the slippery longing for shalom in this world

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

Isaiah 11:6-9

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is the Hebrew word meaning “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB). It certainly carries the idea of the absence of war which so many of us more than less take for granted, but would seem a luxury in too many places. Both human flourishing, and the harmony and well being of all creation are part of this wholeness which shalom brings. It is really like a dream that comes true in the First/Old Testament writings, as seen above in the prophet Isaiah. It is not to come to fruition until the new creation. God who made creation, can certainly remake it, and that’s the promise from Scripture that God’s people count on. While the word is not in the above passage, the words there are an apt description of this shalom.

We long for something of that in this current existence. That promise is present in our minds, and the new creation is breaking in through the new life and existence in Jesus, but it’s breaking into a world which seems largely incompatible with it. That is in part why Christians are called to take the way of the cross in following Christ even today. It is an uphill battle and slippery slope we might say, a daunting journey all the way, though Christ followers don’t do it in their own strength, but in all their weakness through the life and power of the Spirit.

I  think as we say in “the Lord’s prayer,” that we should long for something of God’s kingdom and perfect will in this life. But at the same time, we have to recognize the limitations set in place. After all we have natural disasters, and conflicts between warring factions, as well as just random violence everywhere. Add to that the human abuse of the earth for consumption and greed. And then to cap all of this off, even in the best of times humans just don’t get it all right, but we live in an existence in which even if one possibly did, they still wouldn’t be shielded from trouble, even disaster at times.

God’s people must remember that while the Day is coming, we need to be advocates for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast and downcast. We must not let up, but go forward in love, taking the way of the cross, remembering that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In this life the lamb and the wolf don’t get along, and sin resulting in broken relationships between people and God is very much present among us.

In Christ is our hope for seeing the beginning of shalom now. Bringing healing and new life in the midst of the old. We accept the limitations, in the way of Jesus now, even as we are part of that new creation in Jesus breaking in.

my thoughts matter, but then again, really they don’t

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

I have been somewhat wrestling through a most difficult subject which is dividing the church nowadays. And there are other issues. Some of those I’m willing to take a stand on. Others, I’m more in prayerful sorrow, even dismay. It’s not like I don’t hold to some position from Scripture. It’s just that not everything may not be as clear cut as we make it to be.

All that said, I’m just one person, quite limited. The entire church has to be involved in processing issues on at least two levels: the congregation of believers themselves, led by those who are grounded well theologically. The Spirit speaks to and through the entire church, not just the educated one. And leadership which is grounded to some extent theologically and academically as well through the ups and downs and difficulties of ministry, and of life itself.

We’re all in this together. I’m offering whatever actual help God has given me, but it is indeed most limited. On just so many things I either don’t know, or am not certain. And I know that in nothing at all do I know as God does. Yet at the same time God gives us enough to keep moving forward by faith. So that together we can put our faith and hope in the God of our Lord Jesus. In and through Jesus.

“What is truth?”

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:33-38a

The ongoing reality that truth is under attack seems especially prominent in our thinking today in the United States. And it doesn’t matter which political side you might be on, or your political thinking in general, it does seem indeed that “truth is on the scaffold.”

I for one accept truth gathered from science as part of God’s general revelation to us, hopefully that, not sloppy thinking. Always a work in progress, but not to be disregarded as a result. Most all of the advances we’ve gained in medicine and technology are due to science. And there is truth in the sense of integrity in people trying to pool knowledge as to what is good and right and helpful for humans individually and in community. That I would take as a part of what theologians call “common grace,” God’s gift to all humanity.

The truth Jesus was getting at is different in that it goes beyond what humans can actually measure and tell, even if there’s a sense that something like this exists. There is a certain knowing that goes beyond what humans can test and verify in any scientific way. We might well be learning more and more about what the universe consists of, mysteries in that, and its origin. But can we really venture an answer scientifically as to why this is so? I don’t think so. I remember a few decades back there seemed to be a movement to try to figure out that puzzle scientifically, maybe in a modernist optimism. But it seems to me that has long since been abandoned perhaps influenced by a postmodern realization that the good found in modernism has its limits.

Jesus comes and gives us the sense that there is something found in his mission, even in him which gets us to the reality of what truth is at its center, and heart, without disregarding the truth humans come up with, however so limited. In this case there is no limit, but its our own blindness and limitation due to our finiteness as humans, and brokenness which keeps us from seeing it, indeed, even taking it seriously. Maybe we can see that in Pilate who seems to me to be skeptical of it.

