. But what this psalm is getting at is God’s hand toward what will be the result of gospel, the good news in Jesus: God’s grace and kingdom come in our own world, as well as the larger world in all its tumult and trouble.

It is not about us, and what we’re about, and doing, but God. The word to us: Cease striving, be still, and know that God is God. So that we need not fear. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

Christian meditation

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

In the Christianity Today edition on Billy Graham’s life, there is a most interesting article on his devotional life, or as Evangelicals call it, “devotions,” or “quiet time.” It is aptly entitled: “An Intentional Intimacy” with the subtitle: “Billy Graham kept the focus on God at all times. How did he do it?”

I’ve done some quiet times which were marked by God’s presence, and used to practice that to some extent, but by and large over my Christian life, I’ve really not been much of one to have a “quiet time” with God each day, or have “personal devotions.” My own way of doing something of the same thing was more to be in the word by listening to it being read over the years, and having my own copy of scripture close at hand. Now I try to be in the word in a number of ways throughout the day as much as possible. But I think I haven’t done as well as I could have in making it more personal between myself and God. Too often it is more or less just cramming a lot of scripture in my head. Since it’s God’s word, that can be good because it’s alive and active and brings needed judgment and correction to us, along with salvation. But there’s also the danger of not acting on what we know or profess, so that we are living in a measure of deception. And in becoming proud over what we think we know, over our head knowledge. But if we press on in scripture, and really ponder it before God, we should remain humble because of its depth, and the realization it gives of just how much we actually don’t know, along with how dependent on God we actually are.

Christian meditation can include tradition and experience, but is primarily marked by pondering the words of scripture, and the message found in it. There’s surely some importance in doing the former, but it is all necessarily based on the latter.

We are blessed, or truly happy, as we learn to meditate on God’s word day and night, giving both our attention, and our lives to it, in devotion to God and God’s will, in and through Jesus.

calming and quieting one’s self

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

In an age of noise and anger, and the shout political programs (I used to see years ago, but have avoided since), it is good to simply get away and calm and quiet one’s self. I might do that with classical music and a book, myself, along with coffee. And always with the Bible; in fact that might well be my book, and I do carry one around wherever I go, because that helps me in this.

To simply be in the calling God has for us, whatever that might be, and I’ll add, in all its simplicity, is good. We might be led to go beyond our capabilities, or outside of our comfort zone. Though for me I think more often than not it’s just me going there, maybe with a fair rationale, but maybe also without the Lord’s leading. Though God will be with us, and if necessary, we can always backtrack and acknowledge what error we’ve made.

I think seeking to live in God’s presence in all that we do can and naturally will help us in this. It helps us remain humble, and listen, and unlike the world, try to have a conversation on a given matter. And then get to what’s basic and best: God’s promises to us and to the world in Christ.

We simply and often don’t know as much as we might think. And we need to acknowledge that, and work on what God is teaching us and humbly own that. Only then might we have a helpful word in the matters which trouble and concern people. As we remain in prayer always, as an attitude and practice. And together with God’s people, put our hope in God now and forever in and through Jesus.

trying to catch one’s breath

Sometimes life comes at us hard from several directions, rather than the steady hum we may have become accustomed to. Or perhaps it is just crazy from one source. There is no question that life can become hectic at times for a number of reasons.

Recently I was driving through an area I’m not used to, and had to stop behind a school bus. Afterward I went forward to get to the light, which I don’t think was that far away. But I had failed to notice the yellow flashers on, and was picked up for doing 40 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone. That was a pretty hefty fine, relatively speaking, although the police officer did reduce it to a charge of doing 30 miles per hour, which helped. I thanked him for doing his job, and know it’s important for him to protect the person helping direct pedestrians (I take it) in that zone at specific times. But it made me adopt a new practice of staying in the right hand side and making sure I don’t go over the speed limit, which is a novel idea, since it’s commonly thought that they give you a certain amount over. Though technically they can ticket you for being one mile an hour over the speed limit.

Maybe that will be a helpful event in my life, since it reminds me to slow down, something a friend who was over me at work once encouraged me to do a few years back, so that I to some extent took his advice. And yet some pressure to get things done will inevitably put us in a position in which we have to move at a faster pace than we ordinarily would. One axiom that has helped me is to simply do one thing at a time, and then the next, and the next. And also to try to minimize the hectic, so that one can act purposeful, work hard, yet not be in a hurry. A popular term nowadays is “Don’t work hard; work smart.” Being a bit more old school, I have a hard time with that, because it seems like the application of that sometimes is to not work at all. And yet there’s plenty of truth in it. I often think about how to do what we’re doing in an easier way, because it will likely often be hard, regardless. But to make it easier for more efficient work.

All of that to say, I really don’t have any one good answer on just how we can catch our breath. I do believe we need some good down times of quiet and being in prayer before the heavenly Father. And where we can, it is good to avoid having being in a hurry, planning and thinking ahead so that we can be as efficient as possible. But not being rushed in spirit. That can be a challenge for sure, at times.

Where we can, we need to take the time for needed rest. And for simply being present. A rest which is about knowing others, and especially the One who made and loves us: God. Something I haven’t been all that good at in my lifetime, though knowing God comes by simple faith. So a rest from our own hard labor, and a rest in God, which scripture talks about at various places. But I leave us with our Lord’s words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

when life doesn’t seem right

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk 1:2-4

If you’ve lived long enough, and for too many it’s too soon, you will know that something is not only not quite right, but too often just plain downright and perhaps even blatantly wrong. Habakkuk saw this, even an insight from the Lord which he received as a prophecy. He wrestled through, and received God’s response, and then worshiped with a confession of faith, in the end.

What do we do when we see injustice, and experience wrong ourselves? Too often we curse the darkness, or we complain and grumble to others. We don’t know if Habakkuk did any of that. We do know from the book, that he took his concern to the Lord, and that the Lord responded. An important key to the book is that God answered. That made all the difference in the world.

It’s not that God’s reply in its content is always welcomed, or easily understood, in fact it might provoke more questions, which was the case with Habakkuk. But he did not leave what amounted to a kind of conversation. And in the end, he had not only God’s answer, but a faith that would see God and worship him, as well as enable Habakkuk to glorify God in the midst of difficulty. Rather than disillusionment and despair, there was a faith and worship.

Hopefully the Lord can help me to that, today.

A great book to read on a Saturday, and prayerfully ponder.