what does Christian mean?

…for an entire year [Barnabas and Saul] met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

We can ask over time what anything comes to mean. There’s always inevitably the baggage of history, and some of that behind the name Christian is not pretty, including right up to the present day. I’ve heard that it may have been derogatory when first coined in Antioch. True Christianity for sure would upset the status quo.

Christian has basically meant those who adhere to and practice Christianity. And so much can get lost in that, as well as there being different emphases in different traditions of Christianity. In our time, in my lifetime, it seems to mean those who follow certain traditions such as Sunday gathering and whatever else might follow from that. There’s usually a profession of faith in Jesus and often an emphasis on the impact the faith has on the life to come, at least in the minds of many. Yes, teaching might bring focus into the present life, and often does, but it seems to me based on observation and on what much more knowledgeable and wiser people have said that there’s a missing piece, arguably the most important piece of all in one aspect.

Yes, it’s all dependent on God and on God’s grace. But what I’m referring to here is the simple goal of following Christ, becoming like Christ. From my nearly five decades of being a Christian, that doesn’t seem to me to have been much of an emphasis, not much in our minds at least from what we were taught or at least in what really hit home to us. What should people think of ideally when they hear the word Christian? And what do they think of? And that includes not only those who are not Christian, but those who are.

I’m afraid being a follower of Christ not unlike the Sermon on the Mount has at best been put on the back burner, if not taken off the stove entirely, as something just not for us today. This is a grievous error because what follows the gospel accounts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles comes from and is based on what Christ taught, the Spirit directing the churches through leadership on how this worked out after Christ’s ascension and Pentecost.

All of our prayer, reading of Scripture, gathering together as God’s people should be to the end of helping us become true and better followers of Christ, growing together into maturity in Christ, yes into Christ likeness. Anything less than that is missing the mark and what it truly means to be Christian.

healthy spiritual eyesight in the present dimness

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

1 Corinthians 13:12a

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23

I wish it were otherwise, but it seems that spiritual insight just isn’t as bright and clear here often enough to go enough beyond some creedal affirmation, which very well may be sincerely believed, but is too often not sufficiently felt. But when we are in those too rare times when we’re flooded with light as in the Presence of God, it seems like the other, sadly more normal experience is like a memory which we hope does not return. But alas, all too easily it does in this present existence.

Jesus makes the stark contrast between those whose eye is full of light and those whose eye is full of darkness. I think we would need to see this especially in the context of Jesus’ teaching in this Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. And doing so, I also tend to think or at least wonder if what is referred to here is not so much the actual experience of either the light or darkness, but instead whether or not we’re committed and set to walk in the light of God in Jesus spelled out by our Lord, or whether we’re sidetracked elsewhere. The sidetrack may be due to our weakness, though it may simply be part of the spiritual battle we’re in, even sometimes a combination of the two.

Jesus might tell us not to be discouraged when we’re struggling in the shadows and even darkness in our experience. But that we’re instead to be looking to him, “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Intent on listening well and soaking in his teaching in the commitment to follow him along with others to the very end. In and through Jesus.

how is “love your neighbor” like “love the Lord your God”?

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

It’s good to see this in context. Jesus is answering religious leaders who were questioning him and really trying to get him in trouble. Jesus answers them in ways they can’t dispute, really leaving them befuddled. In so doing, Jesus leaves us with gems to hold on to.

Jesus here makes the point that to love our neighbor as ourselves is like loving God with all our being and doing. Jesus went on to say that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands. In other words what follows are essentially expressions of these commandments.

We know from elsewhere in Scripture and from Scripture as a whole that God is in essence love. And therefore that God wants those made in God’s image, us humans to live in that same love. We need to receive it ourselves before we can share it with others, and we need to live in that love.

God’s love is the point of it all. How that love works out is in a myriad of ways, and we humans are involved in that. But the main point needs to be kept in mind. It’s not a matter of just living in peace myself, having freedom, etc., etc., even though those and many other matters are good in their place. But life is about loving our neighbor, giving and receiving such love. As an expression of loving God who first loved and continues to love us. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[j] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

1 John 4:1-6

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!

My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception.

