past the “Why?” to the “What next?”

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9

Yesterday at our Ada Bible Church service, Jeff Manion spoke on this passage. I found it helpful on a number of levels, but the one that stood out for me for my own application was the point Jeff drew from the passage quoted above. Instead of asking why, or assuming some bad reason for the difficulties and tragedies of life, we need to look for God’s good hand in it all at work for the good of us his children (Romans 8:28). We need to see such trials not as crises, but as opportunities for God to work out his will in and through Jesus.

And one of the ways God will always be at work in any situation is to shape the character of those involved. Romans 8:28 just cited above needs to be connected to what follows it to be properly understood:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8

I remember reading somewhere recently that someday many of the things which bothered us the most won’t matter at all, so that they may not really matter now anyhow, except in how we handle them. But there are other things which are troublesome and at least in some way are challenging. In those things we need to look for God’s work in our lives. How in it all is God working for the good of others, and to make us like Jesus?

An important question for us all as we continue on in faith in and through Jesus.

 

God’s accessment of our work (of our lives)

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3

It isn’t easy to pin down exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying in this passage (see entire passage by clicking 1 Corinthians 3), since this seems to apply directly to the leaders the Corinthian church were idolizing, and perhaps their own misguided assessment of them. Which theoretically could be carried over into their own lives. After all, we become like or somehow emulate the gods we look to, or hopefully the God we look to in and through Christ. But part of our sin is to place idols in our hearts.

Christ is the foundation of the good news and the life we have and live, even live out. So that what we build on Christ in our work and teaching must be appropriate to Christ. We might truly look to Christ, but mix this or that or something else with Christ which is not of him, stuff that eventually won’t stand, in the words of the text here, will not endure the test of the fire.

This makes me wonder about everything I do, about my life. Does that adhere with and to Christ? What about my attitudes along the way? Love and truth must be paramount. We all fail, or don’t completely measure up to the stature of Christ, to be sure. But together we should be growing up into that likenesss to and maturity in him. Not in any human leader, except that we follow them (as Paul wrote) as they follow Christ.

This isn’t easy, to say the least. But in the hardest parts, our character is revealed, and with those hard parts comes opportunity. In the meantime we need to repent where needed, and grow together no less into the image of the Lord through whom we live.

the image of Jesus rubbing off on each other

I am kind of a monastic maybe by nature and by an idealization of what I would like to do and be a part of, if I could choose anything. Of course it would be in a married order. But even in the monastaries, the common as well as liturgical life is shared by all.

But something I’ve come to realize by experience within the last year or more: the likeness of Jesus rubs off on us through each other. Through just being present in our work and play, or whatever it is. And sometimes even through our disagreements and hard places we have to work through, part of that amounting to iron sharpening iron (Proverbs).

Somehow God shapes us and remakes us into the image of Jesus more through others and our relationship with them, than by just being alone, even alone with God. God made us as humans to be in relationship.

Jesus came as the Word made flesh to make his dwelling among us, to actually live with us. Yes, he tabernacled in our midst, but he also rubbed shoulders with humans, living right where we live. So somehow even in the incarnation we see that it’s a human to human dynamic, certainly including time alone with God, just as Jesus would escape to pray to his Father. But he would live most of his life with others, with his disciples in all the challenge that brought.

Jesus’s image is uniquely expressed in each person in him. One can seem rough around the edges in some ways (aren’t we all?), but somehow God will communicate something of Jesus’s likeness through them in a way that he won’t through anyone else. We are all in that mix. Don’t count anyone out just because of a character deficiency, or special struggle they have. A big part of all of us growing up into full maturity in Christ is living together in love as one body, with everything that brings, even the monotony, or things that might grate on us from each other.

Our true humanity through Jesus only comes out and grows through our life with each other in Jesus. We are taken up as full humans into the very life of God, the Triune God through this common life together in and through Jesus. A life too for others, for the world in and through him.

simply being present as God does the work

In Jesus God is at work, and in the process actually enables us in Jesus to join in, of course even at risk to God’s reputation. But over all of that is a process in which God is at work to complete the good work he began in us through Jesus (Philippians 1).

Simply being present before God and with each other is surely underrated. Instead we tend to want to think it’s about what we need to do. Instead we need to get silent and get out of the way so that God can do the only work which will make a difference. As we learn to do that, we somehow become a part of that work. Of course essentially through God shaping and molding us in the image of Jesus, that being a lifelong process.

And it’s in communion with the saints, not just the dead ones if that goes on (and by the Spirit, that may be so somehow), but with those around us, others in Jesus. Somehow the image of Jesus being shaped in us gets rubbed off on each other through being together, even through the hard knocks and difficult places, including tensions arising in such relationships. But we have to at least be present with each other and preferably committed to this for that to happen.

God in Jesus is with us already; God is fully present. We need to be fully present before him, as best we can. In other words- accept, acknowledge, appreciate, and count on that Presence with us. Purposefully spending time by faith with God and learning to see all of our lives as in his presence. And also making it a priority to spend quantity, quality time with each other in Jesus. And with others as well.

This is central for us as humans, largely what makes us human. All of this in and through Jesus.

feet on the ground, experiencing God

Thomas Aquinas who surely had many wonderful things to say, his writings still benchmarks, late in life had a kind of vision of God, or more precisely an experience which led him to think of all of the writing as of no value at all. He had glimpsed, and had been taken in to something of the reality of God in which words seem to fail. Just the opposite is true though, about what he had written. His ability to think and put his thinking reflecting on philosophy and theology into words was a gift from God, surely a great gift, and end up amounting to helping others in the way of the Lord, and in catching a glimpse of the Divine in this life.

