Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Least in the Kingdom is Greater than He

The promise to Abraham, the liberation of the Israelites, the writing of the Law, and the prophets were all signs that pointed towards Jesus. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until haven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-20)."

John the Baptist was the last of these signposts; his life was devoted to proclaiming in the wilderness, 'prepare ye the way of the Lord.'  He recognized that a new era was at hand and that there was going to be a shift from the new to the old. "Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)."

John baptized with water for repentance while Jesus was to come with power, baptizing with the Holy Spirit and Fire. Something was changing with Jesus, a lifestyle that was going to be released that exceeded that of John himself.  "I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he (Luke 7:28)." John was a sign pointing towards Jesus, we are different in the fact that we can become like Christ, exemplifying Him to everyone around us.

The Holy Spirit is within us, sanctifying us to look more like Him, and empowering us to do the works that He did (2 Cor. 3, John 14:12). We are in a continually process of transformation, through unity with God our thoughts, emotions, and actions align with Him. Christ has set us free, paid the price, and given us a destiny of co-laboring with Him in this world; however, we do not need to take it.  Many believers have fallen into traps of comfort and compromise; either not knowing what they have access to, or choosing not to pursue it, they are little different from the rest of the world. This ought not be so.

It is time to raise the bar, to lay claim to the inheritance we have in Jesus, to manifest His holiness, power, and authority everywhere we go.  God is looking for those who are willing to step into the unknown, to become dependent on the Holy Spirit for all fulfillment and joy; He is waiting for those who dare to believe unto action, to take risk that defy experience and prove His goodness and faithfulness.

 I want my life to reveal Christ, to live in the holiness I am intended for, to produce the fruits of the Spirit in abundance, and to walk in the power and authority of a son of God. Supernatural, God-breathed, seated in heaven, utterly dependent, I am but a vessel housing the Holy Spirit.  Growing in His goodness, learning who He is and who I am in Him, hungry for His presence, eager for His word, that is the man I want to be. What about you?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dying to Come Alive: The Christian Masochists!

"Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23)." 

This scripture has become a cornerstone of Christian theology and practice where we are urged to die to ourselves, our lifestyles, will, thoughts, and emotions.  We understand the paradigm that 'His thoughts being higher than our thoughts', while accepting John the Baptists proclamation that 'He must increase and I must decrease.' There is truth in these passages and to these teachings, but it is just a part of the whole picture.  We often approach this idea of 'dying to ourselves' in the strangest of fashions, and it is this that I would like to correct.  We tend to emphasize the difficulty, struggle, and even despair that comes from this process, as if we have to reject the 'better' and get the 'worse' instead. That may be how we feel in the moment, but we are just as much coming alive as we are dying, we are actually making an exchange of the worse for the better! What happens when our minds are being renewed? Do we not start seeing, thinking, and feeling like God? Becoming more alive than dead?

Did you catch that? We are actually coming alive! We are learning who we actually are and what it means to truly be human.  We were made for worship, to know God, and to experience His presence. It is true that the bondage of sin, the lies we believe, and our insecurities, prevent us from living in freedom; which thereby limits our experience of God and captures us in a diminutive lifestyle. Our perspective can be skewed so we do not view everything in truth.  We think that certain thoughts, emotions, or practices are good, and as God calls us away from those things in our lives we feel confused, distraught, and broken. Every Christian has experienced brokenness, because we have all lived outside of God's will and experienced the natural ramifications of our sin and unbelieving minds. In fact, brokenness may very well be a continual experience for Christians as we are being continually  transformed into the image of Jesus. But there is a greater reality to this brokenness, a life that springs forth from the ashes. 

God sets us free in Jesus.  This freedom helps us see ourselves, God, others, and the world in truth; which is the best type of living.  Jesus came to bring life and life to the full.  Satan is a liar, and although we all have believed that these lies brought life, happiness, purpose, or satisfaction, they were ultimately empty and only brought about death. We do 'die' to that old way of thinking and living, and it does feel like dying sometimes; but we are, in actuality, being set free from our bondage to truly live! 

Jesus came to die for us all, for the sins of the whole world He needed to lay down His life. He had to go through a complete self-denial; setting aside his divinity he became a servant, denying his blamelessness he took our blame.  In the Garden of Gethsemane he submitted again to His Father's will; even in the face of all evil, pain, and torment. Yet, despite all his self-denial, he endured the cross for the joy set before Him, He despised the shame, and is now sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God (Romans 12:2).  

The apostle Paul and some of the other apostles seem to have gotten caught by this revelation.  We see them rejoicing after being beaten and worshiping after being placed in prison.  Paul said that he 'died daily', boasting in his weaknesses.  Joy in death? Exalting in suffering? That almost seems masochistic!

"And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5)." 

Masochism means to derive pleasure from pain, and although it is a strange word to use in Christianity, I think there is some truth to be gleaned form it. It is possible to desire and eagerly step into a process of brokenness and renewal by having faith for what God is doing through it.  In faith, we know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, which means that, by faith, we actually experience the joy and excitement of what we know is to come.

Although our struggles are often due to immaturity in our faith, rather than a result of our activation for the Kingdom, they are still important and God cares about them.  Therefore, I think the same principles regarding the apostles suffering for Christ, can be applied to the common way we understand suffering.  Let's use the example of marriage to flesh this idea out. 

Many experience marriage as a struggle because living that intimately with another person reveals all the manner of selfish thoughts, emotions, and activities.  Learning to live with and love another person, is without a doubt one of the most challenging things in life; but, because of it's challenge, is it not also the most glorious and exciting? In order to answer that question we need to ask another.  What is our goal in life, our purpose, our pursuit? The right answer is to know God, to love Him, and to be known by Him; to glorify Him, and be transformed into His likeness so that we can show Him to everyone around us.  If we hold this as our life's end, then we approach challenges like marriage with excitement and joy rather than with tentativeness and resignation. We don't downplay the probability of struggle, but we don't want to have an attitude of resigned submition, as if it is a bad thing.  Its not bad, its wonderful! Instead we should talk about the challenges from a perspective of glory, joy, and excitement!

You get to learn to love someone in truth, and face challenges that will refine you into a ever better man/woman of God! You get to learn what intimacy and vulnerability truly is, thereby experiencing more freedom! Whoo hoo! You have the opportunity to convince another person of God's love for them! A lifetime spent growing in character, love, and fruitfulness! If we are focused on God's glory, even the way we perceive the 'struggles' in our lives change. This way of thinking can be applied to every area of our lives that we normally 'struggle with'.  Let's adopt the mind of Christ, and with joy, step into what God has for us regardless of our circumstances!

