Pause

Just a quick post to say I am unplugging for a bit to get my bearings.  There’s a lot going on in this little noggin that’s needs some sortin’ out with the Father.

See you soon.  🙂

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It’s Being Vulnerable

As I was re-reading and editing my last post, Well, It’s A Little Bit About Us, the thought kept floating through my mind that for God to truly love us (versus controlling us like robots) there is an incredible amount of risk involved, our ability to choose.  He has exposed Himself and made Himself vulnerable.  He has, in some sense, given us the ability to actually hurt Him.

He could have created Adam and Eve without free will, but He didn’t.  Not only did He give them the ability to choose, He created the choice itself.  He created the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Not only did He create both trees, He pointed out both trees (as a parent I would have just camouflaged the tree I didn’t want them to eat from so they would never know it was there).  And might I add, by saying, “Don’t” there may have been some provoking involved.  He almost seems to have forced a choice early on in the relationship.

He made Himself vulnerable over and over throughout Israel’s history.  Even when He, God Himself, the One who had just rescued them from Egypt, tried to speak to the people at Mt. Sinai they threw their hands over their ears and told Him to speak through Moses.  They couldn’t handle it.

His people rejected Him over and over, but God kept loving, kept being Love, (See 1 Corinthians 13) kept extending Himself to us, reaching out to us.

God made Himself vulnerable by giving us the ability to choose, but He wasn’t afraid of our choices.  He wasn’t terrified we would choose poorly and forever wreck things.

Why?  Because Jesus was already part of the plan.  In fact, Jesus was The Plan from the beginning.

Jesus gave us a new commandment, to no longer just love our neighbor as ourselves (old covenant), but to love others as He has loved.

How did He love? By controlling our every move and giving us a sure-fire, mistake proof, how-to manual to achieve prosperity and pain-free living? (Some would argue that the Bible is that mistake proof, how-to manual, but I find it interesting how little detail the Bible actually gives us for day-to-day living and in fact guarantees us suffering and tribulation in this life).

He made Himself vulnerable to us.  He gave all of Himself to us.  He squeezed all of Himself into a tiny earth suit and arrived here on planet earth in the most vulnerable way possible, as an infant.  In the womb, in a manger, on the run from Herod, at home (His brothers weren’t always nice to Him), in ministry (one of His closest friends was the betrayer), at His trial and on the cross.  He made Himself vulnerable in every possible way.  He gave us not only the opportunity to hurt Him, but to kill Him.

But that’s how He loves.  He took the risk.  He allowed us the opportunity to embrace or reject, to love or inflict pain.

Jesus made Himself completely vulnerable to us.  He risked pain and suffering to love us.  He freely loved, and still does, while giving us the freedom to choose our response.

If we are to love as He loved, can we do that without making ourselves vulnerable to others?  Is there a safe way to love?  Can love possibly be pain-free?  And can we truly love anyone if we place expectations on how they are to respond to our love?

Jesus, I don’t understand it and I can’t muster it up on my own. Love others through me.  Tear down the walls of fear, self-protection and control.  As I abide in You, abide in me and bear much fruit. 

Well, It’s A Little Bit About Us

In my last post, It’s All About Him, I talked about how abundant living is believing and trusting God is Who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.  And I also said, “…even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.”

I wanted to follow up on this a little bit because while all of that is true, I don’t want to create a sense of God being distant.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s the upside for God?”  Well I have.  My close friends know that for the last couple of years I have said this many, many times.  And while most of the time I was being sarcastic and funny (I know, you are shocked) I truly wanted an answer.  I truly wanted to find the purpose in all of this for God.

Back to my question…do you get my point?  I mean really, from the very beginning, Genesis chapter 3, our story is one of disobeying and rejecting God.  Even in a perfect world, the Garden of Eden, we rejected Him and His plan.

This is our story, Love reaches out to us and we reject Love.  So what does He get out of all of this?

