the right time and way

For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
    though a person may be weighed down by misery.

Ecclesiastes 8

For people who act in the moment such as I, and who don’t really plan that much in advance, this is a needed, and wise word. Over the years I’ve come to realize more and more just how important this is, so that I’m much better in doing it than I used to be.

The danger might be in refusing to do anything at all, because no one can know for sure if the time is right. It might seem so, but long experience in life tells us that what might seem to be the case, is really not necessarily so at all.

It is important to pray, and to pray some more, and usually to sleep on it, at least. To not be in a hurry is absolutely essential if one is to act in wisdom. Oftentimes what is needed, or most helpful won’t come to one’s mind and heart except over sufficient deliberation and time. And besides that, we need to be in prayer for God’s preparation of whoever we might be talking to, that God would prepare their hearts to be receptive to whatever wisdom we might offer.

Ecclesiastes continues to be one of my favorite books. We need all of scripture, even if we can’t understand it all, track with it, or even like every part of it. Of course we find the end and final answer to it all in Jesus. In and through him. But that doesn’t mean that we neglect any of it. And Ecclesiastes in particular is one book I will continue to rather major on, I’m thinking, in trying to unravel the complexity of life. As I seek to be a follower with others of our Lord.

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when troubled

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.

James 5

Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

Job 5

Trouble is a part of life. We probably do well to gear ourselves for it. At the same time, we want to enjoy life, and gearing for trouble means we learn to be blessed in the midst of it. But with the blessing of God. Although there are especially difficult times when all sense of blessedness might seem to be gone.

Trouble they say can either embitter us, or make us better. But as James points out, and as we see in Job’s response to his great trouble, we should be inclined to call on God for help, and for God’s answer. And hopefully through it we will find God’s blessing not unlike Jacob did when he wrestled the angel of God, and was actually wrestling God himself (Genesis 32).

Little do we know the possible blessing of being in trouble. We want to avoid trouble like the plague, but instead, we need to be open and receptive to whatever God might be doing through it.

Above all, as James tells us, we need to dial down and simply pray. Refuse to take matters in our own hands. And wait on the counsel of God in answer to prayer, perhaps through others, through the word, or directly to us. Most likely in ways we can hardly trace, but with confidence that God will guide us and help us through all the troubles of this life ultimately to experience his grace to his glory in and through Jesus.

loving rebuke

I often think  that only God can deliver the correction we occasionally (at least) need. After all, it is God who is love. We are not, but are a mixed bag of good and bad, and left to ourselves, we’re at the center of our existence, or something less than the actual God is, often some combination of that.

And yet Jesus tells us that if our brother or sister sins against us to rebuke them. We have to watch out, because they may not be sinning against us. Only God knows the heart. It is hard to receive and probably even harder to give any kind of rebuke. We need to be on each other’s side, and any possible correcting words may put a wedge between us. That said, somehow by grace, we ought to be open to this practice, as long as it’s not commonplace, I say. Dallas Willard doubted that such can be done today, since people always take it personally and feel condemned. I wonder what it is in our age which makes this so, but it does seem to be the case in my own experience.

Probably giving a rebuke is not without sin when we do so out of our own personal pain, or aggrievement. Certainly prayer ought to accompany it, and preferably much prayer. And if much prayer, than it would seem wise only to offer a word of loving correction after one has at least slept on it. In other words, don’t rush in to correct.

If we do offer that word soon after the incident, we need to be concerned lest the relationship is hurt. We want a growing relationship through God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit. God’s grace in and through Jesus is the sphere in which we live. So we should be open to offer a word of apology and the asking for forgiveness for giving the rebuke in the first place. But probably we shouldn’t be hasty in doing that, either, unless we were clearly out of bounds in our attitide and action. While we likely were not without sin in offering the rebuke, there is also likely some truth in what we offered. If we ask for forgiveness out of our own feeling of fear and condemnation, that in itself isn’t right, either. We need to have enough clarity in the light and love of the Spirit to be able to proceed that direction. It may be wisdom to simply pray. Love does cover over a multitude of sins, so it may end up being something apt to address later, or completely let go. Yet in never mentioning it, it still remains. Maybe that in and of itself is an impetus to continue to pray, which may be needed.

