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.