the needed love described

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7; NRSVue

The life of Christ in us who are his followers certainly exudes love. We humans know by instinct and much more so by the Spirit that love is to characterize us, who we are and all we do and say. And yet in this life it’s a challenge to always live it out.

And that’s true even in the church, Christ’s body in whom (not just among whom) Christ is present. Such was markedly the case with the church in Corinth to whom Paul wrote in the two letters we have, with the quote above. They and with them, we ourselves as well, not only need reminded, but it helps to have this love described, just what it is to be like in our relationships.

I tend to want to get it down to things I should and shouldn’t do, and while that might be helpful in some rudimentary way, especially toward the beginning of one’s life in Christ, it has to basically fall by the wayside as we go on. What is much more helpful are the above descriptors.

I think from this description of love, we can safely say that we need to err on the side of mercy, overlooking faults, even if at specific times it may not hurt to try to correct people. But never remaining there long, not letting it hang over their head. Realizing that we need the same deference paid to us as well, even if we’re blind to that need, which surely often is indeed the case.

Something to think on and pray about, as we end the year and enter a new one. In and through Jesus.

when life is more than hard

Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when you are punished by him,
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children, for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Hebrews 11:35-38; 12:1-13; NRSVue

I really want to read the copy I have of Charles Dickens, Hard Times, because I identify with plenty of what I’m picking up of what he said in it and elsewhere about the times in which he lived. For some of us it’s more than rough. There are some days that are among the very worst, for many of us many days like that. You might be going through something that seems far beneath and removed from what any creature should have to undergo and you may really want to throw in the towel. I know, I’ve been there, and probably not just a few times.

What kind of mindset and attitude, and from that what kind of life does God want us to live as a result of going through such? I think the word above from Hebrews can be quite helpful to us. We need to look at all of it as part of following our Lord, not only his example but following him as well in this life. Along with seeing it somehow as part of God’s loving discipline in our lives, somehow needed so that we can meet the glorious challenge of following Jesus in this life.

We can hit that breaking point and go under. But God wants to give us a new sense, a new vision, and with that a new wherewithal so that we carry on regardless and in spite of, because of the joy set before us in simply following Christ even in the way of the cross. All of this as always in and through Jesus.

casting the demon out

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45; NRSVue

Sometimes I think, and it’s beginning to feel settled to me, that often a demon so to speak inhabits institutions, and yes, even families. When one thinks about it, there’s really no family nor institution that is perfect. It might be “picture perfect” in reputation or even in its own imagination. But there’s a brokenness in everything as certain as the cracks that show up on the walls or ceilings of any house.

When I refer to institutions, I’m not leaving out churches. Christ’s presence is what makes up a church, where two or three are gathered in his name. But as we see in the seven letters to the church in the Revelation and elsewhere, the devil can get into the details, into the works. And families, the same. Some are very broken, and some seem to get along remarkably well. But no family is any more perfect than any individual.

But while there’s a sense that there may be some truth in this for any institution or family, I’m thinking of special situations such as we find ourselves in today. There is so much anger, division, and there appears to be little if any hope that anything will change perhaps before catastrophe or the worst part hits, hopefully with some cushion and limited fallout. And hopefully as well, to give the needed realization that change is needed.

If we’re concerned about such a situation, chances are it’s close to us, or we’re somehow involved in it. Like Daniel of old, who from all appearances even in Scripture was blameless and upright, we too need to pray to God, confessing our sin, our part in the problem, be it in family, or any institution. We most definitely need to be open for the Lord’s insight and correction in our own lives, before we can imagine God’s breakthrough in the lives of others.

As we do that, then maybe God will give us the understanding and sense needed to become part of or fit into the solution. And as Jesus said, some do not come out except by prayer and some manuscripts add, fasting.

There’s always hope, even if it doesn’t come easy. In and through Jesus.

do *everything* in love

Keep alert; stand firm in your faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; NRSVue

One might think that these directions must have been given to a church that was ready to receive it. Or maybe given to a church because they were deficient in these things. Or just because we all need directions and reminders along the way.

This letter was certainly not written to a church which had it together. There were divisions among them which displayed their immaturity, failure to lovingly discipline those in serious sin, and what appears to me to be a rather childish display of spiritual gifts in pride and somewhat at least at the expense of love (1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter tucked in between the chapters on spiritual gifts). And more problems actually, if you kind of imagine beneath the surface of the rest of the letter. And some of that coming out in spades in Paul’s second letter to them (2 Corinthians).

That can be an encouragement to us. After all, who of us has it all together? Hopefully we’ve gotten past the most immature part of our lives, though we’re all certainly on a journey and in different stages of it. And churches the same. This is actually addressed not strictly to individuals, but to the church as a whole of course made up of individuals. They’re all in this together.

