the word sorting out the clutter of life

…others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4

Life is challenging. There ends up being much more on our plate than we asked for, or imagined could be. We can feel overwhelmed, and hardly know what to do, or which way to turn.

Jesus’s parable here seems suggestive to me in this. We need to remain in the word, come what may. That ultimately means in Jesus, but it definitely also means in the written word, scripture, the Bible.

What can easily become the worries of this life will be present, but they need not choke out the word. In fact the word can help us navigate those, so that they are something through which we receive and learn more wisdom along the way.

So that our hearts are like the good soil, which accepts the seed: the word, and produces a good crop. That should be our aim, whatever we face in this life.

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Paul’s chronic condition: the thorn in the flesh

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Yesterday I was thinking about the passage I really don’t like to go back to, but find that I should at times, this passage right here. The point I would like to make today for myself, and for anyone who might read this, is that Paul’s condition here was indeed chronic. It’s not like every moment he was tormented, not at all. But that he carried with him some condition which at any moment could be the source of experiencing that torment.

My own “thorn in the flesh” I think is at least largely anxiety. Which is the root of various manifestations. Your’s could be something else entirely different. Sometimes we can’t figure out why we struggle the way we do. Different factors are involved, surely complex. But the reality of our struggle cannot be ignored. We are all creatures of experience. Our life is lived there, of course. Not in thoughts, or things in our head, though they factor in for good or for ill.

Again, Paul’s condition was chronic. He couldn’t wish it away, ignore it, or even pray it away, as we see in the passage. It was present for a reason. The bottom line is that he had to learn to trust God in it, yes, in it. And that ended up being the source of great blessing to and through him for others. Notice too that Paul factored in with that thorn every weakness or problem in his life. Ironically the very problems that could have been his downfall ended up being his strength through God’s grace.

This is an encouragement to me. Instead of resisting it in the form of seeing it as practically choking the life out of me, which I think is at least half my problem, I want to increasingly learn to trust God in it, seeing it in fact as part of God’s grace to me. And not necessarily in the sense of passing through and out of it. Paul surely had that thorn his whole life long. The idea being that God sees us through with it to the very end, bringing good and blessing out of it for others, as well as for ourselves. In and through Jesus.

God’s faithfulness no matter what

Habakkuk has always been an interesting book to me, some memorable lines, but most of all just the entire letter. The sky was falling, things really bad, especially with what was right in their face: injustice and unfaithfulness on the home front, and what seemed even worse looming on the horizon from an empire on the move, the Babylonians.

I guess it depends somewhat on one’s perspective, but it seem like the sky is falling to many. It’s certainly not an easy time for a good number of people. There are not only concerns, but surely much that needs to be done. And in a certain sense that seems ongoing in this life. All one has to do is open up a good, substantive history book, and one can see that troubles await on every turn, that there’s little that seems to turn out entirely right, that with the good, there’s always the not so good, and sometimes even evil.

And this is not to slap those on the wrist who are activists, and tell them to simmer down, that everything will somehow be okay in the end. There certainly is a time to speak out, as well as to be silent. This is not at all to challenge someone who might be an important player in what’s going on.

But it’s simply to say that God is faithful no matter what. That God is at work in the world: our world, the world around us, and the world at large. And like with the prophet Habakkuk, in ways that we can’t imagine or conceive. Not that everything is good in the end. And not that we don’t bear some responsibility, either. But God is at work to judge and bring salvation.

Habakkuk couldn’t see that, nor would he have if God would have shown him. It evidently would have made no sense to him; he would not have been able to track with it. I think oftentimes that’s a major part of my problem. I want to somehow see the light somewhere, which is certainly at the end of the tunnel. But I can’t. And I can’t begin to see the larger picture like God does. Perhaps what I need to envision in my mind is an empty canvas, with God being the one who is painting, perhaps over coloring which seems dark and meaningless, perhaps even chaotic. And God might use our hand a bit in the painting, most likely so if we’re open to that.

God is at work in the world. It’s important for us to trust God no matter what, and to remain in faith in God’s covenant faithfulness in Jesus. And to worship. Just as Habakkuk did in his day, the letter bearing his name preserved for us to be translated into our day. In and through Jesus.

peace of mind and heart

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

Usually when I turn to this passage, which naturally I know quite well by now, it’s when I’m already lost in anxiety or worry over something. And that’s quite alright and good. We need to go to such promises as this when we’re struggling, or not doing well. But what if we could apply this passage in such a way as to simply avoid worry and anxiety altogether? Or more realistically keep growing toward that ideal, so that any lapse would be short lived, and increasingly rare.

Easier said than done. But words are where we start. And the Word (John 1). Scripture which points us to Christ and the gospel. But the importance of the specifics in scripture should not be minimized.

