shift down and relax

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:22-26

I think one of the staples of the United States has been hard work. I guess the Protestant work ethic has somehow figured into that. But we work long and hard. And production or how much you get done for the bottom line (profit), is considered critical.

I am trying to dial down, yet be fully engaged at the same time. Just much more relaxed, in fact essentially relaxed. I have been uptight for years, staying on top of everything, and pushing to the max always. But while that might have translated well in terms of output, I don’t think it was either that healthy for myself, or even for others around me who might pick up that spirit. One is more on edge then. Production numbers might be higher, but at what cost?

I’ve decided that for me to carry on day after day, I need once again to dial down. Staying on top of things as best I can, yes, but much more laid back. Our job can be fast paced and have one machine problem after another. And without knowing it, I can easily be living outside of God’s peace in the midst of it all.

My goal now: do one thing at a time, relax, try to keep everything going as much as possible, but not be upset when we don’t, even if I’ve overlooked something in that process.

It seems like that’s something the Lord may have been working in me for some time, to slow down, actually do less, and pay more attention to God and God’s priorities of love to others in Christ’s love, and out of love for God in response to his love. Too often in my life I’ve been quite driven, and while that can contribute to good numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean the good that God is looking for. God might want something better, at least hinted at from the passage above in Ecclesiastes. In and through Jesus.

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living differently

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4;1-11

There’s is no question that the world, the flesh and the devil are present and actually in tandem in this life. Our only hope of escape is through Christ and our commitment to God’s will. This will require both the acceptance of God’s grace in the forgiveness of sins and new life given. And from that, just a steady “long obedience in the same direction.” We should come to the place in which we find the world’s headlong plunge into lust, etc., distasteful. While at the same time not supposing that we couldn’t be burned ourselves. We’re to commit ourselves to following Christ in the same kind of life he lived. Not a mere negation of what’s good, but actually an embrace of the true good.

“The end of all things is near,” is surely referring to the Second Coming. It seems in retrospect to be an empty word two thousand years later. Of course we can say it’s all relative, that when it’s all said and done it will be relatively short. And there are Scripture passages that hint of a longer period before our Lord returns. Our life spans are short, even at their longest, so each of us can say that for ourselves anyhow, the end is indeed near. And that’s especially so when one has lived a number of decades like myself, heading into my senior years. Yet I think of our daughter and grandchildren, and the younger present with us, along with those yet to be born. Life on earth goes on for better or for worse generation after generation, and yet the end doesn’t come. Our response should be one of faith and prayer. The text here tells us that we’re to live in anticipation of the end being near. That in itself is surely an act of faith. And again, echoes our Lord’s words to be ready for his return, even if there is a delay.

It seems our main response to the end coming is to be in prayer. We pray. Nothing fancy, and most of the time it’s not like we’re swept along, off our feet to pray. In fact it can seem like our prayers are empty. But we just pray and pray some more. We certainly seek to pray in the Spirit with different kinds of prayers. But the main thing is simply pray. To be alert so we can pray means to pay attention to life, to ourselves and to those around us. To be of sober mind for prayer is to refuse to get caught up into wild, reckless living for one thing, but also to discipline our own minds and hearts to not get carried away with whatever might distract us from doing God’s will.

Above all, we’re to love each other deeply, love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, we’re to love all others, our neighbor as ourselves, and even our enemies. But we have a special bond of affection with those who like us are “in Christ.” We share in Christ’s love, in the family love of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Though we might think so, this is not automatic. Otherwise we wouldn’t have it as an imperative or directive here, telling us to do so. And true love grows. It becomes more and more a part of who we are, so that to violate such love becomes increasingly grievous.

And last of all in this section of Scripture, we’re to be hospitable to each other and do whatever God gives and gifts us to do. What we are inclined to do, and thus over time can become good at doing. For the good of others. And we get good at it by just continuing to do the same over and over again. God is present to help us, and all such gifts are manifestations of God, of God’s Spirit. So something of God is in that very thing we do.

All of this to the eternal glory and praise of God in and through Jesus.

washing each other’s feet

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:3-5

To get the full impact on what was going on, you can click the link and read the entire passage of our Lord washing his disciples’ feet on the eve of his crucifixion. What occurs is remarkable, but easily lost to us who maybe have read it time and again. Jesus took off his outer garment and embraced the attitude of a slave. In love, as the passage says, he washes his disciples as any servant or lowly slave would do.

Peter objects, thinking it is demeaning to Jesus, and definitely won’t let Jesus touch his feet. But Jesus in his kind response makes it clear that if Peter doesn’t receive this, then he has no part with Jesus. I have often heard this applied to the truth that we’re cleansed of our sin or forgiven once for all, but that this applies to the daily cleansing we need through Christ’s blood, and with confession, as well as for unknown sins, as we walk in the light (1 John). I tend to think we can make an application that way. After all, Jesus told Peter that he didn’t need any more than foot washing since he was already clean along with the other disciples (except Judas Iscariot). Later that evening he tells them that they are clean through the word he had spoken to them (John 15:3).

What I think Jesus was getting primarily at is brought out in the text (again, the full link above). If they were going to be his followers, they would have to do what he did. Take the path of humility in love to serve others, especially each other. But also others. I am a bit skeptical over whether foot washing should be an ordinance in the church, except that in such cases it can serve as a reminder of what our Lord was getting at in this passage.

