continuing on (part umpteen)

Life oftentimes seems more than less a continued exercise of putting one foot in front of the other, and plodding on in largely the same path we have grown accustomed to. New paths may come, and there are variations along the way, but life goes on, and as time goes on, hopefully we learn to navigate it better.

For me, certain basic commitments are in place, the first and foremost being faith in God through faith in Christ practiced most basically in the reading of scripture and prayer, and common life with God’s people in the church, which includes the ministry of the word and sacraments.

Of course life has the tendency to throw us plenty of curveballs along the way. And a big part of coninuing on is learning how to negotiate such circumstances better. I often think on balance that life doesn’t get any easier as time goes on, some aspects perhaps easier, and others more difficult, along with unexpected challenges. So it’s important for us to learn how to learn to rest, be well and do well, in continuing on, hopefully by God’s grace to the very end. God’s grace in Jesus will always be present and there for us. We must take hold of that, and remain in it.

I have witnessed and read of how so many don’t live the latter part of their lives all that well, how life seems to be crashing in on them at the end, and their faith seems to be lagging, or not effective in helping them maintain their earlier witness. Change is hard, surely some change especially so.

Hopefully by God’s grace, which means God’s undeserved (unmerited by us) favor, and unfailing love, we can do well no matter what, to the very end.

It is good to be able to step back a bit from the routine of life, and try to see the big picture, and above all, simply come to God to listen and reflect. So that more of God might be in our footsteps, in our lives, more of God’s grace in and through Jesus. Together with others in Jesus and as a witness of the one good news in him for the world.

in the face of uncertainty

We’re looking toward the end of 2016 to the beginning of a new year as we mark our calendars, and one thing is for sure: this past year was filled with surprise, and we look ahead to what might seem to be an abyss of uncertainty. Of course while true on a national, international level, this certainly is a fact of our lives, as well. By and large we might be able to predict accurately much of what might take place in the year to come in our family and personal lives. But you never know, and the older one gets, the more one is aware just how much we don’t know, and how life can radically change in a moment, or be altered over time due to some new development.

We need all the more, then, to remain in the one certainty that will go on, after everything, including all of life, has come and gone. That one certainty is the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. After it’s all said and done, that will stand, and it will stand alone. Of course in that reality, all things will be in their proper place, and will come to life in the new creation in Jesus, to be in the place in which they were created to be.

This being the case, we should be all the more prayerful, and try to see everything, including all the inevitable change to come, good and bad, in light of the one constant which both remains, and somehow factors into it all. The gospel does bring the needed change, first in ourselves, and then hopefully in the world around us, the gospel itself always being the agent and power of that change, “the power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (Romans 1:16), as well as bringing us into that dynamic for others.

The more we are focused and given to the one thing which will not change, the better we will be enabled along with others to navigate the inevitable changes which will come, in and through Jesus.

listening well, speaking less

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

If there’s one problem which I think affects us all, it’s the tendency for us to speak more and listen less, to speak without listening, and to go on and on. This seems endemic in our culture, and I think both conservatives and progressives share in the guilt.

A big part of listening is to simply listen well, which sometimes will require questions, and then after that, silence and time, so that we can process what has been said. At the same time this vital need to listen does not mean that there’s never a time to speak. We can’t be held hostage because we lack the certainty of God on a given subject. We have to make the best judgments we can, then proceed. But part of doing so is to learn to listen well.

Part of good listening in our culture is the gathering of information. Reading books can be especially good, but reading online might benefit us on a number of matters just as much. And while we’re doing so, we need to stay in scripture and keep reading and praying. And do so in fellowship with other believers. This can help us to hear better and discern what is best. We certainly need to be open to changing our views. Good listening involves gathering knowledge which may help us better put the pieces together in understanding life, and specifically certain matters in life.

While we’re to be slow to speak, that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak at all. And when we do speak, less is often more. If we always have a word to say on everything, chances are we’re not listening well, if at all. But a word from careful listening which is well thought out can be a help to us and to each other. Something we need much more of today.

what led to this (the moral relativism, etc., of our day)?

