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.

learning from our errors

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Matthew 3:8

John the Baptist (Baptizer) was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus, in the mission God gave him. A sea change was coming, and the people needed to be prepared. Most of these Israelites were desiring the end of the Roman occupation and rule. They wanted God to fulfill his kingdom promises. So that alone surely increased their willingness to listen to this unusual man in his dress and manner, tell them to get ready, that he was there to introduce them to the Messiah, no less. Hushed anticipation, and readiness to do whatever to be in line, in this blessing. But for too many, on their terms.

We need to understand something of that backdrop and context to bring it forward to today. We too have our expectations, or way of life we think is good, and from God, indeed God’s will, or at least we think his blessing on it. But we may have pretty much missed the boat. What if our conception of the Christian life is hit and miss, surely some overlap by the Spirit, but still falling short of what King Jesus has for us which is a kingdom crowned in suffering, in the way of the cross no less?

I want to be ultrasensitive to the seemingly smallest points in which I fail. Never to excuse them for an instant, but instead, to change, change, yes, change. In keeping with my professed repentance in wanting to follow Jesus, and not my own agenda.

That will hurt and be painful to work through at times. But that is surely a part of the change we need to be together more and more like Jesus in this world. Living solely in his kingdom. In and through Jesus.

misplaced expectations

I think that often we place expectations too high on ourselves and others, which actually are misplaced. We expect what we think is important, needed for the time and occasion, when actually it’s really neither realistic, or actually not needed at all.

I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. It’s chalk full of misplaced expectations on the part of the Corinthian church, as they looked down on Paul and we’re dazzled by the super apostles who were promoting themselves. And Paul had to get past his own misplaced expectations as well concerning his thorn in the flesh. Not to mention his/their weakness and even despairing of life itself, indeed “perplexed, but not in despair.”

The fact that we don’t measure up to our preconceived notions can cause us to retreat and become idle when we should press on in humility and hope. Yes, we certainly don’t have it all together. That’s a gimme. But we press on regardless, not confident at all in ourselves, but finding our help, all we need in God. That is where our expectation is never misplaced. We can and indeed need to look to God for his help. And that’s what can help us to continue on when left to ourselves we would give in and give up.

Our problem or problems may be different than what Paul and his apostolic band encountered and experienced. They can run the gamut from either poor, wrong choices of the past, or not the best of wisdom even in the present. But that doesn’t mean we fold our tents and quit. We go on in prayer in dependence on God in our own weakness and in that even in the weakness of Christ himself, that we might find Christ’s power by the Spirit through his resurrection life. And we keep on doing that hopefully to the end. And find in that God’s moving and work in unexpected ways certainly beyond us. In and through Jesus.

defining God and God’s mission by our own expectations

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6:14-15

As Aaron Buer pointed out this past weekend, the Jew’s agenda, especially among the Zealots was to get free from Rome, for the Zealots get rid of Rome altogether by force. Aaron pointed out how we often see God and by extension Jesus according to what we expect God to do for us, instead of letting God reveal himself in his words and works.

There’s no question that what God is doing sometimes includes nations. The spread of the gospel was helped much by the Roman roads, even the empire itself, though certainly unwittingly. We can say that God not only used it, but in some sense orchestrated it to a greater end than what it was originally intended for. Not that human civilization and culture doesn’t have its place in the present.

Present day issues, just as in the past can be nagging and even biting. And it’s not like so much that’s up in the air politically isn’t important or significant even for Christ’s mission and the gospel, like the plight of the poor. But as Christians we have to step back and ask ourselves just whose agenda we’re on: our own, someone else’s, a combination of the above, or God’s?

In terms of the politics of this world Jesus would have none of what people wanted out of him. From a reading of the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament we see that the battle of the Lord is spiritual, not physical. And that Jesus conquered through the cross, through his death and resurrection, his ascension with the promise of his return not only marking that victory, but seeing it proceed by the gospel through the work of the Spirit right in the present time.

Nowadays it’s as easy as a click to get sidetracked from what God is doing and wants to do through us onto some other agenda, often set by well meaning people, even Christians, yet by that sidetracked from God’s calling to us in Jesus. And perhaps the most dangerous part is trying to sublimate as in include it in our gospel agenda, somehow merging the Lord’s work and man’s work into one, as if it’s a hand in hand endeavor. But as we see from Scripture, that’s not the case at all. It’s either the Lord’s work entirely, or it’s not his work at all.

