to be like Jesus

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

I’m not sure that aspiring to be like Jesus does much good, though it’s a natural thought for Jesus followers, for those in God’s family. After all, Jesus makes his presence known to us not only through Scripture, but even primarily through each other. His image and likeness in each of us rubs off on each other in needed ways.

I think it’s primarily through God’s working through people that other people are impacted and want to be like Jesus. Paul told his readers/listeners to follow him as he followed Christ, and to imitate him and his way of life. It is said that truth is more caught than taught. Surely there’s plenty of wisdom in that axiom.

So we need to find those who are well grounded in the Lord in their lives, not putting on a show, a front at all, being honest, not perfect people, but people whose lives are being shaped by God into Christ-likeness. Steeped in humility and grace, trusting God and God’s work in them and in others. And pressing toward the goal of God’s upward call in Jesus.

Something present with us and at work in our lives. In and through Jesus.

don’t forget this

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:10-18; MSG

I find Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this Scripture helpful on a number of points. You get a sense of how this spiritual battle we’re in is ongoing and frankly, horrific. I wish it were not so. It would be quite a different experience. For those whose life is a walk in the park, and an ongoing happy time, I think something like: “Wow. Great!” But then it makes me wonder if they know this aspect of life. All who are “in Christ” do, even if somehow that realization is hidden from them.

And then the idea that we can’t do this on our own. That we are dependent on God and on all God gives us in Christ. Especially helpful is the point that we’re to apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation to our lives, as taught to us in Scripture. And God’s Word expressed as a weapon, perhaps referring to God breaking through to us as we read Scripture, that word coming home to us. And the need for ongoing prayer. I find that when I feel up against it, I am often pressed to pray, and end up praying more persistently, sadly, then I would otherwise. On the other hand when I have a break from this spiritual warfare, I can be encouraged to pray, at times having a sense of God’s presence and peace. But by and large I keep at it more faithfully when I feel pressed for one reason or another. It’s not hard for me to realize the need for this.

And how we’re to pray for each other. Having been within the evangelical tradition most of my Christian life, I’ve been well taught on the need to apply Scripture to my own life, but not as well taught in how we’re all in this together, and the responsibility which comes with that.

To apply truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation both for our own lives, and for the world, into the lives of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. And for everyone else as well. But Paul here seemed to particularly mean it for the believers at large, I would say especially individually, and then collectively, together. Definitely an ongoing personal application. In and through Jesus.

letting the truth sink in and settle

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

John 8:31-32; MSG

The heart of the Christian message is about relationship and truth. The two go together in a number of ways. By faith in Christ we begin to understand not just the truth about God, but God himself, or God’s self (since, strictly speaking, God is neither male nor female, while at the same time, male and female human beings are made in God’s image). But as Jesus I think was suggesting to those who had believed him, it’s not enough just to have the light turned on, and truth dawn on us. We need to let that sink in and settle to make the needed difference in our lives. We need to keep the truth from and of Jesus front and center, and make it central to how we live. Nothing less than that will do.

If we do that, then we’ll begin to experience the freedom God wants to give us, not only from sin, but for what is right, good, of God, and truly human. As disciples/followers of Jesus. In and through Jesus.

God meets sincerity

God is well-known in Judah;
in Israel, he’s a household name.
He keeps a house in Salem,
his own suite of rooms in Zion.
That’s where, using arrows for kindling,
he made a bonfire of weapons of war.

Oh, how bright you shine!
Outshining their huge piles of loot!
The warriors were plundered
and left there impotent.
And now there’s nothing to them,
nothing to show for their swagger and threats.
Your sudden roar, God of Jacob,
knocked the wind out of horse and rider.

Fierce you are, and fearsome!
Who can stand up to your rising anger?
From heaven you thunder judgment;
earth falls to her knees and holds her breath.
God stands tall and makes things right,
he saves all the wretched on earth.
Instead of smoldering rage—God-praise!
All that sputtering rage—now a garland for God!

