Monday, December 30, 2013

Hear-Focus (Prayer)

God knows our hearts, our intentions and our plans. He knows our circumstances. He knows our intentions for us.

So, why pray? A large part of prayer seems to be beseeching God to do things he already knows about, convincing him of the wisdom and benefit of doing these things, and -- if you are really spiritual -- how good he will look in the eyes of the world. Doesn't this seem a little bit like putting the cart before the horse? Isn't God aware of all this long before we are? Prayer seems, in some ways, like a waste of time. Yet, it is God who recommends this practice. Doesn't the Bible say to ALWAYS pray?

Prayer is NOT for God's benefit. He is completely self-sustaining, completely independent. He does not need convincing to act in love, because he is love. He does not need convincing to right wrongs, to demonstrate his glory, or to advance his kingdom. All of these things agree with his purposes, and agree with his work of redemption and restoration.

Prayer is for us, his children, his kingdom, and his family. Prayer is focusing our hearts on God, receiving grace and receiving transformation. We are put into a new place, so we agree with God's heart, accept God's purposes, work toward God's ends, and complete our purpose in his kingdom. Prayer gets our heart in sync with God's heart.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spiritual Fads

It seems like there is always something "hot" that the Christian community is engaged with. Currently, there is a large amount of noise about something a particular actor, who is a follower of Jesus, said about the gay community. Now, he is in trouble with the people who sponsor him, and the Christian community is yelling "Terrible! Terrible! Terrible!" (Read: He expresses what he believes in, and he is a terrible person; other people express what they believe in, and that's OK. Can you say "double standard?")

I obviously have some thoughts of my own ... or else, why would I be bringing it up.

(1) I have not read the gentlemen's comments. But, if you read the Bible, you know that God has certain standards about how we are supposed to speak about others. Did he step over the line?

(2) Also, if you read the Bible, you know God does not exactly approve of the gay lifestyle. And, as followers of Jesus, we ought to think what Jesus thinks, feel what Jesus feels, approve what Jesus approves, and do what Jesus does.

(3) There is an awful lot of breath expended in the Christian community about gay issues. Given the amount of breath and energy given, one would think this is the most vital issue of the age. What did Jesus say was the greatest command. It was NOT "thou shalt not engage in gay activities." The greatest command is to love God, and the second is to love people. Yes, it is sin to engage in gay activitiy. It is also sin not to love. Which means it is sin to be impatient, unkind, envious and to hold grudges.

Does it not seem wiser, better and more effective to put first things first? Maybe we ought to focus on first things -- the things Jesus said were most important -- until we get them right, and then go onto lesser matters. Or can we, at least, give equal breath to the first things as we do the lesser things?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Heart Focus (Challenges)

The result of a life in relationship with God is a life with a heart growing in focus on God. When your heart is focused on God, God reciprocates and focuses his heart on you. The result is his love, grace and Spirit flow into you heart. Your heart is purified. Your character is refined. You are empowered. And all of it happens from the inside out.

But God continues to test and challenge us. The point of his work in our lives is to refine our focus, to convince us of our need for him in relationship, and to build in us a heart for him.
Many people tend to think of challenges as adverse circumstances. And they can be. But positive or good things can be as well.

If we are in the midst of good things and god times, we can have elevated and incorrect thoughts about ourselves. We can say to ourselves, "I'm doing all right. I am being rewarded for all my work." And the result is -- your heart-focus is on you, your position, your work, and your heart-focus is not on God.

Success or fame can break your relationship with God. It can sever the connection between your heart and God's heart, stopping the work going on.

Failure, bad things and bad times can equally test our connection and heart-focus. In this case, we say "I'm a failure. A jerk. I'm not work anything." We doubt God's love. We doubt God's intentions. We focus on ourselves.

Failure or guilt can break your relationship with God. It can sever the connection between your heart and God's heart, stopping the work going on.

At the center of our lives as followers of Jesus is a relationship with God, and maintaining our heart-focus on him. All of life's circumstances are opportunities to enhance our heart-focus or to damage our heart-focus. Each circumstance has a different effect, and therefore, a different lesson on how to maintain our relationship and heart-focus with God.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Heart Focus (Distractions)

We often have foreign students living with us. They are either attending the local university or studying English in preparation for attending the local university. 

Currently, we have a student from China. And his father recently decided to visit the US. He has friends in San Francisco, relatives in Boston, and a son elsewhere on the east coast. They will return to China next week. (After the son will return to the US after winter break.) 

The father will be staying with us for a couple of weeks. He speaks little English, and the son attends classes Monday through Friday. Because communication is difficult, the normal means of expressing hospitality are very limited. His son translates and there are apps on the internet. But TV, normal conversation and asking questions are pretty much out of the question. And there are some transportation issues. Realizing this is not an earth shaking predicament, it does add up to a slight increase in stress. 

I believe people live from their heart, from their inner core, from the inside out. Jesus said that what they put in their heart automatically comes out of their mouth and in their actions. This is the normal way people work. But what happens on the outside does affect the heart. 

I have noticed that the ability to focus my heart -- to reflect, pray and meditate -- has been blocked somewhat. It could be the visit, the season, (the effects of too much turkey) or one of those bio-rhythm things. With a diminishing of my heart-focus, one would expect a diminishing of God's reciprocating heart-focus, an therefore, a lessening of grace, and the flow of God's Spirit getting blocked somewhat. 

One would also expect a decrease in appropriate behavior. Now, I haven't lost my temper. I haven't gone on a "bender" of one sort or another. But I have noticed a "tremor in the Force." A small loss of peace. (Or a small gain in anxiety. A stranger in the house? Too much turkey? The BCS standings?) But there is a definite sense that I am not functioning at 100%. And there is a definite sense that, at least in part, it is a result of a heart-focus that is not optimal. 

