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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English: Civil Air Patrol 1985 Cessna 172P, wi...

Civil Air Patrol Search and Rescue Aircraft

No, it’s not a joke, but it is pretty funny when you hear my story! My point will then be clear.

But first, we need to stop thinking of grace strictly as forgiveness, comfort, or a favor we don’t deserve. Grace is continual action. Grace is power. It isn’t static; it’s dynamic. It moves, it drives, it does things. Paul says it’s not by works of the Law we’re saved, but by the works of grace. Not just God’s grace, but ours as well, through partnership with Him.

We can think of grace as fuel. The idea is to burn through that fuel like a jet fighter on take-off in full afterburner. The sinner idling on the tarmac doesn’t burn a fraction of grace the disciple does! Think of it this way: if grace were money, it relates to your discipleship as a grant rather than a salary. Grace is a gift from God rather than something He owes you; but it still revolves around work. Grace isn’t the opposite of work; it’s the opposite of wages and payment. Sin is about wages and pay-back—“the wages of sin.”

Second, grace is also about poise, as in gracefulness and ease. Poise is related to position, as in a rattlesnake poised to strike, or one’s position on economics. Lack of grace means stumbling rather than dancing. At the risk of sounding like a class-A klutz, allow me to demonstrate:

Awk-warrrd…

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Alphabet Soup Love

Image by basheertome via Flickr

God has a vision for mankind. He’d like us to have maximum happiness, peace, love, patience, and competent skill—what scripture refers to as blessedness—to share life with Him. Our part is to catch the vision and follow His plan, which Jesus laid out in the Sermon on the Mount and gave his life to secure for us. There, he details how to get rid of anger, ill will, judgment and other habits that poison human nature.

To love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind isn’t a demand; it’s a basic instruction, the first building block for mankind. Like a rock foundation, it supports the weight of everything else so we don’t have to carry all of life on our own backs.

It’s not as if God were stomping His foot, “Me first! Me first!” That’s prima donna faith. And He’s not Dirty Harry. “Better love me first—punk.” The greatest commandment isn’t for God’s sake, it’s for ours. So are the other nine commandments, which Jesus lumped into one: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. God’s motives are good and generous rather than self-serving.

We tend to think of the word “command” in the sense of domination, pressure, or obligation. But it also means bidding, direction, or instruction. That’s how Jesus used it. Thus, it’s not the Ten Demands, it’s really Ten Directions for optimal well-being and life—according to Jesus, anyway.

“If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” (Mat. 19:17) Jesus and the New Testament apostles didn’t ban them, but rather, renewed and clarified them after Pharisees and experts had long perverted them. We have the same problem today, which turns following Jesus into a tedious chore to meet a divine demand.

Paradigm Shift

The discipleship life-style is easy to understand if we see Jesus’ two commands like flying lessons, musical scales, or the alphabet. A pilot can’t take off until he first learns to taxi. A musician can’t progress until he first learns the basics of scales. A child can’t read or write without learning and practicing his ABCs.

Jesus directs us to follow him the way a kindergarten teacher might say, “If anyone would come after me and learn to read, he must ‘deny’ himself and practice the alphabet every day. Anyone who doesn’t simply can’t learn from me, and isn’t ready yet for whole words.” This is what Jesus means by carrying our crosses and becoming child-like.

Like a child who didn’t learn the alphabet, and consequently crippled his reading/writing skill, so we remain crippled when we try to follow Jesus with misunderstood or contrived motives.

 

Sanada's Secret Passage

Image by jpellgen via Flickr

I don’t watch much TV, but I do occasionally watch Man vs. Wild and Survivorman. I’m simultaneously fascinated by their ingenuity, but haunted by my own inner question: Could I survive in the wild? I know I’d rather eat tree bark than a bug. But I can’t decide, if I had to choose only one, whether I’d rather have a knife, a pack of matches, a rope, or a container of water to survive.

When it comes to religion or Supreme Truth, it’s a jungle out there. In Christianity alone, there are so many theological debates that we’re often lost trying to navigate through many sets of God’s truths. We’re adrift on a sea of doctrines that seemingly don’t relate much to the life we’re living now on this earth.

So if I had to gel all of God’s truths and come away with only one, it would be the certainty that the power to change and improve our lives is available to us in partnership with God. You and I can become the optimized versions of ourselves that God designed.

The key word is partnership. Call it friendship, fellowship, union, or yoking with Jesus, the life of blessed well-being that God offers is accessible. That’s what entering the kingdom of heaven at hand, or “new life from above”, is about. Whether we live on Wall St. or Main St., on Easy St. or Skid Row, it’s about living a kingdom life that counts for something good in the here and now, and to carry that with us into the hereafter. Christian faith is the difference between full-on thriving and merely surviving. (more…)