Friday, November 17, 2017

There's a Better View

Our Christian children are not best revealed by how they behave—they are best revealed by who God says they are. Our struggle is to focus upon the latter, because we live by faith in what He says is true about them.

Without excusing poor, fleshly behavior, we must not allow it to sell the lie that our kids are how they look. When the surface of our children looks particularly stormy, we must know that under the waves something is amiss, and we need to go there. If our children’s flesh is on display in all of its ugly evidence (as it sometimes is with us), our goal is to rescue them. Revive them! Our best help to people is to build them up in Christ, to remind them of how He has made them, and to make sure they know He is in them—and still happy about that at all times. If their behavior is stinky, it’s usually because their thinking is too. You can help them by interrupting their thinking and refocusing their little heads upon the truth and gospel of Jesus.

That’s the power that makes them free to live by the Spirit. It might take a little while for them to shift their thinking to the Spirit, who makes them well and happy, but you will have assisted them to know how to live by Christ throughout their days. That’s the best there is. Plus, you will be better off for it, because you will be focused upon the truth. And that’s where the life and power of God is.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Where's My Phone?

Okay, I have to know. Of all the women who have cell phones—that’s pretty much all of you—how many of you feel foolish and maybe guilty for leaving it unattended somewhere, temporarily losing it, or forgetting where it is altogether? If “Where’s my phone?” is one of your most anguished questions of 2017, this is for you. 

There is NO CONDEMNATION FOR YOU! I know that you have no pockets in which to put and tote your phone, so it’s not your fault. You are unfairly treated by the fashion industry, which puts hip-slimming pockets in your clothing fit for diminutive baby dolls. Put that together with a cellie the size of a blimp, and of course you’re not going to carry it with you—you’re going to put it down because you’ve got a lot to do with your hands. They don’t fit in your pockets either. Gals pinwheel their hands in conversation because they’ve got no place to put them. It’s all a conspiracy.  

Therefore and herinafter, I pronounce you INNOCENT. 

As part of your recovery process, maybe you gals could start taking a knee in the pants department at Kohl’s, Dillard’s, Ann Taylor, Nordstrom, Loft, and even Costco. I don’t know, but it could become a thing. I can’t make it all better, but I can tell you that this gargantuan-pocketed, pant-wearing man knows about your stress-filled, cell phone trauma, your fashion torture, and I’m here to tell you that it’s not your fault. You are well! You are good. 

So rock on, cellie mamas! Rock on!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Get The Stink Off

While a good attitude, a solid support group and decent health care helps in times of trouble, it has always been knowing God’s love that makes noble conquerors out of otherwise scaredy-cats.  The desire to know God’s love is the highest desire that He can give you because it is the desire for Himself, and that is where your satisfaction is found, that is where your ability—and beyond—is found.  The desire for love satisfied will shape your days, frame your efforts and focus your hopes in the midst of uncertain, crazy and difficult times.  As much as anything else, this is the work of God toward you.  It’s what He’s doing today.  First.  And last.

Frankly, most of us already know what the pursuit of love is like, having chased after the lesser loves of people, power and things that gave us worse than satisfaction; we were twisted in the chase and diminished at the conclusion. I can tell you: the love of God is the destination we’ve sought, the satisfaction we’ve longed for. It’s supposed to be.

If you’ve been thinking that you’ve got no time to “bathe” in His love for you, maybe you’ve accepted the lie that His love isn’t practical or productive—you’ve got too much work to do after all.  That thinking stinks you up, and is the proof that you need a bath, however brief, because you’ve got to get that stink off—especially the kind of bath that gets rid of the inside stink, the mental one that stinks up your thinking.  Do you know about that stink?  Probably.

He makes all of the difference for you—really—and He knows exactly how you work.  Plus, He’s been through and experienced everything imaginable and more, long before you arrived on the scene, so He has all of the wisdom and comfort at the ready for you.  He has all of the motivation you need, all of the strength and all of the perspective.  That could be helpful in your day.  Right?

He is for you.  Remember?

(This is a transcript of the video, “Get The Stink Off,” and is for those who might rather read than watch.  To see the video and to perhaps subscribe, click http://youtu.be/xSVtbQNLj7w.)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A New Accounting

Many of us will endure nasty accusations today that will insist we’ve messed everything up, and there’s little hope for the future. The prosecutor will point to an accounting of our record as evidence. It will be cunning and cruel. But Jesus, your Defender and Accountant, will remind you that your record and account was expunged and closed, and a full, new one created and opened in your name that will never perish, spoil or fade. 

