Monday, August 24, 2015

Identity in Christ - 35 (Kingdom)

The passage for this trait say that we used to live in the enemy’s kingdom. When we gave our allegiance to Jesus, God moved us, and we now live in his kingdom.
A basic definition of a kingdom is a country ruled by a king. Since, kings are autocratic by definition, they stamp their domains with the character and values. So, each kingdom has its own flavor.
This is certainly true of the kingdoms of God and of Satan. Satan’s kingdom is ruled by lust, greed, quarrels, dissention, disunity, jealousy and a host of other evils. God’s kingdom is ruled by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and discipline.
People are ruled by the traits of the kingdom the belong to. People display the traits of the kingdom the belong to. Obviously, this does not happen perfectly. We have discussed the fact that, although, the power of sin is broken in our lives, the presence of sin will not be removed until we gather before God’s throne, join his heavenly kingdom and receive our final glorification.
So, we will never be perfect in this life. We will always be in the process, in this life, of transforming into the image of Christ. (Or the restoration of our original image and design, which is Christ.)
But now, we live in a different kingdom. We are submitted to a different set of laws, a different ruler and a different life.
  • God’s Perspective
If the country you live in was invaded, and conquered by a foreign power, there would be changes.
First, if this was during an on-going war, the conquering army would begin to commandeer resources from the conquered county for use in the war effort.
Second, the conquering army would impose restrictions on the people of the conquered country. These are meant to hinder and attempt to resist the conquerors … like curfews and forbidding assemblies. For example, when Germany conquered France in World War II, restrictions were placed on movement and assemblies to frustrate the formation of resistance. And rationing was imposed so that food, gasoline and raw materials could be channeled to the German army.
There might also be an attempt to force a cultural identity onto the conquered people. For example, when the communists took over China, the attempted to force atheism – a communist tenet – onto the country. They destroyed churches. They imprisoned leaders. They enacted rules to curtail, if not stop, religious expression. (Stringent restrictions on where and when meetings could be held, what could happen, and who could be involved.)
The conquerors would try to smother the conquered with its life values; motivations and priorities.
The kingdom of God is at war with the kingdom of the devil. All of his children are living in a state of war. All of his children are enlisted in the army. But God’s strategy and tactics are different.
God created language and culture. So, he is not trying to destroy it; he is trying to restore it and give it life. God created people. So, he is not trying to destroy them. He is trying to give them life and abundance.
God created a guerilla army. They infiltrated the kingdom of the enemy and inserted the seeds of God’s Spirit, the gospel, love and grace into the fabric of the enemy’s culture, society and world system.
God conquerors, not by destroying, but by persuading, changing allegiances and establishing relationships.
  • Living My Life
If we have given our allegiance to Jesus, we become part of his family and move into his kingdom. This impacts our life and living in a couple of ways.
1. We are not under the authority of the enemy’s kingdom.
We do not have the enemy as our king. We do not have to obey his rules or laws. We do not have to live his lifestyle.
God expects us to overcome and live beyond the devil’s intentions. God does not expect immediate perfection; he does expect growth. Growth and perfection are assured because he has replaced our DNA with the of his Spirit.
Growth has its own rules. It follows agreement with our hearts and minds. If flows from the inside out. It affects the totality of life … thoughts, words, actions, motivations, relationships, society, culture.
2. We are soldiers in God’s army, having a spiritual impact and a transforming impact in the world.
When you give your allegiance to Jesus, you become a member of his family and a citizen of his kingdom. You also enlist in his army.
We are each responsible to expand his kingdom, influence people to give their allegiance to Jesus, and create bridges, so God’s love and message flow freely to all peoples. Which include people groups on the other side of the world – the middle east, the far east – and people of different race, gender, ethnicity and culture near at hand.
We can’t accomplish this alone, which is why God put us in a family-army. And we may not be involved in every facet. But we all have our sphere of responsibility.
There are practices we should all be engaged in that promote God’s kingdom.
We should all pray. This is not just petition for provision, or thankfulness, or worship. This should be kingdom creating, restoring, expanding prayer. We should pray that:
      - Our brothers and sisters assume their responsibilities in the kingdom.
      - God’s presence would be injected into all the spheres of life.
      - The enemy’s web of lies and deceit would be dissolved in all spheres of life.
There are spheres that many of us do not have access to. (Government, Hollywood, Bollywood, royalty, communities in other countries, communities in our country that we do not have access to. Possibly even in our town, for which we have to bridge.) There are spheres we do have access to. (Family, work, neighbors, associations and clubs.) Our prayers of God’s kingdom, and Spirit penetration, should touch, impact, influence and transform all these areas.
We should all express kingdom-character. This means we should live out a lifestyle that demonstrates kingdom values, motivations and priorities. This includes moral standards, relational practices and activities of our spiritual family.
This also includes the main trait of the kingdom: love. Which means a willingness and a practice of service, which benefits God’s family, and also benefits those not in God’s family. Therefore, it benefits those in the enemy’s kingdom. God shows his love to all people … even those who are against him.
In all things, there should be a distinction between God’s family and the world. And the distinction should be positive. Many in God’s family draw the distinction by highlighting the evils in the world. But the world agrees with and embraces those evils. So, God’s people are perceived negatively by the world. We, as God’s people, should not cease to speak against the world’s evils. But, neither should it overwhelm the love, God’s people should be characterized by. If all the world sees are what God’s people are opposed to, then the world does not see the true God, the true relationship that he seeks, and the true life he gives. The see a distorted caricature of these things.
We should all express Jesus’ message. People’s minds and hearts unite together. So, we need to touch both when trying to influence people to give their allegiance to Jesus. They need to understand the basis, the nature and the results of this decision. The prayer, the lifestyle and the message all work together to bring about this decision and the resulting changes. To omit one part short-circuits the process. To overemphasize one part short-circuits the process.
We are responsible for our participation in all parts. We should all have expression of all parts at some level. Some will cross cultural lines in other countries. Some will cross cultural lines in their country. Some will focus more on prayer. But we each must recognize our responsibility and find our niche in all phases and our parts in God’s mission.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Identity in Christ - 34 (Justified)

