we’re family!! in Christ

Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

Then his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; NRSVue

When it comes to our faith, there is nothing more essential or basic than family. God is our Father (and Mother), Jesus our Brother and we’re all siblings by faith in and through Christ. We’re to call no man on earth our father, and given the patriarchal error today and back in Jesus’s time along with the hierarchy that accompanies it, that’s more than understandable (see Mark, by Geddert).

Yes, Christ makes himself known to us directly but much more significantly than we realize and we might say in some respects more strongly through our relationships with each other. Didn’t Jesus say that where two or three gather in his name, he is present with them (Matthew 18:20)? Using our distinct personalities, and ourselves being total agencies in this, not just passively used, in the total life-giving and difference making presence of Christ.

Nothing more basic in our faith, and largely missed in all my decades as a Christian. God wanting to include all in God’s family of creation in this wonderful family of new creation, and God will do that, all eventually coming to repentance and faith (but that’s another subject). In and through Jesus.

prayer for a clean heart

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10; NRSVue

There are those who say that this prayer is not for today since God has given us a new heart and spirit in the new covenant. I can more than understand that thought, and I don’t really care to argue about it. It may well be true on a certain level. We indeed have a new heart and are partakers of the divine nature as believers in Christ. But that doesn’t mean that our hearts might not be carried away with something contrary to the goodness and righteousness that’s in Christ.

In John’s first epistle (as it’s called, or letter) we’re told that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). If that’s addressed to believers, and contrary to a few I think it plainly is, then it’s not a stretch to pray the prayer above from Psalm 51, and to benefit directly from that entire penitent psalm.

What we’re talking about here is real life. Yes, we’re forgiven in Christ through his once for all sacrifice for sins. But in God’s love and grace, God holds all of God’s children accountable. God expects more from us.

We may not be able to make sense of everything in Scripture, and that for a good number of reasons. It’s better to ponder than simply dismiss something as irrelevant to us. All of Scripture is written for us if not to us. It will benefit us if we give it the time and space.

In this case I pray that God will indeed give me a clean heart and a new and right spirit. God is always at work to bring us into a new experience of God’s love and what that means for every part of our lives and out from our lives to others. In and through Jesus.

prayer and then whatever else (all in love in Christ)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

There’s a critique out there which has a point, criticizing “thoughts and prayers.” But honestly for the follower of Christ in God’s love, that’s generally where all the good begins. Otherwise we’re prone to want to do everything on our own and actually we can do that. But the needed change in us and in the world can only come from God. And prayer is a prime vehicle of that change.

Prayer is communication to God, deeper: communion with God. Through God’s word coming to us from scripture and in answer to prayer, our lives will take on a life and light that they otherwise wouldn’t have, from Christ himself. And there’s nothing greater we can actually do then pray.

Of course all of this has to be in God’s love in Jesus and by the Spirit. Otherwise it will ultimately be empty (1 Corinthians 13). But that doesn’t mean that when we’re upset and angry or struggling with loving someone that we shouldn’t pray. There’s no time prayer isn’t important. Good times, bad times, and every time in between.

And the word above from Paul is addressed to the church. We’re in this together. The more we join together in prayers, the more powerful prayer can be. Potent in God’s love cutting through into our lives and through us into the lives of others. And simply for those in whatever need, while we open up ourselves to be the answer to our prayers in whatever way God might put on our hearts. In and through Jesus.

are we a disappointment to God?

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
    as on a day of festival.

Zephaniah 3:17-18a; NRSVue

Often we carry a burden of feeling and thinking that we are a disappointment not only to certain ones, but to God. That God looks on us and is not only disappointed with some of what we’ve done, maybe even much of that, but is disappointed in us. And there’s theology that in my mind is beneath the name Christian which supports and even promotes the idea that God basically just puts up with us, only able to stand to look at us and accept us because God sees us through and in Christ. Whatever grain of truth might be in that, the thought actually does not comport well at all with the whole of scripture, and especially in the light of Christ’s coming. In fact, any truth in it makes it more dangerous since people are more apt to swallow it. And so, we go around thinking and feeling that we’re nothing more than worms, really not liked by God, but somehow loved in the sense of God putting up with us. There is so much to say about all of this. Someone could write a book on this, not to say there haven’t been books written at least around this subject. There is much to say and sort out.

