completely accepting one’s place

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalm 16:6

Much of my life I aspired to something interesting ahead. But it was more or less fuzzy in my mind, and uncertain. Somehow it seemed elusive, always just beyond my grasp. One finally comes to the place where the expectation level is waning, low, or they’ve given up.

And then there were the years of disappointment, not really liking what I had to do, though grateful to God for his provision. With that can come danger when one is not simply settling into the good God has for them at the time. Not that danger isn’t always present, because it is, but we can strengthen ourselves against it by trusting in God and his word, and applying wisdom from God.

For me a recent breakthrough of sorts is to accept that what I’ve been looking for over the years simply isn’t going to be, either in some small way, or whatever. It is likely not to be. It hasn’t materialized year after year, now going into decades. Someone told me a few years back that I am exactly at the place God wants me. I couldn’t understand that at the time; it seemed disappointing at best.

Settle down, and settle in, the Lord could be saying. And recognize the good God has and is giving you, both in terms of blessing received and being a blessing to others. Do good where you’re at, and praise the Lord.

Something I believe God has impressed on me just recently.

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why do I write?

Periodically, ever since a trusted pastor asked me why I write, I check myself on this, trying to understand better, myself. In 2004, I began to visit blogs, the first couple years on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, which I still go to to this day. Around 2006, I started my own blog at the suggestion of one of the Jesus Creed  readers and contributors. I was surprised to find that I could actually write a post. And even Scot took to liking my blog. So I thought I must be on to something.

Back in those days, blogs and blogging was hot. Almost everyone was reading a blog. Nowadays, it has cooled off quite a bit, except at some quarters, like where I work, Our Daily Bread, where their ministry blogs get exponentially more hits than the few my blog gets. At the beginning I was on Blogger and didn’t know how many hits I was getting since that wasn’t what I wanted to be in it for. I lost my original blog for a year and a half, until it mysteriously returned. On the day I lost it, I went to WordPress. And (on Blogger) probably a year and a half into blogging, I started to do it daily, as that was recommended for the best impact for readers and blog followers at the time. Besides, I do better whatever I do, regularly, probably daily. And getting back to the point on stats, WordPress simply has that in your blog, whether you want it or not. I don’t think I have to worry about getting a big head considering the number of hits I get.

I think the most basic answer to why I write is simply because I am a writer. I am one who thinks, and thinks and thinks some more. And it’s mostly been in and about scripture. I’ve been in God’s written word, the Bible for more than four decades now. And in the past, year after year, I’ve listened to it being read from the New International Version. That is an accurate and highly readable translation. I still think it’s the best at combining those two traits. And so I learned my English in writing from hearing that. And that word more and more penetrated my mind, heart, and life. Not that I lived up to that, and of course we need grace every day to have any hope of growing in that direction.

I also write, because I’ve sensed a calling on my life right from the beginning of my Christian journey, and perhaps a bit, before. To share God’s word with others, and be a pastor. To this day I go to a nursing home on Sundays to do a worship service which includes teaching the word, along with visiting afterwards. So that is my passion, as well. In my heart of hearts, I’m a pastor. So part of my writing is sharing my heart that way. Trying to help people in all the ways a pastor should.

And I’m a thinker. I’m forever and always thinking on something. That can drive me nuts, and those around me if I don’t keep my mouth shut. Thankfully my wife is used to it, and listens. And just like anyone who knows a few things about the subject they’re engrossed in, be it sports, music, politics, or whatever, I have learned, and more precisely am learning, mainly from the Bible itself, but also through the tradition of the church, especially the evangelical tradition I’ve been a part of for so many years. And thinking on scripture makes one think on life. You become a student both of scripture, and of life. You try to read both.

Bloggers are a dime a dozen, mostly just reading each other’s blogs nowadays. Of course there are many good ones out there. And anyone can write a book if they want to. If the Lord gives me the time and health to do it, I would like to write a book or two myself. But we’ll see. It would be like along the lines of my blogging. Hopefully helping someone, maybe a few along the way. And helping me sort out some things myself.

Blessedly, not everyone is like me. That without question would be a boring world. We need each person, and the gift from God that person is, with the gifts they have. But I try to do my part, and a big part of it, it seems, is in and through my writing. And as I always like to say, all of this always in and through Jesus.

 

life change: slowing down

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I have worked in an environment for years, even decades in which you have no other option but to move fast, especially at times, and to keep moving. And within a time frame when I could do that. And I have always believed in hard work, and that doing that is a part of living with a whole heart: one’s heart completely into something, hopefully in serving the Lord.

Lately that’s changed, and with getting older, and actually slowing down just a bit a few years back as our team leader then encouraged me to do, as of yesterday, I am on a life change. Challenging for me, but I think necessary, and I’m already getting a glimpse of it being good. And encouragement from at least one other, so far.

My job has high demands and pressure, and the option of doing plenty of extra things during specific intervals in time. I still intend to work that way. But slowing down means I won’t be able to get to as many things as I did before. And for me, that’s hard.

