Sunday, February 28, 2016

Identity in Christ - 62b (part of the Vine)

Last week I ended with, "it all depends on the connection." So, what is this connection?

I sometimes use the term "heart focus." This is a relationship of our hearts with God's heart. But as I've said before, I regard the heart as a symbol of the inner life. So, the heart includes cognition, memory, imagination, motivation, attitudes and perspectives. The connection involves engaging all of one's inner life with God.

And, as the branch's connection to the vine is consistent, all the time, so our engagement with the Father should be consistent, all the time. One reason why Scripture says to pray continually. 

If we meet by prayer, the total focus total absorption, in proclaiming the wonders of God, thanksgiving for what he has done, honesty with our needs, our failures, and our pursuits, and discussion of our needs, wants, and concerns, we cannot possibly pray continually. We need to work, to eat, to sleep. We do need to engage in prayer of this sort. We simply are not capable physically of pursuing it 24 x 7 x 365. We need to have a practice, a habit of it both regularly and consistently. 

We need to engage with the Father in all the disciplines -- Bible reading, Bible meditation, worship, meeting with one another, fasting, service, waiting and watching, silence and solitude -- on a regular consistent basis. But the connection needs to happen moment by moment, second by second, heartbeat by heartbeat, thought by thought, This connection is something different than normal prayer. 

Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 15th century, practiced something someone called "practicing the presence of God." Essentially, this involves hundreds, if not thousands, of short prayers -- a phrase, one word -- directed towards God throughout the day. "Help me in this." "Give me wisdom." "Thanks." John Eldridge talks about check-ins. Short, perhaps even without words. "I'm here. I'm listening. Do you have something to say to me?"

There seems to be a spiritual law (the law of agreement?) that says what we focus our hearts on, what we agree with, we attract that "thing" and draw it to us.

So, we take all the parts of our inner life, and use them to engage with our Father. We read 
scripture. Analyze it. Memorize  it. Personalize it. Imagine how it should work in our circumstances. Ask God for understanding, or wisdom. Ask God to make it real, to change our motivation and perspective of the self, the world, people (both ones in God's family, and ones not in God's family) as a function of this truth. Apply it to relationships, God's mission, situations, and roles. Recognize that the Father and Jesus perfectly reflect this passage. See how this is expressed. Recognize that the Father seeks to build this in you. This is a part of your design. The Father responds to you, initiates with you based on your failures, based on your successes. He will speak to your emotions. He will speak to your understanding. He will encourage, rebuke and praise.

Then he will reboot the whole process. Review the same thing, so we see it differently, truly. He will peel off one layer, so we go deeper or move on to a completely different area.

In all this, he speaks. He interacts to build, to pour love and grace into our hearts. He works to maintain the connection our hearts because people live from their hearts.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Identity in Christ - 62a (part of the Vine)

Jesus introduced a metaphor about life in God: the grapevine. First, he identifies all the roles in the story. Jesus is the vine. The Father is the vine dresser, the gardener, or the farmer. God's family are the branches. The results are fruit. Grapes according to the story. Lives, conditions, and growth in real life.

(Again, the original compiler of this list worded this trait so there would be a "V" in the list. Otherwise, it would be included in the "B" section, under "Branches.")

I am seeing a need to include a lot of material in this post. Since, Jesus highlighted the roles, we should look at them. There is the process of producing fruit. There is my normal God's Perspective and practical applications. There will be definitely be more than one post. Perhaps several.

We will being the same way Jesus did.

♦ Roles

As a reminder, the God-head is trinity. Scripture says that the Father, Son and Spirit were all involved in creation. Each had a part. So, all have a part, or are active in, wherever one is mentioned. Father, Son and Spirit are active in each role.

