rolling up one’s sleeves and getting to work

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

It’s easy to exist in kind of a limbo in which one is trying to figure out what’s really going on in the world and why, what the best approach to address perceived problems is, etc., etc. That can go on and on, never ending. There’s no end to different opinions and what one can read on so many subjects.

God gives us work as a blessing. Not to be burdened down by it, but to give oneself to the task at hand. And to receive the pleasures of life as well. I like the balance we find in Scripture, and specifically in the book of Ecclesiastes. Work can be a helpful distraction and a tonic in itself from becoming serious in a way that’s not helpful for oneself or anyone else.

The text suggests that too much reflection is not be healthy for one’s well being. We do the best we can, but we’ll never get it all figured out in this life. We should work hard (Ecclesiastes 9:10), then relax and enjoy. Then do that all over again.

All of this a blessing from God. And especially so in and through Jesus.

 

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a thankful life

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:20

To really grasp well the impact of Paul’s words, and really God’s word here, we need to look at the backdrop, or the context (click link to see). Paul is writing especially to Gentiles in a typically pagan, godless setting. Encouraging them out of the love God has for them as his dear children, to live lives of love and holiness. In the course of that, Paul also mentions how thanksgiving is proper rather than the kind of talk they were accustomed to. I think part of the point is that God is now in their thoughts, that they are finding the good of life and thanking God as the giver. In Romans 1 Paul notes that when humankind abandons God, they also become unthankful, not thanking God (Romans 1:21). So ingratitude is something that should be seen as a sin. At the very least, we should never excuse it.

The call to thanksgiving above is in the context of a Spirit-filled life. Instead of living inebriated with alcohol or full of the spirits of this world, we’re to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And the result noted is communal, within the church spilling out into society. We live lives overflowing, devoted to God and for the good of others. To give thanks always to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ refers to everything we should be thankful for. That surely takes some effort on our part, especially for some of us. But essential to that here is the imperative to be filled with God’s Spirit. So that we see God’s light in not only the darkness, exposing the works of darkness, but also everything in light of it. So that we can find good to thank God when we consider so many things. While at the same time telling God our concerns and even troubles. This call to enlightened thanksgiving does not at all mean one is to ignore what’s bad. But we’re not to miss all the good. And seeing the good, and giving thanks to God for that ought to be a mark of our lives.

How do we get there, especially if we might struggle with depression, or simply feeling down? We have to be patient. This is something we do, but only through the Spirit. It will take commitment to obedience out of faith to God’s call here. And instead of trying to seek some experience of being filled with the Spirit, we should note that we’ve already been baptized by and drink from the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We have the Spirit, so we’re told to be filled with that Spirit, not with ourselves. This requires prayer. Only God can help us here. Some say we’re already filled with the Spirit, having as much of the Spirit as we could have. But this is an imperative, so that while we have the Spirit, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re filled with the Spirit, or living Spirit-filled lives. And part of the Spirit-filled life in the midst of everything is to find the good to thank God for, and thank him for it.  Something I need to work on myself. In and through Jesus.

living differently

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4;1-11

There’s is no question that the world, the flesh and the devil are present and actually in tandem in this life. Our only hope of escape is through Christ and our commitment to God’s will. This will require both the acceptance of God’s grace in the forgiveness of sins and new life given. And from that, just a steady “long obedience in the same direction.” We should come to the place in which we find the world’s headlong plunge into lust, etc., distasteful. While at the same time not supposing that we couldn’t be burned ourselves. We’re to commit ourselves to following Christ in the same kind of life he lived. Not a mere negation of what’s good, but actually an embrace of the true good.

