Sunday, October 14, 2018

Giving Thanks

One of the principles that Christianity teaches is:  people work crom 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.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Community

God designed people to live in relationship. There should be a relationship with God himself; and there should be a relationship with other people.

There is a verse that says relationships should enhance the lives of people. Relationships are compared to sharpening a blade. A blade is no good, unless it is sharp. And I learned recently, that different blades, intended for different uses, need to be sharpened differently, at different angles. A blade used in the kitchen of a five star restaurant cannot be sharpened like an ax, used to chop wood. The blades must be treated differently.

So, it is not good to simply bang pieces of metal together. That will damage the blade, and an important tool will be lost. Someone using metal to correctly, and skillfully, apply friction will enhance the blade, and make the tool more valuable.

Friction becomes a valuable commodity.

Friction is usually considered negative interaction in a relationship. Disagreements, arguments, and other negative interactions, can have a positive effect, if those involved respond in that ways that agree with God’s design. Extending patience, and kindness, to those you disagree with, especially if they are not patient, and kind, in return, can have positive effects on everyone involved. Jesus says, “love your enemy.” Love positively affects the giver, and the receiver.

But in this case, friction encompasses all interaction. If love positively affects give, and receiver, in negative interactions, will it not have positive effects in positive interactions?

And God’s family needs to be the foremost example in giving loving, healing communication. Human beings need community. God’s family should show the world how it should be done.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

A Small Revolution

Scripture reveals there will be a time, when God will remove his people from the world. God's desire is (a) to deliver his people, and (b) to let the world know what it will be like without his "interference." And it won't be pretty!

And a lot of god's people are ready! They are weary of the sin, lack of love, the evil, the atrocities, and the trashing of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. "Come quickly!" is the motto, and heartfelt cry, of these people.

But, what is god's heart, right now?

To use Steve Sjogren's phrase: Many Christians want to get out of the world. Right now, God wants to get his people into the world.

God wants a Jesus-style revolution. Jesus did not overturn any governments, or get involved in politics, protests, or riots. But, he did buck the system. He did stand up for the weak, the outcasts, and the marginalized. He was a voice for change. And he did it by proclaiming the truth, and acting in love, service, and acceptance.

Jesus' purposes in the world:
  • To die for mankind's sin.
  • To proclaim the good news.
  • To make and train disciples.
  • To show the Father.
  • To model life as God intended.

 The church's purpose:
  • The same as Jesus' purpose, except for dying for mankind's sin.

And these are the church's purposes. Not the leaders. Not the professionals. Jesus's whole body participates in completing God's purposes.

A lot of Jesus' followers will start thinking about how they are unable to complete any of the above tasks. And I think we need to start adjusting our thinking.

The world is growing colder, and darker. The Bible says that people's love will grow cold. People will focus on themselves, and what makes their lives easier, fatter, and more comfortable.

But God's family is supposed to stand out … in a positive way, as light and salt. Maybe that means, the world is supposed to be a brighter place, because of God's family. Maybe that means they are supposed to counteract the bad taste people are experiencing currently.

If we are supposed to be "Jesus" in the world today, may we can do — at least, in a small way — what Jesus would do. Maybe we cannot multiply fish and loaves, but we can help feed someone who is hungry. We can pray — right now! — for healing for someone suffering. Maybe, we cannot stop our national representatives from trashing those in the other party, but we can be patient, and speak kindly to, and about, people we have differences with. Maybe, we cannot solve all the problems in the world, but we can carry one burden for someone … even if it is just a bag of groceries to the car.

What if everyone, who follows Jesus, began a revolution of love in Jesus' name? What if everyone, who follows Jesus, made a small demonstration of how people were designed to live, made a small demonstration of what our Father is like, whispered the good news, by completing one act of free, loving service each day? Ideally, it would be to a stranger. Ideally, there would be an opportunity to say, "This is a small taste of Jesus' love for you."

