God’s grace is enough

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9: MSG

I believe we’re not on this journey alone. Not only is God with us in Christ by the Spirit, but we in Christ are in this together, or we’re meant to be. Oftentimes though it seems like we’re more or less all alone. Paul experienced both. He had rich fellowship with the churches and that encouraged him in his own faith as he tells us in his letter, Romans. But he also felt abandoned at times, all alone.

We really need each other in the church, in all our weakness, because we have plenty of it. When we can share our struggles and burdens, then others can come alongside of us and pray. And we can offer our weak hopefully heartfelt prayers by the Spirit for others.

I keep coming back to this. God’s grace is enough for us even in all our weakness. God is present for us. It is actually hard to live a life in weakness. Just ask Paul. Or read the passage above (click the link). It wasn’t easy for Paul, but he found God’s grace and strength in ways he would not have without the weakness. To the point that Paul learned even to delight in weaknesses. That way Christ’s power could rest on him.

A problem within the church nowadays is the idea that we should look like we have it all together. And that feeds the lie that this should be so in our lives. But in this present life we’re often going to feel weakness. We need to be present for each other. And we need to accept our weakness, believing that Christ will be with us in a special way in it. I believe not only true for us as individual believers, but for churches as well. In and through Jesus.

open to new thoughts, new ideas

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’”

Jeremiah 33:2-3; MSG

I’m more than kind of averse to personality tests and whatever else they’re called. There may be well some value in them, and people who seem to have God’s blessing on their ministry along with other seemingly successful people more or less see benefit in them. I recently took a surely simplified but still rather thorough online test and scored highest in two categories, the highest I think being a category which someone said is made up of people who have trouble fitting into the evangelical world. The idea is that they tend to ask a lot of questions and just keep asking them, along with other characteristics or tendencies. I remember that because that is a big part of my own thought process day after day. Many of my questions lead to dead ends, but I have to look for the bright side, and surely this is part of how God made some of us. And surely part of how all of us need to approach life.

The message Jeremiah received from God quoted above reminds us that we need God’s revelation to us for us to even begin to see and get it. And I’m referring here to what seems straightforward from the pages of Scripture. But to see how this fits into life in this world surely will require some imagination. It comes to us, to each one of us, and to us collectively together, as we sift through what God might be saying to us. What each one of us has to contribute is important, but the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts. God is the one who can bring it all together and help us see what God gives us to see, but that requires us, together. And I think this requires questions we have, and certainly requests to help us see and understand what God wants us to know.

Yes, there are a few prophets out there like Jeremiah who can point us this direction. But the invitation to call to God for needed insight, indeed for something new was given to the people of Judah. It wasn’t given to Jeremiah, but through Jeremiah to God’s people. So the help God desires to give won’t come through just one person, though we can learn a lot from each one of God’s servants. But it comes to and then from us together. God wants to help us today through what God can and will give us. We humbly sharing our part and receiving from others, as we seek to discern the whole, what God is telling us or wants us to know for now. An ongoing process. In and through Jesus.

first things always first

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

There is much in Scripture to help us with our own personal problems. For example it’s said that the command most often repeated is to not be afraid. And there’s passages to help us with our anxiety, burdens, and a multitude of other things. But when we’re focused on ourselves and our own problems, then our focus is not set according to God’s will for us in Jesus. Problems and trials in this life are inevitable, and can’t be avoided. Not to mention the spiritual warfare we’re up against.

But what should be central and foremost on our minds always is love to God and love to neighbor. God helps us so that we might respond in love. It’s not about us and our own well being. The universe doesn’t revolve around us. Yet we’re included in this love, received and returned, reciprocated from God and shared with others. We’re all in this together. And we all need grace not only along the way, but every moment of the way.

So often it seems to me that Christian teaching is aimed at helping us individually get through and perhaps enjoy another day. And framed right, that teaching has its place. But again, life is not about that. God wants us to more and more take on the likeness of Jesus, together and individually in our lives by the Spirit. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves so we can be a blessing to others, even to God. But we do so as those whose priority is set on loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. In and through Jesus.

finding the greater good

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They’ll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed…

Sometimes something more is at stake than the immediate relief or answer we’re seeking. If we can just see behind our own want or perceived need to what is actually good and important given our own bent and God’s will, we’ll be far better off. We have to shake away from old habits and patterns which have kept us on edge and bound for years and years. This isn’t easy.

We first of all need God’s help to discern this. Good friends, and especially a friend who we look up to as a spiritual mentor or director should factor into all of this. God is with us by the Spirit to help us hear and understand what is best, but most of the time it doesn’t come without significant struggle, not to mention lapses along the way. What we want is change for the good, finding what is most important, leaving what is unhelpful behind. And with God’s help, learning to settle and live well in God’s good will.

Hopefully this isn’t too nebulous, so that maybe it will apply across the board to a variety of problems and struggles. The thought is helping me. In and through Jesus.

to be like Jesus

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

I’m not sure that aspiring to be like Jesus does much good, though it’s a natural thought for Jesus followers, for those in God’s family. After all, Jesus makes his presence known to us not only through Scripture, but even primarily through each other. His image and likeness in each of us rubs off on each other in needed ways.