Friendship nowadays seems to be about buddy, buddy times, in which there is no accountability. Maybe a better way to apply any needed rebuke is by example in love, and letting go of the perceived wrong done against us. After all, that is to be our heart attitude. And too often rebukes are done harshly. It might be best to approach someone with questions, and listen, trying to put the best construction on their answer. That could leave the window open to help them understand how their actions or words might have come across to us, or someone else.

We certainly do need to trust God in all of this. What wisdom might any reader like to offer on this? 

the continued need to forgive

Hardness of heart, and simply not loving others as we love ourselves, is all to endemic, dare I say even amongst us Christians. If simply loving others as Christ has loved us was automatic in this new life in Christ, then why do we have to do it? Over and over again in the New Testament we’re told that we are to love each other, to put on love, of course all of this in and through Christ, made possible by God’s grace and through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus seemed to get angry the most over those who failed to love, both in what they did and didn’t do. And he was provoked over the hardness of heart he found so often in people. We indicate that we’re not close to the heart of our Lord, when we consider such concerns as not all that important, or dismiss it all with a wave of the hand.

And sometimes we’re victimized by people because of this hardness of heart and failure to love. And we can respond in kind. Maybe people need rebuked, but likely, especially when we’re the ones who have suffered the hurt, we’re not the ones to do it. Unless they’ve specifically sinned directly against us, we likely are to keep it to ourselves, and pray. And above all, we have to forgive, and ask the Lord to forgive us, and our own heart toward them, maybe one of anger and hurt.

We do well to balance the above thoughts with the truth that we are all so very weak and limited in ourselves. And to try to see what the Lord might be teaching us, where we can improve and grow, and do better.

And above all, we need to forgive our brother or sister from the heart, even as the Lord has forgiven us. We are to love each other deeply, since love covers over a multitude of sins. Patient, bearing with each other, in other words sometimes putting up with each other. Certainly people have to put up with us at times, and it’s not like we don’t have our own blind spots. We look forward to the Day when there wil be no more hardness, including in ourselves, and nothing but love, in and through Jesus.

the challenge of loving each other with our differences

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5

At my sister’s church in the Toledo area, the youth pastor gave a helpful, balanced message on Galatians 5 and the works of the flesh in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit. It was a good, fresh look and feel for me in thinking through what is a difficult subject to grasp, since in a sense, it’s well beyond us, something of the Spirit, not of the flesh, and not of us at all, apart from the Spirit’s gracious working.

In some ways I like the NIV 2011‘s change from patience to forebearance, as part of the fruit of the Spirit. As Dr. Carl Hoch, a great teacher and scholar himself used to tell us, it’s about putting up with each other. Sometimes that’s what we have to do, and we need the grace just as much as those to whom we need to extend it.

Forebearance means we learn to talk through our differences and listen well to each other with respect, then in the end we may agree to disagree and drop it. Or perhaps not even talk about some things at all. I like the former better than the latter, because I think we Christians above anyone else should model before the world what it means for Christ-like discussion on areas in which we don’t agree. That can be difficult, because we may think that some issues impact the gospel for ill, and some quite directly. But we do best when we fight with all the spirit we have by the Spirit, to listen well and if in a discussion, to ask questions. And to speak as those who know we are not complete in our understanding, and mistaken in some of it.

This thought is particularly important these days, when we have equally committed Christians who see the upcoming presidential election of the United States differently, and many if not most everyone seeing it as important and crucial in some ways. What I think ends up being most crucial about the election itself is that regardless of the outcome, we Christians remember to faithfully pray for the President and for other government leaders, regardless of whether we voted for or support their positions, or not (1 Timothy 2). And maybe it will help us to take a more responsible and wise tact with the politics of this world in general. We have to remember its inherent limitations, as well as the importance it carries. That is always the kind of thing I’m working on, because apart from the gospel, I see my understanding of other matters in some kind of flux in the effort to theologically see things more in line with what scripture says and what the church has taught. That’s part of the beauty and challenge of the Christian faith. For though the basics of the gospel are set, the specifics and details about those basics are up for fresh perspective from many different angles through cultures and time. Without for a moment losing any of the basics of the gospel: Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection for the new life in him which begins now, and is to come.

