In the gospels we have the account of Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to him while her sister Martha was out in the kitchen busy getting the meal ready. We know the story. Martha becomes concerned with the preparations which need to be done and thinks Mary should be helping her. And she lets the Lord know in no uncertain terms just how upset she is: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” The Lord’s answer to her?: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Yesterday I ran into a buzz saw of sorts for us. I was never good at fixing things or mechanical. Owning a home can put a host of needs in front of one. How to deal with that is a challenge. I still feel under the cloud of what hit me yesterday. One thing at a time (as my wise, good wife reminds me), but the list doesn’t stop. I have to remember basics like “the Lord will provide,” etc.
The question becomes how do I avoid being overcome with all the cares of life. The cares of others, especially those who are close, the cares of the world at large, as well those right in front of me. We certainly end up doing something like the best we can and try to commit it all to God. I’ve seen one mountain removed already. With the Lord’s help we’ll see the others come down as well. But what about ourselves in the midst of all of this? What are we becoming? And what are we doing we might say as disciplines?
Time and the Lord’s work in ourselves is needed. What we want is a heart and mind intent on seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. With the promise from Jesus that as we do that, all we need will be given to us as well.
I don’t like problems because as in the case of Martha cited above they can easily become distractions. I want to brush that all aside and forget about it. I just want to sit in a chair all day long so to speak and soak in the words of Jesus and go out and about for a bit and then come back and do the same. But was Martha wrong to be preparing a meal? I don’t think so. She was off course because she was distracted from the one thing needed. Yes, in the midst of all of life’s call and responsibility. Not apart from that, but in it. Even though it is good and even important to do what Mary did in simply from time to time, perhaps regularly in short intervals as well, forgetting about it all, and sitting at the Lord’s feet. We have what I think is good evidence later that Martha learned this lesson well.
Something I’ll be working on for awhile.
This week I saw some pictures back from my days of infancy. That seems long ago now, though it is amazing how fast the years and then decades come and go. Now I’m looking toward the end of the road. I doubt that is influencing that much what I am doing, or about, except that I want to include the thought of preparing as well as I can for the end, and hopefully seeking to glorify the Lord in all things.
One would like to tie up any loose ends as best they can. To right the wrongs one has done. Certainly to do much better the rest of the way. To keep on growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To do so in the fellowship and mission of the church.
Yes, we surely do well to want to do what we can. But above all, and in all of that we need to do so as those who are immersed and live in the gospel of Christ. There may be much that is true about ourselves and our existence. As varied as we find in the people in the Bible. What is essential is that the gospel of Christ be front and center, and everything in between. In other words that gospel is to speak into all of life, all of our lives as well as the life of the world.
Oftentimes, or at least here and there in the course of life we are confronted with hard questions, which on the surface are troubling, or don’t have any easy answers. I think what is required is much wisdom along with a cushion of– or better yet, in the air of grace. And we do well, while we’re working on this and after we’ve arrived to something tentative to ask ourselves and others, “Is it a gospel answer?”
By the gospel I mean the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus through his incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, pouring out of the Spirit, and return. The hope for the world. And we think of it in terms of our own justification and forgiveness. Justification in the sense of having been declared right with God in and through Jesus. The gospel answer is so rich and multifaceted that this is hardly a beginning sketch of that.
But we do well to ask ourselves this question across the board, realizing that there are many other considerations. Our answer takes into consideration everything, but in the end both for us and for the world the gospel is front and center.
The gospel is good news of something we could never do for ourselves, but that something done in and through Jesus. And we live in response to that, as well as in that, in that grace.
And so when I’m confronted with a hard question, or one that might throw me off course and into fear and condemnation, I need to try to find the gospel answer as I seek to think through the issue well. And then learn to live in that answer, as revolutionary for me as that may be.
Often I think we live in life with untoward expectations, untoward in the sense of unrealistic. And in so doing we can find pride rearing its ugly head. We think we deserve better, or that we stand out in some way. Well, everyone does stand out in some way, since we’re all made in God’s image, each one of us uniquely so. We also each and everyone have our place. It may be a humble place, which in itself is a possibly deceptive thought since in God’s kingdom what is humble is exalted and what is exalted in this world’s estimation ends up being humbled.
Who doesn’t want to do well in life and receive some sort of recognition for that? But just what does that look like in terms of following and likeness to the Master? Did Jesus look good? Certainly not to everyone. Jesus in his life revolutionized goodness, to be sure. We might say he showed us what true goodness looks like, what its fulfillment is. In this life that is necessarily different in that we find in Jesus that we must take the way of the cross. That is the way of death and resurrection, worked out in all kinds of ways in our lives. Certainly in terms of leaving our expectations in God’s hands, so that perhaps God might change them.
Untoward expectation presents problems in all of life. Parents toward children and vice-versa. Spouses toward each other. Employees and employers. Churches toward pastors and pastors toward churches. We could go on and on.
The point in the end is not to expect nothing. I remember in the office of a pastor and teacher a sign something like this: “Expect nothing, and you will not be disappointed.” No. It is looking to God for our expectations, and in time finding new expectations altogether. And hoping others might see, not us, but Jesus in our lives. Not to be attracted to what is good about us, so that it’s all about us. But that we all might be drawn to God, that we might seek him.
I really hesitate, in fact I tend to want to deny any correlation between actual need and the Lord’s will. The error I want to avoid is the common misperceptions which so often accompanies our sense of need. If you approach your own spirituality or that of someone else on the basis of what the felt need is, one could go off into all kinds of dead ends, ways that would not lead to life at all. Of course if we’re looking to the Lord in prayer, and seeking his will, along with bringing such needs to him, then the Lord can answer at the point of our real need, not necessarily at our points of perceived need.
