Don’t miss that Opportunity!

Beloved of Papa,

On Tuesday my reading brought me to I Corinthians. In Chapter One I read,

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he?”

The “no” was loud and emphatic as I read “no divisions among you.” As I read on I was hearing . . . “I am of Calvin,” and “I of Wesley” . . . no divisions. I’m sorry if that hurts, but it is what happened. I know most of you are beyond such things, but all are not yet free.

As I read on, the diagnosis got stronger in Chapter Three,

“ . . . for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?”

Wow! Fleshly? Jealousy? Strife? Why? For one says, ‘I am of Warren’ and another, ‘I am of Osteen,’ (or any other name expressed as a faction within The Church [including the proud, I follow Christ, as in 1:12!]). This is not milk for babes—yet it is Papa’s loving word to the Saints at Corinth (or Seattle, or Concord, or any other place where such proud distinctions are claimed). Papa had Paul write it as a corrective, which we need to hear and receive today—not to produce guilt or shame (or self-justifying), but for conviction, confession, cleansing, and transformation by the power of the Spirit.

All this reminds me of Ray Stedman’s thoughts in Talking to My Father. In addressing what he calls the “divine strategy” for reaching the world (as seen in our Lord’s prayer recorded in John 17), Stedman says:

“I have resolved that my heart shall be always ready to love every person, without exception, in whom I sense a love for Jesus Christ, the Son of God – regardless of his denominational label or lack of it and despite any theological differences of viewpoint.  I am ready, God in me and helping me, to give myself in love to any Christian, anywhere, whom I may chance to meet and in whom I sense a fellowship of love for Jesus Christ. . . .”

I was particularly convicted by his next paragraph:

“Are you willing to join in that?  Are you ready now to say, in order to reach the world around us, Lord teach me to give up my prejudices, these separations, this withdrawal, these sub-Christian attitudes toward my fellow brethren in Christ and make me willing to love them and to show it for Christ’s sake?”

By His grace He has brought me to a place where I say, “Yes. I am.” But saying it to Him is not always enough! He calls on me to say it and live it toward each specific brother or sister in my life. Sometimes He even prompts me to reach out to some brother or sister I wouldn’t otherwise encounter! If the Spirit has not brought someone like that to your mind as you have read this, perhaps He will do so later today. When He does, reach out in love: Send them a note, phone them, or walk over and give them a holy hug! Since He loves us without limit, we are able to love one another—not just with words, but in authentic acts of love! Don’t miss that opportunity!

Live who you are—a child dearly loved by Papa.

John

Beyond Tolerance

Greetings of Love,

Over the past 10 days or so I have had a number of encounters which were both convicting and encouraging. You are familiar with the process—while you are active but clueless God shows you how your thoughts and actions fall short of what Jesus calls us to, while also bringing a realization that He has brought you a long way toward Christ-likeness (considering where you once were on this issue). As God assures us through Paul, He began the good work in you will continue His work . . .. Praise God! My thoughts can be connected by the words tolerance, love and hospitality.

Tolerance. Just the word seems politically charged, but I’m not talking politics (yet I hope you’re registered and will vote). No. I’m using tolerance in a more traditional sense, as in I really enjoy steak but I can barely tolerate brussel sprouts (if they’re your favorite, don’t be offended–I’m using them merely as an example). We might use tolerate that way in connection with any number of things—a particular course, household chore, or even a person! Part of God’s renewed conviction of me is that at times there are still some people I merely tolerate; the encouragement is that the number is considerably smaller than it once was.

Love. As seen in Jesus as He showed us Abba—genuine and deep concern for the wellbeing of others, to the point of acting for their best.  This is pretty tough to do if you are only tolerant of them.

Hospitality. In modern English usage many people equate hospitality with entertaining, but they are not the same. Indeed, in Biblical usage (and in mine) it means love of strangers. Paula is gifted by God in this way—she has the gift of loving strangers, making them feel at ease, enjoying them. God continues growing me in this quality as well. He is not done with me yet, but I am increasingly interested in people who I haven’t yet met, befriending them and sharing with them.

