Archive for August, 2021

Book Review – The 3D Gospel

August 24, 2021

The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame and Fear Cultures by Jayson Georges

This book was recommended by my friend and colleague JP. It’s a short read (74 pages), but it is likely to give lifelong Christians more food for thought than many much longer books.

The author worked overseas in Central Asia for close to a decade before returning to the US. He has firsthand experience with some of what he talks about in this book. His premise is that in Western Christianity the Gospel is primarily proclaimed and described as a motif of guilt/innocence. We stand guilty of sin both inherited and personally committed. The punishment for this guilt is death and separation eternally from God’s presence. However Jesus comes to pay the penalty of our sin and extend to us his innocence, making reconciliation with God the Father possible. This motif works well in our culture where rule of law is paramount over most anything else.

Sound familiar? It should.

But Georges posits two other motifs more dominant in other parts of the world.

The first is the shame/honor motif. There are cultures in the world where the primary driving concern culturally is not the rule of law, per se, but rather the idea of creating/maintaining honor – both personally and for the larger family – and avoiding shame. Using this motif, the Gospel is the story of our dishonor, exchanging the glory and honor God bestowed on us in creation and obedience for a the lie of honor on our own terms. All our lives have become now an effort to manufacture real or false honor to remove the shame we are born with. Jesus accomplishes this for us, and extends to us once again the honor we were created for and with.

The second is the fear/power motif. There are cultures in the world where the primary driving concern culturally is how to appease the spirits who are among us and can either bring us harm or blessing. Control over these spiritual forces is attempted through charms, totems, rituals and magic, just to name a few. Certain actions or words are avoided at all costs because of the danger it may expose the person (and their loved ones) to from spiritual powers. The Gospel is explained in this motif as Jesus coming as the greatest of spiritual powers to defeat the demons and other spiritual powers of this realm. Those who accept Jesus come under his protection, and need not fear the posing spiritual powers of this world any longer. There is no further need for charms or spells for protection as the individual believer receives power from the Holy Spirit.

Georges maintains this three-fold way of interpreting the Gospel is demonstrated in Scripture itself, and wise Christians (as well as those who work cross-culturally) should be aware of these three motifs and know when it might be appropriate to engage one over another when sharing the Gospel with someone from another culture. Georges references the book of Ephesians as a Biblical example of all three Gospel dimensions being referenced. Ephesians 1:7 and 2:5 reference the guilt/innocence motif. Ephesians 1:5 and 2:19 reference the shame/honor motif. And Ephesians 1:19-21 and 6:10-11 reference the fear/power motif.

It seems clear that Georges’ personal experience cross-culturally is with the shame/honor motif (as well as his native, Western guilt/innocence motif). The fear/shame motif is not explained quite as deeply in this book, but it is still well presented. Georges takes time to document various Bible verses that deal with or at least acknowledge each of these three motifs. Although the idea may seem strange at first considering how deeply we’re embedded in a guilt/innocence culture, Georges’ observations are solid and worth further consideration.

Considering the Gospel in a fuller sense than simply the forgiveness of sins can be very helpful, and certainly provides no little amount of fodder for personal reflection and meditation. While elements of all three motifs will be found in varying degrees in every culture, most cultures will have one of the three more dominant than the other two. This is a great little read that might be very helpful if you engage in any cross-cultural relationships!

Pool Hall ~ Mr. Lucky’s – Lake Havasu City

August 23, 2021

There is one pool hall in northwestern Arizona – Mr. Lucky’s in Lake Havasu City. It’s located in a non-descript strip mall right off highway 95 as you enter town from the south. Twelve to fifteen tables, including one Diamond bar-box that claims to have Simonis felt. The tables are basic and the felt on most of them is rather slow. This is a river/lake town, and the vibe on a late Saturday afternoon is decidedly laid back. Most of the 20 or so folks in the place looked like they had spent the morning on the river and retreated to this air conditioned lair once the temperatures got to be too much. A full bar and I’m not sure if they serve food or not, but it’s likely to be basic bar food if they do.

I shot here with a buddy and colleague from California for about an hour. Good range of people in the place. It’s a little hard to spot from the road unless you know what you’re looking for.

