we’re on our way in this life, so keep going (don’t stop)

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Philippians 3:12-16

The sense of having arrived, so that one thinks they’re all set as far as their lives are concerned is not a good place to be, even a dangerous place, frankly. If Paul could say he hadn’t arrived, then all the more so true of any of us. In fact Paul calls it a mark of maturity to acknowledge that, as well as to keep pressing on.

We are on a journey. It has inevitable difficulties along the way. One can’t help but think of John Bunyan’s epic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Although my own theological understanding in many ways does not line up with his, that entire story is a great illustration of what I’m trying to get at in this post. For “Christian” there are difficulties and challenges right to the very end on his journey to the Celestial City.

There ought to be the sense of having arrived only in the practices we ordinarily always do. But there is that sense in our hearts that indeed we’re still on the way, anticipating what we can hardly imagine, what apart from the Spirit’s help we can’t imagine at all, seeing Jesus as he is, and becoming like the one we love.

Let’s not forget that it’s always not only about us individually. “…the arc of history is long and bends toward justice…” God in love is working God’s purpose out, and God will get God’s way. Within that thought, we long for Christ’s return to at long last clean up this mess, and put in the new order.

But until then, and until our end in this life comes, we want to press on, in fact we have no other choice but to keep doing so. God will see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

we are in process on a journey

Many bumper stickers I don’t care for, including the one we sometimes used to see, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” or something to that effect. While it did communicate something important, it seemed to let Christians off the hook for behaving less than well. The wonderful writer and teacher Dallas Willard used to call it “bar code Christianity,” when people somehow thought their profession of faith to get to heaven was enough, with little or no life corresponding.

There is no doubt that it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and not be our works, so that no one can boast. But that passage goes on to say practically the key of that thought. We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has planned for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Faith in Christ, in the gospel gives us assurance of eternal life, for sure. And our sins: past, present and future are taken care of. But it also puts us on a journey in a totally new direction. Faith in scripture is always submissive, and involves repentance. That involves a lifelong renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and instead, often against the grain of even ourselves, following the Lord through thick and thin, no matter what.

We are essentially those in process. We in Jesus never arrive in this life, but we are on a journey. There is a pursuit that keeps us going, even hungry. The completion of everything is promised only at our Lord’s return. Being in Christ, found by God and finding him, means we are on an entirely new pursuit. One aspect of that Paul describes in his great little letter to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

see Philippians 3

This is indeed a growth process. We should be becoming more and more like Jesus, over time. This involves an ongoing renewing of our minds which goes against the grain of conformity to the world (Romans 12:1-2).

And so there’s an ongoing tension in the sense that we are on a journey in which we have not yet arrived. Along the way we might mess up, and we will in some way or another. So that an essential part of it is the ongoing confession of sin, forgiveness and corresponding cleansing. And part of that is the necessity that we walk (or live) in the light, as Jesus is in the light (1 John).

And so we never have a sense in this life of having arrived. Yes, we have those moments, seasons, and times, even if they might seem to be rare, when we especially feel close to God, and when all seems well. But it won’t be long in this life, with the presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, when we will be put both on the defensive, and the offensive, as we take up the word of truth, scripture and the gospel, and by the Spirit seek to follow on with others in Jesus. Someday the journey will be over, and we will arrive to the fulfillment of all things in Jesus. Until then by grace we press on toward and even in the beauty of our Lord.

the limitations of writing/second thoughts

Every once in a while, I start thinking a bit, and somewhat through about the limitations of writing, and specifically of what I do as a rule in writing a post everyday (except for Sunday) on this blog. My thinking when I get to this place has evolved, so that I’m ready now to accept the thought that my writing can have value in its place, and may help someone along the way, and as I have thought, and a friend recently said, it’s a part of my ongoing journey in sorting out things, trying to think through life, and specifically life in God through Christ.

We all have our elements and niches, some we’ve developed a skill in because we’ve had to in order to earn a living, true in my case. And others with which we have a natural attraction to, and affinity. I have always loved books, but have not been as good a reader as I would have liked. Just the same, they’re usually a companion, even if the learnedness some people think I have is actually second hand from people who really have read the sources, such as Karl Barth and the classics.

But while we each have the special thing we like to do, we could say, our element, humble as it may be, whether painting, music, science, whatever, none of that gets at the core of our being. We are all more than that. I remember the story of Thomas Aquinas, truly one of the greatest Christian minds, one of the greatest minds ever. Toward the end of his life, he has some kind of vision, maybe toward the Beatific vision of barely scratching the surface in apprehending as in knowing God. And he felt like all his writings, great as they actually were and are, were essentially worthless. He had in a sense seen the Truth, and the words he had written paled in comparison.

