Friday, November 27, 2015

Identity in Christ - 48 (Redeemed)

"Redeem" in the original language is close to "redeem" in English. To purchase or acquire the freedom or deliverance of something, or someone, using something valuable.

If I use something valuable to "purchase" something, I show how much value that thing to have. If a purchase a painting with a 1000-carat diamond, I show that I think the painting is worth a 1000-carat diamond.

If the Father redeemed us with the life of Jesus, what must the Father conclude about our worth.

Love is the strongest force in the world. One can compel obedience through fear. But one cannot change motivations, to make someone want to obey with fear. Only love can do that. So, the Father and Jesus invite us to follow him, and then demonstrate their commitment to us. Jesus surrenders his life on a cross for us. A commitment motivated by love for us.

It is God's commitment to redeem us that gives tangible evidence to how sold out he is for us. And it is that evidence that changes our hearts and motivations. It is that evidence that gives us assurance as we accept his invitation to walk with him, give him our allegiance, and take up his cause as our own.
  • God's Perspective
My initial inclination is to go back before creation, before time. Why does the Father choose to create people? Especially since he knows they will sin? Especially since he knows the enormous price he will pay?

My first answer is -- it is all somehow an expression of his love.

I can say it is love, because I can see the price he was willing to play. I can see the price he did pay.

Jesus told two short stories about the Kingdom of God. Which is to say "everything which he rules." Which is to say "God's family." (God does rule over everything, even though there does seem to be a few rebellious spots. But his rule is most obviously seen in those who willfully and voluntarily gave him their allegiance.) In one, God's Kingdom is like a man who is shopping, and he finds a gemstone of incredible value. So valuable, that he deems it a wise decision to sell all he possesses to raise enough money to buy it.

The second is similar. He finds a treasure in a field. To get the valuable treasure, he sells everything to buy the field.

I have always looked at it from the perspective that I was the man. The question is -- what is it worth to me to become part of God's family? Given that I would be giving up a temporary home and possessions to gain a permanent home, and a permanent, living relationship with the King of all, any sacrifice becomes moot in comparison.

But what if in Jesus' mind, I was not the man? What if he was the man? and we are the treasure? What if all mankind was the field, and we were the treasure in the field?

What if Jesus sold all he had to possess us? What if Jesus sold all he had, and bought everyone, knowing that only some of us would become part of his family?

There was a saying passed around several years ago. "If I were the only one who sinned, Jesus would have died for me anyway."

Maybe it should be "If I were the one who would ever give allegiance to Jesus, he would have died for the whole world anyway."

  • Living My Life
This is a trait that does not suggest a particular practice. It suggests an attitude, a motivation, and a perspective that God's family needs to adopt.

So, the question becomes -- how do members of God's family learn to have the same heart for people that Jesus does?

He chose to become a human being with all the weakness and inability that entails. He chose to live in the world with all the mess, trouble and pain that entails. And he chose to take the punishment of each person who ever lived, is livings, or will ever live, due to sin. All of this is because he loves all people, and values all people.

We are designed to live like Jesus. We are supposed to act, speak and think like Jesus. We are supposed to have his values, motivations and priorities.

However, we are not in a position to manipulate our heart. We need to keep close in our relationship with the Father. We need to focus our hearts on him, and receive all the grace and love that he gives. And we need to be open, available and expectant of positive change. Maybe, we should be bold in prayer.

Imagine honestly seeking God for changes in our heart and lives to love and value people as much as he does.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Identity in Christ - 47 (Reconciled)

Since, the first people disobeyed God, each person begins his life as God's enemy. The world is in an active state of war; and we are part of the rebel army.

It is worse, in that it is a civil war. All the people, whom God intended to be family -- his family -- are engaged in a war against him, and against each other.

The enemy actively pursues a course of terrorism. He lies. He sabotages. He tries to instill a life focused on fear and insecurity. He wants people to pursue a life absorbed in seeking love, peace and purpose away from the Creator and Father of all.

The enemy wants people to attempt to satisfy their thirst from an empty bucket. And people do. Day after day, they put an empty bucket to their lips, trying to find a drop of water. 

We have discussed here that people were designed to find life in their spirits through a number of sources, but that relationship with the Father is the main source. And in some ways, it is the catalyst that allows all the other fuels to take effect.

It is like mankind is missing a necessary nutrient, that not only adds to the overall health of the body, but is also the only source of a nutrient that facilitates full absorption of all other nutrients. We can eat a steak, and process some of the protein. But most of it lies untouched in our stomachs until it is eliminated.

The Father knows this. We live, at best, half lives. But the Father has chosen to rebuild his family. He will reclaim his children. He will rebuild their lives. He will rebuild their relationships.

But first peace must be made. A road built from the rebel camp to the Father's house, table and open arms. And people are unable to build that road. So, the Father paid the cost, and built it. It goes through the cross of Jesus.
  • God's Perspective
God's purpose is to restore his family. And the family cannot restored unless peace is restored. So, he took steps. He provided for right standing in his family for each of us. He took initiative to find each person and invite them to return home.