I think it’s primarily through God’s working through people that other people are impacted and want to be like Jesus. Paul told his readers/listeners to follow him as he followed Christ, and to imitate him and his way of life. It is said that truth is more caught than taught. Surely there’s plenty of wisdom in that axiom.

So we need to find those who are well grounded in the Lord in their lives, not putting on a show, a front at all, being honest, not perfect people, but people whose lives are being shaped by God into Christ-likeness. Steeped in humility and grace, trusting God and God’s work in them and in others. And pressing toward the goal of God’s upward call in Jesus.

Something present with us and at work in our lives. In and through Jesus.

the need for a social gospel

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Matthew 12:15-21

Christian scholarship in the past few decades has helped us see more clearly the ramifications of God’s kingdom comes to earth in Jesus, now seen primarily in the church. For example what resistance to the principalities and powers involves. It is not only about life in the hereafter, as if this life doesn’t matter. Though the promise of resurrection and new creation is central in this “hope” or as we followers of Christ might want to say, “blessed assurance.” It certainly involves feet on the ground, living in the real world, hands getting dirty, and we doing all we can to help in this life.

It’s probably something like when we get our vision tested. If need be the optometrist gives us a focus by which we can both read and see clearly afar. 20/20, or sometimes better. We need correct focus when we consider God’s kingdom come in this world, and salvation present in Jesus. It’s about following Jesus in relationship to him through faith and baptism. And it’s for advocating justice in God’s love for all in the here and now.

Back to the vision analogy, maybe it’s more easy to understand how we might be wrong if we consider God’s salvation in Christ to be only about the life to come after this life. It does begin now with God’s present working of salvation in us, working to change us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. And it also clearly exposes the darkness around us, wherever it might be, advocating for the good of others. And above all, helping others to find the true and perfect good which is found in and through Jesus.

one of the devil’s many but most effective lies

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Psalm 51:7-15; MSG

I don’t know why this is not included online, but this is Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message Bible of the ascription given to the psalm, part of the inspired text or not, but certainly steeped in tradition: “A DAVID PSALM, AFTER HE WAS CONFRONTED BY NATHAN ABOUT THE AFFAIR WITH BATHSHEBA.” This may well have been written by David during that time (2  Samuel 11-12). Whatever the case, the psalm itself lends its voice to whoever and whatever. It is general enough, that it includes all who have sinned grievously in big ways, as well as perhaps small yet willful acts which also need repentance and God’s cleansing, saving work.

One of the devil’s big lies, which we need to learn to recognize and reject is the lie that certain sins put people beyond the pale of usefulness to God. I know when a pastor falls there is disagreement as to whether after repentance and time for restoration he or she can be reinstated to their pastoral position. I tend to think so myself, but that’s not specifically what we’re dealing with here. There’s no doubt that such sins can haunt the one who is guilty as is evident in Psalm 51 itself, and that there will be fallout or consequences from it, as we see in the case of David (see 2 Samuel 13-15, also 12:10-14).

But we need to get rid of the notion and again outright lie for sure that such a person can no longer be useful in God’s service in love to others. I know this is old covenant, but David himself was not stripped of his position as king, nor of honor as we see Jesus himself called “the son of David” as not just a fact, but as likely an honorific title. How much more in the new covenant can such a one be restored?! I think of this passage about an erring sinner in the church:

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.

The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!

2 Corinthians 2:5-11; MSG

We need to get rid of the notion, yes the lie, once for all that when a person sins bigtime there’s nothing left for them, except forgiveness of their sin when they confess it. Surely they should live in deep humility the rest of their lives. But they also need “to inhabit [others’] forgiveness and God’s forgiveness,” to accept that as a matter of fact and reality.

This truth must never be abused to mean that I can do what I please, even though it’s sinful, knowing that in the end full restoration will happen. That is both dangerous to the person doing it, who may in fact not see fit to repent, not to mention the damage that occurs. We can’t have both our way and God’s way. At the same time, we also must not set aside God’s amazing grace for all sinners, including those who have abused this truth, who return to him in genuine repentance, not just sorry about the consequences of their sin, but that they sinned against God and against others.

In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[j] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

1 John 4:1-6

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!

My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception.

1 John 4:1-6; MSG

If John were here today he might say we have a problem. The problem being that so much out there which is not of God and therefore not of Jesus is accepted as though it is, or at least as on a par with God’s message. Of course here what we mean accepted by professing, yes, even genuine Christians. This is a warning to us all, that none of us are above and beyond deception. And what’s needed is yes, discernment for ourselves, and especially together with other believers. The Spirit directs not just one of us, but one and all. The Greek is plural. So that yes, while we as individuals are included, and each and every one of us need discernment from God, this is really addressed to the whole, to all of us, worked out in our gatherings together.

