Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"A Slave of Christ Jesus?"

The word "slave" offends all that is human and spiritual in my heart. For that reason, Paul's way of introducing himself to the Roman Christians may seem a bit extreme to some folks.

"Paul a slave of Christ Jesus called to be an Apostle and set apart for the gospel of God." Romans 1:1

In a recent Wednesday night Bible class we were discussing why Paul would use the word "doulos/slave" to introduce himself. It turned out to be quite a lively discussion which concluded two obvious reasons:
1) That is how Paul saw himself in relation to Jesus
2) Most of those Christians in Rome were living slavery and Paul wanted to identify with them

I have a subjective opinion that Paul may have been the first of the Apostles to identify himself as a "slave of Christ Jesus". He uses that term in relation to himself many times in his writings, as did the other Apostolic authors of the New Testament, but I can easily see those Jewish men having the same extreme reaction to the word that I have. Maybe not, but I can easily see the other Apostles learning from Paul the absolute extreme spiritual benefit in seeing themselves in that way. Me too!

Paul's favorite word to describe Jesus and their unique relationship is "LORD/MASTER". Undoubtedly all people of faith in Jesus think of him as Lord just like Paul did but for us that word may only be a word that we have read in the Bible. For Paul it was always about relationship. When he wrote his second letter to Timothy, he called himself a "prisoner" of Jesus. He used many such terms because that was how he saw himself before his Lord.

The thought occurred to me as I was walking that Wednesday morning, DOES JESUS SEE PAUL AS PAUL SAW HIMSELF - JESUS' SLAVE? After turning that thought over in my mind several minutes I took it to the next level, DOES JESUS SEE ME AS HIS SLAVE?

In the Greco Roman culture the lowest of the low were those slaves who were slaves by choice. That describes Paul and me too. I am by choice a slave of Christ of Jesus. But does he see me in that way - a slave of the lowest caste. So I asked my class that question which sparked much animated discussion. Finally I asked them to read Jesus' own words -

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know his master's business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father, I have made known to you." John 15:13-15

I think Jesus was urging his Apostles to see him in a very different way, a way that allowed him to be both man and God, not just a controversial Rabbi, and allowed them to draw strength from him for the trials they were about to encounter. He truly wanted them to see him as "friend". Me too! I also think Jesus wanted them to see each other as "friends" rather than adversaries competing to become the greatest among peers.

Possibly much later, Paul also wrote these words -

"Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family, so he is not ashamed to call them brothers". Hebrews 2:11

Seeing myself as a "slave of Christ Jesus" is a good, spiritually healthy context to live before him. He IS my LORD and I have willfully submitted my whole life and commitment to him as his slave. But, it sure is a great comfort to my spirit to know he loves me enough to give his life in total, willing sacrifice to give me life that truly is life. And, his Holy Spirit constantly assures my own spirit every good and bad day, that Jesus sees me as his friend and brother. He sees me as family.   HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Drifting Away"

"It's critical that we keep a firm grip on what we've heard so that we don't drift off. If the old message delivered by angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation? First of all it was delivered in person by the Master, then accurately passed on to us by those who heard it from him. All the while God was validating it with gifts through the Holy Spirit, all sorts of signs and miracles as he saw fit." Hebrews 2:1-4 MSG

The realization that I have NO IDEA what God is doing in the heart and life of any person was truly an earthquake moment. That was the result of years of study and meditation on scriptures that before had seemed so clear, but had become much clearer in the light of that realization. Like so many Bible teachers and church leaders, even college professors under whom I sat, the assumption that the "age of miracles ceased with the death of the Apostles of Christ" was just not open for question. For some reason that conclusion always kind of bothered me but I never really challenged it in my own spirit. Over the years as I continued to study and think and observe, my hesitancy to question the assumption I had been taught, slowly began to spawn a new awareness of God's Spirit in my own life.

God always does whatever he pleases because he is God, even all kinds of things I may not understand or can explain. Paul sums it up for me at 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

"There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men."

 None of us require the same "signs and miracles" to be repeated today to know who Jesus Christ is. That fact has already been adequately confirmed by the Holy Spirit, I can read all the true evidence I need for that confirmation. However, God and his Spirit are still actively working in whatever way the Father wills to achieve his eternal purpose. That working may manifest itself in all kinds of ways that wont fit with the majority experience. Just because I have no answer, no plausible explanation for some specific occurrence doesn't mean God did or did not cause it to happen. However, if I didn't fully embrace 1 Corinthians 12:6 as being applicable to me too, I see no reason to even pray.

The really scary part however is the idea of "drifting away" if we fail to pay attention to what God has said, what he has done and what he is doing. "Drifting away" is rarely, if ever, an intentional result. We can easily become careless with our faith however and fail to allow it to grow beyond where we are at any time. For me, the Holy Spirit is the constant from the days of Paul and those early Christians to today.