Not a place for serious shooters – other than it’s really the only pool hall this side of Vegas. The place seems safe and decently clean, and likely a good place to pass an afternoon or evening with friends and a few drinks around a pool table. Not much more you can ask for, really. I was able to get a shirt here, but tragically they only had sizes suitable for my wife. C’est la vie!

Reading Ramblings – August 29, 2021

August 22, 2021

Date: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 29, 2021

Texts: Genesis 12:1-4; Psalm 96; 1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Mark 5:1-20

Context: Something different this week.  I’m preaching in two small congregations in Northern Arizona on Sunday and the pastor serving them both is preparing a sermon for the previous Sunday (8/22) entitled Go When God Calls.  Since he’s setting things up for a mission-oriented sermon I decided to step away from the assigned three-year lectionary readings and select a set of readings that highlight different aspects of mission work.  The Old Testament reading and the psalm both emphasize the going aspect – sometimes God calls us to pack up and leave where we are and go somewhere else.  The Gospel and the Epistle reading each highlight that God doesn’t always call us to massive changes – geographically or otherwise. 

Genesis 12:1-4 – The seminal text in terms of God calling someone to faith and trust in him as well as calling them to relocate.  Abram is called to leave his family – a far dicier proposition in those days than it is for many people today.  The larger family unit provided stability and protection, a very close social network of people committed to one another as well as to the good of the family as a whole.  An interesting aspect is that Abram’s father, Terah, had moved his family as a whole from Ur of the Chaldeans.  They were headed towards Canaan, but ended up stopping in Haran instead.  At the time, Ur was likely very close to the northern edge of the Persian Gulf but those waters are thought to have receded considerably since then.  Haran is located about 30 miles south of Şanlıurfa in Turkey.  The journey from Ur to Haran would have been approximately 750 miles, so no wonder they decided to stop!  But just because the family was done traveling doesn’t mean God’s intentions were done.  He calls Abram to complete the journey without his two remaining brothers, taking only his wife Sarai and their nephew Lot and their servants, slaves and possessions.  They would not be returning to Haran.  God calls Abram to be faithful and trust in him – not even revealing directly where he will be headed though would likely have been roughly a 600-mile journey. 

Psalm 96 The lectionary assigns this psalm to be read at a midnight Christmas service. It is an eminently missional psalm, both calling people around the world to faithful worship and praise of God as well as calling for God’s glory to be declared throughout the world (v.3). God is not the narrow, limited God of a particular people or place. As the Creator of all creation, praise is due to him by all of his creation. Of course, due to sin and the demonic lies of Satan not all of God’s creation recognize him as God any more or acknowledge any power greater than what they can identify with their senses. For this reason God’s glory must be declared continually. Whatever other false gods may be worshiped ought to be replaced with praise directed to the one, true God of all. The work of mission is to share the good news of this God with those who have forgotten or been misled into false worship of false gods or blinded by the conviction that there can (and must) be nothing greater than ourselves. The Church as God’s people in all places and times is entrusted with the primary responsibility of declaring these truths both to her own people, who must always be reminded, and to the world beyond. Ultimately even nature itself will give God praise, and all of this truly is good news, because when the Lord comes He will establish righteousness and faithfulness.

1 Corinthians 7:17-24 – Paul is responding to questions from the Corinthians regarding marriage, believers, and unbelievers. But this section in the middle is more generalized. Some might be called to exotic or unusual service, such as Paul himself. But Paul never presumes this is the expectation or goal for every believer. Rather, God the Holy Spirit is the one who determines how each should serve. Ideally, issues of ego should not enter into matters. Where has God called you? Coming to faith in Christ is no excuse for divorcing an unbeliever. Likewise faith in Jesus does not require other changes in status, even from slave to free (though Paul acknowledges the latter is more to be desired than the former if possible). Change is possible, but is not always required. Seeking to understand how God has equipped us to serve – as well as where and what – is the duty of the individual Christian as well as their Christian community around them. The blessings of Christ are real and present and not dependent on our marital or economic status or any other markers of this age and world.

