Thursday, March 31, 2011
Have you ever seen The African Queen? Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, it’s a film classic, one I’ve seen lots of times if you count seeing it in bits and pieces.
A part I’ll never forget—probably because it’s so gross—is when Charlie (Bogart) pulls the boat through acrid swamp water, clogged with muck and reeds and algae and bugs and crocodiles. The worst part of it? Leeches. I hate ‘em. Because Charlie and Rose (Hepburn) are riveted upon their destination, the slimy, blood sucking critters latch on to him without his knowing. When Charlie climbs back into the boat for a break, there they are, in all their awful sycophant glory. Horrors. I hate leeches.
Ever ready, Rose applies salt to the bloodsuckers, which don’t take kindly to it at all, and regretfully drop off. (Side note: the film could have been better if, like snails, the leeches had gone all bubbly from the salt. Opportunity missed? I think so.) Rose and Charlie knew that if they were to proceed toward their goal of freedom, they had to momentarily break their focus and deal with the life-sapping leeches.
Yesterday I noticed there were some leeches hanging on me.
Simply, what was leading me through my day was not Jesus, but a crude, almost unrecognizable form of legalism. This time of year seems to produce a bumper crop of standards and behaviors by which to measure oneself—and I was. I wasn’t properly shepherding my girls. I wasn't talking about God and praying with them enough. I wasn’t encouraging my wife enough. I hadn’t written or called or emailed enough people, and God knows how tragic that is(!). Sheesh.
Do you see it? In each case there was a perfect “A” I could get on the report card of my day, and in the fleshly estimation of that perceived goal, I fell short. I didn’t bother to check with God. After all, wasn’t it true?! I mean, look at the evidence! So why check?
Leeches. I had ‘em all over me.
So last night, almost in a ritualistic way, I climbed out of the routine boat of my day, and said a few fairly meaningless words to God. “Hey, Lord. How’s your day? Ready for Easter?” or something like that. And perhaps because I didn’t come to Him carrying my deserved condemnation, but my weary carcass only, He began to lift and free me of worldly estimations. For the 905,000 time I remembered—God is my life and peace and freedom and rest and joy and love. I do not live well by what I do (which is not to say it’s unimportant), but by who I know. When what I’m doing is influenced and fed by that (life by the Spirit), it’s all good.
Damn the leeches.
You and I have been made free in Christ—stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. . .you, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh;. . .(Gal 5:1, 13) The “yoke of slavery” or the indulgence of the flesh threatening the Galatians wasn’t drunkenness or cheating or lust, it was life by measurements, life by standards on the way to getting the “A” on life’s report card. Trouble was, they already had it! But Satan had induced them to believe that life by checklist was better than life by knowing and trusting Christ—God for us and God with us and God in us. As long as they believed they weren’t yet free, weren’t yet good enough, hadn’t yet done enough, or hadn’t received absolutely everything from God for entirely nothing, living was a mucky, leech-filled swamp.
If that’s where you are, get some salt—you’ve got leeches.
Do almost anything toward God, with Him in mind (cook a meal, sing a song, read a verse, tie your shoe), and see what He does for you—the inside you. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and He loves being that for you, since He made you a perfect place for Himself.
Take a moment and stop pulling so hard. You are His boat—He’ll do the pulling. And He’ll mix salt with your leeches.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
If every Christian has been reconciled to God—been brought into perfect agreement with Him—then while we are completely safe with Him, having no need to hide or pretend around Him, we’ve got to be completely safe around each other. If we’ll see each other not just by how we look or behave (as the world sees, v. 16), but by our birth in Christ, our approach to people will be invigorating and dynamic and full of the Spirit.
In our last session at last weekend’s retreat, we looked at how the vitality of the church is dependent upon the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16-21), not only to those who have not received Christ, but also to those who have.
If we don’t believe we’re safe with God, or if we don’t believe we’re safe with each other, we’ll cover up and manufacture an image or a persona that will seemingly get what we want. This is essentially what Adam and Eve did in the garden after not trusting God. Seems we’ve learned the pattern well. However, we won’t know how to live by the Spirit because we’ll have become used to living by the flesh. We’ll have exchanged grace and freedom for wages and slavery.