Do for God what you said you’d do—
he is, after all, your God.
Let everyone in town bring offerings
to the One Who Watches our every move.
Nobody gets by with anything,
no one plays fast and loose with him.

Psalm 76; MSG

It’s important to read the psalm in its entirety. You see the backdrop, the focus. I want to emphasize a bit the end:

Do for God what you said you’d do—
he is, after all, your God.
Let everyone in town bring offerings
to the One Who Watches our every move.
Nobody gets by with anything,
no one plays fast and loose with him.

Especially the thought about playing fast and loose with God. I think of Balaam, and how God seemed to let Balaam have his way, almost it seems with God’s blessing. But God told Balaam that Balaam’s path was a reckless one in God’s sight (Numbers 22:32). The point for us is whether or not we’re sincere in seeking God, and seeking to live in line with God’s call to us in Christ. We need to be sincere. One is either sincere or not sincere. More sincerity does not make one more sincere. You either are, or you’re not.

God sees through whatever charade we might be putting on. In the midst of all our weakness God is looking for just a drop of sincerity, untainted by some other motive. Even just the desire not to play fast and loose with God. God will meet us when we’re genuinely sincere. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:18-27

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.[g] I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:18-27

Children, time is just about up. You heard that Antichrist is coming. Well, they’re all over the place, antichrists everywhere you look. That’s how we know that we’re close to the end.

They left us, but they were never really with us. If they had been, they would have stuck it out with us, loyal to the end. In leaving, they showed their true colors, showed they never did belong.

But you belong. The Holy One anointed you, and you all know it. I haven’t been writing this to tell you something you don’t know, but to confirm the truth you do know, and to remind you that the truth doesn’t breed lies.

So who is lying here? It’s the person who denies that Jesus is the Divine Christ, that’s who. This is what makes an antichrist: denying the Father, denying the Son. No one who denies the Son has any part with the Father, but affirming the Son is an embrace of the Father as well.

Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father. This is exactly what Christ promised: eternal life, real life!

I’ve written to warn you about those who are trying to deceive you. But they’re no match for what is embedded deeply within you—Christ’s anointing, no less! You don’t need any of their so-called teaching. Christ’s anointing teaches you the truth on everything you need to know about yourself and him, uncontaminated by a single lie. Live deeply in what you were taught.

1 John 2:18-27; MSG

If John were standing in our midst today, reading this first of his letters, and making some application for our times, I think he would point to professing Christians  seeing anything at all as “truth” in the same category as Christ himself. And he would call any addition of such alleged truth as antichristian, from antichrists and the spirit of the antichrist.

There are plenty of examples of that today, though some seem especially prominent. I’m not sure John would name them, because I’m not sure he would want to get swept up into the political mess. What John would want to affirm is the Messianic status of Jesus as the Son of God, the God-human. And how that’s the one truth professing Christians, followers of Christ are to live by, and if necessary, die for.

John would tell us that any deviance from that is a departure from Christ himself, and from the truth that is known by believers through the Spirit. And an outright contradiction of not only who Christ is, but who we are in him. And that if we really live deeply in Christ, we’ll be able to discern what is true and what is not. Not only ourselves, but especially together, in community with others in him. In and through Jesus.

accept the reality we’re in: Christian spiritual warfare

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

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20; MSG

I think there’s truth and wisdom in what I heard years and years ago from a servant of the Lord. We as followers of Christ are children, servants and soldiers. He then likened that I think to the old stools people used to sit on to milk their cows. Three legs, so that if one of them is gone, the stool is gone we could say, as well. For different reasons I think we either want to avoid the soldier analogy, or we misapply it, pushing it into “the culture war,” or even into what is some ways is worse, actual military or paramilitary activity. Not what Christ taught, nor what Paul is teaching here.

