Luke 12:29-32 – Be Content

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (New International Version)

If we’re honest with God, we acknowledge that we often worry a lot about tomorrow and how our needs will be met. 

Every day we send God moribund signals that our heads are not in the moment, and that our hearts are not into today. We fret about the future, leaving us profoundly discontent. So, we do busywork, distract ourselves with social media, and numb ourselves with spirits rather than turn to the Holy Spirit – all in the futile attempt to reduce the racing thoughts in our heads.

Far too many of us fail to enjoy the present moment. Our minds are someplace else. 

Contented people do not find their happiness in far-off places, in someday being able to acquire the things they desire, or in having a laser-like orientation to achieving a future goal. Instead, they find contentment in their present circumstances. 

Those living without fear and eschewing worry have discovered that happiness is not found in a new job, a new car, a new spouse, or a new anything.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

Focusing on the present does not mean ignoring the past or neglecting the future; it just means we are to put our primary attention on living in the here and now rather than on a romanticized future free of doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty. 

If we are not present to the here and now, we either get stuck in the past or continually worry about the future.  Everything then becomes either about recapturing some bygone era or of dreaming about some idyllic future state – buying into the wrongheaded notion that whenever I get out of school, or get married, or have kids, or get the job I want, or the kids leave home, or I retire, then all will be good, and I shall finally have contentment. 

Planning for the future is wise, good, and necessary; worrying about it and neglecting the present is bad.

Whenever we rush through the present to get to the future, we lose what God wants to do for us now.  It takes flow, mindfulness, and savor to fully engage the present.

“Flow” is a psychological term that means “being in the zone,” that is, to be actively involved in the present situation with focused attention. 

“Mindfulness” means to be aware of your present surroundings, and to especially be aware of your present state of mind and emotions; it is to pay attention to all that is within you and around you. 

To “savor” something is to enjoy it so much that you want it to last forever. It is to be slow, deliberate, and enjoyable. It’s about the journey, not just the destination.

Flow, mindfulness, and savor are what Jesus asked us to do. Christ wants us to stop and smell the roses. He wants us to give focused attention to what is currently in front of us; to be mindful of all the wonder of creation that presently surrounds us; and, to take the time to simply savor and enjoy it all. 

Once I was in a bible study with a group of people and the family’s dog kept licking a particular person to the point of distraction. Finally, I said to the group: “What do you think God is trying to tell us through the dog?”  We ended up having a very enlightening conversation on our own relationships with God and one another.

We are to be present to today. 

This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24, NRSV

When we realize life is short, we will not waste it on worrying about the future. Although we don’t know about tomorrow, we do know about today. And today we are to enjoy God’s good gifts to us in the here and now.

So, teach us to consider our mortality,
so that we might live wisely. (Psalm 90:12, NET)

The wise way to live is one day at a time. That was God’s message through the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites. The ancient Jews kept spending their time reminiscing about the past and wishing for a better future.  So, God told them what to do in their exile:

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7, NLT)

Being content means to enjoy today, to savor the present moment God has you in, even if you don’t like where you are right now.

So go eat your food and enjoy it;
    drink your wine and be happy,
because that is what God wants you to do.
Put on nice clothes
    and make yourself look good.

Enjoy life with the wife you love. Enjoy all the useless days of this useless life God has given you here on earth, because it is all you have. So, enjoy the work you do here on earth. Whatever work you do, do your best, because you are going to the grave, where there is no working, no planning, no knowledge, and no wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, NCV)

Appreciate God’s simple gifts

Sometimes we look so hard for a future miracle, and want out from the circumstance we are in, that we fail to experience contentment in the present time. We are to enjoy the simple pleasures of life which God gives to us, even within our adversity.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:12, NIV)

No matter what is going on in our lives, whether good or not, we can still appreciate a beautiful sunset, a good book, a walk on the beach, time with friends, good food, and a host of other simple gifts which God provides for us on a daily basis. Yet, we must stop long enough to experience and enjoy them.

