Saturday, September 26, 2015

All Things Work For Good

The Bible says that all things work for good. All things means all things. The good, the bad and the ugly.

The Bible also says that the best thing is a relationship with the Father. As we have discussed before, as the physical body needs many different nutrients for optimal health, the human spirit needs many different nutrients (love, beauty, purpose, meaning, etc.) for the same reason. The main nutrient is a relationship with the Father. So, God works all things for good, but with a special filter and priority toward growth in relationship with the Father.

Suppose someone chooses to indulge in an addictive behavior, and God chooses to discuss it with him. Some people would think that God would say: "You are being really bad. You better stop doing this, or I will cut you off." Others would think: "You are being bad. You dishonor me. This does damage to my name."

But what if God is saying: "You are holding pain in your heart. You are trying to comfort yourself with this behavior. It will never bring you comfort. You must learn to turn to me."

Or what if someone loses their job. Many people would be sad, worried or afraid. God is concerned about the way people live. His primary message may be: "You should be more faithful to your employer by being more punctual or respectful. You should be more diligent in completing your work assignments."

But maybe his main message is: "You have bound your identity to your job. It is a temporary thing. Just as I provide for the birds, I can easily provide you a better job. But you cannot get a better relationship than mine. Let you identity be bound to me, and your heart to me."

Maybe in each circumstance, there is an invitation to greater relationship and greater obedience.

UPDATE: God speaks to each situation to bring good. Since, his priority is relationship -- his relationship with you -- he leans toward speaking about relationship. He may share a way that helps you improve the relationship. He may simply remind you of your identity in Christ, or one of its facets. It is through this identity and its facets that he views you and deals with you. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Identity in Christ - 39 (Member of Chosen Race)

The Bible initially refers to Israel as God’s chosen people. God chose Abraham, a man faithful to him, to build a nation from. This chosen nation would demonstrate to the world what it means to live in relationship with God, how to live as God’s people, how God intends his people to bless the world, and as a catalyst from restoration of God’s kingdom and man’s original design.
Israel mostly showed the world how not to be God’s people. The broke God’s law, and chose to follow other gods. They certainly did not act like a redemptive catalyst.
So, God changed plans. Instead of using a nation, he shifted to an international family. Israel is still his chosen people, but they have been put on the back burner, until completes his plan with this family. 
  • God’s Perspective
God’s plan is to re-establish his kingdom. He chooses to work through a group of people to demonstrate his character, his grace and the rightness of living in relationship with him. His family demonstrates the validity of his plan by voluntarily giving their allegiance to him, undergoing a process of restoration and demonstrating his character – however, imperfectly – in their lives. (“If God’s people are like this, man! Imagine what God must be like!”)
God chooses his people, places his resources and his reputation behind them.
God intends that his plans will be fulfilled by his people in the same way Israel was supposed to fulfill his plans. They will show:
  1. How to live in relationship with God.
  2. How to live as God’s people.
  3. How to bless the world.
  4. How to jump-start the establishment of God’s kingdom.
  • Living My Life 
The quick answer, of course, is to practice things that complete the above list. But there are other questions to consider.
There is a question of relevance. Those who are not in God’s family will ask, if I follow this teaching will my life be better? Are these people weird, or are they like me? (Do they have fun? Do they have regular jobs? Do they watch football?) And do people follow Jesus in a way that makes him fit into life, but does not make him distinct in a positive way? Relevance should mean, normal, so anyone can belong, and distinct, to demonstrate it is better.
There is a question of transformation. Does following Jesus make a difference in people’s lives and families? Is the community and culture positively affected? Does the family of Jesus point out the ills and evils of the world, without drawing lines of exclusion and rejection? Transformation should mean the ability to highlight wrong, but working to correct and improve, and attract and welcome.
All the ill’s and evils that are present in today’s world, were present in Jesus’ day. Jesus and his disciples stood out, stood against evil, stood for good, and stood together, and did it in a way that compelled people to give God’s family their admiration, and god their allegiance.
The world should view God’s people, not as a drag and a pain, but as a blessing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Identity in Christ - 38 (Member of Christ)

