a thought processor

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2

Mary, the mother of our Lord was surely one of the very wise people of her day. Think of what she had to go through in her lifetime, as a young woman bearing a child from a miraculous conception which was seen as scandalous. Seeing Jesus for thirty years, growing up and evidently taking on himself Joseph’s work, then at last in what would seem to be a whirlwind ministry cut short by a death which Simeon had prophesied to her before. And then seeing the Lord appear after his resurrection, perhaps witnessing the ascension, and being in prayer before the Spirit was poured out, and remaining for a time after that. What she went through was epoch, certainly unusual and immense.

And Mary seems to have been a thought processor. She maybe didn’t have a ready answer for many things, but gathered her thoughts over time from what she witnessed and from the input of others.

I see myself that way, as a thought processor. I try to be in scripture, in prayer, and aware of something of what is going on in the world, of the culture. We are all quite limited in ourselves, and we certainly try to gather from each other. And above all, I want to receive from God, from God’s word through the Spirit in and through Jesus.

After the magnificent Magnificat, called Mary’s Song (Luke 1), which itself is quite a wonder surely from what she had gathered over time beginning in childhood, we read next to nothing from her lips in scripture. But at least one of the gospel writers, surely Luke was one of them, talked with her, gathering both the knowledge and wisdom she had gathered through the years. And I have come to realize that we often can learn much in the way of our Lord from seeing others who often really don’t have that much to say. Their lives and manner of going about things speaks volumes, helping us to sense something of the Spirit, hopefully rubbing off on us in God’s working to make us more like Jesus.

And so that is my goal: to dial down, lay low and keep processing, keep listening to what others have gathered, while being aware of life, with a heart to keep looking to God for God’s word to me from his word in and through Jesus.

the need for strict, ongoing self-discipline

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9

They say we often eat to feed not really our bodies, but our minds or hearts. That we do so from being troubled. The Christian life contra some of the early church fathers is not meant to be one of harshly treating the body. Not at all! Read Paul’s words in Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Of course the Christian ascetics did not have such a worldly system in mind in their fasting for the sake of Christ, and for their own spiritual good, so it is different. Yet the sameness might exist in thinking that harsh treatment of the body in itself can do good, as if the body is the enemy of the soul, a neo-Platonic way of thinking which surely infiltrated the church, even probably noticeable in perhaps the greatest of the church fathers, Augustine.

And yet Paul minced no words in the Corinthians passage quoted above. We by grace either discipline ourselves, and specifically our body, or we place ourselves in danger of losing out with reference to all that is ours in Christ. How God rewards in the end, I don’t think we can be sure, though we may have some inklings. But there are certainly some lines we’re not to cross in this life. We must pull out all stops to stop dead in our tracks, and not go past certain lines we might even be rushing headlong to. And we need to work on an agenda in which we are following a different path altogether.

And even if we have failed, that gives us no excuse to excuse ourselves from Paul’s example here. We need to do so all the more. We are weak in ourselves for sure. We need God’s grace to help us through. And we need sheer determination to persevere in that grace and not let up.

They say our brains are one of our most important physical organs. The brain does better with the extra flow of oxygen which comes from good physical exercise. And the mind certainly can affect the body. We surely need to have our hearts and minds set on Christ, and on the things of heaven where Christ is, someday destined to come to earth, and already present now by the Spirit. But we need to take heed of our focus, in order to have the kind of discipline Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s words there should be considered in their context. And interestingly enough, Paul’s warning in Colossians is followed up with the counsel to focus on Christ and might even seem austere by today’s standards. It is referring to a spiritual discipline, but there is no such discipline in which our bodies are not involved. Our bodies are part of our real selves.

And so what we do and don’t do does matter. God has indeed richly given us all things for our enjoyment, so that we’re not to deny ourselves of the good of creation (1 Timothy). But we must avoid counterfeit gods, which can include even our own stomachs (Philippians 3), and sometimes might involve making some major changes. Our goal is to pursue Christ and likeness to him until the very end. May God grant us the grace to do so together in and through him.

 

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

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.