the deep sadness of life

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

John 17:13

I am reminded too often of the tragedy of living in this world, often senseless, seemingly heartless tragedy of such. Except that I believe there’s a heart of love that somehow beats behind it all.

Jesus’s prayer to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion is so deep, worth pondering, and a fitting climax to all that precedes in his “upper room discourse” to his disciples. And the part of the prayer quoted above is especially moving to me. Life is a struggle, marked at times with deep sadness. But in the midst of that, we can have our Lord’s joy, even the full measure of such within us.

Admittedly the sense of that ebbs and flows, and for me too often just seems absent. But I believe it is something that can more and more mark our lives, as we simply press on in faith, seeking to follow our Lord in everything.

In the meantime we have to face the fallout of this world, all the issues and problems. Like our Lord we can pray. In fact there’s nothing greater we can do than that. I do well oftentimes to quit doing anything to change things for better, because if that’s all I do, then whatever change for good that might happen probably has little to do with what I do, in fact at least somewhat in spite of it. But if I get out of the way and pray, maybe the Lord might help me say or do something which actually helps. But I really don’t need to do anything except pray. It is God’s work.

And throughout all of life, God is with us in Jesus. Our Lord’s full measure of joy no less being our own. In and through Jesus.

the world: tailor made for worriers

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

The more you know, the more you wish you didn’t know. That’s a truism which too often is an explanation on why we can so easily be on edge. I used to live that way, just waiting for the next trouble that would bring me down into the abyss of worry. I’ve learned to accept the reality that this world is filled with problems galore, that there won’t be any end to them, and that we will make all kinds of mistakes along the way, and that to some extent, whatever decision we make is more or less a guess. We can’t know everything, though we work for as assured an outcome as possible.

While the world is tailor made for worriers, and I would categorize myself as one of them, it is also an opportunity for trusting in God regardless of what we run up against and the challenges which come our way, as well as when the bottom actually does fall out sometimes. We can learn to trust God in the midst of all of that: before, during, and after the mess. That God is great and God is good. And therefore will take care of everything. So that although we need to be present and somehow engaged, if only by waiting, we can be assured that God is at work for what ultimately is to be a good outcome.

There is evil in the world, and tragedy. We see it around us at times, and especially are aware of it through the news media. It is inevitable in this life, and often brings with it tragic devastation which touches the lives of people, including children. We decry such, but we are often just so wrapped up in our own world and troubles. It would be good for us to expand, and have to pray to God about tragedies in such places as Yemen and elsewhere.

One of our problems is we struggle with living in the kind of world and existence in which we live. Instead, we need to accept the matter of fact reality of it all. But along with that, the strong loving care of our Father. God will take care of everything, including the smallest details of our lives, if we just commit them all in faith to him. That certainly takes effort on our part. Bottom line: We need to grow in our certainty of the personal love of our good and great God. That God is our Father in and through Jesus. And has a good outcome in mind for everything in the end. And so we look to him in prayer, trying to grow so that our own propensity for worry becomes less and less, and our trust in him, more and more. In and through Jesus.

trials as opportunities

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Who likes trials? No one. And for me they often come in the form of thoughts, but about real life situations. And so I try to ferret everything out as best I can. I try to pray according to Philippians 4:6-7, trying to practice all that verses 4-9 include. Certainly in an imperfect, broken way, but sincerely.

And by and by the Lord somehow gives me relief. And in one way or another, either a sense of growth, though that usually takes some time, not just over one episode. Though if I can handle it well enough, that is cause for encouragement. And another way is  through a new thought that comes my way, which itself may have nothing to do with the trial itself, but more with the kind of reaction I need to have regarding it.

At any rate, as hard as it’s going to be at the time, we need to develop the mindset and attitude that sees trials of whatever sort as opportunities. Just like the passage quoted above tells us.

Of course there are the places of deepest darkness through which we may need to pass which I’m not sure qualify for actual trials, but are more like life changers. I think of a person losing a loved one through an unexpected physical malady or accident. Maybe in some sense that might qualify as trials, but I hesitate to place it here, in what James is referring to. Perhaps what might fit into what James is saying, during such times, would be when we are faced with new problems which indeed are trials as the result of such happenings. But I hesitate to see even that in this category.  God is certainly at work in all things for our good, but that doesn’t mean at all that those things God is at work in are good themselves.  But we can be confident, whatever it is, that God will bring us through to the other side. And will be with us the whole way, throughout our lives in our brokenness and loss.

Trials as opportunities. May we more and more learn to see them that way with God’s help, as God’s word tells us to, in and through Jesus.

the challenges of life

If you live long enough, whether rich or poor, you’ll sooner or later acknowledge that life itself is challenging on nearly every level. It is not automatic, unrelenting bliss, like some might imagine especially when they’re younger.

