being thoughtful

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

At first glance and perhaps first thought, practicing Jesus’ words here seems more or less easy. But on further thought it really isn’t. We can start on a surface level, for example simply being courteous to others, I think of strangers here, without being imposing. Even this attempt is as subjective as the understanding each person might have of it within many cultural influences.

But then we consider all of Jesus’ words, that somehow fulfilling such a rule sums up all the Law and the Prophets. Only a superficial reading of this might suppose that we can simply fulfill that by doing what we think is best. We certainly do have to make judgments all the time in life. The question here is whether or not we’re sufficiently steeped in scripture, what has been given to us by the Spirit, so that we can make a well informed judgment on what we really might want others to do to us, so that we can know what we should do to others. That is only the beginning of all the complexity inherent. What we need is wisdom. Something beyond ourselves, given to us from God in and through Jesus by the Spirit. But let’s not despise the small seemingly insignificant steps along the way in attempting to carry this out.

obedience to a command

We evangelicals influenced by the Protestant Reformation, and specifically Martin Luther’s contribution to that (brilliant, yet flawed some would say) are often practically allergic to such words as work, works and obedience. Sola gracia is the Protestant Reformation cry (along with other solas) meaning grace only, and it is true, and actually believed in all Christian traditions, though in emphasizing it at a certain point, Protestant churches were addressing error (at least perceived and surely oftentimes practiced) in the church. So that in some of the Protestant understanding, particularly under Luther’s influence, works are looked at with grave suspicion, especially a faith or tradition which would emphasize them.

But a plain reading of scripture would seem to suggest otherwise. Jesus’ talk on obeying his commands in his Last Supper or Farewell Discourse emphasizes the importance of command keeping. Just as he obeyed the Father’s commands, so we as his disciples are to obey his commands. Over and over again in scripture, yes in the New Testament we have imperatives, or words given to us in the imperative mood. They are not suggestions, but commands. We could say they are loving imperatives from a Father, just as I used to like to say. And maybe that expression still has its place at times. But I’m afraid such a thought might blunt the edge off what they actually are pure and simple: commands. Psalm 119 is rich in its teaching on commands and their centrality to God’s people. And now we as the enlarged Israel in Jesus the Messiah are in that line, so that we want to set our heart and our lives on the path of God’s commands. In other words, even though in weakness and sin we will fall short, we want to be among those who live in obedience to the commands found in God’s word, particularly in the new covenant. In growing in doing so, we will find more and more freedom as we leave the ways of the old life, even our own ways behind us.

the discernment that comes from love

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

There are many times when something seems like the right thing to do at the time, or probably more accurately what we’re moved to want to do. We have some impulse, and probably on some level it is justified. But what we’re about ready to do, or actually do, is not as helpful for the situation as we might think, mostly in terms of wisdom. The passage quoted above probably has to do with the character being formed, namely our own. Not only might our words or actions do damage to someone, or the people around us. It doesn’t contribute well to the character being formed, namely, our own maturation into the image and likeness of Christ.

Discerning what is best is in the context of love, so that the issue is having more than just head knowledge, so that one can say or do what is “right.” But it’s a knowledge steeped in love, specifically a love that is rooted in God, in Christ. Perhaps the most important beginning point to take home here is that it’s a knowledge or action (including inaction) which is shaped by love, the love of God in Jesus. The Spirit certainly figures into this, since we live by the Spirit, but the text focuses on our maturation in Christ.

And so I want to grow more and more in this way. Living in God’s love in Jesus above anything else. And living out of that love so that I become more and more like him along with others.

the ongoing tension of the already/not yet

We all long for something better, although as C. S. Lewis pointed out, we’re all too ready to settle for a second best, which is at best only a hint of the life we are meant for. I think my biggest challenge along this line is simply the reality of the already/not yet across the board. That would include me along with the rest of reality.

