we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.

 

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the grace in which we in Jesus stand

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Romans 5:1-2a

There’s nothing more vitally important to our lives in God than God’s grace given to us in Christ. As we read in Romans and elsewhere it is through Christ in his death and resurrection that we’re granted forgiveness of sins and new, eternal life. Through faith. We believe God’s word, the gospel, and receive that word for ourselves. And so we receive the gift we could never earn or deserve. What Christ has done for us.

There’s nothing more basic to us than this reality. In and through it we carry on. Apart from that we’re on our own, which inevitably means God’s judgment since even with it we fall short. Instead we live in God’s favor. God’s grace is not just for our acceptance, but for all of life and to bring us more and more into Christ-likeness.

This is where we live, move and breathe. Nothing more, nothing less than the grace in which we now stand in and through Jesus.

really trusting in the Father

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

One of Jesus’s most basic and insistent teachings was the necessity of trusting in the Father. And here he does it in terms of one’s basic needs; the thought that the Father will provide.

One of my regrets in life is my failure to really learn to trust in the Father in a meaningful way when it comes down to making a living as we call it. When people make that commitment, they inevitably face trials which seem to come to test their faith. When I say test, I don’t just mean to see whether or not their professed faith in the Father’s care is genuine. That, yes, but much more. Essentially testing means to actually establish that faith and cause it to grow. Only when people commit themselves to such a course, and hold on to it no matter what, can that faith become a part of who they are, an established part of their lives. Unfortunately I think by and large I missed the best part of that. In a secondary sense, I think I did experience something of the Father’s care. But with my hands on the entire time, and because of that I missed out on much, both in terms of the process and the outcome. And the outcome I don’t think as much in terms of dollars and cents, but more in just who one is, what one becomes through trusting in the Father. This, according to Jesus is a large part of what it means to follow him, and so become like him.

We commit all to the Father’s care, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. And then he takes care of all our needs. As simple as that. That means we don’t think it depends on us. No, it depends on the Father. So our aim is simply to give ourselves completely to seeking first his kingdom and righteousness in our own lives. And with the prayer that it will come on earth as it is in heaven. The Father takes care of the rest. Not that we become irresponsible. We work, we seek to be good stewards of the gifts God gives us. But we do so as those completely dependent on him. Something I’m working on to become much better established in. In and through Jesus.

 

waiting for the change to come

“If only you would hide me in the grave
    and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
    and then remember me!
If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal[e] to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

Job 14:13-17

I’m not sure, but I like the NIV choice within the context here of “renewal” over “release” (NIV footnote). I would vote that direction, given the book of Job and its context. Job was wrestling through with a hope before God, but understandably feeling hopeless and in despair.

It is easy to despair when one considers their own weaknesses and shortcomings. And that can turn into a vicious cycle which actually feeds on itself and makes matters worse.

While I think I’ve experienced some substantial change over the years, I want more change in my life. It seems mostly all incremental, so gradual, so that it’s easy to miss any change that has occurred. And ironically the more light we receive and live in, the more acutely aware we are of the dark spots left in our character and conduct. Sometimes in just lacking what we wished we had, but too often in displaying thoughts and attitudes not worthy of Christ.

In the case of Job, and ourselves, that doesn’t mean there isn’t much good. Job was acknowledging his offenses and sin here, but he was a man of faith and good character, as we see from the entire book in the way he conducts his arguments, even if they may not be entirely blameless. It’s degree. Any misstep by those further along is more egregious.

I want to bracket this post dealing briefly with the charge that such considerations are mere navel gazing, just being all taken up with one’s character while not caring about the world at large both close and further removed. Can’t it be a case of being concerned with both? Actually in Job’s case he certainly was. He defended the cause of those who needed it, as we see from the book. A big part of the problems in the world is lack of character. And before we decry everyone else, we must see to ourselves.

The hope Job expresses is after this life. We know that when we see Jesus we’ll become like him entirely, since we’ll see him as he is (1 John 3). And somehow we’ll be completely open to not only reflecting that light, but being transformed by it. That actually does begin now insofar as we see Jesus by the Spirit through the gospel.

