who sets the agenda of our lives?

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 are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

as is

When we buy used cars, they are normally sold “as is,” meaning you are stuck with your purchase. And when we look at our lives and circumstances, there is no turning back the clock and doing this or that, or something else differently.  So that wishing, wishing, and wishing some more that we wouldn’t have made that either “fatal,” or stupid mistake does no good for us at all. In fact, it probably does harm.

It’s not like we’re not going to have any regrets. I can only shake my head when I hear people say they have no regrets (especially older people), even if there might be an odd case in which that may make more sense than not. It’s what we do with our failures, sins, and follies that’s important. Harboring them, so that they continue to batter and put us in a numbing fear, along with a sense of condemnation and anxiety, not to mention even a pressure that seems more and more physical, downright oppression, that’s not going to do us or anyone else any good whatsoever.

What we need to do is take our problem to the Cross, if we’re in a church in the Great Tradition, to our priest, or to a pastor. So that we can confess whatever sin needs confession, which in this case might be the sin of holding on to something which has been forgiven already. And we need to accept the reality as it is, but beside another and greater reality, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In spite of what faults Martin Luther had, he was a great Church Father, and he and his following are especially adept at taking us to the Cross to see that our only hope and salvation is always and forever in the crucified, resurrected Lord. That by his wounds, we are indeed healed. It may take us some time and serious effort, but it will be well worth every bit we put into it.

We come to the Cross, just as we are, as is, not dressing up anything. God’s Answer comes from that Cross, not just knowledge, indeed some of it will remain mystery to us. But because of the power of that Cross to bring forgiveness of our sins, and new life.

At every turn and juncture in this world, and in this life there is the potential for a predicament we’re not capable in and of ourselves to get out of. We do what we can to do what is right by this world in this life. But the remedy is in God’s free and full salvation in Jesus at the Cross, by his death. We want to hurry on to his resurrection, by which all that his death achieves is made real in the new day, the new creation. But we do well to simply remain there at the Cross in our meditation and prayer. Maybe using a stations of the cross to help us do that, asking God to help us receive from that saving act, all that we need, and what will help us through whatever it is that remains present. The full salvation in Jesus reaching us where we are. A practice that needs to become for us a habit of life.

unsure

Sometimes in the maelstrom of life, we have to push pause and wait. Waiting for me always includes spending time in the word, and from that, in prayer.

I am ordinarily filled with all kinds of ideas or thoughts, but as I get older, I realize more and more that I am dependent on God and interdependent on others. So that I need input and correction along the way, with encouragement.

And so that is what i want to be doing right now and today. I find that this is not just something I need to do during special times, but every day. But all the more, during those more difficult times. And sometimes to simply be quiet, be still, so as to hear that still small voice (or, gentle whisper).

against foreboding (a dreading fear)

Right now in the United States there’s an election of which many fear the consequences of the outcome on every side. And just to live in the real world, with the possible and actual problems we face day after day and beyond can instill within us a sense of foreboding, I mean something like a fear that comes from dread. Maybe our first experience of that was as a child at the doctor before a required shot, usually in those days at least, in the hip. I can still feel the pain. Such a dread comes from the experience that not all is pleasant, in fact some things we run up against and experience in life are downright painful.

Trouble in this life is inevitable, as scripture itself says. For all sorts of reasons. So that there’s a kind of fear that is actually healthy. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to stay put when under severe (and real) persecution, but to flee (Matthew 10:23). We need wisdom from God to carefully navigate the responsibilities put before us, in fact we need wisdom to properly assess them at all.

For me, the only way I can avoid the unhealthy fear that can assail me on every side, the large and small, is by being in the word, and prayer. I say it in that order, because for me (and I think basic for everyone) being in the word, in scripture instills and strengthens my faith. I pray from what I’m reading, and from the Spirit’s help in giving the faith that arises from pondering God’s word. Maybe most basic is that it helps our faith to be active, so that when we encounter problems, our natural response is to pray.

We have God’s promises in scripture, one of which is that God will meet all of our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). We always need to read the context of such promises, rather than pull them out of that, as we so often do. It is to believers who are partnering with Paul in the work of the gospel, both by their own witness, and by helping him so that he can carry on in that work, even if from a prison cell.

Foreboding and fear need to give way to faith, which doesn’t mean one doesn’t have a healthy sense of proper fear, or of the problems one faces. But that one believes in God’s help and provision in and through Jesus. So that we can move through the difficult places, maybe once in a while, even avoid them. As our faith grows even through those times, in and through Jesus.

processing thoughts (and life)

I can’t forget either Eugene Peterson saying, or I think writing that we should read less, not more. And slowly. I have been told that I am a thought processor in that I don’t jump on something right away with some kind of insight, but rather hold it in tow, to sift through it. I think that’s right. I hope I’m not addicted to thinking, another new thought which is new and you can find on the internet (a TED talk or two).

