grace must mark everything

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:6

Grace should mark all that we are and do. By grace I mean God’s grace in kindness; undeserved, unmerited favor; pure gift to us in Christ. We tend to accentuate the demands of life, what we and others are supposed to do, in biblical terms, “the law.” Of course what the law boils down to is simply loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor which includes our enemies, as ourselves. So love is the demand. And love is the given, I mean what we receive from God.

Because of God’s grace, gift to us in Christ, we are able to love God and neighbor in the way God desires. The Spirit within that grace enables us to actually do that, though certainly not bereft of our limitations and sins. But we confess them, learn from life, and go on.

And it’s essential that what we’re to experience ourselves, we apply to others. We need to double down in making sure that if we accept and want grace, we apply it to others all the more. Whatever may cause concern for ourselves can be an occasion to seek to apply grace to others, both through our prayers and through our lives in love to them.

So whatever little word we might think we need to say, if it’s smothered in grace, in God’s love, and with the wisdom that brings, either we might not say it or even have to, or else it will be seen as nothing but helpful, hopefully.

In and through Jesus.

heart to heart honesty

An honest answer
is like a warm hug.

Proverbs 24:26; MSG

An honest answer presupposes a question. More often than not, I would suppose that questions would have to do with problems. Whatever the case, what’s called for here is honesty. And what’s most fully honest is heart to heart.

This is about telling the truth in grace, that is with kindness. And also with wisdom. How we say it is as important as what we say. And just what is said, also. Honesty doesn’t mean dumping all we perceive to be the truth on them. They might not be ready for that. Honesty means the answer at least points them in the right direction.

A truly honest answer also involves humility. We don’t pretend we’re above the fray, beyond the struggle they face. We have our own struggles, and even if it’s not precisely what they face, it will be helpful to them for us to acknowledge such.

Honesty involves not only telling the truth about the problem, possibly gently pointing out a fault. But honesty also truthfully encourages. We point out the good we see in them, give them the praise they deserve, and thank God together for God’s grace in helping them and us in our struggles. Of course sharing how God has and is helping us through our own difficulties.

Yes, an honest answer is what’s needed. That ends up being heart to heart, and like a warm hug as the Scripture says. What we all need to receive and be open to give.

“we all need a home”

Someone recently told me that. It is wonderful, the family settings we can live in. But even the best of them is not without some hurts and wounds along the way, even with some cracks and brokenness. And tragically, sometimes those fractures are not mended and there can be a parting of ways. Home together as family does involve a commitment.

When it comes to church, we Christians at least here in America I think have some difficulty seeing it as family or being comfortable there. Why? It could be in part because of our own experience as family. And churches in our society are like a dime a dozen. Unlike days of old when there were parishes, and you had your church according to your location, in which you may well attend and be part of for a lifetime, now people so to speak go shopping for church. Wherever it’s the right feel, or serves the needs of one’s family, or their own needs, we stop and shop there. Maybe for a few years, maybe more, but often less. Until we move on to our next church and church experience. The older I get, the more I value the practice of those who have been in one church for decades, even entire lifetimes. Unfortunately not true of myself. Though there are times, sadly, to leave a church.

But the church in Jesus is meant to be our primary family, in a certain sense more family than our own family. Though of course each have their unique special place. Jesus made it clear that his sister, brother, and mother were those who did God’s will. And we find in the New Testament letters an emphasis on a community held together in the bond of love in Christ, with the fruit of the Spirit moving that fellowship, and the gifts of the Spirit helping it, all toward growth together into maturity in Christ.

We need a home where we don’t have to perform and have it all together. Where we can be our honest, even broken selves. I’m not saying at all, excusing our sin. But really being honest with ourselves and others. Just that sense given to us together by the Spirit who leads us to the broken body and blood of Christ for us individually and in our relationships with each other.

