Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Identity in Christ - 7 (Buried with Christ)

Our lives were designed to live in relationship and obedience to God.  God's commands weren't given to be a burden. The Bible says love keeps all the commands. God's commands have become a burden,  because of sin.  It is hard to obey God,  because sin has diverted us from our design.  Instead of impulses to love, we experience impulses to act in pride or selfishness.

So, when we give our allegiance to Jesus, the Father first acts to negate the punishment we should experience, because of our sin. He judged us.  He ruled that we were guilty. And he ruled that our punishment was paid in full.  All sin -- past, present and future -- was paid in full.

Then, he acted to break the power of sin in our lives.  Sin derives its power to condemn, to produce guilt and shame,  from  the Law. So, when we were baptized  -- ie. placed into Christ, into his death,  and into his resurrection -- we died with him. And the Law has no effect on anyone after they die.

● God's Perspective
Jesus talked about being born again.  If we are being born into a new life, then the old life is over.  Being "buried with Christ" is an expression of the total, irrevocable separation of us from our old lives. He took our old life out into the field,  dug a hole, stuck our old life into the hole, and buried it where even he can't find it again. He took our old life out in aboat, to the Marianas trench, and tossed overboard. He put it on a rocket ship and shot it into space. The God who knows everything, remembers everything, has chosen to "un-create" the brain cells in his own brain, where the memory of our sin was stored.

● Living My Life
Why do I feel like God has given me a blank check? We have gotten a bill for a billion dollars., and we have no hope of repying it, and he paid it. We could continue to run our tab, with every expectation of continuing to "spend like there is no tomorrow" and he will still continue to pay.

Not that God desires us to "break the bank" -- as if we ever could. God knows that this addiction to "spending" is contrary to our nature, our health, and our good. He plans on restoring ourhearts, minds and lives to follow our original design.  He plans on his children living like his Son.

If the goal is living like Jesus, and we are buried to the Law, out of its power,  how do we get turned around?  It is a restoration of our hearts. It is a transformation of our nature.  We live out of his Spirit, his love,  and his power. Our "want-to's" are changed. His motivations become our motivations, and as a consequence,  our actions become his actions.

The Bible says the Law makes nothing perfect. The Law reveals our sin and our need.  We are not required to keep the Law of Moses. We are required to keep the Law of Christ. This is more difficult, more foreign to our flesh. This puts us in greater reliance on his Spirit,  and a transformation of heart and mind.

We need again to focus on our relationship with the Father,  so our hearts are filled with him,  and we become more like him, as his nature takes hold.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Identity in Christ - 6 (Born of God)

There are two metaphors God uses to describe our becoming part of his family. We have discussed one already. It is adoption. We are orphaned, then chosen by God to be brought into his home, to become part of his family.

The other is "born of God." Like a baby is an expression of a father and mother's love, and an outworking of their nature (their DNA combined together and displayed in this new person) his children are an expression of the Father's love and an outworking of his nature.

Unlike physical birth, in which a person begins completely new, a spiritual begins broken. God injects his Spirit and new DNA into his heart. Thereby, begins a process of re-creation. With the Father's training, the Father's nurturing, and the spread of this new DNA, people begin to live as he designed them to live. People begin to love like Jesus.

  • God's Perspective
God is delighted when a new "baby" is born into his family; as much as when a baby is born into a human family. There is so much hope and expectation with each child. There is so much potential. Each parent wants their child to grow, to experience more success, more happiness than they did; each parent wants their to have less trouble and less pain. They rejoice when there is growth, success and happiness. They mourn when there is trouble, sorrow and pain.

Parents have a tremendous heart investment in their children. And the Father has a tremendous heart investment in his children. And he is Father of us all.
  • Living My Life
First, we must wake up to how much God values us. Most of us can't even come close to what God thinks of us. Most of us do not have even an approximation of our Father's heart for us.

"The key to breakthrough is how we see God." - Graham Cooke

Second, I should be motivated to encounter God. Knowledge and experience need to work together. Relationship with God is more than prayer and reading the Bible. It is more than going forward and kneeling at an altar, receiving prayer or prophecy. It is more than miracles. It might be all of the above. It might be what happens deep in each individual person's heart.

Life in Christ and with the Father must take place within community. But it also takes place between one single, beating heart to another. It is love and faith acting alone and within community.

As we pursue relationship with God, he will lead us. and we need to follow. His imparted DNA will renew our hearts. His revelation will renew our thinking. Our hearts and minds will move together to renew our lives, our families, our communities, our societies, and our cultures. He will lead us into following our design and our potential. And this growth in us should cause growth in his family and kingdom.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Father's Love and the Son's Love

Many Christians have this idea that Jesus loves them. After all, that is why he went to the cross. But the Father is a celestial meanie. His purpose is to watch us like a hawk, and slap us down when we mess up. (Then, there is the judgment at the end of the age. He must be licking his chops, waiting for that to come.)

But that’s not what the Bible says. It says that the Father is sold out for each of us. He is so sold out, that it was his desire and his idea, to sacrifice that which was closest, dearest and most valuable to him, for our sake and our benefit.

Moreover, it says that Jesus totally shows us what the Father is like. If we want to know the Father’s heart, if we want to know what he thinks, feels and would do in a certain situation, we should look at Jesus, and see what he thought, felt or did. If we are convinced that Jesus loves us unconditionally, then we ought to be convinced that the Father loves us unconditionally.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Christmas - III

PART I: Yes, Christmas is not in the Bible. Yes, a lot of its practices are derived from pagan practices. But this is true of a lot of “Christian” holidays. And this is true of a lot of church practices, that pretty much everyone who attends church accepts. If we are going to make changes in our practices based on this reasoning, then there is a whole lot of stuff we should stop practicing.

PART II: God created culture, so it is good. Moreover, there is no “Christian” culture. Sin taints all culture. More, God has planted seeds in every culture to reveal himself to people. The gospel has elements that are beyond cultural expression, but it can be put into the context of any culture. Each people group needs to implement Christian practice within the context of its culture.

