take what joy you can, but live in reality

It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of everyone,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4; NRSVue

The title for Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 in the NRSVue is “A Disillusioned View of Life.” Probably Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” is off the mark in at least some of what he (or she) is saying. We can say it’s all a matter of perspective. From their point of view, from where they were looking, they were telling it like it is, and trying to express wisdom. And there definitely is a measure of profound wisdom (see toward the end of Ecclesiastes).

I find the part quoted above most helpful for myself. Life “under the sun” and in seeking to follow Jesus and just considering our own weaknesses and limitations along with difficulties we face is indeed at least full of challenge. Life is hardly foolproof. We make many mistakes and hopefully keep learning along the way. If we expect a bed of roses here, we might as well forget that. Instead we’ll find some good, some joy, but much sorrow and possible hardship, even some possible danger along the way.

Paradoxically if we can just accept this, and choose to comfortably live in it or settle in it, then we can find not only a bit of joy here and there, but really joy even in the midst of sorrow. The Spirit helps us, but only as we accept things as they are.

“The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes is trying to help people steer a good course or if the title is apt, make the best of a bad situation. Yes, much is pretty dour in this book. Maybe that’s in part why I’ve been drawn to it over the years, because it does seem to line up with life in the real world, or at least much of my experience of it.

Our hope and expectation is in God through Christ, not in the circumstances of life itself. We receive all that God gives, and can enjoy some of that. But ultimately that we might live for others, even as Christ is teaching us by the Spirit together. Enjoying life even as “the Teacher” tells us in Ecclesiastes, but with our feet on the ground not in some make believe place, but in the real world where we all live. And especially with a heart and ear turned toward suffering, that we might help others. 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.

when life is more than hard

Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when you are punished by him,
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children, for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Hebrews 11:35-38; 12:1-13; NRSVue

I really want to read the copy I have of Charles Dickens, Hard Times, because I identify with plenty of what I’m picking up of what he said in it and elsewhere about the times in which he lived. For some of us it’s more than rough. There are some days that are among the very worst, for many of us many days like that. You might be going through something that seems far beneath and removed from what any creature should have to undergo and you may really want to throw in the towel. I know, I’ve been there, and probably not just a few times.

What kind of mindset and attitude, and from that what kind of life does God want us to live as a result of going through such? I think the word above from Hebrews can be quite helpful to us. We need to look at all of it as part of following our Lord, not only his example but following him as well in this life. Along with seeing it somehow as part of God’s loving discipline in our lives, somehow needed so that we can meet the glorious challenge of following Jesus in this life.

We can hit that breaking point and go under. But God wants to give us a new sense, a new vision, and with that a new wherewithal so that we carry on regardless and in spite of, because of the joy set before us in simply following Christ even in the way of the cross. All of this as always in and through Jesus.

against the fear of death

A Miktam of David.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16

The fear of death hits us in all kinds of ways, and it really doesn’t matter how old we are. Though as we get older, it’s more pressing, since we realize more and more that our time is limited. But even when we’re younger, and older years seem remote, we can be plagued with this fear. “What if we get some disease?” Or this or that. Sadly, so many have died from accidents and other things which can happen in this life.

This psalm points us to the hope we have in God. It’s distressing even to think about death, and what surrounds it. But it’s a fact of life we can’t escape. We do well to look to the One who will help us live beyond this fear while it’s present, and will see us through when it comes.

Meanwhile we don’t accept the attitudes of the world to run after something other than God, making that a god to us. Instead we throw in our lot entirely with others who are intent in waiting on and seeking God. And we experience God’s faithful love in the day, and through our sleep at night. Like a compass directing us, the Lord keeps moving our hearts toward his love, even in the midst of the troubles and even tragedies we face in this life. The Lord counsels us, and continues to give us the help we need.

The sense of God’s presence in and of itself brings fullness of joy. Ours even in the present, and unbroken and forever in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

joy, peace and overflowing hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Interestingly, this more or less ends a section in which Paul is dealing with Christians weak in their faith and how Christians who are strong in theirs are to deal with that. Yes, with a word of instruction to the weak, as well. Much to be said about that within its context. But I’ll just say this about myself. I know I can feel exceedingly weak for one reason or another in my faith. Which is all the more reason to rejoice with Paul’s words of benediction or well wishing here.

Yes, God has this for all of us in Christ: the weak as well as the strong. We’re going through a decidedly difficult season now, with uncertainty ahead about the health and well being of our loved ones, of neighbors, of people in general, and with the economic fallout which is accompanying this.

But this wish is not dependent on our circumstances, but in God filling us. As we learn to trust in him more and more. In and through Jesus.