So . . ., how do these ideas connect with your conduct toward others? Most of us can talk it up, but to actually conduct ourselves in ways which are not merely tolerant but involve actively loving strangers in tangible ways, well . . . not so much! Many of us, confronted with this discrepancy between word and deed begin to try to help the poor or disadvantaged. I don’t want to discourage you in that, but today I want to redirect the challenge a bit: How’s your conduct toward those who call themselves Christian but don’t adhere to your particular “flavor” of The Faith? Perhaps they are far more “literal” in their approach to Scripture than you are, or not; perhaps their view on “welcoming & affirming” is far too “liberal” for your taste, or not. Can you look to Jesus and move from a “brussel spout” face into love and hospitality?

I’m not claiming that God is through with me on this, but I know the work of Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection along with the work of the Spirit in our lives, accomplished a far greater work than most of us live into in our actions toward others in His body. Those who strongly proclaim “tolerance” are often downright hostile toward the more “conservative” parts of the Family, who (or their part) question the lineage of all who don’t adhere to their particular “exegesis” of the Word. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you abandon your passion or belief! What I am suggesting is that each of us allow the love of Christ and His enabling/empowering Spirit to move us into loving-hospitable actions toward one another. Really!

I am reminded of the time, while The Son pitched His tent among us, that He was approached by a couple of His most fervent followers. They had encountered some yahoo who dared to claim the name of Jesus in casting out demons but had never come to a single gathering of the faithful! “Because he wasn’t one of us we demanded that he stop!” Jesus spoke some key instruction, which may be more applicable than we typically admit: “Don’t forbid them! . . . Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Really? How can they be for us? Read it for yourself (Mark 9:38-40), but don’t stop with the reading. Ask the Spirit to open to you His application of these words in your life, including your extension of love and hospitality to parts of Christ’s Body you can barely tolerate. Then, do what He says. Well, always do what He says.

By this will all men know that you are My disciples, in that you show love to one another.

 

John

A New Creation!

Lively Greetings, Friends!

I’m writing this one to you from California! Our second son Sean and his wife Tina have just had their first child, Mia Jordan! As you can see from this picture (taken last night, shortly after her arrival) she is a newborn, and while I wanted to share our joy with you, her birth also relates to what I wanted to share with you this week about newness. But, since we flew down here to celebrate with them I don’t want to spend too long writing, so I’m going to share with you something I from my Adventure with Jesus, and I begin with a question:

What does “new” mean? If you buy something used at Goodwill, it may be new to you, but it is not “new.” If you have an old computer, a new ‘operating system’ may be an ‘upgrade,’ but the computer is not new. If you put a new engine in your car, it’s still your old car – only the engine changed. What does it mean to be “new?” 

Father, as we grow in our relationship with You, we thank You. As we come to Your written word again today, we ask that You would speak to us. Allow us to experience today what we talked about yesterday – to hear Jesus. We don’t want to read or study the Bible to learn facts; we want to get to know You. Thanks.

 If you are fortunate enough to have a Bible, find ‘Second Corinthians.’ It’s in the ‘New Testament’ and was originally a letter to Christians who lived in what was a major city in southern Greece – Corinth. Corinth was a ‘modern’ city: It had a population well over 100,000, was along a major roadway, and the people there were into making money! A number of people in the city had come to believe in Jesus, but they were struggling and couldn’t see a whole lot of change in their lives yet. Paul wrote to them to tell them that even though they couldn’t see it with their physical eyes, a fundamental change had happened to them. At chapter 5 verse 17 he says:

“. . . if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 

Twice in these few words he says ‘new.’ Not ‘refurbished’ or ‘upgraded.’ New. Notice, he does not say that the ‘newness’ will happen after some lengthy period of time, or after sufficient training, or any such thing. There is only one condition – that you be “in Christ.” If you believe in Jesus alone to make you right with God, you have met this one condition: You are “in Christ.” Thus, you are new. It may not look like it on the outside, but it’s true. You aren’t the same person you were before you came to Jesus! That person is gone; you have been made new (a ‘new creation’). You have yet to mature, but the essential change has already taken place.

