learn from (and don’t ignore) history

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did, as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not engage in sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

1 Corinthians 10:1-15

I’m afraid that all too often our theology or teaching we’ve taken in trumps what Scripture actually says. In the same way I’m afraid that any ideology of the world can make reality take a back seat or get out of the car altogether. But reality doesn’t work that way. Unless we take seriously what Scripture says along with the voices that are raising concerns now, and unless we are willing to look at the past square in the eye, and seek to learn from it, and adjust ourselves accordingly, unless we’re willing to do all of that, then we’ll have to suffer the consequences, and others along with us.

All of Scripture somehow has meaning for us now, although I acknowledge that places in Leviticus seem without application to me. But you have to factor all the details of that book in as well, and see that as part of the whole, which might help us understand the present through considering the past along with the projected future.

Something similar is true for world and national history as well. Why we can’t look at the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly which is inevitable in any such history, and why that’s considered divisive or whatever else negative is a sign that we’re caught up in some ideology. To be devoted to an ideology as if it’s right and true, one example the myth surrounding any nation’s greatness and goodness, is to at least be on the precipice, if not already fallen into idolatry itself. We must be willing to hear the voices that speak out of pain. Of course, they’re not going to be infallible, but neither should we dismiss them as irrelevant with no truth and nothing to say that we can’t learn from. We must listen and listen and listen. Only then might we have something to say which might help, and maybe not. But we need to seek to learn. Only then will others come to respect what we might have to contribute for good.

And we have to accept what Paul tells us above. We need the fear of God in our hearts, but with the realization that such fear is meant to help us into the knowledge and experience of the fathomless and pervasive love of God. In and through Jesus.

the unexpected, the new road, a new goal

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

Job 1:1; NRSVue

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Job 1:20-22; NRSVue

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive good from God and not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2:9-10; NRSVue

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

Job 3:1; NRSV

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends, and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

After this Job lived one hundred and forty years and saw his children and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

Job 42:10, 16-17; NRSVue

The wisdom story of Job is as profound in the wisdom we might gain from it, as it is difficult and even perplexing in the story it tells. We who grew up in church and were taught this story as children became inoculated to the problem of the story. And to some extent I still seem to be. After all, God brags about God’s servant Job to Satan. Satan attacks Job’s character, and then God takes up Satan’s wager, and lets Satan take Job’s wealth then his children and after that Job’s health? Job first responds as one would expect since he is after all a righteous person. But when left alone and before three friends initially present with him and seemingly empathetic, but otherwise all alone, Job begins what amounts to a long dialog, more like monologue since he and his friends eventually enter into something more like a debate. And Job ends up not only debating them, but God as well, though God is not yet speaking. After all the bottom has fallen out of Job’s world. And when you think about it, how can you blame him? It is hard for us to put ourselves into the story.

What was Job’s perspective and view before that? I think we at least can see the influences afoot through the remarks and charges of his three friends. God steps in at the end and gives Job a perspective Job had never dreamed of, somewhat prepared just before that by a young man who had spoken, misspoken to some extent I think, but had pointed in the direction in which God would go. And in the end, it ended well. But was all really well that ended well? After all, Job’s first seven children were gone, all the love, hopes and dreams with them. Seven in the end with more and more children to come, but a hole, nevertheless. But for me this is simply a wisdom story, and not an actual event. And much, much wisdom for us in this book, a different kind complementary wisdom to the other wisdom literature in scripture, especially in the Hebrew Bible.

All of that said to try to say something like this. What about when new and unexpected events shake our world from the outside in, to the inside out? When we’re at a loss and are having a hard time coming to grips with what we see in front of us, what we’re experiencing.

I think that’s when we want to praise and thank God, but also come to God with our own honest thoughts. And then try to listen. And for us listening means plumbing the depths insofar as we can through going through a book like Job, as well as the rest of scripture. That is a lifetime endeavor, not something we can do in a day or a weekend or even in a year. But we start that journey and stay on it, even as Job blessedly does throughout this book.