PART III: There are a lot of things the Bible does not talk about. It does not say if someone should go to college. It does not say if someone is in college, that he should get a PhD in physics. It does not tell someone what job to take, let alone what job to apply for. It does not tell someone who to marry. (It does give guidance as to what type of person one should marry. But if Mary is that type of person, and Karen is that type of person …)

In many ways, God gives considerable freedom to us. Scripture is like a road. We can walk on the right side. We can walk on the left side. We can walk in the middle. We just need to make sure we stay on the road.

As a result of this space on the “road,” there are all sorts of beliefs, given various degrees of importance by those who hold them. And there are disagreements. And there is looking down, and condemnation, on ones holding different beliefs. And there is “shaking heads” because people don’t see things the way we do. (And we know whose way is right, of course.)

Does the Bible say anything about the “space,” the differences and the feelings of superiority that may result? Yes, it does. It says don’t argue about these differences. It says don’t feel superior about your views. It says we need to have three attitudes:

(1) We need to believe the best about those with different opinions than ours. We must accept them, believing they have good motives and good reasons for believing what they do. We need to assume, or at least, grant the possibility that whatever they are doing, they are doing it to honor God.

(2) We need to realize that we are not the boss. Whoever this person is, wherever he comes from, if he is one of God’s children, he is accepted by God, he is led by God, and he is loved by God. It is God, who is the master and the judge. It is God who approves/disapproves. It is God who enables. And it is neither wise nor right to usurp God’s place.

(3) We belong to God. He is our Creator and our Father. When we face an issue of what practice to follow, we need to be fully convinced, and be motivated to honor God by our decisions and practices. God’s kingdom is characterized by (and therefore, our lives should be characterized by) doing good, giving love, exercising faith and experiencing peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Our goals in the family of God are harmony and edification.

Christmas - II

We all live in culture. We are immersed in it; we breathe it in; we barely realize it’s there. We read in Scripture how God created languages. With new languages and the resulting differences in thinking, plus the space between different people groups, God created cultures. Different cultures are his idea. Culture per se is good, because all things he creates are good. And like all created things, it is tainted by sin.

When a group connects with a people group and introduces Jesus Christ to them, and there is success, there is always a resulting tension between the cultures of the two groups. As I have said, every culture is created by God, but it is tainted with sin. So, it cannot be wholeheartedly embrace, but neither can it be completely rejected. It is the gospel of Jesus that is the transforming power in all cultures.

The church has responded to new cultures in different ways, at different times. It has decided its original culture was superior to the new one, and worked to suppress the new culture. It has tried to flow with the new cultures rhythms, but sanctify its practices. Hence, the reinterpretation of holidays. Or the invention of holidays.

There was a tribe in the south Pacific that believed they need to appease the spirit world. To do that, they needed to maintain a parity in honor killings. If someone in another village killed someone in your village, you had to kill someone in their village. Then, they had to. Then, you had to. And if you could do it by deceit and treachery, that was wa-a-ay better.

So, when missionaries found them they were locked in a continual state of war. And when the missionaries told them the story about Jesus, they cheered Judas, who by deceit and treachery got his “friend” Jesus killed.

It looked pretty bleak for any chance of the gospel taking hold among this people, until they discovered another custom, the “peace child.” If two villages were at war, and it looked like they were going to wiped each other out, one village could give an infant to the other village. The other village could do anything they wanted to the infant (mostly, they raised it as part of the “family”) but it was believed that this sacrifice by a father appeased the spirits and the blood-shed could stop. The missionaries declared that Jesus was God’s “Peace Child” and a tremendous move toward God among this people occurred.

The Bible says that God has left “sign posts” to himself outside of Scripture, outside of the people of God. Each cultures has its “sign posts” embedded in it. God’s people need to be aware of the “sign posts” in their community.

The point of part II: God is the inventor of culture, but at this time, no culture really honors him. And just because something originates in a culture that historically did not honor him, does not mean that he has not put his hand on it to point to himself and his way, and to bring honor to himself.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Christmas - I

Every couple of years, a question comes up about celebrating Christmas. And I think through the latest reasons why not. (NOTE: I recognize that there are three topics I want to mention in this area. So, that the post is not the size of a dictionary, I am splitting it up into three posts.)

Recently, I read an explanation by one person -- a follower of Jesus -- about why his family does not celebrate Christmas. He mentioned several detailed reasons, but they could all be lumped into Christmas is cultural, not biblical. Its practices are pagan, not biblical.

And that is true. There is no "thou shalt celebrate Christmas." There is no "thou shalt hang stockings from the chimney with care." Christmas trees are possibly a druidic practice. (I have heard other stories too.) But, there is also no Easter, no Thanksgiving, no Labor Day, Memorial Day or Independence Day. (Thanksgiving is in the Bible, just not a day for it. The reason for Easter is in the Bible. So is the reason for Christmas.) There are holidays in the Bible. Should we be celebrating Passover and the Feast of Booths?

If "Christian" holidays have pagan elements, and we should not celebrate them, what about other elements of Christian practice that have pagan origins? (And I recently ran across a book that lumps Easter, and perhaps others, into this bucket. I haven't read the book -- just a short synopsis -- so I don't know all his reasons.)

The first century church did not have special buildings. They met on homes. They met in the sewers and catacombs of Rome. There is no command to the church "thou shalt build for me a special building to worship therein." Yes, there was a temple in the Old Testament. But God did not command it to be built.  (He did command the tabernacle to be built.) One morning David woke up and said, "I live in a really cool house, but the people worship in a raggedity old tent. I should build a temple to honor the Lord." And what was God's response? "I never commanded anyone to build a temple for me. But this desire reveals your heart, that you desire to honor me before the world. Go ahead. Knock yourself out."

