becoming like Jesus

Christianity is often seen as having as its goal simply getting to heaven. Something akin to what we see as the end in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In our culture it has often been a matter of simply praying a prayer, getting assurance of salvation, and hopefully growing from there.

But a Christian is one who is in Christ Jesus. And being in Christ means to be becoming like him. Like Jesus, no less. Paul said he wanted to be like Jesus even in Jesus’ death. A necessary part of becoming like him.

Of course it is the Spirit who transforms us from glory to glory into Christ’s resemblance. And God uses his word, as well as life to bring that to pass. In the community of Jesus, along with others in Jesus, in mission in and for the world.

Do we see Jesus in each other? Is Christ being formed in us individually and together? Those are key questions. I see Jesus clearly in people of our church, including those who adamantly oppose my political views. In spite of our differences, the bottom line in being a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. And the bottom line in that is that followers are to become more and more like their Masters.

If this is not true in us, then we need to pack it all up and go home. Christianity means nothing really, if we are not becoming more and more like Jesus. We are then missing the boat.

What is Jesus like? We see that in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And we read about it in the rest of scripture which both gives us what Jesus fulfills, and then how he fulfills it through the church.

That is my goal, in the impossibility of who I am with reference to this: to become more and more like Jesus himself. And that becoming is both an individual, personal endeavor, and a communal endeavor. We can’t become like Jesus on our own, yet it is we no less who are to be becoming like him.

Jesus himself promises to be with us in this endeavor as our loving Master, right beside us:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

review of Karen Zacharias’ “Hero Mama” or “after the flag has been folded”

Also entitled, After the Flag Has Been Folded with the slightly altered subtitle: A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost to War–and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together,  Hero Mama is a hard hitting, yet every day kind of memoir by Karen Spears Zacharias, who unflinchingly tells her story and the story of her family in the aftermath of her father’s tragic death serving in the military in Vietnam.

Karen doesn’t mince words, nor write a hagiography, or sanitized story. This book is not R rated, unless too much salty language would make it so. We have the look of an unedited telling of what happens to a family when their loving, strong, faithful father and husband is killed in war. It is an eye-opening account of the untold tragedy that war can bring on a family. And how God’s grace can make the difference in the end. Through many dangers, toils and snares, which seem to have the final say day after day and year after year.

As the title Hero Mama suggests, Karen clearly sees, and writes out the story of her mother as the hero. Her mother who in spite of all her weakness and sin, chooses to do what is best and good for the family. Becoming a registered nurse through grit and determination, God’s grace being at work to see her through so that the destruction of war did not have the final say. And her sacrifice–one example: not marrying because she did not think this one she loved would love her children–with a good ending.

Karen was only nine years of age, with a younger sister and older brother when her father, David Zacharias, by her accounts an exceptional father, husband, as well as military serviceman, gave his life in service for his country. The changing of the terrain after this earthquake threatened the heart and soul of this family.

The memoir honestly reminds me of the book of Judges in the Bible. The tale is not pretty over and over again. And Karen does not spare herself at all. Even after she comes to Christ, her story is all too true to life, though one can see God’s grace and preparation for what she is doing these days in her writing and active support of military families. Especially of those families who like hers lost their fathers, or loved ones.

If you want a nice story that leaves you feeling good, this is probably not the book for you. But if you want a truthful account of the tragedy war often brings, and one family’s grappling of it–albeit with a hopeful ending, then this is a good read. In fact a must read for people like me who little understand the effects of war firsthand, even though my father did serve in the Army in Germany in World War II.

What maybe I found most encouraging about the book is how a church in Columbus, Georgia did not write Karen off, in the midst of her sin after her profession of faith, even through the time when she had an abortion. And how God did not write this family off, who were “dysfunctional” in large part, ripped asunder at the loss they really never should get fully over. How in the end they make the best of things as they know how. How God preserved Karen for her husband and family to be, as well as her work in journalism and writing.

