Thursday, June 27, 2013

Be The Church (Sin) - III

To repeat: I do not think it is spiritually healthy to be caught up in sin: not with being engaged in it, not with its penalties, and not how to avoid it.

I am not saying we should not be serious about sin. Jesus was very serious about sin. The Bible says very definitively that we should avoid situations or people, and remove things from our lives, that can push toward sin.

But it is not sin, or even the avoidance of sin, that we have given our allegiance to. That would be the Father.

What we should be focused on is our relationship with God. Our questions should predominantly be things like: 
•   What please God? (And yes, one could say God is pleased by our not sinning.)
•   What is most on his heart?
•   What does God want?
•   What is he like?
•   What do I do that leads me to a greater closeness and a greater understanding of him?

A journey is pointless if a person spends most of his time considering where he is not going, rather than where he is going.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Be The Church (Sin) - II

There are people in Jesus' family who believe that if they continue to sin (and usually, it is one particular sin) God will reject and condemn them. 

First, we started sinning the day we were born. And we will continue to sin until we die. And God knew this would happen from the beginning.

Second, God is always active to promote his glory. Part of that is getting his people to live as he designed them to live. To live as the Bible says.
  • He speaks to us to promote right behavior.
  • When a wrong thought or desire is introduced into our hearts and minds, he speaks to us to turn us back to him.
  • When we entertain these wrong thoughts or desires, he speaks to us to turn us back to him.
  • And if we fail, he speaks to us to turn us back to him.
God continues to speak to us. Sometimes, he whispers into our hearts. Sometimes, he highlights a verse in the Bible. Sometimes, he relays a message through another person.

The main point to realize is: God continues to speak to us. And as long as he continues, he still expects to achieve his glory through us.

He is serious about sin -- one does not get any more serious than the death of Jesus -- but he is not surprised or dismayed by it.

The devil gains advantage if we sin.  And the devil gains advantage if we get hung up by our sin.  If we focus on sin, we are not focused on God's glory, obedience, faith, love and grace. And so, God does not receive glory. And we do not live as we are designed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Be The Church (Sin) - I

The Bible says God is light. "Light" is a metaphor for Truth. Truth meaning the real way the world works, and the real way it should work. We know that God made the world, and he made it agree with the Truth. The world, at creation, actually functioned the way it was supposed to. But the world doesn't function the way it is supposed to now. And we don't function the way we are supposed to.

When we choose to follow Jesus, when we change, making Jesus our primary allegiance, Jesus fills our hearts with his presence, giving us power to live as we were designed to live.

The reality is: we do not live as we were designed to live, even after we switch allegiance. Whatever got broke in the hearts of people, when sin was released into the world, is still broke.

When Jesus dies on the cross, and we he rose, his Spirit and his Body were released into the world. He released his DNA ... and his DNA creates his proteins and enzymes to re-manufacture the world.

We do not live as we were designed to, because the re-manufacturing process is in progress. Moreover, there are forces that want to hinder this process for their own purposes. This hindering is the essence of spiritual warfare. Although it can be, spiritual warfare is not generally some ugly, demonic manifestation. It can be as simple as introducing a non-Jesus-like thought, getting it considered, entertained, invited out for dinner and, maybe, asked to move in. And I am willing to bet that we will all at least once have dinner with something non-Jesus.

Of course, it would be best to "stay on our diet" and refuse the invitation. But what happens when we come out of our trance in the middle of dessert? I am beginning to wonder: if short-circuiting the temptation cycle early is the most important step, then is the second most important step our response after we fall?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Be The Church - IV

My wife’s father has been having health problems the last couple of months. He just got out of the hospital, and she has gone to try and help him get his life re-organized. (He lives around 1000 miles away.)

I am amazed at how dysfunctional everything has gotten. We are at the stage of life where our children have moved out to establish their own life, or they are very involved in their own activities. So, the everyday normalcy of a meal together has gotten near impossible. And, with my wife, the one who organizes, prepares and almost coerces these times\events gone, picking up the pieces has pretty much failed. I have no way to predict what is going to happen.

I have attempted to pick up the pieces, but some things suffer. We have both been encouraged to do some type of exercise daily. It is difficult to find time, when cooking and cleaning should be done. Tending our small garden falls in the same category. (Lettuce and  raspberries will need to be picked soon.)

