Relating to Christ

Since Christ is God, we must relate to Christ as we would relate to God.

When Christ walked the earth, we – or rather the human beings who encountered Him in those days – related to Him as a man.  However, Christ is now raised from the dead and enthroned in His kingdom.  We no longer relate to Him as a man, we relate to Him as King of the universe – God Almighty.  As a man, Christ was visible; as God, He is invisible.

How do we relate to a person who is invisible?  Imagine that you are in a room with many people.  There is someone with whom you want to speak and you know for a fact that he is in that room.  Further imagine, though, that you are blind.  Now, how are you going to connect with that person?  Do you stumble through the room groping in the darkness…or do you stand still, call his name, and let him find you?  Surely, you do the latter. It’s far more efficient.

Knowing a person’s name – especially if you’re blind – is the key to finding that person.  God – that is, Christ – is invisible to us.  Therefore, the key to relating to Him, connecting with Him, is knowing His name.  That’s why prayer is “calling on the name of the Lord.”  You are standing still, calling His name, and letting Him come to you.  It is your speaking His name that initiates the process.

Just think: you are on a first name basis with the Creator of all things!  Worldly people take pride in being on a first name basis with people who are considered important in this world, but who is more important than God?  If it is desirable to know people in high places who will return your call, how much more desirable it is to know the person in the highest place of all…and have him return your call?

When you call on the name of the Lord, you are doing more than just seeking His attention; you are making a claim on what His name implies.  For example, consider what is implied by the name of the Lord from just this one passage in the Bible:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
–  Isaiah 9:6

When Christ was a child lying in the manger and cared for by Mary and Joseph, He was not able to “counsel” anyone – much less “wonderfully counsel” them.  In His exalted state as king of the kingdom of God, however, He is well able to live up to all those names.  And when you call on those names, you are making claims on their meaning.  God is not a promoter of false and misleading names; if Messiah is to have those names, He must live up to what they each imply.  And as there are many other passages that describe the name of the Lord, there are many other purposes in our lives which He is willing and able to fill.  Christ the Lord is our all in all!

Summing up, we relate to Christ first and foremost by accepting that His name is a true and reliable indicator of who He is and what He does.  Since He is raised from the dead and no longer in the flesh, we can no longer see Him with physical eyes; we must trust in His name.  He does not disappoint.

The Necessity of Self

Yesterday I wrote about the inadequacy of self, and today I want to write about the necessity of self.  These two concepts are not in opposition to each other; they are both true, and are complementary.  Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.

In the beginning, God made apple trees from nothing.  Ever since then, however, He has required us to plant an apple seed before He will produce an apple tree.  Therefore, if we want apples, we must plant a seed…which will produce a tree…which will produce apples.

God has given you your own free will.  You can make decisions.  You have choices.  You must live your own life; no one can live it for you – not even God.  If you want a life with God, therefore, you must plant yourself in Him.  If you abide in Him like a seed abides in the soil, then you will bear fruit for Him like a seed bears fruit for us.  This is your faith, and without faith it is impossible to please Him.  With faith, all things are possible.  Why are all things possible with faith?  Because with God all things are possible and it is faith that keeps us connected to Him.

It is therefore by faith that we take up our cross daily and follow Him.  For apart from an abiding trust in His goodness and power, what sense does it make to suffer for doing what is right?  Jesus did not endure the cross because He was a glutton for punishment.  Rather, He believed in the resurrection He had been promised…even though no one had ever experienced or seen a resurrection like that before.  Bearing a cross only makes sense if there is something of great value on the other side of it.

God can do great things in your life and in your family’s life, but only if you keep yourself firmly planted in His presence.  Those who avoid His presence have no power to keep His commandments.  In His presence, you can do everything He tells you.  And this will lead – through occasional and sometimes bitter hardship – to blessing after blessing.

The Inadequacy of Self

Once you actually understand that Jesus wants us to live life as He did – taking up our cross daily and following Him – you come to a profound and disturbing realization: you realize that you are incapable of living such a life.  Utterly incapable.

Who could possibly live life as Jesus did?  Who is adequate to live with such selfless devotion to God and man?  The good that we wish to do, we do not; and the evil that we wish not to do, we do.  Only the man who has never seriously attempted to imitate Jesus fails to appreciate just how impossible that task is.

What then do we do?  We recognize that with God, what is impossible becomes possible.  As we’ve heard, “With God, all things are possible.”  Therefore, let me explain what “with God” means.

Can you turn an apple seed into an apple tree that bears apples?  No, but you can plant a seed, water it, and nurture it.  From that seed and your care, God will give you a tree that bears fruit.  This process is a partnership – a partnership of God and man.