If what we have been discussing lately, the heart-focus being the conduit of God's grace, and the flow of the Spirit into our lives, and if, as followers of Jesus, we live by that flow of grace and the Spirit, then disruptions of that flow are serious. Then, anything that causes a distraction to that heart-focus is serious. 

One could say that our primary weapon is achieving God's purposes, growth or restoring God's kingdom is our heart-focus. It connects us to God, to grace and to God's Spirit, which are our primary resources in achieving the things mentioned above. Then, it would not be too much of a stretch to conclude that Satan's primary objective in spiritual warfare is to disrupt our heart-focus, and to cut us off from our primary resources. Anything that disrupts our heart-focus can be an attack from the enemy. (I would not get too hyper about this. All he needs to do in many cases is just let life work. Living is distracting all on its own.) Areas of sin, areas of every day life (politics, school, work) and even areas associated with righteousness (family, church) can become an artillery barrage to our heart-focus. 

NOTE: I am beginning to wonder if what we are calling our heart-focus is what Jesus meant by "abide in me." 

NOTE: I just finished a historical novel about the battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War. The deciding factors in the battle were (a) the Confederate army was cut off from their resources (food, ammunition and clean water) and (b) the Union army was well-supplied in all of the above. Demonstrating how vital maintaining connections to resources in war is.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Something New

Jesus was talking about following religious practices with some people. He told them that at different times, we need to adjust our practices. Like when God reveals something new to us.

He used two metaphors to illustrate this. The first was patching a hole in an old piece of clothing with new material. If one sews a patch on an old item of clothing, when it is washed, the patch will shrink, pull on the old fabric, weaken it, and, eventually, create a bigger hole.

The second was putting new wine into old leather skins. Fermentation causes gas to form. The gas will stretch the leather skin. New skins will stretch; old skins will not. Stretching the old skins will cause them to burst. Ruining the skins and the wine.

Pretty often, I read, hear or see some Christian announce that God is going to do something new. He will reveal himself differently. He will reveal his purposes in a new way. If these proclamations are true, then, according to Jesus, should we not be making adjustments in our practices? Should we not be acting differently?

(I have heard that old leather can be treated in a way that it will regain its suppleness and elasticity. But doesn't that mean someone has to do something different?)

The basic form of doing church has been set for hundreds of years. There have been some changes. The music is different. Many churches no longer use special robes. People still meet in special buildings. They are still led by professionals. The focus still is on the weekly meeting. Most people are still spectators. There is a fixed time of singing and prayer. Then, someone gives a speech. 

I do not mean to suggest that any of these things are bad or evil somehow. But, if God is doing something new, then we need to do something new.

Monday, November 25, 2013

God's Heart (David)

Throughout the songs of David, he urges God to bring his judgment. There is almost of feeling of excitement and anticipation. Imagine: “Yeah! Bring it, God! Smash the wicked! Restore the righteous!”

The only way David can assert this with such conviction and enthusiasm is that he regards himself as not one of the wicked. But David’s hands are not entirely clean. Adulterer. Murderer. But his is not afraid of God’s judgment. He understands God’s heart toward him. Even in failure, he is a man after God’s heart.

It is in failure that God’s heart (God’s grace) is most proven … most evident. It is in failure that our hearts – toward others, toward ourselves – are most proven and most evident. Some failures are because we are not big enough. Some failures are chosen. And those who choose moral failure need to repent. But there was a way that Jesus behaved with people that gave grace, even when someone had not repented. And we need to learn how to behave that way also.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

God's Presence

When many people speak about being in God's presence, and its effect on people, they point to the Isaiah story.

When he was in the temple one day, he had a vision of God and an army of angels. Isaiah's reaction was fear and dread, because he realized his heart was not right with God. He realized this, because he knew his words were not right. (Since, people live from their hearts, their speech and their actions are indications of what is in their hearts. Everyone's heart is unclean. So, everyone will speak and act wrongly. That's why we need Jesus. And that's why God's Spirit fills out hearts -- to purify our hearts, so we speak and act in love.) It was then that an angel touched his mouth with a burning coal, acting as an instrument of purification, and he received his forgiveness.

People seem to associate God's presence with this holy dread, guilt and fear. People seem to forget about other areas that talk about about God's presence. David says that he is assured of experiencing joy and pleasures in God's presence. It is the presence that produces the joy and pleasure.

Scripture describes the results of God's Spirit moving in and through people's hearts. People "walk out" these results because they are a natural out-flow of God's Spirit in them. This is God's nature, so these are the result of God's nature. The first outflow of God's nature is love. The second outflow is joy.

I am not sure that the natural outcome of being in God's presence is fear, dread and guilt. I don't deny that people feel these things. (Eg. Isaiah.) But I wonder if it is God's intention that people experience joy and peace in his presence. Joy and peace is who he is. Joy and peace is what surrounds him.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Heart Focus - V

As we focus our hearts on God, we begin to see our devotions differently. Devotions meaning our personal time of reading in the Bible, prayer and meditation.

Devotions are a very important method of focusing our heart on the Father’s heart. It is in a number of ways more important than meetings as a family.

First, family meetings happen once or twice a week. Devotions usually happen more often. They should happen every day. They probably do not, but the frequency give God more opportunity to pour his grace and love into our hearts. Human beings improve in anything with greater practice. Only this is not more practice, this is more exposure. Like diamonds, the human heart gleams more when it is exposed to more to the polishing of the jeweler.

Second, devotions allow for more specific targeting. Meetings generally are broadcasts to the whole family. Families need to act and live in a united and coherent manner. Having a united hear-focus builds that unity and one-ness. But it is difficult – difficult, but not impossible – for individuals to receive in an individual way in such a setting. If God is speaking to the whole family about evangelism, but wishes to speak to person A about love, and person B about how to make a wise choice in a particular area, to receive the individual message, the persons need to focus their hearts on God, but in a different way than each other, and in a different way that the whole. Personal devotions are personal. God can deal with the heart of each individual as he sees fit.

