an important priority for us

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Acts 11:22-24

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14

Goodness is inherent in God. God is good as we read over and over again in the psalms. And humans are made in God’s image. What goodness resides in humans is indeed fragile and broken, but existent due to this special work of creation and relationship to their Creator.

Goodness takes on new meaning for followers of Christ. Our goodness is tied to Christ, Christ’s goodness, and God’s goodness given to us through Christ. The Spirit has changed us from people whose goodness is present but mixed with much that is not good into people who have the same kind of goodness as Christ: intent on loving God and loving others as ourselves. And that demonstrated in good works.

It is a gift from God, a part of who we are meant to be as humans, and who we actually are in Christ. That doesn’t mean that there still might be a number of things about us that are not good because that will surely be the case. But goodness should be the dominant desire and drive in us, helping us to confess and renounce and repent of all that is not good.

Ironically the enemy can play on this strength causing us to have unrealistic expectations. We should want pure good in every situation, at the same time realizing that only God can help all the good we desire be realized.

We in Christ and as Christ followers are made good by the Spirit. God’s children with something of the heart of God. In and through Jesus.

why is it so hard to follow?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Rich Mullins wrote a couple of interesting songs which speak of the challenge of following Jesus, just how difficult it can be for us: Hard and Hard to Get. I really enjoy what seems like and surely is the all too short seasons of feeling close to God when each step seems natural and unforced. All too often I’ve lived in the space where nothing comes easy and I just don’t get it, where I often feel a crushing weight inside. Usually I live somewhere in between, having some buoyancy coming from grace, but still more weighted down than I want.

I’m not sure why it’s so hard to follow, or why it often seems that the Lord is so hard to get. Such thoughts and experience seem to fly in the face of what Jesus tells us about his yoke and the rest he gives. That seems to force the question back on us. Are we really coming to him, taking his yoke upon us, walking alongside with him as he carries the burden? I’m not sure. A prerequisite so it seems for this coming is that we be weary and burdened. That surely includes all of us somewhere along the way.

I would like to enter into this yoke, or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “the unforced rhythms of grace,” and just stay there. It really does seem like I’m such a slow learner. I actually do think I’ve come a long way over the years, but I still easily disappear into the space where God’s grace seems all but absent, where life is drudgery, everything forced. Not as often as in the past, but too often. Maybe a kin to “the dark night of the soul?” I don’t know.

The invitation is present. We must simply respond in faith regardless of what we’re experiencing. Come to the Lord. See what God might teach us or be teaching us in everything, hopefully deepening us. We hold on in faith to the one we trust has hold of us and keep going. In and through Jesus.

to be like Jesus

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

I’m not sure that aspiring to be like Jesus does much good, though it’s a natural thought for Jesus followers, for those in God’s family. After all, Jesus makes his presence known to us not only through Scripture, but even primarily through each other. His image and likeness in each of us rubs off on each other in needed ways.

I think it’s primarily through God’s working through people that other people are impacted and want to be like Jesus. Paul told his readers/listeners to follow him as he followed Christ, and to imitate him and his way of life. It is said that truth is more caught than taught. Surely there’s plenty of wisdom in that axiom.

So we need to find those who are well grounded in the Lord in their lives, not putting on a show, a front at all, being honest, not perfect people, but people whose lives are being shaped by God into Christ-likeness. Steeped in humility and grace, trusting God and God’s work in them and in others. And pressing toward the goal of God’s upward call in Jesus.

Something present with us and at work in our lives. In and through Jesus.

perhaps the most basic gift God has given us

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Matthew 16:21-28

There is surely nothing more basic God has given to us than our very selves, our existence. It includes everything about us, both our physical selves (which when you think about it, really includes all we are) and our inward selves, that which in a sense transcends the physical. Yet beyond the Greek duality, the Hebrew thought from Scripture is that our true selves includes our bodies, the physical, really every part of us. The NIV words “life” and “soul” are translations of the same Greek word, ψυχή, reflecting the different meanings possible within that one word.

