worldly thinking

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

When we convert to Christ, we are under a new rule, and with that comes a new orientation to life. We can no longer see anything the same way we did before. However with that new reality comes the ongoing necessity to continue to change in that difference, or else drift back into the thinking we had before our conversion. There’s nothing in between. We’re either on course, or we’re drifting; we’re either conforming to the pattern of this world, or we’re being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We should be aware of this in light of everything: family, business, politics, whatever. Anything and everything is under Christ’s rule for us. That has to make all the difference in how we look at everything, or it will make no difference at all. In and through Jesus.

 

 

a Christian convert = a disciple, follower of Christ

It’s interesting in Acts how converts to Christ are called “disciples” again and again. Dallas Willard wrote and talked about what he called “bar code Christianity.” It’s like you get your free pass to heaven, eternal life because of Christ and what he’s done, and then you go on living life as you please, really your own life, no different than the world, no different than before perhaps, except that you think you are now saved. But that’s not the way of life described in the New Testament for converts to Christ. They each and every one are then considered followers of Christ, his apprentices, yes, “disciples.”

A person might come to Christ in all sincerity, yet fail to be discipled the way they ought to, maybe not at all. That seems all too common, and likely not a problem of just this day and age. There’s the danger in that of drift and disaster, though certainly God can pick up the pieces. There’s at the very least the likelihood that there will be little or no growth into Christ-likeness, which is really at the heart of what discipleship is all about, following our Rabbi, and thus becoming more and more like him. I have to admit for myself that thought seems daunting in itself, especially if I consider my own life and thoughts and attitudes along the way. Not that we tend to put a kind eye on ourselves, indeed we can see all. But it is hard to appreciate the progress one has made and is making. God sees that clearly; we often don’t.

What I can settle happily into is the thought that along with others, I’m a disciple of Christ, facing each new day and situation as his follower. One day and one step at a time: in, under and through Jesus.

law or grace?

No matter how you shake it, and it’s not an easy passage to interpret or understand, Romans 7 makes it clear that there’s a strong human tendency to buck law, especially when it’s in your face, or one’s well aware of it. Law in Scripture is given for the good of people to show them how they ought to live in a flourishing free way, but it also serves to show people their sin and therefore their need of God’s grace. Grace here I refer to as both forgiveness and new life as in ability to keep the law. And by keeping the law, I’m referring to keeping the requirements of the law not by law keeping, but by a life which in a way is above the law in that it transcends mere law keeping, the life naturally doing what God requires.

One of the most memorable portions of Philip Yancey’s classic book, What’s So Amazing About Grace is the story about the man who sought to escape the evil of western society to what he saw as a society in which law and therefore righteousness could flourish. The only problem was that he got entangled and overcome by his own sin in stark, dark and troubling ways. His Christianity fell by the wayside because it was not formed by grace, but simply informed by law.

Law is important in its place, and in societies good laws are needed, for example against the taking of life, or practices which might endanger life such as driving when intoxicated. Law as mentioned in Scripture serves to convict one of sin, though the Spirit is needed to make that conviction more than condemnation and instead a life changing repentance.

I remember Christian schools that made a lot out of rules to the point of more or less micromanaging the students’ lives with the presupposition that such would keep them out of harm’s ways, curb their sinful tendencies, and even form them into godly people. The only problem is that it is grace which changes us, not law. Though it should be noted that God’s grace changes us through the law. God’s grace does the changing apart from law, but uses the law to help us see our guilt, need, and utter helplessness.

Grace and law in Scripture are not easy subjects. But having lived through some sad scenarios in the Christian world, I would say that one has to be aware of the place of both. And how our lives are truly transformed only by grace, God’s gift to us of forgiveness and new life. And how this is both in terms of a point of conversion and ongoing conversion in a process by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

the church’s baptism of the Spirit

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:8

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:13

There is something key that we “in Christ” have, that the church, Christ’s body- both local and universal has that the world does not. In the language of scripture, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Christ poured out the gift of the Spirit after his ascension at Pentecost (see Acts 1 and 2).

