Psalm 19 – The God We Can Know

The heavens keep telling
    the wonders of God,
    and the skies declare
    what he has done.
Each day informs
    the following day;
    each night announces
    to the next.
They don’t speak a word,
    and there is never
    the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches
    all the earth,
    and it travels
    around the world.

In the heavens a tent
    is set up for the sun.
It rises like a bridegroom
    and gets ready like a hero
    eager to run a race.
It travels all the way
across the sky.
    Nothing hides from its heat.

The Law of the Lord is perfect;
    it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever,
    and they give wisdom
    to ordinary people.
The Lord’s instruction is right;
    it makes our hearts glad.
His commands shine brightly,
    and they give us light.

Worshiping the Lord is sacred;
    he will always be worshiped.
All his decisions
    are correct and fair.
They are worth more
    than the finest gold
    and are sweeter than honey
    from a honeycomb.

By your teachings, Lord,
    I am warned;
    by obeying them,
    I am greatly rewarded.
None of us know our faults.
    Forgive me when I sin
    without knowing it.
Don’t let me do wrong
    on purpose, Lord,
    or let sin have control
    over my life.
Then I will be innocent,
    and not guilty
    of some terrible fault.

Let my words and my thoughts
    be pleasing to you, Lord,
    because you are my mighty rock
    and my protector. (CEV)

Today’s psalm is a celebration of God’s self-revelation. Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made the divine life known to humanity. What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life. This is for the common good of all persons.

The vision of the psalm is of a personal God, not an abstract deity who is aloof from creation. Through both land and law, there is the Lord of life, desiring humanity to know the divinity which infuses it all and has people’s best interests continually at the forefront of providence and goodwill.

The created world witnesses to God. Creation manifests the glory of its Creator. Each creature and every created thing have the capacity to acknowledge and declare their Originator. That which has no mouth can speak. Those with no vocal cords have a voice. We can hear them, that is, if our ears are open to listen. The creation is not God. Yet the created world and order knows the Lord so intimately that it sometimes seems as if the sun, the trees, the mountains, and the meadows are divine. The divine stamp is there, testifying with mysterious words to a glorious God who desires to be known.

So, the Lord graciously gave us law. God’s righteous and good law flows seamlessly from God’s good character. Law is the divine medium for humanity, a guide for human life toward thriving and flourishing on God’s good earth. We were put on this planet with instructions on how to get along on it. It is when we throw out the rulebook and improvise that we tend to get into all kinds of trouble.

“Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

karl rahner

Even when we as people dig our own graves and fall into them, God is there. Grace is available for the asking, redeeming the wayward life. Deliverance is a real possibility, to set us aright again, and restore us to our full luster as people created in the image of God. Law and land converge to guide into grateful living, into the wisdom of dealing rightly in all things.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice. It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life. We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use the Lord’s revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law. It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned. Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances. That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid and idiotic sins, from thinking I can take over your work. Then I can start each day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of sin’s awful grime. Let me not be found in the dominion of darkness but bask in the glorious light of your glory. Accept both my words and my life when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Rock, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my All. Amen.

John 12:36-43 – The Shadow Self

“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

For this reason, they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. (NIV)

The season of Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, and of repentance from sin. It is a time to consider our ways and the state of our hearts. In doing so, we find that the grace of God in Christ can heal all wounds. 

Today’s Gospel lesson gives perhaps the most succinct and convicting statement about the shadow places of our lives. Many of the religious authorities believed in Jesus, but they did not speak of it because they were afraid of being put out of the synagogue by the Pharisees. When push came to shove, they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.

