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.

heads up on white privilege

They served him by himself and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

Genesis 43:32; NRSVue

In the United States there’s great controversy practically raging over what is now called “wokeness,” the awareness that the systems have had and continue to have an adverse effect on people of color, particularly African Americans. Though when you study US history, you’ll find that people of different ethnicities have often had a major problem, especially when first coming to the United States, or due to events. But the two major glaring sins of the United States have been the displacement of the indigenous (in my younger years, called “Indians”) and the enslavement of Africans. And what has come from that so that African Americans often find themselves more segregated in the north than they were in the south, and in places that become run down as well as depositories of unhealthy waste. Yes, strides have been made, but there still is discrepancy and disparity, serious overall in actual net worth monetarily. And that is as much the result of the advantages whites have had over many generations, as it is the result of blacks being disadvantaged throughout the same time.

Some will inevitably say that I am now being divisive and also not talking about something positive and helpful. But I would challenge all to keep reading their Bibles from cover to cover and pay close attention to the marked emphasis over and over again on God’s concern for the poor, as well as God’s action, including salvation and deliverance, not to mention judgment against injustice. It is not helpful nor true to scripture to read it all as if it has to do with our personal relationship to God. The gospel covers that and all of life. The light of the good news in Jesus comes into every dark or we might say instead bleak place. And it exposes all that is false, wrong, and contrary to God’s good will.

It is never enough just to read the Bible. Never. We must also pay attention to life itself. What is God saying through our reading of the Bible which actually pertains to the real world out there? And not just our world of course, but the world of others, particularly the poor and the oppressed and certainly add to that the refugee.

Yes, we need to be awakened to all that is wrong. To listen to those who are affected. To pray yes, but also to find out ways that we can help. In this case being willing to acknowledge that we may have been blind, and I personally know that I have, to a white privilege which has excluded or placed burdens and barriers on those of our human family who are black, with other people of color included. Something for us to be awakened to if we’re to take scripture and the gospel seriously. In and through Jesus.

a resolution that can stick

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8; NRSVue

I’m not much into New Year’s resolutions. I do have kind of a half-hearted one that I’m not sure exactly how to carry out, but that’s not really relevant here. I will say that not only would I break resolutions in New Years past (probably distant), but I would likely forget them altogether.

Scripture has a special pull and not only influence, but power in that it is inspired by God so that God’s word, especially in Christ and the gospel, but also in specific ways related to life can come to us. But we have to have ears intent on listening and hearing along with a heart set on doing whatever it is that we believe God is telling us.

In this case from the scripture quoted above from the book of James, we’re referring to a mindset, even a discipline in how we approach the inevitable trials of life. We’ve touched on this before. What is interesting is the recent revision of the NRSV telling us that we need to “let endurance complete its work, so that we might be complete and whole, lacking in nothing” (emphasis added). This actually seems to be quite true to the Greek, and clever when you think about it. Again, we’re to let endurance complete its work, so that we end up being complete and whole.

If we set ourselves to do this, committed to that, it’s actually one of the many things from scripture which can be fulfilled. I’m not talking about perfection, as if we’re always going to get it right, and never break it. So in that sense, not. But in the long haul, yes, this is a kind of resolution as we’re resolute to follow through on this, even when at times we need reminding. And life itself will remind us, when we’re up against it, and failing in this regard.

God will help us continue on and grow, so that we get better at all of this, even if it does seem painfully slow at times with numerous setbacks. But if we keep at this, in time we’ll begin to see the difference, so that it isn’t just more breakthroughs for us, but becoming more of a settled disposition in us for good. That indeed God did help us in this as we become more and more complete and whole, at least clearly on our way to that. In and through Jesus.

get back to what you were directed to, and stay at it (and don’t forget it)

Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

2 Peter 1:12-15

Awhile back it was as if the Lord almost appeared to me and told me, “You need to be in the book of James.” So I took that seriously and have been in it quite a lot ever since. But lately I’ve had a time in which I haven’t, after having gone through it slowly a number of times. And I was feeling down and discouraged with some significant difficulties.

That’s when, almost like a light emerging faintly within the darkness, I remembered James. And starting in my mind, getting back to some of the basics I had been immersed in. And I found myself immediately helped. I also realize that while I did learn and/or was reminded of a good number of important things by going through that book, it’s not like I have arrived and can stop now. No, I need to apply it, be a doer of the word, and not merely a hearer, as James tells us. One who like Peter was pointing out, wants to be reminded, and to keep in memory the truth from God we receive in Scripture. In and through Jesus.

what is “the W/word of God”?

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 33:6

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1, 14

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

An evangelical pastor and scholar wrote to me that the Bible itself never claims to be the word of God. The church fathers of the early centuries made no such claim, calling it Holy Writ or Scripture. The canon in those days wasn’t complete and solidified as it is today. I am guessing, and from what I think I’ve picked up, the Bible was called the Word of God in the flow coming out of the Protestant Reformation, of course referring to the 66 books of the Protestant canon. 

