finding the greater good

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They’ll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed…

Sometimes something more is at stake than the immediate relief or answer we’re seeking. If we can just see behind our own want or perceived need to what is actually good and important given our own bent and God’s will, we’ll be far better off. We have to shake away from old habits and patterns which have kept us on edge and bound for years and years. This isn’t easy.

We first of all need God’s help to discern this. Good friends, and especially a friend who we look up to as a spiritual mentor or director should factor into all of this. God is with us by the Spirit to help us hear and understand what is best, but most of the time it doesn’t come without significant struggle, not to mention lapses along the way. What we want is change for the good, finding what is most important, leaving what is unhelpful behind. And with God’s help, learning to settle and live well in God’s good will.

Hopefully this isn’t too nebulous, so that maybe it will apply across the board to a variety of problems and struggles. The thought is helping me. In and through Jesus.

breaking new ground

While Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him:

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

“This is what God, the God of Israel, has to say about what’s going on in this city, about the homes of both people and kings that have been demolished, about all the ravages of war and the killing by the Chaldeans, and about the streets littered with the dead bodies of those killed because of my raging anger—about all that’s happened because the evil actions in this city have turned my stomach in disgust.

“But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jerusalem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive all their rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her.

Jeremiah 33:1-9; MSG

Jeremiah was in prison, and it was not a promising time. God’s judgment had come and was coming, and the people neither liked that, nor the messenger of it, Jeremiah. God’s promise here though is to see beyond that judgment to God’s restoration. Not that we should brush off the judgment as unimportant, or just a necessary nuisance until we get to the good part. Judgment is actually a necessary prelude to God’s blessing. What the passage is referring to is God’s judgment of the wicked to prepare the nation for what is just and good. In our own lives, God’s judgment comes in the form of loving discipline, to clean house in our lives in ways which we may or may not understand, and certainly we have yet to enter at least fully into that experience.

Breaking new ground is about God’s change in our minds, hearts, and lives. That’s the groundbreaking I’m thinking of here. It requires a commitment before God by us so that God can see that through with the least resistance from us, even cooperating with that insofar as God helps us do so. Again, the prayer God encouraged Jeremiah to pray is applicable to us here:

‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

Jeremiah 33:3; MSG

And later in this passage we see what we now know to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s answer to Jeremiah in Jesus:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Breaking new ground we can see from this passage begins with God’s word, God’s promise, and prayer. We have to expect God to answer, but not dialed down to our own expectation. But instead with answers and blessing we would never arrive to on our own, not even in a million years. In and through Jesus.

don’t shun the process

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

We modern people don’t like process. People of first world nations often either have everything at their fingertips, or can get everything else in a day or two or three. Instant access. Anything that takes any especially considerable length of time is a conundrum to us. It’s just something which doesn’t register into our consideration.

And the triumphalism found in some churches plays right into this. We can meet God now, have it now. Why the struggle? Get slain in the Spirit or whatever, and you can go on, a new person. It’s not like unusual experiences might not be helpful in one way or another. But by and large it’s the process that we as followers of Jesus should be after.

Paul in the above passage was not referring to something that happens overnight. Becoming conformed to the pattern of this world takes time. It’s incremental but more and more complete as we imbibe the spirit and attitude of the world, almost like breathing the air and taking in what might be both healthy and that which is definitely toxic, not really requiring effort at all.

Instead we as followers of Jesus are to be changing by the renewing of our minds. That does require active participation on our part. The renewing of our minds by more and more understanding God’s will for us, not only in our heads, but in our lives, down to earth right where we live. This is not just a one time command or directive, but ongoing. Day after day after day, the rest of our lives. That we might increasingly know and settle into God’s good will for us. In and through Jesus.

settled, but not set

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Much is swirling around in response to the pandemic and the problem of systemic racism against African Americans coming to a head. There’s a lament, and I am lamenting myself about the evangelical church’s lack in all of this. I feel like I’m a part of that, even if I am on the side that would roundly critique perceived deficiencies within that tradition. It’s certainly not like I don’t fall into something of that critique, myself, even if the only thing I’m aware of would be my probable reading of Scripture in an overly individualistic way, though I do attempt to read it as it is.

But through the storm we have to return to what we have learned and have become convinced of. We can build from there, making modifications, maybe even dismantling some things. But we must stay strong in what God is teaching us. And not despise that. In and through Jesus.

doing the hard work on the ground against racism

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

Enough is enough. That is the attitude in the United States right now in response to yet another killing by a police officer of an unarmed African-American man. In a string and steady stream of them, really going back to the time when slaves were forcibly taken from Africa and treated worse than animals.

Jesus is questioned maybe sincerely, maybe not, but about what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what is written in Scripture and he gives what Jesus says is an apt reply. Jesus tells him to love God and neighbor that way, then he will live. He then asks who is neighbor is.

I have come to realize not just in my head, but by experience how prejudicial and actually judgmental I can be against those of another culture. I’ve learned to step back, stop myself, and listen, and think, and pray, and keep doing that. Looking at my own many faults and those of my people group. As well as seeing what’s special in others. What we’re called to in this passage is to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Simple, yet of course profound.

This will require repentance on our part, hands off to correct or manage, and a heart intent on loving others with a hands on attitude to help, to serve. Also a willingness to receive needed help from others, even from those who are wrongly thought to be inferior to us.

