Friday, December 14, 2018

Persecution

As you are reading this, the most populous country in the world is giving signals that it has begun a campaign of oppression, and repression, of philosophies, and religions, other than the one supported by the government.

Individuals, families, and churches are facing persecution, prison, and, possibly, death. This was the reaction of Rome in the days of Jesus. This has been the reaction of governments since that time.

How should God's family respond?

• Scripture says love your enemies.

We could respond with "an eye for an eye," but Jesus said to respond in a way that is the opposite. Governments persecute, and hurt. God's family should love, serve, and bless.

• You are the body of Christ.

God's family has many parts. All parts make up his family, no matter who, or how different. Disciples of Jesus in Asia are the right hand. Disciples in North America are the left hand. What happens to them does matter to us. Each of us needs to position our hearts with them.

We need to initiate an offensive of prayer. We should pray for: protection and provision, penetration of the Spirit into government officials, workers of the gospel, planting of seed, watering of the crop, and a reaping of the harvest.

• It backfired with Rome.

When persecution was the strategy of dealing with God's family for the Roman empire, when arrest, prison, and dying in the arena were tactics Rome used, it backfired. When God's family responded to persecution with peace, and joy, when God's family responded to persecution with love, and blessing, the responses proclaimed the gospel was true, and more powerful than the government, and its philosophy. People gave their allegiance to God in spite of the persecution. Satan's tools, which were intended to push people away from God, resulted in people being drawn to him.

We should pray for God's spirit to fill this boomerang effect.

Scripture says Satan will attack anyone who gives their allegiance to Jesus, and seeks to live a life of obedience.

Scripture also says we love, and honor Christ, if we live lifestyles of obedience. Almost like being attacked is an indicator of obedience, of love toward God. I sometimes wonder if God's family in the west is really being "persecuted" for acting like jerks.

God's family does need to stand for truth. the most important truth, the one we need to practice above all, is love. We cannot do the first, and forget the second. we need to promote the counter-cultural stands of God's kingdom, of which love is first.

And we need to remember our brothers and sisters, who are in need, who are suffering, by our love, definitely by our prayers, and maybe with our physical assets, or our physical labor.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Essential Good News

The last several years. I have become involved with a number of international students. The local university hosts several hundred students each year. Some come to get their under graduate degree. some come to get a graduate degree. Some are professors, who are taking advantage of a different set of resources for research.

Some of these don't connect with people of the host country. They only associate with others from their own country, language, and culture.

Other get involved with all sorts of social interaction. They get to know local people. They travel, engage in local culture, including holiday observances. (This year, I had a Thanksgiving dinner with 55 people. Only ten were American.)

And some get involved with genuine followers of Jesus. They might attend a church service. They might attend a Bible study. They might have some sort of spiritual discussion.

So, the question is this: How do you explain the gospel to someone, who has never read the Bible, never attending a Sunday service, has had no exposure to Jesus, but wonders what Christianity is all about?

Or another way to ask the question: What is the essential, most basic explanation of the gospel?

It seems to me there are two parts. The first part: believing that -- let's call it -- the Bible narrative is true.

God created the world perfect. He created people perfect. He designed the world, and the people, to be one, giant family, with himself as the ideal Father of everyone. He intended to be close to, talk to, encourage, and develop each person.

The first people grew to question God's goodness, and chose to act in a way that was apart form, and against, god. And the world broke. And people broke. And the relationship between God and man broke.

Death entered into the world, both spiritual and physical. All that was true, good, and beautiful was tied to man's connection to God. Remnants of these things remained, but they did not match what was.

But God did not give up his plan, and purpose, for the world, and mankind. He developed, and put into effect another plan to deal with the rebellion of the world, reconnect God and man, and rebuild his one, giant family.

The separation between God and men was infinite. The brokenness was total. Only someone infinite could become a bridge over the separation. Only someone all-wise, and all-powerful could put all the pieces together.

And because men were the rebels, and were broken, mankind needed to take responsibility before God.

And, as only God is infinite, all-wise, and all-powerful, only he could span the infinite separation. So, he merged the infinite with mankind, and became a man. Infinite to span the separation. A man to represent the entire, broken, rebellious race.

He chose suffering, and death, to satisfy god's justice. He chose resurrection to proclaim that the infinite separation had been bridged, death and brokenness had been healed, and he gave his eternal presence, so that a new family would be made, and a complete connection could be maintained.

