Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pray for Workers

Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission trip. Before they left. He spent some time giving them instructions. The first instruction was to pray for workers.

He said the harvest was great. The harvest in this case was not ears of corn, or bushels of wheat. The harvest referred to the lives, and souls, of people. These are people who have not given God their allegiance, but they are responding to the God-shaped emptiness in their hearts.

Part of Jesus’ mission was to die for mankind’s sin. Part was to introduce people to the Father, and his desire for fellowship with people. Only Jesus could complete the first part. But any of Jesus’ disciples can do the second. And the second part has become the disciples’ mission.

There are three practices involved in accomplishing this part of Jesus’ mission.
  • Proclaim. This is communicating the gospel message. This could be verbal, written, sign language, art, semaphore, or Morse code. This could be a speech, a discussion (one on one, group, or panel), a blog post, a newspaper article, a novel, or an animated movie on TV. This could be instruction, answering questions, or relating personal experience. It should occur in all places, and all phases of society.
  • Demonstrate. Jesus did more that talk; he acted. So, his disciples should act too. Like him, they should serve, love, feed, give relief, build, comfort, empathize, accept, heal and show mercy. The goal is for God’s family to be a picture of God. It is say, “You want to know what Jesus was like? Look at his family.”
  • Pray. Creation has two parts: physical, and spiritual. And these parts interact and impact each other. So, there is a supernatural component to walking with Jesus. Prayer is how an individual follower of Jesus contributes to the impact of God’s family in the unseen, but really real, part of creation. In prayer, he smothers the effects of the enemy, enhances and strengthens the effect of the Spirit, releases the Spirit to move in different spaces, and affects the hearts of people, cities, and nations. Along with that, he strengthens the hearts of other members of God’s family to take up God’s mission. 

God’s family is an army, and a team. Each member of God’s family should be able, and should be involved in proclaiming, demonstrating, and praying. Each one will probably be involved in one practice more than the others – so, as a team, we cover one another. But all should practice all.

Golden Rule

I noticed recently that in Luke’s gospel, the golden rule is in context of Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies.

The tendency most people have is to give to one’s enemy what the enemy gives to you. With maybe a little more added. If they trash you, you trash them. If they abuse you, you abuse them.

But Jesus said, treat your enemy as you want to be treated. No one wants to be abused, trashed, taunted, insulted, or spat upon. We all want to be treated gently, politely, and with respect.

Jesus commands us to live contrary to our natural inclination. Even to move in the opposite direction. For abuse, give kindness. For insult, give praise.

Of course, to really, authentically act in a different way, a person needs a different heart. To act in love at all times, a person needs a new heart. A person needs new spiritual DNA injected into the core of our being. To get new spiritual DNA, a person needs a new agreement with Jesus, to give one’s allegiance to Jesus.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Old Vs. New Covenant

God told Jeremiah that he would make a new covenant with his children. The first covenant was made on Sinai, when God gave the Law to Moses. The covenant was based on an agreement between God and the people. God would bless the people, as long as they obeyed the Law. And God would permit circumstances that would punish the people, when they disobeyed. And they continually broke the covenant. The Bible narrative contains a series of waves. The people ride high on the crest of obedience. Then, the crash on the beach of disobedience.

It was a choice to surrender to weakness, and expedience. To want to be like others. To stop following the Lord. Israel chose to follow other gods, almost from the very first day God delivered them from Egypt.

So, a new covenant is needed. One that is not based on men following the Law in their own strength and will. Because that is never going to happen.

This new covenant is also based on an agreement with God and people. The people choose to follow God. God chooses to make a fundamental change in the person’s spiritual DNA. The change occurs deep in a person’s inner man. Thought processes, motivations, and imagination are all fundamentally changed.

