a dissenting voice

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

He said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds dry up,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1:1-2

The tradition of the prophets in the Old Testament, echoed by Jesus (example: Matthew 23) seems all but absent in Christian circles, particularly my own tradition, the evangelical one. Of course if you speak out on any controversial issue, you are often assailed from all sides, because you don’t get everything right.

The prophets, Amos a prime example, certainly went against the grain of their times. This was about all of life, but the heart of it was the failure to love God and neighbor, the failure to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

The follower of Christ is called to follow him implicitly. That means back to holy Writ, Scripture, turning the pages, praying, and seeking to live this out in ordinary life, through all its in and outs, ups and downs. When doing so, one inevitably will be barraged with criticism.

The prophets had to live out the message God gave them. Isaiah and Jeremiah are stark examples of that. And followers of Christ are especially to live out the message of Christ and the gospel, the taking up of their cross. That is a huge dissent from the norm, the narrow way as opposed to the broad popular way (Matthew 7:13-14).

The goal is not to live in dissent, but to see God’s work bring change. Change first of all in one’s own life. And then perhaps through that, change in the life of others. Our part might not be necessarily to say much, but to listen and pray, to pray and listen. All God’s working. But not avoiding the difficulty of what the prophets faced. Part of the way of Jesus, in and through him.

listen up

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

1 Samuel 3:10-11

One of the essentials if we’re to truly be followers of the Lord is to develop a keen awareness of his voice. We need to listen and we need the discernment that comes from the Spirit of God to understand. In fact of course we need God to open our ears in the first place.

The boy Samuel needed the priest Eli’s help to set himself to listen for God’s voice, or in this case discern since Samuel had earlier heard the voice calling him. I think we best hear God’s voice in the midst of life as we remain in God’s word, Scripture. God speaks to us through the Book and directly.

Our regular hearing should improve dramatically when we take the attitude of a servant. We aspire as those who would be the Lord’s servant. Our goal is obedience to God. But even more basic is our desire to commune and thus to know and walk faithfully with God.

God’s grace is key in all of this. We may think God will no longer speak to us when we either mess up or have attitudes that are wrong or at least questionable. In reality I think it’s accurate to say the Lord is always speaking. But whether we’re keen to listen is the question. In and through Jesus.

watch your mouth

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

James 3:2b

Although outright murder is worse, there’s nothing more destructive, other than that, than the tongue, what people say, the harm we inflict on others. Many a child grew up with the voice ringing in their ears, or the wound remaining in their hearts over what they were told as a child, more often than not, time and time again.

Knowing this, it seems some people employ their tongue as nothing less than a weapon to destroy others. One might think they’re attempting to destroy evil, but on closer examination, it’s really more like what the text in James says, it’s really to put down someone else, yes, to destroy them. Or so it seems to me.

It is better to be silent, or if one has to speak, to choose one’s words carefully. And with the goal of listening well along with the realization that in the end God and God’s will prevails, regardless of what humans do.

But to do that, one has to be careful not to be caught up in the evil that the tongue ignites.

The tongue…is a fire, a world of evil…

James 3:6a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

 

a truly Christ-centered life is for others

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3b-4

We’re naturally centered in ourselves. That’s understandable. From birth, while babies hopefully bond with their mothers and fathers, they understandably live an existence within themselves, completely dependent on others to take care of their needs, and it’s a need centered existence. Hopefully with healthy bonding, growth beyond “just me” begins.

But too often in our sin and brokenness our existence is all about us, and our world revolves around what we want, and anything other than that we simply put up with, or try to make it somehow satisfy us.

Christ exemplified something completely different. In becoming one of us, even made, so partaking of our lowly humanity, Christ chose to live not only where we live, but completely in our existence. Becoming human was the way for God to reveal himself in the most personal, intimate way, again both right where we live and in our very experience.

Christ took on himself the nature of a servant being made human. He willingly out of love for us and the Father took the lowest place of slave. And then stooped to the lowest depths in the death of the cross. Our attitude toward each other is to be the same.

So often when we’re engaged in life it’s really centered on us. We make it about us. To Christ it was about others. In a conversation we enter in with our corroborating experience, or maybe so we think. But it then becomes about us. And often people trade off back and forth that way. That actually can be okay if at the same time we’re fully engaged in what the other is saying about themselves. And it’s good if we can just listen and let them talk on, and then maybe offer something from our own experience which might help them in some way.

