be yourself in the Lord

…what is that to you? You must follow me.

John 21:22b

There’s only one “straight (small) and narrow” (Matthew 7:13-14) for sure, just as there’s only one Lord, Jesus. We all are on level ground at the foot of the cross. God loves us all, and had shown that through God’s self-sacrificial death in the Son, Jesus. We’re all the same that way.

But we’re all also different. Contemporary worship music might be your choice, medieval or renaissance chants someone else’s, classical music another’s. Some of us might prefer a get away in the beauty of nature, while others enjoy the activity of a bustling city.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be challenged by someone else in ways that can be helpful to us for change. We should always be open to whatever the Lord might want to tell us through someone else. This is part of the essential beauty of being church together. But we also need our space to simply be ourselves, the person we are and are becoming in the Lord.

This means we not only accept this freedom ourselves, but grant it to others, wherever they might be in their spiritual journey and development. God is the judge in the end. We are witnesses who want to share the difference the Lord and the gospel is making in our own lives. But each of us is as different as the endless number of snowflakes, or clouds in the sky. There’s a beauty in that, because God will reveal himself through my sister or brother in Jesus, in a way different than he will reveal himself through my life.

It is easy to believe this when we think of some people, gregarious and outgoing, maybe life of the party types. But what about those who are quiet, reserved, maybe reclusive? That’s me, actually. Yes, I can appear to be outgoing when need be. But I prefer quiet, well– with classical music in the background, being thoughtful in the word (Scripture) or in a good book.

We just need to be ourselves in Jesus. That is where God meets us. Not to make us to be like everyone or anyone else, but to help us become who he created us uniquely to be. In and through Jesus.

God’s grace received where we’re at

It’s more complicated than that: right? Yes it is. One has to get serious about sins in one’s life which actually violate love for God and for human beings, as well as respect for God’s creation. And yet scripture makes it clear that in and of ourselves, we can’t fix the problem. And yet we’re called to be grieved over it, but not just because of it’s destructive effect on others, as well as on ourselves, but bottom line, because it’s against our Creator.

Sometimes I have been nailed down in defeat, perhaps in part due to a condemning finger pointing at me from the enemy in an actually confusing, unclear way, but strong and relentless, just the same. Or perhaps there is a sense in which I’m undergoing God’s disciplining love over attitudes that I know aren’t right, but seem to have me in their grip, sin seeming to be a power over me at the time, which won’t let go.

It is good, even important to pray to God during such times, to grieve, mourn and wail, as James puts it, as we seek to cleanse our hands (acts) and purify our hearts (attitudes). Even to confess our faults to one another, and pray for each other, so that we might be healed (James 5).

In the end it’s only God’s grace which will prevail in our lives, and make the difference needed. God certainly accepts us where we’re at, but just as certainly, God won’t leave us there. And we have to leave the convicting work of the Spirit in God’s hands, as well as the final judgment of everything. Paul refused to even judge himself, much less someone else. That’s not at all talking about dealing with sin along the way, but probably referring to the final judgment to come, when God will make known all our hidden motives. But along with that thankfully is God’s grace in Christ, so that God does indeed convict and convince us of our sin, so we can confess such sin to God, and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. And go on, not at all competent or confident in ourselves, but trusting in God, and God’s promise to us to always meet us where we’re at as we seek to come near to him, in and through Jesus.

accepting one another, living in grace

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15:7

There is nothing quite like a genuine acceptance of each other in Christ because of grace. And there is nothing quite so stifling and cold as when we refuse to do that, or do it with strings attached.

Everyone alive has their issues. No one has arrived, of course. And we all have our particular struggles, not to mention our blind spots. We are all in process. And in the passage quoted above, it is in the section in Romans 14 and 15 about disputable matters in which Christians can differ. In the context of that day with reference to what was actually clean and unclean in terms of the new covenant replacing the old. And it’s a bit complicated.

