doing well

There is no question but that life can be full of something of the kind of drama found in soap operas. There may always be someone who is the naysayer in unhelpful ways. Perhaps subtly or not so subtle. There may be someone who wants to be in charge, in control, and may want to see your downfall.

When we see this, we need to take it to God in prayer. And we need to ask God and ourselves, just how we might figure into the problem.

Our goal should be to do well, no matter what is put up against us, or no matter what happens. To do well by what the Lord says.

That means we must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. All in the context of seeking to follow the Lord. That we will remain “stand up” and true in the way of Jesus.

What is also needed is the sense of the long haul. Too often we see what is right before us, in our face. We think of the immediate problems or situation, and we flinch. We want the problem solved now. But we need to learn to wait, and simply do well. To be true to the Lord, and his will no matter what, through thick and thin.

Oftentimes when we don’t do well, we fail, not because we don’t know better, but because we give in to the temptation to try to take matters into our own hands, to try to solve the problem ourselves. And we fall into the devil’s trap.

Instead let’s remain true to the Lord, loving him with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, as well as our enemies. Together in Jesus in and for the world.

running the race

In Hebrews we’re told to set our sight on the one who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus, and to go on in faith, running the race set before us. We’re to do so as those who are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses of faith just mentioned prior to this. As well as the call to throw off everything that hinders us, and the sin that so easily entangles us. And then there is that call to persevere and run.

Every part of this passage is important, but perhaps what needs to be called the most to mind is the need to keep our sights on Jesus. This is not a call for some mystical gaze, but to look at Jesus in terms of the revelation scripture gives us of him. And specifically we’re called to consider him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that we won’t grow weary and lose heart. This suggests that we’re to live lives identified with Jesus, sharing in his sufferings in and for the world.

I’ve never been one who cared that much about running races. Not that I haven’t had some fun in it, but I always preferred to run in some kind of game. But those who run races, especially marathons, will tell you that there are at least parts of the race which are challenging in terms of enduring pain. One has to press through all of that, and keep going, even when there is no go left in them. We have to draw our strength from somewhere beyond ourselves, in this case from someone who is our example as well as the one who has opened this way up for us. So that we indeed can run it in and through him.

And so we go on. In faith acting, and acting out our faith in this world. In and through Jesus, together for the world.

letting go

Sometimes one has to simply let go so to speak of a way one is going about trying to solve a problem. Or even let go in reference to the problem. Not necessarily shelving any hope of a solution, but not letting the work become a preoccupation or even obsession.

That has been my problem at times. I’ll want to solve a problem and will do all I can to do so. I am more than glad for a quick fix, maybe an easy answer when perhaps there’s no easy answer at all. I’m not referring to many issues, nor suggesting that many things are up for grab. I’m referring to issues which have great personal importance to me, which I care about perhaps all too much. A problem which brings me personal discomfort.

Perhaps that is very well an indication that I do need to investigate and probe and ask questions. And try to come up with some tentative solutions.

In the meantime I do well to simply let go in the sense of entrusting the outcome to God. Part of that letting go is to trust that he will indeed lead me, even in groping with the problem. By and by it may no longer be a problem at all. Or I may see things in a much more mature light, having moved beyond that issue, perhaps without realizing it.

Care must be taken, because when something like this is up in the air for me, I can easily be on edge and pushed over the edge. I must be aware of that and guard myself through reading scripture and prayer, as well as in and through community in Jesus. I have found that it helps little to share my problem with even esteemed brothers and sisters in Jesus, unless they might have knowledge and expertise in the area which I’m grappling with. Except to ask them to pray.

Letting go can indeed be a process. Perhaps not unlike a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. The process is not a comfortable one, but necessary. Though the caterpillar certainly does not get that. But it is natural. In a similar way, letting go as in working through a problem in a healthy way can bring results which are beyond answers, which in themselves by nature may never be able to be entirely answered. I think again of the nature of the kind of problems I’m thinking of. Not of issues in which scripture speaks clearly, or clearly enough.

And so we go on. Trusting as we wait on the Lord and his working and will, together in Jesus for the world.

no matter what

In order to live well in the way of Jesus we must continue in the way of Jesus no matter what. That may seem like a trite statement, and one that ought to go without saying, but it actually says a lot.

When one commits themselves to being a follower of Jesus, or in other terms, “is saved” which is not necessarily mutually exclusive depending on what one means, then one is by and by going to encounter the kind of difficulty that sidetracks one from really seeking to follow the Lord in obedient faith. What sidetracks one may be good things, or things that are considered necessary. But it won’t be long until one realizes that such things are sidetracks indeed, which are not only impediments, but actual temptations or testings. The worst kind for me are those which seem necessary and even important. I can spend hours, and used to spend days on matters which in and of themselves are secondary and not essential, even though I think in some way they are. In such matters I do well either to drop them altogether, or more probably to pursue the matter over time with patient plodding, either way looking to the Lord for wisdom.

