hold that thought

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

It is so easy to get what might seem to be an inspired thought, and I don’t mean from God’s word, but right now I’m referring to something we want to say. But if we would give it enough time, our thought might at least be tempered or revised altogether. It’s important to let time and life help us to better understand. Realizing just how little we know.

It’s not like we can’t speak out. There’s indeed a time to speak, and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3). And we will make mistakes along the way. That’s a part of being human.

But we need to emphasize to ourselves that there’s always plenty more to learn. And therefore listen, listen, and listen some more. To others, and especially to God.

stilling the storm of words

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

I think I’m a word person, so words are important to me. I want to know truth, and I want to communicate. It is probably something of the gift God has given me. So if there’s a storm of words, I may not like the storm, but I might easily be taken into the storm. And I’ve found over the years that such participation does little if any good. All too often it feels like one is only becoming part of that storm, certainly not helping to still it.

And now we have a pandemic which has hit the United States in full force economically, politically- exacerbating the great divide, and certainly physically, with the mounting death toll. And politically, it’s an election year. So all of this gets played out into a never ending storm of words. The map for this weather front sees little break in the clouds and storm to come. And not sure where the light at the end of the tunnel might be, if it’s coming at all.

Qohelet, the main writer of Ecclesiastes, seems to be a pessimist by nature, maybe what we would call a realist. He/she seems to be something of a hard core skeptic. I can resonate with that. When people think they have the answer to something, they’re never at a loss for words. But when one is not sure, or knows enough to know that they don’t know that much, then less words come, or maybe none at all.

The book of Job is a case in point. Filled with words from Job questioning God’s justice, and Job’s friends, correcting Job, and the words go on and on. But after God speaks, Job shuts his mouth, and continues to listen. And then repents in dust and ashes. Yes, we need the word from God, and much less of our own words. But to get to that point of listening, maybe we have to experience something of the storm of words, our own and others.

When one considers all of Scripture, and I’m especially thinking of the psalms, it seems like pouring our hearts in prayer to God, and expressing our unvarnished thoughts to him is commendable, and seen over and over again in Scripture. I think what we need a good healthy dose of though, is to learn to say less and listen more. And the one we need to listen to is God. To hear what God is saying to us ought to be our goal. We need to speak less and listen more. Yes, to others. But above all to God. Then the words we do speak might actually matter more.

 

in the new normal

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7

What happens when the heavens feel like brass, when one seems to have no peace, or it comes, but mostly is gone. Read the amazing wisdom story of Job. It’s a wisdom story, not necessarily a story about an actual event. That’s how some take it, including myself, though it really doesn’t matter. But Job found himself in the depths of complete personal loss, except that his wife who remained, counseled him to curse God and die. In this story, God is actually wagering Satan in a sense, letting Satan take his worst shot at Job without killing him to answer Satan’s accusation that Job will dismiss God since he serves God for personal gain.

Job doesn’t take this passively, the loss of his children, loss of wealth and now stricken from head to toe in misery. He questions God, and even wishes for the reversal of creation, including of course his own existence. Yet Job hangs in there. He is still talking to God, and talking around his friends who had their nicely pat theological and seemingly life-oriented answers. Recently I read these friends were like first year seminary students. Some wisdom in that thought.

Living in the new normal is not a new theme for me. I’ve lived much of my life in difficulty of one kind or another, mostly inward, though in reaction to external situations, but just a steady dull, regardless. PTSD surely is something we all experience at different levels, since we humans live in a broken world. How do we live in “the new normal”?

I think we have to do what Job did. Hang in there with God; appeal to God. Ask questions. Determine to hope in God to the end. And learn how to live as well as we can “in the new normal.” There is no sense thinking we can escape it. As in the case of Job, only God can grant that. We have to keep after it in our faith, but learn to live as well as we can. Trusting that God will see us through and give us what we need. The breakthrough and change will come. In and through Jesus.

“incremental”

The word “incremental” has become an important word for me at work. It probably is not hitting the precise meaning, or the way it’s used, but I see it as meaning little by little, to add up to making work easier for me and others. It’s not like I’m trying to slough off of hard work, but making it manageable, and being willing to relax more when things don’t work out, even when mistakes are made. But to keep pushing on this direction.

I used to work full tilt, kind of trying to do something of this, but with more of an accent on working hard. I still work full tilt, but in a different way. Now it is more thoughtful in terms of trying to keep myself relaxed and through that example, to help us all do the same. So that others aren’t stressed out, beginning with the fact that I’m not stressed out. Of course I can’t handle how others do their work, but hopefully my example can rub off on others, if it’s really helpful. And part of my goal is to make everyone’s job easier, so that they can concentrate on what’s in front of them, to minimize the extra they have to do.