The second part: to give allegiance to Father, Son and Spirit.

Allegiance is part choosing to move to a position of trust, dependence, and rest as God's child.

And it is part choosing surrender, and submission, to what God commands. God's child chooses to align him\her self with God's word, God's purposes, and God's relationship. It is loyalty of the highest order.

It involves submission, obedience, agreement, and alignment with God's word.

It is shown with the adoption of God's value, a pursuit of relationship with the Father, love and service to God's family, and all others.

Plus a realization that life, wholeness, and meaning all flow from the relationship that results from this allegiance. God's family, as expressions of love and service, seek the adoption into God's family of all those he chose to die for. Which include: friends, enemies, those in the other party, the other race, a different sexual orientation, different religions, and your every day, garden variety creep.

I sure people could come up with other ways of expressing this. Even some that have not been invented yet. There are different understandings of wrong, value, what gives meaning, and what a good life is.

In the west, people have a greater understanding of guilt, and justification. In the east, people tend to look at life through the lenses of shame, and honor. Perhaps, one reason God chose Israel, and put them where he did, was so he could give understanding of both concepts, and they could be included in his revelation.

Some people have a vivid picture of how evil they have lived. Some people (especially young children) may not recognize their imperfections as well.

Regardless of cultural understanding, or moral awareness, there is a Creator God, who designed the world to live in relationship to him. All meaning, value, and truth flow from him. All life is built to be connected, and to flow with him. And I need to recognize who he is, his position in the universe, and my relationship to him. I need to see that I may be moving with the current of his word, and purposes, or I may be moving against them. No matter which is true, I need to determine once for all (and to determine daily) to move into God's current, to move with the current, and choose to stay there. It is the first, and best, place to be.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Performance or Identity

As I understand it, every religion in the world, past or present, bases the success, or worth, of the people following it, on their performance. The followers are successful by following a proscribed set of rules, or principles.

Every religion, but Christianity, that is. In Christianity, a follower's success, or worth, is based on what one, specific, other person did. Followers accept, receive, rely on, trust, and rest in the results of what that other person did. From one point of view, it does not matter what any person does, before or after, because it does not affect the person's success, or worth.

(1) Everything, ultimately, and completely, depends on what that one person did.

(2) There is nothing we could have done to achieve success. And if it depended on our effort to keep, or maintain, the success, or worth, achieved for us, we would have lost it on the first day.

We cannot now, nor in the future, of this life, act, speak, think, or feel, in a way that will achieve the goal, or keep the goal, of right standing with God.

This does not mean God does not care how we act, speak, think, or feel. Because he does.

As we have said in the past: God designed humanity to live a particular lifestyle. This lifestyle leads to right standing, his favor, and optimal living. God has also designed each person for a particular, unique niche in history. But the first people chose to move away form God, and that decision broke the world. The human ability to live in agreement with their design, and their unique niche, was broken.

So, how do we live? And how do we view ourselves?

On one hand, it does not matter how we live. We cannot live righteously. If we pursue following Jesus, we will be transformed. We may even grow to walk in some areas perfectly. But we will never be perfect.

Moreover, Jesus' work on the cross gives us our standing. We accept it. We rest in it. And, except in the possible case of rejecting Jesus, after we chose to give him our allegiance, our fate, and standing, are in his hands. And he is constant, and perfectly faithful.

On the other hand, it does matter how we live. God has chosen us to be his child, and part of his family. God has chosen to be with us, to listen to us, to speak to us, and to act for us. We represent him, and demonstrate who he is. All of the people, outside of God's family, learn who he is, and what he is like, by seeing how his family lives. And this "testimony" is more than just keeping the rules.

How we view ourselves in relationship to God is a more important question. Are we a servant? Or are we part of the family? Are we a pardoned wretch? Or are we a beloved son? Family is more important than the servants. A son is definitely more important than a wretch.

And what is most important is how God views us. Servant and wretch? Or family and son? Because God's view is the definition of reality. I am, your are, who God says we are. God's word is our identity.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New Life Stronger than The Law

God instituted the Law. By it, God declares what is right, and what is wrong. By it, God condemns those who do not follow the Law.

But, those, who give their allegiance to Jesus, are placed into Christ. The are linked to Jesus, so what he experiences, they receive the result.

Jesus died. The punishment for sin was satisfied in him. Those in Christ were justified.

Jesus died. Those in Christ were linked to his death. Those in Christ "died" also.

