Love, Hope, & Purity

Paula and I recently read a book together about some of our brothers and sisters around the world today who suffer greatly simply because they are followers of Jesus. True stories of courageous faith among contemporary believers challenge some phrases common among Christians in America, including me at times, which imply that we see circumstances as the measure of God’s love. I am not saying I have never experienced my circumstances as a personal indication of God’s love; I have, and do—things as simple as the songs of small birds in the morning or a beautiful sunset. But I was reminded last week of the strong focus of scripture, that God’s love was demonstrated most strongly in sending His Son, Jesus, Who gave Himself for us while we were still hostile toward Him—and through Him we become sons and daughters in God’s forever family. God’s reminder came through Pastor Kevin Murphy (of St. Matthew Lutheran in Walnut Creek) in a message based in the first three verses of First John three.

family-of-godThe first verse of the passage calls us to “behold” the greatness of God’s love for us, “that we should be called the children of God.” Pause and ask God to let you experience the wonder of this. Who am I, that the God of all Creation would call me into His child? John isn’t just sharing “sound doctrine” (although it is that). John is sharing the personal relational experience of an orphan beggar who is now embraced as part of a family—and not just any family, but that of Father God, . . . Abba, . . . Daddy. The NIV says that Abba lavished His love upon us in taking us into His family. What image does lavished bring forth for you? For me, it brought back an object lesson I shared years ago: If our life is a bowl of fresh strawberries, is a single spoon of whipped cream lavish? How about two? What if we piled it on, scoop after scoop, until the whipped cream was dropping off the edges of the bowl? Contemplate the greatness of Abba’s love lavished on us in that we are called the children of God.

John didn’t want us to just hear this, he wanted us to join in His experience of Abba’s lavish love for His children, focused not in our temporal circumstance but in His work for and in us. Lest we miss any of the significance of this, John affirms that Abba doesn’t only “call” us His children, He affirms “and such we are”—we are actually born of God. We are no longer who we once were: Not only do we now belong to God’s forever family, not only do we have a new identity, He has actually made us new.

I hope to share more about this next time, but I encourage you to start talking with Papa now about your personal experience of His lavish love in being brought into His family. But since I try to keep each post short, I don’t want to conclude this one without at least touching on the next two verses—one looking to the future and the other to our present response.

As to the future—we will be like Him. Paula’s grandmother called this “the greatest promise in all of scripture.” The reality of our new family relationship, our new identity, and our new birth is the beginning of a profound transformation which God Himself will take to maturity—for when He appears we will be like Him, we will see Him as He is. Don’t run past this; ask Jesus to allow you to experience the deep emotion evoked in John by God’s lavish love, while also being made aware of the transformation He is effecting in you even now, and will bring to completeness: We will be like Him. For all who have this focus live differently, because lavish love coupled with confident hope produces purity. That’s what John shares in the third verse—all who have this hope fixed on Him purify themselves, just as He is pure.

May you live as God’s lavishly loved child, mindful of your future with Him, so that your life is characterized by purity.

Express Hope for Sweetness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood Evening Friends,

As some of you know, this evening is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. One great tradition at this season is to eat of apple and honey and express thoughts of hope for sweetness in the coming year. I have no doubt that if we were in Seattle this weekend we would welcome students into our home (this is the Sunday before the first day of fall classes at SPU) and take turns sharing about some sweetness enjoyed in the past year as well as a hope for sweetness in the year about to begin.

Fortunately for us all, such a celebration is not confined to Judaism nor locale—it is something each of us may engage in wherever we are, indeed it is fully consistent with Paul’s encouragement to followers of Jesus to Rejoice in the Lord always!

Some of you have celebrated with us in this way in the past and, although we aren’t present with you this year we could all celebrate “together” by participating in this activity at least once in the next several days. Whether you have joined with us in such an expression of hope in the past or not, I encourage you to take the time to gather with your family and friends and invite them to share in a hopeful look to the continued goodness of God in the days ahead by speaking of your own hope for sweetness in the days ahead.

Oh praise our God,
And magnify His name.
For He is good,
And worthy of all praise.

I will put my trust in You, Oh Lord,
My Rock and My Deliverer.

Your love is everlasting.

(based on Robin Mark’s “Some Trust in Chariots”)

Shalom!

Alergies, Assaults, and Nature

It happened again this morning! Because of an “allergy attack” (itchy, red, eyes and a very runny nose) I thought I should stay “locked inside” rather than venture out for corporate worship. As I have done on only a few occasions in my life, I turned on Sunday morning television and found a sister, smiling while boldly belting out, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!” The preacher who followed affirmed that tune with well-worn teachings (which I, too, once espoused) concerning the wretched heart of all mankind. I understand the condition of the lost, but now find the failure to distinguish our former state “in Adam” from our new state “in Christ” an assault on not only my ears but my very being!