The Jews and the Romans were both people of the law. Law and keeping the law were central to their natures and views of life. Being "justified" is the legal handling of sin, in view of the cross.
Paul points out early in many of his writings that all people break the law. As a matter of fact, no one can keep the law. It is impossible.
God did not give us the law so we could have a right relationship with him. God gave us the law so we could realize it is impossible for a right relationship with him, on the basis of what we do.
Sin has so thoroughly corrupted our character and nature, that the law only gives us urges to break it. So, as far as the law is concerned, we are all guilty. We all deserve punishment.
So, God needed a different way to complete his plan. (The plan: to reclaim his family, to restore his kingdom, to restore his original design.) This new way had to maintain all the legalities.
  • It had to keep the law.
  • It had to punish wrong-doers. (Which is everybody.)
  • It had to do it in a way that would allow him to reclaim people, establish relationship with them, but show that he was serious about sin and rebellion.
Of course that new way was the Cross.
  • The Cross kept the law.
  • The Cross punished all sin.
  • The Cross allowed God to establish relationship with all people, because all people were "in Christ" on the Cross.
All people were "in Christ" so Jesus represented all people. All people were "in Christ" so Jesus was a substitute for all people. Everyone's sin has already been punished.
  • God's Perspective
As far as God is concerned, sin has been taken care of. He has done his part. Everyone who lives, will live, or did live, can come to him in peace, come into relationship with him, become a member of his family, and take part in his plan.
As we all know, not everyone does. Many people feel they can do the impossible, ie. keep the law. Or they develop some other theory of what is wrong with the world, and the solution, then they try to implement that.
God's heart is that everyone will come to him, and take advantage of what he has provided.
  • Living My Life
In all things, my heart should be the same as God's heart. If God's heart is that everyone should come to him, then that means two things for my life.
(Obviously, it might mean more than two things. I am only going to discuss two today.)
First, I should come to God. I should recognize that my relationship with God is broken, and that I cannot fix it. He has the answer and I should take advantage of it.
It is not quite like fire insurance. I am entering into a relationship. I am becoming part of a family. I am having a heart re-creation. New DNA. New attitudes, actions, motivations, priorities and values. Agreeing with the "fire insurance" means I agree with everything else.
Second, if God's heart is for everyone to come, then my heart should be for everyone to come. I cannot influence everyone. That's why God put us into a family. I can influence someone. And everyone in my family can influence someone. Hopefully, then we will have everyone covered. And if not, we need to go and find those who are not covered. God went a long way to benefit us. We can go a-ways too.
There are three ways we can express God's heart.
We can pray. We can pray for workers. Many in God's family do not see their obligation for those not in God's family yet. God has certainly tried to teach them. God has tried to teach us stuff too. And for some reason, we didn't get it. So, we pray for "turned on light bulbs", for willing hearts, and able minds and bodies.
And we can pray for "turned on light bulbs" in another area too. The enemy wants to keep people in the dark. He lies and deceives. He lies to the family to keep them from important things ... like this. He lies to the un-family, so they will think about anything and everything else ... but Jesus. So, we pray for light and truth. We pray that any lie will be rendered ineffective. And we pray that hearts will be focused on Jesus.
Second, people need to "see" Jesus. We certainly cannot reveal him perfectly. But we can give people an impression of Jesus. We can give, love and serve. We can have Jesus' attitudes about people. And we can show them what a relationship with Jesus should look like.
Lastly, we can explain "things" to people. Relationship with the Father leads to living a certain lifestyle. It is the relationship that generates the lifestyle. Many people will try to emulate the lifestyle, thinking that is following Jesus. But the heart is not changed. The person is not really following Jesus, but only pretending to. Soon. he'll stop pretending, say "that's not for me!" and go onto something else. And he will miss being in a relationship with the Father, because he thought he was.
Anyone, with a real relationship with the Father, knows that it is more than completing a "to-do" list. There is a heart change, giving allegiance and entrusting one's world. Some people will pick this up by "spiritual osmosis." Some people will need to have it explained to them. And it's better to be sure, and explain.
NOTE: There is a common attitude among Christians today, that the primary function of God's family is the "adoption process." In other words, the only thing God's family needs to be concerned with is getting those not in God's family to become part bof God's family.
The birth of a child is a vital part of any family. But any parent will tell you, that's only the beginning. There is feeding, cleaning, dirty diapers, scrapes and falls, education (including walking, riding a bike and throwing a baseball).
Jesus knew this too. That's why God's family is not just an adoption agency or birthing center. It is a family. It facilitates a birth, helps the children learn to walk, to read and write, to play well with others ... all the way up to and including the point where the child facilitates a birth of another child, helps the new child learn to walk, read and write, etc. etc, so one and so forth.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Identity in Christ - 33 (In Christ)