To see if you’ve been affected, I want to ask you a question: If people suddenly found out that you often got sloppily drunk, or that you were in an affair, were lately looking at pornography, or had just had an abortion, who would you be most afraid of meeting: a roomful of Christians from your church, or a room full of people you didn’t know?
If you chose the former (a room full of Christians from your church), then you’re in agreement with 90% of the people I’ve posed this same question to. Think for a moment about what that means. The implications are devastating. We’re a church that doesn’t like or trust each other—not really.
See what’s happened? We’ve been pushed away from the gospel that is staggeringly great news about us, and the accusations of the devil have found their mark (Col 1:21-23). We’re led to believe the cover-up or the pretender lifestyle is better than the truth. Heavens! And that’s how Christians become unknown to themselves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
If we’re going to “minister reconciliation” to those made alive in Christ so they can live freely, three things will be needed:
- They have to know that the way they were before being born again was and is dead. Picture for them that they were something out of a zombie film, and you’ve helped them.
- They have to know that to live at all the way they once did is impossible. With God now living inside, the way forward is all new and different—by the Spirit.
- They have to know that you’ll help them live in the freedom and safety and confidence of their new identity. You’ll remind them of the gospel, and you’ll help see to it that they’re not pushed away from the truth and that there will never again be a moment of condemnation—not from God and not from you.
You may begin.
(Some of this teaching is found in my book primarily in the fourteenth chapter: Stripping Mummies - Finding Freedom and Life Outside the Tomb. You can see and order “God’s Astounding Opinion of You” at http://lifecourse.org/Ralphs_Book.html, or through Amazon, Christianbook, and your local bookstore.)
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
After looking at three verses that speak of Christ in us and of His being formed in us (Col 1:27; Gal 4:19-20), in our second session we asked how He becomes noticeable and productive in and through us. If God is in us, wouldn’t it be great to find Him there? As I see it, there are a few essentials: we’ll have to believe He’s there; we’ll have to believe He’d like to do something from there; and we’ll have to look for Him there. He who is within us is our hope for anything great, so we want Him to be active. Right?
2 Peter 1:3-4 tells us that the way to escape evil, corrupting desires is to “participate in the divine nature,” and since we’ve now received His nature (literally, His "genetic") as our own, we’re compatible with Him. Participation with God (particularly on the inside) is now normal; we’re set up for it! And the fantastic news is that He has no problem with temptation or evil desires, so what we want is Him working within.
While that can occur in a number of ways, a very common way to find Him and connect with Him is during His conflict with the flesh (Gal 5:16-18). It’s His fight, not ours. So during inner turmoil, we sow to the Spirit (not to the flesh), and we reap His production of Christ in us—the fruit of the Spirit. Resolving inner turmoil is not the high goal of life—knowing God is. In sowing to Him who lives in us, He will block the evidence or behavior of the flesh that comes through us (Gal 5:19-21) by producing the evidence or behavior of Christ (Gal 5:22-23).
Sowing (or "scattering") to the Spirit is not at all complicated either. Any little thought toward Him ("What are you doing, Holy Spirit?"), any question or comment directed to Him ("Anything you want to do here, Spirit?"), even a complaint toward Him ("I don't like this, Father!"), and you're actually sowing to the Spirit. And if you do that, he promises to produce life in us—the life of Christ (Gal 6:8). And, being formed in us, He becomes obvious, especially to you.
It’s amazing(!), and it's the best thing in life—knowing and experiencing God and His life in us!
(This is a summary of what I taught during the third session at last weekend's retreat. It is also found in my book primarily in the fifth chapter: The Demolition Derby - Why Do You Feel Like You're a Crash-test Dummy? You can see and order “God’s Astounding Opinion of You” at http://lifecourse.org/Ralphs_Book.html, or through Amazon, Christianbook, and your local bookstore. I’ll post a sum of the final session tomorrow.)