The above passage in Zephaniah is in the context of God’s judgment and work of salvation. With all the evil doing of the nations and of God’s own chosen people in Jerusalem, there’s a people who had been victims, and the rest evidently respond to God’s judgment with humility. At any rate, we can think of Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, who certainly didn’t do right by his father, himself, or anyone else for that matter. Yet the father longed for him, and when at long last seeing him return, ran toward his son and embraced him, and had an all-out celebration, holding nothing back.

Yes, just as we’re disappointed at times in things we’ve done in our lives, so God also. But we’re not a disappointment to God. God sees the one God made, and delights in that. And God delights in all God wants to bring to pass and enjoy about us in God’s love. God sees that in everyone. One of our problems is that we project our poor way of seeing others onto God, as if God is limited in some similar way. But that indeed is not the case. God sees through the ugliness of our lives at the beauty that is present in God’s creation of us. And God loves us through and through just as we are. Yes, just as we are. God will help us in God’s love to become all that we really are, all God made us to be through creation and new creation. In and through Jesus.

God’s beloved

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11; NRSVue

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17; NRSVue

I think I would put The Cure somewhere on the top ten of the books which have most influenced me, or at least most intrigued me. It is a most interesting read, whether or not you agree with it entirely. It’s really not meant to be a book to convince you of this and that doctrine, in spite of somewhat copious although often helpful endnotes. It is a story of the difference between living in grace and religion*, the latter involving unrelenting standards to measure up to with necessary masking to hide the fact that inevitably no one does. The place of grace is entirely different, not only no mask wearing, but hair let down with many tears. People are real, themselves, and completely accepted. Unlike the place of religion where you are accepted on many conditions.

The difference is what the above passages are getting at: the love of God from the God who is love. God has God’s heart set on all humanity, really intent in restoring all of creation, and especially fallen and broken humanity. That is more than evidenced in God becoming flesh meaning human in the Son Jesus through the Incarnation. Completely identifying with us, right where we live with all of its challenges along with our (not his) failure, but with the laughter and joy as well. But it seems especially identifying with those who are mourning, the poor, the oppressed, the downcast, the marginalized. Bringing the healing that can only come from God, healing being synonymous with salvation in New Testament terminology.

If there’s one place I especially feel uncomfortable, it’s with religious folks. Unfortunately you have to add to that nowadays those who are caught up in the tribalism of this or that political persuasion. But lots of those folks are religious, which just becomes either a new rule added on, or understanding among them that it’s simply that way no questions asked.

In contrast to that, God accepts everyone warts and all, just the way we are with all of our blindness, failure and sin. And unlike religion, people are fully accepted in the beloved one, Christ. Christ came that we might through him find our true identity and ultimately our true selves in the reality we are included in with him through faith and baptism, so that we may come to realize that we too are indeed God’s beloved, God’s much-loved ones.

In the end we’re told that God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15) accomplished in and through Christ in his life and reconciling death, so that everyone will be included. It will be a most happy ending, even if it takes some time to get there. No one will be left behind, no one left out. Not even the sad religious folk who somehow imagine themselves better and look down on everyone else (see Gregory of Nyssa, George MacDonald, etc.). Not that judgment and severe judgment isn’t in the mix, because it most necessarily is, but not a rejecting, obliterating fire, but a purging, redeeming fire. But this is another subject entirely.

But the point is that we need to see that “in Christ” we are indeed God’s beloved. That we don’t have to measure up to this and that which other people, even churches might want to impose on us. No, we are not rejected, but God’s children.  In and through Jesus.

*Religion in the sense of something fabricated by humans rather than received from God and regularly practiced and lived out in response to that (example: James 1:26-27).

anything worth doing comes at a cost

I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.

