Saturday, May 30, 2015

Identity in Christ - 24 (Friend of Christ)

Jesus said that even though we are "enslaved" to Christ, we are not slaves. As we mentioned before, everyone gives their heart to someone or something. And we serve whatever we give our hearts to.

We are not treated like slaves. Slaves would never know the heart and intentions of their master, but the Father has revealed his heart to us. He has asked us to call him Father. Slaves would be told what to do. The Father has invited us to be partners in his mission. True friends will be concerned with one another's hearts.
Of course, there are times we do not act like friends. We do not seek our friend's good. We are selfish. We do things that hurt and displease, sometimes purposefully. True friends will make it right and get right. Friendship is too valuable to waste.

  • God's Perspective
God says we demonstrate our friendship when we do what he says. This is not some complaining attitude on God's part. This is not a thundering pronouncement of doom and gloom.

God is holy. Everything he does and says is expressed from the foundation of his holiness.

God is love. Everything he does and says is expressed from the foundation of his love.

People want to separate. They love to empathize one over the other. But, God is both. He is motivated by both. He acts on the basis of both at the same time.

God created the world to demonstrate his nature. God created people to expand his family, and have relationship (friendship) with them.

(1) God designed people to live a certain way. Authentic living comes when people live as close as possible to God's design. So, God is motivated to convince as many as possible to live as he designed. So, he communicates that way, drawing our hearts back to him, motivating us to extend allegiance to him, and pointing our hearts to his lifestyle.

Doing what God says gets people more in line with their design. Doing what God says moves people to authentic, abundant living.

When God urges people to obey him, he is urging them to live in ways that more health and happiness.

(2) God is immutable. That means his character does not change. His actions may change. His strategy in solving problems occasionally change. But his motives and his values do not change. His ultimate goal does not change.

God seeks to create a family to share his love with. But God cannot live with sin. So, God acted -- and continues to act -- to remove the barrier of sin. As it is removed, God can establish relationships with people. And as its presence is removed, God can move deeper into these relationships.

(Or perhaps God is already "all in" with his relationships with people. And the presence of sin prevents people from moving closer, or blocks them from experiencing their relationship with God more.)
  • Living My Life
If the Father is "all in" with me, it creates an urge, a motivation in me to go "all in" with him. I wonder if what I do currently is sufficient to being a good friend. Usually, I conclude that it is not.

Of course, the set-new-rules, try-harder, failure cycle does nothing to resolve the issue. This cycle only brings self-induced guilt. God doesn't want more guilt. He wants you. He wants us. He wants his children, his family, to be around them. He does want them living in agreement with his word, because there will be no barriers between him and his children. Moreover, his children will be living according to their design.

I read an article recently, concerning an interview with psychologist Julie Gottman. Dr. Gottman was studying what leads to long lasting, healthy relationships. What is the difference between married couples, who get divorced, and those who remained happily married for 30 years. I don't plan to get into an in-depth analysis at this time. But I will mention that Dr. Gottman did some research and concluded that there are two responses that build long-term, happy relationships:
  1. Responding positively to any attempt to connect by the other person.
  2. Being alert for "things" in the other person's life to appreciate and be thankful for.
Practicing these things lead a positive cycle being established in the couples relationship. But what about the God-man relationship?
  1. God is always seeking to connect with us. What if I was more alert to God's voice, and more inclined and really listen?
  2. What if, instead of being distracted by my failures, I concentrated on being thankful for what God has done in and through my life? What if, instead of being consumed by what is not, I am thankful for what is? And look more for the good that is helping between me and God?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Identity in Christ - 23 (Elect)

