Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.

 

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faith and money

Looking at life and the Bible might make one wrinkle up their nose and shake their head. It seems like some things are irreconcilable, or don’t make sense. But then one needs to step back and look at the whole, and try to process it all as much as possible. And then simply trust God. I am thinking right now about faith and money.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount about treasures in heaven and not worrying about one’s life (Matthew 6:19-34) are classic in trying to understand and sort through this. And then we have passages that encourage us to not get into debt and save, although in the Biblical world, when one could save, that is taken for granted that they should. But that they shouldn’t hoard, meaning store more than they needed, and that they should be generous to the poor and needy.

Jesus in the passage referred to above suggests that we can end up serving God or money, but not both. The idea is that money can become an idol, money itself not being an evil, but the love of money a root of all kinds of evil, as we read in 1 Timothy (6:10).

I have to wonder at the Christian leaders who actually are worth millions and millions of dollars. I don’t try to judge them for a second and I’m not critical, except when their life styles are exorbitant. Or when their teaching ties one’s material wealth to one’s spirituality. This has been a problem with the health and wealth preachers who seem to suggest that material wealth is indicative of the faith one has. They have great faith, therefore they have the material wealth. And people are to follow their example, especially, too often, by giving to their ministry. I take it for granted that we should give regularly to our church both for the continuation of the ministry in the gospel and in teaching, and in outreach for those who are in need.

Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay his head. And he taught us to pray that the Father would give us our daily bread. Translated for us today in America, that doesn’t mean we have to live from paycheck to paycheck. But that we should be devoted to God in how we handle money, and be generous in giving, and not trust in our material wealth. And a big trap for us here in the United States is debt, whether through student loans, or even through credit cards which we mean to pay off right away, but all too easily accumulate with interests which even if on the lower end then make them hard to pay off.

Faith looks to and depends on God, and what God gives us we are stewards of, in other words we’re responsible to handle that money in a way that honors God. Helping the poor and needy is central to honoring God (Proverbs 14:31). We want to do well with the money we have, but we don’t want to be devoted to money and making more of it, but only to God. All of this requires faith and wisdom, prayer and dependence on God.

Our Father is the one we count on to meet our needs, and that together, as we continue to grow and mature in and through Jesus.

doing the hard thing

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

John 6:60

There are some things I want to put off, and other things that are just plain hard to do. I don’t think we have to look long in scripture at all to find the latter. The hard sayings of Jesus is not an empty slogan. And even in and through grace, it’s not always easy to put to death the insistent flesh which wants to have its way. We certainly cannot do that in our own strength, but only in God’s grace in Jesus by the Spirit. And this is not just something that happens at salvation. So that from then on, if it’s grace, it’s the easy and natural thing for us to do. It can become more and more that, but to even take that step of faith and do what we’re called to do can be oh so hard. It’s so much easier to stay in our comfort zone, better yet, stay in bed, so to speak, and not get up to face the music that is playing. Not to say that some bad stuff we’re not to pay attention to doesn’t come, because it surely does. Guilt trips and condemnation have nothing to do with doing the hard thing in grace. In fact the hard thing then will be to reject all such because of God’s loving provision for us in Jesus. And accept God’s love and acceptance in Jesus.

I am a procrastinator on hard things which have no deadline. If it’s part of my work for the day, then I won’t hesitate to do it, but if it’s just something which needs to be done with no deadline, chances are it won’t get done anytime soon. They say for some who are that way, there’s the fear of failure, or sense that they won’t do well. Sometimes it’s just out and out dread of what has to be done, preferring to delay that as long as possible. This nearly gets us into another subject away from something like keeping the hard teachings of Jesus, maybe into the wisdom genre like we find in Proverbs. And I’m sure we could draw some wisdom from there to help us in this.

Grace calls us to go on in Jesus, to believe and do what doesn’t come naturally for us to do, what we really can’t do, left on our own. We can through Christ. And we do well to prayerfully attend to the difficult tasks put in front of us. Along with the difficult things, we would rather put off. Of course we know the difference between what we could let go for another year, and for whatever reason, what we need to address now. May God help us to know the difference, and by grace do it, as imperfectly as we will. In and through Jesus.

 

learning to live in weakness

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Just an opening thought on my blogging: it might be and to some extent surely is a telling critique to suggest that blogging everyday does not allow the blogger or whatever reader audience may be present to really process and digest what is written. I have been blogging for more than ten years now and it was suggested in the early days when blogging was hot that to have the most effective blog, one should blog daily. So I soon adopted that, which has long been a habit. I enjoy writing, so that’s part of it. But if you look at my blog, you’ll notice that some of the same themes come up again and again. And more than less, nearly every posting is a continuation of the thought, or likely more like a variation of it, which has been hashed through a number of posts previously. That could be in part because I tend to always process thoughts over time.

Weakness is one of the major themes I keep coming to time and time again. That’s probably because I’m a slow learner on it, but it’s also because it’s not an easy lesson to learn, at least not for me. Who wants to live in weakness?

I’m not referring to a weakness in giving into sin, but weakness in the midst of resisting sin. Not to say we can be sinless, either. But I am referring to the kind of overcoming by faith which lives in the midst of weakness.

For me, one aspect of this is my struggle against anxiety, which can be a sin in not trusting God. And what I’m coming to find is that my quest for certainty often leads to a gnawing and then choking anxiety, which by the time I get to that, I can easily see the enemy at work, so that I can give the lie to that thought, and accept only God’s work and the peace which accompanies that.

