opened eyes (from God)

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.

When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.

Psalm 73:15-24; NRSVue

It is easy to be down in the mouth and grumble. And after all, there are terrible things going on in the world. And we’re faced with difficulties in our own worlds that seem hard to navigate. I remember working with an older man years ago who was quite sour. I think he loved God, but the downsides of life had seemingly gotten the best of him. That’s my memory of him, sadly enough.

What if instead we could be like the psalmist above? The entire psalm is one of those many gems in scripture. But what’s quoted above is enough to get the point. We need new perspective, to have our eyes opened. Frankly for me it’s like gravity. I naturally sink back into being downcast, in despair, and therefore down in the mouth if I do speak or speak too much. What I find I need is God’s lifting, opening my eyes to see what only God can help me see. And this shouldn’t be just an individual endeavor, but a group- indeed church endeavor, as well. But the psalmist is talking about themselves. They would be an example to others and potentially influential especially hopefully to those younger.

God’s word and revelation is what picked the psalmist up. The same goes for us. When the world for whatever reason seems closing in on us, God wants to and can and will open up a completely new vista, new view to us. And help us become settled in that, no longer unsettled in the other. Something we’ll have to continue to receive in this life. In and through Jesus.

Jesus speaks to the crowds with parables

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on a path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. If you have ears, listen!”

Matthew 13:1-9; NRSVue

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but didn’t give the interpretation, only to his disciples as we see later in this passage. But why? Jesus told his disciples that the secret of the kingdom of heaven had been given to his disciples, but not to the rest, citing scripture to that effect. I’ve touched on this before, but it seems like Israel of old, many of Israel had an incorrect picture of what needed to be. They had failed to see God’s big picture, what God wanted. And unfortunately, by and large their religious leaders had failed them as well, they themselves just as lost, the blind leading the blind. Jesus realized that the crowds were not ready to receive the truth he was giving to his disciples, but he wanted to point them in that direction.

I think this kind of teaching was not just a form of God’s just and even wise judgment, but also a form of compassion. Remember that teaching the multitudes many things is said to have come out of Jesus’s compassion for them, as he saw them helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. It could be at least to some extent that Jesus spoke in parables to cause those listening to ask questions. Instead of thinking they already know what needs to be done, God’s program, what the kingdom promised was all about, Jesus’s teaching of parables would raise questions. And would hopefully make some open to a new understanding. Note Jesus’s words to the crowd at the end: “If you have ears, listen!”

I don’t think I’m a good teacher in this way in causing people to ask questions. I try to point people in the right direction through giving the best answers I can. But probably the best teaching leads people to ask questions, but in a way that is directing them to come up with good answers. Probably faith is at least as much about asking questions, having sitting questions without clear answers. But within that simply  trusting in God.

Just some thoughts on Jesus’s teaching to the multitudes of the parables without explaining the meaning to them as he did to his disciples. In and through Jesus.

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.

hold on to the promise

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16

It is amazing in how almost every US presidential election, there’s a huge groundswell of hope, or has been up to this point, for something like a deliverer, who will bring about desired change. And almost inevitably a huge disappointment sets in, usually sooner than later, even if much later. It’s not like people shouldn’t have any desires to see better policies set in place. But expectations indeed have to be tempered.

But for us in Christ, we have sure promises which we know we’ll be fulfilled in time. It is a large part actually of what keeps us going. People who depend solely on the politics of the world will sooner or later become disillusioned, may give up hope entirely and look for something completely different. But for us in Jesus, by faith we anticipate something much better, and certain. Let’s clarify here, that this hope should have an impact on what we want to see come to pass now, and the good works we do to that end. Though admittedly we can get frayed in waiting for the full realization of this hope which though present already, is not yet, that is far from complete, life taking its toll; this is in significant part what keeps us going. This hope, along with the faith and love that is in and through Jesus.

the gospel and salvation is not only personal

Of Solomon.

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

May he live[a] while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes[b] bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;[c]
may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

Psalm 72

The vision cast in Scripture is that of the kingdom of God encompassing the earth, a rule in which no one is left behind with particular attention payed to the multitudes which either are left behind or given secondary status now. And that vision includes judgment against rulers and peoples who are directly or indirectly involved in oppressing the poor and marginalized, or who have failed to give them needed help.

God’s heart is especially toward the downcast, and God expects God’s people to have that same heart. If our faith is only about how well we’re getting along in life, even growth in Christ-likeness yet without expressed concern about this, then we’re failing to see and seek the realization of this vision so clearly cast in scripture after scripture.