And Jesus came to bring this new covenant into being. And many Jews realized something extraordinary was happening. But what many did not seem to see was that a change in covenant also meant a change in practice. It’s like when a person gets a new item of clothing, because an old item has a hole in it. One does not get the new item to use it as patch material for the old item. One begins using the new item, and gets rid of the old one.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Christ Removed the Power of Sin

Scripture also says god gave us a spiritual circumcision. Circumcision is a cutting away and removing of flesh. In a spiritual circumcision, God removes the flesh.

“Flesh” is a term, used in the bible, to mean that part of a human being, which enables us, which gives power to sin. When the first people chose independence from God, that decision flipped a switch in the hearts of people to choose sin and rebellion. Turning away from God, choosing sin instead of holiness, hate instead of love, selfishness instead of service, has become natural to people. It has become part of our DNA. We do not have the power to stop, and change these attitudes and behaviors. They are woven too deep into our beings. There is no hope of improvement, let alone perfection.

But we gave our allegiance to Jesus, and he circumcised our spiritual flesh. He removed that part of our inner man that is naturally inclined to sin. If you will, he did a DNA transplant. He removed the gene that gave power to sin, and replaced it with a gene that gives power to love, obedience, and faithfulness. He gave us the spirit, who will step by step, renew our image, so we will look like, and live like, Jesus.

Without this process, there is no hop of moving back to the Father. We will be unable to choose obedience. No, we can choose.

This does not mean we will become perfect in this life. The presence of sin is still in our lives. We have gotten too good at it, through long, intense, and continuous practice. The enemy and the world still seek to deceive, to influence, and to mold. But we can now expect significant restoration of our original design. We can expect significant transformation into Christ’s image. We can expect significant advances in love, joy, and peace.

Christ Paid the Penalty of Sin

Scripture says, that when we chose to give our allegiance to God, he dealt with the penalty of our sin. Christ’s death prepare the way. And with our allegiance, God applied the results of Christ’s death to us. He nailed our sins to the cross.

When a criminal was crucified, a sign was nailed to the cross listing the crimes the person committed, for which he was being executed. Well, God listed our sins, and nailed them to Jesus’ cross. He was executed for our sins.

Christ has paid the penalty for our sin. The cross cancelled that penalty. And we are now free to approach God, as his child, as his friend, and as his priest.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Peace

We were at some friends recently. At one point, the family cat came in from outside, and was looking for a warm lap to take a nap in. He jumped onto the chair I was sitting in, found the most comfortable spot, laid down, and didn’t move a muscle.

It reminded me of my son. We would need to go somewhere. So, we would put him into the car seat, buckle him in, start the car, and he would be a sleep in 30 seconds. Head down flat on the arm rest in front of him. How can anyone sleep in such a position?

And I began to wonder about what going to sleep so readily says about a person’s mind-set.

Little children fall asleep readily, and quickly, because they feel safe. There are no worries, no fears, no frantic scramble to achieve security. Little children are totally at peace. They have moms and dads who fill their needs, protect them, comfort them, and love them.

Scripture says we should be like little children. Scripture says our lives should be characterized by peace. And human adults are anything but characterized by peace. Not that they are not seeking peace. They are looking for it in jobs, insurance, alarm systems, government regulations, politics, and the perfect relationship. Everywhere by the source of peace.

Like love, each of God’s children should be characterized by peace. If they are not experiencing peace, they are not walking with God like they should.

Large portions of God’s family are living in a state of angst. There is dread of the future, the state of the union, the world and the economy. Their hopes, confidence and trust rests in the government, their bank account, their jobs, or their friends, None of these are big enough.

The only thing big enough to support the world, all its people, and all its problems is our heavenly Father. He is the only one wise enough to have the answers. He is the only one big enough to hold everyone in his hands, and heart. He is the only one who can act with the perfectly balanced amount of love, power, strength, and gentleness.

He is the only one who has each person in his heart. He is the only one who can affect good for the world, and each individual. He loves each one. He is for each one. Even if the world is crashing, imploding, and being overwhelmed, all of these things are true. Especially as it relates to the who turn to God, give him their allegiance, and become a part of his family.