(As we set our hearts toward God, there is most likely some way that God deals with our hearts in a non-cognitive way. But, just as likely, God pours into our hearts in a cognitive way. With cognition, we can cooperate and agree with God’s work.)

I have a third point that seems to be related to the second. A person’s devotions are when we invite God to speak to us personally. And people get into the habit of reading the Bible for insight on how the can live better, more fully, more happily, with greater impact, etc.

Now, we have stated here before that people live from their hearts. So, understanding the nature of the heart is important. And if people live from their hearts, and heart-ology is an important area of understanding, how much more important is it to understand God’s heart. So, in our devotions, we should include what people normally focus on reading the Scriptures, but also indicators of what goes on in God’s heart. We will learn how to focus our hearts, what we should expect to receive, and, most importantly, what is God’s heart focus.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Heart Focus - IV

As we focus our hearts on God, we begin to see obedience differently, we begin to see our relationship with God differently, and we begin to see our relationship with people differently.

We have said here that as we set our heart-focus on God, he sets his heart-focus on us. And God's heart flows back into our hearts and into our lives. God changes  our hearts to become like his heart. So, the things that characterize God will characterize us.

What is God's primary character trait? What has he told us is the most important thing? It is love. God's heart overflows with love for people. If God's heart flows into our heart, we will incorporate God's character. Which means we will love like God loves. Love, service and generosity will become part of our nature. We should expect life patterns to change as God changes our hearts.

I can see how there would be a tendency for people to get down on themselves ... or others in Jesus' family. It is easy to see a lack of love in the lives of so many who say they follow Jesus.

We fail. We will continue to fail. Scripture says God gave the Law, not for people to keep -- because that is impossible -- but so our failure would show us our need for Jesus, and drive us to seek him. Our failure to love should reveal our need to keep seeking Jesus.

Sin and failure should always bring us back to Jesus. People always follow their heart-focus. And they always become what their heart is focused on. Transformation will always be the result of failure, if we turn and seek Jesus' face. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Heart Focus - III

If this heart-focus is as important as it seems to be, then a person’s view of how God views them is very important too. (In other words, how does God view each person, especially in failure?)

Many people feel that if they fail, God is angry with them. He seriously considers revoking their salvation and sending them to hell. An individual’s response, if they believe that God feels that way, is: self-condemnation, and often, depressed, small, ineffectual and powerless. The main tendency seems to be hiding from God.

If a heart-focus toward God is (at least, one of) the main methods of receiving grace from God, and therefore, (at least, one of) the main means of promoting growth and transformation, hiding from God is the worst thing a person can do. And God wants our growth. Growth of his children brings him glory. Growth of his children advances his purposes. Growth of his children brings him joy. So, the last thing God wants for his children is to be overwhelmed with shame and hide from him. God wishes to promote a heart-focus toward him.

Jesus died to justify sinners. And when we choose as our first allegiance, he sends his spirit to our hearts to begin the process of restoration and activate the process of relationship. God’s purpose is to reclaim his lost children, restore his kingdom, and demonstrate his glory. One person at a time, he persuades people to come to him. One person at a time, he brings his purposes into reality. (Of course, being infinite, “one person at a time” really has no meaning for him.) To motivate one child to hide from him disrupts his purposes. To motivate his children to seek his face, even when they fail, pushes his purposes to completion.

What does God do to motivate his children to focus their heart toward him, especially at a time when their minds, hearts and spirits scream for them to flee? He affirms his love for them.

It is always his love that draws us to him. It is his love that keeps us there. It is his love that persuades us to follow him, to undergo the process of transformation and to partner with him in fulfilling his purposes.

A major hindrance to God’s kingdom and purposes is our limited and incomplete understanding of God’s heart … and specifically of his love and grace.

NOTE: God is never hindered. But he desires to work out his purposes through his family. That desire will not bear full fruit, as long as we are in the dark about how big his love is.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Heart Focus - II

If this heart focus becomes as important as it sounds, then obedience takes on a new dimension.

Obedience is important, because it pleases God. It is important, because we are living as we were designed to live. And it is important, because obeying God will always demonstrates God’s love to people.

It becomes more important, because failure will stop God’s focus on us and the flow of grace to our hearts. Guilt tends to cause people to move their heart focus away from God and back to themselves. It is the heart focus that initiates the flow of grace, the filling of our hearts, the restoration of our hearts, and an out-flow from our lives. Sin short-circuits this whole process.

We recently discussed sin here, focusing on how we need to respond and how God injects his DNA into our hearts to re-create our hearts and our lives. It is our relationship, our heart focus, that is the catalyst to this restoration. As this restoration is not going to be completed in this life time, our primary concern should be keeping the “reaction” going as continuously as possible. And when we fail, to get it going again as soon as possible.

Maybe our response to sin should not be moans and groans, dust and ashes, and self-flagellation. Maybe it should be worship. Not a celebration of our failure, but a celebration of God’s grace, patience and perseverance in maintaining and deepening our relationship with him and our growth in grace. Worship sets our eyes and our hearts back to where they are supposed to be.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Heart Focus

Victor Frankl was a Jewish psychologist, who was thrown into a Nazi death camp during World War II. During his internment, like everyone else, he spent most of his time trying to stay alive. But, almost on reflex, he observed others captive in that environment and later, used his observations to try and explain people's hearts.

