Archive for May, 2010

So When the Time Comes…

May 31, 2010

“I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.”  John 16:4a.

The warning is there so we won’t grow discouraged or think something unnatural is happening to us.

I guess you could say this is one of my crusades—to inform the body of Christ that, yes, we will face opposition in the form of persecution.  I don’t know when or where but I can tell you I see it shaping up in the world as I write this devotion.  I know many believers who have somehow bypassed Jesus’ prophetic words in the gospels about persecution of the saints, or may be they have just never been taught—or they’re too scared to think about it so they ignore it.

Unless we get a handle on this teaching we will fall away.  Elsewhere Jesus told a parable about seeds being planted.  Some fell in the gravel and rocks along the side of the field, which killed most of the plants because there was not enough moisture to survive.  Some fell among the weeds and thorn bushes and were blocked from the sun and robbed of nutrients.  Then, of course, there was the seed that fell on good ground and survived.

Each illustration tells us something about the nature of the human heart.  It also tells us something of God’s desire to reach those on the fringe as well.  Surprisingly enough, sometimes a stalk of wheat will survive the rocks or weeds/thorns and produce fruit anyway.  I’ve seen field grass grow where I wouldn’t suspect it could last because it found a source of water and dirt to keep it not only alive but thriving, but this is rare.  Jesus’ parable speaks to a couple of scenarios.  The rocks illustrate the persecution, lack of support and general famine in the world where God’s Spirit is concerned.  The weeds are the cares of life, pleasure and distractions which take our mind off of the important issues.

It’s easy to see why Jesus warned us what we will face for too many of us would grow discouraged and quit.  If we know it’s a normal side effect of serving Him, we won’t be surprised or worried when persecution comes or life takes bad turns.  Yet, even with this, it’s easy to see how we could misinterpret the persecution and rejection as evidence of our service to Christ, when all along it comes from a misrepresentation of Him.  I’m pretty certain this is one of the reasons why some in the world resent the church because we invoke the name of Jesus in places it doesn’t carry weight nor should it be used for an argument.  Politics is one place, the marketplace is another.

We cannot expect an immoral world (morality according to our God’s instructions, I mean) to submit to our conscience on the matter.  In fact, if we perform differently, we will stand out as abnormal and be resented anyway.  There’s no need to demand the world to conform to Jesus when they don’t believe in Him nor acknowledge Him as Lord.

The warning of Jesus wasn’t designed to help us avoid the problems around the bend but to endure them and not grow discouraged.  This means we must make our minds up to stand no matter what the odds or opposition.  If we get criticized by our peers or persecuted by our community or government, we must decide to stand.

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An Ounce of Prevention…

May 27, 2010

“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.  They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.  I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.”  John 16:1-4.

In all my years of teaching the Word and testifying to others I have never been so discouraged as when I hear preachers avoid this text by preaching the “good news” instead of the good news of the kingdom.  The church of Jesus seems almost paralyzed by reality for we go to one extreme or another.  Either we have a martyr complex and torture ourselves or we believe in heaven on earth—sans the trials and tribulations.

Faith isn’t faith until it’s tested.  Thoroughly tested.

That means anyone who claims their faith preempts them from suffering has lied to themselves and everyone else, for faith is forged in the fires of adversity and opposition.  Jesus’ warning to the disciples set them on a road of trust through the trials they all faced later that night and for the rest of their lives.  He knew how hard it would be, for the enemy of their souls would send every messenger of discouragement that could be found to knock their foundation out from under them.  He wanted them to stand no matter what so the only way to ensure this was to warn them about what they faced.

Many a man stands afraid but determined in the face of war, calamity or a personal protection issue, but set these same men up in front of peers who ridicule, mock and undermine his intelligence, manhood or stubbornness, and most will crack like thin ice.  And the sole reason is they haven’t put God first; instead they’ve built an idol up of their own image.  We imagine ourselves, and thus believe, to be staunch defenders of moral virtues and godly habits, when much of the time we’re posing for our rat pack/neighborhood.  I know I’m sounding critical but I think it’s necessary for us to take off the rose colored glasses and see things as they are rather than as we prefer them.

Jesus’ first sentence in our text,  “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray” is key to our understanding of why it’s vital we teach tribulation theology in our services.  If we don’t warn people of the opposition they will face, we are guilty of false advertising.  By being “careful” with the more unattractive elements of the gospel, we set our students up to fail when the wind blows real hard.

