trying to see the big picture

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light,
as if someone fled from a lion
and was met by a bear
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:18-24; NRSVue

Trying to see the big picture, things as they really are will require both an openness and sustained effort on our part. Amos is a prophet who certainly saw, something inherent within prophets, earlier called seers, receiving a vision from God. And often that vision had everything to do with the times in which they lived, seeing the current situation in light of God’s revealed will, eventually in light of the kingdom of God which was and is meant to bring flourishing to all of humanity, to all of creation.

Amos’s words, indeed his calling was not an easy one, certainly true of all the Hebrew prophets. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed Amos’s words in the most difficult task he undertook of seeking racial justice, equality, and reconciliation. King’s passion was rooted in the gospel, the good news of Christ, and the vision cast through that, calling America to the best in its tradition, though it’s not certain that the US Constitution advocated for individual liberty for all, but that’s another topic, and well beyond what I could address (interesting article on this). But after decades and decades, not to mention centuries of wrongdoing to the Africans enslaved in America, the United States went through the upheaval it did hitting against the climax of the Civil War. Yet not ending with that as more was in the works given that much was not healed and made right. True to a significant extent right up to the present day, in fact becoming most evident in recent times.

There’s no question that just like during Amos’s time, we are up against what seems to be intractable forces, or to try to make it clearer, it seems like the fallout is here, that we are going through a perfect storm as it were, that the result of our ways (I include myself in that, too) has pressed in on us. That people on both sides have had enough. During Amos’s time the poor and oppressed could do little. During our time there is both the sense in which they think they can do more, but those who give up are often tempted to despair with a few giving into violence. And those whites who feel their lives are needlessly threatened by all of this, a few of them are ready for violence as well.

Both Amos and Dr. Martin Luther King’s call is entirely different. It is about stepping back and trying to see the big picture both in terms of what actually is, and what God would have be. That comes through being in scripture (Hebrew scripture and the New Testament- considering the Apocrypha with that) and prayer. And doing so in community, but all of this with an eye to try to see the current reality. Listening to everyone, especially those who are marginalized or feel that way. The poor, the stranger, and in this time where I live, first of all the people of color beginning with African Americans and the indigenous, and along with them all others: refugees, Muslims, Chinese, etc.

Unless we do this, we’re not actually seeing as either the prophets or Jesus saw. With the goal of acting in the love of God which Jesus brought with the willingness to suffer in love and out of that same love, for others. Knowing that the good news in Jesus is one of reconciliation of all, involving working through everything that means. In and through Jesus.

yes, not anxious about *anything*

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7; NRSVue

When switching to the NRSV I kind of liked the way it used “worry” here, that we’re not to worry about anything. That seems more in one’s control than the idea of not being anxious about anything. Interestingly the updated edition of the NRSV just recently released online (hard copies around May) changed it to “anxious.” In some ways I like that more, because it seems so outrageous. And that becomes something that we can’t do strictly on our own, but only with God’s help. Either way, that’s true, but especially apparent with the meaning of anxious which is an emotion, whereas worry carries with it more the idea of something we do. When you get right down to it trying to apply this, it probably doesn’t matter either way. μεριμνάω means either. The idea of brooding over something which usually is deeply troubling.

But what are we told here in this scripture? Simply not to be anxious or worry about anything. Not anything at all. Period. Well not quite period, because if we stop there, we won’t succeed. We’re instead to pray with supplication, supplication carrying with it the idea of humble earnest prayer (according to dictionary definitions). And that with thanksgiving. With the promise that the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding of anything will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

But I want to emphasize in this post that we’re not to be anxious about anything, anything at all. That is something we’ll have to work at, work through in the way we’re told to do it here. Not to be down on ourselves when we do feel anxious, which is nearly inevitable for most of us, certainly for me, until someday perhaps we’ll reach the point where we are so accustomed to doing this, that anxiety is mostly only a memory. As we do this, God helps us, flooding and filling us with God’s peace. Something we’ll certainly need as we keep doing this again and again in this life. In and through Jesus.

doing what is right

Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

James 4:17

It is Advent season, and while I’m thinking of writing some posts related to that, in a sense we’re always in the attitude of Advent in that we await the return of Christ. Advent involves a longing anticipation. We long for Christ to return and set the world right. Even while we await now the celebration of Christ’s first coming as nothing less than a baby boy born into the world, albeit a miraculous conception and fully human birth.

In the meantime we carry on, yes, as the passage tells us above, always seeking to do what we know is right to do. In the above context (click link) it’s about being humble about one’s plans, acknowledging that all depends on God’s will. Not supposing that we are in control of our lives and their outcome. And this attitude of knowing what is right and then doing it covers just about anything and everything imaginable.

