February 2012


English: Bratislava; New Year 2005; FireWorks

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Sometimes, those three little words, “God loves you” can seem terribly patronizing. Despite much talk about love and joy, we live in a Christian culture (in the U.S., anyway) that seems to be on a mission to minimize—even eliminate—human value and success.

In misguided, over-corrected attempts at humility, it makes for a very one-sided relationship with God where He does everything and our only part is to get out of His way.

For example, if we increase sales at work, or write fantastic term papers, or run a great Sunday school class, many are quick to say that we have nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s “Christ living in you.” Any other response brings accusations of pride and embezzling God’s glory—except when things go wrong. Then it’s all you. Humanity is thus presented as having little value, rightness, or anything really worth celebrating. How tragic and crippling!

One of the themes that Scripture consistently reaffirms is human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ core mission on Earth was to restore to mankind God’s vision of value and worth. It was so central, in fact, that he planned to give his own life to show us this reality. (more…)

Smiley face with thumbs up
Well Done!

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Mat. 25:21, 23, Luk. 19:17)

I think we’re so used to hearing that we can never do anything right that the thought of God praising His children seems strange—maybe even blasphemous. How sad! How disheartening that we’re told to love a grumpy God who doesn’t root for us, doesn’t like us much, isn’t interested in our problems or comfort, and has nothing good to say about us.

To the Gentile woman who appealed to the Jewish Son of David to heal her daughter, Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith!” (Mat. 15:28) To the Roman centurion who called upon the Jewish Master of life, he said, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!” (Mat. 8:10, Luk. 7:9)

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’” (Exo. 33:17)

“The LORD said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes…your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.’” (2Kng. 10:30)

Jesus praised the woman who poured perfume on his feet. (Luk. 7:46) The angel, Gabriel, told Mary that she had found favor with God. (Luk. 1:30) Paul proclaimed, “Now is the time of God’s favor.” (2Cor. 6:2) Jesus encouraged the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” (Mat. 5:14)

It’s tough to love a stingy God who doesn’t think much of us. But God isn’t grumpy, stingy, or selfish; He’s rich with praise and encouragement if we simply listen to Him! “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (Jhn. 5:44)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jhn. 16:33)

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As a follow-on to last Thursday’s post, one thing we tend to forget is that, while we want to trust God, God wants to trust us, too. It’s why He invites us to be in cahoots with Him.

We find much biblical evidence of divine partnership, the close working relationship between God and humanity. God directed Moses to go to the Hebrew slaves, lead them out of Egypt, and raise his staff at the Red Sea. God didn’t lift them out and transplant them into the Promised Land; He delivered them by partnering with Moses.

Noah got to build the ark. David got to sling that stone. Mary carried the unborn Christ nine months. Even the paralytics that Jesus healed were commanded to pick up their mats and walk. Everyone has a significant part to play and meaningful work to do with God!

He wants to share more and more of His power with us to contribute to His plan. That plan is for His children to safely rule and serve the earth in partnership with Him. (That’s our original purpose, and it hasn’t changed.) But He won’t do that unless He can trust us. And He can’t trust us if we’re paralyzed blobs living in fear of stealing His glory or earning His grace if we accomplish anything. He also can’t trust angry, self-righteous children who impose a warped view of Him on the world.

This ties to conforming to His good will rather than living on leashes and merely following rules. To illustrate the difference, I’ll use my experience from Air Force basic training. I loved everything about the Air Force except one thing: I think there should be a law against waking up before the crack of dawn. But that’s just me. Obviously, the Air Force feels differently.

So for six weeks I obeyed the Air Force’s will. I shot out of bed their way because I had no say-so in the matter. But just because I submitted and obeyed their will week after week doesn’t mean I was conformed to their will. Inside, my feelings never changed. So it wasn’t willingness that got me up before dawn, but willpower.

God is looking for something more rewarding for us than willpower. He wants solid joy, strength, ability, and internal goodness that spills outward to others. “Well done, good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful with a few things; I’ll put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Mat. 25: 21, 23)

We know that God used Moses at the Red Sea, but we seldom consider that Moses also used God. In fact, all the biblical heroes did! They shared His vision. While many Christians say, “I’m nothing…just an instrument to be used by God,” I think if we also remember the flip side, we can inject some much-needed joy and spirit into the Christian life instead of a cheap sense of feeling used.

We’re in cahoots with a God who wants to give us charge of many things! Rather than grit His teeth in willpower, He’s faithful and rich enough to willingly share with trustworthy children. And that brings Him great happiness! I, for one, want to be rich in spirit, trusted, and on the same page with Him; it’s our life-driven purpose and direction.

Have you struggled with a sense of cheap insignificance, inability, and being used (not in a good way)? Take heart! That’s just the result of lack of vision, seeing only half the story–nothing that can’t be fixed. Once the whole vision of what God is doing becomes clearer, that sense of insignificance disappears. Willingness sparks to life; and that’s true conformation to God’s will!

