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.

accenting giving thanks (yes, for answers, but) no matter what

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Scripture after scripture mentions giving thanks to God for the many blessings God bestows. One other passage might intimate this (Ephesians 5:20), but the above passage for sure tells us to give thanks not just for what God has done for us, but in anticipation of the good God will do regardless of the circumstance we face.

This is uplifting, just the help we need as far as our part goes when we thank God when something either not so good, or maybe not good at all comes our way. Instead of being down in the mouth, and perhaps cursing under our breath along with complaint after complaint, we’re instead looking to God the good God will do in it.

Of course that doesn’t make bad things good at all. It doesn’t mean that somehow God miraculously makes that so. But that God works for good in everything (Romans 8:28) and somehow redeems everything, even our wrongdoings. But we’re never to give thanks in the midst of our sin. That would be seriously misreading this passage. “In all circumstance” takes for granted that we’re endeavoring to walk in good faith, following our Lord.

So next time and times, since this will happen likely multiple times each day, but next time something either bad, or not really good happens, let’s give thanks to God. For the strength and help God gives us to see us through the situation, as well as for the good God will bring out of it.

In and through Jesus.

do not worry 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 worry 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

There is plenty to worry and be anxious about, and to fret over in the world. In our own worlds, close to home, and expanding from there our own neighborhoods, area, nation where we live, and from there, the entire earth. There is plenty to be concerned about.

But what are we told here? We’re told that we who are in Christ Jesus are not to worry (or be anxious: NIV, with other translations) about anything. Instead as we seek to rejoice in the Lord always, and let our gentleness be known to all, we’re to pray, voicing our concerns to God, and asking God to take care of them. Giving thanks for God’s help before. And just trusting in and knowing the God to whom we’re praying. God will take care of it.

That doesn’t mean we’re not in the works of God’s answer. But it does mean that ultimately the answer never comes from us, or because of us, but only from God. God may use a mediary such as an angel. God often does use others, or some resource to help us.

And we need to bring concerns to God in prayer this way as our first priority when concerns arise or our present. And keep doing that over time. Some will be projects in process, while others need to be attended to and taken care of.

The big point I want to make in this post is that we’re not to worry about anything at all. Yes, we want to be aware of everything, though some things will escape our notice. We can pray to God about that as well, whatever we might be unaware of. Yes, we want to do the best we can. But we’re meant to depend on God to help us through not just some things, but everything. And God does not want us to be passive in that, but active. It’s not at all like, “Well, we’re not to worry about anything, so I just won’t pay attention to anything.” No. We’re to be fully engaged, but in all of that to worry about nothing, because we know God has our backs, and every side. And that God will take care of it.

We need to let this soak into our hearts. As we no longer worry, God helping us, then we’ll begin to experience that peace of God which surpasses all understanding, beyond that. What is meant to replace our worry is God’s peace. To guard our hearts and minds. God will take care of everything as we commit all to him. In and through Jesus.

rejoice in the Lord always

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

I’ve not been one, at least for the most part who has got into praise and worship music. I’m returning to hymns lately, since coming back to the tradition of my childhood, the Mennonites. And with them, some worship songs in the new hymnal. Singing can help us, a gift from God, and not just to help us praise, but to also help us lament along with all the other both proper and natural human responses from our experiences in this world.

For me it has been most helpful lately to simply rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice in God. In doing so, we rejoice in God, in the Lord just for who God is. We rejoice in God’s person. We praise God for God’s goodness, for God’s works. We worship God because God is deserving of highest honor and praise, awe and love. And we thank God for all of God’s answers to our prayers, for God’s mercy and grace.

I find that as I practice rejoicing in the Lord, in Jesus, in God- whether I feel like it or not, then it might begin to be a habit, and a habit which is accompanied with the joy of the Lord. One of the reasons we do this is because we believe in God, in God’s love, that God will take care of everything, that God is with us no matter what, and that in the end God will somehow make all things right and good. We trust in the Lord, our confidence in God. In and through Jesus.

cheerfulness, regardless

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; MSG

I am finding Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible interesting and helpful, even illuminating, though I still don’t really get well the instructions in regard to the tabernacle and priestly things, etc., in the Old/First Testament. But I get a new sense even of those things.

