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Discussion on I John 3:11-24

We talked about the many paradoxes of the Christian life. For me, these paradoxes continue to challenge. One of the most prevalent is the concept put forth in verse 14, that we are moving from “death to life” versus moving from “life to death.” Death is the dark time of our souls. But there are also “small deaths” along the way. The small deaths are still part of the sanctification of our souls, our journey to light (and life). The Christian Way is all about change (within and without).

We then moved into an animated conversation about “righteous anger” (story of Cain & Abel). Is there such a thing? We know that unchecked anger can become bitterness and from bitterness and unforgiveness comes hatred. That emotional path is never good. And yet, we know many stories of God’s righteous anger and even Jesus, who toppled the “money-changers” in the temple, had righteous anger. Can’t believers have the same?

In the end, we agreed that we would not be very good at purely righteous anger. Being human, our tendency would be to nurture that anger and allow it greater power within. However, if we could take that anger, birthed in some kind of evil or inequity, and channeled it into righteous action, then anger would transform. We would be protected from anger’s negative effects and move into becoming change agents for God.

But we must also beware of judging others and saying we can have righteous anger toward others because they break the law. Don’t we also break the law? It is not for us to say one sin is greater than another. Law breaking is law breaking until it moves into lawlessness (willful, consistent law breaking).

We then discussed “sacrificial love.” And I couldn’t help asking, what is the difference between regular love and sacrificial love? Should there be a difference? Finally, it seemed that there is a distinctness. Sacrificial love carries a greater cost to self. We leave our comfort zone when we move into the realm of sacrificial love. This is not an easy arena because, so often, in this type of love, there is great potential for abuse. That is, the one loving sacrificially, may actually become an emotional door mat. But we don’t believe this is God’s intent. Sacrificial love does not mean “losing self.” Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. His suffering was expected. He laid down his life intentionally.

We really stretched ourselves here as we considered all of those difficult verses like “turning the other cheek” and “giving our tunic in addition to our cloaks” [Luke 6:29] and laying down our lives for another. There are people examples who have embraced true sacrificial loving and living. They have given up everything, vowing lives of poverty and casting aside selfish ambitions. But we confessed, we struggle with these. We know in our heads and hearts what might be the better way but our contemporary lifestyle and culture has a powerful hold, to one degree or another.

There is only one thing to face it authentically: confess the truth, and go from there. In the meantime, we can work the basics: care for widows, orphans, and those in prison. That’s a mandate we cannot ignore. The rest will come incrementally.

Our class time was running short after this intense conversation about the sacrificial life. Briefly, we discussed the final questions about verse 20 (” . . . God is greater than our hearts”) asking if this is a phrase of comfort or challenge. We decided it’s both. Mostly comfort, but then, in the face of sin, our knowing God would speak into our hearts (conscience) to draw us away (knowing us better than we know ourselves).

And lastly, it is upon us to obey God in two important areas: love the Lord our God with heart, soul & mind; and our neighbor as ourselves. If we work these two arenas, then there will be confession and forgiveness automatically. The prayers will come from the heart. But, what about the prayers that appear unanswered: prayers for healing and life when illness and death threaten ourselves and our loved ones? Again, there are no easy answers.

My personal belief is that we continue to pray and place before God the desires of our heart until those desires change. And along the way, we must remember, that all prayer is answered but not always to our personal satisfaction. God is efficient. There is no action, no change, no death, no life, no illness, when it is covered in prayer that it isn’t also used of God. That is our hope which cannot be seen. That is where faith grows through loss, pain, and sorrow. That is where a new seed is planted.

Remember the paradox: death into life.

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Discussion of I John 3:3 – 3:15

We began our discussion with a great discussion about HOPE. What does hope look like and how is it different from faith? We talked about the future-ness of hope and, unlike faith which feels like it is more in the now, hope depends on something that trust will happen. Hope is change. Sometimes, we undermine our hope because of our fear of change. Hope has expectations, but it should not include our own definition/description of the outcome. Our hope must be in Christ alone, not in “healing” per se or whatever it is that we dream for our future. Hope lives in the light and flourishes.

Other aspects that build hope or readiness (as in the parable of the wise & foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13), risk (as in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30), and action (as in the parable of the sheep & goats in Matthew 25:31-46).

We then discussed the differences between lawlessness and “breaking the law.” It’s a small difference but the point for me is that lawlessness is ongoing willful breaking of the law to the point when the law is no longer relevant versus the “breaking of a law” on occasion or with knowledge of sin and eventual confession & repentance. We must recognize sin before we can confess it.

But, if we do know about sin and Jesus came/died to “take away our sin,” why are we still sinning? Many reasons: denial, willfulness, lack of motivation, childishness, fear, to name a few. This is all part of the process and ultimately sanctification.

There was some serious heart searching as we wrestled with 3:6, 8-10. It is so easy to allow the voice of condemnation to wash over us and to allow Satan to beat us up with these words. “You’re not a child of God, you still sin, you aren’t worthy, etc.” But I don’t believe Jesus uses this voice. All I can say is that “while we sin” we are opening the door to relationship with evil. And in those moments, we are stepping away from the safety of the Father. However, because God is loving and kind and forgiving, the light can shine in that place as we confess. Again and again and again. And our hope (remember hope?) is that the times between darkness and light become shorter as we are strengthened within by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

That is God’s see within us that is growing a tree of righteousness — sometimes slower, sometimes faster. Our hidden sins are being brought to the light. Our flaws being repaired. Our roots grow deeper, our branches grow stronger. How can we know how we are doing? An inner compass… pointing to True North.

As we live and grow and become more like Christ, the pressures from without (the world) actually may become more stronger. Right living points up the other other. But, if our actions are indiscernible from others who do not know the Christ, there is no “tension.”

We know that love is described in I Cor 13:4-8 … but it’s such a long “punch list.” It feels overwhelming. How do I keep in mind to be “patient” today (in love) and then kind while I am not envying, boasting, or acting prideful. Oh, and don’t forget, no rudeness today and stop being so self-engaged and downright angry or keeping a long list of grievances.

And yet, we know that we know that we know… love is probably THE most powerful force in the universe. Can we try it? Can we love someone this week and make a difference?