This is the new arithmetic of heaven, where your sin + grace = perfection. Anyone wanting to play prosecutor or Spiritual IRS Agent with you will be harshly and immediately ejected from the courtroom as a liar. The facts and evidence in your favor are overwhelming and absolute—Jesus has seen to it.

1 Peter 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Colossians 2:13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. 14 He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"The Heart of Man" Movie Available Soon!

Hey, here’s good news! The Heart of Man movie is available now for pre-order on DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes! I really enjoyed it because of the message it offers and the way it does that. It is a movie I will watch again and again. It's that good.

Go to  https://heartofmanmovie.com/collections/all to order yours.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Looseness & Legalism

Got 4.5 minutes? You’ve heard a lot about being too loose or too legalistic. Which term best describes you, and what can you do about it?


Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Double Scoop of Yes (Looseness & Legalism)

You know that verse that essentially says, “I can do whatever I want” but is immediately followed up with a sort of, “Yeah, but you’d better not”? The apostle Paul went for a sort of double dip with that because he said the same thing to the Corinthians two times in the same letter: 1 Corinthians 6:12, and 1 Corinthians 10:23.

In my experience, most of us need plenty of freedom and encouragement in navigating life with Jesus—the life of our days and the life that He is. I am no longer surprised that we go through pretty great swings of belief and experience, and I’m probably more relaxed about that now than I was in the past. Some of our swings go to the lawful, “I can do whatever I want” side: “Wow. Now that I’m a Christian, I am permitted to do whatever I want with no fear of payback from God. Isn’t that amazing?” Some swing to the other: “Wow. Now that I’m a Christian, I must live a life where I do only what glorifies Him. I’ll be held accountable.”

So which is it? My answer: Yes.

I think it’s healthy and to my benefit to occasionally ask the Spirit if I am too much one way, and too little the other. At times He has shown me that I can know Him better and find grace more evidently if I would commit to join Him in prayer, Bible reading and fasting, for example. “Ralph, you’ll like what you find if you’ll tighten up a bit. You’ll be better for it, so come with me.” He has my attention, and on we go together.

At other times, He has answered by showing me that I have become too much in control of my personal growth, and I’m blocking Him from doing for me what He would love to do on His own. “Relax, Ralph. Trust me with you. I’m going to surprise you with how capable I am in you, because I am better with you than you’ve been thinking lately.” He has my attention, and on we go together.

In both situations, I am living by faith in the One who lives in me—we’re connected—and there’s nothing better than that. We’re good, and I’m growing in knowing Him.

While some people identify all this as the struggle between looseness and legalism, I think that too quickly forces us into camps—without actually asking God anything. We’re then set up to throw verbal rocks at each other, angrily hurling our interpretation of certain passages in the hope that a bruise will grant repentance. That’s so Christian.

So don’t be afraid of asking God questions. He will always respond in a way that reveals Him to be just what you need—and more—every time. Yes.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Togetherness is the Thing

As a son of God, I can do whatever I want—I am that kind of free—and what I want most is to know God. I am His child, but that doesn’t mean immaturity; it means offspring. His delight (and my joy) is to grow us up with Him in such a way that we find out how perfect He is with us and for us. In that way, dependence or independence isn’t the thing, togetherness is the thing; and that’s most satisfying for both.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Knowing Him

To “know” Jesus means more than to know “about” Him. It means to experience Him in a way that expresses the reality and fullness of relationship. To me, that is much of the value found and the purpose of reading the Bible. The same is true for prayer, for fasting, for giving, for serving, and for most everything we encounter in our days. If Jesus is humanity’s best, most perfect friend (and He thinks He is), then I want to know Him—and to help you to the same. What’s better than knowing Him? Nothing that I have ever known.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Your Money & the New Covenant: LOVE WORKS

Does it seem to you that the primary motivators in life today are fear, guilt and anger?  I think that motivational trinity has crowded out what God intended—the motivation of love.

It’s happened to the church, too.

We seem ever to want to be motivated by crisis, by calamity, by a good cause and a good appeal, by a big need, or by a big kick to our backside.  I know the church doesn’t really want that, but it seems like it does.  And I sure don’t like it.  It’s not that we shouldn’t be motivated by a sudden event; it’s just that we can become addicted to the energy and appeal of the moment.  And there is something much better, something more true and constant, something given by God Himself.  The church was made for it.  That means you were, too.

