in process

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yesterday I was eloquently reminded of the importance of embracing the process of growth through our participation in the divine nature in and through Christ. How certain qualities need to be growing from our faith. How we are accountable for this.

All too often we miss this through poor teaching, or lack of teaching. We tend to think according to what we’ve been taught (or because we’re not taught) that when we come to Christ for salvation, we have it. Or that we simply need a second blessing and maybe a number of second blessings. All such thoughts likely take in partial truths but fall short of the real truth of the matter.

The Apostle Peter in his second letter tells us something quite different. He challenges us, indeed presses us to realize we are in process, a process of growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that to be engaged in this process is absolutely necessary to our ongoing life in God through Christ. That in fact to fail to do so is to imperil us, even in the matter of our salvation. A careful reading of the entire letter will help make that clear.

The world talks about the grieving process, and there’s at least surely a lot of truth in it. People need to be allowed to work through it. And so it is true with us in Jesus. We too need to work through the process of being true disciples, bearing much fruit. We must be adding to our faith: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.

We can’t escape it: we’re works in process. The ongoing goal for us is continued growth. We can’t be content with yesterday or today’s gains, even though we should be thankful. We must go on. If we have the light needed from God we’ll see enough to know that. And God has a way of bringing in some really hard lessons through life, to get our attention. The more we embrace this process ourselves, the more likely we can do well, not only making our own calling and election sure, but our lives in and through Jesus truly making a difference in this world through helping others.

Scot McKnight on Jesus’ call to enter through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14)

It is not uncommon for Jesus to summon people to “enter” the kingdom of God. Note Mark 9:47; 10:15; 14:25 as well as Matthew5:19; 7:21; 8:11; 18:3. The most significant text of all these, and others could be listed, is Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Within the scope of the concluding summons to the Sermon, “enter” (the Greek word is eiserchomai) is used for both “life” and “kingdom.” The gravity of the summons is palpable: Jesus calls his followers to enter into the life of the kingdom in the here and now.

Everything hinges on the “gate,” the entrance to cities and temples. What does this mean? Some restrict “gate” to the ethical vision or commands of Jesus from 5:1 to 7:12, while others see Jesus himself along with his commands. Jesus is the gate in John 10:9, and he is calling people to follow him; his demands are entailed in relationship with Jesus. The Messianic Ethic creates the Ethic from Above.

There is one reason the gate is “narrow”: it is demanding discipleship. It is demanding because it contrasts with the wide gate that leads to a broad road in 7:13b and compares favorably with the “small” gate that leads to a narrow road in 7:14. The gate is narrow because it requires a person to turn from sin to follow Jesus, to do the will of God as taught by Jesus. It is narrow because it is the surpassing righteousness of 5:17-48, the deeper righteousness of 6:1-18, the single-minded righteousness of 6:19-34, and the wise way of life as seen in 7:1-11. In essence, the narrow gate is to follow Jesus by learning to live by the Jesus Creed and the Golden Rule (7:12). And the gate is narrow because of persecutions (5:11-12; 8:18-22; 10:17-25, 34-39; 24:9, 21, 29). Is it possible to walk the narrow road?

“As long as I recognize this road as the one I am commanded to walk, and try to walk it in fear of myself, it is truly impossible. But if I see Jesus Christ walking ahead of me, step by step, if I look only at him and follow him, step by step, then I will be protected on this path.”

Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary). The last quote: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 176.

prayer for the fourth Sunday in Pentecost

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

when in trouble (seen more from the perspective of the follower of Jesus)

Troubles are part of this life. We can say they take the form of trials in that we’re tried and hopefully not found wanting, as the saying goes. For followers of Jesus this does indeed have special meaning. Our goal is to be oriented as true followers, yes– those who believe and who also are committed to obey, to walk in the way of Jesus. We can think of troubles in two ways in relation to that. They can have the effect of somehow deterring us from the way as perhaps we take matters into our own hands and forget what our calling is. On the other hand God can use them in all sorts of ways to refine and shape us to be the people we ought to be. Indeed to help us be more faithful and walking more closely in the way of Jesus.

Of course when we’re in trouble we should pray (James 5:13; see also Psalm 50:15). What we need to avoid is the penchant we might have both to panic and as already mentioned above, take matters in our own hands. We need to learn the discipline of waiting on the Lord. In the same book we are told that we’re to count it all joy whenever we face any number of various trials since we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance (or perseverance). We’re to let endurance have its perfect work, so that we may become mature and complete, lacking nothing. James goes on to say that if any of us lacks wisdom we should ask God for it, and God who is generous will give it to us. And we’re to do so in faith, not doubting, which I take in context to mean not to think there may be another way out other than through the Lord (James 1:2-8). The wisdom we receive will help us know what to do and what not to do.

