act beforehand (as well as necessarily react)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20; NRSVue

It is important to react in an appropriate way when need be, but just as important and in some ways more so, we also need to act ahead of time in a way which might lessen the need to react later and will at least get us in the proper frame of mind and heart so that any necessary reaction later will be better. I am thinking here about the spiritual warfare we’re told about in this passage, written as it were from Paul or from someone else as if Paul had written it, which doesn’t matter for our purposes since either way it’s holy scripture.

It’s important for us to do all we can on the sunny days in preparation for when the cloudy, overcast, stormy days hit us. It’s easy to do otherwise, to just rest, relax and enjoy when all seems good and at peace. But this passage explicitly tells us to do otherwise. Even when it seems unnecessary, we’re to do this, so that when the inevitable comes, we’ll be ready for it.

I think some interpreters see the evil day as ever present, so that it’s just something we have to do all the time since we’re ever engaged in this spiritual battle. And that could be. It does seem like in experience that there are especially some difficult days, and for some of us if we have to do certain things, like maybe teach or give a message or lead a discussion from scripture, we can almost mark it down that we’ll be in a tussle before that time to trip us up and make us ineffective in what we have to do. That has happened over and over again for me, right up to the present day. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” If we know that ahead of time, then we can prepare ahead of time, and indeed we are clearly told to do just that in this passage for the spiritual warfare which is part of our existence now. Let me add to that that the difficulty and darkness can hit us at the most unexpected times as well, any time really.

If Paul asked for prayer to help him in what he had to do, proclaiming the message of the gospel, we might say all the more so for us, but really, we’re all in the same boat together on that one. A difference with Paul was that he was probably fully exercised this way all the time, whereas we are not. But we’re all in the same need, and we all have the same resources. This is something we’re to realize and grow more and more into in our application and practice of this. Something we’re to take seriously in this life, because there’s no escape. And yet we have all we need in Christ and through the gospel, spelled out to us in detail here so that we won’t miss anything within that, all of it needed for life here and now. So that individually and together we might live in the light and be a light in and through Jesus.

trying to see the big picture

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light,
as if someone fled from a lion
and was met by a bear
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:18-24; NRSVue

Trying to see the big picture, things as they really are will require both an openness and sustained effort on our part. Amos is a prophet who certainly saw, something inherent within prophets, earlier called seers, receiving a vision from God. And often that vision had everything to do with the times in which they lived, seeing the current situation in light of God’s revealed will, eventually in light of the kingdom of God which was and is meant to bring flourishing to all of humanity, to all of creation.

Amos’s words, indeed his calling was not an easy one, certainly true of all the Hebrew prophets. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed Amos’s words in the most difficult task he undertook of seeking racial justice, equality, and reconciliation. King’s passion was rooted in the gospel, the good news of Christ, and the vision cast through that, calling America to the best in its tradition, though it’s not certain that the US Constitution advocated for individual liberty for all, but that’s another topic, and well beyond what I could address (interesting article on this). But after decades and decades, not to mention centuries of wrongdoing to the Africans enslaved in America, the United States went through the upheaval it did hitting against the climax of the Civil War. Yet not ending with that as more was in the works given that much was not healed and made right. True to a significant extent right up to the present day, in fact becoming most evident in recent times.

There’s no question that just like during Amos’s time, we are up against what seems to be intractable forces, or to try to make it clearer, it seems like the fallout is here, that we are going through a perfect storm as it were, that the result of our ways (I include myself in that, too) has pressed in on us. That people on both sides have had enough. During Amos’s time the poor and oppressed could do little. During our time there is both the sense in which they think they can do more, but those who give up are often tempted to despair with a few giving into violence. And those whites who feel their lives are needlessly threatened by all of this, a few of them are ready for violence as well.

Both Amos and Dr. Martin Luther King’s call is entirely different. It is about stepping back and trying to see the big picture both in terms of what actually is, and what God would have be. That comes through being in scripture (Hebrew scripture and the New Testament- considering the Apocrypha with that) and prayer. And doing so in community, but all of this with an eye to try to see the current reality. Listening to everyone, especially those who are marginalized or feel that way. The poor, the stranger, and in this time where I live, first of all the people of color beginning with African Americans and the indigenous, and along with them all others: refugees, Muslims, Chinese, etc.

Unless we do this, we’re not actually seeing as either the prophets or Jesus saw. With the goal of acting in the love of God which Jesus brought with the willingness to suffer in love and out of that same love, for others. Knowing that the good news in Jesus is one of reconciliation of all, involving working through everything that means. In and through Jesus.

yes, not anxious about *anything*

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7; NRSVue

When switching to the NRSV I kind of liked the way it used “worry” here, that we’re not to worry about anything. That seems more in one’s control than the idea of not being anxious about anything. Interestingly the updated edition of the NRSV just recently released online (hard copies around May) changed it to “anxious.” In some ways I like that more, because it seems so outrageous. And that becomes something that we can’t do strictly on our own, but only with God’s help. Either way, that’s true, but especially apparent with the meaning of anxious which is an emotion, whereas worry carries with it more the idea of something we do. When you get right down to it trying to apply this, it probably doesn’t matter either way. μεριμνάω means either. The idea of brooding over something which usually is deeply troubling.

