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.

failure of imagination

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah 7:10-17; NRSVue

If there’s anything the Christianity I’ve seen is plagued with by and large, though with some notable exceptions, it’s simply the failure of imagination. And I mean imagination in the realm and reality of faith, not just our own imaginations. God wants us in faith to imagine better things with regard to our own lives, the lives of those we love, the world which we know and in which we live, and the world at large.

In the case of Ahaz, he was not only a weak king, but one who was not committed to God, and acted and lived accordingly. Yet God appealed to him as one who was a part of God’s people, in fact king of Judah at that point in time. And Ahaz refused to respond. Since Ahaz did not act in faith, he would receive the fruit of the way that he had chosen, as God’s word makes plain in the account above.

For us who profess faith in God through Jesus, what kind of faith do we have? Is only the inevitable going to happen, or can we imagine something better from God? And imagination here can mean simply an openness to say, I don’t know, but I do know that God can do what we possibly can’t imagine. At the same time though, God can give us an image and help us imagine something of what God might do, which even if not knowing the specifics, can sense the grandeur, glory and goodness of it.

It’s good though hard to really be aware of the dangers present in this time or any time. But it’s also just as important, if not more so, to become aware that God neither loses sight of this, nor is God not at work in it. And we need to know that God’s light is going to shine in this present darkness in ways we might not anticipate or want. But we have to steel ourselves for whatever that might involve, only by God’s grace. And hold on and not lose out on the blessed imagination that God wants to give us. 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.

being preoccupied with Jesus and his teaching and vision, along with a complaint about the industrial revolution, and encouraging words about Mary and Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Especially in the past, there’s been many a discouraging word about Martha from this passage, along with encouraging words for Mary and those like her. I’ve noticed a redress to the point where you almost think the passage must surely be somehow exonerating Martha, and not giving the Mary there, the appreciation she deserves.

I think a careful look at John 11 along with this passage will help us appreciate both women, that they were both faithful followers of Jesus. Martha seems to have more of an assertive, take charge personality, while Mary seems more laid back, and more withdrawn. We probably side with one or the other, or see something of both in ourselves.

The problem with Martha which I think is evident in this passage is that she gets so preoccupied with necessary things, that she loses sight of what is altogether the most necessary. And as much as I can easily be withdrawn like Mary, which isn’t necessarily bad, I find too that certain matters can easily take up my complete attention to the point that I’m totally preoccupied with them, and not with the Lord.

That said, I want to say a word of praise for Martha. She surely was a master at what she did. She probably knew how to make up a meal and had the gift of hospitality with a flair. And when you think about it, that served Jesus and his disciples, along with whoever may have joined Martha, and her siblings Mary and Lazarus, very well.

Nowadays it sometimes seems that people change jobs and interests almost as often as clothes. While older folks like me tend to stay with one thing, the younger folks are much more flexible, which in itself is not bad. But for both what can be missing is really becoming good at something, and I mean good in the sense of decades of experience.

But for us who have done basically the same thing for decades, often it’s in terms of the Industrial Revolution in which work was depersonalized in most difficult, even dangerous work, or simply doing one simple thing all day, and all of that for a paycheck from an employer which all too often saw the bottom line as the only thing that mattered. But people were more than happy to do the same thing day in and day out to get what might have been a relatively good paycheck and benefits especially during the heyday of the unions. Essentially gone were the times when people specialized in this or that. With mechanization on an assembly line, it could all be done exponentially faster. Jobs were plentiful in those spaces, so that the breadwinner, normally always male, would get their job, and stay in it. Not only accepting the boredom, but enduring what was rugged, rough, even dangerous work, if it deserves to be called work. And oftentimes probably not living as long as a result. Even though we now live in “the post-industrial age,” we can’t assume that manufacturing jobs are of the past. Worldwide they are present, and still the backbone of much of what is going on in the business sector. All that to say, I think we tend to not even appreciate the gift of individuals like Martha as people once did, and don’t forget that Jesus was a carpenter, and surely a master at it.

The point I want to make here is not: Be like Mary and not like Martha. It’s more complicated than that. Instead whatever we not only have to do, but get to do in life, we need to in everything be preoccupied with Jesus, and with Jesus’s teaching and vision he cast. That is what should be our main preoccupation, even as we continue on day after day with the occupations and responsibilities we have.

And this is to be our preoccupation every day. For some reason I can easily slack off on weekends, and let up in that. I think it’s because there’s an element of rest from the busy and often hard workweek, and a kick back and relax kind of mentality. And we need some of that, indeed regular rest, even a weekly sabbath of sorts. But somehow within all of that we need to purposefully keep our Lord and his teaching and vision before us. Not only to help us, but so that we can find where we fit in our Lord’s vision along with everyone else. 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.

no matter what, keep on keeping on

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:25-27

Life is what it is. It’s full of disappointment, conundrums, and if we’re not careful, we can become disillusioned. We have to take hold and hold on to find the vision God has for us. And that will require some serious effort on our part, especially through certain terrains.

But no matter what, we need to simply keep on keeping on. We need to keep our eyes ahead and steady. Think and pray, pray and think. Remain the same in the Lord, day in and day out. Stay on track. And avoid evil, which may seem unnecessary to say, but we have to remember that evil can be subtle, and even seem right, in fact evil might at times seem to be good. I’m not thinking of blatant wrongs, but wrongs that are every bit as evil, but couched and hidden in what seems entirely justified, but is entirely not.

Simple, yet equally profound. In and through Jesus.

thinking in the new way (the Jesus way)

It is so easy for us to conflate what we read in the Old Testament about the nation of Israel and battles and whatnot with the United States. What we fall into is the precipice of nationalism from which there’s no escape. I’m finding these podcasts from Stephen Backhouse helpful in grounding us in the way of Jesus and exposing what is not.

