Monday, December 22, 2014

1 Corinthians 13: Love Does Not Dishonor Others

The word dishonor, is also translated as 'acting unbecomingly', or being rude.  Dishonor only makes sense in understanding honor.  Honor is thoughts, words, and actions that purpose to respect and lift up others.  Dishonor is the opposite, its' goal is to tear down, to make others feel bad or uncomfortable.  Dishonor stems from believing you are better than others.  This could be in regards to intellect, physical capability, good looks, spiritual zeal, or any characteristic, action, or thought, that makes one feel superior and others inferior.

Dishonoring someone is attributing less worth  than they actually deserve.  We do this by talking about people behind their backs, by making snide remarks, and/or by labeling them in any form to paint a negative picture of them. In the same way, it is an attempt to paint a more positive picture of ourselves. 

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29)."

It is quite a common thing in our society for our language to lean towards negativity.  Everything is made out to be tough, frustrating, and not what we want it to be. We pick apart groups, ideas, and individuals; gossiping and tearing others down like we are paid for it!

"Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, "children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation." Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky (Philippians 2:14-15)."

Being negative and dishonoring others takes little courage, anybody can do it; but to attribute worth and value to individuals we don't consider deserve it, takes a humility.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4)."

Humility is a backwards way to live in a world governed by pride and the pursuit of making an image for ourselves. Humility doesn't build a platform on which people can see us, but on which people can see God.  It is elevating others, encouraging them, being 'for' them. This lifestyle is completely embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. Notice how the following passage starts; it is instruction on how to deal with our own personal relationships. 

"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8)!" 

We are equipped to 'build' each other up (Ephesians 4), and to 'encourage one another as long as it is today (Hebrews 3:13)'. 

While negativity, pessimism, and cynicism, are fruit of unbelief and doubt; hope, joy, and good will, are fruit of faith. When we see Jesus, our honor of people matches their attributed worth, which is measured according to what God was willing to pay for them. When wet have eyes to see 'no one according to the flesh', and to have love that is characterized by the very things in this 1 Corinthians 13 passage, we will see people begin to live the way they were created to be, in wholeness, peace, joy, and confidence.  If we dishonor those around us, then we will cause everyone involved to fall short of the lifestyle we are created to enjoy!

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:12-17).".

Friday, November 21, 2014

1 Corinthians 13: Love Does Not Boast, It Is Not Proud

Boasting is the act of 'showing off'.  It is the desire for attention.  Boasting occurs when an individual wants recognition. It stems from pride; which is the mentality that I have accomplished something that deserves recognition.  It is gaining fulfillment and feeling self-actualized because of personal performance and/or talent.  Pride comes when an individual defines their worth by their own ability.

Boasting often looks like confidence, but in fact it is only a manifestation of deep insecurity. When someone boasts, they are revealing that they feel the need to be validated for their achievements.   Pride is about building up personal image, it is rooted in the fear of man, and therefore is driven by the opinions and expectations of others. Pride only exists in the realm of comparison, where someone feels gratified by being 'better' or 'different' than other people.

The world lifts up self actualization.  There are hundreds of articles written about the defining characteristics of introverts and extroverts, about personality types, and emotional pre-dispositions.  Articles like '10 Problems Only Tall People Will Understand', or '5 Steps To Reach Your Full Potential'.  Although we are meant to feel comfortable in our own skin, how we grow into personal freedom isn't through the self-centered justification.  Although, personality tests, and articles can be helpful in gaining perspective, we will not find personal freedom by primarily focusing on ourselves.

The scriptures show that it is when we fix our eyes on Jesus that we realize who we actually are.  It is when we are focused on Him that we are set free to be ourselves (1 Corinthians 3).  The greater capacity that we have to see Him in all of our situations defines our capacity to relate freely in them.

When we see Jesus and realize what He accomplished for humanity, our petty concerns, irrational expectations, and fear of man strip away as we gain an eternal perspective. When we are satisfied in Him, we don't look for fulfillment from the world.  We are set free to live in the world but not be of it.  We are free to enjoy the pleasures of living without being controlled by them.  We grasp hold of life in all its complexities rather than being tossed to and fro by the winds of circumstance.

Pride is self-focused, it is rooted in insecurity. And boasting is what is verbally produced out of a prideful heart. Pride causes us to boast in ourselves.  We talk up our experiences, our wisdom, our accomplishments, so that we can feel fulfilled in comparison to those around us.  Eyes that see Jesus on the other hand live from fulfillment rather than towards it.  Psalm 23 begins with, 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."  Shall not want! What? That seems impossible huh?

It is possible to live a life of pure bliss, of supernatural satisfaction, divine complacency.  Hebrews 4 says that we can rest from our works just as God has rested from His.  We can function in life from a place of wholeness where we are free to love, laugh, and bless; rather than living from anxiety and dissatisfaction.  The flavor of faith is joy, hope, and peace that is above circumstance and reason.

Pride ceases to exist when we see Jesus in truth.

Read the following scriptures, the meaning of life has been revealed, discover the mystery that is Christ!

"Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)."

"God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written; 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)."

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13)."

What is the secret? 

"I resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified 1 Corinthians 2:2)."

Look to Jesus and you lose sight of everything else. Lose sight of yourself and we will be free to live as you were created to be!

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longe rlive, 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)

Friday, November 14, 2014

1 Corinthians 13: Love Does Not Envy

"For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)."

Power (dunamis) is the miraculous ability of God that can transform, heal, and set free. Love (agapos) is good will and benevolence towards others. A sound mind (sophronismos) is the ability to do what 'fits' a situation.

Love without power does not have the ability to bring transformation, it can only empathize. Love with power not only cares for the individual but has the capacity to set them free. Add wisdom that knows what to do when, and you have someone that can change the world.

A powerless person is subject to circumstance. They say they are victims to their own circumstances, pushed to and fro by ideas, struggles, and unhealthy expectations. Powerlessness either manifests in passivity, where the individual makes excuses for their behavior and situation; or it results in control and manipulation, where the individual seeks to manipulate people and circumstances because they are afraid of the the unknown.

