remembering the love

We live in a time in which love is disdained and dissed, or is sentimental and not grounded in either reality or truth. And we have our own difficult worlds to maneuver in, which at times will test our love.

What we need is not just love, but the love so to speak: the love which is grounded in the truth which ultimately is the Truth himself, Jesus. A love which can look past the faults and sins of others, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” And when necessary, but with a reticence ready to reconsider, and great care taken if proceding holds the other accountable, but does so always in a way in which they know we have their best interests at heart, and that we’re on their side.

Sometimes we’re in situations which do affect us, their action or inaction making our life more difficult. That is when we might need to hold them accountable, but we don’t let what might even possibly be an actual personal affront get to us, we don’t let them “get under our skin.” One key way which has helped me time and again is to recite the Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) over and over:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12

I will repeat that over and over as a discipline, a necessary reminder to me of what the heartbeat of my life is to be no matter what. And keep doing that until it begins to sink into my heart. And with that, I’ll include “the Lord’s prayer” here and there (Matthew 6:9-13).

Even as God in and through Jesus loves us, we need to love each other, and others. And while our love will fall short of God’s love, nevertheless we drink from that stream of love by the Spirit, so that we receive and impart something of it to others. And we choose to love, when all of our own inclinations might go the other way.

Yes, we must remember the love, the true love, the love of God in Jesus which has been given to us not only to know for ourselves, but to begin to practice on others. Loving them even as Jesus has loved us: sacrificially and to the end.

maturity matters

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

Colossians 1:28

I was listening last night to an interesting Roman Catholic priest, mystic, Richard Rohr, on reading the Bible (not long, worth a watch). He was making an interesting point, actually more in keeping with the Roman Catholic tradition than with most others at least outside the Great Tradition, but that the Bible shouldn’t get into the hands of believers until they are brought to some maturity in Christ. I don’t think I track completely with Rohr, although I can learn quite a lot from him, he is certainly a man of wisdom well beyond what I’ve grown into over the years, I think.

But his point is well taken: the Bible in the hands of someone who is angry, fearful, or has an agenda is a Bible that will be misread and God’s message in it missed. It becomes a mere human weapon, but potentially wreaking great destruction: hurting, undermining, or perhaps meaning the loss of faith for others. People need to in Rohr’s words, “grow up,” before they’re ready to read the Bible for themselves and grow from the message in it.

This reminds me of what Scot McKnight has called, “the Jesus Creed”: to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to see all of scripture and all of life in that light. And of course with the main point of scripture in mind, the good news of God in and through Jesus. A good news for us as individual sinners, yes, but also for all the world.

And we need to read scripture and study it together as God’s people. None of us have the full take on it. The Spirit speaks to the church as a whole, not just to individuals in the church. In fact, I might want to say that the Spirit doesn’t speak to individuals at all apart from speaking to the church as a whole (Revelation 2-3).

Maturity matters, and I’m still working on it, and will be to the end. Hopefully I’m up to some measure of full maturity in Christ. But we have to remember that this a full body exercise, meaning all the members of Christ are part of it (Ephesians 4:1-16). Part of God’s promise to work out in and among us, so that we can hang in there with confidence as part of that, in and through Jesus.

context matters (for a good Bible study)

I would like to say that any Bible study is good, but that is surely a stretch. In spite of us, God can and indeed does use his written word.

One of my complaints about what can happen in Bible studies is the failure to really consider well a passage in its immediate context, as well as general context. This is particularly challenging if not nearly impossible to do in a topical study, though I think a topical study done well, I mean really sticking to the topic, can do alright in this regard.

Scripture passages are not holy dust, simply to be read so as to give light to our days. That is where I think precious promise books, which quote Bible verses and perhaps short passages are limited. Not that they can’t be a blessing and do much good. And I’ll add that note even in regard to the type of Bible studies I’m complaining about. Again, God does use his word, often in spite of our failure to handle it accurately. However we still have the responsibility before God to work hard at handling scripture accurately (2 Timothy 2:15).

Context matters. And we might say that the point of every passage is the good news in Jesus, or perhaps better put, that is the plot of the story we’re reading, the rest of it, including teaching material such as Proverbs, etc., filling in the details, since this is to be lived out in real life. Remembering too, Jesus words, that all the law and the prophets hang on two commandments: to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22).

That is why my own preference, when leading a Bible study, is to settle down in one passage. I will try to share the context of the passage, and then guide us in a discussion which lends plenty of freedom for people to think and share preferably in relation to the passage. Each passage has so much in it, the topic at hand or the main points are so compelling, that there is no shortage to stimulate us in our thinking, and hopefully from that in our praying and living, to the glory of God in and through Christ.

you don’t know the real me (or maybe you do)

In a way this is neither here nor there, and is rather beside the point. After all, it’s not about us as in depending on us. And whatever good we have is a gift of which we’re stewards of. Everyone is a recipient of some special gift from God, and everyone in themselves is a gift as well. So that everyone is equally special in the gift they are and have.