In the already, Jesus has come and God’s grace and kingdom in him. We catch glimpses of that grace and glory and at times bask in it, hopefully a bit here and there each day, sometimes in special ways perhaps during a vacation or prolonged quiet time with the Lord. Or even unexpectedly while living in the warp and woof of everyday life. God is present in Jesus. But we know that sense and experience, at least for most of us, certainly for me, comes and goes.

In the not yet, we long for the fulfillment and completion of what has begun in us, indeed what has begun on earth through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The making of all things new, judging that which is wrong and bringing in full salvation. Yes, through Jesus, through his death and resurrection all things will be made new, “the world put to rights,” and we certainly by faith are given that living hope, which doesn’t die just because it has yet to be realized. Being a hope, as it says in scripture, means it is something we look forward to. So that even while enduring some of the worst storms of this life we carry within ourselves by the Spirit that something more which will come to full fruition when Jesus returns. A something more not only for us, but for the entire world.

And so, this is where I live day after day. Knowing I haven’t arrived and sometimes struggling in that realization and reality. Even as I also live in the reality to come by the Spirit, yes, even what God has prepared for those who love him, the beginning of that given to us even now in this life in and through Jesus.

the sin of the church

I think it might have been from N. T. Wright, but recently I heard (or read) something on what would stand out to the Apostle Paul about the church today. And the answer was the disunity of the church. He would be struck by all the divisions within the church, within Christianity. It’s not like he didn’t have to struggle with that propensity amongst churches and Christians in his day. The sin of the church one might say today is simply how we divide ourselves from each other.

In some cases the division is over doctrinal differences, such as infant baptism versus believer’s baptism and much more. In other cases, actually closely related to doctrine, there are differences in practice. Some churches require certain kinds of dress and the following of certain rules, some do’s and maybe a good number of don’ts. Such could be written or simply understood.

What is the answer? Of course it would depend on which group, church, or church leader you were talking to. And although their answers might be fairly predictable, we might be in for some surprises here and there. Of course Jesus is the head of the church. He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep and God has appointed under him undershepherds to be pastors and take care of the flock, God’s people.

I have no easy answers, except the general answer to unite when we can. Specifically on levels in which society is prone to divide, such as racial along with economic differences. The church needs to be moving toward the answer of what’s lacking and needed in society at large. People of different cultures and backgrounds living together, and the church taking care of its own, so that the poor are looked after.

In recent decades there has been a push to get back to the origins, something more of the roots within the tradition of Christianity. Along with that there has been a plethora, indeed more and more good Biblical scholarship which takes scripture seriously both within and at least largely compatible to that tradition. Of course the appeal to scripture must always come first within good Christian tradition. But how the Holy Spirit has led the church over the years, and particularly trying to understand how that happened in the early centuries is important, I would think, in laying the ground for a unity into which we could all settle.

The goal might be in the words of C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity.” We try not to invent a thing, but be faithful to the trust God has given us in the gospel and in the scriptures, centered in Jesus Christ. From that we can and need to be innovative in what our witness looks like. How the Spirit leads us to embody the gospel in a specific time and culture. That is ongoing. While certain basics remain the same.

And to move closer to the unity to which we’re called, we’re going to have to apply plenty of grace to accommodate differences, insofar as that’s possible. When it doesn’t seem possible, or we’ve reached some impasse, we then need to appreciate the unity in the Lord and in the faith that we do have, living as closely together within that as possible.

There are no easy answers, but this is a goal to which we should be headed within the one faith that is ours together in our Lord Jesus.

eyes on the mark

Jesus talked about having a healthy eye, one completed devoted to God and God’s kingdom come in him. One that has seen that treasure and won’t take their eye off that goal. Or off the mark. And healthy implies generous, as opposed to unhealthy which would imply stingy. Which in the context of Jesus’ teaching would mean a giving heart, and especially to the poor, to those in need.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Along the way there are traps set or lures come to get our eyes off the mark. The mark is actually Jesus himself, the kingdom of God come and present in him with all that means for us and for the world. As we press on with that as our goal, we become more and more like Jesus over time. Of course that implies and involves a whole lot of things. Adherence to scripture and to the church, both, not one or the other. Responsiveness to God through Jesus in our personal lives. The writer to the Hebrews after recounting people of faith from the old covenant era points us to Jesus:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

And Paul expresses something of the same here:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Come what may, this must be our mindset, this must be our goal.

little things

Life consists largely of a lot of little things which together make up life itself. This is surely true on a number of levels. What I’m thinking about is life in terms of how it’s to be lived. Little things can make or break you.

