Monday, April 16, 2018

God Sometimes Sends Surprises

In Scripture, Isaiah prophecies that God will send his Promised One into the world. And the birth of this Promised One will be a miracle.

Biblical prophecy draws a map concerning the Messiah. We have a map, so when he comes, people will be able to recognize him. One of the more unusual prophecies, the Messiah's mother will be a virgin. In other words, in a world where babies are born all the time, and, in order for a baby to be conceived, there must be a mother and a father … in the case of the Messiah, there will only be a mother.

Or, if you take a step back, the father will be God.

Muslims have a hard time with this. They say that God would never have had physical relations with Mary. I highly doubt that there has been any Christian ever, who believed that was the way it worked. God, who made elephants, whales, and robins, as well as men and woman, is perfectly capable of creating one seed, and one egg, putting them together, and then teleporting the resulting zygote into Mary's body.

What amazes me more than the biological miracle is the sociological, and psychological interactions of the people involved.

First Mary.

Here is a normal teenager, hanging out in her room maybe listening to her favorite tunes on Spotify, while looking at pictures her friends posted on Instagram when an angel appears in the room. Imagine the range of emotions racing through Mary: amazement, curiosity, fear, confusion. Or maybe none of those. Maybe peace, calm, and wonder.

The angel tells Mary that God has a job for her. She will be the mother of the Promised One. And the angel gives a summary of what this baby will accomplish. Mary points out that with every other baby in the world, a father is involved. The angel says God has that covered. And Mary believes the angel. There is no confusion, denial, grief, or anger. There is acceptance.

This is an unusual woman. God has just turned her world upside down, and inside out, and she does not flinch, she does not blink.

Then Joseph.

Mary is pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit. And she is beginning to show signs of being pregnant. And, like Mary, like everyone else in the world, Joseph knows that baby making involves one man, and one woman. In that culture, a betrothed couple were considered to be married, just not living together yet. So, logically, Mary had been unfaithful.

That culture took being unfaithful very seriously. Women found to be unfaithful were often stoned. That is, everyone in the village threw rocks at the woman, until she was dead.

So, Joseph, facing what looks like his wife being unfaithful, and all the emotions that involves (sorrow, embarrassment, inadequacy, anger, confusion) and knowing what the rules and penalties of his culture were, has an amazing response. He should be calling for Mary's stoning. Instead, he is seeking a way to end the marriage, but in a way where Mary avoids the anger of the community. He gets sucker-punched by his wife, but seeks a way to give mercy.

Of course, the angel comes back, and appears to Joseph. "Hey, Joseph! You know that crazy story Mary told about the Holy Spirit, and the baby being the Messiah? We, guess what, it's true!"

And Joseph believes. God has just turned his world upside down, and inside out, and he does not flinch, he does not blink. He marries Mary.

We have two people, who, in terms the world understands, were not much. But, in terms God understands, they were two amazing, rare, and unusual people.

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Bottom Line

A scribe asked Jesus how to get eternal life. Jesus turned the question around, and asked the scribe what he thought. The scribe responded: "Love God with all you've got. Love people like you love yourself." And Jesus told him that he was correct.

When gets to the bottom line of Christianity, it is all about love.

Paul writes that a person could be the most accurate prophet in history, speak/pray/sing in tongues, have the Bible memorized, and believe that Mt. Rushmore would be transported to Disney World — and it was, but if all that is not motivated by love, it would be worthless.

And if these things need to be motivated by love, what does that say about any practice that people who follow Jesus do? All spiritual practices should be motivated by love: prayer, reading the Bible, evangelism, going  to church, and giving to support any work.

Spiritual practices should only be an expression of love, but they should also be an arena for growing in love.

We should connect with our Father, who is love, who washes us in love, who will tweak our spiritual DNA, so we will think, speak, and act more with love.

We should read the Bible, so our Father's mind-set, attitudes and values become our mind-set, attitudes and values.

We should be involved in Christian community, because God did not design us to be alone. God did not design us to be transformed by interaction with him alone. We are also transformed by travelling with others on the same, but also different, journey.

He gave us the metaphor of his people being a body to illustrate how people are different, but how each one contributes to the health, well-being, and growth of the whole body. Together, we all benefit form the other parts. God joins people together to further increase love — among his people, and from his people to the world.