Even confession can become a joyful exercise, because we know that God is going to shower us in love and forgiveness so that we can be restored and our conscious's made clean. We can look forward to times of brokenness because we know that God is refining us, making us look more like Him.  How exciting, how glorious is that!! Even working through insecurities, learning what it means to be vulnerable and intimate with others, can be a glorious thing.  We see it as glorious to the degree in which we are disconnected from ourselves. The more we are focused on God, the more willing and eager we are to submit to His discipline and refining.  Have your way God, for the Glory of your name!!

I remember a time a couple years ago when I knew I was coming close to a season of brokenness.  Even though I was sad and there was inward strife, I was also very excited. I knew from past experience, that God loves to meet us in brokenness, so I looked forward to the sweet fellowship that I was going to have with Him in that time. I had friends that joined me in praising God during and for that particular time. Even in the midst of by grief and confusion I had a spirit of joy, thankfulness, and praise, that was rising supernaturally from me. This attitude is not one of ignoring the pain, anguish, or struggle, but of looking for God in it. He transforms everything. 

Its important to note that we are all learning to trust God, and when our minds are un-renewed, it will be very difficult to treat our struggles with joy and expectation.  But as we begin to treat, and speak to each other, with the hope of Glory, it will bolster our resolve and inspire faith in us that is counter to reason.  It will even accelerate our growth and maturity, because we are purposefully agreeing with God. 

So remember, difficulties, challenges, insecurities, and confession can be exciting, joy-filled, events rather than horrible ones.  It is just a matter of perspective.  It's not that those times aren't hard, we just learn to love and rejoice in the difficulty, because we ultimately want God more than we don't want to struggle. We can be thankful for tension, conflict, transition, and brokenness, because they are evidence of God moving and working! They are signs pointing us towards revelation and an encounter with God.  We can step towards these times with boldness, excited expectation, and even joy, because they are altogether glorious!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Word of God

Scripture is not the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1). "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life (John 5:39-40)." 

When we say things like, 'I only believe what the bible says'. We are really saying that we believe in our interpretation of the bible. One of the greatest idols in our western world is reason. We have given great authority and control to our ability to rationalize and intellectualize truth claims, by so doing we have fallen into deception. When Christ Himself is our foundation, we interpret everything through Him; which means if a challenging idea comes along, it doesn't make us angry or throw us off, but causes us to abide in the source of all revelation.

Having faith in your own revelation makes you unstable, full of fear, frustration, comparison, and bitterness. Faith in the person who is truth, salvation, and wisdom itself allows you to live outside of your own means; and in this way brings peace, rest, joy, and gleeful expectation.

"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, 'Let Him who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" (1 Cor. 1:30-31).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Religious Spirit

The religious spirit is something that I am continually becoming free from; and yes, I do believe that it is a spirit and not just a thought process.  I want to describe the ways that I have been influenced by this spirit, in hopes that you can learn to recognize it and become free as well. The religious spirit is powerful and is at work on believers and non-believers alike.  It has one main purpose, to undermine our faith in the Gospel, spreading lies to blind us to what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and cause us to take control of our life with God.

The word 'religious' makes many think of the Pharisees in scripture who sought to become righteous in their own power; or the classic 'conservative christian', who lives a compromised life while having a aggressive disposition towards immorality. Both of these 'classic cases' can reveal some truth about the RS, but it is usually much more subtle than that.  You might be surprised by the drastic ways you yourself have been influenced!

The RS will always move our focus from what Jesus has done to what we need to do.  It loves to make us feel inadequate, unworthy, and condemned, so that we start striving under our own power to change the way God relates with us. Rather than demanding faith in us, the RS demands that we take responsibility for not manifesting the fullness of the Kingdom. Many people, both believers and non, see Christianity as a set of rules, laws, and religious practices that shape our behavior around a set of morals.  This being the case, the purpose of the Christian life becomes a striving upward call to live a principled life where we attempt to change our character to be more like Jesus.  This tactic of the RS reveals a true dichotomy between our experience and what Jesus actually paid for us to live in, but it falsely causes us to rely on our own effort to bridge this experience gap.

The good news promises us freedom from sin and a life led by the Spirit, but, as many of you have experienced, as soon as one 'accepts' Jesus a whole new set of laws are put in place.  You need to read the bible everyday, pray all the time, worship with others, confess all your sins, love God, love your neighbor, and don't forget to increase your faith! These rules are the same as the old ones, equally inefficient, and cause us to fail rather than producing a victorious lifestyle.

The RS is the same as the spirit of suicide, it tries to convince you that you need to kill yourself.  It tells you that it is your job to become introspective, discerning what thoughts and activities are not in alignment with God's nature, once you identify this lie or bad behavior you must stop it. This is not freedom, Jesus came to give us an existence where we no longer live in accordance with the law, we do not need to struggle with sin any longer.  We aren't transformed from the outside in, but from the inside out.  Many Churches and leaders may have a language of grace, but inevitably preach the law because they want to control behavior. They continually instruct that one need to add to their salvation, to purify themselves, and regulate their lives in order to attain to the full measure of Christ.  That message is demonic.

There are even more ways that the RS affects us.  The following include a few insights from other teachers that I find very convicting.  Someone with a religious spirit sees more negative than positive things in a church, individual or situation.  Someone with a RS think that they are on the 'cutting edge', believing that they have attained to a level on their own power that is above and beyond other Christians.  People with a religious spirit validate their ministry and lifestyle by comparing it to those they deem 'inferior'.  Those with a RS cannot take rebuke or correction, but attack and despise those who bring that message to them. Those with a RS do not have honor for those they find fault in. Those with a RS have a fondness for religious activity but not for God Himself; they care more about 'activity' and behavior than about encountering His presence. Those with a RS try to make other see them as superior, having more insight or wisdom than the 'normal' christian. And finally, those with a RS are quick to identify a RS in others. The more you recognize it the more you are influenced by it.

So, what is the solution, what is the antidote for the influence of the RS.  The Gospel is the answer, the RS only has a foothold where there is unbelief in what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  Jesus didn't come to condemn the world but to save the world, He didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  You are righteous, Jesus made you that way, He purified you completely.  Your sinful nature was crucified with Him, you are no longer predisposed to sin but to righteousness.  He has given you a new heart, and a new mind.  He did what we could not, taking on what we deserved so that we could have what He deserves. There is no room for performance because there is nothing more to achieve, the medal has already been won, the curtains have closed.

