in this rubble

We heard of the terrible, heart breaking tragedy of a young mother who struggled with mental illness, first shooting her children, an eight year old girl who was a good reader, a rambunctious six year old girl, and a two year old boy who was a smiler, before taking her own life. A year ago she had sought help for mental illness.

We live in a world of heart breaking tragedy. It usually happens on less dramatic levels, but telling in lasting ways for those involved. I can make no sense out of it. There is a part of me which wants to question God like the prophets of old, and other places we find in Scripture such as the Psalms and Job.

It is a sad fact of the matter that we live in a world in which there is insanity with unspeakably horrific consequences. There’s no escape from that. Common grace, called such because God gives it to all humanity keeps it from being worse.

I can only lament over such tragedy. And at the same time believe that God is somehow present through it all.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis

I can only go back to God and to the cross of Christ as the hope through which I carry on and live. That somehow in the end God will sort through this mess. That even now God is at work in redeeming what is in bondage, putting together what is broken, bringing beauty into the ugliness of this world.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s our own sin and yes, evil, that brings in a world of hurt. But that God stepped into this world, fully taking that hurt on himself on the cross. With the promise of resurrection. In and through Jesus.

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trusting in God no matter what

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Daniel 6:19-23

Daniel was faithful no matter what. But underlying that faithfulness was a rock solid faith in the faithfulness of God. Daniel trusted God.

Daniel’s trust was not hinged to good circumstances. It was trust in God through good times and bad times. It was honed and made solid from years of daily practice. The development and growth of faith takes considerable time.

The king, Darius, was led to make a decree which was set up by men who were jealous of Daniel, and wanted to get rid of him. But Daniel payed no attention to the edict to pray only to the king, and continued day after day to open his windows and face Jerusalem, praying to God. According to the edict, whoever prayed to anyone other than the king was to be thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel trusted in his God no matter what. I’m sure he wasn’t assured of the outcome, but he was assured that through life or death God could be trusted. In this case it was an outcome which for Daniel was good, but not for his enemies. A pretty ruthless day and age.

The passage talks about the king’s emotional state, but not Daniel’s. I’m sure Daniel had emotions throughout it. But above all, he kept trusting God, I’m sure by praying. And if he had scrolls, looking into God’s word, or hearing it at weekly gatherings where it was read. And he continued to do what he was called to do.

We might face fearful circumstances, or quite often just fearful thoughts which frequently are baseless.  The roaring lion, the devil prowls about looking for someone to devour, the context in Peter in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 5:8-9). But God shuts the mouth of the lion. In a certain way now the devil can’t touch us (1 John 5:18). The roar is meant to instill fear. We need to ignore that and continue on in faith. Doing what God has called us to do, and above all continuing to trust in him. God will always see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

remembering the persecuted church

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

Open Doors is one of the best organizations in calling attention to and helping persecuted Christians. The recent report for 2018 makes it clear that there are pockets of what actually turns out to be a growing persecution of Christians worldwide.

Here in the United States and in the western world there is none of the persecution experienced elsewhere. We may have laws we disagree with, but one can still be an open witness of their faith without fear of suffering and loss. Not so in many places worldwide including a recent crackdown in China where both leaders and members of churches are being put in prison and tortured.

We need to become more aware of the plight of Christians and we need to be in regular prayer for them. To be a Christian here ordinarily costs us nothing, although we might miss out on a promotion or somehow be marginalized, or we might have to take some ethical stands that cost us. To be baptized as a Christian in many places elsewhere is practically to accept a death sentence, or at least be relegated to a status that is lower and subject not only to scorn, but to a more difficult existence.

There is no question that we here in the United States and elsewhere are shielded and even in danger of becoming complacent in our faith. America like Europe is becoming increasingly secularized to the point where faith is seen more and more as a relic of the past, and even an impediment to civilization. Although that can be exaggerated and misunderstood among Christians here, nevertheless there’s a real element of truth in it. Yet at the same time we don’t suffer the persecution our brothers and sisters elsewhere are facing.

…God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1 Corinthians 12:24b-26

Paul tells us that if one part of Christ’s body suffers, then the entire body suffers with it. Not unlike my foot which suffered injury some years back, and at times hurts probably due to arthritis that has set in. So that even though the rest of my body may be okay, yet I am not comfortable. Other parts sometimes compensate for missing or hurting parts of our physical existence, when they can.

We need to develop more and more an awareness which breaks the boundaries of ethnicity and denominations and traditions, not to mention nations, to see and begin to understand and enter into the world in which others of our faith live. That by God’s Spirit, we might be a help to them, even as by their faith they’re a help to us. And that together we might be a witness to the world in and through Jesus.

weeping willows and violins

I’m fond of violins, maybe not so much fond of weeping willow trees, though they have their own unique beauty. I’m not sure why there’s either an ambivalence or even abhorrence toward sorrow. It seems as if you can’t be a Christian and be down at any time.

Violins are one of the most beautiful of in fact many wonderful instruments. Jews and Russians are especially known for violin playing. It seems that those from backgrounds or ethnicities that have experienced profound suffering are especially proficient at the violin.