We are baptized by, with or in the Holy Spirit, which in context speaks to our oneness in Christ, and in the larger context of scripture would seem to refer to the spiritual dynamic, or better put, filling of the Spirit given to the church, to all who are in Christ. This certainly becomes a reality for each person at conversion, and is gift that all of us in and through Christ have been given.

Often when this has been spoken about in recent times, it is referring to something like “a second work of grace,” or something more than what we receive at salvation. A tradition or interpreter might be able to make some sort of case for that from scripture. But essentially, it seems to me, along with the traditions I’ve been a part of at least for the most part, that this is all completely received at conversion. We are indeed blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1), we’re told in Ephesians. Yet in that same letter, we’re also told to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5). We have the gift of the Spirit, and therefore, we’re to live in the Spirit, edify each other in Christ by the Spirit, and be a witness to the world of the reality and truth of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit.

Our existence is “in Christ,” and the Spirit is the reality of that for us. We are humans, and yet taken up into the very life and mission of Christ. Both as individuals, and together as the church. That’s the difference maker for us, and really through us for the world in which we are to live and serve in love. In and through Jesus.

 

 

45 years ago today when I surrendered my life to Christ

On October 22, 1973, on a Monday afternoon after school, my senior year in high school, in the bottle washing room at Hefner Dairy, all alone, I surrendered my life to Christ. I still remember that day rather vividly. I think I remember musing at school over the thought of that possibility in something like these terms: “What if I would commit my life to God because of what Christ has done for me on the cross?” Something like that. And the Holy Spirit was working on me, convicting me, and helping me see the truth of the gospel. That Christ died for our sins, and was raised from the dead to give us new life.

That had been going on for some time. I was tired of my life. Friendships seemed empty, and whatever I amused myself with, such as smoking pot when I could get my hands on it, just wasn’t enough, or more like, didn’t matter.

I was raised in a church in which we were faithfully taught Bible stories in Sunday School as children growing up. And whenever Billy Graham was going to be on television, our church bulletin would let us know. And our mother regularly read Bible stories to us, and prayed for us, along with her singing of hymns. I had made a profession of faith I think in my early teens, which I don’t think was real, because it didn’t stick. And I was pretty rebellious in those days in something of the spirit of the 60s, even if I wasn’t quite old enough to join that when it was most compelling (the Woodstock era).

The change in certain ways was immediate. I used to routinely cuss up and down, but that was now gone. And I really cared about everything, especially in terms of doing what was right and good. Whereas before, I would do what I had to do, but diligently enough because I was trained by hard working parents to work hard.

Of course it was a new love that hit me, a deep love for Christ which spilled over into an indiscriminate love for others, which was probably misunderstood in those days by women, because of my naivete. I was fortunate, because I was able to quit my cigarette smoking, which I had done for a year immediately, and was never tempted to smoke the weed.

Since then, the Lord has been faithful to keep me on the straight and narrow, though for a time I was off track in some ways. And I know I can easily get off track now. But God’s grace continues to be at work in my life. For which I am thankful. And I long to see that same saving grace break through into the lives of others. In and through Jesus.

Jesus blesses children

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Matthew 19:13-15

I’m not sure what happens when we become adults. We easily become hard and cynical. And with the idea that we more or less have the measure of things. And it’s hard not to be that way in a world where so much is wrong, and in which we carry some of that wrong with us, even right in our hearts.

Jesus’s words here concerning children speak volumes to us, as to what God wants us to be, and how we will be when we fully arrive in the life to come when we see Jesus, and become like him in a finalized sense. And this is dynamic, by the way, and not static, so that there will be an ever increasing growth in the fixed state we’ll be in there. Exciting of course.

Jesus always spoke of God as Father, and taught his disciples to pray to God in that way: “Our Father…” And he taught that unless we change, are converted, and become like little children, we will never enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 18:3). We’re to have the faith of a little child.