We need a place where we’re at home. Where people really care for us. Grace-oriented, so that by and by we can start measuring up, but not at all about measuring up, even while there is loving accountability. Where we realize that we’re all in this together, that when one suffers with whatever, we all suffer. Where when one rejoices and is happy, we all are happy for and with them. The sense that we’re indeed not in this life alone. But we’re present and in place for each other. And together for a broken world. In and through Jesus.

is it marked by the fruit of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:22-23

Recently in a podcast I was listening to, it was asked whether or not “Christian” endeavors were marked by the fruit of the Spirit. We live in a day of a lot of anger in the midst of a “culture war.”  You can see this clearly on social media, like on Facebook. Often the posts seemed marked by lots of fear along with more than enough anger. What often seems missing are what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”

This is a good test anywhere, actually. At home, or at work, wherever. Is my life marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? If not, then I’m not living out or showing the character of Christ. Of course it’s not like we’ll be perfect or fully developed in this. But “are we growing in it?” is the question.

This is not so much a matter of feeling, not necessarily at all. It is about the difference God’s grace and the Holy Spirit makes in our lives. Instead of the works of the flesh (click above link), the fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, it’s the Spirit who produces this fruit. But does that mean that we’re not to try to live in such fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, etc.? No. We should attempt to do just that. Not unlike the gifts of the Spirit, it is of the Spirit, but we still must do it. Something we do with the Spirit’s enabling. In the same way, we live out more and more of the character of Christ through the Spirit’s work, as actually a part of the fruit that the Spirit produces in our lives. Of the Spirit in and through Jesus.

loss

Loss is a part of life. In games, yes. But more seriously loss of spouse, marriage, child; job, career, dream; friends; reputation, status, opportunity. You name it.

Loss in life can make one jaded. You don’t trust others; you know they won’t accept you because you won’t, you can’t measure up. And this is a world often bereft of grace. But sadly it seems all too oftentimes that even the church isn’t grace-filled. Grace meaning acceptance as human beings and individuals into a fellowship/communion of truth and love.

I think one has to lick one’s wounds and go on. You have to find a church that does seek to uncompromisingly live in God’s grace. This is messy since we’re all a mess. None of us have it all together, and we will at times fail at each other’s expense. Hopefully we’re not referring to major failures, but sin is sin. It divides us, and if we let it, apart from God’s grace, it conquers us. Confession of sins and forgiveness and cleansing always available to us in Jesus.

Not only do we need to find a church that is faithful as a witness to the gospel, but we also need to plug into a small group in which we can pray for each other, help where needed, and hold each other accountable.

And we need to remain in the word, in Scripture, ourselves. Loss occurs in everyone’s life, and sometimes significant loss can seem to mark us, that we are a failure. That we didn’t live up to others’ expectations, who never knew us in the first place. Or for that matter, far more seriously, the Lord’s expectations.

There may be plenty of truth in that, indeed there’s some, but in Christ there’s always and forever God’s grace offering forgiveness and new life. Life out of death. Redemption from “determinism” or the inevitable, from the addiction one can’t break free of.

And there’s restoration. To the God-given special place for each one of us, helping us find and settle into the goodness God has for us in the good life and good works given to us. In and through Jesus.

does the Bible really say that?

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

This is a good passage out of which this part is shared here (click link) to critique popular theology. Paul’s voice seems so foreign, yet it actually resonates with Jesus’s voice, and that of the rest of the Bible on matters like sexual immorality, idolatry, and simply putting God to the test instead of in faith, trusting and obeying him.

One popular take out of pastoral concern (as a friend pointed out to me) is the point that indeed God doesn’t give us more than we can bear; he actually does, so that we won’t depend on ourselves, but on God to see us through. There’s truth in that when you consider it with the rest of God’s word. But I want to take seriously just what is actually said in these scriptural passages.

We’re told that God won’t let us be tempted or tested more than we can stand. But with that temptation will provide the way out, so that we can endure it. Plain and simple. Maybe not the way we want to hear it. We want somehow a miraculous breakthrough which requires no effort on our part. But as Dallas Willard pointed out, grace is not opposed to human effort. While God’s grace given to us in Jesus is nothing we can merit, earn, or deserve, that does not mean it is received passively by us. That happens, but it seems more often than not, we are active, at least in being attentive if nothing else.

