Jeremiah’s sorrow

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

Jeremiah 8:21-9:2

I remember a wonderful seminary professor telling us that pastors’ life spans are probably cut short due to all they have to go through, not the least of which, carrying the burdens of people in their hearts. Jeremiah is a most interesting, surely complex prophet. His book is actually the longest in the Bible, and he endured years of suffering both internally and externally.

Jeremiah shared in the suffering of his people, forbidden by the Lord to marry because of God’s judgment to come (Jeremiah 16). He suffered much, and is rightfully called “the weeping prophet.” The book of Lamentations, at least in his tradition if not written by him is remarkable in both its pathos and what is actually said.

The ability to enter into the suffering of others, to even share in that suffering, and especially so when it is the consequences of their own terrible choices is indeed a gift from God. It is much more likely that one shakes their head, with maybe a hint of grief, then carries on with their own life, maybe putting it out of mind on purpose. After all, who can carry such weight? And I know there are Christians who think that to do so is somehow not spiritual. How it is done may not be all that spiritual or Spirit led, but the idea that it’s done at all is surely marked with firm precedent in Scripture. And is not our Lord rightly called a man of sorrows, who wept over Jerusalem and its judgment to come?

Jeremiah had to carry a heavy burden. The Lord surely helped him, and enabled him to do it for so long. And not only people in his day were blessed because of that, but so were generations which followed right up to the present day who can read his writings and the account of that time. Lamenting is a part of life, even the godly life. Some are more inclined to it, but it is a gift for us all. Entering into something of the heart of God for people. In and through Jesus.

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the experience of God’s love in our hearts

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

I live in the default experience of feeling down. Some people, especially Christians, will fault me for that, or at least wonder, though many not. It’s not how you feel, but it’s about faith, and in a sense, what we do with our feelings. I wonder if it isn’t related to head injuries I’ve had. But it’s been a struggle for years.

There are ways I can get around it, or maybe past it for a time. But the best way by far seems to be when the Holy Spirit just takes over. All the negative feelings are gone, awash in the love of God through the Holy Spirit.

Note in the passage above that this love is in a process which in itself is not easy, and surely fraught with negative emotions. The peace with God spoken of here is not the peace of God experienced, but rather our standing before God through God’s justifying grace and our faith in Jesus. Suffering is part of it, and then the perseverance that follows it. And character, and then hope.

I wish I could live in that feeling and sense of well being and love all the time. It does make life so much easier. I have to remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan no less, which tormented him. But how God was in that for Paul’s good, and our blessing (2 Corinthians 12).

But that love of God is made known to us by the Spirit. Something we look forward to living in forever together with all of God’s children in and through Jesus.

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.

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.