turn your attention, look to, and focus on Jesus

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

John 12:20-22

Recently we saw what I think amounted to a good documentary on the life of St. Patrick of Ireland. I thought it dealt with what I have read and been taught about his life, evenhandedly and well, for the limited time it had, not including the myths that are either historically unwarranted, or can’t be substantiated. What I like best about it in retrospect, became apparent to me after looking at a popular (I take it) more like film, acting out his life. In this film, the actor playing Patrick was quite charismatic, I suppose, which is beside the point, because actually the actor playing Patrick in the documentary, surely would have been as well, if by charismatic we mean seeing the gift of the Spirit at work through his prayers and life. But if by charismatic, we mean a strong figure who attracts the attention of others, than that was every bit the Patrick portrayed in the film. He looked tall, rugged, strong, a face one could hardly forget, in command, one people would look to, and have confidence in, just because of his appearance. But the real Patrick, or the one that I believe is much more in keeping with what we know of in accordance with historical evidence, and from what we see about this in scripture, was humble, self-effacing, yet firm in his commitment to God’s call on his life. A broken vessel, sharing the gospel. The one as portrayed in the documentary.

Interestingly, in the scripture above, the Greeks didn’t care about seeing the disciples, or followers of Jesus. Or anyone else for that matter, it seems. They wanted to see Jesus. And Jesus surely wanted to see them, as well. But he thought of the great ingathering of Greeks and of all peoples that would take place through what he was about to do. This was Jesus’s response, and what followed:

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12:23-33

Jesus is the one we need to see. It’s not us, or someone else. Only, and forever only: Jesus. Through him we see God. And we see the one who wants to make us fully what we were created to be in what amounts to nothing short of a new creation in him. But it is never marked by our own greatness or goodness. Only his.

Our lives are only as good so to speak insofar as they point to Jesus. If people’s attention is turned to us, that’s not to their benefit in the least, but actually to their destruction. But insofar as we can see Jesus in someone else, that is wonderful, and what’s meant to be. But it is marked by the way of the cross. What we reflect on during this time of the year, as we look forward to remembering Jesus’s suffering and death for us, and the resurrection that followed.

“We would see Jesus.” Yes, me, too. In and through him. Amen.

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friends

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24

They say women are better than men at relationships and specifically– friendship, and I partly believe it. To think through friendship a little, it might be good to give some definitions or descriptions.

Relationship is how we relate to each other, what kind of communion or fellowship there might be in that. Friendship is a bond people have in which they have something in common, and just seem to get along well with each other.

To be friendly is what ought to characterize people everywhere, though in this broken world one has to be on guard, particularly for children. Maybe we get so used to the guarded reserve around us, we carry that too much everywhere we go. Many of us too are introverts, so that we would just as soon remain to ourselves in quiet and peace.

It is interesting how some of us have a special bond in which our personalities seem to mesh well. A word here to those who are married: Whatever special bond you do have will be tested simply because of the fact that both of you are sinners. You’ll have to work through your problems, be sorry and work on change when you hurt each other, and be committed in that way to each other. Other friends don’t have the weight of living with the other 24/7.

There is no doubt that we need friends. Maybe that’s in part why people are on social media all the time, which actually does not lend itself well to being friends, and actually hurts real friendship in the process. Do I need to mention people together wherever, looking at their cell phones?

Loyalty through thick and thin is what will characterize a true friend. They are there regardless, and you are there for them regardless of what they might be going through.

God made us for communion and fellowship, yes, even friendship with God, and with each other. We need not despise or set aside a friendship which seems weak and lacks depth. Maybe it will grow. People need friends, and a little bit of friendship can go a long way at times. There are those friendships which seem special, with a depth to them to which there seems to be no end. Just a glimpse of what in large part we were made for, and what will be completely fulfilled someday in and through Jesus.

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.

radical faith inspired by the faith

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

There is no question that a little bit of faith is better than none. Not that people don’t struggle over faith at times, and wonder if they have any. But it’s a good sign we do, if there’s any struggle at all.

The faith as it’s given to us in Jesus and in the gospel inspires within us the kind of faith which responds in totality, with no holding back. That is surely in part why one’s early Christian experience is so remarkably wonderful, one recalls the words in the Revelation about the love they had at first. Somewhere along the line we tend to revert to something of our old ways, leaving something of faith behind.

The gospel, as reflected in scripture, as the passage above makes clear, calls for a radical faith as in a complete trust in God, which refuses to take matters in one’s own hand. This means that when all is said and done, the outcome depends on God. And if that depends on him, then how we get there, the work that brings us there is actually of God, as well. Scripture at places makes it clear that it’s God’s work, even when we’re involved in it.

This may mean that certain things happen which wouldn’t have otherwise. But in all of that, the trust is in God; that no matter what happens, God has it covered. As opposed to us trying to cover all the bases, and perhaps in some things doing much more, yet not having God in it, at least not in the same way.

The faith inherently calls us to faith; the gospel itself being radical, calling us to a radical faith commitment for both this life, and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

 

friendship

A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:17

A friend is someone you spend time with, sharing an affinity somehow, having a connection. One’s best friend I think ought to be one’s spouse or significant other. But one can have other friends as well, one of whom may be a friend in a way a spouse can’t. Actually every friendship is surely unique as the different people who are friends.

