gently pushing ahead

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

Titus 3:1-2; NRSVue

At the beginning of a new week, as the song goes, “rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” I know a guy who loved Mondays, though I’m sure when Fridays got around, he was happy. But as we enter another week, it might be good to ease into it with the realization that in Christ we’re called to simply gently push ahead.

Paul’s words above, or likely written in Paul’s name from someone who followed, have to be seen in their own context before we can bring them over to today, though most of it seems pretty straightforward. The word to be subject to rulers and authorities, probably obedience referring to that, is simply pointing out how Christ-followers are to live in relationship to government. We might very well and should offer conscientious objection against a number of things that the state might prescribe for us to do, like serving in the military, paying taxes for the military, policies which bring harm to the poor and marginalized, along with advocating for what is just and good. But whatever we do with reference to the state, we do as those in subjection. That doesn’t mean what they say goes, or that we have to obey their every decree. But that would be an exception to the rule. We try to live as good earthly citizens, even while our true citizenship is in heaven.

The rest of this again seems pretty straightforward from one generation to the next. To be ready for every good work means just that, and good works are meant to be done out of love for others. To speak evil of no one seems to be one that even the best of us too easily fail to follow today. I think this is meant to underscore the due respect we pay to everyone, but doesn’t mean that we can’t speak the truth. It’s more than easy to transgress that distinction and boundary, falling into words and thoughts that should be left to God’s judgment. But again, I don’t think at all that this means we can’t call out people for what they’re actually doing and saying. Probably most of us will do well to remain silent and pray. A few might be called to speak out.

To avoid quarreling is another one which we easily get, given all the controversy today. Respectful conversation is one thing, quarreling quite another. Arguing or worse. Of course quarreling can be over any disagreement among family, friends, neighbors, even strangers. That is not something we’re to engage in. Gentleness should characterize us, our lives, all we say and do. And right in the fire of life, where it might be easy to become brusque and combative. No, we must remain gentle come what may in every encounter in life. Showing every courtesy to everyone means that we should go out of our way not only not to offend, but to edify. People should know that being well mannered and kindly thoughtful with others is always our goal, what marks us.

All of this can help us to ease into another week, gently pushing ahead into the work and what falls out before us. Knowing that Christ is with us to help us through every aspect of life and challenge that comes our way.

confidence in rulers, politicians, presidents, etc., or in God?

Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the one whom the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

1 Samuel 10:24; NRSVue

I guess it never ceases to amaze me how excited people get over elections, especially presidential elections in the United States where I live. I’m not suggesting that elections of local, state and federal offices are not important, as well as issues voted on. Not at all, because I consider all of it quite important. On a certain level. And democratic processes. What I’m referring to is the status and high place certain people are accorded, and even the hope that they’re like the savior long awaited.

I’m amazed too that what I’ve seen over the years is nothing in comparison to what’s going on now, and that older people who ought to know better are falling for it. I don’t care what party or politician you’re talking about, every single one of them have feet of clay, limitations, indeed faults. It seems like you have to have a certain kind of charisma and populist appeal to be electable nowadays. Beware if you sound intellectual in the least. You have to play down to the constituents. Instead, one running for office should try to explain the hard things, be honest and real as to what can be expected, even why they’re there.

I doubt very much whether Abraham Lincoln or George Washington who are venerated by all Americans today could win an election now. At least it would be close. Both would understand the times and know what to do. But Washington was not a public speaker, probably not much charisma, and Lincoln would have an uphill climb given his total lack of the combative approach that is seemingly required of most any politician nowadays. I’ve seen exceptions, and I’m thinking now of a present day Republican, and I have to take my hat off to them.

As a Mennonite, back to my Anabaptist roots, while I should pray for them, I can’t fully support all they do, such as the President being Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. But I still make decisions in voting. But my point in this post is that it is foolish to put one’s hope in either a politician, a person, or a political party for that matter. We so easily cross the line of putting confidence in someone in a way that should only be reserved for God. Yes, we measure people’s character, ability and positions. But even the best of them are not saviors. Never.