Jesus is telling us something paradoxical here. If we are willing to give up our lives for him, then we’ll keep our lives. But if we’re trying to save our lives, then we’ll lose them (a helpful NET footnote). Because of this most basic gift from God, we can enjoy the creation and new creation with the Triune God at the center, loving God and loving our neighbor. We are given a special gift, ourselves. We’re paradoxically not to save that gift for ourselves, but spend it for others. We can do that in the way God intends only in the same way Jesus did it. With the help of the Spirit of God, we live that way. When we do that we find what not only will last beyond this life, but will fit well in the present, even if we’re misfits to many in doing so. In and through Jesus.

God’s concerns, or just human concerns?

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:21-25

Peter was blessed in speaking the truth that was given to him by the Father that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. But that blessing was soon replaced by a needed rebuke. After Jesus and his disciples heard that blessed confession from Peter, and felt his disciples were well enough grounded toward a true understanding of Jesus’ calling, then Jesus began to emphasize his coming suffering and death and what would follow.

“Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.” Then Jesus put Peter in his place. And used this to emphasize and bring home to his disciples an important teaching. It’s either the way of the cross in self-denial in following Jesus, or they’re not following Jesus at all. Taking up one’s cross must have sounded not only ghastly to the disciples, but completely contradictory. Would-be Messiahs were exposed as frauds by being nailed to crosses. And there was no worse way to die.

Jesus brings it to a point. We either have in mind what concerns God, or what concerns us as humans, one of the two. Our prayer needs to be that we’ll always have God’s concerns in mind. It’s God’s concerns which win in the end, over mere human concerns. And human concerns here means that which does not consider God’s will, but just what we think and want. Jesus tells us that if we do this, we lose our lives. But if we follow God’s will, we find our true self, the one God made us to be, our true lives, true life. That should not be why we do it. It’s a byproduct, we might say, of the love of God, of God’s love to us, and our love in return to God and to others.

Something I want to grow much deeper into. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5:1-12

Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.

Every God-born person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus—the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement.

If we take human testimony at face value, how much more should we be reassured when God gives testimony as he does here, testifying concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony. Whoever refuses to believe in effect calls God a liar, refusing to believe God’s own testimony regarding his Son.

This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life.

1 John 5:1-12; MSG

John might ask us if we really do believe that Jesus is the one hope for the world. And if our faith is a following faith, that is, whether or not we’re intent on following Jesus. Do we love all, even the ones we disagree with? And this life overcomes all the world system might throw our way, a life lived contrary to the world’s ways.

We are to live as if everything not only depends on Jesus, but on our following of Jesus, both. Too often it’s just faith as in a spoken, or often more or less silently consented to creedal kind of faith: We believe such and such. But the real test for us is whether or not we’re really following Jesus, seeking to live as he lived. If we’re not, then we should question whether we have authentic faith or not, whether we have the eternal life that is in the Son.

We do this in community with other Jesus followers, as well as individually throughout our day. We prove our love to God and to others by following Jesus in a life like his: given in love for all. That is how we can fulfill God’s command to believe in the name of his Son, and to love one another.

In and through Jesus.

who is in Jesus’s family?

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:46-50

I’m not into doing posts in reaction to what is happening out there. Mostly they relate to things I’m working through in my own life. I must say though that after living through the past four years and what’s preceded that, there has come some breaking points for me. To the point now that I left a tradition in which I lived for over four decades. And I still work for a ministry in that tradition in the factory end, and I continue to have a high regard for that ministry both in its substance, and in the humility and integrity in which its done.

Jesus’s words in the gospels are potent, and no less here. Striking indeed that Jesus makes this point you might say at the expense of his natural family. It’s not like they no longer mattered to him, as we can see throughout the rest of the story. Blood matters, even with Eugene Peterson’s rendering in this passage: “Obedience is thicker than blood.” In the realm Jesus was referring to, one’s physical descent matters nothing at all. There has to be an obedient faith for one to be in this spiritual family.

Jesus makes it plain that it’s only those who follow the will of his Father who are in this Spirit born family. And this isn’t merely “accepting Jesus as my Savior,” going to church, reading the Bible now and then, memorizing a verse here and there. No. It’s more if we’re to be included in what Jesus is saying here.

