realizing and accepting our limitations

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a

As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

I think it’s vitally important for us to accept our human limitations, as well as the limitations we have as individuals. And to look at reality in the face, and not try to escape it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Yes, we hurt. We’re impacted by weaknesses that we’re trying to overcome by faith, but we often slip back. We also have not arrived in this life so that we don’t sin, but because of God’s grace, we confess our sins, repent, and seek to find God’s way for us in Christ.

I think the older we get, the more we realize that we need each other. We’re all in this together. And as we get older we realize that our time is drawing near, as the days, weeks, months, years, and even decades simply escape us. Soon it will all be over. That underscores our complete dependence on God, who gave us life, new life in Christ, and on whom we depend for resurrection beyond this life.

But back to now. We are limited, frail, often weary and worn human beings. With many disappointments along the way, indeed some perhaps serious regrets. Made of clay, yet in God’s image. God in Jesus joining us in that. Never forgotten and continually loved in this life by the God who made and is remaking us. Yes, even while we groan and are sorrowful and struggle even in our faith at times. In and through Jesus.

the uncertainty of life

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

During this pandemic, this truth ends up being underscored to all. Life is uncertain, and certainly brief. Death is inevitable, but unpredictable as to its time. And this uncertainty includes all our plans. It’s not like we shouldn’t prayerfully, deliberatively, with good counsel, and over time make plans. But we have to be ready for God to disrupt them.

This doesn’t mean we have to live on edge. Indeed as children of God we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for each new day, for each new week and weekend of course, for each new month, season and year. They’re all gifts from God. We shouldn’t take them for granted. They’re all a part of the gift of this life.

All depends on the Lord’s will. We can actually rest assured in that. God somehow fits his will into where we’re at, into all the interwoven circumstances, surroundings and people. We have our part and place for a time. Then it will be gone, no more.

All in God’s good will and time.

a good plan and what is not, according to James

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Planning is good, and especially planning with good in mind, as in having others in mind. James’s words here are not at all undermining the value of planning. But as in the wisdom tradition we find in Proverbs, James is simply stating that in the end it is God who will determine not only the outcome, but whether or not it takes place at all. All must be subject to God’s will.

It is often a matter of wanting to be in control, in fact that is the default attitude of so many of us much of the time. I think of entrepreneurs. And of course it’s not wrong to be one. A good one will plan and yet be able to adjust with the flow of things, and figure out what it takes to be successful. And yet behind that can be either an unwillingness, or more likely, not even taking into account any possibility that God might want something entirely different.

James chalks that up to boasting in one’s arrogant schemes. And we can be sure that such plans are not in line with God’s will. There is the lack of humility in acknowledging God and God’s will. And there’s the lack of appreciation for just how uncertain life is, both in terms of what might actually happen, and whether or not one will actually live to see it. It is as if someone is taking the place of God in their own attitude. Certainly not the mind of Christ whose delight it was to do God’s will, and submitted to it even when it was against his will as he did in Gethsemane.

James is warning believers, but he’s also encouraging them to submit their plans to God. That those plans might have value in God’s eyes, so that God may see them through.

life is fleeting

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Often life doesn’t seem fleeting. Especially when we’re young. We’re waiting for this or that, or planning ahead, whatever it might be. But that’s only an illusion. Life is fleeting; it is passing, soon to be gone forever.

Tragically for some it can go in a moment of time. Really for any of us. Recently for a young woman, not long married, with a four year old daughter in a car accident. None of us know what a day may bring forth. Not just a trite saying, but truth.

There are those who just say party up, knowing that it will all end soon:

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

1 Corinthians 15:32; Isaiah 22:13

The point for us all is both that we should take note just how quickly all of this may and ultimately will be gone, and live in the light of that. Both. It is easy either to live as if only this moment or time matters, or to simply carelessly, either not taking the brevity of life into account, or else live as if it won’t end. It is amazing how we can so easily live in denial of this, or just throw in the towel, and think that nothing matters.

Ecclesiastes likens life to a breath. How it goes about as fast as it comes. With the conclusion that we’re to fear God and keep his commandments, knowing that every act of ours will be brought into judgment.

