being with people

One of the best decisions I think I’ve ever made would seem to be on the surface, trivial, and probably counterintuitive to people like me. In the past during lunch at work I would sit with my Bible open, reading my daily portion from the psalms. That was good, and I probably did it for years. But I more or less am in scripture all day, insofar as that’s possible. And while I can well converse with others, the nature of my job, not to mention my own naure, is given to being more than less on the job, not having time to talk much, or listen to others.

I decided to change my routine, one of my realizations being that at least one friend I work with on the team was nearing retirement. This was a fun table, active in conversation, but I suppose not necessarily along the lines I would talk about, if there were a bunch of me-s, or people just like me there, which thankfully there are not. I tend to be rather quiet a lot of the time, anyhow. I won’t forget this table, two guys now recently retired, who I grew to love.

For me the take home lesson, even life changing, has been that we need to simply spend time with others. “Spend time,” a way we put it which makes you think. But God speaks to us through scripture, nature, experience, the gospel, the church, and through people. Scripture itself tells us that, and life will verify it.

And so I developed a bond in a way that I don’t think would have been possible, otherwise. The people came to realize that for me, being with them during lunch was a priority, a new habit, simply what I do. I didn’t just do it now and then, although my memory could possibly be a bit faulty here. But I think I plunged into the change completely.

Being with others is underrated. Good leaders will spend time with the people. The best pastors will pray, read, study, and prepare well for their next message. But they will also spend time with the people of the church. They will regularly hang out with them, and learn to simply be with them over time, not necessarily in any “ministry” context. To simply be with each other can amount to something of the ministry we are called to as Christ’s body, the church, in scripture.

I think too of leaders in other places, like at work. Some are not given to being with their team members. But a little bit of that regularly can go a long way. And with those one might not share much affinity with, and may even want to avoid. A good leader ought to touch base with such regularly, preferably daily, to see how they’re doing, just to make human contact. And simply be with them insofar as that’s possible given time constraints and other responsibilities.

For myself this thought has changed me forever. Both in terms of its impact on me during the last maybe couple years since I made the change and how I want to practice life from now on. Instead of reading with classical music on, which I still love, I would just as soon be with a friend over coffee, or better yet with the grandchildren anywhere, like on a nice warm day out on the playground. I have my little Psalms/Proverbs/New Testament in hand to glance at the next verse with metal clip as a marker. But I want to be fully attentive to them, to be there to watch over them, and help them have fun. Particularly a daring little toddler who makes her way up challenging steps or bars, and needs her grandpa’s help.

To be with others, to simply be there to listen. To not think one has to speak at all for that to be valuable. In fact as a rule it might be better to remain silent, especially on controversial issues like politics. Simply being present. That is underrated, but much needed both for others, and for ourselves. In and through Jesus.

toward greater things

I sometimes wonder, and this is true even when I read the psalms, but all the more true when I look at my own life, just what value there is in being taken up with troubles so close to home, when the world at large is suffering so horribly. The problems I’m absorbed in can be just as threatening at times, but by and large they pale in comparison with the trauma the world is suffering in so many places.

And yet I believe that God wants us to do well with the problems at hand right in front of us, in faith and reliance on him. With a special emphasis on loving God and loving others, especially those God has entrusted to our care.

Although we should bear the weight of our own responsibility, we can’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. And we’re not even required to carry any burden at all which weighs heavily on us. We’re told to cast our burdens on the Lord, and to cast all of our cares on him as well. To come to him when we are burdened and weighed down, with the promise that he will give us rest. That is hard for some of us, because we can be prone to take more responsibility than is reasonable. It is not always easy to figure out just what responsibility we have, and where it ends. And we are told to help each other at times, to carry one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ which is love.

Nothing is foolproof in this life, except seeking to live in God through Jesus. Although that in itself seems deceptive to us, since we’re at least prone to be bent in the wrong direction. And we never arrive in this life, as if its struggles and dangers are over. We await our Lord’s return with God’s promise of a different world in which all troubles will be gone.

What is certain is God’s promise of help for us now in and through Jesus. We keep pressing on, even in the midst of trouble, believing that God is good and is at work, and that we can be recipients of that work. And as we receive God’s help, our heart can be set free to yearn in prayer for the help of others in the world. And especially for the salvation of all, beginning in this present life in and through Jesus.

love’s priority over knowledge

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

love is the true expression of faith

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

We might find ourselves in some sort of quandary, not knowing what to do. Of course as Christians we are dependent on God’s grace, and we reach out in faith, so we justifiably may be working on that. Our focus, of course, necessarily on Christ. But there’s one key thing we need to remember in it all: what is of value is faith which is worked out in love. If love for God and for our neighbor (including, even our enemies), and especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ, is not paramount in our thinking, then we’ve lost our way, and we’re into something less than the way in Jesus, something less than true Christianity.

Dallas Willard wrote and spoke of a “bar code Christianity” in which the only thing that mattered is faith and the fact that through that faith, the believer would someday go to heaven. But as he adeptly pointed out, that is not the real thing, and ends up being no faith at all, as far as the faith talked about in the Bible. It is not about us, and how we are secure so that nothing else matters. Or that the only thing that does matter is our security in this life, to go with the security we have for the next life. No. That is not the faith as given to us in Jesus, and therefore ends up falling short of true, genuine faith.