This is making a world of difference for me. I keep thinking of the word, “incremental.” I have it firmly in my memory, finally now, or so I think. But my first thought as far as my work is concerned is to do it little by little, in manageable chunks, even if that means more movement on my part, which it inevitably does. And trying to avoid being in a hurry, insofar as that’s possible. I find the hard work is in a sense easier, certainly easier to manage, and therefore less stressful. In fact there seems a fallout in stress, none or not much at all. Kind of a part of my goal, to avoid undue stress beyond just the normal minimal stress each part of the job requires.

Add to that just lately, I realize I won’t entirely achieve this, so that I have to depend on others to pick up where I can’t. So learning to relax, even when I can’t always achieve “incremental” as I intend to. But making it my first priority as far as the nuts and bolts of my work is concerned; to do so incrementally, little by little, with plenty of room to get things done comfortably. Something I consider clearly to be a needed help of wisdom to me from God. Sometimes in God’s generosity, a kind of wisdom given to anyone. And for us “in Jesus”, it is always in and through him.

no truth apart from love

The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:21,24

Some people seem to think that truth is telling it like it is, no holds barred. But truth in God’s world is always joined with love; you can’t separate them. Love is not love apart from truth; truth is not truth apart from love.

This should be an important baseline on how I judge my own speech and the speech of others. How well I receive a sermon, message or as it’s often called nowadays a conversation around and in God’s word. Is it imbued with grace and truth? If not, it will be lacking.

None of us has it altogether. And we might tend more either toward grace, or truth. People who are known to be blunt are often admired as “telling it like it is,” or “being real.” And others who can never say anything that might be displeasing to others will likely not be taken seriously, or will be seen as flatterers.

What we need is a combination of grace and truth. We speak truth, but we do so gently, with love. In fact we would want to consider and ponder how to make truth as attractive as possible, rather than quite the opposite. What will help us a long way in that direction is humility, the realization of how much we ourselves are in need of grace. That should help us put a curb on our harshness, and hopefully find in time that it no longer characterizes us.

When we understand our own great need for God’s mercy and grace, we won’t look down on others. But instead will want to help them with the help God gives us. In and through Jesus.

connecting all joy in whatever trial with prayer for God’s wisdom

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

When we’re in the pressure cooker, it’s easy to revert to something less than helpful. We need something better than fight or flight. And James gives us something much better here.

We’re to count it all joy when any given trial hits us, because through that God can do a deeper work in us. We need to persevere through it, so that we can grow in whatever way God has for us.

I think we can connect that with the directive to ask God for needed wisdom. Maybe it can stand alone as well, since James is more like Proverbs than any other book in the New Testament. Either way, it only makes sense to ask God for wisdom in trials. God will give it to us as we go on imperfectly as it will be, with a heart set on living in his will. In and through Jesus.

part of what draws me to Scripture

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

I said, “I will watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent,
not even saying anything good.
But my anguish increased;
my heart grew hot within me.
While I meditated, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.
Save me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the scorn of fools.
I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
for you are the one who has done this.
Remove your scourge from me;
I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,
you consume their wealth like a moth—
surely everyone is but a breath.

“Hear my prayer, Lord,
listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
before I depart and am no more.”

Psalm 39

One thing about the Psalms I love is their rugged, realistic approach to life, and the honesty expressed. There’s no pretense, nor is anything held back. That is a characteristic of all of Scripture actually, but especially evident in the Psalms.

For those who are suffering and reflective, the Bible has so much to offer. And not just words of wisdom that can help shape our lives in the struggle, but the path to wisdom itself. In and through Jesus.

when discouragement sets in (Ecclesiastes)

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

The end of a fascinating book helps us keep straight what we have to keep our eyes on as we live life “under the sun.” Tremper Longman is helpful here:

The second wise man commends Qohelet as an example of honest thinking about life “under the sun.” In essence he’s saying, “Son, Qohelet is 100 percent correct. Under the sun, life is difficult and then you die.”

However, the second wise man goes on to encourage his son toward what we might call an “above the sun” perspective: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of humanity. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).

I’m not qualified to offer my opinion on Longman’s overall interpretation of Ecclesiastes (see his commentary), along with other interpretations, or to offer my own. I think his quote above certainly rings true.

What is helpful to me is the plain point that when all is said and done we’re to simply fear God and keep his commandments, keeping in mind our accountability to God, how we will have to answer to him.

I don’t at all write off the rest of the book as having no value for us. We run up against its truth all the time in the difficulties we face and see everywhere. And I think interspersed throughout Qohelet’s (“the Teacher’s”) words are glimmers of light that see beyond the perspective of “life under the sun.”

