Sunday, July 28, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - VII

"Not boasting"and "not arrogant" are the next two qualities of love; and are different sides of the same coin. "Boasting" is the over-emphasis of a person's accomplishments or possessions. "Arrogance" is an attitude of superiority, usually displayed in an offensive manner. 

In the Bible, boasting is the same; trying to make one's self appear bigger, better, and more important than one really is. Arrogant is a word that comes from "to puff up" or "to inflate." Again, it is acting bigger, better and more important. The end result seems to me to be the same, but the point of view is slightly different. One looks up at the self; one looks down on others. Both put people in lower positions. These are certainly attitudes that would cause a person to stand out, but certainly not in a good way. As a representative of Jesus, we want to stand out, but only in ways that approach the ideal of what a good person is.

We are to take on God's love, which was displayed when Jesus died on the cross -- a death reserved for criminals, deserted by his followers and his Father. His whole life was associated with the humble, lowly and outcasts. Born in a poor family. Born in a barn. Eating and spending time with tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor and other undesirables. Rejected by the country's leaders. Regarded as a mad man and a threat.

Although, he could have done the opposite, he consistently put himself on the same level as those around him. He did not live their lifestyle, but he treated them as equals, as people. When people are on the same level, it is easier to cross the boundaries into others lives. It is easier to connect with them. It is easier to serve them. 

Love accepts people where they are. Acceptance is thwarted when we are too into and too focused on ourselves.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - VI

"Not jealous" is the next quality of love; and it is the first of several qualities that are attitudes toward other people that characterize love. Normally, we think of jealousy as being fearful or resentful towards someone because we are losing someone -- possibly, position or affection.

In the Bible, the word translated jealous can mean zeal or an ardent desire for or against someone. It can be good or bad. Since, the Bible says it is not jealous, it is intended to be the bad desire.

One occasionally hears someone say "I wish so-and-so were dead" or even, "I wish I was dead." It is pretty obvious from the Bible, that if a person says something, they mean it from their heart. It is possible that they may only mean it during the time they say it. But the Bible also recognizes that if something exists in a person's heart, it is as real as someone who has physically acted out that desire. The inner life is just as real to God as outer actions.

So, I am wondering if the real thrust of this quality is our attitudes toward people. Jealousy is not just resentment toward someone who is getting what I want. (Although, in the sense I am trying to describe, it certainly can be.) "Jealousy" is any attitude that is against another person. Wishing someone dies, fails or suffers some other type of misfortune is not having an attitude of love in your heart. Conversely, love is holding a positive desire in your heart for someone. Wishing health, success or good fortune for someone.

The Bible says that what we hold in our heart tends to show in our actions. So, if we hold a desire for good for someone in our heart, we tend to act for good for that someone.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - V

"Kindness" is the next quality of love. Kindness to many people has taken a very nebulous meaning. Most people understand it as being nice, or not being harsh.

Kindness in the Bible is taking action that benefits someone else. People in current times fill the schedules with all sorts of activity. They barely can maintain their own lives, let alone reach out in a way to benefit others. The church follows right along with this frantic pace of life. Meetings upon meetings are held: conferences, retreats, worship, planning and policy decisions. (Because when millions are spent constructing a building, it is a waste not to use it.)

I know of some churches who are beginning to realize the power of kindness. They are stepping away from normal meetings and doing yard work for the neighbors, cleaning bathroom for local businesses, and hosting camps of one sort or another for children in the community. Of course, to do something like this requires setting up another meeting, posting it in the annoucements for several weeks in advance. Churches need to do this because kindness is not really on people's heart ... and therefore, love is not really on people's hearts.

There are a number of reasons why this is true. Mostly, it is because we are still influenced greatly by sin. Love cuts across our sin-impacted tendencies.

We can see the countering tendency of love. Patience is part of forgiveness. When we are offended, the initial impulse is to want pay-back. Patience holds that tendency in check. We see it in kindness, which surrenders time, energy, and resources that we could use elsewhere. It is much more fun to go water skiing, or golfing, than to help a neighbor clean up after a storm ... especially without him asking.

We understand love because Jesus gave his life. Now, we love by giving to someone in scarifice.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Be the Church (Love)- IV

"Patience" is the first quality of love. We generally define patience as perseverance when confronted by a delay or adverse circumstances.

Patience in the Bible is usually seen in the context of personal interactions. And interacting with people does not always go smoothly. There are some people, when they encounter a problem, who has what is described as a "short fuse." A person runs into a problem, the fuse is ignited and an explosion soon follows.

