Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Blessing of Living a New Year: Walking with the Savior!

2010 is upon us! In the midst of celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often pause to reflect on the old and make resolutions for the new. In short we consider how we have walked the past twelve months and where we would like to walk in the ones ahead. The Scriptures have quite a bit of advice on walking. Consider the following:

  • Enoch walked with God, Genesis 5:22-24. If we walk right God will take us higher!
  • The Godhead expects us to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God, Micah 6:8. We demonstrate justice and mercy if we follow Him.
  • “I will walk among you and be your God … and enable you to walk with your heads held high,” Leviticus 26:12-13.
  • Deuteronomy 10;12, “What does God ask but to respect Him, walk in all His ways, love Him and serve Him with all your heart.”
  • “Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked but delights in the law of the Lord,” Psalm 1:1-2.
  • “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me,” Psalm 23:4.
  • “I will walk around in freedom for I have sought Your precepts,” Psalm 119:45.
  • “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord,” Isaiah 2:5.
  • “No matter where you are … you ears will hear a Voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it!’” Isaiah 30:21. (The benefits of this walk are seen in verses 18-28!)
  • “… ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls …” Jeremiah 6:16.
  • “Get up! Take up your mat and walk,” Mark 2:9.
  • “… whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness,” John 8:12.
  • “But, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another … and His blood purifies us from all sin,” I John 6:7.
  • “… His command is that we walk in love,” II John 6.
  • “Jesus walked on the water and came toward them,” Matthew 14:29.
  • “My greatest joy is to see His children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded,” II John 4.

All this walking is directed to a purpose … simply put, being a person of Messiah Love. When we plot our course for this New Year, let us keep the end of this blessing in view, the blessing of being like our Savior. Our highest passion should be to demonstrate Messiah Love (Romans 5:8).

Blessed are those who wait on (expect from) Him, Isaiah 30:18, or “Oh the happiness and joy that comes to those who learn to ‘put’ all of their issues in Christ” (Mt. 5:6,8). They know that if they immerse their pressures and problems in the “living water” the Father will activate and merge them in His redemptive mix and enable them to drink the cup of His purpose and pleasure!

It is when you drink your cup for you that your waiting and expectations will be realized. Only then do you follow the Master in your walk as He followed the Father's ordained walk to His cross. This is the walk of Isaiah 53. Every true Disciple whose ambition it is to live a life of Messiah Love should “walk through” every verse of Isaiah 53. It is here we most vividly and perfectly see the path our Father has for us all. It is the path He chose for His Son to walk! Let us ponder Isaiah 53:10 and seek its implications for our own lives!

“After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied …” Isaiah 53:11

My testimony, in spite of my sin grief, is that I am satisfied!! I heartily and earnestly say with John Newton: “I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior!”

From all of us at Ventures for Christ, may 2010 be a year of His greatness in your life!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Making the Old Story Come Alive

To meet with God in the story is to be changed.”*

One of the greatest ways to fully appreciate Christmas is to “put” yourself into the story of the Nativity of our blessed Lord. To “put” ourselves in Christ is to see His Cup, His Cross and His Commission in every experience of life … be it the best or worst! Both joy and sorrow can be windows to enter the Presence of God! And when He is in the midst … when you are “touching” Him with your heart … filled with the current of a new way to go, a new truth that compels and the new life that is really life taking hold of you … then the victories and defeats of earth don’t matter, or perhaps they matter a little, but distantly! What matters in an all consuming and fulfilling way is that you have seen afresh “the glory (significance) of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:6). No wonder we call this “the Good News.” Finding more of the Messiah in His authentic, stunning wonder leaves you wanting only more of Him! Everything else becomes secondary or irrelevant. The “more” of anything else is quite useless unless the Savior wants you to have it and use it to exalt His magnificence! Our Lord is honored when we find the reality of His Promises to conquer our pain in a way that delivers us into His Presence. To “put” ourselves into the meaning of the manger “puts” clarity into everything else.

The Cup of Christ, the Cross of Christ and the Commission of Christ is the reality that every Cross Disciple should seek. Frankincense speaks of the cup.

Frankincense was the sweet fragrance of the Cup that the Son would be honored to drink in sadness for the sin of the world. This He would do in order for the Father to display His mercy, justice, love and forgiveness. Blessed are those who drink the Cup of Isaiah 53.

Myrrh is the bitter perfume that speaks of the agony of the Cross. It tells of the sacrifice that must be made … the blood that must be spilt … the lonely anguish to be endured. Blessed are those who hang on the Cross of Isaiah 53.

Gold is the sign of kingship, authority and honor. The richest possession one can have. This gift of Commission belongs to all those who have been chosen by the Father to be triune worshippers of His Son’s birth. They, of all the people of the earth, have more to say of significance than anyone else. They have seen the Lord of Glory! Blessed are those who have the Commission of Isaiah 53.

