Monday, December 29, 2008

Reverse Your Thinking

Philippians 2:3 NIV “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.” This verse keeps reverberating in my mind since I read it the other day. I’ve been contemplating what the world would look like if everyone put this into practice. Let us take just a family of five people who put this into practice. Each person would consider the others greater than themselves. No one gets left out. If person one is considering persons two through four and persons two through four are considering everyone other than themselves, everyone is benefiting. Everyone is blessing everyone. No one has need of selfishness. Multiply that environment exponentially and consider such a world.

In contrast, if everyone is only thinking of themselves they only reap what they are able to give to themselves. It’s the Scrooge who has no friends on Christmas for he was only concerned with himself. When he was given a look at his life and the harm he was causing to others and the condition of his own life as a bitter lonely old man he comes to realize that he wants to be apart of community life. Selfishness never benefited him. Everyone else understood something he didn’t and he was missing out on life.

Jesus said that anyone who wants to keep his life must give it away. Love is sacrificial for it is the only way it is experienced in full. Love of oneself alone is not real love at all. Giving is always better than receiving. It proves true time and again. It does not seem logical to give away what you want to keep, but it is the way that works. Consider others better than yourself. . . Consider such a world where people value others more than themselves.

I think its fear that often holds us back. We don’t really believe. We think if we hold on to our money tightly it will go better for us than being cheerful givers. We think if we make sure our own needs our provided we will be happy and are left unsatisfied. We think that love is about making ourselves happy and we give up on anyone who doesn’t make us happy resulting in great anguish. In reality, the only love that benefits us is the kind we give away. We must give. We must relinquish the fear and trust the truth. The truth needs to move from our head to our actions.

Give and it will be given back to you. Lay down your life for His sake and you will gain life everlasting. Consider others greater than yourself and you will never lack for friends. It’s all possible in Him. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Moving Forward

History is replete with stories of governments becoming abusive to the people they are fashioned to serve. One merely has to read the newspaper to find many instances of modern day abuses and usurpations brought about through governments. No matter the form of government, abuses can be found.

Governments are brought down and replaced by new governments with new ideals. Sometimes this is done for the good of the people, sometimes for the good of the new regime taking power.

Despite so much injustice coming from the hands of those in governmental authority or the institutions of government no sensible people argue that government ought to be abolished altogether. No one wants a return to anarchy. No one trusts human nature enough to unleash a people with no governmental restraints and protections. It is precisely because people have the tendency towards corruption that balances of powers are put in place in democratic governments. It is because of the waywardness of humanity that government is required and yet the governments themselves contain some of this corruption, hence the checks and balances. We don’t argue to abolish government because of the abuses, nor do people leave to go and find a nation without a government when there is a problem with government.

However, when it comes to the Church, people see abuses of power or other problems in a particular church or the Church as a whole and their response is to give up on church, and sometimes on Jesus as well. But many are still alright with Jesus, but disappointed or burned by the Church. We forget that the Church is made up of people like ourselves. Real people who have bad days, make mistakes, do wrong things sometimes, and disappoint people. We forget that being in a church is being a part of a diverse community of people from all different places in their walk with Christ. If we were all the same, I think there would be greater cause for concern and questioning of authenticity.

I am not writing this to make an argument for the existence of God or the validity of Christianity. I am simply attempting to put things into perspective for we often can see things more clearly when we substitute a different example. If people have left church because of matters of truth seeking versus abuses then I am not talking to you at all. Nor am I judging anyone who has been burned and took a hiatus from Church community life. All I am saying is that we are often quicker to give up on Church than we are on a favorite restaurant or even something as corrupt as government. We can’t put church community life into a category that demands it to be all good all the time, for it will fail as much as we fail and yet we miss all the good if we focus on the failures. It is so easy to allow negative things to cloud our vision so much so that we forget all the joys of being in a Church community. We forget the friendships, the love, the family atmosphere, the encouragement, the joy of working as a group toward growing in Christ. We loose more than we think by leaving, but we forget what we are missing by focusing on whatever injustice we observed or of which we were a victim. Being in Christ isn’t just about being in relationship with Him alone, but in being in relationship with other believers; iron sharpening iron, in good times and bad, and even in the midst of failures and disappointments. We also rob our fellow believers of our friendship and aid when we stop fellowship with them. We all need refreshing, but that refreshing comes only from resting in Him. Even in community with other Christians we must live in a place of rest in Him. If our strength does not lie in Him, we work in our own strength, and that will wear on us quickly. That will rob us of our peace and joy.

