Image of God

Consider how our view of life is formulated by how we view God. Is he a formidable bearded old man seated high upon a throne? Is He sitting there with a note pad making plus and minus marks for every moment of our lives? It is difficult for mortal men to form an accurate image of our creator. It’s one of the reasons that God became a man. When we consider God we need to visualize Jesus.

It was important to God that our image of Him be something we could relate to. After all, we were created to be in relationship with the creator. That’s tough if we can’t envision Him. One day we will see God as we are changed at the end of days. We will be in a form capable of comprehending and loving His incredibleness.

For now, we need to understand Him as loving enough to become man and to die. We need to see Him and understand Him as what we need now,  as healer, and savior and lover. Satan and a world that doesn’t love God continues to try to distort our vision of Him. They want to make Him distant, formidable, and stern. They want Him distant so that we won’t reach out to Him or expect Him to be part or our lives. They want Him unapproachable. Enemies of God don’t want us to realize that the temple curtain has been torn and that we have access to the holy of holies. They want Him stern because the forgiveness of God is beyond their comprehension.

The real enemies of God are less those who don’t believe in Him or who aren’t sure if He’s real. The real enemies are the ones who want to make Him in their image. They believe they are “good” and the only “good” ones and that everyone else falls short. It’s the enemy we need to be most aware of and the one we need to battle the hardest.

Our task is to know Jesus so we can share Him with a world that desperately needs Him. It’s a battle to combat the competing images that His enemies want to portray. It’s why our ability to love supernaturally is our mightiest weapon, stronger than our perceived ability to judge and our tendency to condemn.

 

 

The Voice of the Lord

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard the audible voice of the Lord directing me. When we read in scripture about the Lord “speaking” to  men we assume an audible voice was involved. I’m not so sure. When Abram was told by God to leave his home and go to a land the Lord would show him, was there an audible voice involved. I bet not. Imagine Abram explaining to his family that they should pack up and move to an undisclosed destination. It seems Abram was successful where he was and there wasn’t any rational reason to leave. He was dealing with a voice from a God that neither he nor his family was familiar with.

I think much more often God speaks to us in a still small voice. Sometimes it’s really not much more than a “feeling” that we should do a certain thing or head in a certain direction. It’s often accompanied by situation changes that close or open doors in our lives. Sometimes it’s just that our current situation feels uncomfortable or “not right.” I think hearing the voice of the Lord is an act of faith. If he spoke to us in clear audible language it wouldn’t take much faith to follow him. In fact, it would be down right foolish not to.

I think Abram is a good example. Note that he didn’t know exactly where he was to go. He just knew he was to leave his current location. Isn’t that the way it is most of the time with us. We are called to take a step, not knowing of sure where we are supposed to end up. We know that a journey starts with a single step. We must consider how many journeys we’ve missed out on because we wouldn’t take a step.

I recall once years ago I felt God was telling me to take an unusual route home. I took the different route. It turned out a good Christian woman was experience car trouble along that unusual route and I was able to assist. It makes me wonder what I have missed out on the many times I have dismissed such “words” or “leadings.”

If God is nudging you to do something different, maybe even something bold, why not take a chance and take a step. Could we all use an adventure with God? I know I could really use one.

 

Power Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

The Gospel of Jesus is a powerful thing. Scripture tells us so. We don’t act like it. We must not think it’s powerful because we add things to it or try to “modernize” it or reform it to make it more palatable  to this generation. We treat it like an old car that needs an engine additive to make it roar down the highway, or last season’s outfit that needs a bit of sprucing up.

If you have experienced the power of the Gospel, you don’t need any explanation. If you haven’t, or you’re not sure, here are some things to consider:

Does the Gospel you have heard, or living or are preaching:

Motivate you to soup it up or tinker with it, if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Make you feel all warm and fuzzy and inoffensive in that Jesus is A way to God, but not necessarily THE way, if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Motivate you to tell everyone about your church, or your pastor, or your favorite tv evangelist,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Keep you silent in the face of “modern” science which clearly has advanced since the time of Jesus,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Motivate you to study and discuss the scriptures, and maybe even to teach them, but not to share Jesus,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Allow you to consider “sin” as “old-testament” or  “politically incorrect,”  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Help you judge a church by how much you are feed, how much better you feel after the service is over, how the music and the preaching “reach” you,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Console you in that your job is to sit quietly, listen attentively and write checks neatly,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

If you think your job is to invite someone to your church and not to introduce them to your savior,   you are dealing with “another” gospel.