A powerful person on the other hand takes responsibility for their own actions. They don't make excuses for poor decisions but, own them and learn from them. A powerful person doesn't place blame, and has the capacity to decide how they will act regardless of the circumstance. A powerless person finds it difficult to love because they are focused on self, a powerful person has the capacity to love because they are free enough in themselves to focus on others.

Love Does Not Envy

At it's core, love is other centered. Love desires benefit for others, which is why jealousy is polar opposite to the way of love.  Envy says, 'I dislike you because you have something I want' or 'I would not be miserable if my circumstances were different.'  Love says, 'I am so thankful that you have that blessing, give them more Lord.'  It isn't that we shouldn't desire good things in our own lives, but out of the goodness of our hearts we want those same good things for those around us.

Envy can produce entitlement; which is the belief that we 'deserve' one thing or another.  Entitlement doesn't give thanks for what we have, rather it looks at what we don't have, and either lays blame for why that is the case, or just fills us with regret.  Entitlement kills thankfulness, because it doesn't have eyes to see what is already possessed.  More often than not, entitlement causes the individual to be a victim.  'Well if only I had your circumstances I would never make these decisions. . .' If I had better friends I would be happier'.

Envy and Entitlement believe that fulfillment comes from the outside, and unless something changes in our circumstances our inner being will remain the same bitter, depressed self. Jesus dealt with both sides of that unhealthy perspective, and when we come to Him our minds can be renewed to a whole new way of looking at things.

1) Jesus showed us how silly it is to feel entitled. 'All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).' 'The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).'  We actually don't deserve anything! Any goodness in our lives is a gift of grace. Most of us don't believe that, but it's true. If we saw reality for what it truly is, every blessing in our lives, every bit of love, would be an occasion for thanksgiving.

2) On the other hand, Jesus shows us great worth through His choice for us. Even though the 'wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:24).' Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).' He proved that our worth has nothing to do with our outward behavior or circumstances. We were dead in our trespasses, bankrupt before God, and He still chose us!  Worth is measured by the amount that someone is willing to pay for it, and God gave His own life in exchange for ours.

When we see Jesus in truth, jealousy no longer has a foothold in our lives.  How can we feel entitled when we know we don't deserve anything and yet have been given everything? Seeing what Jesus has done for us, and for the rest of the world, is the only thing that can cause us to 'consider others greater than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).' Otherwise that is pretty much impossible.

The apostle Paul was so focused on blessing others that he said he would forfeit his own salvation if the Jews would realize theirs (Romans 9;3)! How incredible! How supernatural!!

This doesn't mean we neglect ourselves.  After all we are instructed to 'love our neighbors as ourselves.'  If you don't know how to love yourself, you certainly will not be able to give to others in a healthy way.  Some people out out of the motivation to serve and give all of themselves to others, end up suppressing growth because they do everything for them, rather than building them up to be able to function wholly themselves.

Envy kills joy.  If you struggle with jealousy look to Jesus.  You deserve nothing, and yet have been given everything.  The Gospel changes our perspective to the extent that we view no one according to the flesh; no one in accordance with the 'way of the world'.  Stop being a victim and take charge of the life that you have. How you live in the present is going to dictate your life in the future.

Monday, November 10, 2014

1 Corinthians 13: Love Is Kind

When asked what the greatest commandment of the law was, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37).”

Very often this scripture is held as the Christian standard; and we are silly enough to think that although we can't fulfill the law, we are most certainly able to love God with everything we have. Notice Jesus said this was the greatest commandment of the 'law'. A law that Jesus spent his whole ministry trying to convince people of their inability to fulfill. Jesus equates lust with adultery, and anger with murder, then he goes so far as to say that all of the commandments can be fulfilled if you can somehow manage to love God, others, and yourself. This is the law on steroids! It is one thing to try to manage your outward behavior, but another thing entirely to change the way we think, feel, and function on the inside. Here again, Jesus isn't trying to get us to pump up our love meter, He is pointing out our absolute inability to change ourselves.

Love isn't easier than behavior management, in fact it is an impossible thing to formulate or produce. That is why after the fruits of the spirit are listed in Galatians 5, Paul writes, 'Against such things there is no law.' No law means that we are completely unable to produce these inner attributes on our own accord. We only have the capacity to love as a result of being filled by His love. As a byproduct of our union with Him, we are transformed from the inside out, not from the outside in.  This is the fundamental problem with our un-renewed minds, and it is the biggest obstacle to intimacy with God.

We don't mind talking about love as long as it has to do with our external behavior, but if you start pushing the fact that love is only proven by how we function on the inside, in private, people will start getting uncomfortable. Love does manifest outwardly, but how do you function internally when someone offends you? What is your first reaction in conflict or when someone even sins against you? Are you understanding or judgmental? Are you angry or are you filled with peace, are you jealous or do you like it when other people are blessed? Do you place blame or are you full of grace? Love is a deep thing, it can't be proven on the surface.  How do you think about people when you are all alone, how do you think about yourself? Are you filled with hope, peace, understanding? What about kindness?

Love Is Kind
Jesus displayed a harsh temperament to the Pharisees, the religious elite who thought that they could present themselves as Godly on the outside while being wicked within. Jesus called them 'white washed tombs'. Most of us probably fit into this category. Jesus however only showed kindness to the broken, the insecure, and the sinful. In Christendom today, kindness is not the first word that comes to mind. In fact the world has a pretty poor opinion of Christianity, and for good reason, we aren't very kind. Think of how Christians respond to homosexuality, abortion, media, or someone who they theologically disagree with. The response is often anger, bitterness, loathing, pity, elitism, and bigotry. Not much love there.

Love is kind; where love is, kindness is practically displayed. Kindness is simply behavior that is benevolent, it is acts of service done for the benefit of someone else. Doing the dishes, raking the leaves, going out of your way to be a blessing to those around you, that is what kindness is. Are you kind? Do you see others and have a desire to bless them in either small or big ways. Are you a consumer or a producer?