I understand that if you take a caterpillar to some genetic scientists they will tell you that the DNA is that of a butterfly!  It doesn’t look like a butterfly, it doesn’t yet live as a butterfly, but as the creature matures its true DNA will become manifest. The same is true of you as a new creature: The change has happened; as you mature, your true new nature will become evident. Amazingly, God doesn’t wait for the change to show itself before talking about us as we now are: He calls us “saints” (‘men and women set apart for God’s intended purpose’). He says this over and over (you’ll find it near the beginning of almost every letter in the ‘New Testament,’ starting with Romans 1:7, I Corinthians 1:2, II Corinthians 1:1, etc.). You’ve been set apart for God’s intended purpose: You’re a saint! 

Lord Jesus, this is impossible to understand. We don’t look new. Some of the thoughts we have, some of the words that come out of our mouth, are no different than before. Yet, here You say that I am new. Cause me to believe what You are saying. Not upgraded. Not reconditioned. New. Cause me to live in Your truth. In You, I am new. Remind me of that today, please. Thank You.

Live blessed, because in Jesus you have been.

John  

Rest, Refreshing and Connection

It’s Sunday, the first day of the week, The Lord’s Day, and I am prompted to send you some challenge and encouragement on how to “Have a great day!” My thoughts break into three parts: Rest, Refreshing and Connection.

Rest. Americans don’t get enough of it. Not only do many of us function habitually “sleep deprived,” we also have no rest. When do you “get away” from the pressures? What do you do for relaxation? When was the last time you did that? I have talked to a number of Christians who live as if they believe God expects them or wants them to live pressed for time and exhausted. They live at a pace which proclaims themselves “indispensible” to God’s mission, although they would deny such a high opinion of themselves if you asked (as Donald Miller explains, we don’t believe what we say we believe, we believe what we do). What happened to following Jesus? The One who did, at times, labor to the point of exhaustion, but who also took advantage of time on the boat for a nap, was to deliberately “get away” to the other side, and Who promised Rest to all the weary ones who come to Him? Perhaps today, on His day, what He would like is for you to spend a couple of hours . . . sleeping!

Refreshing. For me, sleep is often not enough. There are plenty of times I need sleep, but even more than sleep I need refreshing. There is something very invigorating in a change of pace and change of location. I spend a lot of time reading and writing in preparation for classes, so those activities on a Sunday tend to not “bring me life.” It is helpful for me to change my physical surroundings and do something I really enjoy—find a new place by the water to take a walk, drive somewhere and stop to enjoy the view, or spend time looking at stuff and watching people at an outdoor market. Whatever the activity, I trust Jesus to be reminding me that He is with me and to cause me to be grateful. When I see something beautiful, like the sunset above or the clouds here (both caught on my cell phone on different days last weekend), I thank Him. I am reminded again that times of refreshing are in His presence. That is, I am refreshed as I experience the reality that He is with us, and gives us all things to enjoy. What things does Jesus prompt in your mind and heart as you read that you would enjoy and find Refreshing today?

Connection. Speaking of cell phones, they are great tools. Not just a phone, they are now the multimedia connection Steve Jobs envisioned. But all that utility comes at a price beyond dollars. I find myself addicted! Put a pause in my day, after class or after church, and almost immediately I’m checking messages, making calls, checking email, or following a link to somewhere. I confess, I have done it more than once while another person is right there with me (sorry Paula). My connection to the world wide web is interfering with a more important interpersonal connection (and probably robbing me of Rest and Refreshing as well). I read an article recently about “how to take a day off” and one of the recommendations was to turn off your cell phone. I think it’s a good idea: Maybe all day is too drastic for you, but how about for a couple of hours? Maybe Jesus wants you to give that a try today.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this, it’s not all that important what I think (or what you think for that matter). What matters is what Jesus thinks. Why not ask Jesus right now what He thinks about what you need today, then do what He says. Maybe it will be something I suggested, maybe a combination, or maybe something far more adventurous. Go where He leads. Always.