Remember to celebrate

We are meant to celebrate life. The genuineness of Christianity is seen whenever Christians throw the best parties and have the most fun.

Someday we are all going to die. Rather than this being a downer, it is an opportunity to ponder an important question: Will you celebrate the time you have here on this earth and enjoy it? 

It’s not hedonistic (living for pleasure) to enjoy life and have a party. It’s actually a biblical thing to do. A spirit of celebration is a Christian spirit.

Work with enthusiasm

Dive in and enjoy your work. We end up worrying whenever our focus is on the destination. However, the real point of life is to enjoy the journey and the process. Be present to your work now and enjoy a job well done for the day, instead of looking forward to a fatter paycheck and a better job in the future.

My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19, NIV

Engage in work with joyful abandon, and not with compulsive perfectionism (which is joyless and life-draining). Find ways of enjoyment within the kind of work that may be draining and not very exciting. Every job has mundane repetitive work to it. Yet, how we go about that work is significant.

If the here-and-now is not the best time of your life, then you and I need to be mindful to the words of Jesus because our focus is somehow misplaced. Contented people focus on the present, what is happening now, today, and they do not worry about tomorrow because that future state is the responsibility of God. 

Ever-present God, enlarge my heart to receive more of your grace and contentment. Rescue me from my small thoughts of your love and goodness. Free me from any unbelief and uncover my many fears. May I rest secure in the knowledge that you are good and everything you do is right, just, and fair. Amen. 

Luke 1:68-79 – A Peaceful Life

Praise the Lord,
    the God of Israel!
He has come
    to save his people.
Our God has given us
    a mighty Savior
from the family
    of David his servant.
Long ago the Lord promised
by the words
    of his holy prophets
to save us from our enemies
and from everyone
    who hates us.
God said he would be kind
to our people
and keep
    his sacred promise.
He told our ancestor Abraham
that he would rescue us
    from our enemies.
Then we could serve him
    without fear,
by being holy and good
    as long as we live.

You, my son, will be called
a prophet of God
    in heaven above.
You will go ahead of the Lord
to get everything ready
    for him.
You will tell his people
    that they can be saved
when their sins
    are forgiven.
God’s love and kindness
    will shine upon us
like the sun that rises
    in the sky.
On us who live
in the dark shadow
    of death
this light will shine
to guide us
    into a life of peace. (Contemporary English Version)

This beautiful psalm and prophecy came from the old priest Zechariah. It is a praise to God for the Christ about to be born; and, a prediction of Zechariah’s own son, newly born, as one who will prepare the way for Jesus.  This benediction speaks of better days to come, pointing forward to peace (shalom) spiritually, politically, and relationally.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well past the childbearing years. In fact, Zechariah is portrayed earlier in Luke’s Gospel as something of a stereotypical grump. After being taken up to the temple in a golf cart because he could walk so well anymore, Zechariah was confronted by an angel and nearly lost his dentures out of fear.

The angel Gabriel told old Zechariah that his wife would bear a son who will prepare the way of Messiah.  Zechariah then gave a sort of “Hmpff!  That’s not likely, Sonny. Look at me and my wife. Are you sure you have the right couple, and the orders in heaven didn’t get screwed up?”

Zechariah the Priest and the Archangel Gabriel by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858)

Gabriel was not very keen on being doubted, and it earned Zechariah losing his voice until John the Baptist was born. It was after Zechariah had nine months to think about that encounter, and experience watching a child grow in his wife’s womb that, after John’s birth, Zechariah was a changed man. 

Zechariah went from just one of many old priests in Israel, to being inspired by the Spirit and singing the praises of God. We can almost imagine him as an ancient version of Fred Astaire, picking up his cane and dancing with joy.

Our lives are not so different than Zechariah in this respect: We are a complex concoction of both fear and joy that could combust at any time in either direction.

