Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unity is Tough, Individualism is Rough

As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew in numbers. ~ Acts 16:4-5
Most of us have, at one time or another, struggled with receiving direction from others. But look at the results mentioned in the above scripture.

The pull to resist unity leads to a rough existence not only for the individual resisting direction but also for those who are forced to choose which individual is "right." Stress and negativity build up in the leader resisting direction; the effectiveness of that leader is damaged beyond the specific circumstance; and the good intended by all is weakened.

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus warns the Pharisees with a quote from Hosea 6:6: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Jesus is referring to the Pharisees insistence on individuals following the law according to their interpretation. They didn't like this new guy in town changing the way they did things.

Just as God desires mercy over sacrifice, I believe He also desires unity over individual success. That relieves us of relying on our own understanding of God's will.

Assuming the direction given by others is Biblically based, which would you rather do, be united with others or stand out for individual success?
May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. ~ John 17:23

Don't get me wrong. There are times God calls individuals to stand apart. But that is a rough road. To succeed in his kingdom, God will not leave you alone. Elijah felt alone but God revealed otherwise. (See 1 Kings 17-19) Notice that when he felt alone, he got alone until he received clear direction from God.

For more of my thoughts on working as a team, read Team Development Part 2 - Your Spot in the Big Picture.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pray, As Usual

"'Why are you sleeping?' he asked them. 'Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.'" ~ Luke 22:46
Looking at this segment of scripture usually leads me to focus on Jesus' prayer. Beth Crawford's study on Luke 22:39-62 placed my focus more on the mental and physical circumstances of the disciples in this scene.

Jesus warned them many times that things were going to get rough. But the disciples didn't understand what he was talking about. And they certainly didn't understand how quickly things would happen.

Verse 39 says "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives." The disciples may have followed him other times. He was only a "stone's throw" away from them. Did they sleep through this learning session every time?

What are you learning in the peaceful times? Do you wait until the difficult stuff hits to start praying?

If we want to be true followers of Christ, our "as usuals" should be like Christ. Do you think that he knew what was about to happen only because he was fully God? I don't. I think he knew because he talked to God often in the very same way we can.

Temptation and crisis will come, there's no doubt about it. We are not given the privilege of a warning from Satan as to when he will strike. The best way to be prepared for the difficult times is to have conversation with God when things seem to be going as usual.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dead Bodies all Around - faith, perseverance and justice now

"'Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you , on that night two people will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.' 'Where, Lord?' they asked. He replied 'Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.'" ~ Luke 17:33-37
Strange reply to the question, "Where, Lord?" Don't you think?

If that's all I read of this section of scripture, I might walk away feeling like I had done my "Christian discipline" of daily Bible reading but it wouldn't do much for me in the rest of the day.

Once again, I looked for the scene changes. Where was Jesus? Who was he talking to throughout the scene?

He was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11) then passed through Jericho (Luke 19:1) before entering the temple in Jerusalem (19:45).

He begins by healing 10 lepers - one, a Samaritan, returned to praise him. Then the Pharisees are asking when the kingdom of God will come. A miracle has just happened and they want to know when the reign of God is going to start. Think on that a bit.

Jesus then talks about how obvious God's presence should be to everyone. He reminds them of the people in Noah's day and in the days of Lot. People chose to die instead of seeing the reign of God in their midst. Then he gives an example of two people living in current day circumstances and being separated. Do you see the two groups throughout this passage?

Then comes the "Where, Lord?" question. They are back to asking, where is this kingdom Jesus is talking about.

"Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."

Now Jesus gives them a parable "to show them that they should always pray and not give up." (Luke 18:1) Within this parable, Jesus speaks of perseverance, justice, and faith. Then he talks about two different types of prayer. The next parable teaches that the man who humbles himself in prayer will be justified before God. (18:14)

Ah, then Jesus makes his point a little more obvious by telling the disciples to let the children come to him. Why? "Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Do you hear the question again? Where Lord? Where is the kingdom? When will we see it?