2 Samuel 24:24b; NRSVue

If we’re going to do anything at all, we need to really do it. Not try to get it out of the way. I’m thinking of any necessary task, but especially of prayer. And to do something right comes at a cost. We’re to do that out of love in response to God’s love to us and as an expression of our love to God and to others. We’re willing to do what it takes to really do it. That involves time as well as not skating through it as fast as possible. Slowing down and really endeavoring to do it right.

In the case of David here, he refused to be given a place to make sacrifice, insisting on purchasing it. This is one of those many scripture passages which stand out to me. A reminder to us that we’re to not shun what requires a part of our very selves, and to do that out of love. In and through Jesus.

glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

*nothing* separates us from God’s love in Jesus

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

I believe a passage somewhere in the Apocrypha along with the Book of Common Prayer tells us that God loves all God has made. I think within an orthodox reading of Scripture (see Gregory of Nyssa) you can make a case for a Christian universalism, which by grace always involves faith, repentance and change. I am open to such a view myself.

But we who are “in Christ” by grace through faith, along with baptism get to experience this love firsthand, though I would never say that others don’t experience God’s love. But Christ is central to this love being given and experienced by humankind.

It’s important to accept what amounts to the truth that God loves all. In Scripture when it seems to indicate otherwise, we can say that we need to read and understand that Scripture in light of Christ. The writer along with the Israelites or whoever was involved may have been mistaken. God does hate what violates love, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love all who are made in God’s image, and in some sense all of God’s creation. God in Christ is out to redeem and reconcile all things to God’s self, as well as to each other in proper relations.

But all of this, or the basic truth needs to get through to us, not just into our heads, but in our experience. We need to understand that God loves us in spite of ourselves, our many mistakes, missteps, even plain wrongdoings. That God is always present for us with open arms. And in a true sense as close to us as the air we breathe. Nothing at all that we go through as Christ followers can ever separate us from God’s love for us that is in Christ. Oh, that everyone, and I’ll even include myself in that, would step into this and learn to remain there. Whatever other experiences we go through in this life, oh that God’s love in and through Christ might overshadow them all!

In and through Jesus.

the love that wins

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

1  John 4:7-11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

The active love of God in Christ carried on by us to each other and to the world is ultimately the love that wins. It begins and ends in Christ. It is an “in Christ” existence, but thus our real selves are found. And yet it’s in a world like where Jesus lived so that we are called to love in the same way God loves and has loved in Christ: the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek.

This all begins with the realization that we are loved, deeply loved by the God who created us and wants to remake us in Christ. Christ is the human who fulfilled this, and we enter into this fulfillment ourselves, to begin to live out and grow into this love-filled life even in the hard places, doing so together in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

the need for self-understanding

…we are dust.

Psalm 103:14b

It is important for us to understand ourselves. Weaknesses. What helps us, what doesn’t. Strengths, too. To find where we excel as well as what helps us be resilient in the inevitable drama and trauma of life. To find our gifts, what we enjoy doing, what comes more or less natural to us, as well as what doesn’t.

Scripture tells us we’re dust. And that to dust we’ll return. But in and through God become human in Christ we receive the hope in the form of a promise of resurrection from a mortal into an immortal existence. And we’re taken up into a great family, God our Parent, Christ our Brother, the Spirit our love breath.

I really get tired of certain aspects of myself which are not what I believe God intends in the long run. Especially challenging to me is my propensity to worry about this and that and something else, everything else. I manage this much better than in the past. I realize that it’s important how I carry myself, not to be fake, but in faith looking to God to help me do better, trust in God, cast the burden on God, and experience some release from this. And that is happening more for which I’m thankful, but I’m still beset with a tendency to worry. Scripture addresses that. Though that helps I simply realize that this is a weakness that is part of who I am.

Thankfully we find that God accepts us completely just as we are. That should be the reason we can do the same. God helps us in the midst of our weaknesses, indeed the Lord’s strength somehow becomes evident in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12).   If God loves this dust made in God’s image, then we need to, too. Love each other, even ourselves. Know ourselves, and that the God who knows us completely through and through, completely accepts and loves us.

In and through Jesus.