Enjoy Shalom (all of God’s best).

John

 

More Thoughts on Fire

As I was praying about how to share these other thoughts about fire it occurred to me (I won’t say definitively it was the Lord, but I won’t say it wasn’t either) that often what I write is too long. So this one will be fairly short, in the nature of a parable (which has application wherever you are).

The Kingdom of God is like a man wanting to cook five pounds of hamburgers for his friends. He lights a single sheet of newspaper under some briquettes (some old, some new) in his charcoal chimney, and when those coals begin to burn hot, he dumps them on to others in his Weber. When they are all white hot, he adds the grill and cooks the burgers. Then, he welcomes his friends to the table. 

Nobody, wanting to cook five pounds of burgers would separate all the coals, use only one or two briquettes, or not bother first lighting a fire. 

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

John

Freed from Sin!

Greetings of Joy!

 Happy are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;

Those words of David are quoted by Paul in the early verses of Romans 4, and may be used to expresses the popular understanding about believers and their sins. Occasionally we dare use a related expression concerning our sins—that they have been “washed as white as snow”. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we sometimes get a demonstration of these ideas—like in this picture of our “picnic table” last November. But this is one of those places where our concepts about sin, and many of our most loved songs, fall short of what Jesus actually accomplished on our behalf. Let me explain.

When the snow fell last November, our picnic table was dirty, we had weeds in our terrace garden, and the pots on the table were laden with moss. But the snow covered it all. You can’t see those “yard work shortcomings” in the photo. But I know the snow—beautiful and white as it was—only hid them from view. Despite our “formal” expression of our “doctrinal position,” we often think about ourselves as if Christ effected a similar covering of our sins (and particularly our sinfulness [make no mistake, His work was effective as to both sins (the thoughts & acts) and sin (who we are)]—but I am getting ahead of myself). Our thoughts of “covered, but still falling short” are regularly reinforced through our words, including our use of the theological term “atonement” (literally “covering”), in spoken or written word (like the phrase “Christ’s atoning work”) or song (“full atonement, can it be?”). What does Papa tell us Jesus’ death accomplished as to sin? Significantly more than covering—much more!

Repeatedly the writers of what we call “the new testament” describe the work of Jesus in strikingly bold terms, expressing not “covering” but “removal”! We hear these descriptions frequently, but (I suggest) we often “mistranslate” them back to “covering”.  Papa, grant us ears to hear as fresh the greatness of Your provision in Jesus. Thank you!

John the baptizer described Jesus as a lamb—the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (resist the tendency to let your theology limit the import of Father’s Word!) I don’t think John is proclaiming “universalism” here, but he is saying something prophetically profound [remember, Jesus says John was the greatest of the prophets]. Try to enter into John’s imagery. A lamb, a sacrifice, but not an ordinary sacrifice—Jesus is God’s lamb, Whose sacrifice will “take away” sin. Such is the consistent testimony of the new testament writers. I will provide only a few examples, without commenting on each. Listen to the Spirit speak:

For the death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. (Romans 6:10)

[A]t the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself . . . having been offered once to bear the sins of many . . .. For the law . . . can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. . . .[I]n those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins . . .. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. . . . [B]ut He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God . . .. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. . . . Therefore, . . . let us draw near with a sincere [pure] heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience . . .. (Hebrews 9:26, 28, 10:1, 3, 4, 12, 19, 22)

And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (“full and complete sacrifice which takes away wrath and brings blessing”) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (I John 2:1 & 2)

This is a lot to take in, so I’m going to stop for now! I’ll send you something more before the end of the week. For the next few days, take the time to talk with Papa about this, read these passages again (or more fully in your own Bible), explore with Him whether Jesus addressed sin and sins at a level well beyond what you have previously accepted—particularly in terms of the significance and application to you personally. Amid all that, ask Him to enable you to follow John’s instruction—

Behold (contemplate, consider, look upon and take notice)!
Jesus, Who took away your sin
.

 Rejoice!

John