Sunday, May 25, 2014

Vine and Branches - VII

These are probably the big three of relationship: heart concern, open communication and commonality. Commonalities provide a platform to build a relationship on. Open communication is the vehicle. Heart concern is the motivation.

Because God loves us, he is always seeking to communicate with us.  He sometimes communicates about our failures. He sometimes gives marching orders. Most of the time, he is trying to reveal his heart to us. And as one person put it: "to know him is to love him."

As we connect to the Father, his love flows back in response, healing our heart, re-wiring our DNA, and transforming our lives. Transformation advances his purposes, but it also restores us closer to our original design. The more we advance his purposes, the more his love embraces more people.  The more we are transformed, the more we are restored to original design.  The more we are restored, the better it is for us. We are healthier, happier,  more whole, and more at peace. It is founded on God communicating his love to us. And he communicates his love to us, as he tells us who he is. As I said before,  he communicates many things to us. First and foremost,  he is trying to saturate our minds and hearts with: he is love, he gives love, and he wants us to know him and it.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Vines and Branches - VI

Another aspect of relationship is an area held in common. People getting married have a mutual attraction. People in business together have a mutual vision for profit. Friends can all sorts of mutual interests: stamps, music, sports, crafts. The question in the relationship between God and man is, of course, what is that common area?

In most other relationships, there is giving and receiving. In our relationship with God, there is really nothing to give someone who is all-sufficient. Much of our relationship is recognizing the truth of God's worldview and synchronizing our worldview with his. So, we develop the same worldview, values, priorities, mission and character.

There is a mutuality of love. The expression of love on God's part is a heart renovation -- including the initial reconciliation between God and our selves, when we gave him our allegiance, so we can fulfill the items on the above list.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Vine and Branches - V(c)

Open-hearted communication requires two way expression. We open our hearts to speak honestly. We open our hearts to listen honestly.

God has given us special ways for expression. We can pray. We can worship. We can read, study or meditate on Scripture. People have designed methods that combine these in various ways. All of them facilitate focusing our hearts in open communication. Through all of them, God can speak to our hearts and act in our hearts.

Of course, the value of expression is any relationship lies in its consistency. Which implies regularity.

I can meet, fall in love, propose, and get married. But if my wife and I never meet or talk after that, there's not much point. And it's not much better, if we just get together every Christmas, whether we want to or not. Such relationships work best, if there is fairly frequent communication. Daily maybe?

There are some caveats. One, things change. Relationships in marriage change. At first, there is a man and a woman. Then, there are children. Then, there is a man and a woman, again. The addition\subtraction of people add to the complexity, and the need for adaption. At first, there is only a focus on the needs of two people. Then, the needs of children become important: health, school, sports, driving, university, and starting their own families. And children are different. Boys are different than girls. Special needs? Special gifts or talents? Then, there is a rebuilding of life after the nest empties. Relationship with God is not a static thing. Prayer\reading practices will need to change. New rhythms developed. Variety in the rhythm.

Two, the Bible is not a text book. I am sitting here, trying to understand the difference between living in relationship and living in religion. Ostensibly, my intention -- since, my thesis is living in relationship is what God designed -- is to grow in living in relationship. But, it sometimes seems like all I am doing is mastering the material and proposing theories. Hopefully, I will pass the final and go onto the next class. But the disciplines that connect us to God, are not just for knowing. They are for practicing. They are for transforming and enabling love.

Three, communication requires listening as well as speaking. People seem more inclined to speak and less inclined to listen. With God, we need to learn both "skills."

Vine and Branches - V(b)

Open-hearted communication is first and foremost about openness. Our life in God can only grow as we are willing to let him in. Connected close with openness is honesty. (Or maybe it is another way to describe openness.)

Dishonesty is one way of closing our hearts from God. It is one way of hiding our hearts. We can say, "No, I'm not like that." Or "I don't have that." Or "It's not that bad." Or we can just ignore it.

Dishonesty is like finding an ugly toad in your yard. You decide you can't have this ugly thing around, so you paint it bright pink to make it beautiful. In reality, you make it worse.

Honesty is telling yourself the truth ... good, bad or indifferent. Honesty is being humble with what you can do, or what you can't do. Honesty is knowing you need help, and asking for it. 

Vines and Branches - V(a)

Probably, the most important consideration for living in relationship, rather than living in religion, is open-hearted communication.

I think there are several characteristics of open-hearted communication. First, it is open-hearted. In other words, there is nothing closed off, nothing hidden. There is no subject that is out of bounds ... for conversation. Obviously, since God is holy and righteous, there are things that are out of bounds for practice. It is one thing to say, "Man! That guy makes me so angry, I want to kill him!" It is another to actually kill him. The Bible does say that if something is real in the heart, it is just as real as if it was in the world. It is sin if we do something. It is sin if we contemplate it.

We have said this many times: we live from our hearts outward. Anything we say or do begins in our hearts. And as someone who has given his allegiance to Jesus, we want to live in obedience. So, when we do evil, we tend to hide it, or to "behavior modify" it. But it is the condition of the heart that produces action. No one is stronger than their heart. But God can flood our hearts with his love, transform our motivations, rewire our DNA and make us new.

It is the openness that allows God to work on these areas. God has given us freedom. He does not coerce our transformation. He invites us to cooperate. It is in our openness that he has a pathway into our hearts.

Openness is not just for transforming the evil in us. It enhances the good. It opens a pathway for revelation. We show our hearts, our thoughts and our natures to God. He reveals his heart. He reveals his thoughts. He reveals his nature. And, maybe, he reveals his marching order. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Vine and Branches - IV

Often, people get into a trap of believing that they need to obey God’s commands to convince God to accept them.
One, God will never accept us on the based on our obedience, because we have already shown we are total flops in that area.