We are not in a physical battle, but spiritual, and we’d better face that and get used to it, and act accordingly. It’s not just something we do and get it over with. We have to be ready and engaged day after day. It’s a kind of mentality, but also something beyond that. It is we can say spiritual in the sense that we are looking to God for God’s strength and help, no less, in all that God has provided for us in Christ. As The Message puts it: “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation” along with “God’s Word” and “prayer.”

All who are in Christ will sooner or later realize that they are in a spiritual battle. I remember a successful and loving pastor who seemed to suggest that we should ignore Satan. I may have well misunderstood him. Perhaps he was making the point that our focus shouldn’t be on Satan or spiritual warfare, the spiritual battle we’re in, but on Christ. And that is a good and important point. We succeed in resisting the onslaught of the enemy by getting our strength from God, and applying what God has given us in Scripture, in Christ.

There’s nothing fancy here. All we’re supposed to do is stand firm, holding our ground. It may not look pretty, and may not get us any style points. It’s not about us. We accept this difficult, heavy reality, after all, there’s really no escape from it. And we want to take it head on, not at all in our own strength, but only in the Lord’s mighty strength, the strength of his might. Again, living out all Christ has given us, all we are. Holding on. Not trying to overcome ourselves, but knowing we will overcome by standing firm through Christ. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

heart to heart honesty

An honest answer
is like a warm hug.

Proverbs 24:26; MSG

An honest answer presupposes a question. More often than not, I would suppose that questions would have to do with problems. Whatever the case, what’s called for here is honesty. And what’s most fully honest is heart to heart.

This is about telling the truth in grace, that is with kindness. And also with wisdom. How we say it is as important as what we say. And just what is said, also. Honesty doesn’t mean dumping all we perceive to be the truth on them. They might not be ready for that. Honesty means the answer at least points them in the right direction.

A truly honest answer also involves humility. We don’t pretend we’re above the fray, beyond the struggle they face. We have our own struggles, and even if it’s not precisely what they face, it will be helpful to them for us to acknowledge such.

Honesty involves not only telling the truth about the problem, possibly gently pointing out a fault. But honesty also truthfully encourages. We point out the good we see in them, give them the praise they deserve, and thank God together for God’s grace in helping them and us in our struggles. Of course sharing how God has and is helping us through our own difficulties.

Yes, an honest answer is what’s needed. That ends up being heart to heart, and like a warm hug as the Scripture says. What we all need to receive and be open to give.

first things first

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

I too often have the experience of getting through one thing or another that troubles me, finding inward peace with the freedom to think beyond troubles, only to be assailed by a new problem. I think there’s some serious wisdom in seeking kind of a monastic existence apart from the cares of this world. In my case it would be a married monastery. Yet in having to go through the extra difficulties one can grow in faith and wisdom. I suppose if I were to choose, unblinkingly I would take the former. But I am stuck in the latter, at least for now.

There’s a good word for us from Paul that relates to this, I think. Paul had plenty of serious concerns, but they were all more or less related directly to the kingdom of God. He filled his mind with good things, which is more than evident in his writings. And remember when he said in what is allegedly his last letter that he wanted the parchments and the scrolls (2 Timothy 4:13). He was a reader, or he had someone read to him due to what seems to have been an eye condition. At any rate, he kept himself occupied with truth, knowledge and beauty both from God’s revelation of Scripture, and from other sources as well, evident in the terms used here.

For me that means I need to major on what is major, do my best to take care of the rest, but not let go of what’s most essential. In fact even in addressing problems, we can do so hopefully through ways which will actually add to our well being, instead of tearing us down. While we don’t let go of what is helpful and edifying, from Scripture, and from other sources, all part of God’s revelation, as we sift though those things.

And we must act. Paul says to look at his life, and do what he does, to follow him as he follows Christ. That is so important. We need people who have learned, or at least are learning to walk the walk. To learn from them over time, just to be around them. Sadly the way it is, church life is hardly church life at all in so many good places. You have to really take initiative in looking for small groups, maybe even a house church, and develop relationships. I’ve gained a lot from that in recent years, even though it has been limited in the numbering of gatherings. Faithfulness to Christ in love for God and for others in God’s grace must be lived out, yes in our imperfect sometimes broken ways. But that must be our priority, indeed passion.