We sway back and forth from fear and anxiety to joy and gratitude. Certain words can swing us to one extreme or the other: finances, pandemic, politics, religion, the future. They can create in us either immediate tension or smiling happiness; tomorrow they might do just the opposite. Zechariah went from anxious to elated, fearful to joyful.

We live in a toxic world filled with polarizing opposites and entrenched stereotypes of others. People vacillate between love and hate, pursed lips of anger and dispositions of peace. So, how do we rise above the heated rhetoric that exists in our world? How are we going to deal with all the disharmony and vitriol? By possessing the peace given to us in the prophecy and promise of Jesus. Our feet need to be guided in the path of peace.

Jesus came to give peace. All the words of Zechariah’s inspiration point toward the harmonious peace of salvation, rescue, and forgiveness. The time was finally coming when there would be peace in its fullest sense – wholeness and thriving in life which was unprecedented and unthinkable before Jesus. 

“True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, tension or war – it is the presence of some positive force, justice, good will, brotherhood.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are to live the Christian life and have a ministry in the church and the world without fear. Instead, we are to focus on what we are called to be and to do. Jesus rescues and delivers so that we will have forgiveness of sins which enables us to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness, without fear.

Peace does not just magically appear out of thin air. Peace was bought at an agonizing price – the blood of Jesus. Peace must be pursued. Practices of peace must be engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level. Yes, obtaining peace is difficult.  Yet, we instinctively know it is worth it.

Spiritual health comes through cultivating the peace of God in our lives through:

  • Avoiding chronic negativity and embracing the positive.
  • Making things right with others and embracing a reconciling spirit.
  • Pursuing Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  • Reframing our situations to a fresh vision of peace, wholeness, integrity, spiritual growth, and relational health, instead of focusing solely on problem-solving.

Zechariah, by means of the Holy Spirit, gave us a vision of a future full of peace, joy, and thriving. The name “Zechariah” means in Hebrew “God remembered.” God has not forgotten divine promises. The time has come to take hold of the vision God had from the very beginning to walk with humanity in continual fellowship and happiness in the garden, a place of abundant growth, beauty, and health.

Beginning ten years ago, a new kind of study has come from a task force put together by professionals across a wide spectrum of disciplines known as the World Happiness Report.  Every country in the world is ranked according to criteria such as the gross domestic product, social support, healthy lifestyles, freedom to make choices, lack of corruption, and both negative and positive outlooks on life. 

The United States has yet to make the top ten list on happiness. Even with America’s vast resources, we are, collectively speaking, a very unhappy people. I believe the most interesting finding from the World Happiness Report was their conclusion as to what makes one country happier than another. The Report consistently concludes that citizens of the happiest nations on earth continually find a steady stream of peace and joy in three sources: their families, their rituals/traditions, and their religion.

It will be hard to find joy in our lives through our Christianity if we are not experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ. Christian liturgical rituals and observances of seasons like Advent help remind us we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The birth of Jesus turned Zechariah’s world upside-down. Forgiveness of sins, spiritual peace, and human well-being can be found in Christ. Here are several practical ways we can implement the peace we have in Jesus Christ today:

  • Slow down, pause, breathe, and pray.

Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

  • Exchange fear for the presence of God.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV)

  • Listen to music, sing, or make music yourself.

Encourage each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19, ERV)

  • Have a “go to” word, phrase, or Scripture verse.

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. (Psalm 23:1, CEB)

  • Unplug for a time from electronics and close your eyes.

We live by what we believe, not by what we can see. (2 Corinthians 5:7, NCV)

  • Try aromatherapy and activate your sense of smell.

Through us, God brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15, MSG)

  • Set healthy boundaries.

Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So, she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There is only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, GW)

May the peace of Christ guide you into the path of peace in this Advent season and be with you, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 1 – Choose Real Happiness

The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
        Whatever they do succeeds
.

