Monday, August 13, 2018

Human Worth

I recently had a couple of days where I failed at a few things. In a couple of cases, I was asked to do something for someone, and I missed one step in the process. And that step turned out to be crucial to the process. In another case, I was asked to do something, and, then, I thought I was told to forget it. Of course, I was not told to forget it.

No one died. There world did not come to ant end. There was some inconvenience. But I was sad, felt like a failure, and felt like I had no worth. Looking back, I can see that I began to behave in a way that sought approval, and validation.

Then, one night, as I was getting ready for bed, I realized that down inside, I held a belief that I needed to do right (or, at least, not do wrong) to have worth.

Another common theme, across humanity, is a yearning for stuff that reinforces our worth. We look for events that say we matter, have worth, or feed our spirits. As followers of Jesus, we need to agree with the Bible, that, in themselves, there is no one who is worthy. Sin corrupts any worth intrinsic in human beings. Not Mother Theresa, nor Billy Graham, nor anyone else is worthy in themselves. And there is nothing anyone can do to gain, or earn, worth.

But, also, as followers of Jesus, we need to agree with the Bible, that human beings have immeasureable worth. Their worth does not come from what they do, rather it comes from who they are. People have worth, because they are created by God, for realtionship with God, and in his image.

And the perfect demonstration of a person's worth is the payment God made to reconnect with people, after sin brought about seperation. God was born into the world, in the person of Jesus, who proclaimed God's love, and died for mankind's sin, to satisfy god's justice, to redeem a family for himself, and to express that love. The worth of something is the price one pays for it. And Jesus paid the ultimate price for us all.

He did not pay the price for just righeous people. He did not pay the price for just good people. He paid the price for all people. Which means all people have immeasurable woth. Dictators, drug dealers, slave traders, rapists, and mass murderers all have immeasurable worth, because an immeasurable price was paid for them.

An immeasurable price was paid for all. But not all have reaped the benefits. One reaps when one decides to follow Jesus, when one gives him allegiance. So, those, without allegiance, have no relationship, do not begin to live as intended. But the price was paid, and God declares how he values them.

We will all continue to fail. We can never achieve worth by what we do. We can learn to live in God's valuation of us.

How does one live, who recognizes, and holds, the worth that God gives him?

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Effective Prayer

One practice that I have had trouble being consistent with is prayer. 

At times, I have been very regular, and consistent. At times, prayer has been practically non-existent. Sometimes, God has seemed close. Sometimes, God has seemed far away. Sometimes, he has acted quickly, enthusiastically, and powerfully. Sometimes, it seems like God is saying "Are you kidding?"

And at times, when I have been consistent, it seems like the prayer gets mechanical, formal, and repetitious.

Some people look at prayer, as if it is a check-box to mark off. Or it is a magic spell to get God to give you some sort of advantage.

What if prayer is an expression of a person's relationship with God, and one of the means of partnering with God in affecting the spiritual climate of the places that person touches.

Seeking God to intervene becomes part of relationship. It becomes more like asking your dad for help with homework, or to play with you, or to get your kite out of a tree.

Sometimes, it seems like there are rules for effective prayer. And by rules, I don't mean there is formal structure and routine to follow. I mean a rule more like: "Look both ways before you cross the street." It is just something you do, you make it a rule, so you don't get hit.

But even rules require a little flexibility. I know of a Japanese college student who got hit by a car crossing the street. It wasn't that she didn't look. She followed her habitual pattern. But that pattern does not work in the US, because Japan, like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, drive on the other side of the street. Look left, then right, doesn't work in Japan.

I am reading a book called "Moving Mountains" by John Eldredge. He is trying to describe (what I am calling) rules of effective prayer. There are two rules, that are introduced in this book, that I am hoping to implement to grow in relationship, and effectiveness.

The first rule is: get aligned. When we give our allegiance to Jesus, we can be said to be choosing to be getting our lives aligned with God. Please understand, I am not referring to this initial, fundamental alignment.

Every day, we get battered by the world: war, crime, discrimination, bad attitudes at work, and driving on a freeway. Life seems intent to blow us off course. Each blows distracts us, twists us away from a properly tuned relationship with God. We forget who he is. We forget who we are.

Getting aligned is simply getting God, our lives, the world, and everything that is going on, back into the correct focus, and perspective.

We can do this by spending time in worship. Worship is simply bringing to our attention the greatness of God. We remind ourselves of his character, and attributes. We remind ourselves of his works for us. We remind ourselves of how he views, and treats us.

