settling into what is unsettling

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10

A major theme of mine is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and the necessary embrace of weakness. It’s interesting in the passage (click link above) how Paul’s thorn, whatever it is, is not made known. I can easily imagine Paul elaborating with a paragraph, or a few lines on just what he went through. But somehow he didn’t, and I think we’re all the richer for it. And actually that thorn taught Paul something more: his need to embrace all weakness.

It’s not easy to settle into what is inherently unsettling. Maybe a new weakness or situation on top of another, or others. What we really don’t want, or want to deal with, or end up living with. Maybe something chronic, which could seem or even be potentially life threatening. We don’t want to go there.

Paul certainly didn’t want any part of what actually tormented him, and strange as it may seem, a messenger of Satan himself, to torment Paul. He pleaded in prayer with the Lord three times to take it away. Somehow the Lord was in it, what literally would seem to be an attack from the enemy, which instead of taking away, God actually using for Paul’s good and for the great blessing of others, including us today, through this passage, and through Paul’s life and ministry. Paul needed to be kept humble, because of the great revelations God had given him. And you might say, he needed to be kept weak, so that he would trust in God alone, and that others might trust in God as well, instead of being taken up with just how great Paul was. It wasn’t at all about Paul, but only about Christ. That’s hard for us to learn. Somehow God wants us to become something of the message we testify to. That the gospel, the good news in Jesus would be vital and personal to us everyday of our lives. And that our lives would conform to Jesus’s life, us becoming weak in him, so that his power might be evident even through us, yes through our weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4). Counterintuitive to us for sure, but what even we ourselves need in and through Jesus.

 

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God wants to be known

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

God. Yes, outrageous isn’t it? God, no less. And of all things, God wants to be known. Hard to understand, much less try to explain any of it.

People are meant to be in relationship with each other, but also with God. To really get to know each other. Yes, even to get to know God. Astounding for sure.

This hasn’t been a forte in my life. I can’t say I’ve excelled in really knowing people, and being known. You would like to think that’s so with immediate family, with loved ones. But even there I haven’t done as well as I would have liked, looking back on it. But that’s a big part of life, what life is all about.

I’m beginning to understand this much better toward the end of my life. And this all actually begins with God, in whose image we humans are made, and who started all of this in the first place.

But in the midst of all the maelstrom of life, with the questions and perplexities it brings, not to mention the trauma and tragedy, all of that can get lost. Lost even in the easy shuffle of what we humans have made life to be.

But God wants to be known. Yet God won’t push himself on us. By what God has made, God’s divine nature and power are clearly on display. But God wants it to be personal with each and every human. God made it personal, certainly doing so when God sent his Son to become one of us, God no less becoming flesh in Jesus. Then dying on the cross for our sins to reconcile us to himself. Do we dare doubt that God loves us, and wants to know us?

But given our struggle and weakness as humans, we will doubt. Nevertheless, it’s true. Truth doesn’t change. God wants to be known through all the experience of life, in spite of much of it. Are we open to that? All of this available as a gift in and through Jesus.

what is needed: an enlarged heart and mind

I can enjoy all kinds of music. I suppose classical music reminds me the most of scripture as a whole. There is much variation and beauty in it. But you have to be willing to go through the entire piece, not just favorite parts of it.

And you’ll find all kinds of in and outs, and whatever musicians might call them in a given piece. The same is certainly true for scripture. A certain theme is likely in play, but how it is woven and emerges is missed when it is not appreciated in its entirety. That includes the parts either not understood, or seemingly unnecessary, maybe even offensive at least on the surface. We need to listen to all of it to learn to see and appreciate the whole.

One wouldn’t have to be stuck with classical music as the one analogy to compare with the need to be thoroughly acquainted with, and more than that, in interplay with all of scripture, to understand the whole, indeed God’s story given to us, and made complete in Jesus. Other comparisons would do, perhaps good books or films. I think classical music might be especially apt since it seems that genre has fallen on hard times, at least in the United States. It has its devoted, loyal following, but only a small percentage (I read 3%) listen to it in the US. And the Bible itself seems to have fallen on the same hard times. While a lot of people have some sort of respect and maybe even reverence for the Bible, few have read it from cover to cover themselves, or read it at all in the course of a week. Nowadays you can listen to it easily enough, as well as read it.

What is needed is a Biblical mindset, and heart that is expanded accordingly. That certainly has challenges all their own. But what will be found is a remarkable, beautiful, even if mysterious world. Where all the parts have their place within the whole.

So if you try classical music, use only most popular or listened to works maybe as just an introduction. Play through an entire musical piece from start to finish, even when parts of it are not understood or even liked. Just play it through. And the same goes for scripture. One way or another, get in all of it. Whole books, and in the end, the entire Book. Meant to shape us individually and together as God’s people, in and through Jesus.

Christ is present in the church

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1:22-23

It’s common nowadays for young people to love Jesus, but not care for the church. In Christian terms, that actually makes no sense. Christian terms do have to do with tradition, which can be good or not so good. But the best of the tradition is derived from what the Spirit is saying to the church at large through the word, through written scripture.

And in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which the church is a major theme (see letter from start to finish), we find that Christ is the head, and is present in the church. In fact this passage might suggest that Christ is present to the world as well, in and through the church.