English: Chain leash

Suppose I own two dogs, Rover and Fido. Rover needs a leash every time we go for a walk. Without it, he runs all over the neighborhood, puts himself in constant danger, and makes himself a nuisance to neighbors. I can’t trust him.

But Fido doesn’t need a leash. He happily sniffs and explores, but stays right with me no more than a few feet away. While Rover needs an external means to obey, which really isn’t obedience at all, Fido is a picture of the transforming walk with Jesus.

God wants to trust us to rule and serve with Him the way he designed us to. He doesn’t want rules or external means to control us; He wants us to control ourselves. Scripture speaks of gaining self-control and Christ-like character through practice with Jesus.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2Pet. 1:5-8)

Leash Mentality

When Jesus teaches “don’t swear,” but to simply let your Yes be yes and No be no , he’s addressing internal self-control, good judgment, and freedom versus external swearing, insistence, or proving good behavior. (more…)

Hollywood's walk of fame

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I read a great article, “When Jesus Meets TMZ,” about our tendency to create celebrity pastors and become their clones instead of being strong individual followers of Christ. It ties to my recent posts about image. After the following excerpt, I’ll add my two-cent observation and keep today’s post brief.

When Christians look to pastors for wisdom on how to better love God and love one another, they become better disciples of Jesus and better lights of hope in a dark world. 

“When Christians look to pastors to tell them how to dress, what to eat, what hobbies to have, what systematic theologies to prefer, how to vote and what personality to adopt, they become creepy, unthinking clones of broken people—and big red warning flags to a culture that has grown increasingly suspicious of authority figures….

“Pastors that divide the Church by turning non-essential issues into fundamentals contribute enormously to the Christian celebrity culture. But the Church buys right into it when it allows these pastors to divide people into teams, turned against one another. Amidst all the posturing, it’s easy to forget believers are all supposed to be following Jesus.”

My related two cents is that people get all worked up and offended over who is and who isn’t a correct spiritual leader. (I used to be one of those easily worked-up people.) I think it demonstrates how frequently we forget the bottom line: we’re each accountable to God for what we believe and follow. That sobering thought should calm us down a bit. (At least, it did for me.)

If any pastor leads people astray, he/she is accountable for that. But each person who is led astray is accountable for following blindly and not finding out the truth for himself. Religious leaders are one resource, but not our only resource. Depending on them 100% puts a load on them they’re not meant to carry; and it robs us of our individual life-driven purpose with God.

Keeping this in perspective might cut down on the celebrity pastor hype, which is really a booby-trap that can backfire on them as well as on their flocks.

I encourage you to read the full article; it makes some interesting points. The reader comments are even more interesting. As usual, a small debate ensues, which only shows how divided, rather than united, Christians really are.

Folk art Valentine and envelope dated 1875 add...

 Despite what we hear, we’re actually not self-centered people. We’re very others-focused. If only the “sinful government,” unreasonable bosses, snippy neighbors, cheating lovers, mouthy teenagers, and incompetent drivers would just get their acts together, life would be grand, wouldn’t it?

While trying to defend ourselves against their incompetence, rather than launch the power of grace we engage in constant conflict because we insist on correcting others. Then we wonder where all the peace and victory is that biblical Christians voiced. We conclude, perhaps, that it must not be in this life, but in the afterlife.

Vanity

I used to believe that my Christian duty is to verbalize all the sinful short-comings of people around me. We tend to obsess over how the other guy falls short or otherwise gets in our faces. Boy, was I embarrassed when I learned what a vice that can be! Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having our way. Humbleness is the ability to not insist on having our way. Vanity is the most camouflaged sin because on the surface, it appears to focus on the self, when in reality, it aims at others.

One way we’re lured into the trap is with the mistaken idea that it’s always good to be dependent on one another. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is one of many ways the world puts our well-being largely in the hands of others.

Today’s Christian spin on this is that God designed us to be dependent on one another and gave us different gifts specifically to ensure that we remain dependent. Thus, service to others is commonly preached as a mandatory commitment we owe rather than something to volunteer out of a victorious love for life. (more…)

Adam et Eve

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God joyfully gave us His image. That image can be defined as personhood, intelligence, and will—the self. God possesses His own personhood, intelligence, and will.

We inherited from Him an inborn capacity to love, to desire truth and fairness, to appreciate beauty and goodness. The ability to think, ask, and be curious is God-given. Consider that without this ability, we wouldn’t be able to seek wisdom or the kingdom of heaven or any of God’s treasures.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule…over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Gen. 1:26) To do this safely and wisely is a matter of will—specifically, good will. Because God possesses flawless personhood, intelligence, and will, whereas we don’t, the epic battle between good and evil ultimately comes down to a battle of good will vs. ill will.

Personhood, intelligence, and will set mankind apart from plants and animals. There are those who say that humans are just a “higher order” of animals; but animals operate primarily by instinct, whereas humans operate primarily by will (although both use a combination of the two). It’s why God charges us with caring for them and the earth. These merits give humans the capacity to be caretakers, to competently rule our affairs, and to nobly serve others the way our Father does—the way He designed us. (more…)

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