Maybe as we enter this New Year we can look at Church differently. We can start fresh and remember that we are all part of this family together and we all need each other and the fastest way to learn to work together in the Body of Christ is to do so. The most assured way of having lasting relationships in the Church is to build them in Him and build them as covenant relationships going through all together. Love endures all things. It always hopes, always preservers, always trusts. It keeps no records of wrongs. It will never fail.

Church isn’t an organization. It’s a living organism. It’s a family. It’s a beautiful family, the bride of our Lord.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Cheer

Christmas is in the air. . .

Lights twinkling

Tinsel glistening

Festive fragrances proliferating

Merriment abounding

Fervent wishing

Abundant giving

Joyful decorating

Package wrapping

Children laughing

Faces smiling

Glitter shining

Carolers singing

Joy overflowing

Hopes of snowing

Snowball throwing

Snowman crafting

Fireplaces burning

I hope all are having a Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Impact of Religion in the World

( I wrote this for another website and thought I'd share it here too)

Whether it be positive or aversive, religion will always have an impact on human behavior. From the beginning of time humans have been affected by our spiritual nature. Desire for something greater than the natural consumes our world. Everywhere you look you find temples, houses of worship, books on prayer, meditation, supernatural, etc. The western cultures have risen in secularism in the last century, yet those who ascribe to a religion are still the majority.

Atheism may have become popular in western civilization, but it is a fading minority compared to the rise of postmodern spirituality. Pluralism is a more popular way to deal with religious differences than eradication of religion. People desire spirituality enough that they would rather accept all religions than do away with all of them. The eastern and third world cultures are vastly spiritual. The west has sanitized spirituality to make it fit religious molds and marketing to appeal to the modern mind. However, things are in transition to a new spirituality that is more experiential and less formal.

History is replete with religious extremism. The world is still experiencing the after effects of 9/11. We know full well the adverse affects of religion gone awry. Still American churches were full following this tragedy. Yet attendance waned as people are still in confusion about how to fulfill their spiritual desires. Their immediate reaction to find God diminished as time passed and many blamed religion. The dilemma is real in the minds of many. How to overcome the struggle of wanting God and yet not wanting these shocking results of religious extremism. Is pluralism the answer? Is eradicating religion the answer? Is there truth that can be experientially known?

The unfilled desire for something greater than our reality rises within us and, yet we fear to allow it to surface. We push it down, ignore it, strive to fulfill it through entertainment, family, work, money, etc. In those quiet moments, the longing bubbles up inside us as we watch a sunset or listen to a summer rain. Something calls from our spirit something that affects us no matter what we do. The question is: will we stop fighting it? Will we seek truth no matter where it leads? We know religion will always be in our world; maybe it’s time to see what it’s all about. Maybe there is a place in its story for us. Maybe that longing is designed and the path to the answers is to follow it to its source.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Finding Happiness

The key to happiness lies not in endeavoring to be happy, but in giving up your right to happiness. When we seek anything as an end in itself that ought not to be an end we loose that which we seek. If we seek love for loves sake, we loose love. If we seek happiness for the sake of happiness we loose our joy.

True happiness comes from being filled with joy. Joy comes from being filled with Christ. When we surrender our will to His we experience His life abundantly. All that is good is found in God. Scriptures says to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. A life lived in service to happiness is a life lived for one’s own pleasure. It results in a selfish life, not a happy life. A life lived for His pleasure is a life where true happiness will abound.

Often times we think that if our life could only be free of trouble or if only we could attain this one ideal we would arrive at happiness. In reality, if happiness isn’t found regardless of our circumstances, it will not be found when we have attained whatever it is we think we need. True happiness isn’t about living in a place where there are no trials or problems. True happiness is that which continues no matter the circumstances. It isn’t brought on by circumstances, but is sustained through circumstances for its substance is found in being in Christ.

Some think happiness will come by surrendering all desires. Others think it comes by attaining all desires and yet once attained they sink into despair for happiness was not reached. One only needs to follow the lives of the Hollywood actors to find people in the height of success without happiness. They run through relationships and marriages. They have all the glamour, money, houses, fancy cars, vacations, fame, possessions they could want and still addictions abound to dull the reality of their failure to attain their heart’s desire. Sleeping pills, drugs, and alcohol run rampant in this famous culture illustrating that happiness is not found with more money, more fame, or more things.