There is no room for comparison in the Gospel because we had no part in it; it is a free gift so that no one can boast.  We do not get to change God's perspective on us, Jesus came to change our perspective on God.  He is always for you, never against you.  He works in and through you both to will and to work His good pleasure.  God has unified His church, and built it on the revelation of His son Jesus. He forgave everyone, and gave everyone direct access to the throne of grace.  We no longer view anyone according to the flesh because Christ took the sin of the world upon Himself.  You are loved, forgiven, accepted, empowered, even sanctified. His truth is true even if we don't believe it.  We experience this reality as we behold Him, and are transformed into His likeness as we are given faith in who He already is in us.  Your authority, confidence, victory, humility, and drive are gifts from our good Father, who lavishes His love on us.  Our sin struggles, shame, pride, and passivity only exist because we do not see Him in truth.

Those who do not experience Him are those who do not know Him.  They do not know the good news, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.  We have access to God because of what Jesus did, not what we strive to do.  We cannot get closer to God, for Jesus has already melded us together on the cross.  When we see from God's perspective we preach the fullness of His work to those who do not believe it, thereby providing an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to touch them.  There is only one distinction between all people, believers and unbelievers, we have the glorious opportunity of revealing the truth that has been revealed to us.

When we live a life based on what He has done, we continually behold heavenly things, and are transformed from the inside out.  We manifest God's goodness out of the revelation of Jesus.  The apostle Paul claimed to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.  For he was crucified to the world and the world to him.

The Gospel, the good news of what Jesus accomplished, is so complete that it doesn't even give us room to give our lives to God, but takes it from us; He died for us while we were still sinners! Jesus didn't leave room for us to slowly surrender, piece by piece; but in one fell swoop He remade us, taking away the old and putting on the new.

We don't have the religious privilege of getting closer to God by slowly killing ourselves off, straining to become more holy by our own effort and self-sacrifice. There is only one sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing, and that doesn't include ours. "For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever, those who have been sanctified (Hebrews 10:14)." When we hear the good news, we have the opportunity for faith in it, this is what enables us to live a Godly lifestyle.

We do go through an experiential process, but it is only a process of our minds being renewed; of being transformed from Glory to Glory as we come to a knowledge of the reality that was brought about through the cross. The Gospel produces joy, hope, excitement, and peace. It provides faith, and inspires effort.

So come to a conclusion of your salvation, when you do so you will experience fear and a trembling self distrust, realizing that you had nothing to do with where you now stand, but that Christ worked salvation on your behalf. This revelation takes away comparison, complacency, pride, and false humility. When you are given the revelation of the Gospel, you know that God did what you could not, you tremble knowing you couldn't trust yourself to attain to the standard. In that self-distrust you learn to rely more on more on God, you become dependent on the Holy Spirit in all things, learning to walk in Him. For He not only gives you the desire, but the ability, to carry out His good pleasure. Trust in God negates self-dependence; faith in Jesus equals experiential transformation. Therefore, when you boast, and you should, boast in the Lord.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Spirit of Joy and Thanksgiving!

Jesus was the happiest, most joyful, man that ever lived, He even endured the cross for the 'joy set before Him' (Hebrews 12:2)! We have the Spirit of Christ living inside of us, greater is He that is within us than he that is within the world (1 John 4:4).  Mr. Joy is inside of us! We are instructed to 'rejoice at all times' (Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16), and that the 'joy of the Lord is our strength' (Nehemiah 8:10).  This joy is unspeakable and full of Glory (1 Peter 1:8)!  Paul was so fulfilled with Jesus' work that He was content no matter the circumstances (Philippians 4:11) to the extent that he even learned to rejoice midst suffering (Romans 5:5)! Is this a possible experiential reality that we can step into? Is it fathomable to you? What about worry, anxiety, bitterness or complaining? Did you know that these are 'anti-Christ' attitudes.  "Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Philippians 2:14)."  

Is this sort of lifestyle even possible!? Some people can't even fathom having a conversation where there is no complaining or bitterness involved! Yet scripture tells us to 'let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). I am going to step out on a limb and say that the bible is true (sarcasm), and that this should be the 'normal Christian experience'. Our lives should be ones that are full of praise, thanksgiving, and divine contentment; while at the same time empty of worry, bitterness, and complaining! A normal Christian has nothing to complain about, but is completely 'whacked' over how good God is and can do nothing but be thankful!

I rarely see a normal Christian, we seem to have gotten a lot of things backwards.  Christians aren't known for their joy and bliss, but by their anger, resentment, hypocrisy, and shallowness. This should shock us! There are a few things that prevent us from living and experiencing life in the fullness of Joy. One of those is the demonic attitude of entitlement. Entitlement is the thought that we 'deserve' or have 'the right' to do, have, or experience one thing over another. Its a demand we make on the world around us, rooted in a unhealthy view of who we are.  This mentality of entitlement has permeated Christian thinking and teaching. 

 We have this strange expectation that God's will for our lives is to make them smooth and comfortable; that He is continually working towards making our lives match our perfect expectations. We want a perfect job with perfect co-workers, a perfect schedule that allows us to have a lot of free time. We think we have a right to not have to work hard, and yet be financially secure.  We run into relational problems and we think that we are no longer walking in the will of God. Our circumstances toss us to and fro, making our emotions run wild, and we don't know which way is up and down.  We then come to God and treat Him like a vending machine, wanting everything we want, right now.  Well let me tell you something, that is not how God works. He has never been interested in putting us in comfortable, safe, and 'perfect' circumstances.  The joy of the Lord isn't a powerful testimony when everything is going well, but when everything is going horribly!  God actually puts us in crummy situations so that we can shine His light in the darkness! 

The vast majority, if not all, of our grumbling, complaining, worry, and anxiety, stem from a wrong and unhealthy perspective on life. If we don't have many expectations then we won't be disappointed with what happens, seems easy right!? "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16)."

Lesson #1: "Your life is not your own, you have been purchased at a price, therefore Glorify God in your bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)."  We do not have a right to have a sense of entitlement, for we have died and our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). You don't get to plan your life; in fact you don't even have the privilege of deciding who you are! Everything is rooted in God Himself. This is not bad news, but good news! You lose sight of yourself in light of the Gospel, and you become detached from the cares of the world yet united to everything around you. 