“But,”  I’ve heard it argued,  “if we tell them all the truth too soon, they will be frightened off!”

True.  But do you want your church weakened by this?  A church not founded on the Rock Christ Jesus is doomed to fail—if not in this age, the age to come—for this teaching is not mine or some martyr based theology we can take or leave but the words of Christ Himself.  We have to warn everyone who comes to Him they will face opposition and then be there to encourage them when it happens—and make no mistake, if they are living out the gospel in its true form, they will face opposition.

Do we trust love based on the feel good moments in our lives with someone?  Is it the love that is expressed in happy moments that stands the test of time or that which goes through the worst life can throw at us?

I think we all know the obvious answer to those two questions.  So why do we think faith is any different?

We in America haven’t face persecution for following Jesus, which means we have a hard time registering what that would look like.  The day is fast approaching, however, when this will be our norm.  Are we ready?  Have we taken this warning to heart and realized that the world hates Jesus in His glorified form and anyone who wants to be like Him?

Consider this a friendly warning, then.

Counselor AKA Spirit of Truth

May 26, 2010

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me.  And you also must testify for you have been with me from the beginning.”  John 15:26, 27.

The Mission continues to this day.  The Spirit in the world inspires polarizing reactions.  In the rejection field we find indifference, out right rebellion and everything in between.  In the acceptance category we see rudimentary confession to downright fanaticism.

His name is Counselor for a good reason because  He gives good counsel since He speaks the truth.  I know so many viewpoints surrounding this character in the Godhead that I wonder what to think sometimes…that is until I come to this chapter and realize the Spirit’s primary purpose is not to wow the public with miraculous stage shows or to act like a babel fish, but to guide us into all truth.  Herein lies the clearest evidence of the Spirit’s presence in our lives:  If we are living according to the Word of God.

All the other manifestations are nice and fun yet don’t really match up in priority to this one.  When I hear someone speaking in tongues (and I don’t judge whether they are or not because I don’t have the gift), I ask them one question:  Has the truth of Jesus affected your life in a drastic way for change?  Any other answer besides a firm “yes”, along with a demonstrated attitude contrast, leaves me doubting their grasp of what the Spirit does.

Christianity is not a circus act to impress the world with our pyrotechnics, instead we follow the testimony of Paul who said,  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.  1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12.  The testimony of a quiet, self-contained life speaks more loudly than all the preaching in the world—especially if we mind our own business.

So I will believe you have the Spirit in spades, more likely, if you show me love, kindness, respect, patience, gentleness, etc, than if you speak in the tongues of men and angels cuz I see nothing in the latter that really demonstrates the change in character.  The gospel message is not about salvation from death alone but sin as well.  We are saved from our sin not for the purpose of continuing it.

I speak with authority to this issue since I am a sinner being saved by grace.  Grace which is given for the main purpose of saving me from my sinful habits and cravings for anything or any Way outside of the God’s.  Everything filters through the cross, which has on the other side eternal life and a renewed, changed mind.

That last sentence in our text commands the disciples to share what they know.  That’s all a testimony is, folks, sharing what we know.  Those who think they must have some crazy conversion story where they were drugged out or in jail is simply ludicrous.  If all of us are honest with those who want to know, we can tell them of how lost we felt, speak to the sin that so easily entangles us then demonstrate how much God has changed not only our lives but perspective.

The disciples went out into the world and testified to what they knew about their Master.  Like He said, they had been with Him from the beginning and saw all the miracles as well as quiet personal moments.  They affected the world beyond what any of them imagined or expected.

Guilty of Sin

May 24, 2010

“If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.  But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law:  ‘They hated me without reason.’ ”  John 15:24, 25.

I wonder sometimes how Jesus would fare in today’s society as a miracle working, prophetic Messiah.  You know there would be those who would immediately call Him a charlatan, while others would try to figure out how He performed the miracles, using equipment and going all scientific.  From what I know of the NT I don’t think our Master would submit to any of it—at least not as a guinea pig or lab rat.  I think He’d be amused by the artificial tests and philosophical analysis of His mission.

On the other hand, some fanatical sect would probably assassinate Him to silence His voice…Oh, wait, they already did that, sorry.

