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.

keeping at it faithfully, not drifting

Sometimes we experience such grief and downright consternation over life, personal concerns, matters, or whatever, that it seems impossible to keep heart since our heart is utterly broken, or breaking. Or perhaps life is good, and we feel good, with little or no worries. Either way, or with just what can become the numbness of day to day living, we can begin to drift from our God, and in so doing actually from ourselves, since to find and know God is to begin to find and know ourselves, a byproduct of that, not the goal.

I have found myself drifting a bit lately, not purposefully, to be sure. But whatever the challenges faced, it is the heart which one way or another is going to be attacked by the enemy, often through the mind, and when it seems that relationships even in family are not what they ought to be, even sometimes broken, or at least cracked. And so it’s seemed to me that what I do, and certainly whether or not I’m here matters not at all. It’s not like any of us are indispensable, or that God needs us. But God has chosen to include us during this time to his glory in and through Jesus in his good and great work, each of us having a part in that.

But to the point of this post: I realize afresh and anew that I need to keep on keeping on faithfully, for me beginning with my daily meditation in the word, in scripture. Certainly in that with a focus on the gospel, on Jesus. It’s not about looking for some great experience, or any experience at all. God is present with us in Jesus no matter what we’re going through or how we feel. It’s simply about faith in God, and being faithful to the calling of God, yes, in all our weakness, and sometimes sin, or struggle against sin. We want to plod on, and keep going, come what may, by God’s grace, no turning back.

In order to avoid inevitable drifting, we have to simply continue on in the Spirit direction God gives us. That may not always seem obvious, and actually may take some time for us to understand or have a needed breakthrough on a given matter. But part of how we get there is simply by continuing to meditate on the word, and seeking to grow in that meditation. Sometimes to ponder a matter slowly and prayerfully before we sense it’s time to move on. But not stopping. Continuing on in the word, that we might be on the path with others in following Jesus, in and through Jesus.

 

the authenticity we need

Authenticity is very much a staple word nowadays. Being “real” is practically valued above most anything else. And if understood correctly, that thought is helpful. But if not understood correctly, it is not.

What is unhelpful today is a kind of wearing one’s emotions on one’s sleeve approach in which what we ourselves feel and think about something is all that matters. This goes along with the postmodern mood which is a part of our culture. It’s not like what we feel and think doesn’t matter, that’s not the point at all. In fact, before God, and before any good counselor who hopefully is also a true friend, it is good to trust to the point where one can tell all without fear of being condemned, or looked down on and rejected. This is vitally important, and precisely where Job’s friends failed. The kind of authenticity which bears all before God, and appropriately confesses sin to God and to others is highly valued in scripture. “A broken and contrite heart, God does not despise.”

But we in Jesus must not stop with that aspect of authenticity, though neither should we abandon it. The kind of authenticity we need is expressed by James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1

The kind of authenticity pressed for here is a life that is not only vulnerable by being open before God, and when appropriate, before others. But a heart sincere and set in trying to be true by grace to living in accord with God’s word. An authenticity in being genuine not only in regard to who we actually are, without pretense, but also a genuineness in seeking to see our lives and God’s revealed will in scripture and in Jesus being brought closer and closer together.

Of course that’s a lifelong process, involving an ongoing brokenness and sorrow of heart over too often falling short. Yet also seeing the Spirit help us to actually grow more and more into Jesus’s likeness to a significant extent by taking in the word, and letting it expose us, then doing something about it.

The authenticity in Jesus that is desirable is one that’s committed to being conformed to the truth of God’s word, and the truth that is in Jesus, whatever the cost, without imagining that one will arrive in this life. And so an important part of that authenticity is an ongoing brokenness before God. Even as we find ourselves in some ways, enough to be encouraged, growing closer to heart and life conformity to God’s will in Jesus.

looking for God’s hand/moving in one’s life

Yesterday in our team devotions, the chaplain who regularly leads them asked us to write down on a space specified for that on the handout, three ways we have seen God move in our lives. One of the team members asked if we had to settle for three, that they had more and more that they could tell about all day. And when their turn came to share one of the ways (this person was nearly bursting at the seams) they confined themselves to a quite unusual miraculous way in which God used them, just one of the many in their lives.

I initially sat there, quite tired, well spent from the work week and insufficient sleep of the night before, and hardly knowing what I would or could share, even though in my head I knew better. But my heart didn’t let my head see well at all. So that I might have next to little or nothing to say except that we know God is at work in our lives for good in and through Jesus. But I found the realization begin to awaken in me of just how much I really am aware, but in terms that wouldn’t be considered miraculous, or a personal boon and blessing. Probably occuring through the witness of my teammate I just mentioned along with the rest. Of course in Jesus we’re blessed to be a blessing.

As I listened to each one recount, it seeemed like the end of the time was going to cut me off, since I was last in the way the order was done, indeed the one before me, the chaplain said, would end it. But after his interesting story and the chaplain’s response, he looked at me almost as an afterthought saying I should say something, but that it would have to be quick. I was ready.

I expressed how nearly every day I’m aware of God’s moving in my life, and in the face and perhaps one can say even through the difficult challenges we’re currently facing and have been up against for some time. And how Bill Crowder of Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work (and of which I am a part of, even if it’s on the factory end) gave a most encouraging as well as convicing message the day before in our weekly chapel time on Leah (Genesis 29, 49), and how God is with the broken, and blesses the broken, how really every one and every family is broken. How we are all in great need.