I find it interesting, for myself, that I can write a post, more or less be in it, and then forget it completely afterward. Often they’re written as an afterthought on reflections from my own life, as well as life in general, hopefully informed and formed by scripture, the gospel being the center in and through Christ, leading us to the life of the Trinity in and through him: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I think whatever time I have left, I may want to major more on meditation and prayer. Maybe I’m a bit of a mystic at heart, certainly monastic and liturgical in my orientation, but in a loose way, given the life that I lead. But prayer, and working at that, and seeking to grow and become more familiar and at home in the rhythms that come from that, with for me scripture and the gospel being center in that, seems like it is at least the stopping place for me now, and perhaps the resting place from now on. Although such can easily be lost or weakened in the mayhem of life.

I am not crazy about all these “I’s,” “me’s” and “mines” so to speak, but we have to think of faith in relation to our lives as individuals, and together with others in the essential community of this life, and ultimately in the community of God. We each have our story to tell, our witness of God’s faithfulness in and through Jesus, and we’re on a different part of what for each of us is a unique journey, along with others on their unique journeys, while at the same time having to deal with the same things and with the same destination.

I hope I can keep writing, as long as life and mind allows, because that’s something I enjoy doing, hopefully with some benefit for a few along with myself as I share thoughts in common with us all. But I am aware of a new chapter which it seems I’m entering. We’ll see each other along the way and especially at the end, as we go on through this life, and especially in and through Jesus. As we seek to find our way more and more in and through him.

going on

Sometimes one feels like they’re largely going through the motions with the question in mind, “What’s the point?” We know better than that for both seemingly smaller and larger reasons. There is the first and greatest commandment and the second like it. Our lives indeed have meaning and purpose in the ongoing story of God.

Sometimes we simply can’t tell where we are going, where life seems to be taking us. There may be more questions than we would like. It is important for us during such times to continue on, to try to do well in what is in front of us, in what evidently has been put into our lives. To be open to change.

There is a time to stand still; we certainly need times like that. And we need probably frequent rest stops during our days, when possible. But our most immediate need may be to pick up our feet and keep going. On this lifelong journey in God’s story in Jesus.

pressing on

Life doesn’t stop for anyone. It keeps right on going. Although we need plenty of stops along the way with all the twists and turns, the hard places, and the unknowns to come. In general we have to not only carry on, but in Paul’s words, press on. Faith is like that, it perseveres no matter what hard bumps we encounter or obstacles we face.

We would like to map out our own journey, to set it in stone with the ending we have in mind. But life doesn’t work that way for any of us. It goes on and we must go on with it. With our hand in the Lord’s hand knowing that it’s not only about us, but about the redeemed community with us in life and mission to glorify God and be a witness of God’s salvation.

And so I must get on with that today and everyday to the end.

Sharon Garlough Brown on paying attention to the Spirit of God, and the change that comes

“The spiritual life is all about paying attention,” said Katherine. “The Spirit of God is always speaking to us, but we need to slow down, stop, and give more than lip service to what God is saying. We need to get off autopilot and take time to look and listen with the eyes and ears of the heart.”

Katherine paused, letting the room fill again with pregnant silence.

“Now I’ll caution you right from the beginning,” she said slowly. “Walking the path toward freedom and deep transformation takes courage. It’s not easy. It’s not linear. It can seem messy and chaotic at times, and you’re likely to lose your sense of equilibrium as old things die and new things are born. You may feel disoriented as idols you once trusted and relied upon are revealed and removed. But don’t be afraid of the mess. The Holy Spirit is a faithful guide, gently shepherding and empowering us as we travel more deeply into the heart of God.”

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey, 51.

I made what is italicized by the author bold, since my current blog format automatically italicizes all quotes.

pushing on

Life is a journey. Though John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress may well have its weaknesses theologically in our understanding, along with its strengths, it remarkably markedly presses home to us the reality that life is a journey. We are moving on in Jesus through this world as pilgrims. From the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City”. “Pilgrim” carries with it the idea that we are strangers and foreigners in a world that is alien in heart to the God through Jesus whom we follow.

On Christian’s journey in Bunyan’s story he meets many people along the way. Some are a help and others a hindrance. Snares were a part of that journey. Some key players came along in the story such as Evangelist who pointed Christian to the Cross where Christian could lose the heavy burden (of sin) which he was carrying. (See the Wikipedia article linked above, not that long and interesting.)

While an appropriation of a more rounded theology would help the story, we can gather from it that we indeed must go on in this life, moving toward the goal in Jesus to which God calls us. This may mean leaving some behind for now at least. And this may mean coming to a better understanding of what is rather dark and bleary now.

I think of Jesus’ words to Peter. When Peter asked Jesus about John and his future, Jesus said, “What is that to you? You must follow me.” (Just prior to that Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.”) So in a true sense while we’re indeed in this journey together, and we must not lose sense of that for a moment, at the same time we are each responsible to carry well our own burden or responsibility of life.