But the point of this great passage and Christ hymn is that we’re to live with each other in the same way Christ lived with us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

a thought for 2019: simplifying life

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There is no question that life is full of responsibilities. And it becomes worse if we buy into all our society insists is necessary. Like things people supposedly need. So that our infrastructure is built on that, big houses, etc. And on top of that the US economy is built on consumer debt. So that people put themselves in a bind from which they cannot easily escape. Thankfully, especially when people are younger they can begin new practices to get out of debt, and then avoid it or at least minimize it. And make better decisions financially, not driven by expectations of others.

What we do and refuse to do can help, but no matter what, we will be faced with difficulties and necessities we will have to deal with. One basic: Paul tells us that if someone does not provide for their own, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). There are indeed certain basic responsibilities we all have.

The problem Martha had, and all too many of us along with her is taking the weight of the world, her world on her shoulders. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on in the narrative. Martha maybe could have scaled down and prepared something simple enough so that she too could have at least listened to the Lord’s teaching, if not sitting at his feet like her sister Mary was. Interestingly enough, it’s Martha’s complaint which occasioned the Lord’s response. She felt a pressure that she need not have felt. And maybe that helps us toward the point the Lord in his response was making.

It would have been fine for Martha to continue serving as she was inclined and surely gifted to do and do well. That in itself was not wrong. The problem was the expectations she had accepted or placed on herself. Really beyond anything God would have or actually did expect as Jesus’s words make clear.

Our Lord tells Martha that she is worried and upset about many things. Then he says only a few things are needed, or only one. That Mary had chosen what is most essential, and that it wouldn’t be taken away from her.

I think for 2019 this may be telling at least many of us that we need to simplify. Perhaps scale down. Maybe let a good number of things go. And learn to cast all of our cares on God, who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22). To quit being driven, and instead to learn to follow in step with the one whose invitation remains open:

“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

 

silence is golden

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Luke 1:19-20

Zechariah was a priest, husband of Elizabeth. In their old age they miraculously conceived, God bringing John the Baptist into the world, who was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, the one who was the forerunner of Christ, “preparing the way for the Lord.”

This story is quite interesting, good to read and ponder. Zechariah had a privilege probably relatively very few priests had, and an angel met him as he did it. One has to wonder about Zechariah’s character and personality. He and his wife were righteous in the sight of the Lord, faithful to God’s will. Maybe he was a big talker, maybe not. No doubt that he did struggle some in his faith, evident in that he didn’t simply receive the angel’s message, God’s word to him without grave misgivings and doubt. Contrast that to Mary who once she got over the idea in her humility that she could be addressed and with commendation, did accept the angel’s word with the difficulties that came with it (Luke 1:26-38).

I have found myself that when I’m intent on being quiet, that’s when I might get some wisdom from God. But when I’m intent on saying a lot, or even something, not so much, if at all. I can be full of words. Better to be quiet and listen. Then one might have something to say that’s truly worthwhile.

After Zechariah’s imposed silence when he was not able to speak for over nine months, we have what is called the Benedictus, Zechariah’s Song (Luke 1:57-80). Something surely composed during or at least because of the time of silence. To hear God’s word, we must listen. In and through Jesus.

what would Jesus do? Jesus is with us by the Spirit

WWJD bracelets used to be worn by quite a few Christians, standing for “What would Jesus do?” That is not a bad question. And in order to try to understand at all what Jesus might do in a given situation, we must certainly be in scripture, particularly in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And in prayer.

But something that can be missed in this endeavor is the reality that our Lord is indeed with us by the Spirit, that God is present in Jesus. As we seek to hear our Lord’s voice, we should refrain from raising our own voices, or depending on the voices of others. That certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to others, and try to take everything into consideration. But it does mean along with that that we pray and seek the Lord’s voice so that we can somehow grasp something of the Lord’s mind and heart on any given situation.

As Christians, believers and followers of Christ, we are said to have the mind of Christ. But it’s another thing to live by that. Too often we’re moved by our own minds that have been shaped by others who are not necessarily being shaped or moved by God to know God’s will.

Even when we do think we may have something of the mind of Christ, we need to be humble, and realize that we probably don’t have all of it for a given matter. We know in part; we prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13). Our part might indeed be an important contribution to knowing and sharing in the mind of Christ. We may be getting the heart of the matter completely right. But we need the contribution of others with their different gifts and experiences to contribute to the whole in that.

Something for all of us in Christ and a part of how we’re blessed to be a blessing.