keep on going

…and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:4

When we feel up against it, something akin to what is being described in the first part of James (click above link to see context), a natural reaction is to want to escape as soon as possible. To get the answer needed, and the relief that comes with that.

But when we do so, we essentially short circuit the process. And according to James, it’s a needed process if we’re to arrive to some full-orbed maturity.

So we need to hang in there in the midst of weakness. To go through it, looking to God for help both through prayer and through the help of others, particularly the church. We have to get out of the habit of bailing out. God will see us through, yes into some good relief. But most importantly increasingly into the person we were created to be. In and through Jesus.

the underrated, underappreciated, relatively unpracticed activity of radical decision

After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Luke 5:27

It seems to me that a common idea which is mostly taken for granted is that decision-making is of little to no value at all, that we will do what we do for a host of reasons, and that includes all the decisions involved in that. The thought of decision I’m referring to here are life-altering or at least life-improving decisions. Decisions in order to make things work along the way is certainly accepted, but life-altering or even improving decisions are often looked upon with suspicion. Yes, people try, but almost inevitably they sink back into their old ways. There are exceptions to this as when people acknowledge that it is possible to break free from serious, destructive addictions with the help of others, over time, and not apart from significant difficulty.

I think we’re all well enough aware of habits of life that either are not helpful to us, or may even be harmful. We might see them as innocent in and of themselves, but they may be distracting us from what’s most important. And for the follower of Christ, the initial radical decision to follow Christ involves what at times are difficult decisions along the way to leave this or that behind, as not in line with this following.

Levi (who also is named Matthew, one of the apostles, writer of the first gospel account) left everything to follow Christ. In that decision involved in answering Jesus’s call, there was a power at work to help Levi follow through and keep on following Jesus.

Levi’s life did change in a day, but much about Levi was the same. But because of the decision, and the completely different trajectory it took, we can be sure that Levi was significantly differently a year from that initial decision, and all the more so by the end of his lifetime. In other words what I’m trying to say is that a decision at a certain point can make a world of difference.

The way we see decision, it’s small wonder that it makes little to no difference. So that we make almost silly New Year’s resolutions at times, because we don’t take the idea that seriously in the first place. Or that anything we might at least want to take seriously is usually broken soon, because we don’t really take decision-making with much seriousness at all, certainly not enough, so that often we forget we even made the resolution, and hence, break it.

The difference is the purpose involved. Is our decision about following Christ, or connected to it? We can be assured that if such is the case, God will help us remember and follow through on making and fulfilling all the necessary decisions which follow that initial decision. All and everything that is not in line with following Christ, we are meant to leave behind.

I do want to add to this that I think the importance of humans being able to make important, life-altering decisions, in and of itself is not taken seriously enough. Certainly help is needed along the way, but to say that humans can’t make important decisions themselves and see good things come out of such in time, I think is failing to appreciate the special ability within humans as those made in God’s image. And this thought carries through to followers of Christ, as well. Let’s not minimize our own human decision, even while we acknowledge that all really do need God’s help and the help of others along the way.

God will help us if we’re intent in doing this. We can be assured of that. And when we forget and fall back, we simply repent of that, and resolve all the more to follow through on the decision made, difficult as it may be, especially in the beginning and earlier stages. God will help it become shaped and confirmed and part of our lives. In and through Jesus.

First Sunday of Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Psalm 25:1-10

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:25-36

Revised Common Lectionary

light breaking through

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

Access to your words gives light,
giving simple folk understanding.

Psalm 119:130; CEB

Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Psalm 119:130; NET

“The better angels of our nature” is something akin to what I’m referring to here, that is, in our experience. We’re often frankly mired in what might be acceptable mindsets, attitudes and even addictions, all more or less acceptable as far as the world is concerned, acceptable to and often celebrated by most people. But we know better most of the time, at least deep down inside.

