keeping your eye on Christ means what?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

We’re told in Hebrews to keep our eye on Christ as we run the race set before us. The thought quoted above is that Jesus is the pioneer as well as perfecter of faith, I think as much in setting us an example as in helping us in the way Christ opened. For many of us this amounts to our own spiritual growth and witness to others, and that pretty much sums it up. But considering the context of Hebrews 11 and the witnesses of faith there, of course culminated and we can say completed in Christ and Christ’s example for us, I think there’s much much more.

In the way of the cross, the way of love, we have much to do in what we’re supposed to be and what we actually are, yes, in this life. Often I hear and read the thought that we’re not to look at the things that are visible, but what is not seen (Paul) and that we’re to set our heart on heavenly things, not earthly things (again, Paul), as if all that matters is heaven someday for ourselves and everyone else, and this world, its problems and tragedies are secondary, and hardly worth considering, certainly not worth dwelling on in comparison to the big call. Many of you will recognize that given the passages from Paul, that’s a misreading of him.

I dare say that this flies in the face of the biblical witness, of God’s love and what that amounts to and means for us, and not the least- the callings we can find even perhaps beyond the humdrum job we feel stuck with, callings not only in but for this life. We need to be about finding God’s will and living in that will fully, a will that will be for the temporal as well as eternal good of others in the love of God and neighbor. And yes, definitely within that witness will be the sign and hope of a better world to come when at long last all conflict and war will cease and all people will flourish in community together as sisters and brothers, one family of God.

the voluntariness of faith

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20

Within Christendom it was a given that all citizens of the state were members of the church as well, so that everyone underwent infant baptism. In Post-Christendom, while many still undergo that rite, it is no longer required nor assumed. While one can make a case from scripture for infant baptism, we find over and over again in the witness of the New Testament, particularly in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with Acts that faith carries with it a voluntary aspect.

We choose to become followers of Christ. It is a choice on our part. Though Jesus did tell his disciples that they had not chosen him, but that he had chosen them to bear much fruit, how that works out is a response in which each person not only receives but accepts such a calling. It’s a choice we must make, not simply something we’re born into.

There’s certainly a beginning to this as we see in the case in the scripture quoted above. But it’s also ongoing. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year we continue to choose to follow Jesus. An individual, yes autonomous choice. But a commitment into community as followers of Christ, committed together and in this commitment to Christ, to each other as well. In and through Jesus.

settling down into one’s place

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

1 Corinthians 12:7

In Christ’s body on earth each member has a vital part. We in Christ after all are each and every one a part of the one body of whom Christ is the head. Although this is metaphorical, by the Spirit it’s every bit as real as the fact that we take by faith, that the human (who is also fully divine), the resurrected, ascended Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the place of ultimate authority and power.

Because of all of this, we can be sure that in the way of Christ, but only in the way of Christ, God’s work will be done in this world, as each of us settles down into our own place, fulfilling the calling we have from God through Christ by the Spirit.

This is in terms of the one body in Christ both for its own edification and for its working as a blessing in the world. We each have our part. It may seem too simple, and we might wish we had another part. But it’s crucial even for our own good as well as for the good of all to simply find our part, our place, and settle into that. It will be every bit as touched by God through Christ by the Spirit as anyone else’s gift.

As we continue on in this time and place. In and through Jesus.

stay put (but keep moving)

After this [Jesus] said to [Peter], “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”

John 21:19b-22

I think that we often not only compare ourselves to others, but we also think we need to do such and such to succeed or do well in whatever endeavor we’re pursuing. And that includes fulfilling our calling. Actually every endeavor we’re in should somehow be related to calling. What we’re supposed to do for one reason or another. Part of that calling is intentional times of relaxation, rest, and even recreation.

Peter had just been restored and reinstated by the Lord, but did what we’re all prone to do, he possibly wanted to compare himself and his position with the “beloved disciple” which we take clearly to refer to John. There may have been a human closeness to Jesus that was unique to John, I’m not sure we can tell by the text. John certainly felt loved by the Lord, or at least a strong sense of that, or we could gather that from the text as well. I don’t believe for a moment that Jesus loves one of us more than the other.

What are we supposed to be doing? Where is our attention to be turned to? It’s not at all about succeeding, or meeting some goal. It’s about one thing and one thing only. Following the Lord.

