no half heart, all of it

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord….

Colossians 3

It’s interesting, the context of this verse, which we often don’t consider, but it’s referring to slaves in their work for their masters. Read the whole (click link), and while some may think it’s a Biblical okay for slavery, it seems to me that in it are the seeds of freedom even in this world from that, and not just the world to come. The text suggests that they should think of themselves working for the Lord rather than their masters.

That seems to suggest to me that no matter what work we may have, of course barring anything forbidden by scripture, that we too should do our very best as to the Lord, putting our entire heart into it. And when we do, it’s for us a part of obedience to the first and great commandment, while not forgetting the second like it:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22

So we give our hearts completely to the Lord, and to nothing else. And in doing so, we also love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So that work is not a means in itself, or something for our own glory, but for the glory of God, and for the good of others.

This is the only way to live, with a full heart, all of it. Never halfhearted in anything. Always giving everything our all in everything, yes, including rest, and always with love for others. All of this in and through Jesus.

keeping hold of the gospel

The gospel is at the heart of our faith, and therefore central to the well being, not only of us, but of the world. Faith, hope, and love depend on it. No wonder then, when it can become such a point of contention. I commend N. T. Wright and his writings, along with other writers and teachers such as Scot McKnight and Craig Blomberg, and many others.

The gospel essentially is the Jesus revealed in scripture, and all the truth that surrounds him in his person, life, teaching, works, death and resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his return. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage, but actually Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all accounts of the gospel. The good news in Jesus in which scripture is fulfilled.

It is imperative for us to hold on the gospel, not simply because of the life it promises after death, but also because of the life that is promised to us here and now. It is a life in God, one of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because of Christ’s redemptive work of the cross, and the freeing activity of the Spirit (Romans 8). I find that we have to hold on to faith to get out of survival mode, though in spiritual warfare, simply to stand our ground is all that’s required (Ephesians 6:10-20). This is all about the gospel: the good news in Jesus, and holding on to that.

God wants us in Jesus to be more than conquerors, actually in him we already are (Romans 8), victorious (Revelation 2-3) in and through Jesus by the good news, regardless of what we face, or our past, as well as present. It may be in the midst of much weakness, and fallout. Nevertheless God wants the truth of that gospel in Jesus stamped onto our lives, so that it defines and centers us in all of life. The good news, by the way, is as big as all of life, if one reads the pages of scripture in full. It is no less than new creation, God making all things new. It is not a matter of hiding in a cave somewhere with bread and water. At the same time, though, it does involve a following with others of Christ in identification with him, which in this life can spell trouble, even death. But in the midst of that, we know from the good news that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to pray and ask God to help us grasp and hold on to this good news in Jesus. That it might correct us where need be, and set us on the path of life, even of immortality, the eternal life and everlasting way in and through Jesus.

 

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

who sets the agenda?

Some people are excited over the new president of the United States. Others might be excited about this or that, so that their thoughts and lives end up being preoccupied with that. There are a host of factors which influence what we do, and the bottom line seems to be somehow securing some sort of happiness. Is that wrong? I think not. I believe God created us for a life that is abundant in realizing the fulfillment of our humanity, or what it means to be human. The question ends up being, just who determines that, and why does that matter?

The freedom that seems to be in vogue now is simply to fulfill whatever desires and dreams one has. A self-fulfillment which has nothing to do with any notion of truth, but everything to do with a freedom which is determined simply in how one feels, their desires. And from that people say that what is true for you, might not be true for me, in other words it may not work for me in realizing my self-fulfillment, or simply in letting me be and do what I want.

For us in Jesus there is only one who sets the agenda: God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit: the Triune God. Jesus is Lord, period. And all other authorities have their authority only under him, under God. What they say, and their values are not determinative for us, even if they might have legitimacy in their place.

The one who sets our agenda is the Lord, King Jesus, by his person, teaching and work, through the gospel, the good news, which really is Jesus, and is actually all throughout the Final/New Testament. That is where we find the truth for life, the true humanity fulfilled in him, and from that, real, neverending freedom. But that freedom is a byproduct. We follow and submit to God in Jesus no matter what. God is the one who sets our agenda.

letting go of what binds and blinds us

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.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8

We all struggle and all of us in Jesus are in what amounts to a life and death struggle in terms of spiritual (not physical, as some misunderstand it, when I use this language) warfare. The entities which we fight are spiritual, not physical, not humans, but emissaries of Satan himself, the opposer of God. And so at times we’ll be more than up against it, perhaps flat on our backs, but with the help and strength of the Lord, getting back up on our feet to face the spiritual enemy with no less than the mighty power of the Lord, and with the full armory of God.