No Christian building was created until Constantine became the Roman emperor.  He commissioned Christian "temples" to be built.  Because that's what you did to honor the god you worship. (There is no definite information that Constantine became a follower of Jesus. Many believe he just gave lip service to the Creator of All, like he did the other gods. )

With the buildings, other practices were introduced. They created an order of worship. There is no order of worship in Scriptures. There are encouragements about things to do and how to do them. But there is no where in Scripture that says you have to sing, pray, teach, collect the tithe or give announcements. There is also no where that says it is wrong to do any or all of them.

The Bible does say we should practice baptism and the Lord's supper. There is no instruction about frequency.  There is no instruction about methods. Should the bread be unleaved, rye or whole wheat? Should the wine be red, white or nonalcoholic? Big cup? Little cups?  Intinction?

At one point, a Greek philosopher said that a person was not cool unless he could orate well. The better the delivery, the cooler the person.  The church has accepted this "pagan tradition" to the point that churches are graded based on the delivery of one person. Decisions to participate/identify with part of God's family is based, often, on the performance of one person, one time. Judgments of the worth -- maturity,  character,  fruit, spiritual effectiveness -- of part of God's family are based on the performance of one person. (There was obviously instruction given. However, the focus dwells too much on the "glitz" factor, and not enough on the accuracy and relevance of the information.)

Scripture says leadership in God's family is based on character, faithfulness to God,  and effectiveness with people. Now, there is an assumption that getting a particular type of training qualifies someone to lead God's people. Such training might qualify someone to be an accountant or a programmer, but not to guide people to live in love and faith.

Church government was organized more along the lines of an extended family, using consensus and wisdom of experienced people.  Many churches are organized and governed with ideas from the Roman Empire and modern business.  In Scripture,  one man is not given the authority to run the whole show or define the vision.

The point of part I is simply: if we are going to get rid of stuff in the church that has its origins or outward expressions in pagan culture, we will need to go a lot further than just which holidays and how to celebrate them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Identity in Christ - 5 (Access to God)

If you look at the world today, there are hundreds of countries and each one has a ruler. The rulers are chosen in a variety of ways: succession, election, overthrow of a previous government, etc. The rulers are liked\disliked, popular\unpopular. And because of various concerns (security, work efficiency, safety) access to these rulers is limited. Not just anyone can walk into their office or living quarters and “get in their faces.”

However, if you give your allegiance to Jesus, you have complete, total access to the Supreme creator and Ruler of the Universe – 24 x 7 x 365. You can discuss anyone and anything with him. You can vent. You can petition. You can blather total foolishness. And you are welcome again and again and again.
  • God’s Perspective
If we were merely citizens of God’s kingdom, we might not get access to the Supreme Ruler, just like the citizens of any other country. But he has adopted us into his family. We are now his children.

Fathers are different, of course. They have different amounts of availability. Some have lots; some have little. No human being can be totally available to another. Some things require privacy and being alone.

However, the Father of all has given us his immanence. He is omnipresent. He is available to each one of us, whenever we need him, wherever we need him. (Maybe he can be private and available at the same time.) He gives each of us 100%, focused attention all at the same time. This is a privileged of son-ship. It is we who are not paying attention.
  • Living My Life
Prayer ought to be big. BIG!! Prayer is the thing we use to communicate with God.
    • It can be long or short. 
    • It can be formal or informal. 
    • It can be flowery or plain.
    • It ought to be open and honest. 
    • It ought to express your heart at its deepest level.
    • It ought to be an instrument that develops your relationship with the Father.
    • It ought to be an outflowing of love for others. 
    • It ought to go BIG for God, his kingdom and his mission.
Prayer is one way (p[perhaps not the only way) of focusing our hearts on the Father. So, prayer opens a conduit between our hearts and the Father’s heart. It is by this conduit that the Father pours his love and grace into our hearts. It is that love and grace that is the main component that really changes our hearts.

I don’t know if we have to be in receiving mode to benefit, or can God somehow do it in background mode. I do know that the most benefit happens when we are giving our attention to what God is doing and cooperate with it.
Prayer is also our invitation to god to work in our circumstances. Unlike Satan, who works wherever and whenever he wants, God respects our boundaries and works by invitation. We need to invites him into our lives, into our circumstances, into our problems and into our celebrations. We need to invite him into the US, Canada, China, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa (and anywhere else we think of.) It is God’s love in any situation that will bring healing and wholeness.

It is God’s availability and our open access to him that sets the environment and allows for the overcoming of evil and the prevailing of good.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Identity in Christ - 4 (Adopted)

Pretend there is an orphan. He is unloved and unwanted. He has been abused, abandoned, cursed and reviled all his life. So, his core values have become being totally selfish and self-centered, because no one has built into him in any sort of positive way. He has learned wrong speech, wrong attitudes, wrong actions and wrong desires. And he acts as though he is the sun, and the universe revolves around him. (Basically, he is a real brat.)

Now, pretend that the richest man in the city comes to the orphanage to adopt a child. He sees this bratty orphan. He sees his wrong, hurtful behavior. He sees the bad decisions, and bad attitudes. He sees the bad badness. And against all warnings from the staff, he selects this child.

He sees past the present evil to a good future. He sees the effect love will have on the mind-set, behavior and attitudes of the child. He sees the potential; he sees the process of actualizing the potential.
  • God's Perspective
We, of course, are the orphan and the rich man is the Father. We chose to live wrong. We made bad, wrong, foolish and evil decisions. (We still do ... but hopefully there is progress.) There was nothing good, nothing commendable, nothing to recommend us, but God still chose us.

He sees our potential. He sees how his love will cleanse us. He sees how his love will motivate and change us to move closer to how we were designed to live.

We become part of a new family. We have a new Father. A Father who chose us. He did not get us by default. He is not stuck with us. He chose us.

It is the Father's choice of us that makes all the difference.
  • Living My Life
Of course, God chooses all the orphans. And some responded. Some recognized the value of being part of his family. Some looked beyond the walls of the home God gives us, trying to find something else. God still calls them his child. God works to still establish a relationship.