The term, “elect,” has gotten difficult to understand. Largely, this is due to its association with the theology of John Calvin. Most of the people who use the term are followers of John Calvin.
First, I am not a follower of John Calvin. I probably would not use the term as he did. To be 100% honest, I am not sure I even understand what he meant by it. Second, the Bible does use the term. In the original language, it means “chosen”.
Jesus told a story to illustrate what his kingdom was like. There was a king, who was hosting a big party. He planned and prepared for a long time. He worked on the guest list, the decorations and the menu. He consulted with the chef. He assigned and delegated. He sent the invitations. Finally, when everything was ready, he sent another message to everyone on the guest list. And nobody came. So, he sent waves of servants to those he invited. And they either ignored the servants or, in some cases, abused them.
So, the king told his servants to go out and invite everybody else. And they came. But some people did not dress appropriately. So, when the king saw one of those, he had them ejected from the party.
Jesus ended the story with this punchline: “Everybody is invited. Not everybody is chosen.”
I am always a little leery of convoluted explanations of Jesus’ stories. Most of his stories were parables, that is, stories with a punchline, or only one point to them. But he did tell some allegories. That is, stories where the characters were symbolic of something else. And I do think this one is allegorical.
It is pretty easy to see God as the king, those on the quest list as Israel, and everybody else as “everybody else.” The party becomes the kingdom of God.
So, God chose Israel to become part of his kingdom. He sent his servants to invite them, but they did not come. They chose not to follow, or give their allegiance to God. So, he invited everybody else. And there was a huge response. Some people wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, but they did not do so in an appropriate manner. Since, I referred to following God above, the initial conclusion would be “not appropriate” means “not wanting to follow.”
  • God’s Perspective
God invited Israel into his kingdom, to represent him to the world. For some reason, they consistently chose not to follow him. (To be sure, some individuals did. En masse, as a nation, they did not.)
So, God invited a different group of people (everybody else) to be his kingdom and his representatives. Anyone who responded to his invitation and chose to keep his ways, he let them come into and stay at  the  “party”. God’s chosen (God’s elect) are people, who come to God, give him their allegiance, set their hearts on him and in obedience to his ways.
At least, according to this story. I can say I know how this all plays out in relationship to God's omniscience. But, in relationship to this story, God's chosen are those who choose God.
God's love is given to everyone. God's heart is focused on everyone. But not everyone is a member of his family. That's not God's choice. That's the person's choice. God nudges, pokes, whispers to everyone. Hopefully, he gets someone's attention and that person chooses to start a relationship with the Father, give allegiance to him and join his family.
It was with this intention that God created the world. There should have never been any separation between God and people. And God, on his part, seeks to redeem and reclaim his family.

I have made the point before that God is sold out for his children. He paid an immense price for them. The death of Jesus reveals that the Father will go to tremendous lengths for his children. He went that far, will he withhold necessary provision? Physical or otherwise? Will he not accept and protect those he has chosen? The mark of that choice is the blood of Jesus wiping away our sin, and the Spirit in our hearts -- teaching, revealing, renewing and providing.
  • Living my Life
The extent and solidness of his choice, the all-in nature of his giving, which demonstrates his love and acceptance, ought to provide an amazing freedom and confidence to our living.

It ought to make us fearless in loving people. We ought to become totally transparent and vulnerable. We ought to act with huge faith.

Ultimately, our hearts, faith and love are not big enough. We are , at best, small seeds, germinating, exposing our faces to he sun and rain. Maybe we bear fruit. We take small baby steps of love and faith.

I don't think this worries our father. He celebrates each step, each small victory, each micron of growth. He is patient. He does not watch the failures. He focuses on where we will wind up.

He chose us. He knew exactly what he was getting. And he is not bothered by it in the least.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Identity in Christ - 22 (Expression of Christ)

Paul begins by reminding us that we are Christ’s. He purchased us with his blood. Therefore, he has a right to have expectations about how we live and behave. As a result, he urges us to focus our hearts and minds on God’s kingdom.
We have a new heart and a new life. It is the life of Christ in us, giving us new motivations, new values, and new power. It is Christ in us that should flow out of us. (Not perfectly. Remember the presence of sin.)
Now, people live inside out. What fills their hearts gets expressed. And it is Jesus who fills th4e hearts of those who give allegiance to Jesus. So, it is Jesus who they should “express”.
  • God’s Perspective
When God looks at us, he sees us in Christ. He looks at us through Jesus-colored glasses. When God looks at us, he looks at our hearts, and he sees Jesus in our hearts. No matter how God looks at us, if we have given our allegiance to Jesus, God sees Jesus. And what he expects is Jesus living in the world, in each of his children.
  • Living My Life
And we should expect Jesus (at least, more of Jesus) to be seen in our lives too. And it shouldn't be this big burden. We are naturally expressing our hearts.
The presence of sin means our hearts (and therefore our actions) malfunction much too often. People pursue "unrighteous" behavior like taking aspirin for a headache, when the real problem is brain cancer. The grit their teeth and try harder. They establish rules.
What is needed is more Jesus flowing from our hearts -- God breaking down the sin wall, allowing more of Jesus to come out.
What is it that breaks down the sin wall. God uses a number of tools. But, as far as people are concerned and can control, engaging in practices that give God permission to flow through their hearts. Things like: worship, prayer, meditation. Being with others of like-mind, even if it's just for pizza, can facilitate God-consciousness and God-connection. Living, loving and serving can deepen channels that God has already broken through., weakening the whole structure.
It is a matter of one's heart. Words and deeds ultimately get changed -- profoundly and truly changed, forever -- in the depths of the heart.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Identity in Christ - 21 (Enslaved to Christ)