This is probably the most fundamental identity trait. If we were going through them in a logical order, instead of a quasi-alphabetic one, this should be the first. It is activated in a person’s life first, then all the others can be and will be activated.
Jesus was starting to prepare his disciples for the time when he must leave them. There are three thins he tells them as part of this preparation.
  • If we love Jesus, we obey him.
If we have entered into relationship with Jesus, given him our allegiance, entrusted him with our world, we obey his commands. Obedience means we agree with him. Obedience is congruent with our design. Obedience means we will live as God intended us to live.
If he is not there to give us direction, it will not matter. We will still have what he told us. And its essence does not change. Its practice may need to be tweaked, because of cultural or historic changes. Giving is one of Jesus’ commands. The Twelve had this command. We have this command. However, the Twelve did not have the option of using a credit card.
  • Another Helper
Of course, a guide and companion is way different than a written set of instructions. People still get lost because they don’t understand or remember the directions.
“Turn left at the big oak tree. Which oak did he mean? This one? Or that one?”
Certainly, our Father knew this. So, he made provision for this. Jesus can’t be here, with each of us, so the Father sends someone who can. He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. The spirit guides each one, teaches each one, and give 100% of his attention to each one. And his input is !00% individually tailored to meet our individual needs, passions and destiny.
  • A Radical Identification with Christ
The last thing he tells the disciples about is “Radical Identification.” After the resurrection, they understand that Jesus has a place in the God-head, they have a place in him and he has a place in then.
“He has a place in the God-head.” God is a bit more complicated than everyone thinks. Everyone imagines this all-powerful being usually in the form of a man. Well, the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
“He has a place in them.” This is another reference to “Another Helper.” As Jesus and the Holy Spirit both have places in the God-head, they have the same heart, the same focus, the same goals, priorities and values. Father, Son and Spirit are completely united in all things. To have the Spirit is just like having Jesus.
“We have a place in him.” This is the crux of being in Christ. The root of our new identity is a direct result of have a place in Christ.
  1. We are placed in Christ. Therefore, everything that happens to him, happens  to us.
  2. He was punished for sin. Our sin was punished.
  3. He died to the law. We died to the law.
  4. He was buried. He rose. We were buried and rose with him.
  5. He was seated at the Father’s right hand. We were seated.
We are place in Jesus, so he might be our substitute.
  • God’s Perspective
When god looks at us, he sees us through Jesus-colored glasses. He sees us. He sees our failures. He sees our lacks. But he sees them in light of how Jesus affected our lives.
If we have given our allegiance to Jesus, he see that Jesus’ sacrifice has:
  1. Given us right standing with the Father.
  2. Declared God’s righteous judgment against our sin as satisfied.
  3. Brought us into his family.
  4. De-fanged the law in our case.
  5. Put us on the path of restoration.
  6. Allowed the Spirit to reside in our hearts.
  7. Changed our spiritual DNA so that all these identities are ours.