We were designed to have a relationship with the Father. We were designed to be part of his family.

We need to remember and focus on the fact that God wants this relationship.Realization of that ought to make us confident in our approach to life. We can take risks. Failure has no effect on the relationship.

We need to remember that it is the relationship that is important. The Bible translation you use, the church affiliation you belong to, or the ministry title you have is not important.

Some Christians work hard to draw distinctions. "This is what makes us different, therefore it is what makes us better when compared to other Christians and Christian groups." I will not argue against the importance of these distinctions. I will argue that one person who has chosen to live in relationship with the Father is more important than all the distinctions people come up with. Because it is the Father who values each person. That is the distinction God desires.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Power of Sin Vs. Power of Christ - 2

This was not supposed to be a series, but I met a friend the other morning. I hadn't seen him for quite some time. He told me he had gotten separated from his wife. Evidently, an area that had once been a weakness had reared its ugly head and he fell. Somehow, his wife learned about it and she asked him to leave. And he did.

He quit his job. (He was a counselor. "How can I, in good faith, help other people with their problems, when I have a problem like this?") He is getting counseling himself.

He is leading a semi-homeless existence. (The agency he worked for actually gave him a leave of absence, and were letting him "camp" in the waiting room, until he gets a place ▬ and evidently he had one lined up. And he had a different job. So, it is not total despair. Now, if we could have a re-unification of this family.)

But it does get me to thinking. How close is anyone to falling? How close are we to making bad decisions and ruining our lives?  Too close for too many of us.

God created us. Before that, he designed us. He engineered us. And he designed our environment, our connection to him and the resources available to us. He designed the end he wants us to have.

And it's not ignominy, defeat, misery, suffering or shame. There is one who does want all these things for us. And he works hard to bring them to reality in our lives. 

God works to bring about the opposite in our lives. He brings success, peace and joy. He intends that we never find ourselves in a position where we are forced to face others in shame, because we did something wrong or we were not strong enough.

And we are not strong enough. That's why we need a savior. That's why we need a Father who stands with us. He have given all the resources we need so we can live as we were designed.

Our enemy will attack us without warning or provocation. He will make a preemptive strike.

Our Father is our ally, who treats us with respect. We need to choose to move into relationship with him, to access the necessary resources and to utilize them for our good, and for the world's good.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Identity in Christ - 3 (Alive in Christ)

Before giving our allegiance to Jesus, we were spiritually dead. But, in Christ, just as Jesus overcame death, we overcome death. Without Christ, we are eternally condemned. We always experience death, but we are never released. There is no final peace. With Christ, we are eternally alive, experiencing all that life was meant to be. We are obviously not experiencing that now, because sin is still corrupting the world. Our hearts and our natures are still being influence by sin and the world.

In Christ, the power of sin is broken over us. We have freedom to live in righteousness; we have freedom to live in sin. Our hearts are changed so we are free to pursue righteousness, but our hearts are not perfect, so we will not be perfect in this life.

If we use our freedom to pursue sin, we will be pursuing the fruit of death. We will not be experiencing life as we were designed to live. Since, the Spirit of Christ is in a our hearts, calling us to relationship with him, we will not really enjoy these fruits of death, as we might without Jesus. (We might harden our hearts and isolate the Spirit within us, to the point that we no longer hear him, and are able to pursue death with close to the same passion.) But pursuing the things of death is not living.
  • Living My Life

We were designed for living relationship with God. We were designed for living the ways of God. This world, this life, this creation, were so designed that life is derived from living in congruence with the ways of God. All things that are associated with abundant living (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, discipline) are derived from a life of obedience.

There is probably some argument about what constitutes a life of obedience. If a list were made, people would probably add: attend church, pay the tithe, daily prayer, daily scripture reading, sharing the gospel, etc. The list could go on and on.

There are certainly practices that are common to all members of God’s family. There are also practices that we are personally invited to do. So, an obedient life involves this personal invitation and moment by moment paying attention to the One who calls us to follow him. And taking appropriate action to this personal role.

  • God’s Perspective
The key to people being alive in Christ, life forever in heaven with God, and live now in relationship with God, is Jesus on the cross. It was this that set the wheels in motion. It was this that made the promises of God real.

Life in eternity, in heaven, does not begin in the next life. Life in heaven began when we began our relationship with God. When we gave him our allegiance, we became his child we became full citizens of his kingdom. Heavenly life began at that time. God is fully prepared to live out his part of the agreement. We need to learn how to live out our part.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Power of Sin Vs. Power of Christ

NOTE: This is one of those "I had an idea." I may be trampling on all sorts of theological toes, but it is an interesting idea.

The Bible says that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Those in Jesus has received his Spirit and they have new freedom from the power of sin.

Sinful nature cannot obey the Law. So, the Law cannot save. So, God, motivated by love, sent his Son, Jesus, who was able to do what the Law could not. And when Jesus died for us, God declared sin's control over us was broken.

Does this mean we will never, ever sin again? Probably not. Our nature is still imperfect. Our hearts is not pure. But without the breaking of sin's power, we have no hope of growth or improvement. Sin and selfishness would continue to rule our hearts. Now, they are ruled by the love of Christ.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Identity in Christ - 2 (Aliens)

When we chose to follow Jesus, to give him our allegiance, many things happen. We become a citizen of God’s kingdom. We become a member of God’s family. We become a part of God’s body.

We come into agreement with Jesus. So, we take as our values, goals and priorities, Jesus’ values, goals and priorities. We take Jesus’ mind-set and cognitive framework.

The Holy spirit takes up residence in our hearts. So, he takes over our hearts. Our motivations change. Our attitudes change. Our perspectives change.

This is a long and round-about way of saying, we are different from everybody else.
  • God’s Perspective
God has many children living in a far-away country. It is a country which is hostile to them, because they are from his country, they are his children. Moreover, it is a country that tries to manipulate his children. It wants to induce them to agree with its standards and customs, which are against God’s standards and customs.

