love and life (should we try to be an agent of change?)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Tim Gombis, a New Testament professor, scholar, and writer has a helpful podcast I would highly recommend, Faith Improvised. On this weeks podcast (August 17, 2021) he said something which helped me quite a bit. And what follows is not to be taken as quote from him, or exactly what he meant, but just as my understanding of it.

We have the culture wars especially rampant here in the United States. We have many, including loved ones who reject science and are prone to accept conspiracy theories and seem open to authoritarian, nondemocratic government. And many who do this as if it’s the Christian thing to do.

What are we to do? Should we try to persuade them? Or maybe try to plant seeds so that they might begin to ask questions and have doubt themselves? That is a topic in and of itself, and really beyond me to cover here, nor do I want to. I really don’t care to wade into the politics of the world and controversial subjects on this blog. The dangers I’m referring to really have to do essentially with one thing: The replacement of the good news in Jesus with something which is morphed into it. An easy shorthand of that: US flag and Christian flag at the front of a church “sanctuary.” And this consumes those who follow it, more telling for them arguably and I’m afraid often clearly so then Jesus’s own words and the fulfillment of Scripture in Jesus.

What helped me is just the thought from Tim that we simply just be Christian. Not try to change anyone. Just keep on seeking with other followers to follow Christ. As Paul put it, to “aspire to live quietly, mind [our] own affairs,…work with [our] hands,…so that [we] may behave properly toward outsiders.” And those who are acting like outsiders. And doing so with lives of growing love for the brothers and sisters in Christ and for all.

This is not to say that there’s no time to speak out, as John Lewis put it, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” But by and large, this is what we’re to do, to be about.

In and through Jesus.

a time to speak up and a time to shut up

A right time to shut up and another to speak up

Ecclesiastes 3:7b; MSG

For me Jeremiah has been an interesting prophet since I imagine I share something of an emotional affinity with him. He is called the weeping prophet, and may well have written the book of Lamentations.

Jeremiah didn’t care about sharing his opinions. He was captive only to the word of God, to the message God gave him to speak. He found it nourishing to him, but he also found large parts of it to be more than troubling. And he got to live out not just the blessed parts, but at least something of the results of the cursed parts, for example commanded not to marry since bad times were coming.

I don’t see in Jeremiah a person who wanted to win arguments. But I do see one who again and again was willing to speak out an unpopular message from God to God’s people, even though it tore Jeremiah up.

Surely there’s much we can learn from Jeremiah for us today. There are times that to remain silent is surely wrong. We need to speak up, hopefully with needed wisdom and humility, and with forthrightness and clarity. But then there’s times to simply shut up, be quiet, let it go. I can see that in Jeremiah when after the false prophets contradicted him, saying all would be peace, Jeremiah told them, may it be so. He soon received another word from God which again contradicted the false prophets, flatly contradicting their word.

For Jeremiah it was definitely not an ego trip. It was only with great cost that he spoke. Since his passion and commitment was to speak only God’s message, he wasn’t interested in sharing his own thoughts, except when he was simply dealing with the human element of his dilemma.

Few of us will be called to speak out like Jeremiah, and some of us may not be called to speak at all, but rather act in things God gives us to do. Nothing greater than praying, of course. But in good works showing love to our enemies, what God puts on our hearts to do.

If we do speak out, it should be as those speaking God’s word, God’s message. Or our considered, measured, hopefully mature human judgment, making it clear that this is our opinion, perhaps even conviction, but with humility.

In today’s noisy din of dissenting voices, to hear God’s voice and see God’s wisdom break through would be our hope. Ultimately that will happen. We should seek to be in that flow, willing to shut up, but also to speak up when need be. Hoping and praying that God is getting through to us, as well as to others.

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.

 

to the quiet

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

The older I get, the more I would like to stay out of endless controversy. Yes, you might score some points on someone’s ledger here and there, but to what avail? I do appreciate those in difficult callings, such as political, who try to work through difficult policy issues in seeking to govern and represent the people who elected them. Nowadays there’s no end to the strife which accompanies it.

As people of God, I think we have to ask ourselves just what our calling from God is. And to understand that, we must turn to God’s word, Scripture, the Bible. And pastors and teachers, and I’ll add scholars, must lead the way. But there’s a place for everyone, regardless of what part we might play.

My role I think is mainly to be a witness of God’s work of grace in my own life. I would like to say more, since I am a person of words. But I’m learning to be quiet. And to listen. And then maybe offer a word or two probably more for my own benefit than anyone else’s. In and through Jesus.

Christian meditation

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

In the Christianity Today edition on Billy Graham’s life, there is a most interesting article on his devotional life, or as Evangelicals call it, “devotions,” or “quiet time.” It is aptly entitled: “An Intentional Intimacy” with the subtitle: “Billy Graham kept the focus on God at all times. How did he do it?”

I’ve done some quiet times which were marked by God’s presence, and used to practice that to some extent, but by and large over my Christian life, I’ve really not been much of one to have a “quiet time” with God each day, or have “personal devotions.” My own way of doing something of the same thing was more to be in the word by listening to it being read over the years, and having my own copy of scripture close at hand. Now I try to be in the word in a number of ways throughout the day as much as possible. But I think I haven’t done as well as I could have in making it more personal between myself and God. Too often it is more or less just cramming a lot of scripture in my head. Since it’s God’s word, that can be good because it’s alive and active and brings needed judgment and correction to us, along with salvation. But there’s also the danger of not acting on what we know or profess, so that we are living in a measure of deception. And in becoming proud over what we think we know, over our head knowledge. But if we press on in scripture, and really ponder it before God, we should remain humble because of its depth, and the realization it gives of just how much we actually don’t know, along with how dependent on God we actually are.

