relationships

Jesus tells us that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our being and doing, and the second which is like it is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is not just something good we do to another even out of a good attitude toward them, though that’s good as well. Love involves relationships.

Relationships are not easy. For one thing they end up invariably being messy. If you want a completely clean, trouble free existence, then you would have to avoid any relationship at all. The problem with that, though, is that we are made for relationships. We read that in Genesis when God says of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” This need Adam had was for one who could help him, but who also would bring companionship into his life. Of course all of this works both ways. We humans are social beings. It is true that some may be more so than others. There is some truth in the tags, extrovert and introvert. But every last one of us needs another. And we need love and companionship.

Relationships involve commitment. Jesus’ words cited above are more than just a suggestion. We could say they are a loving directive. But literally speaking, the words are in imperative mode. In other words it is a command. That is a basic, essential part of what church is all about. We’re in this all together, in Jesus. And therefore, whether we feel like it, or are so inclined or not, we need to reach out in love to others. We want to give to them from our hearts, but we also want to be open to receiving. We need them as much as they need us. And sometimes, more.

And this starts in our relationship with God through Jesus. God is a person too, and is therefore personal. Relationship is part of who God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And through Jesus, God brings us into that relationship, through faith. A relationship with God, and with each other.

What keeps us from good relationships? Do we screen ourselves off, and therefore miss out on relationships? What is holding us back from growing in relationships, both with God and with others?

 

a breath of fresh air

(At one time in my blogging, I hardly ever referred to myself. L.L. Barkat encouraged me to begin to refer to myself and share from my life. I appreciated her input back at that time. And she is a most excellent writer and author.)

Yesterday I was faced with some issues through which I can retreat and harbor not the best attitude, or in which I can rise to take charge while struggling with my attitude, neither option good.

I determined to myself that this day especially I would be repeating what some of us call the Jesus Creed (from Scot McKnight’s book, entitled the same), interspersed here and there with “the Lord’s/our Father” prayer:

“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.”

I found that this helped keep me centered, and indeed it was like a breath of fresh air for me, filling my life, my mind and heart, even into the evening. Later I found out that my wife, Deb, had prayed for me as well, so that this was surely in answer to that. I also find that this practice of repeating the “Jesus Creed,” out loud, or in my mind has been helpful in keeping me centered on what really is important: the aim of loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In place of my own all too easily self-centered thoughts came a love from God to be returned to God and given to others. And that love is an overcoming love. Displacing the sin which can all too easily entangle us.

Although I’ve found this practice helpful most every day, or at least many days, yesterday was kind of revelatory to me, as I found out that this love from God through Jesus by the Spirit is what helps us love God in return as well as loving others. Something I knew in my head and somewhat in my experience, but became especially palpable and real yesterday.

I know today and days to come may seem more humdrum. And yet I’ll continue to repeat the Jesus Creed. Along with the our Father prayer. So that I’ll be reminded of what is front and center in following Jesus, convicted of whatever is wrong and sinful in my thoughts and attitude, and helped by grace to something much better, with others in and through Jesus for the world.

 

the emptiness of the flesh

The flesh in scripture is somewhat complex and multifaceted in meaning, depending on its context. Although it can simply mean created bodily entities, in general “flesh” means the weakness of sinful humanity both individually and corporately, the latter in some kind of sytematic way that is under the thumb of the powers, meaning the entities of the devil. The world (as in the world system set against God), the flesh and the devil have aptly in some respects, been called “the unholy trinity.”

I don’t like to get too caught up in flesh/spirit dichotomy, as some teachers of the Christian faith have. At the same time it is important, even vital to keep in mind the importance of us seeking to live (or walk, the metaphor used) in and by the Spirit, so that we don’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh. A passage in scripture lists (some of- unless these are categories which capture all) the works of the flesh, along with the fruit of the Spirit.

I come up empty, or at least rather empty on those days when maybe I have too much caffeine in my system and with all kinds of pressure and problems I rather fairly much depend on myself to get the job done. Of course life can be a struggle, but the difference can be in how we handle it. It may look the same from the outside, at least on a surface level. But inside might be another story. For me one of my biggest struggles is simply to get down. To kind of kick into survival mode, while seeking to do the best I can.

Even so, the Spirit of God does not abandon us when we drift in this way. The Spirit is at work to help us in drawing us to come closer to God through Christ. And to reorientate us into Christ’s likeness. What we need to do which can make all the difference in a day, is to seek to walk by the Spirit. For me this means I need to slow down in my mind and spirit, if not always in my body, though the latter often helps, as well. To be in prayer, praying the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, as well as my own prayers, hopefully prayers the Spirit helps me to pray. And to repeat “the Jesus Creed,” the command to love God and neighbor.