So we need both commitments: To occupy our minds with good things. And to live in the faith God gives us, following the good example of others, that we might in turn be an example. In and through Jesus.

strength from God against opposition

It’s interesting how again and again in Psalm 119, the psalmist appeals to God for strength to stand in the face of opposition. You find it sprinkled throughout that long chapter. And it’s not enough just to note that. One really needs to go through the entire chapter to get the feel of it. It’s real life with all its struggles and our responses to them. It is quite experientially oriented, as well as the emphasis on God’s word and law.

We expect to see that in many of the psalms, but may not expect it in this psalm. But it’s there, meant to help and strengthen us in the midst of opposition. Spiritual opposition of course, but also when others oppose us. We hopefully learn where we might be off. The psalmist was certainly not infallible themselves. We can see attitudes in the psalms, and in this psalm which are likely wrong even in that day, and definitely off track for us today as Jesus followers. So we need to be open to needed correction that may come from those who oppose us.

But we also can expect God to strengthen and help us as we seek to humbly take a stand for Christ, for the gospel, for mercy, justice, righteousness and truth. In and through Jesus.

reflecting a bit on America: shades of gray (no, don’t even think about bringing down the Washington Monument, etc.)

This is the fourth of July, and if you’re going to read only one blog post today, settle in on this one from Brian Zahnd, I Love You, America, But Not Like That.

There is no doubt to me that another part of the reckoning due to the enslavement and mistreatment of Africans has come for America. We are in a day when  some would see the dismantling of all of America’s cultural landmarks. Almost the entire tent coming down to be replaced with something else.

There’s no doubt that great evil was done, and that the founding father’s blindness or acceptance of slavery is plain downright wrong. There is no gray in that. And as George Will pointed out in his most recent (outstanding) book, The Conservative Sensibility, there would be no United States apart from the slavery which under girded it, and gave founding fathers the time to hammer out the foundation of this nation.

What we need to keep in mind is the whole. Not excusing any part that is wrong and actually downright evil. But remembering what was good. I shouldn’t neglect to mention the other part of what’s called America’s original sin: the stealing and killing of native Americans, “Indians.” Both African-Americans and native Americans suffer to this day.

Without trying to cover everything that should be, I just want to point out here that we need to see life as it truly is. I love biographies that are not hagiographies, but try to tell it, warts and all. That’s one thing among many others that I love about the Bible. It doesn’t try to hide the blemishes, blotches, and indeed complete failures of characters. A great case in point is David, said to be a man after God’s own heart no less. But his actions when you read the account we’re not altogether good. And what he did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah were downright evil. But do we dismiss and diss David? No we don’t. It’s not like the bad part is forgotten, because it’s not, and shouldn’t be.

Looking at American history, I can still respect men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Instead of just seeing their flaws, I can acknowledge their good points, and greatness in some respects. Ironically holding to ideals on paper, not lived out entirely in their lives.

Again, this is not to excuse what’s wrong, or say what’s past is past while failing to see the many ramifications and realities which live on to this day.

So let’s not bring down the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial, etc. If anything is idolatrous then yes, that ought to come down. But let’s leave memorials like what I just mentioned intact. We should not even be considering removing them. I’m not referring to monuments that honor those who rebelled against the United States, the Confederacy, etc. They ought to be moved into museums, no longer to be honored in public squares. We can set up with our iconic memorials, new works that remember what Africans had to endure, and the great contributions African-Americans have made to this nation. As well as memorialize the good native Americans have done.

God have mercy if any of our lives are looked at strictly in terms of good and evil. For some there is great evil, other’s great good, but for all, there’s some mixture, so that there’s a certain shade of gray. As we Christians look to the one light of the world, Jesus, to expose our own spiritual darkness, and all the spiritual darkness around us, for the good of all. In and through Jesus.