Monday, April 02, 2018

God's Attitude About Lost Things

One day, Jesus was challenged by the Jewish leaders concerning how he spent time with unrighteous people. He had this habit of being kind to, and loving lunch with the prostitutes and tax collectors.

In Jesus' day, and culture, sharing a meal with someone was more than being polite. It was an affirmation of relationship, worth, and connection. It was a stamp of approval of the person. So, the leaders were telling Jesus: "These people lead corrupt, ugly, sinful lives. God says what they do is evil, and you are approving of what they do, and who they are."

Jesus, by no means, approved of sin. But he was born into the world to call people back to the Father. He intended to re-connect people with the Father, in a strong relationship, and growing fellowship. Sin was the reason there was no relationship, or fellowship.

So, Jesus told three stories to reveal the Father's heart toward people. All people. His heart is for relationship and fellowship with everyone.

There are times that my children have not made decisions I approve, that I think agree with who God made them to be. Does scorn, shaming, refusing to associate with them, motivate them to change? Why does Scripture declare that it is God's kindness that motivates repentance?

There is Scripture about breaking fellowship with ones in the church, who do not repent. But it is an extensive procedure, with a focus on restoration, moving back into agreement with God's best, and minimizing a bad influence on the rest of God's children.

The first story is about a shepherd with 100 sheep. One of the sheep gets lost. The focus of the shepherd changes, and fastens on the lost sheep. He leaves the 99 sheep, hikes out into the surrounding country, to find the lost sheep. And when he finds it, he carries it back to the flock.

There are a number of things the story does not say. Does the sheep want to come back? Does the shepherd have to chase it? Is it a 20 pound lamb? Or a 100 pound ewe?

What matters is that the shepherd knows that the health and well-being of the sheep is optimal, when it is with the flock. And the Father know that people are at their optimum, when they have fellowship with him. It is best for people, if God pursues them in their lostness.

The second story is about a woman, who lost a silver coin. Since, it is valuable, that is enough to make someone want to find it. But I have heard theories that the coin was part of her dowry, or part of a matched set, and set into a necklace even a necklace worn around the head. (A lost coin from such a necklace would be very obvious.)

At any rate, the woman lights a lamp, and sweeps the entire house. She covers every inch of the house. She is intense. She is thorough. And she finds the coin.

And the response for finding these two lost things? Relief, joy, exultation. A party is about to break out.

The third story is about a father, and his two sons. The younger son wanted his inheritance … NOW!! And when his father gave it to him, he went away, and squandered it partying.

Soon, he ran out of money, and out of friends, and out of food. He got a job, but even that could not meet his needs.

And then he thought about home, and thought "Even my father's servants are better off that I am." So, he made up his mind to go home, and get a job with his father. So, he wrote a speech, and practiced it all the way home.

And while he was coming home, the father sees him, and recognizes him from a long way away, His father was elated to see him, ran to him, and threw his arms around him.

The son gave his speech, but the father barely listened. Instead, he order the servants to bring the finest robe (whose robe would that be?), a ring, and sandals.

I have heard some say that the robe was meant he was received into the family, and the ring was an awarding of authority.

And then, the father arranged for a party.

When the brother returned home from working, he heard the party going on. And when he learned his brother had returned, and the party was for him, he got angry.

When the father came out to him, he complained to him: "I have worked hard. I have never complained. I have done all you ask. And I got no party!. But when your son (Note: not my brother) returns after wasting your money, you throw him a party."

God calls us to live in relationship with him. God calls us to live in moment by moment fellowship, And people turn away from God, and the world is broken.

Though God is gracious, and generous, some come to God only for what they can get. Their whole attitude is: "Gimme! Gimme!"

Though God is deeply concerned with our lives, and how we live them, what we do does not, and cannot, affect our relationship with him. It can affect our fellowship. We can cut ourselves off from fellowship with the Father, but we cannot do anything to give us closer fellowship.

These were the basic positions of the two brothers. One said: if I have stuff, pleasure, I will be blessed. The other said: If I do the right stuff, I will be blessed. In reality, they were blessed, because they had a relationship with their father.

The world is broken. It will be fixed somewhat by people living right. It will be fixed somewhat by people receiving adequate provision. But, the primary factor in fixing the world is people coming into a relationship with the Father, and living in fellowship with him.

