misplaced expectations

I think that often we place expectations too high on ourselves and others, which actually are misplaced. We expect what we think is important, needed for the time and occasion, when actually it’s really neither realistic, or actually not needed at all.

I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. It’s chalk full of misplaced expectations on the part of the Corinthian church, as they looked down on Paul and we’re dazzled by the super apostles who were promoting themselves. And Paul had to get past his own misplaced expectations as well concerning his thorn in the flesh. Not to mention his/their weakness and even despairing of life itself, indeed “perplexed, but not in despair.”

The fact that we don’t measure up to our preconceived notions can cause us to retreat and become idle when we should press on in humility and hope. Yes, we certainly don’t have it all together. That’s a gimme. But we press on regardless, not confident at all in ourselves, but finding our help, all we need in God. That is where our expectation is never misplaced. We can and indeed need to look to God for his help. And that’s what can help us to continue on when left to ourselves we would give in and give up.

Our problem or problems may be different than what Paul and his apostolic band encountered and experienced. They can run the gamut from either poor, wrong choices of the past, or not the best of wisdom even in the present. But that doesn’t mean we fold our tents and quit. We go on in prayer in dependence on God in our own weakness and in that even in the weakness of Christ himself, that we might find Christ’s power by the Spirit through his resurrection life. And we keep on doing that hopefully to the end. And find in that God’s moving and work in unexpected ways certainly beyond us. In and through Jesus.

remaining/abiding in Jesus

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Whatever remainder of time I have left, I would like to learn more and more what it means in experience, to remain or traditionally, “abide in Christ”, as it was always put.

This entire discourse is suggestive to that end. Jesus was talking to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, telling them he must depart, but that he would return to take them where he would be in his Father’s house, which at a certain point will come to the new renewed earth. But in the meantime, and we still live in that time, he would not leave them as orphans, but would come to them in the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to be with them and help them.

The vine/branch analogy is quite helpful in conveying what Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples. Christianity lived out at its heart is all about life. Paul gets at this same thing from a different angle:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

People tend to look at the Christian life as a religion, and understood right, I believe religion can be helpful, though that can all depend, as well. It might be a hindrance if it simply is a set of rituals one practices which somehow can seem to become more or less ends in themselves. Here we see Jesus speaking in terms of relationship which certainly includes communion with someone, but a communion that is from a relationship, in this case as close a relationship as one can have. In fact Jesus suggested that somehow we’re taken into Trinitarian love, Jesus loving us as the Father loved him, and us loving him and each other in that same love, as we remain in his love, which clearly by implication is always present.

I have much to learn on this, and I’m thinking mostly of experience. But it’s amazing, the words Jesus used in the discourse, which tie in with the point he is making in John 15, well worth a slow read, and meditation. John 13-17.

 

the Jesus way is the way of the cross

In the gospel narratives: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, one is pressed in one direction: the cross of our Lord. And even the resurrection’s meaning and significance is derived from the cross, our Lord’s death. And the lives of Jesus’s disciples were to actually be with him on that same journey:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9

If we think post-resurrection or post-Pentecost might be different, here are these words from the Apostle Paul, just one of many passages which makes it clear that a Christ-centered, crucified-shaped (cruciform) life is the norm for all of Christ’s followers today:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2

Everyone of Jesus’s apostles laid down their lives in martyrdom, the only exception being John, who tradition suggests was exiled and perhaps miraculously delivered from the same fate.

This is the Christ-shaped existence to which all believers in Christ are changed by the Spirit. As Paul says elsewhere:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

the unique authority of Jesus

In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

John 8

I was struck in my reading and meditation yesterday, over the obvious unique authority Jesus held in the minds of those who opposed him, and actually all who listened to him, something he didn’t distance himself from at all. The story itself, though not included in many ancient manuscripts, seems to have plenty of credence as at least a possibility of being included as a part of scripture. And it certainly fits. I for one have no problem including it in teaching.

Jesus over and over again speaks and acts as if he brings something entirely new to the table, which in a sense is built on the old, but actually goes beyond that, and in so doing, again and again clearly contradicts what preceded it. Oftentimes in Christian interpretation, the explanations for such differences has been either strained and not satisfying, or simply left as not really knowing what to do with it. But when we simply accept Jesus’s authority over all that went before him, that can help us grapple with the differences.

In the case of the passage quoted above, Jesus clearly does contradict what the Pentateuch commanded. Jesus is the fulfillment, but in terms of the cross, and what that means for everything. Which I think scripture demonstrates in the New/Final Testament letters. Jesus heading toward the climax of what he was about here on earth, starting with his incarnation (Philippians 2:5-11) is essential in helping us understand who God really is, and how we’re meant to be in Jesus, crucified with him even in this life, so that his life will fulfill what our lives are meant to be.

“Who is the greatest?” and the problem of comparison

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9

We inevitably draw up comparisons in our minds as to which of us is better in this or that. We all tend to like to think that we might be better than someone else at such and such, and many of us are competitive by nature. But when we do so, we play into the hand of the world, the flesh and the devil. And we’re not like Jesus.

In the first place I might say, leaving the above text for the moment, to compare ourselves with each other is simply unwise, as we read elsewhere from Paul, who I would imagine, considering all that is said about and by him in scripture, was quite competitive himself.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.

