Friday, September 22, 2017

Resting In Christ

“Resting in Christ” does not mean a blissful state to which one can arrive, where all is good and easy, and not a single anxious nerve ending bothers. It’s a confidence that there is nothing you have to earn from God because His gift of righteousness and salvation has provided the eternal security of grace. You’ve been given everything for free.

Ask the apostle Paul if “resting in Christ” meant that he had not one fear as his ride to Rome sank (boat #3 goin’ down!); ask him if he had the cherubic look of a well-fed and burped baby when he was being stoned and left for dead; ask him if those prison chains always felt like gorgeous and glorious style points on the fashion runway of resting in Christ; ask him if his attitude was a happy-faced “It’s alllll good!” when yet another guy with a whip laid into his back, and I think he would laugh out loud.

“Are you kidding me?! I want nothing more than to get outta this torture chamber existence and to be with Jesus in heaven! But I doubt that today is the day that I have entrusted to Him, so I’m going to work—probably long hours in difficult, dangerous and unrewarding circumstances. That’s how it is until the One who secured me brings me home where I belong. He and I are good—He has seen to it! There’s nothing I have to do to be better off with Him. I’m at rest concerning all that, but my remaining days of trying to get others to believe in Christ’s offer of rest for themselves are going to hurt. My own people often refuse to stop trying to earn blessings and righteousness from God, rejecting His gift and the rest that comes from Him. But what can I do? I am charged with the gospel of Jesus, which is the power of God, so I will keep offering it, though turmoil and the pain of rejection await me. I am at rest in Christ, but my days will be difficult.”

“My advice to you? Remember to rest as you press on.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

What New Testament Submission Is All About

(If you wonder what Biblical submission is all about, this will be very encouraging for you.)

When reciting her wedding vows to me, Sarah looked me in the eyes and said, “I promise to submit to you.”  There were a few people in the audience who later told us that they were bothered by her promise to submit to me, until I made the same promise to her.  “Well, as long as it’s mutual, I guess it’s okay,” they said grudgingly.  It was almost as if we’d exchanged curse words.

“Submission.”  How does that word grab you? 

Here are a couple of not-so-popular Bible verses I’d like for you to consider today: 

1 Peter 1:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

If you’re an American, then it’s very likely that you’ve got thoughts and feelings about our current “king.”  And if we consider the “king” previous to him, well, just about everyone has experienced a high “cringe factor” when commanded to “submit” to the king and to his governors, let alone to a spouse.  Right?

But here’s the thing:  Paul’s command for submission is not a stand-alone-demand of surrender, as if God loves a grand capitulation.  “I just love it when my people bow down and give up.”  That’s not godly submission—not ever

New Covenant “submission” always comes loaded with reasons *why*, and great benefits for the one who submits.  Whether submitting to a worldly authority, to a spouse or to one another in relationships, offering myself in deference to another is so that I can be aware of God in me, for me, and for the situation I’m in.  In other words, submission is yet another way to know and to enjoy God in me, and for His kingdom in me to collide with and to affect the kingdom of this world. 

Jesus never did or said anything except what He “saw” and “heard” the Father do and say (He was tuned in to the Father), and He left us the perfect, most stunning example of submission in dire circumstances because of His awareness of God and the affect to come: 

1 Peter 2:22-23 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’  23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

The “entrusted himself” part made all the difference!  And why did Jesus submit Himself to the cross?  Was it sheer obedience?  No, it was not.  Hebrews 12:2-3 tells us that He did it “. . .for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

In my view, the only way we will not grow weary and lose heart in submission is if we do it for the same reason Jesus did.  Human Jesus submitted to unjust torture and torment because He was knowing the Father, who revealed to Jesus “the joy set before Him. . .”  That resulted in faith that led to obedience.  Do you see it?  Knowing God keeps us from becoming weary in well-doing.  Anybody can do “well-doing,” but it’s the knowing God part that produces grace that’s perfect for the moment.