Reconciliation is about the process of restored peace. We have peace with God. We are his child, and in his family. we are no longer part of the enemy's army. Whatever separated us, put enmity in our relationship, is removed. God's anger at our rebellion is satisfied.

And since he controls the faucet, the source of our "water," our buckets are no longer empty. We can drink our fill.
  • Living My LIfe
God's purpose is ensuring that everyone he is given peace. He needs to tell everyone there is room at the table. There is sufficient water for everyone.

And we become the showcase  for these things. We demonstrate what "un-thirsty" lives look like. We demonstrate what life with the Father looks like. We demonstrate lives at peace.

And, as the Father gives people invitations to return, we are part of the welcoming committee. We are one of those handing out invitations. (And this is not a reference to religious tracts. Not that I am not against giving someone a souvenir -- a reminder of a positive encounter with the family of the living God.)

A large part of God's family is so caught up in the "religious life" that they do not have or opportunity to bring peace into the world. Moreover, they become offended when the enemy begins a campaign to bring down God's family, or to negate the positive effects of God's family.

Whining about the state of the world distracts people from God's relationship with the Family, from demonstration of nature, and demonstration of the superiority of what it means to be in his family. We prevent ourselves from experiencing his peace. We kick over our bucket of "water," and turn off the faucet.

I am not saying we should be glad about bad things happening. But, if our response pulls away from relationship, it facilitates the enemy's plans and not the Father's. And if our response stops us from experiencing peace, it is not a response from God. And we need to consider another way to deal with bad things.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Identity in Christ - 46 (Quickened)

“Quicken” comes from an old fashioned English word for life. I think the compiler of the list used “quicken” so he could have a trait that began with “Q.” As far as I can tell, it was derived from a German word for the “inner life.” It seems to have something to do with the English expression “being quick,” that is, “alert, prepared, smart.”

The passage says that we were dead, because of our sins. However, God gave people life when Jesus rose from the dead.

There are two understandings of life in Scripture. One is animation. The heart beats. People inhale. Cells divide. Food is eaten, digested, processed, and produces growth and energy.

The other is abundance. Living as designed. Not merely existing, but having joy, peace and purpose. Looking at the day, not in dread, but in hope and expectation.
  • God’s Perspective

God did not create people to merely exist. Scripture lists a group of characteristics that describe what a person’s life should be like, if they lived truly in partnership with God’s spirit. This is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

God intended people to naturally express these things. But people are not like that. The naturally express selfishness, gloom, worry, irritation, cruelty, without integrity, not keeping promises, hardness, and vacillation. It is a life that is pushed around by circumstances, and not by the inner reality of who they are.
  • Living My Life 

I recently had someone ask me a question about Sabbaths and Sabbath years. Why did God include it in his commands? What were they for? I include it here, because it seems to me to be an example of God’s intention to promote life in his family.

God instituted the Sabbath after Israel left Egypt. They were slaves to the Egyptians. They worked seven days a week. Israel’s heart focus dwelt on what they needed to do. They lived with the idea that their actions had the biggest impact on their quality of life. They lived with the rhythms of Egyptian life, where religious rituals placated their gods, and kept them favorably disposed to them. Israel adopted this mind set.

God instituted the Sabbath to introduce a rhythm of rest into the life of Israel. Rest is necessary for physical health. Rest is necessary for spiritual health.

The Sabbath is a regular reminder that our lives are not operated at an optimal level by what we do. We live optimal lives in relationship with the Father. We live:
- In dependence on his activity on our behalf. 
- In close connection and communication with him.
- In the realization that he is sold out for us.

“Being quickened” might be best considered as an attitude and a perspective, rather than a practice. Practices will arise. Whatever occurs in our inner being always results in some type of activity.

The Sabbath was intended to reinforce God’s design that people receive life when they rest, are dependent, in their Father. The primary way god’s family receives life is in rest, dependence, faith and relationship with the Father. We receive grace and love from him in relationship, based on our heart focus. If our heart focus is on our energy and work, we will cut ourselves off from relationship, and we will experience a loss of life, frustration, worry, powerlessness, and negativity. If it is focused on our relationship, we will live out our identity in him. We will live out his presence in us.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Identity in Christ - 45 (Priest)

A priest mediates between God and other people. He represents God top people. He represents people to God. He explains God’s nature and character. He explain what gains God’s approval. He explains how people should live.

When God chose Abraham and built the nation of Israel, he gave them the Law and chose the whole nation – every one of them – to be his priests. When the whole nation fell into disobedience, and only one tribe heeded his call for repentance and to remove the bad influences from among them, he changed the scope of his plan, and made just that tribe his priests.

After Jesus came, God chose a new set of priests. It is not the church professionals. It is not the pastors. It is not the Christian celebrities. It is everyone who gives their allegiance to Jesus.

If you have given your allegiance to Jesus, if you have chosen to follow and walk with him, you are his priest.

God went back to his original plan. All of his family are his priest.
  1. Each one mediates between God and people.
  2. Each one represents God to people.
  3. Each one represents people to God.
  4. Each one explains God’s nature and character.
  5. Each one explains how people should live.