I look forward to my own change to come. I’m tired of myself, of my deficiencies. I look to God to help me grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. And I look forward to the day when all struggle in the way we do now will cease. My sins covered and removed, and with others set free to live completely in God’s love then by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

 

“what can you say that hasn’t been said?” and a thought on Holy Week

One of my favorite books in Scripture is Ecclesiastes, because it takes a rather admittedly cynical, realistic look at the world and life. While the Teacher is weary of words, there is little let up when you consider the book itself, and the summary. His life was given to observing life, seeking wisdom, and finding just the right words, the right way to express it. In my much more limited way, I can identify with the Teacher. I too tend toward skepticism, questioning and observing while holding onto the fear of God and faith in Christ.

This is Holy Week. Much can be said and we ought to prayerfully listen. When all is said and done what are we left with? That’s the question. I think it is good to reflect on the cross, our Lord’s sufferings and death, his burial and the empty tomb. Then we’d best get on with it. Following our Lord in this new resurrection life, but a life now lived with both Jesus’s death and resurrection important for our faith and experience now. We are yet to be fully glorified as our Lord has been. We remain here in a sense partaking of both his death and resurrection in the present. In and through Jesus.

 

a Christian convert = a disciple, follower of Christ

It’s interesting in Acts how converts to Christ are called “disciples” again and again. Dallas Willard wrote and talked about what he called “bar code Christianity.” It’s like you get your free pass to heaven, eternal life because of Christ and what he’s done, and then you go on living life as you please, really your own life, no different than the world, no different than before perhaps, except that you think you are now saved. But that’s not the way of life described in the New Testament for converts to Christ. They each and every one are then considered followers of Christ, his apprentices, yes, “disciples.”

A person might come to Christ in all sincerity, yet fail to be discipled the way they ought to, maybe not at all. That seems all too common, and likely not a problem of just this day and age. There’s the danger in that of drift and disaster, though certainly God can pick up the pieces. There’s at the very least the likelihood that there will be little or no growth into Christ-likeness, which is really at the heart of what discipleship is all about, following our Rabbi, and thus becoming more and more like him. I have to admit for myself that thought seems daunting in itself, especially if I consider my own life and thoughts and attitudes along the way. Not that we tend to put a kind eye on ourselves, indeed we can see all. But it is hard to appreciate the progress one has made and is making. God sees that clearly; we often don’t.

What I can settle happily into is the thought that along with others, I’m a disciple of Christ, facing each new day and situation as his follower. One day and one step at a time: in, under and through Jesus.

gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness…

Galatians 5:22-23

What is meant by gentleness is probably obvious to most, but I’ll try to define or describe it. It’s a disposition that is soft yet firm, not weak at all, but neither is it the kind of strength commonplace in the world. It’s force is not physical, but moral and spiritual. At its core for the Christian is Christ-likeness. In love, it is persuasive at least in the sense of being admirable, and eventually emulated, at least influential to others.

I’m looking forward to reading Dallas Willard’s book on gentleness. If there’s one characteristic that should mark our professed love as Christians in this day and time, I think it’s gentleness. But such a disposition would do us a world of good as well. And I don’t mean simply the act of being gentle, which is good in itself, but gentleness in our hearts working into our bones out into our lives, so that we’re simply people who are becoming gentle.

This is called a fruit of the Holy Spirit, in other words something the Spirit produces in our lives. The book of Galatians says that we either walk, that is live according to the flesh or according to the Spirit, one of the two. There might be somehow a gray in between in our experience as we endeavor to move toward what we don’t have. I tend to think Scripture is saying it’s either/or. So we are dependent on the Spirit to be working in our hearts and lives, which means we must yield to the Spirit. Again, the book of Galatians is a great (and not long) book to prayerfully read and study with that thought in mind.

At any rate, that’s my goal. I am tempted to abandon gentleness, especially with the pressures I face at work and elsewhere. But such a place is good training ground to  discipline myself to hold on to what the Spirit would bring forward and through my life, instead of giving in and living in the flesh, as I’m all too accustomed to do at least in certain habits, like keeping my thoughts to myself, but the attitude unchanged. Though, as you might imagine, a wordy person like me can all too easily speak up. To become disposed to something else as a new habit of life is surely vitally important for those of us who wish to follow Christ.

And I think it’s good to take the quote in its entire context, considering other traits that the Spirit would be working into our lives, the fount of it arguably being love, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23