20190212

God Work

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20
God does more than we can imagine.
In keeping with the thread I began with the last post, God does work that is unexpected … in me. My inner life, my ‘soul,’ is being remade to match the deep work God did in me several decades ago.
There is a very real sense that the deep core of my being was swapped out back in the early 1970’s. A new me was installed, a new kernel (in computer-speak). However, much of the external stuff remains: habits, distorted memories, dysfunctional perceptions, and even some physical things associated with brain and other biological stuff. Much of that exterior, non-core stuff will stick with me until my physical death. But some of it; the seeming soft, but stubbornly persistent, stuff like habits, perceptions, and other mental elements have been shaped by a few tools.
One of those tools is raw age. More years under the belt ought to produce better perspective. That is part of “maturity.”
Another tool is the phenomena we call raw luck. Some life events just happen, or don’t, and that shapes us.
Yet there is a powerful tool that is more subtle and profoundly beneficial and that is the work that God can do in the inner life of the believer.
When we read the text above, we can sometimes jump to the miraculous: that God can do unexpected physical miracles. I affirm the reality of miracles – that they have happened and do happen.

But that seems to stretch the text. Notice that God’s power is accomplishing things working within us. Reshaping and changing that inner life, which is so easy to ignore in our times – that is powerful work. That is God work.

20190208

God In Us

“I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19
I have been contemplating an emptiness lately. It is a spiritual thing – a promise made but badly, if ever, delivered.
When I came to faith in my early high school years. It was the during the flowering of the Jesus Freak movement. A very interesting time to live through and to be shaped by.
One of the catch-phrases of the time was the invitation to have “a personal relationship with God.” The idea, which seems to me is sound, is that many many people went to church but had no personal connection with the God they worshipped. This lack of connection is contrary to one of the themes of scripture – that Jesus is a Friend, that God is a Father, that relationship – especially on the level of family – is a key component of what Jesus did. Truly, being a member or even merely attending a church is not enough.
I prayed a “sinner’s prayer” and count that time as when I changed my loyalties from the world and even myself, towards the Lord Jesus. Being of a certain bent, I took easily and early to Bible, theology, and even some of the arcana of Christianity. I was well-discipled, mentored, and trained according to that bent.
But a “relationship” with God? That seemed to elude me.
It seems to me I had a lot of company. Many of those around me seemed to have the same … “lack.” I learned much about the Bible, I learned actual Bible content, I developed good, healthy, and challenging relationships with good, healthy, and challenging people. But there was this hesitation about delving into the inner life of the soul. It just sounded … weird. And no one seemed to want to talk about it. The response was generally, “study the Bible more!”
By the way, they were not wrong! It is a Good Thing to know, understand, and be constantly aware of what the Bible has to say. But there are Bible experts who have no relationship with God. I don’t want to be one of those.
So the promise was made to have a personal relationship with Jesus but there were few in my circle who could help me do that.
I’ve spent many years recognizing, repenting, and cooperating in repairing that flat spot of my spiritual life. The inner life, both in my own inner (as the classic contemplatives called it) “disordered affections,” as well as opening up that inner life for God to truly dwell – that has been a big part of my spiritual life for over a decade.
You know something? Jesus still stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20) – he wants to come into our lives. Fully. All the way in. Feel free to refer to the classic tract, “My Heart, Christ’s Home.”
The verse above speaks to that journey of mine. Perhaps, yours as well. To be filled entirely with the fullness of God is a frightening and intimidating thing. I ‘know’ enough to know that. Yet Paul prays for that to happen for the people of this particular church.
Still, another aspect of this is to recognize that there is a sense in which this is already true. As believers, we affirm the “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life. God is already IN us; God dwells in us – it might sound New Age-y to us, but they stole it from us! God is in a true Christian. It seems to me that we forget that way too often. The fullness of God is already in us.

Perhaps Paul’s prayer is that we would *know* that truth in its fullness.

20190205

Theology of Leverage - a Proposal

I've been playing around with a theological idea for the last couple of years. The idea goes like this: God using our small efforts, small obedience, or small attempts as "seed" or "priming" so that God will do much greater things.


So, for example, when I decide to be more obedient and hold my tongue more consistently, that small effort at self-control allows God to do a greater work in my life and become better at self-control. Or when I obey God by giving him back a small portion of my income, he might turn that obedience into greater blessing. Or when I decide to start reading and taking the Bible seriously, he starts showing me transforming insights about him and my world. The point is that God takes our little effort and leverages it to disproportionate blessing or effect.

