face to face

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

2 John 12

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

3 John 13-14

An interesting experience I had a few years back, I quit reading from the psalms at lunch and sat at a table with co-workers that were friends, but whom I could hardly understand or altogether identify with. It became actually like a born again experience. I developed a bond with that group. They graciously included me, and I learned much from that, although I think it was more than that. It was an actual transforming kind of experience. There is nothing that replaces a face to face encounter and ongoing time with people.

And I’m not just talking about infrequent visits, though if that’s the best we can do because of circumstances, it certainly does not lack in value. There needs to be commitment to get together and just be together. Nothing spectacular, just be together. And with friends, warts and all.

John wrote to the church, and that certainly has extraordinary value in that it’s now a part of scripture. Pastors teaching the counsel of God from scripture continues to have transformative power on listeners who are intent to follow through since after all, it is the written word of God. But there’s nothing like being face to face, maybe over coffee. And practicing that over time.

What we remember this Advent, and celebrate at Christmas, the Incarnation, Emmanuel: God-with-us in the Christ child. Truly amazing. But sets the pattern for what needs to be priority to us as Christians. Yes, we share in words. But with each other, in a true sense sharing ourselves. Simply being present; Christ present with us. God with us in all of this, in and through Jesus.

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what are we becoming?

It’s interesting how people think that if they repent and say they’re sorry, and maybe even ask for forgiveness, that then they’ve changed. The point of repentance actually is more than confession and reparation. It is indeed change. And the needed change doesn’t come overnight, even though in initial repentance one is turned from wrong to right. Thorough change of heart and life ordinarily if not always takes time, and even in a true sense, a lifetime.

Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm expressed woeful sorrow to God for offending God over the sin done, and asks for changed heart out of which can come a changed life. A good question is simply: What are we becoming? And another: What factors are involved in that, or behind it. Often there can be a mix of things in the works, even contradictory. We can be pulled this way and that. But we can’t go two directions at the same time. Whatever form the flesh takes is the flesh still. It’s either the flesh or the Spirit, serving God or serving Mammon/money, or whatever. Which in part is why we’re told in Proverbs:

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

It is a scary thought actually, the idea that we can be becoming something other than what God would want, and actually therefore, what we would want as well. Just something small can get hold of the heart, take over, and eventually change us through and through. Or the good thought and hope, that as by grace we pick up just something of the goodness of God, what can help us in the way in Christ, that too can permeate us, and put us on the road to Christ-likeness and the restoration of our true humanity in the new creation.

What God did in the Incarnation which we especially remember this time of the year: becoming one of us, fully human, in the Son uniting his deity with our humanity (Gregory of Nazianzen). God changing so that we might change, humanity forever elevated through new creation to fulfill the goal of creation through the Incarnation and the salvation which came through the death and resurrection of the God-Man, the Human One. Amazingly God became human so that we might share in God’s nature. In and through Jesus.

 

we speak, act, and live from Jesus’s authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Mark 11:27-33

There is no question that Jesus acted, spoke, and lived with a sense of unusual authority. It was in marked contrast to the religious leaders of his day who lived strictly according to the tradition of the elders. Jesus’s authority was from God, specifically from the Father by the Spirit. It seems to have been derived due to his humanity, yet at the same time Jesus seems to have had authority in himself.

Trinitarian authority seems to be in the union the Persons of God have with each other. The Father may be the fountainhead so to speak, but in the Trinity itself, such authority is shared.

But when it comes to the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Jesus lived in utter dependence on God. He prayed to God, even appealed to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This all seems to be related to the Incarnation, to the humanity God took on. Jesus said he could have called on the Father, and could have received a legion of angels, but that God’s will had to be fulfilled.

In Christ, we now live with the same sense of authority. This impacts our actions, words, and very lives. We do so in the weakness of this present state. Sometimes we can be quite bold, but often whatever boldness we might have is tempered by our weakness. But make no mistake, we act, speak, and live from the authority of God in and through Jesus.

This certainly doesn’t make us infallible by any means. Strictly speaking only God is right, and only God knows. And it’s not about us individually as much as it is about us together, the church, and what God gives the church. But this does extend out to us in our individual lives. We speak from God insofar as we’re actually doing so, and that speaking is tied to God’s word in Christ, the gospel, and for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus explicitly said that since all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, that we’re to make disciples (Matthew 28). I take it by extension from the apostles, that we’re included in that, at least the church at large.

