Tag Archives: peace

What Awaits Us in Heaven?

Thankfully the Bible isn’t silent about this subject.  Things will be different, for sure.  Paul says, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.  …For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will know fully, just as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 9-10, 12).  Thus it appears when I die I’ll figuratively step out of a fog into the brightest morning I can possibly imagine.  The best mirrors in Paul’s day were polished and buffed brass so one was better off gazing into a pond’s surface.  Still, neither reflected one’s true image very accurately.  Heaven’s truly beyond words but obviously it’ll be a case of night instantly turning to day.  Our entire perception of reality will change.  Dallas Willard wrote, “When we pass through what we call death, we do not lose the world.  Indeed, we see it for the first time as it really is.”  What we consider normal is in fact a gross distortion of what God intended to be normal.  When Jesus cried out from the cross, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34), He was referring to all of us.  Our vision’s severely limited because of the curse brought upon mankind by Adam & Eve’s sin.

 

So what’s Paul getting at with the “fully known” stuff?  Well, evidently many spiritual entities (“a great cloud of witnesses”, we’re told) know all about us as individuals.  Hebrews 12:22-24 hints at who they are: But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly and congregation of the first-born, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does.”  That’s a very impressive list of persons who see everything as it really is; who know at this moment what all God’s adopted children will one day know.  In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul intimates God blessed him with a brief glimpse of heaven; that he was allowed to stand in the visible presence of those beings whereupon he gathered they fully knew him.  God blessed Paul with an insight into the next world so we could find comfort in what he dutifully reported.  For one thing, we have no secrets.  “…No creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:13).  In other words, the transparency we all should strive for will be ours in heaven.  We won’t drift around in some kind of hazy dreamlike state, either.  We’ll be more “awake” than ever before.  We’ll be anything but asleep.  What we will be is mind-blowing to ponder.  Jesus said of souls in heaven, In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:36).

 

According to Jesus those who belong to God have nothing whatsoever to fear about death.  He taught, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).  Christ also said I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death (John 8:51).  And, as He informed the distraught Martha before calling forth the deceased Lazarus out of his tomb, “…I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26).  (I suspect Jesus wept that day because He knew Lazarus’ loved ones would eventually have to suffer through the painful grieving process all over again down the line.)  Our Savior’s attitude towards His own death tells us much, too.  While He certainly didn’t relish the ghastly torture He’d be forced to endure beforehand, He viewed finally taking His last earth-bound breath as a liberating event.  He told His disciples on the day of His arrest, Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage.  You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am (John 14:27-29).  Those aren’t the words of a man who’s petrified of death!

 

Don’t forget that in the midst of slowly suffocating and bleeding to death our Lord still had the grace to tell one of the thieves dying next to Him, “…I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).  Now, do you know any human being who’d take the time to tell a convicted criminal a bald-faced lie while writhing in excruciating agony?  I don’t.  What Christ told that thief is something all believers can take to the bank.  Paradise is our destination!  The truth of the matter is the New Testament teaches us repeatedly that, in the grand scheme of things, all Christians will be much better off when they’re dead!  Paul wrote, For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain (Philippians 1:21) and “…I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” (Philippians 1:23).  Please don’t misunderstand what Paul’s saying.  He’s not advocating suicide or intentionally putting oneself in harm’s way.  He explained in a letter to his associate that Jesus “…has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!  For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.  Because of this, in fact, I suffer as I do.  But I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day (2 Timothy 1:10-12).  As royal ambassadors of our Lord and heralds of the Good News our continued existence on this planet has a purpose.  We’re important.  Ducking out early of our own accord isn’t an option.  We’re to leave when God says it’s our time to go home.