But what are we told here in this scripture? Simply not to be anxious or worry about anything. Not anything at all. Period. Well not quite period, because if we stop there, we won’t succeed. We’re instead to pray with supplication, supplication carrying with it the idea of humble earnest prayer (according to dictionary definitions). And that with thanksgiving. With the promise that the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding of anything will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

But I want to emphasize in this post that we’re not to be anxious about anything, anything at all. That is something we’ll have to work at, work through in the way we’re told to do it here. Not to be down on ourselves when we do feel anxious, which is nearly inevitable for most of us, certainly for me, until someday perhaps we’ll reach the point where we are so accustomed to doing this, that anxiety is mostly only a memory. As we do this, God helps us, flooding and filling us with God’s peace. Something we’ll certainly need as we keep doing this again and again in this life. 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.

casting the demon out

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45; NRSVue

Sometimes I think, and it’s beginning to feel settled to me, that often a demon so to speak inhabits institutions, and yes, even families. When one thinks about it, there’s really no family nor institution that is perfect. It might be “picture perfect” in reputation or even in its own imagination. But there’s a brokenness in everything as certain as the cracks that show up on the walls or ceilings of any house.

When I refer to institutions, I’m not leaving out churches. Christ’s presence is what makes up a church, where two or three are gathered in his name. But as we see in the seven letters to the church in the Revelation and elsewhere, the devil can get into the details, into the works. And families, the same. Some are very broken, and some seem to get along remarkably well. But no family is any more perfect than any individual.

But while there’s a sense that there may be some truth in this for any institution or family, I’m thinking of special situations such as we find ourselves in today. There is so much anger, division, and there appears to be little if any hope that anything will change perhaps before catastrophe or the worst part hits, hopefully with some cushion and limited fallout. And hopefully as well, to give the needed realization that change is needed.

If we’re concerned about such a situation, chances are it’s close to us, or we’re somehow involved in it. Like Daniel of old, who from all appearances even in Scripture was blameless and upright, we too need to pray to God, confessing our sin, our part in the problem, be it in family, or any institution. We most definitely need to be open for the Lord’s insight and correction in our own lives, before we can imagine God’s breakthrough in the lives of others.

As we do that, then maybe God will give us the understanding and sense needed to become part of or fit into the solution. And as Jesus said, some do not come out except by prayer and some manuscripts add, fasting.

There’s always hope, even if it doesn’t come easy. In and through Jesus.

what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

at all times, bless God

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 34:1

It is like a revelation to us, really for our own good, but out of the blue, really into the darkness of our too often down in the mouth existence, a light coming to tell us to bless God no matter what, specifically “at all times.” There is nothing more uplifting, though at the same time it can also seem to be nothing more mysterious than this. And we need to read the entire psalm to appreciate the context, God’s goodness and grace to us (click above link).

But this is a needed breath of fresh air to us, something in which we’re to regularly be engaged, yes “at all times.” The praise of God always being in our mouth. Through hymns sung, in prayer, and all of this spurring us on in love in how we live.

In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer along with certain kind of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

Prayers of all kinds for ourselves and for others should be a practice which we regularly do. We should have a special prayer time along with prayer punctuating our days. Again, all kinds of prayers. For needs, but also with praise and thanksgiving. But looking to God. Waiting on God. Wanting God’s help, even breakthrough for whatever problems we and others are facing.

Usually when we read Paul’s personal request in the above passage, we think of it mostly if not completely in terms of souls getting saved. While that’s certainly included, the ramifications of the gospel are often all but lost. We should be praying for those in strategic places, who are in the open, that the word which goes out from them will not only save souls, but shake and shape the world in terms of the gospel. That all the barriers of “race” might be broken down, that the principalities and powers embedded in the world system might be served notice not only that their day is going to come, but that in a sense it’s already here, as we anticipate the curtain closing on them when the present kingdom of God finally enters in in its fullness at Christ’s return.

We need to begin to understand that the wisdom of God through Christ and the way of the cross is not only the power of salvation for all who believe, but also through the church serves notice to the principalities and powers of the world order that something good is coming, a light penetrating the darkness, and indeed exposing them for what they truly are. That is the way of the cross, the way of the love that comes from Christ. So that the world will be shaken, and ultimately turned upside down, really right side up. As we anticipate the Day when all of this will be finalized once forever when Jesus returns.

In and through Jesus.

needed strength from God

[God] gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Isaiah 40 is the Romans 8 of the Old Testament. It is a great chapter of encouragement for God’s people. Like Romans 8, Isaiah 40 ends on a momentous, uplifting note, speaking about the hard places of life where we live. We need to take into our heart and bones all these great passages are telling us.

The point at the end of Isaiah 40 is that God will give us the needed spiritual and physical strength to keep on keeping on, regardless of what we’ve went through and what we’re facing. 

Oftentimes our weariness is a combination of being tired in spirit and in body. I can overcome a lot of physical tiredness if I feel strong, good, or okay in spirit. But when I’m down in spirit, then physical strength seems hard to come by.

We’re told to hope in or wait for God. That as we do so, God will renew our strength. It’s a strength of resolve to keep on going in the midst of difficulty, whether discouragement, doubt, even despair. As we wait on the Lord, the Lord will give us the resolve and ability we need.

Physical rest and asking for prayer from a good friend or one who is mentoring/directing us are important. While we also look at the great encouragement Scripture passages like this give to us, right where we live no less. In and through Jesus.

borderline gossip

Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors…

Psalm 15:1-3

I’m sure we’ve all heard it, likely at some time or another even have been participants in it. Concern is being expressed about someone, and before you know it, details are coming out accompanied with a kind of interest that seems to have departed from the original intent. And it goes on and on, not stopping. In what has become “borderline gossip.”

Maybe when we talk about others in such contexts, we would do best to talk about them as if it were ourselves. We want to express the concern, but do so humbly, acknowledging that our perception is limited. That above all, we want to take it to God in prayer. And not go on and on, framing them in a demeaning way. 

There certainly are those times when the person or people we’re concerned about seem to be taking a clearly wrong turn. Of course those are the times we need to plead for God’s mercy upon them.

Let’s be careful what we say about others. Ordinarily keep it brief, to the point, and always with plenty of charity. Looking to God for God’s help and full blessing on their lives. In and through Jesus.