who sets the agenda of our lives?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

attitude

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

Colossians 3:22-4:1

Yesterday Jeff Manion spoke on our attitude when it comes to our work. Well worth the (view and) listen. I was thinking about that in terms not only of our work, which is powerful and thought provoking in itself, but in our attitudes across the board in all of life. We meet pressures with accompanying stress throughout our lives. Sometimes our sense of fairness and justice has been pummeled, and this is especially difficult when it makes life more difficult for us. Of course in Jesus we always have God to fall back on, and God’s grace in Jesus.

Paul addressing masters and slaves in his day, had nothing at all to do with accepting that institution, in fact we find the seeds for its destruction in this very same letter (3:11), and especially pronounced in the book of Philemon. He was simply dealing with life as it was. Ironically, because of the inherent injustice of such an arrangement, I think arguably that is helpful for us when we encounter what we perceive is not right or good, along the way. By the way, the slavery in that day at least to a large degree involved indentured service, so that those who had lost everything they had, used this recourse to survive, and even do relatively well in life. Just a sidenote.

Attitude, it’s all about attitude. Am I doing whatever I do for the Lord, so that whatever I am doing is sacred, set apart to him? And not just in the actual works, but in the attitude behind them. This may seem not so hard when everything is normal, and going well. But our mettle is tested when we seem to be violated. What then is our recourse, and what tact should we take?

We can always make our appeal and try to follow through until there is nothing more we can do, or it seems best to let it go, depending on the issue. Above all, people need to see the difference Christ makes in our lives. Do our actions speak well for him, put him in a good light, and show the difference he makes? Or are we no different than the world, flying off the handle, and saying something we later need to take back. It’s always better when we apologize and make it clear that we were wrong. But far better yet, is to avoid such wrong in the first place.

Prayer, and continuing to do what is right and good and loving is key. And continuing to do so, even when it seems to make no sense, and every bone in our body wants to do otherwise. We need to step back and be quiet, or speak more softly, and tone it down. And above all, commit ourselves to God, to his grace to us in Christ. Knowing that God will see us through and work out everything for our good, as we pray for the same blessing and good to others.

the blessing of work

Labor Day is the last summer holiday in the United States before traditionally the school year begins, and summer vacation time ordinarily ends. The United States is known for its hard work, although certainly not all of that historically is honorable when we consider the slave trade of the past. And work easily becomes an end in itself, even idolatrous, instead of being a blessed means to a blessed end from God.

We can all thank God for the opportunity to work, whether in blue or white collar jobs, as well as for the education or training that is available to land a job. Work in itself is good, a part of creation. What is not of creation, but rather the fall, as the story is told in Genesis 3, and therefore not a part of the new creation, but the current old, broken creation is the toil and struggle inherent in work now.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19

And so there you have it: Work is a blessing subject to the curse in which trouble along with the limitations of being a human of this fallen creation (“dust”) are inherently a part. And so I can expect more problems at work on Tuesday, along with the blessing of the work itself, and what that work accomplishes.

Christians are to be known as exemplary workers: for our work and I think also for our rest. We should be diligent, reliable workers, yet not workaholics, who fail to enjoy the fruit of their labors, and miss a large part of the point of them (see Ecclesiastes).

…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

 Today is a day to relax, and thank God for the work we have. And pray for those who may be out of work. As we continue our work for the provision of our families, for the good it provides, and to the honor and praise of God.

the importance of one’s work

I’m not sure if you can attach work to vocation, or God’s calling, which is part of my frustration in writing, but in some general sense one surely can. Because God’s creation of humanity in God’s image involves representing God in the world in what humans do in their rule which is actual stewardship over the earth and God’s creation on earth. Work is important from the beginning, and only the toil due to working with the thorns comes from the curse of the ground because of humanity’s sin.

Work is certainly not the most important aspect of who we are, which is surely to know and love God, and in that communion to know and love each other. But we can’t separate work from that, because it’s part of the whole. Just as we rejoice in God’s works, we can rejoice in the good works of each other, and in those which God enables us to do.

We have the Protestant work ethic on the one hand, but also the Protestant penchant for being suspicious of good works. The former might have been mostly from Calvin and the latter inherited from Luther, but it’s not fair to suggest that those who emphasize rest from works in the faith that’s apart from works, fail to work themselves. The best of those traditions have some good understanding and balance between the faith that rests and the faith that works.

I love work, and hard work at that. Often I find it quite therapeutic. I may be under something, but not only the distraction, but effort of work helps one to settle into a kind of peace or blessing from God. Of course everything is a gift from God, work included. Works will continue beyond this life, but what we won’t miss is all the difficulties that can come with work in the here and now. Overcoming such difficulties indeed can be part of the fun now, but often require plenty of patience and persistence, and rest when those kinds of days come mercifully to an end.

Work is a part of who we are as humans. We’re given something to do which includes something of a creative capacity from God as well as the ability to cope with creation. All the while rejoicing in God’s works, and being thankful for the good works given to us. Even while we look forward to the rest to come in the next life, which actually will include even more works I take it. But done in the sphere of the new creation in which the dynamic will be striking, a work grounded in a wonderful freedom of love. In and through Jesus and to the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

the error of chasing or living according to the American dream (part two of two)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

In his Parable of the Sower, Jesus mentions “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth [choking] the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).  We do well to carefully (and prayerfully) consider his words quoted above from his Sermon on the Mount, which follow the words quoted yesterday subtitled in the NIV “Treasures in Heaven,” today’s words subtitled “Do Not Worry.”

