living the faith not through doctrine, but through the body of Christ

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

Philippians 4:17-18

Having lived in an evangelical world for decades as a Christian, I have lived in the air that doctrine above all else is what mattered. If we had our squares right about Christ and the gospel, and we believed, then we were all set to go, born again and assured of eternal life. Add to that the necessity of believing in an inerrant Bible, every jot and tittle without error at least in the point being made or what was said. And with all of that, the necessity of witnessing so that people would be saved from eternal hell fire in torment forever. No one or very few lived up to all of that, and those who took it seriously the most seemed to put a lot of nuance on most everything.

I live and will always live with some respect for evangelicalism, even though I have long been adrift from it, and now no longer identify as such. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take Scripture seriously as sacred or see the gospel as something other than central in my life and the life of the world, active in the church. I believe all of that and more, and don’t see doctrine as something that is unimportant.

But I believe what makes all the difference, and actually the only thing that does make the difference is Christ’s presence. Is Christ present? is the question. Because of that presence, yes we will come to accept and believe certain things. And together we will read and discern from Scripture with reference to God’s will on earth now, not just for our individual lives, but also for the church, and for the life of the world, in all the complexities of that. The richness and tapestry of Scripture certainly gives us much to pause and reflect on as we consider everything.

The main point I want to make briefly is that we live the faith not through doctrine, but through Christ’s body the church. Each of us contribute to the whole, living as we really are in our real struggles, in all the struggle, but with the light and life of Christ present in each. And from that reflection from Christ, we are light to each other, indeed even called “light in the Lord.” We are real, we struggle, we are not perfect, but we also love and seek to love, and to be entirely true to the full will of God. But we do this in relationship, especially as church. This is so central, but I’m afraid is all but lost today.

Because of this, through the Spirit I can live as a follower of Christ in each situation, in the challenges faced, even in what might seem threatening. We in Christ are in this together. Somehow Christ’s light on others seems channeled as it were to ourselves and inexplicitly way beyond our understanding the light of Christ might even help others in the same way through us.

All in a normal day, in the normal life in and through Jesus.

casting out into the deep, venturing into the unknown at Christ’s word

Once while Jesus was standing beside the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to burst. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were astounded at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

This is an interesting, even amazing story at a number of levels. What I would like to dwell on is just one aspect of it. Jesus’s words to those he would subsequently call to be his followers. Telling them to cast their nets into the deep, even though they had just caught nothing after being at it all night. It surely made little to no sense to them. But they did it, and the rest and all that follows is history.

This is akin to what I’ve experienced in the last few years right up to the present time. I’ve been wanting to find a Mennonite fellowship, but none in the area where we moved a few decades back. At a certain point I was informed that there was a new fellowship which had met for some time but had recently become Mennonite. So I looked them up. They were clearly in the activist strain, which was okay to me, but took a strong stand of affirming LGBTQ+ for membership, leadership and marriage. Even though I had questions and tensions with the traditional view, that is where I still landed on that issue at the time. They also take a clear stand in regard to support for the riddance of systemic racism, and I and my wife were totally on board with that.

After getting together with them one Sunday online due to COVID, I decided we just couldn’t go through with this. Deb was leaning on me for the decision during that time, surely praying. And I had a great peace, I take it as psychological now, and slept like a baby. But oddly enough I had a strong sense, it is almost as if the Lord were appearing to me in my imagination, and telling me, You don’t have to come, but I’m very much present here. And so we showed up the next Sunday, and we’ve never turned back.

Around the same time, probably shortly after, it was as if the Lord told me that I need to be in the book of James. And I have ever since, and it has been amazing, even life changing, though of course that is incremental. I’ve come a way, and certainly have a long way to go.

Now something similar is happening to me with regard to anxiety. If you know me, or have read this blog much at all, you’ll realize that anxiety has been an ongoing, nearly always an issue with me. I’ve struggled with it, virtually lived in anxiety for years and decades. Although I think I’ve made some progress in how I deal with it, it still could set me back on my heels and worse. Well recently I think I’m beginning to hear the call to launch out into the deep and simply refuse to worry, to be anxious. And to see the newest thing that comes to mind that would have always made me anxious before, to simply be a new opportunity to refuse anxiety.