In grade school I could repeat the U.S. presidents in order, and knew basic things about them. I was fascinated with that and American history in general. But the ones I consider the best now, and Lincoln and Washington would be the top two, neither of them were saviors. Washington’s humility and desire to not rule the people like some wanted was commendable, even while he tried to make slavery work, in the end giving up, and Lincoln accepting a most terrible war to save the union while freeing slaves, was not a savior, either. Though certainly both men were gifted in character and ability and filled an important role for their time.

What is dangerous today is the confidence professing Christians are putting in certain ones, who according to the flesh, just seem outstanding to them. What happened in Israel of old was like that. Saul seemed to be the epitome of the king they wanted to rule over them, handsome and head and shoulders taller than all the rest. No one like him in Israel. But it didn’t take long for Samuel to see through Saul. And Samuel knew all along that this enterprise was actually a departure from faith in God, and essentially or at least easily idolatrous. No different today at all, though so many professing Christians will beg to differ since they’re getting what they want.

Followers of Christ have actually only one Lord. America has some remarkable things about it, the first modern state democracy, and a lot of good in some of its ideals, though I would say unfulfilled in significant ways to this day. But to put such confidence in any nation or political party or politician for that matter is a complete mistake. Even the best of them are limited and a mixed bag. That’s not to say that they can’t do some important good. But it won’t take long if you dig a little to realize that they’re all flawed.

When are professing Christians going to put their full confidence only in Christ? Followers of Christ do that, and are open to needed correction when they don’t.

what does love think?

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him.

1 Corinthians 8:1b-3; NRSVue

[Love] hopes all things…

1 Corinthians 13:7; NRSVue

Knowledge is given much pride of place in our world, even if there has been a severe backsliding in that area as of late. There’s no doubt that it has an important place in human existence. Wisdom must accompany it, or otherwise we’re stuck with problems like the specter (fearful threat) of nuclear holocaust. Along with wisdom, something even greater must accompany it, according to Paul. Nothing less than love.

Surely we need to read the Bible and all of life with both the lens of Christ and love. Of course people will rightfully want to know what our definition of love is, and just who this Christ is we profess. As Christians, Christ-followers, people of faith, we point to the cross. To understand God, we have to look to Jesus hanging on the cross, God in Christ thus reconciling the world to God’s self. The God who is love is Jesus.

Only love knows in any true sense of the word, according to Paul. Only the mind animated and moved by love, considering all things with the love of God in Christ at the center, and through which we consider everything, is of any value. Sheer knowledge by itself is not only not enough, but ultimately ends up being devilish, puffed up.

Just a simple word that I always need, to apply to everything.

the gift and necessity of reason

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

As I heard recently on a podcast, the emphasis on reason that remains with us from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment which followed is a blessing from which we have many gifts we take for granted today, such as modern medicine, which for all our complaints, is light years ahead of what was in the past, mortality being just one indicator of that.

We do have to be careful that we don’t make, as it were, an idol out of reason. As modernists found out, we won’t arrive to any final answer through reason, and they’ve made peace with that. But as the podcast I referred to pointed out, evangelical fundamentalists think that through reason they can prove the validity of the faith or more precisely for them, the Bible. While reason is a gift God has given us to use as we pore through Scripture, it can’t do what only God can do.

On the other hand, I think reason is often all but lost due to many things which effectually cancel it out. Like theology not worthy of the name. Misreadings of the Bible, for example in Genesis. Apocalyptic misapplications of passages like in Revelation, which end up casting out most all reason, being held captive to conspiratorial thinking or whatnot.

Reason is a gift from God, to be used not only in our reading of Scripture, but in all of life. Sure, there are many things we won’t be able to understand, but so many things that we will be able to reason through. We should try to apply logic in terms of comparison and contrast, and ask many questions.

