“what can you say that hasn’t been said?” and a thought on Holy Week

One of my favorite books in Scripture is Ecclesiastes, because it takes a rather admittedly cynical, realistic look at the world and life. While the Teacher is weary of words, there is little let up when you consider the book itself, and the summary. His life was given to observing life, seeking wisdom, and finding just the right words, the right way to express it. In my much more limited way, I can identify with the Teacher. I too tend toward skepticism, questioning and observing while holding onto the fear of God and faith in Christ.

This is Holy Week. Much can be said and we ought to prayerfully listen. When all is said and done what are we left with? That’s the question. I think it is good to reflect on the cross, our Lord’s sufferings and death, his burial and the empty tomb. Then we’d best get on with it. Following our Lord in this new resurrection life, but a life now lived with both Jesus’s death and resurrection important for our faith and experience now. We are yet to be fully glorified as our Lord has been. We remain here in a sense partaking of both his death and resurrection in the present. In and through Jesus.

 

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trials, an open door

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

Trials seem to come like a door slammed in our face. I don’t care for any of them myself. But I’m beginning to learn the problem is more in my reaction than in the actual trial itself. Not at all to diminish the problem of the trials, and especially some of them. Usually they don’t involve life changes, but sometimes they do. You can be sure that the Lord does not think lightly of our trials; in all our distresses, he too is stressed (Isaiah 63:9).

It’s my reaction that’s the problem. I might take it to God in prayer, but at the same time act as if the answer to the problem depends entirely on me, that somehow I have to get to the bottom of it. It’s not like we throw our brain away, and toss knowledge to the wind. But where does our dependence lie? As Bill Gaultiere pointed out, we can either do it our way, or Jesus’s way, the way our Lord would direct us to do it.

James tells us to count it all joy because trials open up a door for us toward maturity in Christ. We’re especially glad when we get through them on the other side. But even when we enter them, as an act of faith we need to thank God for what God is going to bring about through them. That is part of the necessary answer: not just what God is able to do, but our reception of that through faith.

Often I’ve left James’s words about doubt out when reflecting on this passage, but I include them here because after all, they’re in the text. There can be the struggle of faith as it’s been called, and it’s not like we’re not tempted to doubt. But we need to act in faith apart from our feelings and how we’ve been conditioned to see everything so negatively and apart from God. As we ask the Lord for needed wisdom, we believe in him, that he will generously give it to us. And instead of doubting, we open ourselves up to receive that help from the Lord.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.

what is important, what to be remembered for

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness…

2 Peter 1:5a

In the world in which we live, knowledge seems to be considered the end all, everything. And it’s assumed that if you know enough, you’ll do the right thing, or that this is true of society in general. What’s need is just more education. Ethics are considered quite secondary in education nowadays. If you start talking about ethics, then you’re pushing something beyond what is scientific or pure knowledge. The modern world has little regard for anything beyond what can be measured and verified scientifically. And so knowledge is on the throne, the kind that humans can gather especially in scientific ways, through ongoing hypothesis, testing, and observation. And a popular differentiation between knowledge and wisdom is all but ignored, at least too much of the time.

Actually in Scripture knowledge and wisdom are essentially synonymous. Both are revelatory, received from God for life. Knowledge might be somewhat for knowledge’s sake from God, but is never separated from who we are, who God is, and apart from the world in which we live. It is given for appreciation for and navigation through this world. And the proper term for this might be understanding. Knowledge and wisdom are given to us from God for our understanding of life both in reference to the world at large, and how we should live in it.

In the list from 2 Peter, we see that goodness precedes knowledge (click the above link). We’re to add to our faith, not first knowledge, but goodness, then knowledge. I know some Bible scholars say the order of the list is not important and beside the point, that they’re all to be added to our faith. I think that’s a fair point, but I also think their order is suggestive. Goodness carries the idea of what is helpful and fitting to be and do in love for others. God alone is good, but imparts goodness to his creation, particularly to those made in his image: humankind.

What the world needs, indeed what the church needs first of all is not more intelligence, but more goodness. Intelligence in and of itself does not automatically result or even tend toward goodness. But goodness does result in the kind of intelligence which is helpful to all. What is appreciated in God’s eyes, and truly godly, and what is really needed in the world is a high dose of goodness, then the intelligence that follows will be helpful. As God gives that to us in and through Jesus.

press on

We can become weary and lose heart, indeed think all or most is lost for many reasons. And yes, things are lost along the way. Many of us make some bad decisions which God either protects us from, or not, but often with consequences of one sort or another. Or we lose friends who we once thought were truly friends, but we find out otherwise. And we doubt ourselves, still ringing in our ears voices from the past which put us down in discouraging ways.

It doesn’t matter. We need to press on, period. There’s much for us to live for now. Witnesses to Jesus and God’s good news in him. Prayer for loved ones, friends, all who are in need, even our enemies. Doing what we can to help others. None of this small in God’s eyes.