When we see Jesus in truth and are filled with His peace, goodness, and faith, kindness is a natural result. He took on what we deserved so that we can take on what He deserved. When we have eyes to see what we have received from God, we are filled with thanksgiving that manifests in care for other people. We are satisfied because God is satisfied. We are fulfilled because Jesus fulfilled our requirement. Since we are not in need we can give to other people.

It is when you are attached to the vine, drinking from the water of life, that His fruit is produced in you. We don't need to try to produce Godliness, just look to Jesus, be overcome by His goodness and His grace. Interact with Holy Spirit throughout your day, and you will be filled with springs of living water, so much so that you will be able to infuse those around you with the light of life!

Remember, we are transformed from the inside out, not from the outside in.  Our minds are not changed to see God in truth by Him endlessly berating us for messing up or not getting it right. He is not offended or unable to relate with people in the messiness of life, and neither should we be.  It is God's kindness that renews are minds, showing us who He is and who we are in Him (Romans 2:4). 

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

1 Corinthians 13: Love is Patient

As we grow in our comprehension and experience of God's love, our lifestyle is inundated by that love. God's love for us changes the way we interact in the world. As we talk about the practical expression that comes from knowing God's love, do not mistake it for a legalistic call to try and will power your way to look a certain way. If you try to relate in circumstances the way you think love should be expressed, but don't actually have love, you will fall on your face.  Love flows from you as an effortless response to being loved yourself (1 John 4:19). This is an unveiling of a lifestyle that is merely a byproduct of being influenced by the love of God. Love is expressed in normal life circumstances in such a way that it neither seems normal nor reasonable from a strictly 'human' perspective.  Love is a heavenly perspective, and religious practice can neither understand nor replicate it's deep reality. So allow yourself to be loved by God, ask Him to reveal Himself, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with His presence.

"I pray that you will be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-21)."

Love is patient
Because love is the result of divine influence on someones life, the way that this love is expressed is done so from a heavenly perspective rather than an earthly one. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul isn't saying that if you have love you 'should' be patient, he is saying that if you have love you will be patience. Love is practically expressed through patience. 

Patience is perseverance, long suffering, the capacity to put up with difficulty. Life is full of circumstances that 'don't go our way'.  There are plenty of people who are difficult to get along with, and there are a plethora of situations that we wish would pan out differently.  Yet where love abides, patience is expressed. 

Patience isn't tolerance, it isn't the mere longing of an unmet need, neither is it putting up with someone's problems because you don't know what else to do. Patience isn't ignoring conflict or tense relational situations, neither is it the expectant waiting we have when we want something to happen. 

Patience is the capacity to put up with struggle, difficulty, and conflict; not out of a desire to avoid them, but because love has eyes to see the positive potential that those situations present.  If someone is getting on my nerves by acting out, being rude, obnoxious, or needy; love allows me to be patient, because I recognize their behavior is an indicator of brokenness.  I now have patience for them because I want them to be whole, to be better.  Love seeks the good for the other not the convenience of self. Patience implies that there are difficult situations and circumstances, but love makes patience easy and joyful.

When we see in Jesus that God does not hold our trespasses against us, but that He died for us while we were still sinners, we are set free from our own self-effort and brokenness.  Our new worldview no longer has the capacity to hold the trespasses of others against them, because we know that they, like ourselves, have been forgiven. We then relate with them on account of reality as we know it. We are patient with those who are broken, insecure, and difficult, because the love we have for them can do nothing less. 

"From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)."

1 Corinthians 13: Love Is Practical

Love, Agape, means to have good will, to be benevolent.  This love is pure and holy, it isn't about wanting simplistic happiness, it is desiring and willing everything that is good; that which is whole. Agape love finds its definition in the heart of Father God.  His love for us is complete, He has created us to walk in freedom and wholeness, and His love fiercely and tenderly defines who we are.

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [a]to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)."

Spiritual performance can exist without love. You can speak a heavenly language, have all your theology in line, see heavenly realities, move mountains with your faith, die for Jesus, give up everything in this life for others, and still not have the capacity to love. We can miss the essence of God and fail to become who we are created to be, for we were made to be loved and to love.  

Love is practical, it is deep, it is the capacity to view life from God's perspective.  When we see people, circumstances, and situations form His heart our actions follow. Love infuses our very being, when we love we view people differently, our expectancy for life changes, and the way we handle relationships and situations are completely re-wired.  Love is practical.  

1 Corinthians 13 reveals the practical side of love; not only How God treats us, but how we begin to interact in this world when we have been captivated by His love.  We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  Love isn't something you can conjure up, you cannot will power your way to a place of loving others.  You can moderate your behavior, but you cannot change your own heart.  

Jesus is the revelation of the Fathers' love for us.  When we see Him, we see love on display.  But intellectually grasping it isn't enough, we need to experience the love of God; it is the only way that we have the capacity to love in response. Holy Spirit comes to verify that love, and to interact with us so that we can practically experience the love of God. May He fill you with the love of God today. 

As we grow in the reality of God's love for us, we are ever increasingly changed into His likeness, being transformed by love.  Love then becomes our essence as well as His (1 John 4:8), and our lives take on His character and qualities.  

Over the next few weeks I will write briefly on each statement in 1 Corinthians 13:4-13.  I want to comprehend how the love of God finds its' expression in human life, and how beholding Jesus changes the way we view everything! 

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds (Romans 12:2)." 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Worship, Prayer, and the Church: Part 3 "Prayer"

Prayer is much more than asking God to intervene in our lives. Prayer does not make God turn towards us, neither does it change Him or cause His involvement.  Prayer is much more personal and much more relational than that! If we keep prayer mainly as a religious practice to cause God to 'come down' and help us out in our situation, then we are relating with God from an old-covenant perspective.  The new dispensation under Jesus is that God is now with us! There is no separation, God does not need to 'come down from heaven', He has made His home in our very being.  The Old Covenant practice of twisting God's arm to get Him to do something is over; prayer now is our glorious exploration of the union that we already have.

