failure of imagination

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah 7:10-17; NRSVue

If there’s anything the Christianity I’ve seen is plagued with by and large, though with some notable exceptions, it’s simply the failure of imagination. And I mean imagination in the realm and reality of faith, not just our own imaginations. God wants us in faith to imagine better things with regard to our own lives, the lives of those we love, the world which we know and in which we live, and the world at large.

In the case of Ahaz, he was not only a weak king, but one who was not committed to God, and acted and lived accordingly. Yet God appealed to him as one who was a part of God’s people, in fact king of Judah at that point in time. And Ahaz refused to respond. Since Ahaz did not act in faith, he would receive the fruit of the way that he had chosen, as God’s word makes plain in the account above.

For us who profess faith in God through Jesus, what kind of faith do we have? Is only the inevitable going to happen, or can we imagine something better from God? And imagination here can mean simply an openness to say, I don’t know, but I do know that God can do what we possibly can’t imagine. At the same time though, God can give us an image and help us imagine something of what God might do, which even if not knowing the specifics, can sense the grandeur, glory and goodness of it.

It’s good though hard to really be aware of the dangers present in this time or any time. But it’s also just as important, if not more so, to become aware that God neither loses sight of this, nor is God not at work in it. And we need to know that God’s light is going to shine in this present darkness in ways we might not anticipate or want. But we have to steel ourselves for whatever that might involve, only by God’s grace. And hold on and not lose out on the blessed imagination that God wants to give us. In and through Jesus.

ratcheted up a notch

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like washer’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD, as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

Malachi 3:1-7; NRSVue

I’m not sure if anyone actually likes difficulty in and of itself. For other reasons, people might like it. To meet the challenge, to achieve some goal through it, maybe winning in competition, along with other reasons why people embrace what is hard. Hardship might be another matter, after all there’s surely a line drawn for each person, which they wouldn’t care to cross.

God was out to change the descendants of Levi, to purify them so that sin was being dealt with in their lives, and so that sin could be dealt with through their assigned task in the lives of others.

What about when we run into difficulty and what for us are impossible things to accept? Life won’t let us down that way. For some, especially who have plenty of material wealth, they may be able to glide through and pretty much avoid what are the common struggles for others. But even they can’t avoid everything, like possible sickness and eventual certain death. And difficulties will come their way as well, even if not so much circumstances, but disillusionment over emptiness in spite of being so well set.

God is active in people’s lives, and especially in those who name God’s name as those belonging to God and supposed to be the Lord’s followers. And part of that activity is not at all comfortable. “Refiner’s fire” and “washer’s soap” imagery above refer to purification and cleansing. We all need it. In the heat of life, what arises can be anything but pleasant, and not good. This can come through a multitude of small nagging things as well as a major concern which hangs over our heads.

But God is at work in that. It’s up to us to respond in being aware what sins need to be confessed, and the change that needs to come in our lives. And actually God is at work to ratchet us up a notch so to speak. So that we are becoming what before certainly was not the case. God is at work for great good, certainly including us. But we need to endeavor to accept that fully. So that we might be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1-2).

In and through Jesus.

what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

when beset with disappointment

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Luke 1:5-7

God’s people had already waited so long, living at home like exiles since they were ruled by a foreign power. Not only did they not really have their own king regardless of whatever pretending Herod did and more to fill that position. Though God was supposedly their King, the promises of Scripture had not been worked out. And Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were old and childless, which for couples in those days was a blight, commonly thought to be a sign of a lack of God’s blessing in their lives.

I wonder if disappointments that we’re experiencing help prepare us for what God wants to bring in, that God maybe wouldn’t be able to do otherwise apart from such disappointments. Or at least we can say that God chooses to use such emptiness to fill it with the promise of God’s goodness. But fulfillment in this life is only partial, and comes with plenty of trouble. I’m thinking now of the birth of John and what follows. They did not live to see the ministry of their son, who adapts to living in the wilderness, perhaps having contact with the Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls), but with a message all his own from God. And we know all that follows. Certainly God’s work in moving hearts, but also in John’s death at the hands of Herod.