If you back up further, I think there’s a question that comes before, “What’s the upside for God?”  I think the first question is, if God is Omniscient (and He is), “Why did He set all this in motion in the first place?”

I think Jesus told us the answer when He met Nicodemus…God so loved.  The God who is Love, the Triune God, who lived in perfect community with Himself (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) loved so much that He wanted to express that love and multiply it.  Love created us to love us and for us to be so loved that we would multiply that love in all the earth.

Love creates, Love expresses, Love needs an object.

We were created to be loved by Love Himself and to express that love.  And that is how it becomes about us.  We are the creation and object of His love.

But He knew we would reject Him.  He knew we would reject Love instead of receiving it and living it.

So again, why?  Because He is Love regardless of what we do, whether we love Him in return or not.  He continues to be Love and to Love.  He is the definition of unconditional Love.

As believers in Jesus Christ, reigning in life is allowing the Love of God in us, that Love that created us, saves us and transforms us from the inside out, to reach out to others.  It’s exactly what God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  It’s the same thing Jesus said to His disciples, us, “Go make disciples.”  Jesus also said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

How did Jesus love us?  Unconditionally, fully and completely.  He gave all of Himself for us, knowing not all of us would receive it.  Knowing in fact that many would reject His expression of love and refuse to be the object of His love.

For those of us who receive Him reigning is receiving Love and then in turn loving.  It’s allowing Love, Jesus in us, to create through us, that same Love in us to express itself, and that same unconditional Love in us to love others, the objects of His love, even if they reject Love.

And that, I believe, is how it’s about us.

It’s All About Him

Since I haven’t written much about Jeremiah for a while, I thought I would just post about him again this week.  Love this guy!

Towards the end of Jerusalem as they knew it, when it became very apparent that the city and the Temple of the Lord were on the verge of total destruction by the army of King Nebuchadnezzar, God gave Jeremiah a personal word.  In Chapter 32, He told him that his cousin, Hanamel, was going to come to him and ask him to buy his (Hanamel’s) field back in Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town.  God told Jeremiah to buy the field from Hanamel.

There are a couple of pieces of background information helpful in making my point:  1)  Jeremiah was “…shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the house of the king of Judah (in other words, he was in jail) when God gave him this word; and 2) it was part of the Jewish law that if someone became poor enough that they needed to sell their land then their closest living relative had an obligation to buy it from them (very simplified explanation of this complicated law) in order to keep the land in the family.

So, just to be clear, Jeremiah was in jail; the entire country was getting ready to fall to the hands of the King of Babylon; Hanamel (Jeremiah’s cousin) had become poor; and God told Jeremiah to buy his land from him.

I don’t know about you, but in the natural, this makes absolutely no sense.  For us, this would be like buying a house in downtown Baghdad right after the United States declared war on Saddam Hussein.  Crazy, right?

Not only did God tell Jeremiah it was going to happen, it actually did.  And Jeremiah bought the field for seventeen shekels of silver.  According to Jeremiah 32:14, Jeremiah had two copies of the deed, “…put in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.”

Why?  It was a symbolic act meant to demonstrate the promise of God to His rebellious people that after their 70-year exile He would bring them home.  According to 32:15, “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’”

Getting around to my point about living an abundant life in Christ…even in the crummiest circumstances we ALWAYS have hope.  Even when our crummy circumstances are our own fault we can still have hope.  At this point in the book of Jeremiah, jail (Jeremiah was imprisoned), poverty (Hanamel had to sell his land), and defeat (the Babylonian’s destroying Jerusalem) were not the end of the story.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Why?  Because even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith, not our enemies and not even us.

Even though the Jews had completely rebelled against God here was His promise to them:

Jeremiah 32: 36 – 44 (ESV) –  “Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.  “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them. Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, ‘It is a desolation, without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.”

Notice how that entire passage is about what God is going to do.  It’s about what only He can do.  You know what our job is?  Believe Him and trust Him to be Who He says He is and to do what He says He will do even when it doesn’t make sense to us.  That’s it.

