blessedly slowing down to gather one’s thoughts (and more)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Ecclesiastes is one of those books of Scripture which has always fascinated me, but also on which I struggle to get a handle on. The writer, mostly “the Teacher”- Qoheleth, takes us through a whirlwind of life experiences “under the sun,” with the conclusion that in the end none of it really satisfies. The book makes it clear that we should give ourselves fully to whatever our lot is, and enjoy the simple gifts of God. With the conclusion in the end that when all has been considered we’re to fear God and keep God’s commandments, with the realization that we will be held accountable for the choices we make.

All of us live in experience, even when we’re trying to understand Scripture texts. If we approach that correctly, it seems to me that it all has to do with life, yes life “under the sun” as we read in Ecclesiastes, as well as life in the context of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, present now, and to be consummated into its fullness on the renewed heaven and earth in the life to come. To want to escape from experience is not a good place to be. Instead we need by God’s grace to begin to get a grip on reality, on the true basics, we might even say basic basics. And set ourselves to live in that.

Fearing God is perhaps the most basic starting point of all. It’s simply the realization that God is the “Source of All Being,” the “Eternal Word,” and “Holy Spirit.”* We owe our existence and everything else that is good to God. And with that privilege to us humans indeed comes responsibility.

Jesus fulfills what none of us can accomplish ourselves, so that we can slow down, and blessedly let God catch up with our feverish, often misdirected steps. So that we might gather our thoughts so that we can begin to settle down on what is most important and what will bring us life. Out of the whirlwinds of the world and of our own making. Into the grace and peace of God. In and through Jesus.

*From morning and evening offices in Voices Together hymnal. 

the gospel and salvation is personal in more ways than one

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Most often in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of for decades, the gospel and salvation is personal with reference to our individual relationship to God, and to each other. And that’s good insofar as it goes. But we need to take personally the entire vision God casts. Yes, we have only our small part in that, but it’s our God-given part, and therefore a gift fitting into the whole.

We have to take this personally where we live: among our loved ones, in our neighborhood, in the church, at work, and in the world beyond where we live. In the words of Micah: we’re to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, as we walk humbly with our God. Simple, yet profound.

This means we really do want to understand what is going on around us. If we’re part of a church and denomination involved in such with good works, we can be thankful, and we can learn a lot from them.

This is to become a part of who we are, as well as what we’re about. What we’re aspiring and learning to do day after day, week after week, and year after year. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

1 John 2:15-17; MSG

John would likely warn us in no uncertain terms that to play by the world’s ways is opposite and in fact in opposition to following Jesus. And that it shouldn’t be about our wanting, but about doing God’s will. This can be especially poignant when considering the political sphere. What are Christians advocating for and why? All of that needs to be examined in the light of Christ, who he is and his coming. Of course also what he has done and what that means for us both in terms of believing and doing.

When John is speaking of the world here, he is referring to the world system, the ways of the world. John describes what he means: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes,…the pride of life.” It’s centered around us, what we/I want, self-centered. It’s not about loving God, or loving our neighbor as ourselves.

John might tell us that Christians ought to advocate for others, be present for others, and not be concerned about ourselves. To seek to live in God’s will which would involve seeking the good of all, and the good of God’s good world. And that both God’s special revelation given to us in Scripture and the gospel, and God’s general revelation in creation worked out in some fashion in science and in other ways should be front and center in this.

We accept the good gifts and abilities God has given us and humankind, while we reject all that which is opposed to God’s will. But that rejection only in the way of Jesus, mostly in terms of what we actually accept and are all about: God’s grace and kingdom come and present in and through Jesus.

the uncertainty of life

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

During this pandemic, this truth ends up being underscored to all. Life is uncertain, and certainly brief. Death is inevitable, but unpredictable as to its time. And this uncertainty includes all our plans. It’s not like we shouldn’t prayerfully, deliberatively, with good counsel, and over time make plans. But we have to be ready for God to disrupt them.

This doesn’t mean we have to live on edge. Indeed as children of God we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for each new day, for each new week and weekend of course, for each new month, season and year. They’re all gifts from God. We shouldn’t take them for granted. They’re all a part of the gift of this life.

All depends on the Lord’s will. We can actually rest assured in that. God somehow fits his will into where we’re at, into all the interwoven circumstances, surroundings and people. We have our part and place for a time. Then it will be gone, no more.

All in God’s good will and time.

God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

what can God redeem?

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

In this passage is the curious idea that God repays something, as if it is owed. In the context, judgment had come on God’s people through locusts devouring the land. But after the people repented of their sin, God’s promise was to restore what the locusts had eaten, the devastation they had caused. And repay is the word used in a number of translations.