Mark 5:1-20 – What often gets lost in reading this passage is the ending. This man – likely not Jewish if he was living in the non-Jewish Decapolis – seeks to join Jesus’ disciples. His intentions no doubt are sincere but Jesus denies his request. There is no hint of Jesus seeing this man as unworthy of such a calling, but undoubtedly understands that the presence of a Gentile amongst his inner circle would cause innumerable problems in having his message heard and received by his primarily Jewish audience. Rather, Jesus redirects this man’s desire to serve and follow to his hometown, to people who already know him and will likely be very soon aware (if they aren’t already) of the radical transformation and change in fortunes in his life. This man will have the opportunity to give glory to God in telling how Jesus delivered him from slavery to demons.

Unlike many other recipients of Jesus’ blessings, this man is not commanded to remain silent but rather commanded to speak! Commanded to share specifically the amazing story of what Jesus did for him. The result is that people marveled, to be certain. But also the result is likely such that when Christians begin to travel after Easter to share the good news, the people in this area will already know about Jesus despite not being Jesus. They have a living witness to his power right in their midst.

Some Christians have an amazing story to tell about Jesus’ deliverance in their life. Perhaps deliverance from drugs and alcohol and other addictions. Perhaps deliverance from abusive relationships. Perhaps deliverance from the blindness of disbelief or false belief. Such stories can be powerful opportunities of witnessing to people who knew the former circumstances of these converts. Incredible transformative stories are never required of those who come to faith in Jesus, despite the erroneous but well-intentioned doctrines of some Christians who insist there must be a conscious conversion story or spiritual evidence such as speaking in tongues. But the Holy Spirit can use all believers and their unique stories as He best sees fit. The Church’s job is to ensure all know their stories are a gift from God to be used to his glory rather than their own.

Reading Ramblings – August 22, 2021

August 15, 2021

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 22, 2021

Texts: Isaiah 29:11-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 5:22-33; Mark 7:1-13

Context: Whenever this reading from Ephesians 5 comes up I feel compelled to focus and preach on it because it is so misunderstood in our time.  The readings as a whole today have a theme of the contrary nature of human ideas and rules with divine, and the Ephesians reading sits nicely in that context.  We have our ideas about things.  Some of our ideas are better than others.  But all must be subjected in humility to the divine will and wisdom.  Even as we seek to be faithful to our Lord’s wisdom and will we are apt to wander astray and allow additional ideas to infiltrate, ultimately to our detriment, and therefore a humility is always appropriate with one another in order to remain not only wise, but unified.  Personally, this is a challenging set of texts this week as I’m preaching and it’s a congregation I’m just visiting, not the installed pastor of!

Isaiah 29:11-29 – Verse 16 calls out to me as the pivotal point of this passage.  God is speaking to his wayward people.  A people who have not witnessed the powerful works of the Lord as in generations past.  What they know of God is secondhand.  This has led them to presume their own understandings of God are the important thing at one level – so that following the rules laid down by tradition or doctrine replace an actual relationship with their Lord (v.13).  In part this is God’s doing (vs.10-12).  In part it is our human sinfulness both within us and in the world around us combined with the active workings of our enemy Satan to draw us away from a vibrant trust and faith in our Creator God.  Today nothing characterizes our American culture so much as an insistence that we are the creators.  Or at least that there is no conscious Creator, and therefore might (or ability) makes right, and we are free to recreate ourselves and one another and our world in whatever form we might prefer.  Verses 17-19 seem like a modern laundry list of goals science promises to deliver us – avoidance of climate change or climate change in our preferred direction, triumph over our physical bodies and limitations up to and including death and aging, and social justice and equality for all.  But we are not the authors and accomplishers of these things – God is.  While we are free to faithfully pursue our caretaking of the world we are not free to do so by disregarding or denying the reality and truth God the Creator has woven into the fabric of reality itself.