But fast forward to where we live today, and it can be in terms of all kinds of things, but at the heart of it is an attitude of judging someone else, so that we hold them at arm’s length, and likely see them somehow as inferior to ourselves, either in their character, or in their faith.

What we need is quite the opposite. If we focus on what’s negative about ourselves or others, then we will likely miss what God is actually doing. And the well is poisoned. Instead we need to accept both ourselves, and each other, just as God in and through Christ accepts us. So that we can be open to the goodness of what God is doing even in us, as well as our brother and sister in Christ. And so we can be hopeful of God’s movement of grace in others.

The only way we can live and go on well ourselves. And something we must apply in our attitude to others as well, in and through Jesus.

the dignity and destiny of all peoples

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign[b] on the earth.”

Revelation 5

As we draw near to the day on which we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in light of the present time, we do well again and again to reflect on the dignity and destiny of all of God’s created children.

That means we need to accept and learn to appreciate every culture. We might not celebrate or live out life like others do, but we need to see their strengths and our weaknesses. We need to look for and find the good in their way of life, and the not so good in our way. And we need to learn from them, and be open to appreciate ways in which God’s image is uniquely reflected in them.

We enslaved peoples from the African nations, on what pretext, I don’t know. Just because we could. And supposedly good people stood by, and ended up even participating, maybe trying to put a human face on this inhumane evil. And even the church stood by, either saying nothing, or at times, even justifying it.

And to this day there are people who see dark skinned people as somehow inferior. Today we have the scourge and lie of white nationalism. As if somehow we who are white are better, as if God created us a notch above the others. And in fact some have even argued that certain “races” (there is actually only one: the human race) are subhuman.

God’s word gives the lie to all of that in the truth that all whom God has created, God intends to redeem into the new creation. That all humans are made in God’s image. And that such are going to reign on earth.

What does all of this mean for us now? And especially where I live in the United States of America? I’m sure it means quite a lot, but from my perspective, I’ll name two. It means we need to live differently right where the rubber meets the road, in our relationships with others. That we need to go out of our way not to judge what ought not to be judged. One example from my own life: I am a worker, and while I can relate to people, I am a down to business person, who doesn’t like to “waste time.” But I notice that people from other ethnicities like to spend more time and visit, which for me cuts into the time during which I should be working. I leave room, and actually want to make room for such times when I can, but work itself is the priority.

I can learn from others to stop here and there, and appreciate the other. While also noting that these people work just as hard, and do just as well on that end, in fact they might make some contributions to the work itself which helps us do better. In other words, I need to see everything in its entirety and put the best case on everything, even if I may not be able to see it at the time.

For us, this means we have a learning, and more precisely a growing curve. The point I’m making here is that we need to stop putting others down, just because we don’t live the way they do. We need to ask what God’s values are. They have to put up with us, with our blind spots, and how often we put work over people and relationships. I’m sure work was important to Jesus. But never at the expense of relationships for sure.

My other point would be the church itself. How are we doing in showing the world the dignity and destiny, indeed, the beauty of all humanity? I wonder. Overall, with some exceptions I don’t think we’re doing all that well. There are white churches, black churches, and then other churches of other ethnicities right in the same city. And to some extent that’s understandable, and we’re not to force the issue, but be in prayer over it. But especially us white folks need to take it on ourselves, considering history, to purposefully open the door for a multiracial witness. That would mean taking people of other ethnicities onto the pastoral staff, and into the leadership of the church.

This is a part of our witness to the truth and reality and power of the good news in Jesus. In which we’re to live, and be committed to. Accepting others fully, just as God in and through Christ fully accepted us.

accepting one’s lot

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

It probably has taken me quite a while, but I think I’ve finally come around to begin to completely accept my lot in life with all the challenges and disappointments that come along my way. Life is like that; it is not some kind of dream vacation. Rather it is the hum-drum of challenge, effort, setback, failure at times, more effort, repentance all along the way, and remaining at it day after day.

