Sunday, December 30, 2012

Spiritual Warfare - III

Another weapon God gives to counteract the devil's schemes is the gospel of peace. Scripture says we live in emnity with God. It is the gospel which provides the basis for restoration and reconciliation. It provides a path for peace. We have peace with God through the gospel.

What Satan wants is for us to walk in fear and guilt. Fear of God's displeasure and condemnation, and guilt over our failures. If our focus is on God's wrath and our failures, we will never step out in love and faith. The peace of God gives us a firm foundation to stand and move from.

The basis of peace is a true knowledge of the gospel. Wth that, we can approach God with peace in our hearts. We can take risks. We can get our eyes off ourselves and onto people who need God's love.

We could take this a step further and take this true understanding of God's path to peace and restoration, and bring it to others. What Satan hates most is an increase of God's kingdom. Loving people demonstrates God's nature; proclaiming the gospel with a subsequent faith response by someone who was listening is an actual claiming of Satan's territory.


There is a story in the Bible about Abraham. God chose Abraham to be the founder of several different nations, including Israel. But his wife could not bear children. God promised him a son; and when Abraham was old, he fulfilled that promise.

Isaac was the apple of his parent's eye and evidently, owned too much of their hearts. So, God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt sacrifice as a test. And amazingly, Abraham acted in obedience. He took Isaac and was prepared to kill and burn him. At the moment when Abraham was ready to kill Isaac, God stopped him and provided a ram instead.

Many people consider this story a picture of what God intended to do through Jesus. While they were going to the place of sacrifice, Isaac asked about the fact that there was no lamb. Abraham said, "God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering."

And God does. God gives a substitute for Isaac, because Abraham was willing to trust God. And it is the same with each person. If we will trust God, he will send the Lamb of God (Jesus) to save us from death.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spiritual Warfare - II

Satan attacked the first people with lies. What God commanded them was not true. God's word was not trustworthy. God is not trustworthy.

Of course, the first people acted on these lies, and the world's DNA was infected by what the Bible calls "sin." There is now in man a tendency to move away from God. The God-man relationship is broken. The man-man relationship is broken. Man's relationship with himself is broken. His tendency is to choose directions, actions and attitudes that damages himself.

The cure is to choose to go away from, counter to this tendecy. THe first step is to declare the truth, because the devil's first step was to lie.

Satan will lie to us, just as he lied to the first people.  It is the lie in our thoughts that will move us to make wrong decisions. Remembering and declaring truth will cancel the wrong thoughts.

Satan's lies will not always be obvious. It can be difficult to recognize the lie amid all the claims of "pleasure", "peace" and "profit." It can be difficult to recognize the lie among all the attempts to obscure it -- "old fashioned", "narrow-minded" and "judgmental." (Especially when the family of God underlines and highlights the lies with their own practices.) These are only a few of his lies to persudae us to follow his other lies. And if he succeeds in getting us to believe one of his lies, we will hear it again and again.

We need to live by the truth. To live by the truth, we need to know the truth. So, it is important to be engaged with God in the scriptures. It is important to obey God in making disciples. It is important to persist. Even if we succeed obeying God only once in a million times, God will take any step of obedience, of faith, and treat it like "bread and fish." (A reference to the story about Jesus feeding at least 5000 people with one person's lunch.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

THe Body of Christ - IV

SInce, we are all parts of the whole, we will all advance together, and we will all retreat together. When a church planting movement sweeps across a tribal groupin India, churches popping up in unprecedented rates, salvations  so fast it takes your breath away, we are all part of that. We can all rejoice. We can all pray for a continuing, a growing and a spreading.

But we do not seem to take this connectedness seriously, especially in the west, especially in America. In those places, the church has uncovered the opposite, but in some ways, an equally wonderful truth. Which is -- there is an unlimited potential in the individual. Especially if he walks in love and the Holy Spirit.

Metaphors break down eventually. It can be seen most clearly in the stories of individuals for whom the truth og God has become most real: Jesus, Paul, Hudson Taylor, Charles finney, Charles Wesley, to name a few. These men took two extra steps to obey God, and God's Spirit moved in a tidal wave across the landscape.

But such individuals are rare. So God put us into teams, with steps of obedience creating a synergy. Teams are almost more powerful than the afore mentioned spiritual giants. Egos need humility, which can result from mutual submission. Unity must be maintained. The simple mixing of people into a powerful team is a miracle in the current age of "me first", "you're worth it" and "do your own thing."

But to go one step further, the growth of the Body requires the health of the whole Body. People charge on to achieve personal growth. But we are losing something if we do not go together. To grow more completely in the things of God, we need to go together, in order to grow together. We probably cannot go with 50 people. But we do need a team that provides all the necessary things for life and growth.

