get rid of all ideals of community and self

…we, who are many, are one body in Christ…

Romans 12:5

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

What is meant here is that we must drop all the idealizations we have of church, of others, and of ourselves. That’s not easy to do, nor does it even make sense to us. Aren’t we supposed to hold to ideals for ourselves and others? Maybe on a certain basic level, yes. We have to get up in the morning, fulfill our responsibility during the day, care for our family, take care of ourselves, etc. What is spoken of here is something else. Expecting others to measure up to some ideal we have. Or turning away when people don’t.

We’re all in this together, for better and for worse, indeed one body in Christ. None of us measure up to ideals we impose on ourselves. What God has in heart and mind will prevail. But it will be worked out in this life only if we’re committed to hanging in together through thick and thin.

What we need to be about is simply committed to following Christ together. Realizing that throughout that will be the necessary confession of sin, caring for each other, even putting up with each other at times. But believing that God is going to do it, is in the process of conforming us together into the likeness of God’s Son.

In and through Jesus.

what desires in us are temptations to sin?

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved.

James 1:12-16

When we read the above passage, or think of temptation in general, it seems to me that most of us, at least myself, generally think of sexual temptations. And there’s no doubt that’s a strong impulse in us as humans, ripe for deception and sin. But when you look at all of James along with the rest of the Bible, including the temptations of our Lord, we find all kinds of different harmful things we can fall into.

James 4 notes the coveting which can take place and cause disputes and dissensions. We want our own way, or we think others need to bend and conform to our wishes or expectations. And 1 John refers to “the pride in riches” along with the “desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes.” Really it is anything which violates love for God shown in love for our neighbor, even including love for our enemies. Whatever does not conform to Christ and likeness to him.

All temptations should be included in our minds when we read the above passage. So that we might see and reject all that is wrong in us, that our desires would be refined and changed. In and through Jesus.

what should be at the heart of being “a Christian?”

…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

I really ought not to presume that I can say what is at the heart of being a Christian, what that essentially means. Of course it involves so much, at the center (or heart), entering the life and worship of the Triune God. But to boil it down, just what does it mean for us on the ground who have to live in a world either not familiar with this special grace, or even being opposed to it? At least having to live in the same kind of world in which Christ lived.

The heart of being a Christian on the ground, in this life surely amounts to simply seeking with others to follow Christ, to imitate Christ, to be like him. Of course this involves a process, and prior to that a commitment to do so. All the teachings, sacraments and ordinances are to that end.

It is not a matter of simply having assurance that one’s sins are forgiven, and that someday they will be in heaven. Understood correctly, that is part of it. But too often people see Christianity as just a means to a future salvation, without sufficiently realizing what is at the heart of that salvation for the present. Of course based on what Christ accomplished for our salvation in the past. But this salvation is very much present as well as future, and involves salvation not only from our sins, but from our old selves, into the new person in Christ, partaking of Christ’s very nature and life. And that involves a participation together in which God is conforming us to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:15).

For myself, I just realize how far short I fall. But I also realize that the Spirit is indeed at work, partly with giving me something of that realization, though some of that is my own thinking in ways that are not helpful, and certainly not given by God. We simply need to be aware that being a Christian means being a follower of Christ, along with other followers. Something I hope to be day after day. With others. In and through Jesus.

the black sheep along with the black or “every human” Christ (Messiah)

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:14-18

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

I love depictions of images of Christ on stained glass windows, perhaps as the good shepherd carrying a little lamb with sheep trustingly following, or as Christ knocking on a door, along with other pictures. Usually what is depicted is a white Caucasian with mostly medieval or late medieval, a later culture imagery. That may have served in some ways well for its time, and to some extent even today. But it leaves behind so much of Scripture which Jesus is said to fulfill. Add to that, it also leaves behind many of us along with many of our struggles which simply are not taken into account within what we might call the privileged experience of so many of the rest of us.

This is not to attack those of us who love or have loved such pictures, probably having old Bible story books for children filled with such. But intended rather to give us a head’s up to more, what is beyond that, all that’s included in the great salvation Jesus brings.