For me it’s the goal of an interactive relationship with God through ongoing Scripture reading and prayer during the course of a day. With the goal of devotion to God in loving God and others. And wisdom to make my way through all of life in a way that’s honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

the good of boredom

It seems like in this day and age that entertainment is something everyone thinks they have to have at just about any moment. It’s at the tip of our fingers on our phones, for me not on the phone, but with classical music which I more or less prefer most all the time. Though often actually beautiful, not necessarily exciting so as to break through what boredom I may have.

I should give my definition of boredom. Something like simply finding something monotonous or tedious. But add to that our reaction. For me when I know I have to do something, I don’t let boredom affect me in the least. But I do have my small Bible at hand, with either coffee (or tea) nearby. But I find that even going through Scripture, and especially on a regular basis can seem boring since I often enough am not connecting firsthand, even if what I’m reading I might find interesting.

Perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes is the best book in Scripture for considering boredom. After all, the “Teacher” says all is meaningless. But in the midst of their turmoil also concludes that one should simply settle down and enjoy the gifts God gives in the normal everyday routine.

I somehow wonder if our penchant for excitement isn’t in and of itself idolatrous. It’s like we have to have this or that pleasure or whatever to satisfy ourselves. When God is the one who is ultimately to be our Satisfaction. Not to downgrade the enjoyment we should have from the gifts we receive from God.

I’m wondering if boredom prepares and opens us up to receive what we need from God. And it reminds me of Augustine’s words:

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

If we’re no longer bored because of something other than God, or in thankfulness receiving all of life as a gift from God, then we’re better off being bored. I live in boredom myself, and don’t mind it at all. It’s not like I don’t enjoy God’s gifts, and hopefully live in the enjoyment of God himself. Nor is it like my boredom isn’t telling against me to some extent. But I accept it as part of this life. Somehow a necessary preparation for growth in grace now, and for the change to come in the next life. In and through Jesus.

not acting on emotions

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

I think one of the greatest problems we have in not really following through on wisdom as we would like is our habit of acting on impulse. Somehow we proceed on how we feel, our emotions, rather than on good thinking based on understanding considered in the light of what is good for others and ourselves, in the fear and goodness of God.

It is almost a given that if we feel a certain way, then corresponding words or actions will follow. For example, someone cuts us off on the road, or sits at a light. At best we might utter a relatively mild word under our breath, at worst we remark that they’re dumb. Or I might just think they’re on their cell phones, and shake my head in disgust.

What Scripture calls us to is not some stoic resolve and refusal to acknowledge what is happening and how we feel. I’ve seen people act like everything is okay when it’s not, and keep doing that only to explode at a certain point later. It’s better to shake one’s head right along, while keeping oneself mostly in check, not flying off the handle. But better yet is the refusal not to act at all on our emotions which we would call negative. But rather, to keep working through things in a thoughtfully wise and understanding way. And many times along the way that will involve prayers to God and seeking help from others, as well as simply persevering in what we need to do.

Like the NET Bible footnote tells us, it is harder for us to appreciate the impact of this verse now, since the kind of warfare mentioned is largely a thing of the past. If we carried that forward to what we know of the military today, they’re trained not to act on emotion, but strictly on command. But in our imagination we can go back to the days when military feats we’re done in hand to hand combat.  I actually don’t think it’s so much comparing one action to the other, but rather simply saying that one mode of conduct is better than the other.

The Holy Spirit and the word helps us to avoid what is not helpful. To be patient, or slow to anger, to be self-controlled. It’s vitally important that we don’t act on negative emotions like anger or fear when we know our words or actions will not help those who hear or see us. Best never to act on such emotions at all. Part of living in wisdom, knowing what is good and right and helpful. In and through Jesus.

 

“do your best and hang the rest.”

A man who worked at the ministry I work at used to say, “Do your best and hang the rest.” Like me he was in the factory end of it, heavy machinery. A good man, hard worker, man of God.

I think there’s plenty good old fashioned down to earth wisdom in that. It actually reminds me of Proverbs in the Bible. Though I can’t think of a Scripture that actually says the same. But I think we can make a case from Scripture, that this is a part of wisdom.

We live in a world with so many variables, moving parts, and unfortunately all is not in sync. Some of us want to do God’s will and some don’t. Many are trying to do the best they can, others not. It’s impossible to avoid networks, connections with people and entities which may not hold to the same ethical principles. Of course Christians differ as well. It’s all a matter of conscience. We want to do what’s right in the eyes of others, and above all in God’s eyes.

We pray and pray, and wrestle through at times, not knowing for sure what to do. Then we make decisions, trusting somehow God is in them. And we always want to be open to whatever God would have us do.

God looks at the heart and one’s intent. We make mistakes along the way, and there are times they need to be corrected, other times not. God will give us the wisdom to know, though that may take time. All of this processing a part of gathering wisdom. In and through Jesus.