experience or the word, or both?

Sometimes we rightly are critical of an emphasis on experience which is not grounded in God’s word, scripture, and in the gospel, the heart of that. We can make all too much of experience. How we feel, or how it’s going, or if we have a sense of wellness is considered more important than anything else.

On the other hand, as we see from scripture, it’s not like experience isn’t important. We find the psalmists over and over appealing to God for a better experience, for escape from distress, sorrow, and death through deliverance into God’s salvation which involves rejoicing, and even singing and dancing.

We need to be grounded in scripture, and the heart of that, which is the gospel. Scripture takes seriously and addresses all experience. It is not counter or in opposition to experience at all, but about real life, where we live.

So in the end, it’s not really a case of either/or, but from being grounded in scripture, building our lives on that which is solid, through Jesus. So that whatever we are experiencing in life, we can more and more by faith rest in God’s promise in Jesus both for the present life and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

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.

rest in a restless age

Sometimes after a rough and tumble, or sheer out and out exhausting week, all we need is rest, and nothing more. I love vacations of rest, just Deb and I, though to have the kids and grandkids with us would be quite alright with us, as well. But we all need those times of doing very little, or nothing at all. And doing it slowly, or as we please.

In the world today, there is a hyperactive sort of goings on, which has people’s full attention. We shouldn’t necessarily ignore it, or turn a blind eye toward it. But neither should we be in a stew over it. Instead we need to rest in the one who actually is King of kings and Lord of lords, who is over all, and who, from his throne at the right hand of the Father, has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

We in Jesus from that rest and reality, are to go and make disciples of all nations, that is our calling. We are not to get caught up in the muck and mire of the world’s politics, but we’re to be taken up with “the politics of Jesus,” which certainly includes care for the unborn, those oppressed and in need, the refugee, etc. Yes, we should be speaking out on those issues and praying and contributing as we’re led.

But our main concern must be to follow the one to whom we’re called, to be in line with the commission given to us in this age until he returns. Our answer to this world’s problems, and to the question of how to approach them is not from any political entity or ideology of this world, but only from the politics of Jesus. We might well support with reservations and from a distance means employed to correct evil and reward as well as bring good. But we are believers in one hope, one good news, one kingdom, all in Jesus, and in God’s grace, mercy and peace in him. That is where we live, and learn to rest, come what may.

the blessing of sleep

for he grants sleep to those he loves.

For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

Psalm 127: NIV; NASB

Neurologists have uncovered how important sleep is to the brain. The brain, though active at night while we sleep since we actually are always dreaming (though I rarely remember my dreams) is actually in repair while we’re sleeping. And even though I often don’t get as much sleep as I ought to (so this psalm would be a good one for me to meditate on for a while), I wake up not only refreshed, but oftentimes with a burden at least partially lifted.

Part of sleeping for a person of faith is simply an act of faith in trusting the God who while watching over us, neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). Although sleeping is most definitely one of my favorite parts of the day (of course, at night, usually), I often find myself resisting it. Sometimes up surfing the internet, or making another move in Lexulous (an online Scrabble game). Or listening to something. Better for me as a rule to shut the internet down, perhaps read some scripture, and then doze off. In fact, I think it’s always good to read scripture in the evening, which is actually the start of a Jewish day, and then go to sleep. That might be better than reading scripture once we wake up from a night’s rest, instead of doing so the night before. Though both are surely good.

The bottom line is that we humans need sufficient rest (and for me, sufficient coffee especially in the morning), part of God’s provision for us surely in more ways than one. Afternoon naps (a wish for me) when possible, included. God will provide what we need; we can’t do it ourselves. But part of what we can do among other things is discipline ourselves with enough sleep, surely a means of grace itself. A part of the rhythm of creation and provision for us from the Creator. And a blessing to us in and through Jesus.

the blessing of work

Labor Day is the last summer holiday in the United States before traditionally the school year begins, and summer vacation time ordinarily ends. The United States is known for its hard work, although certainly not all of that historically is honorable when we consider the slave trade of the past. And work easily becomes an end in itself, even idolatrous, instead of being a blessed means to a blessed end from God.