We are designed by God for health, growth and reproduction. We have discussed the necessary ingredients for these things. Here is another -- one another.

Spiritual Warfare, Not Necessarily Nuclear War

Paul encourages us to use all the tools  at our disposal, because Satan has developed strategies against us. The purpose of Satan's strategies is to take glory from God and to make our lives miserable. People were designed to live in joy and peace; if Satan can get us to live without joy and without peace, he has succeeded. MIsery per se is not really necessary. He has moved us away from our design; he has stolen glory from God.

MAny people reguard Sata's plots as actual attempts by Satan to harm us, our family, our friends, or our property. I certainly do not mean to say that if Satan can do any of these things, he will not. What I am saying is that for far too many of us, he does not need to. All he needs to do is whisper about some problem, some worry, some concern, and our minds filter it through a non-God grid. And we roll it around in our brains. It is not prayed over. It is not considered in the light of what scripture says. It is certainly not regarded in a way the brings purification of our hearts and minds -- as scripture promises that any trial will.nor is it regarded in the light of God's mission.

Rarely are any of these things done. And when we fail to shine God's light on circumstances, Satan wins.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Body of Christ - III

Since, we are parts of a whole, all the parts need to work together. Hands and eyes need to be coordinated. Feet need to find a rhythm, or most certainly, the nose will complain loudly. Even the invisible kidney must do its part ... or the whole will come crashing down.

The health, growth and ability to reproduce of the body is based on the ability of each part to perform its function. It is the same with the Body of Christ. In most churches, a minority - which includes the leadership - does all the work of the church. And it specifically states in Scripture that the leadership's responsibility is to teach and empower the other members of the Body to serve God, to build the church and build God's kingdom.

Obviously, the leaders should obey in all areas too. But they should still teach the rest of the Body how to obey God in all areas too. They should proclaim the gospel, and they should teach the body how to effectively proclaim the gospel. They should physically serve, and they should teach the Body how to physically serve. They should love, and they should teach the Body how to love. They should pray, and they should teach the Body how to pray. They should teach the Body how to complete all areas of obedience, and they should teach the Body how to teach others how to complete all areas of obedience.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Body of Christ - II

Another thing the body metaphor should teach us is that we are parts of the whole. This had so many applications, it is mind-boggling.

The church is made up of many parts. Those parts are people. And those parts – young, old, male, female, every tribe, every language – are the body of Christ. There is no group, no sub-group, no individual person that can be written off, excluded or disregarded.

When I was younger, I sprained an ankle. More recently, I have suffered a bout of gout. Both caused quite a bit of pain in the affected limb. I couldn’t walk correctly. Opening and moving through doors was a problem. One part of my body was affected, and it had a ripple effect throughout my whole body.

I had kidney stones. A kidney is internal, and unseen. It goes about its job without fanfare, praise of even, awareness on the part of the rest of the body. But when the stone moves, the kidney becomes center stage. It calls the shots for the entire body.

If one part of the Body does not function fully, wholly, in joy, in love, in the Holy spirit, the body cannot work well.

If a person puts sugar in the gas tank of a car, if a person eats a McDonalds-only diet, if a person is surrounded by pain, ugliness and neglect, these engines – the car the human body and the human spirit – will not function, or will function very poorly.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A church is only as strong as its weakest part.

In the US, we tend to judge the strength of a church by its size, by the charismatic qualities of its leaders, and by its well-oiled ministry machinery. We ought to be looking for the least fruitful, least mature, least popular among the church members. We ought to look at their lives in the midst of the Body, and in the midst of society.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Body of Christ

Anyone who know anything about the Bible knows Paul's metaphor for the church. He calls it the body of Christ.

A metaphor is a way of comparing two unlike things with the intention that the comparison helps us understand something better. This metaphor should probably teach us several things.

One of the things is that the church is the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today. When Jesus lived in the world, wherever he went , he brought love, truth, healing, forgiveness, acceptance, conviction, change and newness. As his hands and feet, we need to go to the places he went. We need to do the things he did. We need to have the same effects he had.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Gospel

God's plan is to fix everything! When God created the world, it was perfect. The relationship between God and man was perfect. The relationship between people was perfect. Nature was perfect. The minds and bodies of people were perfect.

The first people made wrong decision, and the corrupting influence, which Christians call "sin," was released into the world. The relationship between God and man was corrupted. The relationship between people was corrupted. Nature was corrupted. Minds and bodies were corrupted.

When people think of the gospel today, they focus primarily on bringing man into right relationship with God. Part of this focus could be man's ego-centric nature. And this is true. People do filter all phenomena through the lens of self. The main question they ask themselves is, "How does this affect me?"

