incentive to grow in God’s grace

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:17-18

2 Peter 1 is one of my many favorite sections of Scripture. The rest of the book (it’s a short one; click the above link to get it all) is a bit challenging for me, not sections of Scripture I go to much on my own, except to read through with the rest. But probably because of that, parts I need to heed all the more.

The ending quoted above gives away the plot of the book, which you might not at all guess by the first chapter alone. Again, that first chapter is beautiful on its own, and stands well alone. But it is not appreciated well for what it was meant to be and do when separated from the rest. It’s like listening to just parts or highlights of a symphony or other musical piece. Without listening to the whole, you won’t as well appreciate the parts.

The sad fact of the matter is that there are charlatans out there ripping people off. That’s the obvious stuff, though not so to those who are not well versed and desperate. And then there’s the much more subtle, whose own faith is ship wrecked (to borrow from Paul), who are naturally corrupt, and corrupt others, even in the name of religion, yes, sadly, in the name of Christ. They are out there. I wish I could avoid all of this. But I live in the real world. And to think that I’m not above being influenced by such, even if it’s subtlety, is to deny the plain words of Scripture here.

Regardless of what else, we must press on, seeking to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ just as the first chapter tells us. (I know, the chapter and verse divisions are something we’ve added, a part of our tradition, but while having their drawbacks, do help us know what part of the Scripture we’re referring to.) We’re to be aware of the danger unsound teaching and teachers bring. First of all, of course, to be able to sort out the true from the false, the good from the bad. And the better and best from those who maybe have been influenced by what’s not good. A big task, and we need the church at its truest to help us in this.

Instead of succumbing and ultimately falling, we’re to keep growing. There’s no middle ground. We either are growing, or drifting as in falling back. Our needed ongoing growth in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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grace needed

…by the grace of God I am what I am…

1 Corinthians 15:10a

It seems all too often that the ones in need of God’s grace the most are the ones who supposedly believe in its necessity. By grace I mean God’s gift in Christ by which we receive forgiveness, favor and ability to follow Christ. So grace is not an excuse to cover up for us, but grace necessarily does cover. It’s never ever an excuse to do wrong. When we do that we actually cut ourselves off from God’s grace. Not that we can’t repent and receive that grace afterward. But we are in dangerous territory if we think we can sin now and be forgiven later, because by that attitude we’re setting ourselves on a path in which real repentance won’t be easy. Living in grace as God intends it will mean ongoing repentance for us to be sure. But we do so as those whose hearts are set on doing God’s will, not on sinning.

All too often God’s people who claim to hold to grace the most seem to act as if they are above it and others beneath it. We must always remember that at every moment with every breath we’re in need of the same grace that we should constantly extend to others. But again it’s not a grace from God for us to simply do our own thing. But it is a grace which does truly meet us wherever we’re at, but doesn’t intend to leave us there.

I am weary myself of anyone who has all the answers, but not discounting the reality that there are some who do have many of them. Paul would be a case in point. And actually he might fit into the category I just mentioned to some extent when the church commended him to the grace of God after his dispute with Barnabas over John Mark who Paul saw unfit for service at that point. And I’m weary also of those who seem to think they have it all together and regularly criticize others.

But I’m wary also of myself, hopefully especially so, knowing my need and my tendency to want to throw in the towel in so many ways for so many reasons. I’m in need of God’s grace as much as anyone else and before I worry about anyone else, I have to make sure I’m set in that direction myself. And it ends up being a Christ-thing by the way. We follow others as they follow Christ, but Christ is ultimately the one being followed. All of that requires God’s grace no less.

By God’s grace in Jesus we are what we are. I don’t worry about trying to be someone else. And my ultimate goal is to follow Jesus just as someone else might. By God’s grace in and through Jesus.

 

to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

come to Jesus just as you are

“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

It seems to me that Jesus’s invitation here is clearly to all, and it’s an invitation into rest in a yoke beside him. So it’s a call to discipleship.

Jesus terms it in conditions of being beaten down, tired, weary, worn out. So it’s not like somehow he is calling those who are prepped to go on all eight (or more) cylinders, those doing well because they somehow deserve it, or as if he’s looking for the elite. Not at all. He is looking for the broken and downtrodden, those who may have failed along the way, and who of us hasn’t failed in some ways?

And Jesus doesn’t set any qualifications. Remember who he said is blessed: the poor in spirit, the poor, the meek, yes, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart (disposed to one thing), etc. So it’s not like you think you can dabble in the world, do your own thing, yet come at the same time, like include Jesus in the mix. It’s a call to come as you are, whatever that is, but it’s a call for all of life. Not that life isn’t to be enjoyed. In fact it can only be life to the full in Jesus.

No qualifications are set here by the Lord. He simply invites us to come to him, to take his yoke upon us, and learn from him. Not complicated, but something we must do.

I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t feel qualified. But it’s the ones who think they’re qualified and deserving who actually are not and often not disposed to heed Jesus’s invitation anyhow. Remember the parable of the Pharisee who thanked God about how good he was, and the tax collector who beat his breast and cried out, “God have mercy on me a sinner!” The latter was justified or considered acceptable by God, but the former, not.

This is my goal, to come to Jesus just as I am, and it’s honestly not much except what is broken and lost and disheveled and on and on. But at the same time I come as one who is willing and realizing that this is a call into an apprentice kind of relationship no less with Jesus himself by the Spirit. In and through him.

 

law or grace?