It’s revealing when Jesus refers to the Psalms as “their law” how little we really understand how the OT was viewed by the Jews. We have so many fickle opinions shouting down legalism or liberalism that we get overwhelmed by the tumult. So the OT is many times relegated to a backdrop at best for the NT church in modern times, at least, whereas for the early church, before the NT was written, it was the only Scriptures in existence.  But what I wanted to point out in this text is the fact that Jesus referred to the Psalms as part of the Law, which most of us wouldn’t expect.  For the NT church the first five books of Moses make up the extent of the Law and the rest is either history, prophecy or instruction.

Jesus quoted Psalm 35:19; 64:4 loosely but accurately enough for the disciples to know what His reference happened to be.  The Jews did hate Jesus without reason and set out to ambush Him by using one of His disciples.

The same people remained guilty of their sin precisely because they saw the miracles, heard and, for the most part, understood the teachings and experienced the unquestionable power of Jesus.  They ran out of excuses the moment they began plotting His death after Lazarus’ resurrection—doubly guilty of murderous intentions when they decided to kill Lazarus as well.  There’s no way around it for they set out to silence and squash the blinding truth in a dead man raised to life—irrefutable evidence of the power and claims of Christ.

We can learn something from their mistake, I believe, that’s invaluable.

Truth is truth no matter what the source.  This is an important understanding and humbling or humiliating experience (depending on one’s pride) when we encounter obnoxious people wielding facts like a bludgeon.  Still, denying what is truth puts us squarely in the Jews camp in their reaction to Jesus.  Sometimes We to lay the obnoxious out in the dust or seek to mollify their effect, sure, but in doing so we should be merciful, gracious and forgiving where it’s possible to extend such.  The history of the church based on Jesus is replete with outbreaks of violence and sheer nonsense where people struggle over who gets control.  It’s pretty sad since the gospel turns into a means of beating someone else up rather than salvation.

The problem facing most leaders is how to handle the voices of truth rather than truth itself.  God used some pretty bizarre methods to get people’s attention in Bible times so we need to tread carefully when facing someone we just want to call a freak, a fanatic or even a  zealot.  Sometimes God uses the weirdos simply because no person with any amount of commonsense would take on such an enterprise.  But leadership should show themselves wise by actually meeting with the man or woman, assessing their content and allowing the body of Christ to be in on the discussions.  Leadership should view themselves as referees in these situations where we guide people back to the main point and keep the discussion on track with Biblical fact rather than merely resisting or mollifying the voice of public conscience.

If we were willing to challenge our own understanding and methods constantly through the Word, we wouldn’t need those wacko voices to shake us out.

The unfortunate side effect of these bizarre and often times misguided voices is that they gather a following and the church splits.  To be sure, it’s an unavoidable side effect of the problem.  In any altercation where twisted minds run with light and darkness in both hands we’re going to find collateral damage.  Jesus warned if try to pull of up the weeds before the harvest (the Day of judgment), we will lose good wheat.  Yet there are multiple illustrations in Acts and other NT books where this had to happen to save the church as a whole.  We cannot tolerate unsound doctrine but there is a way of confronting it that is the most effective for those in the church who simply want truth.

The best way is to acknowledge the truth and expose the lie; which might sound simple but has to be handled with careful, gracious and firm hands.  If something doesn’t match up with Scripture, it has to be exposed, yet the attitude with which we approach the messenger will determine the fallout.  No matter how we handle it, however, fallout will occur.

Revelation 21:27; 22:15 both declare there will be those who love lies and plenty of liars to supply them.  Yet Nothing impure will ever enter it (the New Jerusalem), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

Tough words, I know, and it convicts me because I lie to myself on occasion so I don’t have to face my own pride or sin.  So do you.  John’s words shouldn’t cause despair, however, for his point isn’t that sinless people will enter the City but those who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.  There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved and no other gate into eternal life by which to enter. In another letter to the church John declared  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.  1 John 1:9, 10.  So we see it is not our sin which keeps us out of eternal dwellings but our refusal to acknowledge it and turn to Him in submission.  By our act of turning to Jesus we automatically show repentance, which means we have turned our eyes from our sin to our Savior.