God, from his position as master designer and creator, knows what gives health and well-being. He knows that people will be much better off if they live in relationship with him. And he is concerned for his children. He is concerned they will stumble, move away from him, damage their relationship and damage their “hearts.” (“Heart” being a Biblical metaphor for a person’s inner being: psychological, emotional and spiritual.)

But God is also confident about his children. He is confident that the will not move away from him and cause this damage to themselves. Moreover, he is confident that with his children in the world, engaging the world, that the world will be drawn to him. God has put a longing in people’s hearts to experience all that his children experience. And if people advance to him, give him their allegiance, they will fill the emptiness. They will also become God’s children. And they will become aliens in their own home town.

And God is confident his children will choose the completeness they were designed for, and keep away from the substitutes the world uses to fill its heart.
  • Living My Life
We live in a world that moves contrary to God’s ways. People choose to go against how they were designed. Like water in the gas tank, a car might still run … just not very well.

So, is it surprising that the government chooses a direction that does not keep God’s ways? Is is surprising that businesses provide “services” that go directly against God’s word?

So, how does God’s family react when this happens?

They complain. They whine. They expect the world to say “OMG!! What was I thinking??”

One: God says “Do not grumble.” God says “In every life situation, give thanks.” Moreover, God speaks into every situation. Look for, be alert for, his revelation. He will tell you how to turn a negative into a positive.

Two: God’s family is supposed to be a positive force in the world. That’s why God left us in the world.

The world does not know God. It does not know his ways. It has no intention of following his ways, if it did know them.

God’s family does know God’s ways … or it should. Giving God allegiance, we agree to keep those ways. God’s family should be demonstrating his ways, living his ways, to impact a broken world. Whining and complaining won’t fix what’s wrong. Love, grace and truth will.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Identity in Christ -1 (Appointed by God)

We have been invited to follow Christ. We have been invited to to be his disciples. Once, we accept the invitation, we are appointed. We are put into service.

When we give Christ our allegiance, we are loved as a child; and we are valued as a trusted, faithful servant. The Father has confidence in us. We are esteemed. We are part of the solution.

God puts us into service. We become participants in his mission. We are given a part to fulfill. And God not only expects us to complete our part, he is fully confident that we are able to do so.  We can't be like Moses and say "I can't do that" or "I don't know how." He has equipped us, empowered us and positioned us for success. 

And what were we appointed for? To produce lasting fruit. We are appointed to shape lives, cities, cultures and societies.  We are not appointed to do this alone. We are part of a team. But we are a vital part.

● Living my life

If I have a vital role on a team, I need to be on the field. I  can't be sitting in the bench.  I have to make sure I am in shape.  I have to make sure I know how to accomplish my role. 

However, one of the results of the way discipleship is carried out today is most of the team sits on the bench. The arena has gotten limited to a Sunday morning meeting. The requirements have gotten limited to a few roles; and in many churches, some roles require special, accredited training. The result many lives is that people listen to cultural expectations,  and not God's expectations. God may have chosen someone for a role and that someone does not assume that role, because he/she does not meet the cultural expectations. 

To live a life of obedience requires we embrace our role. Yes, there is learning required. But we have the Holy Spirit as our teacher. And the Father wants our success, so he will not place us beyond our limits.

● God's Perspective

I am a trusted, faithful servant. I will fulfill my place in God's plan. I will completely,  faithfully,  competently fulfill my responsibilities with excellence. And God knows all this from the day I chose to follow him.

So, does this means that I will always be faithful,  always obedient and never fail? Of course not. If we are half successful,  that would be amazing.  But this is how God chooses to view us.

"You are my servant.  I expect you to succeed. I expect you to bear fruit. And I have placed all my resources at your disposal to make sure you do succeed. I am not glorified by your failure. So,I am going to do what I can do to make sure you never do. "

It seems that God, in appointing us as his ambassadors,  has taken a substantial risk. But he also declares to the world what our value to him. You are worth dying on the cross. You are worth God putting his reputation on the line. You are worth God making all the resources of heaven available.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Identity in Christ

I recently discovered that someone has put videos of one of my favorite speakers on YouTube. So, watching YouTube for a short while on Saturday morning has become part of my devotions. One of the things this person seems to do is generate “sound bites.” That is, he says one or two sentences that stick in your brain. One that I have been thinking about recently is: “God does not relate to us according to our behavior; God relates to us according to our identity.”

Why is this important?

If God relates to us according to our behavior, the burden rests with us. And, therefore, no one would be saved, because we continue to fail. At best, we would need to continually choose to follow Jesus. But, with God, whose standards are perfection, we would never know.

If God relates to us according to our identity, before we choose allegiance to Jesus, we are sinners, enemies of God, and rebellious. We have broken his law and deserve condemnation. After we choose to follow Jesus, our identity changes. Even though we still sin, we are not who we once were. We are “in Christ,” children of God, citizens of his kingdom, priests of God Most High … to name a few. And the burden rests with him.

(I have a list of 67 items that comprise our identity, once we are in Christ. I don’t know if I will post all 67 items. But I have decided that I ought to think about all 67. If these things comprise my identity, then understanding them gives me greater understanding of how god views me, and what my life should be like.)

Our identity changes from something God hates to something God loves. Our identity changes from something God finds worthless to something God finds valuable.

Knowing God views me through the lens of my identity – an identity given to me when I gave Jesus my allegiance, an identity that was designed by God in eternity past, and forged on the cross – and not my behavior, gives me tremendous confidence in my relationship with God. My relationship does not stand on what I do, because I am not big enough, nor holy enough, to stand on my own. The burden rests with him. My relationship, my destiny, stands on what Jesus did and how God views my position with Jesus. And my position is “in Christ.” My identity is bound to him.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

If The End Was Near - 6

The last instruction concerns spiritual gifts.

