in process

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

I take it that we’ll be in process until the day we die. In other words, we’re always sorting out things, the good from the not so good to the bad, what is fitting and what is not, what we should and shouldn’t do. Where we need to grow in whatever ways we’re deficient. I’m thinking now individually, but this certainly is not solely an individual endeavor. And it’s definitely grounded in real life, which is the point of it all, since that’s where our faith is lived out.

To be in process is to be in the midst of change. I always need to be willing to change on a moment’s notice, but especially as I see life unfolding and try to find and settle in and then live well in my God-given space.

Renewing of the mind is what’s needed. It is continuous, something that is not just done once, but is ongoing, a habit of life. Scripture and life and especially the example of Jesus in all of that is what we’re to consider. While at the same time being open to help from unexpected places. Humbly receiving that.

In and through Jesus.

what does love look like?

…the fruit of the Spirit is love…

Galatians 5:22

Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:14

For the follower and followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is love. The special love of God in and through Jesus is given to us by the Spirit. That’s all good, but it has to be worked out where we live. And there’s something else key to keep in mind here.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

Maybe a good question we can ask ourselves is something like this: What does love look like in this situation? Really in anything at all. What does love look like?

It doesn’t matter what other good we’re doing. It’s actually not good if love doesn’t accompany it, yes, if it’s not motivated by love (1 Corinthians 13). Love has to be down to earth. Love in the heart will work it’s way out. But often we don’t feel that love. But the Spirit of God in us followers of Christ will help us begin to know what to do, and just as important, what not to do.

Of course we’ll stumble along the way. We’ll catch ourselves falling back into our old ways, but hopefully before we violate love.

It’s good to keep in mind what the Biblical vision of active love is: To help the poor and the stranger, to care for the widow and the orphan. And in Jesus’s teaching it includes loving even our enemies. And loving each other.

I have to ask myself, is what I’m about to do an act of love or not? If I have any doubts at all, I shouldn’t do it. And the difficult matters that we have to deal with maybe have to be dealt in entirely different ways than we’ve done it in the past right up to the present times. Maybe we’re going to have to lean on God to help us find creative ways to deal with such problems in a way that at least is a sincere attempt to do it in love.

The love we’re talking about here is not the idea of “anything goes.” It’s instead God’s love that is for the true and highest good of all. It is love through and through. Regardless, whatever else people may think, if they consider our actions or words something other than love, than for the most part we’re going to have to stop dead in our tracks, take it all back, apologize, and start over. It’s better to be still and pray.

Love is active. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Love must show up into the lives of others. Yes, in the hardest places where we don’t want to go, where our own thoughts and attitudes contradict this. Love must win there. The love that ultimately does win out for us all. In and through Jesus.

other focused

Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Philippians 2:3-5

We don’t inhabit others’ spaces. We live in our own spaces. I refuse to say that we live in our own bodies because the real biblical concept which is Hebrew and not Greek is that our bodies are part of our true selves. But we live within our own understanding and experience. So it’s more than understandable when we want to share what we’re up to with others. Particularly when we think it might be helpful. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But what if our focus was not on that, but simply on tuning into others, to what they might share, what they’re thinking and feeling, their experience and take on things? And what if that became our practice, just a part of us, what we do? So that we offer our perspective ordinarily only when asked, or naturally within a conversation with another.

Yes, we need to give, but we also need to receive. And we do so as those who are “in Christ” and who are to let the mind of Christ be in us. Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and lived among others in complete love, a love which was humble and gentle. Yes, none of us are equals in any sense with Christ except that the very Spirit of Christ and through that, the heart and mind of Christ does somehow indwell us individually and together. We must not hold back from what we might be given to share with others, yet we need to be attentive to what others might share with us, and what God might be wanting to teach us through that.

Something of the other-orientation I am becoming more aware of and seeking to grow into. In and through Jesus.

learn from (and don’t ignore) history

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did, as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not engage in sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

1 Corinthians 10:1-15

I’m afraid that all too often our theology or teaching we’ve taken in trumps what Scripture actually says. In the same way I’m afraid that any ideology of the world can make reality take a back seat or get out of the car altogether. But reality doesn’t work that way. Unless we take seriously what Scripture says along with the voices that are raising concerns now, and unless we are willing to look at the past square in the eye, and seek to learn from it, and adjust ourselves accordingly, unless we’re willing to do all of that, then we’ll have to suffer the consequences, and others along with us.

All of Scripture somehow has meaning for us now, although I acknowledge that places in Leviticus seem without application to me. But you have to factor all the details of that book in as well, and see that as part of the whole, which might help us understand the present through considering the past along with the projected future.

Something similar is true for world and national history as well. Why we can’t look at the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly which is inevitable in any such history, and why that’s considered divisive or whatever else negative is a sign that we’re caught up in some ideology. To be devoted to an ideology as if it’s right and true, one example the myth surrounding any nation’s greatness and goodness, is to at least be on the precipice, if not already fallen into idolatry itself. We must be willing to hear the voices that speak out of pain. Of course, they’re not going to be infallible, but neither should we dismiss them as irrelevant with no truth and nothing to say that we can’t learn from. We must listen and listen and listen. Only then might we have something to say which might help, and maybe not. But we need to seek to learn. Only then will others come to respect what we might have to contribute for good.