He observed people, who were physically fit and healthy, weaken and die. Or they would commit suicide by throwing themselves on the electrified fence. On the other hand, a puny, sickly person with asthma, anemia, and a heart condition would survive well past the end of the war. Physically, the first person was much more capable of survival than the second. He decided that the reason the first person died, and the second person lived, must lie somewhere in their inner life. So, he investigated. What he discovered was that those who survived had something to focus on in the future after all that they had experienced in the present was over. The survivors set their hearts on seeing family, finishing a project or visiting somewhere. And those who died had nothing to set their hearts on.

There seems to be a law -- almost -- that what a person focuses his heart on is drawn to that person. Those who focused on doing and being in the future, drew it to them. Those who had no focus drew the end to them.

I don't really know if I could explain how this law works fully. There does seem to be people who focus their hearts on gaining money or success, and those things seem drawn to them like a magnet. Of course, the focus compels them to act in a particular way ... and maybe that's the secret. Sitting down, closing your eyes and intoning like a mantra, "Money! Money! Money!" -- all the while visualizing small pictures of Washington, Lincoln and Jackson floating toward you, forming nice neat piles in from of you -- seems like a silly way to provide for your family.

All of this, of course, is an introduction to a passage of Scripture I have been thinking about.

Paul was addressing a group of God's family. He begins by telling them that he is confident that the Holy Spirit is flowing through him into their lives, because he can see the transformation occurring in them. He is confident that God is glorified, not because of his work, but because of the Spirit's work. It demonstrates the superiority of the new covenant of grace over the old covenant of law. The old temporary and it resulted in death; the new is eternal and results in life. In the old, we really could not fully understand God's nature and character, because there was a hindrance in our lives. In the new, we can see him more fully, because the hindrance was removed.

Now, here is the part I am concentrating on. I confess I don't feel like I completely understand ... indeed, I may be totally wrong. I feel like Paul uses more poetic language here, which may be part of the problem. But here is what it seems to me he is saying:

Since, we are not hindered from seeing the nature and character of God more fully. And as we see him, as we focus our hearts on him, we draw the focus of God to us. God reciprocates. So, like the "law" Victor Frankl seemed to propose, we draw God and God's nature to us, as we focus on him. His grace fills our hearts and transforms our hearts, which in turn transforms our thoughts, words and deeds. If I understand this correctly, one tool for transformation is our heart focus, Worship, prayer and meditation become means of growth, not just means of relationship.

Maybe steps of relationship are steps of growth. 

Monday, October 28, 2013


A month or so ago, I was thinking about love and the list of its traits. I went through the list and described each of its traits. Now, I find myself reading through the same passage of Scripture. (Don’t worry, I am not going to describe each trait again.) This section about love is situated in the middle of a passage about the special abilities God gives his children.

One of the most commonly used metaphors to describe God’s family is that of the human body. The human body is one unit, one whole, but it is made up of many different parts. And each part has a different function. In the metaphor, each person is like a different part of the body. And the different function of the part is like the special ability God gives.

In the beginning of this section, the writer describes:
• The cohesion of God’s family;
• How God gives these abilities;
• How each person is strategic in God’s family;
• And how the abilities enable his children to meet needs, provide mutual service and interdependence.
But, as the writer transitions to his discussion of love, he explains how if the special ability is not accompanied by, supported by, empowered by or run through the filter of love, it is worthless!!

Which says to me, in God’s kingdom, these abilities are important, but love is more important. It would be better if a person acted in love, without the special abilities, than if he acted with the ability and no love.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Calling - X

We conclude with three attitudes\practices that are intended to put our call into effect.

The first attitudes\practices is “surrender.” The term has the connotation of defeat and giving up. But in a spiritual sense, it is a voluntary laying down of rights, goals and privileges, leaving one’s hands empty to pick up something else more important. When we choose to follow Jesus, we laid down our original allegiance in order to take up our new allegiance to Jesus. We surrendered our first allegiance to take up another.

Here is something similar. We choose to lay down our vision of our life, in order to take up God’s vision of our life. It becomes our vision, our way to love God and people. It becomes God’s personal command to us.

The second attitudes\practices is “focus.” There is a story of a CEO of some company who said that the bottom line dealing with any issue is – giving it attention. Living one’s call requires daily practice. Each person has to focus consistently and regularly on actions that will build the necessary skills, character and habits. There are tools that help filter out distractions (which could be activities that are harmful or activities that are good, but detract from the end we are aiming at) and activities that build. This doesn’t give anyone an excuse to avoid their responsibilities. They still need to be spouses, parents, bosses\employees and citizens. Still, if it is God personal command to us, it is something that requires daily attention.

The last attitudes\practices is “renewal.” Essentially, it is actions that helps one maintain momentum toward walking out the calling fully, achieving one’s potential. There are two aspects to this. One is renewing a person’s energy and enthusiasm towards the call. This can encompass all phases of a person: physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual. Each person has a rhythm of rest, exercise, nutrition and spiritual input needed to perform the best.

The other is a renewal of perspective. Are there changes needed? Should some activities be discontinued? Some new ones be started? The whole process ought to be reviewed, evaluated and adjustments made.

Community also becomes important as people are supported, loved and served – both giving and receiving. Special relationships are formed. Not only friendships, but also people will need guides to help fulfill the calling. There will be both short-term (for specific areas) as well as long-term.

As we choose to embrace our calling, we practice it, giving proper attention and review it wisely, we walk in God’s purpose for us, we receive God’s “fuel” and we live as we are designed.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Calling - IX

At this point, walking out one’s calling lies entirely in the imagination. We have an idea about where our energies should be focused. The next suggested step is to imagine life in the future. Imagine if one’s call works out ideally, what would one’s life look like? How would one’s relationship with God be like? Marriage? Family? Church? Neighbors? What fruit would be borne? What self-image?

If a person can see where he is supposed to wind up, then he can begin to plan how he is supposed to get there. He can develop a strategy. Does he need to alter his approach to God? His family? Work? Does he need further education? Does he need to stop certain activities? Start certain activities?