Of course we daily have to remind ourselves and each other of God’s hand in our lives. This time in team devotions was a good exercise in us doing that. There most certainly is no end to it as we can see from the pages of scripture itself, sometimes miraculous, yes, but most often (at least for me) in the seemingly ordinary and mundane nuts and bolts of life. We need to look for God’s hand with the sanctified imagination of a faith that is formed and thus informed by the faith, the good news in Jesus, seen in the pages of scripture, and every day in our lives in and through Jesus.

 

what we’ll forget

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

Isaiah 65

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21

There is no shortage of things in this world we would just as soon forget. I have a tendency to forget the names of people who I think don’t like me. I have a list of cares about the house in which we live, and about what I can actually do about that myself. Then there are the past decisions or consequences of life that we have to live with. There are the many concerns which become especially pointed when we’re older. Of course the burdens we carry for loved ones can be more than we can bear. And there’s the world with all of its problems. The inevitable troubles we have in living in the brokenness and fallenness of it all. The problems in the world’s governance, our own nation with the upcoming presidential election at the forefront of the news. But with the global tragedies continuing, such as in Syria, and in other places. There is no end, really, to difficult, even horrendous bad news, for sure.

What God promises his people is a complete forgetting of all that is not of the new creation, all that is of the old order of things. That means potentially that there will be plenty for us to remember. To begin with, I’ll not only remember my wife, Deb, but hopefully will be closer to her than ever, and if Scot McKnight is correct in his book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, I’ll still be married to her. For sure relationships in the communion of Jesus will not only continue on, but flourish as never before. It will be as if we hadn’t been in any relationship before at all, in comparison to what is to come, even though that is only making a point, since we indeed do have close friendships in this life, as well as good associations with others. And all of the beauty of this life, of all of this world from creation, including human creativity will be subsumed in the sense of fulfilled, or even a part of the new creation to come in and through Jesus. So those parts, all that is good and life giving will be present, while all that is destructive and death dealing will be gone.

It is the latter that we will forget, all that is bad in this life. The full redemption to come, already present in and through Jesus even in this life, will have turned creation into something of a joyous celebration of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus, when at long at last God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). And what is hardly imaginable now will be firmly in place and a part of life then.

There’s plenty we would want to forget about this life, and we believe God will in the end take care of all of those matters. But plenty as well to remember, which through the eternal gospel, the good news in Jesus, will realize its potential forever and ever, to the glory and praise of the Triune God.

the importance of the church

There is no doubt that the individual and individuals are important to God. In fact we can say that every individual human being matters to God. God created each of us in his image, and treats every human being with respect as such. Even though so many evils in a world of hurt we have to leave with God, since life often seems unfair, quite broken, our own difficulties that way not even close to the plight others experience. So what is said here is not at all to disparage the importance of the individual before God and in the world.

But while the individual in scripture is far from ignored, in fact, just the opposite, there is a clear emphasis on the importance of community, or individals together in communion in knowing each other, living with each other’s interests in view, and not just their own individual interests. On the most basic level this happen in families in which the spouses inevitably should put their partner’s interest at least on the same level as their own, and surely higher, in the way of Christ. And of course good parents inevitably sacrifice their own wants and desires for the good of their children.

In scripture God called an individual, Abraham, to call a people to himself. Yes, a people. Human beings are meant to live in community. To be human in significant part is to be in relationship to another human; it is not good for the human to be alone. God is creating a people in Jesus who not only enter into communion with God, which by the way is a Trinitarian communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but into communion with other humans in reflecting something of that Triune communion in God himself.

We find the formation of the nation of Israel meant to be a light to the world, in showing God’s light of truth and love to the nations. Blessed to be a blessing, that calling realized in its fullness in Christ’s fulfillment of it. And now the church in Jesus together is to proclaim and be a witness to that fulfillment to the world, by gathering together for the word, the sacraments, and the common life. Everyone who is a member of Christ through faith and baptism, is also a member of his body, the church. We in Jesus not only belong to him, but to each other.

This isn’t easy, given our culture in the United States, the first nation built on the Modernist Enlightenment in which at least one of its pillars is indiviual rights. It becomes all about my rights. And we’re already broken because of sin, not only a personal brokenness, but along with that a brokenness in relationships, even if by common grace much good still goes on. We want to be left alone, but that urge mirrors our bent to want God to leave us alone, or meet us on our own terms. But that is not the way in Jesus, as we see over and over again in scripture. It isn’t easy, but there is no other option in really following the Lord, in truly being Christian.

 

living in a messy world

I am not sure that there’s really anything in this world which doesn’t at the very least have some loose ends, and even if it seems in order, will not live out its time, or will be shown to not measure up in some way. We live in a messy, messed up world, in which even the good is normally tainted with something not so good. In which even our best efforts miss something.

That is hard and an adjustment for us who in some way or degree are perfectionists and want everything in order as much as possible. Those of us who want to play by the rules, and meet every obligation, do well to think and try to live that way. The older I get, the more I come to realize that the best one can do is simply to do one’s best. And even more importantly, the need always and forever of God’s grace to forgive us when in spite of our best efforts, we fall short.

We live in a broken, incomplete world, impacted by evil along with our own fallibility. That doesn’t mean we should excuse ourselves, and not try to do what is well and good, not at all. But it does mean we can relax in the realization that life is messy, and that even our best fixing of it, will somehow fall short.

Our one and only hope is in the Lord, and God’s promises in him. Somehow God will take our inevitably incomplete efforts, and complete them for good out of this old creation in the new creation in Jesus. The good work God has begun won’t be completed until then. So that we will look in vain, if we’re trying to find absolute perfection now. That is found only in Jesus, and in Jesus alone. As we await the day when at last everything will somehow be in order and complete in and through him.