It’s doing the will of the Father, doing God’s will, even as Jesus did. As given to us in Scripture: the heart of that being to love God with all of our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And this includes loving our enemies. Don’t forget Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The way of the cross in this life. Etc. In and through Jesus.

continuing on

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69

After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69; MSG

After the astounding miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, the multitude was ready to make Jesus their Bread-King, not at all understanding who Jesus was or what his rule was all about. That it was through and through, not just in terms of what they wanted, what they thought they needed. Coming from the one in whom God fully lived, of course being God himself as well as fully human.

Jesus’s teachings were sometimes hard not only to follow, but to understand. There was much that even the Twelve didn’t understand well at all. But as Peter said, they knew enough by faith to keep going.

That’s often where we are as well. If we can just concentrate on accepting where we’re at, and keep going from there, we can have a full measure of God’s peace. That doesn’t mean we might not be in a quandary, not really understanding everything to say the least, and having plenty of questions. That’s all good, and not only alright, but completely normal. The point is we need to just keep on going. The God who has given us light in Jesus will continue to do so. Our call is to seek and follow, or simply put, as Jesus’s disciples, to follow. To continue on in and through Jesus.

letting the truth sink in and settle

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

John 8:31-32; MSG

The heart of the Christian message is about relationship and truth. The two go together in a number of ways. By faith in Christ we begin to understand not just the truth about God, but God himself, or God’s self (since, strictly speaking, God is neither male nor female, while at the same time, male and female human beings are made in God’s image). But as Jesus I think was suggesting to those who had believed him, it’s not enough just to have the light turned on, and truth dawn on us. We need to let that sink in and settle to make the needed difference in our lives. We need to keep the truth from and of Jesus front and center, and make it central to how we live. Nothing less than that will do.

If we do that, then we’ll begin to experience the freedom God wants to give us, not only from sin, but for what is right, good, of God, and truly human. As disciples/followers of Jesus. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 3:11-24

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24

For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other.

We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don’t be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time.

The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24; MSG

I would like to emphasize three things at the beginning. First of all, I can’t really know what John would say, and I’m especially thinking of him in his old age when he wrote this letter. And even if I could, what he would say would not be inspired in the same sense as this letter is, being part of Holy Writ. Yet I’m sure we would all be bending our ear to hear all he would humbly put forward, one of Christ’s Apostles, who has seen so much, and taken it in well. All of this fast forwarded with John seeing and understanding our present times in the backdrop of history. A tall task for anyone, including historians and theologians, or we could say historical theologians, etc.

I think John might pause here to draw the line between love and hate. How we either are doing one or the other. That we’re to reject hatred of our brothers and sisters who may differ with us on the issues of the day. I think John might also warn against getting caught up in the culture war, on one side or the other. Our call is to follow Christ and be obedient to Christ’s commands. The foremost of which is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even to love our enemies.

If we don’t love, it can easily turn into hate. We might think otherwise, but that really does seem to be the case. For us in Christ, it’s either the Spirit of Christ or the flesh, one or the other. And the flesh is allied with the spirit of the antichrist within the unholy trinity of the world (system), the flesh, and the devil. Hating someone is equal in God’s eyes to murdering them in our hearts. And we can’t be tepid in our love, because we know the God who is love. This is quite slippery in its deception for all of us, who think we’re on the right side, that we have it right when it comes to the issues of the day, and/or our stance on them, which in itself is a bit pompous. Are we going out of our way to love those on the other side who are one with us in Christ? Not to mention those who may well have an empty profession of faith, evident in their misdeeds.

It is easy to be distraught about what is going on, about others, and maybe especially about ourselves. We feel like we’re judged, and we know to some extent we deserve condemnation for things we’ve done and left undone. Of course the accuser of the sisters and brothers is always ready to cast the same on us, and we’re all too ready to take it in. No, John tells us. Let’s go out of our way to love each other, even when feeling this way. In practical, down to earth ways; not just saying it, and stopping there- maybe even feeling good about that, but doing it.

God will meet us as we endeavor to do that. And help us to live in that Spirit of love, where God lives as the God who is love. Our task is simple, yet profound: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and to love each other in Jesus, and to love even our enemies as we follow Jesus. In imaginative, helpful ways God helps us see. Over time that can go a long way toward quelling the troubles of our day. As we point ourselves and others to God’s kingdom to come and present now in and through Jesus.