Just from Sin and Self to Cease

by Alexei Laushkin

One of my favorite hymns is ‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus.‘ Surprisingly simple and to the point. A fairly simple refrain too: ‘O for grace to trust Him more,’ and ‘Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him.’

Trust, love, grace.

Dwelling and being. Simple, straightforward, almost childlike. Not like a meaty hymn or things that are equally true of God, but just pure and to the point and life giving if we take the time to dwell in it. Consider Matthew 18:3:

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

There’s something about the life of faith that has the quality of simplicity, peace, rest, and non-complexity. A profound beauty that enters into our lives of chaos and busyness and says-be still. That says to us in a decisive way, no not these things, but these things.

You see that’s what the delight and joy of children do to you. They point out your world and invite you into theirs. Theirs which is a simple, pure, delight in being in your presence, or playing outside, or just finding something funny, as if for the very first time. As a busy adult, entering into the life of a child, is jarring and very freeing. Try it sometime.

You’ll find a simplicity that pushes back against the complexities of life that to often determine the pace of our days as adults.

It’s echoed best in these lines from the hymn:

Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

Taking life, taking rest, taking joy, taking peace. It’s almost like entering into the quality of the beauty and refreshment of what it must have been like when the world was first made. Those early days in the garden. We’d want to lose ourselves in that kind of peace and wonder.

That kind of peace is an aspect of faith. It’s the aspect less tied to sin and more tied to self.

Open to New Possibilities 

Turning from self is perhaps one of the most difficult disciplines and dilemmas that Christians have faced in every age, but is particularly poignant today.

The American life is filled with kinds of promises, kinds of means of salvation, kinds of good news. If you work hard, play by the rules, you should be given a chance at a good life. It’s a great promise, but when it becomes an idol it really can drive things in unfortunate ways.

God’s presence entering into our lives can sometimes feel like a strong wind. Think of how God used the wind to part the Red Sea.The work of the kingdom can feel like a great wind, drawing us from our own-selves and complexity into something entirely different.

One response to this wind is to be overwhelmed, another response is a kind of childlike awe. That quality of humble delight is often much better suited for those moments where we are being pushed beyond our comfort zone into something much healthier.

This requires a different inner expectation. An expectation open to new possibilities, open to how God might use the circumstances of our lives for purposes we didn’t really fully imagine for ourselves. That’s an aspect of living by faith too.

God invites us to sit at his feet like Mary, to learn of his ways, to understand his purposes, to enter into the mystery which was the life of Paul’s, the mystery which was the revelation given to the Apostle John, of God working with us in real time, and making himself known to us in simple, small, but steady ways.

Like Moses encountering God at the burning bush, he didn’t know the God who would work through him to rescue God’s people out of Egypt, or the God that would speak with him as a friend, the intimacy and trust wasn’t there yet. Before Moses could speak to God and had his face shine brightly from the encounter, he had the bush. And the God of that burning bush began to re-orient Moses.

Moses needed a faith that was open to his expectations of his life changing. God met him as he was and gave signposts as he worked with Moses.

And the aspect of faith that is ok with change, is childlike.

It’s the simply taking, life, joy, and rest from God. It’s one way we know God is with us, God as Emmanuel, being open to our plans and ideas changing, because God is anchoring down the aspects of us that need anchoring for the journey ahead.

This hymn like the last one I covered, is just a profound and simple reminder, how trust and re-orienting ourselves to the living God produces some marvelous moments of joy and peace. And that childlike pleasure in the love a child has for his parent is available to us in the faith.

That’s also an aspect of journeying. Just enjoying who God is and how he works. A relief from the weights and toils and a foretaste of the kingdom.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 

 

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Relational Commitment

We live in an age that does not have a very good concept or grasp of Christian commitment when it comes to loving our neighbor as our self. We interpret these words to mean that we should treat each other well not that we should commit to each other whether the relationship is going well or not. We tolerate each other, we seldom repeatedly seek each others good or take the time to heal misunderstandings or divisions. Ours is a polite culture that values not inconveniencing others unnecessarily.

Jesus says that those that follow his teachings are his sister, brother, and mother. Those who are deeply committed to Christian life are family. The new testament writers often use language reserved for family to describe their heartache, prayers, and hopes for the communities the Lord has focused them on.

Even the word family can be problematic to describe commitment in our present cultural moment. Many people come from families where love and warmth were not readily or consistently available. When as people we are robbed of the experience of joy, love, and commitment we are left with ourselves. Thereby we let our own wants and interests rule why we stay in certain friendships or get to know certain people but not others. We are robbed of the understanding of Christian love and commitment without being left with any way to navigate or feel comfortable with those types of relationships.

In this way the sins of the parents or grandparents can easily be passed down for multiple generations. Cruelty and unkindness can disproportionately alter our understandings of the sort of life Jesus prays for us to have.

In the Gospel of John we hear the words that Jesus prays that we would be one as He and the Father are one. That same level of unity and commitment. It is a powerful prayer that ought to have some earthly connotations, especially when we think of loving specific neighbors and friends.

Obviously this type of commitment has to be mutual. While one person may consistently love and care for another and while Christians are called to be extraordinarily patient and persistent, in some ways without reciprocity a stable relationship cannot be built. There has to be a level of discretion when you are encouraging loving kindness and commitment while knowing that many may have very little interest on what you are saying or doing. Above all forgiveness and care has to be consistently practiced if any sense of Christian depth of community is to be realized.