 

Back to the question I posed initially: “What awaits us in heaven?”  It’s definitely worth asking.  As I’ve aged it’s become blatantly obvious that, little by little, my body’s wearing out.  I used to be able to work outside right through a Texas summer.  Now just being in the heat for an hour saps all my energy.  I know in time parts of my body will let me down.  However, I won’t have to lug those deteriorating limbs and organs into heaven.  Willard wrote, “When we pass through the stage normally called ‘death,’ we’ll not lose anything but the limitations and powers that specifically correspond to our present mastery over our body, and to our availability and vulnerability to and through it  We’ll no longer be able to act and be acted upon by means of it.”  What will remain intact is our personality, our non-material core identity.  Plus we’ll retain our knowledge of (and relationships with) other souls who’ve been a part of our earthly life.  Will I miss family members and friends who never accepted Christ?  Will I be devastated if my two grown, unsaved children don’t join me?  My heart says I will.  God says otherwise.  In heaven “He will wipe away every tear from their [my] eyes, and death will not exist anymore – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist (Revelation 21:4).  Therefore I must trust God will grant me a level of understanding I can’t fathom at this juncture.  I have more faith in my Heavenly Father than I do in my emotions.  As Abraham said to God, Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? (Genesis 18:25).  God did what was right back then and He’ll always do what’s right.  Therefore I’m content to leave the whole issue up to Him.

 

When I’m asked how a merciful God could allow a single soul to languish forever in oblivion my answer is heaven would be hellish for those who never desired to go there in the first place.  In other words, it’s not God’s fault they won’t be with Him in paradise.  Those who aren’t saved don’t think they need saving.  The Holy Word tells us“…He [God] does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  But many folks abhor the very idea of being under anybody, even God Almighty.  Because they possess the autonomy of free will, God lets them exercise it without Him interfering.  Love can’t work coercively, only persuasively.  Forced love is a contradiction in terms.  If a person despised God before death they’ll most likely hate Him even more afterwards but they’ll be where they chose to be.  As C.S. Lewis opined, “The door of hell is locked on the inside.”

 

As usual, we can learn from Jesus.  In all His post-resurrection appearances He had a body and it was not only publicly observable but interacted with physical realities.  His body was significantly different from before, though, because it wasn’t restricted by time or space.  Walls and doors were no barriers to Christ because His was now a spiritual body.  Paul wrote, If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).  Jesus proved that in God’s universe matter is subservient to mind/spirit.  I believe one of the many reasons He lingered on earth after He strolled out of His tomb was to give us a preview of what awaits us on the other side of death.  Christians should derive great comfort from that.  This truly is not where we belong.  But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).  In heaven we’ll have bodies impervious to illness or injury.  We’ll be able to run like gazelles and never grow tired.  No aches.  No pains.  Nothing to hold us back.  Now, that’s what I call “Good News!”

 

Our Lord modeled for us the “new and improved” body we’ll have in the next life.  And we’ll have lots of things to do.  Laziness will be a thing of the past because we’ll be preoccupied with learning due to there being so much to learn.  The transformation that began when the Holy Spirit came to dwell within us when we got saved will continue in God’s kingdom.  We’ll be in the very presence of our Savior and our goal will be to become more and more like Him in every respect.  While aging down here is a matter of losing abilities, up there it’ll be a matter of constantly accumulating them.  We’ll never cease to grow in knowledge, wisdom and holiness.  Some fear they’ll be confused, discombobulated or even scared when they inhale their first breath of heavenly air.  But their anxiety is unfounded.  Nothing in Scripture indicates we’ll have any cause to be frightened or unsettled.  We won’t be left in the dark.  As Willard wrote, “You wouldn’t do that, if you could help it, to anyone you loved.  And neither will God.”  When the beggar Lazarus died Jesus said he “…was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side (Luke 16:22).  Thus we can expect the same gentle, reassuring treatment.  The many “near-death experiences” that’ve been documented imply our personal identity will continue on sans interruption.  Those who rejected Christ will continue on, too, but they’ll do so without the God they denied.  The Lord will let them have it “their way.”  They’ll be their own God at last.  Yet too late they’ll become cognizant of just how woefully impotent they actually are.