At the same time we’re all flawed as well. We’ve all sinnned, and we’ve all lived in patterns of sin. For those who might doubt that, do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind– with all your being and doing? And do you love your neighbor as yourself? We confess at our church every Sunday that we have not done so, but hopefully in the confession and forgiveness along with the cleansing which follows, we’re over time growing closer to fulfilling those ideals in becoming more and more like Jesus.

So in a sense we can understand each other since none of us are unique, sharing in the wonder of humanity, while also sharing in its flaws. Evil resides not only in others, but in ourselves as well. Yet we share in the goodness of being made in God’s image, an image which is marred and at times we might say broken because of sin. But also an image which is being restored through the perfect image of God, Jesus, even in our own humanity by grace through faith (and baptism).

Of course only God knows us through and through, plumbing the depths of us, of our hearts. God sees right through us in ways that others can’t, and certainly neither can we. We don’t really know ourselves, and yet in and through Jesus, we can begin to know ourselves through knowing God’s revelation in Jesus which shines its light on our sin, but helps us to share in that new light so that over time we are changed.

So yes, you don’t really know me. And I you, as if any of us could have a measure on others or ourselves. But in another general way we do. But in all of that, we want to get to know God in Jesus by the Spirit more and more. In so doing we will come to better understand ourselves and others. Even as we in Jesus together grow more and more into his likeness.

faithful to the end

Life is what it is. There are messes here and there, some big, many not. It is not neat and tidy. Bad things do happen, and we hurt when they happen to anyone. But any of that can happen to us as well. We don’t know what a day, a week, a month or a year may bring forth.

The one thing I want to be come what may is faithful to the end. Faithful to God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Faithful to the gospel. Faithful to the church. One who seeks to grow in the “Jesus Creed” of loving God and neighbor. One who with others wants to serve until the end.

I am grateful for a good wife along with me on this journey who has the same heart and mind. I hope by God’s grace to be faithful to his call in Jesus to the end.

taking care of oneself, or “soul care”

I think for years I was more or less in the habit of failing to take seriously even the concept of taking care of oneself. Ironically I think I advocated something of that to others, though surely not nearly enough. Because I myself did not really buy into it.

What might be called “soul care” simply said means taking care of oneself. But unpacked in terms of following Jesus, we might say that it essentially involves learning to be directed in the nurture of one’s life so as to live in God’s presence and will. And it is for our flourishing in the way of Jesus, certainly in and through Jesus with an emphasis on the Jesus Creed of loving God and others.

Our longings to get away be it on vacation or on a retreat somewhere are likely in significant measure the desire to be refreshed and renewed ourselves. I am not really referring to some kind of “high,” though we may experience something of that from time to time, some of us more than others. Rather, a settled in kind of existence which is much more than existing but true life indeed, something of the life more abundant, overflowing, to the full which Jesus spoke about. The water he freely gives which becomes in the person who believes, the inner well of eternal life, referring to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Now that I’m older and starting to think of how to end well what remaining days and years I may have, I realize that daily soul care needs to be on my agenda and watch list. This is a part of me necessarily slowing down and seeking to live well in God’s grace to us in Jesus. It certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t live in weakness. Paul learned to live well in his own weakness, even in the torment which came from his thorn in the flesh. It was the Lord’s sufficient grace which made the difference so that Paul experienced Christ’s power all the more in that weakness and even learned to delight in that.

I have thought to some extent for years, though only this clearly for perhaps the past few that I was more or less living in God’s Presence in and through Jesus all the time. That I was having “devotions” so to speak all day. There may be a grain of truth in that, certainly in Jesus we live in God’s Presence by the Spirit. But not intentionally on a regular basis setting time aside to simply be in God’s Presence and love in God’s word and silence meant that my all day devotional was too often not all that devoted I’m afraid

It is hard to alter one’s routine and all the more that seems to be so when we’re older and more set in our ways. But hopefully with age comes something more of a maturity which would be ready to adjust and make room for what’s needed here. And so I’m starting by at least trying to repeat the Jesus Creed as I awaken (and along with that, the Lord’s Prayer is fitting and important). And opening my Bible to a particular passage to slowly work through day after day, right now Psalm 16, even as I prepare my breakfast.

And so in and through Jesus I hope to better take care of myself. To know God and God’s love better and to live in that love in and for the world in and through Jesus.

reciting the “Jesus Creed” and praying the “Lord’s/our Father” prayer

I like to be in scripture all day, and I like to read books, especially books relating to scripture. Being in the written word is what I’ve been about for years, even decades now, though I don’t suppose I’ve done all that well in it. But it is my default, and more than that, my first take or place to where I’ll turn, apart from my own turns, actions and reactions. Of course whatever comes our way is the opportunity to look God’s way in Jesus and to God’s word.

During the past few years, reciting the “Jesus Creed” and praying the “Lord’s prayer” have become staples for me. Recently I let this practice wane a bit, but once again I do this as an integral or necessary part of my day.

The Jesus Creed:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.

The Lord’s/our Father prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Reciting these regularly when I’m about my daily tasks and life is helpful in keeping me centered in what is important (as well as helping me be less prone to be taken in by what’s not) and helps in keeping my prayer life active and alive.

