Thursday, June 07, 2018

God's Favor

Jesus began his ministry by announcing what type of people receive God's favor. People, generally, thought it was people — like the Pharisees — who were serious, and worked hard, at obeying the Law.

So, Jesus turns the world upside down. Those, like the Pharisees, thought they were earning right standing with God. But, Jesus knew that no one can earn right standing with God. Those, who God favors, recognize, and accepted, this truth.

All people stand as beggars before God. Ones, who have learned that wisdom, accept their poverty stricken status. They accept that, before God, they have nothing to give. They can only receive.

It is pretty dumb to strut around, like one has it all together, like one is self-sufficient, with need, and one is dressed in rages, without sufficient means to feed one's self. Yet, that was precisely the position of many Pharisees and priests.

"We are accepted, and blessed, by what we do. God thinks we are better than the tax collectors, sinners, and gentiles."

And that is precisely why God did not give them his favor.

There were tax collectors, sinners, and gentiles, who saw the worth of the God of Israel, and sought to know him. And God favored them above the self-righteous ones.

God values those who realize that the do not have the power to stand before on their own merit. They are closer to him, than those involved in lots of religious activity. They are more ready to turn to Jesus, and walk across the bridge he built for them. They are more ready for a relation with the Father of creation, because they have a true view of reality, and a true understanding of their standing before God.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

God's Favor (4)

God favors the merciful. Recently, I compared mercy and grace. Mercy is like:

Imagine, you are driving 80 mph in a 25 mph zone. A policemen pulls you over. You deserve a ticket of many hundreds of dollars , and suspension of your driver's license.

Instead, the policeman says: "Good morning, sir. I noticed that you were driving in excess of the posted speed limit. This is a residential area. The posted speed limit was chosen to make sure that pedestrians in this area are safe. So, the next time you drive this area, please, reduce your speed to the posted speed limit. And have a good rest of the day."

Mercy is not getting what you deserve.

This is God's intention, and plan. In Christ, we receive mercy. We do not receive the punishment we deserve. And God favors those who have his heart.

The news is full of people, who deserve punishment. And, often, we are with the rest of the world, hoping these people get what they deserve. Yet, even they are designed to live in relationship with the Father. And it is the Father's desire to redeem, and restore, even these. Murderers. Thieves. Dictators. Mass murderers. Human traffickers.

The scribes and the Pharisees worked hard to please God, according to their system. And they condemned, and rejected, those who fell short, those who did not work like they did.

God's heart was for restoration. The Pharisee's heart was for rejection, and condemnation. This was why Jesus was hard on the Pharisees. They thought they were pleasing God. They thought they were God's favorites. First, all of God's kids are his favorites. But, he is especially pleased, and favors, those who heart follows his.

God wants a relationship with all … even Pharisees.

Those who understand mercy, are the most likely to give it, and the most likely to seek. They will turn to their Father, the giver of mercy.

God's Favor (3)

The next quality that Jesus used to describe people, whom God favors, is often rendered into English using the word "meek". But "meek" gives the wrong connotation in modern usage.

The English word "meek" has a connotation of weakness, with spirit, or courage. The word in the original language is associated with humility, which is the positioning of one's self below, to push up, and honor. But there is a feeling of calm strength, receiving what God says in quiet confidence.

With the first, and second, traits, we have a person, who realizes his need for God, who yearns for completeness, and who also realizes his total inability to attain, and maintain, that completeness.

With the third trait, the person hears God's words of judgment, and accepts them as just. But he does not despair, because he also hears God's hear for, and his promises for, redemption, and restoration.

"You have been thrown into the pit. And it is totally fair, and just, for you to be trapped there. But I did not create you to end up in a pit. I created you to be with me, to receive my love, and my blessing. So, I will rescue you from the pit."

The person hears, and trusts, God's words. And he responds in faith. To walk through the battlefield, with bullets buzzing past, and bombs exploding all around, without fear, and in calm and peace, is a response of faith. The person gives more credence to God's words, than he dos to the circumstances.

I don't think this necessarily means that we ignore the circumstances. But we need to actively take into account another powerful reality at work. The words, and the spirit, of God are active, and profoundly influential in our lives, and the world. The world ignores God's words to its detriment. And God's family does not take  them into account enough.

Fear, worry, and a lack of prayer demonstrate taking the circumstances, and principles, of the world more seriously, than the entire reality that God has created. Whereas prayer, obedience, love, and the fruit of the Spirit demonstrate a healthy grasp, and practice of God being eternally present, active, in our lives, and the world.

God's Favor (2)

Jesus continues to describe those who God favors.