Two, God has already accepted us, because of the cross and Jesus. And just to make sure we get it, Scripture declares that those who give their allegiance to Jesus are:
  • Given life.
  • Chosen to belong to God’s family.
  • Chosen to be Jesus’ friend. 
  • Chosen to be part of Jesus’ body.
  • In Christ … same position, same status, regarded in the same way. 
  • Citizen of God’s kingdom.
  • Complete … which means we need nothing more. 
  • Dearly loved.
  • Forgiven, justified, redeemed and sealed.
  • New, salt and light.
  • United\yoked with Jesus.
Is obedience important? Yes. But, once, we choose Jesus, obedience takes on an entirely new motivation, basis and rationale. Obedience is not to get God to accept us; it is to demonstrate God’s love and nature.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Vine and Branches - III

I have been trying to conceive of a picture where my relationship with God is based on relationship, rather than a to-do list. Religion is a to-do list: read your bible, go through your prayer points, attend church, give your tithe, and, maybe, share the gospel. (I hope anyone reading this realizes that all those things listed above are good things. Indeed, there are things we should do. As I have written previously, it is probably motivation and other heart qualities that are affected most, not the actions.)

So, if a relationship is not a to-do list, then what is it?

As I poked at, last post, one element is a mutual concern for each others' heart. If we are concerned for each others' heart, we seek to:
  • Understand.
  • Discover ways to build the heart. 
  • Avoid things that damage the heart. 
  • Avoid things that block the connection between the two hearts.
Maybe, the most definition of “mutual concern for each others' heart” is “love.”

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Vine and Branches - II

NOTE: I changed the title because I am not really talking about the heart anymore (although the heart is involed), I am trying to describe what living with God by relationship, as opposed to religion, is like.

The mantra that essentially all Christians proclaim is that our allegiance to Jesus is not a religion, it is a relationship. Yet, many live like it is religion.

When many people approach their lifestyle, it is often with the thought of what's right or what's wrong. If I do what's right, I glorify God, declare my stance to the world, and bear fruit. I will grow and mature. If I do wrong, it dishonors God and sends the wrong message to the world. Sin contaminates the individual's soul. Obedience brings health.

I notice there are times that when I fail, I don't want my wife to know about it. I want to hide what I have done wrong from her. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, there will be a mess to clean up. Cleaning up the mess leads to a large disruption in our relationship. And I value the relationship enough that I don't want any sort of disruption.

Two, often my failure will cause pain and disappointment. In part, I don't want her to be disappointed. In part, the pain and disappointment leads to a large disruption in our relationship. And I value the relationship enough that I don't want any sort of disruption.

How often do we consider our choices from that perspective? Will this choice add\detract from my relationship with the Father? Do I ever consider the pain and disappointment my Father feels when I fail? Especially when I choose to fail?

Sin always steals something. And when we choose wrongly, one thing it always steals is our connection to the Father. At the time of the choice, we evidently value the sin more than the connection.

Maybe our moment by moment connection is so flimsy, that we are not aware of any difference it makes in our lives?

Maybe our "check off the to-do list" style is more a religion -- instead of a relationship -- that we care to admit?

NOTE: Just to make sure there is no confusion ... Part of walking in relationship is concern (almost, protecting) the other person's heart. Another part is open-hearted communication. My example was about the first. It is not a very good example of the second. Indeed, it could be looked at as not being honest. Which in a way it is not. Still, is it good to tell everyone every bad thing you ever did? Selective communication may be kinder in the long run. Not lying, just choosing not to talk.

But the primary focus is guarding the heart of the one you are in relationship with.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Vine and Branches

There is a metaphor Jesus used to describe what the relationship that God’s family should have with him. He is like a vine; we are like branches.

The branches are connected to the vine. It is through the root, to the vine and into the branches that nutrients flow. It is the connection that gives life and health to the branches. It is the connection that produces fruit.

I have been using the term “heart-focus” to attempt to describe a person’s response to Jesus that activates this connection. And I have been trying to grasp what this means. Is it the same as mental focus? It is easy to see we are connected when we worship, pray or meditate. But what about watching TV, or driving to work? Do we live in a state of connect\disconnect? I don’t think so. Or at least, I don’t think that’s what God intended.

Mike Bickle has part of the answer, at least, in what he calls “behold and become”.

“Behold” refers to what a person “sees” about God – what he knows, understands and believes. “Becomes” refers to hold a person’s life develops. And beholding develops into becoming.

If we see God is primarily concerned about right living, about following the rules and doing the right thing, we are going to be involved in constantly checking our behavior, making sure we are doing the right thing, the “Christian” thing. We are going to be obsessed with failure … because if God is focused on us doing right, how will he feel when we do wrong?

And we have slipped, unnoticed, back into living by the law. The law does define right and wrong. It does define God’s right and wrong. But Scripture also says nobody can keep the law. God gave the law to push us to find a savior. To push us to grace.

(If we can’t keep the law before we gave allegiance to Jesus, why do we think we can keep the law after giving allegiance to Jesus.?)

If we see God is primarily concerned about having a relationship …

And I get stuck right here. I find that I am not sure what should go on in my heart and head. I have been focused on how I should live, what I should do to please God, and not what life looks like living in relationship with God.

In many ways, what activities a person is involved in probably do not change. Motivations and attitudes probably do change. And I could really believe that fruit would change.