Yes, a big part of the needed change against systemic racism that needs to occur in this nation and around the world against all racism.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:30-37

 

sensitivity to wrong in our lives

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 1:22-25

We are told in this passage that we need to look intently at God’s word and at ourselves. An implication in this passage is that God’s written word exposes what is wrong in our lives, and that by application of that word, we can change and see change over time.

It’s important not only to be encouraged by God’s word, but also to be open and sensitive to whatever is wrong in our life, in our heart and actions. Jesus said that what defiles a person comes from the heart, and Proverbs tells us to watch over our heart since all we do comes from it.

We need the help from God through his word to address our problem. And we have to be sensitive to what is wrong with us. It is remarkable how quick we can be to pick up and pick on the perceived faults of others and be oblivious of our own. Or simply to sweep our own faults under the rug as insignificant or somehow justified, or we can fail to see them at all. As Scripture tells us elsewhere, we who judge others do the very same things ourselves.

Yes, others certainly have their faults sometimes in plain sight for all to see, though only God can see their hearts. But we have to acknowledge to ourselves that we’re in the same boat, that we’re often wrong, and keep our attention first and foremost on ourselves. As we continue in the word, making the necessary changes along the way. In and through Jesus.

 

change is part of life

If you’re a human being, than you’re in for change. You might say it’s in our genes. Hopefully change for good as we grow into adulthood, although each stage of life is special in itself. And not for good in that we inevitably age and eventually will die.

Change in other ways is good or not so good. Probably something of a mixture of both in most of us. We might be gaining ground in something, possibly a breakthrough here and there, only to find ourselves not doing so well in something else. Sometimes real failure might be the back door to something good.

We often look at life in terms of success and failure. But God sees beyond our small sense and appreciation of things. God has made us hard wired for so much more beyond whatever actual failure and imagined or real success in our lives. We might and indeed will actually revert back into old ways now and then, hopefully nothing damaging to ourselves or others. But even in them God can and will teach us if only we have a heart to listen. Ears to hear along with the heart to change comes from God’s grace and working. God is out to change us into no less than the image and likeness of his Son. The good change which is happening, and is to come. In and through Jesus.

 

rewiring one’s brain

In neuroscience, neuroplasticity is big nowadays, the idea that one can impact their brain for good or ill in numerous ways. I’m sure there’s limitations to this, but I’m convinced there’s truth in it. Like how the music we listen to affects us. Or engaging in some activity which in and of itself might not be good or bad but binds us, and disengaging.

Change is slow, but it does occur over time. But we have to persist.

Scripture is the source I turn to again and again. And the church, along with the fellowship of believers in the communion of Christ. And I want to turn away from whatever might get a hold and control on me, whatever that might be. Sometimes in our lives things we know are not good in themselves, and yet we can rationalize and be blind to what is obvious. Our uneasy thoughts can betray that fact. Oftentimes in matters which in themselves are not bad at all, but become bad because they get an idolatrous grip on us that won’t let go, or perhaps more accurately, we won’t let go of.

Repentance is needed. Slowing down and actually stopping has helped me. And letting go of thoughts that argue against change. Replacing them with thoughts hopefully from God, or waiting for such thoughts.

This seems to be important for me right now. It seems like there’s been dead ends or less than helpful places where the fruit borne was not what was intended. So I wish to go to better places. Not leaving behind legitimate concerns, but hopefully thinking and living in a way that will be more helpful in addressing them. In and through Jesus.

 

continue to soak it in

When we were part of a Vineyard church, “soaking” was the term for spending time in God’s presence, usually I think for hours. I’m not sure I ever participated in a time set apart for that. We probably don’t do enough of that. People can mock “personal devotions,” or practices in church meant to help us draw close to God, but really, we need to soak in- to remain, so as to soak in- to take in, all God has for us.

Part of that is to watch ourselves and our own life. And to watch life in general. In all of that, we want to observe, and be taught by God. “What is God teaching me?” is a good question. Usually it won’t be hard to come up with an answer if we’ve been open. No doubt we are slow learners. We live as Christians with the desire to know God’s word and apply it, but we also live within experience. In some ways experience can help us when we verify the truth of what God says, the Spirit giving us insight. But often we run up against our limitations, our weaknesses, not to mention spiritual warfare.

Where I start as I’ve often said is in Scripture which I take to be God’s written word pointing us to his Word in Jesus. I remain there, with an emphasis on application. I especially want to apply what I think God has been teaching me lately. That will take time. And included in that is more soaking, not just in the word, but in life and hopefully God in our experience as we seek to grow in what God is teaching us. In and through Jesus.

in process open ended

Life is strange in the sense that as you go on you realize certain things will remain the same, but that the unexpected is inevitable. So that should lend a certain kind of stability in the midst of change.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

God is faithful, God’s promises are certain, fulfilled in Jesus. But life is uncertain. We don’t really know what will happen from one day to the next, or what the outcome will be. Except again that God will keep his promises in Jesus. And so by faith we carry on.

It’s like a wild ride at an adventure park. You  believe you’re safe, and that you’ll arrive at “home” in the end, but getting there is another thing altogether. And it seems to me we’d all be much better off realizing this is true throughout life. We’re in process, and it’s open ended, but with an altogether good destination. In and through Jesus.