living for God’s will, period

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

1 Peter 4:1-6

The call to follow Christ does not exclude human desires. We should enjoy God’s gifts, certainly including our humanity. The problem is that we are fallen, broken, and twisted in everything. Although I would prefer that the NIV wouldn’t have added “evil” to “human desires”, in the context that’s understandable, so maybe the addition is debatable. Human desires per se is not the issue so much in the context. Yet on the face of it, it does seem God is calling Christians to a different orientation: away from human desire to do the will of God. But God’s will does not negate our humanity. We might say it regulates it according to God’s standards as opposed to merely human standards; what God thinks, not what man thinks.

So our passion in life should be to live for God’s will, not for human desires. In the context, Peter refers to suffering in the body, being willing, even arming ourselves with the attitude of accepting such suffering, since Christ also suffered in his body. Such suffering seems to bring a sanctifying, purifying effect on us. So that we no longer live for what we want, but for what God wants. No longer living as the world does, but as Christ did.

I guess being Christian does somewhat marginalize us in the United States, but it’s actually an acceptable part of our culture, even to this day. To think that the culture of the US was ever Christian through and through is mistaken, although certain Christian standards were once nearly universally accepted, whereas now, such is not the case. Peter’s list here of the acts of pagans are universal, and often those raised in the church have participated to some extent in them. There’s a call here to reject all such, which for those following Christ is a given. But no longer living for human desires as a Christian means living for and in God’s will. That should be our passion, what we want, what we choose to do day after day as we seek to follow our Lord. In and through him.

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patience in the face of suffering and oath taking

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

James 5:7-12

In light of James’s warning to their rich oppressors, James tells these believers to be patient until the Lord’s coming. Some say James expected the Lord to come within that generation. Maybe so. I’m not sure we can insist the language found here and in other places has to be interpreted that way. I think not. I would rather see it as God’s judgment being soon given the brevity of life, and that it’s imminent in that it could happen any time. And when life is done, judgment is next (Hebrews 9:27). Of course the judgment spoken of here is at the Lord’s second coming. Bear in mind that the future brings not only the resurrection of the righteous, but of the unrighteous, as well (Daniel 12:2).

James point to the farmer as an example of the kind of patience these Christians in faith are to exercise. There is a process which seems to take time along with God’s working. So patience is a necessity in this, yes, “in the face of suffering.” And with that in mind, James now points to the prophets we read of in a good chunk of the Old/First Testament (Hebrew Bible) who spoke in the name of the Lord. Suffering was their lot, as Jesus pointed out later. Persecution and martyrdom. Not easy, when you read their story. Speaking God’s message and living as God’s people will not go unchallenged in one way or another. And lest we think it’s only about identification with God before the world, it may be about our testimony in holding to God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of adversities of any kind, as Job did, even as he presented his case to God. And we remember the end of that story. And I want to just soak in James’s word after these points:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

These words those believers needed to take to heart, and we do too. We wish this for our enemies as well, but if they refuse to respond to this kindness and goodness of God (Romans 2:4), and don’t accept God’s mercy on God’s terms, their end will be according to their deeds. But yes, we need to soak into these words, and let these words soak into us. God’s mercy for us, and for others, yes even for our oppressors. And yet judgment will come, and that too is a word of encouragement, particularly to those who face evil in the form of persecution.

And then James adds a word on oaths. I think it’s in line with making much of taking an oath, as if you are bound by it in a way that you are not bound when simply speaking. God wants our word to be as good as gold so to speak, completely reliable even if not bound legally, morally, and spiritually by taking an oath. Does that mean we can never change our minds, and take back our words, or break our promise? As a rule we shouldn’t. But there may be circumstances when we need to change, or may want to. Which is why we need to choose our words carefully in the first place, if we speak at all. We need to weigh everything in light of what we previously stated and the context. We have enormous freedom, I think, but it needs to be with Spirit-led wisdom. We want to be sure our witness of Jesus is not affected. We want others to see Jesus, and receive for themselves the good news in him. God has what appears to be a change of mind in scripture at times within his unchanging character. There does seem to be some genuine give and take in God’s relationship with people. And God swears an oath as well, we read both in the Old Testament and in the book of Hebrews. So oath taking is not intrinsically evil or wrong. It is the kind of oath taking being done in Jesus’s day and afterward that is evil. As if such an oath is binding in a way that one’s word is not. For God’s people, followers of Christ, there is no place for that attitude or practice.

 

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

when there is no answer or rest

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22

We are in Lent, now close to Holy Week, a time of reflection on our Lord’s sufferings, and also a time for repentance along with the acknowledgement of our mortality. It is a season during which we in a sense should embrace suffering both in rememberance of what our Lord suffered, as well as seeking in some way to participate in that suffering. And besides, we suffer ourselves because of our own sins, and because of the sins of those around us, which again reminds us of how our Lord took the brunt of our sin upon himself in the death that he died.

But what about times, as the psalmist said, quoted above, when God does not seem to be answering our prayer, and when we can find no rest? Those surely are the times to persevere in faith and not quit, even as the psalmist did not (see the entire psalm from the link above). Nor Jesus himself, hanging on that cross. We continue to pray and look to God, and carry on with our assigned tasks, even when the world seems crashing in on us. And in that process, we do find God’s answer, and at least the final rest, in and through Jesus.

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).

taking on the challenge

Are there times when one can’t see the light of day, and would just as soon give up? Or when there’s not much more than going through the motions, trying to keep up well what one has to do, but nothing more than that? We live in a world in which it’s easy to lose hope.

For the Christian, the follower of Christ, there is the call to lay down one’s life for Jesus and the gospel. And a key for that is prayer. We’re to pray that the message of the gospel might go forward, and we’re to show by our lives the difference that gospel makes. And be ready to answer anyone in a conversation, on our part “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4).

We have to learn that through the worst, God is able to work, in fact it is often through the bad, troubled times, that God does his work. Of course it is through our weakness that Christ’s strength is made known, or “perfect” (2 Corinthians 12).

And so that is my own determination. To walk right through the hard places in order to fulfill God’s calling for us in Christ, no matter how hard that might be. It is a challenge, to be sure. But the way in Christ is the way of suffering for his sake, and for the gospel. We carry on, because we want to see God’s good will break through in difficult circumstances, and lives impacted and turned around through the gospel.

the need for humor

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22

I have heard (or, read) that Jews make the best violin players, and the best humorists. It is likely that many of them are among the best of those. It seems like the people who suffer the most, can have the most appreciation of something which not only takes such suffering seriously, but honors it, such as a good violin piece. And the gift of humor is especially important for those who can find little or no humor in life at all, or who have suffered much.

They say that laughter releases endorphins which are good for one’s physical well-being. At least there needs to be a sense that all is well, or at the very least that one does not have to be on the edge of disaster, but is somehow taken care of. Faith lends itself these gifts. When I’m beside myself over some matter or another, usually one at a time, I simply keep plugging into scripture, into the word, and sooner or later such trouble dissipates. What eventually replaces it is a sense of well being because of a faith that God will take care of it, more precisely usually a mind that is turned toward some truth about God through the gospel in scripture, and therefore a mind off the troubles.

And out of no where can come the gift of humor and laughter. As long as it’s not coarse, as in dirty, or denigrating of others, as well as not profane, then I think it’s open, and surely in some measure a gift from God. It is not something I try to force. It comes and goes. I take it that there’s a time for abject seriousness, and there’s a time for unbridled laughter. We need both. And we need a regular dose of the laughter, because the serious side is the default and place where we all live. But we can trust in the God who laughs, and know that in the end all is well in and through Jesus.