And then there’s all the good that comes, if we could just see it. Wrapped up in the gifts God gives us, like the good wife I have, the grandchildren, the good I see in our daughter, the provisions God gives us to live and enjoy life.

Yes, in my case I would have liked to have been a pastor or teacher, but it didn’t pan out for this reason or that. I still maybe have some faint glimmers of dreaming about what I would like to see in whatever more days God allots to me. But above all, I want to more and more not only accept, but embrace whatever God gives me, and whatever place I find myself in. Knowing that God is good and that he will provide and help us as we seek to help others and be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

hanging in there with each other

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good,to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15

Weak and strong have to do with the changes that were taking place with the coming of the new covenant in which many rules, even the schema of the old covenant, was being put aside since the fulfillment of it in Christ and through his death, had already come. It was not an easy time, a time of change. It was not like Christians at that time had to put all the old practices aside. But they had to accept the new reality that other Christians were not going to practice them, and would still be completely accepted by God, so that they too would need to accept them. They were the majority at first, but in a matter of a relatively short time would become the minority as more and more Gentiles would come to the faith.

We can apply this passage in a looser sense with strong and weak perhaps signifying scruples and religious practices. What might be out of bounds for some, might not be any problem for others. Of course I’m not talking about out and out sin, but rather things that might lead some, the “weak” into sin. What might not be a problem for me might be an occasion of stumbling for them, so that I won’t be acting in love if I flaunt my freedom in their presence.

Also I need to be careful not to judge others on things which in themselves are not sin, covered by God’s grace. I might possibly be termed as “weak” in those situations. God looks at the heart. Some practice might be better than others, and maybe it doesn’t matter. But oftentimes what we know is best for us, or what we’re accustomed to, we impose on others, and judge them according to those standards. Which might in fact not be helpful to them, even if they might possibly learn something from our own practice.

We must accept one another fully, even as Christ has fully accepted us, that we together might bring glory to God. A big part of that is simply learning to get along well with our differences, some of that contrast perhaps being uncomfortable to us like the sound of chalk on a blackboard. For this to happen, we need to pray, and be open to the work of the Spirit in drawing us together in harmony, so that in that, we might bring praise together to God. Getting along with each other is a high priority to God. And the essence of what it means to be “in Christ.” Of course as those who are seeking to live in the grace and truth of our Lord. In and through Jesus.

being yourself

Like so many other subjects, this subject is subject to abuse and error. We are all sinners, and therefore we are all prone to sin, which is part of “being ourselves” as sinners. This post is not condoning that. It is in God’s grace in Jesus in our brokenness and incompleteness that we need to accept ourselves where we are as we are. In that grace, of course, is God’s work in Christ by the Spirit to make us whole and restored in the image of the Creator, inside and out.

We can only be what we are both in creation, and then in new creation in Jesus. And the new creation work especially is a work in progress. I am not excusing sin, either way. Sin as described in scripture is actually that which deviates from true humanity, humanity as it should be. God sets the definition for that. This is not a suggestion to “pull one’s self up by one’s bootstraps,” and get victory over sin or what is wrong by self-effort. Such reformation or change is not at all the same as the new creation change that only God can bring through Jesus. Not that such change may not have value on some level, say a “natural” level. But it has no value at all with reference to the kingdom of God in Jesus.

I often find that I wish I could do what so-and-so does the way they do it. I wish I could undo some of my past. I wish I was different in this way or that. Some of my desires are good. But much of it is simply amiss. I can learn from others. But even then, what good I may be able to take from their lives and work into mine will come out different. And actually that’s the way it should be.

We are all different personalities with different backgrounds and experiences. We all have our weaknesses and strengths. When all is said and done we each have our niche to fill, humble though it may be. All good on every level is a gift from God, and we do well to simply seek to do well in what we are and in what we are becoming in Jesus.

Of course this means change. This thought is not static, but dynamic through the Spirit in the new creation in Jesus. But it also means acceptance of our place and part. Of who we are and are becoming in Jesus. Necessarily together with others in Jesus for the world.