Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sixth Sign

Jesus had some friends, a brother, and two sisters, named: Lazerus, Martha, and Mary. It appears their parents had died, and they were living together. (Perhaps Lazerus was supporting his sisters.) And the three of them appear in a few of Jesus' stories. In one of the stories, Jesus gets word that Lazerus is sick. And Jesus sees an opportunity for God to receive glory. Jesus could have gone to Lazerus, and healed him. But he didn't. He waited.

 

So, a couple of days later, Jesus announces to his disciples, that it is time to return to Judea, and go to Lazerus, because he has died. And, in this case, it was good that he died, because it would provide an opportunity for God to demonstrate his glory.

 

When Jesus arrives in his friends home town, he finds that, not only is Lazerus dead, but he has been buried for four days.

 

Martha comes to Jesus. She is convinced that Jesus has a special relationship with the Father. And Jesus could have saved her borther's life, if he had been there.

 

Jesus assures Martha that Lazerus will live again. And Martha agrees, "Yes, he will rise at the end of time."

 

This is the crux of the matter. Jesus says, "I am the resurrection. I am the life." God's plan and mission center around Jesus. Sin has broken mankind's relationship with the Father. Sin has thrown a monkey wrench into mankind's design. The world is broke. And the first step to fixing it is correcting mankind's realtionship with the Father. Without this step, no social action, no 12-step plan, no therapy, will affect the world's brokenness. People are already dead. Jesus will bring the dead out of the grave. Jesus will install them with new life. Life that opens the door, and begins the process of restoring them to their original design.

 

Then, Martha affirms her confidence in Jesus, and goes to get her sister. Mary comes, and expresses herself in much the same way as Martha did.

 

Jesus asks to go to the grave site. And when they arrive, he asks for someone to remove the stone, and open the crypt.

 

Now, Israel is a hot place, so the body has been rotting for fours days. The crypt would obviously reek. And let's consider the state of the body a little more. Decomposition of the body means a breakdown of the body's parts and functions. Muscle and bone are degrading. Nerves and synapses are collapsing. The body's systems would no long function, even if life would suddenly return to the body.

 

Then, Jesus prays in a loud voice, thanking the Father for his presence, for listening, and for partnering with Jesus. The intent of the prayer is to focus attention on God's involvment and work. Everything about to happen is a work of God. He, only, should receive any glory.

 

Then, Jesus commands Lazerus to come out. And Lazerus, dead for four days, walks out of the crypt. His spirit is reunited with his body. And all of the body functions, that have been disintegrating for four days during the process of decomposition, are restored and renewed.

 

This whole incident was intended to demonstrate that, now or later, life is in, and comes through Jesus. And not just as an escape from death. The quality of life come through Jesus. God designed people. The greatest joy and peace flows through living in agreement with his design.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving

The American holiday of Thanksgiving is this week. Of course, the purpose of the holiday is to get people to slow down, take a deep breath, and remember all the good in their lives. And maybe even to off a prayer, thanking God for those good things.

 

When one reads the Bible, it doesn't take too long to see that God encourages a thankful life. God wants us to see the good in our lives, realize how much comes from him, and have an attitude of thanks, appreciation, which leads to a positive expectation, and courage to forge ahead.

 

But there are a couple of verses that are a little confusing. These verses say: "Be thankful for everything."

 

Really? Everything? Hitler? The bomb? Cancer? Rape and murder? Racism? Arrogance? Studpidity?

 

It is really difficult to see that God, who commands moral perfection, wants people to be thankful for evil in the world.

 

When I was in college, I took a class about aerobics. When a person exercizes (like running), energy and oxygen flow into the person's muscles. These provide the fuel for movement. Eventually, the movement depletes the energy and oxygen. The body keeps shipping, but the muscles cannot efficiently receive. So, the body goes into a state called "oxygen debt."

 

As oxygen debt continues, the runner begins to experience pain in his muscles. Normally, when a person is experiencing pain, he stops whatever it is that is causing the pain. But, for a runner, at the point of pain, the body begins to form new capillaries. The body is creating new channels for energy and oxygen to be transported deep into the muscles, where it is needed most.

 

Trials, the evil in the world, especially where it touches a child of God, is spiritual oxygen debt. God does not create evil, or trials, but God does use them to create channels into a person's heart, allowing God's love, grace, and healing to flow into the broken areas of a person's life.

 

So, we can be thankful in the face of trials, and evil, not because of the evil, but because of the presence of God, moving through the circumstances, bringing blessing and gowth into our lives.

 

When the runner experiences oxygen debt, he receives the benefit, when he acts with courage, and runs through the pain. The child of God in the midst of trial also needs to respond correctly to receive the God's love and grace. And the response varies. Sometimes it is giving forgiveness. Sometimes it is love: patience, kindness, etc.

 

This is part of the process of restoring a person's original design. Scripture describes a lifestyle that cooperates with God building the inner life of his children. So, we can be thankful in all circumstances, because is eternally present in all circumstances, and filling his children with his love, grace, and goodness.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fifth Sign (3)

Then, Jesus moved onto the second metaphor. He is the good shepherd. The shepherd comes each morning to the sheep pen, and calls his sheep. And the sheep recognize the voice of the shepherd. They follow him out through the gate, and out to find pasture.