The word pray in the Greek is proseúxomai (from 4314 /prós, "towards, exchange" and 2172/euxomai, "to wish, pray") – properly, to exchange wishes; pray – literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes as He imparts faith ("divine persuasion"). Accordingly, praying (4336/proseuxomai) is closely inter-connected with 4102 /pístis ("faith") in the NT.

Do you see? Prayer isn't just asking for God's involvement, it is intentional communication that allows for us to gain a divine perspective in all areas of life! Instead of a self centered prayer life where we ask God to come help us in our preconceived notions of what we want in life, we now communicate with Him so that we conform our expectations to His! 

"Thomas said to Him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth , and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.' 

Philip said to Him, 'Lord, who us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'Have I been so long with you and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 

'Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.  Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it." (John 14: 5-14)

This is such a jammed packed passage! It reveals to us the nature of prayer and how it connects us to the will of God.  Prayer allows His plan to be carried out through our agreement with Him. The Disciples start off very confused, they still think that the Father is 'out there' somewhere, and that if only they were somehow able to grasp Him they would understand.  Jesus contradicts this notion by saying that the Father has displayed Himself to the world through the son! Once we let go of our false dualism's, prayer finds its rightful place. 

Jesus says that even the words He speaks aren't on His own initiative, but from the Father. He then says that when we know Him, we Know the Father! Just like Jesus, who 'only does what He sees His father doing', when we know Him we do the same things He does.  Not only that but He says we will do even greater things! 

Here is where we get confused.  Jesus says that whatever we ask 'in His name' He will do it. We are so dense when it comes to this idea that we think saying 'In Jesus name' at the end of the prayer gives it power or validity.  Remember the Greek word for prayer? It means to interact with the Lord and exchange our wishes for His. 'In His name' is not a magic formula that makes our prayers viable. In Hebrew culture names carried deep meaning.  They not only carried defining characteristics, but also attributed authority.  When a king sends someone to act 'in his name', he is giving him the authority to act on his behalf, or to literally be him to others. ! 

Jesus is saying that we are to ask the Father in accordance with who He is. Therefore when we pray in His name, we are literally asking and partnering with the heart and will of God.  "For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building (1 Cor. 3:9)." Christians are those who are growing into the image of the Son, acting, thinking, and even feeling like Him.  We are carrying out the will of God; as He is so are we in this world (1 John 4:17)! 

Prayer is not a practice to get God involved in our lives, it is a practice to get us involved in His life! 

We conform to His image, we agree with God's will and watch it manifest in our lives. "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Cor. 1:20)."  God makes a promise, because of Jesus we agree (Amen means 'so be it'), and God gets glory when His will is carried out through our co-laboring with Him. 

"Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."(Matthew 18:19-20)."

Remember, 'In my name', means with an understanding of who and how He is. Since we are in agreement with His will, He is 'there'. 

Talking about prayer in this way is more than semantics. It is the difference between being powerful and powerless. 

Jesus Calms the Storm (A story of faithless interaction)
"And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.  Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?' And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Hush, be still.' And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith (Mark 4:37-40)."

The disciples probably thought to themselves. 'We had faith, we knew exactly who to turn to for help.' yet Jesus said they had no faith.  Jesus was sleeping in the midst of the storm, He had peace in Him, so He was able to release peace to the world around Him.  Likewise when we know who we are and what we carry, we can influence the world around us. Perhaps if the disciples realized the authority Jesus had already given them, they could have calmed the sea rather than asking Jesus to do it.  They did not 'believe' what was already given to them. 

When we realize who we are in Him, and what His will is, our prayer life can change from one of beseeching God to do something, to agreeing with what He already has said He wants to do.  This agreement then allows His will to manifest in our lives. 

It is just fine to ask God to come into our situations, prayer is a practice of trust and reliance.  The more we invite Him into our lives through intentional prayer, the more we will see our lives conform to His will.  But we will also have our minds renewed so that we can purposefully declare to our circumstances the will of God and see them bend their knee to His glory.  

If we are asking out of our own selfish motives, chances are God isn't going to answer those prayers, but when we ask 'in accordance to who He is', wonderful things happen.  

1. Ask God what He wants to do rather than just asking Him to do what we want Him to do in that situation.
2. Listen: When you spend time with God, make sure to take time to listen to His 'still small voice'.  When you have a sense for what He wants to do in a given situation, mentally and even verbally agree with that. Write it down, tell a friend, and see what happens!
3. Give Thanks: Faith allows us to praise God for what He is going to do before we even see it happen.  Give thanks to God for His faithfulness, His promises, and His goodness.  A heart of gratitude will give you the proper perspective on your life circumstances and will empower you to relate with God in the healthiest way. 
4. Testify: Tell others when you see the joy of co-laboring with God transform you and the world around you.  Boast in Him, and give thanks continuously. 

Very Important
Try not to be too introspective, wondering if what you want is God's desire or your desire.  The glory of the new covenant is that He is in you and is giving you the 'desire and ability to carry out His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).'  If you have confidence that you are walking with Him in Spirit and in Truth, then you can have confidence that He is shaping your desires to parallel His own.  You no longer have to say all the time that 'His ways are higher than my ways', but instead you can say with confidence that, 'I have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).'  

This is a practice of trust, and it takes risk.  We can get it wrong.  Thankfully the all encompassing forgiveness of Jesus allows us to freely embrace the challenge of relating with God boldly, even to the extent of getting it wrong and making mistakes.  Stay humble, stay free, and keep being bold! 


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Salvation Is Not A Transaction

It says in Acts 16:31, 'believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your entire household.' Viewing salvation as if it is a transaction has caused thousands of people to think they are saved by their vocal 'allegiance' to God or Jesus. As if attending church or saying 'Jesus is Lord' makes God change his perspective of you (Matthew 7:22). This perspective separates truth from experience, and makes faith out to be a cognitive response to a truth principle. Believing in Jesus doesn't mean you assent to a truth principle, it means you trust Him, have seen Him to be who He actually is. You have known Him through experience (see the Greek word Epignosko).

