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.

strangers in the body

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12

One of the great tragedies of the church is the clergy-laity divide. I heard that it took place around the fourth century. What I do understand about that is that a monastic life (which actually appeals to me, of course in a married order) was held to be more sacred than the common, ordinary life. Therefore the sacred/secular divide. And from that you hear people say they are “called to the ministry.”

Actually I agree with some of that language, but disagree with much of its application. And it may to a large extent be my fault, but I have found body practice in the church and in Christian circles mostly nonexistent, or probably more accurately, like a hard shell to break through in my own experience. I’m not much of a believer in the body of Christ.

Call that hurt, or whatever on my part, but I don’t speak conceptually, but experientially. That is the impression I receive from living in the real world.

There are two problems up front that I at least sense. First of all there seems to be the impression that there are just a few, certain people set apart to do “the work of the ministry.” They are the movers and shakers, and the rest follow them. The other problem I see is the emphasis on the individual at the expense of the community. Christianity is often marked in regard to “my relationship with God.” It’s all about me, and what I’m going to do, or not do today. While there’s plenty of vital truth in that, if it’s the only emphasis, than we miss the greater emphasis of scripture, that we are all in this together, that each one of us has a vital part and role to play.

I don’t believe in any of this, actually. Because I feel and think that largely I’ve been left behind. And I don’t think I was the target at all. I think instead that my experience is simply a symptom of the kind of Christianity which is accepted and practiced. Commitment to the body, and to each other is simply not practiced, or not practiced well. Small groups might help, and there is surely good in them. But they might not help much in this at all, and may even promote the status quo, keeping those more restless, in their place. I am grateful right now along with my wife to be part of a small church group which is an exception to that rule. Wonderfully led, and we’re all very much a part of it.

Before we can judge someone, or begin to think we have their measure, if indeed such a thing is possible, we need to get to know them. But there isn’t that commitment in the Christianity I see, and have normally experienced over the decades. No, I don’t believe in the body of Christ if I look at what I’ve witnessed. In a certain way I can imagine and see it. But not in the way scripture tells it. An ongoing lament for me. We miss out when we don’t put an emphasis on each and every one, and are not sufficiently committed to each other in and through Jesus. Not just to “my relationship with God” and how that carries out in “my daily walk,” but to the entire body of Christ, to each other in Christ.

The Spirit will help us do this. And won’t leave us at rest until we do. Which means, I’m afraid, we won’t be much at rest in a lot of places and spaces which name the name of our Lord.

being a witness where we are, not where (or how) we want to be

I often lament in various ways missed opportunities through life, and how it seems to me that I’ve fallen through the tracks, how hardly any church or entity has latched on to me so that I could be a part of what they do with the gifts I have. I continue to lament, because it seems like this is part of my life story, ongoing to the end. Though my life is not yet over, and only God understands what really is going on in all of this.

But it’s important for us in Jesus to be witnesses wherever we are, in whatever way possible, and as much as possible. That ought to become a part of who we are, as natural as the breath we breathe, or in my case, the coffee I drink. We simply share with others, when appropriate and helpful, our hearts, what we’re enthused about, how we’re making our way through life. And for me the simple straightforward answer to that is Jesus, and God’s good news in him. That is what scripture points us to, and what the church is to be all about in its formation and witness. And it should become the reason we live, the impetus of our lives, together with others in Jesus.

So instead of crying over spilled milk, or wishing this or that, we need to settle in and open our hearts and our eyes, and do well where we’re at. We have people in great need for a loving heart and prayer, and simply being present with them, like our loved ones in family, neighbors, colleagues, etc. Life can be quite challenging with significant difficulties, but that ends up being part of our witness as well, how God sees us through each situation in and through Jesus.

Hopefully we’ll do well in God’s eyes by his grace. However that shakes out. In and through Jesus.

why I write

This might be a good Monday post since not many of us look forward to the end of the weekend, and the beginning of a new week. I know one person who likes Mondays, says it’s his favorite day of the week.

Also, I don’t really like talking about myself, but a lady who is an excellent writer encouraged me to go that direction years back, so here and there, and sprinkled in different places, I do. And the Bible’s authors at certain points do it as well.

As I told someone recently, I write because I’m a writer. I seem somehow to be in my element when I write. And I write of faith, because that is where I live. So that if I’m struggling there, it makes it harder for me to write. I often write something then related to that struggle.

I write mainly for my own benefit, it ends up being. But I want to share something that might help someone else. Over the years people have come and gone who read this blog. Some posts here might have helped them for a time before they moved on.

I started this blog because a blogger friend who I respect as a Christian suggested that I ought to. By and by I began to blog daily, because back at that time when blogs were hot it was said that daily was the best way to do a blog to have readers. Now it’s probably more out of habit that I do so.