Pushing on in this journey of life often means leaving a chapter behind, and aspects in it that were important for us at the time, but no longer are needed. If we seek to remain in such a time, then we not only miss the point of the good we received then, but worse, we can end up losing out altogether. Detoured, or stopped in our tracks.

Much more to say on this, and a careful appropriation of Bunyan’s story in light of scripture and Christian tradition can be quite helpful to us. As we seek ourselves along with others to move on toward God’s goal in Jesus, looking for the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem that is yet to come when heaven and earth are made one in Jesus.


Sharon Brown on embarking on a sacred journey

The spiritual life is all about paying attention. The Spirit of God is always speaking to us, but we need to slow down, stop, and give more than lip service to what God is saying. We need to get off autopilot and take time to look and listen with the eyes and ears of the heart.

Now, I’ll caution you right from the beginning. Walking the path toward freedom and deep transformation takes courage. It’s not easy. It’s not linear. It can seem messy and chaotic at times, and you’re likely to lose your sense of equilibrium as old things die and new things are born. You may feel disoriented as idols you once trusted and relied upon are revealed and removed. But don’t be afraid of the mess. The Holy Spirit is a faithful guide, gently shepherding and empowering us as we travel more deeply into the heart of God.

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes, 41. Katherine, a spiritual director in the story talking to a group of women at the beginning of a spiritual retreat. Explanations are embedded within this quote.

“slow down” echoed in new novel

Sharon talking about her book at a recent book launch at Baker Book House.

The words I took as from God: “Slow down”, with the understanding that God would help me work that out in life are echoed in Sharon Brown’s new book, Sensible Shoes. Or I should say that God used her influence to slow me down in the sense of getting me open, and now hungry for a deeper life in God.

I’m reading the book and finding it fascinating, and am resonating deeply with the characters in it, even though they are all women. It is easy for me to make that crossover from the normal feminine concerns and issues they face, since their basic problem is tied to their humanity.

And I’m at an advantage, witnessing Sharon and her husband Jack’s ministry as our pastors. Her gift is for the whole church, just as I believe is true, whether directly or indirectly, of every member of Christ’s Body.

And I want to join real life people through joining the book characters on this “sacred journey”.

Upcoming I will offer a book review. And I look forward to the study guide to go along with this book. Add to that Sharon’s blog centered on the book, and you can begin right now, and see for yourself.

You can see why my theme on this blog all week has been slowing down. And I will top that off tomorrow with a quote from this book.

The book cover image is from Google books. I think the best prices right now are from Sharon herself, and Amazon.

our limitations

For us in Jesus we long for the not yet because we’ve had a taste of the already, in Jesus. We long for true, ongoing, close, intimate fellowship with God, to live in God’s love and to live in unbroken communion with others within that love. To some extent that is realized now in Christ. But it frequently seems broken in this life.

We are limited in this life, and we might as well face it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together excoriates the notion that we can find or have some ideal Christian fellowship here and now in this life. We are all sinners, recovering sinners in Jesus, but none of us have arrived, and we all have blind spots where at least we are not doing what we ought (sins of omission) according to the ideal and stature of Christ (not to mention sins of commission, what we do that we ought not to do). Surely God holds us responsible to be in a certain place in our maturity, but his working in us is for us to continue to grow, and to grow together toward perfection in the maturity of Christ.

We need to learn to live lovingly in these limitations. If we stop and think it won’t take but a moment or two to realize that we need this kind of grace extended to us as well.

There is no escape from God’s will in Jesus that we have ongoing fellowship with each other through the cleansing blood of Jesus, that is, through the efficacy of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We need to be careful in accepting limitations not to downplay what is possible in this life. Bonhoeffer’s Life Together spells that part out as well, because Scripture bears that out. What we’re called to in God’s word may seem beyond us, and it is true that we surely never attain to it perfectly in this life. There is after all an ongoing need for confession of our sins and forgiveness extended to each other, part of that will made known for our fellowship in Jesus now.  Our unity is in Christ and therefore our focus will be on him.

So there is this tension, characteristic of the already/not yet time in which we live. We accept the limitations of others and even of ourselves and live within them with the goal to be changed from glory to glory into the image of Christ. Grace can take hold and help us grow only where we are, not some idealized place where we think we, or others ought to be. People in Jesus and those who are not are all on a journey. We do well to acknowledge that, and like those in The Pilgrim’s Progress who helped Christian long the way in his journey to the Celestial City, we do well to try to do our part to help others to the Cross and toward the final completion of that salvation,  and be open to others who are trying to do their part to help us along on our own journey.

Some scattered thoughts on our limitations, and learning to live well within them without excusing ourselves from God’s will in Jesus. What might you like to add to this?