Wednesday, January 29, 2014

God's Heart

In the Bible, Paul writes a number of letters to different branches of God’s family. In these letters, Paul expresses his heart, and God’s heart, for these different groups … especially in his prayers. What I mean is, he tells these groups that he prays for them, and what he prays for. So, he is telling them what he believes God wants to do in their lives.

There is one prayer where Paul prays for four things. First, he prays that God might deposit his resources in all of their hearts, and, as a result, their hearts might be strengthened. So, God’s children might face any sort of trial with peace and joy.

Second, he prays that, as the resources flow into their hearts, and they see the fruit of the resources, their trust of Jesus would grow, which would result in Jesus abiding in their hearts more fully. And, as Jesus resides more fully, they begin to sink roots more and more into Jesus’ love.

Third, he prays that they might understand his love more.

Fourth, he prays that they might experience his love more.

And, as these things take place, the individuals will be made complete in the life and power that God gives.

So, God gives these people what they need, demonstrating his love. The people learn to trust Jesus more, but especially as the draw on Jesus’ love. Then, they understand that love more. Then, they experience that love more. Then, they mature, are healed, and experience life in abundance.

Is it only me, or does it seem to anyone else like there is a lot riding on God’s love?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Staying Connected to God - II

I realize that pointing out that God wants to speak to people, does speak to people far more often than we expect, and yet, maybe there is no sure way to determine whether he wishes to speak in a particular situation, does not give any help.

I also feel like I am on the edge of my understanding. I think the question I brought up in my last post is valid. Does God expect to have input in every situation? Does he expect us to mature to a point where we should be making our own decisions in some cases? And how do we determine when to seek him? Do we seek him for everything? It does say we should pray at all times, which seems to support a "yes" answer.

There are instances where we have been taught what is correct and proper to do. We should already know that if we are going to work, maybe we should be wearing black socks. And if we are going to play basketball, maybe we should be wearing white socks. And if you work construction, maybe white socks are appropriate in both cases. (Assuming we know whether or not we should even go to work.)

Often, we do know the right thing to do. But, just as often, we need to do something else ... instead of what we were taught. Or do what we were going to do ... plus something else. So, do we give God permission to interrupt us?

Sometimes, he does speak when we should know better. Like when we get cut off in traffic, we begin to get angry and maybe even begin to say some bad words. Even though we know that those actions are not good, we might just need a reminder sometimes.

But sometimes, there is no time. Do we hit the brakes, or swerve to the right?

We have all chosen a life that follows God. This means we have given God our allegiance. Our first priority is advancing his kingdom. Which means living in a certain way, often counter to what we were taught. It is a life that is more than following a set of rules. It involves a relationship; it involves quality of life; it involves a partnership. Walking and staying connected to him leads to that abundant life he talked about.

It is also about transformation. Abundant living means living in holiness, and living as we were designed to live. (And our idea of holiness is probably different than his idea of holiness.) He has shown us that, in order to get all this stuff working the way it is supposed to, we need to stay connected to him. We need to keep our hearts focused on him. We need to maintain as constant, and consistent communication with him as we can. Then, we need to follow what he tells us. And to be honest, we are all miserable at all of this.

Sometimes we don't want to. Sometimes we simply forget. Sometimes we are in a place that is noisy, and we can't tune into him; we can't get quiet in our hearts and centered in him.

This morning, in an attempt to move in the right direction. 
  • I have given God permission to interrupt me, knowing full well I would miss it sometimes. 
  • I resolved to seek him as often as I remembered. 
  • Realizing that time and place were going to be factors, I was going to try and develop the habit of just praying "Please speak." Just those two words. God knows my heart. God knows my limits, my hopes and my desire to get him more involved.
It is probably not the best, but I do think it is a positive move forward.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Staying Connected to God

As Christians we don't get to live "normal" live. -- John Eldredge

I would think that the most obvious question at this point is: "what is normal?" And the most obvious answer would most likely be: "like everyone else." How are Christians not like everyone else? They walk with Jesus.