I am reminded of the thought that we’re to do what brings us joy, and what brings down heaven. I work at a ministry (Our Daily Bread Ministries) which has a lot of great writers. I don’t aspire to be better, nor necessarily to even measure up to any of them. But the kind of writing I do, and what is done where I work (the factory end for me) I think is similar.

I will say that to share struggle and aspects of life which are difficult is quite biblical. We see such thoughts and themes all throughout the Bible, because real life is being lived and reflected on.

So why am I likely to continue writing as long as I can? Mainly because I’m a writer, that’s what I do. And one who wants to share their faith in the hopes it might help someone else. As I think through life, and what I actually do believe. For me, all of this in and through Jesus.

learning the lesson of continual basic trust in God

It is probably breathtaking just how much we take for granted even in matters which amount to life and death. We may even be thankful, but we might get into our cars day after day, month after month, year after year without so much as a thought of asking for God’s traveling mercies, though we might do that for trips. Or for God’s help at work, since we are skilled (yes, from him) and can take care of that ourselves.

But every once in a while God might send gentle if not uncomfortable reminders of our utter dependence on him for safety, help, and blessing. Of course the blessing of God results in much more than just getting the job done in front of us, but includes how we do it and why. But first things first.

We need to really commit everything to God, whatever it might be that we’re doing: the nuts and bolts of it all, and all that underlies that. I remember someone taking me home from work, since I needed a ride that day. They did what they always do before driving, they committed in prayer the trip to God, short as it was (a half hour at the most). My guess is that their father did that as well, so that they learned that from him. Or maybe they started it themselves, perhaps under someone else’s influence.

I remember at the time, while appreciating it, kind of seeing it as a bit much, maybe a little on the super spiritual side, though this person puts on no such airs at all. But I think there’s wisdom in that. It won’t necessarily save us from a bad thing occuring. But it is an acknowledgement of our utter and entire dependence on God. And a good practice of faith, that we might do well in the faithfulness of God, and see the difference needed in our lives in and through Christ.

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).

a commitment not to worry

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

A good number (thankfully) of years back I called in to a radio program in which a wise pastor and writer was taking phone calls and answering questions. I was sick of whatever it was I was struggling with, likely worry, and I asked whether one could simply make the commitment not to sin, and be able to follow through on that. I probably and hopefully knew better from my own reading of scripture and theology, though had been influenced in the past by a holiness group which aspired to “a second work of grace” which was supposed to “eradicate the sin nature.” I certainly considered anxiety or worry a sin, not trusting in God, having a wife who made that clear, that to worry meant that I wasn’t trusting the heavenly Father. And it was coming to a head for me, so that I wanted to get rid of an exacerbating problem, once and for all. Enough was enough.

I like to see the commands in scripture as loving directives of the Father, who doesn’t come down hard on us when we fail, and we inevitably do at times. And I know that some of us have more of a propensity toward worry than others, some suffering with anxiety attacks who might benefit much from medication and counseling. I get that. And it might be true to some extent that I fit in that category, although worry is not something I wrestle with every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever had an anxiety attack. Just the same, I am beset with worry and anxiety probably more than any other weakness. Amy Simpson, by the way wrote a most helpful book on the subject, which I would do well to reread: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

We most certainly need to read the entire book of Philippians (quote above), and keep reading the entire Bible to get everything in context, so that we see the bigger picture. It’s certainly not about us and our agendas, but about God’s good will in Jesus, and the gospel, and from that living the life of love in God. But I have found a bit of a freedom in viewing, in the hard places, God’s commands as something of God’s enablings by grace and through Jesus, to help us do better. I certainly like the idea of simply deciding not to worry.

As Amy Simpson adeptly points out in her book, the emotion of anxiety is not something we can deal with; if we’re anxious, we’re anxious. Worry is our own preoccupation with one thing or another, maybe even a number of things, usually one at a time, in which we are afraid of this or that, what might happen. It actually does expose the reality that we’re failing to trust the heavenly Father, as Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount.

And so, by grace, and endeavoring to do what we’re told to do in Philippians 4:6-7 (see above), I want to once again commit myself to trusting in God’s provision and care for our needs, and that whatever happens, the Lord will be present with us, and never forsake us. And for me it seems like a good focus point is the refusal not to worry, or be anxious in the sense of worrying. Instead I will once again be endeavoring to trust in God. While not abandoning my own responsibility for this or that, which can make this tricky, since the problem isn’t necessarily out of the picutre (it can be in and out, for sure). I will be seeking through meditation on the word and prayer, to find God’s peace, and live well with it. Something I’m sure I’ll have to do again and again. While hoping I’m growing more in a maturity which makes worry less and less a problem, as I learn to trust.