God favors those who grieve a loss of personal hope, or a relationship. given the context of our inability to gain right standing with God, perhaps the grief Jesus  is referring to is a person's response to his\her lack of relationship, or lack of right standing, with the Father.

A person, who recognizes that life's ultimate bases for worth, meaning, and value, is a relationship with the Father, and recognizes that, because of his choices in life, that he is God's enemy, there is not hope. Life has ceased to have worth, or meaning.

Human beings are designed to live relationship with the Father. Value, and significance, in life is directly proportional to how close, how strong the connection is. Sin breaks the connection. It is sin that causes all the brokenness in the world. It is sin that causes all the problems, and misery.

So, it is in that prevents someone from establishing the most significant, and important, relationship in existence.

Without this relationship, we cannot live out, or come close, to connecting to the Father, and fulfilling what we were designed for. If we realize, and understand this, we could mourn our separation, loss and inability to get right, and connect.

But Jesus' purpose is to re-establish this connection, and to enable people to begin a process of living as he designed.

Jesus came to extend invitation to return to god, and a life of worth, meaning, value, and significance. Such an invitation could bring incredible comfort to those who hear it, and accept it. That was Jesus' purpose. To give people a way back to God, and hope to the hopeless. To reveal how much God loves, and cares for people.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Jesus as Model in Temptation

Jesus' mission in the world had two parts. First, he came as the bridge for people to gain access to God. He built the bridge, when he died on the cross.

Second, he came as the model for what life was intended to be like for a person to truly walk with God.

There is a story about Jesus, which began with the Spirit leading him out into the wilderness.

God's children live their lives hearing his voice, and going, or doing, what it says. The Father is always speaking to his children. He will not speak to lead any of his children astray. We can trust him, when he speaks.

So, it seemed a little strange to me, that the Sirit was leading Jesus into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.

Each child of God will be led by God's voice. And each child of God will be confronted by temptation. And God felt it was important for Jesus to give us all a demonstration of how to deal with temptation.

Jesus had just completed a forty day fast. He was physically, and probably mentally, fatigued.

The devil came to him, and attacked Jesus' physically, mental, and spiritual needs. And Jesus responded each time: "It is written."

So, not only was Jesus familiar with the voice of his Father, but he was also familiar with the written message from his Father. So, in dealing with temptation, he reminded the devil of his Father's standards.

But it is not enough to know the Father's words. One has to obey the Father's words. Knowing is important. Saying, and reviewing, is important. But it is doing that makes what is known, and said, a part of life. It is doing that brings the power of the Spirit into you actions. It is doing that trains your thinking, speaking and acting back into alignment with God's design.

But there is not one correct way of doing what God requires. For Jesus, it was sufficient to review with the devil what God's standards were. So, perhaps to stand against temptation it is sufficient to recite God's word. Recitation may position God's heart to walk rightly. But perhaps one needs to position the whole person. If one is tempted to indulge an addictive behavior, perhaps one should move away from the places of addiction. (Like an alcoholic should not stand in a bar. Maybe he should move several miles away.)

I do not believe that there is a formula for everyone to walk with God. We do need to know his standards. We need to hear his voice, and practice what he says. But as God has given each one a unique place, we also have a unique way to walk in it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Get What You Deserve?

I woke up several days ago, with an incident on my mind, that happened several years ago, and my response to that incident. To this day, I don't know what I should have done, but I don't think it is what I did do.

As a result, I was feeling kind of guilty, and inadequate. And the thought popped into my head: "You get what you deserve."

And I began to consider how God gives us, just what we deserve. Just like that guy in the Bible, who was responsible for a persecution of the church, and the death and imprisonment of, possibly, thousands of God's children.

God treated him as he deserved:
  • God appeared to him, and spoke to him audibly.
  • God blinded him, forcing him to slow down, and really who Jesus was.
  • God miraculously healed the blindness.
  • God forgave, redeemed, and saved him.
  • God used him as a catalyst of a huge expansion of his kingdom.
  • God used him to write half of the New Testament. 
No, God does not deal with us, as we deserve. First, God deals with us in mercy.

Imagine, you are driving 80 mph in a 25 mph zone. A policemen pulls you over. You deserve a ticket of many hundreds of dollars , and suspension of your driver's license.

Instead, the policeman says: "Good morning, sir. I noticed that you were driving in excess of the posted speed limit. This is a residential area. The posted speed limit was chosen to make sure that pedestrians in this area are safe. So, the next time you drive this area, please, reduce your speed to the posted speed limit. And have a good rest of the day."

That's mercy. Not getting what we deserve. But God does not just give mercy. God gives grace.