We can also declare our alignment. This could sound a lot like giving him allegiance again. We confirm our desire to know him, to be transformed, and to live as he designed. We could confirm our desire, and intention, to think, speak, feel, and act in agreement with his intentions for our lives. We could confirm our desire to live as we were designed, as fully as possible.

The mis-aligning forces pull us away from agreement with God, with his word, and with his plans, and purposes. They put a strain on our relationship with our Father. It is agreement with God that powers prayer's effectiveness. So, alignment ought to be step one in gaining prayer effectiveness.

The second rules is: ask God what he wants me to pray for.

People discuss why God is not working in an area. There is sin. There is a timing issue. There are blocking issues. There are a number of layers, interlocking together.

Sometimes, situations are simple. Sometimes, they are very complicated, and confusing. They are like a gigantic log jam. blocking a river. Who do you suppose would know which log to push? Which way? How hard?

I know situations where I don't know what to do, what to say, or even how to pray. I would probably make things worse, if I did something. So, I ask the one who does know.

Get aligned. Ask the Expert.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Incarnatation

In the beginning of one of the biographies of Jesus, the writer uses the word "Word" to describe Jesus. "Word" in the original language means an expression of the inner being. It is an expression of thought, or reasoning. The Greek philosophers used this word to describe the order ingrained in the universe.

God is the force behind creation. He gave it form, order, and purpose. He designed it like an engineer, and an artist. And God's inner being became reality.

The "Word" shows us the nature, and essence, of the God-head. He shows us the likes, and dislikes of God. He shows us God's passions, motivations, values, loves, and hates.

And the Word is also God. The Word is eternal. The Word created all that exists.

The Word gave life. The Word shows us how to live in fellowship with the Father, and how to live as a human being was designed to live. The Word shows how people can return to fellowship with the Father, and how to return to living as God intended.

The Word lived with the Father in the spiritual realm, throughout eternity. There were witnesses, who said he would move into the physical realm. And when that happened, the world reject him. Even his people group, who expected him, and watched for his arrival, rejected him.

But anyone who saw, and listened to him, if the decided what he said was true, and accepted him, those people were granted pardon, justification, and restoration into God's kingdom, and family. They were given authority to renew fellowship with the Father. They were claimed as his child. They were appointed as ambassador, and priest. And each one is beloved, and welcome to the Father's presence at any time, any place, and in any situation.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Invoking the Kingdom (b)

God's family — who is also his army, his kingdom, his ambassadors, and his body — is charged with rooting out the presence of the enemy, and establishing God's kingdom in the world. The question becomes: what does this form of "combat" look like? How do we carry out our assignments?

Like a modern army, God's family has different people carrying out different assignments, and different functions. (Hence, the body analogy.) So, what one person's assignment looks like does not necessarily mean that another person's assignment looks the same. But there are areas where functions overlap.

One common area is proclaiming the gospel. Simply, God's army drives out the enemy's army by capturing the captives. One person — an enemy of God, a rebel, and a slave of sin — hears the gospel, and becomes convinced of its truth. He gives his allegiance to the Father. He is forgiven, and redeemed. He becomes a part of God's family. God begins the restoration process. One person begins to live as he was designed. And the world moves a little closer to following its design. God's kingdom has claimed a little more turf.

The actual communication of God's message is essential. It is like the rifle in an army. It is the most foundational weapon in the God's armory.

But it is not the only weapon. God has others. And these need to be used for the Gospel message to be effective.

Jesus prayed for the unity of those who believed in him. He prayed that his family would have the same unity that he and the Father had. Jesus said that the unity of God's people is a demonstration that God sent Jesus.

Unity is an expression of love; and love is a larger expression of God's nature. Jesus said that love demonstrates who are his true disciples.

Love moves in a direction that is contrary to the world. Love proclaims who God is. Yes, God will judge the world for its sin. But Scripture describes judgment as God's unusual, and extraordinary, work. Gould wold rather give love.

And since, God is love, and love is contrary to the ways of the world, love is a strong witness for God, and God's life. God's family does need to stand for what is righteous, and just. We often see Christians standing for what is just, or standing for what is loving. God is not one, or the other. God is both. And God calls his children to be both.

And, just as God designed, and created, the physical realm, he designed, and created, the spiritual realm. There are laws that govern how the physical operates. There are laws that govern how the spiritual operates. And there are ways the spiritual can invade the physical.

Prayer is probably the most common, perhaps the most important, way to connect the spiritual to the physical, enabling the spiritual to impact the physical. Which means that some of the spiritual laws affect how prayer functions. If you will, there are rules of prayer.