Scripture says that when a person dies, he is removed from the authority of the Law. Paul uses the example of marriage. If two people are married, they can't marry someone else. That would break the Law. But, on the death of one of the partners, the constraint of the Law is broken. They are free to marry again.

If we are linked to Christ, when he died, we "died." He is not constrained by the Law. We are not constrained by the Law.

Then, does that mean we can go, and sin all we want? God doesn't care?

God does care. We should not sin. But, ultimately, the controlling factor is not the Law. the controlling factor is a new life in Christ.

We give our allegiance to Jesus. God's presence resides in the core of our being. He re-creates a person's spiritual DNA. Desires change. Motives change. Values change. And words, and actions, change.

We do not immediately become perfect. So, the Law is still valuable for understanding the parameters involved in life. But the impetus, the drive, and the power comes from the Holy Spirit. The goal becomes: faith expressing itself in love. And love keeps the Law.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Live by Faith

I have met people, who have chosen to follow Jesus. They recognize their need for a savior, their inability to secure God's blessing by their own effort, and Jesus is the only solution. The give Jesus their allegiance. God receives them, places them into his family, and begins the process of restoration.

These people begin their lives with God by faith in Jesus, but the assume the must continue that life by living in an acceptable manner.

Don't misunderstand me. God want people to live in obedience. God wants people to live always expressing love. But we initially get right with God by faith in Jesus. And we will continue to be right with God by faith in Jesus.

Paul wrote to God's family in a particular region, and he asked them: you began by faith in Christ, why are you switching?

It is God's Spirit, who gives life. And it is new, and true, life that we are walking toward. So, it is only the Spirit, who can give progress. It is the process of spiritual DNA renewal that leads to real restoration of God's design. And it is only the Spirit, who can operate on our spiritual DNA.

God's goal is to change our spiritual DNA, so that we act "naturally" in obedience. He prefers it, when we choose obedience, rather than when we choose sin. But, he prefers, even more, when obedience becomes as natural, and normal, as breathing. And that requires a move of the Spirit.

When we gave our allegiance to Jesus, we invited God to rule our lives. Part of that is giving the spirit permission to reside, and act, in our lives.

When people get married, they invite another person to move into their life. They give that person permission to act in their lives. As time passes, they  can act, and give that person greater access to the core of our lives. Or we can block that person off. We can act in the same way in our relationship with God. We can open the door wider. Or we can squeeze the door down to a crack.

As I have said before, one of the main fuels of optimal living is our connection to God. To live truly, and fully, we need an open connection to god. We need the door to be wide open. To maximize love, joy, flow of the Spirit, and transformation, we need to maximize the connection to the God-head.

We have discussed these connections too. Christ-followers have devised methods that help them open up the connections: prayer, meditation, worship, and different approaches, and modes, to all of these.

Recently, I wrote about the effect of thankfulness in the inner person, and in our relationship with God. Thankfulness is another method used to open our connection with God. A focus on the negative, on misery, closes the connection. It strangles the flow of the Spirit. of love, of joy, toward our hearts. Thankfulness counteracts this negative focus. Thankfulness gives us a clear vision of God, and his attitudes and actions toward us. Thankfulness opens our spirits to receive from the Spirit.

We can use thankfulness as a weapon against misery, and the enemy. It is a component of prayer, and worship. We can cultivate being proactively thankful, and proactively open our spirits to connect fully with the God of love, who wants to share his love with us, always, and more fully.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Above All ...

In one of Paul's letters, he commends a particular church for its love. He writes that God has supernaturally taught this church how to love.

Right from the beginning of their introduction to Jesus, they began to be patient, to act with kindness, and to not regard anyone as lower, unequal, or with less value, or worth.

Another passage says that right before Jesus returns, people will love less. and less. There will be less patience. There will be less kindness. There will more regarding others as lower, unequal, and with less worth.

Sounds a lot like today.

Scripture says that when someone gives their allegiance to Jesus, God gives them a guarantee that they belong to his family, that they have established a new relationship with him, and all his promises of an inheritance, and new life, belong to them. That guarantee is the Holy spirit living, abiding, and staying in the core of their being.

Moreover, the Holy spirit begins to express himself in, and through, the life of his new child. Because sin, false ideas, and perspectives, block the Spirit's efforts, his expression is imperfect. Be he has begun the process of dismantling the barriers to expressing himself fully through his children.