And just turn the pages of the Bible, and you’ll find trouble on nearly every page. Sometimes due to adverse circumstances, and more often due to what scripture calls the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It simply helps us when we realize this, and can help our focus. And actually I find again and again that trouble is what comes before faith. Salvation itself is a concept that talks about being saved or delivered from something, in scripture, from sin, death, and evil (and/or, the evil one). The consequences of sin can be the beginning of faith. And that’s both on a personal as well as cosmic level. We reap what we have sown, but that can cause us to call on the Lord, and enter into a life we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And we live in what from scripture we can rightly call a fallen world (“the fall” in Genesis 3), but what I prefer to call a broken world. The old creation was never meant to be the end all, but more like a window, as well as the stage in which a new world begins to emerge, destined someday in and through Christ to take over the old world.

Salvation is deliverance from, but also deliverance to. We are saved for God and God’s glory, and also for our good. And we are saved into a new world in the midst of the old, which while it can have some impact for good on the old, is the anticipation and even the beginning of the entirely new world to come in Jesus. So that the challenge of life involves living in an old world which by nature can’t fulfill what only the new world in and through Jesus can. See the book of Ecclesiastes for a good look at the attempt to make this old world the end all, and how, even when things are going well, it’s not.

So God won’t let us rest in this life. And actually, that’s a blessing since this life is not an end in itself, anyhow. For those who think they’ve arrived in this life, they either have their reward, or they’re in danger of losing out in what is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus, which is really about all that is promised in him.

So I take courage in the reality that if there’s trouble, that’s not in itself a necessary enemy of faith, but it can be the beginning of it, as well as a significant growing point for it. Let’s see our troubles, which by themselves are not good, as means to what is good, to draw us nearer to God, and God’s will and gift in Jesus. Even as we give all that is broken and really has no explanation, to him. As we await God’s full salvation to come in Jesus.

living with unresolved tensions

Life is not only downright messy, but sometimes fraught with issues which may never be completely resolved. We would like to make everything as neat and tidy as possible, live without a care in the world, relax and enjoy. But what if we’re to learn to live content and at peace with unresolved tensions? And what if within that mix, we find empathy for the countless people who live day to day in difficult circumstances? Add to that the reality that even when all seems well, we know little of what might be under the surface. Tragedy is no respecter of persons.

We seek and try to apply wisdom to every situation which confronts us, doing the best we can, but realizing there just might be some tensions we’ll have to learn to live with. As we await the day when somehow all of that will be gone, and life will be a fulfillment of what we have begun to imagine here, but can’t completely envision, certainly beyond our experience. In and through Jesus.

the perspective the Bible, better put, the gospel gives

The Bible, better put, the gospel, since the gospel is the entire point of the Bible and is as big as all of life. The gospel, meaning good news in Jesus, gives us a perpsective which addresses all of life. Somehow, somewhere— Scot McKnight makes what I think is a compelling argument to say this came through the Reformation since what was being addressed primarily, in reaction to Rome/the Roman Catholic Church was the issue of salvation (see Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church)— the gospel seems to have become all about salvation. The gospel is indeed the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1) and we’re saved by that gospel by holding on to the word that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again from the dead according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15 and the historical accounts we find in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). But the gospel is not simply about individuals being saved. Read the New Testament book of Colossians. The gospel of Christ is about nothing less than a new creation replacing the old, and includes needed judgment in making all wrongs right.

The gospel gives us a perspective which addresses all of life, not only in terms of our view of things, but also in how we should live. It’s good news not only for “the sweet by and by,” but for the here and now. No matter what takes place in the present, we can rest assured that the good news in God through Christ by the Spirit is at work in the world, yes, even through the brokenness of the church, and can make all the difference in the world, yes, even in the brokenness of it all (like the terrible shooting last night in Hesston, Kansas). We hang our hats on one thing: not in who is going to win in November in the US Presidential election. Not on trying to avoid trouble in this life, even tragedy, the former being a daily occurrence, the latter at least affecting us all. No, we put our confidence in and stake our lives on one thing, and one thing only: the good news of God in King Jesus.

our tears (in the darkness of the Boston Marathon tragedy and elsewhere)

We live in a broken world in which evil seems to have its way too often every day. This was tragically and graphically witnessed and experienced at yesterday’s Boston Marathon. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people in Boston, particularly for those who are injured (and killed), and to all the families who have been touched by this tragedy.

It ought to simply be human to weep. Especially when hurt or when others are hurt. There is no religious element we need to do that. At the same time the faith that is in Jesus is supposed to begin to restore to us our humanity, our true self, which means a deep-seated compassion, which for many of us could overflow with tears at any time. Jesus wept.

Tears when directed in faith to God, when inspiring us to pray can make a difference. We do well to dwell in the house of mourning, rather than in the house of merriment. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Yes, these passages must be considered in their context. But ultimately our tears are for the world to which we are sent, for which Christ died. We want all our longings to come to fruition in God’s good will not just for ourselves, but for the world.