We’re not to go blind and un-feeling into submission!  Jesus certainly didn’t.  He walked knowingly into it, and He reaped the grace-sufficient benefit of living by faith that something good and greater was happening right then—God was happening, and Jesus was aware of Him.  He knew it, and that propelled Him into the most lovingly submissive act in history.  That’s our example.  Submission alone is not our example:  awareness of God plus submission is Jesus’ incredible example for life.

This is why Peter first wrote extensively about our life and identity in Christ, and then followed that with our natural way of knowing God by living in submission.  The order is important.  We are entirely and forever secure, as is our inheritance, having been born of imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:3-4; 23); we are God’s house and stage of evidence that He cares about everyone (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9;) and, in view of God’s grace to us, we are to live toward righteous deeds, which is our god-given nature and motivation (1 Peter 2:12; see also Romans 8).

After building up the church concerning who and how secure they were with God in chapter one and much of chapter two, Peter then moves into How The Plan Works from there:  God-aware and submissive aliens in whom dwells the Kingdom of God, walk into the day.  What a plan.  The great collision was coming:  the kingdom of God in sons and daughters would meet the kingdom of this world, and the evidence of God reaching for people would be clear. 

Before the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, our conscience, our “inner knower,” was fouled and not free from guilt (see Hebrews 9:9).  But after His act of eternal cleansing and forgiveness, the Christian’s “inner knower” is new and clean, and by our awareness of Him in us does He lead us into acts in keeping with His will and purpose and glory.  That’s how it works, and it’s a big deal.  (See Hebrews 9:11-14.) 

You can take a deep breath and shut your eyes as you go into submission if you want to—it’s okay.  But it’s far better (it’s alive!) when you stay open and alert and aware of God as you go in.  This is how we keep knowing God as we enter into challenging obedience, embarrassing confession of sin and error, and difficult honesty in relationships and see what He does in the sometimes chaos of our submitted lives.  Trusting and knowing God, we take our hands off of the presumed handlebars or steering wheel of control and instead know the rest and grace produced by the Holy Spirit in us. That’s the best!

This is often our way forward—submission so that we can know God, and so that people can know Him, too.  And there’s nothing more important or better.  Right?

(This is a transcript of the video, “Why ‘Submit’ Is Not A Curse Word,” and is for those who might rather read than watch.  To see the video, click http://youtu.be/4voPIzn9wqU.)

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Heart of Man

Although I had no idea what to expect (other than that John Lynch previously told me it would be terrific), I was tremendously impressed with this movie. It poignantly portrays the deep trauma and sin that drives men and women into the ugly captivity of fear and shame, as well as the ongoing and unrelenting love and grace of Jesus for the sons of God. Frankly, “The Heart of Man” shines upon the screen what I have known and been motivated by since Jesus first rocked my world in 1980.  “With me and because of me, you are well, Ralph! You will always know yourself truly when you look at me, and you will delight and find joy and life and freedom in me. I AM perfectly what you might otherwise search for and never find. And I will work with you to prove myself perfect, so that you will not suffer any idols. This is my pleasure with you.”

My first book is all about this, combining lots of scripture with personal experiences that add up to God’s pleasure with man.  My forthcoming book is an allegory for a diverse audience that I hope portrays God’s desire to reveal Himself as perfect for everyone, especially you. It is the first of a series of books to come—for parents, for kids, for singles, for couples. I would appreciate your prayers and support for the work ahead.

In short, I am cheering because of this movie—wildly, recklessly, happily. I recognized God’s love and effort for us throughout, and that’s the best thing I have ever found. Get as much of that as you can.

(I’m not sure how you can see this movie in the future, but I’m confident that you can. Here’s the link to the web site, which may soon provide details about a DVD, etc.  https://heartofmanmovie.com.)

