unlearning our striving

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

In Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage, Jesus invites us into “the unforced rhythms of grace,” learning that. It’s in terms of a yoke, like oxen yoked together, Jesus carrying the load. But who also says that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

It is a discipling relationship. We get to learn from the Rabbi, but that kind of learning wasn’t like what we ordinarily think of as education. It was living with Teacher and learning their way of life. Learning to see life as they see it, and act as they act, live as they live.

This is something we choose to accept, but then it depends on the Lord taking us on, and fulfilling the promise he makes here. None of this is anything we can do. And yesterday I heard someone making the point that we have to unlearn our own striving. How we think it all depends on ourselves, our effort. And imagining God rewards that. A big part of the American way, and seemingly what most evangelicals actually believe. And that fits in perfectly with the attitude in all of life that might and success are what matter. But not at all the truth or reality found in Jesus. But hard for us to break away from, so ingrained in us, even from childhood.

No, instead we need to learn straight from the Lord himself the unforced rhythms of grace. Something only he can teach us by the Holy Spirit. And learn to live more and more in that. In and through Jesus.

 

accept the struggle against racism, etc.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

We can’t forget, we need to always remember: we’re in a spiritual battle. That’s the way it is now, and there’s no escape, even let up from that. The battle does seem fierce at times, and other times it seems we have some rest. But we must always be ready, not caught off guard.

It is a fight over the long haul. And it’s a gospel fight, not a culture wars nor political one. We shouldn’t care who wins the culture war, or the political contests.* That’s not the battle we’re in. The problem with aligning ourselves in such battles it seems to me is that we’re getting our eye off the ball in the actual game we’re in, figuratively speaking. Of course it’s no game, but out and out war, spiritual war.

And part of the grip the powers don’t want to let go of is the grip of racism, specifically against Africans we stole and treated worse than animals, and still look down on to this day as a society. Christians, and specifically white Christians must be in the forefront of bringing the light of the gospel into that darkness.

With reference to racism in the United States specifically against African-Americans we need to listen well, pray, listen again, pray, and keep doing that, keeping our mouths shut, except to speak out in the ways God gives us. As we become more and more aware, we need to do what we can to stand against this evil. First beginning with ourselves, and that will be ongoing, the rest of our lives. Seeking to understand better how we’re in complicity with systemic racism, as well as how the church and we as part of that, can see this evil chain broken.

Nothing less than spiritual warfare, bringing the truth of the gospel to shine its light not only in people’s hearts, but against the darkness seen everywhere. Systemic racism, as well as the racial prejudice we will find if we’re honest, yes, in our own hearts. We want to confess our sins, repent, and see ongoing change. Even as we look forward to the Day when all of this will be gone. Until then, we are strengthened to stand firm in the spiritual battle. In and through Jesus.

*Not that we can’t participate as a citizen of a nation, either by voting, or abstaining from voting.

in the uncomfortable spaces

I find myself sometimes in most difficult spaces, sometimes because of my foibles as a human being, some might say follies, and just because of life itself. I think those can be the places where God might be trying to teach us something new and formative to shape our lives. Or deepening what God has already taught us.

I find myself in such places more given to prayer, more thoughtful, more alert, hopefully more aware. At the same time, I also find the experience difficult at best. Such that I have to look to God, try to cling to him.

I do that by going back again and again as actually just a habit of life, to the word. My mind is distracted from what troubles me. And what I read and ponder on actually informs and forms me yes, about the uncomfortable space, or what my own response to that should be, a resolute and firm trust in the God who saves.

Too often in the comfortable places I drift. Yes, we need those places of rest, as we see in Psalm 23. But as we also see in Psalm 23 this life is not entirely like that. So again and again, today and every day by God’s grace I will be in the word, in prayer, voicing my concern for what is troubling me, and hoping to get beyond that. In and through Jesus.

back to the nuts and bolts

א Aleph

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

Every day, and particularly at the start of each week after a kind of short sabbatical from normal life, one has to remain where the structure and life is found in Christ, Scripture. Psalm 119 is a fascinating psalm, especially from the Hebrew.