A short fuse is the opposite of patience. Patience is a long fuse. Patience is tying more fuze, onto the original fuse once it is lit, so it takes longer to explode.

Eventually, anger becomes an appropriate response to cruelty, dishonesty, or injustice. Patience keeps anger in check, or in control. We all know of, or have experienced, instances where uncontrolled anger has caused damage, perhaps disproportionate damage.

Patience demonstrates God's nature, because God treats us with patience. We have all broken God's law. God is completely justified with condemning us ... now. God could judge us right now. But he has a long fuse, because he expects, and works toward, people choosing to establish an allegiance with him. He expects something good to happen.

What if we approach people, expecting something good to happen, when the only thing in evidence is something bad? What if we gave people room to change? What if we invited God to work, and then waited for it to happen?

Maybe that is the fundamental reason for patience. We can have a positive response to people, because we know God is in control ... and we can wait for him to act.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - III

We have seen how love demonstrates that a person follows Jesus, that a person belongs to the family of God, and that God is walking with that person in relationship, in transformation.

There is a list in the Bible of the traits of love. Traits that should answer the question: "what should love look like?"

I have looked at the list in the past. Mostly, I have wanted to define them, or to describe what they should look like. The last couple of days, I have been wondering what is about these traits that cause a person (or a group of people) to stand out in a positive way.

Obviously, a group of people displaying the same behavior together, good or bad, draws attention to the group and what they stand for. Jesus was one person. And he lived his life in love. And since he was perfect, he exhibited perfect love. So he exhibited these traits perfectly. And people noticed. We are not perfect, so we need God's family. We are God's representatives, so getting people's attention to his message (and their understanding, and their obedience) is our job. Our primary tool to that end is loving people like Jesus loved.

NOTE: Obviously, I did not take time here to describe any of these traits and how they might draw attention positively to Jesus. I wouldn't be surprised if several posts are dedicated to that purpose. I will still be thinking about them for the next couple days.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - II

The Bible says that we know what love is, because we know who Jesus is, and what he did. 

Love is a human condition. All humans need to give and receive love. It is one of the basic fuels that the human spirit was built to run on.

But there is a difference in the love of Jesus and his followers. That love somehow stands out. It is different from the love of "normal" human beings. It demonstrates the reality of Jesus being in a person's life and not being in a person's life. John says that we can recognize the reality of Jesus in a person's life by recognizing the reality of love in a person's life.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Be the Church (Love)

How we treat wrong doing in our lives and the lives others is important. But, as God's family, how we deal with sin is not the only thing. It could be argued that it is not the most important thing.

Scripture argues simply that love is the greatest component of life. It is greater than hope. It is greater than faith. It is greater than spiritual gifts: prophecy, healing, miracles, supernatural understanding/speaking of other languages, etc. The greatest event in history was Jesus' sacrifice of love. The only thing that gives meaning to life is love. This is what Scripture teaches. This is what Jesus lived.

Scripture says that judgment will come into the world. God will punish evil. He will set right everything that is wrong. There is even a passage that seems to indicate that God's family will participate with God in this judgment. But that's in the future. Right now, God's family is supposed to represent Jesus and his invitation to share with his family in God's love. Right now, love is his priority.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Where is the Holy Spirit?

I was reading another blog this morning ( here ) and the writer was describing a situation where some people began to attend a different church, and wondered where the Holy Spirit was in this church. The writer asked the questions: Was the Holy Spirit really not at that church? Or were the expectations about how one experiences the Spirit, leading these people to not see the Spirit there? (I have phrased the questions here slightly differently than he did. And I appreciated his two points in response. Well worth reading and thinking about what he wrote.)

It reminds me of attending a concert with my wife and another couple. The concert was by a Christian singer. Which meant obviously the songs would be about God's nature and work. One particular song was approaching a crescendo. And as it did so, it was moving me to focus my heart on God, his presence and his work. It was apparent that it was affecting most of the audience that way also. Now, I find that when I do this, my tendency is to become more quiet and contemplative. But the crowd around us erupted in a shout of joy and enthusiasm. The man we were with -- who was evidently built more like I was -- spoke softly, almost to himself, "No guys. This is a time for worship."

A shout of joy can't be worship?

