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.

love and pray, pray and love

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it….

Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

Romans 12:9a,12b; MSG

There are days when everything seems uphill. It can seem we’re running on less than empty, and what’s filling us, or at least inside us is not good. And that at least so much is against us, even seemingly so, the whole world. And that we’re just hanging on for dear life. Like being hit hard where it hurts, in a spiritual battle, and not breathing all that well.

Those are the times especially when we need to pray and love, love and pray. It doesn’t matter where we begin. We pray because we want to love, and we love, so we pray. But like Paul says above, we don’t quit in the hard times, but pray all the harder. We focus on praying to God, asking for help, praying for someone who may be bothering us. Whatever the needs, we lift them up to God in prayer.

The answer will come, yes it will. As we pray we’ll likely sooner than later see the cloud begin to lift. What gradually will replace our troubled minds are better, good thoughts, God-given thoughts. That will begin the cycle of real love and more prayer, more prayer and more love. These go together. What is essential for us. In and through Jesus.

cheerfulness, regardless

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; MSG

I am finding Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible interesting and helpful, even illuminating, though I still don’t really get well the instructions in regard to the tabernacle and priestly things, etc., in the Old/First Testament. But I get a new sense even of those things.

I found particularly helpful lately the rendering above that we’re to be cheerful no matter what. I never really connected well with the idea of rejoice always, since I’m not really a celebratory, high five kind of person. I would rather sit huddled with a book, listening to classical music, then be at a modern day praise and worship service, though admittedly in the past, I have enjoyed some of that. But rejoicing just isn’t much in either my vocabulary, or makeup. 

But cheerfulness, or at least refusing to be dour and down in the mouth about something, now that makes plenty of sense to me. When Paul tells us to be cheerful no matter what, okay, I can take that home, even if such an idea seems far fetched, just not what I do in every circumstance. 

I take cheerfulness as both an attitude and action here. It is an expression of faith, and part of how we’re to live. I like too the way The Message renders that thought, because that probably gets closer to what Paul actually means than the way I took it in the past: More or less something we’re almost swept up into in our life in Christ Jesus. Instead this brings out the necessary thought that it’s up to us to do it. We have to do it, although yes, the Spirit will help us.

So we don’t live as those left to ourselves with our normal often unhealthy, unhelpful reactions to all the difficulties and problems which come our way. Instead we want to take the way God has for us. To be cheerful no matter what, pray all the time, and thank God no matter what happens. Yes, something we do. Of course in response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in and through Jesus. 

 

patience please

In your patience possess ye your souls.

Luke 21:19; KJV

But the fruit of the Spirit is…patience…

Galatians 5:22

Patience isn’t something we can come up with on our own, not the patience spoken of here. Though we truly need to at least love the idea. And we realize as well that it’s a fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives. 

The patience spoken of here is almost like something we step into, and that in a sense takes possession of us. So that our lives: our thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, reactions, and everything else is well tuned by patience.

This is something in the love of the Spirit which needs to characterize our lives more and more. Yes, during difficult times, reflecting our Lord’s words above in Luke 21. All the time, returning again and again to that. In and through Jesus.

 

access closed to grumblers

Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the Lord.
So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

Psalm 106:24-27

It’s easy to grumble about this and that. So and so is not doing this right, or someone has a lousy rotten attitude, or whatever negative it might be on our mind. Then we flare up, maybe curse under our breath or out loud. And often we can decry what we ourselves are up against, the tough responsibilities we have, the at times nearly unmanageable things we have to do. And we can descend into something we would rather not be. Groveling and grumbling. A grumbler, down in the mouth, on edge, doing what we do because we have to do it. I’ve been there.

This psalm awakens us to the fact that grumbling is not pleasing to the Lord. It amounts to lack of faith and is plain downright disobedient. We need to tell God our troubles and what is happening, what we’re up against. But we also need to believe his promises to us, that he is present with us, and will help us through whatever we face. Not just to get through it and get it over with. But to actually both do well and prosper in it.

