gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

doing the same thing over and over again

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest.

Proverbs 6

In Jeff Manion’s new book, Dream Big, Think Small: Living an Extraordinary Life One Day at a Time, in his chapter entitled, “Ant Power,” Jeff competently and pastorally writes about the power of doing the good, right little things over and over again, so that over the long haul, such can make all the difference. Although doing something big at a certain point in time, for example going to a weekend for marriage enrichment, might be huge in changing the course of a failing marriage, only doing the same things over and over again, even from such a time, will make the difference needed.

This has to do with simply plugging away, day after day, in often thankless tasks that seem to go at least largely unnoticed, maybe apparent to no one, and which may seem in themselves quite mundane. But so much of that is not necessarily trivial. Whether we feel like it or not, we open the Bible day after day, and throughout the day, and we keep reading and pondering. Over time, since it is the word of God, that will make a big difference, of course our response to it being crucial (James 1).

We can’t let up, and we have to continue on, even if there seems to be little or no fruit coming out of it. Let God decide, or bring to pass whatever, but for sure the most important thing will be happening: our character is being shaped and will be forged. As we do this with each other in Jesus, the same things over and over again, to transform us more and more into the image and likeness of our Lord.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

the nobody/everybody shepherds invited to Jesus’s birth

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2

A wonderful sketching by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, The Adoration of the Shepherds was shared in the message yesterday (the third in the series entitled Christmas Stories, to be available soon), and is included in the 1:10 beautiful beginning before each of these messages, which I highly recommend that you would listen to and see. Jeff Manion pointed out how the shepherds were among the nobody’s of that day, and from that we can say the anybody’s, or everybody’s. They were invited to share in the joy of Mary and Joseph over the birth of Jesus. An angel, along with a heavenly hosts of angels proclaimed to them this good news.

It is so encouraging that God offers himself to people like you and I, who would not only be among the last on the list in the world of those who might be invited to such an event, but would be among those on that list in our own estimation, as well. The shepherds surely must have been as surprised that they were invited, as they were overwhelmed with the angelic visitation itself.

In God’s grace in Jesus, God makes a point to reach out to the lowest, most unlikely in the eyes of the world, those whose status (so important in the Roman world, as Jeff Manion pointed out) was nil. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 are an encouragement to us:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1

And so the wonderful birth of the Messiah, the Son of God was in a place accompanied by animals, the newborn Jesus placed in a feeding trough. And people like you and I were invited, although in the end, God invites everyone. We are all included, none of us any less in great need than anyone else, though some may especially be falling through the cracks.

This Christmas let’s remember that the celebration of joy includes you and I. We are included into what appears to be the lowliest, but is in fact the greatest place to be, in the humility of God becoming flesh, living right where we live in the midst of it all. To lift us up to where he lives in the life of God, the eternal life. All through that little baby boy. Through Jesus our Savior and Lord.

 

knowledge: the blessing, and the curse

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.”

Proverbs 4

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1

Knowledge is the watchword nowadays. At our fingertips is the answer to nearly any question people might ask, often without much effort. That’s good in a lot of ways, and can save people some grief, if they use it wisely. On the other hand, by itself, it simply is a part of “life under the sun,” which the book of Ecclesiastes (see link above) is largely about. That book, when considering knowledge is looking at it as if that is all that exists. What is not factored in, at least not sufficiently in Ecclesiastes (and that book is hard to interpret, biblical scholars differing from one another), is the reality of God and that all of life under the sun does matter to God, made clear at the end of the book. One of my favorite biblical books, by the way, because it shows the emptiness of what people are often full of in this life.

Proverbs, in the tradition of the wisdom of Solomon, puts knowledge and wisdom, nearly synonymous in that book, at the forefront of what one should desire in life. And that knowledge has nothing directly to do with the plethora of the knowledge of “life under the sun,” in which people ordinarily live and breathe. Although of course, it’s meant to help us navigate such knowledge with the wisdom from God, to put a proper evaluation on itself, what is called discernment. And that combination certainly not only has value, but is actually crucial for us living in the world as people of faith.

