Saturday, April 20, 2019

Full Life In Christ

God designed the world, and the people in the world. When we think about design, we tend to think mechanics, formulas, physics, and machines. But the genius behind God's design is that he has moved beyond machines, and formulas.

It is not that he above making machines. Mapping the human genome has uncovered dozens of cellular "machines" that facilitate, and cooperate with DNA, in the manufacture of proteins, and other processes.

I have posted in the past about the "fuels" a human being needs to live optimally. A person can function without joy. A person can function without beauty. But to function optimally, a person needs love, joy, beauty, purpose, and peace. 

And followers of Jesus say that a person was designed to have a relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit. Love, and joy, are completed in that relationship.

It is not that love and joy cannot come from other sources. Love, and joy, from other people is part of wholeness. But there is a qualitative difference in love, and joy, from the Father. It models what love, and joy, among people was intended to be.

Love, joy, and beauty have no place in a machine. They have no place in a formula. They are instilled into creation by the Father's creative will, in agreement with his design. He infuses his nature into the design.

Jesus said one of his purposes was to give mankind a full, and complete, life. By giving allegiance to Jesus, people return to a position to receive that fullness.

Life is now too corrupt, too broken, for people to experience fullness. But, we can begin a relationship with the Father, we can began a lifestyle governed by that relationship. We can begin to grow in, and experience, that fullness.

The design of the Father includes a lifestyle that leads to fullness. Love is the primary key to unlock the fullness. Love for the Father. Love for people.

Scripture says that when we give our allegiance to Jesus, the Holy Spirit makes his home in the core of our being. The Spirit includes us in the Father's family. He is the seal, and guarantee, of our relationship with the Father. He is our connection to God. He is the channel of God's love, grace, guidance, ands transformation.

Scripture says that part of the Spirit's work in us, is empowering us to partner with him, in his purposes. He empowers our personality, and character, to give us a place in his strategy. Sometimes, it is a long term placement to serve in some way. Billy Graham's decades long service as an evangelist is one example of this. Sometimes, it is a one time act of service. Praying for someone to be healed from a physical disease, and the person is healed. And it may never happen again.

But Scripture also says it is not this empowering that has God's priority. It is love. If we express God's given power without expressing it in love, Scripture says it is a worthless act. It is love, which gives power to the works of God. It is love, which is the lynch pin of God's design of people. It is love, which motivated creation, the incarnation, the miracles, the cross, and the resurrection.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Following Jesus

After Jesus died on the cross, after he rose from the dead, and just beofre he returned to the Kingdom of his Father, he gave his followers their marching orders. Modern corporations might call this their statement of purpose.

Jesus said, wherever his followers wnet, they should take his message. They should find people, who are open to spiritual things, and share Jesus' message with them. And because he is calling people to him, by his Spirit, they will find people who want to follow him too. When they find someone who chooses to follow him, first, they will immerse him\her in water, as a public, symbolic declaration of their chose to follow Jesus. Second, like parents, they will teach this person how to live.

They will teach him how to "feed" himself. They will teach him how to treat others. They will teach him about his heavenly Father, how to communicate to him, and how to hear him speak back to us.

Men have studied the Bible. The have tried to understand God, and have laid systems to help others understand God. This is good in that it helps people go further, faster. But it can cause problems as well.

Jesus' marching orders were to go, find open people, share Jesus' teaching, and help them to learn, and obey, all of his commands. (Including this one to go, find, share, and help … which usually gets left by the wayside.)

People, no matter how hard they study, how diligent, and conscientious, to avoid errors, miss stuff. And people, who insist on following someone's system, run the risk of missing stuff too.

Moreover, they are following a system, instead of a person. Jesus didn't say: Follow an "ism." He siad: Follow me.

We need to learning how to read the Bible for ourselves. We need to learn to pray for ourselves. We need to learn to hear God speak to us ourselves. Then, we need to learn to practive what we read, or heard, ourselves. These are probably the foremost skills for a follower of Christ to develop.

Scripture says we are Christ's ambassadors. Scripture says his family is a kingdom of priests. We are all God's representatives. We are all intermediaries between God and people. Each one should be able to go, find, share, and help. Each one should be going, finding, sharing, and helping.