If we think the Christian life isn’t without a struggle, or often against the grain of culture, then we have another thing coming. Or we may end up going, as a few leaders have in recent days, leaving the faith behind. There’s more to it than just this, much more. That is why we need to turn the pages of all of Scripture from beginning to end, and keep doing so. In prayer and with the commitment to a faith which receives and responds. Accepting the warnings of God’s word, even when they may seem to make little sense to us. So that God might do his work of grace in us, a process no less. In and through Jesus.

 

grace and judgment

It seems in a way that grace and judgment are mutually exclusive in Scripture, like oil and water. They simply don’t mix. In other words, if I’m a person of grace, then I will at least reserve judging others to God. I wish it was that easy, but it’s not. In real life situations, we do have to make judgments along the way. I think the difference grace can make is the honest attempt, and even characteristic of one’s life to look at themselves first, and hold themselves in the mirror, while being reticent to do so with others.

Consistent judgment of others is evidence that one’s own heart is not imbued with grace. To be clear, grace here means God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and new life to those who don’t deserve it and never could. But grace doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to a wrong, either. We may have to confront, but we do so in mercy and love. Confrontation is especially important when others are being mistreated. We do so with the hope of God’s grace being extended to the one in the wrong, that they might repent and find their way into God’s grace.

We leave all final judgment to God, and are tentative about our own perception of others. But we have to apply the best discernment we have from God to real world situations involving people. That can become messy in more ways than one, so we have to do that with the utmost humility.

So while grace and judgment in a way are separated, in another way they’re joined together. When necessary, we make judgments, but always couched in grace, so that we do so only out of love, and not for selfish motives. So that even when someone crosses us, we challenge them in love, always with the hope of reconciliation, ever ready to extend the hand of forgiveness, or cover over the sin. In and through Jesus.

our actions and words matter

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

It was quite the experience the children of Israel of old experienced. Rescued by mighty signs and wonders out of Egypt, saved from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and then miraculous provision day after day in the wilderness. But their hearts evidently weren’t changed. Surely true of at least many of them. So that we as believers in Christ would write that off as not really applying to us. We have our sins for sure, but our hearts have been and our changed. But Paul in God-breathed (or God-spirited, inspired) scripture didn’t see it that way.

We give ourselves a pass, and others. Instead we need to take these words of scripture as seriously as they are written. Or are they conveniently left behind, instead our focus being on the precious promise? Interestingly one such promise is tucked right into this passage, at the end. We refer to that one quite a lot, but do we know its context? And do we take it seriously?

Well that promise is there to help us avoid the very things destructive to us such as idolatry, sexual immorality, and yes, grumbling. Notice that they had a great spiritual experience according to the text. Yet God wasn’t pleased with most of them. And there were severe consequences as a result.

We don’t want to minimize God’s grace in forgiving us. That’s a needed encouragement, because we all fail along the way, hopefully not in “great transgression,” but even then as we see in scripture, God’s forgiveness is available and offered to us. But we will experience the consequences of such.

God’s call to us here, to me, is to simply take what we do seriously. To not in the name of grace give ourselves a free pass. And to help others both by how we live, and through prayer. And as this passage tells us, God will give us the way out, so that we can endure temptations to do such. In and through Jesus.

the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

praying instead

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Isn’t it easy to react, or move in to settle or correct something, or even just shake one’s head in wonder, or even disgust rather than pray? Or to just escape into one’s own world, listening to music, or something else?

Whatever the situation or problem might be, even including something which might cause us to panic, we need instead to see it as an opportunity, and turn it into an occasion for prayer. It is best to be reticent to take any action ourselves, but just pray. But the truth is that if we do pray, or are in a spirit of prayer, our thoughts, actions and words would be so much better. More of a listening mode, and certainly more in an attitude in grace.

It’s not that we’ll be perfect in this, but more and more we need to train ourselves to step back, be quiet even in our own thoughts, and simply pray. Pray and keep on praying over whatever it is that has hit us, whether a thought or fear, or something we see in our everyday world which doesn’t seem right.

Of course this doesn’t mean that we stop living, doing good works, helping others. Quite the contrary. It just means that in everything, we act prayerfully and thoughtfully. Bringing to our heavenly Father our concerns and requests. In and through Jesus.