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.

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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.

back to basics: knowing firsthand

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

It is amazing how much help is available online nowadays. You can find something of whatever you might imagine, and it’s usually helpful. I would hardly know where to begin, but I’m impressed with The Bible Project. The Our Daily Bread devotional along with Bible Gateway is helpful in getting us into the word, and I’ll add Bill Mounce’s site in getting into details of the Greek New Testament (and note his version of the New Testament on Bible Gateway.  There’s much more.

It’s fine to get help in knowing about something, but we can’t stop there. We need to get into it firsthand ourselves. For me that is simple as far as an ongoing day to day practice. I simply get into the word, Scripture, one line or thought at a time, meditating and praying over that. And along with that, I have a daily reading through an Old Testament passage, a Psalm (Psalm 119 I divide up according to section), a Sermon on the Mount or Sermon on the Plain reading, and a New Testament reading, one NIV heading at a time. At times I’ll work at reading through a section of Scripture. Though it’s more than I normally do at one sitting, last night I read through the book of Revelation. And certainly not least is hearing the teaching of God’s word Sunday after Sunday (or weekends) at the church gathering.

The goal in this is to taste the goodness of God for ourselves through God’s word. There’s absolutely no substitute for that. It’s good when other things help, but we must get into the word for ourselves. That we might grow in our faith with others toward full Christian, meaning Jesus-like maturity in and through Jesus.

 

we hate all the hate that has been directed against African Americans and is still latent

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Romans 12:9

Last night I heard a documentary on the brutal hate murder of a fourteen year old boy, Emmett Till. Instead of brushing off the past as the past, we need to understand how it impacts the present, but more importantly, we need to own up to our own responsibility in a more or less willful ignorance and at least not a listening ear and heart to  understand the plight of others.

Latent racism is a fact of life. It’s everywhere, period. While there’s hate on all sides, those who perpetrated the problem are the ones that need to take the brunt of responsibility. Victims who react in hate are responsible, too, but must necessarily be held to a different standard. We honor the many victims who have been hurt and are in justifiable anger, but are ready for a good solution short of any violence, except for the righteous plea for justice.

Any association with organizations having any tie whatsoever with racial hate groups is to be judged in the church as sin. So that if a member is part of any such group, they must be confronted and disciplined if need be. Hopefully they will see fit to first of all repent of this sin, and to sever any such tie, but if not, the church should remove their membership, and appeal to them as someone outside the faith.

I live in a northern city with plenty of churches, but those whose feet are on the ground, and not only African Americans make it clear that systemic racism is alive and at least active here. It is considered a significantly racist area.

We as churches would do well to commit ourselves to having African Americans in places of leadership, including the pastorate. To have a good mix of leadership. That is what eventually can help the church be the witness to the power of the gospel in breaking down all divisions. Through the cross, Jesus broke down the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles, and ultimately between everyone. Every human is God’s child by creation, so that we’re one family that way. Through Christ, we become one in him, reconciled to God and to each other. A love we’re to live out in down to earth ways, and with a sensitivity for the injustices which remain. As we wait together for our Lord’s return, when evil forever will be banished, and we’ll all live together in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

 

the gospel ultimately destroys all division

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

We in Christ all belong to the household and family of God. We’re one. That doesn’t mean distinctions no longer exist, though the seeds of abolishing slavery are clearly in the New Testament, in this passage, in the book of Philemon, etc.

The gospel destroys all division in the sense of people not being united. We are “in Christ” and therefore united as one in him. That seems so obvious, a truism even, except that it hasn’t always been played out that way. African slaves were baptized when they responded in faith to the gospel. Yet they remained slaves, as if the family status was somehow only spiritual. That flies in the face of the meaning of the gospel, the good news in Jesus. It’s essentially a family, household thing, full heirs of God’s promise in Christ, as the above passage points out. Likewise females who were often either considered inferior to males, or treated as such are equal in being heirs and members of the family.

We are bereft with deep divisions in the world today. And they only seem exacerbated as people live more deeply and advocate their own common unity, or community. It would be good if by common grace people from diverse backgrounds: racial, religious, whatever could find common ground so that they could live well together. But that kind of unity could never approach the unity that is in Christ. It is good and important in its place, but it’s certainly not a full unity.

The unity in Christ does not destroy the diversity present. Women are still women, men, men, cultures, ethnicity is not changed. And such diversity will be a challenge at times. We are one in Christ, in one household, of one family in him, the family of God. Yet living in that one family will require humility as we learn to grow together. And surely the diversity is used by the Spirit to help us grow up in Christ in ways we otherwise would not. We can see diversity as all gifts from God for the whole, similar to the thought in Ephesians 4. To help us toward full maturity in Christ. That same passage tells us that though we are united in Christ, we’re to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. So to live well within that unity, to not become divided is not automatic.

We have to let this unity have its full effect, and that is both passive and active. We receive all God gives us in Christ by the Spirit. And we contribute our part, in return. In love in the unity that binds us all together in and through Jesus.