In the places where Christianity has existed for centuries, people have been trained to sit. They have been trained to be audiences. But Scripture declares that each person who chooses to follow Jesus is his priest. Maye we should not all be standing up, and doing something, at the same time. That might cause a little confusion. But, sometime, in some place, we all should be doing something priestly.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Being God's People

We are invited to become God's holy people. The word "holy" in English has a connotation of being especially pure, and spiritual. The word in the original language contains more of a though of "separated for," or "dedicated to."

Becoming a Christian is a choice of allegiances We are choosing to step across a line, and dedicating ourselves to a relationship with the Father of All. We are choosing to adopt his priorities, his standards, and his values, as our own. We choose his family as our family. We choose his Kingdom as our Kingdom.

We are not negating our connection to our own personal families, nations, or communities. We are expanding our relationships. We are expanding our commitments.

As God designed the world, and people, he instructions about life are wiser, truer, and more congruent with our design. Living in agreement with his standards brings the world closer to his intentions. It will make the world a brighter, better, and more healthy place.

The world doesn't agree, of course. It has its own ideas. Groups of people band together to promote their view of better. And they opose other groups view of better.

"Civility" was a buzzword circulating in the US a while ago. The political climate had gotten so caustic, even the politicians called for a different way of treating each other. The buzz was short-lived.

God's standard is: "Love you enemies." Which can be parsed as: "Treat everyone with love." Speak about your enemies the same way you speak about your friends, and family. Serve, bless, and encourage without reguard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, or political affiliation.

Jesus died for his enemies, so that they might be able to be right with God, and become part of his family. Jesus died for those who hate him. We have given allegiance to Jesus, and he has become our model. Not to praise, though we should. No to acclaim, though we should. But to practice. To live, as he lived.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Identity(3)

The Pharisees were a group of Jews, who lived during Jesus' day. They took God's admonitions to obey him very seriously. They studied God's law. They memorized whole books of the Old Testament. They developed a list of 614 rules that people should obey. Some of them were laws written in the Bible. Some of them were commentary on those Law.

For example, one of the Ten commandments was to keep the Sabbath holy. God wanted to set apart a day for physical rest, and spiritual rest, refreshment, and reflection. So, God instructed people not to work on the Sabbath. So, the Pharisees defined what "work" was. If it is the Sabbath, and you are a farmer, is it work to feed you cows? If it is the Sabbath, and you have to go somewhere, how far can you walk before it becomes work?

So, they did not have a very high opinion of people, who were not a serious about obeying God as they were. And they really down on people, who did not seem to try to follow God.

Then, there was Jesus.

I can see the Pharisees being both intrigued with Jesus, because of what and how he taught, and disgusted, because he did not follow God like they did.

They watched Jesus spend time with people, who did not try to follow God. He ate with them. In this culture, eating with someone honored them. To "honor" means to act in a way that demonstrates something has value. So, Jesus is saying, these people, who do not try to follow God, are valuable. Which is ridiculous to the Pharisees. Only those who follow God are valuable.

So, Jesus tells three stories.

One story was about a shepherd with 100 sheep. And one of the sheep wanders off. So, when the shepherd realizes he has only 99, he goes and looks for the lost sheep. And when he finds it, he celebrates. But it's only one sheep. What's the big deal? The sheep were his livelihood. He cared for his family, paid the mortgage, and sent his children to college with those sheep. He sold the wool. Maybe he sold the meat. Maybe he got more sheep from the one. And maybe his reputation as a shepherd was tarnished because of lost sheep. The fact that he went to look for the sheep showed that it was valuable.

The second story was about a woman with 10 coins. She discovers one coin missing. so, she cleans the house. And when she finds it, she celebrates. But it's only one coin. What's the big deal? There is a lot of opinion about the coin. Maybe it was part of her dowry. Maybe it was part of a necklace, so missing a coin made it look funny. Maybe it was just money. This particular coin was commonly given for a day's labor. So, it was the amount of money a person earns in one day. Suppose someone gets a temporary job for ten days, at $100 a day. At the end of the day, the boss gives the person ten Benjamins. (Ten 100-dollar bills.) When the person gets home, he puts the money on the counter, washes his hands, and, when grabbing for the money, realizes there are only nine bills. Who would not look for that bill? Check pockets, the floor. They would probably go back out to the car, to make sure it was not left behind. The fact that she looked for the coin showed that it was valuable.