Jesus would have none of what the people of his day wanted, indeed seemed to expect. What are we expecting today? Are we open to God’s work in Jesus? Or is it something else that matters more to us?

a benefit of slowing down

Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:6

Life is busy, sometimes quite demanding. We have automation nowadays, but that only increases expectations of more efficiency at less cost. And with that comes pressure to make it work. But I think a lot of that pressure we impose on ourselves. And that’s related to all our other expectations to succeed and even excel, to be better than someone else, to uphold our own imagined high view of ourselves or our ability, or the reputation we’ve gained.

When you read the book of Ecclesiastes, that’s all poppycock. Just a waste of time, effort, literally a passing breath. The text above tells us it’s better to have less with tranquility, rest, or quiet (compare NIV with NASB and NRSV from link above). It depends on how one translates it, but the idea is essentially the same. Putting one’s whole heart and life into something doesn’t mean what we’ve thought and maybe been taught: to run ourselves ragged.

This is not at all downplaying the importance of hard work and diligence. But it’s saying that we need to do so out of heart of tranquility, rest and quiet. And I think for most all of us, certainly for me, that means we have to slow down. Part of slowing down is not only physical, but inward. We pause, become more thoughtful. We pull out the stops here and there when need be, but we’re willing to shut the operation down rather than try to do what is barely manageable, if at all.

When we refuse to slow down, expectation builds to maybe do better, or keep up what often amounts to a brutal pace. Or we have other expectations, like being better than someone else at this or that, or persuading others that we’re right and they’re wrong, whatever. The list could probably go on and on.

Instead we will do much better if we learn to slow down, be satisfied with something less than before, which actually will become something more. Our tranquility can help others. Our expectation is always from God, not from ourselves. And it’s God’s work, whatever God considers important. Oftentimes that will be a change of heart in ourselves which comes only in stillness and rest as we look to God.

It’s a learning process, not something we can step into easily overnight, but something indeed that we need to do. The same problems exist, but we can now engage them more prayerfully and thoughtfully in faith. And find the rest meant for us in and through Jesus.

accepting limitations

I think Christianity and faith seems to bring with it a tendency toward an idealization in which this and that are to be just so, or at least there’s growth toward the good, what’s best. With that comes an expectation which sets one up for discouragement when it’s not met, or regularly falls short.

I think what ends up being the case is not the idea of having expectations at all, but misplaced expectations. We don’t understand God’s promises in Christ and how they work out in real life. I believe an important aspect of that ends up being our need to accept limitations. Limitations in ourselves, in others. And with that, we need to understand and accept our weaknesses along with that of others.

I want to be careful here. I’m not referring to out and out sin such as people giving into this or that which they know is wrong. Yet at the same time, if we are caught up in any sin, God’s promise in Jesus along with his promises in Scripture are for us as well.

Does this mean we expect less from God? Hopefully not. Actually it can mean that we understand better how God works. Through weakness, brokenness, even failure. Through our ongoing keen realization of our need for him. Through the way of Jesus which is the way of weakness in taking up one’s cross and following (2 Corinthians 13).

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s anything but easy to accept weakness. And when we do so there’s always the danger of rationalizing sin, excusing ourselves when we do. What I’m referring to here is more of an existential awareness that at times, maybe much of the time for some of us, we will not be in any kind of on top of the world experience. And problems will come and sometimes mount in number and intensity.

We must not simply throw in the towel and give up. Though if we do we need to remember God is present for us then as well. All of this is the opportunity for us to push deeper into God and God’s provision for us in and through Jesus.

dial down and accept the ordinary

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:92

I’m more and more convinced that one formidable enemy of the good is misplaced expectation. This is probably true across the board, but I’m thinking of the spiritual life of a Christian, or the spiritual lives of Christians.

I’ve lived as a Christian several decades, and from early on was inundated with “deeper life” teachings. And I’ve witnessed some of emphasis on the Spirit in individual lives and in the church. And I’ve partaken of a few unusual experiences and participated in some of that myself. And we all as Christians have experienced the closeness of the Lord, which I believe is actually something for us daily, but probably not in the way we expect.