God’s kingdom come in King Jesus in his incarnation, life and teachings, death and resurrection, ascension with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with his promise of returning for final judgment and salvation when all things are made new when heaven and earth become one in the new creation, this is the heart and heartbeat of life for all followers of Jesus. We are taken up into Jesus so that we are one with him, and in so being are taken up into the life of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, yes, in this life.

So much can change and so much difference made on just a small turn. Not saying or doing just anything that pops into our heads in response to perceived mistakes and errors is a good place to start. Rather, being still, praying, asking questions. And not jumping to conclusions. Maybe just letting the matter go. Small, but what a difference that can make. Or saying and doing something simple, and thoughtful in expressing good that can help encourage and strengthen someone else. It may be small in appearance, and may seem not to amount to much, but it may make all the difference in the world.

Little things. Both in what we do (and don’t do) in fellowship with others, and how we conduct our own lives. They may seem small, but if we keep after those things, confessing our shortcomings when they happen, and continuing on. So that over time they become a habit of life, even the habit of our lives, that can mean a changed life in and through Jesus.

when hope seems lost

Of course there’s the living hope we in Jesus have through his resurrection from the dead. That hope remains come what may. But sometimes our hope for other things which are important may seem all but dashed to the ground. Or may appear far fetched at best. But that is when we need to draw upon God’s power and promises to us in Christ and carry on. Of course with much prayer for God’s intervention and working in the matter at hand.

Just a glance at scripture will lend plenty of support in this direction (uses of Abram and Abraham from the NIV). The account in Genesis of Abraham’s life, recounted by Paul (and elsewhere) gives us ample food both for thought and direction. Abraham was up against it time and again. If there ever was a person who had plenty of reason to doubt God and God’s promises, it was Abraham. And yet, not without mistakes, but in general Abraham carried on without wavering in his faith, giving glory to God.

We may be proceeding unsure of how some things may turn out. In fact some possibilities may seem bleak at best. But we can be certain that God’s general promise in Jesus consisting of a number of specific promises will indeed be fulfilled. And with that hope we can carry on. Learning more and more to trust in God with all our heart while not relying on our own understanding of things. Believing that in all things God will work for good in and through Christ. So that even if specific matters don’t turn out as hoped, in the end God’s good will will still prevail.

Job’s struggle

Job is a book comprised of quite a few words from Job himself in the midst of his great struggle. His seven children were gone, he was racked from head to toe with a miserable disease, and his wealth by and large a thing of the past. And his wife had told him that he should curse God and die. About as bad as it can possibly get.

One might think that Job would have done better to simply be mute before God, to be still and know that God is God. To be in silence before him. Of course there was seven days of silence at the beginning during his suffering, his three friends included in that silence. We could well argue that they would have done better to remain silence, and what God says in the end supports that. But scripture even quotes some of what they say for teaching, because even though they were wrong in their application, some of what they said was indeed right. And from Job himself we have memorable words that we hold on to, even though in the end God has to rebuke Job for darkening God’s counsel in speaking words without knowledge.

Yes, we often have to work through our struggles. Struggle is inevitable, although some of it may be ongoing before the needed breakthrough occurs. Indeed some of that struggle may be needed so that God can teach us through circumstances, or before we finally come to the end of our own resources and begin to better live out God’s word. God helps us as we set our minds, hearts and will on doing his will in Jesus. In the end God does not promise Job restoration. The breakthrough for Job came when he understood that God is God even in regard to his experience. That if God’s greatness in creation indicates that his ways are beyond Job, that includes God’s ways in the experience Job was going through, as horrific as it was. And so let us not despise our own struggle, even as we look to God and his promise to us in Jesus.