We can be sure that there is a good ending, even if we never completely understand it. Part of our life now. In and through Jesus.

learning to depend on God when anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I certainly have had other problems, but I think my longest, persistent problem has been anxiety. Sometimes in the past, smothered in it for days at a time. Better in recent years, but still not that good.

More recently, I’ve begun to experience what I think is something of a breakthrough for me. The passage above has been my main go to thoughts in trying to deal with this, and still is. The difference I think somehow might lie in the depth in which I’m pursuing this. But it’s probably more simple than that.

I tend to be a person of words, connecting with words, thinking through things with words, processing life largely that way, not enough with God’s beauty and in other ways. And I likely did that with this passage, thinking as long as I do such and such, then God will respond, but maybe more like on a conceptual level, than personally.

Maybe not that much difference, but now I realize it all depends on God, quite personal. It is kind of a mystical approach, but quite real for us Christians. I realize that when I’m concerned about something, whether as a possibility or a reality I’m having to deal with, that I can’t get rid of the anxious feelings which arise and often the numbness that follows. I can only bring my concerns to God, just as the passage tells us above. And wait for him.

Invariably, God comes through. That takes away panic, gives me perspective, and brings needed peace of heart and mind. Only from God in answer to prayer right in the midst of the struggle. In and through Jesus.

being like Jesus in our struggles

If there’s one thing for certain in life, it’s that we’ll have struggles of one kind or another. I was watching a clip on war torn, disease ravaged Yemen today, and I also think of North Korea where to profess Christ would bring a death sentence. Comparing those two places, not to mention a good number of other places in the world (Haiti and Venezuela come to mind on our side of the world, but a number of other faltering states as well), and I begin to see that much of what I think I have to be concerned about pales in comparison. And yet problems here can seem like life and death matters at times, even while we live in relative comfort and safety. We need to be in prayer for the people who lack basic care, and whose lives are in danger.

How are we like Jesus in our own struggles? I think we have to pay attention to the things that Jesus did, as well as what he taught in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And see how that is expanded on in the rest of the New Testament. Our goal should be that we are more and more becoming like him, whatever difficulties we face. And hopefully to see such difficulties help us grow in ways we couldn’t imagine otherwise, as we learn to walk in Jesus’s way, no matter what. In and through Jesus.

thinking through, along with praying through (“on further consideration”)

…the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15

It is easy to think this or that, even for a long time, and take it for granted. It is hard to dig into whether or not such thinking is close to reality, or even logical, for that matter. And I’m not pointing fingers. I can fall, and have fallen into this fallacy myself.

Rather, we need to learn to think things through, prayerfully. Of course we need to do our part, but this process is best done with others. Proverbs tells us elsewhere that there is safety in a multitude of counselors. What one person doesn’t see, there might be two or three others who do, or at least someone else. Insight from our various perspectives is helpful. And we all need to dig and ask questions.

Thinking matters through, as well as praying through until an answer comes. We need both. As we seek to do well in God’s eyes in and through Jesus.

trying to understand different perspectives

Among the greatest needs in the United States on a social, as well as spiritual level is the importance of listening to others, to differing points of view. Politics, and issues which are put into that category is especially volatile, and the real war from all appearance seems to be waged on that front. Some moral issues which have other factors are part of that, along with the need for all sides to have their say. But it seems we’re nearing a tipping point, where there will be no compromise.

There is surely much to say about all of that, but that’s not my concern in this post. My point is simple: the need to learn to listen well to different perpsectives, with no agenda to correct or impose one’s own point of view. And in that process to better understand not only where they’re coming from, but what merits there possibly are, what truth actually lies there. So that we’re open to their perspective actually impacting our own.