What seems to drive people to make money besides the pleasures of this life, is the thought that if they don’t take care of themselves, no one else will. And even Paul says that if anyone fails to provide for their family, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). So there is responsibility. The question becomes just how we face that responsibility.

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount make it clear that we shouldn’t be driven like the pagans are, in our society to work and work and work to provide the basic necessities of life. That we’re not to worry over whether or not we’ll get those things. That our Father knows we need them, and wants to provide them for us. Instead we’re to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness and justice, knowing that as we do, God will supply all of our needs.

We live in a debtor society, in fact the American economy is based to a significant extent on the precarious foundation of ongoing debt, which in some ways can be remedied, or at least the pressure alleviated, but in itself not only causes problems for the nation: federal, state and local, but also big problems for individuals and families, which can end up tearing the fabric of the family apart. Certainly one of the hardest, if not the hardest problem in marriages.

The problem in our society is at least two-fold: We buy into the American lie of borrowing, thinking it to be the only way to meet our obligations and fulfill our wishes, some wishes perhaps quite legitimate, such as a college education. And we fall into the default of thinking it all depends on us. I know this all too well from my own experience.

Jesus’ words concerning this are both simple and profound. We’re not to worry, but instead we’re to trust the Father to meet our needs. And we’re to be preoccupied with seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, which amounts to God’s will in and through Jesus. That will end up involving how we face the situation we’re in, the troubles that come our way, which Jesus doesn’t deny. What is needed is an interactive relationship with God by the Spirit and the word in the fellowship of the church. And we must not lose sight of the simplicity and directness of Jesus’s words here concerning how we’re to face this basic part of life.

discipline and enjoyment

Work requires discipline. Discipline simply put is follow through by doing what needs to be done to fulfill one’s responsibilities or commitments.

We live in an age which is driven in large part by feelings. If we feel like doing something, we do it; if we don’t feel like it, we don’t. Of course that doesn’t work in the work a day world. You get up and go to work whether you feel like it, or want to, or not. Some of the most fulfilling things I do are in spite of how I feel at the time before, and sometimes even during doing it.

When we don’t have to do anything, we often gravitate to that which is okay and even good, up to a point. What entertains us, what we actually want to do. That’s not to say that we won’t want to do what is good for us to do, take for example in my case, Bible reading. I can thorougly enjoy reading the Bible, especially slowly and thoughtfully, and hopefully prayerfully. I find that things which are okay in themselves which I enjoy doing can actually crowd out the better things, such as Bible reading. Everything has its place, and we do well to enjoy everything we might say, in its place.

What is desired perhaps is to achieve some rhythm which somehow balances the  need to enjoy with the work required to enjoy it. The very best things in life require commitment on our part along with effort to do well, and in a sense finish the work. There is so much left undone, so much potential for good not realized simply due to lack of discipline. Behind lack of discipline may be lack of vision. But one’s discipline can help them find vision. So lacking vision is not a reason to lack discipline. We desire that which is good, therefore we make every effort to achieve or gain it.

Above all practically speaking, we do well to learn to plod along and keep at it, as opposed to a brilliant dash of light in which we achieve or receive something great and good. No, we keep plugging away with discipline, asking for the Lord’s help that we might learn where true, lasting enjoyment lies.

 

living well under pressure

Life consists of pressure in this way or that. There is no let up, and we might as well not only face it, but accept and embrace it. We do like those times when there’s a relative lull, and the pressure is more or less gone. Vacations can (and often should) consist of such times. And there are other times, unexpected, when what we have to do is relatively routine.

But when pressure seems especially heavy, and perhaps even threatening, we need first of all to accept it. Often our first response, at least mine, is to want to somehow escape it. That is particularly true when I face the pressure of what I chalk up to be spiritual warfare. Some would attribute it to pure psychology, and that is a part of it. But there are malevolent spirits at work on earth to deter and destroy good. They are especially set against the gospel, which ironically is not only their very undermining, but their undoing and actual defeat. We in Jesus have to hang in there, accept the pressure, and pray about whatever matter it is that weighs heavily on our minds. We have the promise that as we resist the enemy (“the devil”), they/he will flee from us. We have to hang in there and resist, which does amount to standing up under pressure.

It is good to anticipate the different kinds of pressure we may face, some an ongoing part of ordinary everyday life, and some which can pop up unexpectedly out of the blue, making the most sunny days of our experience overcast and even dark with storm. We need to be ready for that, realizing it is part and parcel of our existence here and now.

God’s word tells us that pressure can help us mature and become more like Christ, that God uses it for our good. We likely won’t want to say, “Bring it on!” But that can help us to learn not only to accept it, but even embrace it when it comes. It’s all a part of our development as human beings, in Jesus getting us ready for what God has next, which will be culminated someday when the kingdom is revealed in its fullness to the world. Begun here and now in Jesus and the church through the gospel, the good news in him.