If you think “repent and be baptized” is extra and optional, you are dealing with “another” gospel.

If you aren’t sure you have heard the “real” gospel, open your new testament to the Book of Acts and read some of the sermons recorded there. Try Peter’s in Chapter 2, or here’s a whole list. They are simple. They talk about Jesus, sin, repentance and salvation. That’s real good news. That’s power gospel.

 

Choices

A couple of nights ago my wife and I lay in bed and took an online personality profile test. You young people can look forward to this kind of late night excitement in the future. The test consisted of lots of questions. The results produced a personality profile that was disturbingly accurate. The really disturbing thing was that for each of our profiles we were provided with a long list of people who had matching profiles. Some of these folks were admirable; others not so much. It was amazing that such a motley group of folks had matching personality profiles.

Obviously what we do in life is only partly determined by our psychological makeups. Obviously some people have more opportunities or “luck” than others. The real difference seems to be in the choices that were made. “Successful” people choose to focus on their careers often over family or leisure. Some chose careers in business or professional fields, while others chose arts or sports. Choices made all the differences.

I am convinced that it’s not just the major life direction choices that are important. Of greater significance are the choices we make each day. Consider that each morning we can choose:

To be happy.

To be thankful.

To be hopeful.

To be generous.

To be focused.

To be a follower of Christ.

In the same we can can daily choose to be unhappy, ungrateful, hopeless, selfish, unfocused and self-centered.

It’s really just a matter of choice. Choose wisely.

 

 

More Chains

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. Romans 7:6

By the time most of us come to Jesus and begin to draw life from the vine, we are well tangled up in chains. Sin doesn’t end with conversion so chain addition continues. For some of us, we come to Jesus because of the pain of a chain of sin. We often experience instantaneous relief from such chains at the time of conversion. These dramatic conversions often produce the most effective followers.

If we could see our complete chain involvement when we come to Christ, we would likely be overwhelmed by it all. Instead, the Holy Spirit shines the light on our chains one-by-one. He brings them to our attention so we can apply the power of grace to them and experience freedom.

It’s important that we recognize the totality of our chain involvement from sin. Chains arise from the sin itself, drawing us into a habit of sin. The harm of sin causes its own chains, binding us to damaged relationships, guilt, and dark histories. We are often chained by the sins of others. Unwise words spoken by our parents, unloving relationships, physical and psychological harm all forge chains that can put a drag on us for years.

Grace has chain breaking power for each of these kinds of chains. As our strength grows  from living in Christ and connected to him as a branch of the vine, we can apply gathered power to the task of chain destruction. The secret is to focus on and rejoice in the vine relationship for which we were created and in which we live and grow and have our being. Chains fall away as we substitute the life-giving strength from the vine for the pseudo comfort we get from our chains. The process will continue until we are finally completely transformed into the complete image of Christ, the model intended from the creation of the world.

Be on alert to those who would rebound us to the law, ending the freedom unshackled in the Spirit.

Of Vines and Chains

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We were created to be in relationship with God. Jesus illustrated this as a vine and branches. The vine relationship is life-sustaining and power giving. When we are not in that relationship we tend to substitute other connections which are not life-sustaining but are restraining killers. They are chains.

This generation doesn’t like to consider sin. Liberals will say there is no sin or that we define for ourselves what is sin. On the right we tend to pick out certain sins, usually the ones that don’t confound us, and make them the worst infractions. Modern man, therefore, tends to consider sins as a list of forbidden activities, established by an arbitrary God to test us. In fact, God defines for us those things which are harmful and not life-sustaining. The things which are chain producers in our lives.

Atheism is now rampant, particularly among our youth. It is fueled by the idea that God is an old-fashioned, out of date, irrelevant idea. It is believed that sin was established thousands of years ago in a culture completely foreign to that in which we now live. No doubt society has changed. The good news is eternally the same; the point of connection does change as society shifts. Jesus brought the Good News to the children of Israel. They knew about Jehovah. They were familiar with sacrifice in atonement for sin. They awaited the Messiah. When Paul left Israel with the gospel, he met a society unfamiliar with the one true God, sacrifice for sin, or the hope for a Messiah. Paul preached the same Good News as Jesus; he just had to find another plug-in point for the non-jew.