Sunday, March 20, 2011
I love the church. What a rich time we enjoyed together at the Redeemer Christian Church retreat in Allenspark. Colorado, over the last two days.
During our first session on Saturday morning we saw that, because we have already been immersed into Christ Jesus at the cross, at least two things are true: We will never have to die for our sins because, in Christ, we already did; and, having been crucified with Him, we do not need to die in order for us to gain power over sin because, in Christ, we already did. We don’t need to die to self, as though we still have a self that needs to die. We need to believe that we were baptized into Him and crucified with Him—that’s where freedom, power over sin, and new life is found. We were immersed with Him; when His body died, we died. When His body was buried, we were buried. When His body was raised spotless, faultless and perfect, we were raised in the same condition. (Romans 6:1-7)
If you're looking for your "Happy Place," this the starting point.
(I'll post a summary of the last two sessions tomorrow.)
Have a look. I'll bet you get it. (There's a brief advert at the beginning.)
Friday, March 18, 2011
Just wrapped up tonight's topic with the Redeemer Christian Church retreat. In essence it was about God's actual presence within the Christian--that He is actually in us, happy about His temple, delighted to be in the New Testament Holy of Holies.
I'm with a terrific bunch of God-lovers. More tomorrow. . .
We’ve been sold a toxic concoction of Old and New Covenants, a “drink” that induces us to believe that God is still working with us on the basis of a quid pro quo relationship. In other words, if we get our part right, He’ll do His part, and we’ll get a good return on our investment. That invariably produces a fascination, even a transfixation(!), on figuring out the proper principles to employ that will move God on our behalf. We lose fascination with God Himself, and our actual knowing of Him is less than what He intends, less than what He has earned and given us. The passion for figuring out how to make things work becomes a surrogate fire that replaces the passion of knowing Him. And for the sons and daughters of God, that will not be sufficient. We will suffer. But I know He is working in opposition to the surrogate, and He is revealing true life that fills and satisfies…and becomes a healthy addiction.
The addiction is Him.
God chose to give us the “lead-up to Jesus,” but we’re not supposed to live by the lead-up. We’re not supposed to live by what they were looking forward to: we’re to live with God—we have Him!
We’ve been deceived into defining “hope” in Christianity as, “Here’s how to get what you want from God.” The equation goes like this: My Righteousness + God’s Faithfulness = Desired Outcome. But we’re not Jewish, and that covenant is, fortunately, finished. Under the New Covenant, hope is secured by Jesus, and I trust Him throughout my days to work in me, through me and around me for His glory and my delight. My life, in the sense of what I get, where I go, who is with me, etc., is less about making that happen and more about trusting Him and watching Him bring it to pass. My gaze is fixed on Him, and that secures my hope that He is providing everything for life and godliness.
I’m glad to have the Old Testament. But all too often speakers teaching from it today instruct Christians as if the Old Covenant is still in force along with the new, which regularly creates an addiction to the toxic drink. Many believe that God still bases His behavior and largesse upon our behavior and faithfulness. Many believe that sin still separates us from God. Many believe that not all of their sins are forgiven. Many believe that they are not a new creation, but an upgrade only. On and on it goes, because the Old Testament stories have been used as motivational inducements toward our “pleasing behavior” before God.
In other words: “Here’s how to get what God has not given.” And that becomes a bigger attraction to us than God Himself.
I suppose that if you listen to teaching and read books that interpret the Old Testament and the Old Covenant in light of the New Testament and New Covenant, where we hear and learn how well off we are in comparison, then you’re in great shape. I’m truly glad that’s happening more and more, but I simply want it to hurry up already!
I know this is a bit of a ramble, but I’m on my way to speak at a retreat. Pray for me and for them?
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
It's a terrible plague that, after having received a new self, we still fall into denigrating ourselves as though that's humility. It's more humble (and accurate) to acknowledge what God has made of us all by Himself.
In making us His very own creations (2 Cor 5:17), we have an outstanding self, one compatible and in union with Him. That new self is what’s renewed through knowing and communing with God (Col 3:9,10). When you’re knowing God and having fellowship with Him, you’ll also know yourself. He brings the real you out, and reveals you to you. You're going to like that!