It’s common in the United States to hear about how the bottom dropped out in cutlure in the 1960s, “the Psychedelic 60s” when all became relative. And the 1920s, “the Roaring 20s” are compared to it, the United States temporarily pulled out of that moral ditch by the Great Depression and World War 2. People wish for the good old, “innocent” days of the 1950s.

We might wish it was as simple as all of that. Surely the seeds of what happened were planted in the American soil long before either the 1960s or the 1920s, for that matter. At least we might imagine that Post-Modernism was a reaction to the real problems of Modernism, and romanticism was a reaction to rationalism. And on top of that, we always have the serpent of the garden saying, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3)

I would like to point a finger toward what is commonly called a cultural Christianity, which passed for the real thing. A time when nearly everyone went to church. And when people more or less understood and could express or at least would acknowledge as truth, basics of the gospel: that the Ten Commandments are a basis for understanding right and wrong, that we are all sinners, that Christ died for our sins.

Of course that’s good, to acknowledge and even take for granted certain truth, what we can call, moral foundations, and even spiritual foundations along with that. What undermined that is the passing for Christianity of a cultural version which was a far cry from the vision presented in the Final, New Testament. While at the same time granting full well that churches right from the start have always experienced messiness and difficulty. And granted, there was plenty of good in the days before moral relativism became more or less the rule of the day in the universities.

The difference is most simply understood, I think, in that what happened in the paradigm shift, was in part simply another different form of the work of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Before we had slavery, not to mention other forms of evil and violence. Change was needed. And the fact of the matter is that we have witnessed the fall and destruction of one idol of humanity after another.

Like so many matters, it is all more complicated than this. One needs to remember the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (2-3) when considering the decline of the church in the west, including America, now.

It is good to think and pray about what has happened and the result. The world has come crashing in upon us, which again for the nation of America is not at all anything new. We are a nation of immigrants. And the field of the world is now right in our neighborhoods. We no longer have the “safe” neighborhoods of the past, when pretty much all the same folks lived in the same neighborhoods, which of course itself is far from innocent and complete good.

All of this to say that rather than the empty, and actually mistaken cry for the good, old days (as Ecclesiastes points out to us), we need to accept where we’re at now with all of the good and bad in that. Nothing new, but just a different form today of challenges and opportunities, advantages and disadvantages we might say.

We don’t do ourselves or anyone else a favor to want to go back to some mythical past, as if there was once some golden age which with insight and effort we could find and make viable again. Life simply doesn’t work that way.

What we in Jesus need to return to again and again is the gospel itself and how that is worked out in and through us in the churches, whatever church tradition we may be. We need to become more and more grounded in that, and in nothing less than that. While at the same time appreciating and praying for the good of the nation of which we are a part.

Life is dynamic and fluid, not static and set. And that’s good, because we believe that Jesus somehow even now is Lord over all, somehow the church being in that reality (Ephesians 1). God being at work in the world by the Spirit, but all of this either directly through or in relation to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. A good news which is always changing us more and more into conformity to God’s will in Jesus, and meant ultimately to change the world.

sometimes the only thing left

Sometimes the zing which somehow makes the difference, or the extra incentive is gone when all seems lost, or at an end. This can be a dangerous time if one no longer cares or is motivated in the same way as before. I admire and appreciate the zeal and idealism of a younger generation, who have a kind of impassioned expectation and delve in depth into all kinds of issues which I care little or nothing about anymore, but which in their place are quite important. We need the energy and openness and ability of the younger minds to help us in all kinds of things. I applaud and am all for it.

But for me, those days are gone, I don’t think ever to return. I know that even with a few more decades possible, I have to think in terms of the end coming, and what that means for me in preparation, and for loved ones. And that presents a good opportunity, because it is then that we are more prone to major on what is truly of major importance, and to minor on the rest.

For me, what’s of central importance is the gospel, the good news of Jesus, and what that means first of all in terms of my own response in receiving and seeking to live accordingly. And also in terms of what it means for those around me, and for the world. And related to that is what is called the “Jesus Creed” (Scot McKnight) of loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our prayer lives are essential in all of this, and the Lord’s Prayer is something that should be front and center, so that we pray it weekly in our church gatherings, and regularly, preferably daily, ourselves.