The Father is a farmer. The farmer is the strategist for the vineyard. He evaluates the ground, the condition of the vine, and each branch. He works the ground and environment. He removes rocks, and other obstructions of the root system. He adds nutrients. He removes weeds, and other things that leech life from the branches. He prunes the vine. That is, he removes legitimate "growth" of the vine, but "growth" that does not add to the health, growth, and fruit. It is a part of the branch that detracts.

Jesus is the vine. He is the connection between the root (the gatherer\synthesizer of the nutrients) and the branches (the place fruit occurs). When Jesus died, he prepared a place for the branches to connect to the vine. When we gave our allegiance to Jesus, we\he initiated the connection process. Now, the Spirit maintains the connection. The Spirit continues the feeding process, fosters a flow of love and grace into the branches.

God's family are the branches. The branches are where God's "nutrients"  love and grace meet the world. The branches are where the good God gives the worlds originates.

♦ Process

This will not be an exhaustive description. We will focus on the process in terms of the story,

Nutrients are collected\created in the root. Raw materials are drawn from the earth, which has been strategically developed by the farmer.

The nutrients are pumped from the root into the vine, into the branches. Unlike a real vine, the nutrients are tailor-made, individualized for each branch. The farmer and the vine have crafted a particular "cocktail" for each branch. The branch yields a particular effect, a particular fruit, into the world.

But it all depends on the connection. If the connection is inferior/blocked/broken, no nutrients can flow into the branch. It is the nutrients that enable the production of fruit. The nutrients enable the health and growth of the branch. The vine grabs onto the branch. The branch grabs onto the vine. It all depends on the connection.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Identity in Christ - 61 (United to Christ)

The passage begins as a warning. We become one with whatever we unite with. We unite with whatever we ficus our hearts on.

The focus of the human heart is not pure and unadulterated. It is a mixed bag. Human hearts are captured by many things: money, see, love, fun, school, success, popularity, family, career, hobbies, sports, etc.

That is not to say God's family cannot like, engage in, practice things not solely associated with God. God does command a diligent attention to family, making a living, and doing good. It is not wrong to have hobbies or play sports.

It is wrong for any of these  things to have first place in a person's heart. It is wrong for a person to define his\her identity by something other than the Father, and our relationship with him.

 God's Perspective

God commands a focus on others and other things. God command we give our hearts to him. So, our hearts are focused, united and one with him. God does not command the impossible. So, we are able to focus our hearts on him, and football, at the same time.

There is a focus of the heart that commands all other focuses. It affects, colors, and controls all other focuses. God designed people that a relationship with him would be that controlling focus. The problem is the first people chose to give their hearts to something else. And all people, there after, have "broken" hearts. Not hearts that are very sad; hearts that do not work as they should. The problem is not that a focus on football is wrong; the problem is that some people have football as their fundamental, controlling focus. Football defines their identity. Or something else defines their identity ... other than a relationship with the Creator.

So, now there is a cosmic war. The Father strives to reconnect with people. The Father strives to establish a relationship with people where he is the fundamental focus of the relationship. So, the relationship with him becomes the basis of identity.

 Living My Life

At some point in life, many people collide with Jesus. Jesus disrupts their lives. And they find themselves needing to choose. There is a fork in the road.

Sometimes people confront their moral failures, and their inability to make those failures right. Sometimes people confront a need they cannot fulfill, like love or peace. Sometimes people confront an existential reality, like evil, or a certainty that something exists outside of this physical existence. And they choose an alternate focus. In my case, and in many others, they chose Jesus. I am one who realized God existed. And if he existed, then he is the one who designed, created, and ruled the universe. And if he ruled the universe, then he ruled me. So, I needed to put myself into the correct role, the correct relationship.

Since then, I have learned about who God is, and what it means to walk with him. I have faced my moral failures, and my needs. And I have continued to unite with the Father and Jesus. He is not just King. He is Father, Friend, Teacher, and Counselor. He forgives, advises, helps, provides, reveals, loves, and encourages.