Yes, forebearance as a fruit of the Spirit in contrast to dissensions and division/factions which are included in the works of the flesh. We can’t work these out ourselves. It’s our responsibility to walk in and keep in step with the Spirit. So that the love in and through Jesus wins the day, even in the midst of all our difference.

heads up (hope)

On the first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of hope. The emphasis was on what is called the Second Coming, or Christ’s return, though I don’t think Father Michael used that language. The passage in large part clearly has to do with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But arguably it hints of a time of the final judgment evident in other passages, when God’s kingdom will bring final judgment and salvation. One might argue that upheavals along the way, which bring on changes in cosmic proportions are signs which point to that final judgment and salvation. In my lifetime the coming down of the Berlin wall, the end of the “Iron Curtain” with the Communism of the Soviet Union come to mind.

Israel of Jesus’ time was in hot foment over the Roman occupation of their land, even of Jerusalem. What freedoms they did have were under the thumb of Rome. God’s promise to reign in Jerusalem and ultimately over all the earth certainly had not materialized, so they felt like they were still in exile, even though at home in the land of promise. And so many of them wanted to see Rome overthrown, or at least diminished. Though of course there were other takes in the stew, none being the way Jesus advocated, namely the way of the cross through which the new world order, we could say by death and resurrection, would come.

Father Michael emphasized the need for us as God’s people to patiently wait for the fulfillment of God promise to “put all things to rights” through King Jesus when he comes to set up God’s kingdom on earth, heaven and earth becoming one along with everything else, in and through him. Of course that’s speaking of final judgment and salvation. So that we can anticipate God’s justice and peace as in shalom, in the midst of the injustice and evil of this world. In the king whose coming we celebrate at Advent, King Jesus, we have hope.

Therefore our confidence does not ultimately lie in any earthly system, in fact we see such as subject to God’s judgment all along the way. But like the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple, which oddly enough were something of a vindication and salvation for God’s people in King Jesus at the time, we can rest assured that God is still at work in those ways in the world. Even as we look forward to the final day when at long last God’s kingdom will hold full sway, King Jesus reigning over all from the New Jerusalem.

And so, while we do well to keep up on the news and have concern for the politics of nations- here, the United States, we must keep our heads up to God’s promise in Jesus. To a gospel, a good news which is as big as all of life, the promise of a full salvation coming inside and out. Something we begin to see now, but to be fully realized when the King returns, our works through him now somehow figuring into his work even for that day.

The passages for that Sunday: Jeremiah 33.14–16; Psalm 25.1–9; 1 Thessalonians 3.9–13; Luke 21.25–36, Father Michael with a special emphasis on the gospel passage, in his sermon reading verses 5 through 24, as well.

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:5-36

 

patience and self-control instead of anger

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

There is nothing easier unfortunately than flying off the handle over something one doesn’t like. There are some who are not inclined that way, but I would venture to say the vast majority of us human beings indeed are. Even if it shows up in different ways, for some withdrawal and silence.

Is anger always a bad thing? That is an interesting, controversial point. In the case of God it never is, since God always has complete self-control along with wisdom and above all love. In the case of humans, for the most part it is hard for anger not to become sin, if it isn’t sin at the outset. There is what is called righteous anger which we see at times in Jesus. As one who never sinned, Jesus had complete self-control at all times, though what that looks like or means can be different, depending. But we sin and in fact are easily ensnared into sin. We don’t have perfect self-control, except only insofar as love as a fruit of the Spirit permeates our lives. But there surely is some place for righteous anger out of love. But we have to submit that issue into the Lord’s hands, knowing that true and full justice will come only through him. Even while we pray and seek for a measure of that now. Remembering all the while how justice has been met uniquely in the cross of Jesus.

The proverb makes a vitally important point. Patience and self-control are allies. We do well when we are tempted to anger to step back. To hold our tongues, first of all. To pray. And wait. The problem with much of our anger is that it is not well placed in terms of knowledge. We are angry over what we think we know. Which falls short of what is actually true. And we need to exercise mercy. All the more since we need mercy on a regular basis ourselves. It is certainly the case that we all let each other down. And to forgive in not only divine, but mandated on us humans. As God has forgiven us, we are to forgive each other. As well as receive forgiveness.

And so the next time anger wants to rear its ugly head and strike, we should step back and consider. Is this righteous anger, or not? Do we really know? Even if it is, what else needs to be either in the mix, or following? The fruit of the Spirit includes patience and self-control. We need the work of that Spirit to help us through the bumps and bruises of life. Trusting in God’s good will in Jesus to in the end and even now trump all.