We experience peace as we engage in fellowship with the Father, as we surrender to the one who loves us above all else – our lives, our worries, and our loved ones. Peace is a sign of trust in our Father, and a sign of defeat to the world, the flesh, and the enemy.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fruit of the Spirit

Scripture says that when we give our allegiance to Jesus, his Spirit makes its home in the core of our inner being. Since, all of life proceeds out of this core, the Spirit begins to give input into a person’s core, and it flows out into his life.

(Many people use the word “heart” to designate this core. It feeds into the person’s thoughts, words, and actions. And, therefore, it affects their life. I tend to see “heart” as a figure of the entire inner man. So, when god speaks to my heart, he speaks to the whole package.)

As the spirit gives input at this most fundamental level of our lives, we experience transformation starting at this most fundamental level. It then flows out to the outer places of life. Some people view this as a change in spiritual DNA.

So, as the Spirit splices new “DNA” into our hearts, we begin to live as the spirit lives, as Jesus lives. And Scripture says there are certain results that occur in our lives as this transformation process continues, and should occur in increasing measure.

The first in importance is love. The longer a person walks with Jesus, the more that love should be apparent in their lives. With joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and discipline appearing and growing.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Aliens and Strangers

When someone accepts a job, he chooses to live in agreement with the company rules. He will arrive at work at a certain time. He will perform certain duties. In the same way, when a person gives his allegiance to Jesus, he agrees to live according to the laws and customs of God’s kingdom.

Which means that a person is now living in a world that follows its own laws and customs. And a number of those are diametrically opposed to God’s way. So, the children of God are out of sync with the world he lives in. They are strangers and aliens in the world.

God created the world, and he designed it to be a part of his kingdom. He designed people to live in his kingdom. Follow God’s ways enables us to live in sync with God. We will live in ways that produce true joy, peace, and contentment, because we are following the design specs. (You do not plug your laptop, designed to run on 110 volts, into a 220 volt outlet. Bad things will happen.)

Sometimes, people who choose to follow Jesus, and accept this truth, will block the world. They will avoid it. They will condemn it. But that’s not God’s heart either.

We need to live as a free people. We should not be caught up in the world. We should agree with, and practice God’s ways. But we are also God’s servants. We should assume the same heart, the same perspectives, the same motives, the same attitudes and practices that our Father has. He does not block off the world. He does not avoid the world. Like him, we should engage the world. We should affirm the good. We should not practice the bad. We should live the laws of the kingdom in the world … and embrace the paradoxes that result.

(For example, God says we should practice love to all people. Including our enemies. The American political scene, right now, is a good example of how not to practice this. Imagine people from opposite parties being patient, kind, speaking well of, and wanting the best for each other.)

A Nation of Priests

When the first people chose to turn away from God, God formulated a plan to draw people back to him. He chose a family to build into a nation.

And that family would bless the whole world in two ways. First, they would be the people that would produce Jesus, the Promised One. And he would pay the penalty for sin, and build a bridge so people could return to fellowship with the Father.

Second, it was intended that this nation would demonstrate what to meant to live in relationship with the Father.  Other people would see how they were blessed by their relationship with the Father. They would see the benefit, wisdom, and freedom of living as God designed.

And God’s chosen people succeeded. Then, they failed. Then, they succeeded. Then, they failed again. And given time, they managed to fail more than they succeeded. And it got so bad, that God was unable to use them as an example to the world.

So, God scrapped his plan … right? No. He selected a new people.

God also intended that all of his chosen people were going to be his priests. Priests are people with a special access to God. They represent God to people, and people to God. They facilitate the process of achieving peace and favor with God. And he intended that all of his people were going to fulfill that role.

But most of his people rebelled, and they lost the privilege of being his priests. Only a subset, who had remained faithful, were allowed to be priests. And that priesthood was tied to, first, the tabernacle, and  then the temple in Jerusalem. So, when the temple was destroyed, because of further unfaithfulness, there was no priesthood.