Yes, as a friend reminded me, overthinking can be a problem, and I suppose I’m rather a prime candidate for that. But actually I often think due to laziness, or whatever else, I can be prone to underthinking, which might be good on an odd occasion or in a certain way as part of life. Not “ignorance is bliss,” but going on by faith, even when we don’t understand.

But as Paul reminds us in the above passage: There is so much both in the faith and in the world that we can and should think about. The terms from the Greek in the Philippians passage above seem to refer more to human culture than anything religious. And that actually is a blessing given to us. Maybe even akin sometimes to “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

God is bigger than that

…the fullness of [Christ] who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:23b

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

God is often quite confined in our thinking. I mean if there is a god, if there’s God, then wouldn’t that be larger than all the world, more than anything we could ever think of? Probably all that is universally received as the best, like goodness, love, happiness as in blessedness or well being, and a whole host of other things that together we could think of, are not only exemplified in God, but absolutely perfected in God in a way that makes God indeed, Other.

Surely much of Christian theology which in large part is the consideration of God, might in and of itself unwittingly and surely inevitably limit God in ways that Scripture and life do not. That is something, just as anything about God actually, which is well above our pay grade. We can only try to catch a glimpse, and stammer whatever our reaction might be, probably being more distrustful of what seems so coherent except for basics like God is love, and God is good.

If something of what has been said about God as I tried to say above reflects the least bit of reality, then it’s surely more than reasonable to say that God is bigger than so much that we make so big here on earth. Let’s start with our differences, whatever they may be. Political and religious, the two forbidden areas of conversation, at least in part of my culture. And whatever other differences there are. God is bigger than that, than all of it.

We tend to confine God and God’s working to just certain entities and people. Yes, we do well to turn to Scripture where we find that Christ’s presence in the church is a key if not the central part of what is happening now. But take some of the rest of that writing and Scripture as a whole, along with all of life, and we surely will begin to surmise that God is bigger than our differences. That God is at work in ways that we can’t understand beforehand, and barely begin to comprehend afterwards.

Let this be a rebuke to all of us whenever we think we have anything figured out, and settled. I believe that Christ is the center of all things, and that God is preeminently present in him and through him to all the world, and that this manifestation comes especially through the church directly and indirectly, but possibly (I would say, likely) not confined to that. This should help us beyond all that divides us, to what is the most basic of all. Even while we try to understand what all of that might mean for life on the ground here and now.

little by little

“Whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from milk,
those taken from the breast?
For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”

Truly, with stammering lip
and with another tongue
he will speak to this people,
to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
give rest to the weary,
and this is repose,”
yet they would not hear.
Therefore the word of the LORD will be to them,
“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,”
in order that they may go and fall backward
and be broken and snared and taken.

Isaiah 28:9-13

In Jesus’s time people awaiting the messianic promise of God wanted it all at once. They wanted a sign from heaven, someone who would come and get the job done, kick the Romans out, feed them, relieve them of all the stress they were in.

One of their major errors is that they were in a hurry. The other is that they were amiss, not really having the vision of God and correct assessment of things. Doesn’t that ring a bell not just for others, but for us too?

What do we need? Ears to listen. A heart to understand. A mind to assimilate. Doing so individually and together. And not letting up on that.

If we do, hopefully we’ll all find our way out of the morass we’re in, to whatever extent or wherever place we’re in it. I certainly include myself.

how is God’s judgment evident, yes, on God’s people?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Matthew 23:37-24:2

What was true in Jesus’s day is just as true today. God’s judgment is on religious leaders, those supposedly the closest to God, I’m referring now to Christians. Not so much if at all on those they are leading, except to say that this is a case of the blind leading the blind which ends up disastrous for all. But the heavy judgment falls on the religious leaders.

They had their agenda and believed that God was all about doing their bidding, or that’s what they wished. And they got their way. But we see what followed. In Jesus’s day, the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. We see now religious leaders, prominent, not only defending but even promoting what amounts to an abomination in the eyes of God. Completely oblivious, evidently, to Jesus’s call of judgment on the rich and powerful, and blessing of the poor and marginalized.