And Jesus told these two stories, because he knew the Pharisees would agree, these things were valuable. If they were lost, we needed to look for them. And Jesus equated these lost things with people who did not follow God. God valued them. God wanted them back. So, he was looking for them.

Then, he goes onto a third story about a family: a father, and two sons. One son asks the father to divide up the property (probably a family farm) and give him his share. So, the father does. The son sells his portion of the family farm, and leaves. Does the son honor the father? Since, it was his inheritance, he is saying to his father: "Your only value to me is when you are dead." He certainly did not value any relationship with the father.

Does the son value the farm? No, he sells it. He could have provided for a family for a long time. He does not value the land. He does not value the lifestyle on a farm. Nor does he value his community, who are also farmers, because he leaves. He rejects everything about his life, and becomes, in effect, an enemy to his community.

He has a wonderful time for a while, but then, he has problems. He runs out of money. He runs out of friends. And he takes the only job he is qualified for to try and provide for himself. And it is not enough to pay the rent, or buy food.

Then, he realizes his best option is to go home, and get a job on his father's farm. So, he heads home.

Jesus say that the father sees his son coming from far away. Some have suggested that the father is scanning the horizon, looking for his son. Possibly true. But, maybe he is checking out the condition of his crops, or maybe he is just enjoying the sunset. But he does recognize his son from far away. And he sees that he is in poor condition. He left with sandals. He returns with none. He left with a pretty good wardrobe. What he has is in poor condition. So, he has compassion. And he runs to meet his son.

Some have suggested that it was undignified for older men to run, in that culture. So, running demonstrates the father's heart. He was so glad to see the son, that dignity didn't matter. Some has suggested that since the son made himself an enemy to his community by rejecting them, that the family's neighbors might express their displeasure for the son, by throwing stones at him. So, the father runs to protect his son.

When the father meets the son, the son begins confessing his mistakes, and his disrespect. But the father doesn't listen. He orders sandals, a robe, and a ring be brought. These are signs of being welcomed, and admitted, back into the father. Then, he orders a party. There is an animal that was being saved for a very special occasion. The oldest son's wedding, maybe. And the father uses that animal to signal it is a very special occasion. In that culture, eating with someone showed honor, value. Feeding someone showed more honor. And the bigger the feast, the more the honor.

The son rejected his family, his life, and his community. He became an enemy. When he returned, he admitted his wrong. And the father initiates acceptance, and restoration.

This is a picture of God's heart, God's value system. He created people. He values people. And he values relationship with them. He is serious concerning their lifestyle and behavior. But it is not his first priority. Relationship comes first. We'll deal with behavior afterwards.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Identity (2)

In the beginning of the Bible, the writer describes the creation of the world, and the creation of Man. The bible says that Man was created in the image of God. What does that mean?

If we sort a list of god's attributes, they can be put into one of two categories: infinite, or personal. Since, Man does not obviously share the infinite attributes with God, he must share the personal attributes with God. God and Man are both personal. The both have a will, make choices, make moral judgments, communicate, and create. They both give, and receive, love. They both interact with beauty, either by appreciation and enjoyment, or by creating.

It is this higher order of personality that separates Man from the rest of creation. It is personality that gives Man value. God gave Man a distinct nature, a distinct place, and a distinct role in the world.

A diamond has value based on its nature. It value is demonstrated by how hard someone works to receive it, or retrieve it if it is lost.

Jesus' death did not give Man value. God had already given Man value, when he created Man, and chose to have a relationship with him, and chose to love him.

But, sin broke that relationship. God "lost" his relationship with Man. And Jesus died to regain for God something he valued highly. He regained a relationship with people. He regained a relationship with you, me … and has the potential to regain a relationship with everyone who has not chosen to enter into relationship with the Father.

