Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Least

Jesus told a story about a crowd of people, standing before the throne of God, waiting for judgment.

God told one group, they would be banished from his Kingdom, because when he was hungry, they did not feed him. When he was thirsty, they did not give him a drink. When he was sick, they did not take care of him. When he was lonely, or in prison, they did not visit him.

God told another group, they would inherit from his Kingdom, because when he was hungry, they did feed him. When he was thirsty, they did give him a drink. When he was sick, they did take care of him. When he was lonely, or in prison, they did visit him.

And both groups asked him, when did any of this ever happen? (One woulds think that if an individual found the King hungry, and cooked a burger for him, one would remember.) And the God answered, "When you loved/served the least of my brothers, you loved/served me."

God makes loving and serving one another -- especially the least -- equivalent to loving and serving him.

But who are the least?

The helpless are part of the least. They can do nothing for you. They cannot repay, or reciprocate, for any kindness given to them.

Enemies are another part of the least. Someone who could reciprocate a kindness given, but if they had a choice, would give back evil.

Law breakers are also part of the least. They perform acts of rebellion against the order of their society. They promote a breakdown of peace and safety.

And in regard to the Kingdom of God, we are the least.

From the beginning, we were all intended to be part of God's Kingdom, God's family. The first people chose to live apart from God. They broke their allegiance to the Father, cast of their family ties, and lost their citizenship.

And we all begin in that state. We continue to break God's law. We defy God's rule, and are hindrances to his way. At times, we will deliberately choose to act in ways that advance the kingdom of the enemy. And when we wake up, and realize the emptiness of our lives and actions, we cannot change our hearts. We cannot change our standing before God.

A prime example of helplessness is a human infant. An infant cannot feed or protect itself. Unlike animals, who can walk within a short period of time, sometimes only hours after birth, an infant may take a year. The only reason infants survive is the almost obsessive devotion of their mothers.

We are helpless. We cannot restore our relationship with God. We cannot restore our design. We cannot fill our hearts with true fuel. So, our Father chooses to fil the role of mother, with the same devotion. He restored the relationship. He brought us back into the family. He fills our hearts with that true fuel.

If we break his law, we work against his Kingdom. We are rebels ... perhaps without conscious intention. But we live in ways that damage the effectiveness, the image, and the reputation of God's Kingdom.

We are least in the Kingdom. And God fed, clothed, cared for, and visited each of us. And God's standard is that the children imitate the Father.

Who are the least to us? That homeless man begging on the corner. That driver who cuts you off on the Interstate. Nowadays, maybe it is that man living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Whoever it is, God wants us to treat the least, like he treats the least.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Choosing Jesus ...

When we give our allegiance to Jesus, we become a citizen of God’s kingdom, a member of God’s family, and a friend of the King. We learn that the world is broken. It does not work as God intended. And we are broken. But we look forward to God’s new world. And we rejoice as we consider living in that world, which is not broke, but does function as God intended.

And when the world expresses itself in this broken, ungodly way, we can also rejoice. Problems and trials teach us to endure. We learn to stay faithful. We learn what is important.

And because we practice what is important, we develop character. We slowly become what God designed us to be.

And because of this transformation, we eagerly expect salvation in all its phases. We expect to be delivered from the penalty of sin. We expect to be delivered from the power of sin. We expect to be delivered from the presence of sin.

And God will deliver meet all our expectations. Living as God designed is the best for us. And he delights in our transformation, and our fellowship, because he loves us. His Spirit resides in our inner core, to facilitate that transformation, and fellowship, and to communicate his love.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Serving from God's Love

I have been reading a book (The Five Stones), and in one part, the writers were the story about Jesus getting baptized by John. In the story, Jesus rises from the water, the Holy Spirit rests on him in the form of a dove, and a voice is heard. “You are my son. I love you. I am pleased with you.”

The writers point out this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He hasn’t preached a sermon, healed any diseases, or performed any miracles. Yet, the Father proclaims his relationship, his favor, and his approval of Jesus. The Father gives loves and approval based on identity, not performance.

Recently, I discussed here 70 different parts of a person’s identity in Christ. 70 different things that God proclaims as true about each of his children. They are true, because God proclaims them to be, not necessarily because we walk in them.

Jesus served from his identity, and God’s love and approval. The writers pointed out that people often serve to gain love and approval. Like Jesus, any of God’s children, once they have given their allegiance to him, begin walking with him in his love and approval. We do not need to work for it. We have it already.

What amazed me was the tremendous freedom Jesus walked in. He had God’s total love and approval. That meant he could go all in, and roll the dice without fear. Jesus had no fear!! Of failure. Of rejection.