It’s not like we can do this in our own strength and resolve. We can’t. But by God’s grace and the help that comes with that, we indeed can, however faltering and weak it may be. And God can help us gain strength so that regardless of internal and external pressures opposing us, we set ourselves to do what we understand to be right, so that this becomes a part of what we do, who we are. And so that when we deviate from that, we quickly repent, make things right as necessary, and go on in the correct practice and attitude which follows.

Something that is to mark us, mark our lives, even in our lives together as well. In and through Jesus.

borderline gossip

Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors…

Psalm 15:1-3

I’m sure we’ve all heard it, likely at some time or another even have been participants in it. Concern is being expressed about someone, and before you know it, details are coming out accompanied with a kind of interest that seems to have departed from the original intent. And it goes on and on, not stopping. In what has become “borderline gossip.”

Maybe when we talk about others in such contexts, we would do best to talk about them as if it were ourselves. We want to express the concern, but do so humbly, acknowledging that our perception is limited. That above all, we want to take it to God in prayer. And not go on and on, framing them in a demeaning way. 

There certainly are those times when the person or people we’re concerned about seem to be taking a clearly wrong turn. Of course those are the times we need to plead for God’s mercy upon them.

Let’s be careful what we say about others. Ordinarily keep it brief, to the point, and always with plenty of charity. Looking to God for God’s help and full blessing on their lives. In and through Jesus.

words

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

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 12:9-14

Jacques Derrida was a twentieth century philosopher who had a lot to say on words and specifically on their limitations. I would like to understand better what he was saying, but it seems to be about how words and texts themselves over time deconstruct or lose sense of whatever was their intent in being written in the first place. Words are written in a specific time and place, and seem to have all the meaning in the world at the time, probably connecting well with others when they’re well said or written. And it seems the continued need for that remains, so that every generation continues to write. Yet there’s value in the old texts and traditions, to be carried over from generation to generation. But how?

Maybe Ecclesiastes gives us something of a clue. Even though we’re far removed from its times and culture, we can readily identify with some of it. Regardless of whether we agree with all of it or not, we have to acknowledge that Qoheleth, translated “Teacher” (or traditionally, “Preacher”) wrote them with plenty of weight, and perhaps down in the mouth much of the time in doing so. And it is one of my favorite books of Scripture. Maybe that’s because it has to do with words. And consonant with Deridda’s thought: their limitations.

In the end, the one who shares the Teacher’s words seems to caution about putting too much weight in them, and in words in and of themselves. The goal is obedience to God, not the veneration or ornamentation of the words themselves. The words remain such as they are, but it’s God, the Spirit who helps us beyond them we could say to their goal. That we might live before God as those responsive to God, to God’s will. Not to set words aside as of no value, otherwise why would we have the book of Ecclesiastes, or Scripture itself? But to understand that words are meant to point us to the reality of God. And help us understand God’s will so that we might live in obedience. In love. In and through Jesus.

keeping your head low and going on

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

I would like to delve into the dark, heretical waters of fire and brimstone from an angry God who took out that anger on the Son. All of that heresy. And I appreciate those who work through matters like that. That God is a God of justice and mercy is definitely true, and comes out of the reality of the truth that God is love.

Instead, I need to keep my head down and go on. Praying for myself and others. Seeking to live in God’s will along with others. Calming myself down when need be through the calm that can come only from God by faith through Jesus by the Spirit. And maybe along the way, maybe not, but maybe God will give me a word to help correct falsehood. But above all, that they would see the kindness and deep love of God at work in and even through our lives. In and through Jesus.

no, it’s not wrong to have a broken and contrite heart. quite the contrary

The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

After we’ve sinned, and I refer not just to “great transgression” (Psalm 19:13), but to all sin, when we confess and repent we’re often told to forget about it. That our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) which is true upon genuine confession and repentance. But if we’re to take seriously the great penitent Psalm, 51, then we need to accept the fact that what pleases God is not only acceptance of God’s forgiveness to us in Christ, but also God’s acceptance and I would even say pleasure in a broken and contrite heart over our sin.

That doesn’t mean we should wallow in our sin, or hate ourselves. We hate what we’ve done, and not merely the consequences. If we hate only the consequences, then we certainly don’t have a broken and contrite spirit. For most sins the consequences are only a reminder that we haven’t arrived in this life, and that we do well to be more and more humble. For some sins the consequences may be greater along with the realization that there’s work for us to do to be rid of our tendencies without ever thinking we’ll come to the place in this life when we’re actually above the possibility of falling again.

No, with thanksgiving and praise to God we accept God’s forgiveness upon our confession of sin. But we also take our sins seriously, out of love for God and others allowing our hearts to be broken. So that our lives following will become different. Hating what we’ve done, and making amends as best we can with an entirely different life. Letting God, as the psalmist, probably David in Psalm 51 aspires, to do God’s work of thoroughly cleansing us on the inside, so that our hearts might be inclined in love toward righteousness and justice, wanting to avoid all wrong.