I think too that to walk in the Spirit is relational at its core. The fruit of the Spirit is lived out in relationships, at its heart being love. To love God and our neighbor is its essence.

And following Jesus means to live a cross-formed, or cruciform life. In the same letter, actually the same passage, Paul says that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. And that since we in Jesus live in the Spirit, we’re to keep in step with the Spirit.

I write here of things I don’t know well enough. But I do know this well enough to believe it, and to prayerfully seek by the Spirit to live it. And I want to do so in community and communion with others in Jesus, and for the world.

the light that shines in the darkness

John’s gospel talks about the light from God that shines in the darkness of human sin. Light and darkness is a repeated theme in the gospel according to John, as well as in John’s letter, what we call 1 John (or First John). Light in John’s gospel is from Jesus, and the truth that comes out, in and from him.

All too often we Christians fail to show that light to others. It is a light that is coupled with love, while darkness is coupled with hate. Of course there is truth, and truth that we humans don’t always want to hear in our sin.  People reject the light and won’t come to it, according to John, because their deeds are evil.  But others who receive Jesus and enter into this new life of light, want to come to the light, even though at times it is indeed painful. It exposes what is hurtful in us, hurtful toward others, and an offense toward God.

The first and greatest commandment, and the second like it, according to Jesus is love: love for God with our whole being and doing, and love for our neighbor as ourselves. Light from God is always characterized by love, for indeed, as John tells us in the letter, “God is love.”

All too often we Christians think we need to speak the truth every opportunity we get. But first of all we need to live in the truth, and in a certain sense we need to be the truth in and through Jesus. We are in Jesus, and in a sense “little Jesus-es”. Of course only Jesus is Jesus, he is Lord, we are not. More accurately we are anointed ones, or little christs, the Greek work word for Messiah or anointed one. People need to see God’s love and truth in us, before they’ll hear what we say. And this will both inform the content and manner of our speaking. And listening, which should be first and foremost as well.

Light from God. We in Jesus must learn to bask in it, and let God’s light expose us so that we might better know his love for us, a love which is also for the world. We then share that love in and through Jesus to the world.

recitation

I grew up with the understanding that reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or reciting prayers was of no value. But I have undergone a change over time to come to accept and even find help in liturgical practice.

As I read somewhere, such practice is not dependent on our whims. Nor is it based on our experience. It is instead based on the revelation of God in Christ. And on wisdom God has given to the church.

I find that reciting the Lord’s/our Father prayer, and the Jesus Creed helps center me on the Lord and his will. Besides, in the Jesus Creed we’re reminded what is most important in our lives. And in the Lord’s/our Father prayer we’re using the words Jesus gave us for how we should pray.

I will sometimes do this over and over and over. With my kind of work I can do that while able to do what I need to do. I will alternate back and forth between the two. And I’ve found at times that sooner or later I’m praying other kinds of prayers for those in need, etc.

Recitation. It can be good. It is done as if a prayer, or in the spirit of prayer to God that he would make the words real to ourselves. That, as I’ve read somewhere (N.T. Wright, I think) in better words than this, we would grow into the meaning of that prayer.

This is what I often do, especially when distracted from the Lord, or tempted to give in to anxiety, or when I have, or any other sin. And it’s good to be able to recite scripture passages, sometimes I recite the armor of God passage in Ephesians 6.

Below are the two passages mentioned in this post which I often repeat:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 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.’

Matthew 6

into a new year

Often I’ve heard our Pastor Sharon encourage us to pursue what brings us life in and through Jesus. This is in reference to the way that is in Jesus.

I’m not into New Year’s resolutions. I want to grow in grace and pursue what helps me along those lines. As a follower of Jesus.

Pastor Sharon is an advocate of God’s people benefiting from the practice of the classical Christian disciplines. She wonderfully helps us in her award winning novel to consider practicing some of those disciplines, and work out what God is doing in our heart with others who are doing the same.

That is what I want to be out and about this coming year, or whatever days I have in it. I want to be aflame with God’s love and with nothing else. I want to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I hope to get to a retreat center (there are at least two of them south of where we live) soon. And participate in something of the spiritual disciplines daily. To learn how to do that better. Silence, and voicing the Lord’s/Our Father prayer along with the Jesus Creed, are helpful to me. I continue to love to listen to the Bible Experience.

Going to the nursing home every Sunday has been a highlight of the past year. I am glad to now have a helper who takes one Sunday a month. It is a needy ministry. I’d like to get one more like helper on board who will do one other service a month. And perhaps get others involved in various ways.

And I continue to love to read and put down reflections in “writing” as on this blog. A few years back it seemed to come to me as from God, “Read.” And I want to recommit myself to that, because any good thing, reading being one of my very favorite things, can become lost in the shuffle of life. Tired and worn out and often down and out as I feel. Wondering if what I do matters at all. The voice of the enemy.