Then comes the "certain ruler" who wants to know how to inherit eternal life. This lesson on total surrender in the present circumstances with a seemingly upright and moral ruler is followed by another miracle - a blind man received his sight - and then Jesus hanging out with tax collectors who apparently like the kingdom of God stuff Jesus reveals to them.

At 19:11 we're back to the people thinking the kingdom of God will appear at once in a very easily recognizable way for all to see. Nope, that's not the way it is.

Jesus once again speaks in a parable about two types of people - servants and subjects. And he's back to the more obvious theme of perseverance, justice, and faith.

Keep reading and you will find Jesus teaching his disciples about the faith that sees things before they are based on trust and knowledge of the one in charge, perseverance that could bring peace right now, and justice that always comes as a result of faith and perseverance.

Sometimes we are so blind that we don't even realize we are giving up on our faith. We want to say faith is accepting things as they are until the kingdom comes. But God says the kingdom is here. "What is impossible with men is possible with God." (18:27) We assume justice comes with God's wrath when all is said and done.

The truth is our perseverance and our trusting that God reigns today brings justice in our lives and in the world around us today.

There is much on my mind this morning as to what God has revealed to me about my lack of faith and perseverance. His kingdom is here. I don't have to wait for it. A dead body is one that has given up on seeing God's justice in the current circumstances. Jesus Christ came to give us life.

There are dead bodies all around - some are even upright and moral leaders. If I give up, the vultures will gather around me too. I think I've seen them circling.

I want to chose life which comes from the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. That is where my strength to persevere must come from. My faith is built on knowing that Jesus brought the kingdom to earth and he persevered among the dead around him to the point of dying on the cross.

My faith is destroyed when I choose to give up because I've been wounded or I choose to hide what Jesus has given me and just wait for his high in the sky return because I'm afraid of what might happen if I live from a heart of sincere trust in God.
He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure. ~ Isaiah 33:6
Are you dead or alive? He is our sure foundation. Persevere with faith and you will see justice lived out in front of you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Your Weakest Link

Discerning our unique calling is not always a simple thing. We need to be quiet enough to hear God's still, small voice. We must also faithfully read the Scriptures, pray diligently, follow the Lord's teachings, listen to wise friends who know us, and consistently make ourselves available to serve. Finally, we have to remain open to God's possibilities, always willing to take the outrageous risk and do the unpredictable thing. (Stearns, Richard. The Hole in Our Gospel. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009)

Read through the above quote again. There are seven elements listed as essential to discerning your unique calling. Which ones are you missing? Maybe that's why you're frustrated. I know why I'm frustrated - #5 and #6 are my weak links.

Why are there weak links? For me, it is an issue of trusting others. It's hard to "listen to wise friends" if I don't let friends really get to know me. People get to know me more than I like when I "serve." And why is it hard for me to let people get to know me? Satan has fed me a little lie that I've eaten up for most of my life... no one is interested in what I have to say or what I think.

Ironic, isn't it? Satan uses lies that relate directly to what God is calling us to do. That sly devil.

What is your weak link? What lie is Satan using to keep you weak?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Saved by Grace, Then What?

Unfortunately, some Protestants have emphasized salvation by grace not works in such a way that many Christians do not have an orientation toward working with God. The result is that millions are sitting in pews deprived of a dynamic, book of Acts relationship with God. (Franklin, John. "Chapter 36: Intimacy with God through Prayer." Giving Ourselves to Prayer. Terre Haute: PrayerShop, 2008.)
Are you so in awe of God's grace that you've failed to see His purpose for creating you - his purpose for saving you?

As Franklin states in the above quote, many Christians talk about being saved by grace and may show their appreciation by doing good things "in the name of Jesus." But fewer consider the significance of working with God in his kingdom.

Is being thankful for this grace and persuading others to accept salvation by grace all there is to being a follower of Christ? No. There's work to be done. It is specific, humanly incomprehensible, and divinely beneficial.

God has work for us to do
There are plenty of scriptures that indicate we should be doing something as followers of Christ. Some are easier to apply than others.

