tend to where it hurts

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

I’ve been struggling with a painful foot recently, the first time ever for me, and since I’m on my feet all day on my job, it’s a pain and a trial. Finally, when it was starting to become more than I was willing to bear, I had my wife pick me up a heel support. That did help much and hopefully will give my foot more of a chance to heal.

That analogy we can carry over to our lives in any way we can think of, and not only to ourselves of course, but also to others who for one reason or another are hurting, in difficulty, or at some stage in their lives in which they can use our help even if it’s nothing except prayer and friendship on our part.

Pain is a blessing, just as Philip Yancey with Paul Brand pointed out in books in times past. Without those nerve endings to tell us that something is wrong, we would proceed normally and often wreak havoc to some physical member. When we’re suffering or feeling up against it, that can help us find the help that we need. In God and through the help of others. We need each other in this, and we need God in everything. God is present to give us all the help we need for ourselves and through us to each other. In and through Jesus.

God behind and before us

For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight,
for the LORD will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 52:12

Right before the “suffering servant” passages we have this promise for Israel in the midst of subjugation by the foreign world power of that time, Assyria. All the promises of God we’re told are yes and amen in and through Christ. So, there’s something we can take from this for ourselves this day and time.

God is behind and before us to guide and protect us. We need to live appreciating that. It might well be true for us and is as long as we have faith. But we may not much if at all have any sense or experience of it. This truth should help us not to be afraid or panic as the passage above tells us. Because we have a certain inward rest even in the midst of difficulty, trial, whatnot, just all the inevitable twists and turns that life brings.

God will take care of it. God has our backs and knows all that lies ahead. There’s a certain mysticism which faith in God elicits. We can’t explain or understand it fully, except we know there’s one that fully understands, and though much seems out of control, and is definitely beyond our control, we also know that God is at work in all things for good, somehow in control in the midst of it all. So that our full confidence is only in God. In and through Jesus.

turning bad into good

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28; NRSVue

It’s inevitable in life that we’ll make some mistakes along the way which we regret. Some are far worse than others, even grievous sin included, and often it’s hard for us to let go of such. Yes, we know in Christ that we are forgiven. What I’m thinking of in this post are actually mistakes that are less than sin, but perhaps become sin for us because we can’t let them go. Or perhaps they reveal something about us that is coming to the surface.

We are told in Scripture that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose. Since that’s the case, we should seek to find that good out of whatever might be happening, whatever we might be facing in our lives. There is plenty that’s challenging, and not good in itself, things that can seem quite threatening to us.

Whether or not we can discern something of what God is doing in any given difficult situation, we can at least take the same mindset and seek to bring good out of the bad, figuring out what we can learn out of it, and what we can do. I know some people will say that we don’t have to, indeed that we should not do anything. That all has already been done. And I think I understand their point: that we’re to rest in God’s love for all in Christ. But I would tell them, yes, but true faith becomes active. That faith without works is dead. That in James’s words, we’re not justified by faith alone, but by works. And I would add that oftentimes God wants us to be participants in what God is doing. But that’s getting into another subject, even if it speaks into the current issue.

All I’m saying is that no matter what we may be facing, whatever bad it is, we need to somehow seek to find whatever good might come out of it. To turn the bad on its head. To make a setback, oftentimes what might seem seriously so, into an advance. To develop that mentality, that attitude toward life.

Of course, doing all of this in prayer. With some creative, imaginative thought hopefully helped by God’s Spirit. Perhaps landing on a text in Scripture and a promise in Jesus that hitherto we’ve not taken seriously enough (example: Matthew 11:28-30).

At any rate, in a world in which we’ll face many difficulties and sometimes situations where something bad is involved, we need to develop this mindset, this heart and attitude. That no matter what, come what may, we’re going to be looking for the good that can come out of it. Since all things, no matter what somehow work together for good. In and through Jesus.

take what joy you can, but live in reality

It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of everyone,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4; NRSVue

The title for Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 in the NRSVue is “A Disillusioned View of Life.” Probably Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” is off the mark in at least some of what he (or she) is saying. We can say it’s all a matter of perspective. From their point of view, from where they were looking, they were telling it like it is, and trying to express wisdom. And there definitely is a measure of profound wisdom (see toward the end of Ecclesiastes).

I find the part quoted above most helpful for myself. Life “under the sun” and in seeking to follow Jesus and just considering our own weaknesses and limitations along with difficulties we face is indeed at least full of challenge. Life is hardly foolproof. We make many mistakes and hopefully keep learning along the way. If we expect a bed of roses here, we might as well forget that. Instead we’ll find some good, some joy, but much sorrow and possible hardship, even some possible danger along the way.

Paradoxically if we can just accept this, and choose to comfortably live in it or settle in it, then we can find not only a bit of joy here and there, but really joy even in the midst of sorrow. The Spirit helps us, but only as we accept things as they are.