It is the shepherd, who provides for the sheep. He guides them to water, and food. He keeps them from danger.

Untended, or poorly tended, sheep can cause tremendous damage to the land by over-grazing, and trampling over, and over, the same ground. Well tended sheep can improve the land. It depends on the skill of the shepherd.

Jesus is the good shepherd, because sacrificed his life for the sheep. The enemy, like a wolf, wants to destroy the sheep. He wants to scatter the flock. He wants to separate them from the shepherd. Jesus gave his life to protect the sheep from the enemy.

Jesus is the good shepherd, because he knows his sheep. He provides for them. He will guide them to live the best way. They will live their truest, best selves. They will benefit the land, when they stay close to the shepherd.

It begins with the shepherd, who loves the sheep. The Father loves thew shepherd, because he sacrifices his life. The Father loves the sheep. The shepherd loves the sheep.

Everything good in the world, everything positive, beneficial, helpful, and edifying, begins with love. Love motivates Father, Son, and Spirit to reach out to people, to provide a permanent solution for sin, to guide people into living as they were designed, and to bring healing and growth.

Fifth Sign (2)

The English word Bible is derived from the Latin word for books. The Bible is a collection of 66 books. When each book was written, it was one continuous narrative. There were no chapters, or verses. Several hundred years ago, someone decided it would be a good idea to facilitate reading to divide the books into chapters. Then, a couple of hundred years later, someone divided the chapters into verses.

And sometimes it causes confusion. 

After Jesus discusses spiritual blindness with the Pharisees, the chapter ends, and in the next chapter, Jesus begins another message, with a completely different metaphor. As it was written, originally, with no breaks, it might be easy to conclude that it is all one message.

~o0o~

A fairly common occupation in Jesus' day was shepherd. Sheep were valuable, because they provided raw material for making cloth, and for provide food.

And, evidently, there was a practice of making a fenced in area, combining multiple flocks overnight. If there was one shepherd for each flock, the shepherd would care for his flock during the day, and he could sleep at night. And the flock would be protected in the sheep pen by a person the shepherds would hire together. Each morning, the shepherd would gather his flock, and lead them out of the gate, and into pasture.

So, the correct way to achieve safety, and pasture, was going through the gate. Not going through the gate meant something was wrong. A predator, or a thief, would try to get into the sheep pen, any other way, but the gate.

Jesus used the gate as the first part of this metaphor. For sheep, there is only one way to get to pasture, safety, and life. And Jesus is that gate.

We have posted before that people need the right kinds of physical fuel to thrive physically, and they need the right kinds of spiritual fuel to thrive spiritually. We can get some spiritual fuel from people, or certain spiritual practices. But other necessary, vital fuels we can only get from the Father of all. To get these fuels, we need to have a relationship with the Father, and be in fellowship with him.

It is the creation of a relationship with the Father, that positions people to receive life from the Father. And like sheep in the sheep pen, there is only one way to get to pasture, and to safety.

Jesus is proclaiming that he is that way. To get to the Father, establish a relationship, and find life, we need to come to Jesus. It is his sacrifice that opens the gate for us.

The ultimate goal is to fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. One of the Son's "jobs" is to open the door, and allow us to come into the Family. It is in the center of the family, that people return to life, as it was designed; it is in the center of the family that peope return to love, grace, and purpose. 

Friday, November 03, 2017

Fifth Sign

There was a common belief among the Jews in Jesus’ day, that personal misfortune (poverty, handicap, or disability) was God’s punishment for a person’s sin. And, in the case of a man born blind, there was the possibility that it was punishment for the parent’s sin. (Apparently, no one read the Scripture where God told one of his prophets that he did not consider the parent’s sin when dealing with children, or the children’s sin when dealing with the parents. He dealt with each person individually, with their behavior alone.)

So, given this belief, when the disciples see a man born blind, they ask a seemingly natural question: Who sinned?

One might think Jesus would quote the prophet I mentioned above. Rather, he approaches the issue from a very different direction. He said the man was blind so God could reveal his glory.

Jesus spat on the ground, mad mud, and dabbed the mud in the man’s eyes. He told the man to wash his face in a particular pool. When the man did, he could see.

So, now we have an interesting situation. If a blind man washes mud from his eyes, and afterward, he can see, that must be an act of God. But, a Jewish teacher had used that exact scenario as an example of not keeping the Sabbath. (When Jesus healed the man, it happened to be on the Sabbath.)

So, according to the Jewish leaders point of view, a miracle was performed, that only God could do, for a man who God was punishing for his sin, through a man who was sinning by doing the miracle on the Sabbath.

No wonder they were confused!

So, the leaders call the man to investigate. They asked the man what happened. They called his parents to confirm he had been born blind.

Then, the man and the leaders have the weirdest debate of recorded history. The leaders insist that God did not work through Jesus, because he broke the Sabbath. And the man points out that only God could heal a man born blind, and God does not listen to sinners. So, if Jesus had sinned, he could not be used by God in this way.

Since, the leaders were the experts, and have all the answers, and the man posed a problem that upset their pre-conceptions, they got mad, and threw the man out.

Later, Jesus found the man, and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man, and then, identified himself as the Son of Man. And the man accepted that, and bowed to Jesus in submission.