If you remain comfortably accustomed to the “just a sinner saved by grace” mantra, you may be confused by my reaction. Yet, this is an area where we (like the Pharisees of old) exalt the teachings of men (“doctrine”) above the Word of God. Like the preacher this morning, who quoted Jesus from Mark’s account about defilement that comes from the heart, without sharing that Christ died and rose again to remedy that condition! For, according to God, in the New Covenant Christ removes our cold, stony heart and gives us a pure heart (consider Mark 7:1-23, Ezek. 36:25-27, and I Peter 1:22, 23). The preacher this morning actually misquoted God’s Word through Paul and claimed that we still are children of wrath: That is not what God says! God is explicit in His declaration (Ephesians 2:3) that while we were (past tense) by nature children of wrath (whose conduct matched that nature), God has made us alive in Christ, raised us up together (into resurrection life now), and has seated us with Him in the heavenly realms. If you are in Christ, you are not “just a sinner saved by grace.” You are redeemed! You are new! You are one of God’s holy ones! You are a saint!

As I was contemplating writing you about this morning’s assault, God had a brother in Seattle phone me. As we were talking about this reality he prayed for me, and told me of a picture he took while on a hike yesterday. He sent it to me, and I include it here, because it displays something of what God speaks life out of death about us. It is a picture of a tree stump. As you can see, the stump has a decent diameter, and remains quite prominent—but it is no longer the tree it once was! Much of what was there is gone, despite the rotting remnant. What is a little harder to see from this angle is that, in place of the old, a new tree is growing. I was a sinner, by nature and by actions; I lived in Adam. But God intervened. Who I was died with Christ, and the new me was raised with Him to newness of life. You cannot yet see all I am in Christ, but increasingly He shows Himself and the real me in how I think, speak, and act.

Some of you may think that “I got what I deserved for having tuned in to a TV evangelist!” Point taken. But it is not that simple. This confusion is spread to thousands over the airwaves while we gather together on Sundays and is also proclaimed from many, many pulpits. The present reality of God’s transforming work in His New Creation is unfamiliar to many (dare I say most) of our brothers and sisters. Often the difficulty seems to be sin by the saints. To address this, most preachers opt to declare ongoing depravity (“I am just a sinner”) rather than God’s Truth of Transformation. It is manifestly evident that in the First Creation, when Adam sinned, all his descendants became sinners by nature. What we must apprehend by faith is that, in the New Creation, all who are in Christ remain saints despite acts of sin! Our nature and our hearts have been made new—we are no longer by nature children of wrath. To claim otherwise denies the “such were some of you” spoken by Paul to the Corinthians (6:11); perhaps a paraphrase will highlight the assault: Rather than the generic “I am just a sinner,” how about, “I am a fornicator,” or “I am an adulterer” or “I am a drunkard” . . . saved by grace.” That is not good news! How can such a person claim to have been “saved from sin” if it still characterizes him or her? That is a huge perversion of the truth! Those things may have characterized me in the past, but no longer! Even if I engage in such an act today, I am more than my sin, much more! Sinful acts no longer characterize or define who I am. Indeed, such acts are contrary to who I really am today. For, I am new! I am a saint! I am in Christ!

May the words of our mouth, and the meditations of our heart, be consistent with God’s Words about us.

Let Him Flow!

WARNING: THIS POST INCLUDES LANGUAGE SOME OF YOU MAY FIND OFFENSIVE.
READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Jesus is Alive!

Jesus is Alive IN YOU!

I was reminded of this truth again this week, and feel the need to share the story with you. Here’s what happened: On Monday morning I was riding public transit (BART) to work. I generally spend the commute doing what most of those around me are doing—reading, checking email, or “connecting” on social media. As I did this Monday I came upon a FaceBook post from Sunday afternoon which was a question . . . a very good question! While the friend who posed the question is a skeptic, I sensed this was an honest question—“Why the phrase, He is risen? Why not, He was raised or some such?” As I pondered the question, the doors closed . . . the train was again underway.

I was about 10 minutes from my stop, and I have learned that—with FaceBook as with life—moments come and go quickly: About a week earlier I had seen a post by another friend and wanted to “comment,” but felt I didn’t have time right then; when I went back later that day, her post was gone. Opportunity . . . lost! This post from Sunday afternoon had only a few comments: One asserted it was all myth, another labeled it “a bunch of religious shit,” while a third offered a link to a Wikipedia piece on the origin of the tradition. The question sat . . . unanswered. I thought something like “Jesus, use me” and clicked “comment.” . . .