And again, we must return to the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

review of Karly’s story, *A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder*, by Karen Spears Zacharias

A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder

Karen Spears Zacharias has written another memoir, a page turner, which tells it as it is, bare knuckles and all. It brings home the growing problem of child abuse and neglect. And it does so through the story involving people she knows.

Here in America, a report of child abuse is made every thirty seconds. Here in the land of the free, an estimated 906,000 children are victims of abuse and neglect every single year. That’s nearly a million children. Here in the home of the brave, 1,500 abused children die annually, usually from injuries sustained in their own homes. (p 309)

David Sheehan moved to the United States from Ireland, and met Sarah Brill. They married, and had a daughter, Karly. David was a loving, devoted father, but Sarah soon went back to her partying ways which soon meant the death of a marriage, and tragically, the death of their daughter.

Karen brings this story home in a way which helps us personalize a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States: child abuse and neglect. You are not going to find a sweeter child than Karly, she indeed was a special child. And yet every single child is precious and special to Jesus, and should be special to us, as well.

Karly was specially gifted with a keen appreciation for and love of life. Even at the age of three she carried on conversations with adults, was a peacemaker in keeping the children playing well together in child care, soft-spoken, yet full of life. She had a special bond with her father, David. But her mother let her down, by not putting Karly and her needs above her own wants. And the system of Child Protective Services along with law enforcement failed to see what was right in front of them.

As a result of this tragedy, Corvallis put into place better policies, and Oregon passed “Karly’s Law” to prevent such failures. In the Journal of the San Francisco Police Association, this book was strongly recommended to everyone in the San Francisco Criminal Justice system.

You really need to read this book for yourself. Karen’s journalistic career, including that within criminal cases, serves the book well, along with her gift of making the pages weep, along with all the beauty. Karly’s prayer in the end was answered. And I’m sure God is at work through her all too short life. And us reading it, praying and thinking on it, and lovingly acting when needed can be a part of that ongoing work.

the sorrow of this world

I am rereading Karen Spears Zacharias’ gripping memoir, A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder, recounting the tragedy of the brutal torture, yes over time, and murder of a precious little girl. I will soon be offering a review of it on this blog.

This goes to show the depths of the tragedy of this world, the tragedies that are ongoing. Karen’s telling of this true story focuses on one important aspect which we need to be aware of, and on which society needs to get its bearings.

Some are more inclined to enter into such emotionally. I think Jeremiah was that way. We see this time and time again in the psalms, in fact lament is found in many places in scripture. It is good to be willing to pay attention and then go in depth so as to understand and empathize with the pain and hurt of this world. Besides bringing our own pain to God as well.

This is paramount in what Jesus did. Jesus entered into the pain of this world through his incarnation, life, ministry, and above all, death. In his death something of all the pain of the world due to sin as well as the pain experienced in this sphere, Jesus absorbed in himself. The final answer to this world’s woes, to all the suffering and tragedy in it is in a cross, that is in Jesus’ death. God’s amen to that ringing to this day in Jesus’ resurrection. His ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, enabling an ongoing witness of this, as we in Jesus await his return, when the results at long last will be realized completely.

I have to look to the cross, at what Jesus did so as not to be completely swallowed up by sorrow. I know that all the evil of this world and its effects are swallowed up in his death. I look forward to the day when I will meet that sweet, wonderful, beautiful little girl, however she is to be in the resurrection. And what is past will be past and completely forgotten in that new world to come. We in Jesus look forward to that, and proclaim that to the world.

the tragedy at Aurora

We are in deep sorrow, with heavy hearts over the tragedy at Aurora in which twelve people were taken from this life by a senseless act, and others injured. Of course evil acts happen daily on this planet. And hearts are broken over unexpected death. We live in a tenuous existence with no certainty from one day to the next what might happen.

Hopefully these incidents can change society for good. There is no way society can guarantee that such evil won’t take place. But we do well to try to decrease the possibility through considering and addressing a number of factors.

We live in a world that is wonderful, but that is also plagued with sin. Sin is that which is an offense against God and humans, against all that is good. At its heart sin is a violation of love.

We Christians, followers of Jesus are the ones in which love should be seen the brightest, a love that forgives and helps others through God to heal. Though there are certain wounds we are never meant to get over. We pray for the victim’s families, and for the murderer, that justice would be done, and that by grace he would find God’s deliverance and salvation in and through Jesus.

The danger as Jesus said, is that when lawlessness abounds, the love of many may grow cold. The key here is that law is enforced, but especially among Christians, the law of love, of loving one’s neighbor as ourselves, or as one who is like us. This means it is not everyone to and for themselves, but all of us for each other. “One for all, and all for one.”

While we live in this veil of tears, we do so as those who mourn with the blessing that in and through Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him we will indeed be comforted. And we seek to extend that comfort to others by being in their presence, listening to their stories, weeping with them, and praying for them.

We look forward to the day when God will wipe away all tears, and death will be no more. When all will be well in God’s love in and through Jesus. As we now seek to extend that faith, hope and love together through Jesus to our world, and to the world at large.