We need to get back to basics, the basics of Jesus, what he calls us to as his disciples and church. That’s a far cry from what we’re accustomed to, what we’re caught up in. It involves what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. The fruit of the Spirit marks it.

One can be Spirit-filled, yet sadly mistaken on key points, as history has shown over and over again, and as Scripture, I think indicates. We need a new vision, the vision Jesus gives us. But it’s hard to break the old strongholds, and idols don’t easily let go since there are spiritual and systemic powers behind them.

This is not the idea that we’ll all the sudden get it right while most everyone else gets it wrong. This is an endeavor to question bedrock assumptions which we live by, often taken for granted to be true.

This gets us beyond national, and even international allegiance, to the one allegiance that we Christians are to hold to now and forever: the Lamb Jesus, and the kingdom of God present and to come in him. It’s not like we no longer have concerns about those matters, but that those concerns come from a different world altogether. Yes, meant for this world, but not of it.

But go to the podcasts if you want to learn more. And a hint: keep listening through the episodes to make the most sense of it.

holding on to the vision

Yesterday the post about what (or who) were looking at, along with the post the day before, no condemnation or corresponding fear for those who are in Christ Jesus, present a vision which actually speaks of both the reality and possibility for those who are in Christ.

It is difficult to really get hold of a vision, so that one catches a glimpse of what really changes everything. And even more difficult it is to hold on to that vision.

What we’re considering here is like a getaway in which we have a mountaintop experience, followed afterward by life in the valley, where sooner or later the hard facts of life, including our own mistakes and the aftermath, again take over, and grip us, so that the vision is lost.

First of all, visions as in experiences do come and go. Someday in the life to come, the experience will surely remain with all the variables mixed in that. But in this present life we have to deal with factors which depending on what they are, and on our own disposition, can bring us down into a kind of heavy, crushing darkness.

Again, we have to get back to basics, and determine by God’s grace in Jesus to live there. Those basics are not dependent on our circumstances, nor on anything else, but on God’s promise in Jesus, the good news in him, period. God’s heart of love is expressed in that, and is indeed unwavering toward us. But living down here often makes it seem otherwise.

Faith is essential here. Truth remains the same, but faith lays hold of it in the sense that it lives accordingly. God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and new birth in and through Jesus with all that is involved in that (justification, sanctification, etc.) is ours. And that does make a difference, even when we feel like it doesn’t, even when we’re in the darkest depths. But God wants us to live in another reality, according to the promise given to us in Jesus. And through that, God wants to give us another vision of how things really are, how the new life in Jesus, even the eternal life impacts us now, so that we can live to praise of the glory of God’s grace in a way which is renewing and life-giving, not only to ourselves, but potentially to others, as well.

Something I’m working on through the word and prayer, along with meditation and reflection, now. What thoughts might you add to this?

heavenly-minded to be the greatest earthly good

Scot McKnight points out in his stimulating book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, that many of the most engaged, active Christians in this world were also the most heavenly-minded saints. The two mindsets are not necessarily mutually exclusive at all, in fact the more vivid the vision cast in one’s mind of the promised world to come, the more longing for “God’s will to be done” even now “on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ve been listening again to Michael Card’s wonderful album on the book of the Revelation: Unveiled Hope, and am encouraged that something much better, indeed the fulfillment of all that is good is coming when heaven and earth become one at King Jesus’s return, what Scot McKnight calls “Heaven” (the word, capitalized). When we look at the world now, listening or watching the news, we can easily be tempted to despair. What progress we do find is tainted with failure, yes with sin, with wrong doing out of untoward motivation coming both from systemic evil as well as wicked hearts. I use the word, wicked, warily. There is clear wickedness at work in our world today, which any of us wouldn’t have any trouble identifying, but there is also the wickedness or evil in our own hearts, which can violate the first and greatest command to love God with all our being and doing, and the second like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. So that the only love left is love for one’s self and for the idol, be it money, or something else.

Christianity’s goal certainly isn’t eventual non-existence through loss of passion. Nor is it escape from this life even through an apocapalyptic ending, as in the end of the world as we know it. We do long for the return of King Jesus when the full salvation comes, yes, through necessary evil being rooted out of this world. Any Armagedon is actual judgment on humans in letting them do battle in what will amount to a terrible debacle. The new order to come in will be nothing short of new creation in the kingdom of God to come in King Jesus.

In the meantime, even as we look forward with longing for Jesus’s return, we seek to do the works of God now, which will somehow be carried over into the new world to come, but which begin even here and now. The new creation is present in its beginning and heart in and through Jesus, through the gospel and the church.

And so, we’re not going to be satisfied with any constitution or government of this world, even of that which we might think may be ideal for the present time. We long for more, for much more. And we long to see its beginning more and more implemented in this life, to help the poor, and to bring in salvation for all, a salvation which is as pervasive in its scope as the God who gives it.

going for the gold

The famous California Gold Rush resulted in relatively few prospectors striking it rich. California became the “golden state,” where people could go to get their piece of the “American dream,” called the “California dream.”

This reminds me of something far greater which Paul refers to here:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I am reminded of what’s most important, what’s vitally important. So that lesser things which may get in the way of that have to be let go of, entirely dropped. Even things which in themselves may be good. Paul suffered the loss of all things to gain Christ. He had one goal and he kept looking to that, honing in on it. And in fact he made it clear that this is the view all of us in Jesus are to take, watching others, especially leaders in the church who are doing so and following their example.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.