I can’t understand why Christians shouldn’t enter into the suffering of the world. I’m not at all saying that our traditions say we shouldn’t; it’s just that too often our Christianity is more attuned to the sound of celebration rather than lament. But scripture includes both. Certainly praise of God, but sorrow as well. Certainly over our own sin, and over the brokenness we experience. But also over the plight of others. In fact we ought to be present when others suffer, so that somehow we can empathize and enter into their suffering, and be a support for them. And in seeking to be a “faithful presence,” Christ can be present.

God’s grace helps us to be always rejoicing, even when sorrowful. But it also helps us to grieve over the loss of others, over the problems, indeed crises of the world. It is certainly true that we can only bear so much. That we have to cast our cares on God. But it’s not like we are then removed from the sorrow around us, or our own.

We look forward to the day when there will be no more sorrow, suffering and pain, when God wipes away every tear from our eyes. But now by grace we want to remain in the pain of the world, sharing in its suffering, knowing that through Christ’s suffering even now great help can come. To love others and find God’s comfort in our own sorrows, that in turn we might comfort others in their sorrow in and through Jesus.

incentive to godliness: leaving the past behind

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:1-11

Peter wrote to Christians who had once lived what scripture calls fleshly, sinful lives. The list he gives is obvious, and today is no different. Pornography for example is a huge market, and many it has taken down. Of course there are other sins maybe more acceptable to society at large, but nevertheless destructive as well. Usually especially to relationships, and also simply to one’s well being.

Peter’s words alluding to Christ’s suffering, and then saying we should arm ourselves with the same, in a kind of bodily way, so it impacts how we live seems I suppose Catholic to many of us. So be it. Peter points back to their wild, reckless past as an incentive to live differently in the present. And in the face of ridicule for doing so. In so doing, they will be following Christ, living out that following. And to do so, Peter is suggesting, again, that they’re to arm themselves with a mindset which embraces suffering in the body. Actually what might be spoken of here is the refusal to do what one is tempted to do in the body. We realize that the rest of the letter speaks of suffering in terms of persecution for their faith.

This incentive to live godly lives because of past ungodliness might be especially helpful to younger Christians. But it should provide incentive to us all. It actually puts us in a sphere of life and experience where we live bodily for something else entirely. Not to indulge ourselves, but to deny ourselves. Not really to deny our humanity, either. The New International Version adds “evil” to “human desires” to make that clear (click link above to compare with Greek, and other translations). But in doing so, it maybe to some extent loses a certain sense of what this scripture is saying. Yes, strictly speaking Peter is not telling those Christians that they can’t eat and drink and marry, etc. But what the passage does seem to be saying is that a Christian should live not for the fulfillment of legitimate human desires, but rather for the will of God. That such an attitude is a necessary fortification to not drift into what actually is evil. And important even, in us fulfilling God’s will in our lives.

I include what is the second paragraph in the translation above, because Peter puts that together with the call to live differently. It is to be done so in Christian love with acts of service.

Our lives are lived bodily. What we do and don’t do are important. We live bent on doing God’s will. When we fail, of course there’s always confession and repentance, and if need be for a serious enough offense, restoration. This passage indeed points to reformation, to a changed life, completely different than the world not only accepts, but often celebrates. We seek to follow Christ in a different way. Finding our fulfillment, including as humans, in that. In and through Jesus.

someday all the brokenness gone

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:3-5a

It is hard to imagine an existence where there isn’t at least regular great struggle. And actually to cry in this life, and mourn with others is a blessing. We are given empathy through our humanity, or by the Spirit with our humanity, so that we can enter at least sympathetically, and hopefully with empathy somehow sharing their sufferings if by nothing else more than groaning and prayers, which itself is a great gift. And as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

And in his Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

And:

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

So living fully in this present existence with all its pain and suffering is actually a blessing. That is where the Lord promises to be with us. Not in some safe existence free from all suffering and harm, or apart from the suffering of others.

And yet someday, blessed some Day, it will all be over. All the hurt, pain, wounds, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, heartfelt grief, loss will be gone. “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” That is written to us in Revelation to be a comfort to us. We catch a glimpse of that now through the peace the Holy Spirit gives, and the help we receive in this life. But it is peace and help most often in the midst of adversity, suffering, and pain, and the inevitable trouble that accompanies this life. In the end, death.

Someday that will all be gone in and through Jesus.

God’s word a light for life

נ Nun

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.[d]

Psalm 119:105-112

There is something about scripture which is unique. It is written for us in this world. Most if not all of it is actually not written to us, but all of it ends up being for us, so that in an indirect way, it is written to us. God’s written word for God’s people individually and together.

We certainly have to read it in context, and together, depending on the Spirit as well as how the Spirit has directed God’s people, even the church, staying away from interpretations which deviate from that.

It is called a lamp for the psalmist’s feet, and a light on their path. We often don’t seem to put the same value on the word. Or we do, but we fail to avail ourselves of it.

That thought needs to be considered with the rest of this segment (called, pericope). It is in the context of commitment, suffering and prayer. Along with delight. For us today, all of this in and through Jesus.