What we’re referring to here involves not just personal sins, but systemic evil as well. When any people for any reason are relegated to a secondary status and worse, than it’s a mistake to suppose that it doesn’t involve something wrong in the works. Often the poor are looked down on, just as James reminds us, and those of another ethnicity and culture as well. Yet Jesus will have none of that. If we’re followers of Christ we’ll learn to develop discernment and a sensitivity to the same.

If we really want to be biblical, then we’ll develop a passion for this. Precisely what the psalmist wrote about in Psalm 72, above. Yes, to be completely fulfilled someday in Jesus. But that light present now in Jesus, a part of what the world should see we’re about in the present, as the church. In and through Jesus.

we bear witness to a better day

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today in the United States is Memorial Day when Americans who lost their lives in military service are honored. We indeed should remember them and their sacrifice. But we as followers of Christ and the church of Christ ought to point to a better day when violence is not only the last resort alas unlike today, but when war will be no more.

That thought sounds so unreasonable when there’s so much violence and evil in the world. We have to remember that violence is not ended with more violence. Sooner or later that cycle continues as old grievances surface. Unfortunately what ought to be and what actually is are so far apart. It’s like you have to use a hopefully sanctified imagination to think of anything which could be different.

Violence is a fact of life, embedded in the human existence. There is not the necessary trust in God, in Christ with the hope/anticipation of the resurrection to make the commitment to something else. But if churches of Christ aren’t doing this, then what does that say about our witness? Are we just supposed to be okaying, even strongly supporting military action and wars of the state? Surely not.

We in Jesus point to a better day. By how we live along with our telling of this. We encourage nations to make peacemaking the priority, along with trying to understand and address underlying issues behind the violence. Realizing indeed that all violence will not be vanquished until Christ returns. Nevertheless doing all we can to point ourselves and others to a better day. And hopefully seeing that played out more in creative ways in opposition to oppressive regimes, with the commitment to do good to the distressed, and ultimately to all. A tall order indeed. But a large part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

the insight and strength needed

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s one thing some of us need in the midst of our work and schedule, it’s strength. For one thing, we expend not only physical energy, but emotional energy as well, which makes us all the more tired.

The passage addresses both. Israel was complaining about their lot, failing to acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness. Isaiah 40 is a powerful vision of both. God is present to help his people in their lack of understanding and strength.

That we are weak, there’s no doubt, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we know better than God. When we push out hard on our own, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’ll either depend on our own insight and strength, or fold our hands in despair.

But God wants to give us vision to begin to understand by faith, and to depend on his enabling. God is always faithful as we proceed, our hope and confidence in him. Of course God wants us to look to him, to his promises, to his provision. To wait, hope, and carry on. And find our “wings like eagles,” soaring. In and through Jesus.

politics and the gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[b] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[c]

Romans 1:16-17

We have a rule at work that we’re not supposed to discuss politics there. Maybe that’s good, given all the heat nowadays.

I do think the politics of this world has its place, and that there ought to be civil discussions by those engaged in it. I know politics today seems to be in a crisis, with democracy taking a back hand to more of an authoritarian approach. There is so much involved in all of this, in the United States where I live, the whole question of the Constitution, and whether or not it has failed, or not been given its place to succeed. If you start going in depth into the entire discussion and more, you’ll find that it’s essentially mind boggling, or at least having no more authority than what a bunch of diverse intellectuals can muster.

But now to down to earth, in our face, day to day politics. We have a friend who is seeking to get on the state ballot as a candidate concerned primarily with education. We applaud her and her efforts. I would like to add, I think it’s strange, the money required for her to get on the ballot. Everything seems so money driven nowadays. These kinds of efforts can be helpful, addressing real problems and needs with better solutions.

I think and feel strongly about some things, but usually with the sense of realization that we’re at the mercy of a power which seems to have its ways both in our face, and usually more subtly, and finds its way systemically from our hearts into institutions. That’s the power of sin. We don’t care about this or that, because of what we really care about. Or we ignore certain things, because they may or may not be problems, and after all, they’re other people’s problems, not our own.

Paul gets to what we need as Christians, the one thing we can hang our hats on and be devoted to day in and day out, regardless of the mess in the world: the gospel. It is about Christ, and God’s saving righteousness in and through him, through Christ’s death and resurrection, through which sin is dealt with, and something of God’s vision for us and for the world given to us in scripture can begin to take root in people now, especially in Christ’s body, the church. The gospel can be the unifying point in which people of diverse thinking can settle, and find what is just and right, and therefore good. That begins in our own hearts, and right where we live, and goes out from there. Which is why Christians have often been persecuted, and still are in parts of the world, as well as marginalized.

There is one good news in the world worth living and dying for, and only one. The other areas in which people serve can be quite good in their place, and we need to honor them, particularly those who give of themselves in service for others, and who put their lives at risk in doing so. That has its place too.

