keep going (walk through it)

Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33; NRSVue

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

John 14:1; NRSVue

One of the most important things any of us can do who have struggled with anxiety is to just keep walking through life rather than allowing ourselves to be gripped with anxiety. That doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge the problems or situation we’re facing. We do, but our focus all along needs to be on Christ.

Peter was gangbusters with his faith, part of his personality, also probably in part why he often took the lead among the apostles. He made his share of mistakes, but learned in the process. We learn faith only by faith or one might even say by doing faith. It’s not just something good to store in our heads, but we have to do it, to work it out in our lives.

Peter accepted that it was the Lord walking on the water, and somehow thought that if Jesus could do that, then so could he. After all, the apprentice is supposed to learn to do what their master does. And when it came right down to it, it was a matter of faith.

Unfortunately Peter took his gaze off Jesus, instead quickly becoming captured with the reality of the waves being beaten by the strong wind. He began to sink, but had the faith to cry out to the Lord to save him.

The situations we face in life are real. The question is how to face them. When our faith is weak we probably are best to avoid considering them altogether, but instead to turn our attention to Jesus in prayer along with meditation on scripture.

Years ago our church group went to a ropes course. The first year I was terrified and couldn’t even walk across the first rope and got down. I am not fond of heights. Of course we were strapped well. As I recall it, I tried, but might have fallen, suspended in midair, and that was enough for me. I think I looked down that first year, a terrifying sight for me. I knew we were going back the following year, and decided to not look down, as I recall it fifteen feet or likely somewhat higher. That year I actually did the entire ropes course, never one time looking down which I knew would be my downfall. I wonder what would have happened if I would have fallen. I don’t know, though I’m not optimistic.

But when our faith becomes stronger, knowing that Christ will hold us, will see us through, then we can work on the problem, even giving our attention to it, yet all the while not letting our hearts become troubled since our trust is in Christ. What if in this story, Peter’s faith would’ve been stronger. He might have noticed the wind whipped waves and as I imagine of him, simply laugh, continuing on toward Jesus, then both of them walking to the boat and getting in.

The point is that no matter what we face, God is with us in Christ. God will see us through. But for this to take hold and make the needed difference in our lives, we’re going to have to simply be willing to keep going with our attention turned toward the Lord, receiving the Lord’s help to us as we stay in scripture. As we do that we’ll learn by experience that the Lord always upholds us through what otherwise would be nothing but being caught in the grip of our latest anxiety or fear. No, we just keep walking by faith, and refuse to let any circumstance stop us. And as we do, then in time and sooner than we likely think, we will be able to receive God’s help so that we have a better perspective. And part of that is receiving God’s peace in Christ Jesus which actually surpasses our understanding and lack thereof and indeed even guards our hearts and minds (see Philippians 4:6-7).

Life is full of trouble and problems, no doubt. And true faith does not simply ignore such or pretend it doesn’t exist. But true faith in following Jesus also refuses to give in to a troubled heart and mind. We’re told to not let our hearts be troubled, but rather to trust in God. In and through Jesus.

opened eyes (from God)

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.

When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.

Psalm 73:15-24; NRSVue

It is easy to be down in the mouth and grumble. And after all, there are terrible things going on in the world. And we’re faced with difficulties in our own worlds that seem hard to navigate. I remember working with an older man years ago who was quite sour. I think he loved God, but the downsides of life had seemingly gotten the best of him. That’s my memory of him, sadly enough.

What if instead we could be like the psalmist above? The entire psalm is one of those many gems in scripture. But what’s quoted above is enough to get the point. We need new perspective, to have our eyes opened. Frankly for me it’s like gravity. I naturally sink back into being downcast, in despair, and therefore down in the mouth if I do speak or speak too much. What I find I need is God’s lifting, opening my eyes to see what only God can help me see. And this shouldn’t be just an individual endeavor, but a group- indeed church endeavor, as well. But the psalmist is talking about themselves. They would be an example to others and potentially influential especially hopefully to those younger.

God’s word and revelation is what picked the psalmist up. The same goes for us. When the world for whatever reason seems closing in on us, God wants to and can and will open up a completely new vista, new view to us. And help us become settled in that, no longer unsettled in the other. Something we’ll have to continue to receive in this life. In and through Jesus.

distractions

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4; NRSVue

It would be a tragic misreading of this passage to suppose that we shouldn’t care about what’s going on on earth. Not caring about the plight of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities, yes persecuted Christians as well, and all manner of many things. No, this passage has nothing at all to do with that.