The first, and foremost, expression of God's spirit is love. Therefore, it should be the first, and foremost, expression of his children. Francis Schaeffer wrote that love is the mark of the Christian.

More than a stand for a particular social issue, more than support for a particular political party, more than going to church, more that tithing, fasting, and reading the Bible, God's family should be known for their love. That doesn't mean the church doesn't tithe, fast, or read the Bible. That doesn't mean the church doesn't vote. That doesn't mean the church agrees with everything the government, society, or culture does.

It does mean that they way the church treats people, talks about people, and interacts with people, is fully infused with love.

It does mean that any solution, to any problem supported by the church, must be fully, and completely, motivated by love, and carried out with love.

The statement that should speak loudest to his family today is his command to love people, who are enemies of Jesus, and his people. Show patience, kindness, and service to those who hate Jesus, and the church, the most.

It is a radical lifestyle that no other religion, or philosophy, is called to. Many are called to peace. None are called to actively pursue the good of those who hate, and are against them.

Image passing out cold drinks at a white supremacist parade. Imagine cleaning graffiti off a mosque, or an abortion clinic. Imagine providing a home, and support, for pregnant teens, or drug addicts.

Will this turn their lives around? Will they choose to follow Jesus? Maybe. Maybe not. Jesus served, and died, for everyone, as an expression of God's love for everyone. He died for the Jews, who turned him over to Pilate. He died for the Roman soldiers, who beat, and crucified him. He died for the 9/11 suicide bombers. He died for everyone who got an abortion. He died for the Nazis. And if any of those chose to give him their allegiance, then they too would have new life, be given his Spirit, become part of his family, and his eternal presence.

And we, his children, are called to live, and love, like him.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Giving Thanks

One of the principles that Christianity teaches is:  people work from the inside out.  What is formed on the inside produces what happens on the outside.

God condemned "wanting to kill someone" as equally evil as "actually killing someone." Accidents do happen, but deliberate choices only happen when the inner man makes a decision,  and an action is birthed into the world.

There are a lot of "theories" about how God designed the inner man. Many talk about it, as if the inner man is compartmentalized. People talk about a heart transformation.  They say things like: "I understood it with my mind, but it didn't reach my heart."

One Bible passage says transformation comes from changing the way you think. The original language says "renew your mind." Change your "knower."

My feeling is that all the components of the inner man are in one box, or they are all wired together instantaneous communication. Everything that happens in the inner man bounces off all the components at the same time. It is more of a unified structure, than compartmentalized.

I agree that people can know something, but not get it. People can know God loves them, Jesus died for them, and still not give their allegiance to Jesus.

But if the inner man generates the outer life, what we give our inner life to becomes very important.

Why are some people thoroughly miserable? Is it because they have way more problems than others? Or are they spending too much internal energy on their problems? Are they focused on what is bad in life?

If the inner generates the outer, then pursuing the wrongs, the mistakes, the accidents – all that is wrong in the world – can only generate negative effects.

In “A Thousand Gifts,” the writer highlights a terrible event in her family's life, and how “getting stuck” produced negativity towards God, life, and the future. But, a challenge to make a list of a thousand things she was thankful for, began to reverse the negativity.

The enemy, the world and sin are all active in the world. Their activity produces misery. One of the enemy's tactics is to produce as much misery as possible. Misery saps the energy from people's spirits, cuts across how God meant life to be lived, and robs God of glory he is due … because people do not see God as he really is, but through the lens of their misery.

But God is also active. He acts to restore his design in people, and the world. He act to renew love, and heal from sin, mistakes, and accidents. He acts to demonstrate himself in aspects of the world, large and small.

Thankfulness in big and small things is a recognition of the good, of God's war against misery, of God's war for grace and joy. If people get stuck on misery, they miss the opportunities to give thanks. That is, they miss when good happens.

We do need to be real, and honest, when bad stuff happens. But we need to be equally real, and honest, when the good stuff happens. One without the other gives the devil a victory.

Sometimes, good pours from the sky. Sometimes, good is buried so deep, we need to dig to find it. Maybe, we need to develop the habit of carrying a shovel with us every day. And, maybe, if we keep digging, we will uncover enough stuff to change the world … or, at least, how we interact with it.

As a result, I have begun my own list of a thousand gifts.

#1 – Saturday mornings, coffee and a bagel, my Bible, and the opportunity to see the world differently.