Trying to apply the passage above means that whenever something happens which might cause anxiety, immediately we bring it to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Praying as best we can, but looking to God for the answer. And more importantly, simply resting in God, or more precisely, as it says, in God’s peace, which surpasses and transcends, or is greater than our understanding, or all understanding, for that matter. To have our hearts and minds guarded in Christ Jesus is what more and more should be the norm for us. But we have to keep bringing the concerns that come our way to God in prayer. And in a sense we can say, leave them there. In and through Jesus.

in the trouble zone

“Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.”

Job 14:1

There is much to ponder and take in from the wisdom of Job. I’m thinking of the book as a whole, but Job’s words here are observant, to say the least. It seems like the goal of most people and much of the advertisement which appeals to us is to arrive to some kind of trouble free existence. But no matter how far science and technology may take us, as well as knowledge that no doubt can help, trouble really awaits us at every turn.

Probably half the battle for us is to accept that reality up front, and learn in a sense to relax in it. Some matters aren’t worth the time of day, nagging problems which we might or might not address at some time, maybe if we’re annoyed enough. But other issues we will be compelled to consider and work on with the knowledge that we may or may not be able to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion except to leave it in God’s hands.

As one work friend used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Basically that’s all we can do. We have to stop thinking the world, or any given matter in it depends on us at all. It’s not like we may not have a role to play, but its outcome is ultimately up to God. That said, we should do what we can to resolve the problems which come our way. And the way everything is, the “honey do” list, or whatever you might call it, will never end. Instead of denying all of this, and retreating into either a disengagement, or even denial of trouble, we should face it. Believing that God can and will give us the wisdom to address it (James 1:2-5). And that the process will even be good. In and through Jesus.

blessed routine

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There is something it seems like our society wants to get away from, to escape as much as possible, which I actually should be appreciated, if it was recognized for the blessing it is. That is, routine. I’m thinking in terms of regular responsibility, which actually is a privilege to be involved in, and carry on. Instead nowadays, it seems like people want as much freedom and free time as possible. I’m not at all suggesting that there might be better ways to do work, or that we always have to do things the same way. Or that we should work long hours and long weeks, with little time off. No. And there may be new approaches to work that are different and fresh, indeed, helpful.

Usually trouble follows us wherever we go, not just because we’re creating it ourselves hopefully, though that reality exists from which we can learn, even if just from being finite beings. But simply because we live in a broken, fallen world. It seems like if something can “so south,” it will, being hard to keep everything pointed to “the true north” (these sayings from the compass). Due to imperfections everywhere, from nearly every direction, there will be trouble. And that simply becomes a part of the normal routine we have to work on, and live with.

We’re to find satisfaction in all of that, no less, and even, no more. Ecclesiastes suggests that if wealth is added to that, then that’s all well and good, people occupied with gladness of heart, I suppose being able to do this and that, to enjoy life. Whereas those financially strapped, or living in relative poverty may be limited, yet hopefully blessed with a job to make ends meet. Though sadly here in the United States, a living wage is not guaranteed for any forty hour job. One should be able to live in humble quarters, and provide well enough for themselves with a full time job. Life isn’t easy, although some pieces are dropping in to many places, for example in Africa, to help societies and families have work, and provide for their own. The free enterprise system and capitalism are regularly beaten up by many progressives, but in my opinion, are not evil in and of themselves. Any system can become wrong, or more accurately have many wrongs because of the people who are in charge and in place in them.

Continuing on in the blessed routine, in whatever God gives us, should be something we learn to appreciate. For some of us, retirement age is approaching. If God gives us health, that can be a step into another blessed routine, of day in and day out, doing much the same things, hopefully to our own enjoyment, and even delight, and for the blessing of others. As we continue on as witnesses in all of this, to the truth and power of the good news of God in Jesus.

 

bracing grace

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God;with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6 (see the entire book)

When God’s grace is normally spoken of, it seems like it’s primarily about forgiveness and the new life we receive in Christ. And that’s certainly true and foundational to our faith. But grace is multifaceted in scripture. Grace includes as well the wherewithal, the ability to get up after one has been knocked down, maybe nearly knocked out.

I’ve certainly experienced that myself, probably a good many times. It’s when you think and feel that all is lost, or you’ve crossed a line of no return, and usually tied to some fear. However you might be impacted, God’s grace to us in Christ will eventually help us get back on our feet again and stand firm, even while remembering the occasion along with the reasons for bringing us down. And for the most part, even to forget such times.

God’s grace to God’s children helps us live responsibly and like God’s children. And as such, more and more in the maturity of Christ. Something I’ve noticed, something certainly needed. In and through Jesus.