1 John 4:1-6; MSG

If John were here today he might say we have a problem. The problem being that so much out there which is not of God and therefore not of Jesus is accepted as though it is, or at least as on a par with God’s message. Of course here what we mean accepted by professing, yes, even genuine Christians. This is a warning to us all, that none of us are above and beyond deception. And what’s needed is yes, discernment for ourselves, and especially together with other believers. The Spirit directs not just one of us, but one and all. The Greek is plural. So that yes, while we as individuals are included, and each and every one of us need discernment from God, this is really addressed to the whole, to all of us, worked out in our gatherings together.

The confession of Christ coming in the flesh should be enough. Nothing more is needed. We don’t need that and something more. Today those who actually make this confession, but then add something more are essentially lying out of their teeth, or probably more accurately, speaking lies. Deceived and deceiving. What I’m referring to here is not just about our salvation, but ultimately the salvation of the world. And in terms not just of our life of faith and our church life, but all of life. Politics should never be excluded, because, after all, the gospel of the kingdom in King Jesus is political, touching each and every part of life. Consider “the Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13).

John would likely not only caution us against special claims put in the same breath with what Scripture says, with the gospel, or as if being the fulfillment or correct interpretation of Scripture and the gospel. He would slam the door shut on all such claims. Instead John would point us to the life of Christ and what that life means to the world in terms of God’s grace and kingdom coming in Jesus. And at the heart of this for John as we see from this letter is to know God, be with others in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, and to be assured that one has the eternal life found in the Son. 

John might especially lean on historians as well as those who have lived through these times, or if he would have lived through them himself. Well, it’s really hard to imagine all of this in a way. None of us can stand outside of the time in which we live and imagine ourselves an objective observer. We’re all people of our times, for better and for worse. Which is why we need the Spirit of God to help and direct us, and that together.

But I imagine that John might possibly say that the growing deception among Christians today didn’t start a few years ago, but has gone on for decades, and in a sense throughout the entire American experience. That is not to deny the good here, nor to think we’re unique in having that problem since the same spirit pervades every nation and experience of this life. It is present with us, and we have to deal with it, whether we like it or not. And none of us like it, that’s for sure. But it’s half the battle to simply accept reality. Then, and only then, we can deal with it.

Whatever adds to Jesus and is not in sync with Jesus’s teaching of God’s kingdom, as well as not in line with Jesus’s life and death is definitely not of God, but is actually opposed to God. Not the Spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the antichrist. And just as John tells us in the letter, they’re a dime a dozen; many of them out there. And none of us should ever think we’re above escaping their influence. Something to always be aware and wary of. In and through Jesus.

 

learning to trust God/the Father in everything

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

None of us are going to be perfect in this life. We’ll lapse into this or that which is wrong. Though we really should be making progress. And hopefully leave the most hurtful, damaging sins behind, and get help with whatever addictions we have. There indeed ought to be substantial progress in our lives toward Christ-likeness together with others in Christ.

In my own life, though I’ve had other issues, probably far and away the one that has plagued me the longest, and been most endemic in my life is the anxiety issue, which a few times has bordered on panic. A feeling of depression might come in second, though I think for me, anxiety and nagging worry is the clear enough winner. I was glad for those times when it seemed either dissipated or absent, but more often than not, it was present in one form or another. I am surprised in talking with others just how common this is.

It seems to me that God might be trying to teach me a new radical trust. I’m not talking about sinless perfection, since there is none of that in this life. Instead what I’m referring to is a new habit of life, learned over time. The Scripture quoted above from Proverbs might seem idealistic and really beyond our reach in this life. But really? Didn’t Jesus both exemplify and teach us to trust the Father without reservation (Matthew 6:25-34)? Again, we won’t do that perfectly in this life, and even when we have our times of doing it better, we’ll certainly flub up along the way.

I think what the Father wants us to get accustomed to and acclimated with is the idea that he’ll take care of us, he’ll take care of everything. That we need to and indeed can settle into that reality, and develop a new disposition corresponding to that. And that if we don’t trust the Father in one particular matter, then we’re failing to trust him. This isn’t at all like an Authoritarian ready to beat us with a club if we don’t trust them. But a most loving, caring Father.