Colossians 3:23 which says "whatever you do work at it as if working for God" is one of the easier verses to apply. In a sense, we have control. Whatever we do, whatever we choose, whatever happens to come our way, we are to do it as if working for God.

But then there is Ephesians 2:10 which says "we are created for good works." But not just whatever good works happen to come our way. The verse indicates God prepared specific work for us long before we existed.

Jesus didn't just serve the Father in whatever came his way. Jesus worked with God. He stated that he did only what he saw the Father doing. In John 14 Jesus tells us not even his words were his own.

God assigns work immediately
Franklin points out in his chapter on Intimacy with God through Prayer that God put Adam to work in the garden immediately after he breathed life into him (Gen. 2:15). In the same fashion, Jesus said "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." He didn't invite his followers to sit around listening to him preach. He invited them to work.

Jesus also promised in John 14:12 that his followers would do what he had been doing and even more. He came in the flesh to show us how to work with God.

The assigned work creates intimacy with God
Talking with someone is a nice way to learn about them. But if you really want to get to know someone intimately, you need to work beside them in areas that are important to them.

Prayer is the essential element in discovering the assigned work. And work is the essential element to building the intimacy.

Imagine pouring your heart out to someone only for them to walk away with no expression of desire to be involved in your passion. They nod in agreement but do not join you in your efforts. Do you feel a deep connection with that person?

God's heart is for his kingdom to come to earth. Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture of the final result. Jesus taught his disciples to pray for that kingdom to come to earth now (Matt. 6:10). He also instructed followers to focus first and foremost on this kingdom (Matt. 6:33).

It is easier for us to try to manage (or worry about) things we comprehend - like clothing and food mentioned in Matthew 6. But God's ways and his thoughts are much greater than ours. That's why we can't just make our own plans and carry out the work we perceive as necessary for him.

He saves us by grace because we don't know enough about his ways to enter his kingdom by any other means.

The exciting part is that God wants to let us in on his ways. God says in Isaiah 48:6-7 "From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, 'Yes, I knew of them.'"

He wants to tell us the secrets of his kingdom. He wants us to work with him in his divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). We get to work with him to develop the new kingdom he is creating now.

Work. That's what's next. Work specifically designed for you as soon as you accept God's grace. Work that you cannot do on your own. And work that will make you one with the Creator. It is what makes grace a lot more exciting than sitting in a church pew.

Listen as you pray. He will give you an assignment and he won't leave you to do it on your own.

Come Holy Spirit! Let's do it!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Asking for Blessings - God with Us

While walking this morning I was praying for the school in our neighborhood. The typical stuff, God bless the students and teachers; protect them, yada, yada, yada.... Then God interrupted me. I love it when he does that.

Insight - God doesn't want to just bless us with good things or safe circumstances. He wants to be with us. He wants his presence to be real.

Just as Jesus was Emmanuel - "God with Us", we who have the Spirit of Christ are also Emmanuel - "God with Us." Sounds a bit bold, doesn't it? Almost scary. But I think it's true. It is up to us to bring the presence of God in the flesh to the world today. Jesus meant it when he said in John 14:12 "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

If we are asking for God's will, God's greatest blessing, we must also offer up ourselves to be Emmanuel for those we are praying for. Ah, so many more thoughts on this but I'll stop here for now.

This is the ultimate blessing:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." ~ Revelation 21:3-4

They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:4,9

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Erec Rex fans and indebtedness to Jesus

A Bible study on Romans 8:1-8 asked the question "How much do you feel indebted to Jesus?"

This reminded me of a scene from Erec Rex: The Monsters of Otherness. If you like Harry Potter, I recommend you check out the Erec Rex series by Kaza Kingsley.

I don't want to give away the good parts of the story but there is a scene in which Erec is about to die and another character intentionally steps in the path of the death arrow.

It is more than the love of a friend. The character gives his life for the good of the entire world of which Erec has the ability to impact.