Part of this focus is equally the prominence God gives people in his story. The Bible says that God gave rule of the world to people. God gave people the pivotal decision of walking with him and bringing life into the world, or walking away from him and bringing death and corrpuption into the world. And now, if we choose to walk with God, God's spiritual DNA is injected into people, and God's people are injected into the world. And through God's people, God's DNA is injected into the world and counteracts the corruption of sin.

Man's relationship wi5h God may not be all the story, but it is a central part of the story. Man becomes the conveyor of God's restoration given to the world through Jesus.

It is  like man introduced a "sickness" into the world. This virus infected and damaged everything. So, God introduced an "anti-sickness" named Jesus to infect everything again, but to restore everything that was damaged by the first "sickness." And human beings are carriers of this "counter-sickness."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Live in Joy -XVII

I have completed looking up all the places where joy is mentioned in the Old Testament. And it continues as we have already observed: joy is generated by living in relationship with God and living in agreement with his design.

However, I found myself asking the question, "Why is joy important?" We saw when we began this exercise, that joy is part of the picture of man living in holiness. Joy is a natural result of man living in relationship with God and a natural result of a life of obedience. Joy was a daily component of Jesus' life, because he lived closest to God and was the most obedient person whoever lived.

We tentatively defined joy as an attitude of positive enthusiasm or passion toward life.

I recently finished a book called "Born to Run." The basic premise of the book is that human beings were designed for long distance running. (We are also designed to seek out greater efficiency. That's why people seek ways to avoid running.) The author presented information from science and anthropology to illustrate the theme. Interwoven with the rational "proofs" were stories from primitive tribes famous for running, and stories from the world of ultra-marathons, that is, races of 50 to 100 miles.

At one point, one of the characters realizes the spiritual aspect of running. Successful, excellent running is based on joyfully embracing it. Joy motivates its pursuit. Joy motivates continuing with or without outside reward.

Motivation is pivotal in any endeavor. Without improvement or any other reward, it is only an internal heart motivation that urges a person to continue a difficult course of action.

And pursuing holiness in a corrupt world can never achieve any real success. There can be improvement, even significant improvement, but never real mastery. Joy becomes an important motivation towards pursuing holiness, as well as an indicator of success - as it is a "natural" result of living in agreement with God. Joy can be part of creating an upward spiral by motivating greater obedience.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Living in Joy - XVI

I am still poking around different portions that mention joy. At the moment, I have not been seeing anything new.

There does seem to be two primary bases for joy. One is our relationship with God. Two is acting in agreement with our God-designed natures.

Relationship, as we tend to use the word and concept today, is defined rather simply. It involves talking and hanging out. Relationships go far beyond that. It involves actions  for and against, offense and forgiveness, judgment, restoration, comfort, presence,and yes communication of all sorts: teaching, explaining, joking, consoling, reproving, warning, etc.

One of the reasons God gives commands is so we know how to live. Obedience to these commands does not follow some arbitrary group of rules. The command follow a design. They either make life more efficient, effective and full, or they enhance our relationships with God and people. That's why the Bible speaks so much about obedience.

And mission is another part of design. It is also part of relationship. Working as a team to achieve an over-arching goal builds relationships. It builds a common mind-set. And in the case of people teaming up with God, it develops God's mind-set in people.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


While I was driving to work, I began to consider my latest batch of Bible passages about joy. This batch is from a list of proverbs in the Bible. This thinking led to a chain of thoughts.

1. The proverbs associated with joy seem to be taken up with living out God’s design for man. In other words, joy comes when a person has thoughts, attitudes, words and actions that agree with the life God intended man to live. The basic name the Bible gives to this pattern of living is “holiness.” When people live in a holy manner, they have joy and people around them have joy. Family life works better. Cities work better. Individuals work better.

2. Of course, I am reminded about the current reality. One does not have to listen to the news too long to realize that people are not living in a holy pattern, in a way that God would prefer we do not live. And if people are not living in a holy way, they are not experiencing too much joy.

3. So, what can be done to turn the situation around? We are designed to live a life of joy. We are not living in joy because we do not live in agreement with our design. We could move toward holy living. But people cannot live in holiness. History teaches that time and again.

4. One way that holiness has been “imposed” on people is when they are overwhelmed with the presence of God. (Imposed is an incorrect word. Imposed denotes coercion. And people cannot be coerced to welcome the presence of God. Unless one says that they imposed God’s presence on themselves.) This type of implanting of holiness has been referred to in history as a “revival.” God makes himself know in a community, and people’s hearts, attitudes and life change. America has undergone several revivals. China has undergone some too. Individuals change; and good sweeps across society.

I guess the only sure way for good to sweep away evil is for the world to undergo revival.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Live in Joy - XV

Now that Thanksgiving is over, maybe we can get a little regular again ... until Christmas anyway.

