be yourself in the Lord

…what is that to you? You must follow me.

John 21:22b

There’s only one “straight (small) and narrow” (Matthew 7:13-14) for sure, just as there’s only one Lord, Jesus. We all are on level ground at the foot of the cross. God loves us all, and had shown that through God’s self-sacrificial death in the Son, Jesus. We’re all the same that way.

But we’re all also different. Contemporary worship music might be your choice, medieval or renaissance chants someone else’s, classical music another’s. Some of us might prefer a get away in the beauty of nature, while others enjoy the activity of a bustling city.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be challenged by someone else in ways that can be helpful to us for change. We should always be open to whatever the Lord might want to tell us through someone else. This is part of the essential beauty of being church together. But we also need our space to simply be ourselves, the person we are and are becoming in the Lord.

This means we not only accept this freedom ourselves, but grant it to others, wherever they might be in their spiritual journey and development. God is the judge in the end. We are witnesses who want to share the difference the Lord and the gospel is making in our own lives. But each of us is as different as the endless number of snowflakes, or clouds in the sky. There’s a beauty in that, because God will reveal himself through my sister or brother in Jesus, in a way different than he will reveal himself through my life.

It is easy to believe this when we think of some people, gregarious and outgoing, maybe life of the party types. But what about those who are quiet, reserved, maybe reclusive? That’s me, actually. Yes, I can appear to be outgoing when need be. But I prefer quiet, well– with classical music in the background, being thoughtful in the word (Scripture) or in a good book.

We just need to be ourselves in Jesus. That is where God meets us. Not to make us to be like everyone or anyone else, but to help us become who he created us uniquely to be. In and through Jesus.

the unreal real world

“Get a life,” we sometimes think, in our own words perhaps, but when we view others who seem self-destructive, and on their path, destructive of others. Not to mention all the conflict and strife in the world, with cruel despots in power in too many places. It’s all quite real, the reality in which we live.

But it’s not at all the reality that God intended. In creation, God made everything “good” and in the end after he had created humanity it was all “very good” (Genesis 1). God’s blessing was on everything, with his full blessing contingent on whether or not humankind, that is Adam and Eve would be obedient to the only prohibition God made, that they should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whether or not this is symbolic or literal, the point is that Adam and Eve (humankind) had the choice of trusting God, in God’s goodness and word, or in ultimately being left to themselves, losing their so-called innocence, more like the wisdom and knowledge God was ready to pour on them. And instead knowing good and evil in their experience in a way God never intended. When Eve ate of the fruit of that forbidden tree, then Adam, their eyes were opened in a way God never intended. For the first time they felt shame and wanted to hide from each other as well as from God (Genesis 3).  And humankind has never recovered.

We live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, and that includes ourselves, who we are. Neither we nor the world has arrived, for sure. Instead, in biblical theological terms, we’re fallen and broken. It’s a mistake to think that somehow through the means of this present time, we can arrive to an idyllic world. It’s also equally an error to think that excuses humankind for not striving for a better world in which love for neighbor, for everyone is taken seriously. But evil has to be dealt with, sometimes in no uncertain terms.

We in Jesus have begun to live in the real world as God intended. Although it seems incremental, and sometimes all but lost in its already present / not yet completed state, nevertheless it’s as undeniable as the breath we breathe. Sometimes we’re left with just knowing intellectually, we know not why experientially, but based on faith in Christ and his historical resurrection from the dead. Other times, the experience of God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit makes life seem more than worthwhile as God’s righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17-18) becomes the place in which we live.

So we in Jesus live as those of another realm in this realm. As lights in a dark world, citizens of heaven, partakers of the new creation, longing for and looking forward to the redemption of all things. In and through Jesus.

all is good in its own way

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

Genesis 1:31a

I just saw a cardinal (I think it was, some red bird) outside the window on a tree. Yesterday a couple of blue jays. I think of the two cats we have. Noticing the trees, the flowers, all of nature. We Christians see nature as creation from the hand of God. And all is good in its own way.

In the first creation account in Genesis, at the end of each day God saw all he had made, that it was good. At the end of the sixth day, after the creation of humankind, creation completed, God saw that the whole together was “very good.”