Rather we might say that it has to do with our inner life “in Christ.” What we occupy ourselves with. You can’t multi-task, strictly speaking, though you may be in situations in which you indeed have to juggle a number of things. Jesus had to give his attention to many things: people, situations, issues, etc. But Jesus also gave himself fully to prayer to the Father, getting away by himself perhaps before anyone else was awake. And at other times as well. The point here is what is central to us, what is most foundational yes, and really us. What we’re not only about, but so to speak merged in, or hopefully so, seeking that.

It’s about Christ and the life of Christ in me, and also in us together. We’re to seek and set our minds on that. The things above. And when we do so, we just like Jesus can then be of much more earthly good. Our lives are meant to be influenced by heaven for earth, very “down to earth.” And yet from the love of heaven, in the blessed will of God. We indeed need to learn to live in that will here on earth, but to do so we need to focus on what God wants to give us from above. What is ours in and through Jesus.

hardness of heart is not beyond us

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10; NRSVue

It’s easy to think that our hearts are always alright before God. Maybe not altogether because of “small” deviations during a day, but generally speaking, okay, because of God’s grace given to us in Jesus. And while we’ve been given a new heart in Jesus, that never automatically means that we’re in the clear and no longer have to consider what’s in our heart.

We can get carried away into something which is not helpful, we can set our hearts on many things other than on what we’re directed to in scripture, such as God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, things above, on the Lord himself. And shockingly enough, hardness of heart is not only all too common, but surely by and large endemic in us. I’m not saying an entirely hard heart, though that might happen along the way. But a hardness in the heart, so that it’s not altogether soft before God.

Interestingly those who have experienced hardness of heart to a most significant extent, can well end up among those who have the softest most sensitive heart (Psalm 51). We might try to paint on a nice smile, do the right things, and yet our heart betrays us, not only giving us away, but affecting all we do. What we need is not just a change of conduct, but a change of heart.

James tells us that we’re responsible for this; God isn’t just going to do it for us. Of course, it’s only through God and God’s grace given to us in Christ that we can do this. And it’s not a snap of the finger, one time act, either. It surely is a process of repentance and doing like what James tells us in the above scripture. To lament, grieve, yes, even purify our hearts, getting rid of that which is wrong, whatever it might be, and seeking to put on love. The Spirit is present to help us in this, but this must become a part of who we are, that we’re a person given to having a heart as God intended it to be. In and through Jesus.

being preoccupied with Jesus and his teaching and vision, along with a complaint about the industrial revolution, and encouraging words about Mary and Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Especially in the past, there’s been many a discouraging word about Martha from this passage, along with encouraging words for Mary and those like her. I’ve noticed a redress to the point where you almost think the passage must surely be somehow exonerating Martha, and not giving the Mary there, the appreciation she deserves.

I think a careful look at John 11 along with this passage will help us appreciate both women, that they were both faithful followers of Jesus. Martha seems to have more of an assertive, take charge personality, while Mary seems more laid back, and more withdrawn. We probably side with one or the other, or see something of both in ourselves.

The problem with Martha which I think is evident in this passage is that she gets so preoccupied with necessary things, that she loses sight of what is altogether the most necessary. And as much as I can easily be withdrawn like Mary, which isn’t necessarily bad, I find too that certain matters can easily take up my complete attention to the point that I’m totally preoccupied with them, and not with the Lord.

That said, I want to say a word of praise for Martha. She surely was a master at what she did. She probably knew how to make up a meal and had the gift of hospitality with a flair. And when you think about it, that served Jesus and his disciples, along with whoever may have joined Martha, and her siblings Mary and Lazarus, very well.

Nowadays it sometimes seems that people change jobs and interests almost as often as clothes. While older folks like me tend to stay with one thing, the younger folks are much more flexible, which in itself is not bad. But for both what can be missing is really becoming good at something, and I mean good in the sense of decades of experience.

But for us who have done basically the same thing for decades, often it’s in terms of the Industrial Revolution in which work was depersonalized in most difficult, even dangerous work, or simply doing one simple thing all day, and all of that for a paycheck from an employer which all too often saw the bottom line as the only thing that mattered. But people were more than happy to do the same thing day in and day out to get what might have been a relatively good paycheck and benefits especially during the heyday of the unions. Essentially gone were the times when people specialized in this or that. With mechanization on an assembly line, it could all be done exponentially faster. Jobs were plentiful in those spaces, so that the breadwinner, normally always male, would get their job, and stay in it. Not only accepting the boredom, but enduring what was rugged, rough, even dangerous work, if it deserves to be called work. And oftentimes probably not living as long as a result. Even though we now live in “the post-industrial age,” we can’t assume that manufacturing jobs are of the past. Worldwide they are present, and still the backbone of much of what is going on in the business sector. All that to say, I think we tend to not even appreciate the gift of individuals like Martha as people once did, and don’t forget that Jesus was a carpenter, and surely a master at it.