That’s not true for the wicked!
    They are like dust that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
    neither will sinners
    in the assembly of the righteous.
The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked is destroyed. (Common English Bible)

True happiness happens when we conform to disciplines of a good life and eschew practices that go against the grain of goodness. That statement might be a bit difficult to accept. Frankly, it is for me, and I wrote it.

You see, I’m not much of a conformity sort of guy. I like creatively doing my own thing, man. Bucking the system and questioning the rules is just something I do. Conformity tends to have a negative connotation with me – like a group of unthinking lemmings running off a cliff to their death.

Yet, the truth is that, although there is a wide range of creative choices we have for most everything, we as humans best function and discover happiness when we are in sync with our Creator. So, we can choose to ignore our foundational human hard-wiring, or we can live into it as the unique individuals we are.

Those two ways of shaping our lives are the path of the righteous and the path of the wicked. The way of the righteous leads to human flourishing, relational connection, and a vast spiritual life. Alternatively, the way of the wicked leads to human degeneration, disconnection from others, and spiritual death. It is to be out of sync with who we are as people.

Distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked is not always as easy as it looks. Only at the end of the age, when the Day of Judgment comes, will we know for certain the righteous and the wicked.

The magisterial Reformer of the sixteenth-century, Martin Luther, framed the two opposing ways as the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. The cross of Christ is G-d’s attack on human sin. Through being crucified with Christ, we find the way to human flourishing and life. It is the narrow road of grace.

A theology of glory is seeking to be radically independent – to rely primarily, perhaps even exclusively, on our own laurels and personal way of doing things. Although these might appear to be outwardly fine, they feed and water themselves from a wicked stream, devoid of grace.

Whenever we place our complete trust in self and forsake faith in something or someone outside of ourselves, it is a highway to the grave.

It is far too easy to place faith in our good works and to do good so that others will observe our goodness, rather than doing them out of the good soil of being planted in ancient and wise instruction.

Embracing tried and true practices of righteousness; delighting in G-d’s law; meditating on sound instruction; privately pouring over the large body of wisdom we have available to us; and diligently seeking to put it all into action is the way of good people who shall surely realize human happiness. They will yield gracious fruit. They will know blessing.

Joyful are people of integrity,
    who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
    and search for him with all their hearts.

Psalm 119:1-2, NLT

Serving only to be seen; seeking public accolades and personal recognition as a sole motivator; and disrespecting others to prop up individual respect is the way of the wicked. They don’t bother to consult the ancient ways of happiness. Instead, they pridefully believe they know what is best.

“You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” (Matthew 23:27-28, MSG)

Abundance, generosity, gentleness, and grace marks the righteous because G-d is abundantly gracious and generous. Jesus is the gentle shepherd who mercifully and lovingly leads anxious sheep to the quiet pastures of settled happiness. Indeed, the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.

Only looking out for number one, stinginess, withholding good, hoarding, and angry criticism identifies the wicked. They have judgment in their future because they add no value to the great needs of humanity. Unhappiness is their lot.

We have choices. We can choose conformity to established patterns of godly instruction and happiness – or we can choose to rely solely on our own ingenuity and/or brawn to eke out a morsel of satisfaction.

Choose wisely, my friends.

O Holy Wisdom, direct us on your path. Make us worthy of your teachings and open our hearts to accept your embrace, that we may serve you in peace and grace. Amen.

Proverbs 8:32-9:6 – Listen to Lady Wisdom

Sophia (Divine Wisdom) by Mary Plaster

Pay attention, my children!
    Follow my advice,
    and you will be happy.
Listen carefully
to my instructions,
    and you will be wise.

Come to my home each day
and listen to me.
    You will find happiness.
By finding me, you find life,
    and the Lord will be pleased
    with you.
But if you don’t find me,
    you hurt only yourself,
    and if you hate me,
    you are in love with death.

Wisdom has built her house
    with its seven columns.
She has prepared the meat
and set out the wine.
    Her feast is ready.