Put yourself there. If this was your friend, what would you write?

Lighthouse

Here is what I wrote:

Good question. And since you asked, it is because he was not merely resuscitated back to this life only to die again, but his body was transformed into a non-perishable one–thus he remains risen. His bodily resurrection tells us this life is not all there is; there is much more–for although he was the first with this experience, he won’t be the only one, such life is available to all as a gift because of him.
Far from myth, such bodily resurrection is “far and away the best historical explanation for the early church” (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, “The Surprising Story of Easter”).
Feel free to message me if you want more.
Hope you all enjoy a great day in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

I haven’t heard anything more from this friend, but the question and responses are still in his timeline.

After I hit “Post” and was through the exit gate at my station I realized: This was why I had been prompted to read from N.T. Wright the day before (and take note of particular phrases and chapter titles)—not so I could send an email on Sunday afternoon as I had supposed, but so I could respond to this friend’s question!  As I walked and thanked Jesus for enabling me to proclaim resurrection truth, I thought on the Sunday prompting, struggles with phrasing, words, and expression and began to understand: Papa used those experiences of Sunday afternoon to prepare me for those fleeting moments on Monday morning, when Jesus would love my friend through me.

Your response to my Monday morning experience might be something like, “John, I can’t write like that!” To which I reply, “Neither can I!” For it really wasn’t “John” who offered that answer, it was Jesus in John. And that is the real point of this email: Papa has prepared you in special ways so—as you face the moments in your day—Jesus in you can be seen by others, heard by others, felt by others. Jesus is putting you in the midst of particular moments because people you will encounter in those moments need Him Who Is Life to show up. And His plan is to show up in you! As He did when a friend was moved (while walking on a rocky beach) to arrange some of the stones into the form of a flower, . . . and as another put paint to canvas, . . . and when . . ..

With all this (and more) fresh in my thoughts, I was moved to joyful tears on Tuesday night through the lyrics of an “oldie” (Naphtali) by John Fischer:

We have the One, Who created the world,
Living inside our bodies.
There should be rivers, mountains, and oceans
Flowing from our lives.

. . .

So let the One, Who created before,
Create again in you.
Songs and poems, painted expressions,
The glories of His Truth

. . .

O God, we thank Thee,
For Thou hast given us of Thy Spirit,
That all our living might be
Expressions of Thy love.

 The Resurrection of Jesus occurred in history, but His Resurrection Life is to be lived-out in the fleeting moments of your daily experience—for The Risen One lives in you. He IS risen!

Let Him flow!

For the Joy Set Before Him

The Cup.

The Cross.

The Tomb.

. . .

The Thousands upon Thousands—beyond number—In Christ.

 

As I pointed out last week, in the Gospel record we see Jesus consistently coupling the cross with rising again from the dead. Thus, although His followers were decimated by His death, He had told them repeatedly of His resurrection. While I encourage you to contemplate the greatness of His provision for us through His death, I encourage you to also contemplate the goal which took Him through the Cross. In my mind, I see Jesus, moved by the utmost love for each individual comprising “the whole world,” looking right through the Cross in the foreground, out through the empty tomb, and on to all the Saints of all the ages—including you! As the writer to the Hebrews expressed it:

For the joy set before Him,
He endured the cross, despising the shame,
And has sat down at the right hand of The Father.

His provision at the Cross was, without doubt, to pay for our sins, cancel the debt, remove Sin from us, and cleanse us from the guilt and shame. The importance of His provision for us in these matters is beyond words . . .. Such a result is certainly cause for great joy! Yet, paying for our sins (the attitudes and acts) and removing Sin (the thing itself) and guilt was not the fundamental goal of His plan for us! Dealing the death-blow to Sin was a very costly and absolutely necessary first step toward the achievement of His goal, but His goal was far more than “sin removal.” Beyond paying the penalty, removing the guilt, and destroying the power—all accomplished at The Cross—His goal was not so much removal as impartation. He came that we might have LifeLife to the Fullest—by His rising out from among the dead He made possible new birth which furthers His new Creation in which we actually become the born-ones of Father God, the Dwelling Place (“home”) for His Spirit, so that The Risen Christ can live in and through us—bringing our identity, thoughts, desires, and actions into complete congruity with Christ Himself. This impartation of His Risen Life to us and our resulting growth in grace and experiential intimacy with Jesus is not something we will ultimately receive only in some futOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAure existence after all things are made new; such vitality of union and communion with The Risen One is for us to enjoy now, in our mortal bodies (as the Scriptures attest).

