character first and one might say, last

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13

One of the things that has been indelibly impressed upon me during my years at Our Daily Bread Ministries, through the example of the leadership during my time there, Mart and Rick DeHaan, is simply the importance of character, and specifically a Jesus-likeness marked by humility and love.

There are the gifts in scripture, called the charisms. And they have their place for sure. And all believers have their gift from God, which probably consists of specific gifts. And that’s important, and a part of it all.

But without a change of heart and life that is characterized by love in an underlying faith, any giftedness is essentially worthless, as we see above. Jesus made that plain as well:

“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!’

Matthew 7:21-23

I would rather be around mourners and the broken who love, rather than those who are marked with greatness in what they do, but don’t love. For some it seems like it’s all about what they’re doing, instead of the love with which they’re doing it with.

When one considers the New Testament, the entire Bible for that matter, and life, it shouldn’t be a question of either/or, but and/both. We need the gifts God gives us as humans in creation, and the restored humanity in Jesus in new creation, for sure. But unless love accompanies them, they end up doing more harm than good, often feeding off the pride of those who have them, and that of their followers.

While I think I’ve come surely a long way over the years, though it can be so incremental, that one can at times only hope such is the case, I know also that I have plenty of room to grow. Of course with others into the maturity of the stature of the fullness of Christ is no small order indeed. I can withhold love at times, which isn’t Jesus-like. Being aware of such sins is half the battle in finding the change in Jesus that we need.

The gifts of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit, as well. In fact that fruit marking whatever gifts we have is what we all need, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

 

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the room of grace versus the room of good intentions

The small group we’re part of from our church has read and been discussing a most interesting book, The Cure: What If God Isn’t Who You Think He Is And Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall. In some ways it’s a bit of a challenging read, at least my copy of it, when you have a bit longish stories told in rather small italics. But it is well worth the effort. With good end notes to check the reasons from scripture a certain point is being made.

The book really gets down to life, where we live, and is life-changing in that it seeks to help us find God’s radical grace in the midst of it. I’m sure it has its weaknesses, but its strengths are readily apparent. I have thought that scripture and life is a bit more complicated that what it presents, yet the main point won’t let me go, and I can tell that its truth is changing me.

The theme is that it’s what God has done in Christ, and our position in Christ through trusting God and his word that makes all the difference. It’s not about our good intentions which will fail, although many of us put on masks to cover that up. It is about the real us, with all our troubles and struggles and failures along the way, being changed the only way scripture says we can be changed, by God’s grace through faith.

One example from the book, as I recall it: In the room of good intentions, everyone is set on doing their best for God, in doing God’s will, and everyone has a certain air about that. There’s plenty of pain in that room and house, because no one completely lives up to it. In fact failure ends up marking the entire project, because everyone hides from everyone else who they really are, and what they’re really thinking, and to some extent doing. Whereas the house and room of grace is full of broken people who are real with each other, who don’t try to put on any front. Who together with Jesus end up working through the mess of their lives, and find God’s grace very present through it all. The emphasis is not on what they are doing, but what God has already done through Christ.

I have been away from the book for awhile, but I think its message has found a place in my heart, working its way into my life. Again, it’s the message of grace. Not about measuring up to something by ourselves, but acknowledging our mess, how we fail and don’t measure up. But believing there is hope for us to actually change only in God’s grace that is ours in Christ.

One controversial point the book makes, which I believe (and have believed in the past) is true, rightly understood, is that we in Christ are no longer sinners, but saints, or holy ones. Martin Luther insisted that we’re simultaneously sinners and saints. The fact that we sin at all, and struggle in areas, known or maybe even unknown we could say makes us sinners. But the Bible does make a distinction between sinners and the righteous. In and through Jesus, we have the gift of righteousness in a right standing with God, and in a changed heart which contrary to the past, wants to please God.

All in all, it’s a good read. But be aware, it’s a life-changing read. One that will have you going back to scripture, and considering your own life.

Has any reader read it, and what were your impressions?