Lesson #2: My bible says that if we love the world or the things in the world, then the love of the Father is not in us. "Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful prid of life, i snot from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17)."  That is a tough word.  How do you know if you love the world? Simple, your emotions, expectations, and fulfillment are tied up in something that has the propensity to fail. If you aren't tied up in them, if the world or something in the world fails, no big deal. 

Lesson #3: Having a sense of entitlement in worldly things, reveals lack of faith in the Gospel, it is rooted in many lies. It produces great disappointment in us, and is such a joy kill. We need to re-align our minds with the truth of the Gospel.  To have our joy and satisfaction sourced in something that is doesn't change as much as our emotions or circumstances. Here is the Gospel truth: What do we deserve? Plain and simple, we deserve hell, but Jesus took what we deserve so that we could have what He deserved! Our salvation hands down, is the source of all our joy and bliss.  

We are saved!!! Hahahahahah!! We get to go to heaven, and be with God for eternity! We have been melded into one with our heavenly father, and have been set free from a body of sin and death.  How can we not be satisfied with this and this alone? The fact that our salvation joy doesn't permeate every facet of our lives, reveals that we don't believe in it very much.  That is just the cold hard truth. As we grow in our belief, and experience of our salvation, everything else ceases to matter.  Praises pour from our mouths because God is amazing!!

Lesson #4: We are concerned with all the wrong things.  You can tell you are in idolatry when a change in circumstances really throws you off.  If having to change your schedule during the day makes your emotions go wild, or if a little 'bad news' makes you have a 'bad day', then you are not focusing enough on Jesus (and these are very minor events in our lives that are scarcely mentioned in scripture).  Remember, look to Jesus, and you lose sight of everything else! Jesus is so good, and a revelation of His grace is so powerful, that we could even be tortured for our faith and still be overflowing with Joy (Romans 5:5).

Lesson #5: Things we are not entitled to include, an easy life, a perfect job, smooth situations, no problems, everything we have always wanted.  Things we are not entitled to but get anyway include salvation, the presence of God, the fruit of the Spirit, a destiny, a powerful identity, victory, and purpose in every moment. Things we are entitled to as believers but haven't taken hold of include, freedom from sin, ability to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, capacity to hear God's voice in the moment, and to have a worry, anxiety, and depression free life where we see everything through Christ's sacrifice. We should be concerned about these things, promises from God that we obviously don't believe to be true.  When He becomes everything, we find we have nothing to complain about and yet everything to be thankful for! This 'glorying' in Christ Jesus is actually what has the power to change the world around us.  If we are subject to our circumstances we will always be controlled by them.  "If we live for the praises of man we will die by their criticism (Bill Johnson)."  It is illegal to complain, we never have a good reason to do it, never. 

Lesson #6: Ask yourself if you actually believe you are going to heaven? Do you understand what that means? If it doesn't bring you joy then you need a grace enema, go get one. Life with Jesus is so wonderful!! Everything becomes a conduit of joy! We can look at each day with a sense of adventure, not caring what happens but trusting that there is glory in everything! 

Lesson #7: Life with God will certainly not fit our 'perfect circumstances' attitude, it is way better than that! Our lives as Christians aren't set apart because of how easy they are, but because of how our joy, passion, and stability, are sourced in a completely different reality than the rest of the worlds. From a nominal worldly level, to an extreme supernatural one, our lives ought to me marked with steadfastness, since the Spirit of God dwells within us and He is the same yesterday today and forever. 

Lesson #8: Don't take yourself, your call, or even life to seriously.  Learn to look and see the Glory in everything.  Take what lies in front of you and enjoy it.  Life is full of challenges, successes, failures, and learning opportunities; we miss out on the complex beauty of this life when all we want is comfort and ease. Most of the time we are running away from experiencing the fullness of life, rather than embracing the adventure of it! Remember, reshape your expectations, don't undermine your own satisfaction in life by expecting impossibilities.  Expect that God is in the present moment, no matter what is happening, and look to that.  Only then will you be able to enjoy and intentionally live in whatever comes your way. 

 You learn you can't read a book you wanted to because someone needs help with homework. . .awesome! You get a flat tire on the way to an important meeting. . . haha what an adventure! You realize you wronged somebody and need to apologize. . what an opportunity to learn and relate! Its raining. . who hoo water is falling from the sky!! Don't take life so seriously, enjoy every moment of everyday, soak in the present moment or you will miss it entirely. Take what comes and own it, don't let it own you.

Allow God to change you so that you see Him in everything! His attitude is one of surrender, willingness, gleeful expectation, and blissful joy! You never have to have a 'bad day' again in your life. You never have to feel like 'things aren't going your way'. Who ever said they would? Let go of your selfish expectations and grab hold of the moment. There is so much glory, even in the mundane things of life, in fact we are being transformed from Glory to Glory into ever increasing glory (2 Cor. 3). Washing dishes, GLORY!! Raking a yard, GLORY!! Driving for 7 hrs, GLORY!! Learning to overcome insecurity, GLORY!! Repenting. . . GLORY!!! Getting a bad grade on a paper that pushes you to be more diligent. . . GLORY!!! Having to get up early. . . GLORY!! Skipping a meal. . . GLORY! Did you forget that your life is not you own? You have been bought at a price, therefore Glorify Christ in you body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)!

We are stranger on this earth, here for a short time only, detached from the world, yet completely unified with it! Hahahahah! We deserve nothing and yet are given everything! You can't kill a joy that stems from someone who never changes, Mr. Joy Himself (Jesus)!!

Lesson #9: The things I have been addressing have mostly been natural things that come up in our lives that we just have a wrong perspective on.   However there are other things that we are not supposed to be detached or unaffected by.  We cannot turn a blind eye to the things that come from the devil such as death, sickness, injustice, and so on.  Although our fulfillment is always sourced in Jesus, the devil seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.  Those suffering under his attacks need support, prayer, and encouragement. Yet remember, that God lays a feast for us even in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23).  The devil hates it when we are unaffected by his attacks, but remain rooted and grounded to the King of Glory. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Jesus: The Object of Joy

The self-pleasing spirit in our culture is visible everywhere, and it would be laughable if it didn't reveal the bondage so many are in. People are yearning for happiness, joy, peace, and contentment; likewise promises of fulfillment are everywhere, from soap commercials to political agendas. I find this to be true even in Christian circles, no matter how much we 'preach' being detached from the world, we are not satisfied unless our lives match our desire. Ultimately this reveals how unsatisfied we are with Jesus, that may sound a bit harsh, but it's true. 