Friday, September 08, 2017

It's All Free

In my experience, the best of life happens on the inside as a result of knowing—again and again—that God in Christ has justified me. That means that He has made me literally and authentically good, and that He has given me His righteousness, holiness, redemption, sanctification, and every blessing as a gift of His love.  How cool is that?

Jesus earned entirely everything for you for entirely nothing from you. In Him you have been given every blessing already for free. Knowing that is going to affect you, and that’s His plan. Believing that fact is the challenge, but earning it is not.  Anything that teaches less than that makes you crazy.  Maybe you’ve noticed.

The gospel loses its dazzle when you believe that you must work or serve or tithe in order to earn blessings from God.  There are too many of us who have been turned into something like the elder brother of the prodigal, believing that we have to earn what is already ours because of the grace of the Father. Now that’s crazy, and we act a little crazy because of it.

However, you live best when you live by faith in the complete sufficiency of what Christ did for you—not just forgiven as a result of His sin removal system, but given everything that He has.  Everything from God for you is all for free.  The earning is all done, and you can rest.

Taking dictation from God, Isaiah wrote what Jesus fulfilled centuries later: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  ("Well, if I have no money, how can I buy?"  Believe and come near in order to see that it’s all yours for free.)
 Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1, italics mine).

The apostle Paul, himself dazzled by “it’s all free,” wrote to the Ephesians, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

Your life with God is not about a sacrifice you make, but a belief and a trust and a rest in a sacrifice He made.  Because of Him, it’s all free for you.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day the Best Way

On this day when we honor labor in the USA, may I remind you that the best, most authentic labor comes from rest? Not rest in the sense of inactivity or sleep, but rest as a result of being re-secured, re-confidenced (I made that up) in believing that Jesus is your life, your motivational pump, your fruit-producing zest and zeal for labor.  This means, “Indulge yourself in your great relationship with Jesus,” and the Spirit will provide the result of Christ in you. 

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, being struggled with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

Enjoy Jesus—and He will take care of the rest.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

No Wonder

After reading or watching a strong dose of news, all too often I start judging the people on paper or on the screen in my mind instead of in my heart, where they are not condemned.  If God lives in my heart, then that is our primary meeting place.  It is there that He influences and affects me.  I’m sure glad for that.  I don’t know what I’d do without those meetings.

If you’ve been angry and judgmental lately and thinking, “This world’s going all to Hell!” well, so it seems.  Yet the One who came not to condemn but to save and to cure is living in you, and that makes you compatible with how He is, with what He thinks and why He came.  You’re a lot like Jesus.  That’s pretty good, you know.  If lately you’re more acquainted with the reasons that Jesus came, but not so much with the cure, you’re set up for revival. 

Many of us are starting a long weekend today.  Why not see to your heart by laying aside this world’s news—we know it’s bad since Jesus came for a reason—and ask the Spirit to spend the weekend with you in a way that He loves.  He will revive you.  He knows how your heart works because it’s just like His.  You fit together.  On purpose.

Enjoy.

Friday, September 01, 2017

God's Favorite Event Today

One of my favorite events is God’s unveiling of me to me. He unclutters my thinking; He detoxes my mind, particularly regarding how He and I are doing together. When that happens, I’m amazed by God . . . and a lot happier, actually.

If that seems selfish, bear with me. Oftentimes the pressures and strategies of this world result in a virtual blindness of ourselves to ourselves. This is not pleasing to God, who has made an incredible change to us through Jesus’ cross and resurrection. He wants everyone to know—especially you. To the extent that we remain unseeing and unconvinced is the degree to which we are hindered in our love affair with God and in our approach to people. What’s the cure? A proper view of His mercy and grace that pulls the cloak off of our minds, revealing the transformation.

What’s God’s favorite event of the day? It might be revealing you to you. He’s rather pleased with His work.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

God & Ralph, The Pizza

This is not heartbroken; this is heart revealed.  This is not empty; this is full.