And Jesus proclaimed that he came into the world to give sight to the blind – that is, to show people the truth. And to convince the one who think they have it all figured out, that they don’t.

Some Pharisees standing there, asked if he thought they were blind. And Jesus replied that the ignorant were held accountable. But, because they thought they held all the answers, God held them guilty.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Living Like Jesus (2)

Considering the ideas from the book I referred to, (remembering that I have not completed the book, but am in the section where they are analyzing the problem) there are several results that I think should be mentioned.

 

·         Each movement of God begins with a revelation of a truth. So, someone sees this truth with greater clarity. And often, someone believes that the practice of this truth should become the number one priority. The movement begins, as some move forward with this new revelation, and some decide that the status quo needs to be maintained.

 

God seeks to restore his family to its original design. Each successive revelation should further renew his design, and propel his people forward. It should position his people to complete his vision for the world. So, we need to remain true to the Father, and receive each revelation. It needs to be accepted, assimilated, and practiced.

 

·         But we cannot forget truth that is already revealed. Often, people get so enamored with the new revelation, they ignore what is in their foundation. All of God’s truth needs to be obeyed. All of God’s truth is an expression of God’s nature, and are steps toward completing his purposes.

 

And God has revealed his priorities. We must practice the new, the foundational, and be certain to keep God’s priorities.

 

·         No matter what movement, whether accepting the latest, greatest, or not, we need to remember:

1.     No one obeys God perfectly;

2.     God loves and accepts all of his children, equally, completely, and enthusiastically.

3.     Each one in God’s family must love and accept in each one in God’s family.

 

Living Like Jesus

I have started reading a book – big surprise I’m sure – whose basic premise is: if you are a follower of Jesus, what should your life look like? The writer’s answer to that question is: your life should look like Jesus.

Of course, one could say that any book, written from a Christian perspective, has that perspective in mind. I have said it here, more than once, that God’s purpose for each person is:
  • To give his allegiance to the Father, Son and Spirit;
  • To be united with God’s family;
  • To be restored to God’s original design for people. (Or, if you prefer, to be transformed into the image of Christ.) 
Father, Son and Spirit all have a vision of what each person’s life should be. And they are in perfect agreement. And they are correct.

There have been several movements of Christianity, since the death and resurrection of Jesus: Catholicism, the Reformation, Pentecostalism, Prosperity, Charismatic, Emergent. Each one had different views of spirituality, the church, practice, and lifestyle.

Cultural and social changes have also had affected how people view what it means to follow Jesus.

Do any of them understand what is in God’s heart? And follow it fully?

God seems to be in a process of revealing his heart. People grab onto this new revelation. Usually forming a theology, and a practice, that emphasize the new revelation. Perhaps over-emphasizing, so that following Jesus can get warped, and distorted.

We hope that each successive revelation pulls us close. The enemy pushes buttons to corrupt, and distort. The presence of sin also gives rise to corrupted versions of following Jesus.

The book intends to return to Jesus, re-examine his life, and example, in order to define what it really means to follow Jesus. But, even though the writer will no doubt high light some important, and valuable, areas, can any of us escape our pre-conceptions, assumptions, and habits? Culture covers a person with a coat that they don’t realize they are wearing.

We do need to take each lesson God gives us into account, incorporate it into our lifestyle, and we need to practice the whole. We need to accept each person’s unique design, and how each person fits into the whole. And we need to be open, and honest. We need to repent of any imbalance that distorts the image of Christ in us, and to the world.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fourth Sign

In this case, the sign and the message are separated by a couple of days. Jesus and his disciples are out in the country, away from any villages. And they are being followed by a large crowd of people.

Jesus says, “The people are hungry. We need to feed them.” The disciples say, “We don’t have enough food. We don’t have enough money to buy enough food. And the only food we do have is this little boy’s lunch.”

So, Jesus borrows the little boy’s lunch, and feeds 15-20,000 people with it. Then, the disciples clean up afterward, and collect 20 times as much food in leftovers, as they started with.

The crowd starts thinking: “If we mad Jesus King, we wouldn’t have to work anymore.” Jesus, knowing his mission (which was not being king), sneaks away into the mountains, and eventually, takes a boat across a nearby lake.

The crowd wanders around looking for him, and, eventually, crosses the same lake. When they find Jesus, he begins his teaching.

He questions their motives. They did not understand the signs, their meaning, nor their significance. They are only looking for him, because their bellies are full.

They were short-sighted. Meeting their basic needs was important; but they were only focused on meeting their basic needs. They were not focused on their relationship with the Father.

God sent the Promised One to give people a way to re-connect, and re-establish a relationship with him. Jesus used a metaphor, comparing bread and allegiance with him. Coming to Jesus, giving allegiance to him, and choosing to follow him, results in receiving life from the God-head. He gives life, when we give allegiance, by satisfying the requirements of the Law, redeeming the person from Satan’s kingdom, and moving the person into God’s family.

He also gives life, when we follow him by providing necessary spiritual fuel. We have fellowship with the Father, who pours his love and grace into our hearts. (People need love.) We are joined to his family. (People need community.) And he enables us to live our purposes. (People need purpose. And, he uniquely made each person to fill a niche in the universe.)