I confess freely I am a sinner saved by grace.  I wash my life daily in the blood of the Lamb.  I am sexually immoral at times, have lied to myself and others, been resentful, bitter, angry to the point of rage, faithless, fault-finding and gluttonous.  In all these things I have acknowledged both my sin and inability to conquer my own nature without the presence the Holy Spirit to renew my mind.  I confess freely, also, that my way of thinking about sin is changing constantly to resemble my Master.  I will not live in a lie by the grace of God.  I will not depend on anything but the blood of Jesus for either my salvation or life here on earth.  And though He slay me, I will still serve Him.

Refusing to acknowledge Christ as Lord, especially after ample evidence, puts the guilt of our sin square on our won shoulders.  By declaring Jesus our Lord our guilt is washed away and He bears the guilt for us.

No Excuse

May 19, 2010

“If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin.  Now, however, they have no excuse their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father as well.  John 15: 20b-23.

Taking this sentence by sentence we get a better picture of what Jesus is trying to communicate as a whole.

For one thing, those who try to separate out the the disciples “opinions” from Jesus’ actual words fall into the category of anyone who disobeys the teaching of Jesus.  If they don’t obey Christ’s teachings, they won’t obey the disciples, for the the latter know the message first hand so their writings hold more authority over what was said. I find it fascinating how many times I hear from even “believers” about certain texts being compromised or mishandled over the years, little realizing we have first century documents which have the original texts in them.  This should make us wonder what people are really saying when they cast doubt on the Scriptures.

What their doubt says to me when they object to the ultimate authority of the Scriptures is they want something our Bible forbids.  In my experience it all boils down to this eventually because compromise grows at the heart of every objection.  My rule of thumb is:  If it doesn’t make sense to me or I don’t like the point I seem to be getting from the text, there’s something wrong with my understanding or my heart.  But the only reason to think this way is, of course, if I accept the Bible as God’s message to mankind.

Despite all the Jews’ claims to the contrary, Jesus said they didn’t know their own God.  The smoke screens on their own lives and additional teachings surrounding the originals left the very people who knew the Scriptures the best blinded by the veil of distaste for their own Him.  Their ancestors couldn’t handle the glory of God in its fading brightness on Moses’ face, and neither could they.

What recurring sins in our lives would we rather not bring into the light where they can be seen clearly for what they are?  I struggle constantly with sexual lust which has been tempered over the years to not include every woman I come in contact with.  In fact, I’ve grown better at listening to the Spirit when it warns me I’m headed down that rabbit trail.  This doesn’t mean, of course, the lust problem is gone necessarily, because it pops up in other areas of my life or in other ways, but God is dealing with this recurring sin and I’m seeing deliverance.

My confession is not so I can be clear in front of you who read, it’s so you can understand the method by which we accept the authority of God’s Word in our lives.  The Bible tells us lust is wrong.  Sexual lust occurring just in one’s mind Jesus claimed was adultery just as much as having physical contact with the other person.  For me to be clear before God and to acknowledge Him as both my authority and Master, I have to look at every instance of lust as going against His truth and therefore sin.  I love God and believe He is right and I am wrong where we disagree on lifestyle or morals, yet this doesn’t mean I’m not craving to get my own way now, in the moment.

The Bible doesn’t grade sin like humans do either.  Say for instance we think a head of state is guilty of worse sins than a man who steals bread.  In effect, we are correct, but not taking in consideration the faith factor, for we lost Eden over a piece of fruit.  Let that last piece of information sink in and adjust our thinking, because if eating a piece of fruit put a death sentence on our heads, mass murder cannot bring anything more.

The point is Jesus’ teaching through His disciples is sacrosanct, though not unquestionable.  We must believe the Word spoken to us though we might not have a correct understanding of it at all times—and in some cases, never.  Our understanding is not the problem as much as our hearts’ willingness to obey what we know.  We must live up to the light we understand.  I don’t think God requires us to live up to anyone else’ grasp of things.  I make it a practice now and teach everyone I have influence with never to live out something in Scripture I don’t have a handle on.  In other words, if I practice it wrong, I may misrepresent the kingdom.  At the same time I believe we must wrestle with the Scriptures, challenging our own grasp of the texts constantly so that through our continued exposure to it, we scrub away the scales on our eyes.  Somethings take this kind of study.

On the other hand, somethings we won’t actually understand until we begin to live them out.

