do the best you can, but from God

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4-5; MSG

Our days, weeks, and lives are full of things that need to be done. Some can be left undone, but others require our attention and simply have to be done. God gives us the tasks, and however mundane they may seem, we want to do it all to God’s glory, which means we want God to receive all the praise in what’s being done, so that in a sense our work is simply serving others for the praise of God. I think that point is evident from what follows from Paul* in this passage:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10; MSG

We need to press on, not in our own strength and wisdom, but in the help received from God by the Spirit. This is ongoing, over time, but something we should be intent on each day. God will help us. We just keep doing it, whatever task is before us. Knowing that amazingly enough we’re involved in the very work of God. Along with others in and through Jesus.

*Here, Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Paul.

why we do what we do

I find it not encouraging (rather than discouraging, which I try to avoid) when people who don’t know you judge you. In my case the idea that I’m promoting myself and giving my thoughts which I’m not authorized (like by any church, religious or educational institution) nor asked to do. This makes it difficult for me to take them seriously since they don’t know me at all and what I’m about.

There are too many places to go on this one, and not enough time for anyone. We could cite the priesthood of believers for one thing. That the Spirit is on us all in Jesus, and gives each one of us something special from God to do, as simple as that might be. I’m not sure why it is, but I’ve rarely felt any encouragement to carry on and keep doing what I’m doing, but at some key junctures of doubt I asked people I respect and they encouraged me to continue on.

Sometimes I feel like God has let me down, that God never believed in me. Of course I don’t actually believe in myself at all, except for the grace God puts in me in that original creation of his through the new creation in Christ. I know better, but just the same I can ask that hard question when I see the life of loved ones falling apart, or precariously on a precipice. Not to mention my own struggles, and simply survival mode I often seem to find myself in.

Of course we do what we do because of the grace of God in Jesus, and therefore in response to that great never ending, always present love of God in Jesus. And hopefully by the Spirit, we do it out of love. Even if much of what we do in the course of a day is done to simply fulfill the immediate task in front of us, while we do try to maintain some kind of interactivity with God and others.

My plea is for people to not judge others, and not think this or that about them, but instead get to know them. And think the best of others, not the worst, not because people are so great, because we’re all flawed for sure, and broken. None of us have it all together. But God is faithful. And God is actually exalted in his servants through Jesus, something God chooses to do. Which is why I can celebrate others (Psalm 16:3) even while knowing that none of us are any better than the other, that we’re all completely dependent on God’s grace and gift to us in Jesus.

So why do I do what I do, like write this blog, etc.? I don’t completely know. There’s plenty I suppose to say on that. But hopefully in the end it’s all for Christ and the gospel to the glory and praise of God. That is what I aspire to, and by God’s grace want to be passionate about. As together with others I want to carry on in the race marked out for us in and through Jesus.

the heavens declare the glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19

Yesterday was the solar eclipse making its path through the United States. It was a wonder to behold. My favorite part of it was NASA’s coverage, which I was able to enjoy on a computer in the midst of work, seeing the first sighting of it in Oregon. It was so exciting, my heart was full of praise for its Creator, and I couldn’t help but think of Dean Ohlman who has helped us learn to appreciate more, the wonder of creation.

I was surprised to find out that besides the big screen in the break room with NASA’s coverage and some snacks, there was a party of sorts going on outside, with solar glasses, and even a couple of welder’s masks on hand. I was able to get a nice view of the partial eclipse with one of the solar glasses which were provided.

Scientists, whether they have faith in God or not, ooh and ah over nature. The more they learn, the more astounding it becomes. It might seem simple in its singular beauty, but it is also complex beyond simple human understanding, as quantum physics has demonstrated. Somehow I believe it reflects the endless creativity of the One who made it. John Polkinghorne is especially helpful here.

One of my regrets in life, especially when we had our daughter was not taking in sufficiently the beauty of our national (and state) parks. We have an immense variety of this beauty right here in the United States, and set apart for our enjoyment. As the psalm above suggests, something of the reality of God in God’s greatness is revealed in the grandeur of creation. We miss a lot, if we don’t see it firsthand.

Amazingly, even though in our warped mindset we’ve made a concrete jungle, life won’t be denied. Creation is still in our face, even in our tiny yard, which my wife has so artistically landscaped. As my dad used to say, reciting a line from a poem I’m sure he had to learn as a boy, “Trees”:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

I end with one of my favorite hymns, This is my Father’s World:

  1. This is my Father’s world,
    And to my list’ning ears
    All nature sings, and round me rings
    The music of the spheres.
    This is my Father’s world:
    I rest me in the thought
    Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
    His hand the wonders wrought.

