Saturday, April 18, 2015

Growth and Change

No Christian group or organization has it exactly right. No one has God's total understanding, or heart. Which means God is going to change all that.

He is going to change the way we do stuff. Which means he is going to change the way we think about stuff. Which means he is going to change the way we see stuff. Which means he is going to change our motivations. Which means he is going to change our hearts.

One of the main hindrances to God giving us new stuff is that we like the old stuff too much. We like our traditions. We like the familiar. We like our comfort zones. If we are open to God transforming us, we need to be prepared to move beyond these things.

The Jews were told since Abraham (2000 years) that the world would be blessed through Israel. They were God's representatives. They had the way to please God. And they believed that the way for the world to come to God was to come to them. The world pleased God by joining them in a life of obedience. The Jews had problems when they didn't obey God in the ways he gave them. So, many felt to really please God, they needed to become hyper-obedient. And hindrance to that obedience resulted from being too influenced by the world. So, they avoided contact with the world.

Then, Jesus comes. He provides the final solution to sin. He appoints messengers and entrusts them with the mission. And they follow Jesus' methods.

Then, one day, one of the messengers, Peter, is praying. God gives him a vision. A sheet falls from heaven. On the sheet are many animals. A voice says, "Here Peter! Have lunch!" For hundreds of years, and many generations, the Jews have been following rules about diet. Some animals are OK. Many are not. And the Jews got into trouble by not following these rules, among others. And "not OK" animals were on the sheet. So, Peter says, "I can't! That's against the rules." God gives the vision two more times.

God was changing the way Peter saw stuff, so he could change his heart and motivations. God was changing the way Peter saw right and wrong. God was changing the way Peter was going to do stuff.

Gods was calling Peter to inject himself into the world and its life, contrary to generations of custom, practice, established thinking and tradition. God grabbed Peter by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants, and threw him out of his comfort zone.

What did Peter feel like, having lunch in a gentile home, when he had been told all his life that if one followed God faithfully, one never, ever had lunch in a gentile home?

Identity in Christ - 19 (Died with Christ)

In one of Paul's letters, he described how God uses the cross to pour grace on us. Grace wipes away our sin. He goes on to pose question, perhaps rhetorical, perhaps one people were asking.

God pours our grace when we sin. Grace is a good thing. More grace is a better thing. So, why don't we continually sin, go into full time grace production, and get the most grace possible.

Fire is a good thing. It gives heat and light. We use it to cook, to purify, and to manufacture. That does not mean if we drop a tanker full of gasoline on the fire, that it's a good thing. Fire is a good thing if it is controlled or channeled.

Sin is not good at any time. It moves us against our design. It moves us away from God. And there is more than one way to receive grace. (Refer to the last two posts as an example.)

Baptism is a representation of a person being immersed into the life of Christ, a complete identification of our lives with Christ, complete dependence on him.

Baptism is a representation of what a person goes through, whether there is a subjective experience or not, when they give their allegiance to Jesus.

They are identified with Jesus. They are put in Christ. As he was crucified, they were crucified. As he died, they died. As he was buried, they were buried. As he rose, they rose.
  • God's Perspective
We are looking particularly at the dying with Christ. Israel felt the law was very important. Rome felt the law was very important. The law was important. It showed where people went astray. Moreover, the power to punish wrongdoing comes from the law. Sin broke the law. Sin was condemned and punished by the law. And God sought to give mercy. To save people from condemnation.

But God created the law. It could not just be ignored. It needed to be satisfied, regarding each person alive now, in the past or in the future. So, God sent Jesus. And God punished Jesus for our sin.

And God put each person, who gave their allegiance to Jesus, in Jesus. So, as Jesus was nailed to the cross, all those people were getting nailed with him. As Jesus fought for each breath, all those people were there with him. As Jesus comforted the thief, declared forgiveness, and cared for his mother, all those people were there. As he died, and the Roman soldier thrust a spear under his ribs, all those people were there.

