pain before promise

When a woman gives birth there is inevitably pain before the precious promise of the baby arrives. Regardless of how the birth is done, somewhere along the line there is signficant pain for the pregnant woman. So it is with us in Jesus. God’s promise will be fulfilled, but not without experience of significant pain on our part. Jesus used the same allusion when speaking to his disciples about his departure from them which he was about to fulfill through his death and resurrection and ascension, with the promise of what that was to bring (John 16).

And so when we’re going through the pain, we need to remember that such is often the prelude to God’s promise. And quite often the greater the pain, the greater the promise. Not that we are the source of the good that is to happen; only God is, from whom all blessings flow. But the gift somehow involves a process which changes us (cf: Genesis 32-33). The faith involved in receiving it, is a faith that comes not without struggle, a struggle that somehow not only meets us in our place of great need, but also meets the place of the world’s great need. So that in the end the blessings received are not only from God, but through, in and for God. So that the result is more than the world could imagine or achieve on its own.

So natural birth mirrors what spiritual birth is like from God. It may even seem painless at the time, but the gift brings with it inevitable suffering followed by the glory given both present and future in and through Jesus.

the authenticity we need

Authenticity is very much a staple word nowadays. Being “real” is practically valued above most anything else. And if understood correctly, that thought is helpful. But if not understood correctly, it is not.

What is unhelpful today is a kind of wearing one’s emotions on one’s sleeve approach in which what we ourselves feel and think about something is all that matters. This goes along with the postmodern mood which is a part of our culture. It’s not like what we feel and think doesn’t matter, that’s not the point at all. In fact, before God, and before any good counselor who hopefully is also a true friend, it is good to trust to the point where one can tell all without fear of being condemned, or looked down on and rejected. This is vitally important, and precisely where Job’s friends failed. The kind of authenticity which bears all before God, and appropriately confesses sin to God and to others is highly valued in scripture. “A broken and contrite heart, God does not despise.”

But we in Jesus must not stop with that aspect of authenticity, though neither should we abandon it. The kind of authenticity we need is expressed by James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1

The kind of authenticity pressed for here is a life that is not only vulnerable by being open before God, and when appropriate, before others. But a heart sincere and set in trying to be true by grace to living in accord with God’s word. An authenticity in being genuine not only in regard to who we actually are, without pretense, but also a genuineness in seeking to see our lives and God’s revealed will in scripture and in Jesus being brought closer and closer together.

Of course that’s a lifelong process, involving an ongoing brokenness and sorrow of heart over too often falling short. Yet also seeing the Spirit help us to actually grow more and more into Jesus’s likeness to a significant extent by taking in the word, and letting it expose us, then doing something about it.

The authenticity in Jesus that is desirable is one that’s committed to being conformed to the truth of God’s word, and the truth that is in Jesus, whatever the cost, without imagining that one will arrive in this life. And so an important part of that authenticity is an ongoing brokenness before God. Even as we find ourselves in some ways, enough to be encouraged, growing closer to heart and life conformity to God’s will in Jesus.

what are we willing to die on a hill for?

This is not a put down to veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We rightfully honor and appreciate their service. What I’m referring to is a whole host of issues which divide people. Of course American politics comes readily to mind right now and the deep divide in the United States.

Like most everything else in life, this gets a bit complicated. There are a good number of life and death issues of varying pressing importance. I think of human trafficking, climate change, abortion which can’t be separated from concern and care for the mother, and other topics. We can be thankful for people who out of love major on these in ways which are helpful and constructive toward solutions and the abolishing of evil. So the question of what we’re willing to stake our lives on does not at all negate the need to address other matters which might be a matter of life and death for many, and of which we may be little aware of ourselves.

And there are those in particular fields who may have to defend their positions at times, since not only their occupations, but something even larger in terms of human understanding and flourshing may be at stake. I for one accept the scientific “theory” (meaning established on ongoing observation, hypothesis, and testing) of evolution, the scientific basis for human caused climate change, and surely a few more positions on basic issues which puts me at odds with most people around me. Not to mention what I think about American politics, which at times might put me at odds with nearly everyone, and maybe even myself.

My argument in this post is that there should be only one hill a follower of Christ is willing to die on, and that’s the truth claim of the gospel. The good news in Jesus, that God became flesh in him, fully human, was anointed to bring in God’s kingdom and thus the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world, a kingdom which came through both the King’s death and resurrection, verifiable in history with sufficient evidence in what the Bible calls proofs. And Jesus ascended to the right hand of God from the Father pouring out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. With the promise of his eventual, “soon” even if delayed for some time- return.