Monday, September 17, 2018

Paul's Priority

Paul was writing to this group of Christians, while he was in prison. The Jews seized Paul, while he was in Jerusalem. And roman soldiers "rescued" Paul,  thinking he was a wanted criminal. And when they found out who he was, they held him, and sent him to Rome.

And what was Paul's perspective concerning the fact that he was being unjustly held in prison? (He had not committed a crime. The Jews seized him simply because he believed in, and proclaimed, Jesus.)

Paul realized that the most fundamental issue with humanity was its separation from God. It is the re-connection of God and man that fixes what is broken in the world. So, people understanding the problem, the solution, and all the results from it, became his foremost focus.

So, rather than viewing prison as a loss of opportunity, because it is a loss of freedom, he views prison as access to a new audience he would not have otherwise. He was able to share God's message to all of the soldiers, who were in Caesar's guard, as well as all of the staff.

Moreover, many other believers have gotten motivated to proclaim God's message.

Some received a fresh revelation of what re-connection to God means for individuals, and the world. So, they became strongly motivated to communicate God's message to people, who did not know him.

And Paul heard about others, who were trying to gain increased status from sharing the gospel. Paul was not worried about this. He agreed these people did not have pure motives. It would be infinitely better to share from love of God, and love of people.

But the foremost fact is: God's love is getting communicated to people, who do not realize it, know it, or experience it. Now, people have the opportunity to move into relationship with the Father, and to live as God designed.

God wants his family as a whole, and as individuals to communicate his love for all people, and his message, which is the answer for a broken humanity. And there are multiple reasons why this doesn't happen.

There are methods of proclamation that can only be done after special training, or with great expense, and preparation, which cannot be copied by most people. Many, who have gotten the training, or paid the cost, has gotten discouraged, because too much work was required for too little results.

Many Jesus followers do not emphasize what Jesus emphasized. There are different groups, who stress different parts of what it means to follow Jesus. These parts have been given priority. I don't want to minimize people's different convictions, or areas that God has revealed to different parts of his family. God is restoring his image to his people. Each of these areas is important to that process. But we do need to remember Jesus' priorities.

Jesus said that love demonstrates who are his disciples. And he said that unity in his family demonstrates that God really, and truly, did send Jesus. it is these areas that God's family needs to major in. It is these areas that God's family needs to be well-know for. God has other standards we need to proclaim, other truths we need to affirm. But these are number one. We need to affirm number two, and number five, without forgetting number one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

New Life is Contagious

One day, Paul met face to face with Jesus. And it turned his world upside down, and inside out. Scriptures indicates, that shortly after this meeting, Paul went on a retreat.

Because Paul was a scholar, he need to get his head on straight about all that had happened. Jesus revealed God to him in a revolutionary way. The Jewish scholars poured through Scripture, seeking answers to God, his purposes, his intentions, and plans. They all thought they had God figured out. They had his system down pat. Then comes Jesus! How did they get it so wrong?

After this retreat, he understood better what God's purposes are. He understood Jesus, the Law, the cross, and grace. He understood faith, and obedience. And he understood the effect the gospel could have on Jew, gentile, and the world. And he recognizes his place as a gospel pioneer in God's plan.

So, when he shares the gospel in a gentile city, and they have a similar "light bulb" moment, he develops a special joy for this city. The people in this new church this community of Jesus followers recognized the eternal ripples the gospel would generate. They recognized the expanding, positive effects the gospel would cause in their lives, and families, and countries.

Profoundly impacted by it all, they began to share what they knew all-along their relational lines. They told friends, family, and neighbors about Jesus. This was not a city-wide, door-to-door campaign. This was: "Hey, Joe! How's work? How's the family? Have you heard about this Jesus guy?"

Paul recognized the symptoms of new life in them. He knew them, because he had the same "disease." So, Paul prayed for their progress in their relationship with the Father, their transformation, and the increasing effect of their lives on their communities. And Paul knew that the Father was not finished yet.

