God’s help upstream

ר Resh

Look on my suffering and deliver me,
for I have not forgotten your law.
Defend my cause and redeem me;
preserve my life according to your promise.
Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek out your decrees.
Your compassion, LORD, is great;
preserve my life according to your laws.
Many are the foes who persecute me,
but I have not turned from your statutes.
I look on the faithless with loathing,
for they do not obey your word.
See how I love your precepts;
preserve my life, LORD, in accordance with your love.
All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:153-160

Oftentimes we feel like we’re rowing upstream, in other words, against the tide. While so many others are going with the flow, doing what everyone else supposedly does. And we can be looked on as strange and even estranged as a result.

During such times we need to hold on to God’s word and God’s promises, and not be moved from them. It’s all too easy for us to forget them for a moment in reaction to our trouble and troublers. Instead we need to continue to look to God and his word. Believing that God will help us to continue on in his will and way in and through Jesus.

 

 

The United States and us fearful Christians

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

….All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

….Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrews 11-12

July 4 is upon us, this being the holiday weekend preceding it. And if there’s one thing for sure, so many of us, and I’ll include myself, are hardly past the election fervor, caught up in a presidency which may turn out to be the most polarizing in US history, aside from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during those tumultuous and horrific Civil War days. Hardly any of us like what is going on in US politics, many for similar reasons, others of us for different reasons, some of the concerns being the same across the board. It is a difficult time for a good number of reasons in a nation which is not only polarized, but threatening to be on the edge of being torn apart.

The question on this post is this: When push comes to shove, just where does our confidence lie? What do we think will win and save the day, and why? And just why are we so upset and fearful?

This is not meant to be a critique of the United States, but there’s no doubt there have been seismic changes in society, and that the liberal, progressives have been all but dismissive of the conservatives. And there’s no doubt that the conservatives themselves have written off the liberals. You have few moderates, who by many would be seen as wishy washy and weak kneed. As far as I’m concerned, while I do have opinions about US politics, and especially concerning issues of the day, none of that matters in comparison to the main point of this post. While those things have an important and provisional place, they are not at all on par with what now follows.

We as Christians, and especially the older generation of us, which includes myself, and I plead guilty, we have lost our focus and therefore are weak in our faith, and weary, in danger of losing heart. Oh yes, there will be some who will fight to the bitter end either for the Democratic Party, or for the Republican Party, or their version of what they think America needs, and won’t seem to have lost any heart at all. They have a lot of hope for good, and to avoid what isn’t good through the federal, state and local government. And again, it’s not like that has no value at all. But we in Jesus are actually called to something else, even while at the same time we pray and humbly participate according to our convictions for the good of the state.

Our goal is something better, something much more. It is to be a follower of Jesus in whatever culture we’re placed, to announce and live out the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus, in the truth that Jesus is King with the hope that follows. We should be those who are commended for our faith in God, both confident and assured that God will fulfill his promises come what may. And that includes whatever we may face in coming days, years, or generations, should the Lord tarry.

We need to quit thinking and from that acting as if all depends on what is happening or not happening in Washington, D. C., as hard as that might seem to us, for some of us for different reasons. Our eyes need to become fixed on Jesus, period, who shows us the way as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and of course, is the way. Faith, plain naked faith, and I mean the faith that is in the God revealed in Jesus, that is what we live for, and if need be, die for. While at the same time we faithfully pray for those in government, and hope for the best for the nation, and the world.

That is our calling. This is what we Christians in America should be known for. In and through Jesus.

See Andy Stanley’s compelling message, Fix Your Eyes, which inspired this post.

 

finding home

Like a bird that flees its nest
    is anyone who flees from home.

Proverbs 27:8

From an old song comes the well worn saying: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” We feel at home at home, for sure. It’s an escape, and more than that, it’s our abode. It’s where we’re acclimated into hopefully a place where we can rest. Of course to both build and maintain a home requires work. But home ought to be above all a place we can leisurely enjoy.

God made us for home. In a sense, humans were made to be at home in fellowship with God, in Jesus taken into the communion of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But God made humans also to be earthly dwellers in communion with each other. And even to have a relationship with animals, I’m thinking of pets. This is why the biblical promise of heaven coming down to earth and becoming one with it when Jesus returns is so appropriate. God will come to earth to dwell with his people. In the meantime, God lives with us in Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us).

So our true home is right where we live on earth, renewed in Jesus, and in God in and through Jesus. Both.