Need here needs some qualification. There are definitely legitimate human needs. In fact most any need someone feels is probably related to such, though because of sin is often distorted. The need for basic necessities of life is of course more than legitimate. Other felt needs, for example the acquisition of this and that, perhaps some hot car or a host of gadgets and toys, a big cushion of money, etc., are another matter.
Yet God seems to meet us humans more often than not at our sense of need. Such sense can come from simply living as a human in this world. In terms of scripture it is a broken world. All kinds of troubles can and will come simply from that. Also a strong sense of need can come from the perception that we are inadequate in ourselves, in fact worse than that– we are actually flawed inside and out. That we simply can’t live up to what we ought to be, that we fail. And a whole host of need can come directly out of that failure, the consequences of our own sin. Not to mention the consequences of the sin of others against us.
It seems to me in seeking to ascertain the will of God, or how God might move or be moving us, that need is a major consideration. Again it is not simply a matter of connecting the dots of need and proceeding accordingly. But God may well make his will known through actual need we see. I’m thinking now of need outside of ourselves. God’s calling and gifting is not in a vacuum, it pertains to his will which is often beyond our understanding of what’s needed, but it will be in terms of actual needs.
We need to be in scripture and especially to consider the centrality and meaning of the gospel as we consider this. As we see it played out in our lives all the time in all kinds of small ways. Coming to understand the point of need as one major factor in understanding what the will of the Lord might be.
Today we honor those who have served and serve in the military. And we remember those who have laid down their lives in doing so.
Prince of Peace, grant your peace to us and let us be people of peace. We thank you for those who put their own lives at risk to maintain civil order and peace. And especially for those who have lost their lives in doing so. Bless those who are serving and the memory of those who have served. And may the kingdom of your Father come by the peace you made through your blood shed on the cross. Amen.
Returning to Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, that first phrase demands a closer look: “Seek the salom of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7a). Salom, as is well known, is a wonderfully broad word. It goes beyond peace as the absence of conflict or war, to all-around welfare or well-being. It speaks of wholeness of life and the kind of prospering that the Old Testament included in the blessing of God as the fruit of covenant faithfulness.
It really is remarkable that Jeremiah urges the exiles to seek such blessing for their Babylonian neighbors.
“But they are our enemies!”
“So what? Pray for them. Seek their welfare.”
It is a short step from this amazing instruction that Jeremiah gave the exiles to the equally jaw-dropping mission that Jesus lays on his disciples: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
It must have been such advice that created the freedom that Daniel and his friends felt to settle down in Babylon and accept jobs in its government service. And their position in such office was clearly not “just a job”. Nor are we told that it was some form of “tent-making” to help them earn a living while they held Bible studies in the office or evangelistic meetings in their homes. For all I know, they may have done that–they made no secret of their faith, as the rest of the stories show.
But what the text emphasizes is that they were first-class students, model citizens and hard-working civil servants, and they were distinguished for trustworthiness and integrity. Even the king recognized that his own interests were being served by such people. The “welfare of the city” was what they pursued, as Jeremiah said they should. And in doing so for a lifetime, opportunities to bear witness to the God they served, and to his moral demands, judgment and mercy, came along at key points–one in each of the first six chapters in fact.
Coming to the New Testament, there is one person who probably held high civic office and was also a Christian believer–and that is Erastus.
Erastus was one of Paul’s helpers in his church planting ministry (Acts 19:22), but when Paul wrote his letter to Rome from Corinth, Erastus is included in the closing greetings, where he describes himself as “the city’s director of public works” (Rom. 16:23). The phrase strongly suggests that Erastus held the post of aedile in this important Roman city, a political office in the Roman administration that carried major responsibilities, requiring considerable personal wealth and a strong civic generosity.
Serving God and serving the community in public office were by no means incompatible. In fact, such public service and benefaction were part of what Paul strongly encouraged Christians to engage in, through his repeated emphasis that they should “do good”–a single verb (agathopoein) that had exactly that technical meaning in the Roman empire: public service as a civic benefactor.
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, 232-234.
Life in this world is threatening on many levels. We try to guard ourselves and our loved ones insofar as we can, but nothing at all is foolproof. I am not so much referring to the danger that might come from our witness of the faith. I am referring more to the everyday hazards we all face. Along with the problems we can experience because of them.
I sometimes wonder about how much our theology plays into our sense of well being, whatever that is supposed to mean in this life. Surely more fundamental than that is our need to simply learn to trust and rest in God, whatever else is the case. On the surface it appears that life is just as random in its dangers for us as for anyone else. And we should be fine with that, since God’s love is not only for those who are his children by faith in Jesus, but for everyone- all of us God’s children by creation. In the end we know it’s all good in terms of the new creation in Christ. But we want to do well now when the stakes are so high. Could just part of the problem in this struggle be that we are getting knocked off our feet, so to speak, simply because we’re losing sight of what our existence in Jesus is all about? It is not for our good, but for the good of others. We are expendable, yet at the same time we can trust that God’s good hand and full protection is on us now, as long as his call remains on our lives. I think of the Apostle Paul’s suffering, yes, for his witness, how he was even stoned. And that his thorn in the flesh may be tied to some eye problem through that. Yet he carried on by grace to the very end in and through Jesus. For him life was about one thing: Christ, pursuing and serving him in service to others. As he testified to the good news of Jesus.
We are limited for any good number of reasons. But what we do have, we need to put into service with all our heart, and continue to grow in all that is good in and through Christ. And we do that not only by ourselves but with others. By faith continuing on to the very end.