And what we want to hold on to, whatever that might be, and it probably can be all kinds of things, with seemingly a good reason and motivation behind them (as well as not) can all but bind and blind us. That is a sure telltale sign that what we’re holding on to is not from God at all, and something we need to let go. One of the many indications from scripture that this is so, are our Lord’s words in John’s gospel account:

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.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:31-36

The freedom here is large and expansive (John 10:7-10), unlike what the world would have us think, and even often what the wrong kind of religion will impose on its followers. It is the freedom to live in the love and Presence of God, and not under condemnation of any sort, since Jesus took care of that for us in his death on the cross (Romans 8).

We must learn not to lean on our own understanding, but rather trust in the Lord fully, along with fearing the Lord and shunning evil. And then we can experience on an ongoing basis the peace of God which transcends all understanding in guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-9).

We are God’s children in and through Christ. We need to learn to live well in God’s grace and peace in Jesus. And not to let ourselves be bound by what binds and blinds us. But rather through the Lord to let that go. May God help us to learn to live in that.

 

obedience to a command

We evangelicals influenced by the Protestant Reformation, and specifically Martin Luther’s contribution to that (brilliant, yet flawed some would say) are often practically allergic to such words as work, works and obedience. Sola gracia is the Protestant Reformation cry (along with other solas) meaning grace only, and it is true, and actually believed in all Christian traditions, though in emphasizing it at a certain point, Protestant churches were addressing error (at least perceived and surely oftentimes practiced) in the church. So that in some of the Protestant understanding, particularly under Luther’s influence, works are looked at with grave suspicion, especially a faith or tradition which would emphasize them.

But a plain reading of scripture would seem to suggest otherwise. Jesus’ talk on obeying his commands in his Last Supper or Farewell Discourse emphasizes the importance of command keeping. Just as he obeyed the Father’s commands, so we as his disciples are to obey his commands. Over and over again in scripture, yes in the New Testament we have imperatives, or words given to us in the imperative mood. They are not suggestions, but commands. We could say they are loving imperatives from a Father, just as I used to like to say. And maybe that expression still has its place at times. But I’m afraid such a thought might blunt the edge off what they actually are pure and simple: commands. Psalm 119 is rich in its teaching on commands and their centrality to God’s people. And now we as the enlarged Israel in Jesus the Messiah are in that line, so that we want to set our heart and our lives on the path of God’s commands. In other words, even though in weakness and sin we will fall short, we want to be among those who live in obedience to the commands found in God’s word, particularly in the new covenant. In growing in doing so, we will find more and more freedom as we leave the ways of the old life, even our own ways behind us.

pursuing the peace that edifies

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

There is no doubt that no two people who do much thinking at all are going to agree on everything. Even beyond different perspectives (which alone should help us become good listeners) we at times will flat out disagree. Unfortunately today the discourse instead of being civil is often combative. Yes, just by breathing one is going to be controversial with someone. There is no way to avoid it.

In the context quoted above, Paul is referring to disputable matters among Christians, trying to help the weak both by letting them see the freedom in Christ in such areas, but at the same time the necessity of not violating their weak consciences on a given matter. With the need that the weak would not judge the strong, nor the strong the weak. And the strong would not look down on the weak. That the goal would be mutual edification.

Perhaps our own disagreements which might become conflicts are not worth the cost in terms of what is spent and what one is left with. Probably the crux of the matter does come down to how we handle our inevitable differences. Are we mature enough to enter into a discussion in which we hear each other out and in the end perhaps agree to disagree without holding the other person with less regard?

This is something we must practice, but it also should be our mindset. It goes not only to the kind of matters addressed in the text but to all manner of things. We have to avoid the need to control with the attitude that it is “my way or the highway.” While at the same time standing firm in the freedom of conscience we have in Christ to do what we do, or refuse to do what others practice. As we above all seek the peace which edifies each other.