20170815

RFG

RFG stands for Redemption, Forgiveness, Grace. And there are some reading this right now who could use very large doses of redemption, forgiveness, and grace. 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight (Eph. 1:7-8 ESV)

Redemption is getting something back to where it belongs. Grace is getting something good in spite of the fact that we don't deserve it in any way. Forgiveness is pretty well understood by everyone. But here we learn that forgiveness from God is based on overflowing, extravagant, inefficient, more-than-is-necessary grace.

Redemption and forgiveness occurred within the wisdom of God (he is no fool, he knew exactly what he was doing), and in the understanding of God (he knows what our condition is and what we need).
Regarding my relationship with God, the nastiness of my life can only be dealt with by grace – there is truly nothing I can do on my own to fix, heal, or restore a good relationship with God. That is one of the key ideas of Christianity: there is nothing I can do because it has all been done. What was needed to be done was accomplished by Jesus.

Now, having said that, there may be natural consequences of my nastiness in the human world. Perhaps outright punishment; maybe the warping of my soul; perhaps disqualification for some advantage. Still, God has done all the work to make our relationship (between God and myself) whole – and he offers that to me as a gift to be received. This a Big Part of what we call The Gospel.

Now, once I – as a Christian – understand and appreciate that work of God on my behalf, it becomes Really Important for me to recognize that God has done that for other believers, as well. I should be patient with other believers. So, I should give them some slack.
And to get my attention outside of the building, it is also Really Important to recognize that God wants to do that very work for those who are currently unbelievers. So, I should not be an obstacle in their responding to that invitation to grace!

And now back to where we started: Are you one of those people who really need redemption, forgiveness, and grace? Are you not where you belong? Is there a broken relationship that should be fixed? Is the situation so bad that you need a complete - and undeserved - restart? That's why Jesus took on the punishment for your sin - and mine - so that we could have redemption, forgiveness, and grace.

20170811

Predestination Is A Big Word

It is a Big Deal, in Christian circles, when you use the word, "predestined." Even non-Christians get in on the controversy. Most people seem to confuse predestination with a form of fatalism. That is, there is no way you can escape your fate, you have no real choice, what happens to you is the result of forces outside of both your control and responsibility.

But that really doesn't capture the vibe that the Bible gives for the word...

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:4-6 ESV)

So, I’m going to focus on the word, “adopted,” which is a profound relationship created by choice and initiative. Nobody gets adopted by accident. An adoption is an act of intentional relationship. Here we see that God is motivated by an intentional love. That - the act of intentional love - is what is behind predestination.

Notice, also, that God has a ‘vision’ and purpose for our destiny. God has, because of his love, chosen me with a purpose and vision for my destiny – which is amazing! But, as with all of God’s blessings, this new relationship, purpose, and destiny all come in Christ.

This also helps in recognizing that purpose and destiny are specific and individual: unique to any believer. Take a look later in Ephesians where Paul talks about gifts and ministries for each believer. This tells me God has created me and reserved for me a particular purpose. 

Yet that implies something. If God has a specific purpose for me, then he does not have that other one. Some roles and activities are mutually exclusive. If I’m supposed to be doing ministry to street people in Minneapolis, that means that I should NOT be doing church planting in Thailand.

And, don't dismiss this, there is a small world of guilt or envy in the full-time ministry world. "Wow - that guy has got 700 people coming to 'his' church;" "That gal is working in difficult and dangerous circumstances to express the gospel far away from her home;" "That dorky guy I knew in college just published an amazing book;" and so forth. Yep, there can be envy at how God has increased some ministries; even guilt that we aren't doing more in our own. 

So, a realistic implication of God’s predestination for me is that I should avoid jealousy or envy in how God has gifted or purposed others. But key on the "realistic" part: God expects us to be faithful, sacrificial, and diligent in the gifts and purposes he has called us to.

How does that work out for you? How does God's placement of your purpose and destiny sitting with you? Is God's purposes for your life being realized, insofar as you have cooperated with him? Are you content; or are you driven? Are you basically on track, or are you unable to enjoy even times of rest in your pursuit?

20170809

"Blessings All Mine ..."

There is an old-school song that uses the phrase, "... blessings all mine, and ten thousand, besides." The word, "blessing" is very powerful. It is more than merely nice things, a comfortable situation, or good luck. There is something more substantial, as well as more spiritual, about the idea of a "blessing."

