from the mountain to the valley

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Mark 1:9-13

It is uncanny how often a kind of mountaintop spiritual experience is followed by a death valley spiritual experience. I’m not sure what to make of it. It does seem to follow the pattern we see in the gospels, as described above in Mark’s gospel account of Jesus’s experience.

We can say Christ experiences this for us, and that’s a good and little understood point. As long as I’ve been a Christian I don’t understand it well enough, partly I suppose because it’s not taught much. What is obvious is that if Christ experienced something, then we as followers of Christ can expect to experience something of the same.

A lot of times, I’ll want to dismiss it, or somehow get rid of it, or wonder what happened that my soul now seems to be immersed in darkness rather than blessed in light. But perhaps simply accepting that as part of our experience now and continuing on is exactly part of what needs to be done.

Who after experiencing a close and affirming work of grace by the Spirit want to be tempted by the devil? None of us. But there’s no escape from it.

Thankfully Christ did for us what we would fail to do ourselves. Unlike Israel of old, he met the temptation in the wilderness with unwavering, unflinching trust in God and God’s word. Christ does for us his people what we would fail to do ourselves. But in so doing, Christ opens up the way for us to follow. And in this world that following will include something of the same for us.

A part of our experience now.

 

becoming Jesus’s disciple

“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

If there’s one thing we need above anything else as Christians, I think it’s to learn to become followers of Christ. It is a false division, the idea that we can be Christians, yet not followers of Christ. That’s actually baked into Christendom, in which Christianity was more or less a part of your cultural heritage. You were Christian because you were born in a certain nation-state, infant baptism the sign of that. Or it was a part of your heritage to go to church every Sunday. It actually would be better if we would see ourselves less in individual terms, and more as individuals who are part of community in Christ. Too often in the United States, we see ourselves as individuals whom God is working on, with our personal devotions, etc.

Be that as it may, we’re faced with things as they are, not as we would like them to be. And besides, if we’re honest, we have our hands full with our own problems, beginning with the one we see in the mirror. So how do we really know what’s best?

Jesus’s invitation was to those of his day and for all generations to come. It is as someone put it, the idea of being yoked with an older experienced cow, and thereby not only beginning to learn the ropes, but being helped along. In fact Jesus calls his yoke easy, and his burden light. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t make this work. Only Jesus can do that.

But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Jesus first tells everyone who is weary and burdened to come to him for rest. That’s where we must start. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, thinking we can launch right into the serious part. We must start at the beginning. We need to come to him for rest. Yes, with all our agitation, indeed restlessness, burden, worry, whatever it might be. We simply come to him. That’s where we begin in really being his disciple. In and through Jesus.

 

Jesus’s blessings and woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Perhaps an echo of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy, Jesus gives his version, which like almost everything Jesus did was surprising, often turning expectations on their head. And even to this day, though we’re used to the idea that these words exist, we hardly take them seriously, much less live by them.

We want to live in the full flourishing of the kingdom now. We want everything to be okay, good, great. And at least we want to have our slice of “the American dream.”

But Jesus calls us to accept something entirely different. Really, just how he lived. It’s not like he didn’t take responsibility. We can see that he did, the first thirty or so years of his life. I mean responsibility in the way we think of that: earning a living, providing for one’s family, etc. But when it was time for him to fulfill the Father’s calling, and his ministry, then it was done in complete dependence on the Father. Jesus’s words here are not something he didn’t live out himself. God’s riches we’re not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others. There was never to be a moment of self-sufficiency, but instead an utter trust in God for God’s ongoing provision. We see this all through Jesus’s life along with his teaching, including the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

The blessings and woes are meant to encourage and warn. Encouragement to those of us who struggle from day to day, maybe due to no fault of our own, or more likely with some fault, but seeking to live in God’s will. And warning for those who are self-sufficient, well able to take care of things themselves, often with their own agenda. The woes are meant to be warnings that the rich would hear so that they would change. One classic example that comes to mind of a rich person changing is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

So we need to take heart, regardless of where we might fall on the spectrum. God will take care of everything as we endeavor to follow Jesus. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

who Jesus is determines who we are (in Jesus)

They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

Revelation 14

If I just tune into some of the evangelical world today, I would think for sure that Jesus is a roaring lion, out to devour his prey. But in Revelation, over and over again, he’s called the Lamb, around 30 times. Once he’s called a lion, “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”

Read the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and read Acts and the letters. You’ll find that Jesus indeed comes across as a lamb, meek and even lowly in his gentleness and humility.