This is the knowing talked about in scripture, it is a kind of knowing that implies transformation. There is a crowd of people who claim to be Christians based on right knowledge who's lives don't carry the flavor of knowing their freedom, forgiveness, and salvation that Jesus paid for. A Christianity, where saying you know Jesus is more important than exemplifying Him. Anyone ever heard of Gnosticism?

Salvation as transaction is humanistic, meaning it is viewing things from a man to God perspective. It is all about what I need to do to change God's view of me, to be better, or to apprehend my salvation. Salvation as portrayed in scripture however is more properly viewed from a God to man perspective (read Ephesians 1:3-13 for example). I didn't save me, Jesus saved me. I didn't apprehend God He apprehended me. I didn't catch His attention but He has captivated mine.

What about Acts 16:31? It says if you believe in the Lord Jesus you will be saved, but what does believing Jesus mean? God purposed in Christ Jesus to reconcile the cosmos to himself (2 Cor. 5:19) our faith in Him is an acceptance of the facts. We are saved! He did a good job! Believe in Jesus, faith, is trust in Him, it is 'epignosknowing'. When you know Jesus you are saved because you know that you are saved. He saved you, that is the good news.

Both heaven and hell are full of forgiven sinners. Belief, from our end is just an acceptance of the facts. God isn't waiting around to forgive people when they turn to Him, He turned to them and forgave them on the cross. May we stop being so petty with our ideas of 'faith', and break away from a theology that only serves to bolster pride and arrogance. My faith is a gift I received from hearing the good news (Romans 10:17), the good news that I am included in Him. Rather than bolstering pride the good news leaves no room for it. I had nothing to do with my salvation, and neither do you. Boast in Him!

"Come to a conclusion (Katergozomai) on whether or not you are saved. When you get the facts lined up, you will experience a fear and a trembling self-distrust realizing that it was God who saved (Energeo) you apart from you. That revelation will set you free and will bring you to a place of trust in God who gives you both the desire and ability to carry (Energeo) out His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13)." - New Revised Dan Translation

Monday, July 28, 2014

Worship, Prayer, and the Church: Part 2 "Worship"

Oh worship, what a magnificent thing, but unfortunately a practice that is complicated by religious tradition and obligation.  In the last blog I simplified in some ways the concept of what the church is, in other ways its' simplification left it in greater mystery than before.  Worship too will fade almost until it is unattainable, while at the same time it will stand out in renewed clarity.

Worship, the very idea elicits images of people in pews singing from hymnals, the sound of voices mixed in harmony, and the utilization of words and phrases that are intended to teach the singer and hearer about who God is.  Worship is not singing, although you can sing in a worshipful way, it is not the words you speak, although words will give voice to the true intent of expression. Worship is not something that God wants us to do out of obligation, nor is it something that we can just conjure up in our own will power.

Worship is merely an expression of affection of God, to God, and this can be expressed in a myriad of ways. It is simply expressing what we know, what we see, and what we feel. Worship implies relationship, in the sense that we can't have affection for someone that we do not know.  Our worship is a response to how we are affected by Him, how we are changed by Him, and how we are influenced by Him!

God is not after certain words from our lips, he is not after certain actions, or postures of humility or exultation; he is after our hearts.  He is after our affection, that we would love Him!  Just as a married couple would struggle severely if their spouse only gave them affection in 1 way, we too dishonor what God has truly done for us by limiting our expression to Him. Or at least we reveal our inability to see Him clearly by our limited expression.

Worship is supposed to be natural, it is supposed to be full of life and honest affection! Just think of a sports fan, they don't need to work themselves into an emotional high in-order to react to their favorites teams' success or failure. They are just invested in the team and so their emotions are freely expressed in that current reality of what is taking place on the field.  For the most part, we are more free in our worship of sports, music, and human achievement than we are of God.  It is as if we think God wants some sort of pre-packaged proclamation, or religiously regulated interaction.  Let me tell you something, He doesn't!  He wants your heart cry in all its bluntness and honesty.

God wants us to catch a vision of Him, to see Him in such a way that the only reaction we can have is to jump for joy, to fall on our faces in Holy Fear, and to sing with unending praise.  We, as Christians, are meant to be those who know God, who are invested in Him in such a way that when He moves or seems particularly near, our reaction to Him puts even the biggest soccer fans to shame.

Unfortunately God isn't as real to us as our beloved tangible world. You might be offended by that, but I think it is true. On the other hand, when our minds are renewed to see Him within the world rather than apart from it, our affection will brim to the point of overflowing! Breath in our lungs, eternity to look forward to, relationship to engage in, the opportunity to live and make a difference. The deeper our revelation of any of those could leave us breathless with thanksgiving!

I am not blaming anyone for our lack of expression, in some ways it is a reality of us 'seeing through a glass darkly', but there is far more to the reality of God then any of us have experienced so far. There is more available in this life then any of us have attained, and He wants to reveal Himself to us in ever increasing ways!

If our "stand up, raise your hands, turn around, sit down" worship times are an honest expression of our affection to God, than that doesn't speak highly to our revelation of Him in the moment. David danced almost naked in front of his entire city, shaming his wife and causing quite a commotion.  Paul and Silas sang loudly in prison as they saw a reality that was bigger than their current circumstance.

Now before we go any further I will try to make you feel a little better. Can our hearts be expressing affection while our bodies do not? Can we be 'worshipful' even in a traditional setting? Of course we can! There are no limitations to the expression of our affection, I just don't want to box them in or limit the potential interaction with God that could bring us to even more honest and ecstatic responses to His presence!