I found particularly helpful lately the rendering above that we’re to be cheerful no matter what. I never really connected well with the idea of rejoice always, since I’m not really a celebratory, high five kind of person. I would rather sit huddled with a book, listening to classical music, then be at a modern day praise and worship service, though admittedly in the past, I have enjoyed some of that. But rejoicing just isn’t much in either my vocabulary, or makeup. 

But cheerfulness, or at least refusing to be dour and down in the mouth about something, now that makes plenty of sense to me. When Paul tells us to be cheerful no matter what, okay, I can take that home, even if such an idea seems far fetched, just not what I do in every circumstance. 

I take cheerfulness as both an attitude and action here. It is an expression of faith, and part of how we’re to live. I like too the way The Message renders that thought, because that probably gets closer to what Paul actually means than the way I took it in the past: More or less something we’re almost swept up into in our life in Christ Jesus. Instead this brings out the necessary thought that it’s up to us to do it. We have to do it, although yes, the Spirit will help us.

So we don’t live as those left to ourselves with our normal often unhealthy, unhelpful reactions to all the difficulties and problems which come our way. Instead we want to take the way God has for us. To be cheerful no matter what, pray all the time, and thank God no matter what happens. Yes, something we do. Of course in response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in and through Jesus. 

 

Thanksgiving Day: Psalm 107

Oh, thank God—he’s so good!
His love never runs out.
All of you set free by God, tell the world!
Tell how he freed you from oppression,
Then rounded you up from all over the place,
from the four winds, from the seven seas.

Some of you wandered for years in the desert,
looking but not finding a good place to live,
Half-starved and parched with thirst,
staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion.
Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to God.
He got you out in the nick of time;
He put your feet on a wonderful road
that took you straight to a good place to live.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
He poured great draughts of water down parched throats;
the starved and hungry got plenty to eat.

Some of you were locked in a dark cell,
cruelly confined behind bars,
Punished for defying God’s Word,
for turning your back on the High God’s counsel—
A hard sentence, and your hearts so heavy,
and not a soul in sight to help.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He led you out of your dark, dark cell,
broke open the jail and led you out.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
He shattered the heavy jailhouse doors,
he snapped the prison bars like matchsticks!

Some of you were sick because you’d lived a bad life,
your bodies feeling the effects of your sin;
You couldn’t stand the sight of food,
so miserable you thought you’d be better off dead.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He spoke the word that healed you,
that pulled you back from the brink of death.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
tell the world what he’s done—sing it out!

Some of you set sail in big ships;
you put to sea to do business in faraway ports.
Out at sea you saw God in action,
saw his breathtaking ways with the ocean:
With a word he called up the wind—
an ocean storm, towering waves!
You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out;
your hearts were stuck in your throats.
You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk,
you didn’t know which end was up.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He quieted the wind down to a whisper,
put a muzzle on all the big waves.
And you were so glad when the storm died down,
and he led you safely back to harbor.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
Lift high your praises when the people assemble,
shout Hallelujah when the elders meet!

God turned rivers into wasteland,
springs of water into sunbaked mud;
Luscious orchards became alkali flats
because of the evil of the people who lived there.
Then he changed wasteland into fresh pools of water,
arid earth into springs of water,
Brought in the hungry and settled them there;
they moved in—what a great place to live!
They sowed the fields, they planted vineyards,
they reaped a bountiful harvest.
He blessed them and they prospered greatly;
their herds of cattle never decreased.
But abuse and evil and trouble declined
as he heaped scorn on princes and sent them away.
He gave the poor a safe place to live,
treated their clans like well-cared-for sheep.