The Babe in the manger is God’s thunder to all those who “put” themselves there with Him … a “little one” in the hands of the Father. Their lives will be glorious to the degree they see the Christmas message of drinking His Cup, carrying His Cross and accepting His Commission. Christmas is when we begin to learn the meaning of Isaiah 53.

* Opening quote from Reading the Bible Wisely by Richard Briggs

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We Must Recognize the Power and Purpose of Relationship Failures

All people, Christians included, experience continuous relationship failure. It especially happens in the family … marriage, children, in-laws, parents, etc. … and then trickles or gushes out to friends, employers, fellow employees, professional relationships, casual acquaintances, service personnel, members of “your church,” leaders of all sorts, etc. Why? For at least four inescapable reasons: 1) the sin energy in you and them, 2) the sin energy of the world’s fallen culture, 3) the sin energy abetted by the demonic. The fourth “reason” could be because 4) God has allowed “sin energy,” but we must quickly state that He Himself is never the source of anything evil or sinful (James 1:13).

A stunning revelation to me as I examined Scripture on relationships was the family tensions and conflicts that weighed down, discouraged and absorbed so many of the Father’s chosen leaders. These people are the “greats” of the Bible, yet their Relationship Failures are ever with them. Let’s look at a few and be amazed.

Adam just sat there passively and observed Eve being fast talked and deceived by the Serpent. Adam backpedaled from responsibility for his wife even though he knew the truth from God as well as she did. Even after he chose to eat the fruit with her, he blamed Eve when God called him on it. Adam and Eve stayed married and had kids and continued in their creation purpose yet there is a huge “but”! When a wife is not protected by her husband’s leadership and then is blamed when his action or inaction causes deep problems, there is only one way to define it: Failed Relationships.

Abraham and Sarah had been holding on to the promise of God to give them a child for over twenty years … (Twenty Years!) … and still nothing had happened. No promised son had been born to them. Didn’t God realize [sic] their age and that time was running out? Did this tension and test bring them closer together to “refocus” on God’s Word? No! Sarah hatched her own plan. She decided on her own to use Hagar, her maid, and do God’s will Sarah’s way. Abraham went along with it! Was he too passive? Despairing? Wanting to please Sarah? A brief time of emotional weakness? (Rom. 4:20). Was it a sudden demonic attack of self-pity or “it’s not worth it” despair? Or was it a “this is my last chance” philosophy? Whatever! The deed was done. The creation of the flesh was born! Conflict from the boy child began immediately. It has continued for 4,000 years reaching a crescendo even today, in our generation, in the Middle East. Think of Abraham and Sarah’s regrets today over their experience of Failed Relationship. Their Ishmael father of the Arabs and their Isaac father of Israel continue in bitter conflict to this day. Together they chose their actions over God’s promise and their “togetherness” was never the same.

Job is certainly one of Scripture’s greatest heroes. No one else had it made, then lost it all, endured untold mental and physical sufferings, agonized for spiritual answers and finally “put” it all back together again better than ever as well as Job. One of the greatest lessons from his story is that he was “the battlefield” of a contest between the Godhead and Satan and Job didn’t even know it! You’d think that a man like this … so loved, used, vindicated and blessed by the Father … would have had a great marriage to sustain him. Mrs. Job should be proud, honored and recognized. She was married to one of God’s great stars, chosen to be the ultimate human example of what a man who suffers yet who truly trusted God looks like. You can just see Mrs. Job standing there with Job by the ash heap, guitar in hand, singing “I’ll Stand By My Man”!

But no! It wasn’t that way! She had born all of Job’s kids, watched him grow and manage his fortune and had put up with all his spiritual talk for years. She knew what hypocrites most religious people were. She desired Job should “be practical,” quit whining over his problems and give up all this spiritual dialogue with his redneck friends. She knew they didn’t need to pray together about his health either. It was a lost cause! To put all this in one encompassing phrase, the Scripture has Mrs. Job … in “supposed” love, concern, spiritual insight and encouragement … utter the following words to her husband: “Why do you insist on holding on to your faith? It’s not working! Just bless and curse God for His betrayal and then die!” Job told her that the wise accept both good and evil in their created life and the Lord has a purposed control for it!

It’s obvious to anyone who can read between the lines that Mr. and Mrs. Job had some work to do on their mutual faith and vision. We are forced to call theirs a Failed Relationship.

There is so much more: Isaac and Rebekah over Esau and Jacob; Jacob over Leah and Rachel; Judah and Tamar; Samuel and his sons; David and Absalom; Hosea and Gomer; etc. Rich insight is gained from how those who love God were all victims of Failed Relationships. King David nailed it with one all-encompassing statement in Psalm 60:11-12: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies.”

Whatever is not of God in our lives is “our enemy.” The evil of the world, the deceptions of the demonic, other people and, above all, we can be our own worst enemy. To look to any other person for what the Godhead has reserved to Himself to give is a worthless and vain pursuit. We must grow in maturity to see that all failed relationships on earth are simply pointers to that one relationship that will not … cannot … fail. We should continue in joy and praise through all failed relationships … rejection, hurt, sadness, misunderstanding, betrayal, loneliness, emptiness, seeming hopelessness, etc. … and keep coming back to find new depth in the non-failing relationship we can have with our Lord.