Obedience to God requires just such a partnership.  That is, if you want to succeed in obeying Him, you must cultivate your personal relationship with Him.  You cannot obey Him at a distance; it has to be up close and personal.  This closeness is not optional.  It means planting yourself in Him so that you might bear fruit for Him.  And you must, day by day, keep yourself planted in Him.  For if you remove from ground the apple seed you have planted, it will stop growing…and it will not bear fruit.

You plant yourself in God by trusting that He is, and that He rewards those who seek Him.  This connects you with God the way an apple seed connects with the soil.  In this connection, you will find the strength to keep His commandments.  And in keeping His commandments you will find life.

If you doubt that He is, or if you doubt that those who seek Him find it a rewarding experience, you will find yourself inadequate to keep His commandments and you will not find life.

Therefore, believe Him and don’t doubt Him.  Accept and dwell on thoughts that increase your trust in Him; reject thoughts that cause you to doubt Him.  Live close to Him – not at a distance.  Live in Him and with Him – not just for Him.  Without His presence, you cannot obey Him; with His presence, however, you can do whatever He tells you.  It’s that simple.

In Christ, To Live Is To Love

If you are taking up your cross daily and following Christ, then it will seem perfectly fitting to pray along these lines:

…Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done…
–  Matthew 6:9-10 (emphasis added)

The emphasis in the Lord’s prayer is on what is His, not on what is ours.  We are doing things for His sake, not our own.  That we means are living life for His sake, not our own.  This is the love of God – genuine selflessness.

If you’ll focus closely on the words of these initial petitions in the Lord’s prayer and slightly rearrange the word order in the first line, you’ll see even more clearly the consistent perspective on which the Lord’s prayer is based.  It is the perspective of love, the kind of love Christ demonstrated for us.

Your name be hallowed
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
– Matthew 6:9-10 (emphasis added)

For this reason, the apostle Paul could write:

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
–  2 Corinthians 5:14-15

We no longer live for ourselves, but rather for Him.

For this reason also, the apostle Peter could write:

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
–  1 Peter 4:1-2

We no longer live for our lusts, but rather for His will.

There’s nothing inherently good about suffering, but suffering for doing what is right is redemptive because it is the way of Christ.  It brings the blessing of peace and joy to our souls, and simultaneously leavens the lump of family.

The Way of the Cross

As I said in the post Love Hurts a week or two ago, we do not need instruction on how to love people who love us.  It comes naturally.  What is as unnatural as a golf swing is loving those who give us a hard time.  For this we need instruction…and Jesus – like no one else – gives it to us.

Jesus gives us this instruction most dramatically in the way He lost His life – by a cross.  For this reason He says:

…If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
–  Luke 9:23

We think of the crucifixion as a once in a lifetime, if not a once in an eternity, event for God.  Truth is, the cross is emblematic of His daily experience with the human race.  We are His “cross to bear.”  We whine and complain; we’re ungrateful.  We’re faithless and disobedient.  We would wear out the patience of any human authority in a day or two, and it’s only His divine patience that keeps Him interested in us.  Therefore, our putting Christ on the cross is intended to demonstrate how we as the human race have daily – even constantly – been putting God’s love for us to the test.  Jesus’ crucifixion demonstrates for all time how God’s love withstands that test.

God wants us to love Him and each other this much, too.  The amazing thing is that He never even told us to love each other this much until He came down here to live as one of us and do it Himself.  The Law of Moses did not require the kind of love that Jesus did.  In other words, God didn’t preach a cross-bearing love until He Himself came and practiced it in human form.  As Paul says of Him:

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
–  Hebrews 5:8

Likewise, you and I learn obedience from the things we suffer.  Therefore, we don’t pay attention to Christ so that we can learn how to love those who are doing what we want; we pay attention to Christ because people – even in our own family – can be very, very disappointing.  He seems to know how to handle this.  Do you know anyone who would be a better source on the subject of how to love those who are unlovely?

Daily Prayer

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He gave them a form of prayer (called The Lord’s Prayer) which implied that it was to be a daily exercise.  Here’s the specific part to which I’m referring:

Give us this day our daily bread.
–  Matthew 6:11 (emphasis added)

You’ll also recall that the words Jesus gave encouraged a “we” rather than an “I” focus:

Our Father…Give us this day…And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil…
–  Matthew 6:9-13 (emphasis added)

These features make the Lord’s Prayer perfectly suited to our desire to be a redemptive force (an uplifting factor) in our respective families.  This prayer encourages us to pray daily with a focus beyond our individual selves.

God created us to live in community.  We are born to two parents who will need to nurture us for roughly twenty years before we’re ready to stand as independent adults.  And, by the time we are independent adults, we’ll want to marry and start families of our own.  Thus the cycle begins anew with community being the central thread – marriage being the transition from one family to another.  Thus the Lord’s Prayer shapes the daily life of a believer so that it benefits those around him.

