don’t be distracted: Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38; NRSVue

It seems like there’s nothing easier than being distracted. My spiritual mentor and director and good friend has told me that in his experience there can be a thousand screaming monkeys. All the more true for me as well. I can count on something distracting me from meditation on scripture, from listening and hearing God’s voice, receiving God’s word.

Anna was not one who lived with distractions. Oh, I’m sure that she had to deal with possible distractions. But interestingly we’re told that “she never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She had been married but devoted herself exclusively to God after her husband died. Maybe she never had children. We’re not told. But it reminds me of what developed later, the monastic orders.

But as followers of Jesus, it seems to me that we’re called to be entirely devoted to Christ in normal life, just as Jesus did in his thirty-three or so years on earth. Yes, 1 Corinthians 7 tells us that one can be more totally devoted to God when unmarried and Jesus wasn’t married. But he did work in his “legal” father’s trade, and perhaps as the oldest son looked after his mother Mary after Joseph passed. There are responsibilities and concerns that come with marriage and family, to be sure. Anna knew all about that. What is needed is total devotion to God, something we can always give, even while we’re busy fulfilling family along with other responsibilities. In fact we show devotion to God in part by giving ourselves fully to the responsibilities at hand. But at the same time, when and where we can, we regularly want to be attentive to God by being in scripture and prayer. In Anna’s case, fasting as well.

Because of this, Anna was ready when Christ appeared. She was primed and afterwards pumped, telling all about this child. Something for us as well, in our time and place, yes, even today in the midst of all the distraction of the season. This should be what we’re all about, our very heart.

In and through Jesus.

the humdrum and Advent

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:8

We disregard the humdrum and what is boring at our peril. When we think we have to fill our lives with this or that, we can miss what God wants to give us. Only to the empty does God come with God’s filling, with God’s abundant, more than enough plenty. But to the full, God cannot. They are already full of something else, no room for God’s gift.

Let’s neither underrate nor despise the necessities life presses on us. And let’s remember that God in love works with us, with all our idiosyncrasies and conundrums. We simply need to press on which includes plodding on. God will help us as we seek in God’s will to do that. In and through Jesus.

sleep can give us more than just the needed cushion after the hardness of a day

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Psalm 127:2 Or for he provides for his beloved during sleep

Psalm 127:2

How often after an “evil day” has sleep given us just a new breath and fresh start to life, as we awakened? Of course God is in the details of that. And not with us just being passive, although that can happen. As our intent is to be fully obedient to God and follow our Lord completely, no matter what we’ve gone through and how lost and out of sorts we are by the end of the day, God can give us sleep and in that sleep what we need to be refreshed and ready after we awaken to a new day.

Like long life, days can be long too, and take their toll on us. But God is ready to help us. We need to just keep waiting on God, looking to God, seeking to direct ourselves and be directed into all it means to be faithful. Without flinching from the most difficult aspects of that. While at the same time, God’s grace extended to cover our inevitable weaknesses and sin is ever present.

So I’m much encouraged. And I must say I enjoy sleep. I have been taking a melatonin tablet before hitting the sack lately. Sometimes it is hard to fall asleep. Rather than counting sleep, we can start praying, and then I think the sleep will come. We rest  in the arms and good care of God. In and through Jesus.

loyalty and faithfulness

Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.

Proverbs 3:3-4

We are reminded here that loyalty and faithfulness ought to be priorities in our lives. Instead too often we let other factors weigh in and we all but forget this.

There are limits in life, and lines and boundaries that need to be drawn. An abusive partner should not be allowed to continue their abuse, even if that means that one has to depart. Loyalty and faithfulness does mean through thick and thin, “for better and for worse till death do us part.” Marriage is referred to here. But even in marriage, one does not accept abuse. The partner must get the needed help, and there can come the time to separate and God forbid, even annul the marriage. But insofar as it’s possible, and whatever that might mean in any given stage, loyalty and faithfulness should continue. But the loyalty and faithfulness normally required is no longer required in the abnormal circumstances which can occur. All of this requires God-given wisdom.

While all of that is necessarily said, loyalty and faithfulness ought to be staples of our character. We are committed in love to those who are dear to us and have commitments in friendship with others. Many would think of loyalty to a company or workplace, and while there may be some application of that here, what is mostly referred to here his loyalty to people. That certainly involves faithfulness in what we do in the workplace and in other spaces.

Anything at all which might violate this should be considered anathema, in other words worse than unacceptable. “We just don’t go there” should be the mark by which we live by, even our passion. At the same time, we don’t imagine for a second that we’re above falling. We factor in our weaknesses, and pray, and work on living fully in God’s will without compromise, lovingly doing so, but even sharply in places, if need be. And when needed we get counseling along with prayer from others.

Loyalty and faithfulness. Two watch words for us. To always be in the picture of our lives. In and through Jesus.

secondary matters

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Matthew 23:23-24

Jesus’s words here remind me of my own life and even the life of the church if I were to cite concerns. We easily get caught up in secondary matters, things necessary in their place which need to be attended to. And we often are focused on issues which distract us from what’s most important.

Our theological concerns can be far too narrow, and that becomes evident in what we are thinking about and what we do as a result. Is our view becoming more and more expansive like God’s? Or are we concerned about only the things which most directly affect ourselves both for this life and the next?

Jesus makes it clear that justice, mercy and faithfulness are to take priority over other matters. A key tactic of the devil, or so it seems to me is to get us sidetracked into obsessions which seem so important, but cause us to lose out over what is of first importance.