And because the Father sees us this way, he treats us this way. He does not think of us in terms of punishing our sins. They have already been punished. They have been nailed to the cross … past, present and future.
As I have pointed out before, he is very seriously concerned with how we live. He is looking to restore the image of Christ in us. He intends to restore us to live out our original design. God’s aim is not punishing sin in his children, but reclaiming his family and restoring his children.
This does not mean that God will ignore sin. It means his heart focus is on this restoration project.
Being in Christ means being immersed in the environment God has created for this restoration. It means being a recipient of God’s attention. It means being a willing participant of God’s plan and process, because we chose to follow God and his ways.
  • Living Our Lives
If God sees me with Christ-colored glasses, I need to see myself with Christ-colored glasses. If God treats me as though all these identities are true, then I need to treat me as though all these identities are true.

If I have given my allegiance to Jesus, if I have entrusted my world to Jesus, God puts me into Christ. All these identities come true for me, when I am in Christ.
First, if I don't see these as my identities, I am calling something false, that God says is true.
Second, I am not going to live the way God wants me to live.
Most basic to living as God has designed us to live is the acceptance of certain "facts:"
  1. There is a God.
  2. This God has a particular character, which gives him particular goals, motivations, values and priorities.
  3. God created and designed people. Meaning he has particular motivations, attitudes and actions for them, that result in optimal living.
  4. People sinned. Sin broke the system God created.
  5. God has a plan to restore the system and the relationships that sin broke.
  6. God put his plan into action
And that's where we are today ... in the middle of God's plan.
Many people in God's family have a hard time believing what God says is true, because of experiences they have had, or things they have been taught.
For example, our concept of what fatherhood means is caught. We had experiences with our fathers. So, the way our father interacted with us, and treated us, is the way all fathers are. Including our heavenly Father.
If our father is aloof and uncommunicative, then God is aloof and uncommunicative. If our father is critical, demeaning and abusive, the God is critical, demeaning and abusive. No matter how often the church tells us "God is love," the image that we caught of our father growing up, is always super-imposed over the image of our heavenly Father. Or we see the Father through father-colored glasses.
Fortunately for us, this too is part of God's restoration project. God does want honesty, and wants us to see our fathers truly. But he also wants us to see and know our Father truly, and to distinguish our Father from our father. They are different people. The see us differently and treat us differently.
And there seems to be a correlation in Scripture between seeing  and being. We cannot live the way God wants us to live, unless we see what that is. Unless we see that it is possible. We cannot love, unless we see what love is. (For many people, love = sex. And that is far from the truth.) We cannot focus our hearts on the Father, unless we see who he truly is. We cannot become who God wants, and who he designed us to be, unless we see who that is. We cannot be who God designed us to be, if we are unsure in our relationship and our identity with the Father. Our hearts will be given to trying to satisfy God with who we were, when he is already satisfied. We will have no time or energy to enjoy, grow in or express the relationship we have with him.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Identity in Christ - 32 (Interceded for)