But love is what is to be behind all they do. Love, love, and more love. And that’s it. Nothing else but love. Even in the midst of weakness, and unlove along the way, which then needs to be repented of. And to people, to a church which definitely had some serious repenting to do along the way, not unlike us.

Everything, all, we’re to do in love. No matter what we have to do. All in love. Even as we have been loved and are loved and will always be loved in and through Jesus.

roll up your sleeves and get to work

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:10; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58; NRSVue

There’s a huge contrast between Qoheleth’s down in the mouth, dire outlook on life and Paul’s take in light of the gospel of Christ and specifically the resurrection of Christ. Qoheleth basically tells his (or hers, but likely his) audience to give it all they’ve got, because this life is it. Work ends here, so you might as well give it your all, along with fully enjoying the simple gifts God gives, even though really “all is vanity.” Paul makes the point in the quoted passage from his first letter to the Corinthian church that if this life was the end, then what he and others with him were doing would make no sense at all.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

If I fought with wild animals at Ephesus with a merely human perspective, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 32; NRSVue

Paul is telling us that all we do now matters both for this life and beyond. It’s the work of the Lord, and what Paul was referring to was specifically the work he and others with him were engaged in: the service of the gospel in sharing the good news of Christ and seeing churches planted. And what a sacred work that is! But all of our work as unto the Lord, all of our works are actually sacred, no matter how mundane it may seem.

That sadly enough doesn’t mean that every job out there is good, or sacred in and of itself. We may want to find work that provides legitimate services to people, even if such services would be of no interest or use to us. Most or at least a lot of work fits in that category. We’re especially blessed if we do work which provides something needed for this life, and perhaps for the next as well.

Not only our actual work, but how we do it is of sacred importance to God. Are we doing it more and more out of the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30)? Are we seeking to do all out of love for God and for others? Are we seeking in everything to be pleasing to the Lord?

We need to roll up our sleeves, and set ourselves to fulfill whatever tasks we have, what is set before us. Letting our light shine in that way, that others may see our good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). In and through Jesus.

First Sunday after Christmas Day: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the LORD repay you with children by this woman for the loan that she made to the LORD,” and then they would return to their home. 

Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people.

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; NRSVue

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the LORD!

Psalm 148; NRSVue

Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17; NRSVue

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents were unaware of this. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them, and his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.

Luke 2:41-52; NRSVue

Revised Common Lectionary

Nativity of the Lord: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied exultation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders,
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Great will be his authority,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-7; NRSVue

O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The LORD is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar and all that fills it;
let the field exult and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96; NRSVue

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11-14; NRSVue

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.

Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.

what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

don’t be distracted: Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38; NRSVue

It seems like there’s nothing easier than being distracted. My spiritual mentor and director and good friend has told me that in his experience there can be a thousand screaming monkeys. All the more true for me as well. I can count on something distracting me from meditation on scripture, from listening and hearing God’s voice, receiving God’s word.

Anna was not one who lived with distractions. Oh, I’m sure that she had to deal with possible distractions. But interestingly we’re told that “she never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She had been married but devoted herself exclusively to God after her husband died. Maybe she never had children. We’re not told. But it reminds me of what developed later, the monastic orders.

But as followers of Jesus, it seems to me that we’re called to be entirely devoted to Christ in normal life, just as Jesus did in his thirty-three or so years on earth. Yes, 1 Corinthians 7 tells us that one can be more totally devoted to God when unmarried and Jesus wasn’t married. But he did work in his “legal” father’s trade, and perhaps as the oldest son looked after his mother Mary after Joseph passed. There are responsibilities and concerns that come with marriage and family, to be sure. Anna knew all about that. What is needed is total devotion to God, something we can always give, even while we’re busy fulfilling family along with other responsibilities. In fact we show devotion to God in part by giving ourselves fully to the responsibilities at hand. But at the same time, when and where we can, we regularly want to be attentive to God by being in scripture and prayer. In Anna’s case, fasting as well.

Because of this, Anna was ready when Christ appeared. She was primed and afterwards pumped, telling all about this child. Something for us as well, in our time and place, yes, even today in the midst of all the distraction of the season. This should be what we’re all about, our very heart.

In and through Jesus.

the humdrum and Advent

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:8

We disregard the humdrum and what is boring at our peril. When we think we have to fill our lives with this or that, we can miss what God wants to give us. Only to the empty does God come with God’s filling, with God’s abundant, more than enough plenty. But to the full, God cannot. They are already full of something else, no room for God’s gift.

Let’s neither underrate nor despise the necessities life presses on us. And let’s remember that God in love works with us, with all our idiosyncrasies and conundrums. We simply need to press on which includes plodding on. God will help us as we seek in God’s will to do that. In and through Jesus.