As I reflect back, I think what I was taught about the Holy Spirit from the time I became a Christian as a young teen caused me to virtually ignore him. Actually I was never taught about the Spirit at all. But when I slowly continued to study for myself in earnest, gradually I have become acquainted with him in my life. The huge difference he has made is this - my faith is no longer attached to the church in any form or by any name. My faith is now totally, gratefully anchored in Jesus Christ, not me, not my heritage, not my family, not any church of any kind, forever in my Lord. HALLELUJAH!

Friday, April 13, 2012

"An Open Invitation"

"Jesus stood and in a loud voice said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given." John 7:37-39 NIV

When Jesus made this very bold statement a sharp debate erupted immediately among his hearers. Some said, "He is the Prophet" (Deut 18:15). Some said, "He is the Messiah". Others said, "He can't be because he doesn't fit the Scripture". But, when the temple guards reported back to the chief priests and Pharisees and had not arrested Jesus, their explanation was, "No one ever spoke like this man". Then one of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, who had recently spoken with Jesus (John 3), tried to defend him, but the others shouted him down.

The closest "Scripture" I have found that approximates Jesus' promise is at Isaiah 44:3 -
"For I will pour water on him who is thirsty and floods on the dry ground; I will pout my Spirit on your descendants and my blessing on your offspring."

All through the Bible, especially in the prophets, the Psalms and virtually all of the New Testament, over and over God says in a variety of ways, "COME".  This divine invitation has been the focus of earliest Christian art, poetry and music. I grew up singing, "Come to Jesus, he will save you, though your sins as crimson glow.", and a whole host of similar songs. From the very earliest Christian art, God is depicted as two hands reaching down from above in open invitation.

We have no way of knowing how long John was involved in writing his "Revelation". I have often sat for extended periods trying to visualize this old warrior, the lone remaining Apostle of Jesus, writing down what Jesus said to him and the many visions he received. His isolation on the Isle of Patmos was the perfect setting, away from all distraction, but I believe he was still eager to tell Jesus' story to anyone who would listen. I think it appropriate and revealing that John closes his Revelation with this invitation -

"The Spirit and the bride say "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." Revelation 22:17 NIV

That constitutes the same invitation Jesus had issued more than half a century before, only NOW the Holy Spirit is personally and directly involved in its proclamation, in partnership with Jesus' "bride". And those who "hear" still respond in the say way they did when Jesus offered it. Jesus had said that when the Spirit comes "he will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment" but the world doesn't want to hear that today any more than the Pharisees did. The same kind of debate still rages all over the world.

But, many do hear and many are "Coming" to Jesus because they choose to "believe". That will always be true because the Holy Spirit does his work and Jesus' bride, his church, continues to stand before men just like Jesus did, and offer the same open invitation to all who hear and are thirsty for God's love. HALLELUJAH!

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Jesus' Resurrection - Why It Matters"

So, today is Monday, the day after Easter. Does what we thought and did yesterday have an lasting effect on today and tomorrow and next month? As I looked through the myriad of Facebook posts yesterday, I counted only a mere handful that failed to wish "everyone a Happy Easter" or some similar sentiment that was connected to Jesus and his resurrection. That's a good thing. Now we all go on with life as we choose to live it.

The title I chose for this post is stolen from my good friend and brother, Charley Bazzell, the pulpit minister at University Church of Christ in Murray, Ky. His sermon yesterday morning challenged and encouraged all of us to consider why Jesus' resurrection matters. His premise was that celebrating Easter as a holiday for coloring eggs, family gatherings and wearing a new dress or hat or whatever is a good thing if we see more to Easter than any or all of those priorities. Obviously there is much more that can easily become secondary in our personal belief and celebration of the holiday that truly "matters".

Peter wrote these words long before there ever was an Easter celebration -

"Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago." 1 Peter 3:18-20 NIV

Although I am not certain how to interpret Peter's meaning or intention regarding the "spirits in prison" to whom Jesus preached, I feel confident of the message that his statement conveys to me, a message that is directly tied to the ministry of God's Holy Spirit. Peter said the Spirit was responsible for two huge events -
he brought Jesus out of the grave and was in some way active in Jesus preaching to those spirits in prison.

My heart wants to include ME in that number of imprisoned spirits, even though that may be an improbable interpretation at best. The Spirit has now revealed to all the human family for all time, past-present-future, that Jesus Christ IS the Son of God and that his death in a human body and subsequent resurrection was the central element of God's eternal plan so that he could defeat our own ultimate death and give us everlasting victory in Jesus.

Paul wrote these monumental words at 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 -

"Death has been swallowed up in victory" (quoting Isaiah 25:8)
"Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? (quoting Hosea 13:14)
"The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. Bit thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

I tend to think all of us are included in "the spirits in prison" because we all have been imprisoned by sin and headed toward a dark, hopeless eternity. However, because the Spirit resurrected Jesus from the tomb, we now know that death no longer represents any loss or defeat but victory just as it did in Jesus.