The confession of Christ coming in the flesh should be enough. Nothing more is needed. We don’t need that and something more. Today those who actually make this confession, but then add something more are essentially lying out of their teeth, or probably more accurately, speaking lies. Deceived and deceiving. What I’m referring to here is not just about our salvation, but ultimately the salvation of the world. And in terms not just of our life of faith and our church life, but all of life. Politics should never be excluded, because, after all, the gospel of the kingdom in King Jesus is political, touching each and every part of life. Consider “the Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13).

John would likely not only caution us against special claims put in the same breath with what Scripture says, with the gospel, or as if being the fulfillment or correct interpretation of Scripture and the gospel. He would slam the door shut on all such claims. Instead John would point us to the life of Christ and what that life means to the world in terms of God’s grace and kingdom coming in Jesus. And at the heart of this for John as we see from this letter is to know God, be with others in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, and to be assured that one has the eternal life found in the Son. 

John might especially lean on historians as well as those who have lived through these times, or if he would have lived through them himself. Well, it’s really hard to imagine all of this in a way. None of us can stand outside of the time in which we live and imagine ourselves an objective observer. We’re all people of our times, for better and for worse. Which is why we need the Spirit of God to help and direct us, and that together.

But I imagine that John might possibly say that the growing deception among Christians today didn’t start a few years ago, but has gone on for decades, and in a sense throughout the entire American experience. That is not to deny the good here, nor to think we’re unique in having that problem since the same spirit pervades every nation and experience of this life. It is present with us, and we have to deal with it, whether we like it or not. And none of us like it, that’s for sure. But it’s half the battle to simply accept reality. Then, and only then, we can deal with it.

Whatever adds to Jesus and is not in sync with Jesus’s teaching of God’s kingdom, as well as not in line with Jesus’s life and death is definitely not of God, but is actually opposed to God. Not the Spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the antichrist. And just as John tells us in the letter, they’re a dime a dozen; many of them out there. And none of us should ever think we’re above escaping their influence. Something to always be aware and wary of. In and through Jesus.

 

descending into the abyss

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the plunder,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Ephesians 4:4-13; MSG

Abyss carries with it the idea of bottomless, like there’s no end to the evil and danger present. Christ is said to have descended to the lowest depths, afterwards ascending to the highest heights, this especially clear in Philippians 2:1-11, And so Christ lived and lives by the Spirit where we live, and gives us the gift and gifts to enable us to live in the same depths in which he lived. Though of course never to the same extent, since Jesus took upon himself the full brunt of evil in order to release the full flow of God’s goodness, someday to be experienced completely in the new heaven and new earth when God makes all things new.

This is an encouragement to me, because sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the trouble, and all that can go wrong and sometimes does. But God is present with us in Jesus, and gives us all we need to not only weather the storm, but glorify God in it. And that together, not just the gift he gives each one of us, though that indeed is important. But the gifts given to all for the benefit of all.

God will help us weary worn ones through this weary, worn world, as we are intent in following Christ come what may. God will see each and everyone of us through, together. In and through Jesus.

returning to our first love

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church. The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

“I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.

“But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall!

“Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

“You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too.

“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.”

Revelation 2:1-7; MSG

To really get a good overall picture, and just how we might fit into the scheme, or what God might be saying to us, we surely need to read each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. The first letter here as rendered by Eugene Peterson, or in any translation, for that matter, is striking and noteworthy. This church is as zealous as it gets, but their zeal while at least largely based on head knowledge, has left its/her first love, or the love this church had at first. And thus we might say it was bereft of heart knowledge, or a knowledge driven by love. Love for Christ, and the love which follows from that.

It’s a burden to try to apply these letters to us as individuals, and it’s important to see that they’re actually written to churches. But individuals make up churches, so we all have to ask how they might apply to us, what we might be contributing to the situation. Notice that the blessing at the end is applied to individuals who overcome. I would like to think that I fit, or would prefer to be part of a church like Philadelphia, having little strength, but faithful, and simply being told to hold on to what they have until Christ returns. But we need to prayerfully read and consider all these letters.

How do we fall from the first love we had? And Jesus makes no bones about it, they either have to repent as a church, or he’ll put their light out, so that they’ll be a church in name, only. No church was more active, but that’s doesn’t mean they were okay. Far from it, though Jesus does give them the nod of approval for their hatred of the works of the Nicolaitans, which he too hated.

I’m not sure. I think it can become more about what we’re doing than anything else. Maybe we need to stop in our tracks, shut our mouths, quit doing what we’re doing, maybe something like a silent retreat. Then maybe we’ll be able to hear what the Lord is saying to us. It’s a work of the Spirit, quite beyond us. It’s not like sitting in a schoolroom where we might possibly figure it out with the help of the teacher. No.

I will offer this from my own life and experience. I think the more we realize life is all about love, that God is love, and that Christ’s love for us is as great, deep and true as love can get, then that can help us. But it’s so easy to substitute doing, doing and more doing for the real thing. Let’s find that love, enter into it, live it out with each other, and out into the world. And keep doing that. Then what we do will matter. And Jesus’s life and love will continue among us as a light for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.