Of course, I do so dialing in to what God has provided in Scripture through Christ. We can do none of this on our own, it’s only God’s grace. We’re a part of a small group which has a strong emphasis on grace, and that has helped much. But paradoxically it will require effort on our part. We have to let go of all our strivings and devices, and make ourselves sit at Jesus’s feet.

This is all about launching into the deep at Jesus’s words. The difference maker is Jesus. Not our interpretation of Scripture, which by the way in regard to the LGBTQIA+ issue I think is suspect and is a door slam shut in the face of true Christ followers. Only Jesus. But we have to listen, really listen. And then we have to follow and keep following. Thankfully Christ is always ahead of us and with us. We’re not on our own. And that together. In and through Jesus.

we’re family!! in Christ

Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

Then his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; NRSVue

When it comes to our faith, there is nothing more essential or basic than family. God is our Father (and Mother), Jesus our Brother and we’re all siblings by faith in and through Christ. We’re to call no man on earth our father, and given the patriarchal error today and back in Jesus’s time along with the hierarchy that accompanies it, that’s more than understandable (see Mark, by Geddert).

Yes, Christ makes himself known to us directly but much more significantly than we realize and we might say in some respects more strongly through our relationships with each other. Didn’t Jesus say that where two or three gather in his name, he is present with them (Matthew 18:20)? Using our distinct personalities, and ourselves being total agencies in this, not just passively used, in the total life-giving and difference making presence of Christ.

Nothing more basic in our faith, and largely missed in all my decades as a Christian. God wanting to include all in God’s family of creation in this wonderful family of new creation, and God will do that, all eventually coming to repentance and faith (but that’s another subject). In and through Jesus.

where is Jesus?

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20; NRSVue

“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:19-20; NRSVue

Christ is present with all of his people by the Spirit. But it seems to me that Christ is especially present, or should we say, that Christ’s activity is more known by those of his followers who are most in sync with that activity. Let’s say believers have little to no concept that their faith is about following Jesus in this life, and rather more about having assurance of eternal life, along with some help from Scripture to go on with life. The latter won’t experience as much of Christ, not because Christ isn’t present, but because they are not present or walking as much in step with him.

What we’re talking about is a joint venture, of course. It is personal, and each of us has responsibility, but it’s never private (as someone, or some group has said). So we’re all in this together. Christ is found in the midst of his people. Yes, each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, but join the temples together, and we receive a stronger manifestation of Christ’s presence.

Where is Jesus? That’s the question. That will make all the difference. Not who has the best doctrine or theology or “right” position on such. The better understanding might actually come from another place, where Christ is most present, or at least so in the experience of those most in step with what he is actually doing in the world.

In and through Jesus.

against a persecution complex

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’s sake. For it is the God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed, always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For we who are living are always being handed over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us but life in you.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12; NRSVue

Yesterday the post was on anticipated persecution, and much more could be said on that. Many of us have experienced nothing at all like the persecution so many followers of Christ (and others) face in too many places in the world. In fact to say that we’ve been persecuted at all here in the United States to me seems more than a stretch.

But let’s say we face more of the norm, that we as followers of Christ are confronted with some kind of authoritarian rule that demands our full allegiance and forbids allegiance to any other. When you read the New Testament, the passage above, and Mark’s gospel account for example, you’ll find that there’s no escape for the follower of Christ from the way of the cross. That is the only way in Christ. And that might conceivably give us some kind of martyr or persecution complex, and make us down in the mouth, kind of like groveling through life with no joy.

The pain, the suffering, the struggle, yes indeed the spiritual conflict, that’s all present and undeniable, and to pretend it doesn’t exist is to deny reality, or perhaps try to escape into something other than following Christ. But this is where the resurrection life and power of Christ is found, and all that accompanies that. Only there.

God will give us the help and grace needed to meet whatever situation we’re in. And this is not meant to be just an individual thing, but something we’re in together with other followers of Jesus. It is the way of life that is in Christ Jesus. A path of suffering and glory. Not something we can set aside. And not something we’re to despise but learn to embrace. In and through Jesus.

the needed love described

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7; NRSVue

The life of Christ in us who are his followers certainly exudes love. We humans know by instinct and much more so by the Spirit that love is to characterize us, who we are and all we do and say. And yet in this life it’s a challenge to always live it out.