It seems like nowadays that it’s common especially for younger folks, but sometimes for older as well, to simply dispense themselves of church, thinking it’s God’s kingdom that matters, Jesus being at the center of that. What they miss is the fact that kingdom today is centered in the church, that King Jesus and God’s rule in him is in and extends out from the church. A patient careful reading of the New/Last Testament in comparison with the rest of scripture will bear that out.

Christ is especially present in the church through which he’s present in ways we can understand, and in other ways we probably can’t track with. At the heart of God’s work of reconciliation today in and through Jesus.

not losing the fight

I once heard a wise teacher compare being a Christian with a milking stool. I remember my grandmother using one. Three legs: in the analogy: sons (children), servants (of God, of Christ, and serving others), and soldiers. I think that’s apt. The Bible seems to bear that out. If any reader can think of something more to add, or that should be considered, please feel free to leave a comment.

They have to be kept in tandem, all three, or like the milk stool, it won’t stand. Surely priority must be given to the fact that we’re children of God through faith in Christ. We’re of God’s family in and through Christ. And we’re servants of God by virtue of Christ being a servant not only to God, but to us, to all. And being his followers, we seek to be a servant to everyone. And we’re soldiers in nothing less than a spiritual battle. But it’s God’s prescribed battle, not our own, with the gospel at the heart of it, both in terms of our own standing, as well as what the actual warfare is all about.

We are soldiers of Christ, but again this is in a warfare that is spiritual, directly against the demonic, and then in a sense opposed to the world, the flesh, and the devil, since that is another three that are in tandem, inseparable in scripture.

We’re in a battle, but it’s not on any lesser ground than where the spiritual battle is actually being fought, or needs to be fought. Otherwise we may be galavanting onto territory on which we’ll be fighting our own battles, or others, not the Lord’s. This seems hard, since we live in a world in which religious battles are all too easily taken up with lesser matters than the gospel. Now this is where it might get a bit complicated.

Political and what not kind of battles have their place, if engaged on their own grounds and humbly remaining in certain parameters. Too often though, they break those boundaries and come to take on something bigger than life, onto the enemy’s territory in which the winners and wins are not to be taken as gospel-oriented. And we must always be aware even within those spheres of where the enemy might at work in its crafty, deceptive ways.

The point for us as Christians is that the battle which is the Lord’s is a spiritual battle which at its heart is all about the gospel, the good news in Jesus. How other matters might be addressed in such as issues like abortion and racism is both direct and indirect in that while hearts are changed, systems oftentimes are resistant to change. An example is that while enough people’s opinions were changed so that in the United States slavery was abolished, albeit at a terrible price, there still were Jim Crow laws in the south, and segregation in the north even more so. And we have to remember that there’s a world system which at its heart is not only resistant, but in opposition to God, even if it accepts a certain amount of religiosity, including a veneer so to speak of Christianity which goes along with it. We want to be a light to society by our good works, and so that others might see the difference by our example as the church, and in society. But we must beware, lest the battle we are caught up in is something other than the Lord’s.

In this we need wisdom beyond our own, together from God, in and through Jesus.

our struggle is not against flesh and blood

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

What if we Christians were known not for being engaged in American politics, or politics elsewhere, but for sharing and living out the gospel, the good news in Jesus? Maybe it’s not a question of either/or, but and/both. I can hear dismissive sighs or more like silences on different sides, from both progressives and conservatives. If Paul were alive today and in the United States, would he be part of any group cozying up to any political party or president? I wonder. I think not, myself.

Does that mean we have to be disengaged? I don’t think so. But we need to remember where the battle really is for us who are Christians, who name the name of Christ, and profess to follow him. It is spiritual, in the spiritual realm, yes, even the spirit realm. We appeal to people with the good news in Jesus. And we refuse to alienate those caught up in any lesser battle or war. That’s if we follow Paul’s example in following Christ. Or am I missing something here?

An obvious enough problem to me is that when we start battling within the system, the spiritual warfare we’re called to in Christ is largely set aside, perhaps lost altogether. Does that mean people can’t engage in the political system at all, and be involved in the spiritual battle. I think they can. But it takes a lot of discipline. I admire some politicians and career military people, and I am confident they can have deep faith themselves. So this post is not at all a denial of that.

But part of the spiritual battle for us in Christ might very well be a resistance against getting sucked into something lesser and on a ground in which the enemy has some serious footholds. We lose out, and in the end, so do others.

This is difficult. Of course there are issues we’re all rightly concerned about. And we should address those issues along the way, but with much wisdom. Because our priority is on the one answer we stake our lives on: the gospel of Jesus.

Christ speaks; the church listens

I love this post entitled “The Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal” from a Roman Catholic sister in Christ, actually giving me hope for the Roman Catholic Church. Well worth your time to read it, not really that long, and tells a bit of her own story. You can skip this post and read that to save time.

Revelation 2 and 3 contain the seven letters of Christ to the seven churches. It is so vital for the health of any church to listen to Christ. Christ speaks to each church through scripture within the context of the gospel, by the Spirit, and through church leaders, but also through so-called laity. The church together is given discernment by the Spirit, not minimizing the important role leaders play. But leaders too are always subject to Christ’s words, and the others can be involved in discernment, and holding them accountable. But it’s always together, certainly including the gifts of all.

I would like to say, and I strongly believe it, that in the end I don’t care at all what the church says; I care what Christ says, period, the end. But Christ does choose to speak through his body. And that’s where it’s so necessary for the church to listen well to Christ, so that it can both be corrected, as well as encouraged, and speak in word and deed, God’s good news in Jesus to the world. In and through Jesus.