Sanctification is the process of transformation from the current reality to God's ideal.

If there were no sin in the world, what would people look like? What would people act like? They would look, and act, like Jesus. From creation, God intended that people would be unique expressions of God's creativity, and the would be pictures of Jesus. They would be perfect, like he was perfect.

So, one could say we are being transformed into Christ's image. Or you could say, we are being restored into who God intended us to be, in the first place.

Although, I have not found a passage in Scripture that specifically states that God designed each person individually, there are enough passage that hint at it, so many people think that God did take the time to think, plan, and design each person.

Imagine the God of eternity taking a couple of thousand years to consider, and plan, how each one of us would work. What will this one like? What will they be good at? What place in my purposes will they play? And then, he moves to the next person. (Or he spends a couple of thousand years planning each person all at the same time.)

The word "weave" is used to describe God's creation process of human beings in a few passages. Weaving a tapestry is a painstaking process, involving a lot of math, patience, and intentional effort. One does not weave a tapestry by chance.

If God values people, because they are made in his image, like every other person, how much more a uniquely designed masterpiece.

There is another passage, where people are described as God's handiwork, or masterpiece. Great artists, like Leonardo or Rembrandt, have created a dozen masterpieces. God has created billions. Each one is intentionally created, and prepared, to fill a special role in his plan.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Identity

Every day, we get bombarded with a ton of messages. Many of them are trying to get us to take a particular action. Many of them are trying to affect how we see ourselves.

TV commercials are a good example. “You should use our product. It works well. It is efficient, and easy to use. Besides, all the cool people use it.” So, if you use that product, you are cool. If you don’t, you are not cool.

I think political parties do the same thing. “We are for this. We promote that. This will be good for people. Because we are doing all this, we are the good guys!” And if you support what they support, you are one of the good guys. And, of course, if you don’t support what they support, you are one of the bad guys.

Identity is the word most people use to “name” how people view, or describe, themselves. Everyone has an identity. There are differences in how aware, and how much understanding, each person has of their individual identity.

But identity is part of God’s design. Scripture says, to quote Stephen Covey, all things are created twice. Meaning something is first created in a person’s heart. Then, it is created in the world. So, our identity is part of the structure for this creative process. If you are going to make pizza, the list of ingredients, and the process of making pizza go through your heart processes. If a person has assumed “being kind of clumsy” as part of their identity, they may say “I can’t make pizza, because I am not able to roll out the crust. Better choose something else.”

Everything a person experiences are included in this self-picture. Different experiences impact the picture differently. Some reinforce parts of the picture. Some totally upset the picture. People have similar experiences. Most people go to school. Most people go to school for the first time. One could assume they would have a similar effect on people. I have a friend who is an airline pilot. This is a skill that has a unique process of learning. There are similarities with driving a car, but not quite. There are problems that do not occur anywhere else. There is a method of problem solving that does not occur anywhere else. I have discovered from talking with my friend, that pilots do not look at the weather the same way other people do.

Families are one of the fundamental places that identity formation takes place. Imagine you are six years old, and have just done the “most dumbest” thing you have ever done. It was the “most dumbest” thing you will ever do, in your entire life! And, of course, you father comes to talk to you about it.

Your father could say: “That was really dumb! You need to learn to think things through a little more carefully. Just don’t do anything like that anymore.” How does this add to your picture? You made a mistake. You need to learn, so that you can grow, improve, and do better. You are becoming a better person.

Or your father could say: “You are really dumb!” How does this add to your picture? You can’t learn. You can’t grow. You can’t improve. You will never be a better person. Why even try?

One important thing to realize: there are some really bad fathers in the world, who do not have a heart for their children. However, most fathers do have a heart for their children. So, if your father said “You are”, most likely, he meant, “That was”, and it didn’t make it out of his mouth correctly. He made a mistake.

Another important thing to realize: Yes, our experiences affect our identity. But we need to agree with it. If your father said “You are”, you do not have to agree with it. You can say, “No, I’m not. Yes, I made a mistake. But I will grow. I will become wiser. I will become a better person. And I won’t do anything like that again.”