Here is the truth, it is possible to be so satisfied in Jesus that everything else ceases to matter. I don't mean to say this as a pat or surface answer.  I mean deeply satisfied, overflowing with love, peace, and joy; an actual experience of fulfillment. That just like in Psalm 23 you can say, 'I don't need anything'. The Apostle Paul lived in this reality; where no trivial circumstance could kill his joy or contentment (Philippians 4:11-13).  He was lost in the bliss of a heavenly reality, claiming to know only one thing, Christ and Him Crucified.  It was this revelation that seemed to push Paul in his efforts for the kingdom, and he continually proclaimed that 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  'The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Why was this revelation so powerful? How did it produce such life, vitality, and source of fulfillment in Paul? Paul realized that he had died with Jesus on the cross, and the Gospel took away his independent, striving, works based self.  At the same time it threw him into a reality of being transformed from the inside out as he experienced heavenly realities through his union with God through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the end all, he completed the job, finished the task, dotted the i's and crossed the t's. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). 

Our fulfillment comes at the revelation of the cross, where our works based, striving, mentality is forced to stop, and where we find rest in a God who works on our behalf. Our bliss is sourced in the mystical exchange that took place on the cross. "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2 Corinthians 5:13-14)."

So, if you are not satisfied in your present circumstances we can derive two things. 1, a change of your circumstances will not change your attitude or experience; and 2, you probably don't have a full revelation of the Gospel, otherwise you would be without lack.  Neither of these things should bring about condemnation but excitement.  For they reveal an opportunity to grow in the knowledge of Christ. After all, if we, in recognizing lack of faith or insecurity, feel ashamed or indignant, are in that moment struggling to produce a certain outcome out of works.  However, if we recognize that it isn't about us at all, and that we never had any chance of attaining to the standard set by God, we can humbly be excited for what God has in store, joyfully expressing our insecurities and failures.  Condemnation cannot co-exist with a revelation of the Gospel, and the Gospel will always bring about transformation, they are all entwined together.

The cultural initiative to find fulfillment, joy, and peace, fails to deliver before it ever began because it is based on a works based mentality.  It is counter-grace and anti-Christ.  The focus is on the product, or on the individual experience, and therefore is incapable of delivering because it is self-centeredness. When we turn to Jesus, we lose sight of ourselves in the euphoria of His love and mercy.  Paradoxically we fully become ourselves as we are released from struggle, torment, and insecurity in one fell swoop. 

Jesus, the person, is the source of all joy, wisdom, and glorious bliss.  When we focus on Him, believe in Him, and revel in Him, we begin to experience heavenly realities.  However, if we focus or thirst for the joy rather than the person of joy, we fall into idolatry and seek to manifest or fake a similar experience through other means.  Sometimes, people's desire to be 'wacky', or to experience things of God, cause an awkward scene as they try to replicate fulfillment in their own power.  Look at Jesus, and you lose sight of everything else. 

The battle ground in our lives primarily takes place in our minds.  Our flesh was taken care of on the cross with Jesus, He circumcised it away (Colossians ). Now we take every thought captive, and are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We are learning, growing in our understanding of what Jesus accomplished.  Through the lens of the cross, we begin to understand the mystery that is Jesus Himself. 

Do you want to be overwhelmed by joy? To have revelatory experiences and supernatural encounters? Do you want to be fully satisfied no matter your current circumstances? I do! We need to grow in our understanding of Christ crucified; for it is a revealed mystery, a truth so good, so unbelievable, in such stark contrast t our experience, that it thrusts us into unbridled joy.  We come to recognize and believe the inconceivable, foolish reality, that we have died and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.  The cross is the point where we lose ourselves and our striving, and in their place we have trust that manifests God's strength, peace, and joy in our lives.             

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Become Dissatisfied

There are three responses one can have when facing a powerless church. 1) We can reset the standard by defining the 'normal' Christian life according to our experience rather than scripture. Thereby creating a culture of compromise, weakness, and powerlessness. 2) We can reject supernatural intervention completely and create a Christianity that is utterly humanistic, relative, and universal. 3) Or, we can become dissatisfied with our experience and keep the biblical standard, thereby relying solely upon a touch of the Holy Spirit to do the impossible.

In my opinion 1 isn't far away from becoming 2, and 3 is the only antidote to a form of religion that denies God's power. What is created will always reflect the nature of the one who created it. If we build a ministry based on our own talents and abilities than people will only end up seeing us. True ministry is allowing God to supernaturally work through us, so that people encounter Him rather than only meeting us.

When we let go of our 'form', our 'control', we make room for the Holy Spirit. We need to put ourselves in situations, to have dreams, such that if God doesn't show up they will fail. The world needs God, not our best efforts at doing ministry. They see through the facade, they see that the church is little different than themselves. The church today mainly relies on psychology, sociology, and philosophy to guilt trip and motivate people to try and religiously regulate their lives to mimic a moral standard. Although all of these tools are useful and beneficial, they are not the primary avenues which God has given us for ministry; rather, He has given us Himself.

Will we surrender and let go of control so that God can speak, direct, and reign? Will we live with an expectancy that defies human reason? Will we live out of His strength and power rather than our own?

God give us faith so that we can live from a heavenly perspective rather than an earthly one.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Identity (Discipleship Program)

My brother and I are putting together a 9 series program purposed to help small groups begin going deeper in their identity, purpose, and calling in the Kingdom.  Each area will be broken up into three seminars each.  Here is the first take for an intro to the first set of seminars on Identity.



Our identity is the foundation of our life in God, and it is essential for us to grasp who we are.  Satan, the accuser and deceiver, seeks to rob Christians from knowing who they are; he even tried to make Jesus question His identity (see Matthew 4).  It is essential that we agree with God about who we are; if we don't we will continue to live a life in bondage, fail to enter into true intimacy with the Holy Spirit, and never fulfill the purposes that God has for our lives.

Starting Question: How would you define identity and why is it important?

Identity is at the center of the work of the cross and we see this throughout the scriptures.  God is constantly changing the names of His people.  Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter.  These names carry significant meaning, and God is declaring over them a transformation that has or is taking place in the very essence of their identity.  

In Hebrew culture a name revealed the whole character of that person, as it was known or revealed.  A name includes your reputation, person, and character. When Jesus instructed us to ‘ask anything in my name and I will do it (John 14:14)’, it’s not because saying the name of Jesus verbally has power.  