Now that I’m getting on in years, turning 60 soon, I simply have chosen to cut out what used to be more or less a big deal to me, some things, while continuing to enjoy some other things. Anything I consider a hinderance for whatever reason, if that continues to be so, I’m losing interest in it. Being in the word, in scripture, remaining in the fellowship of the church, and working on growing in relationships are becoming more and more the staple of life. I used to get into some sports more or less heavy, and am glad for older folks who remain in that as not only spectators, but witnesses and examples of the faith. And who knows, that interest may be resurrected in me at some point. But for now, I simply don’t care who wins or loses, and though I can watch a game with appreciation, and even root for one team over the other, I would rather leave it than take it, having other matters I consider more important for what I’m focused on, and perhaps because of what God is doing in my life at this point.

And so I consider this a good thing, an element of which I wish would have been present decades ago. I always had an intense idealism, but something of this along with that would have been most helpful and formative in my life. One shouldn’t have to wait until they get older to live as if tomorrow might not come. As if they may be standing before God soon.

Of course we are all in need of God’s grace always. We want to be faithful to how God is leading us in the present, and not look over our shoulder to how God might be leading others. Even though we most certainly are in this together, and that’s of utmost importance, it is also true that God helps us all along in that as individuals. We each have our place and part to play in the whole. And neither should want, nor think we even can be or do what someone else is about.

A good time, even if a bit sad that so many decades have come and gone. But the God who was faithful throughout all of that time, in spite of my own weakness, ignorance and folly, will be faithful in my life (in my continued incompleteness), and in the lives of others in and through Jesus to the very end.

 

when words fail

Sometimes the tragedies of life along with changes we would not ask for or want hit us in such a way that words fail us. We have nothing to say; we may only be able to grieve, remaining silent in our grief and sadness.  No words seem to be enough.

That is when it’s good to be silent, to listen so that maybe we could catch some thought that is fitting for the occasion. Being silent before God, praying in the Spirit with words, perhaps unknown words as well (see 1 Corinthians 14). But more than anything, being still.

Words will come, hopefully aptly spoken as apples of gold set in silver (Proverbs). But any words out of love will do.

We simply are being with others, somehow a part of their lives, even as they are a part of ours. Unlike others, we may have nothing fancy to say, perhaps nothing at all. But our hearts can say what our heads can’t. Words have their place, but they also have their limitations. The written word of God is not limited simply because it points us in the direction of God’s final Word, Jesus, which in and of itself, we can say himself, has no limitations, all of God’s good will being in that. The Word we need whether or not words fail us.

continuing on through the difficulties

So many disappointments and perplexities come and go. I am terribly grieved by them. It seems like we are set in our ways and not easily changed. Change is ultimately God’s work, not our own, and yet we’re to enter and remain in that process by faith.

For me in spite of that I want to continue on in the gospel through scripture and the church. Though all around me seems to give way, and I lose heart as well, I have to keep picking up my feet and moving on, trying to find God and God’s will and help in the midst of it. It’s not easy.

That is why a monastic kind of life has much appeal to me. You do the prayers, the chants of the psalms for example, the scripture readings- day after day, no matter what. You keep doing that. And you don’t stop. And you do that in a communal, or church setting, as church.

Over time one finds they are shaped by that. But it is so incremental that it is hardly noticeable except for significantly long enough periods, say two years more or less. We are shaped both by what we are attentive to and think about, and by what we practice which includes the not doing as well as the doing.

This is not supposed to be legalistic and binding to the point of feeling condemned when we may slip up and fail to practice it. It’s rather something self-imposed, so to speak, something we choose to do. A good biblical, theological understanding of baptism helps us see that we have no choice in the matter in that we’re to live a new life out of death in and through Jesus. But that bondage is into a new freedom which doesn’t press us toward any condemnation should we run into days when we don’t follow through. We end up doing these things because we want to, not because we have to. And our want helps us through the times when we may not feel like it, actually helps us to live beyond feelings all together.

This is important for me now. I must go on regardless. God is present with us individually and together in and through Jesus.