It is through such difficulties that we grow toward maturity and completeness if we choose to count them with pure joy as opportunities to grow. Again, we are to learn to follow Jesus in all things, so that we watch out for sidetracks from such following.

For people like me who are nearly always thinking, and want to think through this or that, such a gift or propensity is a two-edged sword. It cuts both ways in the way of being a blessing as well as a curse. We keep asking the hard questions, or being open to better answers within our commitment to the faith. But we find ourselves hitting our head, so to speak, against the wall over and over again, not necessarily coming any closer to any kind of solution. Part of the problem is our desire, I can at least say this for myself, to solve the problem quickly, or as soon as possible. When in all likelihood, it is not a problem which can be solved overnight if at all. It is the glory of kings to search out a matter, as the proverb says, but the line just prior says it is God’s glory to conceal a matter. Which means we either may not be meant to be privy to, or to know something. Or it may mean that God has a purpose for us in working through something. As we come to some kind of understanding on a matter.

We arm ourselves with this attitude that no matter what, we’re going to go on seeking to follow Jesus. That will mean that following Jesus is not incidental or beside the point to the difficulty we’re facing. But that the issue or problem is indeed involved in and taken up into that following. We need to develop that mindset that all we do is to be part of our following of Jesus. A following which is not only solitary, but is meant to be in community with others in Jesus. Through thick and thin, continuing on no matter what in Jesus for the world.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on God building his house/temple through Jesus by the Spirit

God is building a house in which he can dwell. Jesus’ temple work, in which he played both the role of priest and lamb, represents a further improvisation in God’s building project. The “house” or temple in which God now dwells in order to be with his people is no longer a physical but a social structure: the people of God, of which Christ Jesus is the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20-21). The Spirit is involved in this divine building project too (Eph. 2:22). The same Spirit who hovered over the waters and who descends on Jesus also descends on the people of God. The creative Spirit, the Spirit of life, unites us with the source of life (God the Father) and forms the life of Christ (God the Son) in us. The church is a spiritual house, where being “spiritual” is a matter of having one’s word and actions prompted by the Holy Spirit and conformed to the cruciform image of Christ.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Doctrine, 392.

prayers for the Day of Pentecost

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life
to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy
Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the
preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the
earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

or this

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful
people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all
things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

what narrative are you living by?

We are in the Memorial Day weekend here in the United States in which we remember the ultimate sacrifice paid by many Americans in service to their country in the military. It is a powerful narrative with a long enough history which has involved a number of great men and women. “War is hell” and many have entered heroically into that scenario, often at great personal cost. America, its founding, and what it stands for is a compelling narrative all by itself, as told and understood by millions here. Though like most everything else in life it is messier than we make it out to be. But such is life. A good case in point is the American Civil War with the greatest American president in most people’s view (including my own) then in office, Abraham Lincoln. That war shows both the greatness of human sacrifice, as well as the devastation war brings. Evidently the narrative of war had a fairly good grip on me as a child, because I remember pretending I was in battles, even though raised in the Mennonite church in which we were taught that it is wrong for a Christian to go to war or to kill another human being.

First I want to say I am thankful to live in a nation in which we are free to worship according to conscience, and live out our faith, even to the extent that those of us who are Christian pacifists can register as “conscientious objectors,” and serve during war time in other ways. Some serve as medics or chaplains.

I have no doubt that some of the best Christians in the world have served and do serve in the military. They are there not only to serve their country, but also to do good in the world. As well as to make a living, which should never be belittled as an important factor, in and of itself.

Back to the question, and main point of this post. What is the narrative we live by? And what is the narrative we are to live by? I don’t intend to give any hard, fast answers to either. Indeed there is always a complexity which can easily be largely missed. In fact I want to be open to such complexity to the extent that I’m willing to seriously consider how the narrative of serving one’s country even in the military might work in the narrative of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. At least I want to listen, and in some ways I’m compelled to, since I live in an area where Christians take for granted that something of the sort indeed does exist.

The narrative, or story we are to be living by is the story of God in Jesus, God’s kingdom come and present in him. It is a narrative which puts all other narratives in their proper place. Another narrative can be taken up into and become part of this narrative only in terms of what the main narrative does, indeed what the gospel or good news of Jesus does. It is a narrative that is larger than life, and yet is meant to impact, and is indeed for life in the here and now.

What narrative are we living by? What story is the one that best explains why we live as we do? I imagine that while we all live under one specific narrative, it is influenced by other narratives, and indeed is perhaps meant to be, understood correctly. Or perhaps it is an amalgamation which is not entirely true to any of the stories in that amalgamation.

At any rate this is an important question to raise and consider. Even as we are thankful for the people of our nation, as well as those around the world, who have sacrificed, fought, and paid the ultimate price out of duty and a sense of doing what is right and good. As we go on according to and in the narrative of God’s kingdom and grace come in Jesus, together for the world.

really knowing someone

First impressions are supposed to be important, and it’s really all about what makes the world tick so to speak at this time, selling one’s self, or one’s personality. It used to be that character was the mover and what was looked for. Not to try to go back to “the good ole days,” since every age has it’s strengths and weaknesses.