All that aside, I believe the word, or if you prefer Word, though my own preference is to preserve the capitalization in reference to Christ, refers to God speaking to bring into existence and make things happen, to God’s Word Christ, and to the good news- the gospel message about Christ. So we might say that the word of God as found in Scripture is God’s spoken word, Christ and the gospel, and all related to each other. λόγος (logos) and ῥῆμα (rhēma) are the two primary Greek words translated “word” in our Bible translations. They are certainly related, and perhaps could to some extent be interchangeable. But λόγος refers to something established, existent, whereas we might say ῥῆμα is more of the act of something becoming established. It is good to note that distinction in various passages. And this post is not about trying to deal with that, which I’m not qualified to do anyhow, though we do have so many good helps in books, commentaries and online nowadays to at least give us a clue and some good direction on this.

Based on this, I go to Scripture to “hear” and receive God’s word to me. And I realize at the same time that the word is Christ, and whatever word that comes to us from God comes through Christ. And that the gospel, the good news in Christ is central in all of this. After all, the gospel is really the entire point of Scripture. All else is beside that point, because the gospel in Christ ultimately judges as well as shapes everything.

Scripture is not strictly speaking the W/word of God. But through it, God’s word comes to us. And I want to add here, that all of Scripture is important for this, every bit of it. I would add the Apocrypha to the mix, also called the Deuterocanonical books (see NRSV Bibles which include that, for the most complete inclusion of all accepted by Christian traditions). Inerrancy is unnecessary. All of Scripture is inspired by God for its express purpose, the gospel penetrating and changing our own lives, as well as ultimately everything else. So I’m ideally more than less in Scripture all the time. That is where God’s word breaks through to me more than anywhere else. But we do well to try to hear God’s word through our experience, through what others say, etc. Of course with discernment, and comparing with Scripture. But even Scripture itself is critiqued, and from no one less than Christ himself. But that’s another subject, well above my “pay grade.” 

And as I heard recently, and it seems to me to have merit: Scripture, tradition, reason and you can add to that with some caveats- experience can all be in the mix, and actually are so in different orders. We need the Spirit of God to help us sort that out, and central in that is to understand fulfillment to be not in Scripture itself, but in Christ.

All of this is not to relegate the Bible to some secondary status. It is actually central in helping us to hear God’s word, to “see” Christ, to hear and accept the good news of Christ. And I can guarantee you that I definitely need God’s word every single day. After all, just as Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Something we depend on not just every day, but every moment. And we need it. It definitely makes the needed difference for us. 

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.

words

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

Jacques Derrida was a twentieth century philosopher who had a lot to say on words and specifically on their limitations. I would like to understand better what he was saying, but it seems to be about how words and texts themselves over time deconstruct or lose sense of whatever was their intent in being written in the first place. Words are written in a specific time and place, and seem to have all the meaning in the world at the time, probably connecting well with others when they’re well said or written. And it seems the continued need for that remains, so that every generation continues to write. Yet there’s value in the old texts and traditions, to be carried over from generation to generation. But how?

Maybe Ecclesiastes gives us something of a clue. Even though we’re far removed from its times and culture, we can readily identify with some of it. Regardless of whether we agree with all of it or not, we have to acknowledge that Qoheleth, translated “Teacher” (or traditionally, “Preacher”) wrote them with plenty of weight, and perhaps down in the mouth much of the time in doing so. And it is one of my favorite books of Scripture. Maybe that’s because it has to do with words. And consonant with Deridda’s thought: their limitations.

In the end, the one who shares the Teacher’s words seems to caution about putting too much weight in them, and in words in and of themselves. The goal is obedience to God, not the veneration or ornamentation of the words themselves. The words remain such as they are, but it’s God, the Spirit who helps us beyond them we could say to their goal. That we might live before God as those responsive to God, to God’s will. Not to set words aside as of no value, otherwise why would we have the book of Ecclesiastes, or Scripture itself? But to understand that words are meant to point us to the reality of God. And help us understand God’s will so that we might live in obedience. In love. In and through Jesus.

trying to understand

About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Life brings with it many questions. Some are over simple matters in which we can often get quick satisfactory answers. Other things are more difficult to try to figure out, and some things don’t yield easy answers at all. Living in “the information age” we expect everything to be at our fingertips, just a press away, and perhaps the solution shipped to our door or readily accessible to us one way or another. We tend to be impatient over matters which may yield no answer right away, taking time.

Scripture not only mirrors life with real life characters, but like life, often yields no easy answers for us. Scripture can seem a mystery to us, to those without the Spirit- foolishness or making no sense, and to young followers of Christ, often difficult at best even while intriguing and interesting.