There are several ways we could explore this.
  • The drive for happiness.
  • Personal ambition vs. God's mission.
  • Sacrificial love.
However, we will look at the context that the above quote was in. Which was the daily abiding in Christ, the moment by moment conversational relationship with God. One metaphor of this connection is a branch on a vine. It is this connection that provides life and the power to bear fruit. Another metaphor of this connection is a shepherd and his sheep. The sheep listen to the voice of the shepherd, following him and his directions.

There are several passages of Scripture (don't stop praying; walk in the Spirit; abide in Christ) that give many people the feeling that walking with God is a continuous, stream of consciousness, moment by moment conversation with God, where his children get instructions for everything.

In my small group last week, we discussed this some. How is it supposed to look? How are we supposed to engage in it? (Caution! Facetious example ahead! "Good morning, Father. What a wonderful day you have given us. Please, I need to hear your voice this morning. Should I shower today? Should I go to work? Should I wear black socks or white socks? One of each! On my ears!")

Followers of Jesus live connected to the Father of All. He is trying to speak to us far more often than we realize. And we ought to be seeking him far more often than we do. And if we seek him, we ought to seriously obey what we hear. (Maybe that's why his family does not seek him more? What I don't know, I don't have to obey.)

In the context of the above quote, Eldredge cites someone saying that he wanted to just go to Hawaii for vacation, and he did not want to ask God about it.

  • What do we understand about how God views our heart ... and our happiness?
  • What do we understand about how God views growth, maturity and personal decision making? Does God trust us and expect us to grow to the point where we can make our own decisions about what color of socks to wear?
  • Suppose you did ask God about your vacation, and he said "Don't go to Hawaii. Go camping at Shenandoah." Maybe you go to Hawaii anyway ...
    • and you get to enjoy the lovely Class-5 cyclone.
    • or you miss the inner healing from trauma you suffered as a child.
    • or you miss the family from Lima, Peru, and God will need to find someone else to be a catalyst of revival through out South America.
We can play "what-if" games until the cows come home. But we do need to come to some type of understanding of when and how to seek God, to hear his voice, for direction. If someone cuts us off in traffic, we don't need to seek him as to whether we should be patient, or whether we should lose our temper.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Drawing Lines

I mentioned a while ago, about an actor who had gotten in trouble for some things he said. There is still a lot of noise going on about this incident. (And I am a little concerned about posting this, because I might get viewed as practicing what I am writing about … as in “practice what you preach.”)

I was looking at a blog aggregator, trying to see if there was a writer I would like to check out. It was a list of popular Christian bloggers and recent posts they had written. And one writer had a post about this particular person and incident. So, I took a peek.

The post was not so much a discussion of the incident, as it was a discussion about the reaction of a large part of the “Christian community.” These people felt the actor was being treated unfairly. The rationale goes like:

“Many others espouse an opinion that is unpopular, and it does not create such big waves. This person espouses an unpopular view, and an uproar ensues, because his view is based on his allegiance to Jesus, and what he believes pleases him.”

The writer’s point was (1) the actor did not understand nor characterize the people he was talking about in a way that Jesus would have talked about; and (2) since the “Christian community” seemed to be defending his actions, then the writer felt alienated from (not part of) the “Christian community.”

Moreover, the writer posted the thoughts of several other writers who said similar things. “Because they defended what this person did, I don’t feel like I am part of the Christian community, because …”

Now, I confess I did not read what these people were saying very closely. Mostly, it was because of the emotional impression I was getting. The feeling I got was that there was an us/them mind-set being created. (And, of course, I could be totally wrong about what went on these people’s hearts.)

Christians seem to be very good at drawing us/them lines. Protestants/Catholics. Evangelicals/Pentecostal-Charismatic/Mainline. Conservative/Liberal. Some of the line-drawing involves “Because you don’t believe/do this (or do believe/do this) you’re not really a follower of Jesus, or a member of his family. You have not really made Jesus your first allegiance.”

My concern here is the line-drawing. Some line-drawing is inevitable. Even Jesus drew some lines. Of course, his earnest desire was that everyone would be on his side of the line. But I don’t think people realize the seriousness God gives this. Most people realize that Jesus said that one of the ways people will know who the Jesus-followers are is that they have a genuine love for one another. What is less known is that Jesus said the unity of his family demonstrates that God truly sent Jesus. Francis Schaeffer, 30 years ago, took this one step further. He said when Jesus said this, he almost gave permission to people, who had no allegiance to him, to conclude that if there is no unity among Jesus’ family, then Jesus’ claims about his mission, about his work, and about God’s purposes are a pack of lies. Suddenly, drawing lines takes on a whole new significance.