I am still wandering around the songs and poems I mentioned in my last entry. Thus far, it is more of the same. Joy comes from being connected to God. Joy come from being in agreement with what God says.

There was one poem where the writer was remembering the bad things he had done in his life. According to the Bible, everyone does bad things, everyone is condemned for them, and everyone can be saved from condemnation through Jesus' work on the cross and their trust in that work.

The writer says at one point, "Give me back my joy." It is obvious from the rest of the poem that he is depressed and miserable from these reflections. So, what was it that disrupted his joy? It seems as though he knew his connection to God had gotten polluted.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Live in Joy - XIV

There is a part of the bible that is a collection of poems and songs. I have not gone through all of them, concerning the references to joy, but there are a couple of themes, so far.

Awareness of God's presence is a common theme. Realizing his nearness and how he is active on behalf of people bring joy. Seeing, hearing and walking with God are obviously different than relating with people. We connect with God by focusing our hearts.

Another means of knowing and understanding god comes from read and meditating on the Scripture. But knowing is not enough. People are designed to live in agreement with Scripture, Obedience brings joy. Joy because people are flowing with their design.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Live in Joy - XIII

I roofed my house over the weekend, so my focus has been elsewhere as a result. (For those of you in the know, we thought we were going to be able to roof over the old roof. But we discovered -- the morning of -- another layer hidden underneath. Which means we have to tear off all the old shingles. Which is a lot more work, a lot more mess and a lot more wear and tear on the body. And requires other materials to complete the project. Gives me field experience in learning how to live in joy.) 

But I did observe, in my short time thinking about joy, that when Israel returned from the foreign lands that there was a time where they rediscovered the things of God: the Scriptures, the celebrations, and the rhythm of meeting God and living with and for him. As they became reacquainted, they developed a renewed relationship with God. They began to see him differently. They began to live with him differently. This renewal of relationship also brought a renewal of joy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Live in Joy - XII

At this time, you will remember that Israel has developed a habit of associating God's presence with a particular building and location. The temple that Solomon built became that focal point. They could not really function in their relationship with God without it. I believe that it was God's intention to wean the people away from such a practice, but, as we also know, the kings and leaders were for the most part not following God. The temple was a tangible reminder of God's presence and desire to bless ... if they followed him.

The kings continued to disobey God and continued to encourage the people to disobey God. And when God led the people into this land, God promised that if they stopped obeying, one of the things he would do was allow a foreign army to conquer them. And one finally did. But God also promised that, after a while, he would redeem and restore Israel.

At this time, conquerors developed a method of assimilating subjugated peoples into their kingdoms. They forced people to move. They forced people to live hundreds of miles away from their homeland. Without cars, trains and planes, hundreds of miles was almost insurmountable. They mixed the conquered peoples together.

And that is what happened to Israel. The conquering army destroyed the temple, leveled Jerusalem and moved the people a long ways away. 

Sometimes, God tells one of his servants what he is going to do in the future. And he did tell one of them how he was going to redeem and restore his people ... using a different invading army to conquer those who conquered Israel. And that servant wrote what God showed him down. So, when a new king did conquer, Israel told him how God prepared the way and worked for him. And they showed him what god's servant had written. The king was impressed and he let the people return back to Jerusalem and their homes.

With different waves of migration, Israel rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple.

Remember, Israel had gotten used to associating meeting God with being at a specific place. So, when the temple was destroyed, the connection to God was disrupted. They were unable to connect to god with the same closeness and the same reality. So, when the temple was rebuilt, the connection was re-established in a vital way. Imagine how the burdens of hearts were relieved. There was a vivid sense of God's nearness and a rush of joy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Live in Joy - XI

Then, this king died and Israel again had a series of good and bad kings. The good kings tried to correct the  influence of the bad kings. But it seems like it is easier to move toward the bad.

Certain, important events happened in the history of Israel. These events, their results and God's part in them told the people much about God's nature, his relationship with people, and his plans. So, he instituted yearly celebrations to remind people consistently of the event, what God did and why their relationship with God and their lifestyle was important.

But, as the bad kings began to introduce things that were counter to knowing and following God, the people began to observe the celebrations less and less. They were not reminded of God's among them nor the relationship they should have with him. Which increased the downward spiral away from God.

When a new king, who tried to follow God, began to rule, he cleaned up a lot of areas that had gone bad. He tried to re-establish a lot of things that had been forgotten, like the celebrations. 

He sent messengers throughout Israel inviting people to come to one of the celebrations. Since, God's instruction was to gather together in Jerusalem and it was a pretty serious thing to travel in those days, many people chose not to go. But many did.