As you can see, this all sits inside one’s imagination. Having a big picture of who you are and what you should become is not a bad thing. A person’s imagination is a powerful tool. Everything, good or bad, big or small, began in someone’s imagination.  The real trick is getting the contents of one’s imagination and making it real.

This is usually where living out one’s calling fails. It would be nice if we could jump straight to that idealistic future. But we can’t. We need to walk the first baby steps. We need to work through the intermediate steps. There is much praying and much planning. And there is too much expectation in many people for quick results.

Walking out God’s call on our lives at this point begins to become work. But without the work, we will never reach that future, and never experience the joy of being in the optimal place of God’s will.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Taking a brief hiatus from the “Calling” series …

I attended a seminar about diversity at work recently. Rather than focusing on “race” or “disability,” like others I have attended did, this seminar focused on “difference.” The point of the seminar was to make us aware that there are dozens of ways people can be different from one another. (Height, weight, age, race, gender, religion, politics, handed-ness, economic status, work ethic, cleanliness habits, punctuality, etc. In the seminar, during one of the group activities, we compiled a list of 58 unique things.)

Each set of “this\that” represents different perspectives, values and experiences. Each set can produce different expectations, actions and reactions.

There is a lot of debate currently about one particular subset of the general population choosing a particular lifestyle. The family of God believes this lifestyle is wrong. A lot of the general society believe the lifestyle is OK. Part of the debate is how God’s family should respond.

A part of God’s family believes this lifestyle should be condemned loudly and frequently. Another part of God’s family highlights God’s love and acceptance, and maintains that we should behave the same way towards these people.

I would like to share a few points  that seem to me to be pertinent to this discussion.

(1) God is holy. He does say we should expose sin. So, why is part of God’s family busy exposing “this” sin, and ignoring stealing, lying, gluttony, and greed? God commands us to live a life of thankfulness. Anyone rememb4er hearing sermons condemning negativity? Scripture says be holy and expose sin. It does not give us the right to pick and choose.

(2) God is love. He commands us to walk in love. The family of God is commanded to love everybody … including sinners.

(3) Jesus condemned sin and he loved and accepted sinners. What God commands seems to be in tension. Jesus was able to obey both commands perfectly; but we probably will not be able to do so. But we are called to work through the tension and obey the whole counsel of God. We don’t have the right to choose what command we obey. If we are part of God’s family, we are required to submit to the Father and obey him … in whatever he says.

(4) It was probably the diversity seminar, but I was reminded of a passage of Scripture, where the writer condemns “favoritism” or “partiality.” The example given was giving the rich favorable treatment over the poor. But given multiple passages of Scripture that demonstrate that God accepts all cultures, classes, and all types of sinners, maybe we need to make sure we are not giving favoritism to one group against another group. In that passage, God says that favoritism is sin

Monday, October 07, 2013

Calling - VIII

A third vista is our heart focus. This is a difficult thing to discover. We have discussed here in the past that God desires us to live from our hearts. He puts his spirit into our hearts and generates life moving from inside out. This is why Satan attacks our hearts. God wants our lives to be controlled by love – of God and of people. As God gives different gifts, he gives different ways to express this love.

Satan wants our hearts to be controlled by anything else: guilt, fear, hate, lust, pride, etc. So, he attacks our hearts to smother love, if he can; and to generate some other counterfeit. So, people build protections over their hearts. And Satan confounds, confuses and distorts. So, we either cut through the barriers to uncover our heart focus; or we peel back all the layers. All of which God seeks to do.

It is not totally possible to shut down the expression of our heart focus. It peeks out from underneath the pile in a number of ways. To get a glimpse of your heart focus, ask yourself questions like these:
  • What are your dreams? 
  • Who are your heroes?
  • What are your favorite stories? (Bible, movies, books.)
  • What do you hope your future becomes?
  • If guaranteed success, what would you do?
  • What do you want written in your obituary?
This obviously requires using our imagination and a lot of quiet reflection. We need to remember that God’s desire is his glory and the advancement of his kingdom. God’s route for this is through his family – controlled by love, and attaining their potential. Scripture says that God has put eternity in people’s hearts, so the people are moved to seek him. Moreover, he puts a passion into people’s hearts, so we are driven to actualize our potential, give him glory, and love and serve people.

Calling - VII

Another tool set God has given to view our lives (another vista to make sense of our personal landscape) is our talents and gifts.

If God has given us a special niche to impact the world from, he will certainly equip and enable us to complete the work by providing us with skills. (Either natural skills given at birth, or spiritual skills given at re-birth. Or both.)

There are many abilities that can compile our skill-set. Some abilities are given at birth, eg. a musical ear or good hand-eye coordination. Scripture speaks of abilities given when we become part of God's family. Special skills that God empowers and works through, because his Spirit dwells in us.

Part of a skill-set involves a particular perspective (a set of lenses) to view the world through. For example, some people have a skill-set involving the maintenance of the physical environment. So, they see needs that should be attended to. They hear a noise in a car, and know how to fix it. They see "signs" in a house or yard, and know how to correct it.

Needs, concerns and areas for improvement occur in every area of life. So, an important part of this vista is an understanding of a person's heart, as well as their successes and achievements. 

Are there areas we are practiced and successful in? We probably have skills in that area.

Are there areas we have longings or strong desires about? We may have skills in that area, that we have not tapped into. God instills desires in our hearts to give us direction.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Calling -VI

There are several tools God has given to help determine the calling God has given us. The first is our life history, our life story. 

Let's pretend for a moment that there is an infinite, personal God, who made man-kind, designed them to have a relationship with him, and designed everything about individual people ... including what will enable them to live to their greatest potential. And since he is an infinite, personal God, he can give each of his children moment by moment attention. He can tailor a detailed program of training for each child, so they fill that spot that we have given the term "calling:" fulfilling their potential, acting in the most effective and efficient way to complete God's purpose and mission, maximizing joy and giving love in an individual and unique way. 