And we have to accept what Paul tells us above. We need the fear of God in our hearts, but with the realization that such fear is meant to help us into the knowledge and experience of the fathomless and pervasive love of God. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation to the weary, heavy burdened ones

“Come to me, all you who 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 11:28-30; NRSVue

Jesus gave an invitation during his earthly ministry which written here is still open to us today. It’s made possible through the ascended Christ’s presence everywhere by the Spirit.

And if we’ll just accept it and seek to enter in and remain in that, this will make the needed difference. It’s offered in grace to us, and it’s up to us to avail ourselves of it. We’ll be enabled to follow in the way of Christ. And as Jesus tells us here, we’ll find rest for our souls, since unlike our crushing, heavy burdens, the yoke we take with him will be easy, the burden light. As we learn from the one who is gentle and humble in heart. In and through Jesus.

our mothering God

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131; NRSVue

Probably the most important thing I learned in my first year of college is just what little I know. A world of knowledge was opened up to us, and what I thought I knew was set aside. In that kind of education, one not only sees how little they know, but that oftentimes what we think we know is flat out mistaken.

This psalm touches on that, but that’s not really the heart of it. It’s more about our relationship with God and life from that perspective. I’ve never been a mother, so I can’t speak firsthand here, but the relationship between God and each person is likened to a mother and child, in that culture a weaned child being between three to five years of age (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version). A child at that age wants to explore and learn, but they’re still quite dependent on their mother.

Childishness is spoken of in Scripture as a sign of immaturity, but childlikeness quite the opposite, a mark of maturity. Jesus said we must repent and become like children to enter into God’s kingdom. In that sense remaining a child.

I’m not sure I’ve ever learned this, or maybe I should say not obviously so to me, though in indirect ways I’m becoming more that way. Just the sense of need for God correlates to this, even if we aren’t aware of enjoying and experiencing enough of that care.

Yes, it’s motherly care that God’s care is likened to here. But as the psalm tells us here, the child is to take it on themselves to calm down. Probably God is calming us down as well, since surely God does that for all of us as God’s children. But we often resist that, for whatever reasons. Instead we’re to let down our guard and let God. You might say in the well known if often misunderstood phrase: “Let God and let God.”

We are completely dependent on God for everything. Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that we truly understand nothing aright or well apart from God’s help? Do we really believe that God in God’s love will take care of us, or even that we’re actually in need of that care?

None of this means that we can be immature. In fact in this picture immaturity is a denial of this, and maturity an acceptance. A hard one for us to accept on our own. I’m having trouble with this right now. I want to unlearn so much and learn what God directly would like to teach me. I would like to experience so much more of God’s motherly care.

And we’re all in this together. Together we’re to put our hope in God in this way from now on and forever.

faith feels its way through (against dogmatism and certainty)

So we are always confident, even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive due recompense for actions done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10; NRSVue

J. Richard Middleton is a first rate scholar, evangelical, and I found this podcast interesting and stimulating. I’m not qualified to say much of what I say, but pick it up from those who really are, and he definitely is in that company. Among what I especially took home from listening was his point that the value of “worldview” has been hijacked by those who are voicing it in dogmatic terms, instead of having a stance of both faith and learning, yes learning from others on our ongoing walk of faith as well as following and learning from Christ. That’s my way of putting it. You could give that podcast a listen yourself. I would do well to hear it a second time. Doesn’t help listening to it in an old car with all the background noise.

As we see in the passage above, it’s not like we don’t have confidence, because in Christ we most certainly do. But it’s a confidence born of faith that is not walking by sight, in other words we could say, feeling its way ahead, actually fully dependent on God. And this being not just a private venture, but one together with others whose hearts are set on the same course.

The Bible is not an answer book for life. Instead it’s meant, I believe, to help us embark on a journey of faith like characters we read of everywhere in the Bible. And to be open to the same revelation and experience that they lived in.

Part of Middleton’s thinking is that along with our reading of Scripture, our experience of life is included. And after all, don’t we find that time and time again in the Bible? We go on, yes with the joys, but also with the hard knocks, the ongoing questions and dilemmas, every part of life. We go on with God, seeking to follow Christ with others, not beginning to think we have all the answers. But confident, just the same, at least in the sense that we’re primed and poised and one might even add we continue to be pumped to keep going. Even when it’s most difficult. Certainly the case for Paul if we consider the entire book of the passage quoted above. In and through Jesus.

in praise of mourning

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4; NRSVue

“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b; NRSVue

We all have to be careful, and I’m thinking especially of myself, because we can easily try to contradict something which actually in its place is quite true. Even while we too may be making a valid point. We may well be talking past each other, myself addressing something which really has nothing to do with what I think I might be correcting.

So there’s indeed need for people who are depressed, down, in despair, easily emotional, given to weeping to get professional help from a counselor, maybe a psychologist or psychiatrist, and perhaps to get medical help as well. There’s no shame in that. It can be not only the right thing to do, but absolutely necessary. Let there be no doubt about that.