We need to remain centered in God’s will of love in Jesus. Of course that will (God’s will) involves so much, which we can begin to understand from an ongoing reading and study of God’s word individually and in community as church. And God meets us with his good will right where we live in and through Jesus by the Spirit, or by the Spirit in and through Jesus, both. (Though I might want to emphasize here the Jesus-shaped life our lives are to become more and more like.)

And we need to remain in prayer in the way Jesus taught his disciples and teaches us. I am thankful that our church recites this prayer nearly every week.

Both help us stay centered in God’s will in Jesus, a will in which we in Jesus are in this life together for the world.

down in the dirt

Life often seems to consist of most difficult matters. In fact even in the routine, one can encounter one problem after another, or even some together. That is when it serves us well to have the mentality to do the worst. When I am doing something especially challenging, and maybe a bit precarious, I will often recite “the Lord’s/our Father prayer” and do it slow. Other times, one may have to move fast. Of course the most care should be given to relationships. We are called to love God and to love our neighbor; to love one another as Christ has loved us; to love even our enemies, that we might be children of our Father in heaven.

It is good to have some rest, a respite of sorts from the pressures the problems of life can bring us. But often that simply is not possible. Then we have to learn to work around the problems where need be, and ultimately work through them. But with the need always to stay centered on God in Christ, which is why I often repeat the “Jesus Creed” along with “the Lord’s/our Father prayer,” interspersed at times with my own prayers.

Whatever our disposition at the time, we need this mentality, that with God’s grace we will face the worst, and go through it. That we will do so prayerfully, with the confidence that God will see us through. A working attitude we’re to have in harmony with others in and through Jesus in and for the world.

a fictional life

Life is lived day to day especially in the sphere of relationships in which we’re engaged, along with the work to which we are called. Life seems essentially to be about relationships and calling.

Oftentimes where we are tripped up is in our tendency to imagine something better, or even someone better, “the grass is always greener on the other side” syndrome.

Life in Jesus is not about our happiness, though happiness is not excluded from it. It is about following him in obedience, and through paths oftentimes that are difficult. We don’t do well to wonder what it would be like if we had such and such a job, if such and such a dream in work would have been fulfilled, much worse, if we would have different relationships, perhaps a different spouse, whatever. All of this can set us on a path of a fictional life.

Life is the real, day to day existence in which we live. We in Jesus do so with reference to the “Jesus Creed”:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

And we do well to recite in prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
 for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

I repeat these daily along with my own prayers, sometimes other well known passages coming to mind. As I seek along with others in Jesus to be faithful to him, to his call, in the love of God and for the sake of the world.

habits

Life consists of habits, some good, and some not so good, maybe some downright bad and unhelpful. As we look at the change in our calendars about to take place, the move into a new year, as well as looking back on the last year, it might be good to reflect for a moment on habits we have picked up, or perhaps have long lived out.

Instead of simply naming the habits and then categorizing, or perhaps along with that as a part of it, we need to consider the underlying motivation behind them. What may appear at first glance as detrimental and not good, may actually have an understandable and perhaps even good motivation behind it. Love, but a love that is grounded in God’s revelation in Jesus found in scripture, is what is needed for any motivation to be good. Recently I came to see that something I had been doing which I questioned, really in significant measure I’m supposing is motivated by the desire to live in as well as live out that love.

Some habits need to be dispensed of immediately, but oftentimes they are the kind of things which have a grip on us, sometimes even a stronghold, or we might say, stranglehold on us. Perhaps it’s an addiction, for some it may be pornography, for others alcohol or drugs. Maybe in other cases it is lesser problems which nevertheless take one away from their family. In the former, one may need special professional counseling, and plenty of prayer from trusted, spiritual friends. In the latter we’ll need prayer as well. And we all need accountability with each other.

I think ordinarily speaking, referring to habits which often are more subtle, maybe a trail we tend to take when difficulties or trials come, or perhaps curbing a habit which in itself is alright, perhaps even good in its place, but can become not good when it takes over our life, it is wiser to think about new habits we can work at getting into our psyche and practice, rather than simply dispensing of an old habit we know is unhelpful.

For me an indispensable habit is the recitation of the Lord’s/our Father prayer. And along with that I will repeat the Jesus Creed. I know if you have read this blog, that this is getting to be a broken record. But I think simple recitation over and over can help center us on what matters. What is needed is heart change which then spills over into one’s life and out from that into the world.

One of my worst habits is down talking myself. I’ll do that out loud in front of my wife who promptly corrects me and wisely won’t tolerate it. Nevertheless it has become, more precisely has been for sometime a pesky habit which seems to have its roots well entrenched in me, so that its fruit is evident when I am tired and life is trying. Especially when I am reflecting on how I’ve let others down, whether those thoughts at the time are really fair or not. And so this coming year I want the Lord’s help to work on that. To learn to rejoice in the Lord in everything, and all that goes along with and is related to that. Perhaps a good steeping in a book like Philippians will be in good order in the coming year for me.

What might you share here in regard to habits? What has helped you in this regard?