We can all thank God for the opportunity to work, whether in blue or white collar jobs, as well as for the education or training that is available to land a job. Work in itself is good, a part of creation. What is not of creation, but rather the fall, as the story is told in Genesis 3, and therefore not a part of the new creation, but the current old, broken creation is the toil and struggle inherent in work now.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19

And so there you have it: Work is a blessing subject to the curse in which trouble along with the limitations of being a human of this fallen creation (“dust”) are inherently a part. And so I can expect more problems at work on Tuesday, along with the blessing of the work itself, and what that work accomplishes.

Christians are to be known as exemplary workers: for our work and I think also for our rest. We should be diligent, reliable workers, yet not workaholics, who fail to enjoy the fruit of their labors, and miss a large part of the point of them (see Ecclesiastes).

…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

 Today is a day to relax, and thank God for the work we have. And pray for those who may be out of work. As we continue our work for the provision of our families, for the good it provides, and to the honor and praise of God.

rest and quiet

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31

Although this is in the pericope of the feeding of the five thousand, it is noteworthy in that our Lord encourages his disciples, and by extension, even us, to break away from service, from ministry, from our work, and get some quiet rest.

We live in a society which lives for its weekends, but little knows, I suppose, the rest Jesus talks about here. We need time and space to gather our thoughts, to gather ourselves, since we get so enmeshed, worked up and worked in the bundle of necessary and even good, healthy in its place as long as it has some balance, but the normal everyday workaday world. Unlike so many societies in the past and present, we have plenty of time for diversions along the way, for entertainment and plenty of distractions. But how much of the kind of rest the Lord was pressing on his disciples, do we really get? Do we know much at all about such rest?

Of course in the case above, life came pressing in on Jesus and the disciples, so that the plan was thwarted, a multitude coming to be fed not only from the five loaves of bread and the two small fishes, but from the mouth of the Lord himself. But there were surely times when they were able to get some of that rest.

I need that kind of rest. I used to enjoy complete solitude and would often want to get away to wooded, scenic places to be quiet, read scripture and pray, to simply enjoy the scenery. I still like to get away, but preferably with my wife. I still like some solitude, but I prefer company, easily getting lonely, so that I would long for human companionship. In the case of Jesus and his disciples, evidently they would be with each other and him, but apart from the crowds, the noisy throng of people who clammered to the Lord to be healed and to hear just what he would have to say. So it must have been a highlight to the disciples, and to the Lord himself, to actually find such spaces, though in the gospel accounts, we find such withdrawals interrupted.

I look forward even to breaks from the normal routine, ideally two weeks away, although we usually have just around one week away. Whatever time we can get in quiet and loving fellowship or communion with our Lord and each other, is a good time. We probably need more of it. Especially some of the poor, who because of the evil of the day, do not have a job which gives them a living wage, not to mention, good healthcare. Both ought to be a given, not because they’re a “right,” but because these people are made in God’s image and loved by God, and should be loved by all, their personhood and needs met.* Instead too many of them work more than one job, sometimes two or three, and barely have enough time to rest at all.

Yes, everyone needs and deserves, being made in God’s image, and loved by God, some rest from their work. We all need to make that a priority for ourselves and encourage others to do the same. So that we can find ourselves and each other and the Lord. To hear his voice, to be renewed and refreshed. To know that we are loved, as we love each other. Quiet. Rest. May we know some of that this summer, and this year. And in so doing, find new strength, new vision, maybe just new quiet, and know more and share the love God has for us.

*From Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, a book I would highly recommend.

Where is Jesus?

Sometimes we simply need to get away from it all, to be free of the pressing duties and even the concerns of life. To simply relax and enjoy, to be at peace. In that to seek the Lord indeed. But to have some amusement and fun, now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

During Jesus’s busy time of ministry, he had times when he would want to simply get away with his disciples and rest, although he couldn’t escape the people. He was known to get up early at least some mornings and get away to have communion in prayer with his Father. Yes, we need times like that. We need a certain kind of stillness and solitude.

But more often than not, we’ll find Jesus, and God in him in the pressing duties of everyday life, and in the difficult things which come our way. We can grow weary and tired over that, and we do need some breaks now and then. But more often than not, that’s where we’ll find Jesus, and God in him at work.

And so while we need to take care of ourselves, we also need to look for Jesus. Where is Jesus? What would God be doing in and through Jesus today, even through us who are in Jesus, in whatever humble way we can serve, even if only by being present?