2 Corinthians 10

Paul was fighting the false apostles for the sake of the gospel, who were calling into question his ministry based on their false view of what spirituality was. And one sure key to see through them was how they compared themselves to others, and specifically in this case to Paul and surely all those with Paul. They were superior; they were the spiritual elite. They could speak better, and surely their content was better too, in their minds. And no doubt they did dazzle, since Paul had to devote an entire section of 2 Corinthians (chapters 10-13) to both refute and expose them, as well as indicate what makes one who is truly a messenger of the gospel. By their actions and comparing themselves as superior, they were preaching a different Christ, and acting by a different spirit other than the Holy Spirit. Paul’s example was one of humility and weakness, and the gospel as well as the Lord, who essentially is that gospel, and specifically him crucified, was the one people would come to see in Paul’s ministry, not Paul himself.

But back to our Lord’s words to his disciples. He took a little child, embraced her or him, and made it plain that this child was an indication of what true greatness is. That they were to become like this little child, last of all, and the servant of all, even like he was already, to be completed through the cross. Elsewhere on the subject of who is the greatest, Jesus told them that nothing less than a conversion, a change of heart is needed (Matthew 18).

I am so easily given to comparison, particularly in matters in which I’m competitive. Probably in most, I don’t think I am, including how I write, teach and preach. I know better, having learned over the years. In these areas, I have come to see clearly how we’re all in this together, and how much we need each other. And how it’s like snowflakes, or so many other illustrations from creation, how there’s no end to God’s creativity, and how therefore we miss out completely when we compare ourselves or someone else as better than others. Paul ended up being better than the false apostles he had to oppose, because for him it was about Jesus, not about demonstrating how great he was. In fact in his brokenness as a jar of clay (read the rest of that great letter, 2 Corinthians), Jesus was more clearly seen.

And so let’s appreciate the good gifts in others, and be glad about areas they may excel in and do better than us. Remembering that we’re all special in God’s eyes, and by his design. Both in creation and in new creation in and through Jesus, the one who is the measure of true greatness.

O love that will not let me go

Songs pop in my head for no reason I’m aware of at all. Or pieces of classical music (my favorite).  In my arising this morning I realized I must have been dreaming of the song from a record Mother had which I heard growing up. John Charles Thomas singing it, I believe: O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Part of the last verse was playing in my head; I’m glad to see the entire verse here. Yes, in Jesus we are crucified, buried and risen to new life. That is the life we live in and through Jesus. It is a crucified, resurrected life. We are people of the resurrection who are to live cruciform/cross-formed lives in and through Jesus.

When we turn to Jesus we turn to the crucified, risen and ascended Lord. God meets us there. We receive forgiveness of sins and new life. Although we begin this new life that way, we need to keep coming back again and again.

It’s no less than God’s love for us in Jesus, a love that will not let us go no matter what. A love that stooped to the deepest depths to lift us in and through and with Jesus out of the pit and onto a rock, yes even to the highest heights. When we look to the cross, we see a love that is for each one of us, indeed for the world. And we in Jesus are to come to know that love in our hearts. And to live out that love with others in Jesus together for the world.

I believe in the Holy Spirit

We affirm in the Apostles’ Creed our personal belief in the Holy Spirit, that belief further expanded in the 381 edition of the Nicene Creed.  But what does this really mean for us in Jesus?

At the heart of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives is the help the Spirit brings us as a gift from the Father through the Son. To help us along the way in this life in the Jesus Way no less.

The help is detailed in clear specifics such as pouring out God’s love in our hearts, making known something of the depths or deep things of God. Helping us in our prayers. Gifting us for the building up of Christ’s Body. Making us a part together with others in Jesus of a temple glorifying God in this world. And more.

The help from the Spirit is also so close, and so intimate as to be hard to detail. Like our very life breath, breathing into us the very life of God. From which we live and move and have our being in and through Jesus.

This concerns not only our own life in God, but our life together in God through Jesus, and that life being made known to the world. It is in the Spirit, as well as in the Father and the Son. In fact the Spirit is the person, and indeed element likened to rivers of living water in which this life in God is lived, uniting us to the Father and the Son. A life lived out with each other in Jesus, and before and for the world in life, deed and word. A life of love in the truth as it is in Jesus.

living a crucified existence

By virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection through baptism and by faith we in Jesus are to live out a crucified existence. We’re to live out our baptism, its meaning. What does that mean.

Paul, in explaining the grace of God and the cross of Jesus, and how that relates to the law, gave the erring Galatian believers this gem:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

Living a crucified existence is indeed a new existence, a new life through Jesus. Sharing in his death and resurrection, no less. A life which begins here and now through the waters of baptism, and by faith.

There is a loving friend in Jesus who is always asking how I’m doing. They happen to know firsthand some of the difficulties I’ve encountered in life, since they are a trusted friend. But I keep repeating to them that I don’t really care how I’m doing, that indeed I don’t even really know how I’m doing. That it is all in Jesus out of which comes all kinds of experience, but that experience in itself is not where I live, or want to live. It’s never about us. About our experiences, or thoughts. But it’s always about Jesus, and God’s work of grace through Jesus in and through our lives.

Not to say that we shouldn’t have a testimony, the kind that says something like, “Once I was blind, but now I see.” Not that we can’t offer our opinion, or talk about our experience. Or share our struggle with another. But that all in all throughout the here and now life revolves around, and is surrounded and penetrated by God in Jesus through the Spirit. And this is essentially communal in that we share in this existence with others. Which can be challenging to be sure, but that is part of this reality in Jesus. So that like Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, Jesus may live out his life through us. As his Body in and for the world.