We may not be professional Christians (Pastors, Bible college professors, missionaries – though I will have more to say about the last one when we get to our identity trait of “sent ones.”) but we are his priests. Because God has shown us his goodness, we can show others his goodness.
  • God’s Perspective

It does not take a genius to realize that the world is not how God intended it to be. It is not God’s will for a large percentage of the world to go hungry. It is not God’s will for there to be animosity, enmity and strife between people. It is God’s will for people to have relationship with him, to know his love and grace. It is God’s will for relationship with him to be the main catalyst for solving the wrongs in the world. It is God’s will for relationship with him to be the main agency of healing hearts, healing relationships, and providing fulfillments of lives and dreams.

And, as we have said before, God has chosen partnership with his family. His children are his hands and feet in the world. Each child is his priest. Each child is a conduit of grace and love in the world. The world sees the face of God in each child. 
  • Living My Life

Often, people do not take their office as priest. There is an assumption that a certain level of education, or gift is needed. There is an assumption of a special invitation by God. Well, Scripture says “You are his holy priests.” There is his special invitation.

In any organization with many people, (“organization” meaning “a group of people assembled for a common purpose, seeking to achieve a common goal”) rules and roles are established to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and to eliminate confusion. So, usually leaders are recognized to achieve that.

But that does not eliminate a role God has given all his children. I have been to a church meeting, seen someone desire to give their allegiance to Jesus, and the person who acted as priest, led them to the precipice of decision, now call one of the leaders to help the person step over the edge, and into the family of God.

I have no problem with leaders helping others take those last few steps into allegiance with Jesus. I do have a problem with ones abdicating their responsibility as priest, because they feel it is not their place, or they don’t know how.

There is only one high priest … and his name is Jesus. All other family members are priests. Equal in rank and responsibility. All priests should pray, teach, counsel, love, serve, and administer spiritual rites. (Because of legalities, perhaps not all should be involved in officiating at marriages. But all should be able to give counsel for marriage.) All should be able to baptize and institute the Lord’s Supper.

All are equal in rank and responsibility. Not all are equal in knowledge and maturity. The Bible does recognize there will be leaders. And it does give the leaders the responsibility to prepare God’s family to be priests. To understand and complete their responsibilities. And to give God’s family room to be God’s priests.

And it is the family’s responsibility to be open in pursuing the roles God gives. And god does give each one a role to walk in. He gives each one a part of his family to teach, encourage, and care for. He gives each one a part of the world to show his love and character to. He give each one assignments of prayer, love, and faithful service. We need to recognize and assume our priestly responsibilities and pursue them.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Heart Vs Head

In the last few weeks, I have encountered several conversations where someone said, "You can't learn this with your head, you need to learn it with you heart." I confess this causes some problems for me.

Years ago, I ran into the term "heart" in the Bible, and, given the different ways the word is used in English, I wrestled some with understanding it. After going through a process -- too long to describe here, even if I could remember it -- I decided that "heart" was a lot like the physics term "center of mass." The center of mass is a point in an object that if you pushed that point, you could say you pushed the object. The point defined the object in a way.

"Heart" defined the "center of personality." A word that encapsulated a person's entire inner life. All emotional, cognitive, volitional and spiritual aspects of a person's life lie in his heart. They co-mingle, relate and are interdependent. Common thinking compartmentalizes these things.

Recently, I looked at these things again. Evidently, the people in Jesus' day had a similar view. Both Greeks and Hebrews, as far as I can tell, had a word that is translated "heart" into English, but comprises the entire inner being. Not just emotional or spiritual, but intellect, imagination, volition ... all of these are put in one box and decorated with a big, red bow. Your spirit is not separate from your mind. They are joined.

So, when someone says "heart, not mind," are they saying in order to learn something I have to shut my brain off? Or are they saying I need to go through a particular experience, and meditating on Scripture just won't cut it.

I understand the difference between knowledge and experience. It is one thing for your mother to say, "Don't touch the hot stove. You will get burned and it will hurt." It is another to touch the hot stove. You will learn from both. The latter will take the learning process an order of magnitude further.

Even so, my mind gets engaged. Any experience I have gets recorded and stored in memory. Vivid experiences get marked for easier recall. And I automatically go I to evaluation mode. Is it good? Bad. Pleasant? Painful?

Part of the transformation/restoration process is learning "spiritual discernment." God doesn't want spiritual babies. He wants spiritual men and  women, who are wise, compassionate and effective partners. They enter into situations and see them as God sees them. They feel as God feels about them. They judge as God judges. I am not talking about condemning. But God does look at all decisions and circumstances, and asks "Does this advance my kingdom? Does this demonstrate love? Is this good for my children and family? How should I speak into this to bring out the most good?"

We all practice this discernment at some level. Part of God's transforming process is the adjustment of our "mental filters" so we have his perspective.

People naturally try to simplify situations in order to deal with complexity. One tool of simplification is compartmentalization. We break down different parts of life into separate rooms. I don't blame people for it. I do it also. But life is not a bunch of separate rooms. It flows and runs together. The cooking,  cleaning,  sleeping and laundry are all done in one really,  big room. God works to bring a pattern and a rhythm to this chaos. And we become more authentic, integrated and whole as we learn to live it and embrace it.