The final petition in the Lord’s prayer is:

…deliver us from evil…
–  Matthew 6:13

This petition goes to the very heart of a Christian life: overcoming evil with goodness.  You drive evil out of your family’s life by first driving it out of your own life.  As Jesus also said:

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
–  Matthew 7:3-5

Therefore, when you ask God to deliver you from evil, focus first and foremost on getting it out of your own heart.  If you succeed there, you can keep it out of your life that day.  And, as a consequence, the leavening of the lump of family will be proceeding as a matter of course – often in ways you yourself might not immediately recognize.

Enemy Number One

As explained in yesterday’s post (Know Your Enemies), praying for our enemies begins with praying for the members of our own family.  Jesus of Nazareth brought to light the radical idea that evil isn’t something to be avoided “out there” as much as it is something to be avoided “in here.”  That is, Jesus taught us that the central problem of life is evil creeping into our own hearts.  Therefore, if you want to keep evil out of your family, you’ve got to start with keeping it out of your own heart.  Otherwise, you yourself are the biggest enemy.

The way to keep evil out of your own heart is to accept the fact that Jesus sees everything you think, say, and do…all day, every day…and to adjust what you think, say, and do based on this reality…one day at a time.

You can’t change the world if you can’t change your family, and you can’t change your family if you can’t change yourself.  You can’t change yourself overnight, but you can change yourself day by day.  By yourself, change is impossible…but with Jesus all things are possible.

Little children sometimes struggle with the idea that baths need to be taken daily.

Family Is the Foundational Focus

In the Ten Commandments we are told to honor father and mother (#5) and to avoid adultery (#7).  Heeding these two commandments makes for strong families.

Why is it important for families to be strong?  Because families are the atoms of which a nation is comprised.  Destabilize the atom and you destabilize the object of which it is a part; destabilize the family and you destabilize the nation of which it is a part.

It is for good reason that our elders said, “Charity begins at home.”  It shouldn’t end there, but it surely should begin there.  There are many “social justice warriors” on the march in the world today whose family lives are in ruins.  Let these people save their own families and then we might be interested in how they can save the rest of us.

Don’t worry that putting family first will make you uncaring about others because every strong family is concerned about the families around it.  You make your family strong so that your family can make others strong – or at the every least not be needy toward other families.  The first and foremost way to love a neighbor is not to be a burden to him.  That is, before you try to do anything good for him, make sure you are not doing anything bad to him.

Family is the foundation.  Save the family and you save the world.

Jesus Knew His Limitations

During his earthly life, Jesus never traveled outside the confines of ancient Israel.  A trip from one end of that region to the other was less than 200 miles.  Moreover, his ministry in that territory focused on Jews; he had to be pressed to spend any time with Gentiles.  This limited focus – limited both geographically and ethnically – wasn’t because Jesus didn’t care about Jews outside of Israel, or because he had no concern for Gentiles, but rather because he had to live within the limitations that his earthly life brought.  He did not take the world on his shoulders until he had shoulders big enough to hold it.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus did talk about his plans for Jews beyond Israel and for Gentiles the world over, but it was only after his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven that he released his disciples to take his message beyond Jews in Israel.  From heaven, Jesus could support the disciples wherever they went and show his love for the whole world.  While he was still on earth, Jesus lived within his human limitations.

You and I must learn to live within our limitations, too.  If while on earth Jesus was limited to what one human body can do, certainly we are limited.  As he had to eat and sleep, so do we.  Even the Good Samaritan was not patrolling all the roads of the world; he just helped the man he found on his way to whatever he was going to do in Jericho.

You cannot save the world, and you’ll wear yourself out trying.  Moreover, you’ll overlook the human needs in your midst if you’re looking too hard for them in the far corners of the world.  One of the burdens that broadcast and social media bring with them is news about all sorts of people in need we are in no position to help.  Help those you can help…so that maybe they can help the ones you can’t.  That’s what Jesus did.  This starts with your own family.

God is aware of your limitations.  You, too, be aware of them.  Do all the good you can…within them.

“A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief” for More Than One Reason

Jesus was not just “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” for his own sake.  Because he loved his neighbor, he was burdened with their sorrows and griefs as well as his own.  He cared about the difficulties that other people had to face.  Like the Good Samaritan who interrupted his own journey to help a wounded man lying in a ditch, Jesus had more on his mind than himself.

Do we have more on our minds than ourselves today?

A preoccupation with self is a prescription for depression…even if you are praying!  A preoccupation with Christ, however, is a prescription for the path out of depression.  There are other ways out of depression, but none so sure or as thorough.