Because of logistical issues, they had to postpone the celebration one month. (Imagine celebrating Christmas at the end of January.) The celebration was supposed to last one week, but it made such an impression on people that they continued for another week.

And the people went home overjoyed!

Did the joy come from a two-week long party? Or from reconnecting with the god of the universe?

I would like to say that I have been to parties where everyone seemed to have a good time, but joy was not the overall mindset. Joy seems to come from somewhere else besides good times.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Live in Joy - X

After Solomon died, there were numerous kings. Some followed the Lord. Some turned away from him. Most turned away. And as God promised, turning meant misery for the people.

One day, one of the kings who did follow God was told that three nations were sending their armies against Israel. The king and the people went to the temple. The king prayed to the Lord on behalf of himself and the country. He asked for wisdom and direction, because they could not stand against the armies coming to attack them.

God spoke to one of the men there. And he told the king God's message. God said they would not have to fight. God would fight for them.

The king and the people believed what God told them. So, when they assembled the army, they put the choir and the band in front. They did not celebrate after the battle. They celebrated before the battle. When they began celebrating, the armies who were supposed to attack them began to attack one another. Israel was in time to see the results. And Israel rejoiced.

Yes, they rejoiced because of the results. They were saved from the overwhelming armies attacking them. They also rejoiced because they had walked with God through this experience.
  • They sought him, his presence and his help when it first began.
  • They acted according to what they told him.
  • They remembered him in worship on the battlefield.
  • And when they arrived home, they immediately went to the temple and worshiped there again.
God was at the fore-front of their heart-focus.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Comments on the American Election

The election has just completed. I don’t know who even won yet. I am purposely writing this in a manner that avoids opening an internet browser, so I won’t accidentally see. I have a few comments that I hope will put a little perspective on what just happened.

The last several years, when the election results are announced, the Christian community in America as a whole starts wailing “Oh, no! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” in anticipation of every possible thing that could go wrong will go wrong as a result of the new government. Well …

  • The Christian community should remember that it also is a member of the Kingdom of God. And that its first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. And their King was not surprised or dismayed by the results of this election. He was perfectly prepared and perfectly in control.
  • The Christian community should remember that its instructions in relation to the government are to pray for it. What should be inserted at this point is a long, eloquent discussion of prayer: its power, its effect and its desirability. I will not do so at this point, but I will remind the Christian community that as its first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, prayer should be aimed at God’s presence and kingdom being manifested in the country. That should be the aim of our prayer. That should be the aim of our actions and attitudes. And maybe your political vision does not put people in a position to bring that.
  • The Christian community should remember when God’s kingdom flourished. When did God’s kingdom grow the fastest, the most? Most people would say that first century after Christ. Who was in control at that point? The Roman empire. (WARNING! Sarcastic comment coming.) And of course, the Roman empire was first and foremost concerned about individual liberty and the rights of minorities. The Romans put thousands, if not millions, of Christians to death in cruel ways. The intention was the eradication of the Christian movement. But under this oppressive government the Kingdom of God boomed! At the time of the communist revolution in China, the Christian missionaries were thrown out, and the Chinese leaders were imprisoned and executed. The purpose was the eradication of Christian influence, as well as other religions. The result was the least educated, least gifted and the least anointed were left. The movement should have died. Instead, it hexi-deci-tuple-ized.
Instead of doom and gloom, any election, any change in the fortunes of a country should be looked on as an opportunity for the Kingdom of God to grow, the presence of God to be manifested and the glory of God to be revealed.

UPDATE: In 1949, it is estimated that there was 500,000 protestant Christians out of a population of 450 million. (One tenth of a percent.) Estimates are now 40 million to 130 million in a population of 1.35 billion. (3% to 9.6%, respectively.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Live in Joy - IX

But David was not able to build the new meeting place before he died. He worked hard to assemble material and make preparations. After he died, his son Solomon became king; and he erected the new meeting place.

Once it was built, Israel had a gigantic ceremony to celebrate its completion and dedicate it to the service of God and his relationship with his people, which the meeting place was to support.

(The people could meet with God. They could maintain their relationship in proper way. They could demonstrate to the world God's nature, his purpose and his relationship with people, using this meeting place as the focal point.)

After the dedication ceremony, they held a feast and Solomon gave gifts to the people. And the people were very joyous.

Again, Israel had a joint mission ... and it was complete. Unity pursuing and completing a beneficial mission, as a team, brings joy.

NOTE: Some would argue that pursuing God's mission with this building as the focal point actually disrupts and diminishes the ability to complete God's mission. I agree a building should not be the focal point -- Jesus should -- but I do think it can be a tool. It depends on the amount of time,energy and passion it consumes.

At this time, Israel had not thrown off the habits and trappings of Egypt ... as many current day people maintain the habits and trappings of previous times.