We need to take care of what we might call nuisance questions and problems. And in this life we’re beset by them, no doubt. But we must not let what is of primary importance be crowded out. Loving others, loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving even our enemies, certainly not neglecting those near and dear to us, all of this in our love for God must take priority. As we seek to follow Jesus in everything. In and through Jesus.

the importance of consistency or constancy

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11; MSG

I think constancy and consistency in our faith and life is often either underrated, or all but forgotten. We tend to want the sky high experience, trying to avoid the valleys along the way. When what God wants is our trust and obedience regardless of what we’re going through. In little and in big ways. People need to see that in us, and we need to become established and confirmed in that ourselves. Just what Peter is telling us here. God has given and will give us what we need along the way for all of this to come true.

It’s interesting how this comes from Peter, his last letter, one who certainly was not stable before Pentecost, and who wasn’t perfect afterward, either, even though he basically did live this out. We’re not talking about perfection here. And we’ll be doing this with much weakness. But by faith we can keep doing it day after day. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

daily strength promised

and your strength will equal your days.

Deuteronomy 33:25b

In Moses’s blessing of the tribe Asher, he tells them that God will give them needed strength for each day. This is not just to individuals, but to that tribe, the people. Certainly meaning each individual, as well as them all. This was part of Moses’s blessing to them. But for them to remain in that blessing, they would have to remain in God’s blessing, and not fall under a curse by departing from that.

All of God’s promises according to Paul are available to us in Christ. This is like a promise, and can surely be claimed as part of what is ours in Christ. God will give us the strength we need for each day. We need to remain in the blessing of God, today being those who remain followers of Christ, of course in and through Christ. We can’t follow without the gift who is Jesus himself, and the eternal life that’s in him.

This is a great encouragement to me. I am thankful for the help God gives me, but not only me, but others with me and I with them. We’re all in this together. God will help us as we look to him, seek to remain faithful through faith in Jesus. And go on. Doing what is set before us day after day. In and through Jesus.

back to the basics: communication

For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.

2 Corinthians 1:13

Yesterday I kind of tried what amounts to a thought experiment which I felt was over my head, but shared anyway, at my wife’s insistence. But today I’m back into my comfort zone, trying to work through things which are more or less clear to me. If we would seek to be faithful in what we do understand, surely God would help us understand more.

Communication to me is so very basic, and something I want to take pains to do. What’s at stake here is my own understanding, then along with that, the understanding of others. I’m not sure if this came from years and years of listening to the New International Version of the Bible being read, or if I preferred that version because of its emphasis on clarity and accuracy. Supposedly it gives up some accuracy for clarity, and depending on how you look at that, I suppose you can say that’s so, though I might try to argue against that. It really ends up being just what you’re looking for in a translation. I hope for retaining as much of the sense of the original as possible, but communicated in the way we speak and think. After all, it seems like at least most of the Bible was written in vernacular, the spoken language of those who received it.

But more important than any of that is just the priority of simply understanding, and not letting go until one does understand. Though I have to admit that along the way sometimes I’m still a bit puzzled at what’s actually being said. I am in Proverbs right now, and that’s certainly the case with a number of sayings there. But proverbs are often intended to be somewhat of a puzzle that we’re to turn over and over again in our minds, for more reasons than simply understanding them.

Understanding itself is definitely not enough. We then need to respond in faith and act accordingly. We need to ask how it applies to ourselves, and us together as God’s people.

There is the sense of mystery that should be honored. We need to realize that we’re not going to understand everything. Even though God makes his thoughts known to us, we will never plumb the depths of them, or fully understand and know as God does. And it does seem like God wants that to be a part of our faith journey now. Like Abraham, we go on by faith, even when we don’t know where we’re going, just what the future holds. Leaning not to our own understanding, but trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, submitting to him in all our ways. So when we don’t understand, which in some respects is all the time, we bow to the Mystery, to God.

In the meantime I’ll continue to try to translate God’s directives into my life, into my involvement in the community of Jesus, and in the world. I’ll keep working at that, because I often am at a loss. For the goal of hopefully following Jesus in this world with others, and being faithful to the good news. Beginning with myself. In and through Jesus.

knowing one’s self

I was trying to find Scripture possibly from Proverbs which brings out the point I’d like to make in this post, but can’t think of or find anything at the moment. But I think the importance of knowing ourselves resonates with Scripture and life. It’s important for us to understand our limitations, as well as appreciate our strengths.

We may not be able to do what we would like to do. We might not be able to see what we’d like to see, even what we really ought to see. But we need to settle in well with what God has given us and be faithful in that. If we do, God will give us more, or at least that’s what Scripture seems to indicate to me, though actually I have a hard time seeing it in my own life. At least God might give us a stronger ability to do well in what we do, in the calling we have. At any rate, it’s important for us to understand ourselves as we seek to be faithful. In and through Jesus.

no matter what, keep on keeping on

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:25-27

Life is what it is. It’s full of disappointment, conundrums, and if we’re not careful, we can become disillusioned. We have to take hold and hold on to find the vision God has for us. And that will require some serious effort on our part, especially through certain terrains.

But no matter what, we need to simply keep on keeping on. We need to keep our eyes ahead and steady. Think and pray, pray and think. Remain the same in the Lord, day in and day out. Stay on track. And avoid evil, which may seem unnecessary to say, but we have to remember that evil can be subtle, and even seem right, in fact evil might at times seem to be good. I’m not thinking of blatant wrongs, but wrongs that are every bit as evil, but couched and hidden in what seems entirely justified, but is entirely not.

Simple, yet equally profound. In and through Jesus.