cheerfulness, regardless

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; MSG

I am finding Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible interesting and helpful, even illuminating, though I still don’t really get well the instructions in regard to the tabernacle and priestly things, etc., in the Old/First Testament. But I get a new sense even of those things.

I found particularly helpful lately the rendering above that we’re to be cheerful no matter what. I never really connected well with the idea of rejoice always, since I’m not really a celebratory, high five kind of person. I would rather sit huddled with a book, listening to classical music, then be at a modern day praise and worship service, though admittedly in the past, I have enjoyed some of that. But rejoicing just isn’t much in either my vocabulary, or makeup. 

But cheerfulness, or at least refusing to be dour and down in the mouth about something, now that makes plenty of sense to me. When Paul tells us to be cheerful no matter what, okay, I can take that home, even if such an idea seems far fetched, just not what I do in every circumstance. 

I take cheerfulness as both an attitude and action here. It is an expression of faith, and part of how we’re to live. I like too the way The Message renders that thought, because that probably gets closer to what Paul actually means than the way I took it in the past: More or less something we’re almost swept up into in our life in Christ Jesus. Instead this brings out the necessary thought that it’s up to us to do it. We have to do it, although yes, the Spirit will help us.

So we don’t live as those left to ourselves with our normal often unhealthy, unhelpful reactions to all the difficulties and problems which come our way. Instead we want to take the way God has for us. To be cheerful no matter what, pray all the time, and thank God no matter what happens. Yes, something we do. Of course in response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in and through Jesus. 

 

Advent reading: Luke 1:5-25

During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.

But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.

“He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.”

Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.”

But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”

Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.

When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It wasn’t long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. “So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!” she said.

Luke 1:5-25; MSG

a time to speak up and a time to shut up

A right time to shut up and another to speak up

Ecclesiastes 3:7b; MSG

For me Jeremiah has been an interesting prophet since I imagine I share something of an emotional affinity with him. He is called the weeping prophet, and may well have written the book of Lamentations.

Jeremiah didn’t care about sharing his opinions. He was captive only to the word of God, to the message God gave him to speak. He found it nourishing to him, but he also found large parts of it to be more than troubling. And he got to live out not just the blessed parts, but at least something of the results of the cursed parts, for example commanded not to marry since bad times were coming.

I don’t see in Jeremiah a person who wanted to win arguments. But I do see one who again and again was willing to speak out an unpopular message from God to God’s people, even though it tore Jeremiah up.

Surely there’s much we can learn from Jeremiah for us today. There are times that to remain silent is surely wrong. We need to speak up, hopefully with needed wisdom and humility, and with forthrightness and clarity. But then there’s times to simply shut up, be quiet, let it go. I can see that in Jeremiah when after the false prophets contradicted him, saying all would be peace, Jeremiah told them, may it be so. He soon received another word from God which again contradicted the false prophets, flatly contradicting their word.

For Jeremiah it was definitely not an ego trip. It was only with great cost that he spoke. Since his passion and commitment was to speak only God’s message, he wasn’t interested in sharing his own thoughts, except when he was simply dealing with the human element of his dilemma.

Few of us will be called to speak out like Jeremiah, and some of us may not be called to speak at all, but rather act in things God gives us to do. Nothing greater than praying, of course. But in good works showing love to our enemies, what God puts on our hearts to do.

If we do speak out, it should be as those speaking God’s word, God’s message. Or our considered, measured, hopefully mature human judgment, making it clear that this is our opinion, perhaps even conviction, but with humility.

In today’s noisy din of dissenting voices, to hear God’s voice and see God’s wisdom break through would be our hope. Ultimately that will happen. We should seek to be in that flow, willing to shut up, but also to speak up when need be. Hoping and praying that God is getting through to us, as well as to others.

heart to heart honesty

An honest answer
is like a warm hug.

Proverbs 24:26; MSG

An honest answer presupposes a question. More often than not, I would suppose that questions would have to do with problems. Whatever the case, what’s called for here is honesty. And what’s most fully honest is heart to heart.

This is about telling the truth in grace, that is with kindness. And also with wisdom. How we say it is as important as what we say. And just what is said, also. Honesty doesn’t mean dumping all we perceive to be the truth on them. They might not be ready for that. Honesty means the answer at least points them in the right direction.

A truly honest answer also involves humility. We don’t pretend we’re above the fray, beyond the struggle they face. We have our own struggles, and even if it’s not precisely what they face, it will be helpful to them for us to acknowledge such.