Today will end soon. It’s more important that we live it well, in God’s will in Jesus, then that it goes like we would like it to go. How can we live in a way that’s pleasing to God and helpful to ourselves and others? That’s the question we must ask. As we prayerfully seek to live according to God’s good will in his grace to us in and through Jesus.

the passing of time

There is a mystery about time, what it really is scientifically and theologically. To us common folk it’s pretty simple and straightforward, and the older we get, the faster it seems to go.

I realize more and more that what I’ve taken for granted for so long will someday be gone. Hopefully not too soon, but all too soon enough.

This means that I can’t let the months and weeks and even days pass by without at least much thinking and more praying on what is really of first importance: relationships and what will last beyond my life as well as the present life and existence. To live poorly is to live with these on the shelf, or at best on the back burner. To begin to live well is to make these things a priority, indeed the priority of our lives.

It’s the gospel and what follows from that, the Jesus Creed. Jesus and what is laid out concerning him in his fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world is the gospel. And to love God with all our being and doing along with loving our neighbor as ourselves are the heartbeat we’re to live by. The church in Jesus has a central place in all of this; it is not a helpful add on.

We need to measure our lives by this. And realize that another day may not come. And even if we do live a normal life span, that it will soon all be gone. A decade comes and  goes fast enough. Decades become a lifetime.

And so with the psalmist in this “prayer of Moses” is the prayer we do well to pray in light of this:

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

one thing the brevity of life suggests: the blink of life is about God

“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.”

Psalm 39

It rather occured to me yesterday, while working my way in meditation through this psalm, that the brevity of life is suggestive that life is really about God, period. Of course it’s about so much more. But God is to be our god, the one who is first, who we’re devoted to,. God is like the air we breathe spiritually, we’re even dependent on him for physical breath. He is the love and life in which we all consist and live, through whom we live and love others. So it’s silly for us to want to cut God off or think we have no need of him.

Life is lived in the light and life God provides in the natural and spiritual spheres. And we are meant to live in close fellowship and communion not only with other human beings, but first and foremost with God himself (or God’s self, since God strictly speaking is not masculine, but whose image includes all the good created in humanity, including masculinity and femininity. Nevertheless as N. T. Wright, I believe, wrote, I retain how God was spoken of by those who recevied scripture so that I use the masculine pronoun). And our heart’s devotion and worship is to be of God. In doing so we love others in the love of God. In a certain sense very true in creation even apart from such devotion, but all the more true in the communion of the new creation in a love that overflows in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

And so, while I was meditating on that psalm which has nothing directly to say on this, the thought that came to me is certainly in keeping with all of scripture and how the church has traditionally understood scripture: Life is all about God. Life is here and gone, just like that. Which makes it all the more urgent that we keep God front and center in and through Jesus. Hands down our own highest good and the highest good of the world.

time is slipping away

Yesterday at the nursing home basically the same congregation was present and it was a rather lively group after the service. I visit afterward and a number gave me words which seemed to be from God to me. Particularly the last man, to kind of end what had been offered before with an exclamation point. Words of encouragement as well as instruction. Though in the message I gave I did not mention myself at all (that I can recall).

I am amazed at how fast time goes. Yes a decade is a decade and it does take some time to get through. But when it’s all said and done you wonder where those ten years went. Ten years from now the Lord willing, I can hardly imagine. It is quite a stretch for me to think I’m as old as I am now, 58. But to think of 10 years from now is something that pushes the button for me all the more that life is short and what I have to do I need to do quickly so to speak, intent on God’s will in Jesus.

I feel a tremendous urgency because I want to somehow finish whatever it is that the Lord has for me to do. I hope it’s in terms of the church and the mission of God in Christ from that.

In all of this I need to live in God’s rest in Jesus. And it’s never about us, but always about our Lord.

looking toward the end of the road

This week I saw some pictures back from my days of infancy. That seems long ago now, though it is amazing how fast the years and then decades come and go. Now I’m looking toward the end of the road. I doubt that is influencing that much what I am doing, or about, except that I want to include the thought of preparing as well as I can for the end, and hopefully seeking to glorify the Lord in all things.