I have failed more than I have succeeded. But, now that I walk with him, neither success nor failure is his prime concern with me. Restoration, transformation, and new life are his prime concerns. And these occur most in life with him, united to him, with the right heart focus. There are practices that can enhance, promote, and facilitate a proper heart focus. But it is not the practices per se. It is how they teach the heart.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Identity in Christ - 60 (Triumphant)

Since, Rome was an empire, periodically, there was a campaign to extend the empire. If the campaign was successful, the general who was responsible took a "victory lap." That is, he was the head of a parade around the city of Rome. In the parade, besides the general, instead of floats and bands, the spoils of war were presented. There were prisoners, usually the leaders of the conquered people, and collection of the riches of the country, Riches being whatever was valued by that people: precious metals, gems, artifacts, or art. (Maybe, the prisoners were displayed, because they were honored or valued men.)

The Kingdom of heaven is locked a "to the death" war with the kingdom of the world and the enemy. The goals are different. (Restoration of God's kingdom. Reclaiming God's family.) The tactics are different. (Feeding people -- bodies, minds, and souls. Education. Healing -- bodies, minds, and souls.) The weapons are different. (Love. Prayer. Service. Proclamation.) Yet, it is still war.

The passage we are using says that Christ leads in victory. It is a picture of the Roman "victory lap." Jesus is the victorious general, marching in front. But what are the spoils of war? What are the objects of value being displayed behind him? The objects are not precious metals, stones, or art. The "objects" are people.

This war is over the hearts and minds of people. Each battle is over one person; each side fighting urgently to command the allegiance of that person.

God's Perspective

When someone competes and wins a great athletic contest (the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the Olympics) millions of people watch and celebrate even though they did not exert one erg of energy in the competition.

Celebration seems to be a natural human response. (Instinct?) It occurs among all human peoples. People identify with positive achievements, and somehow claim a piece of them. It seems to be something that God has built into people. Celebration is a natural response.

And God is pointing out a reason for celebration, even though it has not happened yet. It the World Cup final. The game is in overage time, The score is 3-0, and your time is winning. It is the Super Bowl. The referee has called time out for the two minute warning, and your team is ahead by 3 scores. You can feel the celebration coming.

God commends celebration. We can celebrate God's ultimate victory. We can celebrate victory over each battle. (God's reclamation of another person. A step of restoration in each person's life.) We can celebrate our allegiance to the Father, and personal restoration.

Living My Life

Life in Jesus is intended to be one long, never ending celebration. Positive things should be happening in our lives. Positive things should be happening in the lives of others. Positive things should be happening in the world.

When we look at the world, most people see only the evil, the setbacks, the failures, and the disasters. One of the results of life in God is joy. If our hearts are focused on God's presence in our lives, if our identity is founded on our relationship with the Father, joy becomes a normal state.

Too many of God's family focus their hearts on circumstances, and find their identity in something other than their relationship with the Father. Joy is lost. Is it any wonder the enemy seeks to capture -- if he is not already totally in control of -- the news media? Should we be surprised if he seeks similar control of social media?

Life is going to be filled with trouble, because of sin. Life is supposed to be love, joy, and peace. Life is supposed to be celebration. And life can be. It is why Scripture says we need to guard our hearts. We guard them by what fills them, what they are focused on.

As people live from their hearts -- fruit, growth, obedience are all products of what flows from the heart -- someone's connection with the Father takes on a greater level of significance and importance. And celebration (what, how, and how often) becomes indicators of the state of that connection.

There is a difference between the mission of God in the Super Bowl. In the Super Bowl, we can all celebrate the victory, but we cannot all participate in the victory. Participation belongs only to the players and coaches. In the mission of God, we can all celebrate and we can all participate. God's mission encompasses all of God's children. It is our allegiance, becoming God's child that puts us on the field.