It’s up to us, the outcome here actually hinges on us, our decision, what we choose to do. Are we going to be true followers of Christ or not? We need to acknowledge to Christ our shortcomings, our propensity to respond to unkindness with unkindness ourselves. Just our poor attitude. To follow Christ in this life won’t be easy, but that’s our calling. And that includes trusting in God, believing God’s promises, checking ourselves when we want to grumble, turning such thoughts into prayers, and in this seeking to be obedient children of God. In and through Jesus.

in the uncomfortable spaces

I find myself sometimes in most difficult spaces, sometimes because of my foibles as a human being, some might say follies, and just because of life itself. I think those can be the places where God might be trying to teach us something new and formative to shape our lives. Or deepening what God has already taught us.

I find myself in such places more given to prayer, more thoughtful, more alert, hopefully more aware. At the same time, I also find the experience difficult at best. Such that I have to look to God, try to cling to him.

I do that by going back again and again as actually just a habit of life, to the word. My mind is distracted from what troubles me. And what I read and ponder on actually informs and forms me yes, about the uncomfortable space, or what my own response to that should be, a resolute and firm trust in the God who saves.

Too often in the comfortable places I drift. Yes, we need those places of rest, as we see in Psalm 23. But as we also see in Psalm 23 this life is not entirely like that. So again and again, today and every day by God’s grace I will be in the word, in prayer, voicing my concern for what is troubling me, and hoping to get beyond that. In and through Jesus.

when feeling beat up and torn from limb to limb

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

1 Kings 19:1-9a

The Bible calls God’s people loved ones as in family (children, sons and daughters), servants and slaves to God and for others, and oddly enough soldiers engaged in battle– spiritual today. Sometimes in the wear and tear of life, what one has to physically, mentally, emotionally go through wears one down to the point of exhaustion. And with exhaustion frequently comes depression.

But God’s care will also be present. Elijah himself lived in a most difficult place during a dark time in Israel’s history. His life seems one of extremes, especially if you consider this story alone. He had confronted the prophets of Baal, God had shown himself to be God, the people had responded, but the dreaded Queen was out to get his life. And Elijah had the sense that he was all alone.

But God met him at that difficult place. And God is able to meet us as well. We may not know what we need, but God does. We must continue on in faith. A faith which might wonder about things and question God. But with the realization that God will meet us where we are, and give us what we need to carry on in his will. In and through Jesus.

not fiction, but reality

Recently I noticed the thought that some people, even leaders have left the faith because they were supposedly too Bible-centered, and not sufficiently centered and grounded in God and the gospel within the tradition God has given the church. While I think there may be some truth in that, I would like to push back a bit. (See this helpful post.)

Yes, there’s no doubt that the gospel and the church and the tradition in and from that is far more central to our faith than many realize, or at least they’re supposed to be. We can find that to be the case from the Bible itself.

Comparing real life with the Bible can be instructive. Yes, over and over again in the Bible, which calls itself Scripture and God’s word we find cases in point which either don’t make sense to us, or necessarily ring true at the time. But don’t we find that to be the case over and over again in life? Life just doesn’t make sense for so many reasons. The autistic child, a relatively young person just ready to enter their calling who dies, militias terrorizing common people with brutal killings, a loved spouse saying they love no more, a child who rejects the faith, the never ending problems of everyday life, etc., etc., etc.

It seems to me that the Bible doesn’t paint the picture any rosier than life actually is. There was once a well known painter who painted landscapes with human culture as if it all existed in Eden prior to the Fall. Something akin to that lies ahead. But such is not the real world now. Kudos to the Bible. It is rooted in a world that though culturally is often different from ours, in essence is the same, just as messed up as our own. Yes, with the promise of something wonderful to come. And it points us to where we can find the help we need to navigate through the storms, and even do well, come what may. But just like it presents life in its reality, not on our terms, so the blessedness that can be ours is not on our terms. It’s not the way we might write it. But in the end, it somehow will be better than all of that. At least that’s the case according to the Bible.

Life is hard, no doubt. It can seem that all of life is caving in. But we can find our way through the instruction, warnings, and encouragement the Bible gives. God’s very word to us and to the world. In and through Jesus.