God’s love produces confidence, daring, assurance, peace, rest, hope and, well, everything we need for life.  God’s very being is love, so if we, His sons and daughters, attempt to do much of anything apart from love, we fumble and act unnatural.  We feel it, too.  Like something’s seriously out of whack in us.  And it is.  When the behavior of the Corinthian Christians went seriously crazy, the apostle Paul pointed them back to the love of God because it is the prime motivator—it rescues, refreshes and compels the people of God (2 Corinthians 5:14).

God’s love works.  That’s the New Covenant way:  God in us, and God toward people and God toward situations that would involve Him in us.

I’m reminded of what love did to the Macedonian Christians not long after God first lived in them.  God gave an amazing grace to these people who lived in “extreme poverty” such that in their joy they gave what little they had so others could hear the gospel.  The Macedonians were in love with God, having first been won-over by His love for them.  And that love “welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2).  Do you get the combination?  They hit the big time!  God was in them toward some kind of brilliant display—in this case, giving.

There’s no need and there’s no room for laws about your money, because you’re ruled by the grace of God in you, not law.  Laws hijack love, stuff it in a closet and tell it to “Shut up!  You’re too sloppy and unreliable!” and instead offer you method, calculated and loveless measurement, and ultimately, condemnation.  That is not the New Covenant way, and that is not what the Macedonians had.  They had the love of God Himself, and that moved them. He moved them in love.

Paul then wrote to the Corinthians that they, too, should “excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you (In other words, I have no law!), but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (2 Corinthians 8:8, parenthesis mine).  Was it a test of whether they would give or be stingy misers?  No!  It was a test of love—love was the issue—and Paul was concerned about how love was issuing forth from the Macedonians.

That’s why the Macedonians gave – they were in love!  They didn’t give motivated by an appeal to sacrifice, they didn’t give to make sure their tithe was on time, they didn’t give because others were in need, and they didn’t give because it was the right thing to do.  They gave because they were in love, and that made their giving “acceptable” (2 Corinthians 8:12).  Their gift wasn’t acceptable for any other reason except that love brought it forth. 

(By the way, God’s love might compel you to actually give nothing sometimes.  Are you okay with that?)

The foundation of the New Covenant is that you have no covenant to keep—Jesus took care of that—you have the Holy Spirit in you to notice and to follow.  And He loves you!  Love is His primary evidence in you.

And that’s what drives me bonkers for the church, frankly.  I want believers to know and be motivated out of a burgeoning love affair with God.  I don't mean that we should never give unless we're right then invigorated by a love we can feel, but I fear we've gotten used to giving without it.  We've learned to motivate and to be motivated by something else.  That's what makes pushy pastors and manipulative motivators out of our leaders.  And I don’t think they like it any more than we do.

So let me sum it up:  If we're not behaving well and doing good, it's because we're missing God’s love.  That’s it.

If your motivation is low right now, what should you do?  Go get some love.  You need it and can’t live without it—not well, anyway.  If your giving lacks, if your service is stunted or reluctant, if there is gossip in the church and “sin in the camp,” go get some of His love, because for you, love works.

(This is a transcript of the video, “Your Money & The New Covenant:  LOVE WORKS,” and is for those who might rather read than watch.  To see the video, click http://youtu.be/XzZZdSRGQus, or scroll down this blog page.)

Monday, October 09, 2017

Your Money & the New Covenant: LOVE WORKS

What makes giving or keeping our money godly?  How can we know?  Do we need standards by which to estimate the authenticity of what we do with money?  Here’s a pure and simple way to know God and His leading concerning money. It’s easier than you think, and you were made for this. 


Monday, October 02, 2017

A Prayer in Suffering--by Humanity & Storm

Father, we are undone. Many of us are suffering by storm and by humanity. We are so frail, and our need of you is stunningly evident. Since you are the “treasure in jars of clay”, we know you will be motivating your people in love, grace and kindness, and we are those people. Help us, Holy Spirit, to embrace our life with you today, and see the fruit of Christ in us. He is the antidote in this world, the champion of people beset by evil.

Help us to go forward in humility and the focus that comes from acknowledging that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

We know who we are—your sons and daughters—and we know what’s going on.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Be obvious to us and through us today, Jesus. That would be great. Amen.

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.)