The gospel of John calls it abiding.  Paul calls it reigning in life.  I call it wonderful.

Stay tuned next time for:  “Well, It’s a Little Bit About Us”

Jesus Is Reigning in Life

I haven’t written much about our study on Jeremiah recently.  The truth is that this study is hard.  The message is heavy and sad.  And the more I learn the more I realize just how difficult Jeremiah’s life was.  I’ve talked about it before, but even now after being in this study since January, I have tears in my eyes thinking about what he endured in this life in order to serve his God and serve His people.

Not only did he share virtually the same message for well over forty years (he probably not only sounded like a broken record, he probably felt like one, too), but he was hated and despised for it.  People tried to kill him.  His own family members (the men of Anathoth) plotted against him.  God told him not to marry or have children, so he was devoid of seemingly even the smallest human comforts (no wife to hug him or little Jeremiah’s or Jeremina’s to jump in his lap after a long day of prophesying).  He often had to hide.  He was held prisoner in a cistern and almost starved to death.  There are many parts of the book that indicate he wrestled with his emotions (anger, fear, grief, and intense loneliness) and suffered with doubt and confusion – just like us.

All he truly had was the Lord.  And while we might not like to think about it this way, Jeremiah the Prophet reigned in life.  He reigned in life because all he had, everything he hoped in was all wrapped up in El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One.  He needed no one and nothing else.

God hasn’t called many of us to the type of ministry that He called Jeremiah to.  But we all face challenges (if you don’t and your life is seamless and perfect, email me, we need to have coffee so I can find out what kind of meds you and/or your family are on):  difficult jobs, health crisis (what’s the plural of crisis?), financial challenges, marriage difficulties, rebellious teenagers and 10,000 other possibilities.  I have been in seasons of my life where I have experienced several of them at the same time.

The question for us is, if nothing about our circumstances improved or even if they actually got worse, is Jesus enough?  Is the All Sufficient God of the Universe, Maker of Heaven and Earth enough for us?  Or are we willing to say that anything (pick one or pick five above) has the power to undo us?

When we stop fighting our circumstances and start embracing our Savior, we have abundant life.  When Jesus is enough we are reigning.

Abundant Life Remix

Since this series has gotten rather long I thought that taking a few minutes to re-cap might be helpful.  Well, I know it will be helpful for me anyway.  I don’t want the major ideas to be lost over time.

I began this series the day after Resurrection Sunday asking, from the perspective of believers in Christ, what it looks like to live abundant life and to reign in life.  I then started out with a few things that are what I have come to refer to as abundance-drainers and tiara-tilters:

  • TRYING HARDER  – my coping mechanism of choice (*one subsequent insight I have had about TRYING HARDER is that when we “try” something it is different from simply doing it.  Trying implies that we’re not sure of the outcome…that one’s free, so just chew on it for a while.)
  • Fear
  • Self-sufficiency (*another freebie – anything including the words “self” or “I” are probably going to work against you in terms of abundant living.  Abundant living is all about Jesus.)

Since there are so many abundance-drainers and tiara tilters I thought a very scientific assessment would be in order to help you if you were struggling to identify with any I had presented so far.

We then paused for a message of love from the heart of our Father, Love Himself:  there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ (absolutely NONE); our identity is not in our flesh patterns (coping mechanisms); and our flesh was NEVER designed to work in the first place – it was in fact designed to fail us (isn’t that comforting?).

At that point I began talking about things that DO characterize abundant living and reigning in life:

This is where we are so far.  Any questions or thoughts, friends?  Maybe you have something to add or maybe you have a different perspective, would love to hear it.

Stay tuned, more to come…

Love Transforms

I realize this so-called series on reigning in life may now have morphed into a general theme for the blog rather than just a series.  But then again, Pentecost Sunday isn’t until May 19th, so I guess technically speaking, in a church calendar sort of way, we’re still celebrating the Resurrection.  Shouldn’t we be doing that anyway???