It’s interesting in this first section how the ideal is presented, and then how the psalmist seems to lament that they don’t live up to it. While their heart is set on that, they find themselves not entirely living up to it. And yet that ideal remains embedded in their heart and mind, so that they continue to pursue it.

It is interesting too, to note that there’s ongoing learning. It’s not like we know it all, not at all. But our learning and endeavor is with the goal of obedience to God, specifically to God’s word.

God’s word, Scripture is the primary way God speaks to us. But through that, God speaks to us in other ways as well. Scripture opens the door to learning from God. We need to walk through that door and find our way into God’s way for us. In and through Jesus.

wisdom in the real world

One of the major themes of Scripture is wisdom. We have wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, even Song of Songs. And some of the Psalms. I would like to include James from the New Testament, and you can find snippets of wisdom everywhere throughout Scripture.

What marks out Biblical wisdom is “the fear of God” which is foundational to it. But also it’s plain to see that the wisdom talked about in Scripture is for us as we really are, for life as it really is, not some idealized version.

I think this is important, because it might be easy for us to give up on the pursuit of wisdom, or think we really haven’t received it from God, because we’re so aware of our flaws. But the wisdom given is for flawed people, yes, to help us walk in the way of God, and not in our own way. But also to help us do better, both unlearn and learn, and continue, not only in the way of wisdom, but as life-long seekers of it.

We’re told that Christ is our wisdom. Ultimately we find God’s wisdom in him, and actually to understand all the rest is to see it in light of him. This is from Scripture, God’s written word, and the Spirit. So that means we don’t leave any of the Scripture witness behind. And we especially mark all that is pointed and helpful for us on our journey. As we continue on in the way of wisdom. In and through Jesus.

piece by piece

Not many of us readers read as much as we would like. And even if we do we can only scratch the surface of all that is out there. Which is one reason I like to read writers who themselves are broad readers. Then hopefully I can pick up something of the breadth of their learning.

When reading scripture and books we can be content with the idea that we gather piece by piece. And that somehow out of that can come something of a whole that is both satisfying to us and more important, reflective of reality.

We want our sources to tell their own story. In time we become acclimated to it if we don’t resonate with it sooner. Along the way there may indeed be a paradigm shift or two of major proportion, and likely a host of smaller such shifts. Those can be times of discomfort to say the least when the ground under us is shifting and we seem to have something less steady to stand on. That is when we need all the more to hold on to our faith in God through Jesus. I speak as one both committed to and convinced of the faith of the gospel of Jesus.

Being unsettled can be good. It is a sign of change which is a part of life, indeed a part of growing. It is also good when we have the sense that things are coming together so that we have more of a complete, integrated understanding of the whole.

In this we shouldn’t at all “despise the day of small things.” No, we add the pieces or let them come and we keep working on them. A little bit done well is good. We keep adding to that and trust the Lord for a good outcome.

learning a deeper rest

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”

I’m on vacation right now, and have appreciated some significant rest both in body and in spirit. Some things are happening which have brought me back down to earth a bit, and I know the daily grind is about to resume all too soon.

But through that and a cartoon someone shared on Facebook, I’ve been reminded of my need to learn a deeper rest, day after day, no matter what.

I say learn. Jesus’ call is to all the weary and burdened to come to him with the promise that he will give the one who does so, rest. And then he tells us to take his yoke upon us and learn from him. The result will be rest for our souls.

We probably dislike the idea of having to learn this. Or it seems counterintuitive. After all, shouldn’t rest be simply an experience one receives. We certainly can’t make this “soul” rest happen ourselves. And yet the call from Jesus is to learn his way in and with him. With the idea that he will be right beside us, actually carrying most of the load. And that in doing this, we will find that rest.

I want relief, or this or that answer to whatever problem I’m facing. Instead, I’m invited to come to Jesus and learn from him, with the promise of rest.

It is what it is. There’s no formula to arrive to this. We need to take the words of Jesus at face value, as they are. Simple as that. What is implied here is a process. Not to say there won’t be breakthroughs along the way, because there most surely will. But by and large this ends up being a process. One in which we’ll see improvement in change over time.