In and through Jesus.

a broken and contrite spirit (warning and blessing)

The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

There are a couple of severe warnings, red signs I want to put up at the beginning of this post. First: Never ever under any circumstances say that the big sin is alright because of what can come after it. Secondly, never think for a moment that you are less close to God since you’ve never committed such, but be thankful you haven’t.

If you consider David’s story, and the tradition that says that this psalm is in conjunction with David’s great sin in essentially murdering Uriah, and committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, you will note that while God was merciful and did bring good out of it, yet much evil also happened in connection with it. And God told David through the prophet Nathan that because of what David had done, the sword would never leave his house. David paid an awful price. Yes, he may have had a deep sense of sorrow over sin, and the desire to live completely differently the rest of his life. But do you need to commit such a sin to have that? No. The blessing is that such a sin never leaves a person, that they should be humbled daily the rest of their lives over that. But really all of us need to be humbled, because everyone of us is capable of committing the same. Even if we haven’t, we know that in our heart sometimes along the way, we actually have, or at least have been sorely tempted to do so.

But now to dwell on the main point for a moment. God never despises the broken and contrite heart. Contrite as in deep sorrow over what has been done, not over the consequences at all, but this is sorrow over what one has actually done. One who has committed the great sin should never let go of that blessing, even as they remain with a brokenness and contriteness over it the rest of their days. And the rest should never look down on them, but seek to have such a heart themselves, realizing that they too are broken, that daily their attitudes fall short of always loving God and neighbor. While at the same time all being thankful for the truth that those who have committed the great sin can have a heart over it that God will never despise, so that God will help them, and can give them a depth beyond, sadly many of those who haven’t committed such a sin. In and through Jesus.

a true friend tells the truth to help

Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:6; NIV

On the surface, there’s probably nothing worse than wounds from a friend. But if we can get past that, there’s probably actually nothing better.

Sometimes the only way truth and needed correction can get through to us is through a wounding. How that’s inflicted requires wisdom that is beyond us, or we could say also comes through long experience with God’s help. And it depends on each situation. And it’s not like we get it completely right in doing so. Maybe there’s wrong along with right in what is said, how it’s said. We need to be doing so always with the attempt to love. But love is not about making people feel good or in affirming their every thought and action. Not at all. If we do that, we’re not a good friend, in the true sense not a friend at all. But oftentimes it ends up being that we’re just not the friend they need. We may even be well meaning, but amiss. Love includes truth, what is right and just as well as good. So we need friends who hold us to that standard, and in turn we need to hold each other to the same.

But if we’re not regularly praying for someone, or not in prayer for them, then we should never attempt to correct them. And if we try to correct another, it should be done gently. Though maybe there’s a time for rebuke. We have to be careful not to see ourselves as more than we are, just another human in need of God’s grace, or to think we’re God’s spokes person. If we’re ever on the giving end of this, we should do so with much concern, in prayer, ready for God’s correction of us. And seeking to love.

If we’re on the receiving end of it, of course that’s harder. But if we’re maturing in Christ, than we’ll seek to hear what good is there, what actually might be helpful for us. Ever mindful of our need to grow, of the reality that we have our blind spots as well. And that God intends for us to progress in the faith significantly through the give and take of each other.

All of this not easy, but the help we need. In and through Jesus.

in praise of not having it all together

…they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”

2 Corinthians 10:10

Tim Gombis’s book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry is most helpful, and possibly even groundbreaking in giving us a view of Paul, pre and post conversion, and how that affected Paul’s service to God. And how that might speak to us today, even those who are in the trenches in ministry, and yet doing so in a way that is often more like Paul before his conversion to Christ, completely flipped after that conversion.

Too many of us have taken on the worldly attitude that we are out to sell something, have a big impact on our communities, be successful in terms of numbers: growing and growing, and just be the epitome of success inside and out. Win, win, win is a big part of that, being winners. Or having just that image that people imagine is good, maybe even Christian, and perish the thought: even like Jesus. After all, some have compared Jesus to images contrary to the “love your enemies” cross bearing picture given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

We ought to not only much prefer, but accept nothing but honesty to God and to each other. And while we should pray and do our best to present the truth in Christ as fully as possible, faithful to Scripture, to what we’re hoping God has given us, that should be done in utter humility with a willingness to be ourselves, to be vulnerable, maybe to trip over our words some. That might encourage the kind of church the New Testament envisions in which everyone is a participant. We’re not out to impress each other, but to seek God together, and be faithful together in God’s covenant in Christ.

We need to get rid of the notion once for all that we’re to have it all together, whatever that means. What we do desire is to be growing together into the image and full maturity of Christ. Nothing else matters. What we need to see is not us, but Christ in us. No pretense, all real, honest, even when raw and most often with the sense of falling short. But God’s grace in Christ making the needed difference. In and through Jesus.