Erec's life is difficult and full of opposition. Like us, Erec has questioned whether it is worth the struggle. He has the option to escape to what would seem like a comfortable life. This character gave Erec a reason to persevere not only for himself but to honor the one who gave his life for him. This character also demonstrated his faith in Erec's ability by giving him a part of himself which would empower Erec to do even greater things.

Rephrasing Beth's question: Do I live to honor what Jesus did for me? Do I recognize that Jesus gave his life for me whether I am the Erec Rex character or one of those Erec will protect?

The other cool similarity is in the character giving a part of himself to Erec. Jesus has given us a part of himself, the Holy Spirit.

In the same way that Erec will depend on his gift, we must learn to depend on our gift to make the choices that will honor Christ.

How much do you feel indebted to Jesus? Are you living your life in honor of him and his intentions for life?

Receive the Holy Spirit and do not be afraid to follow what is revealed to you.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Swags and Jams

Steve Robbins has a way with words. He spoke this weekend at Vineyard Church of Columbus. The printed title of his message was "How Do We Grow-Up Together?," although I don't recall hearing him refer to that title. Instead, this product of the Jesus Movement referred to getting new swags and jams from the influence of our older brother Jesus.

Robbins message challenged me in speaking of the layers of clothing (swags) referred to in Colossians 3:12-17. The layers are:
  • Compassion - deep, gut-wrenching feeling which moves us beyond knowledge to action
  • Kindness - the original Greek word used describes the mellowing of wine which has lost its harshness, in other words it is "grace in action"
  • Humility - absence of self-exaltation
  • Gentleness - quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self importance; strength under control
  • Patience - putting distance between you and your wrath; long-fussed
He then addressed the question of "How do we put these swags on?" by first emphasizing that none of these virtues can be worked outside of community. He also pointed to the progression (rather than the simple do's and dont's) of verses 13 and 14.
  • Bear with each other
  • Forgive one another - the original Greek indicates "grace," forgive when it's not deserved
  • Cover it all with love - without love the virtues are just duty
I used to think I lacked compassion. This message seemed to reveal to me that I have a great deal of compassion but I'm lacking in the other layers. My compassion (what I've seen as an untamed passionate personality) generally shows up with harshness and a desire to be seen making a difference.

I now see the significance of all the layers being present and "accessorized" by the belt of love. One or two layers without the others is just not hip.

How are your layers? Anything exposed inappropriately?

The sermon should be posted online later this week.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

How to pray?

I'm focusing on one verse a day from Psalm 119. Yesterday I was praying about how to encourage someone in how to pray. Then I looked at my Psalm 119 verse:
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Ps 119:103
When prayer seems awkward or difficult, pray his words.

The Psalms are a great place to find his words to pray.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Are you running aimlessly? - Additional Thoughts

In the comments regarding the Are you running aimlessly? post, Lorie asked, "So, what about this perspective is new for you?" My comment back was getting lengthy so here it is as a new blog post.

In the past I've always seen the race as my own individual race. The goal was to persevere for my own sake. To do all the "christian" stuff so I can die and go to heaven. It's quite an exhausting and self-focused perspective. It brings on depression, frustration with others, and feeling of hopelessness when I "mess up."

Reading this scripture last Saturday, I saw the goal totally different. It's not me getting somewhere. It's bringing the good news to others and to this earth. In a relay race, only the last runner is going to cross the finish line. The goal for all the rest is to place the baton in the hand of the next runner. But they are all on the same team... all running to get the same prize which is not persevering to make it to heaven. And it is not just doing whatever to "win as many [people] as possible" (the word "cheating" comes to mind with the self-focused perspective - that could be another blog post). The prize is bringing the kingdom of God here and now. That's the baton.

The prize is the completed restoration of God's Kingdom, when we see the Holy City coming down out of heaven and the dwelling of God is with men; no more death or mourning or crying or pain. The old order has passed away. The race is finished. (Rev 21:1-8)

Paul isn't talking about his own perseverance in this passage. He's talking about the thrill of being in the race with others - handing off the baton.

