doing the same thing over and over again

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest.

Proverbs 6

In Jeff Manion’s new book, Dream Big, Think Small: Living an Extraordinary Life One Day at a Time, in his chapter entitled, “Ant Power,” Jeff competently and pastorally writes about the power of doing the good, right little things over and over again, so that over the long haul, such can make all the difference. Although doing something big at a certain point in time, for example going to a weekend for marriage enrichment, might be huge in changing the course of a failing marriage, only doing the same things over and over again, even from such a time, will make the difference needed.

This has to do with simply plugging away, day after day, in often thankless tasks that seem to go at least largely unnoticed, maybe apparent to no one, and which may seem in themselves quite mundane. But so much of that is not necessarily trivial. Whether we feel like it or not, we open the Bible day after day, and throughout the day, and we keep reading and pondering. Over time, since it is the word of God, that will make a big difference, of course our response to it being crucial (James 1).

We can’t let up, and we have to continue on, even if there seems to be little or no fruit coming out of it. Let God decide, or bring to pass whatever, but for sure the most important thing will be happening: our character is being shaped and will be forged. As we do this with each other in Jesus, the same things over and over again, to transform us more and more into the image and likeness of our Lord.

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

hold that thought

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40

There are all kinds of thoughts that come our way in the course of a day, for ill and for good, and everything in between. We are often caught up and captured in such thoughts. Even consumed by them.

But there is only one word which endures, when all the rest will be gone. And that is the word of God, scripture itself, which points us to the Word of God, Jesus himself.

We need to be in the word day in and day out, year in and year out. It doesn’t matter whether we’re always “getting” what we’re reading. We need to keep at it; the Spirit will help us. Of course a big part of how this happens is through the church which indeed has a special place in God and in God’s working: nothing less than in Christ, as Christ’s body by the Spirit. So that is important if we’re really going to be adherents of God’s word, of scripture.

We have to make other things secondary to our intake of God’s word. Of course I’m not referring to the necessities we must do daily. But when all is said and done, we live by one word, the word from God.

…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8

Many thoughts will come to us, and they have varying degrees of significance. But the promise of good both for this life and for the life to come is found in one source: God’s word in scripture, and in Jesus. We live by that word, and die with it in hand, in and through Jesus.

 

accepting limitations in good faith

We dream big, then life happens. There’s a certain sadness in that. I like our Pastor Jeff Manion’s thought, the title of his new book:

dream big,
think small

This is the title also of a sermon series starting in February, of which we got a card, with a further explanation on it: “Exploring the power of daily faithfulness.” In fact he gave a message yesterday at our weekly chapel service on this very thing, citing Samuel of old as an example, along with Fred Rogers (of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood“) as pristine examples of faithfulness over many years, resulting in something profound, exponentially beyond the many moments of being present and doing the ordinary, mundane things of life daily.

I titled this post, “accepting limitations in good faith,” because I see out of faithfulness over time, God can do remarkable things, not necessarily obvious to the naked eye. We in Jesus see with the eye of faith; “we live by faith, not by sight,” not just in regard to the life to come, but also with reference to this present life. So that we accept all its in and outs, ups and downs, and the fact that it is only so long, and we look for God in all of that.

There are some traditions which accentuate the miraculous, and great experiences, what we often call great highs. For example people go off to some weekend event, are pumped up, and then primed as they go back home to change their world, to at least do better. That could have its place, but by and large all of life happens mostly in the boring, and sometimes even frustrating, often thankless tasks of everyday living.

And more important than the things we do, as important as that is, is who we are, and our faithful presence. I realize that often I really have nothing much if at all to offer, except to be present and listen and participate in that way, as well as do whatever needs to be done in that place and time. In the process of all of this, God is at work in Jesus, to make a world of difference, us playing our small yet important part in that along with others, in and through Jesus.

