holding on to what lasts

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

Essentially what seems to be at the heart of this picture is the curse of Genesis 3 being removed in what is nothing less than a new creation. Maybe making the old new, or making something brand new that has similarities to the old. Different, either way.

So much that occupies our minds is destined to be forgotten forever. I know this application is not quite what the passage above is getting at, but it’s nevertheless apt from it, I think. What I’m thinking of is perhaps made more clear by our Lord’s words in the parable of the sower:

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19

This reminds us of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, rather than treasures on earth, and not to worry about material provisions since we are in the Father’s care. But instead, to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, knowing all of our needs will be met (Matthew 6:19-34).

There is no question that we have responsibilities on earth that we would just as soon forget even now. But insofar as they are connected to that which lasts, we need to do as well as we can in fulfilling such.

What lasts is the love of God that is in Jesus and present to us by the Spirit. We want to live in that love, and share that love with everyone, particularly our families, where often the rubber meets the road as to just what kind of people we really are, and more importantly, are becoming. And we have special responsibility to them. I think of Paul’s words:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

So we can’t shirk our duties in the name of devotion to God, and think we are devoted to God. But in the midst of that, we must put first things first. Doing the best we can, realizing that in this life, much of it will be a crap shoot, meaning neither fool proof nor assured. But in all of that seeking to hold on to that which will last. A prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is helpful here:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

hanging in there with each other

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good,to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15

Weak and strong have to do with the changes that were taking place with the coming of the new covenant in which many rules, even the schema of the old covenant, was being put aside since the fulfillment of it in Christ and through his death, had already come. It was not an easy time, a time of change. It was not like Christians at that time had to put all the old practices aside. But they had to accept the new reality that other Christians were not going to practice them, and would still be completely accepted by God, so that they too would need to accept them. They were the majority at first, but in a matter of a relatively short time would become the minority as more and more Gentiles would come to the faith.

We can apply this passage in a looser sense with strong and weak perhaps signifying scruples and religious practices. What might be out of bounds for some, might not be any problem for others. Of course I’m not talking about out and out sin, but rather things that might lead some, the “weak” into sin. What might not be a problem for me might be an occasion of stumbling for them, so that I won’t be acting in love if I flaunt my freedom in their presence.

Also I need to be careful not to judge others on things which in themselves are not sin, covered by God’s grace. I might possibly be termed as “weak” in those situations. God looks at the heart. Some practice might be better than others, and maybe it doesn’t matter. But oftentimes what we know is best for us, or what we’re accustomed to, we impose on others, and judge them according to those standards. Which might in fact not be helpful to them, even if they might possibly learn something from our own practice.

We must accept one another fully, even as Christ has fully accepted us, that we together might bring glory to God. A big part of that is simply learning to get along well with our differences, some of that contrast perhaps being uncomfortable to us like the sound of chalk on a blackboard. For this to happen, we need to pray, and be open to the work of the Spirit in drawing us together in harmony, so that in that, we might bring praise together to God. Getting along with each other is a high priority to God. And the essence of what it means to be “in Christ.” Of course as those who are seeking to live in the grace and truth of our Lord. In and through Jesus.

faith, hope, and the greatest of all, love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

In the midst of another terrible disaster (praying for them), when there is challenge after challenge in life with hardly any rest, when being tired is the norm and exhaustion is what one tries to, but doesn’t always avoid, when it seems like one is left alone in their own thoughts, when dreams have long been forgotten and one is trying only to survive, when it seems like life has taken a turn for the worse, fill in your own blanks, whatever it is that we’re facing, in Jesus faith, hope and love always remains.

Faith means we believe and trust in God, in God’s promises to us and to the world in Jesus, even when, and we might say especially when they make little or no sense to us. That doesn’t mean they don’t make sense in the overall scheme of things, or when one is considering and comparing worldviews, including the view which might question such an endeavor. Faith ultimately looks to God’s promise in Jesus which is focused on the cross and the life which flows out from that. It is our crucified, resurrected Lord we follow as God’s resurrected people, and the heart of our faith is always the turning point of the cross, of Jesus’s death. All the promises of God are dependent, hinge on, and ultimately find their meaning in that.

Hope is a confidence by faith (Hebrews 11:1) that what God has promised, he will fulfill and bring to completion in and through Jesus. It keeps us going, when all other hope seems gone. Hope of course is needed by humans. There seems to be nothing worse than a hopelessness given to a despair which simply gives up on life, and might simply muddle through it in a set cynicism, or even worse, think of ending it all. We all need hope, and that hope is ultimately found in Jesus and the good news in him, of course Jesus and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

And then, last, but not least, there’s the greatest of all: love. In the context of the passage written above, it is described:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13

It is found in Jesus who is the revelation of God, of who God is, of what love is, again ultimately through the cross. It is again, Jesus crucified. That is the kind of love that changes and moves us to love in return. And with that same kind of love. Certainly a gift of the Spirit, to us. And that keeps giving and giving (and receiving and receiving, as well), to the very end, no matter what. Of course a discerning love, as well (Philippians 1:9-11). A love in which faith and hope find their true meaning.