We live with disappointment at times, unfulfilled dreams, perhaps even promises in our minds. It seems like all is not what it was cracked up to be. But that’s when we look to God anew to fulfill what only God can bring about. That is what Advent is all about. We anticipate, preferably together God bringing to pass what God would do, and whatever part we might have in that. Certainly in the case of Elizabeth and Zechariah, they played an important role, which all considered, certainly had some formative affect in their son, John the Baptizer’s life. We can anticipate something that though not groundbreaking like that was, follows from it, of course through Jesus’s life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. God has something in the works for us as well, even if it is hidden from human eyes. God is at work, and our longings will be purified and fulfilled. In and through Jesus.

finding our rest in God and in God’s word

At that time Jesus said, “I thank[a] you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[b]All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:25-30

We’re told in Hebrews (4:11) to make every effort to enter into God’s promised rest in Christ. That seems paradoxical, but the idea includes rest from our own struggles and work, as we enter into God’s rest, and as we see from the passage and Christ’s invitation above, into God’s work as well. No matter what we’re going through or experiencing, this invitation is ever open to us. We hold on to this as our only rest, and let go of everything else. Even while we seek to be responsible in all the details of our lives. But finding both the rest and work we’re to do from, as well as in and through Christ.

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.

get rid of all ideals of community and self

…we, who are many, are one body in Christ…

Romans 12:5

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

What is meant here is that we must drop all the idealizations we have of church, of others, and of ourselves. That’s not easy to do, nor does it even make sense to us. Aren’t we supposed to hold to ideals for ourselves and others? Maybe on a certain basic level, yes. We have to get up in the morning, fulfill our responsibility during the day, care for our family, take care of ourselves, etc. What is spoken of here is something else. Expecting others to measure up to some ideal we have. Or turning away when people don’t.

We’re all in this together, for better and for worse, indeed one body in Christ. None of us measure up to ideals we impose on ourselves. What God has in heart and mind will prevail. But it will be worked out in this life only if we’re committed to hanging in together through thick and thin.

What we need to be about is simply committed to following Christ together. Realizing that throughout that will be the necessary confession of sin, caring for each other, even putting up with each other at times. But believing that God is going to do it, is in the process of conforming us together into the likeness of God’s Son.

In and through Jesus.

find the good

We know that all things work together for good[u] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

First of all, we’re prone, at least some of us, to find the problem and become focused and caught in that. So that it is not only a problem in itself, but something which puts us on edge, and potentially over the edge. It can become something which is not only disruptive to us, but changing us especially over time in a number of ways which are not healthy.

There’s certainly no shortage of problems and what is not good in the world. We don’t have to look any further than what’s in front of us and around us. And we can get turned inside out, upside down when we consider world affairs, politics, tragedy, ongoing issues, etc. There’s no end to it. I’m not at all advocating in this post that we should simply ignore the bad, or even try to avoid it. There’s really no escape from it, and if we’re lovers of God and people, then we’ll be concerned for justice and mercy anywhere and everywhere. Not that we should try to take the world on our shoulders. We need too to realize our limitations.

But the point of this post is simply that we need to look for the good that could come out of what is bad, or at least perceived by us not to be good. As we see in the above passage of Scripture, God is involved in this. Yes, for all who love God and are called according to God’s purpose. But just as God’s people are blessed to be a blessing to the world, so God’s intent is to bring good to all, to the world, as we see as we read through to the end all of Scripture.

So we need to find at least in our hopefully sanctified imaginations, and in answer to prayer, what good might come out of any and every situation. God is at work, and no matter what it is that might trouble us, or actually be trouble, God can work in it for good, or somehow it all works together for good, God certainly being in the details.

Something which should be part of our psyche impacting our thoughts, attitudes, words and deeds. In and through Jesus.

slow down

therefore thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”

Isaiah 28:16

According to the NET Bible, the Hebrew is “‘will not hurry,’ i.e., act in panic.” If there’s one simple word I have to keep reminding myself again and again of perhaps more than any other, maybe it’s this: Slow down.

Our culture is caught up in hurry and worry tags close behind. When we’re in a hurry, most of the time we’re mostly taking matters in our own hands as if all depends on us. God is distant, for all practical purposes as far as we’re concerned out of the mix. My work demands some degree of haste. And all too easily one can develop that attitude the entire time.

But I find that God usually seems distant when I’m doing that, and especially after I’ve been in that mode for a while. And when I tell myself to slow down, it’s usually just a matter of time and not long at that, that some sense of God returns. 

Slowing down is similar to keeping in step with God, in the words of Scripture: walking with God, being guided by the Spirit. We want to be involved in God’s life, in God’s work, not merely our own. When we slow down, God overtakes us so that we can begin to live and move and realize that we have our being in God. 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.