God’s children need to learn their identity, and learn how to walk in it. The heart to obey, and the willingness to take risks for God, increases as we learn who we truly are. And we can see the impact of this mindset, because the first church understood its identity vividly. And they turned the world upside doen.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Gospel

The classic “formula” of the gospel is:
  • God loves you and has uniquely designed your life.
  • But all mankind has sinned, so they are separated from God. They have no relationship with God. They cannot have fellowship with God. They cannot experience his love.
  • Jesus died to satisfy God’s judgment in our place.
  • We can choose to accept this pardon.
Scripture bears witness to all four of these principles. Each of them could certainly be expanded on a lot more. For example, we could talk about how “accepting the pardon” also requires “repentance.” In other words, we realize that sin, not only separates us from fellowship with God, but it also blocks us from living according to our design. Repentance says “I used to live by these principles and standards of life. Now, I realize they don’t work. I choose to live by God’s principles and standards. I choose to live in subjection to him.”

However, my question today is: how close to the classic “formula” does a person need to be, for his profession of allegiance to Jesus to be authentic?

Augustine lived in the fourth century. To put it simply, he was a bad person. He lived selfishly, and for his own pleasure. But at some point in his life, he realized he was a bad person. And he was horrified by how he was living. So, he began a journey to find how a person can get right with God. After trying several things, he finally came to understand Jesus and the Cross. He understood repentance and faith. He gave allegiance to Jesus, and became part of God’s family.

I have a friend, who before he gave his allegiance to Jesus, was also a bad person. He knew he was a bad person, but he didn’t care. There were worse people. And in the long run, it didn’t matter.

One day, someone gave him a book. The book was about how the Bible is demonstrated to be true by events in history. His reaction was: “The Bible is true. God is true. Jesus is true.” The truth of history convinced him to give his allegiance to Jesus, not his guilt before a holy God.

The story of Paul’s conversion is quite prominent in the Bible. He became an agent of the Jews in persecuting the church. While on a trip to carry out his assignment, he was knocked off his feet by a vision of Jesus. It was this vision that became the main force in Paul giving his allegiance to Jesus. Paul, speaking about his life before Jesus, says that according to the Law, he had no fault. In his mind, at that time, he kept the Law. He was not guilty of breaking it. Scripture does not say what went on in his mind the three days between his vision and his baptism. But it was the truth about an encounter with Jesus that propelled him toward allegiance to Jesus, and not consciousness of sin and guilt.

I was nine when I gave my allegiance to Jesus. I do not have a very dramatic story. I was at my family’s church one Sunday. I became impressed by the fact that there really, and truly, was a God. And if there really was a God, that meant he was Boss of the universe. Which meant my life needed to agree with him, and his “direction.” So, I chose to get in line, and follow him the best I could. And it probably took me less time to decide that, than it did for you to read this paragraph.

Augustine’s main push came from his realization of his sin. The main push for the others came from some other truth. Not that they didn’t learn about sin, and how far away from God’s way they were. It came second though.

God does not follow formulas. God touches the core of each person’s heart, and connects with them. It might be a place of need. It might be a place ofafailure. It might be a truth. God does not get locked in, but uses a multitude of avenues to connect with people, and to persuade them to choose allegiance with him.

Monday, June 19, 2017

God's Restoration

Scripture says that Jesus died for us. Sin destroyed mankind’s relationship, fellowship, and image with God. Jesus dies so the Father could fulfill his plans, and purposes, in the world. Plans and purposes devised, designed, and intended before anything else was created.

The Father intended to have a relationship with every person ever born. He intended to have fellowship with every person ever born. Jesus paid the admission fee into God’s family for everyone. We need to go get the ticket that is already waiting for us.

And when we choose to follow Jesus, we being the lifelong process of restoring our relationship, fellowship and image with God. Not only are we supposed to “look” like Jesus – thinking , speaking, and acting like Jesus. We are also supposed to have the same relationship Jesus had with the Father, when he was in the world. We are supposed to have the same fellowship. We  are supposed to have:

  • The same connection;
  • The same awareness of the Father and the Spirit;
  • The same grasp of the Father’s heart;
  • The same “eyes” to see what the Father’s sees;
  • The same “ears” to hear what the Father hears;
  • The same “voice” to speak what the Father speaks, and pray what the Father prays;
  • The same closeness.
The Father intends to restore all of this.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Walk in the Spirit - 5

We have seen that sin does not destroy our relationship with the Father, but it does disrupt our fellowship. It disrupts our connection to the Father, the flow of love and grace, and therefore, our ability to live like Jesus, in the way we were designed.