  2. This is my Father’s world:
    The birds their carols raise,
    The morning light, the lily white,
    Declare their Maker’s praise.
    This is my Father’s world:
    He shines in all that’s fair;
    In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
    He speaks to me everywhere.

  3. This is my Father’s world:
    Oh, let me ne’er forget
    That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the ruler yet.
    This is my Father’s world,
    The battle is not done:
    Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
    And earth and Heav’n be one.

 Maltbie D. Babcock

no half heart, all of it

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord….

Colossians 3

It’s interesting, the context of this verse, which we often don’t consider, but it’s referring to slaves in their work for their masters. Read the whole (click link), and while some may think it’s a Biblical okay for slavery, it seems to me that in it are the seeds of freedom even in this world from that, and not just the world to come. The text suggests that they should think of themselves working for the Lord rather than their masters.

That seems to suggest to me that no matter what work we may have, of course barring anything forbidden by scripture, that we too should do our very best as to the Lord, putting our entire heart into it. And when we do, it’s for us a part of obedience to the first and great commandment, while not forgetting the second like it:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22

So we give our hearts completely to the Lord, and to nothing else. And in doing so, we also love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So that work is not a means in itself, or something for our own glory, but for the glory of God, and for the good of others.

This is the only way to live, with a full heart, all of it. Never halfhearted in anything. Always giving everything our all in everything, yes, including rest, and always with love for others. All of this in and through Jesus.

face to face

Moses knew God face to face in a unique way, and the blessing in the Pentateuch is that the Lord would bless and keep his people and make his face shine on them, and give them peace. And the psalmist wrote that this should be so, so that all the peoples of the earth might come to know God. They would somehow come to see the face of God through God’s face shining on them.

John in one of his letters says that he hoped to appear to the recipients that they might see each other face to face.

I think this is surely a blessing for all of God’s children in and through Jesus. By the Spirit we experience the enduring glory of the new covenant, with a brightness that doesn’t fade as was the case in the old covenant with Moses. God’s glory from face to face times with God would gradually fade away in Moses’s case, but somehow in our case, though it’s not the visible kind, yet it is visible to eyes that can see this glory by the Spirit.

That to say this: I want to be more and more in God’s Presence in Jesus, and I want to be more and more in the presence of others in Jesus, as well as those who are not. We somehow can receive more and more of God’s glory though God’s grace to us in Christ. And we pass on something of that to each other. As well as the world hopefully coming to see something of the face of the Lord, of Jesus even through our faces, especially our faces together, but also our faces apart, individually.

Yes, I need so much more of this face to face blessing from God. And I want to receive it from others in Jesus, the blessing from God which comes through their faces. And we hope that somehow that glory might be seen by others not in Jesus, that they might be grace see and believe and share in that glory with us in and through Jesus.

Transfiguration into Lent and onto Good Friday and Easter: our focus as always, Jesus, and the Triune God in and through him

Father Michael reminded us, as did the prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and the light that is in Jesus prepared the disciples, and prepares us for what follows: the way of the cross into death and resurrection, which of course is fulfilled in Jesus. In Jesus all of God’s promises are fulfilled, yes and amen in him to the glory of God (2 Corinthians).

Ironically the light on and in Jesus prepares us for what follows: his exodus he accomplishes for God’s people, for humankind, for the world, in his death and resurrection. So the light prepares us for the darkness that is to come. In Jesus we enter into death and resurrection beginning in this life, and in so doing, we not only come to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, but we also become like him in that very death, in his death (Philippians 3:10).

As Father Michael reminded us, a part of the narrative in Luke (chapter 5), the light that is in Jesus exposes our darkness. In Peter’s case, his reaction was one of not feeling worthy to be in Jesus’ presence, since he knew himself to be a sinner. But as we confess our sins we have God’s promise in Jesus of forgiveness so that we in and through Jesus become “light in the Lord” ourselves, only because something of that light is on us. Like Moses (Exodus 34), but fulfilled in the surpassing glory in Jesus, we with unveiled faces behold (or contemplate) the glory of the Lord, Jesus himself, and are transformed from glory to glory into his resemblance by the Spirit of God. The light shining on us as God’s people is the light of the Lord in the transformation of our lives into his image. We are becoming more and more like Jesus. Like Moses, we probably won’t be aware of that change, in his case an actual light of glory on his face that would gradually fade before he would once again be in the presence of God. But we should be able to look back to our younger days, or a few years and notice a change in us, in our character, which is more like Jesus.