Jesus, as perfect sacrifice, satisfied the requirements of the law for all those people, who were there with him. And the Father declared that they were justified. He redeemed them. He adopted them into his family. He was reconciled to them. He could establish a relationship with each one.
  • Living My Life
Foremost, as I give my allegiance to Jesus, I am accepted by God, establish a new relationship with him and given a new identity. It is this identity that we have been exploring in these last several posts. The lynch pin to all of this is Christ's death ... and our "experience" of it.

I say "experience," because it is precisely the point of Jesus' crucifixion and death that we do not experience the punishment of sin.

We dishonor God by our sin and rebellion. We honor and give glory to him by beginning a new relationship with him, seeking to know him and to live by his rules, standards and example. (Rule #1: Love! Love! Love!)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Identity in Christ - 18 (Devil's Enemy)

The Bible urges us to keep prepared and alert for Satan's attacks. Satan wants to entice us to sin, to discourage us, to make us miserable. All of this, to convince us that it is not worth it to follow God. To get us to quit.

It seems a little far-fetched to conclude that Satan is exerting a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources to cause the downfall of one lowly individual. 

"I am no high powered Christian. I am not a pastor. I hardly shared the gospel or pray. I forget to read the Bible most days. Why does Satan seem so worked up?"

(1) God's mission in the world is to restore his glory by re-establishing his kingdom. He accomplishes this by renewing relationships with people, transforming their lives, so they live as they were designed to live, and mobilize his family as his agents. As the members of his family love, share his message, and demonstrate his nature, many will be motivated to join his family.

If Satan can bring pressure on God's children, he might be able to short circuit the process. If a person does not follow God any longer, he does not act as God's agent. There is less love, less evangelism, and less demonstration of God's nature., Or better, there are distortions of these behaviors in God's agents. Lives are not transformed. People are not stirred to consider beginning a relationship with the Father.

The ultimate aim of Satan is to hinder the expansion and restoration of God's kingdom. And with it, the magnification of God's glory. Satan began to be Satan, when he decided that he wanted the glory that only God deserved. If he couldn't have it, he made sure God couldn't have it either. Satan seeks to disrupt the restoration of God's kingdom, because he believes it robs God of glory.

(2) There is a phenomena happening in different parts of the world. And there are people studying it. The name that they give this phenomena is "Church Planting Movements." (CPM)

CPM's occur when the gospel is introduced to an area, impacting the people, and there is a massive proliferation of churches, involving tens of thousands of people in a short time. It is a multi-megaton nuclear explosion of God's kingdom.

This explosion begins with one person. And that is what Satan is afraid of. Each explosion brings God tremendous glory. Each person who chooses to give their allegiance to Jesus (even each person who becomes open to Jesus) has the potential to set off a movement that will sweep a whole people group into God's kingdom.

  • God's Perspective
Each person was designed originally by God to live like Jesus. And, though, each person is unique (different gifts, perspectives and motivations), each person has the potential to turn society and culture upside down. All that is required is faith, love, the Holy Spirit in a person's heart and an active relationship with the Father.
  •  Living My Life
I'm sure the Father would like all of us to ignite an explosion of the gospel in, at least, one people group in the world. Certainly, if a person does not start his own fire, he would like him to add to the conflagration. To position ourselves to complete this type of work:
    •  Participate in a relationship with the Father. Last entry, I mentioned the idea of focusing one's heart on the Father. This focus creates a channel between a person's heart and the Father's heart. Love and grace flow from the Father's heart to the person's heart, healing and strengthening our lives. We give God the opportunity to work in our hearts as he wills.
    • Act in faith and love. These two take truth, as God sees it, and the flow of God's heart, grace and love, and introduce them to the world.
    • Cooperate with the Spirit. People have no power over the human heart. It is the Spirit who takes the flow from the Father's heart, expressed in faith and love by God's family, and creates impact in human hearts. 
In this way, the Father impacts the world, expands his kingdom, receives glory, and his family puts the fear of God into Satan's heart.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Identity in Christ - 17b (Dearly Loved)

In the passage I referred to in the last post, the writer points out that the process we discussed (perseverance, character, hope) is powered by the Holy Spirit. He guides and enables. He encourages and motivates. He corrects and reproves.

