the fragility of life

Yesterday in some respects was a challenging day which in answer to prayer turned out well. But then late in the day, when I was resting on the couch and coming up out of a doze, I again had trouble catching my breath. I could only inhale, not exhale, and I had to try to keep breathing through my nose until the saliva had passed through my windpipe (my layman way of putting this). No fun. I’ve went through this a number of times, and it is scary. Then I thought after perhaps close to a year with no incidents that I was over it, but have had a few (though less than what I used to have) since.

Life is fragile, for sure. We can seem to have a clean bill of health, and hopefully live well within a normal life span, though that too is uncertain. But we are a car accident away, or some physical malfunction from not being able to carry on, perhaps even the end for us here. We can’t count on another day. And although we rightfully write off all the possible end time dates set, the Lord could return any time (according to my understanding). We do well to live in the light of this.

And so, while I would like to come up with some answers which might help me live longer and well here, I want above all to live well in God’s eyes, in relationship to God and to others in and through Jesus by the Spirit. I want to walk the line in terms of God’s will in Jesus. And I want to do so both in community in Jesus and in mission for the world. I want the gospel, or good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus to be front and center. I want to share that good news as a witness through both my life and words. I want to be a blessing to my lovely, sweet wife, to our daughter and granddaughter, to our neighbors, to my brothers and sisters in Christ at church and elsewhere, to my co-workers in Christ at RBC Ministries, as well as to the poor and those in need.

I am thankful for the many days in which we’re relaxed and with no anticipation of the end, but enjoying good health. But we ever must be aware that even then nothing in terms of this life is certain. The one certainty we can hold on to through it all is that God is faithful in and through Jesus, that we can count on him to see us through. As we look to him to use even these frank reminders of the fragility of life to draw us closer to him.

living in the communion of God in Christ

There is nothing more important or basic, I take it, then maintaining fellowship, a priority coming from the Triune nature of God who is Community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sin breaks that fellowship or communion. So that front and center in God’s redeeming work in Christ is reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them. This happened at the cross where people’s sins, indeed all of our sins were absorbed, as Jesus took them on himself, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. And yes, I believe Jesus did take something of the punishment we deserve, that in some way, related to the sacrificial system of the temple with all its animal sacrifices for sin, that Jesus was the fulfillment. He was indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The call then is for people to be reconciled to God. God has opened the way through Christ, now people need to accept that, and enter into it for themselves.

And so we are concerned for others, for all of God’s children by creation, to enter into God’s new creation in and through Christ. And we are concerned to maintain fellowship and communion with those who already have. This is more important than the many things which divide us, as important as they may be. The communion or fellowship we have with God the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit is the air in which we breathe and live in the new creation. Apart from this communion and fellowship of love nothing else really matters. Everything finds its proper place and meaning in relation to this, including such Christian theological concepts as justification, sanctification, etc. Not that there isn’t much to consider and be about in the created order, because there most certainly is. At work I’m going to have to be concerned about all kinds of details with reference to the books coming off the machines, making sure the books meet right specifications, that the machines are properly set and adjusted, that we have the right information as well as supplies and set up to get the job done. And all of this is important in connection with the aim of RBC Ministries: to make the life changing wisdom found in the Bible accessible to all. And at the heart of that goal is living well in community in God through Christ. So that somehow everything we do in God’s work is toward and in harmony with that goal.

And so we are careful not to violate this communion, hopefully by the Spirit in our different ways to enhance it. As we seek to grow in it, and bring others into that same fellowship with us in and through Jesus.

the art of critical thinking

There is something somehow in which I think I’m lacking, and that’s the art of critical thinking. Maybe I do think critically, but I tend to do so only when certain buttons are pushed. Critical thinking I would define in a simple way as challenging assumptions by asking questions. It is actually part and parcel of a learning process which is likely rooted to some extent in our western, modern mindset, finding precedent perhaps in Socrates, the Socratic method, from Plato. But the Bible itself is not without something of this method. Job may well be a good case in point, and I think of Ecclesiastes, as well. In the former, God and God’s ways are the focus, while in the latter the focus is life on earth, “under the sun.”

Thinking which is good is beyond the “ivory tower,” and tied to life, to living. We live thoughtfully, or think in terms of life. As followers of Jesus we want our minds to be renewed in God’s image. It has been said: to think God’s thoughts after him. Scripture does say we have the mind of Christ. By the Spirit we all have something to contribute as humans, and part of that contribution comes from the mind. But it will be as different as each of us is different.

It seems that a weakness in some forms of education is the expectation that all adhere to one standard, when the standard itself may not take into account all the gifts which make up humanity. While seeing value in establishing some standard of evaluating education and learning, I am rather skeptical of the outcome. No doubt many do benefit, but many others who I see as equally gifted seem to fall through the cracks. One of the priorities which education ought to set is an emphasis which takes better into account the full range of giftedness in humanity. Just because someone doesn’t like college doesn’t mean that they don’t have an equally good gift which can contribute well to society.  Getting back to scripture, it points to thinking in terms of God’s will in life. One might say the mind or psyche is what drives us, what drives our bodies, how we do this and that, how we live day to day and over the course of a lifetime.

