Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.

 

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God accepts us where we are

I know it’s hard to believe this given our own view of life and how we view God. And how we (mis)read of him in the Bible. We see God as someone like ourselves, but a better, even perfect version of that. But while we’re made in God’s image, God is still God. And I believe God is revealed and known preeminently in Jesus at the cross. The heart of God for all humanity, and for each and everyone of us is revealed there.

God loves and accepts each and everyone of us where we are. But –and I know that will bring a shaking of the head somewhere, but hold on. God loves us too much to leave us where we’re at. For our good, and yes, for God’s glory, God in love is going to work on us to help us to the true humanity in Jesus, what we were created to be. As to that creation, we are broken, each and everyone of us. But God wants to, and for all who have faith- is restoring what we were meant to be in the new creation in and through Jesus.

Since God accepts us where we are, we need to first of all see God for who God is, and accept that. In essence, God is love. Yes, God is holy, too, God is utter and complete perfection. But God is also merciful, full of mercy and grace. God loves, and God’s love is always present for us. God has already provided complete reconciliation to him for us through the cross, and calls us to accept that (2 Corinthians 5, 6). And the cross is where God showed his love to us in this mess, taking the brunt of our sin and evil on himself in his Son. Jesus and the Father are one heart.

So God accepts us where we are. Let’s rest in that thought, and find what it is that God wants next for us. Let’s keep moving in God’s direction in and through Jesus. Knowing God has not moved away from us, but that we drift and move away from him. But that he is always present to us in and through Jesus. And loves us too much to give up on us, or ever turn his back on us.

Let’s respond to that with thanksgiving and with a true repentant heart of faith, believing that we’re embarking on the path given to us from a God who is complete love and is for us and for everyone in and through Jesus.

the grace of God, the word of God

Two themes coming out, as I’m reading Acts, besides the gospel are the grace of God and the word of God. We can rightfully say that the word of God is often shorthand for the gospel, but it includes the full scope of all of God’s written, breathed-out revelation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  This seems to me to be essential for the church, the Christian life and witness in the world.

Grace can be misunderstood and must be read in its full context and usage in scripture. The gift of grace is never a license to sin, nor does it simply ignore sin. Grace includes both the judgment and correction of the sinner through Jesus and his death. Repentance and faith are involved in that, repentance simply meaning a change of heart and direction of life. Faith is the essential, faith in God’s word, the message of the gospel, as well as all that God gives us in his word through the gospel. We can say and rightfully so, it is a submissive faith.

The word of God is essentially the message of Christ. And all of scripture comes across to us as God’s word written. If we want to know God then we’ll have to be in the word. And through it we can come to know God’s grace through the gospel, and in our daily lives. A grace which forgives and helps us to live in the new life in Jesus.

Simple, yet profound, and indeed life changing. The only way and place we can find and live in that life. In and through Jesus.

Martin Luther’s greatest contribution remembered on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Martin Luther may have been the greatest of the Protestant Reformers. A book I would highly recommend is Timothy George’s Theology of the Reformers, in which something of the complexity of that time is presented with a full, succinct look at the theology of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and Menno Simons, the last one not really wanting to reform the church, but start over according to the New Testament teaching- but by and by realizing, that you can’t just start from scratch, but must take into account the early centuries of the church when they wrestled through teachings on the Trinity and who Jesus is in his humanity and Deity.

Martin Luther and John Calvin may have been the most gifted of the Reformers, certainly not without their flaws, but it’s a mistake to simply brush them off. They are important church fathers contributing to the church’s understanding and edification in the faith.

Martin Luther himself, and what he accomplished is nothing short of amazing. Of course he would say, and it’s so true that it was not him, but the grace of God in and at work in him. Maybe his greatest contribution was to uncover and unshackle the gospel from the church’s traditions which had all but buried it. And this is not at all to say that all tradition is bad. Every church necessarily so, I think, and in reality has tradition. The question might be whether it’s good, or not, not whether a church should have tradition.

Martin Luther’s insistence from scripture that we are saved by grace alone through Christ alone is at the heart of understanding how the gospel, the good news in Jesus becomes good news for the one who hears or reads of it. God’s grace is a gift, one neither deserved, nor earned, which we receive by simple faith apart from works. Because of Christ’s work for us on the cross in his death, as well as his resurrection and what followed. It is a powerful, living salvation for sure, all in and through Jesus.

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.

love as Jesus has and continues to love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15

In the passage on the vine and the branches, Jesus tells his disciples that he loves them, with the implication that is love is always present. He simply tells them to remain in that love. That sounds really good.

But then there’s the caveat, a condition: They must obey his commands, just as he obeyed his Father’s command. By doing so he remained in the Father’s love, and they will remain in his love. Oh no, not so good! Sounds like a very conditional love indeed, and therefore puts that love into question: Is it really love?

But then comes the command: Simply to love one another as Jesus had loved them. With the added word that there’s no greater love than to die for one’s friends, which of course Jesus did on the cross. 1 John echoes this: the command there being to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and love one another, as Jesus commanded us (1 John 3).

Of course this is not a weak “all you need is love,” kind of thought, but has all the meaning of the example, teachings, and life, as well as death of Jesus. That is how we know what love is in its essence, it is humble and self-sacrificing, lived out for the good of others. In essence reciprocating God’s love in Jesus to each other, and to the world. What that means is best understood in the reading of the entire Bible, and especially the New Testament, grappling with the story there, and the good news at the heart of it. All of this given to us by God in God’s grace by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

the new covenant replacing the old covenant

For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Romans 10:4; NRSV

When Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished,” (John 19:30), not only did that mean his time and travail on the cross, but surely as well, and perhaps primarily, the work he had come to do, which would be vindicated by his resurrection from the dead.

What specifically was accomplished at that point was the end of the old covenant, and the beginning of the new covenant. This change is in terms of fulfillment and completion of the old, and out of that, the metamorphosis into the new.

Jesus by his death brought in a new order in which the requirement of the Law might be fully met in those who have faith and live according to the Spirit rather than the flesh (Romans 8). And so also is fulfilled the greater, deeper righteousness Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Far from relegating that sermon to a different time and people, the heart of it is fulfilled both in terms of the true meaning of the Law, and how it’s supposed to be lived out now. Of course we have to read that sermon in context, so that not every line in it lines up with today (e.g., the altar in it). But the essence of it is surely apt, fulfilled in the new covenant: an internal righteousness that goes right to the heart to change the life.

So there is both continuity and discontinuity. Surely a radical newness along with a fulfillment of the old covenant, which itself is actually called imperfect (Hebrews) and even flawed, seemingly because of its dependence on sinful humans for its fulfillment (Jeremiah). Jesus’s coming and specifically his death sealed in the new covenant, which is dependent on God and God’s promises fulfilled in Jesus and from that by the work of the Spirit mark the start of a new resurrection life, the new creation. If we doubt such a claim, thinking it too radical, and perhaps think that this awaits the after life, then we need to read again the entire New Testament and compare it with the Old Testament. All of this in and through Jesus.