What is important is focusing on a person's heart and his attachment to Jesus. Attachments to tools is secondary.

(As we know, if the only tool a person has is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. But I sometimes think the people who speak loudest about this are people whose only tool is a screwdriver.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Live in Joy - VIII

After a few years, David decided they needed to upgrade the tent. Rather than a tent, they were going to make a building. So, he began to collect material for the upgrade.

And David shared his vision with the people. They people got excited. They gave to the project.

And the people were joyful. They were joyful because they agreed with the project, they were able to help with the project and they realized they had a heart to help with the project. They gave willingly, generously and wholeheartedly. 

Joy was the result of being united in working to complete a valuable and worthwhile mission. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Live in Joy - VII

After David completed setting up the tent and the box, he held a celebration. He and the people would be able to connect with God more easily and more frequently.

(Although, God is everywhere and near everyone who calls on him, Israel had gotten used to the tent and the box being the focal point of the connection with God. It was a mental construct they had gotten attached to, and may have moved toward a fuller communion with God, if history had been different. However, many may have met with God unconstrained by religious rules.)

As part of the celebration, David wrote a song and formed a band to sing it. In the song, David describes the trees exulting in joy, because God will judge the earth! 

Judgement and joy are not usually associated together. We usually associate fear or dread with judgment. We would only be joyful in judgment if we expected the forces of judgment to be like the cavalry. The cavalry is a symbol in american movies of rescue, restoration and victory. And that's how Israel viewed judgment. There was a lot wrong with the world. Evil was rampant. People were oppressed. manipulated, taken advantage of, abused, and just not treated very nicely. But God was coming. He was going to set everything right. Bad people were not going to hurt anyone anymore. Good people were going to be recognized. All the flaws, inequalities and problems in the world were going to be set right.

Punishment is part of the equation in judgment. those waiting earnestly for God's coming rejoice because they are confident of their relationship with God. Their focus is the good coming into the world because of God's judgment.

NOTE: Part of the joy in the judgment of sin is the realization that the presence of God will not be limited. The mission of Satan and his demonic army is to diminish God's glory and to make people miserable. People experience joy when they fulfill their design ... including fellowship with God. With the removal of evil, people can experience God's presence with greater intensity, more continuously and more purely.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Live in Joy - VI

I have been considering the nature of joy, the creation of joy recently, because of a book I am re-reading. The book explores the nature of the relationship between God and man.

The writer begins one chapter with a short recollection of a woman telling him that the enemy seeks to attack him through his joy.

The writer continues with how he chose in the past to deal with disappointments, troubles and sorrows in his life. And how glorious, wonderful days lifted him to exultation ... but they were short-lived.

We tend to equate joy with happiness. Happiness is usually defined as a feeling of contentment or satisfaction. We spiritualize joy by separating it from circumstance. We say happiness is derived from favorable circumstances; and joy is derived from a favorable inward state: our relationship with the creator. Because joy is anchored in an unchanging fact (God's love and grace toward us) it should stand in an unchanging state.

As we have seen so far in our brief trip of discovery, joy is created by our relationship with God. The closer, more real, our relationship becomes, the more joy we should experience. But it is also created by our response to God. And it is created by how close we walk in agreement with his purposes. It should be a basic motivation to these things.

Maybe we should not connect joy to a state of contentment? Maybe we should connect it to what people today call "passion" -- an enthusiasm or intense, motivating emotion? Something that provokes a powerful heart focus that enables us to lean into adversity.

We all know stories of people endure considerable pain, opposition, animosity and persecution to achieve some high goal. It is difficult to conceive of an internal state that motivates the Paul's, Ghandi's and M. L. King's of the world. Would duty, an internal certainty of the cause or a high altruism be sufficient to motivate perseverance to this kind of suffering? Or is it joy? Or is it something else?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Live in Joy - V

When Israel wandered in the desert and made the special tent to serve as a temple and to meet God in, they also made a special box. Israel saved different items in the box that served as mementos, souvenirs, of different things God did for Israel. When Israel looked to the tent and the box, they were reminded of what it means for God to be present in their midst.

There were rules about the proper care and transport of the box. Following the rules kept the box safe from damage, but it also served to remind Israel what was a proper attitude and lifestyle to maintain in relation to God.

David tried to honor God by restoring the tent, and putting it and the box in a better place. But they did not follow the rules when moving the box. They had become lax, without proper seriousness in their relationship with God. They ignored fundamental truths. And disaster happened.

It made David stop, take a step back and investigate. The people refocused their hearts and attitudes concerning their relationship with God. They did not assume they knew the best way to relate with God.

There was a renewal in heart, mind and attitude. There was a renewal in knowing what was important to God and seeking to practice it. These renewals of heart and practice refreshed Israel’s relationship with God. Which made God’s presence more real and brought joy to the people.