Karen also finds a kind of healing when she heads back to Vietnam where her father was killed, and when she works at getting to the real truth of what happened in his death. The courageous, loving, self-sacrificial heart of her father, who led his men well, and whose death would be the means of preventing future deaths.

I found the book compelling in a no spin kind of telling of the story in the way only Karen can do. With that telling, I certainly did grimace more than once. But then it reminds me well of my own story. It is hardly pretty if told warts and all, and yet God in his grace in Jesus is working in all things for good, the process continuing in my life.

I would like to read someday an ending memoir by Karen, reflecting on her life perhaps from the end of the book to that day. She has a way of telling stories that is a gift. And indeed the book is a gift to us, far more than I could write here. One we need in a day in which counting the cost is little understood, and even less practiced. But with an end through God’s grace in Jesus which can give us all hope.

Karen Spears Zacharias’ books
Karen Spears Zacharias’ blog

denying ourselves

Yesterday Pastor Jack Brown shared from God’s word that the cross is to be front and center for us as followers of Jesus. The whole message struck me, one aspect being how denying ourselves means to not know ourselves so to speak. When Peter denied Jesus just prior to the cross, he said he didn’t know him. Jack said it hit him once that in the same way when we deny ourselves, we don’t know ourselves.* Then Jack shared from scripture what our identification with Jesus and his cross means for us in this life.

Denying ourselves is not so much being taken up with the negation of self, but rather being taken up with Christ himself. So that our goal is Christ, no less. In anything and everything. Paul speaks to that when he wrote of pressing on toward the mark to win the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ. For him to live was Christ. Christ was his life.

I believe all of that is true, but there can seem quite a disconnect from that and my life. There are so many issues swirling around, that with them bring ongoing problems which just keep coming back. I may think I have a breakthrough in regard to some matter, or have arrived to a higher plateau in some area or in my life, only to find I am troubled over the same thing later, or I need to go farther (why should that have surprised me?), or I am not as far along as I think.

The answer lies in the reality by which I am to live. We in Jesus are dead in him through his death, and alive with him through his resurrection. Instead of drawing back and living as if this is not so, we’re to simply learn to live in what we are in Jesus. That means as followers of Jesus, our focus is more and more on him.

That we need to keep denying ourselves speaks to the tension of living in this already/not yet existence. We have a new identity and we’re on our way. But we haven’t arrived. We still fail in this life. But in the midst of that failure, God’s Spirit convicts us of sin, and we go on.

Like the disciples of old, and the church in this new reality together in Jesus, for the world.

*Or we deny that we know ourselves.

Christopher J. H. Wright on the church in God’s mission

It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission.

Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, 62, quoted from his book, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 24.

process long term

Often we get caught up in matters which have varying degrees of importance in themselves. Sometimes it’s a case of doing well versus doing better, which involves wisdom and discernment. Other times we can be hoodwinked into what seemed good at the time, but was not.

We can get so caught up in the fury and tyranny of the moment and urgent. And in that we can lose what is most important, and thus really lose the wisdom that is ours in Jesus. Yes, we don’t want to be taken for a ride, but if we are, then we in Jesus must take care not to abandon the way of Jesus.

We must learn to process long term. Which for us in Jesus means maturity in him, together becoming like him. We’ll make mistakes along the way as to the best decisions to be made in life. That is inevitable, and we should try to learn from that and do better.

But we must not lose sight of the goal in the end. It is no less than the new humanity in Jesus, which we are to be part and parcel with. And this is nothing less than the process and journey of a lifetime. Into more and more conformity to God’s will in Jesus, which is Jesus-like. As we look forward to the result of God’s good working in all things, in and through Jesus for us and through us for the world.

babying ourselves

As followers of Jesus, I think at times we contradict that following by babying ourselves. We are stubborn and hold our ground in areas in which the Lord wants to break and remake us in his image.

We do well to ask ourselves in what way we may be stunting our growth in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. What sin may be keeping us back.