The point I want to make here is not: Be like Mary and not like Martha. It’s more complicated than that. Instead whatever we not only have to do, but get to do in life, we need to in everything be preoccupied with Jesus, and with Jesus’s teaching and vision he cast. That is what should be our main preoccupation, even as we continue on day after day with the occupations and responsibilities we have.

And this is to be our preoccupation every day. For some reason I can easily slack off on weekends, and let up in that. I think it’s because there’s an element of rest from the busy and often hard workweek, and a kick back and relax kind of mentality. And we need some of that, indeed regular rest, even a weekly sabbath of sorts. But somehow within all of that we need to purposefully keep our Lord and his teaching and vision before us. Not only to help us, but so that we can find where we fit in our Lord’s vision along with everyone else. In and through Jesus.

seeing the big picture (not losing focus, taking our eyes off that)

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

A probably vast majority of my posts are on issues which hit close to home, and concern details of life, mostly in personal, isolated matters. While Scripture doesn’t address all specifics, it certainly gives us direction in how we face and work through everything. And all of that is important. As we’re told in Scripture, the very hairs of our head our numbered, so that every detail of our lives is important to God. And our well being, also.

Scripture is probably much more communal than the way we read it, for instance often the “you” in our translations is plural but lost on us, even though that always has individual application. But a communal aspect is often found in those passages which we normally all but miss. Even so we must not lose sight of the fact that God does want to relate to us on a personal level right where we live down to every detail, helping us to live responsibly under God’s guidance and care.

That said, we do well to try to see the big picture found in Scripture, and keep that in our sights and focus, even when we’re considering details along the way. That is challenging, and partly so because our spiritual enemy wants us to be preoccupied with minute details, lose focus, and be brought into a kind of tunnel vision in which we lose sight of what God wants us focused on, on the big picture.

This does seem counterintuitive when we have something difficult, seemingly impossible, and easily taking our peace away, even causing some panic. This does remind me of Job. The excruciating details the Job of that story goes through, we can well relate to, though certainly for most of us, never the scope and intensity of what Job experienced. Interestingly God never answered Job’s specific questions, but instead took Job’s sights away from his situation and troubles to see a much larger picture, something of the mystery of God’s work and power over creation. The point here, a bigger picture.

When we read the Bible from cover to cover, and do so trying to see the big picture, we begin to understand the true context in which we live, in which our struggles take place. That doesn’t mean for a second that the details spelled out in Scripture should get lost on us. No. But at the same time, this larger focus can help us see what God wants us to see, including how God wants us to see the matters which are troubling us.

As God’s people, we need to keep stepping back to see the big picture, work on keeping our focus on that, and not take our eyes off of it. Yes, even in the midst of the details of our lives that we have to consider and work through. If we have the proper focus, and don’t lose sight of the big picture, that can help us in each part. And most importantly, we can find our place in God’s Story playing out before us day after day. Every part of our lives, how we work though the difficulties of our lives, included. In and through Jesus.

the spiritual discipline (according to Dallas Willard) of Scripture memorization

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

Joshua 1:8

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3

I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

Going through one of Dallas Willard’s books in a small group I’m a part of, Willard lists some spiritual disciplines as they’re commonly called, and adds Scripture memorization as either the most important or his favorite of these disciplines. That sits well with me. I think we would all be better off in regularly practicing these disciplines, but I probably rarely practice most of them. I don’t have that book in front of me, but fasting and silence would be just two of them on most of the lists. You can see that I am not much in the practice of such myself, since I can’t even think of anymore of them at the moment.

But as far as I can remember, Scripture memorization is on no one’s list. Meditation of Scripture surely is, but not memorization. We think of memorization as boring and often mechanical and dead rote. But it surely is a necessary precursor to meditation, or at least can help us meditate, that is recite and consider the words of Scripture. There is the danger in memorization that when we have that down, we somehow think we have the passage down. And familiarity while not breeding contempt, might then make us think we don’t need to go over the passage right when it might be especially helpful.