Scripture says that God is for us. This means that we already have victory, because no one is able to stand against us. God's gift to us was the life, the death, and the life again of Jesus. God's giving was so complete, that anything else, everything else, that we need is a minor thing.
No one can accuse us.
  • God gave us right standing with him. (Past tense)

No one can condemn us.
  • Christ died for us. (Past tense)
  • Christ rose for us. (Past tense)
  • Christ intercedes for us. (Present tense)
He dealt with our sin, so he might establish a secure relationship. All sin -- past present and future -- is dealt with in this process. If everything you have done, everything you are doing, and everything you will do is covered by this action, logically, there is now nothing you can do that will break your relationship with God.
  • The bad thing you did 20 year ago -- covered.
  • The bad thoughts you are having now -- covered.
  • The bad thing you will do 20 years from now -- covered.
Let's remember. The Father is very concerned about how we live. His goal is to reclaim a family for himself, that lives and is being restored to their original design. Our conduct and lifestyles affects that goal. It does not appear to affect our current relationship.
And the relationship is very important to the Father too. And to Jesus. Jesus stands before the throne, at the Father's right hand, and pleads with the Father to act on our behalf.
That's what "interceded" means. To approach with a petition. And what petition is Jesus presenting to the Father?
  • Resources -- "Father, please pour out on John the grace he needs to stand in this area."
  • Assistance -- "Father, please communicate your love and support to John, give him strength to stand."
  • Defense -- "Father, I know John sinned here. But this sin is covered by my blood on the cross. We have promised to forgive all such sin."
(Since, the Father has promised to wipe out and not remember our sins, his usual response to Jesus' defense is "huh?")
  • God's Perspective
Do you realize that Jesus is a nag on our behalf. ("John. John. John. John.") And that doesn't count all the Paul's, the Mary's, the Bob's, the Rob's and everybody else.
God's goal is reclaiming a family for himself, and restoring them to their original design. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are focused, intent and driven toward these goals.
Everyone who gives allegiance to Jesus, becomes his child. Everyone who becomes his child gets put into his family. Everyone in his family gets included into his goal, and his resolve for restoration.
He has given his Word, his Spirit, his presence, his grace, his promise and his moment-by-moment attention to accomplish this.
  • Living My Life
i would say that considering the time, the attention and the resources poured into each of us, this is really important to God. Which means each of us really important to God.
  1. He died on the cross to redeem us.
  2. He focuses time, attention and resources to restore us.
  3. He speaks to us continually to encourage, to instruct and to enable us.
This speaks to God's commitment on our behalf. This speaks to God's heart focus on us.
If God is this sold-out on me, it should motivate me to persevere. We all fail. We will all continue to fail. But God will not give up on us. The enemy's foremost heart's desire is that we give up.
God's heart is that we learn, grow and partner with him in demonstrating to the world what it means to live as his child and in his family. Which means reflecting his character. Which means acting like he acts.
Interceding on behalf of others. Not giving up on anyone. Not letting failure stop us. Speaking to encourage, to instruct and to enable. Imparting to others the same identity he has given to us. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