There are going to be disagreements. Every family, every couple, has them. But we need to find a way to disagree, but not draw lines. We need to find a way where there is only an “us”.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Confidence of David

David composed songs. In some of the songs, he seems to review his life. He remembers his humble origins, the defeat of Goliath, hiding from Saul, being protected by God in those years, as well as being protected in the multiple wars and battles. He remembers his failures and sins. And he remembers his relationship with God.

There is one song that many have thought was a prophetic description of Jesus. He will be king, and rule over creation. But how did David interpret this song? He might agree with the scholars. But what if he goes through the past in his mind, and then, reflects on where God has placed him. He is King of Israel. And he has the favor of the King of Kings. The Lord of Creation stands like a shield, like an unassailable wall, between him and any opponent. God’s favor seems to mean that no other person, no other nation, can stand before him. He has a “I’m on top of the world! I’m better than the best, because God stands with me” attitude.

He seems to conclude that as long as he stands for God, and with God, that he will stand above anything that occurs. And as long as the other kingdoms ignore God, or do not submit to him, they are perched on very thin ice. Ready to slip at any moment. Ready to crash at any time.

As David was a man after God’s heart, perhaps he understood God’s heart better than most. And, as we seek to understand God’s heart, maybe we can develop the same confidence in God’s nature, favor, intentions and responses as David had.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Spirit's Presence (Fruit)

God sent Jesus into the world (1) to reconcile us to him, and (2) to model how we are intended and designed to live. I have said in a couple of places that Scripture paints some pictures of what Jesus is like
Since, God is love, then the description of love, the traits of love, paint a picture of what Jesus is like. (Jesus is patient; Jesus is kind; etc.)

Since, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both part of the God-head, then the description of what results occur when the Spirit is present, also occur when Jesus is present. (Jesus is love, joy, peace, etc.)

And since, Jesus is the model, the picture, of how people were designed to live, then people should follow Jesus' pattern. People should follow the the description of the traits of love and people should bring the results of the Spirit.

So, if our heart-focus is true, if we are connecting with God, and the grace and Spirit of God are flowing into our hearts, and therefore, into our lives, then the traits of love and the results of the Spirit ought to be flowing into the world, and be apparent in our lives. Yes, they will still be imperfect, but they will be real, authentic and -- as we persist and God's work continues -- growing.

What if the traits and results are blocked? What if, for example, we are not experiencing joy and peace? The obvious answer would seem to be that something is interfering with the flow from God. We have lost connection with the Spirit. Grace and love have been choked off.

A loss of patience, joy or peace ought to be a warning to us. (As well as a loss of any of the traits or results. A strong urge to go on a "bender" -- "bender" being defined as uncontrolled indulging in any addictive behavior --  ought to be an obvious example.) Spiritual warfare is, in large part, the enemy convincing us to break our connection with God.

Breaking our heart-focus, our connection, with God is the enemy's basic step in disrupting God's purposes in the world. There are obviously other more cognitive, more strategic types of disruptions. (For example, I am sure the enemy wanted to, and tried to, negate Billy Graham's influence. What if the enemy managed to convince Billy to engage in an adulterous relationship? And it went public?) But the disruption leads to a smaller flow from God, less grace moving from the hearts of Jesus' followers into the world,  and a weaker impact of God's family in the world. It is like there is an emotional, psychological and spiritual atmosphere built from what flows out of each person's heart. And a loss of connection with God means that this atmosphere becomes more what the enemy wants and less what God wants.

Not only should it be a warning that the enemy is attempting to disrupt God's purposes in the world, but he is also attempting to disrupt God's purposes for us. The world is broken; we are broken. It is the effects of sin that lead to this brokenness. It is the connection, the heart-focus, with God that allows the life of God to flow to us and to move our hearts and our lives towards being like Christ, and like our original design.