I do not want to appear to be condemning the man or the crowd. The man had a definite idea of what worship was, and was not angry with the crowd, but seemed more disappointed that they did not read the moment like he did, and respond appropriately to the moment. I think the man responded appropriately to the Spirit moving in his heart; and I think the crowd responded appropriately to the Spirit moving in their hearts.

Maybe I am playing with semantics, but it seems to me that it depends on how we define worship and what our expectations are. It is like the other blog's questions about the Spirit. One person I know expects, that if the Spirit is present, people will receive physical healing. Another person I know expects, that if the Spirit is present, people will decide to follow Jesus. Scripture testifies to both. What if there is only one? What if there is none?

Scripture does define what should be apparent if the Spirit is present. Scripture does define what can be present in worship. We need to be true to the Scripture. We need to remember that God is very big, and can encompass all of human experience. We need to give God room to be God. And we need to give people room to respond as the Spirit speaks to them, and as they are built ... with the purpose of giving God glory.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Be The Church (Sin)- VI

And if God still works, how I regard and deal with sin is important.

Does someone celebrate his past sin? Does he remember how cool or fun some past "adventure"was? Do they hang onto "stuff" that leave them open to temptation? Do they expose themselves to opportunities for sin?

Sin and failures from the past are not small things. We build our presents and our futures from our pasts. But more important is how we make choices in the present and establish practices going into the future/ We can choose disciplines that strengthen current right practices or prepare us to make right decisions. For example, we can immerse our thinking in what God thinks. We can read, meditate or memorize the scripture. We can read biographies, commentaries or other books espousing kingdom values and ways. We can regularly and consistently spend time with other followers. And there is prayer in all its different expressions.

What is first ... how we set our hearts toward God and toward living a positive Christ-like life, and not being consumed by what we should not be doing.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Be The Church (Sin) - V

Another reason what we do is important is because God has entered our heart and changed our spiritual DNA. If God is in our DNA, then there should be a ripple effect through out our lives.

A change in DNA means a change in how the process of the body functions, a change in the body's programs, if you will. This change demonstrates the reality of our choice to follow God.

One of the main areas of change is in our "want-to." Our motivations change. The things we want to be involved in change.So, if we do not care about our lifestyle (how it agrees with Jesus' teaching and example) then there is reason to consider that we have never chosen to follow Jesus.

There are people, who in the midst of emotional excitement or trauma, say they follow Jesus. Sometimes it is genuine. Sometimes, this is an attempt to bargain with God. "I'll do what you want, God, if you do what I want." A change of allegiance must recognize God's role and nature in the universe. That is, he is King and Ruler. We are choosing to submit to him.

We will never live this life we have chosen fully or completely. There will be slips, stumbles and falls. And, although no one else can see my motivations, it encourages me to realize that even my frustration with my failures indicates I am still motivated to seek, strive and follow Jesus as best I can. Which means he is still working in my heart. The steady process of re-creating my spiritual DNA still continues. If he still works, I am not rejected, I am accepted by him.

Be The Church (Sin) - IV

We know sin contradicts the ways of God. We know sin agrees with the spirit of the anti-Christ. And we know it is a fact of life, like gravity, death and taxes.

When man chose to turn from following God, and live out his own ways, sins was injected into the DNA of the human spirit. We are powerless to change our life, because we cannot touch our spiritual DNA.

That's why, when a person does choose to follow God, God injects his Spirit deep into our hearts, changing our DNA and re-creating us from the "molecular", "cellular" level out.

So, if our practices cannot ultimately affect our spiritual state, or complete change in our lives, why do we bother? Why be concerned with sin at all? Why try to understand the Bible and live a particular lifestyle?

Although, we cannot reach down to our spiritual DNA, our conduct does have an effect. First, how can live gives God room to touch our DNA. We can extend an invitation for God to work in our hearts. Or we can block him. He has given a gift ... the ability to cooperate with him in our growth and restoration.

Second, we have a renuine relationship with him. It is in our thoughts, words and actions that we live out this relationship. Our lifestyle imp[roves or hinders this relationship. And the way we conduct our relationship affects how God connects with our hearts.

Lastly, we are invited by God to participate in his mission. we represent him. We can have an eternal impact on the world, and the lives of people we know. It is the conduct of God's family that can have the greatest impact. Testimonies of new members of God's family demonstrate that it is the genuineness, or the radical change in someone they knew, that motives a choice to follow Jesus. And testimonies of ones not in Jesus' family demonstrate that Christians living contrary to the teachings of Jesus is a primary factor in their choice not to follow Jesus.