Each part of creation is complete and perfect in itself. And a part of the whole. Of course in the biblical narrative this was part of the pristine world before “the fall.” After Adam and Eve’s sin, God’s blessing on creation was accompanied with his curse. So that now, though all is good in its place, in some ways there’s a discord as humanity continues to exercise dominion over the work of God’s hands. Some of that discord is in humanity itself in our failure to value and protect creation. But some of it is in the rest of creation since there are ongoing problems humans have to deal with. At any rate, while all is good in its place, there seems to be an innate sense that not all is right. And that even when all seems to be good, in an instant that good can be gone.

Such is this life. Which is why in the biblical narrative while the beginning is about creation, the end is about new creation. How God brings about an idyllic world. The beginning of which we see now, the longing for such in the human heart, and the end promised by God in and through Christ and by the Spirit. The God who made everything good in the first place will bring to fulfillment all that good in the new creation. We live with that longing and “hope” so that we want to take care of what is destined to be completed, and let go of the rest. Not to say the good of human culture won’t be included in the new creation in the end, because the end of Revelation indicates it will.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy God’s creation, and as appointed stewards (Genesis 1; Psalm 8), watch over it for its good. As we await the renewal of all things, the old being made new when Jesus returns and heaven and earth are made one in him.

walking in the Spirit

Yesterday I mused a bit on the fruit of the Spirit, gentleness. If there’s anything more crushing and heavy for me, it’s considering the fruit of the Spirit as if we’re meant to live in them: love, joy, peace, etc. We can’t in and of ourselves. But that’s where again as always we need to consider context. So now more of the context (of course the entire book is the best context).

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

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. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:13-26

There’s a lot there, but I want to consider what it means to “walk by the Spirit,” and to “keep in step with the Spirit.” There seems like there are two possibilities for us: we either walk/live by the flesh or by the Spirit. I think the NIV footnote is helpful:

  1. Galatians 5:13 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit; also in verses 16, 17, 19 and 24; and in 6:8.

If the Spirit is in us, then we’re not “in the flesh,” perhaps meaning not controlled by it (Romans 8). God’s Spirit is God’s life breath given in both creation (Genesis) and new creation. Physical life and spiritual life are both in play here, we could say the physical to creation and the spiritual to new creation. But there’s surely some interplay between the two in both, even if we do well to keep the distinction. And in the end God’s life breath is the entirety of life for the human so that any distinction between the physical and spiritual will be all but lost, in the resurrection in Christ.

But I want to better understand, I might say understand period what it means to walk in or by the Spirit. When I consider it, it seems so heavy to me, like a burden placed on me. But then I know I’m approaching it wrong. The Spirit is our spiritual life breath. Our physical life breath is from God too, actually from the Spirit, but not in the same way. But there is some correlation between the two, while a clear distinctiveness, as well.

It is subtle, something present, and so important for all of life, especially for us living in the life of Christ. But it’s present not for itself so that when we examine it as if it is, we miss the point and perhaps lose out on what it’s doing. The Spirit draws our attention to Christ, who in turn draws our attention to the Father, who in turn glorifies the Son and is thus glorified himself in the Son by the Spirit. So the Spirit is God in us, as close to us as the physical breath we breathe, and actually our spiritual breath.

So we’re to walk or live by that spiritual life breath, not by our own impulses which are actually diametrically opposed to that. What that actually means in life, I’m not sure, and I doubt that we’re meant to pin down its meaning. There’s a certain mysteriousness about the Spirit like there’s a certain mysteriousness with God. It’s like it’s present, an important part of the picture, but not something we’re to be so focused on. To be aware of, yes, as God’s means to God’s end. Not that the outcome is mysteriousness as we see clearly in the passage above.

Something I’m working on as I consider what God wants our lives in Christ to be like, certainly gentleness being one characteristic of them.

 

love is at the heart of this crazy world with the promise that it won’t end here

We have a new kitty, Cloe. We already have a male cat, Ashton, a nice talkative, but relatively to himself cat, who does want occasional petting on the head. Cloe was a thin, hungry kitten confined to a then cold outdoors, meowing frantically outside a home where folks couldn’t have a cat. So we rescued her. She’s a healthy kitten now, full of life and play. And quite a cuddler. She reminds us so much of another kitty we had, Sarah Belle, who was so affectionate with everyone, but sadly died of feline leukemia. Cloe will put her face against yours if you let her, her nose against your nose.