I often don’t read Scripture to try to understand, but simply to see or receive whatever God might give me through it. But when we are stuck on something, it’s good to slow down, turn it over and over in our minds again, and prayerfully try to understand. The book of Hebrews from which is the passage quoted above, is often challenging. One needs to be in all of Scripture which will help. And read it discerningly with the help of Bible scholars who dig into the original meaning of the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, the original languages in which the Bible was written, along with a cultural understanding derived from written accounts and archaeology. And we need to seek to read and discern together, a staple of the faith tradition of which I’m a part.

We have to keep at it, or as the writer to the Hebrews above warns us, we are in danger of falling away. It’s either pressing on toward maturity, not giving up, trying to understand, or not doing that. One or the other.

God will help us as we continue on, trying to find whatever it is that God has for us, as well as trying to understand all of its application to all of our lives. In and through Jesus.

seeing the big picture (not losing focus, taking our eyes off that)

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

A probably vast majority of my posts are on issues which hit close to home, and concern details of life, mostly in personal, isolated matters. While Scripture doesn’t address all specifics, it certainly gives us direction in how we face and work through everything. And all of that is important. As we’re told in Scripture, the very hairs of our head our numbered, so that every detail of our lives is important to God. And our well being, also.

Scripture is probably much more communal than the way we read it, for instance often the “you” in our translations is plural but lost on us, even though that always has individual application. But a communal aspect is often found in those passages which we normally all but miss. Even so we must not lose sight of the fact that God does want to relate to us on a personal level right where we live down to every detail, helping us to live responsibly under God’s guidance and care.

That said, we do well to try to see the big picture found in Scripture, and keep that in our sights and focus, even when we’re considering details along the way. That is challenging, and partly so because our spiritual enemy wants us to be preoccupied with minute details, lose focus, and be brought into a kind of tunnel vision in which we lose sight of what God wants us focused on, on the big picture.

This does seem counterintuitive when we have something difficult, seemingly impossible, and easily taking our peace away, even causing some panic. This does remind me of Job. The excruciating details the Job of that story goes through, we can well relate to, though certainly for most of us, never the scope and intensity of what Job experienced. Interestingly God never answered Job’s specific questions, but instead took Job’s sights away from his situation and troubles to see a much larger picture, something of the mystery of God’s work and power over creation. The point here, a bigger picture.

When we read the Bible from cover to cover, and do so trying to see the big picture, we begin to understand the true context in which we live, in which our struggles take place. That doesn’t mean for a second that the details spelled out in Scripture should get lost on us. No. But at the same time, this larger focus can help us see what God wants us to see, including how God wants us to see the matters which are troubling us.

As God’s people, we need to keep stepping back to see the big picture, work on keeping our focus on that, and not take our eyes off of it. Yes, even in the midst of the details of our lives that we have to consider and work through. If we have the proper focus, and don’t lose sight of the big picture, that can help us in each part. And most importantly, we can find our place in God’s Story playing out before us day after day. Every part of our lives, how we work though the difficulties of our lives, included. In and through Jesus.

back to “ordinary time”

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

“Ordinary Time” is a liturgical term used for the western church calendar that is other than the special seasons such as Advent and Lent. Although there’s at least a bit more to it as to why this term was adopted for the church calendar, I like the concept of ordinary. So often we’re tied up in knots over this and that, then something else. And we just need to get back to what might seem irrelevant, even too often mundane. What’s next in Scripture? And go slowly from one thing to the next.

I know that has nothing to do with the exact reason for the use of this term, as it has to do with times not marked by special occasion. Yes, it’s wonderful to have the special seasons of Advent then Christmas and Christmas season as well as Lent and Easter along with Eastertide. We can and should benefit from such wonderful occasions which help us to focus on Christ and the good news in him. Similarly there are those special seasons in our lives in which we’re working on this and that, oftentimes for me in regard to anxiety and spiritual warfare. But by and by we have to just lay those things aside, and keep plodding along from what might seem ordinary in that we may find it rather unremarkable, and not that related to us. But that’s when we need to slow down all the more, because God will help us to see and receive what we truly need from every part of Scripture. Admittedly, some specific parts are challenging that way, such as in Leviticus, though if we step back and look at each part from the perspective of the whole, we might gain some better appreciation for it, as well as some connection to life in the present.

Crisis and trials and troubles do hit us, and we can call those extraordinary times in which God wants to do a most significant work. But even in ordinary time we can’t avoid trouble, and we do well to settle in for something more low key, realizing that while we do seek to tackle issues head on at times, by and large we again do well to settle into the mode of taking one thing after the other. Realizing that we need it all, everything God has to give us in Scripture which is actually related to and through the gospel. Such will help us even with reference to the problems we work at better negotiating. We need the entire picture, the whole context, to better understand each part. God is present to help us in this as we keep moving forward day after day, yes in ordinary time, in ordinary life. In and through Jesus.