 

Eventually those who belong to Him will be enabled to efficiently and righteously reign with Christ.  Any worries about there not being enough room for us is foolishness.  Astronomers estimate there are ten thousand million galaxies in our section of the universe alone with each harboring billions of planets.  Perhaps we’ll be charged with overseeing/observing some of them.  As Jesus’ parable of the talents reveals, once we’ve demonstrated we can be trusted to take care of a few valuable things we’ll be entrusted with taking care of many valuable things.  Now, I can’t imagine I’m anywhere near capable of being placed in charge of what goes on in a small village, much less an entire planet!  I suspect I’ll first need to gather tons of education and practical experience under my belt before that day arrives.  Yet I must remind myself of the awesome, glorious environment I’ll be living in while I learn.  The greatest joys I’ve known in my life usually happen when I’m being creative.  In heaven I’ll eternally be an apprentice of the ultimate Creator!  Because of what the Bible tells me about Christ, I can surmise with surety that He and I will create amazing, incredible things together.  And I’ll never be abandoned to fend for myself.  The greatest advisor/counselor of all will be close at hand.  The last thing our Savior told us before He ascended to the right hand of the Father was, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  He’s with me now.  He’ll be with me then, too.

 

What we should all look forward to experiencing in God’s kingdom is perfect peace.  Peace of any sort on terra firma is rare and fleeting, indeed, so the promise of existing in a place where there’s no strife, no anger, no hostility and no heartbreaking tragedies to disrupt our serenity is an immensely encouraging one.  J.I. Packer wrote, “Christians inherit in fact the destiny which fairy tales envisage in fancy: we (yes, you and I, the silly saved sinners) live, and live happily, and by God’s endless mercy will live happily ever after.”  But nothing beats what our Lord had to say concerning this intriguing subject: Those who overcome will be welcomed to sit with me on my throne, as I too overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Those capable of hearing should listen to what the Spirit is saying to my people (Revelation 3:21-22).  All adopted children of God should not only listen to but believe His words.  For it’s in the hope His words provide that our comfort and contentment lie.

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What Lies Ahead?

Curiosity about the future has been around since Adam & Eve.  No matter if someone is wealthy or poor, healthy or ill, young or old, the question of what lies ahead has never been far from their mind.  It’s spawned all sorts of belief systems from astrology to tea leaf readings, palmistry to numerology, Tarot cards to crystal balls and so forth.  Not knowing what lurks around the corner has always been a major contributor to many folks’ angst and anxiety.  However, a Christ disciple should be immune from such worries because of the unbreakable promises God’s made over the last 5,000 years.  No matter how bleak and dark things may be in this fallen world an adopted child of God has divine assurance that things work out perfectly in the end.  There will come a day when trials, hardships and uncertainty about what tomorrow’s gonna bring will disappear.  “…And they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever(Revelation 22:4-5).  To a humanist those are empty words but to Christians they tell us all we need know regarding what’s to become of us.  James S. Stewart wrote, “The man who is in Christ is right with God.  He may be far from perfection yet, but that union is the seed which contains within itself all the promise of the future.  In the face and in the soul of Christ, God sees what the man yet may be; and He asks nothing more.”

 

J.I. Packer wrote, “New Testament Christianity is a religion of hope, a faith that looks forward.  For the Christian, the best is always yet to be.  But how can we form any notion of that which awaits us at the end of the road?  Here the doctrine of adoption comes to our help.  To start with, it teaches us to think of our hope not as a possibility, not yet as a likelihood, but as a guaranteed certainty, because it is a promised inheritance.  The reason for adopting, in the first-century world, was specifically to have an heir to whom one could bequeath one’s goods.  So, too, God’s adoption of us makes us His heirs, and so guarantees to us, as our right (we might say) the inheritance that He has in store for us.”  Few things in the Bible are made as clear as what lies ahead.  We’re told repeatedly the damage Lucifer’s rebellion has wreaked will be a thing of the past.  Everything will be restored, including usWhen Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him(Colossians 3:4).  See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children – and indeed we are!  For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know Him.  Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed.  We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like Him, because we will see him just as He is (1 John 3:1-2).  We know our Redeemer not only defeated death but lives and is going to return.  His second coming is not a matter of “if” but of “when”.  “…Our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of His glorious body by means of that power by which He is able to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

 