Sitting in the Helena, Montana, Regional Airport, I have just wrapped up my second “Goodbye Event” of the summer, and I am tired.  I am a jumbled mess.  I am full of love and full of sorrow, and the two combined have rendered me as a sort of emotional pizza, with everything on it—even anchovies.  Nobody likes anchovies.

I delayed saying “Goodbye” to my youngest daughter, Emma, for as long as I could.  I even threatened to not conclude her wedding at the end of the ceremony that I officiated.  “I don’t want to say ‘Amen’”, I said to Emma and Ben, standing regally in front of me and the audience—not because I had any reservations, but because I knew it was a huge part of the Goodbye Event.  I felt like if I did, I would be the guy christening a fancy new ocean liner with a bottle of champagne—“Enjoy your maiden voyage, but I’m not going with you anywhere anymore.”

Full of love and full of sorrow, I somehow said it.  And she was gone.

And now it’s Ellen.  In the same 24 hours that Emma left me, my wife, Sarah and I learned that Ellen would also be moving.  Not to New Zealand, but to Montana which, if it can’t be in her bedroom in my house, is just about as far away.  Together, we’ve crammed in movies, peach hunting, carp bombing, car repairs, road trips, fly fishing, grizzly bear avoidance singing, and home furniture shopping.  Frankly, if she had asked me to shop with her for some fresh, heather scented wall spackle, I wouldn’t have missed it. 

But this morning, I hugged her 817 times and sobbed all over her.  She did too, so that seemed about right.  And then we said it:  “I love you.  See you on FaceTime.” 

Since then, eight people related to the airport have asked, “How’re you doing?” as a way of greeting.  I blubbered my response to the first two:  “I’ve just moved my daughter here, and I’m going home without her.”  I didn’t even finish what I really wanted to say because I couldn’t.  Now I have modified my response to grunts and nods in the attempt to indicate, “I’m fine.  Don’t ask anything more.  You have been warned.”

Maybe by now you’re thinking, “Geez-Louise, Ralph!  Get over it!  Buck up, man, and be thankful you’ve had your daughters around for as long as you have.  You’ve given them roots, now give them wings!”  I don’t blame you, if you are.  But one of the greatest treasures I have ever found is how God is with me when I’m a mess—an extra large, everything-that-shouldn’t-be-mixed-up-on-a-pizza, mess.  “Nobody’s gonna want to deal with that!  Change your mind!  Get a new attitude!  Re-order your life, Ralph!”

But while there’s certainly a time and a place for that kind of thing, I’m “dealing with this” not by changing my mind, but by directing my messy thoughts and feelings to the Holy Spirit.  In my mind, I’ve yelled, “Come on!  I hate this!  If I have to give them wings, is it wrong if I clip them short—you know, like parakeets?  Then they can only fly around my house, but not to freaking New Zealand or stupid Montana!” and “Jesus, I didn’t have kids for this!  What were you thinking, hooking me up with that woman, Sarah, who wanted them in the first place?!” and “Bleeeeeeeep!  I hate this!  What are you going to make out of this, anyway?  I don’t care about nice places to visit, I want them near, where YOU put them in the first place, where they’re supposed to be!” 

And in the combination of love and sorrow expressed to Him, emotions and thoughts all jumbled up and ugly, the Spirit appears in the mess, and comforts and loves me.  He knows that I’m not heartbroken, but that my heart is revealed.  He loves that!  He knows I’m full, and He’s all about love and sorrow and repairing people leaving each other—for good and for bad reasons, leaving jumbled, emotional pizzas behind. 

And—shocker—when I don’t tidy myself up and pull it together, bad stuff doesn’t happen!  My mind says it will be bad, but the Spirit is attracted to such neediness.  He’s better than anyone or anything in it.  And because He has shown Himself to be so good with Ralph, the pizza, I’m going to tell you what I’ve found when your mess emerges from behind the curtains of your attitude.  Or bursting out, as it is with me. 