Psalm 14 – We might object to this caricature of the atheist as someone who is purely evil.  And certainly such a straw man would be easy to knock down with examples of good-hearted non-believers.  But the deeper truth this psalm directs us towards is that without a God above us who gives us truth and defines right and wrong for us, we will inevitably redefine truth and right and wrong to suit our own preferences and desires.  We will exalt evil as good and denigrate good as evil.  We will ignore the physical world around and within us and insist on becoming not simply masters but tyrants over both.  It is not possible to have truth or moral grounding apart from the God who Created all things and wove those realities and definitions into his creation.  Whenever we attempt to define these things without reference to our Creator, we will inevitably, eventually wind up completely opposite to what He designed and intended.

Ephesians 5:22-33 – The readings all point us to the error and danger of substituting our own ideas and rationalizations for God’s revealed order and rule in creation.  Most Christians would nod in agreement with this in the abstract, but we suddenly choke and sputter when it strikes at some of our current assertions of what love really means and looks like.  Surely equality must be God-pleasing?  Surely we can redefine what equality looks like to suit our preferences?  Or is equality something God has already provided a definition for in the dawn of creation?  An equality based not on function but on his Creation of each one of us as his sons and daughters?  Equal but different?  Called to honor and love and respect one another within the bonds of marriage that preserve our essential differences and call us to be equal within those differences?  That’s a hard pill for many people to swallow these days.  We’d rather focus on real and potential abuses of these verses as justification that St. Paul is not serious or is misogynistic.  To put these verses off till our Lord’s return so we don’t have to grapple with the challenges of them here and now.  But Paul is clear.  Marriage is, in fact, our clearest depiction of our Lord’s relationship with we his people, his Church.  Imperfect, but striving in our marriages to mirror the divine relationship full of grace and mercy and truth.  And a reminder that our own preferences – no matter how deeply held or sacrosanct – could be just as flawed as the Pharisees and the Israelites and even the fools who say in their hearts there is no God

Mark 7:1-13 – How easy – and dangerous! – it is to presume our own ideas are actually fulfillments of our Creator God’s wishes and commands.  How easily good intentions lead away from God’s intentions.  How crafty and deceitful are our own hearts, even when we are not conscious of it!  How easy it is to fulfill the letter of the law while completely missing the spirit of the law, replacing the intentions of the law (love of God, love of neighbor) with something more expedient.  And of course, how easy it is to justify things with the cover of righteousness or the Gospel, defending actions that are patently unloving by invoking the name of God.  If we think we are above this or beyond this we are in the greatest danger.  If we presume our traditions are beyond reproach and must be guarded against any criticism or – gasp! – change, we are in danger.  Good things can be gradually turned to bad ends.  Original intentions can be lost so that we go through motions no longer understanding their original intentions or benefitting from the intended outcomes. 

Thank God we are forgiven in Christ, but thank God also the Holy Spirit continues to work among us, striving to unify us and lead us towards fulfillment of the law not in hopes of earning God’s favor but in joy and thanksgiving for his grace and mercy!

Death and Collective Guilt

August 13, 2021

I don’t consider myself a real aficionado of Texas-style (or maybe just more traditional American) folk music. A bit too twangy. But playing pool in bars with juke boxes for most of my life you pick up a taste for a little bit of everything, and all that absorbed country music made me a bit more open to the twang than I otherwise might be. I discovered Nancy Griffith in the mid-90’s hot on the heels of the success of her Grammy-winning album Other Voices, Other Rooms. Twang notwithstanding, I fell in love with Griffith’s story-telling. Songs like Love at the Five and Dime and Gulf Coast Highway are still some of my favorite songs for the powerful stories they evoke in the small space of a song. I had the pleasure of seeing her in concert in the early 90’s and it was a wonderful experience to hear that clear voice in person.

She died today and that’s sad, as all deaths are.

I went back to listen to some of her songs this evening. They still bring a smile to my face or tug the heart strings in a way few other songs or artists do.

By chance I happened upon another of my favorite songs of hers, It’s a Hard Life. I still love the song but what caught my ear, in the midst of the rising racial tensions in our country was the last verse, a sort of confession on Griffith’s part that:

I am guilty I am war I am the root of all evil

She believed the words and the visions and promises of some great people like Walt Disney, Walter Cronkite and Martin Luther King, Jr. She believed their promises that change could come and was coming. And decades later, realizing those visions had not materialized the way she had assumed they would, for everyone rather than just specific demographics, she holds herself accountable. Though she’s not at the wheel of control, by implication she is guilty for those who are at the wheel of control, either by her support of them or her failure to stop them.