Christian meditation can include tradition and experience, but is primarily marked by pondering the words of scripture, and the message found in it. There’s surely some importance in doing the former, but it is all necessarily based on the latter.

We are blessed, or truly happy, as we learn to meditate on God’s word day and night, giving both our attention, and our lives to it, in devotion to God and God’s will, in and through Jesus.

calming and quieting one’s self

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

In an age of noise and anger, and the shout political programs (I used to see years ago, but have avoided since), it is good to simply get away and calm and quiet one’s self. I might do that with classical music and a book, myself, along with coffee. And always with the Bible; in fact that might well be my book, and I do carry one around wherever I go, because that helps me in this.

To simply be in the calling God has for us, whatever that might be, and I’ll add, in all its simplicity, is good. We might be led to go beyond our capabilities, or outside of our comfort zone. Though for me I think more often than not it’s just me going there, maybe with a fair rationale, but maybe also without the Lord’s leading. Though God will be with us, and if necessary, we can always backtrack and acknowledge what error we’ve made.

I think seeking to live in God’s presence in all that we do can and naturally will help us in this. It helps us remain humble, and listen, and unlike the world, try to have a conversation on a given matter. And then get to what’s basic and best: God’s promises to us and to the world in Christ.

We simply and often don’t know as much as we might think. And we need to acknowledge that, and work on what God is teaching us and humbly own that. Only then might we have a helpful word in the matters which trouble and concern people. As we remain in prayer always, as an attitude and practice. And together with God’s people, put our hope in God now and forever in and through Jesus.

trying to catch one’s breath

Sometimes life comes at us hard from several directions, rather than the steady hum we may have become accustomed to. Or perhaps it is just crazy from one source. There is no question that life can become hectic at times for a number of reasons.

Recently I was driving through an area I’m not used to, and had to stop behind a school bus. Afterward I went forward to get to the light, which I don’t think was that far away. But I had failed to notice the yellow flashers on, and was picked up for doing 40 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone. That was a pretty hefty fine, relatively speaking, although the police officer did reduce it to a charge of doing 30 miles per hour, which helped. I thanked him for doing his job, and know it’s important for him to protect the person helping direct pedestrians (I take it) in that zone at specific times. But it made me adopt a new practice of staying in the right hand side and making sure I don’t go over the speed limit, which is a novel idea, since it’s commonly thought that they give you a certain amount over. Though technically they can ticket you for being one mile an hour over the speed limit.

Maybe that will be a helpful event in my life, since it reminds me to slow down, something a friend who was over me at work once encouraged me to do a few years back, so that I to some extent took his advice. And yet some pressure to get things done will inevitably put us in a position in which we have to move at a faster pace than we ordinarily would. One axiom that has helped me is to simply do one thing at a time, and then the next, and the next. And also to try to minimize the hectic, so that one can act purposeful, work hard, yet not be in a hurry. A popular term nowadays is “Don’t work hard; work smart.” Being a bit more old school, I have a hard time with that, because it seems like the application of that sometimes is to not work at all. And yet there’s plenty of truth in it. I often think about how to do what we’re doing in an easier way, because it will likely often be hard, regardless. But to make it easier for more efficient work.

All of that to say, I really don’t have any one good answer on just how we can catch our breath. I do believe we need some good down times of quiet and being in prayer before the heavenly Father. And where we can, it is good to avoid having being in a hurry, planning and thinking ahead so that we can be as efficient as possible. But not being rushed in spirit. That can be a challenge for sure, at times.

Where we can, we need to take the time for needed rest. And for simply being present. A rest which is about knowing others, and especially the One who made and loves us: God. Something I haven’t been all that good at in my lifetime, though knowing God comes by simple faith. So a rest from our own hard labor, and a rest in God, which scripture talks about at various places. But I leave us with our Lord’s words:

“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

the tongue and the word

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. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1

James is a book that’s down to earth, and pulls little or no punches. It gets to the point. Like all the other biblical books, it is best read in context, both immediate as well as in its entirety. And then of course we consider that in light of similar biblical passages which in the case of James would be gospel accounts with related teaching from our Lord, as well as the wisdom book, Proverbs. And then in the context of all the rest of scripture.

In the passage above, we’re told to be good listeners, and slow both to speak and to become angry, as if somehow those two might be tied together. What James might have been getting at in part is how we react when someone is saying something. We may be tempted to push back even hard with what we see as a corrective statement. Instead the biblical text commends listening, and being quiet. And offering a word only after deliberation, and never in the heat of the moment, if we offer anything at all.

But we shouldn’t stop there, but read the rest of the passage. Which tells us for that reason we’re to clean house and humbly accept God’s word into our lives.

I find for myself that being in the word does help me avoid some of the pitfalls of life. But we are still weak and often prone to wander off into our own spaces. When we ought to remain in God’s space through his word in scripture and in Christ.

And so we need to keep at it, over and over again, day after day. Not letting up, but continuing in God’s word, which can save us from the sin we can so easily slip into. And into a life which is much better. Something we don’t just step into overnight, but more like gradually grow into. In and through Jesus.

 

 

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)