Jesus declared the Jews to stand condemned for their rejection of His word, Himself and through Him, the Father.  Their sin remained because they understood the message and rejected it in favor of their own preference.  Sound familiar?  It should because the Christian church at large constantly wrestles with this problem.  Someone gets a “new” understanding then makes their whole teaching pivot on this one thing—which means they have made a godling out of a teaching.  Our world pivots around the Savior not a teaching.  Everything we hold to be true, we hold lightly since we know how cloudy our judgment can be at times.  We also know our understanding of the universe has changed dramatically since Jesus walked the earth.  Just this truth alone should give every believer pause in their strident march to convert the world to their POV.

We must rightly divide the word of truth, live it in such a way that our lives are open books of God’s healing and restorative power and walk humbly in the knowledge that we are all sinners saved by the grace and mercy of the Christ who died for us.  Claiming to accept Jesus means we accept His teaching, which, by default, means we accept the disciples’ take on it too.

So, Don’t Be Surprised

May 18, 2010

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.”  John 15:18, 19.

Does this resonate with anyone but me?  Jesus gives two reasons the world will hate His disciples:  1)  they don’t belong to the world.  2)  He chose them out of the world to belong to Him.  The first one is directly connected to the second but not the same thing at all.  Not belonging to the world may or may not be related to being chosen by Christ, whereas belonging to Him means we don’t belong to the world by default.

But is there any real way to avoid the world’s hatred toward those who follow Jesus?  Will being relevant to modern sensibilities?  Will compromise, if we still claim to belong to Jesus?

What can we use to attract the world to Christ yet still maintain our spiritual integrity?

The truth Jesus reveals here is the love of the world is mercurial and cold.  How the world loves its own is probably a debate we could get into but all we have to do is look at how utterly divided our own country is to see what the state of the agape’ is in.  The love the world would give its own is conditional at best and non-existent at worst.  Slavery, oppression, every kind of theft, graft and embezzlement known to man lives actively in current society and simply hides itself cleverly disguised as religiosity or the divine right of kings.

I agree with many of my friends who hold other beliefs than my own that Christians have caused problems, are hypocritical and don’t live up to their own preaching.  Yet this doesn’t explain the world’s hate for Christ as He is presented in Scripture.  Fakes, charlatans and hypocrites abound in every walk of life inside and outside the Christian faith, so what’s the big deal with those who follow Jesus?

“Remember the words I spoke to you:  ‘No servant is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” John 15:20, 21.

We can’t sidestep this understanding if we’re gonna’ conform to the mind of Christ.  There’s no wiggle room here nor is their any escape for the unpopularity of Jesus’ teachings—even in the church.  If you ever hear the words,  “Jesus didn’t really mean that” or “There are some parts of the Bible that were just the disciples’ slipping their own ideas into Jesus’ words”, proceed with extreme caution or walk away and don’t look back because the weeds grow with the wheat.

I know many people who tell me they don’t hate Jesus but can’t stand His church, like the bumper sticker “Jesus, save me from your followers!” as if the two were separate.  We can’t deny people in religions have done many foolish, godless and horrible things in the name of their god(s), and Christians have 2000 years of history proving the weeds grow amongst as well.  The crusades were disgusting, politicizing the message is like marrying oil and water and general compromise so we can keep the job that pays is outright disobedience to Christ’s instructions.  The world may not attack everyone directly, for here in the States our country is built on a pseudo tolerance of religious preference, which translates into “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the marketplace.

Even believers struggle to be open about who they follow.  The fear of being found out and ridiculed isn’t just an adolescent conundrum but grows up with adult believers of all stripes.  The problem is modern discipleship doesn’t usually include a teaching about how we should structure our public lives where the social and working world are concerned.  We don’t teach discretion in the office because most churches have become so insulated they don’t really think about what it means for us to be in the world but not of it.  Or, a church will become so obnoxious they leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth—including other believers.

Jesus’ words,  “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them on the Day when He returns in glory” ring out with a hard edge for most of us because we misinterpret what it means to be ashamed of Him.  Being cautious around unbelievers with the hope we know is not shame but wisdom.  Our Master knew this so He warned us  “don’t throw your pearls before swine or they will be trampled.” But there’s no escaping the truth of the message of Christ as it pertains to open living.  Our daily lives must demonstrate the humility, attitude of service and trust we put in Christ’s word otherwise we are empty of meaning and lost to the faith.  At the same time we should never push our beliefs in someone’s face for this is outside the character of Jesus as well.