We read in the above passages that Jesus went through all of the testing and temptations which befall all of us as a human family, being fully human himself. He knew what it was like to be marginalized as a Jew from Nazareth with Galilean, Gentile influence, as one of those who was not considered a fully pure descendant of Abraham. To live on the edges where he was not seen as legitimate since many did not understand his birth. Likely he lived with his needs met most of the time, but he did not live in the lap of luxury. And the way he taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread,” suggests a daily dependence on God, rather than having all of that more than taken care of by one’s own efforts.

Jesus and the good news he brought has more than resonated not only to all in the slavery of sin, but to all who are in any kind of bondage imposed at all. The salvation the Lord brings won’t be complete and final in human experience until he returns, but it includes now care for the human experience in it entirety. Not just thinking one cares about them if they can get them to have assurance of eternal life for after this life. But caring for them in every way just as Jesus does. Being in this together as Christ’s body so that we care for each other in practical, down to earth ways, as well as through prayer. And to everyone else in the world, including our enemies. With a particular eye out for those marginalized, looked down and often falsely frowned upon. Realizing too that really we’re all in need of God’s mercy and grace. Remembering too that what we might often take for granted is something others can’t imagine.

So we need new images of Jesus given to us by the Spirit for the real world. Yes in painting but especially in lives, lives together in this world. The Jesus who wants to live that both for us, and in and through us individually, and especially as his body. In large part why we’re here. In and through Jesus.

unrealistic expectations

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

The world rightfully expects something more from those who profess the name of Christ as “Christians.” Unfortunately there is mostly disappointment, too often for more than understandable reasons. And really, if anyone knows any of us through and through, then likely there will be disappointment. But expectations can be mistaken, too. After all, what exactly would the world expect of Christians? The same thing they wanted from Christ? That he would be their Bread-King and take care of all their wants, and make life work they way they thought it should (John 6:15 contrast with John 6:41)?

The New Oxford Annotated Bible makes an interesting observation: “This understanding of ‘perfection’ is closely linked with the love commandment (19.19)” (1790).

“If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;[a] what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[b] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Matthew 19:17b-21

It’s important that we stay grounded in expectations that are not only realistic for us in this life, but don’t miss the point. Life is about loving God and loving our neighbor, which means every human being on earth, if I understand Jesus’ teaching correctly. We need to be quick to make things right when we do wrong, which at heart is always a violation of such love. But our goal in life should be to simply so love, in the way of Jesus.

Love will take on many shapes and colors, and again won’t always be recognized or appreciated by the world. Certainly that was true of our Master, and will be all the more the case with us, his uneven, imperfect followers. But people need to see the difference in us. Yes, even you and I, with all our limitations, imperfections, and need I say, shortcomings. What must override everything else in our lives is a love for others which comes out of our love for God. Ever growing, of course always grounded in God’s grace to us. And shaped like a cross with the growing likeness of Jesus imprinted on it. By the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

on trials

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4; MSG

I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this opening directive from James. Every part of it touches exactly where we live.

We hate trials, and think somehow to escape them seems to be a mark of maturity. But God wants us to know that trials are meant to mature us. I have a particularly hard time with trials in which I’ve had a hand in them developing or coming to be. Not to say I don’t struggle with other trials, but especially those. But no trial is excluded here. Trials of many kinds would include all trials. A trial is a trial, even if we were the unwitting cause of it. I was thinking of mistakes we make. But this could include sins, even serious sins, and the fallout and trial we face after committing such. Surely that would be included here, too, but with the added counsel that we confess our sin to God, to the church, when need be to others, repent, and undergo whatever is needed for full restoration. All of that would be a trial to us, needed for maturity in Christ, for sure. But again, I’m just thinking here about trials in general, whatever kind they take.

It’s really hard to see tests and challenges as a sheer gift. Instead we’re prone to see trials in an entirely negative light. The idea of tests to help us as well as challenges is simply a fact of life we need to accept. Trials are inevitable. More important than the actual trial is the good which can come out of it. If we look past the trial itself to whatever it is that God might want to do through it, that can help us.