The Father works continuously to help us live as we were meant to. He is always speaking to us. And the Spirit is his willing and ever ready partner in this. He is working deep in the core of our being to produce good in us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is one of the foremost demonstrations of the Father's total, sold-out love for us.
  • God's Perspective
The Spirit is given to reside in the hearts of human beings for a number of reasons:
    • Power and guidance for service.
    • Instruction for transformation.
    • Relationship building.
Specifically, the Spirit dwells in us to communicate God's love straight to our hearts. God's love is the primary motivation to pursue God's mission. God's love is the primary force behind our transformation. God's love is the primary thing God want people to know about him.

The world was not created for sin; therefore, the world was not created for judgment. The world was a place where God's love -- and therefore, God's glory -- ought to be on display.

God's love is displayed -- in Jesus, on the cross. God shows his love. But because of sin, people are cut off from God's love. 

Receiving Christ is important. Just as a baby being born is important. But it is only the start. God intended to communicate his love to us 24 x 7 x 365 from eternity past. And he could not until we were born. At the point of salvation, God is now in the position he wanted to be in from the beginning.

And the Spirit becomes God's channel of love to our hearts.

  • Living My Life
I mentioned an idea promoted by Mike Bickle earlier this year. When we focus our hearts on the Father, the Father focuses his heart on us. And he begins causing a flow of grace and love to our hearts, filling our hearts. with both.

Given this, prayer and meditation take on a whole new meaning. Prayer and meditation (and worship -- as a type of combination of the two) become major channels of growth, healing and transformation. And God's love becomes the catalyst of wholeness and restoration.

Monday, April 06, 2015


One passage of Scripture begins by reminding us that we can rejoice, because we have been placed into Christ, a unique and favorable position. And we can rejoice as we anticipate God revealing his glory. And we can rejoice when we encounter trouble.

We do not rejoice because we encounter trouble; we rejoice because of what God will accomplish in us and through us. We will all experience trouble of one sort or another: sickness, unemployment, bad relationships, accidents. We will all need to deal with the fall out of trouble.

People deal with trouble in all sorts of ways. They flee – avoiding anything and anyone involved. They explode – attacking anything and anyone involved. The solution given in Scripture … persevere.

“Perseverance” is a patient pursuit of goals or objectives in spite of  difficulty, obstacles or discouragement. It is important in life to put first things first. It sounds sort of unspiritual, but people need to know their priorities. Priorities are not unspiritual. The first priority is “put God first.” The Bible uses other language to express this, but the message comes down to this. Fleeing or exploding puts something else first.

We know from other parts of Scripture that perseverance is part of God’s nature. When we patiently persist in the face of a negative force or environment, we are expressing God’s nature. We are living out our original design. Perseverance is more than keeping one’s priorities. It is also demonstrating God’s nature.

Maintaining our priorities (putting God first) can have a number of practical results. There can be a temptation to avoid practices that are intended to build our relationship with the Father: worship, prayer, reading and meditating on Scripture, gathering with members of the family. There can be a temptation to postpone pursuing assignments that complete God’s mission.

If a person continues to pursue their relationship with the Father, to pursue God’s mission and the place in the mission in the face of trouble, they take steps in building habits and practices that flow from how the Father designed people. The word that is used to describe these habits and practices is “character.”

Character, especially in the face of trouble, demonstrates God’s character and God’s reality. It gives us confidence in God’s words – it works the way it says it does. So, we have a positive expectation of the future – God will continue to do and to work as he said he will. So, we will never be disappointed in him, or in our life with him.