It makes me wonder if Jesus’ family is like this. As Jesus’ family is Jesus’ body, and each part of the body has its function to carry out to build the body, if a part does not carry out its function, how dysfunctional does the body get? Are there important things that do not get done? Are there people running around trying to pick up the pieces? Is it only the loudest squeaks that get attended to … and the loudest is not necessarily the most important? And like my garden, is there reaping going undone, because our attention is elsewhere?

Jesus’ family is supposed to fill the world to rescue, restore and renew. That should be its main focus. Does where our attention spend most of its time reflect this?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Upside-Down Kingdom (Sifting ) - V

Jesus, as God, is Lord and Inventor of all of life ... including culture. The Spirit can enter and reveal himself through each and every culture. And he does. Each and every culture has aspects that point to the creator God. Don Richardson has written several books ("Peace Child", "Eternity in their hearts", etc.) demonstrating that fact. Each and every culture can make room for Jesus, and serve and honor him, in contextual ways.

However, as we are born into our culture, and wear it like a second skin, we often interpret Truth in terms of our culture. And our culture becomes, in our eyes, the best -- and maybe only -- way to live out the teachings of Jesus.

One of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, God allows sifting in the lives of his children is the work it does in their hearts.

If sifting breaks through the walls that block our hearts from his grace, move us to greater dependence, greater humility, more listening and learning, then we become a better servant, bearing more fruit, and giving God greater glory. We look at our life, our church and our culture as things that reveal God's nature and grace. And we can grow to see other lives, other churches and other cultures as God-given masterpieces. They become teachers and partners.

It's almost like we ought to be thankful for our weaknesses.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Upside-Down Kingdom (Sifting)- IV

We will all at sometime experience offenses, attack, and temptations. These things always aim first at the heart. As the heart goes, so goes the mind and the body.

Our response needs to be a response of the heart. We need to move in agreement with God's perspective.

First of all, we need to remember our dependence. We live under grace, under the cross.  When we chose our allegiance to Christ, we declared our need and reliance on Christ. We continue to live in a state of dependence in our day to day walk with him. It was our choice to surrender to him that defeated sin and death in the first place. It will be our continual surrender to God, regarding continuous attempts by Satan to sift us, that will bring God to apply grace to our hearts.

So, we need to yield in surrender, admitting we cannot stand on our own. Too often, people proclaim God's authority over all creation, including Satan, and God's grace over any situation, only to re-position their hearts to defend themselves with their own determination and willpower.

We defeated Satan in the first place by surrender. We will continue to defeat Satan in any battle of the heart by choosing to surrender to Christ.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Upside-Down Kingdom (Sifting) - III

If part of being the church, being in relationship with God, is God speaking into our life, showing us his nature, or showing us our nature, then he is going to speak to us during a time of suffering, pain or attack. One of our responses during such a time has got to be asking "what is God trying to teach me?"

God's response to us might not always be "rescue." (At least, not what we may perceive to be rescue.) God spoke to Job before restoring his fortunes. God spoke to Paul about his thorn and no mention is made one way or the other if God ever did heal Paul.

Part of forgiveness is the releasing or surrendering of pain we have suffered. Without forgiveness, the pain controls us, and not the love of God. Part of spiritual warfare is Satan poking at our memory, dredging out old pain, and seeking to capture us with it.

There are people whose focus, passion and energy are invested in an offense suffered thirty years ago. They are controlled, not by the offense, but by the memory of the offense. And God says we are to be controlled by what?

We need to apply God's love, grace, wisdom and perspective to each offense, pain, problem or trouble.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Upside-Down Kingdom (Sifting) - II

God lets us experience sifting. For some reason, the process is important. It is part of the on-going battle in the spiritual realm.

God has made us partners in his mission. We are not just spectators, we are active participants. We can respond, initiate, succeed or fail.

He could protect us. He could regenerate us, so we are morally perfect in this life.
My personal theory is: if he protects us, if he perfects us, we lose something. Choices we would need to struggle with, are made automatically. There are no steps of faith. There is no need to forgive. Unity is automatic. Love is no problem.