What prompted this change is actually a current change in our work schedule, which allows little time for much of anything else during the actual days we’re working, except to work, eat, and sleep. It has its good points with the time off, though I’m not a fan of it, myself. So I was wondering if this change is actually a rebellious reaction to it, that a little bit of that, at least, might be in me.

Actually, it seems like my life is on a theme of the Lord wanting to slow me down. Recently I didn’t see a flashing light in a school area, so that even though I wasn’t exceeding what I think* is the normal speed limit, I was picked up, and cited, since the lower speed limit was then in effect. So I’ve been driving slower ever since, yes, on the right hand side when I have to. So the thought of slowing down at work, which actually correlates with helping preserve my health seems to fall in line with that.

Just the same, although I had stated this new change at work, and was beginning to do it, I felt strange, out of place, and just couldn’t tie what I was doing to putting my whole heart into it. Until the above passage came to mind, which I began to repeat again and again.

Every bit of that passage is so important for me in this, for us all in life, actually. Yes, I’m weary and burdened. Yes, I need to come to the Lord for rest. He is gentle and humble in heart, so humble to work with the likes of me. And oh yes, I need that rest, for sure. And the thought that his yoke is easy and his burden light, and that he’s right alongside us in this. Wow. Wonderful. And just exactly what I need. So that, yes, I continue to serve God with my whole heart, of course not that I ever did that perfectly. But in a new, deeper way, which is actually more in line with God’s will in that it’s more oriented to Jesus, and less to myself.

So this is a new path I’m on as of yesterday. Soon after I embarked on it, I was tempted to go back for good reason, but stayed the course. And then, blessedly, the Matthew 11 passage came to mind. Something I intend to follow and grow in, in and through Jesus.

*Actually I just found out that I was 10 mph over the normal speed limit, and therefore 20 over with the flashing light. But the officer did reduce it to 10 mph over, so that my fine wasn’t as high. All the more reason to slow down. (3/10/2018)

 

memorizing scripture

I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

For years I have avoided memorizing scripture, preferring to read and meditate on it. And not really studying it much, either. I think clearly meditating, and reading (or hearing it read) are promoted in scripture, and studying it, included, as well. I’m not all that clear that memorizing it is, unless this verse might point to that. I think it’s true that in Jewish tradition would be rabbis would memorize large parts of the Pentateuch, maybe all of it. But for me tradition is not on par with scripture itself.

At work I would carry on my practice, with a small New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs. I would look at the next verse or part of a verse, with a clip to help me find my place, ponder it while I was working, and then on another brief time of waiting (if I had it, sometimes between breaks, I didn’t have the opportunity) look at the next phrase, and so on, pondering as in meditating on its meaning.

Recently they banned the use of phones on the floor, so I figured it would be best for me to quit looking at my Bible now and then, figuring some would think that unfair. My team leader thought I was probably right. So before a work week, I’m adopting the practice of memorizing a portion of scripture that I can meditate on throughout the following work week. The first one I chose was Psalm 19.

Decades ago as a young Christian I memorized whole books, though I’m not sure just how well I did that. I would be able to say a part, but really didn’t try to say it all together on a regular basis, or more likely, at all, so that it’s doubtful I really had it all in memory enough to recite it verbatim, but it was still a good exercise. Now that we are taking our grandchildren to an evangelical church which we intend to join soon, not to mention the fact that I’ve been working over 17 years for an evangelical ministry steeped in the world (Our Daily Bread Ministries), the tradition of memorizing scripture, usually just verses, but better yet, passages, like the tradition of having one’s quiet time (something else I haven’t done) is big, or at least present. So that this new practice of mine hopefully will kick in, and become an ongoing habit to help me meditate on God’s word.

Something I look forward to, as I seek to hide (or treasure- NRSV; NASB) God’s word in my heart.

doubting one’s self (part of my story)

A lot of water has come and gone over the dam. Much good over the years, and much not so good, even some not really good at all. Although I can be thankful that I’ve been married to one woman, and have known only her, and want to be with her to the end and beyond in the next life (if she will have me).

I always wanted to be a pastor. And I do that kind of work Sunday after Sunday at a nursing home in leading a worship service which includes singing and preaching/teaching, along with prayer and visiting. And I would have enjoyed teaching as a job, either, but I have seen myself over the years especially as aspiring to a pastor’s heart.

But perhaps the strongest undertow that swept me out and that I failed to overcome by faith, which I could have by the way, was the lie that I was a nobody who would fail in life, just as I heard a close relative (not in my immediate family) say when I was 10 years of age or so. So that I not only doubted myself, but rarely if ever saw anything good. And no one else did either, or if they did, for whatever reason they failed to help me understand the gift God had given me, and encourage my development and growth in that. And by the way, I don’t imagine at all that my gift is any more special than anyone else’s. All of our gifts from God are special, so that we’re all special gifts from God in creation, and new creation in Jesus.

But the biggest problem was that I failed to break past that by believing in God and God’s goodness and assessment of me. Instead believing the old stories that had piled into and accumulated in my head, and by and by took over my heart. So that I came to the dangerous place, even after graduating from two schools with a Bachelor and Masters degree, one a seminary, in which I had given up and believed I never would fulfill my heart’s desire and become a pastor, one ordained into the ministry.