A loss of patience, joy, peace or other traits and\or results ought to cause a warning message to flash on in our brains: "Warning! Warning! Power source connection has failed! Take steps to re-establish the connection!"  And we might need to talk to an expert -- our Father, for example -- or consult a manual. And maybe, we already know the correct procedure.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Spirit's Presence (Release)

First of all, notice the illustration at the bottom. Many use this diagram to represent the nature of a human being. Human beings are comprised of three parts: body, soul and spirit. The illustration does a pretty good job of showing the basic areas of a human being, and how they can be independent of one another. For example, the term "muscle memory" refers to a response so ingrained into a human body that it seems to by-pass human thinking. It also illustrates how people work from the inside out. Everything a person does is birthed in the spirit, moves into the soul and, then, out through the body.

It does not do a well-enough job with the inter-dependence of the main areas. For example, when a body is fatigued, the soul often gets grouchy. But, even if it is not entirely accurate, it is helpful.

Without Christ, the body and the soul are alive. The spirit, in one sense, is alive, because it is the animating force for the body and soul. But, in another sense, it is dead, because it is not connected to Christ.

Without Christ, a wall of sin grows at the division of soul and spirit. (There is no basis for this really. I am trying to build a picture that I hope is helpful in understanding the relationship between the Spirit, our spirits and the prevalence of sin still in God's family.) Without the influence of the Spirit, sin strengthens, grows, and reinforces this sin-wall. Whatever actions, words or impulses are birthed in our spirits need to filter through the sin-wall, and are polluted by it. Like a duck, that gets trapped in an oil spill, its body gets coated with the oil. It can't swim correctly; it can't fly correctly; it can't live as it was designed to live.

Now, the person receives Christ. God sends the Holy Spirit to mark the person, give the person life, connect the person to God and add the person into God's family. Connected to God, the person has life. As the person focuses his/her heart on God, God reciprocates the focus. Love, grace and life flow into the person's spirit and naturally begins to flow through the division of soul and spirit, into the soul ... and right through the sin-wall that's still there.

The person's God-filled life-essense flowing out into the world has just gotten dragged through the oil slick. It has been polluted and spoiled. The effect of God's life in his children has gotten messed up, so it can't have the same impact in the world, as if it flowed out pure and clean.

So, what does God do? He cleans up the oil slick. He smashes down the wall. As we walk with God, focus our hearts on God, grace, love and the Spirit flow into our hearts and begin an attack on this sin-wall. Sometimes it is an acetylene torch; sometimes it is a sledge hammer; sometimes it is a wrecking ball.

As these work, the wall gets thinner, less dense and more porous. What comes out of our spirits is less polluted. Sometimes, there is a crack or a hole, and what emerges is pure, unadulterated God. Of course, the reverse is true. We focus elsewhere, break God's word, and the sin-wall begins to grow and strengthen again.

All sorts of experiences and practices weaken the wall: prayer, reading and meditation, worship, service and using a special ability God gives individually and personally to each of his children. There are other experiences that can have an effect too: special meetings, conferences or God breaking through, meeting a need in a special way. The daily activities are similar to the torch, or hammer and chisel. The special events can sometimes act like dynamite or the wrecking ball.

The people I mentioned in the last post, who focused on particular actions and results, often (not always) emphasized these special experiences. As if only dynamite can break down a wall. But someone, with a spoon, patience, perseverance and diligence, can still dig through a wall. And maybe the spoon can weaken a strategic point and give the special event more impact.
  • The man in the previous post seemed to say people did not have enough of the Spirit. Maybe all of the Spirit is in our spirit, but not enough of him is getting out.
  • God works through all of life. Multiple experiences work to release God's Spirit in and thorugh our lives. The special and the every day. The main catalyst of this release is our heart-focus.
  • To quote John Eldredge, "It's not what God is not giving, but what he is giving." He is always giving and always speaking to us. Quite often, we expect something else, and so we miss what he is doing. Pay attention. Focus your heart and receive what he sends, whether it is an earthquake or a whisper.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Spirit's Presence

There was a man who connected God's Spirit, correctly, with God's power; and he connected God's power with signs and miracles. Since, A=B and B=C, then A=C. So, he concluded that the lack of signs and miracles meant that most people who called on God did not have the Spirit of God.

