This is the Day

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Having endured some level of quarantine for months now, it seems life has been put on hold. We have had less direction than normal as routines have had to be broken, plans have been canceled indefinitely, and the usual tasks and activities simply can’t be done. As a result, our typical train of thought has been interrupted. We suddenly have more time to think about other things. There is a lot of new information being thrown at us in the news, as well as the constant bombardment of everyone’s opinions on social media. Something certainly on all of our minds is the future. There are many different thoughts on what it might hold but we all have hopes for it to improve. Young or old, healthy or sick, rich or poor, we all imagine a life ahead that will be better. 

Regardless of our hope for the future, it is inevitably filled with unknowns. The direction it could go seems without limits. Our thoughts swirl with conjectures and emotions fluctuate. Sometimes we’re excited about the possibilities, sometimes we fear the terrors that could be, and sometimes we’re sad about what may never come to pass. Ultimately, this mulling over what lies ahead leads to frustration, since we cannot predict what our remaining life on earth will look like. As our minds can find nothing solid to land on we then continue to wander through all the what if’s, what could be’s and why’s. 

Thankfully, we are not left completely blind. God does give us promises for the future that we can fully rely on: that he will not withhold anything good from us (Psalm 84:11), he is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), he has good works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10), we have eternal life to look forward to (John 3:16)…lots of very good things! But this doesn’t always satisfy our desire to know more details. It doesn’t promise that what you or I think should happen will come to pass. And this where we need to pause and question our thought process. Thinking about the future is not a bad thing, but if it starts to make us discontent and question God’s goodness, then we have a problem. This reveals we are holding too tightly to our idea of what a good future is and spending too much time on what we don’t and may never have. 

We must surrender the future. God alone knows what it holds. He is sovereign, he is faithful, and he doesn’t just have a bright plan for the future, he is working here and now. He is sanctifying us right now and speaking to us, if we’ll just stop and quiet our minds to listen. God loves us just as we are and he has a wise and good plan for each of us this very day. God also isn’t just working on one person at a time. He is doing mighty works for billions of people all over the world at this very moment! Today has enough trouble and needs of its own as well as enough joys, blessings, opportunities, and just enough minutes to accomplish what God has prepared for us. We need to make the most of what we have now (Ephesians 5:15-16), which includes always rejoicing, being in conversation with God constantly, giving thanks for everything, doing everything to the glory of God! 

In Colossians 3:1, we are called to set our minds on things that are above. This may at first make us think just about heaven and the future when Jesus returns and all things will be restored, but we are missing the here and now! Our Father who is “above”, in heaven, is building his kingdom now and we get to be a part of it now. We need not dwell on the uncertainties of the future when we have plenty to see, learn, and do in the present. Psalm 84:10 says, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Spending just today knowing (thinking) I am in the presence of God is better than knowing whether I even have a thousand more days of life. God is the one upholding us, giving us each breath and heartbeat. He is with us, holding us in his hand. May that be enough for us. May we be content with this day he has given us. 

Stop, quiet your mind, and think about what God is doing today, right now, in your life and in the world? Each morning and evening have a conversation with God. Ask him, “What do you have planned today, Father?” and tell him about your ideas for the day. In the evening talk to him about your day and ask about his: “What have you been up to today, Father?”

Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (ESV)

Luke 9:23 “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (ESV)

Lamentations 3:22-23 “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (ESV)

Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread” (ESV)

 

Surrendering the Why

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)

The book of Job is an intriguing story. The opening dialogue between Satan and God  reveals much about the goings on “behind the scenes” of the world, yet the book ultimately leaves us with another world of questions we wish we had answers to. Unfortunately for Job, he didn’t even have his own book to read and so had even fewer answers than we. Job endures unspeakable trauma after his entire life is suddenly rocked by natural disasters, murder, robbery, and disease. The whole book is then the endeavor of Job and his “friends” to understand why unfortunate events happen to people. His friends are determined that bad things happen because of a person’s sin and so Job must have some secret sin he needs to repent of. Job, on the other hand, claims his innocence, and thus believes that it can’t be as simple as that. 