Putting the name of Jesus at the beginning, middle, or end of our prayer doesn’t make it any better.  What this verse really means is to ‘ask as Jesus’.  We ask knowing the very character of the Son and His relationship to the Father.  When we ask in the revelation or knowledge of who Jesus is, two things change.  1) Our will is conformed to His, and 2) We pray/proclaim with boldness because we have faith in God’s response.  Our boldness comes from and inward recognition and trust in a person, rather than a formulated way of praying.

Read Genesis 32
*Jacob wrestles with this angle and asked to be blessed.  The angel gives him the greatest blessing he possibly could, he gives him a new name, he changes his identity.

Moment of Contemplation: What identifies you? How would your closest friends and family honestly speak of you? What is your ‘name’?

Discussion Question: How would you describe the identity of a Christian? What words would you use?

Identity can be assessed in three ways.
1) How we identify ourselves
2) How others identify us
3) How God identifies us.  

Only one of these are important, and in fact only one of these are true, the other too assessments will always be skewed to some degree.
Many times we aren’t comfortable addressing and admitting some of the things we find in our own character and identity, neither would we be brave enough to ask those closest to us to honestly give their assessment. We all have insecurities, and these insecurities manifest in many different ways. Insecurities exist because we don’t know who we actually are.  The whole world is in an identity crisis; when we don’t know who we are, we find ourselves in a constant pursuit of significance, acceptance, and recognition. However, when we do know who we are in Christ, we live from a place of fulfillment and power, knowing that we are loved and destined for great things. That is why Identity is where the majority of Satan’s efforts are aimed, to make us question, doubt, and dis-believe in who we are.  We see him doing the same this to Jesus in the wilderness.

Read Matthew 4:1-11

The temptation really wasn’t the food, the glory, or the praise; Satan continually attacked Jesus’ identity, “If you are the Son of God.”  He did everything he could to make Jesus question and doubt this truth; for if Jesus doubted it, he would have bowed to the requests of Satan to prove it to himself.  Where doubt exists sin is soon to follow. Jesus didn’t doubt who He was, and through this trial He reveals that when we we have confidence in who we are, Satan has nothing on us.

We always live out of who we are; it is this that drives us and causes us to behave the way we do. ‘We become what we behold.’   We conform to an understanding of our identity in a variety of ways, and if we are displeased with who we are, we strive to create a change, to make others see us differently, to make for ourselves a new ‘name’.  It is easy to see the effort and attention that is put into identity when we look around us; clothing, activities, attitudes, and associations, all of which we use to construct our identity. As Christians only one opinion matters, there is only one who sees us for who we actually are, and He is trying to convince us of who we are in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Freedom From Worldiness = True Enjoyment and Contentment

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15)."

This is a challenging and very definitive statement, but what does it mean to love the world?  Loving the world in this negative context, refers to the desire and pursuit of fulfillment therein. In other words, it is the belief that possessing, experiencing, and feeling things in the world will in some way sate an otherwise unsatisfied life.  Seeking satisfaction in the world means that we are not satisfied in God alone and therefore will never be content, even if we come to possess the thing that we desire.

As we look into this issue further, it is not is a call to the Gnostic approach to life; which is to deny the physical completely to pursue only the spiritual.  God made the world and said that it was 'good', and we are given the blessing of enjoying this world; we just cannot become a slave to it.  Enslavement, being in bondage, implies that we are constrained, and not free.  We can be in bondage to the things of the world, thinking that in the world we will find true satisfaction; but the truth is that it is only when we become satisfied with God alone will we be set free to enjoy the Earth and everything in it. C.S Lewis wrote, "Aim for heaven you get Earth thrown in, aim for Earth you get neither."  So how can we identify bondage to wordly things, and what does true enjoyment of the world look like?

"Then a scribe came and said to Him, 'Teacher, I will follow You wherever You god.' Jesus said to him, 'The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.' Another of the disciples said to Him, 'Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead (Matthew 8:19-22).'"

Jesus gives a parable of the Kingdom in a similar manner.  "A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is read now.'  But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.'  Another one said, ' I have bought five yoke of exen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' Another one said, 'I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come (Luke 14:16-20)."

Jesus clearly has a high expectancy for freedom from the world, and he addresses 3 primary areas where we get caught up in; comfort, livelihood, and family. Now these can be connected but lets look at them individually to see what scripture has to say.

1) Comfort can inhibit us from obeying God, and working for the purposes of the Kingdom.  I would also like to include entertainment in this category because they are so inextricably related, especially in our culture.   According to the previous scriptures, comfort might even prevent us from entering the Kingdom.  We have already seen that the 'Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head.'  Beyond that, Jesus even promises persecution and hardship for those who want to be His disciples (Matthew 10:22, John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12).  The Apostle Paul testifies many times of the hardship that he endured for the kingdom, beatings, imprisonments, stonings, and scorn from others (2 Corinthians 11 and 12). We see in the book of Acts, the many 'uncomfortable' situations the disciples were put in; thrown in prison, beaten, and even killed.  Yet something was at work in them that made them content and completely fulfilled despite their circumstances.  Paul and Silas sing after being imprisoned (Acts 16:25), and Peter and John rejoiced and asked for more boldness after being mocked and threatened by the prestigious and powerful counsel of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4).

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;  but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Peter 4:12-16)."

Comfort is not the elixer of life, neither is entertainment.  Both of them, on their own put us in bondage rather than giving us freedom.  Look at the outbreak of laziness in our country, and the complete obsession with continual mindless entertainment!  Clearly there is bondage and idolatry hidden behind these two things that promise freedom and fulfillment. 

2) Livelihood, the desire for success, recognition, and prestige, all spring from roots of jealousy and comparison.  We see what others have, focusing on what we do not have, and jealousy gives birth to a mind set of ingratitude and unbelief.  We do not need to go further then the ten commandments to find Gods heart on the matter of coveting.  Greg Boyd says it like this, 'When we believe the lie that we can and must acquire value and significance for ourselves, apart from God, the world becomes a stage of idols from which we strive to get a life only God can give us. When we buy into this strategy of obtaining fulfillment from our performance, we must hide everything about ourselves that isn't consistent with the performance we are giving.' Bill Johnson once said that, 'If we live for the praises of men, we will die by their criticisms.'  

