intimacy with God in a brutal world

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:1-4

If you read Psalm 91 in its entirety, you can’t avoid the reality it’s describing: a brutal world. There’s no two ways of getting around it.

But even in the midst of that God not only wants to protect us, but be intimately close to us. God will take care of us, and help us flourish, even through the worst this life can bring.

But we have to hold on to this promise, and act on it. In spite of ourselves, sometimes God will break through in love. But this needs to be an ongoing daily practice, so that we experience more and more God’s protection and intimacy in a brutal world. In and through Jesus.

“the present crisis”

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

The “present crisis” is tied to the time being short, and the world in its present form passing away. That may have to do with the realization of the change that Christ’s resurrection brought, the beginning of the end of this world, as the new word and new creation begins to emerge in Christ, someday to be culminated and completed when he returns.

That being said, we still have to deal with whatever our “present crisis” may be, which depends on time, place and circumstances for sure, unless it’s the general idea of what all Christians go through in life as followers of one Lord, Jesus. This is not going to let up, but in some form will always be with us, if indeed it’s the latter thought that is in view. But it is temporary, even said here to be short.

The point is that we followers of Christ live differently given the new world we’re a part of within the old world in which we live. Yet we do share common concerns, true if we marry or even if we don’t. There’s no escape from the problems which beset a broken world. Right now with the COVID-19 pandemic we have an illustrative case in point. We’ll do many of the same things everyone else should be doing. Or at least out of love for neighbor I think we should be doing those things, like wearing a face mask in public, etc. But because of our faith in Jesus with the confidence that somehow the new world is emerging, we will also act differently. Never violating love for neighbor or what is properly right in the eyes of all. But with the confidence that this is not the end. And that we’re here to be devoted to the Lord, whatever our situation. In and through Jesus.

in the new normal

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7

What happens when the heavens feel like brass, when one seems to have no peace, or it comes, but mostly is gone. Read the amazing wisdom story of Job. It’s a wisdom story, not necessarily a story about an actual event. That’s how some take it, including myself, though it really doesn’t matter. But Job found himself in the depths of complete personal loss, except that his wife who remained, counseled him to curse God and die. In this story, God is actually wagering Satan in a sense, letting Satan take his worst shot at Job without killing him to answer Satan’s accusation that Job will dismiss God since he serves God for personal gain.

Job doesn’t take this passively, the loss of his children, loss of wealth and now stricken from head to toe in misery. He questions God, and even wishes for the reversal of creation, including of course his own existence. Yet Job hangs in there. He is still talking to God, and talking around his friends who had their nicely pat theological and seemingly life-oriented answers. Recently I read these friends were like first year seminary students. Some wisdom in that thought.

Living in the new normal is not a new theme for me. I’ve lived much of my life in difficulty of one kind or another, mostly inward, though in reaction to external situations, but just a steady dull, regardless. PTSD surely is something we all experience at different levels, since we humans live in a broken world. How do we live in “the new normal”?

I think we have to do what Job did. Hang in there with God; appeal to God. Ask questions. Determine to hope in God to the end. And learn how to live as well as we can “in the new normal.” There is no sense thinking we can escape it. As in the case of Job, only God can grant that. We have to keep after it in our faith, but learn to live as well as we can. Trusting that God will see us through and give us what we need. The breakthrough and change will come. In and through Jesus.

trusting God moment by moment

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Psalm 62

It is one of the hardest yet most important things we can do, to seek to live in the moment in dependence on and rest in God. There are so many factors which make this challenging. We can be weighed down by past failure, present circumstances, and seemingly dim future prospects. Of course if we’re just looking at the troubles apart from faith, then we’re sure to be overcome with fear or whatever we do to deal with such situations ourselves. But when we turn to God with the determination to trust and obey in the moment by God’s grace just as the psalmist does, we’ll find God’s help. And hopefully we’ll become more and more steady, as we learn to find our rest in him. In and through Jesus.

keep your eyes on God

A psalm of David.

