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.

waiting for the fruit to ripen and be picked

Once in a while, I wish it were more often, we might become aware of something new, either on the horizon, or which has arrived already, through which we are going to be challenged in a new way, our faith stretched and shaped to be more like Jesus. That is when we need to pray and wait and seek to live into and find what God has for us. Some trial and error almost certainly involved in that, to be sure. This is not found out on paper, but in real life.

Too often we jump to conclusions one way or another. Either dismissing it, because it doesn’t fit into our paradigm of faith we now have, or imagining we know already what we’re getting into, and the full significance of it. In doing so, we limit God, his working, and what we can learn, and most importantly our growth in the process.

We need to be present with all our deficiencies, realizing we’re not ready ourselves, and therefore waiting on God in faith. Not moving on our own, but trusting in God to guide us, to help us know and accomplish what we’re incapable of by ourselves.

In all of this, we continue to trust in God in and through Jesus, hold to the gospel, and keep going back to scripture in the fellowship of the church. Knowing that God is faithful and committed to us and to the salvation of all in and through Jesus.

 

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.