It might seem too simple, even simplistic, but we need to remain where we are, stay put, not try to be where someone else is, or in some space by which we think we’ll do well. This is strictly about our own personal walk, which certainly in significant part involves “life together” in community in Jesus. But we need to tend to ourselves. The Lord has a part for us to play in the whole. But it’s up to each one of us to follow him. We stay on track and often need to get back on track by simply following as we’re supposed to follow. The Lord is leading and teaching each of us uniquely according to our need and God’s will.

Something I need to keep reminding myself. In and through Jesus.

complete your call

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:1-3

And say to Archippus, “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:17

Archippus I’m guessing was likely a leader in the church, at least considered a fellow soldier with Paul in the spiritual battle in which we’re in. He may have been nearing the end of his life, although we don’t know. The word given to him by Paul at almost the very end of the letter to the Colossians can apply to us at different ages, and I think refers to the sense of calling God puts in each one of us. What brings us life and passion? That likely is what God has instilled in us for the service of the gospel, or for the good of humanity. And as believers, we all have our gift and calling that goes with that gift within the church.

We best work hard to both figure out what that calling is, and stay true to it, work hard at both. To finish it, yes, complete the work God has called and is calling us to do. We each have our task whatever it is, and since it’s from God, it’s never mundane or secondary. It fits in with the whole of what God is doing. We need to do our part and get it done. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

faith is found in daily life

It is always good to get some rest from the normal wear and tear. Jesus seemed to practice this regularly with his disciples though at times it seemed hard for them to come by.

Although I’m not altogether fond of the monastic notion since it seems like “laypeople” might be regulated to a secondary status as far as holiness is concerned, I will say that the monastics are far from being inactive. They may especially be punctual at religious activities such as reading scripture and prayers along with chants together. But they are also known for work in productive activities not just for them or the church, but for the community.

Faith is found in daily life, and in all the responsibilities of life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed in a “worldly holiness” by which he meant a holiness derived from God in the midst of being fully engaged in the world. And by that he meant something like in all the responsibilities along with the sense of call from God one has.

In this we have to be careful not to leave our sense of call from God behind, or that what we’re about is something holy. At the same time we need to be careful not to abandon that call, just where we can find holiness from God, because holiness is meant to be lived out in real life, in the common ordinary responsibilities of life, along with what special callings God gives us. In and through Jesus.

the call to complete discipleship not only to those in ministry, but to us all in Jesus

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

We often think that only pastors or those in “full time Christian service” are called to be completely set apart for ministry (2 Timothy 2), while the rest of us will even necessarily be engaged in the affairs of this world.

But Jesus’s call to discipleship is to us all. We remember that Jesus himself was fully involved in the world he was raised up in. Doing carpentry or whatever kind of work it was (whatever the term actually means) up until the time of his call to ministry at around the age of thirty. But that time did not exempt him at all from complete devotion to his Father, which we have inklings of in the narrative before, when he was a twelve year old in the temple (Luke 2). The world system or aspects of it which are opposed to God (systemic evil) we must be completely opposed to. But the everyday matters which can occupy our lives, and so much of our time, we’re to be fully engaged in to the glory of God. And to do so as those who are followers of Christ by the Spirit.

This certainly involves so much as spilled out and spelled out in scripture. And only possible by God’s grace through the Spirit. Through God’s call we can overcome and follow fully. Even though along the way we will stumble, and we won’t do it perfectly. But we want to endeavor to get back up, keep going, and keep on following no matter what. Given to us, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

the Lord’s faithfulness to his servants

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

To be a servant of Christ truly, is such a high and holy calling. Nothing should get in the way of that call, although a servant will want to do well by their family, if they’re wise. We have at least one biblical examples of a good servant who evidently may not have been as good when it came to his family. I’m thinking of Samuel in the Old Testament. Not that the children of all such servants might not lose their way for a time. But too often such servants can be neglectful of their families in their busy schedule of serving others. We need to try to be really present, both in terms of quality and quantity time with our children, and spouses. Yet there is little doubt that there will be some price they have to pay, as well as ourselves, to fulfill what God has called us to do.

