letting the truth sink in and settle

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

John 8:31-32; MSG

The heart of the Christian message is about relationship and truth. The two go together in a number of ways. By faith in Christ we begin to understand not just the truth about God, but God himself, or God’s self (since, strictly speaking, God is neither male nor female, while at the same time, male and female human beings are made in God’s image). But as Jesus I think was suggesting to those who had believed him, it’s not enough just to have the light turned on, and truth dawn on us. We need to let that sink in and settle to make the needed difference in our lives. We need to keep the truth from and of Jesus front and center, and make it central to how we live. Nothing less than that will do.

If we do that, then we’ll begin to experience the freedom God wants to give us, not only from sin, but for what is right, good, of God, and truly human. As disciples/followers of Jesus. In and through Jesus.

growing in the grace and knowledge (understanding) of our Lord

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

But you, friends, are well-warned. Be on guard lest you lose your footing and get swept off your feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers. Grow in grace and understanding of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Glory to the Master, now and forever! Yes!

2 Peter 3:17-18; MSG

The letter of 2 Peter lays the foundation of God’s grace in Jesus, and our hard effort from that. Then warns us against false teachers, those who are religious, even Christian. With more. Then ends on the above note.

The grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is like a spectacular, breathtaking scene in which we’re delighted yet terrified at the same time. We’re not acclimated to it. We’re so used to living in our own make do, get by world. Even trying to do our religion there. Finding it a constant struggle to even keep on going, much less doing it.

Truth is, we just can’t. Not the real thing anyhow. Instead we’re called to live in God’s idyllic world, even here and now in and through the grace of Christ. We just can’t believe it’s that easy or simple. 2 Peter begins and ends making that point. Without it, there’s nothing in between. We might have some little spurts of grace now and then. But God wants us to have so much more.

So, as we’re told at the end of this letter, we’re to grow in the grace and knowledge or understanding of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grow in it. To grow in it, we must live in it. It’s like either the light is on or off.  No matter what we’re experiencing, God wants us to live in that. And grow in it. Becoming more and more acclimated to the new. Living there. The only place we really can live, live this new life. In and through Jesus.

The Apostle Paul: “I want to know Christ…”

 

I want to know Christ…

Philippians 3:10a

Surely some will say, this is a watering down of Scripture, not including all Paul says. Yes, good point. But wait. It’s the great Apostle Paul as we would say, great in his following of Christ, saying this. We must begin with the simple desire expressed to know Christ.

A little while back I prayed that I might know Christ. Yes, I’m sure as a believer in Christ, I know him. But sometimes it seems to me that I hardly know him at all.

I think God began to answer that prayer by taking my mind to Jesus’s teachings which point to his examples, and how we’re to live as his followers. To follow means to imitate their way of life, to follow their example. But more closely to imbibe their spirit, something of who they are.

God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us in that way. Like now, when Paul penned this Christ had ascended. But like then we too can share in this same desire and prayer, and begin to receive God’s answer through the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ. And we need to keep coming back to that.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10

 

who Jesus is determines who we are (in Jesus)

They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

Revelation 14

If I just tune into some of the evangelical world today, I would think for sure that Jesus is a roaring lion, out to devour his prey. But in Revelation, over and over again, he’s called the Lamb, around 30 times. Once he’s called a lion, “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”

Read the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and read Acts and the letters. You’ll find that Jesus indeed comes across as a lamb, meek and even lowly in his gentleness and humility.

An important desire for us as Christians is the longing to really know Jesus. The term Christian may have originally coined in derision, but we’re named after the one we name and follow. It’s a good prayer to pray, to ask the Lord to make himself known to us. And to remember too, that anyone who sees Jesus, sees the Father. To know Jesus is to know God.

I think we need a total rethinking of who we are as Christians. And that must begin with who Christ is. Only as we begin to understand who Jesus is can we begin to understand who we’re meant to be, to become like, indeed, even who we actually are in him. Contradictory to what we’ve picked up from our culture, and sometimes, sadly enough too often in Christianity itself.

 

to know Christ is to make him known

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10

There has probably been no one who had a greater passion for people coming to Christ than the Apostle Paul. At least he’s the model for that given to us in scripture. But as we can see from the book of Philippians, his passion and indeed his life was Christ.

I wonder if instead of concentrating on bringing people to Christ, if we would just concentrate on Christ himself, than others would receive far more benefit from us. They might actually somehow see Christ at least at work in our lives, and might catch a glimpse of his beauty.