The old self is gone (Rom 6:6), having been crucified with Christ, and the new has come. That’s worth looking at and celebrating now and then, don’t you think?
You're not old—you're forever new.
Let's Return To Christian Unity
by Kokichi Kurosaki
Chapter 5: Understanding Faith and True Unity
Faith is the gift of God which produces in us this fellowship with God in Christ. It cannot be created or maintained by human efforts. With the Spirit of God governing us directly, we love each other and do God's work by obeying Him. Faith is but another name for fellowship, the koinonia with God. In this relationship the power of God works through us. No creed or doctrine, no priest or pastor, no institution or ceremony is actually necessary. The one thing required is that a man repent and come to Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the newness of life He freely gives.
When the Lord walked on earth, He praised the "great faith " of a centurion and blamed the "little faith" of the disciples. He acknowledged the faith of a sinful woman, a leper, a woman suffering with a flow of blood, and a blind man by saying, "your faith has saved you." In all such cases no doctrines, institutions or ceremonies ere involved. Those who simply relied wholly on the Lord himself were accepted, their sins forgiven, and thus they were saved. The only necessary condition was that they have faith in Christ personally--that they engage in a living contact with Him. Where there was this "faith," there was the beginning of the Ekklesia, because through this koinonia they became one with Christ and He became their Lord. In a word, Christianity has its center in God Himself, and in the fellowship men have with Him. This fellowship of God through the Spirit with believers is the answer to the question of what faith is, and of what the true Ekklesia is.
When this centrality of God in fellowship with men through Christ is made clear, we at once see that all other elements, such an institutional Church, the interpretation of the Bible, various doctrines, the morality of believers, or any other problem of different denominations or sects, cannot be the center of Christianity. When this revelation dawns, we know that we should not judge others by any of these standards, for Christ Himself never made these the standard for judging His followers. The center of Christianity is fellowship with God. The Bible itself is not the center. It is only the inspired description of this central truth, through which we may come to the center and have fellowship with Him.
Oh, how important our fellowship with God is! This koinonia is the essence of the new life we have in Christ. "You pore over the Scriptures for you imagine you will find eternal life in them. And it is they that give testimony to Me." (John 5:39).
Redemption by the blood of Christ is, of course, the most important fact of Christianity, the basis of all koinonia with God. Everyone knows how Paul emphasized this truth, as also did Augustine, Luther, Calvin and every other great spiritual leader through the years. But God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, "not just to have us believe the doctrine of our sins being forgiven through the blood, but also to let us actually in practice "have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in Him" (Eph. 3:12; see also 2:13, 18; Heb. 10:20).
To have access to God is the true purpose of redemption, while the propitiation by the blood of Christ is the basis on which we are allowed to come near to God. Therefore, the main purpose of God's sending His Son, as well as the Son's death on the cross, was to let us have this access, this entering into communion with God. We know how God loved us, because He gave His Son to save us (I John 3:16, 4 :10). Without the cross of Jesus we would be unable to know the love of God or to be saved from the curse of sin. But only to know that He loved us is not enough. We must actually come into His presence and experience koinonia with God.
He who acknowledges the doctrine of redemption not necessarily experiencing the fellowship it allows, but all who have communion with God surely are also trusting Him who forgave our sins through the redemptive death of His Son. This relationship of experienced fellowship with Him is what God really wants of men, for this was the purpose in our creation.
Therefore, merely to understand or confess the doctrine of redemption is only to have found the passage through which to come near to God. Those who stop there have not yet come into life-union with Christ and are in danger of dead orthodoxy. How full the churches are of this kind of "faith"! Because of this we must be careful to avoid making the doctrine the center rather than the life. There are many Christians who, though for one reason or another may not subscribe to some statement of the doctrine of redemption by the blood of Christ, still are standing very close to God and obeying Him from their hearts. Perhaps Albert Schweitzer and Karl Hilty are examples of this. If I had been born in a country where so much dead orthodoxy prevails, I too might have been repelled by such a doctrine of redemption professed without a corresponding change in life and practice.