This hit home to me, because there are a number of matters about our house which have given me grave, likely a bit of undue or overblown concern, but real issues, nonetheless. It probably doesn’t help for me to downplay them, because then trust in God really isn’t going to matter that much. It’s not like I should be negligent in what I know I need to do, or have to do. And I’m not. But does involve weighing everything, and trusting God with the resources God gives us to make good decisions. And above all, for the likes of me, to simply trust God. A simple trust. That God will work things out, that I not only need not worry and fret. But that indeed, I should not. That God will take care of it, whatever that ends up involving on my part. All of this as with everything else in and through Jesus.

continuing on

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69

After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69; MSG

After the astounding miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, the multitude was ready to make Jesus their Bread-King, not at all understanding who Jesus was or what his rule was all about. That it was through and through, not just in terms of what they wanted, what they thought they needed. Coming from the one in whom God fully lived, of course being God himself as well as fully human.

Jesus’s teachings were sometimes hard not only to follow, but to understand. There was much that even the Twelve didn’t understand well at all. But as Peter said, they knew enough by faith to keep going.

That’s often where we are as well. If we can just concentrate on accepting where we’re at, and keep going from there, we can have a full measure of God’s peace. That doesn’t mean we might not be in a quandary, not really understanding everything to say the least, and having plenty of questions. That’s all good, and not only alright, but completely normal. The point is we need to just keep on going. The God who has given us light in Jesus will continue to do so. Our call is to seek and follow, or simply put, as Jesus’s disciples, to follow. To continue on in and through Jesus.

addendum to “off the thrill ride”

Yesterday I simply made the point that we need to beware lest something we’re engaged in is giving us a satisfaction and even exhilaration when in fact it may not be the best or most healthy thing for us or others. Many things in this world can fit that category and the result can be what amounts to addictions and really too, just plain old fashioned idolatry.

Instead, I was suggesting that we need to settle in to simply the point Ecclesiastes makes at the end of that book. Fear God, and keep his commandments. Knowing that everything we do is under God’s scrutiny and ultimate judgment.

I do not want to be disrespectful, nor come across that way. The title, “off the thrill ride” may seem disrespectful, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have used a different more toned down title. The Teacher (or Quester- The Message) was able to try everything, and not only did he try it, but he gave it all he had, became fully immersed in it. You name it, he pretty much did it. But when it was all said and done, he was left high and dry, seeing it all as “meaningless,” or empty in the end. At least not delivering much bang for the buck.

Most all of us, certainly I included have been on a similar ride. We think we need this or that, even if that really goes against what Scripture tells us, and especially what Jesus taught, along with those who followed him. We think we know better, or at least behave like that. When in fact, we don’t.

We may feel that what we’re doing is for the good of others, and that may well be our intent. But is it within the category of fearing God and keeping God’s commandments? When we’re doing it, are we really following Christ, obeying his commandments? That is something we need to prayerfully ask ourselves and seek to discern with others.

I think most people today are caught up in some of what’s happening more in theory than in practice. We all need to examine what we’re thinking, because sooner or later, we’ll act on it. And that includes all of us. We can all be on a “thrill ride,” each and everyone of us, which is not helpful. Even in our supposedly righteous response to what we think is wrong. Not to say that in following Christ there isn’t something we should be doing to do justice, while we love mercy and seek to walk humbly with God.

We’ll actually find our true selves, and the real life when we learn to make following Christ our primary endeavor. Everything else secondary to that. In and through Jesus.

“Jesus says/said” or “The Bible says”?

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

Matthew 5:21-22; MSG

Jesus’s words here are so powerful, especially in the present days when words are so cheap, and word hits on others seem like a dime a dozen. But that’s not what this post is about. We know the well known exclamation from Billy Graham, I can hear the words ringing from him: “The Bible says!” Someone recently quoted someone else suggesting that this is a weakness within evangelicalism, a downplaying of Jesus’s words through an emphasis over and over and over again on what the Bible says.

I do like the idea of getting back to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And really studying our Lord’s teaching, yes, what Jesus said. As well as his life. After all we’re supposed to be his followers. Are we steeped in his words, his example, his call to us? Of course preceded by Jesus as God’s gift to us. We can’t follow his example apart from the gift Jesus is to us.