That is the perspective we need if we’re to carry on well in God’s eyes. We have to get past the inevitable discouragement which faces here, all the problems, not to mention tragedy, and realize that even in the best scenario of “life under the sun,” there is a sense of not arriving, of futility, even a sense of meaninglessness.

What we need in this world is to see beyond that to the God who gives meaning in the midst of the madness. Who keeps us in his way, as we see him for who he is, and seek to walk in line with his will. In and through Jesus.

 

dealing with the unexpected

Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:25-26

We have gradually for the most part been able to take in what is occurring worldwide with the coronavirus pandemic. It is unsettling for sure, and potentially life-changing. I am volunteering at my work place, Our Daily Bread Ministries which Michigan has allowed to remain open as an essential service. Most are staying at home, many being able to work from home. My work is factory, so we either work there, or not at all. The ministry is generously paying those who are staying home. Considering family, friends, and society at large and around the world, it is a sobering time indeed.

Strangely enough yesterday, after getting home from work, occasion took me behind the garage where I saw a new tree growing in our neighbor’s yard near the fence, between our two garages. I probably was seeing it for the first time, and it looks like a fast grower, already too big for comfort, its branches heading for our garage. And I felt gripped in fear. In the past we had to have a big tree cut down behind our garage, which if I would have taken care of when we first moved there, would have cost nothing. And so my relative peace and calm in spite of the trying circumstances of our time was replaced with an ongoing, gripping fear.

We read in the passage in Proverbs quoted above that we’re not to be fearful of sudden disaster. That seems like a mighty tall order, given all that can happen and sometimes does in this life. And I really don’t appreciate the disruption of the relative peace I had in the midst of the storm raging around us. I must admit that for me owning a home often seems much more like a home owning me, no doubt.

But we have to keep coming back to God’s word, to prayer, and simply waiting on God in his grace to answer us. God is for us as seen in the sending of his Son (Romans 8:31-32). I think it is important to see the immediate context of this passage:

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:21-26

We can’t just pull a “precious promise” out of the air, or a hat, or even the Bible which is the point here, and expect God to answer. We must consider the context of the whole, really the entire Bible, but first of all the immediate context of Scripture.

All of that said, I personally am tired of falling into the gripping fear which all too often has characterized my life over the years, although it is less than it once was. If I’m not experiencing that, it’s almost like I’m trying to fend it off. Worry has all too often hounded me. It’s almost as if I’m worried about becoming worried, anxious about being overcome and stricken with anxiety. And now it has overtaken me again.

I love how the passage quoted just above prioritizes wisdom. That seems to be the key to avoiding undue stress, the stress that should not be added on to the normal stress of life. Of course like most everything else, that’s easier said then done.

The promise spelled out is encouraging in both the tranquility God can give, as well as God helping us avoid what is not helpful, and often only exacerbates the problem, or at least causes us to dig ourselves into a deeper hole of fear. Taking matters into our own hands is not the answer. And just as I’ve been told in the past, we shouldn’t act on our fears. That is at least too close to panic, which is never good.

Of course I do want to act responsibly and do what can be done. With the neighbor’s permission, I could cut down the relatively young tree just on the other side of their fence. But if I can’t get the answer I want, then I have to leave it in God’s hands. And try to be entrusting that to God right along, by faith. Which leads me to share one more part of the general context, which has spoken significantly to me in recent years:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

May God help me and all of us to learn more and more to rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

wisdom: a lifelong pursuit

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.

Proverbs 2:1-11

I am blessed to not only work for, but really feel a part of a ministry whose stated mission it “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.” I feel right at home at such a place.

Turning to the Bible itself, and the gospel we find in it is life-changing for sure, as we enter into its reality by faith. Wisdom is a huge part of what God offers to all.

I have found without a doubt that the pursuit of wisdom is a life-long endeavor. But that, alas, I have stumbled too much in earlier years in not making it the priority it needed to be. And even now, I can struggle along the way, which actually can be a blessing, as I feel my need for wisdom.

Proverbs is a wisdom book, probably the first one that comes to mind for most of us when we think of wisdom literature. We have to consider it in its original context, including its setting, and then seek to bring that wisdom into our own context today. God helps us. So much there to glean, warnings and encouragements that need to be taken as seriously as when they were written.

God’s promise is encouraging: all who seek the wisdom from God, and keep seeking it will find it. Such a blessing. Not easy, because we are so bent in our foolish ways, or at least I can speak for myself. But wonderful as we begin to enter into it, and seek to continue on. In and through Jesus.