Knowing Jesus is like eating bread, that provide nutrients no other food provides. Without this bread, we will eventually starve. With this bread, we live, but more, we thrive.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Third Sign (2)

Scripture says that when receiving testimony about something, either an accusation, or a defense, we should not accept the testimony as true without verification of, at least, two others.

Jesus has proclaimed that he has a unique position, and relationship with the Father. And the Jews, listening to him, are thinking: “Who is this guy? And where does he come off talking like this?”

So, Jesus reviews with these Jews, who were trying to obey the Scriptures, testimony that confirms what he is saying.

The first to testify was John the Baptist. The leaders sent men to listen to John. And they asked John if he was the Promised One. And John said no. John said he came to prepare for the Promised One.

The second to testify was the Father himself. He testified by giving Jesus the authority to teach the way he did, and to perform miracles the way he did.

When people saw the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead rise, the only conclusion they could come to was that God sent Jesus, God gave favor to Jesus. And God does not favor those who rebel against him. The implication was: to heal on the Sabbath was not rebellion against God, and his Word.

And the Jewish leaders were not ready to accept that. So, since, they did not accept the one God had sent, the Promised One, in reality, they were the ones in rebellion again God.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Third Sign

With the third sign, things begin to change. Jesus finds a man, lying next to a pool with reputed healing properties. Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed. The man says yes, but when the conditions in the pool are right for healing, he is unable to get in.

So, Jesus tells the man, that he will be healed, if he gets up, grabs the mat he is laying on, and goes home. The man believes Jesus, and does just that. And he is healed.

But there is one small problem. It is the Sabbath.

One of God’s commands is to remember the Sabbath, by separating it from the other days by not working. The Pharisees were big on following the Law as strictly, as completely, and as closely, as possible. So, for this Law, they spent a lot of time defining what work was. Was cooking to feed yourself work? Was feeding your animals work? How far could a person walk before it became work?

And carrying a mat on the Sabbath was work. And they had words with the man. And he told them that Jesus (the man who healed him) told him to carry the mat. So, now they wanted to have words with Jesus. And Jesus gave them a fairly extensive response.

He affirms his Sonship. That is, he affirms his relationship, connection, and fellowship, with the Father. Because of the living reality of the relationship, and their heart agreement, Jesus and the Father ac t together. Jesus acts in agreement with what the Father wants, and what the Father initiates.

All of God’s children have the same type of relationship with the Father. But Jesus has a unique relationship.

First, God has appointed Jesus as judge. God the Father is creator of all, and judge of all. Absolute authority is in his hands. And he has given that authority to judge to Jesus. Because Jesus lives in perfect agreement with the Father, his judgement is as just, and fair, as the Father’s.

Second, the Father has granted Jesus the power of salvation. If we accept the message God gives through Jesus, and trust God, we will never be condemned ,,, even though we deserve to be. Jesus has authority to give life to the dead.

Jesus announces his mission: to restore mankind by bringing people into God’s family, by creating new life in them – life that agrees with the Father and the Son – and by producing lifestyles that agree with that new life.

This was God’s plan from the beginning. But mankind chose, and continues to choose, to move away from the life that God designed. Even those in God’s family.

I sincerely believe that God’s children want to, and intend to, honor God. But often they mix human wisdom with God’s wisdom. The mix a human solution with God’s solution. The result is a caricature of Jesus, instead of a true picture of Jesus. It is this caricature that blurs God’s image, and hinders his purposes in  the world today. And returning to a true expression of God’s heart is not easy. We all hold fast to our particular understanding of what God wants, what is best, and what is the priority.

The Father continues to restore a correct perspective, a correct understanding, so that our lifestyles can represent him more truly. In part, this is what revivals are about. God’s family regains a quantum leap of restoration: in understanding God’s nature, in understanding God’s purpose, in understanding the role of God’s family, and motivation and passion to fulfill that role.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Second Sign

The second sign is similar to the first. It is an expression of God’s power that validates Jesus as Messiah, but there is not much teaching.

A man comes to Jesus, because his son is sick, and near death. He pleads with Jesus to come, and heal his son.

Jesus observes that the man won’t believe unless he sees a miracle. What is Jesus getting at? Expectations of his mission? The nature of faith? Mankind’s tendency toward empiricism – I won’t believe it unless I see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, or feel it?

The man is getting desperate, so he persists. And Jesus assures the man that his son will live. Scripture says the man believes Jesus. He expected that his son would recover, and live. So, he returns home.

But on his way, servant from his home find him, and tell him that his son’s fever broke suddenly, the day before. So, the man asks when. He found out it happened at the same time he was talking to Jesus. So, not only did Jesus re-assure the man, he healed the son. No fanfare. No hoopla. No glitz. Quietly, and almost in secret.

There seems to be an expectation, that when God acts, there will be fireworks, strobe lights, glitter balls, with “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background.

Jesus said, “My Father is always working.” If these expectations were correct, there would be fireworks 24x7, including Sundays and holidays. Instead, we miss the majority – the vast majority – of what God is doing.

There are many who follow Jesus today, who expect some sort of experience. I am not putting down experiences, or those who have them. But the Father is not bound by any agreement to necessarily provide one.

This sign shows that God has authority, and power, to complete his purposes outside of our expectations. Experience. No experience. Or a different experience.