 

going on in spite of whatever, by faith

By faith we understand (Hebrews 11), yet at the same time our faith is based on the faith, having roots in Jesus’s resurrection in history, which in an American court of law would surely pass muster in being accepted as true beyond any reasonable doubt. That latter point would be debated by some, but for those who have faith, it is a powerful reason to believe, and has moved more than one skeptic to faith. And the witness of God’s Holy Spirit to us helps us through the inevitable bumps and roadblocks in our journey of faith, along the way.

There are times when we are at a loss, maybe rather off our feet, or perhaps wobbly in our own personal faith, even if we may be doing well concerning the faith itself. Or this could well apply to us when we do have some genuine doubt or at least question in regard to the faith in general. By faith we proceed, even when we don’t know where we’re going (Hebrews 11, again).

That means that while we may not feel altogether inside, indeed we may be rather disheveled, or even quite a bit so, we go on the best we can, by faith, certainly an act of faith, itself. And rather defiant of whatever troubles us, in a way, but more like an entrustment of that concern to God, who certainly can take care of whatever problem it is, and no matter what, promises us the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

The devil’s strategy is to get us to grovel in the dust, and perhaps even eventually abandon faith altogether. Or at least to sideline us, so that our faith is not effective for ourselves or anyone else. But it’s a great opportunity, in the face of such opposition, to simply proceed in all of our weakness, by faith finding God’s ever present grace in Jesus. And we will, no doubt, if we simply go on by faith. God will keep all of his promises to us in Christ Jesus.

faithfulness through the (long) midst of disappointment

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Yesterday Jeff Manion (week two, soon to be available) walked us through the wonderful story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and God’s promise to them of a son who would no less than prepare the way for the Messiah in fulfillment of prophecy (Malachi, Isaiah). Although they had lived with questions, and even in disgrace, because they had not had children, they had remained faithful to God, unwavering in their commitment to him. It must have been quite a witness, with its own challenge in the face of the questions and doubts surely entertained not only by others, but themselves as well in their disappointment and enigma. It couldn’t have been easy, but God had helped them to live beyond that, in the  fear and peace of the Lord. But now their witness was to take a new turn.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

It was truly a miracle, and Zechariah, because he doubted God’s word through the angel Gabriel, remained unable to speak until the day of John the Baptist’s birth. They had entered into a new chapter of their witness, which ironically would not take them out of the fire. Perhaps one might say that the long years of faithfulness in the midst of disappointment had prepared them for this wonderful event.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home.After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Luke 1

Of course this makes me think about the importance of unwavering faith and full obedience, that is, complete commitment to God, even through long years, or at least a time of great disappointment and perplexity. Do we hold on in faith and obedience even when it might make sense to us to meander off course? Their faithfulness was rewarded. The one to be born would be no less than the one who would prepare the way for the Lord, for the long awaited, and keenly anticipated Messiah. May God grant us grace to continue on in faithfulness in the midst of disappointment.

just pray

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

For all sorts of reasons, we can be so inundated with life, both the good and the bad, and even everything in between, that we simply fail to pray. And given the sense of our own deficiency in praying, we may think it doesn’t matter.

If there’s one thing we need to hear as far as our practice goes as Christians, it’s this: Pray, pray, and keep praying. Yes, keep praying even the poor prayers that we pray: broken, weak, and halting, as they may and often will be. And when one feels like praying, do it all the more, take advantage of that. That is an indication that the Spirit is present in helping us pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6:18). But when we don’t feel like praying, we should also pray all the more. The Spirit helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray as we ought, we’re at a loss, but the Spirit takes our weakness and groans in this praying, and intercedes for us to God, according to God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).

There is never any shortage of things to pray for. Our call from God in Jesus is to be faithful in praying (Romans 12:12). Yes, there will be all sorts of reasons both conscious and unconscious as to why we don’t pray. That is perhaps in part why the quoted text above tells us that we’re to be devoted, to devote ourselves to prayer. Something I want to do more and more in whatever coming days I have left.