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
do not let me eat their delicacies.

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
from the snares they have laid for me.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by in safety.

Psalm 141

We live during a most difficult time given the pandemic which has hit us, and the division that is exacerbated because of it. And we all have our unique challenges to face.

Like the psalmist here, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. Nor do we want to lose sight of the big picture. The psalmist does neither, as they address God in prayer and with their own thoughts, inspired or not.

And surely the key in the midst of the mess is to fix one’s eyes on God. This takes resolution and discipline, as we face the ongoing trouble, and lift our hearts and troubles to God. In and through Jesus.

stress points

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

Psalm 4:1

It’s interesting to note the 22 places the NIV translates “distress” in the Psalms. And if there has ever been a more stressful time in my life, I’m unaware of it. One has to think in terms of event, length, and ramifications. The world has had stress points right along, but this Covid-19 pandemic, with both its health and economic issues, coupled with the political division where I live in the United States, certainly brings stress to a new level.

Over and over again in most of the passages related to distress in the Psalms, enemies are involved. And it seems that way today. Almost worse than the problem itself, is the response to it. And I think people would largely more or less agree with that, whatever their position is.

What the Psalms reminds me is in line with what the first Psalm with this translation quoted above tells us: Our appeal is to God in prayer for relief from our distress. That is now with reference to both the virus, and perhaps more acutely, people’s response to it. There’s no question that some will be pushed to the brink economically. And there is undeniably plenty of fear of catching the virus itself. Not to mention the illnesses which have occurred, along with the deaths. What I find the most challenging is how people are so fiercely divided over it. And fear abounds.

What is needed from us as God’s people? Regardless of where we might stand on this issue, we need to find God’s peace from our distress. We need to be a steadying influence of God’s love and truth in Jesus to the world. That is what we need to trust God for, right in the midst of the stress. That God’s light and peace would break on us, so that others too might see, and come to or be strengthened in faith, themselves.

Does that mean I think our position on the pandemic and its effects is unimportant? Not at all. But in the midst of everything, we as God’s people as a first priority should want to put our trust in God. And the first step often needed, especially during a time like this is to find the relief we need from our own distress. In and through Jesus.

my thought (gathered from others and life) about the current distress

These times are days on edge for many. Yes, none of us want to get the coronavirus. And no one wants the economy to collapse. Untold suffering for many if the latter happens, surely with some deaths due to lack of medical attention or for other reasons. And likely more deaths if we don’t follow measures to contain the virus. There are no easy answers. And nothing easy about what needs to be done. And the division in the United States is surely deeper than ever in my lifetime.

Sometimes our reactions can be either worse than the problem, or no help at all, just making the situation worse, adding to the problem. I am thinking of the political divide. There’s no way to avoid being included in that even when we’re innocent and wanting to avoid it altogether. Or we may advocate for a position that happens to be more in line with one side or the other, not wanting to get involved in any war of words. I used to want to try to persuade others, but have come to see such an endeavor as naive. It likely does little if any good. There’s more at work than just words and rationality, and we can feel it in our own hearts in our reactions to postings online that we disagree with.

For us Christians, we need to applaud when we find any honest efforts to arrive at truth, or do good. And we need to ask questions when there seems to be a lack in either.

Above all, we need to be people of prayer. Present with others, whether we agree or not, whatever we might think. Trusting that God is somehow at work as we pray that truth, justice and mercy may prevail, with the full realization that this won’t entirely be the case before Christ returns. Until then we hold on to the word of life: the gospel, with the faith, hope and love that brings. In and through Jesus.

 

little by little over time

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3b

Oak trees are among the most sturdy and long lasting trees, it seems. But they don’t grow quickly. The kind of growth required for the tree it is takes time.