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph. 1:3-4 ESV)

What is the nature of these spiritual blessings? They are not magical, special super-powers; and they are not necessarily directed to our comfort or ease. 

The purpose of these blessings helps to discern their substance. So, what is their purpose? In the text, we see that we would be holy and blameless. God has blessed us … so that we would be holy and blameless. 

Well, that's interesting. Me, holy and blameless? Hardy! But God is holy and blameless. Who else is "holy and blameless?" That's right: Jesus - who walked, taught, healed on this world - was holy and blameless. Another way to say this is: we are to be just like Jesus, who is holy and blameless.

As a Christian, a follower of Jesus, can there be any greater complex of blessings than to become more like Jesus; what we call 'Christ-likeness?' 

What about you? What would it look like if your life was God-centered and rooted; if you were wise as God’s Spirit directed you; if you realized the resurrection power of Jesus to resist doing bad things; if you had the clarity of God’s word instructing you to do the right things; if you were confident in the presence of adversity and opposition; if you had a full and healthy emotional life; if all your relationships (as they depended on you) were healthy and fully functional. All those things were true of Jesus. Don’t you want those things to be true of your life?

That is the blessing – to live as complete and fulfilled humans, just as Jesus did. To life as real people, here and now, “in Christ.” For Christians, that is our already-and-not-yet; our situation and destiny; our process and goal as Christ-ians. We are ‘little Jesus’ in our world and sphere of influence. The source of our practical blessings, in life and work, is primarily realized by abiding in Christ.

Being like Jesus is our goal; even before Christian service, good deeds, activism, or full-time ministry.

We have blessings – and those blessings have a purpose.

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20170807

What Is God’s Will

So, I wanted to teach a class on the book of Ephesians this Fall. Alas, events have superseded my plans and it isn't going to happen. Which is a bit sad. I like teaching books of the Bible because it compels me to really learn the text ("To teach is to learn") and, practically, my notes usually would end up as the basis for a sermon series.
So, I'm going to post some of my thoughts from going through the book. I hope these thoughts will help you. So, here we go: 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Chris (Eph. 1:1-2 ESV)


Paul, the writer of this letter, became an apostle “by God’s will.” Let's focus on that observation. An apostle, literally, is one who is "sent forth." It would be similar to 'receiving a commission.' There is both an authority implied ('someone sent me, and I'm obeying those orders') and an implied authority to act on behalf of the master ('I'm here, acting on orders, to get these things done with the delegated authority of the Master').

Paul's role, mission, purpose, and even position was given to him for a specific purpose. God wanted Paul to do these things. Paul is compelled to fulfill that role both because 1) a powerful authority (God!) commands him, and 2) Paul has a desire to not disappoint his master.


As for me, my position-role-ministry is also by God’s will. It is not as big or grand as Paul’s (though let's remember that his situation was rarely comfortable and his positional authority frequently ignored). Yet, where I am now, in my situation and role, is by God’s will. He put me here to be here until he tells me otherwise.

God accomplishes his purposes and his ultimate will is not thwarted - ultimately. I can (and do!) thwart God's will for my life All. The. Time. That happens whenever I sin. But God's purpose and will ultimately prevail.

So, now it's your turn: are you at the place where you can see your circumstances in light of God's will? Are there things you are regularly doing that are getting in the way of what God wants to accomplish through you? Do the things that you know God wants you to do create fear or anxiety in you? Do you think that God really loves you and has a plan for your life?

20170722

“Don’t Live Someone Else’s Life”