Yes, it’s the gospel which is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, and we dare not minimize that. But in pointing others to Christ, it is not only the message, but the medium. In other words, we need to be something of what we’re trying to share.

I think if we just settled into knowing Christ instead of trying to make him known, then he would much more likely be found by those around us. Not that we shouldn’t be intentional in trying to make him known. But if knowing Christ was our main goal and the natural part of our lives, then others would much more likely be drawn to him by what they see in us.

We may have been rather more or less far removed from this thought. In Christ’s appeal to the church at Laodicea, it is obvious that this congregation certainly was. He speaks some pretty stern words, along with this invitation:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Revelation 3:20

The promise here is one of companionship and intimacy. A huge part of the disciples three years with Jesus was simply being with him. And after Pentecost, Christ by the Spirit is with us forever. But communion as in friendship does not automatically follow from that. Like any other relationship, it needs to be made a priority, and cultivated.

To simply know Christ. What we need, and what others need from us. In and through him.

realizing we don’t know God, the passageway to coming to know God

I recently wrote a piece questioning whether or not we tend to have a diminished view of Christ and God. I can speak for myself in thinking I certainly do. Of course if any of us thinks they have a handle on knowing God, then we’re sorely mistaken.

It’s becoming helpful, and even life-giving to me to realize that I really don’t get it when it comes to knowing God. Of course we know God through knowing Jesus. When Jesus’s disciple Philip asked him to show them the Father, Jesus told Philip that whoever has seen him, has seen the Father.

I’m not saying that I haven’t known God at all through the years as a Christian. I take it by faith that I have. But our conception of God is often clouded, since we are so prone to making God somehow in our own image, or what we ourselves conceive God to be. Of course Jesus is both the image of humanity, and the image of God. Do we understand what it means to be fully human? Jesus is. Or to be God? Jesus is fully that. So yes, Jesus is human like us through and through, unlike us- unbroken in his humanity. And unlike us, Jesus is God, as God the Son with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. So in Jesus’s essential being, he is different than us, and will ever remain so.

And when it comes right down to it, we don’t really understand humanity all that well, much less Deity. People in the world are often at a loss to understand what humans really are. We know from scripture that relationships are essential in what it means to be human, as well as responsibility in significant works. But we still struggle over our own meaning. And we’ll never fathom the endless mystery of God. We share in something of God, being made in God’s image. But God remains God, while we remain human, albeit glorified in and through Jesus forever.

A key for me is to realize I just don’t have the knowledge of God in any way, shape, or form. I can’t figure God out by reading scripture, not even by looking at Jesus. That is something that remains mystery to us. The Spirit alone reveals God to us, even something of the deep things of God. But part of that is simply to realize that there’s no end to that; we won’t reach its end in the next life, much less in this one. And not that scripture and seeing Jesus in scripture is not important in this revelation from the Spirit, because it most certainly is.

The big takeaway for me that has emerged lately is that I simply don’t really know God, not well enough. Through that it’s beginning to dawn on me, something of the awareness of God. In and through Jesus.

 

we know Jesus, but more importantly, he knows us (and a lesson in the importance of reading the Bible in context)

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28

I had another good reminder just this morning of the importance of reading in context, and specifically, I’m thinking of scripture. At work, and at home, I have an ongoing practice of going over scripture slowly during the course of a day, sometimes too slowly, especially if I’m at home, occupied with other things. There is good in this in that it seems like scripture itself advocates a meditation which comes from reading, likely slow reading at that, rather than the emphasis on studying scripture. Thanks to an old acquaintance and servant of Christ, Jim Egli, who pointed this out to me. Not to say that normal reading, or listening to scripture isn’t good, even important and necessary. Along with occasionally studying something, such as the meaning of a word.

Recently at work I was impressed with Jesus saying at a certain key part in his dispute with the people of his day that he knows his sheep. That was a rather cloudy day for me in my spiritual vision, so to see that what is most fundamental when all is said and done is that the Lord knows us, even if we are struggling to have the sense of knowing him, was an encouragement. And actually these words from Paul line up with that:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Galatians 4

I realized in looking at John 10 this morning, that actually there is a strong emphasis on us knowing the Lord, as well as the Lord knowing us. Both are important. Sometimes like sheep, we can and will indeed feel lost. During those times it is good to take as much comfort as we can gather in the knowledge that the Lord knows us through and through, even if we are struggling to sense our knowledge of him. But we do know the Lord as well, even though, unlike him, our spiritual vision will at times be weak.