Paul had the advantage of having no such ties, evidently having no immediate family of his own. Perhaps as a Pharisee he had a wife, but she evidently had died, because it is clear from the New Testament that he was not married when he wrote his letters (see 1 Corinthians 7). But Paul still had friends who served with him, and he needed companionship. And this was probably especially the case during trying and difficult times.

Paul was on trial because of his proclamation of the gospel, and had been abandoned by everyone, evidently because of their fear of being identified with him with their lives possibly at stake. Most of us today can’t really identify with that. But what we can understand is the sense of being alone, of others not in the work with us, maybe having a hard time finding anyone to serve where needed at all. And yet we can press on time and time again, often not really feeling like it, but still wanting to do it. And we find over and over again, that the Lord is faithful and stands with us. That somehow he is present, and through us he blesses others. That is what Paul experienced, and it is for all of us who endeavor to faithfully serve Christ, even when oftentimes, it’s not convenient. The Lord is faithful. And he will be with us to the very end, as in our weakness, we endeavor to be a faithful servant of his to others, come what may. All in and through him.

 

 

back to work

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul’s words need to be seen in context (link takes you to 1 Corinthians 9 and 10). This was all for the gospel, which is all about reaching people. It means the good news, so that is Paul’s aim given his mission. And by extension it seems clearly that he is calling the entire Corinthian church to the same commitment, of course in their various callings, but this one call directing all of that.

It’s our mentality and attitude up front that is crucial, which is why we’re told that we’re not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul’s heart and mind were for Christ and the gospel, and involved in that is not only the message, but the medium for the message which must never contradict the message itself. Paul, and by extension we are that medium. Yes, not all of us are called to proclaim the good news like Paul was as the apostle to the Gentiles. But we are all called to be witnesses to it, which will involve both word and deed. Our lives must line up with what we say, otherwise our words will be empty.

It is utterly crucial for anyone in the ministry to take the hard discipline Paul exerts on himself to heart for themselves. When you read the passage in context (again, see link above) you will note that it’s about the gospel, and with reference to sexual immorality and idolatry. Money, power and sex, not necessarily in that order, have grounded many an aspiring person to follow Christ. Or perhaps it uncovered their true heart. At any rate, we are told in this passage that we all must be careful, and beware lest we fall into the same trap (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Yes, we are present to work, to roll up our sleeves and be in God’s work by his grace in Jesus. Whatever form that work might take. What God has put in front of us, what we can do and find joy in doing in that work, we must give ourselves to fully. Rest is good, and must be incorporated along the way. But the work is what we’re called to, and what we must not let go of. And that requires a commitment and the discipline that goes with that. All for the gospel in and through Jesus.

the brokenness of the world: where do we begin? what lines do we draw?

Take your pick. There’s no end finding brokenness, and some things which might particularly distress us in the world. It never ends, and never will end in this life. At the same time, it’s hard to know when to take a strong stand, or know just how to do it. Our interests will be on different problems depending on our inclinations due to our disposition, constitution and experience, along with simply what we choose.

What we have to avoid is a spin-off into issues which are not at the heart of our own calling. I can easily get into political concerns during normal times, and all the more so during what I consider the present challenging time. And I believe Christians ought to pay attention to what is going on in the world, as well as remaining in God’s word.

Some of us have special callings, and we do well to hone our skills, and grow in those areas. But all of us in Jesus have one general call: to serve our Lord by being servants to the gospel, the good news in him of God’s grace and kingdom. The ultimate answer for individuals and for the world is found there.

Of course that doesn’t mean that other things don’t matter, maybe some, seemingly trivial, but everything important in its place. Not that we have to concern ourselves with everything. We probably need to pick our fights and where we put our efforts with care, quite well.

What needs to remain at the center for us in Jesus, is what truly is in the center: the reality of the good news in Jesus. And what we do needs to have some connection to that, either directly or indirectly. Our passion, how we see all of life, while we share much that is significant with everyone through creation, is at its heart Jesus-centered in God’s will in him. And that is a good news no less of love, the heart of that found at the cross. To show the lengths God would go, and did go.

So that is where I want to remain, centered in that, and from that taking the brokenness of our world seriously. Even as we look forward to Jesus’s return when at last all brokenness will be gone, and the healing complete. But until then we keep looking, and grieving, and sighing with our own brokenness, and the brokenness of this world. In and through Jesus.