Grace is not only mercy, but the policeman also says: "And here's a gift card to one of my favorite restaurants. Please, enjoy a meal on me with a friend. And here's another gift card. Please, give it to another friend, so they can enjoy a meal on me. And have a good rest of the day."

God gives grace. We don't get what we do deserve; we do get what we don't deserve.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Jesus Begins

John is preaching, and baptizing, by the Jordan. Jesus presents himself to John for baptism.

John says Jesus should baptize him. He recognizes Jesus as Messiah. He is humbled by his stance with God, and recognizes Jesus' superiority.

Jesus assures John that everyone needs to complete what God desires.

Jesus did not need to repent from sin, because he had none. Jesus did not need to turn to God, because he never turned away.

When Jesus comes out of the water, a dove settles on him, and a voice proclaims, "This is my beloved Son."

There has been speculation as to what is going on here. The Old Testament prophets woulds anoint the new king. Is John "anointing" Jesus?

Or are Jesus and the Father coming into full agreement about the mission? In baptism, Jesus fully agrees with the mission he is about to begin, and the "baptism" that will end it. And the Spirit, and the Father, reach out to Jesus, and communjicate their love, and commitment to him, and the mission.

Jesus could not complete his part of God's mission without the active support of the Spirit, and the Father.

And we must come into agreement with completing our part of God's mission. We need the active support of the Spirit, and the Father.

Monday, May 07, 2018

To Repent or Not Repent

John the Baptist had a message of repentance. The word in the original language literally means "to know after." The idea is a comparison between what I used to know (or knew before) and what I know now (or knew after.) It is trying to describe a change of mind.

John called for a change of mind about sin, about God, and about a way of life. Most people associate repentance primarily with sin. Repentance comes to mean: don't do that.

John called the Jewish leaders to repent. In the Jews' minds, those needing to repent the least were the leaders, because they kept the law the most. The leaders had developed a religious system. He, who checks the most boxes, wins. The religious leaders felt quite righteous in their system. They felt they were more accepted by God, than the rest of the people.

But what if repentance is not so much what we are turning from, but what we are turning to?

First, if our focus is primarily on stopping certain behaviors, we wind up creating a vacuum. Some other behavior will fill it. Perhaps, one that is worse than the original.

Second, life is not about what we don't do. Life about what we do do. We are designed to live by faith, hope, and love. We are designed for fellowship with the Father. And behavior modification is just another expression of religion.

Please, do not misunderstand. I am not wanting to minimize sin, or God's stand against it. It just seems to me that choosing to give allegiance to Jesus is more important than choosing not to sin.

We do not have the power to stop sinning no matter how much we hate it. It is when we give allegiance to Jesus, that we receive forgiveness, a new identity, and God's presence, which provides the power for transformation.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Identity

"Identity" is a word that is used to describe a person's self-perception. Do I have value, or worth? Am I ugly, stupid, clumsy? Is the world better off with me in it?

I have heard it said that mothers rovide nuture, but fathers define one's identity. The Father made men and women. He defined their identity. He designed them. He created them.

Before creation, he could have spent 2000 years focused on the design of one person. And then, moved on to the next person. Or, because, he is right now, giving each and every person 100%, focused attention, he could have given that same attention to each one … and spent 2000 years designing us all simultaneously!

He designed our identity. He designed the place we would fill. He designed us to grow, to bless the world, to improve the world, to touch it as no one else can.

When sin entered the world, our identities were crushed, and broken. No one matches what God sees in us. But when we give our allegiance to Jesus, the Father still sees the child he designed, and created.

When Jesus rose from the water, at his baptism, a voice called out: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."

God saw the one he loved, whose heart was totally entwined with his. The one who had fully accepted God's mission of building a bridge between people and God, of restoring God's family.

Jesus was beginning a new phase of the mission. He, the Father, and the Spirit knew the cost they would be making. And they knew they were accepting the cost out of love for the race of men.

God designed each one of us to fill a place. None of us are doing that. Some are in the place, but not walking in it fully. Some are lost, and have no idea in what direction the place even is. Some of us kinda know where the place is, but aren't too sure how to get there.

God designed each one of us to fill a place. And he hasn't changed his mind, because of sin. He gives 100% focused attention to restoring us to our original design. He gives 100% focused attention to guiding us to our place.

If we give him our allegiance, if we surrender to his purposes for us, if we walk with him in fellowship, we are in a position for his work in us, and through us, to occur.

Whether we find our place or not, whether we walk in it or not, if we return, and cross the bridge, if we give him our allegiance, if we walk in the relationship he has set us in, he views us in the identity he gave us before creation. We are also a beloved son, and he is pleased with us.

Our identity is who God designed us to be. Our identity is who God proclaims that we are.