We must practice discretion, balanced thinking and godly wisdom when dealing with the church and the world, all the while remaining openly Christlike.  Paul’s admonishment to be prepared in season and out of season to give an answer for the faith doesn’t necessarily translate into telling people during an office meeting.  Unless we are challenged on the subject, certain settings are inappropriate for sharing our faith in a Bible study method.  Infusing our mores into our daily routine, speech and conduct towards others speaks far louder than words could anyway.

No servant is greater than his master, which means in this context we first must become like our Master before persecution means anything holy at all.  Those who attract persecution or opposition by being obnoxious cannot claim Jesus as their mentor because they have put the world’s spin on Jesus’ image.  The message must change us not the other way around.  Our duty is to challenge ourselves and question our understanding continually so that we make sure our lives conform to the truth.  Otherwise we are no different than the world we criticize, for they adjust the message of God’s word to suit their desires.  We, on the other hand, adjust our desires to God’s word.

Who Chose Who?

May 11, 2010

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  This my command:  Love each other.  John 15: 16, 17.

This passage took me years to get a handle on for the simple reason I have lots of preconceptions in the way.

The biggest barrier to understanding Scripture, I believe, is traditional views which are affected by modern sensibilities.  We know social justice was a theme of Christ’s message, for example, but in our modern context we seem to see His teachings as boiling down to that theme alone.  While Jesus condemned injustice and worked through His miracles to right wrongs, correct misunderstandings and debunk false traditions based on bad interpretations of Scripture, He never actually changed the sociopolitical structure of His day.  Yet I think He sums up His attitude perfectly in His rebuke to the priests, Pharisees and lawyers,  “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.  You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

What gets in the way of my grasp of this phrase “You did not choose me, but chose you…” is the lack of choice I have in the matter.  My era preached social justice and individual freedom from every soapbox imaginable, to the point that the commercial world used such principles in their advertisements to lure buyers.  I can’t stand squashing individuality at all because it would mean others as well as my own idiosyncrasies would be destroyed.

Jesus really doesn’t care about my preference at all for His goal is to reveal the truth not play to my bias.  So, just in case the disciples were getting cocky about their “choice” to follow Him, He set the record straight.  He chose them for a set purpose, to demonstrate the very kingdom He came to the world to proclaim.  How many times in His talk has He told them to love each other?  Several, with more to come.  What else can He mean by this except to make the point that if we don’t demonstrate this kind of love, we cannot be His disciples, though we might claim the name.  The promise of receiving from the Father is tied inextricably to the love we have for one another.

Nothing is more important since nothing else is quite as unique as love.  Doctrinal differences are many times merely semantic rationales for our preferences, characteristics of the gods we hold as sacred and generally based on our own fears.  Love matching the character and methods of Jesus, however, goes outside the box of human practice to a place where it means we will rebuke someone we care about for their good,  we will be humble about our own sin as well as upfront about it, and to give ourselves to the benefit of all who grow in the grace of Christ.

By inference Jesus tells us what the root of our fruit will be:  Love for one another.  If we truly serve and love God, the fruit will be evident in our relationships to other people.  No one will need to wonder whether or not we are followers of Jesus because the facts will speak for themselves.  This is why doctrine alone cannot prove of our sincerity.  I can hold many opinions that I don’t live up to nor actively practice, which makes them useless.  But living out the love of God in my life for His family here on earth is about as different as it comes.

Okay, here’s another observation I should make as well:  The fruit the disciples produced did last for we are the results of their labors.  Their love for one another, sense of family and dedication to the common cause of Christ turned their world and ours right side up (I almost said upside down but since all of humanity is upside down already due to sin, I rephrased it).  Their work produced eternal results for every person saved is the fruit of their labors—and deaths, if you think about it.  We are the fruit of their connection to Jesus; we are the jewels in their crowns; we bring an everlasting joy to Jesus’ heart by submitting to His call on our lives.

You’ve heard of pyramid schemes?  This is one which doesn’t use others for profit nor barter friendship for money but gives wholeheartedly to bless others.  It starts at the top, with Jesus, and spreads out eternally for the joy of all involved.

Jesus’ Idea of Friendship

May 9, 2010

“My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  John 15:12-15.

For a long time this passage became my default quote.   I love the fact that Jesus calls us “friends”.  The God of the universe, through whom all things were made, just called me His friend, that’s unreal.  It’s also wonderful beyond words.

