Saturday, March 29, 2014

Love and Unity

There was a brief story I read, where a the writer describes a conservation with a woman. The woman and her family had decided to leave the church they were attending, because they did not feel they agreed with the vision the church had.

The writer recognized that shared vision was important. But he used to story to illustrate something he thought was more important: love and unity.

First, we do need to recognize that in God's kingdom, love is #1. To love God is the first command. First in importance. First in priority. First in practice. Loving people is the second command. Moreover, Jesus gives the two an equivalency. Jesus said, if we serve someone, motivated by love, then we serve him, motivated by love.

Then, love is a primary way that members of his family demonstrate that they follow him. And unity is a primary way that members of his family demonstrate love.

I don't think people realize how serious Jesus took unity. Scripture records one of Jesus' prayers. In it, he prays that, not only will his family be united, but that they will be united with the same intensity, the love, the same completeness as the Father, the Son and the Spirit. And if they are united, it demonstrates the truth, that God sent Jesus into the world.

What if there is no unity? Does it demonstrate that God did not send Jesus? I know of one person, who says God gives the unsaved permission, based on this portion of Scripture, to say that the Father did not send the Son.

Unity takes on a much, much bigger meaning, when seen in this context.

Monday, March 24, 2014

God's Heart - IIb

Paul begins by explaining God’s plan for the restoration of his kingdom. It will be a kingdom built out of all peoples, created into one new people, founded on his values nad priorities. Each person will choose his allegiance to the Father as king. Each person’s heart will be transformed, which will flow into the words and deeds, which will flow into a transformation of society and culture.

As I said before, he explains further how when he considers this plan, he is motivated to pray. (And we discussed the prayer somewhat.) Then, because of the size, scope and nature of this plan, he starts explaining what sort of lives – every day words and deeds; habits and practices – people need to have to bring this kingdom to actuality.

So, what does he say?
  • Produce a powerful campaign to communicate the gospel across the world? Mail, radio, TV, internet, door-to-door? 
  • Build large institutions to impact society in every segment? Media, education, government, and entertainment? Hospitals, universities, and churches? Mobilize lots of people? Economies of scale? 
  • Develop goals and objectives for five, ten and twenty years? Marketing? Research? Packaging?
These seem like things that the world would do, and does do, to move society and culture to fit the mold it has. What did Paul say?

Paul said … focus on relationships. Focus on maintaining love and peace with each other. Be Jesus to one another. Love one another. And he goes on to try and illustrate what that might look like for men, women, children, married, parents, workers and management.

There is a revolution coming, but it coming on the basis of relationship – relationship with God and relationship with people.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

God's Heart - IIa

We recently considered a couple of Paul’s prayers. I would like to return to one of these prayers. Paul said, that when he considered what he knew of God’s plans and purposes, it moved him to pray. It was so big, and so dependent on people, and so different that what people expected.

So, he prayed for people’s hearts to be strengthened. People will need to make decisions that involve things that are foreign to them, that take them out of their comfort zone. We now that; we talk about that; do that is another thing altogether.

He prayed that Christ makes his home in our hearts. It is in our hearts that Jesus changes our spiritual DNA. He changes our motivations, our values, and our priorities. It is important in this process that Jesus live there, not just come for a visit each week.

He prayed that we establish root in God’s love. There are many people who try to follow God from some sort of duty, some sort of “ought to.” Duty/obligation/ought will only take people so far. Look how far Jesus’ love took him.

And he prayed that we will understand the immensity of God’s love. There is no unit of love, but we all have a sense of degrees of love. So, we need to realize how sold out God is for us. Too many of God’s family do not realize the extent that God is willing to go for them, so they are unwilling to step out for him.

And he prays we would experience that love. It is one thing to feel the “warm fuzzies” of God’s love. I am not going to argue against them. I am going to remind us that we are people. And when we are faced with the cold, hard facts of life, the “warm fuzzies” quickly vanish. However, God is real and personal; he has given, is giving and will give hot factual evidence of his love. We have all experienced those facts. Sometimes from God’s hand personally. Sometimes through his body, who are also his family. We need to hang onto these.

One story, we like to tell happened shortly after we were married. Like all newlyweds, we had little money, and I wasn't working. It was a lot like today. Jobs were scarce. And in the midst of these money problems, we were anti-burgled. When you get burgled, someone sneaks into your house, and steals your stuff. When you are anti-burgled, someone sneaks into your house and leaves you stuff. In our case, it was about $200 worth of groceries. That's a lot of groceries nowadays. Back 30 years ago, it was more than a lot of groceries. And we continue to be grateful that God took time to let someone know about our need, and how they could fill it, many years later.

And he prayed for us to become complete. God transforms us, heals us, feeds us and strengthens us, so we are mature. Mature does not mean there is no more room for growth. It does mean we have made progress in thinking, speaking and acting like Jesus. Our motives, values and priorities are more like Jesus. And so, we are in a better position to be an asset, while God completes his plan.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Grace and Obedience

Why does it seem sometimes that we hear God speak to us all the time about all sorts of amazing things, and, at other times, the heavens seem to be as silent as a tomb?