If a man or woman has surrendered their life to Jesus, yet still frets over what might happen to them this side of heaven, they must come to understand they’re letting that useless fear steal their joy.  As a Christ disciple what one’s future is going to be like should be a settled issue.  It shouldn’t be a mystery.  It should make good sense.  God’s kingdom should be something we can always look forward to, no matter our circumstance.  We’re held securely in our Father’s hands and He’ll never let go of us.  As a leader in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I come in contact with many believers who, despite having the Holy Spirit residing in them, are severely disappointed over how their lives have turned out.  For some life’s been a cruel journey.  Some are getting up in years and have decided they have no future.  Others are depressed over unfulfilled dreams that’ve drained them of all ambition.  They wonder how God could’ve let them fail or they’re afraid they haven’t been “good enough” to receive His blessings.  What they all have in common is spiritual blindness.  What they don’t see is that what they manage to get done during their brief existence “in the flesh” is relatively insignificant in comparison to the kind of person they became while on earth.  Our character is what we’ll carry into eternity.  Everything else stays behind.  As Don Henley sang, “You don’t see no hearses with luggage racks.”  Speaking of eternal life, allow me to share some wisdom from the great Frederick Buechner: “We think of Eternal Life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends.  We would do better to think of it as what happens when life begins.”

 

Now, I’m not trying to downplay the fact that trepidation about what lies ahead is built into our basic DNA.  It is.  Christians know their forever is a lock but tomorrow is another thing altogether.  It’s natural to wonder what our planet and the universe in general is spinning towards.  Will the human race survive the bitter harvest of its evil biases and hatred?  Will some idiot “push the button” and annihilate everything that breathes?  Is there a city-sized asteroid on its way to destroy us in a flash?  Rarely does one find a science-based TV show regarding future events that holds out even a shred of hope mankind will survive in the long run (short of relocating to another compatible celestial orb).  While it’s no sin to contemplate such things it’s a crying shame if we let them dominate our thoughts and rob us of happiness.  The biggest mistake we can make is to think that we as individuals or as part of a collective have any modicum of control over what’s to take place.  God is, has been and always will be in complete control.  His will cannot be usurped.  And, because we know He’s loving, merciful and forgiving, we can relax and enjoy being a part of His plan.  As always, it’s a matter of trust.

 

We must stand firm on the fact the cosmos isn’t a “somehow-it-just-came-into-being” material entity that’s wholly self-sustaining.  Its present and future course is determined by personal factors – sources of energy and direction – that can’t be detected by physical senses or by physical sciences.  Those personal factors are the prerogatives of the three personalities of the Godhead we worship.  A person is free to reject that proposition and side with the secularists who seem rather unconcerned they don’t have any concrete answers to why anything exists at all.  Or that person can accept that In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) and take comfort in knowing God knows what He’s doing.  The Holy Word indicates that this world serves a vital purpose.  Therefore simple logic will tell us anything that has a purpose in God’s creation will continue to exist come hell or high water until such a time it no longer serves that purpose.  Dallas Willard wrote, “This present universe is only one element in the kingdom of God.  But it is a very wonderful and important one.”

 

Jesus told His disciples, Do not let your hearts be distressed.  You believe in God, believe also in me.  There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house.  Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you.  And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too (John 14:1-3).  Now, why would the Son of God promise to come back if He knew there wouldn’t be an earth to return to?  But the most exciting thing we can glean from those verses is that not only will we end up where He is but we’ll actively participate in the future government of the universe with Him!  To envision we’ll hang around the throne of God endlessly strumming harps and warbling “How Great is our God” isn’t Scriptural.  That’s the angels’ job.  We were made for so much more than that!  We’ll reign with Christ.  “…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  The Bible also says, You [the Lamb of God] have appointed them [believers] as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Revelation 5:10).

 

The point is our faithfulness over a “few things” in the here and now counts because it develops in us the kind of character that God can entrust us with “many things.”  After decades of trusting in Him, just imagine what an immense privilege it’ll be for God to place His trust in us.  Willard wrote, “A place in God’s creative order has been reserved for each one of us from before the beginnings of cosmic existence.  His plan is for us to develop, as apprentices to Jesus, to the point where we can take our place in the ongoing creativity of the universe.”  Wow!  Think of it this way, if you will: God intends for us to mature into Christ-like persons whom He’ll be confident He can not only set free in His universe but He’ll then empower us to do what we want to do on His behalf!  I don’t know about you but that’s astounding.  Now, while grace and salvation are not acquired by our works, God’s trust most definitely is.  Thus we must become disciplined, determined students of Jesus Christ and what He taught us.  Our Lord alluded back to Daniel 12:3 when He told His disciples “…The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43).  Righteousness is a state of being that must be merited so we’d best get busy meriting, right?