Job and the friends don’t really know the “why” behind Job’s pain so they each rely on their own understanding of life to come up with their own answers. The problem is human understanding is fallible and so inevitably arguments ensue over whose ideas are right. Job and the friends continue to make their arguments about the ways of God, suffering, and the world for thirty-five chapters! and they still don’t come up with a clear answer. But in the last few chapters, the Lord finally speaks up for himself. With our typical understanding of how a book should go, we might think now is the time for closure, that God would reveal to Job about his agreement with Satan to test Job’s faithfulness or that God would at least help settle the argument between these men. This book is God’s book though and doesn’t play by any of our modern story rules. Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” God has his own way of doing things, always superior to ours, and the ending of Job’s book is evidence of this.  

Rather than giving pat answers and telling us what we all long to understand – why bad things happen to people – God instead begins to ask Job some powerful questions back: 

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – Job 38:4 (ESV)

“Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” – Job 38:36 (ESV) 

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south?” – Job 39:26 (ESV)

“Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” – Job 40:8-9 (ESV)

God’s reply to some of life’s deepest questions is to simply proclaim himself as the powerful, all-knowing Creator and Ruler of the universe that he is. While in our pride we expect God to give us answers to all our “why?” questions, he knows better. Look at some of Job’s responses to God’s questioning: 

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” – Job 40:4 (ESV)

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” – Job 42:2-3 (ESV)

As God reveals a little more of himself, Job is immediately put in his place. When God speaks, we are humbled. If God had just given Job all the answers he sought, this would have only built up Job’s pride. Job would come to think that he can get whatever he demands of God, instead of learning that God is sovereign, he is the source of all things, and we don’t even come close to understanding all of what he is doing in the universe. God wants us to know more of him, even if that means knowing less about other things we deem so important. At a glance, this may seem unfair, but remember God knows all. He knows what we, his most highly esteemed creation, need the most and that is himself. He is the treasure we are all seeking, and knowing him will satisfy all our desires and need for knowledge. Colossians 2:3 says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (ESV) As we surrender our own understanding and instead seek to know God, we will gain far more understanding of what truly matters and will benefit our existence. We don’t need to know the why, we just need to know the Who. 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” – I Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

 

What Love is This (Part II)

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

Ever since digging into the connection between love and discipline, God’s love has been a common theme in my spiritual studies and ponderings. Mostly how deep and beyond our current understanding it is. We have this idea of love that is so limited and even wrong in some ways. I mean, God is love. We certainly don’t understand all of who God is, so we have to expect that our insight on love is also incomplete.

In Song of Solomon 8:6, it says “for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.” (ESV). I think we usually romanticize this and simply relate these descriptions of love: “strong”, “fierce”, a “flame”, to the intense passion with which one can love another and God loves us. While this is fine, and even true, I again have to think it’s too limited. We tend to box love into something that gives warm feelings and builds us up. When someone says, “I love you” we expect that to come with a smile, a hug or kiss, a kind gesture, and a happy feeling. But going back to the fact that “God is love”, we really need to look beyond our feelings and search the Scriptures to get a more whole picture. These strong words and images of love in Song of Solomon, (“Its flashes are flashes of fire”!?) probably have more depth than we first give them credit for.

When we read that God’s love is a flame it sounds awesome and powerful, but forget that fire can also burn! God’s love can be painful. I don’t even like writing those words. It just seems wrong. But the more I am in the Word and studying God’s love the more I can’t deny that it’s true. God’s purpose for us, his creation, his children, is to glorify him and be with him forever (I Thessalonians 5:9-10, I Corinthians 10:31) and all he does for us is to that end, including how he loves us.

“Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. …at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.” – Psalm 18:8, 13, 15b

 

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” – Micah 3:2

God, who cannot act outside of his love, is a refining fire as demonstrated in the above verses. We have a lot of impurity within us that distances us from God. He wants to dwell within us, and so has to cleanse us, or in other words, discipline us. It’s all for our good, out of his love for us and desire to be near us. And this is only one facet of the many that God’s love contains! Simply read I Corinthians 13 and be consumed by the beautiful complexities of love. Oh, how we need the knowledge, discernment, and surrender to let God’s love sink deeper into our souls, purify us, and transform us into his image. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish saint said it well, “If you will seek Him in your spirit, I know that you will begin to see the pains and oppositions of life in this new way: they are the most tender and delicate touches of God’s desire for us, by which He works the arts and wiles of love upon our soul.” (34).

John of the Cross. You Set My Spirit Free : A 40-Day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross : Devotional Readings. Paraphrased by David Hazard, Bethany House, 1994.

What Love is This?

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”  Proverbs 3:11-12 (ESV)

Every word has a dictionary definition but many of us are not able to dictate them word for word. What comes much more easily is expressing the way a word makes us feel. For example, what comes to mind when you hear the word “discipline”? For me, discipline brings up thoughts of pain, strictness, rigidity, shame, trouble, consequences, anger, punishment, harshness… Your words may be different, but most likely they aren’t anything very positive either. Whatever you understand “discipline” to mean, it just isn’t something that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Even reading the definition can be a bit uncomfortable: “the practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not; the controlled behaviour or situation that is the result of this training;” (Oxford Dictionary). But should we feel this way about discipline?

Our current culture has a distaste for this language of “controlled behavior”, making people “obey rules”, and “punishing” those who go astray. The trend is to promote individuality, allow people to live how they want and we’ll all learn along the way what’s best for ourselves and those around us. Common phrases like “be yourself”, “follow your heart”, “you do you”, and “coexist” sound so uplifting and sweet – a world of acceptance where no one is being forced to do anything, no terrible punishments are being doled out, no trouble, shame, or pain… Hold on, let’s get back to reality.

We might be able to imagine this nice world in our heads, but no one can claim it’s working very well in actuality. Our world is wrought with fear, anxiety, depression, suicide, terror, racism, inequality, and an overall lack of peace. And no, it’s not because we just need to learn more “tolerance” for each other. A world where everyone goes their own way will always be one of chaos. Good cannot peacefully coexist with evil. Righteousness cannot tolerate sin. There is only one way to true life and peace and that is the way of Jesus (John 14:6).

Unfortunately, we are all sinners and evil does exist in this world. Is there any hope? Thankfully, we aren’t left on our own to find our way through the dark. God first and foremost sacrificed his son Jesus, to pay the penalty of death that all our sins carry. But he also told us directly the best way to live, the way in which we will find the most joy and fulfillment. He laid it all out in words, and by reading and studying those words in the Bible we can live in peace.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for

correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  -2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

Yet, as we all know, reading and understanding something doesn’t ensure we’ll live by it. Enter discipline: that word we kind of don’t like and want to avoid. God uses discipline to show us how to live in harmony with him and each other. Yes, he’s training us to obey rules. Yes, he’s punishing us if we stray from them. But it isn’t done in anger or to bring us shame. God isn’t being harsh or controlling. He is doing what it takes to bring his world back to what it was made for. He just wants to take his children from despair, bondage, and the sorrow of sin and lead them to freedom and hope. He disciplines out of love! Love! Now that’s a word we are all drawn to and no one thinks negatively about.

Discipline is rooted in love. Can you wrap your mind around that? Can you reframe your concept of discipline to include the alluring feelings of love? This is not to say discipline won’t be painful. Actions have consequences and God’s discipline involves teaching through the consequences, not avoiding them. It is love nonetheless. We give loving gestures to those whom we love and delight in, and for God, that’s us! Proverbs 3:11-12 and Revelation 3:19 say if we are being disciplined it is a sign of God’s love for us and that he is treating us as family!

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” – Revelation 3:19 (ESV)

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12 (ESV)

How do we respond to God’s discipline? Do we run away? Do we ignore it? No! We accept it as God’s loving work and we love the Giver back by receiving his correction. If discipline and love still seem incompatible, we need only seek to be nearer to God and ask him to reveal to us more of his love.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33 (ESV)