One reason, Jesus was born into the world, was to demonstrate, to model, how people should be living. God intended each person to live like Jesus lived. Each person should have a spontaneous flow of God's love to experience, and to share. And each person ought to share it freely, readily, and abundantly.

And yeah! none of us are there yet. But, we ought to be moving in that direction. And in today's atmosphere, it ought to be noticed … just like it was in the first century.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Slave of Christ

In several of his letters, Paul identifies himself as a slave of Christ. Slavery is not normally something one aspires to, or is proud of. At the time of Paul and Jesus, it is estimated that half of the population of the Roman empire were slaves. There is documentation of abuse of slaves. There is also documentation of maintaining skilled slaves. For example, one would have a physician as a slave, so one could charge for his services, and keep all the profits.

The Jews had slaves. But it was written in the law,  that the treatment of slaves should be handled differently than the rest of the world. A slave could not be "held" forever. They had to be freed after a set time.

There was a provision in the law, that if the slave chose, the slave could remain with his master for the rest of his life. The law said, that while living with his master, if the slave observes his master's conduct, and treatment, of his slaves, his family, property, and reasons that he is better, living as a slave with this master, he can choose to remain a slave.

The word "slave," that Paul users to describe himself, is usually translated into English as "bond servant," or "bond slave." The intention is to associate this term with the Jewish concept of "slave by choice."

And that is what Paul is identifying himself as. He recognizes who Jesus is, what Jesus gave him, and how he is viewed by God. He recognizes how he is treated, what Jesus did on his behalf, and what his heavenly Abba is ready, willing, and able to do on his behalf. So, he chose to be God's slave, because of the cross, and what it says of God's love for people.

God went over the top for people. He showed Paul his love, and his willingness to serve his people. So, Paul was willing to put himself into God's hands. He became God's slave, doing whatever God asked, because it would be the best for him, and the best for the world. And we are invited to do the same.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Heart of Jesus

God intended his people to demonstrate what it means for someone to live in relationship with God. God intended it for Israel. God intended it for the church.

Israel turned a relationship into a system. They believed that, if they kept the system, they pleased God, and were accepted by God. We know that God revealed through Paul, that no one can keep any system, and please God. We know that Jesus came, and superseded the system.

Jesus began his public ministry, describing the person, who does please God. God did not favor the one who went through the system. Moreover, he continued to demonstrate who God favored the one who keeps the system, or the one who responds in faith and love.

One of God's commands to Israel: do not form binding relationships with people, who do not follow him. God created relationships to strengthen convictions, and lifestyles. Deeper relationships (like marriage) meant stronger effects on a person's convictions and practices.

Israel interpreted that as: have no relationship at all with people, who do not follow the God of Israel. Do not eat with gentiles. Do not enter a gentile's home.

So, what does Jesus do? He goes on a short-term mission trip. He takes his disciples to the region of Type and Sidon. This area is north of Galilee, outside of Israel, in current day Lebanon. And the disciples are freaking out. They are surrounded by people, who they have been taught all their lives, to have nothing to do with.

And, to make matters worse, a woman is following them around, begging Jesus to heal her daughter. And, after a few words, not only does Jesus heal her daughter, but he commends her faith. Jesus commended the faith of very few people. One was this woman. Another was a Roman Centurion. There were no Jews.

Then, he moves down to the Sea of Galilee, on the gentile side, and heals all the gentiles, who come to him. Then, after three days (doing what? healing? teaching?), he sends them on their way, after feeding them lunch. (Maybe 12,000 people with seven kaiser rolls, and a can of sardines.)

Jesus lived among men, as God intended all men to live. Jesus' lifestyle was an example, and a model for God's family to follow. He was kind to all people. He loved, served, and cared for all people. He put relationship with his Father, and with people, first.

Most of us belong to a "normal" church. Most churches function more as organizations, rather than families. Some system is bound up in organizations. The trick is for God's family to not let the system overwhelm the family. We need to live with love, kindness, and service first, and the system second.