Good people see this and are glad;
bad people are speechless, stopped in their tracks.
If you are really wise, you’ll think this over—
it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love.

the uncertainty of life

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

During this pandemic, this truth ends up being underscored to all. Life is uncertain, and certainly brief. Death is inevitable, but unpredictable as to its time. And this uncertainty includes all our plans. It’s not like we shouldn’t prayerfully, deliberatively, with good counsel, and over time make plans. But we have to be ready for God to disrupt them.

This doesn’t mean we have to live on edge. Indeed as children of God we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for each new day, for each new week and weekend of course, for each new month, season and year. They’re all gifts from God. We shouldn’t take them for granted. They’re all a part of the gift of this life.

All depends on the Lord’s will. We can actually rest assured in that. God somehow fits his will into where we’re at, into all the interwoven circumstances, surroundings and people. We have our part and place for a time. Then it will be gone, no more.

All in God’s good will and time.

effort needed to overcome anxiety

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

God is the one who relieves us of our anxiety and worry through Christ. Only God can do that. But it does require our effort. That is clear in the above passages. We have to pray instead of worry. But when worry overcomes us, we cast that on God. That requires our effort.

Anxiety and worry is not God’s will for us. We sometimes hold on to it as if it’s our duty, or like it’s God’s will for us. We somehow think we’re to take care of the underlying issue, solve the problem causing the worry. When all God wants us to do is pray, telling him the problem, giving him thanks, with the promise that the peace of God beyond our understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In other words, God will keep us from anxiety and worry, or take it away from us. We’re also told to cast all our anxiety on God, because God cares for us.

That requires effort on our part. We can’t just wish God would do something about our anxiety, and we certainly shouldn’t hold on to it as if it’s our duty and responsibility. Instead we’re to relinquish the problem entirely to God in thankful prayer. To cast what anxiety we have on God. God wants us not to be overcome with anxiety, but sometimes we will, too often for some of us. God doesn’t say we’re on our own when that happens, but tells us to cast all of it on him. Because he cares for us.

Something I’m working on, and have to do off and on. In and through Jesus.

fret not

do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37:8b

I know I’m pulling this out of context, but I think the point I’m going to make is not contradictory to the point the passage is making. It’s taking matters into our own hands due to excessive worry. And when we do that, I know by experience we can make matters worse.

The Bible has a radical answer for God’s people. Don’t worry; don’t fret. The clearest directive for us is something I’ve shared times before, and I’m sure I’ll share again, Lord willing.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

That is radical. We’re not to worry, not to be anxious about anything at all. Instead we’re to trust God. Bringing our concern thankfully to God. And we have the promise that God’s peace which transcends our understanding will guard both our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That reminds me of another passage.

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

It’s a matter of trust: “trust and obey.” We find out what we can, but above all, we put the matter into God’s hands. He’ll take care of it. God can change anything. Or God will work for good in any and everything, even that which in and of itself is not good.

We just need to quit fretting, and instead pray. Develop that new habit and pattern until it becomes a part of who we are when we’re faced with fear. In and through Jesus.

 

shattering the freeze (of the “frozen chosen”)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Life is full of problems and sometimes you simply see yourself as trying to solve, or at least mitigate the problems. The question for us as Christians is simply how do we respond to trouble when it comes our way. Maybe the same thing over and over again, so that it’s naturally irritating to us.

God’s written word tells us what to do. Too often as Christians what we know and say we believe is not what we practice. It’s not like we can’t complain to God. See the psalms. But we need to practice rejoicing in God always, since God is God, being good, not to mention great, and is true to his promises. And to thank God again and again for all the blessings of life, for all of God’s goodness to us. And in the midst of that, as the passage above tells us, to pray, and to keep on praying.

We need to break through our natural reticence to do this. Just do what God tells us to do, and we’ll find God’s help in doing it. And then we need to keep doing this, forming a new pattern and practice that becomes a part of who we are, so that this becomes our natural response to the inevitable difficulties of life.

Something I’m in the midst of working on. In and through Jesus.