Back to critical thinking. Probably a good philosophy in my book through which to engage the world is something like what is called “critical realism.” It is both mind and life oriented. It takes into account reason and experience, along with tradition passed on from generations gone by. We test words and life itself both in what we receive and observe in others, and by our own experience. This philosophy seems to have inherent in it a healthy acceptance of both the strengths and weaknesses, or limitations of human thinking. How we both can’t see everything that should be taken into account, and how that puts into question to some extent what we actually do see. We have to think and arrive to any conclusions with utmost humility.

We are called to love God with all our being and doing, including with our minds, in other words it is relational at its core. Good thinking in the way of Christ is not mere intellect or high intellectual acumen, or something like high “IQ.” It is no less than a gift from God to be known within the gifts given to the church for living out God’s will in this world, a part of what it means to be Spirit-filled. It is completely dependent on Christ, the way of love in humble service, yes, even the way of the cross.

 

listening well

We do our best to help others when we listen well and talk less, or at least are slow to say very much. Though I can be quiet, I tend to speak plenty, and too much, though I’ve learned to listen much better over the years. The ones who seem to be the most helpful are those who seem to have the big ears and small mouth, figuratively speaking. Does that cancel out people who speak quite a few words during the course of a day? I don’t think so at all. Otherwise most teachers would be written off automatically.

I have found it odd that in gatherings in which I was determined to not say a word, quite often words come to me, seemingly fitting for the occasion. And during times when I am back to normal and prone to speak, the words seem to come up much more empty. Maybe it’s in part the posture assumed. Do we enter such times with a heart set to listen to God and others? Or is our heart set on sharing what we think we know?

The key here, if we speak at all is to do so only with a listening heart. Only after we have listened. Perhaps all we are to do after that is to pray and nothing more. Perhaps we’ll be given a word in season to share. We can only help as we are helped, from God and often through each other.

when faced by the accusers

The woman caught in the act of adultery (evidently by herself, since the man was let go, scot-free) was face to face with her accusers who brought her before Jesus so they could have some basis to condemn him while condemning the woman. Of course we know the rest of the story. Jesus stooped down, wrote something on the sand, stood up, and told them, “Whoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone.” One by one, beginning with the oldest, they dropped their stones (we imagine) and left. In the end it was her and Jesus. Jesus then asked her if anyone had condemned her. She replied, no one. Jesus then told her to go and sin no more.

Some Christians I know are the most gracious, loving people in the world. They take sin seriously and try to adhere to the standard set in scripture, specifically as seen in the fulfillment Jesus did bring. And yet they don’t condemn others, not even those who are deserving. I am thankful for the good number of sisters and brothers like that in Jesus I know.

Sadly there are a few others that seem to take sport almost in looking down on others, judging others, and noting how they fall short. These are the people who evidently must be holding themselves up to that same high standard and must be miserable in the process. Actually according to Jesus and this story, they are not. As soon as Jesus gently points a finger back at them, they have to acknowledge that they too are sinners, so that they are not in the place to condemn anyone, since they too stand condemned.

This is A, B, C basic stuff. But sometimes we need to be reminded. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves in the mirror before we mark someone else off as condemned. Actually we ought to know we are all condemned. And as Michael Card reminds us in a song which was inspired by this story (“Forgiving Eyes”), Jesus took that condemnation on himself.

We need to practice extending mercy to others, just as we would hope to be shown the same. We need to be acutely aware of the beam in our own eye before we attempt to take the speck of sawdust out of our brother or sister’s eye.

This doesn’t mean we don’t take sin seriously and just see life as a free for all. Not at all. But we take it seriously beginning with ourselves and our focus must become not just on ourselves, but on the one who does not condemn us, who indeed took that condemnation on himself at the cross, Jesus.

Those who persist in condemning others may not really be aware of their own sin, or they may even excuse or justify it, and they may not really have experienced the forgiveness the Savior brings. Scary thought. We go on forgiven in and through Jesus, and only as such can we leave behind our life of sin and point others to the same.

C. S. Lewis on a chief concern of the satanic hosts

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, “senior demon Screwtape” addressing “his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter…” from Dennis and Janet Fisher, A Day With C. S. Lewis: A Spiritual Journey Into Fascinating Worlds Travel Guide, 11.

The “Enemy” here of course is God.

doing the best you can

There is something to be said within wisdom in this present life for simply doing the best you can and then letting it go at that. Life is provisional, and there are certainly no guarantees. Mistakes of varying kinds are a daily occurrence, and we simply can’t protect ourselves from ill, or even calamity with any degree of certainty and finality. People who do try to do that can’t function well, because what is wanted is not true to the nature of living in this present existence and time.