The cross is a proclamation of God's grace. It is a declaration that we are dependent on God. Even when we change allegiance by choosing to follow Jesus, become a part of his family, granted access to his heavenly kingdom to be with him forever, we still need grace. We are still dependent on him.

If we are dependent on him, we still need him to act on our behalf. If he still acts for us (and we are alert), we will see the reality of God, we will have reason for praise and worship, and God will receive glory.

Be The Church - III

I have often pointed out how a book I am reading starts a train of thought. Here is another one. Sometimes I try to write here to clarify in my own thinking what the book is saying. Sometimes I add to thought in the book. Sometimes it's a combination.

First, as we have stated before, the gospel is not just our ticket to heaven. It is an invitation to walk in relationship with God.

Second, God is always active, always speaking to us, always teaching us.

Therefore, God is always speaking into our daily existence, trying to reveal how what happens reveals who he is, and as his nature is in us, who we are ... or who we should be.

We are driving on I95, going 70 MPH, in rush hour traffic. Another car, driving 90 MPH, starting from the extreme left lane flies across traffic to the far right lane. Once there, he flies back to the extreme left lane, missing your front bumper by not quite ten inches,  and manages to pass one (1) of the cars that was in front of him.

There are now thoughts going through your mind. What are those thoughts?
  • "Gosh! That was incredibly skillful driving! He should be in Nascar!"
  • (My personal favorite.) "What are you thinking?"
  • "!!%#@!*$!!"
  • "God, protect that person from injuring himself and others because of his foolish decisions."
Which of these is closer to God's heart? Maybe none of them. Maybe something else all together. Which of these, or others, reveals God's nature? And, therefore, which of these should spontaneously and naturally be expressed from our hearts?

Every day, we encounter people and situations that God intends to reveal who he is, how we should reveal him to others through our lives, where we need to grow, where we need to seek him, needs to meet, people to love, and words to speak. Quite often, these things and people fly under our radar. We don't see them, understand them, act on them ... or act on them correctly.

There is a prayer that monks used to practice. I don't remember its official name, but it was a series of five questions to, in prayer, review the day. (Not the official questions either. Just something to give the idea.) What happened? Who did I meet? Was grace given in any of it? Failures were taken to the cross. Successes were celebrated. And prayer offered for growth in sensitivity and love.

We are following the Great Shepherd. He is leading us in the way we should go. He is the one training, transforming and teaching us. He is always active and always speaking. We need to be ready to stop, listen and reflect ... or we will mis the way.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Upside-Down Kingdom (Sifting)

At the church I attend, they have been teaching about the upside-down kingdom. In other words, the things Jesus values, the things Jesus believes are important, seem to be directly opposite what the world generally believes to be important. One of the most obvious areas this is true in, is the area that some people call "sifting."

"Sifting" is an all-inclusive term for any sort of trouble we experience, that God allows us to experience, that God intends to purify us. There is a passage of scripture that says we should REJOICE when we experience trouble. Can you imagine? "Yahoo! I've lost my job!"

First, is there anything that could be more upside-down than the the world expects than that? Second, does God really expect us to rejoice in trouble? I don't think so. 

There is a "picture" that I think of (and may have already posted about) when I consider this area. If a person is a long distance runner, either for just exercise or for competition, while the person runs the oxygen and the fuel that powers the person''s heart, legs and lungs becomes depleted. It is consumed in the process of running. And it finally reaches a point where the "gas tank" is empty. That point is called "oxygen debt." 

It is at the point of oxygen debt that pain and discomfort really make themselves known. It is the point where the brain really begin to scream to stop, to get relief. It is also at that point that the body begins to carve new capillaries into the body, into the heart and other muscles. 

Capillaries are the channels that pass oxygen and energy into the body. New capillaries mean the body can get the needed fuels into deeper parts of your muscles, to places where it is most needed. At the point of the body's greatest pain is when it is creating the means of fueling your body more efficiently and effectively. 

If a runner can push into the pain, he will gain in speed, stamina, as well as a heart that is not controlled by fear. Sifting is our spirit's oxygen debt. Troubles are our spirit's oxygen debt. We are not urged to rejoice, because we are having trouble. We are urged to rejoice, because we recognize that at the point of our greatest pain, if we push into the pain, God is creating channels in our hearts and in our spirits for greater grace, greater love and greater faith.