Yes, the light that is in Jesus prepares us for the darkness which follows. We experience the gospel through faith and baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we might live out something of that gospel to the world. To know Christ is to begin to know and live in that. Something we especially remember and reflect on as we enter into the season of Lent. In and through Jesus.

meditation on the Epiphany

The Epiphany  is about God’s promise to the world being fulfilled in the birth of King Jesus. Kings would come to his light, but in this case, Magi, who were not necessarily kings, but who studied the stars, and as such were astrologers of their time. God had revealed to them through their discipline that someone special would be born, indeed, the King of the Jews.

It was certainly a time that the Gentiles would come to the light of God made known through this king, who ultimately is to rule over all.

We see that they came with gifts for the Christ Child, which surely helped sustain the holy family for some time to come.

We do well to bow now before God’s Presence in the Child (probably close to two years old by that time) Jesus, indeed the King of kings, and Lord of lords. And to offer to him what gifts God has provided for us, first and foremost the gift of ourselves, of our lives. And to spread the word of God’s glory and the good news in him to others.

Christmastide and God’s honoring of his people in and through King Jesus

I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

We remember that he was to be given “the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins,” (Matthew 1:21), the NIV footnote telling us that “Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the LORD saves.” God saves his people from their sins and for his glory and their good. In God’s love, he honors his people. Although God won’t give his glory to another, in the case of his people in and through Jesus, God does share something of his glory, which ends up redounding completely back to him. But in that process his people are both blessed and honored.

This salvation is completely a gift, unadulterated, 100%, never something we can earn or deserve for a moment. Yet in that gift, God takes us up in his grace into something of his own glory, and makes us partake of his beauty and splendor in and through King Jesus. It’s a beauty that humans were meant to partake of as those in God’s image, Jesus being the restorer and perfection of that.

And so “the gift that keeps on giving” in Jesus, is one that fills our lives, and ultimately is to fill the earth in the love and to the glory of God in and through King Jesus.

good theology like good music: discovering what is already there (J. S. Bach: “To the glory of God alone.”)

C. S. Lewis once wrote something like: the true teaching of God and God’s will in Jesus, or good theology is never about advancing something new, but sharing from what is already established, what is old. On a recent program I heard that J. S. Bach, who I believe one can well say is the greatest of all the western composers of music, perhaps the greatest of all musicians, that he believed that he was not coming up with anything new in his writing of music, but simply discovering what was already present. Precisely the relationship between nature and God. And he wrote all of his music: “To the glory of God alone.” (Soli Deo Gloria). An offering by Bach to God.

That is what the true teachers of the faith do, albeit in unique ways according to the gift given to them from God (like jazz, though I heard on the program linked above that Bach and classical composers believed in and practiced improvisation as well). It involves searching and finding what already is there in and through Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom revealed in him. Found in scripture, with tradition at the forefront of that understanding and then reason along with experience properly understood at the end.There is a beauty to all of it, and especially so with the score as a whole. The gospel is the heartbeat of all of that and the church in and through Jesus is both the locus and agent in this world and present life.

And so look to scripture, look to the church, senses and reason blended in that mix all verified in our experience over time.

doing what lasts forever

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

It is easy to simply dismiss what one does as not mattering. Perhaps anyone can do it, yes. What is lost in this is how everything we do matters, and how the touch of each one doing it is both a gift and stewardship from God. We fill our place with the touch of God through creation and new creation in Jesus, even with the contribution of all we are, including our brokenness. Not that we excuse ourselves so that what we do or don’t do doesn’t matter.

In light of the resurrection we are to realize that our lives have eternal impact somehow on this world and on others. Our labor in the Lord can make all the difference in the world. We must not lose sight of that.

I work in a factory setting. Many details are laid out for us and some of it is rather routine. Many if not everyone could do the job I do. But as each of us does the work given to us, we can do it in such a way that brings glory to God as we work at it with all of our hearts. In my case I’m doubly blessed in that I work for a solid, excellent Christian ministry: RBC Ministries, home of Our Daily Bread and much more. And so I realize that our work impacts people directly with the goodness of God in and through Jesus. As we participate in the mission to “make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”

Not just at work, but everywhere our lives can make a difference that lasts forever. We are a resurrection people in Jesus so that our lives, our deeds and our words can make that difference by the Spirit in and through Jesus. We’re not automatons by the way. We’re somehow part of this life changing work, regardless of how mundane it may seem and we may feel at times. And so we do not lose heart, but keep on keeping on. To the glory and eternal praise of God.