God has given followers of Jesus rules to obey and live by. These rules have much freedom in practice, so they can be easily applied in a multitude of social and cultural environments. But, they have the same function as the rules given to Israel. They give people a correct focus on their relationship with God. They give people a proper way to relate and respond to God and to people. And when all these things are in balance, there is joy in the relationships and in living.

NOTE: Many people respond negatively to the word “rule” when thinking in relationship to God, especially in relationship to Jesus. They think of needing to follow rules to have a right relationship with God. I am thinking of rules or laws that define what is true about something. “Gravity” is a rule or a law about the universe. It requires a person to behave in a certain way. These are the same.

NOTE: I just finished a chapter in Neil Cole’s book Ordinary Hero. In the book, Neil describes “Inhaling” and “Exhaling” as spiritual rules. I will not pursue a detailed discussion of them, but inhaling and exhaling are fundamental spiritual practices that lead to personal transformation. I bring them up here to compare this “breathing” with Israel’s practices. Israel knew the proper way to carry the box. Disaster did not need to happen. Because the box had not moved for a long time, Israel was not familiar with that part of God’s rules. One reason Neil uses this breathing metaphor is to describe a “right now” aspect of these practices. Breathing is not very profitable if it is not done regularly and “right now”. It is the “right now” aspect of following these rules of relationship that reinforces their reality and renews God’s nearness. It becomes a part of joy.

Live in Joy - IV

When Israel became a nation, there was a period of time when they did not follow God. And God chastised them as he said he would. Israel developed their own answer. They needed to become a nation like every other nation around them. They needed a similar government. They needed a king.

So, they crowned a king, and the Bible takes quite a bit of space to draw a contrast between the first king (Saul) and the second (David).

Saul was at first glance the ideal king. He was tall, handsome, tough and intelligent. He was experienced. However, he may have followed God, but he did it badly. He was indecisive, petty, self-interested and self-indulgent.

David may have been handsome, but the first impression stopped there. He was normal-sized and inexperienced. He had a normal, lowly job. His family was not important in his community. It was in his character that he stood out. He did follow God. He was decisive, magnanimous and pursued the good.

There are examples if how David pursued long range goals, with discipline, and consistency. The both failed. Saul made excuses; David was honest. Saul pursued David, to take his life to advance his political agenda. When Saul was providentially given into David’s hands, even though he had pursued David for months, David chose mercy. Saul’s leadership led Israel into disaster. When David became king, he led Israel into triumph.

After Saul died, the people began to quickly move toward David. Scripture describes at some length how Israel, common people and the influential, gravitated toward him. And it was written that “there was joy in Israel.”

Joy is in part a focus of the heart.. There is not much joy in the world today, because there is not much hope. People are heart-focused on the bad things. They have no expectation for good. Israel saw in David the foundation of a positive future. They had a mission and a purpose. This mission gave Israel a focus to rally around and be united in. Purpose, unity and positive expectations bring joy.

The family of God has a purpose and a mission. This purpose gives something for them to focus and unite on. This purpose becomes the basis for positive transformation in people, communities and the world. In Jesus, like David, we have a foundation for joy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Live in Joy - III

God told Israel that the whole nation should appear before him several time each year. These times were to celebrate special commemorations of who god was, and what God did for Israel.

One of these was at harvest time. Israel was supposed to give a portion of what was produced to God. As they gathered together, collecting the offerings, they were supposed to realize the huge work of provision God has blessed the nation with. The realization should produce joy.

Again, the heart is focused on God ... and a particular part of his nature. God is amazingly generous. He provides for each of his children's needs ... and often for their wants.

It is tempting for us to focus on the stuff itself. Joy will not last that way, because the stuff will not last. We need to look beyond the stuff to the giver.

Live in Joy - II

At one point, in the history of Israel, the whole nation was homeless. They wandered in the desert, looking for a home. While they wandered, they made a portable temple. They made a special tent to meet God in. When Israel moved, they packed the tent up. And when they stopped, they set up the tent in the middle of where they camped.

When they completed building the tent, they held a special ceremony commemorating it. And at the climax of the ceremony, God's glory was revealed to the people. And the people shouted with joy and bowed before the Lord.

In Scripture, God has revealed himself in various ways, and it has elicited various responses. One response has been joy. A natural outcome of God's presence appears to be joy.

A Carmelite monk name Lawrence left as his legacy a series of letters and interviews where he describes his habit of focusing his heart and mind on God. The purpose was a perpetual communion with God. (Not physically possible of course. But this was Lawrence's aim.)

With his mind, he spoke prayers and worshiped. With his heart, he focused on God's nearness. the greater success he had, the more joy he experienced.