I have gone down that course before, and it did help. But the meds had their side effects, and I thought I would rather be in my old normal state of kind of feeling down much of the time, and sometimes pretty depressed, though never to the point that I couldn’t carry on every day with everything, though that could make challenging times seem harder. I have never been diagnosed as being depressed.

At the same time, I’m wondering if we’re of a disposition nowadays to think that if we’re down, then we’re out. Do we have to feel good much of the time, maybe all the time, that serotonin kicking in? Yes, again you and I down the road might need special help. We must never ever give into despair. If we’re even heading that direction, then we need special help.

At the same time to lament over the world at large, and over our own world with the troubles people face, the intractable difficulties we ourselves face, along with the brokenness all around us in evil, danger and death, that is very much a Biblical response to life. There is nothing wrong with not feeling good at times, and in mourning. Yes, there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Yes, we do need some good belly laughs.

But by and large I think and feel that it’s not only okay, but good to be down given the brokenness of this world, of our present existence. As we see in the passages, Jesus said such is blessed by God. When we’re down we’re more prone to look up in prayers to God. We can tend to become more dependent on God, and less on ourselves, less even on circumstances. It can be a part of a needed humbling.

May the Lord give us all the wisdom we need. May we see sorrow, lament, and weeping as a gift from God. God’s comfort and peace even sense of joy helping us in all of this. In and through Jesus.

are we a disappointment to God?

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
    as on a day of festival.

Zephaniah 3:17-18a; NRSVue

Often we carry a burden of feeling and thinking that we are a disappointment not only to certain ones, but to God. That God looks on us and is not only disappointed with some of what we’ve done, maybe even much of that, but is disappointed in us. And there’s theology that in my mind is beneath the name Christian which supports and even promotes the idea that God basically just puts up with us, only able to stand to look at us and accept us because God sees us through and in Christ. Whatever grain of truth might be in that, the thought actually does not comport well at all with the whole of scripture, and especially in the light of Christ’s coming. In fact, any truth in it makes it more dangerous since people are more apt to swallow it. And so, we go around thinking and feeling that we’re nothing more than worms, really not liked by God, but somehow loved in the sense of God putting up with us. There is so much to say about all of this. Someone could write a book on this, not to say there haven’t been books written at least around this subject. There is much to say and sort out.

The above passage in Zephaniah is in the context of God’s judgment and work of salvation. With all the evil doing of the nations and of God’s own chosen people in Jerusalem, there’s a people who had been victims, and the rest evidently respond to God’s judgment with humility. At any rate, we can think of Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, who certainly didn’t do right by his father, himself, or anyone else for that matter. Yet the father longed for him, and when at long last seeing him return, ran toward his son and embraced him, and had an all-out celebration, holding nothing back.

Yes, just as we’re disappointed at times in things we’ve done in our lives, so God also. But we’re not a disappointment to God. God sees the one God made, and delights in that. And God delights in all God wants to bring to pass and enjoy about us in God’s love. God sees that in everyone. One of our problems is that we project our poor way of seeing others onto God, as if God is limited in some similar way. But that indeed is not the case. God sees through the ugliness of our lives at the beauty that is present in God’s creation of us. And God loves us through and through just as we are. Yes, just as we are. God will help us in God’s love to become all that we really are, all God made us to be through creation and new creation. In and through Jesus.

Jesus speaks to the crowds with parables

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on a path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. If you have ears, listen!”

Matthew 13:1-9; NRSVue

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but didn’t give the interpretation, only to his disciples as we see later in this passage. But why? Jesus told his disciples that the secret of the kingdom of heaven had been given to his disciples, but not to the rest, citing scripture to that effect. I’ve touched on this before, but it seems like Israel of old, many of Israel had an incorrect picture of what needed to be. They had failed to see God’s big picture, what God wanted. And unfortunately, by and large their religious leaders had failed them as well, they themselves just as lost, the blind leading the blind. Jesus realized that the crowds were not ready to receive the truth he was giving to his disciples, but he wanted to point them in that direction.

I think this kind of teaching was not just a form of God’s just and even wise judgment, but also a form of compassion. Remember that teaching the multitudes many things is said to have come out of Jesus’s compassion for them, as he saw them helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. It could be at least to some extent that Jesus spoke in parables to cause those listening to ask questions. Instead of thinking they already know what needs to be done, God’s program, what the kingdom promised was all about, Jesus’s teaching of parables would raise questions. And would hopefully make some open to a new understanding. Note Jesus’s words to the crowd at the end: “If you have ears, listen!”

I don’t think I’m a good teacher in this way in causing people to ask questions. I try to point people in the right direction through giving the best answers I can. But probably the best teaching leads people to ask questions, but in a way that is directing them to come up with good answers. Probably faith is at least as much about asking questions, having sitting questions without clear answers. But within that simply  trusting in God.

Just some thoughts on Jesus’s teaching to the multitudes of the parables without explaining the meaning to them as he did to his disciples. In and through Jesus.