All I can say for myself is that I try to see everything in the light of what I would call this ultimate truth found in Jesus, who himself said elsewhere:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

That is where I rest, and what I am assured of. But given by God, not something we humans can come up with ourselves. Yet something we have to be open to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

accepting hardship and disappointment instead of discouragement and defeat

Sometimes we have to make the best of a hard situation. Instead of caving in and giving up, and often along with that, feeling sorry for ourselves. And unwittingly, or maybe not so unwittingly, accepting our demise.

There are all kinds of reasons for this in a broken, fallen world of which we’re a part of in our own brokenness. Even apart from our own problems and shortcomings, indeed even sins along the way, life itself can present us with issues for which there are no good or easy answers.

And there really are limitations in this life. As humans we all have to eat, drink and sleep. While we can do some difficult things for a certain period of time, there are limits. And not everything in this life succeeds or turns out well according to plan. So we have to live according to realistic goals, and set our sights on that.

But we will be in some hard, difficult, and potentially discouraging places. That is inevitable, and we will do well to accept it as a matter of fact part of life and living in this present sphere of existence.

The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves. That means our disappointment and discouragement has caused us to accept our defeat. No. We have to do better going forward, no matter what. The biggest part of that better is to learn to depend on God in the midst of everything, and not on ourselves. But not baby ourselves, either.

A good passage to help us through all of this, as we consider the rest of scripture as well is found in one of the most down to earth books in scripture, James.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1

May God help us be aware and awake to this problem, and learn to address it well with his wisdom and help in and through Jesus.

love’s priority over knowledge

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

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

accepting limitations in good faith

We dream big, then life happens. There’s a certain sadness in that. I like our Pastor Jeff Manion’s thought, the title of his new book:

dream big,
think small

This is the title also of a sermon series starting in February, of which we got a card, with a further explanation on it: “Exploring the power of daily faithfulness.” In fact he gave a message yesterday at our weekly chapel service on this very thing, citing Samuel of old as an example, along with Fred Rogers (of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood“) as pristine examples of faithfulness over many years, resulting in something profound, exponentially beyond the many moments of being present and doing the ordinary, mundane things of life daily.

I titled this post, “accepting limitations in good faith,” because I see out of faithfulness over time, God can do remarkable things, not necessarily obvious to the naked eye. We in Jesus see with the eye of faith; “we live by faith, not by sight,” not just in regard to the life to come, but also with reference to this present life. So that we accept all its in and outs, ups and downs, and the fact that it is only so long, and we look for God in all of that.

There are some traditions which accentuate the miraculous, and great experiences, what we often call great highs. For example people go off to some weekend event, are pumped up, and then primed as they go back home to change their world, to at least do better. That could have its place, but by and large all of life happens mostly in the boring, and sometimes even frustrating, often thankless tasks of everyday living.

And more important than the things we do, as important as that is, is who we are, and our faithful presence. I realize that often I really have nothing much if at all to offer, except to be present and listen and participate in that way, as well as do whatever needs to be done in that place and time. In the process of all of this, God is at work in Jesus, to make a world of difference, us playing our small yet important part in that along with others, in and through Jesus.

 

our limitations

Jesus could only be at one place at a time when he was on earth. By the Spirit now he can be many places at the same time, something beyond our capacity to understand, vis-a-vis the life of the Trinity. But when Jesus became human, before his glorification he shared in all our limitations apart from our sin (including temptation to sin).

I take some comfort in that, since I too am limited, and that all the more. I would like to be able to do much more. Burn the candle at both ends, so to speak. Sometimes in our normal calling with its responsibilities, we indeed can be stretched to our limits and beyond.

I deeply regret and sorrow over my limitations. And yet I must learn to live with them. While at the same time I can look to God through Jesus by the Spirit to do God’s good work. Even through my weakness. And through prayer.

What I don’t want is my limitations to get to me. And it can. It is hard to discern sometimes where to draw the line. I think grace makes it clear that at times we need to give ourselves a break. I tend to be harsh with myself when I think I’m failing. And that can result in harshness toward others if I don’t watch out.

I think part of my problem can be a kind of perfectionist mindset (only in some things) which is not only unrealistic, but fails to accept the limitations of my humanity. And unwittingly can be limiting God, and what God can do in spite of me, and apart from me.

Limitations. We all have them, and we  need to accept them. Dependent on God and interdependent on each other in Jesus for the world.

Nicholas Wolterstorff on what to do with regrets

I believe that God forgives me. I do not doubt that. The matter between God and me is closed. But what about the matter between Eric and me? For my regrets remain. What do I do with my God-forgiven regrets? Maybe some of what I regret doesn’t even need forgiving; maybe sometimes I did as well as I could. Full love isn’t always possible in this fallen world of ours. Still, I regret.

I shall live with them. I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them. I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that Great Day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other’s arms and say, “I’m sorry.”

The God of love will surely grant us such a day. Love needs that.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, 65.