On key to joy is the focus of heart. While it appears to require a fair amount of discipline, it can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Lawrence practiced it while cutting up carrots in the abbey kitchen. It is limited only by a person's desire to commune with God and experience his joy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Live in Joy

Man was designed to live in relationship with, and to be a picture of God. Obviously, man, even if he was morally perfect, could not be an exact picture of God. The fact that no man is morally perfect blurs the picture that much more.

There is a passage in Scripture that says what the results of any action, stance, opinion or decisions that arises from our relationship with God should be like. It does not describe specific events, but rather motives, attitudes or spirits that complete the picture of God in man.

For example, the first item on the list is “love.” People may hate me for what I do, but if God and his Spirit are moving in around and through me, each decision I make should be motivated by love, breathed out in love and acted on love.

Love is somewhat easy to understand. There are actions in love. There are attitudes, motives and perspectives that we can define. Others are more difficult. “joy” is also on the list. Joy seems more like a reaction to stimuli than a choice or an action. Love has a posture someone could proactively choose. A person just finds themselves in joy. It seems to erupt from within.

Are there attitudes we can adopt that lead to joy, like attitudes that can lead us to love?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Heart Transformation

What seperates Christianity from every other religion is -- God entering the heart of a person and changing him from the inside out.

It is God's love, grace and presence that pushes a person to great transformation, great sacrifice and great works.

It is God's purpose to create a family of disciples.  Disciples are people who connect with God through his love, grace and presence. That love, grace and presence are injected into the heart DNA of the person. That injection produces transformation -- and the family expresses God to the world. It is God's love and grace shown in his family that convinces people to change allegiance and join God's family.

There is a place in Scripture where the writer says he hates those who hate God; he counts them as enemies.

But Jesus says we should love our enemies. So, in sort of an upside down logic, Jesus says we should love those who hate God. We should love those who hate him.


We are designed for relationship. Relationship with God. Relationship with people. True and good relationship is available for everyone.

At first, relationship is blocked, because fo sin. So, Jesus appeared and died to remove the blockage. But people;s hearts are still broken. So, God works toward heart healing and heart transformation. It is as we go through these processes that relationship gets established.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Body and Gifts - VII

God's marching orders concerning his coming kingdom is for his fmaily to take the resources he has given us and put them to work.

He has given us gifts, grace, love, his presence, his Spirit, his promises and a team to work with and rely on.

The change charge is to work for the profit of God's kingdom, to be faithful, to gain fruit and to glorify God.

The problem is that large parts of the family of God have forgotten how to move ... or maybe, never knew how to move in the first place.

They are afraid to make a mistake. The don't feel able. The expect one thing, and God expect another. They value themselves, the gift of God and what they can do as being too little.

Do what God has put on your heart. Do not despise small things. The kingdom of God is like a small seed put into the ground, that grows to cover the whole world. And anyone can plant a seed.

The Body and Gifts - VI

The problem with gifts and talents is that they can go to our heads. We can consider ourselves more important than others. We can consider our gifts as more important than other peope's gifts.

That's why Scripture says gifts are not enough. Without one ingredient, any gift, all gifts are vain, fruitless, death giving and glory robbing.

Love needs to power all gifts. Love needs to power how we express our gifts, look at others' gifts and receive grace/gifting from other people.

Love will outlive all gifts, all "spiritual manifestations", all theories and all ministries. What will last of individual lives is how much love did they give.

If love powers spiritual gifts, a spiritual gift is God's special of expressing love through each person.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Body and Gifts - V

The Bible says each person in God's family is given a gift "for the common good."  As the New Testament was originally written in Greek "for the common good" is how newer English versions interpret "Προς το συμϕερον".

At first, "common good" sounds like mutual giving and serving within God's family. That seems to be a good thing. Love, service and grace poured into each others' lives. The family grows in heart, character, mutual interdependence and practical unity. All good things.

We still have the problem I wrote about in my last post. If everyone should be expressing this gift (and it seems Scripture says they should), how do we find a niche for everyone to fill?

Of course, maybe we are misunderstanding "for the common good?" I have found references for translating the phrase as "toward that which is profitable."

Maybe the gifts are for more  than pouring into the family of God? (They are certainly for that.) Maybe the gifts are for kingdom building?

The niche question remains, but the scope grows bigger. We are no longer looking for just improving God's family. We are improving God's family and demonstrating God's love and character in the community and culture. We are seeking whatever is profitable. Is there a problem which brings misery to people and dishonor to God -- hunger, lack of education, human trafficking -- does the application of grace through diverse gifts bring hope, and relief to people, and honor to God.

If we open the doors for God's gifts to be applied, filling a niche may become asking different sorts of questions. And there may be more niches than can be filled.