And so we live in the authority of God in and through Christ.

the difference: God’s word

Whether you read Genesis 1, John 1, or look elsewhere, the difference for the Christian is in God’s word making what is either dark and chaotic, or even nonexistent, good and very good. From creation to new creation, culminated in the Word made flesh. It’s God’s word that makes the needed difference in our lives and out from our lives into the world.

God is personal, and communicates to us through the Bible and the gospel, but does so in a very direct, personal way. God also communicates through nature, and other means, and I’m especially thinking of people who have no access to scripture, or who have not heard the gospel. Scripture tells us that faith comes from hearing the message of Christ. Much to me is in the dark, but I accept what is in the light, and the light and life given to me is through God’s word.

It is important to be in scripture, but equally important to seek to find how it personally speaks to us, or more accurately, how God is speaking to us through it, with the goal of having ears to hear, a heart to listen, and the will to change. Of course it is always and forever by grace, a gift from God, something we could never merit, earn, or deserve, or come up with on our own.

God’s word is what can and will see us through, as we by faith hear and apply it, trusting and obeying God, finding our way through this dark and broken existence in and through Jesus.

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.

do we have a diminished view of Jesus and God?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

A friend who is a scholar as well, wrote to me recently, an important aside in our conversation:

…the Lord Jesus Christ…perfect humanity…undiminished deity…united in one Person forever…

Seeing the end of the film, Paul, Apostle of Christ gets me to thinking on this as well. In the important recognition that God became flesh, that God is with us in Jesus, that Christ is indeed fully human, I think what can easily get lost in the shuffle is that God is other than us, and that Jesus is not only human through and through, but God through and through.

We who have been raised in the church, my churches always within the evangelical sphere, we have been taught from little on up, and we take such truth for granted, even when we don’t (and can’t) understand it. Yes, God is one God in Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yes, Christ is one person with two natures, humanity and deity, the God-Man, or I would prefer, the God-Human.

What I’m trying to get at for myself, as much as for any other reader in thinking along these lines, is that I think we tend to diminish God and Christ into simply one of us by failing to really grapple with the fact and reality, that he is not. Yes, through the Incarnation Christ is just as human as we are, so that God is united with us in our humanity forever. But Christ is also still God, and God is other than us, period.

When it comes right down to it, some of our problems with God, life, faith, what we read in scripture might be boiled down to our futile attempts to domesticate God. We want a god we can fully be at home with, be comfortable with, fully understand, and even identify with. And in Christ we are indeed taken up into communion with the Trinity, even given the very life of the Triune God.  But in the end, in Revelation, we can only bow down and worship the Mystery revealed to us in the image of the Throne, the Lion of Judah being a Lamb looking like it had been slain (Revelation 5:5-6). And God is revealed to us in Christ supremely on the cross. But the cross carries with it both salvation, and severe judgment for those who do not receive it.

Yes, God is with us, having become one of us in Christ. God understands us in an experiential, firsthand way. And God is love through and through. God is also God and we are not. God is holy, other than we are, and that certainly includes Christ.

Something I think needs to become a deeper part of my faith, and reflection on it. In and through Jesus.

not having easy ready answers

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…

1 Peter 3:15-16a

The older I get, the more I question even my own questions or answers, for that matter. My typical response to things is “I don’t know,” or “It’s complicated.” That’s not to say that I don’t have some opinions on a whole range of issues. And even convictions. Although given the nature of things, much of it can be on matters that are rather open ended. The answer may be good insofar as it goes, but it’s open to refinement, and even some correction.

But when it comes to life itself, and what’s at the heart of it, I wouldn’t hesitate to think, and hopefully say, It is God in Jesus, and the good news in him in his incarnation and life, death and resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is something I believe without so much as a thought that it might need some correction here or there. Of course only God fully understands even the most simple gospel truth, such as John 3:16. We understand by faith as much as God helps us to, of these simple, yet profound truths, which are brought home to our hearts and minds by the Spirit of God.

And we’re to tell them to others. Not having all the answers, or being a know-it-all. But simply being able to point to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. In whom we have put our faith and hope, our all. And through whom we know God’s love, which we share with all others. Jesus.