Unfortunately, His friendship is not without a condition or two.  Do you see them?  One isn’t stated as a condition but as a truth about friendship itself.  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Love for each other just took on a scarier meaning.  We can’t get away with casual contact or offhand friendships anymore within the body of Christ because to be like our Master we must lay down our lives for one another.

There’s no way around it, friendship in the way of Jesus means sacrificing our own life sometimes for the sake of others.  It also  subtracts any sort of superiority in the Body of Christ since Jesus doesn’t call His disciples “servants” anymore but “friends”.  That distinction is incredibly significant because we think of ourselves as less-than God, which we are in ability, physicality and spiritual acumen.  But He doesn’t care.

Jesus, the Lord of all Creation, the Judge, the Advocate, the Savior of the world, knows me, loves me and wants to be intimately acquainted with me.  Make it personal, folks, He calls us His friends and reveals to everyone willing to open up to Him what is on His mind.  Jesus reveals everything He learned from His Father to us through His teachings.  In other words, everything we need to know is written down for our growth in friendship with God.

Does this lessen God’s stature by His being a friend to humanity?  Not at all!  It raises us up to spiritual heights unknown, changes us into His image, and transforms our very being into something entirely new.

We show our friendship with Him by loving each other, and He demonstrated what that looked like by paving the way through the cross.  For us to be His friends, we have to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

This is Jesus’ idea of friendship.

The Wish Factor Context

May 6, 2010

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples.  John 15:7, 8.

I don’t know about you , but telling a child to “ask whatever you wish” is a fairly dangerous idea from my experience.  The list could go on and on and on and on…  The clever way Jesus proposes we ask, however, is first to set up a condition for the answer,  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you…” places a qualifying clause on getting an answer.

God’s character and nature is taught in every Christian church around the globe.  I’m not gonna’ debate whether or not they get it right (the law of averages and human nature dictate we all have it wrong somewhere in our equation), what I would like to do, however, is debunk this idea that God doesn’t like to give us good things—or won’t.  The answer to our wish list is always a “yes” in Christ when our lives are open to Him and follow His word.

I don’t like conditional generosity because it usually smacks of earning something that should be given free (and many times the person giving owns the receiver), but on this one I have to agree.  A person who will misuse the gifts of God for selfish ends can’t be trusted with them.  Now there are many types of gifts, as we well know, so we have to qualify again what we mean by them in this context.  Since God sends His rain on the just and unjust alike, we can’t think what is natural is out of God’s gifting to humanity at large.  Jesus speaks to that which can only be found through submission to Him, the connection with God’s nature growing out of being conformed to the mind of Christ.

When we have the mind of Jesus, we know the will of the Father, which then means we know what we can and can’t wish for, then in turn what God will answer.  Since God cannot sin nor be tempted to sin (sin being a denial of His sovereignty), we must conclude anything which smacks of greed, self-ambition, lust or immorality is outside of the “whatever you wish” category.  What we can wish for in Christ, however, takes us into a territory unrealized by the average experience.

As we get to know the mind of God, we begin to understand how protected we are in Christ.  Our lives are of infinite value to Him therefore we know He wants us to enjoy our lives, become happy, content and satisfied with good things.

I need to digress here for a minute because I, along with my teachers and mentors, thought the Christian life was about suffering, a constant martyrdom which only had its reward(s) in the afterlife where we would be (bored) for eternity.  Getting to Know the word of God debunked this view for me like the reference in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus created all life by design, not by accident.  Things didn’t just accidentally fall into place with Him at the helm of creation.  Instead, He set out to create not only living organisms but the characteristics and parameters by which they would operate.  He had in mind a complete picture of what He wanted the human existence to look like.  So when He says He came to give us a full life, He knows what that should look like…which means we won’t unless we have Him and His word as a constant presence in us.

Notice one other thing from this text that’s of utmost importance:  Jesus doesn’t simply tell us His word must remain in us and then we’ll be able to ask whatever we wish, but He must live in us as well.  The combination of Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit and His word is where we find our knowledge of the truth for without the Spirit to guide us into all truth, we will pervert the meaning because we will misunderstand its intent.

I confess I haven’t sweated in prayer over the things God has promised to provide us.

I can hear some of my friends asking,  “Why would you need to?  I mean, didn’t you just say God wants to give us good things?  Don’t you believe in grace?”