As many know, the church is the body of Christ. There are many different pieces connected together to fulfill Christ's mission and complete Christ's life in the world. Like a human body, each part has a different function. Each function fosters growth, maintenance, repair and change within Christ's body. There is communication, resourcing, problem solving, and task resolution. All of these things involve skills that promote healthy life and growth in Christ's family.

(Growth can be looked at in two ways. One is greater efficiency and effectivenessof an individual life. The other is lives effected and more people choosing to become part of God's family.)

There are lots of theories. (How many; how and when given; the identification and definition.) But Scripture makes several things plain.

● It is the Holy Spirit who gives them.

● He has a strategic and tactical purpose for each person, and therefore, each gift.

● This gift gives a clue to each person's purpose and place in God's kingdom and mission. (I say clue rather than an exhaustive definition, because there is room within each gift for different applications. If someone has a gift of teaching, who is his audience? Churches, classrooms, individuals, adults, two year olds, teens, workers, retirees, mothers, fathers, couples, singles and a host of others not mentioned. )

This instruction is God has empowered each one of us to fulfill a part that completes his mission and builds his family. Be diligent to fulfill that part.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

If The End Was Near - 5

The next instruction is about hospitality. It could be a further comment about love, but it could stand on its own.

The instruction is to provide hospitality with a positive attitude for those in need. given the context and main theme of the book, I believe this instruction is aimed primarily at other believers who lose their homes and livelihood, because they are members of Jesus' family. We should joyfully bring these into our homes, feed and clothe them.

There is not much more to be said -- use your physical possessions to serve, shelter and feed others.

However, imagine if the command had universal scope. The homeless. Refugees. The unemployed. Since, Jesus' heart covers these also, it would not be too hard to include these too.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

If The End Was Near - 4

The next instruction is about love. But it is not next in priority. This Scripture says "first of all" or "most of all." Meaning love has first priority.

Why does God give love first priority? Because life is built on relationships. It is not built on jobs, accomplishments, or adventures. Life is built on God and people, and people and people, connecting with one another.

And love is important, because relationships are messy. People make mistakes, act selfishly, and sin. Love covers sin. Love makes relationships possible in the middle of the mess. Love makes unity possible when there is failure and sin. And it is love and unity that demonstrates God's nature to the world.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

If The End Was Near - 3

There are several instructions the writer gives, because the end if near. The first instruction involves prayer. I find it interesting that there is no “thou shalt pray.” Prayer is assumed. The writer believes that God’s people will be given to prayer. Some more than others, of course. But it is a significant part of each believer’s life.

No, the instruction is not “make sure you pray.” The instruction is make sure you pray with a right heart, right attitudes and right perspectives. Words used to describe praying with a right heart are: earnest, alert, disciplined, sober, self-controlled and right-minded.

Prayer as the writer describes it should be a serious, focused, intentional connecting with God. This does not necessarily preclude a free, emotionally released time of worship. But, there ought to be time when we place our heart as intermediaries between God and people, between God and the world, and between people and the world. It is not a fun sort of prayer. It is a burden of love. It is assuming the burden of suffering with people and for people – in our hearts, minds and prayers.

We ought to be concerned by slowly God’s kingdom is growing. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s invasion of the world.

We ought to be concerned by how small God’s family is. We ought to pray for the Word, the gospel and the Spirit to invade hearts, cities, people-groups, cultures and societies, turning the upside down as they learn about God’s love and his desire to adopt them as his children.

Yes, we should pray for jobs and healing for people we know. We should pray for parking places. But we need to expand our hearts. God wants to touch those close to us: family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. He also want to touch those far away.

We also need to understand our authority. When the disciples were still immature spiritually, Jesus sent them out, told them to proclaim his message, and gave them authority to heal and cast out demons. He gave them authority to validate their message. He later went on to give authority to his church to “bind” and “release.”

Maybe he gave this authority to increase our faith. Maybe so we would develop his heart toward the world. In either case, we need to recognize he has given us authority, and we need to learn to wield it … in love, for people, for God’s kingdom, for good.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

If the End Was Near - 2

As one would expect, there should be an impact on your life when you live at the end of your life.

Some people might not be able to face it. Some people might have the ultimate, unending party. But if you are a member of God's family, you know the party is coming. Now is the time for something else. And the writer discusses things we should focus on, in light of the end of time.

I find it interesting to note that the instructions do not include: 
   • make sure you don't sin, 
   • share the gospel a lot.

I can imagine some TV preacher speaking on this subject and those two things would be at the top of his list.

"You are going to go into the presence of the Lord. Don't go with the stains of sin on your soul. "

"This is your last chance to make your life count for eternity. Millions are going to hell. Don't let them perish without the opportunity to know about Jesus' love for them."

I will not argue against these two "made up" statements. The issues are important. But the writer of Scripture did not include them in this case. What did he include? What did he, and the Spirit, consider important?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

If The End Were Near

A large part of the Bible are letters (pre-email and pre-texting messages) from one Christian to another, or to a group of Christians. The writer is sometimes responding to questions being asked. Sometimes, he is trying to encourage them as a result of circumstances he is aware of.

In one letter, the writer begins by affirming that the world is going to end soon. The writer saw things happening in "current events"  that corresponded with what Jesus said would happen right before the end of the world. Unfortunately, the end of the world has been coming soon for a long time.

He was wrong in his timing, but he was right in his encouragement.  The things Jesus said were signs of the end have been part of the human condition since Adam sinned. But they have existed in greater or less intensity.  It isn't hard to observe that we live in a time of increased "war and rumors of war. " So, I could look at the world and say,  "the end is near. "

Why would Jesus tell us about the end of the world?  Why would he include signs that could  lead any follower of his to conclude that the end is soon? Did he do it on purpose? Maybe he did.

It doesn't take a genius to see that if we knew there was a finite,  countable number of days before the end of all things,  we would probably approach life differently. Perhaps radically different.