If there was such a God, and he had such a purpose for his children, we should be able to see his hand in their lives. There should be lessons, themes and patterns. There should be experiences that unlock doors to unseen, unknown vistas. There should be principles that are etched indelibly on hearts. 

Now let's pretend there is an enemy. One who want to detract from God's glory, thwart his purposes, disrupt his mission and generate as much misery as possible. And since God's glory, purposes and mission are bound up in people, (people choosing to align themselves with God in a new allegiance, to live in a new life that points others to God and to partner with God in restoring his kingdom) the place the enemy will attack is people ... especially his children. He will try to disrupt their training, distract them filling their place, confuse their identity, and interfere with their relationship with the Father.

If a person charted his life, there would be a number of ups and downs. And a number of these ups and downs would affect decisions, changing the direction of life. Some decisions would be based on fear. Some on faith, love or any of a number of practical considerations. By charting these transitions, a person could begin (repeat: begin) to see themes and patterns. One might also see places of disruption. To see the place of calling, one needs a panoramic view. There are motivations, and contexts. So, a person's life story is a view from one mountain top.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Calling - V

We discussed how each Jesus follower has a common core identity or common primary fuel. There is also a common purpose. This is simply to live a life that honors God. How do we do that? What does that look like?
  • We love, obey, serve and follow God.
  • We are serious about knowing and understanding what he says.
  • We make his purposes, our purposes.
  • We make his heart, our heart.
  • We make his values, our values.
  • We make his priorities, our priorities.
  • We live a life of love.
Or, to quote David Putnam, "We live like Jesus. We love like Jesus. We leave what Jesus left behind."

The first one is vital. It is what our heart should be focused on. It is the bull's eye of our life. The second is very important, because too many do not understand the rest of the list. For example, for many Christians (sincere, serious, genuine followers of Jesus), it is essential the the life of God's family is centered in a special building. (Please understand me. A special building is NOT evil. I am NOT advocating the all-out abandonment and destruction of special buildings.) However, if one looked at the family of God in the US, one would assume that one cannot follow God if one did not have a special building.

If one looked at the practices of certain subsets of God's family, one would assume that God considers certain cultural practices to be evil. And that might not necessarily be so. That does NOT mean that if something is accepted by the culture, it ought to be accepted by the family of God. More ... because something is right and proper in God's eyes to practice in one city, it does NOT mean it is right and proper to practice in another city. We need to understand what God says. Walk in understanding, wisdom and love, so he gains glory in ALL settings. That is our purpose.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Calling - IV

The writer of this book uses the term "core identity" to describe the basic, foundational truth of who people in general were created to be. We have discussed it here also, using a slightly different metaphor. We talk about the primary fuel. A person comes to a turning point. He needs to make a decision. Many different things motivate that decision.
  • They recognize their moral failure.
  • They conclude there is an over-riding truth.
  • They need something that gives them value or significance.
  • They need a cause.
  • They need something to belong to.
In all these cases, the solution to the issue they are facing is to choose a change of allegiance. They choose to connect that allegiance to God. Now:
  • They have a relationship with God.
  • They are judged to be pardoned from their moral failures.
  • They can live by the Truth ... with a capital T.
  • They are valued, important and significant.
  • They have a place, a role, a purpose and a cause.
  • They belong to the family of God.
  • What is broke in their lives, their hearts and their relationships can now be fixed.
This is who we all are. This is what we were designed to be from the beginning. We are unique in that we have different pasts, different roles and different destinies. But our foundations are the same. What we stand on, what we build from, is the same for everyone ... whether we choose to follow God or not.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Calling - III

One of the problems with this area of calling is that there is no passage of Scripture that says "This is you special niche in my kingdom. If you make sure to complete this work, you will gloify my name, experience great joy and bear much fruit." There is not even a verse that says "Make sure you fulfill your calling."

There are indications that one of mankind "fuels" is purpose. There is Scripture where it seems like Paul helped Timothy find his niche. And there is Scripture that says when we choose to follow Jesus, we become part of his family. And one of the metaphors use to describe his family is the human body. The human body is a group of different pieces hooked together to cooperate with one another. Each part performs its function and contributes to the growth and well-being of the whole.

But suppose you are a hand in his body. You could hold a hammer, a pencil or a knife. And if you are holding a knife, what are you cutting with it? Vegetables in a kitchen? Or performing surgury in a hospital?

As members of Jesus' family, we all are given the job of glorifying God by proclaiming and demonstrating his love to everyone, all over the world. This should result in a proclamation and demonstration of truth, and other people choosing to follow Jesus. But how do we take the function God has given us, and complete the task God has given us?
  • Become a professional leader.
  • Bake apple pies for the neighborhood.
  • Coach soccer to eight year olds.
  • Stand on a busy stret and publicly proclaim the gospel.
  • Become a nurse and care for the sick.
The fact that there are a number of gifts and a multitude of areas to express these gifts only serves to confuse those looking for somewhere to plug in. (And there is a vast spectrum of life as God's family to consider ... and we only used one part as an example.)

As I have said before, I write what I am thinking about. And sometimes something I have seen or heard oar read somewhere else starts me thinking. And this area of calling started with a book.

The author assumes a calling, a special niche given to each one in God's family. The value of the book is that he provides several ways of trying to define a calling. Like looking from several mountain vistas at the valley below, we can get different perspectives and different, but complementary, understandings of this niche we are looking for, that will help us obey God's purposes in ways that glorify God and match who we are designed to be.

My intention is to describe each "vista" so maybe I can understand them better. Maybe I can find a better place to focus my energies. And maybe anyone who reads this can do the same.