One would like to tie up any loose ends as best they can. To right the wrongs one has done. Certainly to do much better the rest of the way. To keep on growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To do so in the fellowship and mission of the church.

Yes, we surely do well to want to do what we can. But above all, and in all of that we need to do so as those who are immersed and live in the gospel of Christ. There may be much that is true about ourselves and our existence. As varied as we find in the people in the Bible. What is essential is that the gospel of Christ be front and center, and everything in between. In other words that gospel is to speak into all of life, all of our lives as well as the life of the world.

 

putting one’s house in order

As we get older, we realize that our days are more and more numbered. That life is increasingly tenuous. For some, they have the unfortunate notice from the doctor just how long they have to live, oftentimes in months. King Hezekiah received word that way, but through prayer was given fifteen more years. Interesting, because even fifteen more years is a death notice. Yes, you won’t die now, but your time will be up only a decade and a half from now.

We don’t necessarily have much of a clue as to how long we’ll live. Though when one is approaching any new decade, one knows their life, so to speak, is winding down as to number of years left. I for one, am getting closer to my 60’s. That is rather hard to believe, to say the least. But part of growing in life is to accept well where one is at.

One of my major faults is disorganization. I do have a certain order about things, things I’m doing, and I am rigorous about that. But even if I kept better order at a larger level, it would probably always be a struggle for me to keep that order. I am fond of reading several books at a time, grabbing this or that reference book, having some of those handy, etc. My life is simple in some respects, but in other respects, definitely not, since I fail to keep very good order. Just last night I couldn’t find a card which I want to send off. And I have lost track of two books.

Considering everything, I know I need to begin to put my own house in order. My wife Deb will help me, she is much better at this than I am. But I need to get rid of a good number of books which are no longer of use to me, and I need to get rid of this and that which is no longer needed. And begin to do the things one needs to do to eventually sell a house.

I hope I do all of this with the thought in mind of just what I’m leaving for those who follow. What kind of example and legacy? In my case I can only think in terms of simply praying and loving others, and sharing with others especially in how I live what makes me tick, the witness of my faith in God through Jesus. And doing this in community with others of his followers. My wife is a great and steady helper. And I hope to work at it consistently, a little bit at a time.

the fragility of life

Yesterday in some respects was a challenging day which in answer to prayer turned out well. But then late in the day, when I was resting on the couch and coming up out of a doze, I again had trouble catching my breath. I could only inhale, not exhale, and I had to try to keep breathing through my nose until the saliva had passed through my windpipe (my layman way of putting this). No fun. I’ve went through this a number of times, and it is scary. Then I thought after perhaps close to a year with no incidents that I was over it, but have had a few (though less than what I used to have) since.

Life is fragile, for sure. We can seem to have a clean bill of health, and hopefully live well within a normal life span, though that too is uncertain. But we are a car accident away, or some physical malfunction from not being able to carry on, perhaps even the end for us here. We can’t count on another day. And although we rightfully write off all the possible end time dates set, the Lord could return any time (according to my understanding). We do well to live in the light of this.

And so, while I would like to come up with some answers which might help me live longer and well here, I want above all to live well in God’s eyes, in relationship to God and to others in and through Jesus by the Spirit. I want to walk the line in terms of God’s will in Jesus. And I want to do so both in community in Jesus and in mission for the world. I want the gospel, or good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus to be front and center. I want to share that good news as a witness through both my life and words. I want to be a blessing to my lovely, sweet wife, to our daughter and granddaughter, to our neighbors, to my brothers and sisters in Christ at church and elsewhere, to my co-workers in Christ at RBC Ministries, as well as to the poor and those in need.

I am thankful for the many days in which we’re relaxed and with no anticipation of the end, but enjoying good health. But we ever must be aware that even then nothing in terms of this life is certain. The one certainty we can hold on to through it all is that God is faithful in and through Jesus, that we can count on him to see us through. As we look to him to use even these frank reminders of the fragility of life to draw us closer to him.