Around that was a sense of defeat instead of faith in which I failed to work through the difficult things of life, which are inevitable for us all. Though I always did hold down a job through the years, the Lord’s gracious provision for us in my factory work.

I say all of this to encourage any reader to do better, to avoid the pitfall I experienced.

I am grateful to God, knowing it could have been worse. And if I have health and some years after retirement, I hope to serve in something like a chaplaincy role.

We can learn from the past, and work through it for some healing, but we also live in the present. This is where we live, and we want to do well here and now. To have the faith and everything toward God which honors and pleases him, who alone is the Faithful One. To hold on to that, and continue on faithful to the end. With others, in and through Jesus.

a breakthrough into trust

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.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3

If you know me well, then you would know I’ve had a struggle most all of my Christian life over trusting in God completely. Actually I would have not thought so during most of that time. I would have rationalized, or misunderstood my struggle as doing what I have to do to be responsible to fulfill my duty. Of course I’m not talking about perfect trust, which surely won’t be arrived at in this life. But a substantial trust, by which one really does cast one’s cares and life, and indeed all of life with the cares and concerns over others on the Lord.

For me it was over a matter that in no way I could fix, and seemed a point of danger. Either I could continue my own way and do what would be difficult to do, and in the end probably not foolproof (what is in this life?), or I could do what makes no sense to me.

The real tipping point for me was the experience of a debilitating fear which all but crushed me. Actually I had learned over the years, over the decades even, to go on with that, even though it most certainly hampered me. And a number of times in answer to prayer it was overcome through the Lord’s grace. But that is where I essentially lived.

A key verse in all of this for me is found in 1 John 4:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

This is a beautiful passage, and should be seen in context along with other passages in scripture which make it clear that being God’s children and living in fear are not compatible. Of course I don’t mean the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of knowledge: a right appreciation for who God is in his otherness. But that’s never separated from the love God is, either, though that love is not accepted by us in our sin.

But for years and years I struggled off and on, and to some degree mostly on over this sense of dread. I knew in my head one thing, but my heart failed to follow. So during short experiences when my heart did know something of that rest, it was exhilarating, and indeed intoxicating. But then would come the inevitable descent back into “reality,” and the ongoing struggle of all of that.

Am I home free now on this issue? No. I don’t think so. Ask me a year from now, if I’m still around and the Lord tarries. A time ago I seemed to enter into this breakthrough, but then fell back through some voice in my head which seemed to be my own mind. In carefully evaluating it, it was accusatory in nature, a sure sign that it was not from God. I descended into something which seemed all the worse.

Finally in desperation I was crying out to God. And a thought came to me: What if I simply trust God by letting God lead me. And such leading would be in a peace, a sense of what I should and should not do. As I recall I went to bed with that thought on my mind, woke up and yesterday morning wrote this post, went to work, and gradually seemed to enter into this rest. And by God’s grace I’ve remained in that place of imperfectly fully trusting in God, and not in myself. By the way, the Proverbs 3:5-6 passage quoted above came to me with a renewed emphasis a couple years or so back, as if God wanted to impress me with the importance of that passage for me. I included what follows because to so trust God even helps me physically, certainly impacting the emotions for good.

Does that mean I’m on top of the world now, and not down? No, no way. I’ve already experienced being down over an issue in the world and most importantly in the church. And I’ll be down at times over my own problems, as well. And does this mean that it’s now automatic, that I will continue on in this new way? No, absolutely not. I must continue to trust with the new challenges that come, big and small. And learn to walk in this way more and more. With others in and through Jesus.

 

especially blessed can be the irregulars, those who don’t fit in

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6

When reading the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) one gets the impression that Jesus is especially at home with the misfits, those who are either uncomfortably normal, or normally uncomfortable. I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The characters in that story (I confess to having not read the book, but only seeing the film) can be off the wall, out of place, not obvious candidates for what they end up doing, but they band together into a group with a common purpose thrust on them, along with a seemingly mystical touch.

I for one have felt much out of place most all of my life. I have a hard time accepting myself, much less expecting others to accept me, warts and all. So I am amazed if anyone does put up with what is off in me, and still accepts me as a friend. It doesn’t seem to happen often. I am among those who have a cynical bent, and ask the hard questions. Yet I’m also more than happy to simply use that to more and more gently fit into a greater purpose than myself, or anyone else. Together with others.

In this world, if everyone was cool all the time with what is going on, it would be sad indeed. I wonder about a Christianity where everything is great all the time, in which one is always full of joy, and lets nothing bother them. It seems to me that real Christians ought to take seriously the sufferings of this world, and in and through Jesus and his suffering be able to navigate those hard places with the weeping followed by joy (in the morning, as the psalm says).

We need to make room and have a place for those who don’t fit, but may seem to be looking for a home. Can they find it with us in Jesus? Are we helping them to find their place in Jesus? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, and therefore calls each one to be reconciled to him. And many who are reconciled may not be at home with us, because we fail to see God’s love on them, even Jesus in them. They are often the irregulars, the misfits, those who don’t have, or find much of what this world holds dear. But who are really at home in and through Jesus.