But we do need to believe Jesus, and expect the Father to be always working.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Wedding and A Sign (2)

The gospel of John, the fourth biography of Jesus in the bible, is organized differently than the others. The others are fairly typical biographies, chronological descriptions of a person’s life. John, on the other hand, is organized around a series of signs, accompanied by a series of teachings.

We looked at the first sign at the wedding at Cana. It was different from other signs Jesus performed. And we asked, given that a sign is performed to demonstrate the validity of who the person is, and the truth of his claim, why did John include this, as the first? And I wonder, all the signs and teachings coordinated? That is, the sign and the teaching joined together purposefully, to point at each other. I don’t have a definitive answer to the second question. Maybe later.

But is there a link between the first teaching and the first sign? And, if so, what is it?

The sign, of course, was changing water to wine. But there was no obvious teaching, unless we include the short discussion between Jesus, his mother, and the servants.

As we observed, the groom’s family was about to experience a social catastrophe. And when Mary informed Jesus, he seemed to indicate that his purpose in the world was beyond what anyone conceived it to be. Then, he exercised God’s power in an act of creation, in loving service, and to protect people from shame and disgrace.

The first sign becomes a picture of Christ’s mission in the world.

He acts to create a new family of restored people. People transformed to live as they were designed. People transformed to be the best examples of mankind.

He acts in love. Indeed, the core fact of the universe, and all time, becomes an act of love, which radically overturns how the universe functions.

And he acts to re-connect the Father with his children. Any person who gives his allegiance to Jesus, no matter what he has done, or how low he has fallen, can be restored to the Father, can face his without shame, expecting to be received freely, warmly, and wholeheartedly.

Jesus came for all of this!

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Wedding and Signs

In Jesus’ time, a Jewish wedding was a big deal. The groom and his family would prepare a place for the new family. The would plan and prepare for the wedding celebration for a year, or more sometimes. They would gather, and store, food and wine for scores of guests, for a 3 or 4 day party. It was a disaster to run short of something.

Imagine someone has a year to plan and prepare for something, and it gets messed up. People could say that this particular someone was “inept” on so many levels. Or one could call them something less polite than “inept.” It was more than a logistical miscalculation. It was a social failure. It was almost impossible to live down the shame.

So, Jesus goes to a wedding. His mother is also invited, so there is a good change this is a family wedding. And the run out of wine.

Mary learns about the problem. And she tells Jesus. Scripture doesn’t seem to indicate if she intended him to solve the problem, or if she was merely expressing familial concern. And his response to her seems to be a reproof at first. Is he saying that even his mother doesn’t understand his mission in the world?

But she does tell the servant to follow his instructions. And he does give them instructions that solve the problem. He has them fill containers with water, and the water turns to wine. Moreover, the wine he provides is better that the best of what was provided.

Scripture calls this his first sign. By sign, Scripture means an attesting miracle. A miracle that demonstrates the validity of who Jesus is. From one perspective, all miracles point to Jesus, as God’s messiah, as the Promised One, as Savior and Lord.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the Jewish leaders consistently ask Jesus for a sign. And, in reality, he gave them a sign, several signs in  fact. But they did not accept his signs, not because they weren’t miraculous, but because they did not agree with their pre-conceptions of God’s intentions, and Jesus’ mission.

The Jews seemed to be hung up on their part in God’s plan. They recognized being God’s people, and the transmitters of God’s standards. They did not get that God was determined to restore all people to relationship, and fellowship with him. He would restore all people to live according to their original design, and to create a family from all peoples. And they didn’t get how the Father was going to accomplish his purposes.

Was this Jesus’ first sign, because it was a signal to pay attention? Something special is here. Something unexpected is here. Or was it a signal that God was beginning to establish that new family (weddings are the beginning of new families) that he had promised?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Forgiveness

It is the belief of Christians, that when Jesus died on the Cross, he satisfied God’s requirements for the wrongs of every person. The Father covered each person – past, present, and future – and each person’s sin – past, present, and future – with the blood of Christ.

Scripture says that when a person comes to the Christ, his\her sins are nailed to the Cross. His\her entire record. And God already knows our entire record.

The instruction for confession and repentance is not a substitute for the Old Testament sacrificial system.

If one is cognizant of sin, by all means, agree with God that you have done something wrong, and decide with God to live differently. Maybe even how to live differently.

But the guilt of sin, and the power of sin, have been handled by the Cross and the Holy Spirit. God’s primary concern is fellowship, and transformation. Rather, are we walking in relationship with him? Are we living as we were designed?

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Heart of the God-Head

Scripture says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. I basically hold the traditional view about the Trinity. There is a mystery about the nature of the God-head, which humans cannot understand. Theologians say they have the same essence, or substance, but different personalities. I don’t think this means they are identical triplets. I do think it means they are in perfect agreement. Their inner lives are complexly congruent, completely in sync. They have the same motivations, the same convictions, and the same perspectives. They agree on the same plan, and have the same mission.

This includes all thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward each person.

The Father is not the reigning King, focused only obedience, and justice. The Son is not the sacrificial lamb, focused on love, compassion and mercy. The Spirit is not this ethereal force, falling like lightning in unpredictable places. They all hate sin. They all love sinners. They all want the restoration of a relationship with all people, the formation of loving fellowship with all people, and the transformation of all people into the likeness of Jesus. (Meaning: each person living fully as God designed each one to be. Without sin like Jesus. Fully loving like Jesus. Yet, fully expressing each one’s gifts, strengths, and potential.)