Jesus: our example of faithful endurance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

This Holy Week we think of Jesus having set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem knowing full well what was awaiting him there, just as he had told his disciples three times, doing so either for the joy set before him, or instead of. The Greek word, ἀντὶ (transliterated, anti) can mean “instead of,” or “for.” Either way Jesus endured, scorning the shame of the cross. That was the worst form of Roman execution, reserved for non citizens. And whoever was hung on a tree was said to be under God’s curse in Jewish Scripture, yes indeed, in God’s word.

Instead of the joy set before him might mean something like the idea that Jesus was ready to undergo the Father’s will, even when it went against his own will, evident from his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. I probably prefer the other way it can be translated, for the joy set before him, with the idea of doing something in exchange for something else (see BAGD Greek Lexicon). There surely is mystery in Christ’s sufferings for us. But the intent of this passage is to strengthen us in our suffering. So that we can endure because we know the good that awaits us at the end of what’s set before us. Or persevere against our own wishes. Following the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus. In and through him.

light for life

נ Nun

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, LORD, according to your word.
Accept, LORD, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.[a]

Psalm 119:105-112

God’s word is a light for our lives. But for that to be so, there must be the commitment on our part not only to receive it, but to daily live in it through all the difficulties and troubles life brings.

The psalmist remained in God’s word through the danger he (or she) faced, undeterred and determined, finding reward and joy in that word. Our privilege also in and through Jesus.

 

 

the deep sadness of life

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

John 17:13

I am reminded too often of the tragedy of living in this world, often senseless, seemingly heartless tragedy of such. Except that I believe there’s a heart of love that somehow beats behind it all.

Jesus’s prayer to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion is so deep, worth pondering, and a fitting climax to all that precedes in his “upper room discourse” to his disciples. And the part of the prayer quoted above is especially moving to me. Life is a struggle, marked at times with deep sadness. But in the midst of that, we can have our Lord’s joy, even the full measure of such within us.

Admittedly the sense of that ebbs and flows, and for me too often just seems absent. But I believe it is something that can more and more mark our lives, as we simply press on in faith, seeking to follow our Lord in everything.

In the meantime we have to face the fallout of this world, all the issues and problems. Like our Lord we can pray. In fact there’s nothing greater we can do than that. I do well oftentimes to quit doing anything to change things for better, because if that’s all I do, then whatever change for good that might happen probably has little to do with what I do, in fact at least somewhat in spite of it. But if I get out of the way and pray, maybe the Lord might help me say or do something which actually helps. But I really don’t need to do anything except pray. It is God’s work.

And throughout all of life, God is with us in Jesus. Our Lord’s full measure of joy no less being our own. In and through Jesus.

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

muddling through life

muddle through

phrasal verb

If you muddle through, you manage to do something even though you do not have the proper equipment or do not really know how to do it.
We will muddle through and just play it day by day.
They may be able to muddle through the next five years like this.

I am more or less a fan of muddling through life. I’m sure this can be misunderstood, and actually is not an easy position to come to. By nature, there’s so much in life that’s trial and error. And some of us seem to be easily overcome emotionally, or whatever is the best way to describe it. So that life itself can seem overwhelming, a challenge, a heavy burden, even suffocating at times. I’ve been there, and still am there more often than I like.

It doesn’t matter how many times you go through such an experience, it’s so awful, that although you hopefully handle it much better, and guard yourself from letting things get to you, you’re going to hate it just as much, and want to be rid of it. And if you so much as catch a whiff of it, you would like to turn tail and run, have nothing to do with it. But then you’re caught up in it again.

I would like to say you can get rid of it by the right thought, prayer, or whatever. Maybe rarely that happens, but by and large it doesn’t and won’t. We do well to address the source of it, as best we can, hopefully having light from God to understand that, and then act on it. And not give up, but keep doing that.

But I’ve found, oddly enough, that the darkness and heaviness begins to dissipate, when I simply at last come to accept it. As a wise pastor from our past told us, we can’t simply snap ourselves out of fear (or a bad experience), and neither should we act on it. An important aside. But again, when I at last accept it, and determine to live with it by God’s grace, maybe something like Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 he asked the Lord to remove three times, but the Lord didn’t, then, usually sooner than later, the heaviness and darkness will recede, and the light of the Lord’s joy and peace will again be more or less present.

I also find, frankly, that ordinarily I have the sense of muddling through life, since in my own experience, I’ve had to face quite a few times when I feel inadequate and lost in and of myself. But I find that the Lord is present, as I seek to do his will regardless.

I am not much of a fan of the idea that everything should be great, that we should be on a high on some mountaintop experience, that if we were living the normal Christian life, we would bring heaven down to earth, and others would catch it from us. Actually that might indeed end up being the case from learning to live in the valley, in the depths. Finding there, that in our weakness and lostness the Lord is present, and that we are experiencing something of his strength. That he resides with the broken and poor in spirit. And even want to help others through us. All of this in and through Jesus.