We’re told in Scripture that God is love (1 John). That may seem far fetched given all we see and know about nature and humankind. Of course Christians mark that down as part of the Fall as recorded in Genesis 3. I see it more as part of creation and the promise of what is to come. The God who created all things which in themselves have their limits, can create a new world in which those limitations are gone. That is seen in the new creation in Jesus begun at his resurrection from the dead into a new sphere and dimension of life, which has some radical discontinuity with the present, along with complete continuity in love by the Spirit.

God’s love factors into all else about God, not that we can even hope to track with everything about God. But we are made in God’s image, and we can like David be people after God’s own heart, grow toward that, in and through Jesus, who was and is the very heart of God, in the complete and full likeness of God, “in whom is the fullness of Deity in humanity” (Colossians).

We are loved by our Creator. He waits with open arms, looking for us to come. As we see in Jesus’s parable of the lost son (two lost sons, actually) he will receive us fully with no strings attached. Love. That’s at the heart of everything in this crazy world. With the promise of a new world to come in which that will be fully and forever realized. In and through Jesus.

sadness over loss in this world

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

The writer of Ecclesiastes refers to what we might call a mark of one’s character over against holding it as a literal notion that people ought always to be somber, rather than enjoy life and laugh. To say we live in a tragic world would surely be an understatement. Sooner or later all things perish. But it’s especially troubling when either something good is out of place, like the maple tree we had plans for, but which I’m doing away with now, with grief and a heavy heart. Or perfectly in place, but lost.

I am glad we were able to take in a little kitty, which is just as cute as can be: lively, affectionate, and a companion to our other cat. But so many cats are lost, or live difficult lives in this world. Not that I’m a cat lover, although they’ve grown on me a bit, since my wife does love cats.

Yesterday I found myself praying that someday in the new creation this very same maple tree I’m cutting down now might be present in all its glory. Of course in a way trees are a dime a dozen. They’re cut down for all kinds of paper, for furniture, yes for wood burning. And although they are amazing in their biology, they actually are not made in God’s image like humans. Yet we can have an attachment to some of them. I love our Redpointe Maple in the middle of our front yard. The other maple in all its glory is unfortunately not in the best place. We didn’t realize it at the time. Interestingly enough we have what are considered to be weed trees growing more than twenty feet away from the maples near the border of our property. Although we did have them trimmed, we simply can’t afford to cut them down yet, though it would be nice to do so someday, since they potentially affect the growth of the tree we did plant and are the kind of trees that would be better in a forest. I would not grieve their loss at all, but rather, would be relieved if they were gone. But such is life.

We don’t live in an ideal world. All is not well in this world. And we shouldn’t suppose it ever could be, even while we should be doing our best to manage everything well as good stewards of God’s gifts, in love. We accept the good and the bad of this life, and continue on. Believing the new creation has entered creation in the person of Jesus. And looking forward to the new world to come in him (Romans 8:18-22) when all good gifts of God will be in their place never to be lost again.

 

what are we becoming?

It’s interesting how people think that if they repent and say they’re sorry, and maybe even ask for forgiveness, that then they’ve changed. The point of repentance actually is more than confession and reparation. It is indeed change. And the needed change doesn’t come overnight, even though in initial repentance one is turned from wrong to right. Thorough change of heart and life ordinarily if not always takes time, and even in a true sense, a lifetime.

Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm expressed woeful sorrow to God for offending God over the sin done, and asks for changed heart out of which can come a changed life. A good question is simply: What are we becoming? And another: What factors are involved in that, or behind it. Often there can be a mix of things in the works, even contradictory. We can be pulled this way and that. But we can’t go two directions at the same time. Whatever form the flesh takes is the flesh still. It’s either the flesh or the Spirit, serving God or serving Mammon/money, or whatever. Which in part is why we’re told in Proverbs:

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

It is a scary thought actually, the idea that we can be becoming something other than what God would want, and actually therefore, what we would want as well. Just something small can get hold of the heart, take over, and eventually change us through and through. Or the good thought and hope, that as by grace we pick up just something of the goodness of God, what can help us in the way in Christ, that too can permeate us, and put us on the road to Christ-likeness and the restoration of our true humanity in the new creation.

What God did in the Incarnation which we especially remember this time of the year: becoming one of us, fully human, in the Son uniting his deity with our humanity (Gregory of Nazianzen). God changing so that we might change, humanity forever elevated through new creation to fulfill the goal of creation through the Incarnation and the salvation which came through the death and resurrection of the God-Man, the Human One. Amazingly God became human so that we might share in God’s nature. In and through Jesus.