Or, asking a similar question, why does it seem sometimes that obeying, glorifying and loving God is so easy and so joyous (we bear so much fruit that it pops the tires on the truck ... provided you are one of those people who put their fruit on a truck, rather than, for example, a rail car) and, at other times, it seems like the only thing you can do is give into temptation, fail, sin and spend lots of time in self-flagellation? Followed by the speculation of why. Sin? Out of sync? Not following the right formula of spiritual discipline? Followed by the solutions, which usually involve resolutions to pray more, read more, obey more and sin less. In other words, we are going to "try harder."

"Try harder" is not a bad thing. Often, discipline, diligence, perseverance and patience are what is needed for success. (Much better than simply quitting.) But is it always the case? Sometmes, we need to work smarter, not harder.

Often, people become motivated to seek a right relationship with God. They say, "I need to stop doing bad things. I need to start doing good things. Then, God will be pleased with me, and I will have peace with him." If you are a follower of Jesus, you call that foolish. We already know that no one can do enough to ransom his soul. Jesus died to provide forgiveness, justification, redemption, and a new life of abundance. To receive those things, we need to trust God and accept his gift. But to live the new life, we need to try harder.

We are undergoing a process of transformation. The process begins in our hearts. God works to change our motivations, values and perspectives. Some of us can barely change our eating habits. How do we even begin to get at our motivations?

We have been talking recently about focusing our hearts on God, God focusing his heart on us, and starting a flow of grace into our hearts, which transforms our spiritual DNA. We are saved by grace. Maybe we grow by grace.

This may make it sound like I think obedience is not important. I do think the heart is first. One, because we can sin or obey God in our hearts without doing or saying anything. Two, it is our words and actions that reveal what is in our hearts. Three, they are our entry point into the world. They are the way we bring the God, who is in our hearts, to the world to demonstrate his love and character.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

New Life

Often people see themselves as bad. And they are bad. They did follow Satan. They were God's enemies.

But God sent Jesus.

God's family celebrate Jesus' coming. They celebrate Jesus' death and the right standing with God that it brought us. It is right for us to celebrate this. It is right to celebrate God's mercy. It is right to celebrate God's love. It is right to celebrate God's justice being satisfied at the cross.

But Jesus did more than just die. He rose.

Scripture says that when Jesus died, we died with him. We were buried with him. And we rose with him.

Obviously, we don't have nail holes in our hands. We weren't wrapped in burial clothes. We weren't laid in a tomb. And on the third day, we didn't help roll away the stone. But there are some places in Scripture where the writer seems to be saying that we were. Metaphorical? Metaphysical?

Is the writer trying to point out that there is a reality beyond a judicial pronouncement?
It is one thing to be arrested, go to trial, be pronounced guilty ... but your sentence has already been served, and not by you. It is another to be merged with another person, and to receive all the good he receives.

This judicial pronouncement that our punishment has been, not forgotten, no excused, but satisfied explains why we are free, citizens of God's kingdom, and members of God's family. But it does not explain changes in attitudes, values, goals, practices and pursuits. It doesn't explain changes in motivation.

It is almost like there has been a DNA transplant. Now, as the cell with the new DNA begins to multiply, a new person is being creted, step by step, cell by cell.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Body of Christ - IVa

I want to take another look at exercise. If exercise is necessary to the health of a body, is the current day church getting enough?

I previously defined exercise as practicing the spiritual disciplines and practicing the special function God gives to each of his children individually. We could also include basic obedience to God's commands and involvement in God's mission.

The spiritual disciplines can be regarded as exercise that involves God and a single person. Although some practices can be done as a group, most are considered a private, solitary activity. Practicing the special function or missional activity must necessarily involve other people. Both could involve partners or "objects" of service. And Scripture indicates that his children should be involved in all avenues of exercise. 

Since, the focus of most current day churches is participation in the weekly meeting, and the meetings are structured for a few to get lots of exercise and most to get little, one could conclude that the current day church is not getting enough exercise and its spiritual muscles are flabby. (Worship is a part of spiritual discipline. Churches do, and need to, practice it. And I do not want to seem to be denigrating it in any way. But if it is the only exercise one gets, it is like only doing dead-lifts. A person is not doing any work to build up the arms or the core, not to mention cardio.)

In current day churches, the primary focus of the weekly meeting is a lecture on a Biblical topic. It was not until the 8th century that such lectures became a regular part of the meeting. During the historical era when scholars believe the gospel of Jesus had greatest effect, God's family did not follow this practice. Now, some would be offended if a church did not follow this practice. In many places, the success\failure of a church is judged by the success\failure of this practice. One of the special abilities God gives is teaching. So, I doubt a spiritual lecture per se is wrong. But if a spiritual lecture is the only teaching being done, is there enough exercise? All teaching is not the same. There are different subjects. There are different contexts. Some believe there is a different grace given to coincide with each subject and context. (Special grace given to teach two-year olds?) So, I am still asking if current day churches provide sufficient exercise. And we are considering just one special ability God gives. There are others. Nor have we considered missional activity.

Is it one of the functions of church leadership to discern the best fit for a particular person and ability? Or is the area too complex and the nuances too subtle for anyone except God to understand? So, each child needs to be ready and alert for God's direction? Or to initiate seeking God's direction? The body of Christ, the family of God, is a living, breathing, growing thing. It consists of many parts, each with its own function. There is no part that does not have a function. There is no part that just sits. Scripture says the Holy Spirit places each part. The Holy Spirit places each part into its individual context. So, it is strategic, and necessary, within its web or relationships and within its context of life.