A good point, I take it, and also a good lesson in the importance of reading scripture in context. May we meditate, as we read scripture slowly, but may we also read all of it, and keep doing both, so that we might grow together with others in Jesus in an interactive relationship with God through the Spirit.

learning the greater lesson

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Mark 12

There actually is no more basic fundamental lesson than to learn to trust God.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11

But it doesn’t stop there, as Jesus’s words about the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it, indicate. It’s all actually a part of the same package. We can’t enter into the greater so to speak, except through faith, through trusting in God. Sometimes, though, we can become so preoccupied over our own issues and concerns, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture, and the overall goal to which we should be headed. Paul’s words point us toward that:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Philippians 3

What I’m wanting to get at in this post is both the command to love, which is relational, and the importance of simply getting to know God. Paul’s words about that are interesting.

So in my struggle at times to trust, it should be with the goal of loving and knowing God in and through Jesus. And loving my neighbor as myself. Maybe that’s why at times we struggle, because we lose sight of that, and are self-centered (James 4:3). Faith is the entry way, which essentially is a trust in God at rock bottom. And being in good, growing relationships with God and others is the goal, in and through Jesus.

a lazy faith

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3

I often find, sadly, that when things are going well, I can have a quite lazy faith. One might even say this can be a first world problem, because relatively speaking compared to many in the world, life is good for most of us. Although hard trials can barge in to any person or family, to be sure. What I don’t like are the very issues and problems through which I might end up much closer to God, and more like Jesus, than I would have been without them.

In the case of the Laodicean church, there was nothing the matter, and life was good. They were living it up in the lap of luxury. Thankfully for them, the Lord was not going to let them go. He stepped in to discipline them in love. He was longing for their communion with him, no less. This isn’t really a passage for salvation, though I’m sure God has used it that way to bring sinners into the fold. But it’s aimed at a church of at least professing believers, surely some of them born of the Spirit, but lazy in their faith to the point that faith was not something really needed for this life.

I can imagine that for some, the way they’ve been mistaught, faith is more or less about getting to heaven someday when they die, akin to what Dallas Willard used to call a “bar code” Christianity. But if we open our Bibles and keep turning the pages, we will see all the many ways that faith is for this life. And particularly when we’re up against it, our faith is awakened to possibilities which before were not needed. And we can grow in our faith, and from that in our development as mature people in a way we otherwise would not (James 1).

The Lord didn’t leave the believers who thought they had it all together alone, and he won’t leave us alone either. He loves us too much for that. Let’s respond to that love, and open the door, and let the Lord have his way in every part of our lives.

living longer, or living better?

None of us wants to die “before our time”; we would all like to live long, healthy, productive lives right to the end. While good health certainly has value as a gift from God, we do have to be careful not to judge just what might be good in God’s eyes, which may seem less than good ourselves. Or better put for some things, the great good God can bring out of great difficulty, even tragedy. I can’t help but think of Christ’s servant, Joni Eareckson Tada.

But there’s something even more important than living longer. Living better. I was thinking yesterday on how much was missed over the years because of the loss of Jim Elliot and his missionary companions in their outreach and witness to the Auca Indians. We do know that their sacrifice was not in vain since their wives followed up and went right back in with the gospel which transformed that tribe.

The story of good King Hezekiah comes to mind. His story is inspiring, and should be read in its entirety, but sadly, he didn’t end all that well. It’s not like he abandoned the faith as others seemingly did (like King Joash, and King Uzziah). It seems more like there was a degree of complacency and pride which crept in and made their home in his heart. He evidently was worldly in his thinking toward the Babylonians, and he may not have been the father he should have been. At least one of the most evil kings Judah knew, who did repent later in life, Manasseh, was born after Hezekiah’s healing. See 2 Kings 18-21 for the full story.

I’m not getting any younger, into my sixties now, and there are some unresolved matters surrounding my life which hopefully can be resolved. I want to end well. Of course I would like to live a few more decades with health and in service to Christ. But the big thing for us all is ending well. Just how well will we live our lives during whatever last years and days God gives us?

And so I’ll do what I can to stay healthy and live longer if it’s the Lord’s will. But above all, I want to make it my priority to continue to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord. To mature with others more and more toward the likeness of Christ. So that if something happens which might indeed shorten my days, that “one thing” Paul referred to as his passion in life, will be my one thing as well. Following on in God’s high calling in Jesus. Yes, in my brokenness and weakness. But through all of that, coming to know his strength, and simply him more, as well.

To live well, not longer, the first priority. By God’s grace in and through Jesus.