Redemption has the idea of paying a price to claim something or someone. And then in this biblical analogy and indeed, reality, the one bought is set free to fulfill their purpose for existence. To be themselves, yes, but redemption in Scripture involves not only being set free from one master, but belonging to the one who paid that price. Ultimately everything is made for God, and is fulfilled within that purpose. We not only have the propensity, but it’s like an addiction to us to seek fulfillment apart from God. When we do that, we become slaves to our addictions, which includes self-fulfillment. But when we find our fulfillment in God, then we can enjoy and appreciate the goodness of God’s gifts without becoming enslaved to any of them.

The human condition is a difficult one, and all of us know and experience that. We all need redemption which comes from God’s mercy and grace in Christ. When that happens, somehow God graciously restores to us something of what was lost. To all humankind in and through Christ, someday a new heaven and a new earth in the new creation already breaking in. In and through Jesus.

other things matter, but not without love

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

We need always to be reminded that our faith is one of love. There’s more to it than that; it’s not “all you need is love.” Love is not really love in its fullness, separate from truth. Truth and love are joined together in Scripture (see 2 John). So we need to hold to God’s word in Scripture which ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him.

It’s a struggle, seeking to live in the truth and in love in this life. But in Jesus that’s what we’re called to, where we have to live and remain. Which means working through the hard places beginning with our own attitudes and actions, and in our relationships with others. In the context here with each other as believers, Christ’s body.

I like the list of what love is, what it doesn’t do, and what it does. We need it, to check ourselves, because at best our love is imperfect. The kind of love spoken of here is certainly a gift from God to us in and through Christ by the Spirit. But it’s also something we must work on in developing what we have been given into the warp and woof, the very step of our lives.

If everything we do isn’t informed and formed with this love, it has no value. To the extent it does, it’s a blessing to others, and to ourselves as well.

I want to live in this love far more. To love those who I at times struggle to like, at least what they’re doing. And to love the ones I naturally love with this kind of love. A love that is joined to the truth as it is in Jesus.

 

 

do the next “good work”

…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Sometimes we live what we imagine is a necessarily frazzled existence. We fly by the seat of our pants in what amounts to essentially unmanageable situations at times. And can live there for a time or longer.

What I think God has been teaching me lately is to relax more, and simply go to the next “good work” God has for me. And when I think of good work, I’m not thinking of anything big at all. Just a bunch of little things, which in themselves may seem insignificant, but put together can mean a lot. Actually meant to be part of one’s life. God has done a good work in us, so that we might do good works for others.

I little know what might be next, but I take whatever I believe has been assigned to me, and try to do it the best I can. That doesn’t mean I’ll just take anything and everything. Of course I’ll do all within the sphere of my responsibility. But there are extras on the side we might try out, and find that although we might be able to do it, it just isn’t something that we resonate with, perhaps even disliking it. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to like everything that comes our way, which we have to do. But we need to differentiate between those things we’re called to do, and what we’re not actually called to do, but are for someone else.

So for me, late in my life, this is a breakthrough of sorts. Simply relaxing into my next “good work,” doing the best I can at it, before I do the next “good work.” With rest in between, in part finding my “rest” in all of this. In and through Jesus.

finish the work

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:17

We all have something to do. It may seem insignificant, maybe even disappointing if we compare it with what we had hoped for, or envisioned. But in Jesus we’re God’s masterpiece, created for good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). The word translated “ministry” could also be translated, “service,” and “can refer to helps and service of various kinds which can range in meaning from spiritual biblical teaching (Ac 6:4) to the practical giving of provisions, supplies, support, and finances to those in need (2 Co 9:12).” (Bill Mounce)

We may consider our task relatively insignificant, or it may seem nonproductive, but it has its place in God’s overall scheme. Our responsibility is to discover what it is, then seek to accomplish it. The church can help us discern through the Spirit just what our God-given gifts are, and how we can use them for the good of the church and others. Our task is to simply be faithful, not letting up on what we’ve been given to do, but continuing to do it. God’s gifts and call are never taken back, so we have to continue in this until our time in this life is over. In whatever form that work might take. In and through Jesus.

 

prayer matters

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus’s words here in the Sermon on the Mount tell us that prayer matters. We’re encouraged to ask, seek, and knock, which implies a sense of urgency in the request.

And then Jesus points us to the goodness of the Father, that we pray to a Father who wants to give us good gifts if we just ask him.

In the end, if you can tie all of this together, as “so in everything” suggests, our prayers should be for the good of others. That we’re to do for others, what we would want them to do for us. The practice of love for our neighbor, as we love ourselves. Not excluding petitions for ourselves.

Prayer matters. It does make a difference. We need God’s blessing and gifts, ultimately to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.