Many feel that each member of the God-head have different attitudes toward people. The Father is angry, and condemning. The Son is gentle, and compassionate. And the views about the Spirit could fill all the volumes in a complete set of encyclopedias. From ephemeral nothing, to vague shadow, to ever present and powerful dynamo, active in every situation. But Scripture indicates they are in complete agreement, and perfect unity, about what they think about people.

Their parts in the plan, and mission, may by distinct. But their attitudes, motives, intentions, drives, feelings, and connections with, and to, people are identical. We can approach each member of the God-head with the same freedom, the same expectation of response, knowing they the same feelings, attitudes, and motives, for our good, our growth, and our destiny.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Father and Partiality.

Scripture says that God does not show partiality. The example given was between the rich and poor.

The God of the Universe, Creator of all things, gives each, and every, person 100%, focused attention. He died for each, and every, person, whether they receive that forgiveness or not, whether they choose to follow him or not. 

A rich man is not more important in the Father’s eyes. A poor man is not more important in the Father’s eyes. He holds each person equally responsible for following him, for keeping his word, and for maintaining fellowship with him. And he provides equally for salvation, significance and identity. He gives love, abundant and overflowing, to each one equally. And he gives 100%, focused attention to each one equally. 

Think of anything that divides one kind of people from another (race, religion, country, politics, etc.) the Father knows that this thing exists. But it does not exist for him. 

There is only one division that means anything to him. Is someone in his family, or not in his family? And if someone is not in his family, it makes no difference to how his loves that person, his desire for relationship with that person, his attention on that person, or his intention to restore that person to his original design.

And Scripture says that it is God’s desire for his children to imitate his heart, his attitudes, and his behavior.

 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Four Loves

In the original language of the New Testament, there are four words that are translated with the English word “love.” Each word has a different “color” of love. Like sky blue, cobalt blue, and baby blue are all blue, but they are different.

The first kind of love we will call “unconditional love.” It is love given to everyone: strangers, enemies, and the least. It is a love most often attributed to God, who seeks out sinners, rebels, and his enemies, to restore them to his family, and to their original design. It is a love that his family should express.

The second kind of love we can call “friendship love.” The more or less official definition is: love based on common interests and experiences.

There are some people who see God loving his children with this kind of love. They say “God not only loves us, but he also likes us.” We can see a parallel with a physical father, who teaches and disciplines his children, who pushes them toward their potential, but also enjoys playing with his children. I remember playing tag on the school yard “monkey bars” with my son, and wrestling on the living room floor. And when he got older, we played one on one basketball. I have seen grown men having “tea” with their four year old daughters.

This is an important demonstration of love – not unconditionally for an enemy or a stranger – but for a friend or a family member. God delights to have fellowship with his children. Sometimes it entails “heavy,” or important things like Bible study, intercession, and worship. Sometimes, to show us how he accepts us, as we are, where we are, he is willing to sit down and have “tea” … or maybe play video games. My wife feels God is telling her with rainbows, and when she finds coins on the ground, “You’re my buddy. I have good things in store for you.”

The third kind of love we can call “family love.” It is love for people who are extensions of us. We love our grandparents, because they are part of our family. We love uncles, aunts, and cousins. It is not too much of a stretch to see God loving us with this kind of love. We are part of his family, and extension of who he is.

Of course, all of this is so I can ask a question about the fourth kind of love. Most people would call it “romantic love.” And we can certainly see it in a man or woman enamored with their significant other. But a more official definition would be: love of someone, because one is overwhelmed by a particular aspect, or trait, of the one loved. It is easy to see how this is associated with romantic love. One person is taken with the form, and beauty, of the other person. However, the Greeks used this word in reference to the love of God, or the gods. The idea is: one loves God, because one is in awe of his power, majesty, beauty, wisdom, or perfection.

This particular love has gotten almost most exclusively connected in our modern thinking with physical beauty. And a person could be captivated by another person’s beauty. But by definition, one could also be captivated by their intelligence, bravery, or artistic ability.

So, we have seen that God loves us unconditionally, even though we are sinners, rebels, and enemies. We have seen that God can love us as friends, enjoying to be with us, sharing life with us. And we can extrapolate a little, and see how God can love us, because we are part of his family, his body, and his kingdom. So, does the God of the universe, who designed us, and created us, who knows us better than we know ourselves, love us for some aspect of our being, that he built into us, to set us apart from everyone else?
  • I really love Bob, because he can see my character in nature, especially the plant kingdom.
  • I really love Pam, because she takes old, worn out, and ugly things, and re-creates them into new, useful, and beautiful things … kind of like I do with my children.
  • I really love Mary, because her heart is given to children. They feel safe with her. And she brings out the best in them.
  • I really love John, because he brings me into the center of things, and people, and helps them understand what I am really like, and how I really feel about them. 


At this point, I can understand the four loves, and I can see how God could express himself in all four ways. To be honest, I don’t have any Scriptural evidence that God does express himself in all four ways. There is definite evidence for some of the ways. And if I find evidence for others, I will most likely write about it here. And I invite you all to put your two cents about any evidence that you may know of.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

"Adopted" in Christ

There are a few places in Scripture, where believers are described as being “adopted in Christ.” This presents a picture of a child, unwanted, alone, without family, without resources, being chosen and brought into a family. And everything changes, because the family pours out its love into the child, and the Father pours out his love into the family.