To be a follower of Jesus is to be those who seek to live in the way of the cross, close to Jesus and together with other disciples. We need all of scripture, and I’m thinking that particularly the book of Proverbs can be quite helpful in receiving wisdom from God for the problems we run up against. It would be a mistake to suppose otherwise. But we do need to major in what might be called the act of the Story of God in which we live along with the act in which Jesus lived. These two acts while different, are closely linked together: Jesus coming as Messiah to bring in the new covenant fulfilling the promises of God to Israel for the world, and where we live now, after Jesus’ ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on us, even as we live as Christ’s body participating in the power of his resurrection while still living in the way of the cross, the time of our humiliation in the present as our Lord’s was in the past.

And so we meet our troubles in the way of the Lord. Seeking in everything to follow, and to see those troubles draw us all the more closer to him.

 

trusting in God against the grain of our own understanding

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

If there’s one stronghold that can bind me perhaps more than anything, I would say in a certain sense the desire to figure out or think through issues, and particularly problems so that I can make good, informed, wise decisions can dog me and actually turn against me. A synonymous name for this in my case is worry.

This is the case once again of a good thing becoming bad, of a blessing becoming a curse. God has given us our minds, and God wants to give us wisdom and understanding, insight for living. There is a difference however between trusting in the insight God has given us, and trusting in God himself. That may be too subtle for us to figure out, but it can play out something like this: We prayerfully read up on something which we have to do and in spite of what decision we would make based on our own understanding, something like the Lord’s peace seems to lie in the other direction. Or having asked God for direction, we make a decision only to later sorely regret it because it goes against the grain of our own understanding.

This is indeed tricky territory, not easy to negotiate no matter what. The question ends up being are we going to rely on God when making decisions, or on our own reasoning? It is not like our mind is suspended. God works with and through our minds, and to some extent they are likely processing in most every situation. Yes, we often have to make the best decisions on many things great and small, hopefully all the while looking to God for wisdom and for his leading.

In the end we have to trust the outcome of everything into God’s hands. That is part of the whole. The Lord may help us see something down the road which may more or less alter our course. Our responsibility is to work at it, rest in the decision made, and remain open to more light, in all of this trusting in and submitting to God. We can be sure that at least our lives can become more in sync with God and God’s will in Christ through this.

All of this part of the way of wisdom for us in Jesus.

when tired

I am actually amazed at how refreshed I feel in the mornings and how even in the afternoons, I am not all that bad off, though we’re all glad to see the day come to an end. I think we all need times of extra rest through more sleep (“sleeping in”) or times away on vacation when we do as little as possible, except to simply enjoy.

I think too that the Lord’s life sustains us even in our physical existence. Actually God’s breath is the source for all human life, in fact all life period.

In what we call the spiritual life, we need the life breath of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were certainly alive with physical life when the Lord breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I take it that we are those through faith who live in that blessing in and through Jesus. While we live in the Spirit, it does not necessarily follow that we walk or keep in step with the Spirit. That is something we have to work on. But all of this is a strength to us in our weakness.

At the end of Isaiah 40 we are encouraged with these words:

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

This reminds me that I need to wait or hope in the Lord. That I need to keep looking to him no matter what. He is our strength, our song and our salvation.

the world needs a good shaking

On the one hand I’m surprised, but on the other hand surely not at the reticence or even antagonism many Americans along with those in the western world have over the teaching of God’s judgment. The way it has been presented many times isn’t even a parody of the way it actually is. Unfortunately we see everything through our worldview lens (as does everyone) which prizes above all things individual freedom and autonomy instead of communal submission and authority. And add to that our western, Augustinian theology in terms of original sin and judgment.  But in third world countries which don’t share in our liberal humanist modern tradition and are at least not as steeped in western theology there is indeed no problem here. This is understandable also because of the danger many face because of their faith. Evildoers too often wreak havoc on the innocent and the faith is often illegal and punishable with death.

It doesn’t take that perspective to understand that there is plenty that needs rearranging in the world as it is. Both personal and systemic evil are found everywhere, and although the justice system here is broken down and hardly does well, it is light years ahead of much of what goes on in the name of justice elsewhere in the world. Wars or rumors of wars along with genocides happen it seems oftentimes with little redress, not much in the way of consequences, and not soon enough if ever. And there then begins the drum beat of tit for tat, revenge being the goal indeed seemingly the lifeblood of those who have been wronged, evil on every side. Not that there shouldn’t be some form of justice, imperfect as it is brought on perpetrators.