So we are at a loss, and lost when we stray from either. Especially basic for us is to find our home in God, but we are earthlings, made from the dust of the earth, so that this wonderful world in the end renewed in the new creation at the resurrection in and through Jesus is also our home. We can’t get too much of either, as we now live in the world to be renewed when God makes all things new through Jesus.

“This world is not my home,” refers to the world system, which like Babel of old (Genesis 11) is estranged from, and in opposition to God. So that this life is not our final home. We are strangers here, pilgrims on a journey, looking for a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11).

We pray for those who have strayed from their true home, that they would find it in God. And we long to be more and more at rest in that, as well. While we fulfill our calling to work and be stewards of this good earth God has entrusted to us. Knowing that our work someday won’t end, though the toilsome labor due to the curse imposed on it will. At Jesus’s return.

Home.

 

pressing on

Life doesn’t stop for anyone. It keeps right on going. Although we need plenty of stops along the way with all the twists and turns, the hard places, and the unknowns to come. In general we have to not only carry on, but in Paul’s words, press on. Faith is like that, it perseveres no matter what hard bumps we encounter or obstacles we face.

We would like to map out our own journey, to set it in stone with the ending we have in mind. But life doesn’t work that way for any of us. It goes on and we must go on with it. With our hand in the Lord’s hand knowing that it’s not only about us, but about the redeemed community with us in life and mission to glorify God and be a witness of God’s salvation.

And so I must get on with that today and everyday to the end.

longing for a better country

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

As I get older I seem to appreciate more and more the beauty of the earth that I see, whether in pictures or in person. I love Ohio where I was born and grew up, and though “The Game” does not mean as much to me as it used to, each year during “Michigan week” I sing the first verse of the alma mater (the tune) of the Ohio State University (with tears) and am reminded of all the many things I have to be thankful for in my childhood home, family and upbringing. And now having lived in the state of Michigan nearly as long as I had lived in Ohio (about the same, if my stay in Canada in school is included) I can say I love the state of Michigan just as much as I love the state of Ohio. For all the problems one encounters, there is so much beauty and blessing.

But when I consider this life with all its promise and hope frankly not being realized on earth, with all the injustice because of the lack of love on the face of the earth, I long for God’s promise in Jesus to be fulfilled. Frankly the promises in scripture sometimes seem too good to be true to me. But by faith and through Jesus I go on, believing in a hope that seems to be alive, scripture says through the resurrection of Jesus. Experiencing something of God’s love, and desiring to love God in return with all my being and doing, as well as my neighbor as myself.

Yes, we thank God for this old creation which does groan as scripture says, and we are thankful for all the good we find here through the blessing of God. But we know this is a prelude, pointer, and whisper of the promise of what is to come in and through Jesus.

I long for the place and time when people will truly love their neighbor as themselves, myself included in that indictment. I want to do so, but I know I fall so far short. I long for a world in which love and justice reign in everything. Instead we live in a world that is divided and is suffering from the effects and tyranny of sin: human greed and self-centeredness, along with the other vices of sin.

I realize too that I am part of the problem. Not that I excuse even the smallest sin or sin pattern, and don’t want to repent and change. But I too fall short of God’s ideal expressed in his will in Jesus in scripture, and I want to follow on with others in Jesus toward the full realization of that will. The blessing from God to his people, as we see in the case of Abraham is for the blessing of the world. We in Jesus are indeed blessed to be a blessing.

And so in and through Jesus we press on. By faith looking to God for a better country. Even as we thank God for all the good and blessing we experience now. Together in Jesus for the world.

not welcomed

Often when people visit churches they are either impressed or not impressed with whatever welcome they receive or don’t receive. I’ve heard of people visiting a church in which no one talked to them at all. I’ll never forget the first time we visited a church in which we served for some years. A lady greeted me at the door with a big smile and hug (she’s a hugger). I think she and her husband are still serving at that church. I think of her with a smile.

Jesus received sinners and ate with them. That was to say, especially in that culture and time, he befriended them, and in the eyes of many would then be associated with them. In the stories in which he ate with the Pharisees, it is out of other motives that they are eating with him. Not because they were open to him, and to the God who sent him.

Do people feel welcomed in our company? If we’re following Jesus we have the Spirit to help them begin to feel welcome. This is about relationships, breaking the ice with each other, so that others might come to know Jesus, or know him better, along with us, we getting to know each other in this mix as well.

It is sad when churches divide up into groups along secondary matters such as worldly politics, or just plain cliquishness. There are some we may bond more with, becoming closer friends. But we need to go out of our way to include everyone, to keep each other feeling welcomed and loved, yes in spite of ourselves at times, in spite of each other.

All of this an ongoing discipline, and even delight in our following of Jesus together for the world.