As you contemplate Jesus on The Cross—the very dying form of One, . . . Who suffers there . . . for me—ask His Spirit to grant you His view through the Cross and the Tomb, on to the joy He anticipated. The joy of hundreds of thousands who are not only freed from Sin (Oh, happy condition!), but who have become the very real embodiment of The Risen Christ! Jesus fully alive in the here and now. His joy is to accomplish this goal in us . . . in me, . . . in you, . . . and in each of His beloved ones—so that we speak His words of truth and love, so our hands bring His touch to those who are broken, . . . the lame walk, the blind see, those who were in bondage are FREE!—Jesus in us bringing Life out of death. That was the joy for which He endured that old, rugged cross! Are you living in such a way that His joy is being made full? How few of us go through our day conscious of such continued incarnation, which brings me once again to the words of Richard C. Halverson (of which I was reminded yesterday):

You go no place by accident. Wherever you go, Christ is sending you.
You are no place my mistake. Wherever you are, Christ has placed you.

You go nowhere by accident–you are nowhere by accident. Wherever you go–wherever you are–Christ is placing you or sending you, because  Christ has a job He wants to do where you are and He can only do it in your body.

Think–wherever you are, Jesus Christ is literally present in the flesh. Believe that, and go in that confidence.

 

May it be so.

 

I Must Suffer AND Rise Again

This is the time of year when Christians around the world focus particularly on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Over the past several days I have been reminded again that, most often, when Jesus spoke of His death He coupled with His resurrection. He consistently coupled His suffering with rising out from among the dead. Despite this, His disciples had “no clue” about what He meant; Luke tells us explicitly, but they didn’t understand any of this (18:34, NLT). I don’t know that we understand it either!

In several of his books N.T. Wright provides a detailed historical analysis of the views of resurrection prevalent in second temple Judaism of Jesus’ day. He explains that their views involved a spiritual after-life followed by a physical resurrection—what he calls “life after life-after-death.” We get a glimpse of this in the conversation Jesus has with Martha about her recently buried brother, Lazarus, when she affirms, I know that he will rise again (Lit. “rise out from among the dead”) in the resurrection at the last day (John 11:24). She was looking to a future time when the righteous ones from all the eons would be raised “out from among” all of the dead. Such anticipation Jewish Catacombsof a physical resurrection is part of the reason cremation was shunned by Jews and early Christians—a hope of bodily resurrection which also gave rise to the burial caves we know as “the catacombs.” So, if the disciples had a view consistent with Martha’s, they might have heard His words as predicting the “resurrection at the last day” would follow His death by only three days! . . . But they understood none of this.

During the week before His death and resurrection, Jesus offers another picture. While Jesus is in Jerusalem, a group of gentiles approach Philip and ask to see Him. When Philip goes to Jesus on their behalf His response is: Unless a grain fall into the ground and die, it remains alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.  For those who understood nothing of His prediction of death and Wheat grainrising from the dead, I wonder if death as the necessary gateway to fruitfulness puzzled Philip.

Rather than expressing my thoughts of these couplings of death, new life, and fruitfulness—which I will do next week—today I prefer to simply raise some questions for us—for me and for you to ask, but not for us to answer. I propose that we proceed in a manner I often use as I journey together with others in Life the Jesus Way: Rather than relying on our own capacity to understand, ask Jesus about reality. We do this by talking with him, posing questions, and listening. Sometimes He answers immediately; other times He brings us into a situation or conversation and, after we experience the answer, His Spirit within reminds us of the question and we see what has happened as His answer to our question (such a way of learning is very Jewish); still other times He gives the answer in some other way—a word from a friend, a verse of scripture, or any other way He chooses. The point is, we need to ask and then open ourselves in faith, believing He will answer.

Wheat_Fields
Thus, I express the questions in a prayer. Perhaps you will word the questions differently, or add some of your own. The point is to ask Jesus, then listen. So you may wish to pause after each question, or even spread the questions and your listening over several days. Join with me:

Lord Jesus, thank You that You have given Your Spirit to take us into all truth—to take all that is True of You and show it to us. I admit that I have repeatedly heard or read of your death and resurrection, to the point that I don’t really think much when I hear the words. Despite my “familiarity” with the words, I doubt that my current understanding is all You intend. So, as Easter approaches this year, please reveal to me Your Truth. Specifically,

  • What connections between death and resurrection do I not understand?
  • Where in my thinking am I experiencing “death” but ignoring the “rising” You will bring?
  • In what ways am I limiting my view of “rising” to bodily resurrection in the distant past or sometime in the future, rather than seeing “rising” in my experience with You today?
  • What pains am I resisting as an unwanted “death” which You intend as a gateway to fruitfulness?

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your answers. Thank You for Who You Are—Resurrection and Life.

       John