We are going to reflect on another metaphor of God’s people. This one is pretty familiar. God’s people are like a human body. And each person is a member, or a part, of that body. There are several factors that get highlighted with this.
  1. It is the Holy spirit who adds people to the body.
  2. All parts of the body have a function. That function facilitates growth, reproduction and health in the body.
  3. It is the Holy spirit who gives and empowers that function.
  4. All parts are needed and valuable.
  5. All parts need the other parts.
  6. All parts contribute to completing God’s mission.
  • God’s Perspective
There is one view of the church as almost a functioning machine. There are numerous parts, and if each part does its job, the machine works. It does its job. The Holy Spirit acts like a supernatural repair man. If the machine does not function optimally, he troubleshoots the machine, repairs it – or replaces the part – and gets it running again.
Yet, people are not cogs in a machine. If they were, the church would not get off track, church leaders would not sin, there would only be one model – the right model – of church, and the mission of disciples being raised in every people group would have been finished long ago.
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced this machine view of the church is not God’s view. It is probably man’ view … or some men’s view. Men certainly have placed an image more in keeping with a corporation on the church.
God has a more organic view. The body does need to function. It does need to do its job. But it is God who places each part, and is eternally present with each one. He speaks to each part continually, guiding each one, teaching each one, encouraging each one. Each part grows, is strengthened, and serves or ministers. (In the original language, the word is translated both “serve” and “minister.”)
Some parts have functions that move more toward “member care,” maintenance or internal growth. Others have functions that move more toward reproduction. All parts are charged with keeping the commands of Jesus, which move toward both internal growth and reproduction. (Jesus’ commands: repent and believe, be baptized, worship, pray, love/serve, give, and make disciples.)
As the body grows and reproduces, naturally produced by-products are: personal transformation, cultural transformation and a viral infiltration of God’s family into lives, families, cities and people groups.
  • Living My Life
The important thing for an individual to recognize is – he is part of something bigger than himself. He is part of a family, a movement, that seeks to re-establish God’s kingdom. It is a revolutionary movement. It is a counter-cultural movement. And it needs every man and woman on deck and active.
The individual needs to also remember that they are not a cog in a machine. They are a vital member, a vital part, of the body. And the enemy wants to convince people otherwise.
  1. “You are only expected to attend meetings and watch.”
  2. "You don’t have the right training.”
  3. “You are not a professional.”
  4. “You are a sinner.”
  5. “You are a failure.”
  6. “You have nothing to contribute.”
And God is saying precisely the opposite. Indeed, a body may function without each part expressing who God designed them to be. But it will not function optimally. It will give the world a cartoon image of God’s family.
The body will not love correctly. It will not serve correctly. It will not pray correctly. It will not worship correctly. It will not be an agent of transformation correctly.
I cannot say what vital part any one member of God’s family plays. Each one must go to the Father. Or maybe go to someone who knows them and the Father. But the Father wants each one to know and to fill their part. It completes God’s mission. It fulfills their design. It gives each person joy.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Identity in Christ - 37 (Living Stones)

We have been using a metaphor -- those who follow Jesus are God's family -- to describe God's people. The people who wrote the Bible  used a number of metaphors to describe God's people.

Scripture says God is building a temple. A temple is important,  because it is where people go to meet God,  to learn about God,  to get their lives in line with what God wants,  and to learn how to live in a way that pleases him.

This new temple is very different from the old temple.  They are both built with stones. But the stones in the old temple are dead.  The stones in the new temple are alive. They are "Living Stones."

Scripture says that Jesus is the cornerstone of God's new temple. A cornerstone is a very important part of a building.  First, it sets the location of the building. Second, it gives the building its orientation.  The cornerstone is. Is it on a mountain?  In a valley? On the shore? Just off an expressway? What does it face? The ocean? Woods with a river? A strip mall? A dump? A polluted river?

The cornerstone affects the function, the atmosphere and the esthetics of a building tremendously.

Then, the other stones are put into position. Each stone is placed, so it is in the correct relationship with the cornerstone,  and in correct relationship with one another.  If the other stones are not in correct relationship, the structure is weakened,  the purpose of the building is hindered,  and there is a danger of collapse, and people getting hurt.

But the stones used to construct this building are living! What characterizes life? It grows. It matures.  It reproduces.

● God's Perspective

Family is not an adequate metaphor for God's church -- to stand by itself. It does express the concepts of love, mutual support and service, unity and commitment that God wants to express.

With this temple metaphor, God is painting a different picture.  The temple is constructed out of his people. So, his people have the same purpose a temple does.

Does someone want to meet God? Does someone want to learn about God? Does someone want to step into a relationship with God? Does someone want to conduct their life in a way that pleases God? Find God's people.  Be with them.

God has made his people to represent him, to model him, to explain him, and to mediate for him. His people are designed to be a "place" where people can find God.