He’s not telling me to tidy up—He’s telling me that He is with me.  Right here, inside—for the long haul.  For what’s to come.  For the dad I will be now.  Dad at a distance.  DAAD.

I’ve got that to look forward to, and He will be with me in all of it, mess and all.  I’m on my way home, now.  It’ll just be Sarah and me, but I know—I KNOW—we’ll be good because He is with us.

P.S. I made a little slideshow of events beginning in early summer. It's set to a song written for one woman, but frankly, my dreams came true in three.

video

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It Just Seems True

When using certain terms that “just seem true,” think of them in relation to the cross and resurrection before using them.  Those two events changed just about everything, and led to God’s new creation sons and daughters.  There hadn’t been any of those before then. 

For example, to say, “God takes all of His children through the Refiner’s Fire,” might imply that God wants to cook off what bothers Him about you.  ONLY THEN, having burned off your many impurities, can He FINALLY make you something He likes.  But nowhere in the New Covenant do we read that God refines US.  Instead, we read that He has ALREADY refined us, and He is now working to refine our BELIEFS—from lies to truth.  (See Romans 12:2.)  That’s important.

In the New Covenant, heat and our performance in it has nothing to do with changing who we are; faith in Jesus Christ has everything to do with who we are.  God is not heating you up and scraping off your impurities SO THAT He can eventually see His reflection in a finally nice human mirror—He already lives in you!  You’re His perfect house.  He already got rid of anything offensive or impure through including you in the cross and resurrection of Christ.  He thinks that actually worked!  What do you think?  (See Romans 6:1-11.) 

In those times when hardship and difficulty press down upon you, God is not refining you—He knows exactly who you are as His new creation—He is assisting you to know what He knows.  And that takes some refining.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Catch The Pattern

--> In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

One comes to take and to damage thereby; that’s the pattern. The other comes to give and repair; that’s Jesus’ pattern.

I want to remind you today simply that Jesus is not asking you to give Him your heart – He has given you His. Jesus is not asking you to give Him your life – He has given you His. That’s the pattern.

The rest of your days will be about exploring how good He is for you so He can do and give and repair more and more for you. That’s life by Jesus. You like life that comes from Him, right? And He likes giving and repairing. That’s what He’s like. That’s the pattern, and you’re set up for that.

If you’ve been hearing or giving yourself to a contrary pattern, no matter where it comes from, no matter how you hear it, there will be no life in it, and there will, consequently, be no repair. It’s not for you. It’s not from Jesus. One pattern is from this world—take and damage. The other is from Jesus—give and repair. That’s Him.

Catch the pattern. It will help you.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Lost in Lust

What’s the problem with lust?  Why is it such a big deal?  Evidently, it’s really bad to us since we are so strongly warned about it in Galatians 5:16-17, as well as in 1 John 2: 

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

I think that the lust we are warned about is the drive to find our identity—who we actually are—completed by a person, a position, or a possession because we don’t know or have forgotten our identity given to us by God.  We are the miracle-born sons of God.  Perfect.  Made by Him.  And the love of God reminds us of that all the time so, convinced about it, we live as He intended—by faith in Jesus.

If any other identity (husband, wife, businessman, ministry leader, etc.) becomes primary, then we are in trouble because we will stop being our true selves in the attempt to become something else, something that seems to work and get us what we want.

What cripples us is that we work to get our identity, that which says we are complete and right, another way than what God has revealed, and it’s the way of the lie:  “You are not complete, you are not good unless you can get him, get her, get that job, buy that car.”  Played out, lust says that you’ll be complete if you can keep getting what identifies you well, so become whatever is required to win your identity.  That is from the world around you—it’s not from the Father, and it’s not from the Spirit who lives in you.  The ones following after lust will be daily traumatized by wondering if they’re doing everything right.  In the inner trauma, love from the Father will be strangled, and they will act like it.