We need to learn this rest in our relationship with the Lord, and we need to share this rest with others. First in the difference it makes in our lives. And then sharing in word how this is happening. “Show and tell.”

And so the Lord helps us, that we might actually work with him. May we take up the Lord’s invitation and learn to live more and more in that rest, along with others in Jesus, in and for the world.

holding on to wisdom

I find that at certain points when I am in great need of wisdom, I learn some important things pertaining to that situation, which can be a passing trouble, but most often seems to be a matter that I have to live with. And by and by I’m hit again with the same problem, and it seems I have to relearn what had helped me before.

That reminds me of the counsel Proverbs give us to hold on to wisdom. To guard it, since it indeed is our life. Living in the way God gives us depends on that.

Certainly we need to be reminded of truth, as scripture tells us. We can be quite forgetful. I find in my own life that all too often I have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, as to my own experience in learning. But that getting out of the trouble takes less time than before. I want to get to the place where I see less and less of certain problems because I hold on more and more to the wisdom God gives me to meet the problem in the first place.

At the same time our gathering in of wisdom is not static. We are to grow in it. So that what I had before, while it is important, is not what I’m to have now. I should be growing in my understanding from God, say in a given matter. Deepening in the understanding I have.

Of course this wisdom is personal at its heart. It is about my personal walk with God in this world, along with others of the community of God in Jesus. And that walk is both in love and for the world, so that it’s missional, as well. I’m not here for my own enjoyment, nor even just for my own benefit. If I stop there, I’ve lost wisdom altogether. I’m certainly off track.

And wisdom is not just intellectual. It is moral and spiritual. Certainly the head is included, but it is the heart and life in which wisdom is worked in and played out.

And so I want to hold on to wisdom. In the face of trouble, and perhaps even ongoing struggles, temptations, and issues which may never be resolved in this life. Holding on to wisdom along with others in Jesus in and for the world.

the value of good books

The second sage in Ecclesiastes seems to warn of excessive study and the making of many books, though actually a better translation would make it clear that he’s warning against writings such as Qoheleth’s. Actually good books are a blessing. I’m speaking to the choir here, because most any blog reader already agrees with this.

Every day I listen to the Bible and go over it myself. It is the Book which stands alone, the word of God to humankind leading us to God’s will and salvation in Jesus. In daily interacting with the Bible I can be daily interacting with God. So for the Christian that is the primary and ongoing read. For everyone else the need is the gospel of Jesus, the good news of his coming and dying for our sins, raised to life for our salvation, so that all who put their trust in God through him, receiving him are “born from above” by the Spirit.

Any book which gives knowledge including perspectives of others I value. Of course there are so many good books and most good book reading takes a commitment because reading new things often takes some effort and time. What to read surely varies from person to person. I like to read biblical exegetical books by Christian scholars working through books of Scripture, theological, philosophical, scientific and historical books, and if I would have time other kinds as well, poems being next in line for me through the writings of some friends.

It is best to read slowly and if it comes naturally to pick up the pace, then I do that. And if I am learning nothing from a book, or have no compelling reason to read it, I don’t finish it. It is important to keep track of what one is reading with the goal of finishing them one way or another, by reading it from cover to cover ordinarily, or deciding not to and maybe gleaning this and that from it.

Eugene Peterson, a favorite author of mine, as I recall thinks it wise to pick out a few favorite authors and keep reading their books. I used to wish I would read widely, but now I just want to read well. Everyone has their niche and I try to read within that, with reference to what compels and interests me. And always with reference to the Book.

Paul valued his reading materials and we do well to follow him in that example. It’s not how much we read, but rather that we keep at it. Better to read a little and be learning, rather than read a lot, or next to nothing and learn very little. It’s quality and purpose that is the point in good reading.

I speak as one who loves reading and books, but not as an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Though I like to interact with people I would love to be able to read at least three hours every day. With usually a cup of coffee in hand and classical music (with no words to distract) in the background. The music and the book together seems to be enough to keep my mind from wandering. And I’m good to go as long as I stay awake!

Any thoughts from you about reading?