If we step out in faith, God’s words to us can help us, God giving God’s thoughts to us through Scripture and especially God’s revelation in Jesus. We have to purposefully commit ourselves to hearing a different word and adopting a different understanding to move us away from conformity to the world, to the spirit of the age which is antithetical to God, toward a formation more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

We need to pay attention, to be sensitive to where that light might be breaking through. To see all in a better, more full light. With grace toward all. A light as we seek to see everything, which can help not only us, but others through our embrace of what we get a good glimpse of and act in accordance to. A light which pours out God’s life and love to us. The light in which we’re to live more and more, even in the midst of this present darkness. In and through Jesus.

glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

Thanksgiving Day (USA): Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:21-27

A Song of Ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all

—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:25-33

Revised Common Lectionary

the psalms: where we live

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Psalm 4

Part of the reason I think the psalms are so valuable is they talk a lot about experience. And that after all is where we live. We have our highs and lows, where we usually live, and oftentimes they’re punctuated with doubts and fears, being troubled. Then there are those times of peace and rest, sometimes even a sense of a kind of exaltation and joy. Well-being. But we sooner than later normally fall back into our default mode, which is whatever that might be. Hopefully with an increasing intentional drawing near to God as we go on, but sometimes mired in the depths.

But that is in large part why the psalms are so valuable and invaluable to us. We do well to read a psalm or two daily. And it is good from time to time to go meditatively through all the psalms. A part of God’s help for us as we live in the limitations and difficulties of this present existence and life.

In and through Jesus.

*nothing* separates us from God’s love in Jesus

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

I believe a passage somewhere in the Apocrypha along with the Book of Common Prayer tells us that God loves all God has made. I think within an orthodox reading of Scripture (see Gregory of Nyssa) you can make a case for a Christian universalism, which by grace always involves faith, repentance and change. I am open to such a view myself.

But we who are “in Christ” by grace through faith, along with baptism get to experience this love firsthand, though I would never say that others don’t experience God’s love. But Christ is central to this love being given and experienced by humankind.

It’s important to accept what amounts to the truth that God loves all. In Scripture when it seems to indicate otherwise, we can say that we need to read and understand that Scripture in light of Christ. The writer along with the Israelites or whoever was involved may have been mistaken. God does hate what violates love, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love all who are made in God’s image, and in some sense all of God’s creation. God in Christ is out to redeem and reconcile all things to God’s self, as well as to each other in proper relations.

But all of this, or the basic truth needs to get through to us, not just into our heads, but in our experience. We need to understand that God loves us in spite of ourselves, our many mistakes, missteps, even plain wrongdoings. That God is always present for us with open arms. And in a true sense as close to us as the air we breathe. Nothing at all that we go through as Christ followers can ever separate us from God’s love for us that is in Christ. Oh, that everyone, and I’ll even include myself in that, would step into this and learn to remain there. Whatever other experiences we go through in this life, oh that God’s love in and through Christ might overshadow them all!

In and through Jesus.

you have to want it

for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:7-8

It’s not enough to simply be a believer in Christ and that’s it. So that by and by someday you “go to heaven,” and you now enjoy the fruit of simply believing. Yes, we’re believers in Christ, but the heart of that is to be followers of Christ. At least some scholars nowadays argue that faith in Christ is primarily about allegiance to Christ. And as such, we’re no less than followers of Christ. Committed fully to that, even in the midst of our weakness and need for further growth.

We really have to want it. As a member of our team, we grab books flying up the belt to check them for quality. I find, especially at my age that seeking to have proper technique and timing is often not enough. I also have to really want to grab those books. Otherwise I’ll miss one, hit it sideways, and it will stop the operation. The same goes for a sports team. They can have all the x’s and o’s down good, have good practices, have things in order. But unless they really want to win, to do well, then they’re likely to either get beat, or find themselves in an uphill battle. As followers of Christ, to shake the problems which over and over can plague us, we have to no less than want it.

The passage quoted above (see context by clicking reference above) from James is telling us that double-mindedness just isn’t going to get it. We could be double-minded in all kinds of ways. And one of them is to think that following Christ is easy street, that all is done for us, that we don’t have to make any effort. Yes, Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light, but we still have to come to Christ, take his yoke upon us and learn from him (Matthew 11:28-30). We have to want it.

God helps us in all of this. For the realization to dawn and take hold of us. And then for us to walk in it. Again, we always have God’s help. In and through Jesus.

Season after Pentecost: 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Now these are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Is not my house like this with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?
But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar
or the shaft of a spear.
And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

A Song of Ascents.

Lord, remember in David’s favor
all the hardships he endured;
how he swore to the Lord
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
“I will not enter my house
or get into my bed;
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

We heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
“Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool.”

Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your faithful shout for joy.
For your servant David’s sake
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, forevermore,
shall sit on your throne.”

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
“This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.”

Psalm 132:1-18

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So it is to be. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Revelation 1:4b-8

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

John 18:33-37

Revised Common Lectionary