To confess faith in the resurrection is one thing and to have fellowship with the risen Lord is another; to believe in the doctrine of the second coming is one thing, and to wait for Christ's return is another. For as the fact of the resurrection of Christ gives us the faith that sees God face to face, so the coming again of Christ gives us the hope that we "shall be caught up together . . . to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord." In all such doctrines, the koinonia with God is the ultimate object expected, and all the various dogmas serve only as tributaries to this main stream.
Koinonia versus Institutionalism
When God's people truly see that the center of Christianity is fellowship with God, and that this fellowship is realized through Jesus Christ, then they will see the true causes of the divisions in the churches, and will understand the way to get rid of them. The primary cause of these divisions is the Institutionalism and organizationalism of the churches and missions, which instead of helping the life of the believers in them, smothers or drives it out. This gradually produces mere dead institutions instead of the living Ekklesia.
Christians who really have life in Christ cannot exist within such a corpse and usually will finally come out of it. But, sad to say, in most cases those who leave dead institutions simply set out to build another "better" institution or embrace other rituals and ceremonies, thus repeating the same error. Instead of turning to Christ Himself as their center, they again seek to find fellowship and spiritual security on the very same basis that failed.
Even the Bible itself is interpreted and understood in various ways and often becomes the cause of sectarianism. In the same way, dogmas and creeds cannot bring Christian unity, because human minds are not so uniformly created that they can unite in a single dogma or creed. Even our understanding of Christ himself cannot be the basis of unity, because He is too big to be understood fully by any one person or group. Our limited understandings do not always coincide. One emphasizes this point about Christ, another that, and this again becomes the cause of division.
Only as we take our fellowship with Christ as the center of Christian faith, will all Christians realize their oneness. There are different understandings of Christ. There are varying opinions about the Bible and its teachings. There are various kinds of institutions and ceremonies. But this need not hinder our practicing the unity of the Body of Christ. Is not our fellowship, however varied, with the same Lord? Is not the same Savior our one Head?
Our fellowship with God in Christ is, as we have seen, the very purpose of God in creating man. In its fullness it is His "eternal purpose"--the Ultimate--and He cannot rest until this is fulfilled, however great the cost may be to Him because of man's sin.
I feel that all Christians are aware that this koinonia is very important, but obviously they have not realized that it--not theology' doctrine, creed, institution, ceremony, etc.-- is the center of Christian faith. When all Christians see this, the change will be amazing. Our practices, of course, will not be the same, because God's commands differ according to the different gifts and callings. But even though each one may differ in carrying out his part of the will of God, since God's object is one, all members of the Ekklesia will be united in doing the will of the same God, fulfilling one great purpose. Each individual, by doing his part, will contribute to the work of God in cooperation with others.
God is the great Conductor, and the individual members of the orchestra each play their varying parts on different instruments; but if all follow the Conductor the whole composition will be a complete and beautiful symphony in perfect harmony.
The ecumenical movement, which has become very popular recently, seems to have arisen from the belief that the division of Christian into many sects denominations has greatly weakened their power and made it almost impossible to fight against worldly forces, especially Communism. This is true, as far as it goes, but we must remember that the unity of Christians is not a matter of human effort or cooperation. True unity must come solely from God, and when there is true fellowship with God, it will come natural of itself. The power of Christians does not come from human cooperation but from life-union with God. It is the power of God working in men. Therefore, the One Body cannot be created by human collaboration. It exists through simply removing the barriers and having fellowship with God, a reality prevailing among those who obey Him and love each other. No other merely human method will avail. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. . .Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This is the law and the prophets--and also the Gospel.
How Can We Tell?
If the center of Christian faith truly is fellowship with God and if only those who have this fellowship are Christians and those who lack it are not, regardless of their profession or what institution they are members of, then a serious and difficult problem is naturally raised. Some will say, "How can we tell whether someone is a Christian or not?" Well, in the final analysis, we can't really know for sure whether another is a Christian or not. This knowledge belongs solely to God, Who alone can judge a man's heart. No human being can judge another's faith without probability of prejudice and error.