But we in Christ take our stand completely on the good news in him. While we may take lesser stands, which are provisional for time and place, we know the gospel cuts across all our differences, and gets to the heart of things. It addresses the power of sin. In pointing us to Jesus himself, and God’s grace and kingdom present and to come in him. Hopefully shedding light on the darkness now present through changed hearts and lives. In the church, and out into the world. In and through Jesus.

the limitations of writing/second thoughts

Every once in a while, I start thinking a bit, and somewhat through about the limitations of writing, and specifically of what I do as a rule in writing a post everyday (except for Sunday) on this blog. My thinking when I get to this place has evolved, so that I’m ready now to accept the thought that my writing can have value in its place, and may help someone along the way, and as I have thought, and a friend recently said, it’s a part of my ongoing journey in sorting out things, trying to think through life, and specifically life in God through Christ.

We all have our elements and niches, some we’ve developed a skill in because we’ve had to in order to earn a living, true in my case. And others with which we have a natural attraction to, and affinity. I have always loved books, but have not been as good a reader as I would have liked. Just the same, they’re usually a companion, even if the learnedness some people think I have is actually second hand from people who really have read the sources, such as Karl Barth and the classics.

But while we each have the special thing we like to do, we could say, our element, humble as it may be, whether painting, music, science, whatever, none of that gets at the core of our being. We are all more than that. I remember the story of Thomas Aquinas, truly one of the greatest Christian minds, one of the greatest minds ever. Toward the end of his life, he has some kind of vision, maybe toward the Beatific vision of barely scratching the surface in apprehending as in knowing God. And he felt like all his writings, great as they actually were and are, were essentially worthless. He had in a sense seen the Truth, and the words he had written paled in comparison.

I find it interesting, for myself, that I can write a post, more or less be in it, and then forget it completely afterward. Often they’re written as an afterthought on reflections from my own life, as well as life in general, hopefully informed and formed by scripture, the gospel being the center in and through Christ, leading us to the life of the Trinity in and through him: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I think whatever time I have left, I may want to major more on meditation and prayer. Maybe I’m a bit of a mystic at heart, certainly monastic and liturgical in my orientation, but in a loose way, given the life that I lead. But prayer, and working at that, and seeking to grow and become more familiar and at home in the rhythms that come from that, with for me scripture and the gospel being center in that, seems like it is at least the stopping place for me now, and perhaps the resting place from now on. Although such can easily be lost or weakened in the mayhem of life.

I am not crazy about all these “I’s,” “me’s” and “mines” so to speak, but we have to think of faith in relation to our lives as individuals, and together with others in the essential community of this life, and ultimately in the community of God. We each have our story to tell, our witness of God’s faithfulness in and through Jesus, and we’re on a different part of what for each of us is a unique journey, along with others on their unique journeys, while at the same time having to deal with the same things and with the same destination.

I hope I can keep writing, as long as life and mind allows, because that’s something I enjoy doing, hopefully with some benefit for a few along with myself as I share thoughts in common with us all. But I am aware of a new chapter which it seems I’m entering. We’ll see each other along the way and especially at the end, as we go on through this life, and especially in and through Jesus. As we seek to find our way more and more in and through him.

living with ambiguity

We might like to say that when all was said and done in the story of Job, that Job had learned to live with a sense of ambiguity. But there’s much more to the story than that. Job had come to see God in a new way through God’s word to him. Life was no longer foolproof in the way Job had hoped, and yet it was in the hands of a good God, even if inscrutable in his ways.

I like clarity and I want to be confident that if A is done, B will result. And in this day of information overload, we can find out all sorts of things that in one way or another are supposed to make a difference for good or ill in our lives. But our thoughts on the the end of the story, and on various points in it may not at all be in line with God’s thoughts. Though we know that the end of the story is good.

Oftentimes when it comes down to it, we simply don’t know. We’re pressed because we want to know, indeed we live in a culture which values above all else, knowledge. We want to figure things out and manage our affairs well, including living in God’s will in Jesus. But to do so, we’re going to have to accept and even learn to embrace a certain amount of ambiguity.

My problem oftentimes I think is that I don’t know where to draw the line. How much do I need to know on a given matter, and when can I simply let it go? I have been told that I over-think, and though rare, thoughts can be swirling in my head and keep me awake at night. But I wonder if that isn’t a sign that I need to accept some ambiguity then and there. Certainly I need to place the matter in God’s hands, and keep doing so. Even as I may go on wrestling over it.

In the end we want something of the gift of God’s peace. And some closure on a matter. Perhaps it will involve a process of working through, again even wrestling through an issue. Some matters can’t be settled yet, but others should be when all too often they’re not. May the Lord give us the grace to know the difference as we learn more and more to rest in God’s faithfulness in Jesus.