Honesty involves not only telling the truth about the problem, possibly gently pointing out a fault. But honesty also truthfully encourages. We point out the good we see in them, give them the praise they deserve, and thank God together for God’s grace in helping them and us in our struggles. Of course sharing how God has and is helping us through our own difficulties.

Yes, an honest answer is what’s needed. That ends up being heart to heart, and like a warm hug as the Scripture says. What we all need to receive and be open to give.

Thanksgiving Day: Psalm 107

Oh, thank God—he’s so good!
His love never runs out.
All of you set free by God, tell the world!
Tell how he freed you from oppression,
Then rounded you up from all over the place,
from the four winds, from the seven seas.

Some of you wandered for years in the desert,
looking but not finding a good place to live,
Half-starved and parched with thirst,
staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion.
Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to God.
He got you out in the nick of time;
He put your feet on a wonderful road
that took you straight to a good place to live.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
He poured great draughts of water down parched throats;
the starved and hungry got plenty to eat.

Some of you were locked in a dark cell,
cruelly confined behind bars,
Punished for defying God’s Word,
for turning your back on the High God’s counsel—
A hard sentence, and your hearts so heavy,
and not a soul in sight to help.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He led you out of your dark, dark cell,
broke open the jail and led you out.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
He shattered the heavy jailhouse doors,
he snapped the prison bars like matchsticks!

Some of you were sick because you’d lived a bad life,
your bodies feeling the effects of your sin;
You couldn’t stand the sight of food,
so miserable you thought you’d be better off dead.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He spoke the word that healed you,
that pulled you back from the brink of death.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
tell the world what he’s done—sing it out!

Some of you set sail in big ships;
you put to sea to do business in faraway ports.
Out at sea you saw God in action,
saw his breathtaking ways with the ocean:
With a word he called up the wind—
an ocean storm, towering waves!
You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out;
your hearts were stuck in your throats.
You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk,
you didn’t know which end was up.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He quieted the wind down to a whisper,
put a muzzle on all the big waves.
And you were so glad when the storm died down,
and he led you safely back to harbor.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
Lift high your praises when the people assemble,
shout Hallelujah when the elders meet!

God turned rivers into wasteland,
springs of water into sunbaked mud;
Luscious orchards became alkali flats
because of the evil of the people who lived there.
Then he changed wasteland into fresh pools of water,
arid earth into springs of water,
Brought in the hungry and settled them there;
they moved in—what a great place to live!
They sowed the fields, they planted vineyards,
they reaped a bountiful harvest.
He blessed them and they prospered greatly;
their herds of cattle never decreased.
But abuse and evil and trouble declined
as he heaped scorn on princes and sent them away.
He gave the poor a safe place to live,
treated their clans like well-cared-for sheep.

Good people see this and are glad;
bad people are speechless, stopped in their tracks.
If you are really wise, you’ll think this over—
it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love.

just keep praying no matter what

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

“He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

Luke 18:1-8; MSG

If there’s one thing true about life it is that we’ll face challenges aplenty. In all kinds of ways from circumstances, and at least in our imagination from people as well. And as much as anything, and probably more, just from ourselves, or I can speak for myself, in my own weakness.

What we need to do is get in the posture of prayer and remain there. Not be moved, but keep on praying. With all kinds of prayers including just being present before God in the mess.

That needs to be developed and practiced as a way of life with us. Something we do when times are hard, and when they’re not. There is always plenty to pray about in this world. All kinds of concerns which have seemed to intensify this year. But no matter what year or day, we need to begin and keep on doing it.

None of us in ourselves by the way, know how to pray. We just determine to do that, and begin. Many times in silence. But in the noise as well. We pray, and look to God. That will make the needed difference in time, if we stay put doing that. In ourselves if nothing else, God making himself known. In and through Jesus.

when living through sorrow and hurt

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

Who of us in this present life doesn’t experience sorrow and disappointment, indeed hurt? It is a difficult world, and hard to escape hurt inflicted on others. In fact we too have hurt others. There’s no sense in pretending otherwise.

Grace, God’s grace is what is needed. And God’s grace is what we get not only aplenty, but in every conceivable way possible. After all God became one of us in Jesus to live right where we live, to experience all that we experience, including the hurt and sorrow that accompanies that.