NOTE: But there will be a brief hiatus. My brother and I are going camping for a few days. We will hike, eat and burn wood. Maybe attend the Annual Fall Festival and listen to blue grass.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Calling - II

First, to recap a couple of ideas discussed here before …

God created the world and designed it to function perfectly. Man sinned, introducing a polluting effect into the world, and “breaking” the world. Things do not function as they were designed to do. But, there are still many things that follow their created nature. Man is still designed for a relationship with God. To live completely and fully, man needs many fuels. The God-man relationship is the primary fuel. Purpose is also a necessary fuel.

God is everywhere and understand everything. He is also immanent; which means he is totally present with all who seek him. All this means God can give his total attention and his total focus on people with enough to eat, radiation pollution in Japan, church planting movements across the world and individuals praying … in the US, in China, in Finland, in Chile, or anywhere else Jesus’ family is found.

So, since God can be completely present with all his children, and he has designed them for abundant living, for giving abundant glory to God, and for his family to full many different roles in a cohesive unity, we can see it is completely possible for God to five each one of his children their own totally unique niche in his family and in his purposes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I am reading a book that begins with the basic assumption that God has created us, designed us, and given us a specific purpose in life. The writer uses an old fashioned word to describe this specific purpose. He uses the word "calling."

Each person in Christ is given a specific call in life. If we receive it, we can complete God's vision for our life, achieve greater fulfillment in life, and give God greater glory through our lives. 

There was a time that a call on a person's life was discussed a lot in Christian circles. It fell out of favor, simply because many people would feel a call to this or that, and it never happened. Did people stop thinking about it because it wasn't true? Or because no one really understood the theology of the call? Or because we did not understand or were unwilling to walk through the process of receiving our call?

God needs to position us so that we are able to receive and act on our call. This could involve refining character, learning skills, or undergoing inner healing. It could also involve an unfolding of the call.

A call exists on several levels. There is a purpose, or reason, for what we are doing. There is a vision, or a direction and result. And there is a strategy, or steps of action.

And there is a core identity. It is God who defines who we are. But we have allowed all sorts of things to define us. And so we believe a lie. It is this core identity, God's definition, that is the foundation of any call.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Last week, I read a passage of Scripture that has got me wondering. When we look at Scripture, we see a number of places where God speaks to subsets of people: slaves, masters, parents, the rich and rulers. There are places where Scripture address just men and just women.

Some people read the passages and believe that God designed a hierarchy among men and women. If there is a hierarchy among the sexes, it was created when sin entered the world; it is part of the world being broke.

God created culture. Different peoples gather, view life through different lenses nad develop different expressions and solutions to life. God is glorified as these different people seek to follow Jesus from their contexts.

Men and women also have different lenses. And God is glorified as they seek to follow Jesus from their contexts. The all-prevailing attitude and action that must be present in all interactions -- whether they are between cultures or genders -- is love.

But, getting back to my Scripture ...

In the midst of a passage where the writer is encouraging specific practices to men and women, he encourages all men to pray. Since, in the context, he immediately goes on to encourage a different, separate practice to women, this exhortation to prayer is specifically to men.


There were some possibilities that I considered.

(1) Something special happens when men pray. (If this sounds sexist, please, make sure to read items 2 and 3.) Anyone praying is important, and God pays attention to it. But men praying has more potency somehow, so he encourages it more.

(2) This is not about praying or not praying. This is about how prayer should be given. More specifically, this is how men are praying wrong ... and what they need to do to pray correctly.

(3) Women are such natural and effective pray-ers that they don't need instruction in it, or encouragement to do it. Men, on the other hand, ...

Most likely, it is some variant of #2. Perhaps ... given a man's apparent, inherent tendency when faced with a problem to take action to fix  the problem, God is encouraging a posture of prayer for certain issues (social, political or spiritual) undertaken with certain attitudes.

Attitudes like:
  • a heart given to God.
  • A heart focused on completing God's purposes.
  • A heart intent on God's solutions and God's way ... and not his own.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Seven Churches (7)

In the letter to the seventh (and last) church, Jesus claims authority as the final confirming word. He is the most faithful witness, most honest and reliable. He is the first person restored by God to his original design. The first and only one living as he was truly meant to live.
Jesus is aware of the actions and lifestyle of this church. They do things that mark them as Jesus-followers, but only the least disruptive of their lives. They will go to Sunday meetings. But they will not reach out in love or service to those outside the church. They will not proclaim their allegiance to Jesus to others. They are not really against Jesus. They are not really for Jesus.

They have decided they are rich. Jesus says not only are they not rich, but they are poor, blind and naked. Moreover, Jesus is not even present among them. He tells them he is trying to get in. If they let him in, he will accept them and bless them as he does all his children. And they will have what they need. They will understand living with Jesus as they should. And they will have a right relationship with him.

Those who turn around and establish a clear relationship with him and a clear allegiance to him, will be with him always. He will treat them as his Father has treated him ... with love, honor and respect.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Seven Churches (6)

In the letter to the sixth church, Jesus declares that he is holy (set apart, different and special) and true (genuine and faithful). He declares that he has the key of David. David was a king. He had a heart for God unlink any of Israel's other kings. And, as he was king, he had the authority to make sure something happened ... by opening up a way with his "key." Or he he had the authority to make sure something did not happened ... by closing a way with his "key."

This is a small church without much influence. and they are in a place where they are being opposed by Satan.

Even though they are small and without much influence,  they are obedient. And God recognizes their work. So, he uses his "key" to open a door for them. They have a special opportunity available to the, and no one will be able to stop them. Those who oppose this fmall part of God's family will be forced to admit that God loves them and works on their behalf. And, as they have prepared their hearts to patiently endure oppression against them, God will protect them against the coming persecution.