In the 70's, Bob Dylan wrote a song with the lyric "you gotta serve somebody." It is a rather terse phrase that expresses a Biblical idea. Every human being gives his/her heart to something. We serve whatever we give our hearts to. It doesn't matter what kind of human being we are -- male, female, black, white, republican or democrat -- we are all slaves of something.

At one time, each of us gave of hearts to something other than Jesus. Which means we were slaves to that thing. Because life flows from the heart, and our hearts are filled by whatever we give them to, we did not live as we were designed. Such a life always leads to unrighteousness.

Then, we gave our allegiance, our hearts, to Jesus. Christ filled our hearts, and our lives flowed with Jesus. Moreover, we set our hearts on Jesus, we leaned into Jesus, and we took steps to learn God's ways, to agree with them, and to complete them.

● God's Perspective

We have freely given our hearts to God, and he has become our master. He has delivered us from the penalty of sin, and from the power of sin.

If we were not delivered from the power of sin, we would have no hope of obeying God. Sin would hold our hearts. Obedience would be impossible. Growth would be impossible. We must still deal with the presence of sin. It is because sin is still present that we fall into its trap.

But our hearts are given to God, and he fills them with his grace and love. Therefore, our .ives will flow with grace, love and God's nature. We will speak and act in ways that honor our Master. We will avoid practices that we are ashamed of.

● Living My Life

This underscores why our relationship with the Father is so important. It is the regular connection of hearts that enables a regular flow of grace from his heart to our hearts to continue.

It is this flow which fills our hearts and empowers us to follow God. To live in ways that honor God. To live in ways that love and give grace. We become like a stream, receiving grace from God, passing it along, giving refreshment and life to those downstream.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Identity in Christ - 20 (Dead to the Law)

There are a lot of people who think that the way to please God is to keep the rules. Either they keep the Ten Commanments, or some other list of rules.

Paul points out that the Law has jurisdiction over a person's life while he is still alive. He gives the example of a marriage. When two people are married, the covenant holds. If one of the people gets involved with another person, that person breaks the Law. But if one of the couple dies, the other person is released from the Law and is free to get involved with another person. Death gives a release from the Law's requirements.

People seem to forget that those who give their allegiance to Jesus are dead. God, not only places people into his family, he places them into his body. That way, they go through what he goes through.

We have discussed here some of its parts: died with, crucified with, buried with, alive with, baptized into. There is another aspect. Jesus died, so he is released from the requirements of the Law. We are 
in Christ, so we are released from the requirements of the Law.

● God's Perspective

The power to condemn and punish sin comes from the Law. In Christ, we are released from that power, when we died with Christ. We are given to a new power: the power of the resurrection, the power of the Spirit.

The Law was not to show us how to live. The Law was to show us our need for a savior. To show us that we cannot live as God designed us to live by keeping the rules put down in the Law.

God's standard is perfection.  And the Law cannot make anything perfect.  It can only condemn.

● Living My Life

So why bother? If we can't keep the Law, if it does nothing to bring us closer to God, does it matter if we even know what the Ten Commandments are?

The Law is God's Word.  It does express his mind and heart. The Bible says love keeps the Law. So, it is instructive to know that the Law says "be content" (my paraphrase) then being content is part of loving.

Moreover, we were designed to keep the Law ... naturally. It is,  in part, an expression of how God designed us.

For those in God's family,  for those giving allegiance to Jesus, the basis, the power,  and the motivation for every day living is not the Law. It is the Spirit of God,  the nature of God injected into our hearts,  that provides these things.

People live from the overflow of their hearts. God breaks up the hardness of our hearts to let the Spirit flow from it, into our minds, hands and voices, in ever greater measure.

God may use the Law as a reference of growth, or an indicator of an area needing work. But God's children do not live trying to keep the Law . They live according to God's original plan and design,  God's nature in them, imperfectly expressed now because of sin, but increasing day by day, leaking out into their world.