And Jesus loves children. There is surely a special blessing from him for them, even to this very day. Childhood is an opportune time for children to meet Jesus in a new and lasting, eternal way. So that through the rough patches that come their way later, and through possible bad turns, God can help them come back to the life that is truly life. In and through Jesus.

 

Billy Graham: a faithful servant of Christ

Christianity Today has an excellent issue on the life of Billy Graham. I consider it a must read even if you’re just into US history, because of his often intimate relationship with twelve US presidents. And all the more so if you’re a Christian, especially with spiritual roots in God’s working through Billy’s ministry.

Between my mother’s witness and prayers, and the preaching of Billy Graham, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction of sin and conversion of life through the new birth. And I am indebted to the ministry of the Mennonite church I was raised in, as well. I used to not want to hear Billy’s preaching, and yet I was captivated by it. I came to Christ, committing my life to God because of his death on the cross on that October afternoon in the milk bottle wash room at the dairy. And I more or less knew then, and know even more now the powerful impact of Billy’s preaching of the gospel on my life through the work of the Holy Spirit.

If Billy was active in ministry today, as he was for decades, you can be sure that he would not be known as either a Republican or  Democrat, liberal or conservative. And fundamentalist churches of varying degrees refused to participate in his campaigns because he would partner with Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. I remember all of that well. I believe Billy was right, and we have good fruit from that, as well as other roots contributing to God’s work in that, I think of the writings of Karl Barth, and the Second Vatican Council.

I am thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. And I look forward to meeting him someday. Until then, we want to press on by the same Holy Spirit, and be faithful to Christ and to the gospel, to the very end. In and through Jesus.

God is delighted in change

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9

I think it’s both interesting, and actually not authentic, as in corresponding to the truth, and not real when someone seems to think or act as if they have it all together. Change is something which is to occur not only at the outset of our journey of faith, but ongoing, throughout that journey. Scripture bears witness to that again and again, both in precept and in story. We as evangelicals emphasize conversion as being at the point of salvation, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But actually, I think it’s a process which extends from before salvation, and continues on afterward to the very end of one’s life, if I read the pages of scripture correctly.

I believe from scripture and from what I see and experience that God in his grace through Jesus delights in the smallest, real change in us for good in making us more like himself, more like his Son, Jesus. And I’m thinking of change in just any one area, when plenty of other areas in our lives may and will still need some serious work, God’s working of course, along with our active compliance. It’s not like God shakes his head and says something like, “Well, that’s good, but he/she still has a long ways to go.” No. I believe without a doubt in the God who delights in any change in his children, which brings them somehow closer to him, and to his family likeness.

And just as much as that, I also believe that it comes primarily through us praying. Paul’s case (then called Saul), quoted above, is interesting, as he was in the midst of an epic, earthquake-like life changing experience, and in the midst of it, he is praying. I think without a doubt that if we take what is wrong in our lives seriously, and quit excusing it, we will start by confessing it as an actual sin to God, and then begin to pray, seeking him for the needed change, however that should be played out. Certainly a change of heart to begin with, and a change in our lives.

We can’t do this on our own, and we won’t, even if we think somehow that we are. We should take heart that God is bringing us along, and wants our communion with him through prayer, as he continues to make us like his Son, and brings the one family in him more and more into the light of his love and life. In and through Jesus.

“Who is the greatest?” and the problem of comparison

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9

We inevitably draw up comparisons in our minds as to which of us is better in this or that. We all tend to like to think that we might be better than someone else at such and such, and many of us are competitive by nature. But when we do so, we play into the hand of the world, the flesh and the devil. And we’re not like Jesus.

In the first place I might say, leaving the above text for the moment, to compare ourselves with each other is simply unwise, as we read elsewhere from Paul, who I would imagine, considering all that is said about and by him in scripture, was quite competitive himself.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.