God's people form a living temple. This temple should grow and mature.  This temple should reproduce. This temple should make a positive impact on the community it is in. The community should be safer, more healthy, and more beautiful.

● Living My Life

The temple of God is a living temple.  So, it is not the brick and mortar edifice that people see dot the landscape. It is the people. A lot of people meet in these edfices. But there does not need to be an edifice. There needs to be a people.

The people do not represent God singly, by themselves. Although, each person must do his/her part, it is the whole people that represent God. One, the stones are different. They are alive. So  their experiences are different. The lessons they learn from God and about God are different.  The way they each one represents God is different. So, each one's functions are needed. Each one fills a different niche in the "building."

Two, they are the "temple." They represent God together. The relationships between the stones are important.  The relationships communicate God's nature to the world. Jesus told his disciples that love and unity demonstrate the truth about him to the world. If the "temple" does not show love, if the "temple" does not show unity, it does not represent God as he intends, it does not live as he designed, and it does not honor God.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Identity in Christ - 36 (Light of the World)

Jesus told his disciples that the “are the light of the world.” Present tense. Not “were.” Not “will be.” They had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They were at the beginning of their training. But Jesus wanted them to get it in their heads. “You are light.”
Light is mentioned two ways in the passage: far-away and up-close. Light is necessary in both ways. Light far-away is needed for correct direction. Like a light house. Based on the position of the light, a ship knows where to go and where to avoid. Light up-close is needed, so a person does not stumble over the what is right in front of them.
The disciples were light in both ways. It’s one thing to know I have to travel 37½° West, but if I can’t see the furniture, I might not even get started. And if I can see all the furniture, it makes no sense to even start, if I don’t know where to go.
By giving their allegiance to Jesus, they become lighthouse to lost people. By their life conduct (motives, values, words, actions, and how relationships are conducted) they demonstrate how to walk in relationship to the lighthouse.
  • God’s Perspective
We have said it before: God’s plan is to re-claim a family for himself, and to restore the members of that family to live according to how he originally designed them. He will use that family to act as a beacon, giving people a direction to pursue. It is their life decisions and the lifestyles as a result of those decisions, that act as light. His children give both a direction and a model to follow.
God has chosen to act through his family. Every one of his children do reveal him to the world. And all of his children together do reveal him to the world.
That doesn’t mean that God’s family carries out the plan perfectly. We can see the fruit when God’s people do carry out his plan correctly, and when they don’t. We can recognize different times in history, God is working to correct how his family is working. The reformation is one. Awakenings, Revivals and Renewals (and there are many of these) are other corrections. The rediscovery of essential truths (spiritual gifts, the priesthood of all believers, the Father’s heart, house churches, and becoming Missional) are also course corrections. I don’t believe that God is giving form corrections. (For example, his children do not all necessarily have to join house churches.) But these are indications of corrections of motive, attitude and focus.
For example, whole movements of Christians have relegated roles and functions that all followers of Jesus should pursue to professionals. Whole movements of Christians have restricted God’s influence and activity to meetings and special buildings when it should invade homes, neighborhoods, work places, restaurants, coffee shops and universities.
There is a view that if someone could build a church organization to have several thousand members, that this organizations impact on a community is somehow orders of magnitude greater. Especially if they can get on TV. It does seem that larger churches can marshal more resources, and direct these resources to areas of need. However, often those resources get used internally. And the main focus should be heart influence, and cultural\spiritual transformation. Can one church of 10,000 impact a community more than 100 churches of 100 people? Maybe it is how the members of these churches are given training, encouragement and freedom to act? Remember god’s family is a family of priests. And, as priests, we are all responsible to represent God to all peoples.
And God is confident in us. If we are serious with our responsibilities, and practice them, we will act as light.
  • Living My Life
The “brightness” of our light is proportional to our relationship with the Father, and how genuinely we live according to his standard and patterns. Often people make the pattern more complicated that Jesus intended it. Jesus gave us seven areas to pursue:

            1. Repent and believe in him. (Or as I have expressed it … give him our allegiance.)
            2. Be baptized.
            3. Worship\Communion.
            4. Pray.
            5. Love\Serve.
            6. Give.
            7. Make disciples.

The first two are one-time decisions. The last five are on-going practices. Each area can be a zone of almost infinite ways of practice. Each area can represent God in the world. Each area is a means to give light. And God is confident that each of his children can practice these areas effectively, and reveal him effectively. Therefore, each child gives light.