I know some of the criticism. We don’t need red letter Bibles because every part of God’s (written) word is important. I’m not crazy about red letter Bibles, maybe for other reasons, and believe all of Scripture is important for us even to understand Jesus, to see his life and teachings in proper context. So every book has its place, even if its directions are not for today, a good case in point being most of the book of Leviticus.

It seems to me that it would be healthy for us to start examining our positions on issues in the context of Jesus’s teachings, and what follows in the New/Second Testament with the backdrop of the First/Old Testament in consideration. Yes, Jesus sheds more light, after all he said he was present to fulfill Scripture, to bring it to its intended conclusion, however precisely that’s done. Sometimes in direct analogy, but other times showing something better to the point that the other is really not analogous.

So yes, maybe we do need to adopt more of a stance concerned with Jesus’s words. But not over the Bible, but within the context of the Bible. Eugene Peterson’s rendering above I think brings that out. Jesus was not at all telling his hearers to set aside Scripture, or even a saying in Scripture, but rather pouring his light onto it. It had its provisional place in time, and the letter of the law may still apply. But Jesus was getting at the heart of it. The truth of everything revealed in Jesus himself, what he said and did. Who God is and what God is about found in and through Jesus.

deal with today’s concerns, not tomorrow’s

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:34; NLT

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:34; MSG

Yesterday at work I had a crushing burden which just seemed to be beyond all common sense about something which is going to happen soon, not earthshaking, but detailed. I thought of our Lord’s words inviting us who are weighed down to come to him and take his yoke on us, an easy yoke. And I thought of the passages telling us to cast our burdens on God. So I did my best to cast my burden on the Lord in my poor prayer.

After some period of time, the above passage came to me, and the weight was lifted off, and I felt a peace, and with that the longing to live in the Lord’s peace that he gives us. I was reminded how it’s not just enough to take our Lord’s yoke on us. But that part of learning from him as we take on that yoke, is receiving his words from other parts of Scripture. Taking them to heart and life. Seeking to live there.

Something I’ll be continuing to try to do and keep growing in along with others in and through Jesus.

the politics of Jesus followers

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49

We live in a crazy time. Politics is front and center here in the United States, and that will more or less be so even after the upcoming election, but all the more now. And in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of, it’s nearly assumed that a Christian will vote Republican due to abortion, and also because of another long list of supposed things the Republicans get right in contrast to the long list the Democrats get wrong. And if you challenge one bit of that, then you’re definitely outside the norm, and really can become something of an outsider. That reflects polls which indicate that political differences nowadays are more divisive than ever. 

Part of the problem in my opinion is that Christians see politics only in terms of the world, and fail to see the politics of Jesus at all, that there is such a thing. Broadly speaking, politics is just talking about a way of life, and how people live together. That unfolds from and within the kingdom of God in Jesus, and though not of this world, is indeed meant for this world. And Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6 (click link for entire “sermon”) gives basics about that politic. It is centered in love for God from the love of God, followed by love for our neighbor as ourselves, love for each other in Christ, and love even for our enemies. But there are details in it. It specifies a new way of life, how we’re to live. 

It is premised on the idea that we as Christ followers belong to one Lord, and are part of one political entity: God’s kingdom come in Jesus. Yes, we have citizenship here in various nation-states. But our citizenship strictly speaking is in the heavenly kingdom, again meant for earth, but from another place.

All that to say something like this: Whatever our position is with regard to the politics of this world, here in the States: Democrat, Republican, or whatever else, it needs to be formed from what should be our central identity, from King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him. I think that leaves us in a place where we just are not going to be sold on any politic this world has to offer. There will always be serious critique of it.

Our politic in Jesus is always going to be different and at odds with any politic of the world, because central to life for us is not only loving our neighbor as ourselves and loving our enemies, and even those two consistently lived will set us at odds with much of the politics of this world. But we’re also to carry our cross in following Jesus, be willing to be mistreated for Jesus’s sake, and out of love for all.

We need to see this politic as in place for us now, as Jesus followers. The politics of Jesus no less, and therefore the only true politic of all Jesus followers. In and through him.