Now, imagine once again, you are six years old. You are the youngest of six children. And you have just completed the volcano science project for school. (A person makes a model volcano, usually out of clay. Then, the person adds a combination of chemicals to the “volcano,” that react, and cause the model to look like a real volcano.) You take you finished project to your father, to show and explain it to him. Unbeknownst to you, all your brothers and sisters also did the volcano science project. And when your father did the volcano science project, he got an A+++. So, he could say, “You should have painted your model this color.” Or “You should use these chemicals, instead of these chemicals.” But, what he does say, as you explain the project to him, is: “Wow! That’s amazing!”

Any experience can add positively, or negatively, to our identity. We can choose to receive the input. We can also realize that we give input. And we can choose what kind of input that will be.

The enemy also sends messages. The enemy wants to detract from God’s glory. Meaning: He wants to make God look bad. And, since he is in a war with God, and he knows he is going to lose, he is miserable. So, he wants to make everyone else miserable too. Every message he sends is meant to either make God look bad, or make people miserable. He will always say to people: “Do this dumb thing.” Then he will say: “You are dumb.”

God sends messages too. He designed people. He designed an optimal way of living. Optimal living is: (1) having a relationship with God, (2) a particular lifestyle, and (3) a particular identity. The closer life is to optimum, the better God looks, and the less misery people experience.
In subsequent posts, I want to look at a few of the Father’s messages in particular.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

God Will Meet Anyone

I know a man, who was once a pretty bad person. He drank to excess. He did drugs. He sold drugs. He tells a story about planning to rob another drug dealer, and maybe, even, killing that drug dealer. (Neither actually took place.)

One day, someone gave him a book that describes what the Bible says about the future, and the final days before Jesus' return. While reading the book, he saw a connection between the Bible, and current events. And he had an epiphany. If what the Bible says about current events is true, maybe what it says about everything is true!

He became very conscious of his sin. And he became very conscious of his Saviour. He gave his allegiance to Jesus. He changed the way he lived to follow God's way.

I know another man, who, when he was nine years old, became aware there was a God. He was real. He was true. He was the Creator. He was the King. Which meant he was the Final Authority. Which meant for life to be real, meaningful, and in agreement with the Truth, he need to be on God's side. He need to get in line with who God was, and what God said.

If you would have asked him if he did wrong things, he would have said yes. But, at nine years old, he was not conscious of sin. But, he was conscious of God. So, he gave his allegiance to Jesus. And he chose to follow God's way.

And then, there was Paul. Paul was a Pharisee. Pharisees seemed to be hyper-religious Jews. In the Scriptures, God tells Israel that if they did not obey his commands, one of the results would be getting conquered by foreign powers. And they had been conquered by Assyria, Babylon, and, currently, Rome. So, God must not be happy with them, because they were not obeying him. So, they came up with a system, that if they kept it, they were confidant they would please God.

The system had 614 laws. Some were laws written in Scripture. Some were clarifications of God's law. For example, God commanded the people keep the Sabbath holy. Part of keeping the Sabbath holy was not working on the Sabbath. So, if you were a farmer, do you feed your cows on the Sabbath? If you have to go somewhere, how far can you walk, before it comes work? (Apparently, it's 2000 cubits. Or 3500 feet. Or 1070 meters.)

And Paul kept the system. Paul writes of himself, that he was "righteous according to the Law." Until Jesus rocked Paul's life on the road to Damascus, he viewed himself as being right with God, as keeping the Law. He would probably say that he was not perfect. But when he failed, he followed God's procedure, and so, was right with God.

But he did get flatttened by Jesus. He saw God, and God's expectations, in a totally new light. He gave his allegiance to Jesus. He changed the way he lived to follow God's way.

In my three stories, we have three different responses to sin, right, and wrong. We have three different, initial responses to God, and God's expectations. We have three different ways these men connected to Jesus. But all three chose to give allegiance to Jesus. All three chose to walk in a way that followed God's way.

All three walked different paths, but God is flexible enough, and capable enough, to meet anyone, anywhere they are, and to reveal his presence, and his love, to them. And he can lead anyone on their unique path of following him, and filling their place in his family.