This is a compelling picture for many. The Father chooses to love. The Father pursues each of us, intending to bring us home. We are placed in a family, given equal access, equal rights, and equal resources.

But are we looking at the picture correctly?

The word translated “adopted” in the original language is a compound word, derived from two words meaning: “son,” and “to place.” So, the world could be literally translated “to place into son-ship.” It is pretty easy to see how the modern concept of adoption could be used. But are we born into one family, and brought into God’s family?

Scripture says we are born physically into the world, but without God, we are dead physically. When we give our allegiance to Jesus, we are born spiritually. We are born into God’s family. We are not unwanted outsiders. We are natural-born children of God’s family.

Recently, I was told – and Vine’s dictionary seems to agree – that the term “to place into son-ship” is more correctly understood to mean “to give recognition as a son.” It is a proclamation, and an affirmation, of relationship. It is a father, watching his son hit a walk-off home run, or scoring the winning goal in stoppage time, get out of his seat, and yell at the crowd: “That’s my son!”

There is a group of writers who discuss what they term the “orphan spirit.” It is the conviction of some people that they are unwanted and unneeded. They have no place. This declaration of son-ship is the exact opposite. God does not need us, because he is all-sufficient. But God does want us, and does want fellowship with us. And God does give us a place in his family, which needs us. If one of God’s children is living in an “orphan spirit,” they are living in a lie.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Least ... Again

I have been thinking about another way to look at the “least.” I’m sure when Jesus referred to the least, he meant the lowest in society. The poor. The criminal. The social outcast. But could we not also think of them as those we have the least in common. When we combine this, with Jesus’ command to love our enemies, we can come to a bewildering array of conclusions.

It is easy to see how the better-off should love the poor. But Jesus’ commands are for everyone. So, the poor should love the rich.

Everywhere there is a broken relationship, no relationship, or enmity, the family of Jesus should fill that space with love. In both directions.
  • Whites and blacks.
  • Democrats and Republicans. (Conservatives and progressives.)
  • Christians and Muslims. (ISIS?)
  • Christians and gays.
  • The Police and the black community. 

If we have given our allegiance to Jesus, and are members of his family, we have chosen to follow him. We have not only chose to obey him, and his commands, but we have, at some time, decided that his commands express a perfect expression of his design for mankind.

God’s first and foremost intention is for people to live in love. And love covers and encircles every single person: friend, foe, stanger, foreigner, amd across every possible way to divide people.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Least

Jesus told a story about a crowd of people, standing before the throne of God, waiting for judgment.

God told one group, they would be banished from his Kingdom, because when he was hungry, they did not feed him. When he was thirsty, they did not give him a drink. When he was sick, they did not take care of him. When he was lonely, or in prison, they did not visit him.

God told another group, they would inherit from his Kingdom, because when he was hungry, they did feed him. When he was thirsty, they did give him a drink. When he was sick, they did take care of him. When he was lonely, or in prison, they did visit him.

And both groups asked him, when did any of this ever happen? (One woulds think that if an individual found the King hungry, and cooked a burger for him, one would remember.) And the God answered, "When you loved/served the least of my brothers, you loved/served me."

God makes loving and serving one another -- especially the least -- equivalent to loving and serving him.

But who are the least?

The helpless are part of the least. They can do nothing for you. They cannot repay, or reciprocate, for any kindness given to them.

Enemies are another part of the least. Someone who could reciprocate a kindness given, but if they had a choice, would give back evil.

Law breakers are also part of the least. They perform acts of rebellion against the order of their society. They promote a breakdown of peace and safety.

And in regard to the Kingdom of God, we are the least.

From the beginning, we were all intended to be part of God's Kingdom, God's family. The first people chose to live apart from God. They broke their allegiance to the Father, cast of their family ties, and lost their citizenship.

And we all begin in that state. We continue to break God's law. We defy God's rule, and are hindrances to his way. At times, we will deliberately choose to act in ways that advance the kingdom of the enemy. And when we wake up, and realize the emptiness of our lives and actions, we cannot change our hearts. We cannot change our standing before God.

A prime example of helplessness is a human infant. An infant cannot feed or protect itself. Unlike animals, who can walk within a short period of time, sometimes only hours after birth, an infant may take a year. The only reason infants survive is the almost obsessive devotion of their mothers.

We are helpless. We cannot restore our relationship with God. We cannot restore our design. We cannot fill our hearts with true fuel. So, our Father chooses to fil the role of mother, with the same devotion. He restored the relationship. He brought us back into the family. He fills our hearts with that true fuel.

If we break his law, we work against his Kingdom. We are rebels ... perhaps without conscious intention. But we live in ways that damage the effectiveness, the image, and the reputation of God's Kingdom.

We are least in the Kingdom. And God fed, clothed, cared for, and visited each of us. And God's standard is that the children imitate the Father.

Who are the least to us? That homeless man begging on the corner. That driver who cuts you off on the Interstate. Nowadays, maybe it is that man living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Whoever it is, God wants us to treat the least, like he treats the least.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Choosing Jesus ...