I want to say and even emphasize that it’s of the utmost importance for us to dial down and accept the ordinary. That most of our lives are going to seem mundane, boring, lonely, difficult, etc., you fill in the blanks. As soon as we get away from ideals, immediately we’ll be better off. We’ll then and only then begin to be able to appreciate the good from God that’s right in front of us, and actually everywhere. Until then we’ll miss the good that’s right in our face.

Scripture doesn’t present an easy, feel good existence. Just begin to read on almost any page. But as the psalmist says, Scripture as God’s written word not only can keep us grounded, our feet on the ground so to speak, but can actually be our delight even in the midst of the ordinary and difficult aspects of real life.

When we realize that our expectations are simply unmet, then we’ll be able to see and accept the actual blessings God is giving us, but not until then.

Am I suggesting that God can’t bless the socks off of us, of course to not only bless us, but bless others through us? Of course not. But only as we accept the reality of our own brokenness, that the kingdom in its fullness, while present now in Jesus by the Spirit is yet to be fully present in the finished transformative way. Until then, we’re set up for disappointment and disillusionment.

Which is why we need to remain in God’s word, in Scripture, so that God’s Word, Christ himself can touch and begin to transform us now. Yes, in the midst of the ordinary and difficult. In and through Jesus.

a thought for 2019: simplifying life

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There is no question that life is full of responsibilities. And it becomes worse if we buy into all our society insists is necessary. Like things people supposedly need. So that our infrastructure is built on that, big houses, etc. And on top of that the US economy is built on consumer debt. So that people put themselves in a bind from which they cannot easily escape. Thankfully, especially when people are younger they can begin new practices to get out of debt, and then avoid it or at least minimize it. And make better decisions financially, not driven by expectations of others.

What we do and refuse to do can help, but no matter what, we will be faced with difficulties and necessities we will have to deal with. One basic: Paul tells us that if someone does not provide for their own, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). There are indeed certain basic responsibilities we all have.

The problem Martha had, and all too many of us along with her is taking the weight of the world, her world on her shoulders. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on in the narrative. Martha maybe could have scaled down and prepared something simple enough so that she too could have at least listened to the Lord’s teaching, if not sitting at his feet like her sister Mary was. Interestingly enough, it’s Martha’s complaint which occasioned the Lord’s response. She felt a pressure that she need not have felt. And maybe that helps us toward the point the Lord in his response was making.

It would have been fine for Martha to continue serving as she was inclined and surely gifted to do and do well. That in itself was not wrong. The problem was the expectations she had accepted or placed on herself. Really beyond anything God would have or actually did expect as Jesus’s words make clear.

Our Lord tells Martha that she is worried and upset about many things. Then he says only a few things are needed, or only one. That Mary had chosen what is most essential, and that it wouldn’t be taken away from her.

I think for 2019 this may be telling at least many of us that we need to simplify. Perhaps scale down. Maybe let a good number of things go. And learn to cast all of our cares on God, who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22). To quit being driven, and instead to learn to follow in step with the one whose invitation remains open:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

what life throws at you

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books. And it’s about not so much what life throws at us, but what we want out of life. We want to suck it high and dry, as if somehow we’re going to get life out of that. But the writer as well as the observer and “Teacher”, the one who experienced this said that it was all futile, even meaningless.

It’s not like the details of life don’t matter, because they certainly do. We want to do all that we should, and do it well. Although in the nature of things, we are limited. And there is always more that either needs to be or could be done. As long as life shall last.

Maybe the conclusion of the matter at the end of Ecclesiastes, along with wisdom woven throughout, is what we need to set our sights on. Particularly that ending that declares when it’s all said and done we’re to fear God and keep his commandments. We let life get to us, with all its obligations, demands, and expectations (real or imagined) pressing in against us.

Maybe it’s time to stop and ask what really matters. To really fear God, and be intent on keeping God’s commandments in and through Jesus is what in the end matters. At the same time, we need God’s wisdom to navigate the bumpy, rough, and sometimes puzzling terrain of life. Enjoying all the good gifts from God, and even finding satisfaction in the work we do. Maybe we can find a rhythm in it all, which can help us live in what is really life. A challenge indeed. God will help us in and through Jesus.