Under pressure our true self comes out, and often it isn’t pretty. The Lord wants that to improve over time. We need to face the music, not try to escape it. To hang in there, even when it’s hard. To even consider it all joy. To let God teach us what is needed through the process, as well as reshape us more into Christ’s image.

It’s not like we have to be preoccupied with trials all the time. The more we accept this reality, as trials inevitably hit us, the more we can experience what God wants to bring out of them. For our blessing and good, and therefore for the blessing and good of others around us. Not to let go of any of this. To persist in it, our will set to live in and do God’s will. In and through Jesus.

first things always first

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

There is much in Scripture to help us with our own personal problems. For example it’s said that the command most often repeated is to not be afraid. And there’s passages to help us with our anxiety, burdens, and a multitude of other things. But when we’re focused on ourselves and our own problems, then our focus is not set according to God’s will for us in Jesus. Problems and trials in this life are inevitable, and can’t be avoided. Not to mention the spiritual warfare we’re up against.

But what should be central and foremost on our minds always is love to God and love to neighbor. God helps us so that we might respond in love. It’s not about us and our own well being. The universe doesn’t revolve around us. Yet we’re included in this love, received and returned, reciprocated from God and shared with others. We’re all in this together. And we all need grace not only along the way, but every moment of the way.

So often it seems to me that Christian teaching is aimed at helping us individually get through and perhaps enjoy another day. And framed right, that teaching has its place. But again, life is not about that. God wants us to more and more take on the likeness of Jesus, together and individually in our lives by the Spirit. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves so we can be a blessing to others, even to God. But we do so as those whose priority is set on loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. In and through Jesus.

to be like Jesus

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 8:28-29

I’m not sure that aspiring to be like Jesus does much good, though it’s a natural thought for Jesus followers, for those in God’s family. After all, Jesus makes his presence known to us not only through Scripture, but even primarily through each other. His image and likeness in each of us rubs off on each other in needed ways.

I think it’s primarily through God’s working through people that other people are impacted and want to be like Jesus. Paul told his readers/listeners to follow him as he followed Christ, and to imitate him and his way of life. It is said that truth is more caught than taught. Surely there’s plenty of wisdom in that axiom.

So we need to find those who are well grounded in the Lord in their lives, not putting on a show, a front at all, being honest, not perfect people, but people whose lives are being shaped by God into Christ-likeness. Steeped in humility and grace, trusting God and God’s work in them and in others. And pressing toward the goal of God’s upward call in Jesus.

Something present with us and at work in our lives. In and through Jesus.

descending into the abyss

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the plunder,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Ephesians 4:4-13; MSG

Abyss carries with it the idea of bottomless, like there’s no end to the evil and danger present. Christ is said to have descended to the lowest depths, afterwards ascending to the highest heights, this especially clear in Philippians 2:1-11, And so Christ lived and lives by the Spirit where we live, and gives us the gift and gifts to enable us to live in the same depths in which he lived. Though of course never to the same extent, since Jesus took upon himself the full brunt of evil in order to release the full flow of God’s goodness, someday to be experienced completely in the new heaven and new earth when God makes all things new.

This is an encouragement to me, because sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the trouble, and all that can go wrong and sometimes does. But God is present with us in Jesus, and gives us all we need to not only weather the storm, but glorify God in it. And that together, not just the gift he gives each one of us, though that indeed is important. But the gifts given to all for the benefit of all.

God will help us weary worn ones through this weary, worn world, as we are intent in following Christ come what may. God will see each and everyone of us through, together. In and through Jesus.

not outcomes, but becoming

These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.

1 Corinthians 6:7-8; MSG

We as people are big into outcomes. Winning can be everything, and cheating is okay to do so, as long as you get away with it. This is an endemic problem. We want to look good, or we think that if we look good, or come across right, then mission accomplished.

Not so on God’s agenda. What we are inside and out is what matters to God. How that’s understood, or sometimes misunderstood is secondary. It’s not whether everything turns out alright, just so, the way we want it to, but how we act in the process, what characterizes us, indeed our character.

It’s not the outcome that we should be focused on, but on what we’re becoming. To begin to see that difference within ourselves. With others in Jesus, becoming more like him.