Our society is a rapid and dramatic flux. We need to be constantly alert to points of connection with the unchanging truth. We need to reestablish that God seeks to insure our residence and foundation in the vine. We need to learn that any other connection is a chain binding us to death.

Sin is rarely a singular act. It’s a pattern of behavior that chains us to itself. The first glimpse of porn ties us to the next. The first lie calls us to another and eventually a pattern of misrepresentation.  A “slip” of indiscretion is the first step in a life of infidelity. Sex outside  a committed relationship between a man and a woman is a rejection of the divine invitation to participate in the miracle of creation, and the first step toward a life of futile attempts at self-satisfaction. Sin is a perpetually creating chain of slavery.

Sin creates chains other than to itself. Sin chains us to the world instead of the creator. Sin locks our focus on self instead of God. Sin spreads injury and harm which chains us to guilt and responsibility for damages we can never repair. Sin chains us in relationships that can only disappoint and never fully satisfy. Only the Christ vine existence can forever sustain and satisfy. Choose the vine over chains.

Totally Radical

Occasionally, I like to write something that reminds me what a total radical I am. Today is one of those days. I believe that the modern church, particularly in the west, is generally a failure. The problem, I believe is fundamental and structural.

The western Christian church is based on a clergy/lay, paid/unpaid, full-time/part-time model. Under this structure, full-time, paid clergy do the bulk of the ministry, make the decisions, and structure the church. The job of everyone else is to provide financial support and herd the lost toward the clergy who will then minister as they have been trained. Churches are designed so that the clergy sits up front and leads the service while the rest sit in straight rows and essentially watch.

The lay Christians are often preached at and told they need to be more involved, but the real opportunities to do more than write a check are minimal. This model has forces that focus on getting the lost into church and not bringing them to Jesus. It requires adherence to a tithe plus mentality to provide a continuing flow of dollars in support of paid staff and substantial buildings. It results in exhausted ministers and frustrated laity.

My experience with this is not merely theoretical. For a few years, I pastored a church which had no building or paid staff. It was perhaps the best church I was ever a part of. We met in a nursing home and ministered to the staff and residents there at no cost to anyone. The church didn’t last forever because the membership just couldn’t get used to the idea that ministry was up to everyone. The western Christian church model was just too deeply ingrained and the unpaid pastor, me, eventually collapsed under the weight of responsibility and work while trying to continue to be a  tent maker to support my family. Even dedicated Christians are used to going to church to be  ministered to and no to minister.

You would think this position makes me an enemy of paid pastors. This is not so. I love my pastors. I provide tons of unpaid support. I don’t blame them for the model we are used to. I also believe that if we are going to have paid staff they should be well paid because we are asking them to do the impossible and should expect to attract the best to this task.

I think they also know deep inside their dedicated but exhausted hearts that there is something basically wrong with the way we do things. “He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:6 That’s a glorious vision that doesn’t match up with current reality.

It is extremely difficult to change a system that has developed over two thousand years. It will require “lay” ministry in arenas in which many are paid. It will require paid staff releasing much of what they do and are responsible for to those who are called and willing to minister without compensation. It will require recognition that “tithing” was a system designed to support a priestly class which is no longer the preferred model in a “kingdom of priests.”

Look around, Jesus is  most glorified where the church is non-traditional, “lay” led, persecuted and generally under ground. As followers, we can respond best by being will to “do” as well as give, to recognize that what we expect of paid staff is unrealistic, to work to provide ministry opportunity to everyone, to look to ministry that glorifies God and not those paid to do his work.

Better

I’m better. My symptoms haven’t improved. In fact I think they are worse. I had a prescheduled  doctor appointment today. He told me it’s probably viral and what I was doing was about all that can be done. At least my blood pressure was great and my blood work was good.

I’m better in that I am better than others. I’ve had lots of folks supporting me. I’m not alone. I’m not fighting cancer or struggling with the loss of a loved one. I’m not hopeless wondering what life is all about or what would happen if I died today.
I have family are doing well. I got a visit from my grand daughter and Logan today. Watching him squeal with delight as he played with Rosemary was awesome.
 I have a church I love. I’m still making a living around many who are jobless. We still have time for a decent presidential candidate to emerge. Well, maybe that’s being a bit too optimistic.
I wonder why it’s so easy to focus on the few things that are not perfect about our lives instead of all the things that are really great. Look around maybe things are better than you think.