There is success for us, there is prestige and recognition, but it comes from the Father and not from the world.  If we learn how our Daddy sees us, and have faith in the gifts and inheritance He has given us, then we will no longer seek to be established in the eyes of others.  "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.  Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 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 (1 Cor. 3:1-3)?" "Noe one can serve tow masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24)."

We are actually supposed to act in a way that is above and beyond 'mere men'.  We are not 'only human' anymore.  The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us, and we are held to a different standard.  Now this is not to say that wealth is bad; money is a wonderful things.  It is a tool, just like everything else, it can be used for good or for evil.  When someone is free from money and the pursuit of fulfillment in recognition and prestige, then these tools become powerful weapons against the enemy.  Someone who is fulfilled and edified by God, gives money away freely, and desires to see other people succeed and gain recognition more than they do.  They encourage rather than perform because they are functioning from a place of satisfaction and faith, rather then need and unbelief.  We will never be able to steward what God has for us in immaturity.  That is why it is only after we are faithful with little will we be given more (Luke 16:10).

3) The third worldly attachment is to our friends and family.  This may seem odd since the Gospel has everything to do with these relationships, but it is true nonetheless.  We can place too much hope and expectancy on our relationships.  We can seek ultimate fulfillment, intimacy, and satisfaction, in our friends, family, and even our spouses.  It is important to understand, that a relationship that functions out of this context is done out of selfish ambition.  It isn't about what I can bring to other people, but what I receive from them.  Therefore I surround myself with people who make me look good, feel good, and adore me.  I appreciate others only in as much as appreciate how much of myself I see in them.  Once they stop being useful they stop being important.  How they affect me is much more important than how I can affect them. 

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household.  He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:34-39)."

This is a tough passage.  Ultimately I think Jesus is telling us that we can put any of our relationships above our relationship with Him.  For some people, their family and friends can inhibit their relationship with God, discouraging them from pursuing Him and being with Him.  I have also witnessed friends who choose to date someone who isn't walking at the same pace that they are, and their spiritual health drops significantly.  These relationships are extremely important to God, and we need them, but God wants us to relate freely with one another and not under the constraints of bondage. 

With all three of these areas, God has good purposes and intentions for us in them.  We need relationships, we need to feel loved and encouraged by others.  I cannot function outside of healthy relationships with others; and I cannot wait to get married to a beautiful, Godly, wife.  We all need to feel accepted, established, and given a purpose.  We are designed to feel fulfilled.  God has given us these needs, but it is when they are misappropriated and idolized, that they place us in bondage rather than freedom. 

We are not meant to reject the natural things of the world but to pursue the heavenly things.  "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on Earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where theieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21)."  "But seek first His kingdom and His rightouesness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33)."

God isn't afraid of worldly things, He just doesn't want them to be missappropriated.  There is a place with God, where we can be so satisfied with our salvation and the things of heaven, that we are no longer bound by anything in the World.  We can tell if we our in bondage if we are tied up in the puruit of things in the world.  How are our emotions and affections changed and shaped when we have or don't have something.  What do we dream about, desire, yearn for.  Do you control yourself or do the things of the world control you?  

When we are grounded and satisfied in God alone and our salvation; everything else becomes relatively insignifacnt.  Just get lost in the revelation of heaven and the Earth will fade away.  When that happens, we live from a place of contentment and satisfaction rather than the pursuit of it.  The mark of a true Christian is not hunger but satisfcation, not striving but rest, not discontent but contentment; and that has nothing to do with worldly status.  It is only from this place of existence that we can truly enjoy the things of the world and not be controlled by them. We can find joy in food, wealth, and recognition without being overly attached.  We start with an attitude of thanksgiving and end with an attitude of thanksgiving, no matter what. When we are content with what we have, and God gives more, we steward it well, and give thanks!  When we lust after more and sieze it, we misuse it and squander the inhertiance.  Only from satisfaction and contentment can we function the way God created us to in this world.  

Paul was so engrossed in heavenly things that he didn't care about anything else! I think he probably enjoyed everything much more than others as well!  We can learn from him and use him as an example.  To be completely free form the world, and yet to have the greatest satisfaction of it.  Love for people, excitement in adventure, pleasure in eating and drinking, for he was grounded on the rock.

"Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned tthe secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13)."  How many of us can say the same? Or are our interests, energy, and emotions, still wrapped up in the world around us?  Free us from it God, and renew unto us the joy of our salvation.  For we can be absolutely blissed out in this revelation and nothing else matters.

"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of hte air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a signle hour to his life?  And why are you woried about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of htese.  but if God so clothes the grass of hte field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first His kingdom and His rightouesness, and all these things will be added to you.  So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow iwll care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25-34)."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Encountering God: The Antidote for Religious Regulation

We are excellent at religiously regulating our lives around a set of principles and practices.  We do it all the time, and manage to hide behind all sorts of theology and practice; but nevertheless, it will not do.  There is something beautiful about being in Christ, a mystery of union that is only supernatural.  We need God to renew our minds so that we can step into a life of power and transformation that supercedes our 'normal' standards and experiences.

So, what are we talking about here? Primarily that we are excellent at supplementing and compartmentalizing our lives.  We know intellectually many things about the Christian life and what it means to follow Jesus.  We have many phrases like wwjd, our faith journey, and learning to walk the Christian life.  I believe that many times these phrases are used out of an incomplete revelation that keeps us stuck following principles rather than living a life from the inside out.

Let me try to explain that further.  Living by a set of principles means that we intellectually understand what to do in a given situation.  For instance, if a neighbor needs to borrow something from us, we know that it is the right thing to do to lend it to them.  Likewise if our church is taking an offering, its the right thing to do give a tithe.  We do this based on principle, which means that we choose to do it becuase we agree with a truth value.  I dont think that all principles are bad, in fact they are necessary, but living only by principle causes us to miss out on our relationship with God.  If we only live on a plane of self regulation, we will never experience God the way we are intended too, neither will we be able to truly display His character to the world around us.

Whenever we live or think in principles, we have placed ourselves in the realm of process, and strive to outwardly manifest what the principle dictates.  Does that make sense? If I 'know', that as a Christian should love the poor, I can try to express what that love would look like outwardly. I can try to get passionate, to make mayself feel bad for them, and pump myself up in prayer and good deeds to help them. But a principle will never birth true love and compassion in my heart, or the power to be able to do something about it,we need something else for that.  Principles can  cause us to become self-reliant and self-sufficient. because we want to produce something we are lacking. 

