The binding of the UK edition of Star over Bet...This is a modified re-post from last year that seems appropriate again:

I propose that we Christians stop hyperventilating when people say something other than “Merry Christmas.” I’m always sadly amused (if that makes sense) when I see on Facebook, in all-capital letters, stuff like:  PUT CHRIST BACK IN CHRISTMAS!!!!! RESPECT OUR FAITH!!! JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!!!!!

I understand that Christians feel threatened by the equal and opposite hyperventilating from those who seek to wipe out every public nativity scene or reference to Christ.

But can anyone really take Christ out of Christmas? Is Christian faith so fragile that all it takes to knock us on our butts is a greeting like “Happy Holidays”? Should we behave the way the “other side” does, all fearful and agitated and snippy? How Christians answer this in their heads says a lot about what’s in (or absent from) their hearts.

Who cares what other people say? If we’re rooted in Christ, a simple holiday wish shouldn’t be our undoing. If you can’t take a generic greeting graciously, how will you ever come to “bless those who curse you, do good to those who mistreat you”? A secure, assured, at-peace spirit is the mark of Christ in you. So if that isn’t there, Christ isn’t there.

Assuming that we take Jesus seriously and genuinely want his kind of class and character, I propose that we wish our non-Christian friends, neighbors, and strangers a heartfelt Merry Christmas, and smile sincerely when they wish us Happy Holidays. Then say, “Thank you.”

What a concept.

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A ca. 6 months old Winter White Russian Dwarf ...Jesus didn’t make sense to me until I grasped his view of life, the soul, and salvation. The following was a huge revelation:

  • Life is the whole life, a single continuum from conception through physical death, extending to the afterlife, then bodily resurrection, and, as Bud Lightyear would say, to infinity and beyond.
  • A soul is the whole person, the self—mind, heart, body/substance, and behavior/relationships. When God saves a soul, He doesn’t save a piece of the person and forget the rest. Even after death, people continue to think, act, and interact with other people and creatures.
  • Ruin is to be broken, dysfunctional. Lost means to be out of place. Both are Death.
  • Salvation is deliverance from Death. It restores the whole person and entire life to compatible place with God and others. It is life lived with Him wherever you are.
  • Forgiveness is to salvation what birth is to living.

Accordingly, the gospel is about new life, about becoming the kind of person Jesus is in mind, spirit, body, and behavior. The good news is that God’s kingdom is here and at hand for any soul who wants to enter that life. Disciple-students of Jesus learn from him how to live in freedom, the power of knowing God, and secure love for one another.

You enter God’s kingdom not by dying or by drifting, but by living—by venturing on Jesus. In a word, you seek. God, of course, wants to be sought and delights in being found. That’s why He doesn’t barge through our doors. He also seeks us and celebrates when we’re found. (more…)

Sparks
Sparks (Photo credit: Gnal)

Unlike the early Church, today’s American concept of salvation is separated from transformation into Christ-likeness. It probably wouldn’t occur to most modern Christians that transformation is salvation.

Regarding transformation, there’s debate as to whether God automatically does that to you after you’re saved, or whether it’s something that only hard-core believers seek as a desirable, but non-essential dimension of Christian living. Either way, salvation is seen strictly as an afterlife issue; Christian living in ordinary life is seen as a separate issue.

In this view, the definition of salvation is forgiveness of sin so you get into heaven when you die. The only essential connection between salvation and ordinary life is that you must get on the heavenly reservation list before physical death.

Generally, you get on the list by 1.) admitting that you’ll never measure up to God’s flawlessness, and thus need a Savior; 2.) acknowledging that Jesus Christ is that Savior who saves you by simply forgiving sin; and 3.) asking him to “come into” your heart.

If you do that sincerely, you’re immediately placed on the list, and that’s that. You’re suddenly saved and right with God (justified). “I got saved” usually means the end of a sin or merit problem, not the beginning of a process.

Grace is seen as something that happens to you. You contribute nothing to the process but gratitude, and to suggest otherwise somehow steals God’s glory. Even your faith isn’t your own or anything you do, but something God just produces in you. “Transformation” then follows, if at all, as mere behavior modification (Bible study, praising God, etc.) and adherence to various statements of belief. This is considered Christian living, and it’s the extent of transformation for most.

Instead of generating a new kind of life in people, this model creates stone-like passivity that prevents discipleship and passage from “death” to life, the dominant issue in Scripture. American churches are thus full of converts to doctrines, but few disciples to Jesus. (more…)

Crown clip artMaybe we should start with what God doesn’t require from you: flawlessness. The biblical word “perfect” (Greek, teleios) means complete, whole, mature, brought to a finished end or goal.

When Jesus said to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat. 5:48), he didn’t mean flawless, absolutely sinless, and error-free. The sooner you divorce this mind-set and all that goes with it, the sooner you escape Babylon’s cup of toxic, spiritual adulteries.

God simply wants you to be like Him. Or, more accurately, more like Him than you already are. Even as a sinner, you’re created in His image, having more in common with Him than anything else in creation. The goal is to restore that to full completion.

So the first step to becoming more like God is to love, admire, and want His qualities. You can’t pursue what you don’t want, or what you don’t see as possible and worth pursuing. Therefore, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul” isn’t God’s demand to satisfy His ego or meet a divine need. It’s His visionary spark to jump-start meeting your needs.