How would you live if you knew this was going to be your last Christmas? 

Saturday, September 13, 2014


As Christians, we are called to live in the tension of paradoxes. Instinct may pull us to act one way, while the call to obey my pull in another.

Recently, I became aware of another such paradox. I am a parent. And parents work / hope / pray for their children to make good life decisions. They want them to live better lives than they did -- better jobs, better standard of living, better marriages, better children and better better. Because of the value they place in following Jesus, they want their children to follow Jesus better. To follow Jesus well, they want them to follow disciplines that tend to promote a healthy relationship with Jesus -- Bible reading / meditation, prayer, attending church, getting into a small group and developing relationships with other kids from other families who follow Jesus. And the Bible does testify that our relationships, our friends, influence our choices, our lifestyles. Bad friends influence toward bad choices; good friends influence toward good choices.

And the Bible says that God's family should be influences toward good in the world. God's family should impact the world and nudge it in a positive direction. Because Christians are in the world, the world should be a better place.

God's people generate this influence for good by living out their relationship with Gods, by loving people, by serving people and by proclaiming Jesus' good news. The better our relationship with God, the more we love, the more we serve and the more we proclaim, there will be a corresponding greater impact in the world.

And we want our kids to have this impact. This "fruit" will testify about their relationship with God, their choices, their lifestyles, etc.

The thing about impacting the world is the the people of God's family have to engage the people of the world.

There is an assumption among a lot of Christians that if we just get people to church, they will absorb truth by osmosis. I do not doubt that the Holy Spirit, present in a meeting of God's family, will influence the hearts of those who do not know him. But if that was all that was needed, Jesus and the Apostles only needed to walk down the street and there would be universal revival. Walk down the street and everyone gets saved. (They did walk down the street and people got healed by the Spirit as they passed by.)

But Jesus did not just walk down the street. He engaged people. He engaged tax collectors. He engaged prostitutes. He had relationships with people to influence them to pursue God. And to impact people, we need to engage people and our kids need to engage people.

Did you ever -- or were you ever with someone who -- see a person in public somewhere, and judging by their dress, demeanor, language, behavior and hair color say / think "Man! That person needs Jesus!" Well, that person probably does need Jesus. Which means he needs someone, maybe you, maybe you child, to engage them in Jesus' name. Maybe proclamation; maybe service; maybe love.

We want our kids to live righteously, in holiness and wisdom. We want them to impact the world. But we don't want them to be impacted by the world. Increased impact means increased engagement. To increase giving impact, we must increase engagement. To minimize being impacted, we must decrease engagement. Therein lies the paradox.

We want to protect our kids from foul language.
      Did Jesus hear foul language?

We want to protect our kids from sinful examples.
      Did Jesus avoid sinful people?

We want to protect our kids from promiscuous activity.
      Duh. Prostitutes.

We want our kids to emulate the life of Jesus.
      How did Jesus engage the world, yet remain faithful to God?
      It wasn't entirely because he was God in the flesh.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

God's Heart: Love vs. Law

I was listening to Graham Cooke recently. He said that a person's concept is the most important thing in a person's head. Our picture of who God is, and what he is like, is the most important "stuff" that fills our hearts and heads. It is that picture that creates the framework for our lives. 

If God is watching us like a hawk, waiting for us to blow it, so he can stomp on us, then we will live in a type of vigilance. We will sit on the edge of our seats, uncomfortable in his presence, uneasy in taking action lest we offend him.

If God is watching us (like a hawk) to find ways to guide us towards restoration, towards redemption, towards living as we were designed, we will rest in his love, we will be assured of his acceptance, and we will not fear in taking actions or failing.

We looked recently at the woman caught in adultery. Religious leaders caught this woman and brought her to Jesus. Jewish law said she should be executed for this type of sin. They challenged Jesus to uphold the law. Jesus, in return, challenged them by forcing them to look at their own lives. They all deserved punishment under the law.

Living as we were designed to live is more than avoiding a bunch of "shall not's." Even if we kept all the "shall not's" we still would not be living as God intended.

God intended that all people should be part of his family. He began the process of redemption and restoration with the Jews. Yet, whenever the Jews lived in a mixed society, they invariably allowed the society to influence them, and they pulled away from and ceased following God. Part of God's law warns against this mixing. So, the Jews pursued a policy of isolationism. Current understanding of God's law said God wanted his people to avoid contact with non-Jews. Yet, God really wanted the Jews to engage with non-Jews and invite them to be a part of his family.

After Jesus returned to heaven, God sent an angel to a non-Jew to urge him to invite one of the apostles to come and tell him and his family God's good news of love and acceptance, and to take action that is appropriate to becoming part of God's family. This man sent representatives to the apostle to extend the invitation. The representatives had to travel one or two days to find the apostle.

Meanwhile, God induced a trance on the apostle, in order to send him a message about what his attitude and heart really was toward all peoples. And he timed the trance with the arrival of the representatives, as well as another message. All of this to convince the apostle that the common understanding of God's law was wrong. In effect, he was convincing the apostle to break the law, so that God's love could break the barrier of narrow legalistic assumptions.G  

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Jesus tells the story of a woman,  who is having legal difficulty. She is poor,  so she can't afford a lawyer.  So, she does the only thing she can think of doing. She goes to see the judge in charge of the case.  And she goes day after day after day.

Now the judge received his appointment to the bench because of a political favor.  He doesn't care about people, the Law, God, or justice.  He only cares about keeping his position.  Good money, easy hours, not too much work, and lots of perks.

But this woman keeps bugging him. He doesn't care about her, or honor God,  or justice. But at this rate,  she is going to drive him crazy. So, he is going to give her justice, but for the wrong motivation.

Then, Jesus compares the judge with our heavenly Father. The judge gave the woman justice, though he was not a very good person. He just wanted the woman off of his back. Our Father is the epitome of love, goodness and moral perfection.  He does care about people,  right, wrong and justice. Given the Father's love, desire to bless, and ability to bless, it should be a perfectly reasonable action for his children to persist in seeking him.