Several years before Steve Jobs succumbed to pancreatic cancer, he gave a graduation speech at Stanford in 2005. The speech itself is on YouTube and received a lot of attention at the time. And for good reason: Jobs had several great thoughts. In his final (and compelling) point about the clarifying effect that our mortality creates, he says, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life” (timestamp 12:31). This has become a popular meme. “You cannot find your wisdom In someone else’s story…” (‘Where Not To Look For Freedom,’ The Belle Brigade, 2011; also the title of a “One Tree Hill,” season 8, episode 19).
      Living someone else’s life – what was Steve Jobs and the Belle Brigade talking about? Jobs’ comments echo an author, Parker Palmer, who wrote Let Your Life Speak (2000). In that work, Palmer comments, “Trying to live someone else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail – and may even do great damage.” Both Jobs and Palmer are riffing on Thomas Merton’s insight into the True Self and the False Self. Our True self is who we are as God sees us; while our False Self is the imposition of someone else’s life as a standard, or as an expectation for our own life.
      As Christians who are born again, or born from above (John 3:16), we must acknowledge that we were sinful people profoundly alienated from God who need the savior that only Jesus is. Then we forget The Next Thing. What is The Next Thing? That we have been re-born, that we are re-created, that we have had an Extreme Makeover. This is the often ignored Christian doctrine of “regeneration.” It is routinely ignored in the seats, as well as the pulpit, of our churches.
      As Christians who are regenerate, we are no longer beings who cannot avoid sin. We are now new creatures (rooted in our original selves) who can (and do!) resist sin; who are empowered to do good; and who have a completely changed relationship with God, who we can now call, “Father.” Our True Selves are what God always wanted for us from the beginning.
      While it seems unlikely that Steve Jobs had the Christian truth of regeneration in mind as he prepared and gave his speech; Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer most definitely did and they were calling Christians to live in their True – regenerate – Selves. Those are very important and significant insights.
Yet even common wisdom recognizes that part of our development as fully-functioning adults is to form our unique identity; to separate from our parents, experiences, and self-centeredness; and recognize who we are.
      These notions are a strong thread throughout Christianity – especially in individualistic cultures such as the U.S. or Great Britain in the last half-century. Youth leaders encourage their students to make their faith their own; not the faith of their parents’ or hero’s. Rick Warren’s Purpose Drive Life encourages people to recognize the “S.H.A.P.E.” of their lives.
      And I fully recognize that these thoughts do not have the same traction in strongly communal cultures. So, my trans-cultural friends: love y’guys; but don’t beat me up – I’m talking to my tribe, now. Still, the point to be made is that this notion to “Don’t live someone else’s life” is an application to a specific societal context, not a core Biblical truth. The notion is helpful and healing for those whose psychology, social context, and culture require them to work out their identity in strong individualistic contexts.
      So, what is the core Biblical truth? If distinguishing between True Self and False Self is an application of a core truth – what is the core Biblical Truth?
      Already we have touched on the theological concept of regeneration. But there are other Biblical inputs to consider.
      In the Apostle Paul’s letter to his church buddies in the city of Colossae, he makes a statement that is easy to pass over because it … well, … it just doesn’t immediately make sense. Here it is: “If then you have been raised with Christ, … For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4). What does this mean, ‘I have been raised with Christ,’ ‘my life is hidden with Christ,’ ‘Christ who is my life?’ When did I ever die and then get raised from the dead?? Earlier in that letter: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses … God made alive together with him …” (Col 2:13). Here’s Paul again in another letter: “… even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6).
      Let me cut to the chase: theologically, God has worked such that Christians have the biography of Jesus incorporated into their own biography. When Paul says that Christians “died,” he means that they have recorded the same death that Jesus experienced: a punishment for their sin that Jesus actually experienced. When Jesus was raised from the dead, so too were Christians: raised into newness of life. This engrafting of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is a deep truth that leads to great blessing. If it is true that we have died and been raised – as happened to Jesus – then it is also true that we can live our lives as Jesus did on this earth, in this world.
      So, in this way, I’m pushing back on the notion that we shouldn’t live someone else’s life. I do this because, theologically, our life (as Christians) IS someone else’s – Jesus.
      I will remind good Bible students of all of those references of believers being “in Christ,” or “in Jesus.” Here’s another – a verse that many of us memorized: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). The life I now live in the early 21st century is by my trust and confidence in Jesus who gave his life for, and to, me.
      Our standing before God as Christians is because we have been crucified with Christ. In some way that is not clear to me now – a “mystery,” if you will – even though I have never experienced being crucified, according to God I was in fact being crucified with Jesus of Nazareth nearly 2,000 years ago. I have not yet experienced death; but according to God I not only have died, but been brought back from the dead … with Jesus when he was resurrected. Jesus’ story has become my story in a theological reality that I do not fully understand.

      All this to say that, in the unique case of Jesus, it really is OK to “live someone else’s life.” I don’t need to live in the expectations of others, or to try and be someone who I am not. Instead, I get to life the life God always had for me by looking to Jesus.