That's why Jesus spent time with people who did not have a relationship with God. So, he could reveal the Father to them. So, he could reveal the Father's acceptance of them.

That's why we need to spend time with such people.

That's why the father replied to the older son: "You have always been with me. All that I have is yours. But your brother has chosen life. He has returned to where he belongs, where he was created and designed to be. And we need to celebrate that."

Monday, March 19, 2018

God is a Family

When Jesus began his ministry, he went to John, and was baptized. And when he came out of the water, a dove flew down, and rested on Jesus, and a voice proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son. I am well-pleased with him."

People have suggested several different things about this incident. Some think that John may anointing Jesus as Messiah, like the Old Testament prophets anointed the kings. (For example, Samuel anointed David.)

And some think Jesus may be giving people the first example of a life, that is intended to be emulated.

But a couple of things are certain:
  • God revealed to John, that while he was baptizing, he would see the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descend and rest on someone. That someone was his promised one.
  • God proclaimed his acceptance, and approval, of Jesus.
  • God revealed that the God-head is family.

There is a Father, and a Son … and a Holy Spirit. These complete the God-head family. And family reveals several important traits about God.

God did not need to create mankind to have some one to give love to, or to receive love from. God is all-sufficient. Love is built into the God-head.

Love and communication are built into creation, because they are already built into God.

And God made people to live in families. Not only their physical family, but also the spiritual family that God is creating.

God created us to be like Jesus in this life. Obviously, we are broken, because of sin, and are not living like Jesus. And equally obvious, God is working to transform us into what he intended, and designed us to be.

Part of that, God wants us to have the same fellowship with him, as Jesus had with him. In Jesus, the ideal father had the ideal relationship with the ideal son. We still have the ideal Father. We are not ideal sons, because of sin. And we do not have the ideal relationship, because of sin.

We learn how to be sons and fathers, through our relationship with our physical fathers. Because of their sin, and brokenness, we don't experience father-hood as God designed it. Our fathers' failures smother our ability to be sons. And they replicate patterns in our lives, so we fail as fathers.

To live as we were designed, God must transform our hearts. (Our thought process, our desires, our motivations, our imagination.) And part of this transformation is a restoration of God as ideal Father in our lives, and ourselves as son. To have the proper relationship with God, we need to open our hearts to him, and because of sin, we learn to close our hearts to our fathers, and we learn to close our hearts to our Father.

So, we need to connect to our Father, who is God, and the ideal Father, to learn who he is, how he thinks about us, how he responds to us, and how he reacts to us. Then, we will learn how to respond and react to him. We will learn our identity in the world. And we will be able to stand, drawing on resources given by a loving Father, who is generous, and faithful, with all that he has.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Place for Each Man in Christ

God has designed humans. He has inspired the Bible to give us a pattern to follow, to promote joy, peace, and fulfillment of personal potential.

And, as he can give each one of us his eternal presence, his 100% focused attention, he is fully able to design each of us. and I have been feeling for the last couple years, that the Father has intentionally taken time, energy, and thought, to design and form every human being. He gives each one a place, a calling, and a unique message.

It is not always easy to live out of the place God created for us. Understanding the place is one thing. Social, cultural, and personal expectations can also interfere.But our joy, our part of God's mission, our value in God's kingdom lies in flowing out of our unique place.

What may interfere more than the expectations of the world are the expectations of God's family. Leaders, and churches, also have expectations of what a proper follower of Christ looks like.

Don't misunderstand me. If one says: "My place in Christ is to help relieve poverty," it is not OK for that person to rob banks to do that.

Some churches have a more sedate, calmer form of worship. And if a person raises his hands during worship, he is almost regarded as rude. Other churches have more exuberant forms of worship. How is the person, who engages in periods of contemplation during worship, regarded there?

It is often the differences of people, that give them value to their family. And maybe others need to learn to see the differences, to see the niches that God has filled for their good, and their growth, and be thankful for them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Growing in Righteousness

We have seen in the past, that before allegiance to Christ, we were slaves to sin. We were sentenced by God to eternal punishment. We were powerless to change the way we lived.

We gave allegiance to Jesus, and God applied his death to us. Ghrist's death cancels sin's penalty. Christ's death frees us from sin's power.

The problem is: we still sin. We still fall. There is something that holds onto us. There is something that still exerts a control on us, because we desire to live righteously. We desire to live as we were designed.