I would have liked to have read so many more books during my lifetime. Although I’ve read quite a bit from the books downstairs, I would say I’ve not even read nearly half of the written content in my own personal library, though I have read through a number of the books there. My work has not made that conducive, so the dream of really honing in on some subject, reading widely, then hopefully making some sort of contribution in that discussion or field, is now gone. I have listened to the Bible being read over the years, beginning as a new Christian with the KJV New Testament, then the NIV for so many years, though I haven’t been listening lately, but reading myself in a way in which I might end.

In this information age, we have all kinds of knowledge available right at our fingertips. We can easily get lost in it all, probably in more ways than one. And much of it can be quite good. But that doesn’t mean we’re to spend hours on end in it, from one good thing to the next.

Factory work is not something I planned to do, but only a job until I would hopefully get into the ministry, which didn’t pan out. I have second and third thoughts now, still wanting to do ministry, and enjoying the nursing home on Sundays. But thinking I should have worked on landing a teaching job early on. Factory work has its good and bad aspects. I have breathed some bad stuff along the way (not much, if at all, now). And the days have been monotonous, boredom has certainly been a companion over the years.

But boredom, and being in a place of relative silence, now with my New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs in hand, when I can glance at the next line, but such a place can be quite good for thinking on God’s revelation in Jesus as given to us in scripture and the gospel. And how that relates to life where we live, where I live.

I have to try to fit in well to the life that is, the reality in which I live. And be content there, with all the challenges we face, some of our own making to an extent. But much of what easily happens in the world in which we live.

We all have our place, our contribution to make, along with our limitations. We gather from each other what the Lord gives to us, to the entire church. And we work and rest there. Hoping and praying and looking. As we continue on together in the gift that continues to be given to us even in this life in and through Jesus our Lord.

when we’re tired and worn down

Sometimes we either feel on the edge or pushed over the edge at least a bit. The pressures of life can seem relentless with little or no place to turn. That is when we probably need to slow down, to stop, to be still and quiet. To know that God is God.

Also to read. For me reading scripture and meditating on it, and remaining in it is so key. But just as key is the weekly service of liturgy which includes the scripture readings along with prayers, including corporate confession of sin along with the priest’s absolution, confession of the creed, and together partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist.

Sometimes we simply need that extra physical rest. Maybe a break from normal activities to sleep. We always like those occasional, or in the case of some of us, periodic, but not often enough for most of us get aways. And we need to learn how to do it when the normal routine is still pressing up against us. Not easy, but we do need to find our bearings, our strength in the Lord, learning to wait on him so that we are both strengthened and ennobled. To not only go on, but go on well in and through Jesus.

not losing hope: the blessed hope

the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

Titus 2:13

Yesterday in my meditation on scripture, going slowly now through the gospel according to Mark, I ran into the relatively long, arduous, a bit contentious in how to intepret it (is it speaking only about the fall of Jerusalem- 70 AD/CE, or does it include some future event?), and in some ways a bit puzzling, certainly challenging “Olivet discourse” (Mark 13).

It is a bit dizzying, not comfortable, and again puzzling in that some of the language often interpreted quite literally is surely very symbolic of world changing events. And the charge from our Lord at the end is simply to watch. And he made it clear to his disciples, actually Peter, James, John and Andrew who had asked him about the temple and the signs of the end, that what he said to them, he was saying to everyone, that everyone should watch.

That is an attitude that we need to hold on to as we await the Lord’s Second Coming, or reappearing. The teaching that the resurrected, ascended Lord is returning as King of kings and Lord of lords, as Lord and Savior, as King, is part of the gospel, the good news of Jesus for us and for the world. We work and pray in the church against the evil of this world, and for God’s good kingdom to prevail, but we know that this world is destined for trouble all along the way, even if some headway is made in various ways. But the needed change won’t come until the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Reading through that discourse seemed to put needed iron in my soul. That is part of what we Christians are to be about, part of what shapes us yes in a creedal sense: “we believe,” and what we believe is to impact our faith in how we live. It should help us to patiently persevere with a realistic view, not losing hope, but having an assured hope, since our hope is in God’s promise in Jesus, a promise of sure judgment and salvation, and nothing less than a new creation. Its fulfillment begun even now, and to be completed at Jesus’ return.