There is a valid place to honor God intentionally even when we don't necessarily 'feel' like it.  We can have an under-girding understanding of God that pushes us to proclaim His greatness even in the midst of depression or a trying circumstance.  Our past experience can motivate our present expression. This is good and valid, but this isn't the focus right now.  I am talking about the religious restraints we put on worship due to tradition and the fear of man; which, if we are honest, we can all see how we are affected by them in some ways.

Church leaders try to facilitate and motivate people to worship and connect with God, this is a good thing, and we all need help in this regard.  We say things like 'we rejoice Lord', or 'we worship you'; but are we actually being honest here? Are we actually rejoicing or worshiping or are we just saying that we are?  Again you can be worshiping in you hearts no matter what you say.  You could say 'shakalaka' as an honest expression to God, and it would be meaningful to Him; just as you could say 'we rejoice Lord' and actually be rejoicing. But doesn't it strike you as a little bit backwards, a little inhuman?  What if the language we use is influenced on some level by our inability to perceive God in the here and now?

Instead of saying "we proclaim your peace Lord", what if I just yelled 'Peace!'  Of course I would have an understanding of Christ in me, and my delegated authority to partner with the Holy Spirit, but what if we surpassed our religious consciences and stepped into a place of expressing honestly what was happening in the moment rather than trying to facilitate a reaction that may or may not be real.  If you don't want to stand then don't stand, if you don't want to raise your hands then don't; but if your affection just can't be contained then dance away, shout, and flail! Don't do it to offend people or to be weird, but just be honest with God ok!!!

Can you imagine yourself responding to God like you do at a sports game? What about how you react at the announcement of a friends engagement or a family members baby being born? Instead of a pre-meditated monologue, or a boring set of songs to sing, what if you just whooped in glee, laughed in joy, or hollered in exhilaration?  What if we saw God in such a real way that our expression to Him was a testimony of how close He is to us?  What if we had such an awareness of what God was doing in our midst that our greatest expression of emotion in life revolved around Him!?  What if we went absolutely bonkers in love and adoration of our amazing Father who saved us, set us free, and transformed our lives? Instead of our expression often implies that what He did wasn't that great. Lets stop trying to trick ourselves.

What if we got together with a bunch of other people who were honestly expressing themselves to God in relation to their present perception, experiences, and circumstances?  I think we would experience the Holy Spirit in pretty amazing ways.  Unfortunately our fear of man, our insecurities, and our inability to perceive God clearly, limits our expression both individually and corporately.  We end up just trying to motivate people to 'give God some sort of glory', and hope that they at least express something that is true.

I am not saying these things to make you feel bad, although i am not put-off if you want to feel bad.  This is a welcome into an upward climb into His glory, an invitation to express yourself honestly no matter the situation or expected protocol.  If you want to sit then sit, if you want to sing then sing, if you want to worship in the same way as a community for a while, then do that!! If you aren't as exuberant as the person next yo you, who cares! Thank God for what they are doing with them, hope they are being honest, invite Him to reveal Himself to you, and get back to expressing the affection you have for God. May we grow in our knowledge of Christ, and may our expression to Him be transformed to the same degree!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Worship, Prayer, and the Church: Part 1 "The Church"

What is the church, what is prayer, what is worship? So many times our perspective and practice of these things are skewed from years of routine, dead tradition, and performance mentalities.  Let us define these together; I want these explanations to be deep but simple, challenging but hopeful,  understandable and yet insightful.

Out of these 3 areas, the church is the first one we must tackle; and before we get started I want to say that I love the church.  I love God's people, and the Holy Spirit is alive and at work even when we don't see it.  There are many communities that honor each other well, who obey the Father's voice, who know who Jesus is, and live from His victory.  There are communities and leaders that I respect, that I know are Godly, and that cultivate genuine and intentional interaction with each other and with the Lord.

I also recognize God's ability to work with all of us in the midst of our misunderstanding, our stupidity, and our inability to relate with Him in a full way.  We are all realizing more and more God's love for us, and the freedom that we truly have because of Christ's sacrifice. I desire to rejoice in every small victory, and all evidence of the Holy Spirit's work, no matter how small I deem it.

I also recognize that when large groups of people get together you need structure; you need a plan otherwise there would be chaos.  I do not think that structure is bad, in fact it is necessary, but we can come to a place of serving that structure rather than making the structure serve us.

I say these things because my language is going to become more critical, even more cynical; but just as my hope drops in man's capability to religiously regulate community and transformation, my hope and excitement grows in knowing what the Father desires and is capable of working in and through us.

As you read, try not to automatically exclude yourself from my generalized observations and convictions; for I think much of this applies to all of us one way or the other (that is probably why we call it a 'generalization').  After all we live in a very 'churched' nation, where most everyone has had some experience with church in one way shape or form; and unfortunately that experience isn't always positive.

In defining the church, my hope is that you are able to begin to questions why it is we do things the way we do.  Who's idea was it to meet once a week and have an educational lesson? Why do we pray the way we do? Do I need a 'prayer voice'? Should I kneel, bow, or stand in prayer? What is worship? Is God glorified by my words or by my heart's affection? For my part, I think these questions are even the wrong ones to ask, and they themselves reveal a deep misunderstanding of our connection with God and how simple it is to actually relate with Him in a genuine way.  Our preconceived notions, self-dependent theology, and religious pre-disposition can easily keep us from the truth of walking with, and experiencing God Himself!  I do not want to have "a form of Godliness that denies His power (2 Timothy 3:5)", but unfortunately that is often how we function (myself included).

Church is a word that carries many connotations both negative and positive. Some people see church as a building where Christians meet. Others see the church as a group of narrow minded, stubborn, hypocrites. Many young people recognize that 'church' is boring and it seems irrelevant and intangible, so they decide to leave once they have the independence to do so. There is a large portion of people that go to 'church' because they feel guilty.  They think it is the 'right thing to do', or that God will surely look at them differently if they enter into this religious practice.  This mindset is so far from actually understanding the Gospel and the church that I don't even really want to expound on it.

Church is translated from a word in Greek that is found only a couple times in scripture. We will look at the one instance where Jesus uses it.