But do we really know each other, or is it only a surface impression we have from a limited acquaintance? We need to take time to listen to a person. And that will mean that we’ll have to ask questions to some people, who otherwise may say nothing.

People will have to feel “at home” with us, or completely accepted. Only then will they be able to “let their hair down” and be who they really are. Otherwise we all tend to wear a certain demure, expected of us all. I simply am reserved and to myself around people who I know in some way or another seem to condemn me.

As we accept others, we really get to know them, who they are, and perhaps something that is going on in their life. This is important for all of our relationships in the world, though certainly some of them will be limited. But we need to really listen, as well as observe, and be open ourselves, of course with all proper discernment. Wisdom is needed as well. It was Jesus himself who said that one should not throw their pearls to pigs.

Jesus was also the one who invited all to his table of fellowship, and we see that the disciples, while having the utmost respect for the Lord, at the same time were free to speak their minds, or be themselves. Only in such a place and atmosphere can we grow. And only in community, as well as in our relationship to God can we properly grow up in and through Christ. A witness from that to the world.

In the meantime, we accept others for who they are, and where they’re at. Knowing it is by grace alone that we all stand. Learning to listen well, and observe and share. That others too might know God’s love and good will in and through Jesus.

seeing the good

In the Christian tradition there is a strong element of confession of sins, indeed awareness of sin, might we say sin-consciousness? And in its place it is indeed important. In fact the more light comes in, the more aware we are of darkness as in dark and hidden places. In this metaphor God’s light exposes our darkness so that the sin that is present becomes clear. And of course we’re to confess our sins to God, knowing that in Jesus Christ we are then indeed forgiven. That is good.

Depending on our upbringing and a host of other factors, we may wear the badge of sinfulness all too well. And when we do we tend not only to accentuate what is wrong in us, but what we perceive is wrong with others, as well. There is a kind of projection that often occurs, so that if I’m struggling with such and such a sin, I may wrongly assume others are when they are not, their sin issue being something different.

But what about seeing the good in one’s life, and in the lives of others? We struggle in this life due to a host of factors, not the least being our sin. So that whatever good is present is buried in the rubbish that we’re all too aware of. Now in saying this, I don’t want to lose the importance of being aware of our sin and confessing it. That is essential for our life in Jesus.

We need to see the gift of good through God’s grace in Jesus at work in our lives, and in the lives of others. And we need to express our appreciation to others for the good acts they do, which actually glorify the Father. Just as faithfully in meekness helping someone see their sin so as to restore them is sometimes necessary, so seeing God’s good work in another person and expressing that to them can be a source of encouragement for them, as well as helping them recognize the same.

This certainly does not mean we’re to leave conviction and confession of sin behind. But it certainly does mean that we need to develop an awareness for God’s goodness at work in our lives and the change that is bringing.

Yesterday I was encouraged by a brother who spoke kind words of the goodness he sees in my own life. And although I know I am often tempted or overcome so as to be tainted with sin, his words helped me see the truth of God’s working in my life. In that working is our work as well, but all we accomplish is really the work of God’s hands, as the psalmist says.

We need to develop that awareness when we see ourselves and others. This is a matter of seeing God’s grace at work in people’s lives. Yes, we all will be tempted by pride, and may even be overcome for a time, an ever present danger. But God works to humble us to see that all the good we have and are is a gift from him.

We can see that gift all over the world, both through common grace, as well as through the gift present in and through Jesus. Let’s be aware and express that good, that others may see God’s goodness in their lives, and come to know the ultimate good in Jesus. As together we grow in and live out that goodness in and through Jesus for the world.

 

little things

It’s the little things which can make all the difference. An encouraging word. A smile to let someone know they’re included.

On the other hand little things can be devastating. The cross word. A strong judgment made. Ignoring someone.

I have to wonder what little things Jesus did prior to his call when his disciples followed him. The call alone might be enough through God’s working to compel one to answer in the affirmative. In those days for a rabbi to invite someone to be his follower was indeed an honor. But I wonder if Jesus reached out in small ways to people to show God’s love to them. I think of the story when Jesus stopped at the tree Zacchaeus to tell him that he wanted to visit his house that day. Zacchaeus had made the decision to climb that tree, knowing he was too short to see Jesus over the crowds.

What little thing and things can I do today to make a difference in people’s lives? What may I be refusing to do that I ought to be doing? What about the small things that need to be done, that I’m not diligent to do. I know that at work, I’m nearly always searching for something else to do, and if I have time, I do it. But do I carry that attitude into my relationships with others, particularly family and friends. As well as that neighbor who just may be in need of some “small” thing I could do.

The Lord says in the prophets that he does not despise the day of small things. May we not despise them either, but be open to ways that we can do better and through Jesus together help someone toward “the way” and perhaps through God and with others make all the difference in the world.