It’s a hard confession to hear after her stinging examples of prejudice that occurs in every culture and can take myriad forms. She confesses guilt that this still exists and she has personally failed to prevent it.

In the way this kind of corporate confession is currently being wielded or demanded in our country, it’s erroneous. It is misplaced. It assumes that we individually are capable of preventing people from reaching power or using power if they are not worthy of it or misuse it or fail to use it to full capacity. And it assumes at a deeper level that these things – prejudice and racism of all stripes – can actually be defeated and destroyed by our own efforts. If we just have the right leaders. The right policies. The right educational systems. The right corporate policies.

Unfortunately for Griffith and you and I and those who struggle under the oppression of real prejudice and racism, this isn’t true. Not that we don’t work towards it. Not that we can’t make improvements. But to remove these things is beyond our control. It is not in us to do so. Or more accurately, like Griffith’s confession, the sin we would stand against is present within us as well. Perhaps not in the same forms or to the same degrees, but there all the same.

And in that sense the corporate confession is appropriate. We all share in the common affliction and malady of sin. None of us is capable of removing it from ourselves let alone another person. And so we continue to struggle with sins as old as humanity. Some people are constantly amazed that a particular program or regimen failed to root out a particular sin. That is a sinful error as well, though a well intentioned one. Anything designed by a broken and sinful person is going to turn out in one way or another broken and sinful and inadequate as well.

Griffith’s bleak confession would be the last statement in her life and every life if there were not a deeper, greater hope than our own visionaries and programs. Thank God, there is.

There is only one hope for the defeat and removal of sin. One hope promised long ago in a primal garden, and one hope accomplished 2000 years ago on a cross by a man who claimed he was more than a great teacher or a great moral model, an inspirational speaker or a worker of wonders, but in fact the very Son of God. Who promised that in his voluntary and innocent death and burial, the sin within us would be overcome. All we had to do was believe this was true and who He was and what He accomplished. And for an anchor for that faith and trust He asserted He would rise from the dead after three days.

That hope and promise remain today. I pray that Griffith shared in that hope. That her disappointment in herself and others was overcome by a hope and trust in Jesus Christ. I pray it was ultimately that hope that inspired her to write and to sing and to become an inspiring voice to others and future generations.

Because I’d love to hear that clear voice in person again someday when she can sing of victory instead of defeat.

A Collection of Misinterpretations

August 11, 2021

A random assortment of interesting/frustrating news articles that caught my eye today.

First, as usual a great article from (the Protestant jab aside). The press is insistent on characterizing the refusal of Sacraments to public and unrepentant members as ultimately a political ploy aimed at President Biden. That’s hardly the case. The press willingly and repeatedly ignores actually reporting on the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church (and many other Christian denominations) in favor of straw-man caricatures that suit their intentions of disparaging organized religion (particularly Christianity – you don’t see many similar articles about Judaism or Islam) or pressuring believers to view their historic and clearly articulated faith as no longer valid or binding in our more enlightened culture.

Second up in terms of allowing our implicit and explicit biases’ to affect our interpretation of things is this little article. The presence of gender-specific articles for both men and women in a single grave becomes an argument for historical evidence of a non-binary leader – someone 1000 years ago who didn’t neatly fit our allegedly cultural sex and gender classifications.

Because, you know, that’s the only possible explanation, which just so happens to justify the latest in cultural fads.

Because nobody is ever buried with items from someone else – possibly even someone of the opposite sex. A meaningful piece of jewelry from Mom or Dad, for example. How is it that objects can or should be used to argue for a sexual orientation (or lack thereof) in a burial from a thousand years ago? Is that good science? Good archaeology? Or just a convenient way of appealing to the apparent swing of the cultural pendulum, a swing that might mean a few bones thrown in terms of grants or donations?