A relay race is different than an individual race. The timing and passing of the baton add more than an obstacle - we're not jumping hurdles to get the prize unless your race is self-focused. It's a real team effort. Each time the baton is passed successfully, there is a sense of moving forward.

When a relay runner passes the baton to the next runner, they have to be in synch for a smooth pass.

When I call on the Holy Spirit to heal someone, I'm passing the baton. When I participate in prayer which releases another person from the bondage of evil spirits in any way, I'm passing the baton and they carry it on toward the finish line from there.

Now, obviously this is a multi-dimensional race. I'm not just out there to pass the baton once. I get to use my freedom (which came with the baton passed to me) to be a slave to everyone. (1 Cor 9:19).

Think of that part this way... if you've ever been in a race or competitive sport of any kind, there is a great let down when you don't win. The race God has set out for us has a no-fail outcome. When we pass the baton, we still have another baton to pass. It's certainly discouraging when others don't take the baton we pass them but it's not the end of the race. Our race is not a mark to get to. Our race is right in front of us each day - passing the baton - bringing the kingdom of God here right now to each person who grabs on to the baton we pass to them.

In all of this is the new perspective of the significance of the life and resurrection of Jesus. I've always been taught of the significance of his death on the cross. But the significance of Jesus as a visual of the restored kingdom on earth is new to me.

I've been taught to look to Jesus as "what would Jesus do" so that I can make it to heaven. Then heaven is supposed to be this place of reward for persevering. With that perspective, messing up (aka not doing what Jesus would do), can be very discouraging. Then, not really knowing what "heaven" looks like can become discouraging because you aren't sure it's worth the effort. Therefore, being "christ-like" becomes a way to avoid the traditional view of hell more than a longing for the prize of heaven.

But Jesus is more than a role model for my actions. He is a visual for living in the new earth which is the finish line. He provides the sightings, the baton, to pass on. I can say to those who experience God's rule with me that this is what heaven (the Kingdom of God) is rather than this is what heaven will sort of be like.

Jesus resurrection is a visual and proof that the finish line is not dying and going to this mysterious place we call heaven. He came back here to this earth in bodily form and he promised to return here to this earth. At which time the batons will be collected and those without a baton will sadly be disqualified from the race. The opposing team (Satan and his demons) will be ushered off the field, out of the arena and God will make all things new.

Heaven is here when we bring the reign and rule of God's kingdom into our current circumstances. I never knew that. I thought all that praying and being "christ-like" stuff was just the stuff you had to do to get to heaven - whatever and wherever that mysterious place is. I thought asking for healing was asking God for a big favor. God's wants his kingdom here. He longs to dwell with us - as many of us who will grab the baton.

Approaching life with this perspective - bringing heaven here and now - makes life a lot more exciting to me. Knowing that the finish line is not just existing and trying to do the "right" things to persevere but the finish line is seeing all the batons lifted high all around the world, knowing that what I enjoy here will be made even better. Knowing the stuff that destroys my hope and joy will be gone.

And as I'm typing, I'm realizing that it just makes sense that the more hope and joy that is passed around, the more enjoyable life is. Even when a team is still in a tough competition, it's nice to see the score is in your favor.

So, yes, we do persevere but it's not a blind perseverance which I've assumed. It's more like a woman who is pregnant. Many women have a hard time believing they are really pregnant the first few months of their first pregnancy because they don't see anything different. Persevering through morning sickness is more difficult if you can't see any evidence of the prize to come. Once the womb starts growing, the discomfort is no more enjoyable but it is tolerated with more hope. God doesn't ask us to try to convince others about his kingdom just with words. He gives us visuals. And everyone knows that a picture is worth a thousand words. :)

I hope all these words help give a better picture of what I'm seeing in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27.

May his kingdom come, his will be done on earth today as it is in heaven.

the mission:
PROCLAIM the good news; HEAL the sick and oppressed; BRING JUSTICE
~ Luke 4:16-20

Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing (John 14:12)
~ Jesus 

Copyright 2005-2010 Lisa Biggs Crum
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