We should research and learn what we can, consulting the Internet and friends, above all, praying in the process, and then we have to make our decision and let it go at that. Once the decision is made oftentimes there is no way of changing it later, or we can do so only with great difficulty.

What I am referring to as “best” is in the realm of wisdom in this present existence and life in trying to live in what is most fitting in our relationship to God, to our neighbor, and what is helpful for ourselves. To love our neighbor as ourself certainly means we need to love ourselves in a proper, fitting way.

What has to be factored in as the heart of this is what we’re about in Jesus: simply to follow him, come what may. Other factors up to life itself are secondary to that. Not that we’re to be reckless and not care about our lives. Part of seriously following Christ involves trusting completely in our Father’s loving and wise provision and care.

And so we go on, trying to do the best we can, learning in the process, and simply taking one day at a time, and all as a gift, while we set our priority on doing God’s will in Jesus, seeking first the kingdom, and being servants of our Lord and the gospel.

grappling with the fear of death

On the back burner for many of us throughout our lives, sometimes, in fact all too often moved to a front burner is the formidable power, the fear of death.

Life is interesting as a human. We can get so all out of sorts over something, specifically here related to the fear of death- and that may last as long as a day, but then we’re back to some semblance of normalcy, to something more or less normal, even if the bumps and bruises of our close encounters with the fear of death render us not far removed, to haunt us again, at any time.

From Psalm 88 yesterday, I was intrigued by this line with reference to the fear of death:

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.

I had to wonder if we couldn’t apply this to us who over and over again, maybe too often a rule of our lives were plagued with the fear of death. The psalmist may have been writing as someone who actually did brush up against death a number of times. We may do so in our imagination. I am reminded of the passage in Hebrews about the fear of death.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Of course no one wants to die “before their time.” We would like to live a full life, age normally, and perhaps die in our sleep, maybe as a healthy centenarian. But there is nothing better than a life well lived, even if it’s short in length. I think of examples like Jim Elliot or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

What God has done for us in Christ can set us free, not from a healthy concern for life, but from an obsession over holding on to our lives. As important as our physical lives are, we might end up losing our soul in the process of holding on to life so tightly. We shouldn’t make long life and health concerns our main priority, something which along with anything else can become idolatrous.

Christ by his death destroyed the one who holds its power so that we no longer need to fear death, the last enemy to be destroyed. Death through Christ is always the gateway to resurrection. We see that in baptism in which we are buried with Christ into the likeness of his death and raised up out of the water into the likeness of his resurrection, so that we might live a new life. And we know that physical death is not the end. That resurrection awaits us, our bodies, in and through Christ.

We can know these things by faith, but still struggle. That is okay. We need to affirm what we know, and struggle on in prayer, that we might live our lives in a way which both treasures the life we live, but also sees life as fulfilled only in and through Christ. Our lives are a gift and good, but only temporary in this existence, and held to lightly for a greater good, the will of God, God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. That is what life is all about, what we are to live for, even our very life breath.

knowing better is not enough: the character deficit

Influenced by the Enlightenment, society or at least those on the liberal end of it pretty much chalk down knowledge as the key to everything. That simply more education is needed. Ironically I would think they are beginning to realize the fallacy of that way of thinking.

I am not one who is enamored by either the conservative or liberal approach on this matter, at least not in the sense which I understand it. I do believe knowledge is important and helpful, along with education. And that knowledge is not incompatible with faith. I want to know what is going on in the world, what people are thinking, and learn from that in a variety of ways.

At the same time, knowledge by itself is not enough and can even be deceptive. For example we can think that we are better than others just because we “know” something. But if we don’t act accordingly, we could actually be worse off than if we hadn’t known better at all.

What gets me sometimes is how I’ll know what I should do, or what my attitude should be, but I don’t follow through because of what I know or perceive. For example I can believe someone is doing me wrong, and know how I should respond in love to that wrong, the different avenues I may take in love, not the least of which might be to simply forgive and let it go. Funny enough, one of the key things to do is to keep on thinking, yes, on the knowledge end, and out from that to ask questions. Nine times out of ten we would discover that there was no ill will at all. But even where they may well be that, we know what God in and through Christ has called us to be and do. Yes, we need wisdom along with what we think we know, a whole life response to this in God’s love in Christ.

Knowing itself in any kind of moral sense is deprecated or looked down on in scripture as deficient unless it is marked by love. As good as knowledge might be it is always incomplete in this life. Even in regard to the faith, we know in part. What we need to pursue is love, we might say we need to pursue Christ and that part and parcel of that pursuit is transformation or change in becoming like him. Not excusing ourselves when we fail, but confessing and finding those times to be stepping stones to character growth and transformation.  Yes, we ought to be changing.

To simply know better is not enough. As James tells us, we must act on it. This must be a serious commitment and endeavor on our part, a major priority of our life.

To do so we must depend on God through Christ. By the Spirit we can work through what we do understand, incomplete as it is, and become better people. That is part of what is at the heart of being God’s people in this world, as those seeking to follow Jesus.