When we give our allegiance to Jesus, we become a citizen of God’s kingdom, a member of God’s family, and a friend of the King. We learn that the world is broken. It does not work as God intended. And we are broken. But we look forward to God’s new world. And we rejoice as we consider living in that world, which is not broke, but does function as God intended.

And when the world expresses itself in this broken, ungodly way, we can also rejoice. Problems and trials teach us to endure. We learn to stay faithful. We learn what is important.

And because we practice what is important, we develop character. We slowly become what God designed us to be.

And because of this transformation, we eagerly expect salvation in all its phases. We expect to be delivered from the penalty of sin. We expect to be delivered from the power of sin. We expect to be delivered from the presence of sin.

And God will deliver meet all our expectations. Living as God designed is the best for us. And he delights in our transformation, and our fellowship, because he loves us. His Spirit resides in our inner core, to facilitate that transformation, and fellowship, and to communicate his love.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Serving from God's Love

I have been reading a book (The Five Stones), and in one part, the writers were the story about Jesus getting baptized by John. In the story, Jesus rises from the water, the Holy Spirit rests on him in the form of a dove, and a voice is heard. “You are my son. I love you. I am pleased with you.”

The writers point out this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He hasn’t preached a sermon, healed any diseases, or performed any miracles. Yet, the Father proclaims his relationship, his favor, and his approval of Jesus. The Father gives loves and approval based on identity, not performance.

Recently, I discussed here 70 different parts of a person’s identity in Christ. 70 different things that God proclaims as true about each of his children. They are true, because God proclaims them to be, not necessarily because we walk in them.

Jesus served from his identity, and God’s love and approval. The writers pointed out that people often serve to gain love and approval. Like Jesus, any of God’s children, once they have given their allegiance to him, begin walking with him in his love and approval. We do not need to work for it. We have it already.

What amazed me was the tremendous freedom Jesus walked in. He had God’s total love and approval. That meant he could go all in, and roll the dice without fear. Jesus had no fear!! Of failure. Of rejection.

God’s children need to learn their identity, and learn how to walk in it. The heart to obey, and the willingness to take risks for God, increases as we learn who we truly are. And we can see the impact of this mindset, because the first church understood its identity vividly. And they turned the world upside doen.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Gospel

The classic “formula” of the gospel is:
  • God loves you and has uniquely designed your life.
  • But all mankind has sinned, so they are separated from God. They have no relationship with God. They cannot have fellowship with God. They cannot experience his love.
  • Jesus died to satisfy God’s judgment in our place.
  • We can choose to accept this pardon.
Scripture bears witness to all four of these principles. Each of them could certainly be expanded on a lot more. For example, we could talk about how “accepting the pardon” also requires “repentance.” In other words, we realize that sin, not only separates us from fellowship with God, but it also blocks us from living according to our design. Repentance says “I used to live by these principles and standards of life. Now, I realize they don’t work. I choose to live by God’s principles and standards. I choose to live in subjection to him.”

However, my question today is: how close to the classic “formula” does a person need to be, for his profession of allegiance to Jesus to be authentic?

Augustine lived in the fourth century. To put it simply, he was a bad person. He lived selfishly, and for his own pleasure. But at some point in his life, he realized he was a bad person. And he was horrified by how he was living. So, he began a journey to find how a person can get right with God. After trying several things, he finally came to understand Jesus and the Cross. He understood repentance and faith. He gave allegiance to Jesus, and became part of God’s family.

I have a friend, who before he gave his allegiance to Jesus, was also a bad person. He knew he was a bad person, but he didn’t care. There were worse people. And in the long run, it didn’t matter.

One day, someone gave him a book. The book was about how the Bible is demonstrated to be true by events in history. His reaction was: “The Bible is true. God is true. Jesus is true.” The truth of history convinced him to give his allegiance to Jesus, not his guilt before a holy God.

The story of Paul’s conversion is quite prominent in the Bible. He became an agent of the Jews in persecuting the church. While on a trip to carry out his assignment, he was knocked off his feet by a vision of Jesus. It was this vision that became the main force in Paul giving his allegiance to Jesus. Paul, speaking about his life before Jesus, says that according to the Law, he had no fault. In his mind, at that time, he kept the Law. He was not guilty of breaking it. Scripture does not say what went on in his mind the three days between his vision and his baptism. But it was the truth about an encounter with Jesus that propelled him toward allegiance to Jesus, and not consciousness of sin and guilt.

I was nine when I gave my allegiance to Jesus. I do not have a very dramatic story. I was at my family’s church one Sunday. I became impressed by the fact that there really, and truly, was a God. And if there really was a God, that meant he was Boss of the universe. Which meant my life needed to agree with him, and his “direction.” So, I chose to get in line, and follow him the best I could. And it probably took me less time to decide that, than it did for you to read this paragraph.

Augustine’s main push came from his realization of his sin. The main push for the others came from some other truth. Not that they didn’t learn about sin, and how far away from God’s way they were. It came second though.

God does not follow formulas. God touches the core of each person’s heart, and connects with them. It might be a place of need. It might be a place ofafailure. It might be a truth. God does not get locked in, but uses a multitude of avenues to connect with people, and to persuade them to choose allegiance with him.