The desire lingers unfulfilled for it was never meant to be fulfilled by looking to this world, but to heaven. This is why when Jesus taught us how to pray He said that we pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God and that the reality of heaven bends the reality of earth. Thus, let it be on earth as it is in heaven. When we learn to dwell in God and gain our life from Him all these things will take on new life and meaning. They are no longer ends in themselves, but pleasures meant for us to enjoy because we first find our joy complete in Him. Happiness is attainable, only if the source of our joy is found in our relationship to our Lord, Jesus.

C.S. Lewis put it best when he wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Regarding Heaven & Hell (Part 2)

All throughout the Old Testament heaven is described as the dwelling place of God. This is distinguished from talking about “heavens” meaning the sky above. Usually the text will say “highest heaven” or “the heaven” when speaking of the heavenly abode of God. I Kings 8:276:18 it reads (paraphrased) that it is amazing that God would dwell on earth in a man made tabernacle when even heaven itself was not large enough to contain Him. Thus, God was willingly bringing His manifested presence upon the earth to dwell near His people. This was a shadow of what was coming, of what was to be available to mankind once again. God was reestablishing the ability to have Eden once again. It says that even the highest heaven cannot contain Him. He is greater than heaven. While it is the dwelling place of God, He is without limit. Psalm 139 says there is no place we can go where His presence is not. However, there is something different taking place when He is manifestly dwelling in a place. He inhabits places with His manifested presence.

John 1:14 says that Jesus came to dwell with us. This is the same root word used when the Bible talks about God dwelling in the Temple. God went from dwelling in a temple, to dwelling within us through Jesus.

Psalm 115:16 says that the highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man. Thus, the earth is a gift to man to have authority and dominion upon. When man’s authority is united with God’s the result will be one way. When man walks in his authority apart from God’s will the result is another.

In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us how to pray, and in this prayer Jesus says that we are to pray that the truth of heaven be established upon the earth. He is showing us that man has the ability to conform earth with Eden once again. Paradise can be regained. It can be brought about once again, and the power to do that is available to us.

When we come into alignment with God through Jesus we enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the dwelling place of God. Jesus frequently speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God. He does so in parables, short stories designed to provide a mystery to the truth, so that we dig in for the treasures of truth. So that those who love truth will find it, and those who don’t want it won’t be condemned by knowledge that they don’t desire. The Word of God is designed to be understood in greater depths when one is in relationship with God.

Romans 8:17 says that we who are in Christ become heirs with Christ, inheriting the promises of Christ. Ephesians 2:6 says that we are seated in heavenly places with Christ. This isn’t something that begins when we die, it is a reality now. Remember the dwelling place of God is in heaven. And we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. We are dwelling in God. And God is dwelling in us, who belong to Christ.

Thus, while heaven is a place created by God that is in perfect alignment with Him, we who are in Him dwell with Him in that alignment and we can bring that reality to fruition upon the earth. That is our mandate. The earth has been given unto man.

So in reality it isn’t that God suddenly judges whether we will be in heaven when we die. It is that we already are in heaven as we lived. And we continue to be in Him as we were already in Him when we lived on this earth. It is merely a further actualization of what is already available to us while we are living here.

In contrast, those who do not live in Christ are living outside of the reality of His Kingdom, by choice. That, in and of itself, is destructive to who we are. Thus, after we die, we continue in that place that we lived in, it is just further actualized and final. Yes in both cases, we meet God, but it is up to us as to whether that meeting will be good for us or not. If we are in Christ we are as holy as He is for in Him exist the abundance of life. If we are not in Christ, there is no life in us and we continue in the state of separation from God.

Christians do not take delight in this condition of people who are not in Christ. In fact, it grieves us just as it grieves our Lord. This is why He came, so that none would perish. This is why we preach the good news, so that none would face eternity apart from Him and so that all can have life right now in Christ. We desire that all learn to live from the dwelling place of God.

We speak of Him, not to condemn anyone, but to bring life to them. This is our heart, this is our goal. Even Jesus himself did not spend time speaking condemnation and ranting on about hell. He spoke about life. He spoke about wanting none to perish. He spoke about His love for sinners of all kinds. He rebuked the religious leaders for condemning people and not showing them the compassion of God.

Ebon makes the assertion that Christians argue that God has no choice. In reality it is our choice that leads to Him or away from Him. It is our choice that seals the deal, not His. He gave us that authority and freedom.

Ebon also brings up the point about people repenting in hell. Jesus actually went to Hades when He died on the cross and preached the truth to those perishing there. They did have an opportunity to come to Him even then. Scripture doesn’t say what the result was, but it does tell us that He gave them a chance to come to Him. I don’t think anyone would be separated from God for eternity that did not conclusively refuse life with Him. He knows the hearts of man. He is the only one that can see who a man is inside.

