we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.

 

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the righteous requirement of the law: love

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us….

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 8:4b; 13:8-10

It is interesting how it seems that the reason for Christ’s atoning work and the Spirit’s work for believers is that they might love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus made it clear that includes everyone, that actually we’re to be a neighbor to all in actions of love for those in need (see the parable of the Good Samaritan). And that this is one command with the command to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength.

Of course we’re going to love no one perfectly in this life. Only God can do that. But love should be the overriding passion for all that we are and do. And it’s not a love defined by us or on our terms, what we might think love is. It’s always in terms of God’s commandments. A friend pointed out to me recently that the law of sin and death overcame the law (Torah) God gave, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus overcomes the law of sin and death (see Romans 7). And that’s so that we can love others, really love them in terms of God’s love.

That should be what moves us beyond anything else through the everyday routines of life, and the intricacies within the challenging, difficult places. And it’s a love steeped in God’s love. We love because he first loved us (1 John). Believing and knowing we’re loved, and living in that love through God’s grace and gift in Christ, will help us extend that same love to others. In practical, needed, down to earth ways. And in avoiding what is contrary. In and through Jesus.

grounded to go on no matter what

There’s no question that living in this world means inevitable sadness unless one somehow refuses to take life seriously. And there’s a sense in which we should not hold back. It’s not like we shouldn’t control our emotions when need be. But when one is sad, they’re sad. People need to get real both in their reactions to others, and in their own lives.

At the same time we have to remain grounded. Life doesn’t stop simply because we want it to, or because we want to stop, ourselves. We have to go on. Yes, surely changed with the wounding and remaining scars that are barely if at all healed. And with many questions. Yes, we have answers in Scripture, and the answer in Jesus and the good news in him, but if you’re observing and thinking, there’s always wonderment about both the beauty and brokenness of nearly everything.

Going on in Christ doesn’t mean running like a bull through a china shop. We tread softly where need be, and seek always to walk in wisdom. But we have to get God’s grace and go on no matter what.

We have to remain grounded in God’s word and in prayer. Hopefully with God’s people, though it can be quite lonely at times. The point is that we must remain in God’s grace in Jesus, whatever we’re going through.

We want to do this in community in Jesus, yes. But we have to be active ourselves in it, sometimes quite dependent on the prayers and help of others, such as counsel. After all, we are interdependent; we do need each other. But to do our part, we have to carry our own burden, the load the Lord gives us. And we go on, believing God will see us through. In and through Jesus.

 

the grace in which we in Jesus stand

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Romans 5:1-2a

There’s nothing more vitally important to our lives in God than God’s grace given to us in Christ. As we read in Romans and elsewhere it is through Christ in his death and resurrection that we’re granted forgiveness of sins and new, eternal life. Through faith. We believe God’s word, the gospel, and receive that word for ourselves. And so we receive the gift we could never earn or deserve. What Christ has done for us.

There’s nothing more basic to us than this reality. In and through it we carry on. Apart from that we’re on our own, which inevitably means God’s judgment since even with it we fall short. Instead we live in God’s favor. God’s grace is not just for our acceptance, but for all of life and to bring us more and more into Christ-likeness.

This is where we live, move and breathe. Nothing more, nothing less than the grace in which we now stand in and through Jesus.

turning old troubles into new opportunities

At this point I have quite a lot of life I can look back on. If I care (and dare) to reflect on it, I can somewhat see from my own perspective, hopefully with something of God’s help, how and why I either made mistakes, or was stuck in certain patterns I never really got out of.

Nowadays I’m more and more seeing old troubles that inevitably come around as new opportunities to trust God and be obedient to his word as never before. This involves spiritual growth with its fits and starts. Of course it’s not easy, but by grace it’s definitely doable. And it’s not at all to say that new troubles won’t come along. But working through the old in a committed faith in God will help prepare us for whatever is to come. The God who came through before will surely come through again as we trust in him.

This can be considered not only about troubles, but whatever else we need to work on in our lives which is lacking. All of it should be done in prayerful dependence on God as we continue in his word. In and through Jesus.

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.

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.