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