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.

interacting with God

I know this post title sounds incredibly pretentious to many. Even many of us in the church can roll up our eyes and shake our heads over some of the claims our fellow Christians make. Yes, we can imagine God’s voice from our own imagination, even if God can speak to us through the imagination.

What I am getting at here is our need as those in Jesus to regularly interact with God. To keep the lines of interaction, even communication open. It is said that God is always speaking and wants to be heard. The problem is not with God, but with us, with our own blindness and stubborness of heart, or just our own condition and habit of not being in tune in heart and mind.

The good news from that, though, is that our very need and lack can become the means by which God’s grace is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit through Jesus. As we pray to God, even cry out to him about the needs we are concerned about, and there are plenty in this life, God will meet us, if in faith we pray to him and listen. Of course that includes the ongoing need for us to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:5-2:2).

This requires a commitment on our part. We’re naturally wired as human beings to see reality in terms of our experience now. So that unless we have the sense of God now, we feel completely lost. Like the difference between standing in the sun, or being in the shade, or a cloudy day and a sunny day. That analogy actually is apt in more ways than one: God’s presence still a difference maker, just like the sun, in either case. Felt presence, the difference here.

Jesus seemed to live his life on earth consciously in the presence of the Father. He often would get away in early morning hours to commune in prayer with the Father. Then in the course of a day, he would be doing this and that, often preaching the word and healing, along with teaching the disciples, so that he was busy. Of course in his case, though he was tempted to sin, and on the cross even felt abandoned by God (many say, because he was, although I don’t think so), he didn’t have the problem of sin which we still struggle with, and at times fall into, and in a sense live, though God’s grace in Jesus makes it in a way as if we do not.

Yet even that sense of our falling short or great need, including our actual sins themselves can help drive us to God. In the words of the tax-collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our great need can work like the thirst the psalmist described as those in a hot, barren land, a thirst for God, to meet God, yes to experience God (Psalm 63).

I know that I am in great need all of the time. I need God, and I need to interact with God, which I do by remaining in God’s word, in scripture. And from that, I pray. Of course we can pray, and it’s good to pray first, but I find that God’s word helps me to respond to God in prayer. And besides that, it’s good just to be silent before God, and especially so, as we continue to meditate on God’s word.

And so yes, I try to remain in a place of interactivity with God. Ironically enough in the rough and tumble of life, I realize my need more for this. Whereas when resting, and having some time to enjoy this or that, especially so during a vacation, it can be more of a challenge to continue this. But when one sees that this is where we in Jesus are to live, that this is real life, such interactivity surely enhances all of life.

And so my goal today, this Saturday, with this and that I need to do, as well as a time of relaxation which hopefully follows is to remain in that interactivity with God, through the word and prayer in and through Jesus.

agreeing to disagree agreeably

Yesterday I made a plea for grace to be practiced among us, especially during this contentious (to say the least) election, and time of ungrace. What about the fact and reality that Christians who are equally committed to the Lord, may completely disagree, and strongly so? I can’t help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who most think was in  a plot to kill Adolph Hitler, though based on a challenge to that (one I haven’t read), I rather doubt it. However there’s no doubt that Bonhoeffer spoke out against Hitler and Nazism early on, for years and years, and ended up more and more in the minority among professed Christians in doing so. So he stands out as an example of one who disagreed strongly with the majority of Christians of his day.

Now to the presidential election of this year: Some swear up and down that Hillary Clinton not only should not be elected president, but should be locked up in prison. Others decry Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency because of his temperament, troubling ethics, and lack of real knowledge. Maybe others are not sure on this.

For many, to be gracious means not to say a word at all, to simply be quiet, and perhaps in doing so, being above the fray. For others, to be gracious might not preclude speaking out, but would surely include being silent and listening well to counterarguments, and the claims of the other side, as well as to other positions.

I for one have spoken out some, and I likely will continue to speak out. But I will read and listen to other sides, as well. I am certainly open to further understanding. And there’s a time for silence. As we read in Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

…a time to be silent and a time to speak…

To practice grace with each other, doesn’t mean that we simply agree, or rationalize so as to agree. Nor does it mean that we never speak out on difficult, contentious issues. It surely does mean that we do so always with a full measure of grace, the truth as we understand and take a stand for, always done with love and respect for those who oppose that, and may be challenging us.

At the same time, by and large I think silence should prevail, and certainly so rather than a constant bickering and arguing. There can be a time to make one’s case, have the other make their case, perhaps receive counterarguments, maybe followed by each one giving a closing, summary statement, and letting it go at that. Refusing afterward to speak, even when inevitably more, and perhaps new, fresh thoughts arise on the contentious matter.

I think churches and pastors do well not to take sides in political elections for the sake of the gospel, so as not to alienate those who may be very much sold on one position, or another. And even in the most extreme cases, we might do well to ask questions, and hopefully by that increase awareness about a matter we consider to be of utmost importance. We should be careful of the idea that unless another thinks like us, or sees what we think we see, or acts as in voting (or perhaps not voting at all) the way we might suggest, that they are somehow being disobedient to Christ, and a lesser Christian. Remember, the same grace that they need, is exactly what we need, as well.