For many centuries the distinction between believers and unbelievers was made by their reception of baptism and the Lord's supper. Yet, who can deny the inadequacy of these standards? Everyone knows that there are many baptized non-Christians and many unbaptized Christians. The confession of creeds and doctrines is also a very inadequate criterion for recognizing Christians, for these confessions can be made without the experience of the new birth.
Actually, we have created a problem that need not exist, for no final decision on a person's faith, or any standard to judge by, is needed for the simple fellowship among Christians that God intended. Such drawing of man-made boundaries and distinctions is needed only for organizations and institutions.
However, once we lay aside the necessity of objective judgment, we can in actual practice, though imperfectly, still tell whether one is a Christian or not. The most important basis for such recognition is, of course, that he confesses Christ as his Lord, with the sincerity of a life that demonstrates that Lordship. There will be the reality of loving God and men in practical experience. It is a lamentable fact that there is very little love among thousands who belong to the different churches and sects. This makes us doubt that these are really Christians, for "He that does not love does not know God; for God is Love" (1 John 4:8).
To sum up, I believe God is moving to reveal to all Christians what the true center of the Christian faith is, and that the inevitable spiritual unity which will surely result will be one of the major steps toward the fulfillment of God's full purpose His "eternal purpose." All Christians are one Body in Christ we cannot create this, but only recognize it. However, we must recognize it and then fearlessly practice it, disregarding our differences in doctrine, forms and interpretations of the Bible. We must receive one another on the ground of a mutual fellowship with God in living union with Christ in the Spirit. This is the essence of the true Ekklesia, and in such a free fellowship the truth will surely triumph.
On the contrary, if we put our emphasis on other matters, as has usually been the case in the churches since the Reformation, the great mistakes of the Roman and Protestant Churches will only continue. Division upon division will overcome all efforts to perfect the Church, and certainly any attempt to form an ecumenical Church will prove to be in vain.
We simply must come back to this central point, for in no other way can the oneness of the Body of Christ be practiced. I realize that to those who are used to the life of organizational churches, this principle seems very vague and impractical, but if they will put it to the test and really live the life of fellowship with God, practicing fellowship with all Christians upon this basis, they will soon experience the reality of it. Those who have experienced a real measure of this koinonia with God and men, from Apostolic times down to the present, know that it is the true and practical center of Christianity, and that here alone is the pathway to the unity of all Christians in the Ekklesia of Christ.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
Is God fickle? Is He a nitpicker? Can you put Him in a generous mood or make Him stingy? Is it possible that He might be the Grand Benefactor on Monday, but the Cosmic Scrooge on Tuesday?
The Corinthians wondered, and sometimes I do too.
The church at Corinth would have been my favorite place to visit. I’m not sure I would have become a member, but man, it was a happenin’ place. The members’ behavior swung wildly from wanton worldliness to high holiness and back again. They were as neat and tidy as a two year old with a bowl full of spaghetti, but they were truly alive! And sloppy. (Like me.)
Naturally, they were aware that the apostle Paul, a sort of spiritual daddy, knew all about their sloppiness. Paul knew of their ugly failures and fleshly frailties, and they were afraid that he wouldn’t come to be with them because they were often bad. “Will Paul, the one who loves us so deeply, draw away from us? Will he go somewhere else, to people who are better than us?” they might have asked. “We’re so awful—why would he want to come here?”
