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!