That makes prayer seem to operate mechanically, by formulas. Which is not true, because prayer is an expression of relationship. But, there are "rules" about how people people relate to each other. In Korea and Japan, there are specific ways of addressing older people. I "tease-insult" my brothers. (And they "tease-insult" me in return. Or initiate it.) So, I relate to my brothers in ways that would never be proper with strangers, or, even, certain friends. Husbands and wives have ways to address each other that build the relationship, and prevent fights. Sometimes, my wife will make a statement, and I will have information that makes her statement not quite accurate. If I value this relationship, I will need to introduce this information in a way that does not seem to insult her, or seem to inflate my own self-importance. Just as there are correct, and effective, ways to approach people, there are correct, and effective, ways to approach God. And there are ways that effectively connect to God, and allow him to impact the physical on our behalf.

Two of the simpler to understand "rules" are: repetition, and agreement. I have written recently about insistent prayer. Jesus encourages us to keep asking. God has perfect love, and perfect patience. His heart is for us, so he urges us to consistently bring issues to him, again and again.

And God works with issues, where a number of people agree about it, and pray together about it.

Another "rule" is abiding. Jesus urged his disciple to abide in him, as a requisite to bearing fruit.

Abiding is, in part, a yielding to Jesus. There is a one-time yielding, where we choose to follow Jesus, when we give him our allegiance. There is also a daily yielding. The one-time yielding affects our salvation, our inclusion into God's family, and our eternal destiny. Our daily yielding affects our ongoing fellowship with the Father … and, therefore, our prayer.

Because we are human, we are inconsistent. We drift. We are forgiven, but we are still affected by sin. So, we introduce "pollution" into our fellowship with the Father. The daily yielding clears out any pollution, re-aligns, and re-focuses, our connection, and creates a proper atmosphere for effective prayer. Worship, and confession of known sin, can be proper yielding activities.

Prayer is a vital part of establishing God's kingdom in the world. Prayer is as much a part of completing God's mission as proclaiming the gospel, and serving in love.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Invoking the Kingdom

We read in Scripture that God designed, and created, the world and people. And people were designed to live a life of completeness, fullness, and wholeness.

We have discussed the spiritual fuels that man needs to live in wholeness. A relationship with the Father being the main one. Love, community, beauty, and purpose are others.

Because God designed man to need purpose, he embedded the means for man to achieve purpose within creation. Scripture says, whe God created man, he told man to exercise dominion over the earth. The words in the original language indicate that God was giving man authority to form the world for good.

First, the world was designed so men would make significant, meaningful choices, that would produce real effects in the world.

Second, God intended that man would produce, not only, farms, cities, and, even, factories to provide for man's material needs, but also parks, museums, and natural preserves, to provide for man's spiritual needs. (Not to mention, that the farms, cities, and factories should enhance, not detract from, man's physical, spiritual, health, and wholeness.)

Of course, man chose to walk away from God; and while living in separation, man chose greed, pride, and selfishness. He chose to bring destruction, and death to the world.

Moreover, it resulted in man losing his authority over creation. The world became part of the kingdom of the enemy. And he acted to maximize death, destruction, and human misery.

So, man chose separation. And God began a plan of restoration. God made a plan to restore:
  • fellowship between God and man;
  • fellowship between people;
  • man's authority over the earth … practiced in the right way.

And God defeated the enemy, on the cross, and restored the world back to his kingdom.

I have heard the present situation compared to Iwo Jima, during World War II. The Allies had two objectives concerning Iwo Jima. One, to successfully invade, land soldiers on the island, and capture the beach to use as an easy way to supply future operations. Two, to capture the airfield, preventing its use by the enemy, and facilitating its us by the Allies.

The Allies successfully invaded, capturing both the beach, and the airfield. The objectives were complete, and the battle won. And if the enemy had ceased hostilities, that would have been the end of it. But they didn't. They continued to fight, resulting in some of the fiercest action of the war.

Our enemy has been defeated, but he hasn't surrendered. He continues to work to produce as much death, destruction, and misery as he can.

And God's family, like the marines on Iwo Jima, are charged with rooting out the enemy, and installing God's kingdom.

Insistent Prayer

Scripture says that each person, who gives his allegiance to Jesus, God has granted that person the authority to live as his children. Authority is delegated power. We are not born with it. We cannot earn it. It is granted. Jesus earned it for us on the cross. And it is given to us based on our faith response to him.

There are several places where being God's child overflows into our daily living.

How often have you been in a store, and saw a mother and child, and the child is going:
            "Mommy, can I … ?"
            "Mommy, can I … ?"
            "Mommy, can I … ?"

I suppose a lot of us wonder why that mother doesn't keep the child quiet? Or why isn't that child better behaved?