“The end of all things is near,” is surely referring to the Second Coming. It seems in retrospect to be an empty word two thousand years later. Of course we can say it’s all relative, that when it’s all said and done it will be relatively short. And there are Scripture passages that hint of a longer period before our Lord returns. Our life spans are short, even at their longest, so each of us can say that for ourselves anyhow, the end is indeed near. And that’s especially so when one has lived a number of decades like myself, heading into my senior years. Yet I think of our daughter and grandchildren, and the younger present with us, along with those yet to be born. Life on earth goes on for better or for worse generation after generation, and yet the end doesn’t come. Our response should be one of faith and prayer. The text here tells us that we’re to live in anticipation of the end being near. That in itself is surely an act of faith. And again, echoes our Lord’s words to be ready for his return, even if there is a delay.

It seems our main response to the end coming is to be in prayer. We pray. Nothing fancy, and most of the time it’s not like we’re swept along, off our feet to pray. In fact it can seem like our prayers are empty. But we just pray and pray some more. We certainly seek to pray in the Spirit with different kinds of prayers. But the main thing is simply pray. To be alert so we can pray means to pay attention to life, to ourselves and to those around us. To be of sober mind for prayer is to refuse to get caught up into wild, reckless living for one thing, but also to discipline our own minds and hearts to not get carried away with whatever might distract us from doing God’s will.

Above all, we’re to love each other deeply, love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, we’re to love all others, our neighbor as ourselves, and even our enemies. But we have a special bond of affection with those who like us are “in Christ.” We share in Christ’s love, in the family love of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Though we might think so, this is not automatic. Otherwise we wouldn’t have it as an imperative or directive here, telling us to do so. And true love grows. It becomes more and more a part of who we are, so that to violate such love becomes increasingly grievous.

And last of all in this section of Scripture, we’re to be hospitable to each other and do whatever God gives and gifts us to do. What we are inclined to do, and thus over time can become good at doing. For the good of others. And we get good at it by just continuing to do the same over and over again. God is present to help us, and all such gifts are manifestations of God, of God’s Spirit. So something of God is in that very thing we do.

All of this to the eternal glory and praise of God in and through Jesus.

the good of boredom

It seems like in this day and age that entertainment is something everyone thinks they have to have at just about any moment. It’s at the tip of our fingers on our phones, for me not on the phone, but with classical music which I more or less prefer most all the time. Though often actually beautiful, not necessarily exciting so as to break through what boredom I may have.

I should give my definition of boredom. Something like simply finding something monotonous or tedious. But add to that our reaction. For me when I know I have to do something, I don’t let boredom affect me in the least. But I do have my small Bible at hand, with either coffee (or tea) nearby. But I find that even going through Scripture, and especially on a regular basis can seem boring since I often enough am not connecting firsthand, even if what I’m reading I might find interesting.

Perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes is the best book in Scripture for considering boredom. After all, the “Teacher” says all is meaningless. But in the midst of their turmoil also concludes that one should simply settle down and enjoy the gifts God gives in the normal everyday routine.

I somehow wonder if our penchant for excitement isn’t in and of itself idolatrous. It’s like we have to have this or that pleasure or whatever to satisfy ourselves. When God is the one who is ultimately to be our Satisfaction. Not to downgrade the enjoyment we should have from the gifts we receive from God.

I’m wondering if boredom prepares and opens us up to receive what we need from God. And it reminds me of Augustine’s words:

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

If we’re no longer bored because of something other than God, or in thankfulness receiving all of life as a gift from God, then we’re better off being bored. I live in boredom myself, and don’t mind it at all. It’s not like I don’t enjoy God’s gifts, and hopefully live in the enjoyment of God himself. Nor is it like my boredom isn’t telling against me to some extent. But I accept it as part of this life. Somehow a necessary preparation for growth in grace now, and for the change to come in the next life. In and through Jesus.

romantic love

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.

Song of Songs 1:2

Song of Songs (click link for full book) is essentially a celebration of what we call romantic love. It celebrates the love between a woman and man. The opening lines quoted above suggests that women can be the initiators, often done subtly in our culture.

Unfortunately in the minds of too many, instead of being a wondrous gift from God, sex can be seen as a necessary evil. In Scripture there’s no question that sex is tied to procreation. God gave it to bring children into the world, as he told humankind at the beginning, to fill the earth. But Song of Songs makes it clear too, that sex is for pleasure, as Paul says, that each might give their bodies fully to the other for mutual satisfaction.