The key and the goal is Jesus himself by the Spirit, who leads us into conformity to him in all things. Together in Jesus for the world.

pressure

Pressure is a part of life. Sometimes to the breaking point it seems, though when that happens new wisdom and strength can accompany it. I often can live in a kind of chronic, low grade pressure cooker, which doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in me at times, but the marination in the long run is good hopefully, making us more like Jesus, and more like Jesus in his death.

It’s when the big pressures come that hopefully the work from the chronic pressure becomes evident in us in that we find ourselves more like Jesus than we could have imagined. Though in my own life I can be such a mixed bag. Grumbling with salty language to myself (or to my wife), but then convicted and repentant, and growing more from it.

Pressure is most certainly a part of life which is inescapable. We do well to seek to live under it, and out of it- in and through Jesus. Learning more and more to rely on God in and through Jesus. In and out of the pressures of this life.

love bears all things

What are we Christians known for? A good question. There are the quick to the surface answers, which people have in mind when they think of us, particularly evangelical Christians (as I am) here in the United States. And hopefully there would be different answers with more thoughtful reflection beyond the surface.

What was Jesus known for? I think for his love which was rooted in his relationship to the Father, demonstrated in deeds and words. And remaining true through humble everyday activity, a mission with disciples who more often than not didn’t get it, to the cross in which all hell seemed to break loose (and surely did) on Jesus.

What are we known for? A patient, enduring, even sometimes exuberant love in the face of difficulty and opposition?

“Love bears all things.” What motivates us to follow Jesus and continue on that path? Faith, hope and love. Love being the greatest. A love which is personal, communal,  that gives and receives, on mission, serving, that is true in the Truth who is Jesus.

When I start to complain about circumstance, or to grumble about others, there needs to come this word to me in Jesus anew and afresh: “Love bears all things.” Love in and through Jesus. Love in the way of Jesus. Love which we are to receive in and through God’s grace in Jesus- sometimes, even often from others, and love which we are to give as freely as we received it.

What we should be known for, what should characterize our lives as followers of Jesus? Love. A love which bears all things to the end. As we seek to follow the one who lived out this love, and continues to do so in and through us, by the Spirit. For and with each other in Jesus in mission to and for the world.

tough

It is tough when one looks at the world from the Christian point of view. Even when one looks at the church, for that matter. Do we begin to live up to the truth claims that we make? Or do we do so very well? Are we growing in that?

Our claim is exclusive, although how we in Jesus view that as to how it works out in the end for those who haven’t heard the good news, or even have, varies. We all hold to the truth of Jesus’ words: ““I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

C.S. Lewis in one of his stories suggested that people may come to Jesus without knowing his real name. Maybe under a different name within a different faith. Then there are missionaries who find a people prepared for the gospel message through ancestors who had received a message or story which prepared their descendants to accept the good news of Jesus.

I have to hold to what scripture says. While at the same time believing that scripture tells us all God has determined we should know in terms of that inscripturated word.

Is God merciful? Yes. I have my own private thoughts and provisional beliefs which I can’t hold in the same way with what I believe to be clear from scripture, though I do tentatively lean toward them.

But when we do have private thoughts we need to check to see whether or not they undermine what is clear in scripture. For example if my thoughts make me lose urgency in sharing the good news in Jesus, then I am amiss. Or if I think I have to share the good news with everyone and do so only out of a sense of duty, then I again am mistaken. In other words, whatever our private thoughts or hopes, we in Jesus must seek to be faithful to what is clear in God’s revelation in scripture and in Jesus.

The message of the cross will be an offense and stumbling block to the world. And the claims of Jesus as Lord cross out the allegiance often demanded of rulers and governments. Although to some extent now, Jesus in his Lordship has us submit in large measure to such powers as long as they don’t command us in ways that are opposed to God’s word to us.

The big question in this is whether or not we’re seeking to follow Jesus. To live in the way of Jesus. In a world just as incredulous to that as when Jesus fully lived this out on earth. With the difference that the Spirit is now poured out on us, so that we might live out, witness to, and proclaim this good news everywhere. Seeking to persuade as well as plant seed, while we await God’s good ending in and through Jesus.