How we participate is different. (Lineman. Receiver. Defense. Special teams.) Keep in mind:
(1) We are on the team.
(2) There are some skills everyone on the team should have.
(3) There is a special place for each of us.
(4) We choose to exercise our parts, to be on the team.
(5) Guard your hearts.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Identity in Christ- 59 (Temple)

Since the time of the Fall, people have sought a connection with the supernatural. Most often, since, they did not want it on God's terms, they sought it on their terms. So, they were not very successful as a result.

Quite often, people invented a pantheon of gods, and picked their favorites. And they sought to magnify their favorites.  So, they built temples to demonstrate to others how great the god they served was. (Of course, it also helped to keep that god on their side. "Look at this magnificent temple we built for you. You need to be good to us. Protect us. Feed us. Make us happy. Make us all rich.")

A temple is a monument to a god. Like any monument, it shows the worth and value of the object to which it is dedicated.

There is a temple being built for Jesus. It is not being built from wood, stone, steel, precious metals, or precious stones. It is being built from precious lives. If you have given your allegiance to Jesus, you are a part of his temple.

◆ God's Perspective

God is the creator of beauty, so it is not that he does not appreciate the wonders of the world.  I am sure that God no doubt delights in the Taj Mahal, the Haggia Sophia, Stonehenge  (Carhenge?) -- but his real delight is in the lives of his children.

It is in their lives that he sees real beauty. People were designed to live out their lives, demonstrating the nature of God. The person of Jesus, the traits of love, and the fruit of the Spirit all describe how people should be. So, as God restores his image in his children, his temple begins to grow, to become more beautiful,  to be more of a demonstration of God's nature.

It is not just one person, it is all of us. We were designed with painstaking patience, and exquisite care. We were shaped for just the niche we are placed in. Each stone has been designed to fit its niche perfectly. Each stone has been designed with the total structure in mind.

I am not saying we all fit perfectly now. We absolutely do not.  Sin has marred the stones. There are too many cracks, too many rough edges, and too many pieces chipped off.

God is restoring each stone, so it will fit perfectly within the temple, to  make it the most beautiful structure ever.

◆ Living My Life

A follower of Jesus has multiple emphases: 
    1. Relationship with the Father.
    2. Healing brokenness, and restoring his image.
    3. Filling the place where he puts us.

Each of these intermingle and interact. Connecting in relationship allows a flow of grace and love to fill our hearts, bringing healing. Healing allows us to express our purposes and identities in Christ, filling our places more fully. Filling our places requires moving over new ground, which requires greater connection to the Father,  which requires a greater relationship.

If we continued further,  we would no doubt find that each emphasis flows into the others. A breakdown in one area results in a breakdown in the other areas. An increase in one results in an increase in the others.

A follower of Jesus must pursue all of the areas.

There are different strategies of prayer, reading,  and meditation that affect our relationship.  We ought to follow what helps,  ignore what does not,  but be open to change.

We need to be alert and humble. No one is perfect,  and reproof for wrongs we do can come through a number of avenues: our connection with God, Scriptures, and other people ... those who follow God, and those who do not.

We need to be prepared to follow multiple paths that lead to growth. Some may require individual discipline. Some may require healing directly from God's hand.

We need to find our place.  Again, there are many different ways.  People have developed tests and surveys. Churches have positions and roles to fill. Or we may get an inspiration on our own.

We need to remember that we do not walk alone. We are part of a family,  a Kingdom. We are living stones,  intended to fit into a larger monument. Our relationship,  growth and place should fit into the overall purposes of God. They should also fit into the life of the local family of God we are aligned with. (And that local family ought to fit within God's overall purposes too.) There should be ones we partner with. But God intends that no child of his should walk alone.

As a final reminder, we are also in active partnership with the Father. He intends we all will receive support, direction, and encouragement from him. Each of us needs to recognize, receive, rely on, and respond to that voice in our hearts.

All of these steps are in active participation and cooperation with the Father to build his temple. We are his temple. We are fellow-builders of his temple.