Of course there’s no real certainty in this world (except, as they say, of death and taxes). Nothing seems totally foolproof here, or as if there’s an arrival to some kind of eureka in which all is well, try and try again, as we all do, and as certain projects have. We do well to accept that, and even embrace it. At the same time doing the best we can, but recognizing that at times, that too will not be enough. And in a certain sense never is since God’s hand must accompany or hold, and most accurately even be what is behind the work in the first place.

I think I might be coming to a new place in learning to live with weakness, which has been incremental with seeming breakthroughs along the way, only to be tested time and time again. I hope by God’s grace to continue to grow in this. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

why we do what we do

I find it not encouraging (rather than discouraging, which I try to avoid) when people who don’t know you judge you. In my case the idea that I’m promoting myself and giving my thoughts which I’m not authorized (like by any church, religious or educational institution) nor asked to do. This makes it difficult for me to take them seriously since they don’t know me at all and what I’m about.

There are too many places to go on this one, and not enough time for anyone. We could cite the priesthood of believers for one thing. That the Spirit is on us all in Jesus, and gives each one of us something special from God to do, as simple as that might be. I’m not sure why it is, but I’ve rarely felt any encouragement to carry on and keep doing what I’m doing, but at some key junctures of doubt I asked people I respect and they encouraged me to continue on.

Sometimes I feel like God has let me down, that God never believed in me. Of course I don’t actually believe in myself at all, except for the grace God puts in me in that original creation of his through the new creation in Christ. I know better, but just the same I can ask that hard question when I see the life of loved ones falling apart, or precariously on a precipice. Not to mention my own struggles, and simply survival mode I often seem to find myself in.

Of course we do what we do because of the grace of God in Jesus, and therefore in response to that great never ending, always present love of God in Jesus. And hopefully by the Spirit, we do it out of love. Even if much of what we do in the course of a day is done to simply fulfill the immediate task in front of us, while we do try to maintain some kind of interactivity with God and others.

My plea is for people to not judge others, and not think this or that about them, but instead get to know them. And think the best of others, not the worst, not because people are so great, because we’re all flawed for sure, and broken. None of us have it all together. But God is faithful. And God is actually exalted in his servants through Jesus, something God chooses to do. Which is why I can celebrate others (Psalm 16:3) even while knowing that none of us are any better than the other, that we’re all completely dependent on God’s grace and gift to us in Jesus.

So why do I do what I do, like write this blog, etc.? I don’t completely know. There’s plenty I suppose to say on that. But hopefully in the end it’s all for Christ and the gospel to the glory and praise of God. That is what I aspire to, and by God’s grace want to be passionate about. As together with others I want to carry on in the race marked out for us in and through Jesus.

the grace of God, the word of God

Two themes coming out, as I’m reading Acts, besides the gospel are the grace of God and the word of God. We can rightfully say that the word of God is often shorthand for the gospel, but it includes the full scope of all of God’s written, breathed-out revelation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  This seems to me to be essential for the church, the Christian life and witness in the world.

Grace can be misunderstood and must be read in its full context and usage in scripture. The gift of grace is never a license to sin, nor does it simply ignore sin. Grace includes both the judgment and correction of the sinner through Jesus and his death. Repentance and faith are involved in that, repentance simply meaning a change of heart and direction of life. Faith is the essential, faith in God’s word, the message of the gospel, as well as all that God gives us in his word through the gospel. We can say and rightfully so, it is a submissive faith.

The word of God is essentially the message of Christ. And all of scripture comes across to us as God’s word written. If we want to know God then we’ll have to be in the word. And through it we can come to know God’s grace through the gospel, and in our daily lives. A grace which forgives and helps us to live in the new life in Jesus.

Simple, yet profound, and indeed life changing. The only way and place we can find and live in that life. In and through Jesus.

back to work

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul’s words need to be seen in context (link takes you to 1 Corinthians 9 and 10). This was all for the gospel, which is all about reaching people. It means the good news, so that is Paul’s aim given his mission. And by extension it seems clearly that he is calling the entire Corinthian church to the same commitment, of course in their various callings, but this one call directing all of that.

It’s our mentality and attitude up front that is crucial, which is why we’re told that we’re not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul’s heart and mind were for Christ and the gospel, and involved in that is not only the message, but the medium for the message which must never contradict the message itself. Paul, and by extension we are that medium. Yes, not all of us are called to proclaim the good news like Paul was as the apostle to the Gentiles. But we are all called to be witnesses to it, which will involve both word and deed. Our lives must line up with what we say, otherwise our words will be empty.

It is utterly crucial for anyone in the ministry to take the hard discipline Paul exerts on himself to heart for themselves. When you read the passage in context (again, see link above) you will note that it’s about the gospel, and with reference to sexual immorality and idolatry. Money, power and sex, not necessarily in that order, have grounded many an aspiring person to follow Christ. Or perhaps it uncovered their true heart. At any rate, we are told in this passage that we all must be careful, and beware lest we fall into the same trap (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Yes, we are present to work, to roll up our sleeves and be in God’s work by his grace in Jesus. Whatever form that work might take. What God has put in front of us, what we can do and find joy in doing in that work, we must give ourselves to fully. Rest is good, and must be incorporated along the way. But the work is what we’re called to, and what we must not let go of. And that requires a commitment and the discipline that goes with that. All for the gospel in and through Jesus.