I made the shocking revelation in my last post that Elf is one of my favorite movies (right up there with Steel Magnolias and Mr. Holland’s Opus) and that I believe it has some great parallels to abundant life.  I ended that post with a thought to ponder:

Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

We all know there are several forms of love and in the Bible specifically, there are three.  So just for the sake of clarity let’s focus on the unconditional kind.  The kind that God has for us, agape.  Not only does God have this type of love for us, but according to 1 John 4:8, God is Love.  God is unconditional Love and through Jesus Christ we have direct access to that Love.

Not only do we have direct access to Love, but the living God, who is Love, then comes and takes up residence in us.  At salvation we are united with Christ.  It is no longer we who live, but Christ in us the hope of glory.  (Sorry for the huge leap, but I am making the assumption that we all ‘get’ the idea of the Trinity…if not, well apparently WordPress will allow me to write and post as many things as I would like and we can discuss it another day.).

So let’s just talk about the impact of that Love, the God of unconditional Love, that comes to dwell in us.

I think the Bible records the transforming power of Love most beautifully through the lives of three amazing men:  Peter, John the Beloved (as opposed to John the Baptist) and Paul.  These men were so changed by their encounters with Love and the life Love lived through them that their names were actually changed.  Simon became known as Peter;  John, a son of thunder, became John the Beloved; and Saul became Paul.  By the time Love was finished with them, they were completely different men.

Love transformed an uneducated fisherman into a pillar of the new church.  It took a man who wanted fire to come down from heaven and kill people who didn’t believe Jesus and transformed him into a man whose major theme in writing is Love.  It also took a man who followed the law to the nth degree, even killing under its authority, and transformed him into a man who wrote most of the New Testament.  And what was one of his primary messages?  That we are no longer under the law and we are to live free from the law.  We are to live by Love, Jesus’ new commandment.

What was so wrong with living by the law?  What is wrong with it now?  According to the New Testament it kills.  It brings death.  There is no life in the law.  The only life is found in Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  By definition the law does not transform it conforms to pre-determined specifications.  It is limiting, confining.  And the truth is we can NEVER live up to the law’s expectations.

So, why do we go back to something that is going to kill us, hem us in and keep us from experiencing the unfathomable depths, heights and widths of the Love of God?  I am not necessarily talking about the over 600+ Jewish laws.  What about all the rules we put on ourselves to be closer to God, that we use to define a “good” relationship with God?

I am talking about “good” things like, a quiet time with God at 5:00 am every single morning, an hour reading the Bible every day, or being at church at least twice a week, or feeding and clothing the homeless every week.

Have you ever started the New Year with one of these goals in mind because you want a closer relationship with the Lord?  Then of course by the second week, unless you are highly self-disciplined, you have already missed a few quiet times or Bible readings because you got up late or your kids were sick or…fill in the blank.   So what happens then?  The condemnation comes.  Why?  Because that is what laws do (even the ones we place on ourselves), show us where we fail.

The problem with developing our own system (you could substitute the word law for system) for a closer walk with God is that it becomes all about us instead of Jesus.  It becomes about what we do instead of who we are.  Life in Jesus isn’t about a system or a formula, it’s about a relationship.

I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with any of the things above, but when they become a set of rules they become death for us instead of life.  They become one more way for the enemy to tell us we don’t measure up.

The Bible doesn’t record any system Peter, John and Paul followed to be closer to God.  It records some of their relationship with God, and some of the things God LED them to do, and then the eternal fruit that came from that relationship.  They had Christ IN them and as believers we do too.  Honestly, we can’t be any closer to the Lord than Christ IN us.

As Paul told Timothy, the law is for the unrighteous.  The law, even our own moral codes and formulas, only have the power to tell us what we do wrong.  They don’t change us.  God’s Love IN us has unlimited ability to transform us, if we let it.  If we can lay down our own expectations and definitions of successful Christian living, then God can make us unrecognizable too.