She has sent her servant women
    to announce her invitation
    from the highest hills:
“Everyone who is ignorant
    or foolish is invited!
    All of you are welcome
    to my meat and wine.
If you want to live,
    give up your foolishness
    and let understanding
    guide your steps.” (Contemporary English Version)

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Socrates

Know-it-all’s don’t pursue wisdom. They ignorantly believe they already know what’s best about just about everything. Yet their prideful stance betrays only foolishness.

The truth is that wisdom is a skill to be developed. It takes time, patience, humility, grace, trial-and-error, action, reflection, and, most of all, a teachable spirit.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Albert Einstein

To be blessed is to carefully graft wisdom into one’s daily life. To go about life with meaning, humility, and confidence are the unmistakable evidence of wisdom’s work within a person. It would be difficult to overstate the great importance of wisdom. Indeed, there is no such thing as too much of it.

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament Proverbs contrasts two approaches to life, personified in the book as Lady Folly and Lady Wisdom. Lady Folly relies on clandestine encounters, secrets, and seduction in promising satisfaction and a happy life. Yet, in the end, imbibing her drink poisons the soul and kills the spirit.

Conversely, Lady Wisdom operates openly and in the daylight. She gives a clarion invitation to a genuinely good life and persuades others, without manipulation, to feast at her banquet. Eating from Lady Wisdom’s table is open to all, both the simple and the sage. She offers a perspective which brings insight and clarity to confusing situations and bewildering circumstances. Lady Wisdom sets up a person for a blessed life.

“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”

D. Elton Trueblood

Perhaps an illustration may assist. The COVID-19 vaccination is available. It has proven to work. The clarion call has gone out. Listen carefully, get vaccinated, practice basic human kindness through masking and proper social distancing – and there will be life. Lady Wisdom is open about the process and the procedure for health.

However, another calls goes out, as well. The vaccine is not safe. It is an attempt to control. We are mere pawns in a politician’s game. The statistics on those infected are skewed. Come, drink deeply of freedom and exercise your right to refuse medical treatment. After all, if it was so safe, why is there so much talk about its safety, to convince people of its efficacy? Lady Folly has set her trap.

Foolishness relies on manipulating emotions, making false comparisons, and promising happiness without a pathway to get there. It sets up the logical fallacy of the Strawman, misrepresenting wisdom’s argument to make it easier to attack. Lady Folly is a simpleton who makes judgments without reasoning.

Lady Wisdom invites people to consult, collaborate, converse, and cooperate with well-worn bodies of teaching passed down through the ages – to drink deeply and eat heartily of truth so as to apply cogent applications to life’s most vexing issues.

“Discipline is wisdom and vice versa.”

M. Scott Peck

You see, it is eating and drinking at wisdom’s table which brings enduring patience, proper perspective, needed perseverance, and satisfying provision for life. Impatience, narrow-mindedness, lack of action because of petty squabbling, and ignorance, are the sad results of folly’s empty promises. They only lead to death.

Wisdom can only be acquired through making daily routine decisions of faith and patience, of putting one foot in front of the other in a slow process over time. In contrast, foolishness is just so because it circumvents time and process and speaks of deliverance and happiness now, right now, without all the fuss and hardship.

So, then, in our current social and economic climate; in our world dominated with the effects of pandemic; in our own personal lives; just what is Lady Folly barking at us about? And Lady Wisdom inviting us to?…

Your answer and your response just might be the difference between life and death.

Thank you, Wise God, for being present, available, and inviting me to approach you in my times of need. Thank you for bending your gracious ear to listen and to care. There are times I feel weak, helpless, even afraid. Yet, I cling to the knowledge that God is with me. I know that you are Lord, and I am not. I know that you hold all situations in your good strong hands. Therefore, I trust you and I trust the process you have me undergoing to become wise and just. I ask for strength and wisdom so that I might endure and handle everything in a way that will bless both you and the world; through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit I pray. Amen.