For the most part in my own life, I plod along with words. I am a word person. I can remember when we were part of what is called a charismatic church, we had a great group of quite artistic, creative people. They were kind of known as Spirit people I suppose, while I was considered a word person. I try to constantly be in my Bible, in a lot of places with a small New Testament/ Psalms and Proverbs. With that and my coffee, I feel pretty much okay, even at home, at least grounded, or attempting to be.

In the Great Tradition, the beatific vision, and theosis are held in high esteem, the former realized in the life to come, the latter beginning in this life. And actually both correlate to what scripture teaches, even if some of the descriptions given from church fathers might lend themselves to some misunderstanding. The point for us here is that we look forward to living in God, in the vision of God in the life to come, but in the meantime, we begin to experience something of that in this life through the word and the sacraments, so that we become more and more like God, by becoming more like Jesus through the Spirit, all of this in and through Jesus.

In this life we seek the Lord, we even seek his face (see the Psalms), while at the same time, we keep our feet on the ground, regardless of what we are, or are not experiencing. So much of life involves a groundedness in the midst of, and often in spite of the many details of life: the ins and outs, and ups and downs which come our way.

So for the most part, I’m quite happy to be plodding along, trying to understand, trying to follow. But to have those refreshing seasons when the water is turned into wine so to speak, and I have a strong sense of the divine, is quite helpful. But I am probably wary of receiving too much of that, because most of where life is lived will not be there. Life can seem not only austere, but even troubling, and difficult at best, one just trying to hold on.

That is why we need scripture, and to simply keep on keeping on. Thankful for the glimpses and experiences of divine glory, but not looking for that. Rather, hoping something of that more and more pervades our normal down to earth, feet on the ground experience, day after day, together with others, in and through Jesus.

“proof” of the resurrection of Christ is in the pudding

Christianity Today has an interesting review on the new film now out in the theaters, “The Case for Christ,” telling the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from an atheism to evangelical Christianity. The story by itself probably makes the film compelling enough to want to watch, though I’m not much of a film watcher myself. And I admit to avoiding watching Christian films, since I think what is often painted is an unreal world. Which is sad and difficult, since something of what those films convey is usually valuable and even important.

Christian apologetics concerns both the defending and argument for the veracity of the faith, so that in perhaps what at best is a kind of C. S. Lewis approach, an appeal is made for the argument of the truth of the gospel, specifically here, of Christ’s resurrection. Not completely on a rational basis, but even an appeal to experience and beauty gets put on a rational scale in the end. I admit that I like that approach for myself. But good as that might be for people like me, who like to see intellectual arguments pro and con, that actually ends up not being the most satisfying approach in the sense of life changing. And when one puts all their weight on the intellectual side, there is always the possibility that the something more we don’t know might tip the scales another way; we just can’t know for sure. Although many a person who either practices law, as a lawyer, or approaches life from that perspective has concluded that the evidence in favor of Jesus having actually risen from the dead is quite telling and compelling.

To consider the gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week before his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a good exercise, as we see the perspectives of the four evangelists in telling that story. And then Luke’s story continues on in Acts, which tells us about the beginning of the early church and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world.

What ends up, I believe, being most persuasive in appealing for the faith of the gospel and the truth of Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the change that occurred in Jesus’s followers. That is in terms not only of this really taking place, but of its significance, as well. If Jesus simply rose from the dead with the promise that someday we who have faith in him will likewise be resurrected into that same life, that has wonderful meaning, to be sure. But it might not impact us much in this life, at least not in the way that scripture tells us it does.

We begin by faith right now to share in Jesus’s resurrection life. This is clear throughout the Final/New Testament, Romans 6 being one example, but all throughout. Romans 6 speaks of participation by faith and baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we can now, by grace begin to live this new life. It might be seen as a more “religious” argument, but Christ’s resurrection is at the heart of the faith, of what Christianity essentially is according to scripture. It is a partipation not just in seeking to follow Christ’s teachings, or the teachings of the church, as important as those are. But it is an actual participation no less in the very life of Christ, yes, his resurrection life, beginning even prior to the resurrection to come, in our lives now, by the Spirit.

We live because he lives, and our life in him is distinct. And while it is in anticipation of the resurrection to come, it partakes of that resurrection in partaking of Christ right now in this life. In changing the way we live, the breath that we breathe, in other words what motivates us, and how we want to live. More precisely, what God is making us to be over time in becoming more and more like Jesus.

This is both an individual and joint venture, to be sure. But the key is Christ and his resurrection. We follow one whose life is now our life, which means a difference now, and all the difference in the world beyond this life, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

And so the truth and reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead will be seen by me today, not in considering once again the way the story is told in the gospel accounts. But the difference this reality makes in my life right now, through the nitty gritty and sometimes downright difficult circumstances of life. Does Christ make a difference there, and in what way? That’s the question, answered more than well enough for me time and time again. In and through the risen Jesus.

learning humility

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

There are all sorts of ways God seeks to teach us humility. Scripture over and over notes that God will seek to help people become humble through adversity. That if God’s kindness doesn’t lead people to repentance, then hopefully the hard places and even consequences of their sin will. And we find in scripture, as well as in real life that people do respond to that, and they don’t.

But the deepest and truest way to learn humility, and eventually the way God would have everyone learn it is through Jesus. Yes, through his example in his incarnation, life and death (Philippians 2:1-11). And that’s important to keep in mind. And through the Spirit, Jesus’s own humility rubbing off on us, and in that dynamic, on each other. A humility that is of Jesus, no less. One that loves and lives and if need be dies for another.

In the entire scheme of things, that is what we need to learn, right from Jesus as he himself said in his invitation to the people of his day, and through scripture to us. The humility that will last, and grow on and in us to make us more like Jesus. By which we can see the emptiness of everything else, yet respond in love, knowing that the only final answer is in Jesus.