rewiring one’s brain

In neuroscience, neuroplasticity is big nowadays, the idea that one can impact their brain for good or ill in numerous ways. I’m sure there’s limitations to this, but I’m convinced there’s truth in it. Like how the music we listen to affects us. Or engaging in some activity which in and of itself might not be good or bad but binds us, and disengaging.

Change is slow, but it does occur over time. But we have to persist.

Scripture is the source I turn to again and again. And the church, along with the fellowship of believers in the communion of Christ. And I want to turn away from whatever might get a hold and control on me, whatever that might be. Sometimes in our lives things we know are not good in themselves, and yet we can rationalize and be blind to what is obvious. Our uneasy thoughts can betray that fact. Oftentimes in matters which in themselves are not bad at all, but become bad because they get an idolatrous grip on us that won’t let go, or perhaps more accurately, we won’t let go of.

Repentance is needed. Slowing down and actually stopping has helped me. And letting go of thoughts that argue against change. Replacing them with thoughts hopefully from God, or waiting for such thoughts.

This seems to be important for me right now. It seems like there’s been dead ends or less than helpful places where the fruit borne was not what was intended. So I wish to go to better places. Not leaving behind legitimate concerns, but hopefully thinking and living in a way that will be more helpful in addressing them. In and through Jesus.

 

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living with our differences

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Colossians 3:15a

In the real world there are stark differences of opinion, and that includes the church. When we say church, we should include the entire church also, and not only our local assembly. How do we learn to live together with our differences?

The word translated “peace” hearkens back, when considering Scripture, to the shalom of God’s kingdom. It’s not just an absence of strife, though often that’s where we need to begin. It’s the presence of a love that includes everyone, and therefore accepts each person, regardless of their view on anything. And it’s a gospel kind of love, intent in all of us finding our way in Jesus. Together yes, but as individuals. We each have to find that for ourselves. But we live it out together as members of one body in Christ, the church.

I think that means that we need to side step what might harm that. And a large part of understanding what that might be would be to consider what Christ would be about in the world. We after all are members of Christ.

When it comes to issues on which we disagree, it’s best to err on the side of love. Drop whatever violates love. If there’s something important enough to work through, do so, but also agree to disagree, so that we’re willing to drop it. There’s actually more strength in not having the last word, than having it. But our heart should not be in winning an argument, but love: God’s love in Christ by the Spirit. We are taking the way of the cross, the way of Christ, if we are willing to look like the losers. And acknowledge when we are wrong. And pray.

“Let the peace of Christ rule.” That’s a watchword for us as individuals, especially important in our relationships with each other, in the church. In and through Jesus.

 

incentive to grow in God’s grace

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:17-18

2 Peter 1 is one of my many favorite sections of Scripture. The rest of the book (it’s a short one; click the above link to get it all) is a bit challenging for me, not sections of Scripture I go to much on my own, except to read through with the rest. But probably because of that, parts I need to heed all the more.

The ending quoted above gives away the plot of the book, which you might not at all guess by the first chapter alone. Again, that first chapter is beautiful on its own, and stands well alone. But it is not appreciated well for what it was meant to be and do when separated from the rest. It’s like listening to just parts or highlights of a symphony or other musical piece. Without listening to the whole, you won’t as well appreciate the parts.

The sad fact of the matter is that there are charlatans out there ripping people off. That’s the obvious stuff, though not so to those who are not well versed and desperate. And then there’s the much more subtle, whose own faith is ship wrecked (to borrow from Paul), who are naturally corrupt, and corrupt others, even in the name of religion, yes, sadly, in the name of Christ. They are out there. I wish I could avoid all of this. But I live in the real world. And to think that I’m not above being influenced by such, even if it’s subtlety, is to deny the plain words of Scripture here.

Regardless of what else, we must press on, seeking to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ just as the first chapter tells us. (I know, the chapter and verse divisions are something we’ve added, a part of our tradition, but while having their drawbacks, do help us know what part of the Scripture we’re referring to.) We’re to be aware of the danger unsound teaching and teachers bring. First of all, of course, to be able to sort out the true from the false, the good from the bad. And the better and best from those who maybe have been influenced by what’s not good. A big task, and we need the church at its truest to help us in this.