And so we have faith, hope and love, whatever else is happening, all very much needed in this existence, in and through Jesus.

the right time and way

For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
    though a person may be weighed down by misery.

Ecclesiastes 8

For people who act in the moment such as I, and who don’t really plan that much in advance, this is a needed, and wise word. Over the years I’ve come to realize more and more just how important this is, so that I’m much better in doing it than I used to be.

The danger might be in refusing to do anything at all, because no one can know for sure if the time is right. It might seem so, but long experience in life tells us that what might seem to be the case, is really not necessarily so at all.

It is important to pray, and to pray some more, and usually to sleep on it, at least. To not be in a hurry is absolutely essential if one is to act in wisdom. Oftentimes what is needed, or most helpful won’t come to one’s mind and heart except over sufficient deliberation and time. And besides that, we need to be in prayer for God’s preparation of whoever we might be talking to, that God would prepare their hearts to be receptive to whatever wisdom we might offer.

Ecclesiastes continues to be one of my favorite books. We need all of scripture, even if we can’t understand it all, track with it, or even like every part of it. Of course we find the end and final answer to it all in Jesus. In and through him. But that doesn’t mean that we neglect any of it. And Ecclesiastes in particular is one book I will continue to rather major on, I’m thinking, in trying to unravel the complexity of life. As I seek to be a follower with others of our Lord.

character first and one might say, last

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13

One of the things that has been indelibly impressed upon me during my years at Our Daily Bread Ministries, through the example of the leadership during my time there, Mart and Rick DeHaan, is simply the importance of character, and specifically a Jesus-likeness marked by humility and love.

There are the gifts in scripture, called the charisms. And they have their place for sure. And all believers have their gift from God, which probably consists of specific gifts. And that’s important, and a part of it all.

But without a change of heart and life that is characterized by love in an underlying faith, any giftedness is essentially worthless, as we see above. Jesus made that plain as well:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

I would rather be around mourners and the broken who love, rather than those who are marked with greatness in what they do, but don’t love. For some it seems like it’s all about what they’re doing, instead of the love with which they’re doing it with.

When one considers the New Testament, the entire Bible for that matter, and life, it shouldn’t be a question of either/or, but and/both. We need the gifts God gives us as humans in creation, and the restored humanity in Jesus in new creation, for sure. But unless love accompanies them, they end up doing more harm than good, often feeding off the pride of those who have them, and that of their followers.

While I think I’ve come surely a long way over the years, though it can be so incremental, that one can at times only hope such is the case, I know also that I have plenty of room to grow. Of course with others into the maturity of the stature of the fullness of Christ is no small order indeed. I can withhold love at times, which isn’t Jesus-like. Being aware of such sins is half the battle in finding the change in Jesus that we need.

The gifts of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit, as well. In fact that fruit marking whatever gifts we have is what we all need, in and through Jesus.

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.

Galatians 5:22-23

 

be on the side of mercy, God’s side

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

There is plenty of evil in the world. It can be found most anywhere, even in our own hearts at times. We long for justice against evildoing and evildoers. And for those who have been victimized, hopefully some kind of reparation that could be done. And if we’re of a Christian persuasion, we should want no less than restorative justice when that is possible. That the one doing evil will be held accountable, but also exhorted and encouraged, yes helped to do better, so that they can go back into society and live productive lives.

Mercy, especially in this broken existence, needs to be the watchword, indeed the passion for us who follow Christ. Just as we have freely received mercy from his hand, we’re to extend that mercy to others. The mercy of the gospel, yes, but also the mercy that comes from the gospel, or we could say is a part of it.

Lest we forget, we’re all in need of mercy everyday, and in a sense at every moment, since none of us in ourselves is worthy to stand before God being stained because of our sin. And we actually prove ourselves unworthy everyday by attitudes and corresponding actions, even if they’re only words under our breath. Unworthy of God’s mercy, justly judged to have fallen short.

But that’s an essential part of the Christian message, the heart of the gospel, that in Jesus there is always mercy and forgiveness extended to us, and to others. We are to accept that mercy for ourselves, and then live out this gospel by extending it to others, so that they can see that our faith is not about judging them, but extending mercy to them when they are undeserving. And of course mercy is not just about showing love at random to everyone. It is purposefully showing the same love to the undeserving that we ourselves receive through Christ.

Does this mean that others aren’t held accountable? Of course not. We all are. Mercy always takes seriously the sin that is being forgiven, or in love, covered over (1 Peter 4). We may need to gently confront or come along side those who are sinning (Galatians 6), or for those who do not know the Lord, we may simply need to show them the way of Jesus, which was love for his enemies, a pathway in which we’re to walk and live in our following of him. The way of the gospel. Not easy, but a picture of the good news in Jesus in which we live, so that others might see and believe, in and through him.