Sunday, July 28, 2013

A thought on missional living

I have written 2/3 of a couple of different posts this morning, but they ultimately were not coming from a pure heart, and they were much too focused on me. So, I am going to try again...

I have been (slowly) reading through the book of Daniel as I continue trekking through the Bible, verse by verse, book by book... last night, as I was falling asleep, following a time of ministry brainstorming and planning (which is incredibly exciting!) I was conflicted by some feelings of intent and motivation. The group that was together was a collection of folks from my wife's small group and my own, we group together for an outreach ministry with one of the local apartment complexes and try to love on the people who are out there as best we can. We are hoping to expand what we are doing, as well as bring in more small groups reaching out to more complexes. The problem that we often run into is this feeling that we are not a charitable organization who is just there to give stuff to them, to meet their physical needs, and then go away until the next event. We are there to allow God to work through us and demonstrate His love for them not only through the provision of needs, but also through the investment of time with them. That relational investment is the difference between being good people doing good things, and being God's people, doing God's work. God has gifted us so mightily with inroads and connections with this particular complex, and has supplied us with fertile soil. It is our job to make sure we are planting seeds. If all we ever do is add more to the soil, through gifting of physical things, but we never plant the seed of investing in their lives, then they will never grow! It is a large burden to try to sit and discuss how we manage to balance the two... giving material things is so easy!
So, I was struggling with how to discern the difference, and I began reading in Daniel 2... following King Nebuchadnezzar's (I almost spelled that right without looking! Who puts 2 Z's??) dream, and the inability of the wise men to explain it to him, and the decree to kill all of the wise men because of it (dramatic)... Daniel goes to the king and asks him to put a hold on the killings so that his dream could be explained.The king asks if Daniel can do it, in verse 27, Daniel begins to explain that no man can interpret this dream, but that there is a God in Heaven who gave this dream to the king, and gave the king a gift of the knowledge of things to come, and that it was not up to Daniel to explain the dream, that it was a matter of seeking God, in verse 30, Daniel captures exactly the heart of missional living:
 "But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind."

Daniel's heart here is one that says, "I am no different from anyone else, apart from the gift and revelation of God I am no more good or wise than they." Daniel knew that anything he did was by the grace of God alone, for the work of God alone, that through him God could reveal himself to those he was serving. That is the difference between meeting solely physical needs, and making a deeper, heart changing connection with people. The intentionality of doing all things to the glory of Christ. It requires the humility to say that we are nothing outside of Christ, with the faith that through Him, great works can be accomplished; the willingness to lay ourselves down and allow Christ to work in us, leading us into obedience to His calling; a position of reverence and worship to the God who has given us the opportunity to serve in His name; and a focus on the advancement of His Kingdom. Faith, Obedience, Reverence, Kingdom.

If we are seeking these principles in all we do through the outreach opportunities that Christ has ordained for us, we will be more than just a nice group of people who do nice things... we will be subversive agents of the Gospel, seeking the glory of Christ.

Monday, July 15, 2013

live as a human

God created man and woman, He did so in His image and His likeness, He did so in order that we might reflect  His glory across all of creation. We were created as, not part of creation, but to be set as the crown of creation, to be over creation. We bear no real, physical difference that clearly sets us apart from all that has been created, but we do contain both flesh and spirit, we bear that image and likeness of our Creator. We were created and set apart as humans, and when He had finished His created work on the beings that would reflect His light more fully than all of creation, God declared that humans were very good.

Why do we often blame our humanity for the struggles we have? When we fins ourselves struggling with our sins, when we see terrible things happening, we often brush it off in saying that we can't help it, we are merely human. At the Kingdom Advance conference this past week, Micah Fries made this point, and it has so far stuck with me... when created, humans were very good, humans were the image bearer of God, so then to blame our "fleshliness" on being human is to point the finger at the wrong source. Being human is of God, we allowed Satan to pervert our flesh at the fall, when we allowed sin to enter the world through Adam. At that time we ceased being humans, set above creation to reflect the Glory of our God, and we became sub-human.

As our lives continue in this new state of being, as we struggle through living in a sub-optimal capacity, there is a longing to get better, to fill the gap, to better ourselves. Our self-induced imprisonment defeats us and we begin to accept that we are living as well as we can. Enter grace, the free gift of God, enter Jesus...

Jesus came to the earth, as a human, He showed up and was as we were created to be, and lived in a way that we were created to live, and did so in order to remind those who were willing and able to recognize it, that we were (to steal the Switchfoot lyrics) meant to live for so much more. To those whom the Father had granted the eyes to see and the ears to hear, what  they saw in Jesus was not merely a good moral man, and a good teacher, not just a prophet, but what they saw was the true Son of Man who was what we were meant to have been from the time we were created, a human! A human, untouched by sin, never having compromised His place as an image bearer of God. God became human in order to remind us of who we were created to be, so that we could return to Him and fulfill the purpose for which He created us! Now, obviously, Jesus was also 100% God in this as well, because otherwise, He might have succumbed to the same temptations and pitfalls and would have traded His humanity and joined us as a sub-human.