And if these children continue to live with this mind-set of obedience and faithfulness, God will bless them with a special relationship. They will always be in his presence. They will be marked in a special way as citizens of his kingdom, and members of his family. And they will have a new identity.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Seven Churches (5)

In the letter to the fifth church, Jesus reminds them he has authority over all of these specific churches. He has the Spirit of God, and the angels over these churches. The angels could be actual angels sent to watch over the churches. Or they could be messengers sent to the churches. In either case, he has the authority and he gives the message to them.

This was a very active church. They were involved in a great many things. And they had a reputation for being alive. People looked at all the activity, and thought they were really something. In reality, it was all smoke and mirrors. There was no life in the church. Just empty motion.

Jesus urges them to wake up, and work hard at the true, God-fearing, obedient things they do remember. Jesus urged them to repent. All this activity that they were involved in amounted to idolatry and godlessness. They need to get back to what's real.

There were some who did not get involved in what was evil. (Does this mean that Jesus was calling what the rest of the church was involved in -- evil?) They are worthy to be in God's presence. They will wear white and have their names in God's Book of Life. (Does this mean that Jesus is calling what the rest of the church was involved in evidence that they really did not know God?) Jesus will make these his; and proclaim to all that they are his.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Seven Churches (4)

In the letter to the fourth church, Jesus reminds them that he is the final arbiter of all things. He can see deep into the hearts of people. He can test motives, ignorance and intentions. He can them proclaim judgment with total fairness and justice.
Jesus commends them for the practice, faithfulness and growth in many different and important areas:love, faith, service and perseverance.

But like the third church, they are allowing people who are not following Jesus to have influence among them. In particular, he identifies a woman, who he calls "Jezebel." Jezebel was a queen in Israel, who introduced practices to the people of Israel that honored other gods, and pulled them away from the one and true God. And this "Jezebel" was doing the same thing.

She proclaimed to everyone that she is a prophet, taking a position of authority, of one who speaks for God. And using this postion, she has encouraged practices that dishonor God.
God will challenge her to repent. But if she does not, she and any who follow her will be judged.

For those who are not following her, they should persevere and be faithful in what they know is right and how to do. To those who persevere, he will give them a position and authority like that which the Father gave to Jesus. They will see hearts, motives and intentions. They will judge with complete fairness and justice.

It also says he will give them the "morning star." There is a lot of confusion of what this could be a symbol of. Some say it is Jesus himself. He is identified as the "morning star" in other parts of Scripture. So, this could refer to a new, vital relationship with Jesus. Some say it refers to the actual morning star, and acts as an indicator that a new day is coming. So, it could refer to the person witnessing the restoration of God's kingdom. Or both.

If I had to make a decision right now, I would have to say it is the first, because Scripture calls Jesus the "Morning Star," so the promise is for a new relationship with Jesus.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Seven Churches (2)

In the letter to the second church, Jesus reminds them that this letter is from the eternal God. He was there in the beginning, so he know what the world was supposed to be like. He will be there at the end, so he already knows how the story will end. And he has already experienced death; and he has already experienced a resurrection from the dead. This is something we are all going to experience. He has gone ahead of us, this time to assure us it's going to be OK.

And that's important to this church especially. They are not in a good place. First, they are poor. We all realize life is hard when people have insufficient resources to cope. And there is a lot of research about how poverty affect people: physically, psychologically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. People get beaten in all these areas. But also, the society at large was against them, because they choose to follow Jesus. Society was following the ways of the enemy, excluding God's family from community resources, sending them to prison -- increasing the difficulty of life on the family -- and even killing some.

Jesus does not warn this church about any wrong doing. And he praises them for being true and faithful in the midst of their oppressive circumstances. He reminds them of all the good things they will have, because they have a relationship with him. He encourages them to persevere, because they will share in the reward of real life -- life as they are designed to live. And they will share in the reward of an eternal relationship with him.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seven Churches (3)

In the letter to the third church, Jesus reminds them that when he speaks, it is the word of God. It is the final word. It breathed life into the world. It is the standard by which everything is judged. It can be trusted beyond all else.

He reminds them of these facts, because they live in a place that is very hostile to the family of God. He calls it the throne of Satan. He doesn't say why specifically. Certainly, because of its oppression. (One of the church's leaders was executed in a particularly nasty way.) But he does commend them for being faithful in the face of the oppression.
But he does warn them about an area they are failing in. They are allowing disrupting influences to remain in their midst. They are allowing a group of people who do not hold to God's standards to influence them. They have not broken away from the sins of the people. Scripture specifically mentions eating meat sacrificed to idols, and committing immorality. They are not honoring God with their lives.

NOTE: It occurs to me that these people may not have fully given their allegiance to Jesus. Part of worship of idols at that time was participating in feast honoring a particular God, and visiting the temple prostitutes. We have people with one foot in one camp, and one in the other. So, the influence God wishes his children to have in the city has been polluted.
The second group who are influencing God's family wrongly are identified as the Nicolaitans. There is no certain definition of how these people were polluting the family of God. Some hold that these were followers of an early disciple of Jesus, who chose to follow the Gnostic philosophy. (Which held that only the spiritual world was true. The physical world was more or less illusion, so it did not matter at all what one did in it.) Others held that these were people oppressors. Possibly leaders in the church who did not walk in the love and service that Jesus commanded leaders to follow.

Jesus simply commands the church to repent, or he will bring judgment on the church. He encourages them to persevere and choose obedience. If they persevere, he will first give them a special food. He uses the word "manna" which identifies the food God miraculously provided in the wilderness, sustaining Israel for 40 years.

And he will give them a new identity. The symbol was a white stone with a new name. Only the person receiving the stone will understand what the name means. There will be a new identity and a new relationship with God, special and unique for each person.