Transformation has to occur persistently in oneself to more fully live into the command ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’

Is such a thing even possible in the present time? Yes, but it is rare. Trans-formative but rare. In an age where the bonds of fidelity, trust, and care are so easily broken and transgressed it is deeply counter-cultural and difficult to push things in a reverse direction. But with God, all things are possible, and it does not take huge numbers for God’s people to triumph and transform the moment at hand.

 

On Marriage 

This is not a post on the worth of persons. This is a post on marriage and celibacy as two main commitments one can make as a Christian.

Marriage is meant for holiness and wholeness. Holiness as we die to self to make room for our spouse and wholeness as we let the Trinity make up the difference in our human weakness. In essence to be the tie that binds what we in our own nature would easily break. For the Christian, Christ sustains and anchors marriage.

For the Christian all of life is transformation to Christ. The two main means of that come in the form of marriage or celibacy and both require a level of sobriety and commitment.

The very nature of marriage forces one to mature and grow as you take on serious and challenging responsibilities especially through the joy of children, the care of parents in old age, and siblings as the case may arise.

Marriage is much more than sex, but it is also the holy discipline and culmination of sex for men and women especially.

Christians have a distinct vision for marriage and a distinct and holy vision for vows of celibacy.

These are the two main choices presented to us. We go from childhood into marriage or celibacy and both have very distinctive holy and life giving implications.

If you can’t envision celibacy as having its own standing and virtue than probably marriage is the more natural path to take. But I would warn the reader that as we mature in Christ celibacy is actually a freedom for holiness and service to a wider and bigger mission field, not always, but as a general rule yes, especially for the well disciplined in faith.

As far as serving and being married the level of maturity and Christlikeness in the household comes as a first order priority, before any other kingdom minded service. The first duty is always those permanent commitments.

For the celibate person the duty is always first to Christ. This being the case there is generally more freedom, bandwidth, and creativity to serve, but encouragement is often needed more fully to sustain this kind of a holy life in this present age.

Encouragement is obviously needed for all Christians, but especially in the contemporary western world our selfish tendencies make sustaining Christian mission a strain especially as it relates to having a community that is able to support this life.

A Present Challenge to Celibacy 

The present day church has largely lost its notions of celibacy except for specific kinds of monastic and priestly orders. Lay celibacy is not deeply supported except if the lay person becomes a full time professional. A reinvigoration of celibacy in the life of the present day church would be significant and transformative and would likely lead to substantial lay missions and kingdom minded priorities.

Some Challenges to Marriage

Specific Christian notions of marriage are also challenged. Christians entering into marriage should not do so lightly and should be taught the seriousness and rigor of the family prayer life, the support of children, and the unique challenges that come with God binding two different people together with the intent of lifelong fidelity, perminance, service, and holiness.

Whether married or celibate, the Christian has a unique responsibility to practice generosity, a modesty of career advancement, and to live out the teachings of Christ in a more challenging age. It’s an amazing and wonderous adventure and regardless of theology or practice we are called to strive with Christ as we live out faith.

 

And The Second is Like It

 And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39, NIV)

If you’re like me, you likely read past this part of scripture. Love, the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. You read the Lord part and skip or at least abbreviate the neighbor part.

Photo by Lauren Manning used through flickr creative commons

Photo by Lauren Manning used through flickr creative commons

The truth is our Christian culture is geared towards ME+GOD not as much geared towards ME+OTHERS. Don’t get me wrong. We want community, we want connection, but we often don’t find it. Why is that?

If we really believe that the second is like it, we have to work through loving others in a bit more of a complex way then I just want to be loved and known.

If prayer is to be transmuted into action, then this Trinitarian faith which informs all our praying must also be manifest in our daily life. Immediately before reciting the Creed in the Eucharistic Liturgy, we say these words: ‘Let us love one another, so that we may with one mind confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.’ Note the words ‘so that’. A genuine confession of faith in the Triune God can only be made only by those who, after the  likeness of the Trinity, show love mutually towards each other. There is an integral connection between our love for one another and our faith in the Trinity: the first is a precondition for the second, and in its turn the second gives full strength and meaning to the first. (The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware)

If one commandment is like the other, it would only make sense that the two are connected. If our relationship with God seems stilted or not as robust as we would hope, maybe a good place to start is our relationships with our neighbors.

Integral to faith is repentance, communion, and fellowship. Repentance is tied to communion and fellowship. A lack of repentance and reconciliation in relationship is wicked.

Have you ever had the friend you had no desire to be around? You know the one who bugs the heck out of you? Maybe instead of excusing our feelings of contempt it would be better to confess them. Better to confess contempt then to begin to mistreat our fellow neighbor.

So much of scripture and the kingdom is opened up when we focus on the neighborly command. Love does no harm to a neighbor. The forgiveness of the servant to those who owe us less than we owe God.

Perhaps it is our relationships with family and friends that tells us more about our faith than our private devotions to the Lord. A public show of faith, even if it is done in private for an audience of one (yourself), does not make one righteous before God.

Self-love is the negation of love. From Descent into Hell by Charles William:

self-love is hell; for, carried to its ultimate conclusion, self-love signifies the end of all joy and meaning. Hell is not other people; hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.

We are called to reflect the love of the Trinity in our relationships. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, Jesus prayed that we would share in the love and fullness of Life.

If we believe that we are to love God with our heart, mind, strength, and soul then let us also believe that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves.

May the Lord convict and free us to love, repent, forgive, and be in fellowship as much as it is in our power to do so.

Blessings,

Alexei