"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' Andy they said, 'Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matthew 16:13-18)."

Let's pick this passage apart for a while. Jesus asks the disciples who people say that 'the son of man' is. He assumes that very same title, by asking the disciples, 'but who do you say that I am.' Peter is given a revelation from Father God Himself, about the nature of Jesus, the nature of the son of man. He recognizes Jesus' true identity, of being the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Now this truth that Peter came to, got Jesus' attention, for it was different than what everyone else was saying. He blesses Peter by first calling out his name, Petros; which in Greek means 'a detached rock or boulder.'  He then goes on to say that on this rock, petra: which means 'a solid or native rock, rising up from the earth', he will build his church.

Now the Catholic church has taken this passage to mean that Peter was the first pope, and that Jesus was instituting Peter to lead the church.  Although Peter was one of the first to come to a revelation of this truth, and perhaps the first person to become a part of the 'church, I do not think this interpretation does the passage justice. The emphasis here is on the different Greek words for rock. Petra, rather than referring to Peter himself, is more likely referring to the revelation that Jesus is the Christ. Petros is just a part of the whole (petra).

The word church, is translated from Ekklesia, which was a word used in the Roman government to describe a ruling assembly.  The word means 'out from and to', so a group of people that have been separated for a purpose. So now for our definition of the church. "The church is the group of people that are set apart from others by the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Now the next question is, what does it mean to 'know that Jesus is the Christ.' What does that entail? Is it who He is? Or what He has done. Did he save us or will he 'if we believe in Him'? But does not believing in Him mean that we understand what He has already done for us? Is this knowledge primarily intellectual, or is it emotional, experiential?  These questions have separated Christians since the early church; and how we can have confidence that one person or another actually has a true revelation of Christ I don't know.  Do I even know what Christ has done for me, do you really know who He is?  That not being the purpose of this particular scripture passage, or that important in my opinion, it will suffice to say that this revelation seems to be the necessary factor for one being a part of the 'church'.

So here we have person A who has come to the 'secret' knowledge of who Christ is and what He has done.  Now for all of us, we can maybe point to a time in our lives when we happened upon this tidbit of information.  It may have been quite an exciting time! "Holy crap God is real!" "He loves me, and saved me!" "I am forgiven and no longer feel guilt and shame from the past!" "I just got taken up into 3rd heaven and saw angels!" "I feel good, at peace, at rest." "I now know that I can face these struggles in my life because I have someone facing them with me." Whatever the experience that person A may have had, lets just assume that it would be dynamic since Jesus goes so far as to say we become completely 'new creatures', maybe not dynamic experientially, but we will be satisfied with a dynamic objective change (2 Cor. 5:17).

How much transformation needs to be evident in a person's life for us to have confidence in their faith? Frankly I don't think it matters that much, and I don't think that is our job; but that question causes quite a conundrum for believers all over the world and it drives us to control and regulate our lives with God.

Scenario: The Simple Church
Person A meets Person B who also 'knows Jesus' (whatever that really means).  They now have the most intimate connection any 2 people can have, the shared knowledge of Jesus Himself.  Chances are they will want to spend time together, since no one else seems to get the fact that Jesus came to save them.  They just have so much to share, so much in common, so much to discover together! So Person A and Person B start spending time together, they genuinely express to themselves how awesome God is, and they tell God how awesome He is too (worship).  Since they know that Jesus connected them to the Father (John 14:7), they start talking to Him, asking Him questions and making requests from Him; both for themselves and for each other (prayer).

There you have it, the church! It is simple and real.  The people are just naturally engaging out of what they know and experience.  Of course in our day it is far more complicated than that.  We are real people after all! Thousands of theological understandings, the reality that people can still be self-centered, and the fact that there is enormous pressure to have 'right thinking' and 'right practice', transforms a simple expression of genuine thought and emotion into a complex system of what is right and wrong.  Theology is important, and I understand why and how we have made this 'Christian thing' so complex, but this helps us simplify our understanding of church and sheds light onto how it became what it is today.  On with the scenario!

So soon the new church becomes muddled with worry and fear, with insecurity and guilt.  Person A doesn't think Person B really understands Jesus because he surely wouldn't complain about Person C who also started hanging out with them.  Meanwhile Person C feels completely inferior to Person A and B because they keep claiming that they have a truer and more whole understanding of Jesus.

Person D comes along from a different community that she left because she felt like 'her leadership gifts' weren't being used, and tells everyone that if they really want to 'know Jesus' they should try and worship more.  Soon everyone falls into the religious rigmarole of trying to be better, to do things differently or exactly the same, and they forget their simple beginnings. They forget to rely on the person of God himself, they forget the joy of knowing and resting in who Jesus is and what He has done.  They feel bound up by expectation, they fear the opinions of others, and now feel pretty inadequate before God.  Oh the difficulties of an imperfect world!

Worship and prayer become practice that Christians 'should' participate in rather than them being natural responses from present experiences.  Religion takes over and we feel obligated to do certain things, ro feel certain ways, and even to speak certain words.  Freedom that Christ promises becomes bondage to religious practices and principles.  Person Q, R, and S (the younger generation), look at what they are 'told they have to do', but don't actually have the genuine encounters and revelation themselves, so they reject the package that Christ supposedly comes in.  A, B, and C become really worried because the good 'church' kids became rebels later in life.  They didn't realize that 'church' is not a good substitute for Jesus himself; and although they had good intentions to help their children be 'good eggs', they did a greater disservice by undermining the work of Christ by worshiping a form of Godliness rather than God himself.

Church is the natural byproduct of a true revelation of Jesus, it the simple and genuine interaction between people who have come to the same conclusion about who Christ is. Much simpler said than done obviously.  Worship and Prayer are also meant to be simple, real, genuine ways we talk to and relate with God, but because of our religious heritage and our 'churchiness' they become obligatory practices that are muddled with all the manner of insecurity and mis-understanding. Religion causes us to want to produce things in ourselves or in others that aren't being produced naturally.  We fall under guilty compulsion to love God because we know we 'should' love God.  We create a system out of prayer, not just for practical efficiency, but because we actually have very little desire talk to God on our own. We know certain thoughts, practices, and feelings are 'good' to have, so we try to make them happen, or even worse we fake it.