But what is needed is final and complete justice. Paul referred to that in his sermon on Mars Hill in Athens:

[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

The promise of God is in terms of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. It is a kingdom not from this world, but indeed for this world. Heaven was created for earth and is destined to become one with earth when Jesus reappears and all things are made new as in new creation at the resurrection.

The best in the world now is not even a pale imitation of what is to come. But the world first must be judged. And that will be in terms of and through King Jesus himself. And then by Jesus’ death and resurrection, salvation will come. Yes, Jesus did suffer judgment on himself, but that will be turned around in judgment on the world which so judged him.

Then God will bring in what will finally be real and complete justice in terms of shalom. Human life and indeed all of creation will flourish. Wars will be no more.

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Can’t even we appreciate that? Yes, even if it is harder. The world needs a good shaking and the end in Jesus will be quite good indeed.

 

false prophets

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day,‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Jesus’ words should first of all, as Scot McKnight points out on his recent, excellent commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, probe our own lives. We need to ask ourselves before God the hard questions about ourselves and our life. Although we will surely fall short, is our life about loving God and others, about doing to others as we would have them do to us? Or is it about the great things we do, people simply nice in terms of numbers and our agenda or program?

False prophets can look good on the outside, but probably what Jesus is getting at is to check the fruit of their lives. And always in terms of the first and greatest commandment along with the second like it.

It is striking and noteworthy that Jesus’ words allow for people doing signs and wonders and yet never knowing the Lord whose name they invoked. Scary too, I might add. Key in the issue, as Scot McKnight points out is whether or not we do God’s will. And especially in terms of love for God and for others, including our enemies and with a special emphasis on helping the poor, those in need.

In all of this we have to be extra careful. Some yellow lights might go on in our minds when we see the life of another. But are we looking at our own lives? The passage should shine a light toward us, not just toward another. Jesus’ words are given to us so that we might have discernment in this area.

A helpful article related to this happens to come from the seasoned wisdom of Chuck Swindoll, the article entitled, “5 Signs of a Mean-Spirited Leader.” Probing questions for us all.

fighting the good fight of the faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

There are times when we become aware of the need to fight. Usually for me it is on a personal level in which the faith itself is not under attack, but my own faith in the faith. And that is never at least in recent years a head on to directly challenge the faith itself, but more like a broadside in which my faith is undermined and for all practical purposes seemingly made null and void.

That is when I have to take up what is happening as a challenge to fight. Of course it is a good fight in the Lord, not at all in terms of the world. But it is a fight, nonetheless.

I take whatever steps are necessary and good, and I seek to be in prayer. Such a challenge can suffocate prayer, taking the air out of attempts to pray. So we may do well not to try to all the sudden be prayer champions, praying hours on end and perhaps standing on our heads as we do so. Definitely not the latter, which could do harm to you physically, I was thinking of some of the strange things desert fathers and mothers may have done in the past, even though they were indeed extraordinary people of prayer. We need instead to utter prayers here and there, as frequently as we can. And we need to be still, as well. In other words we need to keep right on practicing the faith as best we can, perhaps with an emphasis and exclamation on it at this point.

We in Jesus need to hold on to faith, hope and love. These are indispensable. Of course we need everything else available to us in the Lord by the Spirit in this life. And that includes reading the psalms along with the rest of scripture. And I would like to emphasize the Sermon on the Mount. But from Genesis through Revelation we need it all.

All of the life in Jesus is about being in this fight for the faith, of course not at all a physical fight or warfare, but solely spiritual, played out in physical acts of love, not violence. Always the way of the cross. And so in that sense in Jesus we are soldiers so to speak, in it for the long haul to the end. And there are also those days, not just the present age which might be called the evil day, but certain days when this is acutely so. When we especially feel under attack. These might not be days, but more like times in a day, or times during a week, etc.

This is part and parcel of who we are in Christ and our life in the here and now.

 

Sharon Garlough Brown on paying attention to the Spirit of God, and the change that comes

“The spiritual life is all about paying attention,” said Katherine. “The Spirit of God is always speaking to us, but we need to slow down, stop, and give more than lip service to what God is saying. We need to get off autopilot and take time to look and listen with the eyes and ears of the heart.”

Katherine paused, letting the room fill again with pregnant silence.

“Now I’ll caution you right from the beginning,” she said slowly. “Walking the path toward freedom and deep transformation takes courage. It’s not easy. It’s not linear. It can seem messy and chaotic at times, and you’re likely to lose your sense of equilibrium as old things die and new things are born. You may feel disoriented as idols you once trusted and relied upon are revealed and removed. But don’t be afraid of the mess. The Holy Spirit is a faithful guide, gently shepherding and empowering us as we travel more deeply into the heart of God.”

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey, 51.

I made what is italicized by the author bold, since my current blog format automatically italicizes all quotes.