God's Invitation

I am reading a book where the author is trying to give guidance for people to find their destiny in God. A very complex subject as you can imagine. There is a destiny for each person living, had lived or will live.
Such books usually consider what the Bible terms “a call.” A call is God’s invitation. We are called to relationship with him. We are called to follow him. We are called to a destiny in him – a purpose for our lives and existence. Because he is eternally present, immanent, with each of us, he is able to craft a personal destiny for each of us. He is able to offer a personal destiny for each of us.
The Bible describes some calls for some people. These are often dramatic, like Moses and the burning bush, or Paul on the road to Damascus. The author wrote that these types of calls had ceased. And I wish to take issue with this a bit.
He offered no reasons, no scripture. So, how can he make this type of unequivocal assumption? I will admit that a dramatic call like this is very unusual. Rare even. There were around 2 million Israelites at the time of Moses. God certainly gave in invitation to walk with him, to carry out their roles in his mission and purpose, to each Israelite. However, only Moses got this type of call.
Why would God give such a dramatic invitation? In the case of both Paul and Moses, their hearts were strongly focused in a direction away from their destiny. To get them moving in the correct direction would require a radical change of heart. Their roles in God’s mission was also strategic. So, God communicated in a radical way to elicit a radical response. 
God’s preference is to speak softly. Sometimes, in order to be heard, he needs to change methods. There is a story about a pastor (Presbyterian, a group not known to promote supernatural experience) who heard God speak to him in an audible voice. God was giving him instructions to take a certain course of action, that he had decided not to take.
 God is able to make himself heard. He is looking for available, alert people, who have soft hearts, and are open and ready to change, if necessary. Especially when it involves his invitation to walk with him, and the path, the work and the effect it entails.


Identity in Christ - 31 (Hidden in Christ)

We have come to believe that what Jesus told us. We have chosen to follow him, to give him our allegiance. As such, we have taken on a brand new set of goals, passions, values and priorities.
We need to embrace these new things, because we are now separated from the old things. And we are hidden in Christ. God has taken us from the old, and inserted us in the new.
“Hidden” in the original language means “hidden by covering.” People can’t see something, because something is thrown over the top of it … like a blanket, or a box. In this case, the “blanket” is Jesus.
  • God’s Perspective
Hidden means to be put out of sight. Often, the connotation involves putting something in a safe place. Often, the connotation involves putting something valuable in a secure place.
Being hidden by God does not demonstrate our value to him. God demonstrates our value by the large price he paid to ransom us.
(NOTE: It is not a price he was willing to pay. Jesus died on the cross. God has already paid the price. People may not have taken advantage of God’s provision. Still, the price has been paid, and it is available for to go and collect it.)
But being hidden does show God’s concern with protecting his investment. Jesus was the ultimate “Undercover Boss.” “Undercover Boss” is a TV program. The CEO of a company becomes a worker in various parts of the company, in disguise, to find out what working for the company is really like. (With a camera following him around. Takes some clever storytelling to get the other employees to ignore the camera. Just part of a normal day.) Usually, this unannounced inspection results in changes to the company that make life better for everyone in the company.
Jesus already knew what life was like. Still, he came. He modelled what a human being should like, if that human being lived as designed. And he provided a solution for our problem of sin. He did make life better.
And he positioned us for maximum protection. When God looks at us, he does not see our failures or deficiencies. He sees Jesus, and our position, our identity, in him.
God does see the areas of lack in our lives, in order to fill them. His goal is the restoration of his image in us. What I have been calling our original design. His goal is not the punishment of our imperfections. Jesus already dealt with our imperfections. Jesus dealt with our failures. The Spirit resides in our hearts, we are hidden in Christ, to insure that the price only needs to be paid once.
  • Living My Life
Some people think that this type of security gives people a free pass. We give out allegiance to Jesus, he gives us his justification, and we can do anything we like.
Scripture says when we give our allegiance to Jesus, we died to this life. That’s why the writer urges us to embrace the new life. The old one is gone.
I think one reason God gives us this type of assurance, he wants us to move away from ourselves, and focus our hearts outward. We are called to focus our hearts towards God, in worship and prayer. We are called to focus our hearts toward god’s Word, in reading, study, meditation and obedience. We are called to focus our hearts toward other people, in love, service and proclamation of the gospel.
If our hearts are focused on fulfilling our personal desires, or focused on our standing with God, we have not released ourselves to live out our design, in which love, joy and peace play a large part. I am not saying we need to avoid all self-focus. Some is healthy. Too much is not. And Scripture gives instruction in a correct balance. And recognizing our position in Christ – hidden and secure -- leads toward that balance.