“The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes is trying to help people steer a good course or if the title is apt, make the best of a bad situation. Yes, much is pretty dour in this book. Maybe that’s in part why I’ve been drawn to it over the years, because it does seem to line up with life in the real world, or at least much of my experience of it.

Our hope and expectation is in God through Christ, not in the circumstances of life itself. We receive all that God gives, and can enjoy some of that. But ultimately that we might live for others, even as Christ is teaching us by the Spirit together. Enjoying life even as “the Teacher” tells us in Ecclesiastes, but with our feet on the ground not in some make believe place, but in the real world where we all live. And especially with a heart and ear turned toward suffering, that we might help others. In and through Jesus.

when life is more than hard

Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when you are punished by him,
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children, for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Hebrews 11:35-38; 12:1-13; NRSVue

I really want to read the copy I have of Charles Dickens, Hard Times, because I identify with plenty of what I’m picking up of what he said in it and elsewhere about the times in which he lived. For some of us it’s more than rough. There are some days that are among the very worst, for many of us many days like that. You might be going through something that seems far beneath and removed from what any creature should have to undergo and you may really want to throw in the towel. I know, I’ve been there, and probably not just a few times.

What kind of mindset and attitude, and from that what kind of life does God want us to live as a result of going through such? I think the word above from Hebrews can be quite helpful to us. We need to look at all of it as part of following our Lord, not only his example but following him as well in this life. Along with seeing it somehow as part of God’s loving discipline in our lives, somehow needed so that we can meet the glorious challenge of following Jesus in this life.

We can hit that breaking point and go under. But God wants to give us a new sense, a new vision, and with that a new wherewithal so that we carry on regardless and in spite of, because of the joy set before us in simply following Christ even in the way of the cross. All of this as always in and through Jesus.

glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

this too shall pass

…on that evil day…

Ephesians 6:13

This is part of the classic spiritual warfare passage and I take the phrase above to mean specific times during this time instead of this time in general. There are simply bad days. Yesterday, except for the good time I had with my spiritual mentor/director in the morning, it was a difficult day for me, not so much outwardly, but inwardly. Sometimes it’s like something, or even a number of things come crashing in all together, and one can be left with a sense of defeat and despair. What’s even worse is when a practically irrational fear engulfs and takes over, so that one can’t escape, overwhelmed by it. Especially the latter was true for me yesterday, so I opened this passage and went through part of it trying to get it more and more in my bones (click above link for entire passage).

Part of what we need to remember is that such days and times and experiences are temporary. They will pass. Maybe we’ve not been taking care of ourselves to some extent, not enough sleep, not eating well, whatever the case might be. Of course we need to pray, and try to learn what we can from what we’re experiencing. And as the passage points out, we need to be strong in the Lord, in the strength of his power, putting on the entire armor of God named there, so that we can stand. So the idea here is that this is made to order so that we can stand, stand firm on such evil days.

The feeling is not good for sure. That’s a call and or reminder to us that we need to stand firm per God’s instructions to us from Paul. Remembering that such “evil days” come and go. God always being with us in and through Jesus.

in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. In and through Jesus.

accepting the stress and distress of this life

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14; NRSV

I’m reading Job from The Message right now which I take as more than an intriguing wisdom story, certainly a book chalk full of wisdom, but mostly in terms of the main points that come across, notwithstanding some of the striking details. I’m reminded of the thought that instead of life getting easier when one comes to Christ, it actually becomes more difficult. Why? Well we can surely say we’re going against the grain of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And central to it is simply the reality that believers are also followers of Christ, or else our faith may well be spurious. Following Christ means identity with him in this world, taking up our cross, as we seek to live out the King Jesus, kingdom of God life. Certainly a salvation story, but a salvation not in terms of simply securing one’s eternal life, but a salvation steeped in the values of God’s kingdom, inside and out.

We need to accept the stress and distress of this way in Jesus. That is half the battle, the Lord helping us to do that. God will be with us through the rest. We just need to settle into the mentality that we’ll have problems others won’t. As we seek to follow. In and through Jesus.

don’t overreact to a bad day

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18; MSG

Paul had many many difficult days. He lived for long periods of time in difficulty, for that matter. We must remember exactly what Paul is telling us here. Day after day, God is doing his renewing work in us. And we proceed knowing that the outcome is indeed good.

It’s easy to have a good day, get up the next morning “on the wrong side of the bed” (or not want to get up at all) and just be down dingers. We can prayerfully ask ourselves how we ended the day before we went to bed which might have contributed to that. But we have to pick up and go on. Believing that God is at work. And that in the difficulty, as Paul points out again and again in the above letter, God is making himself known, yes even through our lives. In and through Jesus.