Relationship with Him … our Creator-Redeemer-Perfecter … trumps all others. This alone is the relationship that will lead us to overcome all things (John 16:33). Asaph, one of the great Psalm writers of Israel, must have learned the lesson of Failed Relationships. Let us all ponder well his Spirit inspired words in Psalm 73:25-26. Let us seek first in everything “Jesus Only.”

Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Relationship Failures: The Reality That Fuels Authentic Faith

It is a rare thing to build God’s kind of relationship with another person. Most relationships in life are no more than functionary, casual, pretense or self-serving. Rare are those connections with other human beings that are bonded in authentic love, spiritually significant and God compelled. Yet we should always be seeking to make “spirit connections” to people so that we create the possibility of an impacting “Christ touch” that is ennobling, giving and truth energizing. It is part of the Master’s pattern for our relationships that we do not have to wait until we encounter perceived “worthy” or “significant” people to initiate a “Jesus connection.” Even if the other person is blind to your heart or too self-occupied or spiritually dense to accept your “grace attempts,” you still enhance yourself in the understanding of what “Messiah love action” is all about. Learning how Jesus felt when He was rejected by those He created and loved is one of our greatest lessons in living the Christ Life. Only by experiencing the humiliation of being ignored and/or disdained by others can we begin to appreciate the grief of our Lord for us! The Cross Disciple can always win in every situation … be it the worst or best of circumstances … because he or she uses experience to adjust their grasp of reality to the Mind of Christ! Life doesn’t get any better than living it with His Mind! This “puts” all of our contacts with other people into the flow of His will. The highest relationships we can realize are the ones where we initiate in others a new or refreshed passion for more of Christ. All else fades into necessity, routine or trivia.

When a relationship is at the “flesh connections” only level, it always leaves a void. It is after only a minor reminder of the shallowness of human nature or the nature of much human activity that we perceive how empty others leave us. Yet, frequently, there is the painful prick of conscience that our deepest interest in another person is only surface. Between “us” there is nothing more than the touch of have to, non-concern, low-mindedness, greediness and lie enforcement at worst. At best, it is only the necessary and brief routines of function. Have you ever been waited on or served by a self-centered clerk or disinterested waitress? There may be politeness and even gratitude, but nothing much “of Jesus” is exchanged.

These relationships never even approach “eros,” the most limited yet passionate of human loves. As C.S. Lewis, the great British popular apologist, reminds us: when speaking of being “in love” (eros), poor as such passion is in comparison to agape, the love that comes from the Godhead, a person in “eros” is as close to understanding what true, sacrificial agape is all about as their human experience allows. How sad that such flawed and insufficient relationships define the best that many people experience of the true nature of love (agape). They never grasp or express the truth about the great Lover of their souls, Messiah Jesus.

How do we give “new health” to such relational impotence? The best stimulants and vitamins we can ingest to make “spiritual connections” and the finest antidote and pain killer we can take to diminish our “flesh connections” is to radically dedicate our daily encounters to “being Jesus” to every person we touch! This all-consuming passion will correct, teach, refine, reduce or resolve every other issue or circumstance of our relationship experiences. Such a vision will instantly begin to heal our inner confusion as well as our outer tensions. To truly be alive to this “magnificent obsession” of being “a Jesus” to everyone you can is the supreme vision of our creation (Gen. 1:26-28) and recreation (II Cor. 5:17). This is the only normative philosophical mindset where “one-size-fits-all!” To authentically “know” you no longer belong to yourself (I Cor. 6:19-20), that your highest Christ worship is being a self-dead, Christ-alive cross taker (Luke 9:23-24), that your life has been and presently is being crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and that the Lord Himself constantly delivers you to death situations (II Cor. 4:­­11) so that you can die daily (I Cor. 15:30-31) is the most significant Christ theology a professed Disciple can “put” into his or her mind. And it is in our heart controlled mind where the God changed life begins (Eph. 1:17-19). The truth must be precisely “put” into your mind before you can precisely “put” your life “as a Jesus” into your relationships with others!

The practical block and hindrance to a Disciple “taking up the cross” is that most Christians don’t know what a real cross in their life looks like or should look like. Further, “taking up” is falsely understood as “something to do” rather than primarily “someone to become.” Our cross is to encounter the world as it really is in all of its sad falleness and to determine we will respond to it with the Mind of Christ. Armed with His Mind and Heart we increasingly seek to drink His cup for us, hang on His cross for us and to accept His commission for us. As we progress in this vision, our relationship to the Savior is deepened, enriched and all consuming. At the same time, our relationships with all others take on the love, light and fragrance of Jesus. This is the abundant life the Lord desires to give us if we will accept and yield to His cup, cross and commission.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (abundantly). John 10:10