An important desire for us as Christians is the longing to really know Jesus. The term Christian may have originally coined in derision, but we’re named after the one we name and follow. It’s a good prayer to pray, to ask the Lord to make himself known to us. And to remember too, that anyone who sees Jesus, sees the Father. To know Jesus is to know God.

I think we need a total rethinking of who we are as Christians. And that must begin with who Christ is. Only as we begin to understand who Jesus is can we begin to understand who we’re meant to be, to become like, indeed, even who we actually are in him. Contradictory to what we’ve picked up from our culture, and sometimes, sadly enough too often in Christianity itself.

 

the power of the cross in its weakness is not only about salvation

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13:4

The way of the cross in Jesus didn’t stop when Jesus was resurrected, nor after his ascension. It seems too often, at least to me that the cross is viewed only with reference to salvation. And there’s no doubt that it’s central in that. But that salvation is not only through the cross, but into a cruciform, cross-formed life.

Our life in Christ is an in-Christ life. In the power of Christ’s resurrection insofar as it’s grounded and established in his death. That is the power for how we live the life of the cross. Paradoxically the power of Christ’s resurrection enables us to live out the reality and meaning of his death in this life (Philippians 3:10). And we won’t have to look hard in the gospels, or the letters to find directives which comport with that.

This is the one and only way in Jesus, not only for our salvation, but for all of life.

the impracticality of the Sermon on the Mount

On one of the podcasts I’ve been listening to, Stephen Backhouse said something like a government can’t be run if one follows Jesus’s teaching, specifically the Sermon on the Mount, and his example. True. And what if that’s the point for us in Jesus? What if we’re to live an alternative way of life here, not practical in the world’s eyes, but only on God’s agenda given to us in Jesus?

And Stephen Backhouse pointed out that we shouldn’t just consider this with reference to Jesus’s teaching, but that we need to read the rest of the New Testament with Jesus’s teaching in mind. Do Paul’s letters, Peter’s, John’s, and the rest of the New Testament line up with that? I think we’ll find that it clearly does.

What if we’re not to live by our own common sense, or what makes sense to the world, but what Jesus taught and not only exemplified, but pioneered, indeed opened up in the way of the cross, death and resurrection?

Something to prayerfully consider. In and through Jesus.

a different way of living

I’ve referred to Stephen Backhouse’s podcast entitled Followers of the Way: A New Political Imagination, and want to again highly recommend that you listen to them carefully in order. I just listened to the eighth session, and I must acknowledge that while it certainly critiques what has been troubling to me, it also critiques part of my own way of looking at life. Too often, or better put, it’s really embedded in me, the idea that what is most important and most real is my own world with God, as if my individual life somehow is central. Of course it’s important to keep a balance, and realize that yes, our individuality plays a part in the whole, for sure. But the whole is so much bigger. We have to deal with our own responsibility, but we do so realizing that we do so as part of a kingdom and way which is an alternative to every other kingdom and way of the world, contrary to every principality, which includes nationalism, and so on. And that we’re in this together in Jesus, as no less than an alternative kingdom under King Jesus.

To get this much more simple (and trust me when I say that the podcasts are simple enough to understand, but profound enough to have to chew on, and continue to ponder), and that’s what I need myself, we need to be aware that Jesus presents to us a completely different way of living. We act not out of what is aptly called “the orphan spirit” so that we’re hoarding, and refusing to give and failing to do what God would have us do. But we keep on giving and giving, and essentially giving ourselves, because we know that in God’s kingdom in Jesus, there’s always more and more that will be available to be given. That is a part of what we might call the economy of God’s grace. We see this especially laid out in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

We live as part of an alternative kingdom and way. Not in lock step with any other way, or kingdom or political ideology of this world. Everything seen in the light of Jesus, what he taught, his way, the way of the cross and resurrection. Something I want to better understand and live into and live out along with others. In and through Jesus.

love that enemy

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

“Love wins.” That may seem trite and empty, but there’s wisdom and truth in that saying. Especially in the way of Jesus, actually at the heart of the way of Jesus.