I am working through the book of James this way, taking a paragraph or section if short (in my Bible) a day, getting memorization down as best I can. And I just keep doing that throughout the day, well that’s the goal. I’m not so good on weekends, so I need to shore that up. But I’m finding it helpful.

At the same time, I also find it a bit challenging on a certain level. I mean after all, why worry about getting a sentence down, particularly when it’s a bit oddly worded, or whether or not that’s the case? But I also find that it becomes my focus aside from other things and focuses I have to have throughout the day. And for me, this can become life altering. And at this point I’m trying to get James into my mind, heart, life, bones.

An easy in a way, but also challenging practice for us to keep working at day after day. In and through Jesus.

concentrate on the matter at hand

I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’

Acts 22:10

A little while back something unusual happened to me. It’s as if the Lord appeared to me and told me that I need to spend time in and concentrate on the book of James. Now it wasn’t like that, though in my imagination it was what it added up to. And as strong as if it had actually happened, with the feeling accompanying that remaining for a little while. But never to return again after that day. You might call it an impression, but whatever may be the case, I took it as a word to me from the Lord to spend time in James.

So that’s what I’ve been mostly doing, or at least more or less consistently so ever since, spending time in that book. Slowly one thought and passage at a time, still a good ways to go. Trying to let is soak in my bones, get into my heart, and into my life.

I think God would have us do one thing at a time. After all, we’re not really good multitaskers if we can actually do that at all. We’re better off most the time, especially in our culture to do less instead of doing more, or even maintaining what’s demanded. Of course we have to do well with the responsibilities put in front of us to make a living, and what we need to do with family, along with the few other things we have to stay on top of. But aside from these, we would do well to try to get a sense of what maybe we ought to concentrate on for a time. What the Lord is giving us to do for the present. And concentrate on that.

In and through Jesus.

the focus is not on, nor is it about *us*

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1

This from David E. Fitch reminded me of this post I intended to do soon:

IF YOU CANNOT LIVE INTO THIS DAILY, PLEASE DON’T CONSIDER BEING A PASTOR 🙂
“You are at your pastoral best when you are not noticed. To keep this vocation healthy requires constant self-negation, getting out of the way. A certain blessed anonymity is inherent in pastoral work. For pastors, being noticed easily develops into *wanting* to be noticed. Many years earlier a pastor friend told me that the pastoral ego ‘has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
– Eugene Peterson, ‘The Pastor’
This week upon getting out of my car for work, the thought dawned on me how I tend to see myself as the center, and how if someone asks how I’m doing, and we have a kind of conversational relationship, I’m always ready to share something about myself, what I’m processing, or how I’m struggling. It occurred to me just then that such a mindset, or just natural sense for us isn’t necessarily healthy. Of course we don’t live outside of ourselves so to speak. And there’s a time and place to share our thoughts and burdens with others. But God is actually the center, and God wants us to turn our attention to others, pray for them, not seeing ourselves as central in what God is doing or trying to do, but at least including others, and stepping aside myself.
So I lifted up a prayer for the good ministry I am privileged to work at and for, Our Daily Bread Ministries, for the leadership there (I don’t write, but work in the factory part). And want to ask others how they’re doing, with ears open and mouth shut.
A good thought for me. In and through Jesus.

focus on God

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me.

John 14:1

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

I’ve been enjoying the new hymnbook entitled Voices Together. Reading through new hymns and new songs (to me), as well as familiar hymns. And readings in the back, including morning, evening, and night liturgy, with prayers. Other than a Bible, this is the book I have in hand now every day.

What I’ve found is that it helps me get my focus on God, the same way Scripture does. Well, it’s meant to do that, as we raise our voice in songs, hymns and spiritual songs. With helpful readings and prayers in the back. The present day liturgy of the denominations Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus was telling his disciples some quite heavy things, not only more than they could wrap their heads around, but more than their hearts could bear. But he told them to believe in God, to believe in him. And to realize that in the midst of their troubles, he had overcome the world.

Scripture is replete with this theme. Trouble real and imagined. There is no end to that. But God wants us to lift our eyes up, off our troubles and onto God and God’s promises. We’re to be transfixed there. We can be either looking at our problems, or at God, one of the two, not both. I am speaking of focus here. It’s not like we’re oblivious to reality. But that’s not where we’re to live. We’re instead to live in God.

God will take care of it. Christ has won. What that means for us is that God wants us to learn to live above circumstances, so to speak. Still owning proper responsibility, but doing so in a way which puts God front and center. A matter of both perspective and expectation. Seeing everything more as God does, and finding God’s priority as well as God’s help. Learning to live in that. In and through Jesus.