The point I am getting at is that life is found in Christ, and Jesus desires that we find that life, He wants none to perish. I want none to perish. If we aren’t in Him we are perishing already. If we are in Him we are experience eternal life already. It’s not a matter of when you die, it’s a matter of what Kingdom you are living in now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Regarding Heaven & Hell

A common question of the skeptic to a Christian is the conundrum of how one can believe in a loving God who “sends” people to hell. I can understand how a person could view this belief as unreasonable. However, if one truly thinks through this matter, one can understand it is not unreasonable at all.

First of all it is not difficult for one to believe in a loving God and heaven. It is when the idea of hell enters the picture that a person begins to question God's love. Now if heaven exists as a place where people who have passed from this earth reside with God in all splendor and majesty it would follow that this place would be a desirable place to be. If there was no hell and all people went to heaven it would follow that heaven would not be "heaven" at all, but simply a new place of existence after death with the same people and problems as life on earth. There certainly would not be peace and harmony if people who were lovers of themselves and not of God were then forced to live with God. This would not be heaven for them.

So for heaven to be a place of harmony with God there must also be a place where there is no harmony with God, for those that refuse to accept harmony with God. If one rejects God would it only stand to reason that they would not want to be in a place of God for all eternity. Would a loving God force them to do so?

Moreover, if we start with the presupposition that God is a loving God what does that look like? Would God be a loving God if He forced people to love Him? He would only have one option that would exclude the necessity of hell. Namely, to create robots who have no freedom, but must obey Him and love Him.

So, what does a loving God do? The only way a loving God can exhibit that love is to allow us to have free will that He does not overpower. He gives us plenty of signs of His love, but He does not force us to accept that love or to love Him back. He does this even though it causes him pain, just like a loving earthly father would be hurt if his child rejected his love. He does all that a loving God can do to love and provide a free way for us to have communion with Him forever. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) He is always in pursuit of us with His love.

Now you may be objecting that it is unloving for God to dictate that we love Him and have relationship with Him or suffer. However, the truth is that it is good for us to love God. It is our need that is fulfilled when we love Him. We only hurt ourselves when we reject His love. We do not hurt Him. He doesn’t become less God when we reject Him. He doesn’t need our love to sustain Himself. But He loves us and knows that in Him all things have the fullness of life. He is the life giver. In Him is life. When we fight that reality we encounter suffering, death, and trouble in this world because we are living in opposition to how we are designed to live. It’s like a fish trying to live on dry land. It wasn’t designed to do so, plain and simple. The best habitat for a fish is water. The best habitat for humanity is living united with God through an amazing love relationship. But if we refuse it, as we have the freedom to do, we naturally are the fish flopping around on dry land. We lack the necessary components of the fullness of life. Naturally that creates a problem for us. The problems we face on earth due to our separation from Him are there to point us back to Him. For instance, when a child puts his hand too close to a flame, he feels heat and pulls back knowing that to go further would hurt his hand. However, if the child had no pain receptivity, as some have such a rare condition that they feel no pain; he would burn his hand off and not know he was doing it. The pain is a protection to one’s life.

When things aren’t going right, it’s time to look around and find out why. We all have this sense of how things ought to be, and yet we often ignore that sense and think things are as good as it gets. If so, we wouldn’t have this longing for something greater. That desire is there, because that desire has a fulfillment. People try to fill that longing in all kinds of different man made ways. But the only way to fill real longing in one’s heart is through knowing God and coming into His Kingdom.

God gave us free will and man chose to break communion with God and go his own way. Still God provided a way that man could be forgiven and find communion with God again. That way was by sending His own Son, Jesus, who is blameless in every way to pay the price for the sins of mankind.

The Bible says that Jesus, while being God, humbled himself to take human form and even humbled himself to die via crucifixion to pay the price for sins that He did not commit to bridge the divide between God and man. Man need not and cannot work his way back to God. Nor does man need to die for his own sins, but man simply needs to accept that there is nothing he can do to come to God, but to surrender his heart freely and accept God's free and gracious gift of salvation.