Then, Jesus asks the $64,000 question. When he returns, will he find people with faith?

He demonstrates his nature to us by dying on the cross, by healing, by feeding multitudes with crumbs.  He demonstrates his heart, his ability and his love. With all of that, we are timid with our prayers, our love, our plans, our time and our energy. We fear rejection, failure and looking foolish. We don't see ourselves correctly; we don't see God correctly.

Peter had a flash of insight. He saw Jesus correctly for few moments. When he did, he got out of the boat and walked on water.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

People's Sin and Jesus' Acceptance of People

Sin is a unifying factor. I don't mean that it pulls people together, because it doesn't. It pushes people apart. If unifies, because it puts people on the same level. We all sin. We all fail. No one is perfect. So, we are all the same, unified in our imperfection and condemnation.

And God knows it. He sees our hearts as they truly are. No one can disguise or hide the sin in their hearts from God. That makes his sacrifice even more amazing.

religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus. She had been caught in the act of sinning. The Law said punishment for this sin was to be stoned to death. Jesus knew the woman's heart. He knew she had sinned. He knew she deserved this punishment. He knew the religious leaders were right. But he also knew their hearts. He knew each one of them sinned and deserved punishment too. If they were honest  with themselves, they would see they deserved to be stoned too. so, he pushed them to be honest ... and she wasn't stoned.

This is the beauty of the gospel. God sees our hearts. God knows we sinned. God knows we still sin. Yet, he still dies for our sins. He still accepts us, even though we still sin.

Jesus doesn't excuse\approve of sin. Sin steals from us. We do not get anywhere close to living how we were designed to live. Life is robbed of meaning and significance. And he told the woman to change the way she was living.

There is no indication in Scripture whether the woman repented or not. Maybe she did. Maybe she didn't. But Jesus demonstrates t he attitude, we should have towards everyone. Because we are all in the same boat.

Friday, August 08, 2014


It has been a sort-of whirlwind week. First, we discover a large hornet’s nest under the eaves of the house. How do you get rid of it without getting yourself or anyone else stung?

Then, a bat got into the house. My wife and kids are scared. There is a possibility of some really serious diseases. I have yet found a way to catch a flying bat, so I whacked it with a badminton racket. This always leaves me a little depressed. Even bats has their place in God’s world. And it would probably have preferred to not be in my house either.

Then, my wife bought a new refrigerator. There was a circus getting it home. (We bought it on clearance, so the store would not deliver it, even if we paid for delivery. Figure that out.) The circus continued getting it into the house. House doorways were too narrow, so we had to take the frig doors off. Swapping food. Getting the old one out. It still worked, so we found a home for it.

Finally, a couple we know and love are thinking of calling it quits. And that is really, really sad. So, we talked, listened and prayed. There was no abuse or infidelity. There were no habits or practices that either had that were bad. No money issues. No children issues. No issues that one usually hears about.

The husband is really sad and really dissatisfied with life. Life and his marriage relationship wasn’t what he expected. It doesn’t seem worth carrying on in a limbo status for 20-30 years.

And people say, “Good relationships require work. You work through the problems. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” And he says, “Yea, I know. But in between the negatives, there should be some positives.”

He wasn’t very good at explaining anything, except life and marriage wasn’t as expected. The things he needed\wanted\expected were not being met.

(NOTE: No decision has been made. They are going to try and get some help. I know we would appreciate prayer for them, even if they don’t know what they want.)

Of course, all the things people say to fix the problem are said. Some of them are clichés. The reason they are cliché is not because they are not true. It is because they have been so often they lose impact. I don’t know what this says about me. I don’t know if it is good\bad. (I do know and accept that this is the way God designed me. If fills a place in his purposes. And, therefore, it is good. And I also know and accept that I am broken. I don’t work or react the way I should. And this is not good.) But I start wondering about those things.

“Only God can meet your needs.”

Only too true. Only God can meet the deepest needs for joy, significance, love, place and others I can’t remember at the moment. So, why are people miserable? Why are people, who have a relationship with the Father, miserable? There is an underlying feeling that if one knows God, one should not be miserable. So does that mean: 
  • People don’t read\prayer\meditate enough? 
  • People don’t worship enough?
  • People don’t have enough faith?
  • People put other things first?
  • People don’t understand the way this is supposed to work correctly? 
  • People are tied to other things and other people?
“Happiness comes from our circumstances. Joy comes from our relationship with God.”

Only too true. When we depend on our circumstances or our situation to fulfill us, we will be forever caught on a roller coaster. And our time at the top will be all too short, before we go roaring into the bottom. But joy certainly seems to be in short supply. We should be living above and beyond our circumstances. All too often, our circumstances drag us around by the nose. A love relationship with our Father should hold us up. It should give us courage and power to continue. It should give us identity, place and worth. So, why is there so little joy? Because we don’t know our Father well enough? (And we don’t, because of that list above.)

I’m sure part of the reason is because we have an enemy. Any one of us could be the next “Peter” or the next “Paul.” So, he works to keep us guessing, to keep us miserable. If our hearts are focused on our misery, we can’t pursue those things we were designed for.

Maybe, part of it is that we developed into a time and people where knowing is what is important, and doing not so much. We know we should be close to God. We know we should live a life of joy, faith and love. Yet, how do we get there?

We hear in the news too many examples of bad fathers. How did they become bad fathers. “Fathering” is not taught; it is caught. If the father is absent, negligent or aloof, that’s what sons learn. That’s the sort of fathers they become.

Jesus walked with his disciples, so they caught who he was, and how he lived. Maybe people don’t know how to live in faith, joy and love, because we haven’t walked with anyone who showed us how.

Maybe, Jesus walked with his disciples because knowing our Father, being a father, being a husband, living in any relationship, and dealing with life’s messes cannot be taught. They can only be caught.