And he concluded that since people in the first church received the Spirit, and it was desireable to have the Spirit, there must be some way that people got it. After all, God did command his children to be filled with the Spirit. So, this resulted in a search for some means to invite the Holy Spirit to take up residence in a person's life with a good likelihood of success. Which, in turn, caused a large number of Christians to focus on a particular type of action, and a particular type of result, which became the main demonstration that the Spirit now filled the heart of a person.

I am not arguing against either the action or the result. I do have some concerns with the basic assumptions. (Maybe A != C. Maybe A+D = C.)

(1) It is written that the Spirit is the source of our power in God. We connect with God and his Spirit flows into our hearts; his presence brings power. But it is also written that God gives his Spirit to mark us as belonging to his family.

(2) If the Spirit is the mark of being in God's family, and in order to demonstrate the presence of God's Spirit in a person's life requires the "miraculous," then we are forced to exclude from God's family many people who have set their hearts, faith, hopes and allegiance -- as well as time, energy and resources -- on Jesus, his family and his purposes.

But Scripture testifies that if we give our hearts and allegiance to Jesus, he accepts us, justifies us and receives us into his family. He also marks us as part of his family by putting the Spirit into our hearts. By adding the "miraculous," we seem to be adding a condition that God does not add.

(3) By focusing on the "miraculous," we ignore other results that Scripture says should be obvious if the Spirit is in our lives. There is a reason they are called "the fruit of the Spirit."

(4) By focusing on the "miraculous," we scramble God's priorities. Love is God's first command. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit, or the first demonstration of God's Spirit in a person's life. Scripture says that the "miraculous" is temporary, but that love is eternal. Scripture says that without love, the "miraculous" is vanity and chasing after the wind. 
  • So, A != C, there is a D somewhere that needs to be factored in.
  • We are foolish if we overlook or attach too little importance to the "miraculous." But we are equally foolish if we attach too much importance to it.
  • We need to have God's priorities, and give most of our time and energy to what he regards as important. (Maybe we are experiencing little of the mirculous, because we are expressing little love.)
  • I have some ideas about the D factor that I hope to shared very soon.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Open, Available and Expectant

We have been discussing the heart-focus recently. We have described how important it is. How it is the basis for our connection to God. How it is the foundation for our relationship, for our enablement for love, service and evangelism. We have discussed disruptions, challenges and distractions. We have discussed prayer and blockages.

I belong to a small group of people, who try to meet regularly and consistently for prayer, for mutual encouragement, and, of course, for eating. We met recently, and the spiritual portion of the evening was: sharing what God was teaching each one, (there were eight of us, that night) and what was a spiritual goal for the upcoming year. What each one was learning was different, coming from different experiences and sources. But whatever we were learning, all of us were motivated to pursue greater intimacy, more abiding, or, to use the terms we have been using here, a stronger heart-focus toward and with God.

We found it remarkable that 100% of a group of people felt compelled to pursue the same goal.

I decided on a course of action, with several activities, that are intended to enable me to gain more understanding of my heart-focus, which should lead to practices resulting in a greater heart-focus.

I am also experiencing some difficulty connecting with God at this time. I am experiencing less heart-focus.

Since, heart-focus is the basis for spiritual power, this could be an attack from the enemy, seek to disrupt my relationship, my heart-focus, and, therefore, any fruit that may result.
Or, since it is Christmas, and there are a lot of distractions, this could be just me not handling the distractions well.

In the "Admin" part of this blog, there is a list of the most recently read posts. I noticed that someone had recently read a post called "Seeking God." In it, I described God's desire to communicate with us -- frequently, regularly, and consistently -- and how important it is for us to be open, available and expectant (OAE). If we are not OAE, it is like trying to listen to the radio without being tuned to a station. The "signal" just doesn't get through. Like with Christmas distractions, there might be interference.

Distractions can work in another way too. Sometimes, life can get too busy and we won't take the time to "tune" into the "signal" well enough. Even, important things -- or the desire to accomplish the important things -- can interfere with OAE. Time is required to temporarily release all other concerns and move into a place of OAE. We aim our hearts to God, and give him an opportunity to speak to us.

Then, I had a thought. What if I had got focused on accomplishing the activities that I was doing to strengthen my heart-focus, that I neglected to cultivate any OAE. In other words, while trying to strengthen my heart-focus, I was failing to exercize my heart-focus.