In our culture today, such an attitude would seem rare at best. Part of that comes from what appears to be a largely nonnegotiable stance right from the top, meaning from the president, even though his administration appears to be more flexible. There needs to be a mature group which learns to listen well for the sake of the United States, yet which, even in the midst of differences: liberal or progressive, conservative, and whatever else, will hold feet to the fire with reference to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Amendments of the Constitution.

While that is important, there is something more important still, a matter which can be addressed only by the church and believers: the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and all the good of that out of God’s love for the world. We believers who live here in the United States and likely citizens of this nation do well to be concerned for the preservation of what is good in the ideals of this nation. But our most basic calling is to live lives completely devoted to Jesus and the gospel. In doing so, one of the first fundamental things we need to do is listen, listen, and listen some more, and say nothing (yet), at least be slow to speak, and simply love. And when we speak, talk about Jesus.

The goal is to win others to Jesus, and help them grow in their faith. Out of that hopefully will come real benefits for the United States, or any other nation in which the church is, but the outcome is in terms of God’s kingdom. As hard a statement as this is, I think it needs to be said: What God is doing with the nations, including the United States is rather beside the point. This is probably especially hard for us, since we’re a democracy, and either legitimately or not, we often have much invested in this nation. But our lives are to be lost for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mark 8). Christ is building his church, not nation states. And actually ruling the nations in some way through the church (Ephesians 1).

All of that more difficult stuff aside: We need to simply listen well, and be known as those who listen and love, even as we as witnesses hold firmly to God’s word in Jesus and in the gospel. Together in and through Jesus.

seeing in a Jesus way

There are all kinds of ways to look at things, which we might label accordingly, but which at times may defy any known category at all. Basic in this is the supposed objective take, as if someone can see even anything in a way in which only God can see it. In reality such an objectivity is subject to all the limitations of the viewer.

And so we do well to temper whatever thoughts we have on so many things with the utmost humility. A humility which doesn’t give up in trying to work through something so as to better understand it. But is open to further input for a better understanding which at times, probably many times, and nearly inevitably over time will result in a revision of what we previously thought.

What we in Jesus need to work on and keep working on is the effort to begin to see things more and more with Jesus and what one might call gospel-centered eyes. Instead of American, or Democratic, or Republican, or Libertarian, or Progressive, or whatever. Not that we can escape seeing things from our cultural perspective. That’s a given, we will, with all the limitations and biases which go with it. In fact Paul even tried to be “all things to all people, so that by all possible means, [he] might save some” through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

Seeing in a Jesus way means seeing people with the goal of Jesus which brings people to Jesus to ultimately begin to become like Jesus together with other Jesus followers. It is gospel-centered, no less. Our passion shouldn’t be to get the world, even our world to think the way we do, which in itself is anything but foolproof. Our passion instead should be to help ourselves and others see the beauty of the good news of God, which is in Jesus. And to begin to experience the transformation that beauty brings, through the gospel itself, and the obedience of faith which is to accompany it.

The gospel alone is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, a salvation which is ultimately transformational in every respect, beginning with how we view others and the world. As we begin in and through Jesus to see with the eyes of Jesus, a view which includes ourselves and excludes no one. The one view we can count on to not only make more sense of the world, but to ultimately bring the world to its senses according to God’s good will in Jesus.

what is on our radar?

We are undoubtedly people of our time and place with perspectives which are limited to the lives we live as well as to the world as we perceive it from the media. That is fraught with all kinds of dangers in skewing reality. Not that any one person is going to understand it well in all its complexity.

As people of the Book, we who are Christians, followers of Jesus need to keep reading scripture for all its worth, a challenge in itself. Inevitably we will read it from our perspective, which means we will have blinders on, so that parts of what is there will not register, or at least not register well. Important aspects of God’s written word may be all but lost to us. One such example is God’s concern for the poor, which is seen over and over again in scripture. Here’s a look through a translation at how often scripture refers to the poor.