The only correct posture before God for us all is one of humiliation and repentance. That is not what we’re seeing today, and we see God’s judgment in letting them go their way, along with the beginning of what follows as a precursor of what may come.

And for those who can’t figure this out, remember, as Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruits.” Good people do what is good, bad people bad. Love for one’s neighbor, in Jesus’s teaching including love for one’s enemies. Love being love, period. Not tied to whether or not they do what we consider or think is right. Unconditional. Like God’s love displayed in Jesus on the cross.

And as some wise writer said, Idolatry is quite hard to get out of, to repent of, and much easier to work at avoiding.

May God give all of us ears to really hear and hearts to really begin to understand.


humbly planting seeds

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Ecclesiastes 11:6

I am amazed when I consider the course of my life, how seeds sown bore fruit even years later. This is true both in terms of lives lived as exemplars as well as words spoken. It takes a while for those seeds to settle and germinate, sometimes at just the opportune time, perhaps laying dormant for years and years.

This should be instructive as well as encouraging to us. What seeds of hopefully good would we like to sow for others? We had better be an example of that. Truth is certainly much more caught (by life) than taught (by words). And that is a lifelong project for us. We aspire and direct ourselves fully to what we would like to see in others.

Needless to say, a whole lot of humility must accompany all of this. If we’re not committed to being open to learn from others and think we’re somehow anyone else’s teacher, then we’re not in the place where our sowing will do any good. We need to be open to what more our garden of life needs, along with what it doesn’t need.

Just a simple word for me, maybe for someone else today. Humbly plant the seed by word, deed, and above all life. And be patient, remembering that we need the same ourselves, and that any good change in us did not happen overnight and is ongoing.


the pipe dreams and the possibilities

In the day of prosperity, be joyful, and in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that comes after them.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

This passage in maybe more of an indirect way captures something of what I want to say. The NRSV-UE heading for Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 seems apt: “A Disillusioned View of Life.” I know I can get caught up in something of the troubles of life which affect others, and especially what hits home. That in itself is a bit of a rebuke to me.

We need reminded that we are indeed only mortals (even though that’s not actually the Hebrew word in this passage, though maybe it is fitting to translate it that way in certain contexts). We have a tendency to live in something of denial. Time will pass all too quickly and our time will be up either then, before or not long after. It is always good to keep this in mind, so that we live in part as those who know the end could come much sooner than anticipated, as well as live with the possibility of some more time ahead.

Along with that, we need to be open to the possibilities God gives us along the way to bless others. That after all is why we’re here: “We’re blessed to be a blessing.” The fact of the matter about any possibility we may dream up or think of is that it rarely comes to fruition, at least not in the way we envision. But what God does with the small, incremental things over time may not be seen or ever evident to us, but it is nevertheless every bit as real as some wildest dream coming true.

Things to think about whatever our age, especially pressing in on us as we get older.

with no agenda except to listen and hear

You must understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak

James 1:19

One of my numerous regrets in life is the failure in large part to make it my number one priority to simply listen and hear someone when we’re crossing paths. To those who had an ear for such things, I would often fill it with some enthusiastic stuff I was working through, processing, or reading. I can more than understand why someone I much respect I once saw trying to escape me when they saw me. I see this now as an error on my part. Understandable in that I have a bent to wanting to teach and share. But even if it could have been helpful, all of that really did little to no good, because it was out of place.

What I’m working on in this regard now is to have no agenda at all except to listen and hear, and keep doing that. If we end up in a conversation in which I might be able to share something which is helping me, all well and good. There are those relationships in which you give and take on this. But by and large we will do much much better if we just settle into a listening mode, attempting to really hear and understand what the other is saying. Perhaps stating back in our own words what they’re saying to make sure we’re getting it. But with no agenda other than that.

Part, I think, of the greater wisdom.

Thoughts here from this podcast.