What brings you life in Jesus? And what is that life moving you to do? Take the small steps of faith. We’re to do according to the measure of faith God gives us. In love for him and our neighbor, in service to others, as we endeavor to sit at Jesus’ feet. And go on in him together for each other and for the world.

“Love God and do as you please.”

Augustine wrote: “Love God and do as you please.” There is much freedom in this. Some might think this is actually license to live and let live. The key of course is the thought: love God.

To love God actually begins with God’s love. “We love, because he first loved us.” It is a love that is fulfilled and known in Christ. Something we are now celebrating in the gift of God’s Son for the world. The Messiah has come! That is the good news in its essence.

To love God is a response to his grace and summons to his kingdom, in and through Jesus. And it’s a response that goes well beyond initially believing. People are not just to believe, but to become believers.* And with faith comes hope and love.

Love means I’ll want to be obedient. If I truly love God, then I’ll want to do what God wants me to do. It is actually a part of our identity in Christ to want to please God. We are family in Jesus; God is indeed our Father.

There is much more freedom in this love than what many seem to want to admit. For good reasons we may choose to limit our freedom at least during certain times out of love for God. That all has to be worked out with the help of the Spirit as we continue to look in God’s word in search of the truth as it is in Jesus.

It is set, yet ongoing and interactive. There are set commands, but how we live this life out is in interface with God and out from that with others. We need to be people of prayer, intent on listening to God, and picking up the sense of how we’re to live in any given situation.

So let’s make sure through Jesus our love life with God is alright and growing, and out of that we can love both God and others. Together in Jesus for the world.

*Scot McKnight

 

love in Jesus wins

Love wins in Jesus. This is what we in Jesus are to live out in the world. No matter what else is true, if love is not in who we are and what we do, it is of no value in God’s eyes.

Fairly regularly I repeat and want to do so all the more, the “Jesus Creed” from Mark 12:29-31 and along with that the Lord’s/Our Father Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13, during the course of a day. These help center me on God and his priorities for us in and through Jesus. The centrality of loving God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves, along with praying for God’s honor and kingdom along with our needs in this world.

Love in Jesus wins. No matter what the barrier it can and in our eyes indeed should be broken down. Barriers are due to sin, and broken relationships. God in Christ brings reconciliation of humankind to God, to each other, and to creation.

But it is only through love, even love for our enemies in and through Jesus, which means the way of Jesus for us, the way of the cross. That love and only that love wins in God working out his will in the world in the sphere of his kingdom.

Of course God’s kingdom in Jesus is active in all sorts of ways. And Jesus is a Lion (the Revelation) no less, not tame (C.S. Lewis). Judgment does come at times from God. But it is in Jesus and in the way of Jesus in which we are to live in this life. A way that is marked by love. In Jesus for the world. And through Jesus that love indeed wins, beginning now.

bigger than us

Scripture speaks about the very hairs of our head being numbered, that the Father lovingly knows every detail of our lives. There is the danger however, when we center in on passages like that, that we will fail to see the big picture. What in the world God is doing in Jesus. While God’s Story in Jesus most certainly includes us, it is also bigger than us.

What helps me keep centered is a simple recitation prayerfully of “the Lord’s Prayer”, or the “our Father prayer”:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 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 also recite this passage as an important reminder about what is to have priority in all of life, what life is about, aptly called “the Jesus Creed”:

 29 “The most important one,”answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

When I feel distant from God, or too preoccupied with myself I find that the simple practice of reciting these helps. Actually it is a good practice to do regularly, daily.

The Jews did this with the Shema, and it is not far fetched to think that Jesus and his disciples practiced the same, with the new alterations.

Yes, God’s work is bigger than us. But it includes us; we are an intrical part in Jesus of the Father’s work of love in and for the world.

well spent

Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy, and his burden light. And that is an important truth to learn and hold on to, of course through actual practice. Nevertheless there are days and times in our lives in which we are spent. Spent in the sense of having to push so hard to get this and that done, or having to do a work in which there is unusual pressure. So that we are worn out.

For us humans the question is not whether we’ll be spent, but whether we’ll be well spent. In other words are we pouring ourselves out as an offering to God in what we are doing, in and through Jesus? Are we doing this out of a heart devoted in love to God, to the Master? Or are we bellyaching and complaining about this and that and everything else? Spent, and hating every minute of it.

It is good to do well without having to run at breakneck pace quite often. Of course there are those times. But however our times are spent, the question is, are they well spent? Are we doing this out of love for God, for our neighbor? Are we working in a way that reflects that? And when our strength seems gone so that we’re just holding on, do we seek the Lord’s strength (which actually, along with him, with his face, we’re to seek always, as the psalm tells us).

I pray by God’s grace I’ll do well the remainder of my life. That my life will be well spent. Along with others in Jesus. Together for the world.