Faith, hope and love remain, the greatest of these, love (1 Corinthians 13). This might mean that we need to get creative, or wait on the Lord for a better decision or thought to come to mind when we are faced with something that seems somehow to pose some danger to us. We must always seek to act in love, so that those involved might see in our actions the love which we’ve experienced through grace, the love of the Lord.

“let go and let God” -really?

This past summer we enjoyed a wonderful concert by Michael Card at the Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference Tabernacle. At the front on top in the center, I noticed a small sign in large letters, “LET GO AND LET GOD.” In light of my recent read of The Cure, referred to yesterday, and the recent emphasis on trying to better understand and live more fully in God’s grace in Jesus, I thought I would consider this slogan, and its viability in light of scripture and the gospel.

To begin, I have noticed critiques of this saying, which cast it on its head as something to be either thorougly rejected, or at least held at arm’s length as incomplete. I think misunderstandings of it are certainly not only possible, but probable, and almost endemic (a given), due to the lack of Biblical, theological knowledge so many people have, even within the church. And even if there is some significant knowledge and understanding gathered from a good number of years of being in the church and reading scripture, I fear that the possible truth behind this slogan can be all but missed, so that in our life and practice, we completely miss whatever might be true in its meaning.

First of all, what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we’re saved now, and that’s all that matters, so that we shouldn’t be concerned about our lives, or what’s going on around us, that we can let all of that go, and let God take care of it. Since after all, God is on the Throne, and whatever happens here doesn’t change his rule, or will one iota, as if God’s will will be carried out regardless. That’s subtle in that there’s some truth in it, but misses an important point. And it doesn’t mean that what we do, or fail to do doesn’t matter. However that’s tricky, as well, since we often live as if that’s all that matters, or at least is key.

I think what it is getting at is in terms of the teaching of grace as opposed to law. Not a grace that is in opposition to the Law of God, but a grace by which one can fulfill the requirement of that Law, which essentially is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture makes it clear that we can’t fulfill God’s Law, by that Law itself, a repeated theme. We were never intended to be able to do it on our own. The grace of God that is in Jesus is key here, that grace being proclaimed in the gospel. It is only through what God has done in Jesus, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, that we can have life, and really live. It’s not in our own efforts either before, or after coming to Christ for salvation.

Letting go means that faith itself, the faith by which we began the new life in Christ, is necessary in continuing to live in that new life. And it’s a faith that is not in anything at all about ourselves, nor a faith which becomes dependent on ourselves in any way, shape, or form, at any time. It’s a faith only in God’s word in Christ in the gospel, so that the life which we do live is lived only in God’s grace, “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We will fail. Let that be in not only large letters, but bold ones. We will fail. If it depended on us, this Christian life, then we can sign, seal and deliver that we won’t make it, and not only that, we won’t really even begin to be settled in it, even if God in his grace allows us to have a good taste of it in our lives. No. What we enter into by sheer faith, must be lived out by sheer faith in the grace of God in Jesus. Through his death, death and sin and condemnation are done away with, once and for all. Insofar as we’re settled on that, we’ll begin to experience the difference that should make. The Christian life doesn’t depends on us even a little, but on Christ, and the good news in him. The source for our new life and living, is completely in him, not in ourselves. Even though we find it in his union with us, and the change that brings.

Once we begin to live in this grace, we act not within the constriction of law, as a duty, but the compulsion of grace, as a response to God’s love and gift to us in Jesus. We let go of our own self-effort to commend ourselves to God, knowing that we’re already complete and have fullness in and through Jesus. We are in him, and he in us, and community in Jesus through the church is certainly a part of that. Our identity to find our true selves is in Jesus, not in us. We are identified in him, in his death and resurrection, even in his ascension.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, and say more than any of us can really take in, not that we’re meant to understand all of that right away anyhow, we need to settle in again, on the slogan itself. Do we really believe the good news is in Jesus, and God’s grace in him? Are we willing to proceed with a blind, and naked faith, depending only on God’s word to us in Jesus? Will we step across that line, with a commitment to not turn back, or at least keep coming back when we most likely inevitably do return to our former and dead end way of living?

These are questions which remain, at least for myself. I want to break through into a new sort of life in Jesus, which I have already tasted many times through a good number of years, for sure. But which I’ve at least in large part failed to be settled in. The theme of God’s grace, which has come to my attention in recent weeks, has taken on a new focus, which while not really new in knowledge, may become new in understanding as in application for me, something I hope to better live in and be a witness to in whatever coming days and months and years may remain, in and through Jesus.

the fruit of the Spirit contrasted to the works of the flesh

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality,impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited,provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:13-26

I was much impressed in my meditation over scripture yesterday, now in Galatians, over the contrast of the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. And I didn’t want this to be an impression which comes and goes, and maybe only jogs the mind in a certain direction to correspond more to truth. But I prayed that this reality through the Spirit may be more and more who I am, as opposed to the works of the flesh, which I can at least in my heart fall into. And that I’ll learn better how to keep in step with the Spirit, and the Spirit’s working in my life.

When all around us is such great divisiveness, yes, even hate, we as God’s people in Jesus need to show the better way, not our imitation of Jesus, but the the Spirit enabling us to walk in his steps, beginning in our relationships with each other. Yes, to show the world a better way, the way actually, in Jesus. And to do so by no less than the blessed Holy Spirit. He alone as God can help us live in a different sphere, regardless of our feelings, or what we’re up against. To live in that fruit which is not of us, but of him, and yet worked into our very hearts and lives. My prayer to God is that this will be more and more the case in my life.