2 Corinthians 10

Paul was fighting the false apostles for the sake of the gospel, who were calling into question his ministry based on their false view of what spirituality was. And one sure key to see through them was how they compared themselves to others, and specifically in this case to Paul and surely all those with Paul. They were superior; they were the spiritual elite. They could speak better, and surely their content was better too, in their minds. And no doubt they did dazzle, since Paul had to devote an entire section of 2 Corinthians (chapters 10-13) to both refute and expose them, as well as indicate what makes one who is truly a messenger of the gospel. By their actions and comparing themselves as superior, they were preaching a different Christ, and acting by a different spirit other than the Holy Spirit. Paul’s example was one of humility and weakness, and the gospel as well as the Lord, who essentially is that gospel, and specifically him crucified, was the one people would come to see in Paul’s ministry, not Paul himself.

But back to our Lord’s words to his disciples. He took a little child, embraced her or him, and made it plain that this child was an indication of what true greatness is. That they were to become like this little child, last of all, and the servant of all, even like he was already, to be completed through the cross. Elsewhere on the subject of who is the greatest, Jesus told them that nothing less than a conversion, a change of heart is needed (Matthew 18).

I am so easily given to comparison, particularly in matters in which I’m competitive. Probably in most, I don’t think I am, including how I write, teach and preach. I know better, having learned over the years. In these areas, I have come to see clearly how we’re all in this together, and how much we need each other. And how it’s like snowflakes, or so many other illustrations from creation, how there’s no end to God’s creativity, and how therefore we miss out completely when we compare ourselves or someone else as better than others. Paul ended up being better than the false apostles he had to oppose, because for him it was about Jesus, not about demonstrating how great he was. In fact in his brokenness as a jar of clay (read the rest of that great letter, 2 Corinthians), Jesus was more clearly seen.

And so let’s appreciate the good gifts in others, and be glad about areas they may excel in and do better than us. Remembering that we’re all special in God’s eyes, and by his design. Both in creation and in new creation in and through Jesus, the one who is the measure of true greatness.

seeing more, going deeper

There are posts which are taken up with the end, and most posts with something of the end and the means. This post is more than less taken up with the means. They say more than half the joy is the journey before the arrival.

I have noticed that when I get into those relatively infrequent times when there seems to be an impasse, and no breakthrough, or what breakthrough finally does happen seems to be withdrawn a bit at a certain juncture, those are the times I pay particularly close attention to God’s word both in terms of the written text, and what God might be saying through that.

Usually when I experience a trial of some sort, in the course of a day or less, the problem seems resolved, and there is once again grace and peace from God. But I refer here to those times which seem to linger, even day after day, and in which I seem to be battered, maybe broken in some way, and baffled, not seeming to make any headway.

Maybe such times are akin to our Lord’s counsel to his disciples that such come out only through prayer and fasting (or at least, prayer). What I do think is certain is that these are times during which we can see in some way what we missed before, and descend deeper into depths, and higher into heights, not previously attained, or frankly, sought after, probably unimagined.

Somehow one has to not only accept, but become accustomed to the sense of having not arrived to the goal (Philippians 3). All too often in Evangelical Christianity (I might be able to criticize, since I myself am part of that tradition), there is an emphasis, which while right in its time and place, can lend itself to making us rather shallow, with little heart. Although I don’t think such an emphasis has to leave anyone that way. The Roman Catholics have a point when they say life in Christ is a continual conversion. Yes, we’re converted, and translated from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son God loves. Therefore, we are in a process of sanctification, in being made holy, which won’t be completed until we see Jesus at his return.

And so, it’s with this solace that I enter into another day, not only sensing, but feeling my own great need. And wanting to gather from the gospel, and through the church what scripture tells me I need and is available to us in Christ. Even while I continue to look into that word, hopefully seeing clearer and more deeply by the Spirit, what the Spirit is saying to me, to us in Jesus, to the churches. As I look forward to the day when we will finally have arrived at the goal, the completeness in Christ in which we stand now having finished its work on us, in the new world in him.