In Isaiah, people are likened to oaks, those God is “planting.” When you read Scripture and consider the spiritual life, all of this takes time. Christian spiritual maturity is not arrived to overnight. Nor does some overwhelming experience add up to Christian maturity. In fact that can easily lend itself to deception, someone thinking they’ve arrived when they haven’t, or couldn’t. We need the young saplings, exuberant in their new life, glowing in their witness of that. But it will take time, wind, storms, sunshine and rain, and more time for them to grow into the sturdy, mature trees they need to become.

Some of us are pretty full grown, but as Christians we know our growth never ends in this lifetime. We have weathered many a storm, learned to stand firm in the winds with roots embedded in the water of life found in Christ and Scripture. And as part of God’s community, the church. But if we don’t watch out, we could become diseased and in danger of no longer standing. It is sad, the accounts of those who didn’t end their Christian lives well. Sometimes the older trees are not appreciated for all the blessing they give. It’s like, they’ve seen their day, they’re old now and not of much consequence, not to be paid attention to. But we need to keep growing, and in silence and prayer continue to bear fruit from and for God.

Little by little, over time. That’s what it takes. And to keep on doing that come what may. That God might be honored and glorified. In and through Jesus.

accept difficulties?!?

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Job’s words may seem like a far too pessimistic view of life, and that this passage should be taken in the context of Job’s great troubles. Yes, maybe so, but there are numerous people who have faced tremendous difficulties. And we all do to some extent. Where I live we talk about “first world” problems to give some perspective. But even in our situation, we’re not immune to most any of the difficulties others face aside from the differences in stark places where one’s faith and even humanity are not accepted.

It’s good to accept the inevitable bad that will come with life. “With acceptance comes peace.” In fact it’s a necessity if we’re to go on and do well in life, do what needs to be done. Of course we’ll have to prayerfully work through our problems. And perhaps just pray about other problems that we can do nothing about.

In this wisdom book, Job was trying to help what became his accusers to see that his plight was illustrative of life, what can happen in someone’s life, and what on a lesser scale occurs in one way or another in everyone’s life. Their lack of understanding seemed to be partly in the idea that the righteous are blessed so that they don’t encounter what would plainly be understood to be a curse. Imagine someone venerated for goodness who falls on hard times and then whose goodness is questioned. Fortunately for us, this book helps us see the precariousness of such a position.

It’s important to hold steady during the troubling times, even the most difficult. Hold steady in faith and perseverance in trying to do what is good and right. Admittedly that is more challenging when one is faced with the hardest things of life: the loss of a close loved one, one’s livelihood lost with little or nothing to fall on, etc. We don’t do well to point fingers at people and tell them something trite like simply, “Accept your difficulties.” We need to stand with such people as individuals and as a society, something which should be natural for the church, but should include the state as well. There needs to be a safety net, and God’s people need to be present for each other, as well as for others.

In the meantime we need to hold steady ourselves. Not living in some sort of denial, but facing our problems honestly, head on, thoughtfully and above all, prayerfully with faith that God can and will see us through each and everyone of them. In and through Jesus.

during difficult times

ע Ayin

I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
Ensure your servant’s well-being;
do not let the arrogant oppress me.
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.
It is time for you to act, LORD;
your law is being broken.
Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:121-128

I sometimes hear/read something like all we need to know is that God is love, that love is what it’s all about, and we need nothing more. This passage is one example among many of why we need all of Scripture. I too would like to live in the sense of God’s love for me and for everyone else. But life hits me along the way from many different angles, and there’s no escape from spiritual warfare for us Christians, as much as we would like to avoid it.

The psalmist here certainly doesn’t have it altogether. He/she is at a loss, and feels lost. We’ve all been there when we feel threatened or for some reason or another ill at ease. When we’re simply not resting in God’s unchangeable love for us, or we’re not able to experience that love at the moment.

How the psalmist engages God during such a time for them is helpful for us. We look to God, and we are set on obedience to God come what may. Our faith and commitment is not dependent on our circumstances. At the same time we also realize our complete dependence on God. To give us discernment and yes, to bring deliverance from our struggle. The only path for us. In and through Jesus.