And we’re told here in the letter to the Hebrews that he is therefore uniquely able to help us through that, since he knows what it is like firsthand. Our call from God in this is to come to God’s throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need, whatever we’re facing.

Just remember, Jesus empathizes with us in our weaknesses. There is grace, grace, and more grace. We need to just keep coming, yes, just as we are to keep receiving all the grace we need. God will always give us more and more. And in ways that meet us just as we are in all of our weakness. In our sorrow and hurt, in whatever we’re experiencing. In and through Jesus.

living/writing in privilege, or in the trial?

Rescue the perishing;
don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.

Proverbs 24:11-12; MSG

We live in a precarious, difficult time, and that’s especially so for some people. Some of us are more or less shielded from the trouble through the privilege of having plenty, and living in a society that is largely set according to our own expectations. Others of us are not as fortunate. We have to work in person during this pandemic, and added to that for many is living in a world where there are many extra hoops to pass through. Sometimes it is more than difficult for some. Extra help is needed if they’re going to make it, and hopefully begin to realize their God-given potential.

I really wonder when I consider what people write or don’t write, or what they’re doing or not doing, just why. I think we have to be slow to judge, and ask questions. In the end Jesus is the final judge (Matthew 25:31-46). In the meantime silence can be deadly. There’s a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7b), and everyone has their own task. We certainly can do nothing greater than pray.

I have more or less struggled all my life inside of myself, so it’s easy for me to identify more with the down and outs, with those who struggle, because after all, I’m there. Including all the ignorance I carry.

Just something to reflect on.

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:25-34

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

finding common ground

He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’

Acts 17:25b-28; MSG

The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got—all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols.

Acts 17:16b; MSG

We see part of Paul’s response to the Athenians, particularly those who did what so many Athenians did at that time, philosophize and listen to philosophy with whatever large and small talk that was done. But what stood out to Paul was just how wrong and how lost they were in their concept of God, or lack thereof, including their pantheon of gods of their own making. When you read Scripture you’ll find that along with idolatry comes not only the loss of loving God, but also not loving one’s neighbor. All is dependent on the latest thoughts floating around.

And we see something of this in our world today. People living in fear for this or that reason with maybe some legitimacy. We all have deep concerns today, no matter who we are and where our disagreements lie. And there are some things which for the follower of Christ are non-negotiables. We can’t set aside love for our neighbor which goes hand in hand with our love for God. And followers of Jesus even include love for our enemies.

Paul looked for common ground, but that which could ultimately undermine and replace the idolatry all around him. Instead of attacking them and their gods, he appealed to the altar of “THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS” (Acts 17:23; MSG).

Trying to translate this today in the mess we’re currently in is no small challenge. Maybe just the thought here can help us imagine ways this might be achievable to some extent. I think of our common humanity which I believe comes from our common origin, yes through evolution, but ultimately by the hand of God. And in that, being made in God’s image. We are all made in God’s image, regardless of our beliefs, or how we see life. We need to start there.

And then we need to inquire and search for just who this god might be. For some of us it may seem mostly a stretch to imagine such. For others, we were raised in that tradition, and have hardly ever had a doubt. Regardless, it’s good to begin to understand at least the uniqueness of us as a human species, and then wonder why, where that uniqueness came from. 

What we’re referring to now should be more basic to us than anything else. But out of that will come a shaping of our thoughts in every way conceivable. For us who are followers of Jesus, that is shaped by Scripture, and ultimately Jesus and his fulfillment of it. And only in Jesus do we see God.

We will continue throughout this life to have our different perspectives, and won’t see eye to eye on everything. After all, it is said that even we Jesus followers see through a glass dimly and only know in part (1 Corinthians 13). What we do end up with is something of the sacredness of human beings. We need to appeal to the best, what’s good and beautiful. And find unity in that. 

Yes, through the good news in Jesus, and his death, all division is ultimately broken. Humanity becomes one in him. But we’re not there yet, though that’s supposed to be becoming evident in the church, and ultimately that’s true in what actually is church. We in Jesus want that grace to touch us and everyone. In the meantime we are thankful for God’s common grace which can help us live respectfully together in spite of whatever differences we have.

For us Jesus followers, we’re going to have to take the way of the cross. In sacrificial love finding what is most basic, what should center all of life. And living together with other Jesus followers in that. Always honoring the oneness we have as human beings in creation. As we live in the new creation in and through Jesus.