The Bible seems to have a "Theology of leverage." Here are a few examples that I've come up with:
  • Genesis 12: God talks to Abraham and tells him that he will make his not-yet-born son into a great nation. Later, Abraham is confused and discouraged - no children have come. God says there would be a son who would produce uncountable descendants (Gen. 15). One child into a nation from Abraham's wife Sarah (Gen 17). Yet Abraham (finally) believed that small truth so to even deny his inheritance to an "illegitmate" child, Ishmael. Of course, a great nation arose from Isaac and then Jacob.
  • Exodus 12: God tells Moses that the last plague is going to happen - firstborns are going to die. But if the Israelites would do a simple thing: sacrifice an innocent lamb and splatter the blood on the doorways, then the plague will pass-over them. The death of an innocent animal will prevent the death of humans.
  • Exodus 14: Moses and the children of Israel have escaped and have been trapped with the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them. God says for the people to go forward and Moses to do this little thing: lift his staff. Then God parted the sea by a wind storm that blew all night. The people stepped forward and God delivered a nation.
  • Joshua 3: as the children of Israel are about to enter the promised land. They come to the Jordon filled to the banks during flood stage. This is an effective barrier. God tells them to do a simple and easy thing: carry the Ark of the Covenant and *not until the sandals of the guys carrying the Ark got wet* did the waters stop, pile up in a heap, and cause flooding upriver. God did a great miracle by stopping the Jordon, but only after a small act of faith - stepping into the river.
  • 1Kings 17: the prophet Elijah goes to a poor old woman asking for some food. She doesn't have enough flour or oil to bake a decent loaf of bread. What she has she was going to make to provide a last meal for herself and starving son. Elijah asks her to make bread for him first. Simple: Just make some bread. She did and the weirdest thing happened: Elijah stays at the house for many days and the food never ran out.
  • Psalms 16:4 provides a negative example. Here David states that idolatry, the denial of the true God, will lead to multiplied sorrows. What seems like, to many people, a small "error" of theology creates multiplied problems in life.
  • Mark 6:35 begins the story of a mob of hungry people listening to Jesus (a good thing), but they are in a remote place, there are no restaurants around, and the people are getting hungry (bad thing). Jesus tells the disciples to do something about this situation. They are clueless about what to do. So they give Jesus what they have: five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Not much and completely inadequate. Jesus somehow takes that and feeds thousands.
  • Romans 8:26 tells us that in the spiritual realm, this principle also works. Paul tells us that we are incompetent dorks when we pray. We don't know how to pray and we don't pray the way we should. But we are told to pray anyway - just try our little best - and the Spirit seems to "translate" our feeble prayers into deep groaning prayer. We pray in weakness and the Spirit takes that and converts it to Heaven-shattering intercession.
  • 2Corinthians 9:10 - Paul, in the middle of a section on giving and possessions, makes a slight detour and tells us that God will multiply our gifts given into greater personal righteousness. Here it seems that Paul is affirming that how we handle money and possessions (would seem to be a minor thing in the grand scheme of life)  has an unexpected spiritual effect (listen to my sermon on 1Timothy 6 here)
Some suggest that God asks us to get moving; that "transforming faith ... happens in the context of movement. The power of God comes to those who obey." I agree. It seems that, indeed, God gives us power as we act and step out. Once we step out in our little obedience, God seems to give us what we need (and more) as we go forward.

Now, please, do not misunderstand me. This is not at all to suggest that we can manipulate God to do miracles if we go through some minor actions. That is magic and God is Very Opposed to magic (mostly because the magician is trying to be Boss 1Sam.15:23). Rather, this is God encouraging us to do the right things - to "take the next best step." He has a whole agenda of good works for us to get busy with (Eph.2:10) and wants us to walk trusting him (2Cor.5:7; Heb.11:1-2).

20190202

Heart Stuff

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth …” Eph 3:17-18

Again, much going on in this little text. But let’s focus on the little phrase, “that Christ will live in your hearts.”
So, let us get some things out of the way and provide some clarity. The “heart,” to 21st century Americans means something very different than it did to the people of the Bible. For us, now, the word “heart” is ambiguous. It means either a major circulatory organ in our bodies (“He has heart disease”) or it is the seat of our emotional life.
If we feel some emotion, we say it comes from our heart – especially if that emotion is romantic love. The nonsense (IMHO) of Valentine’s Day with red ‘heart’-shaped symbols and the most insipid sentimental tropes about affections is well-known to us. In that meaning, the heart is about feelings, emotions, affections, sentimentality.
But not always. Even for us in our current use of the word, it is a strong statement to say, from a dark and negative place, “I have hate for him in my heart.” However, that is closer to the Biblical idea of our heart.
In Bible, “heart” is the core of our being. The saying, “Getting to the heart of the matter” reflects this older meaning. Your heart is your inner being of consciousness. Feelings, thoughts, aspirations, imagination, loyalties, and even our humanness flow out from the center of our being, our heart. So, whenever you read the word, “heart” in the Bible know that for both of the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, “heart” means our core, our center, our essential nature.
The goal is to have Christ “alive” in our core being. That is what Paul is praying for.
But, as a prayer request … that strikes me as odd. Does Paul not think all these people are Christians, that they do not have Christ living in their lives? Certainly, that is possible. There is a lot that is said in this letter that not-yet-believing people need to hear. Yet the whole thrust of the letter is that Paul is talking to saved, regenerate (born from above) believers in Jesus.
It seems better to me to understand this prayer request as a request for God to grant strength (health, power, and endurance) in the believers’ inner lives … so that, in order that, to facilitate … the life of Jesus would become manifest, present, and visible to themselves, and each other. To condense this: ‘God, give them strength to allow Jesus to live in them.’
That there is a good prayer.
But.
This only happens for Jesus people. Non-believers are – um – ‘immune’ from this prayer. They live in rejection of the real Jesus and, therefore, are prevented from having Jesus-life in their hearts.

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This is the Divide. Those who acknowledge Jesus as their Savior and Lord; and those who do not. As an old time preacher once said, “There only two kind of people: the Saints and the Aints – that’s it.”