We are to give up our lives for Jesus and the gospel, as we’re told in the gospel accounts. If we sacrifice much in the course of some other responsibility in this life, that may be well and good, and right and necessary for us. But what all followers of Jesus must live for and from, and if need be die for as well is the good news from God of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. That is at the very heart beat of our existence, a nonnegotiable for all of us who are in Jesus. We are occupied with the hill on which our Lord died, and all that followed from that: the resurrection, new creation life in and through Jesus, ultimately for the world in and through him. And of which we are to be a witness now in how we live, as well as what we tell others.

God meets us where we’re at

On Sunday, Father Michael Cupp talked about the story all of us who were raised in church know well, about “Jacob’s ladder,” the dream Jacob had at Bethel, the name he gave to that place afterward, which means, house of God. Angels were going up and down a ladder set on earth and going up to heaven. God promises the blessing given to Abraham and Isaac. After which Jacob so to speak (my own words now, I think) seeks to strike a bargain with God. God is making himself known to Jacob at least in unusual terms here in keeping with his covenant with Abraham. And Jacob is responding in terms of self-interest, but with a commitment to something more than that if God comes through in answering his request.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Genesis 28:20-22

As Father Michael pointed out, when you read of a vow in scripture, most often it spells trouble. In this case though, as he went on to say, God was gracious in meeting Jacob where he was. Later Jacob became Israel, probably meaning, “he struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28), and was a worshiper of God (Genesis 47:28-31Hebrews 11:21).

This should encourage us in regard to ourselves and to others. When we come to God in faith, God accepts us where we are, but God doesn’t leave us there. And as Father Michael pointed out from the gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9), God does everything he can to make us fruitful, and patiently waits. By faith we have to receive and live in what God has done and is doing. This should encourage us if we’re not seeing the “much fruit” (John 15:5,8) that is promised. It will come. We must remain in the true vine, Jesus, his words remaining in us, and as Luke 13 points out, repent of and away from our own ways. God is gracious, and in meeting with us, will change us over time, so that the fruit that is borne will last, to the glory and praise of God (John 15:8,16).

Advent and John’s baptism

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

Luke 3:7-18

Jesus’ cousin John, for good reason is called John the Baptist (or Baptizer). His ministry was to prepare the way for the Lord in getting the people of Israel ready for the coming of the Messiah-King. It was certainly a message of repentance along with the warning of judgment to come. And of great promise in that while John baptized the people with water, Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Something unprecedented was to happen to the people of Israel at large. But they’d better be ready. Baptism with fire awaited those who would not be ready.

John preached the gospel to them, which simply means good news, which is Jesus, and God’s good will in him, that good news unfolding as we read on in the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and further explained in its outworking in the rest of the New Testament.

The people in preparation for the coming of the Messiah were not only to submit to John’s baptism of repentance by confessing their sins and being baptized by him in the Jordan River. They were also to change their ways, to do and not do certain things which John spells out clearly for them in this passage in answer to their question. Works play an important role in our preparation for the coming of King Jesus. It’s not enough to repent as in merely expressing remorse and regret over our sins. We have to change our behavior, which means we must do as well as not do certain things. Scripture is clear concerning that. We can’t just wait for some change of heart before we change our ways. Somehow both are simultaneous in God’s working. A change of heart with no corresponding change of life is no change at all.

And so John the Baptist’s ministry is an important reminder to us of the necessity of preparing ourselves for the Lord’s coming. We want to be ready when he is appears, to be in sync with God’s good will in him, something that has begun even now through his first coming, which we soon are to celebrate.

 

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.

wanting radical change

Sometimes we feel up against it in regard to a propensity we have which may be obviously wrong, or in our mind’s eye simply a weakness which can be crippling at times. Sometimes we live with it as something that is by and large chronic, something we put up with, want to make progress, but hardly know how to do it. Some accept the idea that we won’t change much to speak of in this life. Others believe change can come in an instant, even radical change. Most see possible incremental change over time as the norm in the process of sanctification without the possibility of arriving to perfection in this life.

I remember one time, I would hope more years ago than not, but quite some time ago when I made a kind of resolution to the Lord like a vow, simply to not sin again. Of course that is embarrassing and naive in a number of ways. I really don’t actually believe for a moment that even then I thought I could be sinless. I was thinking strictly in terms of what the Bible calls willful, deliberate sins. I can’t remember what the issue was way back when. Perhaps it was probably concerning the most chronic of my lifelong struggles, anxiety or worry. I don’t know. I do know that of course it didn’t work.

Somehow I see a balance between real progress in this life including honest to goodness breakthroughs and the realization that we are never home free on anything.

There are times when the tension is so great over something, whether over the issue itself or more our reaction to it, or perhaps our continued languishing in the same old same old, that we get super urgent in our desire for change so much so that we are willing to pull out all the stops, to do whatever necessary to see the needed change in us come . That can be good, perhaps even needed as long as we don’t set ourselves up for disillusionment with the danger of disengagement from the entire thing. We pursue holiness, something ongoing in this life to the very end.