A key, which is fulfilled in Jesus, who is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians; Colossians) is that the knowledge we need begins, and in a sense actually ends with God. Apart from God in Christ, the knowledge we have is incomplete. In it, we find not only the meaning of life, but life itself, since Jesus himself is the Truth, bringing us into the reality of the life of the Triune God, the eternal life. That is why when we have something of a strong sense of that, other things not only pale in comparison, but are exposed. And yet we necessarily live in the seemingly mundane, endless routine of everyday life. And Psalm 131 is so important for us to not only remember, but take to heart. It is good to try to think God’s thoughts after him. But in so doing, we will quickly learn just how dependent we are on God and interdependent on each other.

We need to ever and always keep this foundational truth in mind:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1

And by God’s mercy and grace through Jesus, not live foolishly, but grow in wisdom in the knowledge of God, and learn to see everything more and more in that light. Through turning the pages of scripture, together as the church. And ultimately in the light of the revelation of God in Christ.

Jesus: God’s answer to our questions, and to the questions we need to ask

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2

During Advent and Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Jesus which we believe is no less than God becoming human in the Person of the Son, Christ. And when we say human, we mean human. Not merely the appearance of human, but human through and through. A mystery how God could become human, because in that humanity, Godness is not diminished, Jesus having the fullness of Deity in his humanity, being the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being (Colossians and Hebrews).

We wonder just what significance humanity has, particularly when it seems that not only have we made a mess of things, but are all too often at each others’ throats. But that is part of the Christmas story, as well. Christ came to be fully human in signficant part to make purification for sin by the once for all sacrifice of himself, as he experienced death for us all.

I like the big questions, which can leave one puzzled and bewildered, the echoes of such we find in Bible books like Isaiah and Job. The universe (or universes, “worlds”) is so immense and so much beyond human compehension. There is so much to learn, and the more we learn, the more in wonder we are. Whatever else God is doing in the universe, in creation (“the secret things belong to God”- Deuteromomy 29), God has left the stamp of his love, even of his very nature- in Jesus, who is God with us. And through whom we can begin to share in that nature (2 Peter 1).

The marvel of it all is that we as humankind not only matter, but matter greatly to God. So much so that God, while not changing in Godness and essence of Deity, yet took upon God’s Self our humanity, even our broken humanity. So that we can be made whole and completely human as God intended in our creation. And so we can share in the very Life of God. Which begins even in this life. In the humility of all we are as humans, and all we go through. God is present with us in Jesus. Which began in that stable (or cave) in a feeding trough so many years ago.

false knowledge versus true

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

2 Corinthians 11

The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. Those who think they know it all are barely touching water, whereas those who know better, find themselves in an ocean they had previously not known. Real knowledge inculcates/brings humility (see the entire book of Job). And with that there’s an awareness of how very dependent we are on God, and by God’s gift interdependent on each other. I think I was struck by this awareness my first year in Bible college as a young Christian, perhaps more than anything else.

Admittedly people can know a lot, and yet not know well. To know well is not merely a head crammed with “facts” and thus in our mind, power. Knowledge or success as they say, can go to our heads. Rather, we want to learn how to see things more and more the way God wants us to see them. And part of that, incredibly enough, is to begin to see life and everything from God’s perspective, in and through Jesus.

Knowledge is a gift from God, both in its basic form which children begin to learn from infancy at least through high school. And in a special gift of the Spirit given to some in the church to share the truth of scripture, of the gospel (1 Corinthians 12). And as we can draw out from the passage in 1 Corinthians 8 quoted above (and see 1 Corinthians 13) amounts to nothing, apart from love. True knowledge from God comes out of love, situated for life, for living.

Someday somehow by God’s gift in Jesus, we will no longer know in part, and the gift of knowledge as experienced today, will no longer be needed. We will have been ushered into what we begin to experience now by the Spirit, into the fullness of that reality, in and through Jesus (1 Corinthians 2). Until then, we realize fully that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13). And that part is always in love, if it’s the knowledge given by the Spirit, or the way God wants us to approach all knowledge in this life. As well as in the humility which attempts to see everything in light of the love of God in Jesus. And better yet, is seeking to rest in that love.