In the end, we all need to love, and make the most of it, whatever differences we may have, and whatever happens. It is no less than the gospel of Christ which unites us who are in Christ. We must continue on with that, come what may, and learn to do so together, even as we disagree on what amounts to lesser things, as important as they are. Knowing that even in the present, God is at work, and Jesus will return as Judge and Savior to sort out the inevitable mess that we humans will leave behind.

when words fail

Sometimes the tragedies of life along with changes we would not ask for or want hit us in such a way that words fail us. We have nothing to say; we may only be able to grieve, remaining silent in our grief and sadness.  No words seem to be enough.

That is when it’s good to be silent, to listen so that maybe we could catch some thought that is fitting for the occasion. Being silent before God, praying in the Spirit with words, perhaps unknown words as well (see 1 Corinthians 14). But more than anything, being still.

Words will come, hopefully aptly spoken as apples of gold set in silver (Proverbs). But any words out of love will do.

We simply are being with others, somehow a part of their lives, even as they are a part of ours. Unlike others, we may have nothing fancy to say, perhaps nothing at all. But our hearts can say what our heads can’t. Words have their place, but they also have their limitations. The written word of God is not limited simply because it points us in the direction of God’s final Word, Jesus, which in and of itself, we can say himself, has no limitations, all of God’s good will being in that. The Word we need whether or not words fail us.

keeping one’s body in check

James tells us that one who controls their tongue is able to keep the rest of their body in check. That could mean that if our words are marked by holiness (truth and love in Jesus), the rest of our life follows.

What gets us in trouble, even if we are only speaking to ourselves? The tongue. That is why the psalmist (attributed to David) asks God to set a watch over their tongue. Otherwise the psalmist is afraid they’ll be drawn to do evil. Getting to the core of that, we do wrong when our actions including our words are not in line with loving God with all our being and doing and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So it is best to check our impulses and not act on many of them. Particularly when it’s about saying something which while we may be thinking it, is not particularly edifying in itself and potentially destructive of another. And we need to bring such thoughts to God. Oftentimes in confession of sin along with prayers such as we find in the psalms. We’re going to find often enough that our thoughts and judgments were awry, off the mark. And we are reminded again by James that we’re not qualified to stand in judgment of others, anyhow. As scripture elsewhere reminds us, we first need to judge ourselves. Often what we think we see in others is what we already know exists in ourselves. We fail to judge ourselves. Until we do that, we can’t help anyone, even when they could use our input. In such matters of course, we would have to tread ever so lightly and slowly.

So today and everyday we need to slow down, calm down, and keep a lot of our thoughts to ourselves and God. We need to focus on our own problems and be an example to others of those who follow the Lord with their tongues and then all the rest of their body.

little to say

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…

James 1

At work there are jobs in which I am right next to a coworker strapping books as they come out. More than half the time we are face to face, which lends itself to conversation.

I am all for conversation and I’ve found some good, edifying ones in those places, sometimes in answer to prayer. On the other hand I may have nothing much to say.

Years back a fellow worker told me that I would make a good monk. We were friends and could easily talk an entire time of working between breaks, two hours or more. But I could just as easily be quiet the entire time. It can seem strange and even strained in our culture, not to mention monotonous. But there’s something to say for silence. There is surely a time to speak, as well as a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3). But we would surely have something better to say, as a rule, if we would speak less and listen more. And simply be silent.

I am questioning noise, even in talk, more and more as I get older. And valuing silence more and more. Not as an end in itself, but to get us to a good end. In and through Jesus.

giving up blogging for a week

Against my own will, our priest, Father Mike, wants me to give up blogging for a week along with reading other than scripture, to work on listening and conversing with Jesus. He said this after praying over me in regard to a specific matter involving spiritual warfare.

I don’t agree, but since he is our spiritual leader, I have to submit to his authority as one submitting to Jesus. Blogging is simply what I do; I’ve been doing it daily for years and years. I would never do this on my own. The way God speaks to me is significantly through my blogging. But to be in prolonged silence is also quite valuable. I know that by experience, and I also know that I can do better in that area.

As for conversing with Jesus, I am a bit of a skeptic on that. I certainly believe the Lord speaks to me and I to him on a regular basis. And I believe God wants to speak to us directly for the edification of others in the church (1 Corinthians 14). I am much convinced of God speaking through his word and with the use of our minds along with our feelings in fellowship with others in the faith. I’m not much impressed personally with those who make a big deal out of kind of what I might call a chummy experience with God, as if God is their Buddy and they have such a deep intimacy with him that the rest of us might only dream of. I have to admit to being unimpressed with that, even uninterested, because I just don’t see much substance in that based on scripture. Not that we should be anti-mystics, because our faith is mystical, even though it is also historical and physical, in a true flesh and blood Jesus who bodily rose from the dead. At the same time, I don’t want to judge people like that, not even their experience, as long as they remain true to the faith. And the genuineness of their experience does not depend on my awareness or approval of it.

In the end it doesn’t matter whether or not I agree, because what Father Mike says is not at all contrary to God’s will as revealed in scripture. It goes without saying to me, but I will say it because I know it to be true, that Father Mike is solid himself in faith, in the word and in intimacy with Jesus. He prayed and prophesied over me, and I felt God’s presence, power and release in Jesus. I am certainly not questioning his own walk. And I must not question the authority God has given him in and through Jesus by the gospel. And so I will submit.

The two passages which drive this decision (along with the rest of the teaching in the New Testament, particularly concerning the church), the second being the one the Lord impressed on me when making the change to join this Anglican church plant:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Hebrews 13:17

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

And so, the Lord willing, I’ll be back in a week. Maybe even with a report that surprises me. Though no report when it comes to being in silence before the Lord really surprises me at all.