Out of love, the same love of God in Jesus, we’re to reach out to each other, even in our weakness, and in humility serve one another. It is something we do, no less. We don’t wait until somehow what’s needed is in ourselves. We live in God’s love in Jesus, whether or not we feel it, whatever our experience. And we’re to take the lowly attitude of a servant in doing so. Paul expresses what our Lord was getting at wonderfully well in Philippians 2, Jesus taking on himself the form of a slave in becoming one of us in the Incarnation, and further to the very depths in his death on the cross. And how we’re to have that same mindset in our relationship to each other. This is the posture we’re to take no matter what, come what may, in and through Jesus.

to love, regardless

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

We live in difficult, even if not perilous times here in the United States. And all around the world much division is becoming more and more evident, and often threatening to tear what fabric of society is left. And of course the actual conflicts with all the human tragedy.

If we don’t have hearts engaged with strong thinking and feeling, then we’re actually not real. Maybe we just want to avoid the pain, including the strife. To want to avoid such is natural, and to want to avoid strife, good. But probably impossible to avoid controversy if one acts on any convictions at all.

But what Paul was saying in the above passage, that in the midst of everything with a thoroughly Christ-centered conviction, following him with others, we’re to do everything in love. That’s how the short imperatives end. “Do everything in love.”

If we’re to break the impasse of strife and hate, we need to love. And not just any love. Not the “all you need is love” bit, which is only good up to a point. No, we need the love of Christ no less. The love of God in him. A love which goes to the cross and dies for one’s enemies, yes for one’s enemies. If we don’t love our enemies as Jesus taught and exemplified, then we fall short of that love.

Love, love, love. In Christ. That’s what we need for each other. And what the world needs to see from us. Which doesn’t mean we won’t speak out against what is wrong. But we always do so in love. And everything tempered in love. In and through Jesus.

people are the problem (including me)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:37-42

Jesus reserved his harshest words, or basically got after those who pointed the finger at others. Especially the Jewish religious leaders, who were critical of those who did not line up with their traditions largely put in place to keep people from breaking God’s Law, but missing the heart of the law: love for neighbor demonstrating one’s actual love for God.

If we’re generous to others, we’ll experience generosity, but if we’re harsh, then harshness. Those who lead others do so in how they live, whether or not they really put God’s word into practice or not, whether they come to Jesus, hear his words, and put them into practice, which includes how they view others (Luke 6:46-49).

To be upset over shortcoming in others in itself should raise our suspicions: What about us? When people do light into us, what’s our reaction? Is it helpful? Is there some blindness to it, so that we can’t really see what actually was meant by the other person and why? Often enough there is fault on the other side, and maybe they are largely or entirely to blame on a given matter. But we need to step back a bit, and consider how we can grow as in grow up more toward maturity in Christ.

There may be a time to confront, but in the end, and really throughout, we need to love. To make sure our lives line up with that love toward others. Taking the plank out of our own eye, so that by our example, they might see the speck of sawdust in their own eye. In and through Jesus.

love is not piecemeal

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:9-15

Genuine love does not pick winners and losers. We in Jesus love all, period. That is part of who we are in Jesus. But it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes people can say or do things we find quite offensive, maybe even on a personal level, so that they might, so to speak “get under our skin” a little. And then there’s the case of simple blatant out and out hatred toward Christians, which while rare where we live, does happen, and certainly is known all too well in certain parts of the world.

Our mindset, the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) involves aligning ourselves with the new heart and spirit God gives us in the new covenant in and through Jesus. Put more simply, we need to put into practice who we are in Jesus, and leave the old person we used to be behind. Which means we’ll have to go against the grain of what we’re used to at times. We may be new in Jesus, but we have to act on that, which involves getting rid of old habits and ways of thinking, and putting on the new ways in Jesus. Ephesians and Colossians both have some important things to say about that.

And so our professed love of the Lord is real insofar as we love others with that same love. We may say we love the Lord, and think we do, but if we withhold love from others, that puts our love for God in doubt, and certainly contradicts that, as we’re reminded in 1 John 5.

And so we want to love, period. A love which isn’t mushy, and may challenge others along the way, but which is genuine and true, marked by gentleness along with the rest of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). In and through Jesus.

holding on to what lasts

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

Essentially what seems to be at the heart of this picture is the curse of Genesis 3 being removed in what is nothing less than a new creation. Maybe making the old new, or making something brand new that has similarities to the old. Different, either way.

So much that occupies our minds is destined to be forgotten forever. I know this application is not quite what the passage above is getting at, but it’s nevertheless apt from it, I think. What I’m thinking of is perhaps made more clear by our Lord’s words in the parable of the sower:

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19

This reminds us of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, rather than treasures on earth, and not to worry about material provisions since we are in the Father’s care. But instead, to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, knowing all of our needs will be met (Matthew 6:19-34).

There is no question that we have responsibilities on earth that we would just as soon forget even now. But insofar as they are connected to that which lasts, we need to do as well as we can in fulfilling such.

What lasts is the love of God that is in Jesus and present to us by the Spirit. We want to live in that love, and share that love with everyone, particularly our families, where often the rubber meets the road as to just what kind of people we really are, and more importantly, are becoming. And we have special responsibility to them. I think of Paul’s words:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

So we can’t shirk our duties in the name of devotion to God, and think we are devoted to God. But in the midst of that, we must put first things first. Doing the best we can, realizing that in this life, much of it will be a crap shoot, meaning neither fool proof nor assured. But in all of that seeking to hold on to that which will last. A prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is helpful here:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.