The reason we need to wrestle in prayer, I’ve discovered, is our closed off spiritual condition will not open without it.  God is pouring  out His blessing through Christ on the world, but the world (and, sadly, many believers like me) don’t receive it because of those crusty hard spots closing off our hearts.  We think somehow that God should be able to bless us despite the blockages but He’s just being pissy about it.  God made the rules of believing and receiving for a reason.  As He told us through Jeremiah,  “You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” I don’t think He’s speaking about a perfected, healed heart in Christ but all the heart we have available for the effort.  The time we spend opening ourselves to the Master will be time where the crust is chipped away—not by our own efforts, mind you, but through His presence coming in to break apart the stuff that hinders us.

You and I have sin to reckon with on a daily basis which hinders not only our growth but our reception of God and His word as well.  Jesus spent all night in prayer; the prophets fasted and prayed for days on end.  The method isn’t there to earn something from God, however, but a means of opening up the heart so we can hear Him.  I don’t know about you but I have a lot of clutter in the way of my spiritual eyes and ears that distracts me from comprehending God’s will for my life.

If in the past every prophet, servant of God and Christ Himself had to seek God’s will in this way, what will we accomplish if we don’t?  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3.

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Habitation

May 4, 2010

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4.

“Remain” “Abide” “Live in” all recognize one truth:  without a connection to Christ we will die spiritually.  And it’s not only a “connection” but an intimate one; to be rooted in the dirt makes the plant intimate with the soil, to be connected to the vine, the branch must be part of the vine.  Intimacy is about knowing something so well we don’t have to guess as to its purpose.  It’s one of the reasons sex in the KJV Bible is indicated by the words “know” and “knew” because they speak to something profoundly informed.  To know another person as much as a man knows his wife takes getting personal beyond casual contact and becoming part of not only her body but her heart.

Everywhere in our lives we see this illustration lived out.  For food to be of any benefit it has to become part of the organism it’s feeding.  We see it in a baby’s connection to its mother, the seed comes from the plant and grows more seeds out of its own maturation; the water flows into the sea, evaporates and becomes part of the sky only to be rained down to fill the rivers feeding the sea again.  A man becomes part of a woman and she, in turn, takes him into her body and they become part of each other.  The magnitude of the psychology and physiology mystery just in sex is and has been a study for man throughout our history.  Sex is just one illustration of how intimate the Godhead is within their relationship; it needs to be seen by those of us who practice Jesus’ Way as something more than a way to make babies and have a fun filled night of pleasure with our partner.  It is the living illustration of what Jesus means by “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”

I know, I know, so many of us have a slobbering, lecherous and unwholesome view of sex, so much so that the very idea of God illustrating intimacy by it sets off our gag reflex.  Yet this reaction is due to our misuse of sex.  If we viewed sex through the Creator’s intent, we could enjoy it as sheer pleasure, yes, yet still recognize its depth, breadth and height at the same time.  Our ability to become part of another person’s body, heart and mind (the last two I’m separating only for the sake of illustration) only enhances the pleasure we receive as we give.  God created pleasure to help us know the joy, fun, delight, consummate ecstasy and out of body experience the three in one have enjoyed throughout eternity.  Becoming one with God allows us to taste this in a human bite, of course, but never the less we get to sample it on a daily basis.

Life is built on the demonstration of the continuity of giving and receiving.  Christ gives/gave/will give us life only as we remain in connection with Him.  It doesn’t matter how tenuous or strong the connection, life will flow through it to strengthen our resolve and enlarge our hearts.  What happens next is no less profound, however, for it flows out of us to bless others.

Christ craves intimacy with us.  Not in the way a stalker craves it with the objectification of his or her lust to own or possess, but in a symbiotic relationship.  He needs nothing from us except our love and adoration, which He gives back to us to the point of our cup overflowing.  God is not in the business of miserly blessing us, but of the abundant, beyond our ability to fathom or comprehend kind.

The more we open up to love, the more we grow in capacity to love; the more we open up to God, the more godlike we become and the greater our ability to demonstrate who He is to those we come in contact with on a daily basis.  As our connection grows larger and more free flowing, out intimacy with Him becomes richer, broader and  more incomprehensible to those who don’t have it, though they can see the results in our lives.

So, Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  Colossians  3:15-17.