The word “glory” has its roots in the Old Testament and has the meaning of being heavy or having weight. In other words, we might picture God descending to earth among humankind with divine gravity and heft. If we were back in the ‘70s we could say, “heavy, man, heavy!” Glory is really a reference to God’s presence among us. So, if we plug this thought into the religious authority’s attitude, we see that they preferred the presence and accolades of their peers to God. To put the matter even more succinctly, the leaders wanted the limelight and would push their weight around to get it.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) described this hidden shadow self as an unconscious aspect of the human personality. In other words, the shadow results from the conscious self being unaware or unconscious concerning areas of its own personality. Without the light of conscious awareness, the shadow self runs amok within the psyche of a person and far too often calls the shots in speaking and behavior.

“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” (Psychology and Religion, 1938). According to Jung, the shadow side of a person is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. If those projections remain hidden, they eventually come out sideways by harming others because there is a dark illusion, even delusion, that others are stealing what is rightfully mine. Hence, the sinless Jesus is tortured and killed by those who think they are doing a good thing.

It is easy to be hard on the religious rulers in the New Testament, but this is Lent, and, so, we must shine the light of Scripture upon ourselves. This is the time to deliberately gain awareness of our own shadow selves. Perhaps the burning question for all believers at this time of year is: Do I seek the presence of God more than the presence of anything or anyone else?  

Over the decades, I have preached in many churches. Many of them have empty pews or seats in the first several rows during worship. I admit that has always bugged me. I don’t like it. There are times when I am more concerned about the presence of people than the presence of God in a worship service. Maybe you live in fear at work and are more concerned about the presence of people around you than the presence of God, so you keep quiet when you ought to speak up or turn a blind eye to the shadows of an organization.

Lent is not just about identifying sin; it is also about receiving grace. So, let us find that the cleansing work of the Spirit through the work of Jesus is active through our confession of sin. And let us pursue the glory and praise of God in all we do and say as grace permeates deep in our souls. Let the shadows dispel, and the light shine, for the benefit of self and others.

Glorious God lighten our darkness—be our true light. Keep us from the powers of darknessthe perils and dangers of the night. Shine as a kindly light in our spiritual darkness—in our mental turmoil and anxious confusion. We pray this for the love of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns as one God, now and forever. Amen.

1 Peter 3:8-18 – How to Live in a Messed-Up World

Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves. Do not pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.

For those who want to love life
    and see good days
should keep their tongue from evil speaking
    and their lips from speaking lies.
They should shun evil and do good;
    seek peace and chase after it.
The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.

Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Do not be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human but made alive by the Spirit. (CEB)

If there were a sign-up sheet for suffering, I am confident no one put their name to it. We like to avoid suffering. After all, it hurts! I would make a terrible masochist. I am not a high tolerance for pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a Tylenol at the first sign of discomfort. Yet, I know there will be times when I am going to have to experience pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it. To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The stark reality of the New Testament is that there must be suffering before glory. Just as Christ suffered, we ought to expect we will suffer as his followers. As Christians walk with Jesus during the season of Lent, they journey through the desert full of temptation and hard circumstances. At the end of the journey will be the glory of Easter, a celebration of the resurrection. Christian theology confidently practices hope based on the redemptive events of Christ’s cross and resurrection, suffering and glory.

Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

We are not above our Master. We, too, will suffer. The real question is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we avoid responding with insults of our own. Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ. Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason. God takes a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not shame-laced bad news. If we suffer for being Christians in solidarity with our Lord, we shall receive blessing from God. But if we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it. Christians are to be on the frontlines of the mobilizing others for mercy, leading the charge of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. Jesus said that it is no problem to show love and respect to people we like. However, it is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers. God will handle the hate-filled person; judgment is for neither you nor me to dish out. Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we do not.

I encourage you to take some time today or in the next few days to read the epistle of 1 Peter slowly and carefully in one sitting. It is a short book. Pay attention to how the adversity of living in this fallen world gives Christians the opportunity, hope, and encouragement to live well. 

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering. I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits. Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I must face in this fallen broken world. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Romans 8:18-24 – Groaning Inwardly

depressed person

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? (NIV)

In the wake of the Day of Pentecost, Christians are mindful of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s power certainly brings strength and courage for witness and ministry. That same power is also found in the travails and tribulations of this life. Spiritual power can be discovered in the dark places of our lives, in the times of loneliness and doubt, and in the constant need for prayerful intercession.

The Spirit is both a mighty wind and a gentle breeze.

Perhaps you, like me, grieve the loss of over 100,000 Americans to the deathly enemy of COVID-19. Our collective lament is an awful groaning expression of our pain. We need the Holy Spirit! The good news of Pentecost is that when we are not powerful, the Spirit helps us in our weakness – that is our hope and our quiet strength.

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul used the experience of childbirth to illustrate what the experience of the Christian life is often like. Growth, wonder, expectation, hope, patience, pain, and joy are all words to describe pregnancy and childbirth. When it comes to the Church and the Christian life, we are in the gestation period. Our salvation has not yet come to full term. Meanwhile, we must remain encouraged and healthy, keeping our future hope always in front of us so that we will not lose heart. When we are limited in what we can do and where we can go, we pray. And there are times when we are flat on our backs, overwhelmed with our circumstances, not able to utter any words in prayer.

As Christians, we are awaiting our complete redemption. If we lack patience and see little hope, we will find it difficult to persevere. In such times it does no good to be like Eeyore and feel sorry for ourselves. Yet, on the other hand, it also does no good to always be smiling, positive, and upbeat as if nothing is worth grieving over.  To take such a posture toward the awful effects of living in a fallen world with disease and death is, at best, to ignore the power of lament, and, at worst, to live in abject denial. We can neither fix nor control most of what is going on in the world around us. To lament is to acknowledge the reality that something terrible happened. Lament causes us to stare down a painful event and face it in all its ugliness.

In such feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, God comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit resides with us and strengthens us with Pentecostal power. We not only celebrate the Spirit’s mighty power to blow a violent wind and upturn history; we are also grateful for that same power in coming alongside us and providing the inner strength to face yet another day of hardship and difficulty as we seek to heal.

We live in an awkward time. Nothing is as it was. And, yet, it has always been this way – a time of spiritual pregnancy in which we possess salvation but do not yet possess it in all its fullness. There is so much groaning going on because we realize there is such a large gap between where we are and where we want to be. If women could have babies without nine months of struggle, limitation, and pain I think they would opt for that instead of the way it is now.

There is a time coming when every tear will be wiped away and unending joy will rule.

All of creation groans because where it is now and where it will be seems like such a long time in coming.  Every creature and every living thing will experience decay and death. The world is not yet redeemed from its cursed bondage. So, the earth produces disasters and diseases because we live in this fallen world that is not yet redeemed.

Pinocchio

Humanity groans because we fall victim to circumstances beyond our control. We also groan because of our own poor choices that give us grief. Although we have been delivered from sin, death, and hell and experience spiritual power… we still must wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. We are keenly aware of the terrible disconnect between where we are as people and where we want to be. It is something of feeling like Pinocchio, not yet a real boy who has to deal with strings and other puppeteers who do not care about him; and, who feels the need to lie because of his situation and pays the consequence of his nose growing.

Yet, a deeper thing is happening under the surface: Our frustrations, longings, lusts, jealousies, and escapist daydreams, things we might be ashamed of to take to prayer, are in fact already lifting our hearts and minds to God in more honest ways than we ever do consciously.

If carrying heavy burdens, it is spiritually appropriate to offload your worries onto the Holy Spirit who is waiting to intercede for you right now. And if there is no immediate relief, we are to persevere and keep engaging in prayer without giving up. Pentecostal power may be available, but it is not cheap; it requires a commitment of abiding prayer and waiting patiently for the Spirit to accomplish his purposes in his time.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Kindle in me the fire of your love. Send me your gentle breeze, and I shall be renewed.  Spirit of the living God, I invite you to wring the death out of my heart and saturate my soul with your life-giving breath of faith, hope, and love through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.