Instead of succumbing and ultimately falling, we’re to keep growing. There’s no middle ground. We either are growing, or drifting as in falling back. Our needed ongoing growth in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

some further thoughts on Jesus’s invitation to rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It is refreshing when living in a culture so individualistic to have Jesus’s personal invitation into rest and full participation with him with the further rest and strength that participation brings. I appreciate our church, and in general all the churches we’ve been a part of. And we’re part of a small group which meets twice a month and once during the summer. And on top of that I work at a ministry and thus am in daily Christian fellowship. But still by and large what the New Testament teaches in regard to what the church is to be is not practiced enough. Our church service has good coffee, good worship in song, great teaching from Scripture on the screen to our campus, so in many ways it’s my cup of tea. As long as I have my ear plugs (and I barely need them, but trying to protect the hearing I have at an older age) I’m good to go. And it helps if in my comfort zone, or just being more or less chronically tired, I don’t doze off.

Jesus’s invitation is no less personal than it was when he made it I assume not only among his disciples, but when teaching the multitudes. It is an invitation open to all, certainly one to enter into a relationship of discipleship we might say. It refers to a double yoke which oxen we’re hitched to. The Lord himself is alongside of us, in the time he taught it in person, but especially fulfilled, even for the people of his day after he would ascend and pour out the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit, he would come to them, and thus this invitation would be fully open to all. (Not to be confused with his actual return, when he comes bodily, bringing heaven to earth.)

This invitation is no less radical than when it was made. It is not only for all of life, but an actual relationship with Christ by the Spirit. In a sense it stands on its own, but in another sense, not. That is, it is a powerful dynamic in and of itself, the Lord being present with us, and directly teaching or at least impacting us in this communion by the Spirit. And it seems that it is indeed a working relationship. It’s about rest, but it’s also about taking up a yoke and moving with the Lord. So it stands on its own that way. But it’s not apart from what Scripture teaches so that we’re to be active in the word day after day.

This is the breath of fresh air we need for ourselves and for our help to and participation with others. In and through Jesus.

more than a persecution complex

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

John 15:18-25

Couched in Jesus’s Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) the eve of his crucifixion, is some words of warning to his disciples. In our own culture we’re hard pressed to make much sense of them, but in the world at the present time persecution of Christians is as bad as ever. We do well to keep track of it and help by prayers and giving (see Open Doors).

In this present age we live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil. All are directly opposed to Christ, often subtly in my own context. Oftentimes what can happen is a kind of getting along which amounts to compromise and a watering down of the message of the cross. If the ideal of the separation of church and state is maintained, then neither will interfere with the other. The church strictly speaking is a separate entity, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). At the same time the church is a people in exile from the heavenly Jerusalem, and wants to see the nation blessed in which it resides (Jeremiah 29:7).

So like life itself, it’s complicated. But straight up, as followers of Christ, we should expect persecution. In my own context again, more or less subtle. Though we who are blessed to live in a space in which significant religious freedom remains should be aware of other Christians who do not, and are more or less suffering real persecution, perhaps in the loss of property, and even life.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

We dare not carry around a persecution complex, ready to jump at the slightest provocation, always thinking the worst. But as followers of Christ, we need to remember that our lives are to be a small picture pointing to Jesus and his cross. We’re to take up our crosses and follow. In the love of God for the world. In and through Jesus.

when it comes to the Bible, ponder yes, and just keep reading

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

The Christian faith is centered in Jesus and God’s good news in him. And the church, the body of Christ made up of all believers and followers of Christ, made new by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Spirit on what’s essential is also an indispensable part of the faith. So when someone reads the Bible, they don’t do so in a vacuum. It is true that people can read the Bible apart from the church, and come up with all kinds of sectarian views. But the Bible is central in receiving the gospel, the truth in Jesus. And for good reason, evident when you begin to turn its pages. And the church has always regarded it as foundational for understanding the faith. Certainly there are disagreements among various church traditions, but the good news in Jesus remains central to all.

For me, the go to reality day after day is to return to Scripture. I have decided to capitalize Scripture, after years of not doing so, to mark it as distinct from all other religious and faith writings. It is God’s word written. So I return to it again and again. And in so doing, I expect to hear from God, and be changed more and more into the image of Christ. To be shaped by the renewing of my mind through Scripture.

When doing that, I often am weary through life, and most times the words don’t really jump off the pages at me. But I keep pondering. And something important to remember: there may seem to be many dead spots because of our weak reception, but we just keep on reading. We move on to the next point or part. Oftentimes that can shed light on what we didn’t understand. But regardless, we just keep moving on.

Paul’s words to Timothy tell us that Scripture is able to give us wisdom to save us through faith in Jesus. Salvation in Scripture is past, at the cross and when we believe. It’s present in the ongoing process of God’s saving work in our lives by the Spirit. And it’s future in the promise of Christ’s return to make all things new, including the resurrection of all things, not least of which, the resurrection of our bodies.

So I’m much encouraged to keep opening the Book. And keep on reading and reading, yes pondering slowly, prayerfully and thoughtfully. And not stop. In and through Jesus.