“proof” of the resurrection of Christ is in the pudding

Christianity Today has an interesting review on the new film now out in the theaters, “The Case for Christ,” telling the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from an atheism to evangelical Christianity. The story by itself probably makes the film compelling enough to want to watch, though I’m not much of a film watcher myself. And I admit to avoiding watching Christian films, since I think what is often painted is an unreal world. Which is sad and difficult, since something of what those films convey is usually valuable and even important.

Christian apologetics concerns both the defending and argument for the veracity of the faith, so that in perhaps what at best is a kind of C. S. Lewis approach, an appeal is made for the argument of the truth of the gospel, specifically here, of Christ’s resurrection. Not completely on a rational basis, but even an appeal to experience and beauty gets put on a rational scale in the end. I admit that I like that approach for myself. But good as that might be for people like me, who like to see intellectual arguments pro and con, that actually ends up not being the most satisfying approach in the sense of life changing. And when one puts all their weight on the intellectual side, there is always the possibility that the something more we don’t know might tip the scales another way; we just can’t know for sure. Although many a person who either practices law, as a lawyer, or approaches life from that perspective has concluded that the evidence in favor of Jesus having actually risen from the dead is quite telling and compelling.

To consider the gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week before his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a good exercise, as we see the perspectives of the four evangelists in telling that story. And then Luke’s story continues on in Acts, which tells us about the beginning of the early church and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world.

What ends up, I believe, being most persuasive in appealing for the faith of the gospel and the truth of Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the change that occurred in Jesus’s followers. That is in terms not only of this really taking place, but of its significance, as well. If Jesus simply rose from the dead with the promise that someday we who have faith in him will likewise be resurrected into that same life, that has wonderful meaning, to be sure. But it might not impact us much in this life, at least not in the way that scripture tells us it does.

We begin by faith right now to share in Jesus’s resurrection life. This is clear throughout the Final/New Testament, Romans 6 being one example, but all throughout. Romans 6 speaks of participation by faith and baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we can now, by grace begin to live this new life. It might be seen as a more “religious” argument, but Christ’s resurrection is at the heart of the faith, of what Christianity essentially is according to scripture. It is a partipation not just in seeking to follow Christ’s teachings, or the teachings of the church, as important as those are. But it is an actual participation no less in the very life of Christ, yes, his resurrection life, beginning even prior to the resurrection to come, in our lives now, by the Spirit.

We live because he lives, and our life in him is distinct. And while it is in anticipation of the resurrection to come, it partakes of that resurrection in partaking of Christ right now in this life. In changing the way we live, the breath that we breathe, in other words what motivates us, and how we want to live. More precisely, what God is making us to be over time in becoming more and more like Jesus.

This is both an individual and joint venture, to be sure. But the key is Christ and his resurrection. We follow one whose life is now our life, which means a difference now, and all the difference in the world beyond this life, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

And so the truth and reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead will be seen by me today, not in considering once again the way the story is told in the gospel accounts. But the difference this reality makes in my life right now, through the nitty gritty and sometimes downright difficult circumstances of life. Does Christ make a difference there, and in what way? That’s the question, answered more than well enough for me time and time again. In and through the risen Jesus.

reading and meditation for Easter

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”(which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist, which means proclaimer of what in her case she was a witness to. She was the first of many eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection.

It’s interesting that the Lord appeared to her and angels proclaimed Jesus’s resurrection to the women before Jesus appeared to the Eleven. This would surely later come across to the Eleven as a rebuke, since they initially did not accept the women’s witness, which in that day was not considered as credible as men’s testimony.

It is also interesting that Jesus in his resurrection state is not immediately recognized by those who knew him. There is at least something different in his appearance. But at a certain point, he is recognized, or his identity acknowledged. It’s hard to know what precisely to make of that except to say that with the resurrection the old has gone and the new has come, not by the old being obliterated, but by the old becoming new. There is a change in us who by faith have entered into the promise of Christ’s resurrection, beginning now in this life. As we look forward to the final change to come, when the world and all creation is included in Christ’s resurrection in the new creation.

We live in the beginning of that new day now, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.

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.