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.

 

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On Regular Repentance

If you are like me and worship in a liturgical tradition you likely say a prayer of repentance every Sunday. And more likely than not it begins something like this:

Most merciful God we confess that we have sinned against you

Even if you don’t worship in a liturgical tradition you are likely familiar with the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner

Repentance involves a turning away from sin, evil, and death. To turn is to begin a process of change and reconciliation with the Trinity. To go from illness and into health.

So what role does repentance play in our lives? The more I’ve thought about this and slowly practiced it (I’m not always ready to admit my actual sins let alone be convicted about my sins of omission or the things I ought to have done but have not) the more I realize my regular need for it. In fact, the more I can practice repentance regularly the more easily I can recall sin and be reconciled to God with my ever wandering heart.

My basic point is not that profound. Repentance is more than a Sunday affair and repentance is not abstract it is specific. If you’re proud like me pray for mercy from God so that you might actually turn from sin.

May the Lord be with you today,
Alexei

Hardness of Heart

This is probably one of the tougher things to write about, because there are no easy answers to a hard heart. In some circumstances you may be able to recognize it in yourself, and if you are unfortunate enough to experience hardness of heart when it comes from another there may be very little that you can do about it.

Scripture has lots to say about the heart, not least of which comes these words:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Photo by Mark McQuitty used through flickr creative commons

Photo by Mark McQuitty used through flickr creative commons

There are warning signs that a heart is hardening; judgment, callousness, rudeness, disregard, frustration, and more. Whenever you get to the point of wanting to dismiss another, you are getting one step closer to a hard heart.

Hard heart’s are notoriously hard to break. Once an injury and impression is firmly settled it is hard to dislodge, the other has been firmly established. Even if a peacemaker comes along to try and reconcile a hard hearted person to another they will be met with the fiercest and most irrational of resistance.

Hard heartedness is a prerequisite for all wars, all lawsuits, and all disintegrating families. A lack of compassion is the catalyst for countless sorrows, and worst yet the diminishing possibility that any wrongs will ever be made right.

There’s a reason that Pharaoh’s heart is made hard. For hardness of heart can not be overcome by willing the mind to do the right thing. Hard hearts work especially well among the proud and well educated, because hard hearts are the last thing people of youth, means, and status expects to find in themselves.

A hard heart is a deceitful thing often leaving the person to whom it afflicts unable and unwilling to change.

So who can rescue us from the misery of the miserly heart? Only Jesus himself. Only the Spirit of God can help us repent and change. May the Spirit of God be able to convict you today if you are going down the road of the callous heart.

Can you think of a circumstance where you may have come across a hard heart in a relationship? Are you able to recognize your own hard heart habits? Invite Jesus to convict you of any hard heartedness today.

May you always retain a heart of compassion,
Alexei

I Renounce, the World, the Flesh, and the Devil

Our modern world has an odd obsession with the spiritual realm. We are fascinated by dark spiritual themes, everything from the more fantastical zombies and vampires to the practice of exorcism, demon possession, and things that go bump in the night.

It’s a pretty strange thing if you think about it, but interestingly enough the Christian church has a pretty solid response to this sort of spiritual evil.

Actually in every Lord’s Prayer, we pray “deliver us from evil.” And it may surprise many Christians to remember that in Jesus’ prayer in the gospel of John we find these words from chapter 17, verse 15:

My prayer is not that you take them out of this world but that you protect them from the evil one

Christianity doesn’t ignore manifestations of evil in the spiritual realm, but neither does Christianity give them an unhealthy focus.

Russian Orthodoxy teaches that a Christian who regularly repents, takes communion, and is in regular fellowship will never be harmed by evil spiritual manifestations.

Christians often recite “I renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil” during baptism and at times membership confirmation.

Christians don’t shy away from the inescapable spiritual dimensions of life but we focus on the primary things: repentance to Christ, communion with Christ, and fellowship with the bride of Christ (term used for members of the church).

How does this teaching help you think about the spiritual realm? Why do you think repentance is so key to the Christian life? How can you enter into fellowship with another Christian today?

May The Lord bless you and protect you in each and every way,

Alexei

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