No matter how you shake it, and it’s not an easy passage to interpret or understand, Romans 7 makes it clear that there’s a strong human tendency to buck law, especially when it’s in your face, or one’s well aware of it. Law in Scripture is given for the good of people to show them how they ought to live in a flourishing free way, but it also serves to show people their sin and therefore their need of God’s grace. Grace here I refer to as both forgiveness and new life as in ability to keep the law. And by keeping the law, I’m referring to keeping the requirements of the law not by law keeping, but by a life which in a way is above the law in that it transcends mere law keeping, the life naturally doing what God requires.

One of the most memorable portions of Philip Yancey’s classic book, What’s So Amazing About Grace is the story about the man who sought to escape the evil of western society to what he saw as a society in which law and therefore righteousness could flourish. The only problem was that he got entangled and overcome by his own sin in stark, dark and troubling ways. His Christianity fell by the wayside because it was not formed by grace, but simply informed by law.

Law is important in its place, and in societies good laws are needed, for example against the taking of life, or practices which might endanger life such as driving when intoxicated. Law as mentioned in Scripture serves to convict one of sin, though the Spirit is needed to make that conviction more than condemnation and instead a life changing repentance.

I remember Christian schools that made a lot out of rules to the point of more or less micromanaging the students’ lives with the presupposition that such would keep them out of harm’s ways, curb their sinful tendencies, and even form them into godly people. The only problem is that it is grace which changes us, not law. Though it should be noted that God’s grace changes us through the law. God’s grace does the changing apart from law, but uses the law to help us see our guilt, need, and utter helplessness.

Grace and law in Scripture are not easy subjects. But having lived through some sad scenarios in the Christian world, I would say that one has to be aware of the place of both. And how our lives are truly transformed only by grace, God’s gift to us of forgiveness and new life. And how this is both in terms of a point of conversion and ongoing conversion in a process by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

prone to wander and blunder

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:8-11

Yesterday I wrote what for me I hope to be a life changing kind of post. Of course God’s word brings about change, or it’s meant to. I want to mention here that there’s a book I’m interested in reading which put me on this trek, so more on this in God’s will I plan to do later. The author, Bill Gaultiere (mentored by Dallas Willard) said or wrote that the hardest part is to enter and remain in Christ’s easy yoke, in that rest and walk, indeed dynamic with Christ. It’s not easy to enter, and easy to slip out, something I’ve found to be oh so true during my short time endeavoring to be intentional in following through on this. It is wonderful when you’re in it, and you just tend to forget at least the experience before, but the way we humans are wired once you’re back out, being in it as far as the experience is concerned is like a faint dream gone by.

This passage in Hebrews is important to consider in itself (Hebrews 4:1-13). It is about the Sabbath rest God has for his people. And I take it that it’s more than simply believing one’s eternal salvation is settled, that there’s nothing one needs to do to attain that. It’s surely referring to one’s experience, the rest one enjoys right in the midst of life. Ironically the passage refers to disobedience as well as the need to make every effort to enter into that rest. One might well think that to enter rest one needs to simply rest. That’s true except that it takes effort for us to do that since we’re so used to taking the bull by the horn ourselves and getting whatever job we need to do done. So this entire idea can seem so foreign to us.

As we can see from the rest of the book of Hebrews, we are to rest by faith in Christ’s once for all finished work of salvation through his death. I go back now to the passage I referred to in yesterday’s post, part of it, Jesus’s words:

“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

Jesus’s invitation is wonderfully to all. It correlates, I think to the Hebrews passage at least in terms of the faith that’s called for. I have found the endeavor to accept this invitation to be helpful in itself. I then know I’m not there, but I’m making every effort to do so. I do this by quoting this passage again and again, hopefully prayerfully, trying to think and meditate on just what this means for me, what I’m to do, how I’m to enter into it by faith. In that I’m attempting to make the full effort.

By the way, it’s a mistake to think that somehow we have to be perfect on our side. We’re not going to be, plain and simple. God looks at the sincerity of our heart, and our dependence on him in the midst of all our weakness.

This is something I want to be committed to. There’s probably a lot more that needs to be said to counter mistaken ideas about this. But I leave it there for now. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

what I would like to settle into, if only I knew how

No one can map out just what they’re going to be and do. We each have gifts, things we enjoy doing and can learn to do well in. All from God. In Christ’s body, there are different gifts given to each by the Spirit for the church. We need to discern what they are with the help of others. Listening carefully to what others say about what we do, as well as simply settling into what can do well is a good start.

For me at this late stage in life I know I enjoy writing. I actually enjoy sharing a message from Scripture on Sundays at the nursing home, as well. I find a propensity in myself to get off into areas which I would just as soon avoid. But I find that if one takes all of the Bible seriously, and our Lord’s teaching alone, there are places the church needs to go which are uncomfortable. Christ could not avoid controversy for sure, and it is a mistake to think that his followers can.

That said, I would like to aim for an increasingly quiet seeking of wisdom, along with a gentle sharing of such. Such wisdom is ideally steeped in the wisdom books of Scripture, but can’t be bereft of the input and impact of all the rest. And you can see such conviction within the wisdom literature itself. Wisdom simply defined is beginning to understand what is good and suitable for our lives and all of life, and adjusting our lives to that.

I would like to be a gentle seeker and sharer of wisdom. For all, and especially to help people find the wisdom of God in Jesus. I work at Our Daily Bread Ministries which has the goal of making the life-changing wisdom of the Bible clear and accessible to all. So I’m definitely influenced by that, and I find the same passion in the good church we’re a part of.

I would like to hone what gift I have to be more along this line. Gathered from decades in Scripture and life. With some successes and failures along the way. I would like to be under the discipline of wisdom all the more for my own life, so that in my limited way, I can share that by example and word with others. Of course this comes from interacting with God through Scripture and by the Spirit, in relationship with God and others. In and through Jesus.