In a general sense we might have a good number of friends, any number of people you might feel comfortable with at a party or some kind of gathering. But real, true blue friends are rare, or much less in number. And actually we can be friends like that with only so many. Jesus himself spent a good share of his time, especially what private time he had, with the Twelve. And Peter, James and John shared the most intimate, closest times with him, John perhaps being the closest of all, calling himself in the gospel with his name, “the one Jesus loved.” Though perhaps that ascription was simply because of his own awareness of Jesus’ love for him.

Being friendly is important, and certainly a prerequisite to being a friend (Proverbs). But being friendly is not the same as being a friend. Friendship requires a commitment to be present with each other through thick and thin. It is two way, not one way. So that it’s different than a mentoring kind of friendship. And yet true friends are present for each other in ways that are not only comforting and consoling through the battering life often brings, but also to sharpen each other, as in iron sharpening iron (Proverbs). A good friend will love at all times, and that love will not let their friend off easily from what might be harmful, or less than desirable for their good.

I have come to think that true, deep friendship is rare. There will have to be a commitment to each other in which a multitude of shortcomings as in limitations and even sins are forgiven. True friendship isn’t easy. Sometimes between two people it’s impossible because one simply drains the other. None of us can be God to another. People need to be helped out of a “codependency” which is as harmful to themselves, probably more so, than to the one they unhealthily depend on. “Friendships” like that should be broken. Such people need friends, but it needs to be in a give and take relationship in which there is something of partnership and equality.

A good place to start in this is friendship with God, yes with God in and through Jesus. Through God’s reconciling work in Jesus, we can be friends again with God, and friends anew with each other. Jesus is the pattern in himself and by his example. So that friendship is to be edifying, in God through Jesus the most edifying and ennobling of all, beginning the restoring of the brokenness of our humanity into the full humanity that is in Christ.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

This Memorial Day we remember those who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way, and those who suffer, or have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Most of the time those in that service can’t escape the possibility of danger and death.

Our Lord calls anyone who would follow him to count the cost. What might be exacted is nothing less than life itself. In the case of our Lord, the call is for complete, total devotion to the end. There are no ands, ifs, or buts, no strings attached. We either follow completely, or we don’t really follow at all. At times I feel like I’m in that gray area in which I am struggling over this or that matter. It’s not like I’m purposefully no longer following. But taken up with imagined or even real troubles, I am struggling to come to terms with the matter, which for me will always mean getting back to going on in the Lord with others, come what may.

To count the cost is to come to terms with the truth which requires the commitment that because Jesus is the Lord and King, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” we follow him no matter what, even when we have to struggle to do so. Which for me means more or less a struggle most of the time.

Jesus wants us to count the cost so that we will learn to keep following no matter what. And with the realization that at the end all will be joy and peace for ever in his Presence, in God’s salvation of the world in and through him.

a tribute to my wife, Debra (with some thoughts on marriage)

30 years ago today, I married my best friend and lover, Debra, “Honey Sweets.” We’ve been through it now for thirty years, through good times and bad in the sense of difficulties. I believe I couldn’t have married a better woman. Deb is as consistent as day and night, the four seasons. She is a woman of a complete child-like faith as a daughter who is deeply loved and cared for by her heavenly Father. And her faith has helped me in more ways than one to change and grow. One example: she is a person who simply does not worry at all; I am one who over the years have struggled with anxiety and fear. I have come a long ways in no small part through Deb’s example, while I would acknowledge it’s an ongoing issue for me.

My wife is simply the one I feel at home with; hopefully we are a blessing to each other. There is no doubt that marriage in significant part is for our growth in holiness. It is a picture of Christ and his bride, the church and of the relationship of God to his people. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant in which each spouse is committed to the other in their commitment to the Lord. Short accounts and growth in love, in righteousness and truth over the long haul need to be staples in any growing marriage. I so much look forward to what lies ahead: hopefully at least another thirty years to keep after this, and just to be together. Frankly at the beginning I was not well enough aware of this, and more than that had issues to work through.

All married couples at least surely for the most part need special input at times. Just another reason why the church needs to be an intrical part of our identity and practice. We can’t make it, or at least do well on our own, no matter how we think we’re doing. And a big part of the church’s role is to help us live well as followers of Christ in all of our relationships, marriage certainly a big part of that. We need more of a witness of marriages which get off the ground well and keep on growing as a witness, and marriages which have overcome something of brokenness, but can show the way to forgiveness, change, growth and joy. The world needs to see both.

Deb and I are in this together; we are mutually submitting to each other as we both seek to submit ourselves to Christ. We also are keeping short accounts. Sometimes we need some sharp points to challenge us to change. But everything needs to be tempered with grace. Truth yes, but never apart from grace. We all need patient, forgiving love in all relationships and particularly in the marriage relationship in which we are exposed in all of our weakness and shortcomings, along with the good gifts from God brought into the relationship.

I wish this post was all about Deb. It is more about our marriage and marriage in general. We will enjoy this day in celebration of 30 years of marriage. Looking forward to at least another 30 more in which we hopefully can shine the light of God’s love and grace in and through Jesus and the gospel for others to see and be encouraged by for their own lives. As we seek to show others the light in the Lord together.