How easy it is for us to be disgusted with people who seem against us, and return their attitude with a nonverbal slight. We need to repent of such attitudes, and instead show humble love to our enemies.

After all, we too were enemies of God, but God loved us even then. If we’re to be true children of our heavenly Father, then we’ll learn to do the same. In and through Jesus.

 

Jesus’s peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I remember a church in our area which had a sign that said, “Wage Peace.” The church was of the Protestant liberal persuasion which tends to take strong public stands on what is called a progressive, liberal agenda. Then you have on the other hand churches which not only hold to just war theory, but who quite often back American efforts in war. On hindsight, I think we can clearly say that at best there are major problems in military action, and that indeed, war ought to be a last resort.

But was this what Jesus was talking about? While I don’t think Jesus would approve of much of the world’s military action, if indeed there could be any such approval at all, since all is laid bare behind the full scrutiny of the one with eyes like fire, and besides, what affiliation does the kingdom of God have with any nation state? No, Jesus was not referring to that. What he said was surely in a true sense a rebuke to much of that. Wouldn’t it be beneficial and good if the church once again required soldiers returning from war to engage in some kind of time of repentance, even penance, not to earn forgiveness, but to actually be saved from what war effort requires? I say this hesitantly and sadly, while at the same time admiring the service of those who serve honorably and self-sacrificially for their country. And I have no doubt that many do so with character, not wishing to inflict injury on others, but carrying out orders in the confidence that they are on principled grounds. And in a world where evil is often armed, isn’t there a need for police action? I say, clearly yes, as long as it’s restrained, and with the effort to minimize the loss of human life.

But again, back to Jesus and his words here. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace between those who are not peaceful, who often are enemies. Surely peacemaking is in terms of Jesus’s mission which is fulfilled in his death and resurrection. And both before that, and afterward, we find that Christians are to live in the way of Jesus, which means the way of the cross. To understand what Jesus’s words here mean in full, we of course need to go over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, particularly Acts and the letters. We’re going to find that this peacemaking is always in terms set by Jesus. It is never on the world’s terms, like “might makes right.” And the kind of peace that Roman force enforced. Instead it comes in terms of changed lives, changed societies, indeed, changed priorities. Those alienated from each other, perhaps through past conflict or injustice are made one in Christ. Of course this comes through conversion. Think of Paul’s conversion in which a radical enemy of the faithful, becomes a friend in God.

But let’s not bypass the reality of what often comes between. Those who do the hard work of peacemaking, must themselves, obviously, be peacemakers. You can’t raise Cain, and bring the peace that Christ brings. It must be in the meekness, gentleness, and humility of the Lamb. And it will involve self-sacrifice, even the abnegation of self altogether. But the reward that brings will be well worth the effort. In life, as well as words said, particularly the word of the gospel.

To be a peacemaker then is not to score points and win. We especially need to hear that in this day and age when winning is considered everything, nothing else mattering. No, we take the way of Jesus, and determine from the outset that one of our fundamental goals is peacemaking. A hard task for sure. But more than possible through the Prince of Peace, Jesus, and his sacrificial death for the world, as we walk on the same path, with that same good news, the gospel of peace. Peace with God and with each other. Good news meant even for our enemies. Through the Cross. This is part of what should characterize us, our lives and action. In and through Jesus.

Jesus was not about being nice, or everyone getting along

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53

Seems like a popular view of Jesus is a soft, sentimental kind of like, “Why don’t we all just get along?” Jesus. Not the real Jesus found in the Bible.

That Jesus was about love is no doubt, more than anyone ever. But real love is also about truth. And that’s where the problem lies for the world, for society, for each one of us. We don’t want to face it, indeed on our own, we can’t.

That’s where Jesus’s redemption comes in, the baptism he speaks of, that of the cross. Through that, we can indeed accept the difference he makes with the division that brings. As we seek to follow him in a world in which we’ll no longer fit. But part of the new world now breaking in. In and through Jesus.