God wants you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sound, whole, complete, and mature. What does that mean? It means you can love yourself and others. Love your neighbors, including enemies, as yourself. That’s what a clean spirit, “cured” and healthy, looks like. (more…)

  

DVD cover of the Region 2 Essential Collection...

DVD cover of the Region 2 Essential Collection release. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Parts 1-4, we sampled four of six habits, common to people of all cultures and time periods, that Jesus warned of in his Sermon on the Mount: Willful anger and contempt, an adulterous mind-set, swearing oaths, and score-keeping.

Each fortifies the next in a chain reaction that creates a toxic spirit incapable of loving anyone, including yourself and enemies, as Jesus does.

The bad news is that these habits are often seen as right and good, so people protect them the way a drug addict protects his supply. But the more the poison builds up, the more conditioned you are to react negatively at the slightest provocation. It owns you.

The good news is that as you flush each one and God blesses your obedience, the clearer your vision and mind become, and the more conditioned you are to not return insults with better ones. You’ll soon be blessing those who curse you and loving enemies the way Jesus does.

Poison #5

So, the fifth sneaky habit Jesus warns of is outer appearance, reputation, and the need to look good for public approval. In a word, image. The old fashioned term is “vanity.” (more…)

English: The Human Spirit, a 2002 sculpture by...

The Human Spirit, a 2002 sculpture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last few posts have explored the Christian understanding of spirit as heart, mind, will, and character—the essence of personhood.

Spirit can be regarded as a force. I don’t mean an impersonal force like gravity or weather, but a personal force that can know and be known. It can act, interact, choose, and do work as a force for good or evil.

Further, spirit is a force whether housed in an earthly body or not. Paul, for example, alludes to some kind of spiritual body that has substance (1Cor. 15:44). Verses all through the OT and NT consistently describe an active spirit world teeming with angels and other beings who carry out various tasks and deeds.

To put it another way, spirit has power. This is true of God’s Spirit, your spirit, and mine. While God is omnipotent and we’re not, that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. (more…)

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (Photo credit: bamalibrarylady)

Yesterday, Part 1 brought up the debate over how the Law, grace, atonement, character, and faith relate, and the confusion over Paul’s apparent conflict with Jesus’ teaching.

Many people believe that Paul sort of trumps Jesus because Paul’s preaching is more “updated” after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But this has a sneaky way of making Paul the reigning expert and Lord instead of Jesus. It’s unintentional, of course, but nevertheless dominant in church thinking today.

If you want a good example, just ask any pastor, layperson, or yourself what the Gospel is. Ninety-nine percent will quote a dozen verses from Paul, but not a single quote from Jesus. (More info here: A Badly Needed Clearer Gospel.)

I myself did this for decades. But it’s just one of many inadvertent forms of “harlotry” that I now call The Great Substitution.

Lover or Hater?

At any rate, with the preliminaries from Part 1 in mind, let’s look at what Paul says in the book of Romans about the relationship between life, death, spirit, and Law. We’ll see he isn’t the Law-hater he’s been assumed to be, both in his day and ours. It’s the letter (or “works”) of the law and Death he opposes, while he loves the true Law and working of grace. In fact, all his epistles repeat this theme. And, to my great relief and amazement, he’s right in sync with Jesus.

Romans 7:6

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Followers of Christ are “dead” to rule-following and alive to God because Jesus abolished Death, not love.

Romans 8:2

“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:4

“…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

Thankfully, because God changed His tactics by sending Jesus to abolish Death, He doesn’t require flawless obedience. He simply wants honest practice and growth—fruit. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit that Paul teaches in Gal. 5:22 (love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness) is precisely the righteous requirements of the Law he teaches here.

Anyone who says you cannot change your sinful nature underestimates the transformative power of human spirit working in conjunction with divine Spirit. Sure, by yourself you can’t do it. But that’s different from doing it with help from Jesus, the now-living, fully competent Expert on life.

Romans 2:13

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” This agrees with James, who says we shouldn’t be hearers of the Word only, but doers of the Word (Jas. 1:22-23).

Romans 3:31

“Do we, then, nullify the law by [our] faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Jesus won’t obey for us, but he will show us how to keep God’s commands. Grace and substitutionary atonement mean that his atonement substitutes for our atonement, not our obedience.

That’s why we no longer need repeated animal sacrifice but are still accountable to the Law’s intent. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows the way in great detail; faith means we follow his instruction because we trust that he, more than anyone else, knows what he’s talking about.

Romans 13:9

“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Old Yet New Again

In Jhn. 13:34, Jesus gave a “new” command to love one another as he loved us, but it wasn’t new because God had just recently thought it up. It was new because people hadn’t heard it from their leaders. This mind of the Spirit was almost a foreign concept that had to be reintroduced. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as their teachers of the law.” (Mrk. 1:22)

In the Pharisees’ day, God had already proven His point through Israel’s long history that human virtue isn’t a matter of following divine rules. That doesn’t mean God wasted His time or that the Law was no good and should be thrown out. It means that mankind had reached a pre-determined point, ready for the game-changer: Jesus, the Messiah and Savior.

He teaches and demonstrates what kind of person lets the Law of love flow from the inside, thereby becoming well enough (“fit”) to live with God in His great kingdom of love. Regardless what tactics God uses over time to teach the world, His prime message is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments.

“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.” (Psa. 119:1) Not because they have to, but because it’s who they are in spirit.