Doesn't this sound like a loving God? Just to recap, He gave us free will. We rejected Him. He then sent His Son to die in our place so that we can still enter into the love He has for us if we so choose. And He won't force anyone to have relationship with Him. But He stands at the door of our heart and knocks. He lets us know that He is there, but He won't force the door open. He waits for us to choose to open our heart or close it to Him. The choice is ours, not His. He gave us the choice because He loves us. He desires that none perish, that is His heart, but because He loves us He has to allow us to choose to have life in Him or to perish because our life is not in Him. We can live now with Him forever or we can never live with Him forever. What more could a loving God do to show His great love?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

God: Father or Puppeteer?

The debate regarding free will rages within the Church as well as without it. There are those in the faith who maintain that because God is all powerful and all knowing, all that happens in the world is just as He wills it to happen. For example, if someone gets healed, He selected them to be healed. If they stay sick, it is His will that they suffer with that sickness. This is not quite the picture of a loving good God. Moreover, there are those on the outside who also give this argument as evidence that if Christians are indeed serving God, they do not serve a good God.

Whether it is a Christian or a non-Christian arguing that there can be no true freedom if an all powerful all knowing God exists, it still boils down to is God truly a Father or is He merely an all powerful Puppeteer holding all the strings of every life situation?

We have to explore the character and nature of God. In our culture, we often have aversion to authority figures especially that of the father. Many of us cannot relate to the idea of a loving father for in the natural we have not experienced it, and if God is a Father we think Him to be as controlling and demanding as natural authority figures. We think that if He has all power and all knowledge then all that happens is either His fault or He isn’t really all powerful, and, in reality, a figment of our imagination. There is a third option. He is all loving and all powerful, but He restrains His will to give us freedom. Or, rather, He does not impose His will upon us even though He could if it were not against His nature as a loving good Father. His power to assume the strings of our lives is trumped by His lovingly granting us the freedom to exert our own volition.

How could an all powerful and all knowing God be good and not run a utopian society for His people He claims to love? He is capable of creating such a utopian life for the world. Obviously this world is far from utopian. Just the same we desire a life of peace and love. Most of us believe things ought to be better, but where does this ideal “better” come from?

God did create a utopia, an Eden, for humanity. However, instead of maintaining it like a Puppeteer, He provided a Father-child love relationship for humanity. He gave man freedom; and with that gift of freedom came the possibility of walking away from God and consequently, Eden. Man had the ability to choose his own path and he took the path of his choosing which created a separation between man and God for sin entered into man. God being all good and holy has no sin. Man could no longer have the same relationship with God has he previously enjoyed because of his sin.

Our relationship with God is analogous to the union of a man and woman in marriage. They become one, bound tightly together in an intimate relationship. If God were to allow sinful man into this intimate relationship with Him it would be harmful to man because of the extreme holiness of God. God protected mankind by having him exit Eden. This was an act of love. God created man to be in relationship with Him. God desires for man to experience the great expanse of His love and to be trusted with great power and authority in this world. There is a greater reality available to man and it is precisely because of this that man, in the depths of his soul, knows things ought to be different.

Even though man used his freedom in a way that was to his own detriment, God did not give up on His creation. He already had in place the redemption of man. The debt of man to sin is great, but God had set in motion the coming of His own Son as the greatest sacrifice of love in all eternity to pay our debt for us with His sinless life. God demonstrated His continued love for man, by sending His son, while we were yet undeserving sinners--only deserving of the just judgment and eternal separation from God. By the work done on the cross by the Son of God and His resurrection, we can have anew a wondrous relationship with the living God for our sins are forgiven and we are made holy as He is holy. He has cleansed us from all unrighteousness and redeemed us to live a life as heirs with His Son.

God continues to relate to us as a Father and does not usurp our will. We can freely surrender our will to His perfect will or we can hold on to it and go our own path as Adam did. The choice is still ours. We can still freely walk away from His gift of eternal life in Him and the full grand reality of His Kingdom. Or we can trust Him and come under alignment with His perfect Fathering and rest in His love for all eternity.

Can God rule the world with an iron fist and only have His will be done on earth? Yes. Does He do it this way? No. Because He is, by nature, eternally a good Father and good Fathers don’t usurp the will of their children, but they lead gently and show the way by example. He gave us His son as the perfect example of the life available to us. We can choose Him or we can reject Him. The world today is a reflection of a world that is not in alignment with Him. He has given those who are in alignment with Him the authority and the mandate to usher His Kingdom into the world so that that utopia we all desire one day comes to fruition. However, it will only be a utopia to those who are in Him, to those who reject Him they won’t fit in His Kingdom because they cling to their own will over and above the will of the good King who wants them to know His love.

C.S. Lewis puts it best when he said that one day each of us will either tell God “Your will be done” or He will tell us “your will be done.”