So, God scrapped his plan … right? No. He selected a new priesthood from his new, international family. A priesthood, whose role was not based on the temple, but on Christ’s work on the cross. Anyone who gives his allegiance to Jesus, who chooses to follow Jesus, are his priests. So, all the members of God’s family are his priests. All have special access to him. All represent God to people, and people to God. All facilitate the process of achieving peace and favor with God.

With Jesus, One on Many

There is also a group component to following Jesus. One passage describes God’s people as living stones that are being built into a spiritual house. Each stone has its place in the structure. Jesus, as the master builder, chooses each stone, chooses its place, and shapes it to fit in that place.

If the stone’s place is next to the door, five feet from the ground, there has to be other stones in place to support it. Without the other stones, if the builder tries to put the stone in its proper place, it will fall to the ground. We need the support of others in God’s family. And we give support to others in God’s family.

The house derives its form and function as each stone is put into its proper place, with all the other stones.

In another passage, the human body is used as a picture of God’s people. The body is one thing, made up of many different parts. And the parts are all different. They have different functions. There are eyes, ears, hands, feet, and other parts. But like the stones of a house, each part has a part in supporting the whole. But each part does it differently. And the whole needs each different function. Without each particular part, the whole is handicapped.

And the parts that give the most life to the body are not always visible. In many churches, people assume that the professional Christians are the most important. (And it is possible that they are. It is also possible that the most important parts are the Tuesday morning prayer meeting, attended only by women in their 80’s.) The professional Christian may only be the face and mouth of the body. If the face and mouth do not function correctly, the body still lives. But if the heart does not function correctly, the body dies. And the heart functions invisibly … usually.

It is vital that each part fulfills its role. When each part does its part, the effect can be synergistic. The effect can be more than the effects of all the parts added together.

There is a passage in Scripture that describes the God’s family living through its daily routine. Each part living out its function, together with all the other parts. And Scripture testifies that the surrounding community observed God’s family, their manner of life, and two things happened.
  • Admiration and esteem for God’s family grew.
  • People were choosing to give their allegiance to Jesus … every day.

We, as God’s kingdom and family, have individual responsibilities. But if we carry out those responsibilities within the context of God’s family, it can have a huge impact on the world.


Monday, February 13, 2017

With Jesus, One on One

The first people chose to not trust god, to not follow God. Since, then, people do not live as God intended. The world does not function as God intended. We could say the world is broke.

And we could say that Jesus came into the world to fix what was broke. And we enter into God making the world whole by giving him our allegiance, by becoming his disciple.

A disciple was a type of student in Jesus’ day, similar to the term apprentice. An apprentice becomes attached to a master to learn a trade. The master explains a skill, then the apprentice practices the skill. Usually, in a real project. When the first skill is learned to the master’s satisfaction, the master explains the next skill. And the apprentice practices the next skill. And so on.

So, we have become Jesus’ apprentices. The Bible becomes our text book. It is God’s words. And it is the best tool to show God’s people how to improve their relationship with God, and how to live as he designed.

And the Holy Spirit becomes our teacher. He applies Scripture to our thoughts, words, deeds, relationships, and practices. He shows us what we need to pursue, and what we need to change.

The difference between God’s design, God’s intention, and reality is so great, that when we choose to give our allegiance to Jesus, it is like becoming a baby again, and learning life all over. The Bible says we are new creations.

One of the most important things for newborns is proper nutrition. Proper nutrition for god’s family are God’s words. This is most directly associated with reading the Bible. (And memorization, meditation, study, etc.) But it can come from other books, and other people. The computer term “garbage in, garbage out” applies here/ If we want good results, we need to be sure we have good raw materials.

People are born physically as individuals, one at a time. People become part of a family as individuals, one at a time. This is true of God’s family. Each one chooses to follow Jesus. Each one becomes a member of his family. Each one has responsibility to be available for proper nutrition. Each one chooses to have fellowship with the Father.

There is an individual component to following God. There is a family component to following God. We engage in both. Both are important.