There is a Scripture passage that talks about "living according to the flesh." That is, we agree with our flesh. We say to ourselves: "This gives me comfort. This helps me. This gives me meaning." So, we continue to engage in sinful activity.

Or we say: "This person hurt me. O deserve better. I deserve to be recompensed by this person." And we agree not to forgive.

We continue to sin, because deep inside our spirit, we don't see that we are agreeing with sin. We don't recognize that something is bad. Pain can blind us. We can refuse to surrender something that we have used to protect ourselves for decades.

If we have given our allegiance to God, we belong to God, and we have made a decision to agree with God, and with his Spirit, overall. We agree with God in a general, over-arching way.

Now, we begin the process of transformation. We remain open to God to reveal specific areas where we actually agree with sin, and not with him.

First, we are with God: this are is sin. Then, we are to turn away from this specific practice. Then, we agree to practice what God says fits in this place. Then, we practice God's substitute.

Transformation is always a four step process:
  • Recognize what is wrong
  • Choose to stop doing what is wrong.
  • Recognize what is right.
  • Choose to start doing what is right. 

All four steps are needed for real progress, real growth, to occur.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Commission (3)

Scripture records that Jesus gave his disciples a commission to go to every people group in the world, and make disciples from every people group.

Scripture, giving us a sneak peek of heaven, proclaims that representatives of every people group, will worship together before the throne of God.

It is obvious the Commission is not a command that the Twelve are going to complete by themselves. Too much area to cover … especially by foot. Too many people groups. Too much time for each people group. It is a command to every disciple.

The goal of disciplemaking is to instill obedience to the commands of Jesus in the hearts of every disciple. All the commands. Every command. Including this one.

It is also obvious that this will involve crossing borders, both geographic and cultural. And it is the cultural kind that will probably be the most difficult. One person getting inside the mindset, the perspective, the values, the motivations, of another person takes time, patiences, and stubborn persistance.

For a natural point of view, this close understanding is required to position the gospel in a way that speaks to the heart of a new people group.

For example, those following Jesus from the West tend to understand sin in terms of breakinjg standards, guilt, and punishment. Those form the East tend to understand sin in terms of honor, shame, lost relationships, and lost value. I do believe that Scripture speaks to both, but the message giver and the message receiver need to see the same perspective.

Generally, except for those inside the people group, those who understand a people group the best are those from a different, but close, people group. Next door neighbors, so to speak.

I sometimes think that God intended each people group to impact its "next door neighbor," setting off a chain reaction of "going next door" and a ever-growing tsunami of disciple making.

The political situation does not seem to allow that today. There are governments who will not allow the necessary freedom for political reasons. There are governments who will not allow the necessary freedom for religious reasons.

I suppose there are people planning, and strategizing, about how to impact the people in those countries. And there is also testimony about God himself, taking initiative, by sending dreams to people in those countries. My focus at the moment is on the "every man" follower of Christ -- though I may broaden the scope of this picture in the future.

What can I do, right now, in my context, to create disciples in every people group?

Obviously, we can give financially. I don't want to give the impression that giving is bad, but I also don't want to give the impression that is the only thing. But there are people positioned (culturally, geographically, and politically) better than we are, but may not be positioned financially as well. As we are all part of the same kingdom, we can certainly support thos on the "front lines."

We can pray. There is an entirely spiritual component to this work, as the enemy seeks to keep millions in darkness. We can pray to bind the enemy, to open eyes, to send dreams and visions, and to open hearts. There are web sites that list unreached/unengaged people groups. We can pick one to engage in prayer. Lastly, Jesus specifically command us to pray for workers in the harvest.

Lastly, we can reach across cultural lines in our current context. In the US, there are cultural lines all over. There are different racial communities. There are ethnic communities. There are the unchurched. There are the immigrants and the internationals. Right now, at a university, not even a mile from my house, are several thousand Chinese, attending class and doing research. And there are students from other countries as well, including Muslim majority countries.

Finally, we must remember that we are not citizens of our country only. We are citizens of God's kingdom. Whenever, we walk out our door, we are crossing cultural borders, to act as an ambassador, and represent our King. In every personal encounter, we can present God in a positive light. We can illustrate his character, act out his values, and his message. And maybe even speak that message.