The life of Jesus is a study on being human, in the sense of what was intended by our creation. It is not our "human-ness" that separates us from God, it is our unwillingness to be human. But in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are able to exchange our sub-human life for His human life. We are able to accept that the wrath of God, owed to us for not living as He created us to live, was poured out on Jesus as a sacrifice. We are able to repent of the life we have lead, and say to God that we want to live as humans, as we were created, very good.

As it stands now, we are further descending from our place above creation, as humans, we are deepening the divide between how we were created to live, and how we are choosing to live. As the world continues down this path, the life and example of Christ becomes more obscure to us. But to those whom God still grants the eyes to see and ears to hear, we recognize the truth in the Word of God. It doesn't have to all make sense, it doesn't have to really make any sense at all... but we recognize that there is something different, that surely there must be more to this life than what the world has to offer. Even as muddled and twisted as the path may seem, the words of Jesus still hold true that He, and He alone, is the way, the truth, and the life... the only way back to a life that is lived as God intends it to be lived is through Jesus Christ, and that life is a life lived to the glory of Him alone. The Bible promises that the world will continue to fall deeper and more desperately away from its created purpose... but it also promises a way to escape.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

not for my sake

Reading in Ezekiel this morning, as I continue to complete reading through the Bible completely, and was struck by a truth that I know, but that was still refreshing early this morning...

In chapter 36, starting in verse 22, Ezekiel is given a message from God concerning the salvation that is to come for His people. Its a wonderful promise that tells us that even though we have strayed, and trampled upon all that He has given us, even though we have profaned His name among the world, even to whatever level of uncleanliness that we have achieved on our own, no matter how deeply we have allowed our evil desires to root within us... despite all of this, God promises that He will cleanse us of all of our filthiness. He even goes deeper to promise that He will give us a new heart, that He will remove our heart, that we have turned to stone, and give us a heart of flesh, He promises to place within us a new Spirit. God goes so far as to say that this new spirit is not simply a cleansed, renewed version of our old spirit, but in verse 27, He says that it is His own Spirit that He will place within us, a Spirit that will allow us to walk in a manner to which He has called us, and a Spirit with a desire to live in obedience, under His authority. In doing so, God promises to restore His children, not just a restoration back to who we were before it all went wrong, but to make us a new creation, with a new Spirit, and new life, promising to multiply His grace upon us, and promising that we will never again receive ourselves into the eternal disgrace of our evil desires. His promise is an eternal cleansing, and a new life walking in concert with His will.

As amazing as all of that is, the part that truly floors me this morning is best emphasized at the beginning of verse 32, God concludes by saying that He is NOT doing this for OUR sake! He states it first in verse 23, His motivation in this revitalizing work is to vindicate the holiness of His great name! He is saving His people in such a complete and miraculous way, not for our own sake, but that by doing so in the sight of the world, that He will prove Himself holy among us in their sight! God promises that it is not for our sake that He is choosing to begin His saving work, but for the glory of His holiness.

This passage shows the mission-minded, evangelical focus of God... and hopefully places us, rightly, in a place of worship, desiring to accept that our salvation was not for us, but for others to be able to see the glory of God, and for others to desire to experience that glory through the birth of a new life, the gift of a new heart, and the exchange of a new spirit. God was promising this before Christ came to earth, before we knew the Way, Truth, and Life through which this great promise would be carried out. God spoke of His children whom would be cleansed, not of unknown persons who might come to Himself. This passage leads straight to the heart of what it is to be in Christ, called by name, knowing that you are saved by grace, through faith, that it is not of yourself, so you shall not boast. The passage is also a promise that when we are cleansed and revived by God in this way, that He will take the desolate wasteland of our life, and fill it with fruit so plentiful that it will cause others to remember back to the Garden of Eden, and our true home. People should be able to look into a believer and follower and see that what used to be empty is now being cultivated, changed, and producing good fruits. And again, in verse 36, God reminds us that the intent of this is that the people who remain around us will know that it was God that rebuilt our being, and God that planted that which was desolate... and He leaves it with another promise, "I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it."

This is a passage is a promise spoken by God the father, foreshadowing the saving work of God the Son, and promising the sustaining work of God the Holy Spirit. It speaks to the Doctrine of the Elect, it speaks to the need of Grace, it speaks to the futility of a works-based system for salvation... it speaks of the depravity and desolation that we have managed to attain by forsaking God's word and commandments. It speaks to our need for cleansing. It promises the fruits of the Spirit that will be present in the lives of those who have experienced a new birth. It speaks of the exchange of our heart for the heart of God. It speaks of all of this, 570 years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, the earliest manuscripts of this text were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, predating the birth of Christ! This is the word of God, promising salvation to those He calls unto Himself, promising new life to those He calls His children. But it is not a promise to glorify us, it is a promise that He does these things to ensure that His glory is visible among His people, that the world will know that He alone is God.

Amazing stuff from an old book that means everything to us today