Often, the parents will have a talk with the child, and say something like: "I heard you the first time. You don't need to keep asking. You only need to ask once."

The child keeps asking, because:
            (1) he hasn't received answer;
            (2) he is secure in his relationship with the parent.

He is confident of his parent's love, and in his parent's desire to bless. What does the above parental lecture say to the child? Maybe it says the child is not as secure in the parent's love as he thought.

Jesus assures us that our Father is different. He says to keep asking, to keep seeking, and to keep knocking. He says, be like that child.

It is the good, and loving, nature of the Father that assures he will listen, and that he will answer. Human parents do love their children. (Although, their love is not perfect. Hence, the impatience with being asked, and asked, and asked.) Even with imperfect love, they will not give their children something that is bad for them. God's love is perfect. He has perfect patience. He will only give what is good.

And not only is he willing, he is more than able. Too see the Father, one needs only to look at Jesus:
  • Who raised the dead; (Even someone dead for four days.)
  • Who fed 15,000 people with one person's lunch;
  • Who reconstructed human bodies beyond what human science can do. 

To see the Father, one needs only to look at his works:
  • The human eye which can detect over 7,000,000 colors;
  • The sun although, it is approximately 93,000,000 miles away, it has enough power to keep all things functioning, and all things growing.
  • The earth which is situated perfectly, the correct distance from the sun, the correct composition, the correct processes and functions, to be the perfect home for mankind;
  • DNA which not only contains all the "recipes" for creating all the structures and processes in the human body, but also each process to complete the recipe, and instructions for getting the building blocks, and instructions for what to do and where to send the completed product, when it is finished.

Our Father is motivated to respond to our prayer. He encourages us to "bother" him. And he is fully, and completely, able, and ready, to respond. He invites us to approach, to seek him, and to open our hearts.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

God's Favor (6)

God favors those who are persecuted. But he does not just favor the persecuted, he favors those who give him their allegiance, who become a part of his family, and are persecuted for that.

There are places in the world, where giving allegiance to Jesus, means a life of trouble. Because God's children choose to follow him, they usually begin to move in a direction that is different from the flow of the surrounding culture. And those in that culture will either view them as weird, or as traitors.

The world has always been hard on those who seek to know God. And the enemy pushes hard to promote this attitude. He considers it to be in his best interest, if no one seeks for God, or lives for God.

And if he cannot keep people away form God, he will try to keep them quiet.

And by quiet, I do not mean he is trying to stop God's children from yelling "The world is bad! The world is bad!" The world will just pay no attention to that. He is trying to stop people from yelling "God is good! God is good!"

He is trying to stop faith. He is trying to stop love. He is trying to disrupt God's relationship with his people, and their relationship with one another. He is trying to prevent God's children from accurately demonstrating God's character.

What if, in the midst of being treated badly, God's children persist in:
  • Walking with the Father;
  • Engaging in practices that expand the Father's influence in their lives, and through them to the world;
  • Loving each other;
  • Loving those who do not have a relationship with the Father … especially those actively engaging in persecution;
  • Seeking God's best for society, and the world. 

In a world, where such practices run counter to every instinct that humanity has, but copies Jesus' lifestyle, and follows God's way of love, is it any wonder that God favors, and delights in his children.



God's Favor (5)

God favors those who make peace. The English term "peacemaker" gives a connotation of someone, who is an intermediary between people, who have some sort of dispute. The word in the original language could be stated more like "to produce peace."

In all these declarations of who God favors, Jesus is drawing a contrast between the Pharisaic understanding of keeping rules, and marking boxes on check lists, with having a relationship with the Father.

God does not favor rules keepers, or check box markers. The relationship between God and man is broken. No amount of rule keeping will fix it.

Even if rule keeping could fix it, no human being keeps the rules sufficiently well enough. The rule breaking far outdoes the rule keeping.

Let's bear in mind here, God is not against rule keeping per se. If sin had not come into the world, and people's lives, people would have lived like Jesus. They would have "kept" the rules as an expression of their nature. God inspired the Biblical writers to write down the rules, so people would realize that they do not keep the rules. Or they could see what a person, who pleases God, looks like. We would know how we were designed to live.

God sent Jesus to build the bridge, so people could return to him, create a relationship with him, and be restored in their core, so they would begin to live as they were designed.

So, God favors those who choose to cross the bridge, and begin that relationship with the Father. They have made peace with him. They are no longer rebels, or enemies. And they are living a life of peace, because they are living in agreement with how they are designed.

And God favors those who show others, where the bridge is … helping someone else begin to have a relationship with the Father, to cease living as rebels, and enemies, and to begin living as they are designed.

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.

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.