Knowing their fears, Paul essentially told them: “Are you kidding? I brag about you! And God fills me with grace and love toward you—how can I help but want to be with you like He does? I’m crazy about you! Didn’t I make that clear by my first letter? I did mean to come, but I was working through some personal things with God, so it wasn’t a good time for me to visit. But my heart for you is like God’s—it’s always ‘Yes!’ And that makes sense when you consider that God has secured us the same way: He has brought us into Christ, fully blessed, fully belonging to Him, with God Himself living in us as the Guarantor of what is to come. He has done it all, and He keeps doing it all! Isn’t He amazing? It was Him who sent me to you in the first place. Do you think His heart has changed toward you now that you are His? Impossible! You’re in Christ, and since that’s where you are, everything is ‘Yes!’ for you. Can I get a Corinthian ‘Amen’?” (2 Cor 1:12-2:11)
I’m glad Paul raised the Corinthian question, “Are you a moody nitpicker?” to the highest level. “God, when things don’t go according to how it seems they should, have you left me because I’ve done something wrong? Do my failures drive you away and cancel grace?” The answer is: “Never!” Weakness and failure set the table for grace—it is best seen where it is most obvious. May I remind you? This was the theme of Paul’s life—mine, too. Paul delighted in his own weaknesses and inabilities, he boasted about the insults that wounded him because he found something through them: God is forever faithful and full of grace! (2 Cor 12:8-10)
God has plenty of motivation to be with us—He doesn’t need more and He doesn’t need convincing. He’s the One who loves and behaves perfectly. Have you forgotten? I know it’s not easy to believe because it seems too fantastic! But that’s the gospel that the devil keeps trying to move you away from. If you’ve wandered away, as I sometimes do, wander back.
You and God are tight. He made it happen. Might as well enjoy.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Ever feel like you’re just not hitting the target? Like you’re not in the right groove? Like you don't fit, no matter how hard you try?
I’m noodling around this morning and it occurs to me that I cannot make my homeland fit where I am now. I try so hard, but I never succeed in making my earthly existence match my heavenly birthplace. The two simply don’t get along. They are not at all simpatico.
God has often convinced me that I am no longer of this world. And He should know, since He’s the one who changed me. He’s the one who included me in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (Romans 6), making me a new creation with an entirely new way to live. There are actually days on end when I am convinced it’s all true.
And then there are days when either I forget, or I succumb to the conspiracy. You know the one. Daily living can be such a circus of stress and longing and fun and sadness and hope and disappointment and opportunity and rejection and indigestion that my new identity—citizen of heaven—seems a platitude at best.
Hey, Ralph! Here are some of your new identity titles: New creation. Son of God. Alien. Co-laborer. How 'bout that, huh?
And all I feel is a big, fat, So what! That and $4 will get me a triple grande latte. At least that’s how it seems.
Anyway, this morning I am once again convinced about what Paul knew: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20,21)
I’m not sure how it happened, I’m not certain how the veil over my eyes was lifted to reveal the real me, but I’m glad it did. I suspect the Spirit has been snooping around, doing that revelation/transformation thing again. He’s pretty good at that.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
The obsolete arrangement between God and man (the Old Covenant) was never Christian—not even close. Not even. If now we make any attempt to wed it to the new and current arrangement by our efforts, our hopes or our expectations of God, we’re binding ourselves to frustration and confusion.
If frustration and confusion are whomping on your life just now, consider your covenant. Trying to have them both means you’ll enjoy neither, let alone God. It would be like trying to mate a horse and a car and hoping to get somewhere with it (worse than the picture, though the exhaust system would be awful). There is no fit.
If you're going to actually enjoy and truly like God, you've got to pay attention and catch the whompers.
(I’m bothered by what this has done to the sons and daughters of God in relation to “hope in the Lord,” so I’ll write more soon. And if you weren't aware, I've got a lot to say about all this in my just-released book. Find out more at: http://lifecourse.org/Ralphs_Book.html)
Friday, March 04, 2011
God thinks you’re complete in Him (Col 2:10). Think of that! You’ve got it all and you’re all done. You've just got some walking out to do.
But what do you think? If God’s opinion is that you’re already holy, righteous and majestic as you walk about the planet, but you think you’re something else, something less, might that affect your interaction with Him? Might that affect your interaction with others?
But when you discover what God thinks about you—how incredibly good it is—you’ll be intensely attracted to Him, and the pale attractions of this world will grow dim. He's right about you! To become increasingly convinced that He is correct is one of the most worthwhile adventures there is. It's the adventure He's putting all His effort into.