In the western world, and in the western church, this is a very common mindset. We recognize where we are and where we want to go, we see the lack, and try to produce a solution. Often times this leads us to religious regulation, where we know what to do and how we should be, but continually fail to manifest it.  I have heard many sermons, lessons, and bible studies, that seek to set up principles to moderate morality.  We see a problem or an issue, and the way we try to move towards a solution is to say "do this" or "don't do that".  Because we cringe at immorality we set principles into place to regulate behavior. But we can always treat a symptom without ever healing the disease.

This is ultimately manipulation on a grand scale.  We see someone misbehaving so we try to regulate them by instilling fear, shame, and/or guilt in them. We say "this is what you are doing" and "this is what you should be doing".  We play up God's righteous anger, or we try to force people to feel really bad about their sin and shortcomings.  We do it all to change and shape what they are producing in their lives, acting like a potter molding clay.  Although God blesses us at the point of our revelation, and clearly brings about transformation and salvation in this process, I don't think this type of ministry is as effective as God wants it to be.  It also doesn't really capture what Jesus really accomplished on the cross.

It is clear that this form of teaching, regulation, and fear-based manipulation doesn't do the job.  We still have a church culture that looks very much like the world, still sinning with no power of the kingdom to display.  Many of our programs and teachings rely on psychology, philosophy, and sociology, to influence and motivate us towards Jesus. We have 'fix yourself' style messages and programs, where people place themselves on the conveyor belt of our christian industry.  'Add this, take this off, we need more oil here!'

The Bible is full of principles to follow, good advice, and instruction.  The letters of Paul are full of them, often to Gentiles who had no knowlege of righteousness and life in God.  The principle however, outside of encounter with God, would be useful only for instilling pride or shame. The principle can only be put to use with an encounter with God Himself.  

So, what do we do, when we recognize lack? What should our response be when God calls us to transformation.  We are called to abide in Him, to walk with Him, to regularly experience, feel, and recognize the manifest presence of God.  God wants us to know Him, not as a truth value, but as a person.  We have alienated experience in our church culture in our pursuit of absolute truth, and this has left us without the very power and presence of God.  When we abide in Him and He in us, we star seeing transformation in our lives from the inside out.  We start behaving in ways, feeling things, and growing in wisdom that cannot be produced by mere study and hard work.  It is easy to tell when somebody 'walks in the presence of God', becuase they are supernaturally producing love, peace, and joy to the world around them. 

I have seen others and have experienced myself, that an encounter with the very presence of God brings about enormous transformation in very short period of times.  When we walk with God, in His very presence, we become like Him.  We 'become what we behold'.  It is almost like osmosis, needing very little effort on our part but surrender and desire.

So, here are some 'principles' to follow.  Ask God to come, to send His Holy Spirit. When we see lack, are in the face of temptation, in the middle of joyous occassions, and in every and any point in our life, acknowlege him.  Ask Him to teach, shape, reveal, bring joy, peace, and faith.  Talk to Him, be with Him, thank Him.  Scripture tells us to rejoice continually and pray without ceasing.  This is only possible if we actually become prayer itself.  Being a Christian is much more a state of existence rather than an activity.  It's not so much a life based on principle as it is life itself.  We exude the presence of God because He lives in us.  If we lack we ask for encounter, for infilling, then we wait until we get it.  When we have faith and trust, we manifest a different lifestyle then we do in fear and anxiety.

It is not really about following Jesus, it's not about learning to walk out our faith, neither is it about doing the right things and avoiding the wrong; it's about knowing, understanding, and being with God Himself.  When this is our goal, our motivation, and our life-style, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another into His very likeness. 

Father please release us from our religious self regulation and bring us into an encounter with you.  Produce in us mightily your fruit, your character, and your works.  We want to see you, to know you, to touch you.  Help us to believe and manifest the truth that you are in us and we in you.  Allow us to be aware of your presence always, and to live for, from, through, and in you at all times.  Amen

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Supernatural Fruit of the Christian Life

It says in scripture that we shall be known by our fruit (Matthew 7:16). We also read that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).  'Against no law' means that we cannot produce these fruits with our own effort.

"For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.  For each tree is known by its own fruit.  For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes form a briar bush.  The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart (Luke 6:43-45)."

Pressure situations will always reveal the true nature of the fruit we bear.  We can put on a good show when things are going well, but it is in the midst of trial, conflict, and tension that our hearts our truly exposed.  What are your 'first fruits' in the midst of insult, neglect, or hurt; what is your initial response to injustice done against you? Do you react with peace, understanding, and love? Or are you filled with bitterness, envy, and anger, making yourself out to be a victim to your circumstances.  Do you end up blaming, complaining, and taking no responsibility for the situation?  This 'bad fruit' reveals a state of being where you will always react to circumstances, being on the defense, rather than being a powerful instigator for change. Responsibility is having the 'ability' to control your 'response'.  For it is in the heat, the droughts in life, where our true nature shines through.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.  For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor 'cease to yield fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8).'"

We learn that fruit is produced when roots are 'extended towards the stream', the river of life.  Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit. He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:1-5)."

Therefore, if we are producing bad fruit we are not abiding in God.  Also if we are producing good fruit, we will be pruned to continue to produce more! Peter explains what it looks like to be continually pruned.  "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, an din your brotherly kindness, love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8)."

Do you see the connection? Not only does abiding produce fruit, but it continues to increase throughout our life-time! Is your life a refection of these qualities ever increasing? Do you feel more and more love for others, greater self-control in the face of temptation, and peace and joy flowing out of you? If not you have been rendered useless in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. If this is the case, you are not 'abiding', you are not connected to the vine.  If that is the case we need to spend time with Him so that He can produce something in us that our own effort cannot achieve.  We need to 'behold His glory'; and as we do we will be transformed into His likeness, from one degree of Glory to another (2 Corinthians 3).  There is no excuse for 'bad fruit', but they are indicators to us that we have turned our gaze to ourselves or the Earth. "Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light, for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5:7-9)."

As Christians our lives should be displaying a supernatural quality, because we are plugged into the source of all joy, peace, and righteousness; the kingdom of heaven (Romans 14:17).  We are 'seated in heavenly places' and have been 'blessed with every spiritual blessing therein'.  But we become what we behold, so we need to turn our gaze to heaven so that it can be made manifest through us.  "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above not on things that are on earth.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3)." "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.  The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9)."

"We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.  For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light (Colossians 1:4-12)."