What is the solution? Well I don't really know.  I have some ideas, but for now let's just get real and be honest. We can admit that we don't really know what we are doing, and that we have climbed the ladder of religion that leads to nowhere in at least some area of our lives.

I am tired of jumping through religious hoops, of doing something just for the sake of it being a 'good idea'.  I am frustrated with our inability to honestly address insecurity, fallibility, and even doubt.  I am tired of caring more what other people think than what God thinks.  I am tired of honoring a system and a form while missing out on the tangible reality of God Himself.  I am sick of moral compromise and the love of religion. Are you?

 The church is supposed to be the most dynamic community this world has ever seen. The way we relate with each other, how we handle difficulty and struggle, our patience, love, and joy! Not to mention the demonstration of His power that scripture associates with the 'people of God'.  Regardless of all our inadequacies and failures, we have a lot of good going for us too. The Holy Spirit is faithfully moving and working as He always has and will do, millions of people in the world have been touched and changed by Jesus, and the church is the light of the world; but lets give the Spirit as much space as possible because we haven't even gotten close to our potential.  Lets learn to expect His involvement and stop 'doing church' because it is comfortable and safe. Let us dig deep until our interactions with each other and with God are no longer soiled by obligation, guilt, fear, or religious duty, but until they are true, honest, real, and tangible!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Salvation is God's Business Not Yours

Read this out-loud to yourself.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed me in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as HE chose me in Him before the foundation of the world, that I should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love HE predestined me for adoption as a son through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of HIS will, to the praise of HIS glorious grace, with which HE has blessed me in the beloved.  In HIM I have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of my trespasses, according to the riches of HIS grace, which HE lavished upon me, in all wisdom and insight making known to me the mystery of HIS will, according to HIS purpose, which HE set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in HIM, things in heaven and things on earth.

In HIM I have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of HIM who works all things according to the counsel of HIS will, so that I who am one of the first to hope in CHRIST might be to the praise of HIS glory.  In HIM you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in HIM, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of HIS glory (Ephesians 1:3-13)."

God is always picking electing, predestining, and choosing people.  He chose Adam to be the representative of all mankind, He chose Noah and his family to repopulate the earth, He chose Abraham to be a blessing to all nations, He chose Isaac over Ishmael, and then He chose Jacob over Esau. God then chose Israel to be the 'chosen' nation. Israel was not chosen over all nations, Israel was chosen for all nations.  God's love motivates His choosing, not His hate. It says that God 'hated Esau'; but He didn't hate Esau Himself, but what Esau represented.

God keeps narrowing His choice, not against everyone else, but for them. He finally excludes everyone except one man, Jesus, the one true Israelite, a man of the same type of Adam in that He represented all mankind.  Jesus was chosen for the rest of the world.  It is one thing if Jesus died for you, it is another thing if He died as you.  It is a whole different thing if He died as 'mankind'.  "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, therefore all died (2 Cor. 5:14)."

Paul, when talking about His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus didn't say it was a 'conversion' experience, but that it was a calling. Paul was running around persecuting and killing Christians until Jesus met Him.  Check this out; "But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called my by His grace, was pleased to reveal His son in me (Galatians 1:16)." He then is able to say confidently that, "I Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (1 Cor. 1)."

Salvation isn't a point in time when you accepted Jesus, salvation is the person of Jesus Himself! He is God incarnate; both man and God, He united heaven and earth, He calls and has chosen you.  He reconciled us to the Father, took the sins of the world into His own body, so that we would be free from sin!

"For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all (Romans 11:32)."

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is now law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come (Romans 5:12-14)."

Adam is a 'type' of Christ, in the sense of him being representative of all mankind.

"But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin.  For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For if, because of one trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ (Romans 15-17)."

So who is justified before God?

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness lead to justification for all men (Romans 5:18)."

Jesus didn't come to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). He is the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29)." He did what we could not do; the disciples asked Him, 'Who then can be saved? Jesus answered them, what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:26-27)."

Jesus hung on the cross and said 'forgive them for they do not know what they do. He says in John 12:47, "If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world."

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me (John 12:32)."

The good news is about our inclusion, not our exclusion.  The good news is about God's choice for us, not our choice for Him.  In one sense if we seek Him with our whole heart He will reveal Himself to us (Jeremiah 29:13), but in a truer sense God proclaims, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me (Romans 10:20)."

Jesus is the good shepherd, the one who goes to find the lost sheep.  He is the widow who seeks to find her lost coin.  It has everything to do with His will, His choice, and His ability. Our faith is just trust in His faithfulness.  After all, God wants all people to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:15-20)."

"He is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)." "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13)."

"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 18-19)."

"From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:16-17)." "For God has shown me that I should call no man impure or unclean (Acts 10:15)."

You can ignore Him, you can forget Him, you can even reject Him completely, but He will not reject you. You can refuse your acceptance, and in the end He will give you what you want, but the gates of heaven are always open (Revelation 21:25).

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest His works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God (John 3:16)."

God's judgement over the world is grace.  He does not hold our transgressions against us.  He has woven us back into Himself. Those who do not yet know Him are scared to step into the light because they think that they will receive judgement.  But those who practice the light expose their deeds and realize that their evil works have already been swallowed up by God in Christ's death.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8) because we realize that He is not in the condemning business.  We can refuse to accept the only package that salvation comes in, but the package is a free gift extended to all people. Unbelief is the most ridiculous state one can be in, in fact it is a lie-existence, a rejection of reality itself.  The only way you can lose your salvation is if you think that it is in your own hands to lose.

So be reconciled to God, In Him you live move and have your being anyway.  There is nowhere you can flee from His presence; even in the depths of Sheol He is there (Psalm 139:8). "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor ruler, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)."