And finally, I’ve been loathe to blog further regarding Covid and our responses to it (or responses imposed on us). I’m simply so tired of it all. The rhetoric on both sides is ridiculous. But this article I found somewhat darkly amusing. Apparently there have been posts online referencing I Am Legend, a mediocre but different zombie movie. People are referencing the movie claiming the zombies in it were the result of a vaccine.

That’s not literally true, as this article points out. But that’s rather splitting hairs, I’d argue. Yes, this is just a movie. A piece of fiction. And I’d hope that most of the people posting the memes are fully aware of that and aren’t presuming to claim the movie as any sort of evidence or justification of rejecting the Covid vaccine.

However it is fair game to remind us all that even the best-intentioned efforts can have unanticipated consequences, something the critics of such memes are quick to forget. The fact that the scientific method and scientific processes and individual and collective scientists did and continue to do their best in formulating Covid vaccines does not, in and of itself, preclude the possibility of unanticipated, negative side-effects. Rare but causal side effects have already been identified in many of the vaccines, and such observations are quickly drowned out by shouted insistence that the benefits are far greater to far more people than the infrequent side-effects. That may or may not be true – we won’t know for some time, as more and more unanticipated side-effects are identified, and as the overall effectiveness of the vaccines becomes better understood.

The role of good science fiction is to contemplate not just literal science but potential side-effects or abuses of science. Great heroes and villains populate the genre for their manipulation of various aspects of science and technology or their responses to it. The genre provides a ‘safe’ zone for contemplating real issues in the context of make-believe. The original Star Trek series utilized it for these purposes, as have great authors such as Ray Bradbury and Walter Miller Jr. Even The Lord of the Rings could be (and has been) interpreted as a commentary on science and technology and industry, noting that it isn’t these things in and of themselves that are evil, but only how they are used or misused or, just as validly, accidentally developed or implemented without enough information to accurately determine longer-range consequences.

Back to School

August 10, 2021

It’s that time of year again. For so many years as a student, as a teacher, or as someone involved in campus ministry (sometimes all three at once!) my year was more defined by the ebb and flow of the American academic year. August and September always seem like starting months – more so than January.

This is a good article whether you’re a Christian student headed to school (really of any grade, adjusted for age-appropriateness of course), or the parent/grandparent/concerned friend or relative of a student.

Of course, these suggestions are all things that should already be going on in the life of every person of faith. If these habits and practices and skills haven’t already begun to be owned by the time college rolls around, it’s going to be a hard time for a student to pick them up. Although this article is aimed at Catholic students, the same ideas hold true for Christians of any stripe. Know who you are, where you’ve come from, where you’re going, who created and redeemed you, who abides with you constantly. Don’t expect to have an answer to every objection or criticism leveled at the Bible or the Church or your faith personally. But know that you’re likely to encounter objections and criticisms, or assumptions that you can continue to consider yourself a Christian if you don’t actually believe the Bible.

Reading Ramblings – August 15, 2021

August 8, 2021

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost ~ August 15, 2021

Texts: Proverbs 9:1-10; Psalm 34:12-22; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69

Context: Pastors are trained to interpret Biblical texts.  It ought to be a lifelong practice of not just personal reflection but also continued study in the art of exegesis, with reference to how others have interpreted the texts.  A combination of skills, spiritual giftings, intellectual aptitude, and practice all contribute to how a particular pastor reads a particular text or multiple texts together.  Often this is a very isolated process.  Working with others in the process is hugely beneficial but can be hard to arrange as exegesis towards sermon preparation is often assumed to be a very personal process.  This Sunday I’m preaching at another congregation and the pastor has provided a theme for the texts today, primarily based around St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians in the Epistle lesson.  The theme is one of time and making good use of time.  While verses 15-16 clearly articulate this theme, it was interesting to see how this theme of time might be linked to the other readings for today.  It’s a different process than I normally use, and it’s an interesting exercise for me!