And He never changes His mind because He has the facts--He's responsible for them! That's why His thoughts and love for you never change. Never. He thinks more highly of you than anyone else thinks, and He's right.
As He increasingly wins you over to His way of thinking, your behavior will come together with who you are. And won't that be wonderful?
Thursday, March 03, 2011
God thinks you’re complete in Him—you’ve got it all and you’re all done (Col 2:10). But what do you think?
If God’s opinion is that you’re already holy, righteous and majestic as you walk about the planet, but you think you’re something else, something less, might that affect your interaction with Him? Might that affect your interaction with others? When you discover what God thinks about you—how incredibly good it is—you’ll be intensely attracted to Him, and the pale attractions of this world will fall away.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
I have sometimes thought about why I’m glad to live in the day and age I do, rather than two or three thousand years ago. I’m thankful for antiperspirant (raise your hand if you are too), braces, Nike’s, monofilament fishing line, multipacks of underwear, stereo, sunglasses, air conditioning and Starbucks. I don’t know what I would do without a cinnamon dolce latte at this time of year.
But really. Have you ever thought about what it would have been like to live a long, long time ago? What if God in his wisdom brought you and me out onto the stage of life years ahead of Jesus? He could have. Think how different that would have been. Isn’t it wonderful that He did not, and that fluke and chance had nothing to do with it?
“ . . . In love (5) He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—.” (Ephesians 1:5)
It amazes me and stretches my mind that God destined me to live under the terms of the second covenant and not the first. He could have planned for me to be born in Jeremiah’s day, when most of God’s people only flirted with Him; you know, sort of pretended to have a nice little friendship. That didn’t go too well overall.
Or He could have brought me onto the stage during the happy days of the Judges, when the disobedient Israelites went in and out of captivity nine times at the hands of horrible heathen. Nine times! Of course that means they were liberated from their captors nine times, and that must have been exciting—Here comes God! But I wonder at what point an Israelite or two might have thought, “You know, it has been a while since we’ve been conquered and abused by an enemy. I wonder how much longer this freedom thing will last?”
Or God could have arranged for my birth not just in the days of Jonah, but as Jonah. I can imagine Jonah’s wife, now my wife saying, “Ralph? Honey? Are you home? Ralph, did you forget to take out the trash? What’s that fishy smell? It’s overpowering!” But, God being God, I’m sure he knew that the book of Ralph didn’t fit in very well with the books of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Ralph, Micah, Nahum and Habakkuk. Can you imagine that heavenly timeline conversation? Okay then. Let’s put Jonah here, and let’s put Ralph, hmmm, later, a lot later. Let’s make Ralph a New Covenant baby. Yeah. That’ll work.
Before making the planet, God had already dreamed me up, chosen me and determined I would be His (Ephesians 1:4). And not just His as in the sense of a possession, but His as a much-loved son, having been given the new creation grace of royalty. He wiped out my natural birth—made it as having never even happened—gave me a second birth, and thinks of me and treats me as if I was always one of His. In a sense, I always was. It was always in the works, only a matter of time.
And He liked dreaming and choosing and determining me. It gave Him pleasure! It wasn’t just God’s will, as in moving the pieces of a puzzle toward a satisfying fit; it pleased Him to do it. That’s how it is with all of His sons and daughters. Isn’t it great to think that you give Him pleasure? I can see a smile on His face as, on the day of my second birth, He says, “Ralph, you’ve always been mine, and now you’ll know. This is so fun—I love this part! Wake up now, Ralph! It’s time to receive.”
Can you imagine the smile that lit His face on the day of your new birth? Think of it.
That’s the glory of the New Covenant. He didn’t make the agreement with you or me, determining our relationship with Him on the basis of our performance. That would have been a copy of the first covenant. Instead, He fulfilled and ended the first one, and made an entirely new covenant with Jesus, giving us all of the benefits Jesus earned.
You wanna talk about a benefits package? Goodness!
The next time you wonder if God loves you or if His love ever wavers with you, remember how determined He was at the start. Nothing has changed.
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. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:3-8)