And the bigger problem?  They’re no longer themselves.  In their effort to complete their identity, they’ve become a slave to the lie that they don’t already have one.  They’re lost—not to God, but to themselves.  The wonder of the new creation escapes them, even while they are part of it.  What they are attempting to get is “passing away” each day, and must be recaptured and lost, recaptured and lost, again and again. 

That’s the ugliness of lust. 

However, those of us who believe that God has given us an identity worth cherishing, an identity that means He has made us exactly as He wants us, an identity in which are all the blessings of Christ, that belief is the will of God.  And that means eternal life—God’s life given to you and me. 

Stay there.  Keep getting that identity from God, and you won’t get lost in lust.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Your Place In God's Parade

I have important news for you:  you are not indebted to God.  You owe Him nothing.  He likes it that way, and works to keep you convinced of it. 

The attempt to “pay Him back” for all that He has done for you is an unintended rejection of His intention with you:  to prove how perfect He is toward everyone by His undeserved and lavish generosity with you. Parading you is how He gets credit.

So when people introduce obligation between you and God—“After all God has done for you, how can you not give your all for Him?”—not only are we robbed of the fullness and joy of God’s grace, but so is He.

The apostle Paul wrote that God “canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15).

God went public!  How cool is it when we do too?  In other words, He has taken away everything against you, and He wants everyone to know all about it—heavenly rulers and authorities, as well.  Jesus took away not only your debt, but also the laws you broke which would have proved it.  There is no evidence of you ever being a law-breaker, of you ever being in trouble with Him, or of you ever owing God anything.  He did that at the cross!

God’s grace never creates debt; God’s grace always pays debt.  Knowing that is the perfect motivator for you, His new creation.  Maybe you’re feeling joy and freedom right now because I’m reminding you about how awesome He is toward you.  That’s how He sort of “comes alive” in you and to you—and to others.  So let’s not introduce anything that diminishes God’s triumphant grace parade.  You’re front and center, and He’s got you parading in front of an important audience.

(This is a transcript of yesterday’s video, “Your Place In God’s Parade”, and is for those who might rather read than watch.  To see the video, click https://youtu.be/xghbA7u56cw.)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Your Place In God's Parade

You are not indebted to God.  Why not, and why is that important?  Spend 3 minutes with me to find out what fun God is having with you.  You’ll be glad you did.


Friday, August 04, 2017

We're Under Grace

I don’t know what you’re doing with your life as it involves others, but for the rest of my days I promise to keep everyone accountable to the grace of God.  Grace is for life—the length of it and the enjoyment of it.  Romans 6:14 reads, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

I know that the word “accountable” might be an odd word to put together with “grace,” but it comes as something of a response to the legalistic “accountability police”, who seem always to be prosecuting even Christians with the word.  “You’ll be held accountable for that,” they might say.  That always makes me shudder . . . and maybe want to vomit . . . on them.  Is that wrong? 

“Grace” doesn’t mean that nothing matters; grace means that Jesus matters.  He’s got us, and He’s given us all of His righteousness and holiness.  I’m going to hold you to that, because believing it, over and over again, is how you live by grace.  Jesus was successful for you two thousand years ago, and He is successful for you and with you today.  Believing that will have an effect because grace always works.  You’ll like it, and Christ in you will be in evidence.  Others will like that, too.

But keeping yourself in the crosshairs of your own gun—“I’ll be held accountable”—or turning it upon others—“You’ll be held accountable”—is not Christian living.  It may seem to help people by temporarily altering their behavior, but it actually hurts them by pushing them toward fleshly living.  Choosing your own behavioral righteousness over the gift of His will immerse you into foreign territory, where you will be unrecognizable to yourself.  In other words, you won’t work right.  And I don’t like that at all.  That’s why I don’t like the accountability police.
   
However, if grace is grace, then it’s for them, too.  So I’m going to hold them accountable to God’s grace.