What scripture majors on is what we should emphasize without leaving the other issues behind. What we especially need to avoid is making scripture support what may end up being a worldly agenda. It’s easy to take something out of its context, put it in our own, so that we see scripture saying something it isn’t saying at all.

What we’re aware of and concerned about ought to both come from scripture and be informed by scripture. It may very well be a subject scripture does not at all address, such as climate change. But out of love for God and for our neighbor we may conclude that it’s a matter that as a follower of Christ and a fellow human being we ought to be concerned about.

In all of this as always the gospel must be foremost and what follows from it. As we keep reading scripture prayerfully ourselves and with each other. So that we can see more clearly the path God has for us in Jesus.

it’s about the gospel

There are all kinds of matters in this life which actually do matter. From the big to the small, which often in the case of the small is as big as life to those it affects. Everything has its place.

At the same time something can be quite out of place in our minds and therefore, concerns. From the political situation to what happened to us yesterday. Not that any issue is to small for our Father who even knows the number of the hairs on our head so that he is intimately in touch and I think even touched himself, remarkably, with all the details of our lives.

While we need to remember that, so that we can learn more and more to cast our cares on the one who cares for us, it will help us in our understanding and expectation, yes in our faith to learn to see the big picture, what it’s about for us in this life.

While there’s so many things we have to see to, hence the blessedness of some who don’t have to see to so many of these kinds of concerns (I think myself of the responsibilities which go into “owning” a house), we’re to live as those who live for the gospel, who give up our lives for Jesus and for the gospel (Mark 8:34-9:1). And see everything somehow in relation to that. So that we try to somehow relate everything to that gospel. Because if anything becomes an end in itself, doesn’t it then become idolatrous? From whatever political allegiance someone might have to whatever good ideal and goal one may wish to see implemented.

There may be wisdom and good in such things, but for us in Jesus we see not only for the life to come, but for the present life, that the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is what we don’t want to lose sight of ever. So that our view of everything is tempered and perhaps even changed by that gospel.

I believe this is a truth which I’ve caught only a glimpse of and which I want to see better in relation to everything. It is the difference that being in Jesus in this present life makes. Of course it’s rooted in and even the life of the church. And it’s to make a difference in our lives, the difference that following Jesus makes. Let the reader understand. May God grant us to understand this by his Spirit in and through Jesus. Amen.

a good template

The Lord’s Prayer/ the Our Father Jesus taught, is both how we should pray, along with words we should use to pray (of course, not exclusively). The Lord’s Prayer is not only a good template for prayer, but for how we should view the world. Of course how we view the world from that prayer will be determined by how we read the rest of scripture. And what we gather from that will vary somewhat from person to person, as well as from church to church.

The Lord’s Prayer along with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) puts us on notice that Jesus is King, that God’s kingdom is present in him, and that, while we await its consummation at Jesus’ return when heaven and earth are made one, the beginning of what is to occur then, is happening now.

The prayer by itself is a good template to get us better focused than we normally would be otherwise, but as noted earlier, we need to be in all of scripture to see just what this prayer might mean in God’s kingdom work in Jesus in the world today.

The prayer is centered in God’s glory, kingdom and will. It is God-centered. It is in terms of community: God’s people, so that somehow the people of God are in some central role in this kingdom and its work. It is for the earth in terms not only of the future, but of the present as well. In fact I think the emphasis of the prayer as a whole is clearly on the present. It is practical, down to earth, where people live. In terms of sustenance, what we need physically. And spiritually, as well. It is also in terms of the ongoing need for forgiveness of sins, in other words it is grace oriented. Along with depending on God for deliverance from evil, or the evil one, so as not to be led into temptation. Again, giving all the glory and praise to God.

As followers of Jesus we need to be well grounded in the words Jesus said, and these words Jesus taught us to pray are among those we need to keep especially close at hand. Remembering that this is a prayer to God, which means that how it’s shaped is how God’s work in Jesus in his kingdom is shaped in the world.

“This, then, is how you should pray: