DARKNESS

Is it not possible that we as Christians are subject to the groaning of this world just as anyone else? While we may not fear evil, the ultimate loss of faith, we do need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

There is, in all of this, a type of abandonment. Some feel abandoned by God whose oft-repeated promises seem to insulate believers from earthly trials. But the God we have come know and trust in Christ subjected himself to the worst the world would offer, to the point of crucifixion. The true sign of the faith is trusting the crucified Christ – the pioneer of our faith and our own journeys. Pioneers lead the way through the worst to discover the best. Even those travellers in long ago America had their share of fear, anxiety, and doubt but they knew to keep their eyes on their leader. (See Hebrews 12:2)

Sometimes even the firmest of believers have to experience what the ancient writer called the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ As we walk blindly through this, God extends his hand to guide us beyond the grave circumstances of earth’s bounds. It is only through this ‘dying’ that we truly encounter Christ. The disciples discovered that truth.

In 1939 amidst the Nazi rise to power, King George VI of England, gave a speech in which he quoted the poet Minnie Haskins, entitled “The Gate of the Year” (1908):

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God – that shall be better than light and safer haven than a known way.’

GRACE AND PEACE UPON ALL

 

What is Prayer?

So I have been thinking recently on the meaning of prayer and the point of such an exercise. Let me first define prayer as ‘the communion and conversation between us and the Trinity.’ I realized that some people pray to the Father and some to the Son and some to the Holy Spirit. For the purpose of this conversation I refer to the Father to whom Jesus spoke.

Recall that Jesus said not to use a lot of words because God already knows what our needs are. And yet Jesus offered to his disciples the model of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a beautiful expression to God of our praise, our daily needs and desire for his will.

Conversation with God is an expression of love as conversation is in all human relationships and since we are created in the image of God it makes sense that God would want such fellowship with us. Prayer is how we express our most basic needs and how we find strength and comfort from God.

It seems from the bible that God wants our cooperation in his work in his world. Jesus teaches his disciples how to ask for anything in his name, that is, in his nature. And sometimes it seems that our relationship to God is like a child’s to a parent where the greatest thrill for a parent is to enjoy the relationship with his or her child and grow in that relationship of love, and trust. God asks for our trust just like a child’s. This is probably why Jesus said that unless we become like children we couldn’t enter the Kingdom of God. I believe Jesus means right now because the Kingdom of God is begun through Christ and when we place our confidence in God through prayer we are within that Kingdom life. Recall that Paul said the Kingdom is joy and righteousness. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14)

And there is no better place to know that life than in prayer, in communion, in love with God. Sometimes prayer can be in agony but that heartbreak is always surrounded with God’s love and assurance. This is why in Romans 8 Paul says that by the Spirit we call God ‘Abba’, the most intimate expression of loving address. You and I can tell God anything, anything. And we are assured that his listening to us is not in judgment but through Christ his love for us is filled with pardon, strength, healing and comfort. And if we listen carefully, which means being still, we will hear God speak to us, urge us, guide us and when we rise up from prayer we will know we have been with the Father, the Son and The Spirit.

That we can even pray is evidence of a loving God’s invitation into a relationship. So carve out a space and time for prayer. I remember when my children were young there was no greater joy than to have one of them climb up into my lap and just talk about anything, joys or troubles in the day. And at night what a thrill it was to lie in bed with one of them and recount the day’s events.

So may our hearts be given to God in prayer. If you know no other prayer then look at Matthew 6 for the Lord’s Prayer and let it soak into you. Just tell God you love him and let him love you. Reflect in these next weeks what Jesus did for you and me because of God’s great love. And may God bless richly that time you spend with him. I think I will go now and do what I have suggested.

 

THE GOOD LIFE

What is the good life? The life of joy and peace? Jesus offers us this life, his pulse beating through our hearts. Here are some of his final words to his disciples for their preparation to live:

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. (John 15)

Jesus, the savior and the moment-by-moment teacher of life has given us everything we need for our joy. He has forgiven our sins. He has given us the gift of his commands, which leads to life. Some folks look at obedience to anybody as a challenge to their own rights but Jesus offers to instruct us how to live and not just as a dead teacher’s good advice but as one who is alive and with us right now. Recall his words to his disciples just before he leaves them. “I will be with you always.” (Matthew 28)

See nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even death. (Romans 8)

Jesus offers us the way to life through his words and his love. Just as he has kept the Father’s commands he offers us the way to salvation through keeping his words. He is promising us that we will be joyful people who attend to his words.

I hear someone once say that the commands of God are like guardrails keeping us safe on the road of life. Others say they are like prison bars keeping us from being free.

Fish live in water because it’s their environment for life. If they should choose to jump out onto the sand they would soon find out that freedom leads to death in this scenario.  I once had tropical fish in my office and one morning upon entering the room I noticed that one of the fish decided to be free- on the office carpeting. Free and dead was my little friend.

Have you ever played soccer or seen it played, or maybe basketball or for that matter any sport? Without boundaries and rules these games would be just chaos, no fun for anyone. So it is with life. Jesus offers us boundaries and rules to make the ‘game’ fun. You can condense all those commands into just two if you like. Love God as much as you can and love your neighbor as you love yourself.(Matthew 22) That pretty much says it all.

But because we are weak in the flesh we need more acute instruction. And so Jesus instructs us about things like anger and lust, worry and giving etc.

Jesus says that the freest place to be is within the Kingdom of God. You and I were made for the Kingdom. I know that atheist folks say ‘hogwash’ to that but what do they know, really? How do they know what they think they know?

Jesus comes along as the smartest, wisest, most loving man in all of history and invites us to live with him, according to his commands and tells us that the reality of God’s kingdom is the one thing you and I can count on. And who’s to say he is not right? Some folks blame their unbelief on years of religious oppression and cruelty, which Jesus never endorsed. Such history is lived outside of God’s kingdom, which is righteousness and peace. And the rules that Jesus lays out are meant to realize that peace and justice and goodness.

For example when Jesus tells us not to be angry he is inviting us into God’s reality of love and forgiveness. So when we learn how not to be angry (which can take some time for most of us) we begin to see life with God’s eyes and love with God’s heart.  Jesus shows us God.

One of the disciples once asked Jesus to show them the Father because they still couldn’t figure this kingdom stuff completely. Jesus said to them that after all this time of his presence with them they should be able to see the Father.

Consider these words from Jesus in John chapter 8-So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Continuing in Jesus words means that we listen to what he has to say and that we obey his teachings because we have confidence that he knows best for us. If you want to learn to play piano you listen to your teacher. If you want to learn to be an electrician you study hard and listen to your mentor. If you want to do anything well in life then you listen to your instructor. Well, if you want to learn best how to live this life, how to be happy, loving, and righteous and the best person you can be and be free then you listen to your teacher, Jesus. He knows. He really does.

Freedom in the Christian life means that you don’t have to live in sin. We are freed by Christ to live the good life a life that is meaningful, purposeful and eternal.

It means that when you wake up in the morning you wake up in the Kingdom of God, with God, knowing that no matter what happens in that day you are not in the least removed from God’s love and presence brought to us by Jesus who himself said to us that he would be with us forever.

And get this. The apostle John writes in one place that the commands of Jesus are not hard. And Jesus himself tells us that he wants to connect up with us and give us responsibility that is in actuality quite easy. (See Matthew 11) Easy meaning that it fits us well. Of course there are to be problems and suffering in this world. Jesus faced it all but he has given us the tools to face insurmountable odds. At one point he says, ‘my peace I give you, not as the world gives.’

He knows everything about life, our lives, and the life of this universe and eternal life and invites us to entrust our lives into his care, guidance and to live by his rules.

The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best advice ever on how to live this life in the Kingdom of God. It’s three chapters long found in Matthew 5,6,7.

They are words from the very WORD of God to teach us that anybody can live in the Kingdom of God and that by listening to/reading his words we can have the best life ever.

What I sometimes find is that people misunderstand what the rules are. They think it’s about smoking, dancing, drinking and the like. No. His rules are avenues into our hearts. That’s why Jesus says that it is not enough not to kill someone. It’s about loving everyone especially those who are closest to us. We don’t have to work hard not to kill but to love is another story, another adventure if you will. This day or the next you will have opportunity to test that truth as you encounter people who aren’t always on your wavelength so to speak.

Now if we choose to live outside the Kingdom life it would like stepping out of bounds on the basketball court, like riding our cars with no gas (I want to be free of higher gas prices). I’m sure you can think of all sorts of analogies like jumping off a roof thinking that you can be free of gravity. Sure you can be free but you will be broken if you are into that kind of thing.

Jesus offers us the kind of freedom that allows us to love, to be kind, forgiving, and compassionate and in love with God. The Kingdom of me is about selfishness, anger, resentment, retaliation…it is a way that leads ultimately to the death of the soul. Maybe that’s why Jesus once said (Matthew 7) that the way to life is narrow and few find it. Perhaps for the most part people are into the ‘me’ life. The ‘I did it my way life’. I have to admit that on the surface it is mighty appealing and I am known to have walked that way often. But it is not the real life, real meaning the life that God has prescribed for you and me. It’s fleshly satisfying and fleeting. I want a life that endures, that is built on solid ground. It takes worth but then again what good thing doesn’t?