Charley's great message ended with a question - "What does Jesus' resurrection mean to you?" Probably all of us could create a fairly long list in answer to the question, but for me it kinda sums up in this - GOD REALLY DOES LOVE ME! Through his Son and by his Spirit's ministry, I can celebrate victory over death and the grave. Now that's something to celebrate every day!  HALLELUJAH!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Still In Kindergarten"

I am always encouraged by reading the Apostle Paul's accounts of his prayers. He grew up in a spiritual environment that practiced and encouraged prayer and at a fairly young age seems to have been pursuing a career that would reinforce that lifestyle. However, after meeting Jesus and accepting the ministry Jesus called him to, he seems to have learned to see prayer in a very different way. Check this out -

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide, how long, how high and how deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:16-10 NIV

After serving Jesus for about a quarter century or more, Paul had learned that prayer is not the recitation of memorized words in a specific format but really conversing with God the Father about what is on his heart. He learned that from Jesus first and over time perfected his faith in his prayers through the ministry of God's Holy Spirit in his heart. So, he prayed that "all the saints" would come to know the love of Christ in this same way.

"All the fullness of God" is such a huge idea that I struggle to wrap my own mind around it. The phrase means "all that God wants to give us in both knowledge and blessing". Did you get that? EVERYTHING! How can my small mind, heart, spirit, or whatever you want to call it, actually comprehend something that is waaaay beyond simple human ability to grasp and translate into specific action that honors God as Father?

THE HOLY SPIRIT! He supplies the "power" by which we are able to perceive the presence of the totally humbling love of Jesus Christ in our own hearts. The Spirit helps me, in my own heart, to feel (know) the incredible love of Christ. This love is beyond any words I have customarily used to describe love. God wants me to know, (i.e. feel, understand, appreciate, experience) and seek to share this love that requires the power of his Holy Spirit to accomplish.

After all these years I often feel like I'm in spiritual kindergarten, re-learning the very basic A-B-C's of life with my heavenly Father and his absolutely astounding Holy Spirit.

God's love, Christ's love, is so very powerful it reaches into and fills every part of my complicated spirit. I truly don't understand that but I totally believe it. I always know Christ is there because of the constant presence of God's Holy Spirit to assure and convict. I kinda like being in kindergarten. HALLELUJAH!

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Why God Cries"

Among the spiritual skills the Holy Spirit trains the disciples of Jesus in is in the area of "critical thinking". This is crucial because so much of what we think and do is the result of simple habits we have cultivated over time and are comfortable with. Think of this enormous bank of habits as Satan's favorite playground.
Learning to live in a way that obeys and honors God as Father begins with how we think. Satan know this so he is constantly working to control our inner world, how we think, which always produces our words and actions. So, if we allow him control of that unseen, secret place within, he will control what we say and do.

"As a prisoner of the Lord then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ephesians 4:1-2
"So I tell you this and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking." 4:17
"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." 4:30

The work of the Holy Spirit of God is crucial here because he alone can equip us for this lifelong battle with our common enemy. The fact is we all come to God under Satan's control - we are sinners. After we embrace Jesus in faith and obedience to his gospel we still live in the same environment of sin's dominance, we still go to the same job every day and we still interact with the same people who were in our lives before. This puts all of us in daily risk of reverting to the familiar lifestyle. That happens often and makes the Spirit of God "grieve" to see his "students" rebel against God' love.

We are creatures of habit so the Spirit works within us to (1) directly confront Satan in a very personal way, and (2) train us in a new set of "spiritual skills" that God has made available for our eternal benefit. Here are two definitions that should challenge all of us to evaluate our thinking:

Habit is a learned action we tend to repeat without thought or careful consideration. We just do it because it's what we've always done and it feels comfortable.
Skill, though virtually always initiated with some measure of habit, continues to learn without getting stuck in the past on a way of thinking and acting that no longer produces a positive outcome. True skill constantly seeks to grow, to improve, to see a better way.

Quite often, as in Ephesians 4, Paul tells his readers "DO THIS", "DON'T DO THAT". These instructions are simple enough to define and understand but being human, as Paul admits at Romans 7:14-25, we often struggle with the "doing". Here is Paul's conclusion -
"I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my flesh a slave to the law of sin." 7:25

The Spirit's goal, indeed God the Father's goal for all of his children, is a very lofty ideal -
"become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." 4:13

Paul admitted that he wasn't there yet, but said, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ." Philippians 3:14

We all need Paul's brand of "critical thinking" that eliminates any desire to "live as the Gentiles do", because that "futility of thinking" will always end in tragedy. The Holy Spirit knows this so he works very hard to train us to see and follow a better way. And when we turn our backs and deaf ears to God, the Spirit weeps in grief.

Personally, I am very encouraged by Paul's assessment of his own daily battle -
"I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13

So can I and so can you! HALLELUJAH!