One reason, Jesus live the way he did was because sin never disrupted his connection to the Father. We won’t be so lucky. We won’t be able to say that sin will never disrupt our connection. We should be able to restore fellowship (and the flow of love and grace) by confession and repentance. And we should have stonger cores, when fellowship and the connection is restored. And our character should grow; we should grow in obedience; we should shrink in the practice of sin.

Sin will disrupt the connection, and hinder our ability to live like Jesus. Walking in righteousness will increase our ability to walk like Jesus. But is that the whole thing?

Jesus never lost connection with the Father, and the Spirit. And he never lost contact. The presence of the Father, and the Spirit, was always before him. From the time he got out of bed in the morning, the fact the he was rubbing shoulder with the Spirit was an apparent, obvious fact.

Every day, we rub shoulders with the Spirit. He is eternally present. (Meaning: God gives each one of his children 100%, focused attention.) He is ready, willing, and able to act in any endeavor that restores his kingdom, and brings him glory. He promises to do anything we ask in his name.

Yet, how many of us live as if God is eternally present? We mostly live as if he is not. We need to live in a way that does not offend God, but we also need to live in a way that is aware of his presence. We need to give him attention in a way that mimics his attention of us … given we are physically unable to imitate his 100%, focused attention. It is this awareness that puts us into position to draw on his resources. It is our usual, normal, lack of awareness, that puts us in a position where we depend on our personal abilities, knowledge, and wisdom.

Jesus’ story of the vine and branches indicates, if nothing else, that Christianity is not just a moral code. It is a relationship and fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. It is rational, reasonable, logical, wise, and philosophically complete. But it is also has a mystical side. As his children, we need to embrace the rational, and the mystical. We need to connect into the vine, to receive grace, love and divine nutrition, to produce fruit, and glorify the Father. But if we do not even recognize that we are connected, we will receive nothing from the Father. The connection relies on the focus of our hearts.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Walk in the Spirit - 4

When we give allegiance to Jesus, God chooses to act as judge, and as father. He declares, because of our choice to follow Jesus, that the penalty for our sin is paid for. And he declares that he has adopted us as sons, and taken us into his family.

When Christ died, God nailed our sins to the cross … and they died with Jesus. And we died with Jesus. We were crucified, died and were buried with Christ. And the Law cannot judge anyone, once they have died.

When we choose to follow Christ, God marked us as his, by sending the Holy Spirit to make his home in our inner core. The Spirit renews our core, and crushes the power of sin in us.

Jesus and the cross dealt with the penalty of our sin. The Holy Spirit dealt with the power of our sin. The only thing left is its presence. And because sin was in our core at birth, and because we practiced it every day, we became extremely proficient.

We were designed to have relationship with the Father. We were designed to have fellowship with the Father.

Relationship refers to identity and\or position. When we gave our allegiance to Jesus, he chose to adopt us. We became sons. We became members of his family. Sin cannot break that relationship, any more than insulting my physical parents breaks that relationship. If I insult my mother, I am still her son.

Fellowship refers to connection. I am designed for my heart to be open to the Father, and the Father’s heart to me. I am designed for moment by moment communication, moment by moment reception of love and grace from the Father. I am designed to live like Jesus, and to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, and the traits of love. If I live in obedience to the Spirit of God (which is expressed in the Word of God), I agree with my design, I am filled with joy and peace, and I maintain and strengthen my connection to the Father.

And sin breaks all that. Even though I am still a son, the connection is broken. There is no communication, no love, and no grace. I am in disharmony with my Father, and my design. No joy. No peace. No growth. No fruit.

If I insult my mother, I am still her son, but I might not get invited to dinner for a while. And, maybe, it is really important for my health, and well-being, to get home cooked meals.

We need to become convinced of the fact that: living in agreement with God’s word means living in agreement with our design, it means maintaining and strengthening our connection to our source of life, meaning and purpose. If the connection gets broken, we start dying. We need to restore the connection as soon as possible.

Scripture says we need to confess and repent of our sin. Confession means to speak in agreement. We agree with God. Sin is bad; righteousness is good. Repent means to change the way we think. And if I am changing the way I think, I change the way I live.

If someone does not have relationship with the Father, it is sin which cuts such a person off from the Father. And it is confession and repentance, plus giving him allegiance, which brings a person into relationship and fellowship.

If someone does have relationship with the Father, it is sin which blocks the connection with the Father. And it is confession and repentance, plus choosing to honor one’s allegiance, which restores the connection, and renews the reception of communication, love and grace.

Because of the presence of sin in our lives, we will continue to fall, and continue to experience a loss of fellowship, with its ensuing love and grace. So, we will need to continue the practice of confession and repentance to restore our connection, and to continue to live as we were designed.