Proverbs 9:1-10 – Several themes are recurrent through the book of Proverbs.  The overarching framing of a father passing on advice to his son is the major one.  Another is the personification of wisdom and foolishness/folly as two very different women.  Each offers themselves to the son in particular ways.  Wisdom’s offer is to share her wisdom – here further embedded in the metaphor of a feast.  Foolishness offers ease, pleasure, and ultimately destruction.  The son needs to choose judiciously which voice he listens to as the consequences can be far reaching.  In keeping with the theme of time, we are offered some advice as to how to share what wisdom we may have acquired with others.  Wasting time sharing wisdom with someone too foolish or arrogant to receive it is ultimately just that – a waste of our time.  Yet wisdom is revealed when someone else (or we ourselves) takes the wisdom of another to heart and benefits from it.  Finally, in our pluralistic age it is important to remember and affirm as followers of Christ that there is only one source of true wisdom and that is God the Creator of all things.  Any contrary wisdom is not wise at all but rather empty words, as Paul states in the Epistle reading.  We cannot hope to be truly wise apart from the God who Created us, died for us, and promises to indwell with us forever.

Psalm 34:12-22 – This psalm reads very much like a proverb!  Wisdom is not an assurance of long life and good days, but it certainly doesn’t hurt those goals!  Choosing the good rather than evil in both large and small ways leads toward a long and good life.  This is grounded in the understanding that there is a God and that God is very much present with us.  Our actions large and small do not go unnoticed.  While we rejoice in the forgiveness available in Jesus Christ through our repentance, to assume God doesn’t care about what we do is not simply ignorant but dangerous.  Little decisions and actions build and can easily lead us down roads we never would have anticipated initially, and those roads ultimately either lead towards salvation in Jesus Christ or eternal separation from the love of God.  God will deliver his faithful.  We take assurance in this when life reveals twists and turns and stumbles in the path we thought would be smooth and easy.  Our plans are not capable of delivering us from sin and death – only God is capable of that, and He has revealed his eagerness to do so in sending his Son to exchange his perfect and righteous life for our sinful and unholy ones. 

Ephesians 5:6-21 – Our time is limited.  Living in a time-obsessed culture we are told daily there are certain and definable ways to live long lives – to have as much time as possible.  What we eat, how we exercise, what habits we engage in – often these are discussed as though we are in control of how much time we have.  This is not the case.  This does not lead us towards ignoring the decisions we make as though they have no impact on us, but it does call us to remember where our ultimate faith and trust  lie – not in our own efforts individually or communally but only and always of the God who alone created, redeemed, and sanctifies us.  Those who follow Christ therefore use the time allotted to them wisely rather than foolishly, as the writer of Proverbs would agree with.  We make choices and engage in behaviors with an eye towards the eternal consequences, giving thanks to God for his wisdom and strength to strive after obedience to his good and perfect Word!

John 6:51-69 – The world focuses us on the here and now.  We are convinced through repetition that really, this life is all we have.  We cling to it at all costs, literally.  But Jesus’ words call us to the stark remembrance that our life here and now is only part of the story.  Ultimately apparently a very small part.  It occupies our attention at the risk of eclipsing the larger picture we are promised.  That may well be the essence of Paul’s description of the days as evil.  They blind and distract us to the reality these days are finite and limited.  But in Jesus we are promised eternity.  He brings us not just an improvement in the quality of our lives here and now, but rather eternal life.  As diligently as many people focus on what they eat and put into their bodies, followers of Jesus are to literally receive him into their bodies.  Lutherans would be quick to assert this is Sacramental language.  Jesus is not calling us to cannibalism but rather to trust in his promise that as we eat the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we are taking into ourselves his body and blood, and it is this union in faith and reality that lead us to eternal life, that prepare us and assure us for our bodily resurrection and entrance into eternal life in the presence of one another and our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier God. 

There are no other means towards this end. Science is working diligently on unraveling the mystery of our mortality and aging in an effort to slow or even eliminate these realities.  Genetic studies so far have determined that there is nothing in our DNA that indicates we have to die.  There is no gene for death that could simply be switched off.  At our most central identity, we are programmed for life, not death!  But it is life with God.  Life as his creatures in full acknowledgement and worship and obedience to their Creator.  Jesus promises us life, but not on our terms.  They are his terms because He is the means by which we access it.  Knowing this eternal timeframe should better inform how we spend the time we have here and now, prior to our death or his return!