And that’s true even in the church, Christ’s body in whom (not just among whom) Christ is present. Such was markedly the case with the church in Corinth to whom Paul wrote in the two letters we have, with the quote above. They and with them, we ourselves as well, not only need reminded, but it helps to have this love described, just what it is to be like in our relationships.

I tend to want to get it down to things I should and shouldn’t do, and while that might be helpful in some rudimentary way, especially toward the beginning of one’s life in Christ, it has to basically fall by the wayside as we go on. What is much more helpful are the above descriptors.

I think from this description of love, we can safely say that we need to err on the side of mercy, overlooking faults, even if at specific times it may not hurt to try to correct people. But never remaining there long, not letting it hang over their head. Realizing that we need the same deference paid to us as well, even if we’re blind to that need, which surely often is indeed the case.

Something to think on and pray about, as we end the year and enter a new one. In and through Jesus.

together we are one

Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22

We normally think of our faith in an individualistic way, and that’s both good and okay, but in our context carries with it plenty of not so good, as well. Even in church, we often see it as strictly an individual endeavor in which we’re trying to get the word from God which we need. Again good in itself, but we’re missing something.

I love how the above passage makes the point that the congregation has one soul and one heart, and how they’re all in it together.

Where two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is present. And not only to care for each individual, but to bind us all together. To be “in Christ” amounts to being a part of Christ’s body, the church. This is not something we do, but something we are through the Spirit. So whatever closeness we experience to Christ should mean a closeness to each other.

But alas, we’re so much in the frame of the individual, that this is all but lost, usually completely so. We touch base with other individuals if at all in our church gatherings. When really “in Christ” by the Spirit we’re on spirit, one heart, one soul in Christ. That includes all of our experience, from joy to sorrow, as well as the struggles we go through.

In Christ we’re all in this together. Impossible to leave anyone behind in this dynamic, since we’re all one body in him. Something which we need to honor in our gatherings as church. In and through Jesus.

no sufficiency in ourselves, all sufficiency in Christ

When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

What Paul says here was certainly beyond him and us. None of us begins to have in ourselves “the aroma of Christ.” It’s not like all we have and are is bad. We have our foibles, weaknesses, even propensities to sin, along with good points from being God’s image bearers. But what is spoken of here is referring to Christ himself, and Christ’s presence with, through, and in us by the Spirit.

Again this is not something we can conjure up ourselves. Our goal is to be in the presence of Christ and then something of that presence will come to others. We don’t want people to see us, but only Christ. For that to be the case, we need to see Christ ourselves, as we seek to faithfully go about our daily tasks, and grow in Christ-likeness through the fits and starts, progressions and setbacks, in everything. Sincerely seeking to live as those who follow Christ. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

the Lord’s faithfulness to his servants

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

To be a servant of Christ truly, is such a high and holy calling. Nothing should get in the way of that call, although a servant will want to do well by their family, if they’re wise. We have at least one biblical examples of a good servant who evidently may not have been as good when it came to his family. I’m thinking of Samuel in the Old Testament. Not that the children of all such servants might not lose their way for a time. But too often such servants can be neglectful of their families in their busy schedule of serving others. We need to try to be really present, both in terms of quality and quantity time with our children, and spouses. Yet there is little doubt that there will be some price they have to pay, as well as ourselves, to fulfill what God has called us to do.

Paul had the advantage of having no such ties, evidently having no immediate family of his own. Perhaps as a Pharisee he had a wife, but she evidently had died, because it is clear from the New Testament that he was not married when he wrote his letters (see 1 Corinthians 7). But Paul still had friends who served with him, and he needed companionship. And this was probably especially the case during trying and difficult times.

Paul was on trial because of his proclamation of the gospel, and had been abandoned by everyone, evidently because of their fear of being identified with him with their lives possibly at stake. Most of us today can’t really identify with that. But what we can understand is the sense of being alone, of others not in the work with us, maybe having a hard time finding anyone to serve where needed at all. And yet we can press on time and time again, often not really feeling like it, but still wanting to do it. And we find over and over again, that the Lord is faithful and stands with us. That somehow he is present, and through us he blesses others. That is what Paul experienced, and it is for all of us who endeavor to faithfully serve Christ, even when oftentimes, it’s not convenient. The Lord is faithful. And he will be with us to the very end, as in our weakness, we endeavor to be a faithful servant of his to others, come what may. All in and through him.