Of course romantic love is not just about sex, although given the sometimes reticence and even shame, as if sex was dirty, our culture, and specifically sadly enough, even religious culture can inculcate sex as something less than the wondrous gift from God that it is. But again, it’s not just for pleasure. That pleasure is given to God for procreation. Of course not every couple can have children for biological reasons. They continue to enjoy such relations in marriage for bonding and enjoyment, as well as to satisfy that God-given drive and desire.

Married and sexual love is an important part of life, but not everyone marries. Some out of choice don’t, to give themselves fully in devotion and service to the Lord. Others don’t marry not by choice, wishing for a mate, but somehow not finding any such person. While we are sexual beings, our identity goes deeper than that. We are God’s by creation and through Christ by new creation. We are God’s children, one family, again by creation, but more so in Christ, by new creation. While we don’t leave our sexuality behind, our primary identity is more than that, so that when need be, we can sublimate such desires to God, and find joy and satisfaction in other gifts God gives us.

Sin distorts all the good in creation, but by both common grace, and saving grace, God gifts us. We’re to be thankful, and enjoy. As well as submit everything to God, knowing that full realization of what we were created to be lies ahead in the resurrection in Jesus. While we press on in this life to give ourselves fully to God and then to others in and through Jesus.

what I would like to settle into, if only I knew how

No one can map out just what they’re going to be and do. We each have gifts, things we enjoy doing and can learn to do well in. All from God. In Christ’s body, there are different gifts given to each by the Spirit for the church. We need to discern what they are with the help of others. Listening carefully to what others say about what we do, as well as simply settling into what can do well is a good start.

For me at this late stage in life I know I enjoy writing. I actually enjoy sharing a message from Scripture on Sundays at the nursing home, as well. I find a propensity in myself to get off into areas which I would just as soon avoid. But I find that if one takes all of the Bible seriously, and our Lord’s teaching alone, there are places the church needs to go which are uncomfortable. Christ could not avoid controversy for sure, and it is a mistake to think that his followers can.

That said, I would like to aim for an increasingly quiet seeking of wisdom, along with a gentle sharing of such. Such wisdom is ideally steeped in the wisdom books of Scripture, but can’t be bereft of the input and impact of all the rest. And you can see such conviction within the wisdom literature itself. Wisdom simply defined is beginning to understand what is good and suitable for our lives and all of life, and adjusting our lives to that.

I would like to be a gentle seeker and sharer of wisdom. For all, and especially to help people find the wisdom of God in Jesus. I work at Our Daily Bread Ministries which has the goal of making the life-changing wisdom of the Bible clear and accessible to all. So I’m definitely influenced by that, and I find the same passion in the good church we’re a part of.

I would like to hone what gift I have to be more along this line. Gathered from decades in Scripture and life. With some successes and failures along the way. I would like to be under the discipline of wisdom all the more for my own life, so that in my limited way, I can share that by example and word with others. Of course this comes from interacting with God through Scripture and by the Spirit, in relationship with God and others. In and through Jesus.

enjoyment/fun as part of the good (godly) life

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

Enjoyment of life is something one of my favorite biblical books, Ecclesiastes, returns to again and again. It is an important part of God’s creation, of being human.

And yet we have been influenced by something less than that which would relegate fun and enjoyment to a secondary status at best, and even questionable or wrong at worst. It’s as if to be godly you can’t enjoy life; yes, you can enjoy God and spiritual things, but nothing else. But this directly contradicts what God’s word clearly says.

God…richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

1 Timothy 6:17

We can indeed become “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4). We can love the gifts of God and not the giver. But to enjoy those gifts is an honor to the giver. To enjoy life and have fun is truly a part of what godliness is all about. A part of the good life God has for us even now when we hold on to such pleasures lightly as we seek to follow Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). In and through him.