 

These promises of better days ahead are nothing new.  God’s been telling us about it for ages.  For look, I create the heavens and the earth all over again.  Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.  I create my city, Jerusalem.  It is joy, and her people are gladness.  No longer will be heard the sound of crying.  No longer babies dying, or mature people who do not live to the end of a full life.  When they build houses they will get to live in them.  When they plant vineyards they, not others, will be the ones who eat the fruit.  They shall not labor in vain or bear children to be destroyed.  Before they call on me I will answer.  Animals, even, will stop killing one another, and in my new world every kind of evil will be eliminated (Isaiah 65:17-25).  To clarify, “Jerusalem” is synonymous with “the peace of God.”  Near the end of the book of Isaiah God implies all races and nations will come together to praise Him in His glory.  At last peace will be the rule, not the exception.  When I consider the horrible atrocities taking place all over the globe today world peace seems like an impossibility.  But, as Jesus explained to His disciples, “…With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

 

Many of this planet’s inhabitants’ troubles have come about due to human beings trying to manufacture their own version of Jerusalem.  Mankind has a tendency to think, because we can do some things well, we surely can do everything well.  Yet one thing civilization will never be able to do is to transform the heart and mind of a human being.  Only God can.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from trying.  In every case it’s either the tyranny of a dictator, lawless anarchy or massive inefficiencies stemming from the unrestricted expansion of a bloated bureaucracy that prevents true change from occurring.  Only God has the power to fix what’s broken down here.  My grown son (who, sadly, is a non-believer) recently inquired, “Dad, what’s wrong with people?”  The only rational answer I can give him is to quote Jeremiah 17:9, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  Since he doesn’t care to hear anything even remotely “religious” I’ll have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me when I email him back and hope something I say will draw him closer to the truth that is Jesus Christ.

 

I like what Willard had to say about the future: “God’s way of moving toward the future is, with gentle persistence in unfailing purpose, to bring about the transformation of the human heart by speaking with human beings and living with and in them.  He finds an Abraham, a Moses, a Paul – a you.”  Obviously, we have our work cut out for us but it’s not in vain we labor.  Jesus is coming back.  And when He does all evil will be eradicated.  The government He’ll put us in charge of won’t have to deal with inherent corruption, injustice, brutality or meanness any longer.  Goodness and harmony will prevail.  Nearly a half millennium before Jesus was born in a lowly manger, mankind was told by a prophet of God: Your true king is coming to you, vindicated and triumphant, humble, mounted on a donkey.  His word will bring peace to the nations, and his supervision will take in all lands, from where his presence is centered on the farthest reaches of the earth (Zechariah 9:9).  God made good on the first half of that promise so there’s no reason to doubt He’ll come through on the second half of it, too.  Therefore Christians should walk confidently through this world with their heads held high.  The future isn’t frightening to those who belong to the Lord.  As Paul expressed so elegantly, For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).  Tomorrow?  I say bring it on because “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

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Where’s the Worship?

Far too often I get so caught up in and frustrated with the antagonistic American political scene I forget that God is not like us.  I must remind myself that humans may indeed have been created in His image but the similarity ends there.  I and my fellow citizens are a tangle of insecurities, emotions, conceited notions, misguided opinions, bad habits and we’re all constantly plagued by sinful urges.  God isn’t.  When I pray to my Heavenly Father it’s important I keep in mind I’m addressing the only perfect being in the universe.  God is so far above and superior to everyone and everything that upsets me it ain’t even funny.

 

I’m not Catholic so I won’t pretend to know all that much about that denomination’s methodologies but I’ve always admired the profound respect the church members seem to be paying God.  Via their solemn rites and sacred rituals I get the feeling they’re honoring His distinct otherness in symbolic ways that Protestants might be too quick to label unnecessary.  I’m not saying that devout Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, etc. are doing anything wrong or blasphemous in their services but perhaps they’re overlooking the need for their congregations to experience a vital sense of wonder when standing in the presence of the great I AM.  To acknowledge the fact that our God is infinitesimally better than the greatest of us is indispensable to our having both faith in His plan and contentment with the part we’re to play in it.  We have a model to emulate and His precious name is Jesus Christ.  He showed us what true worship is.

 

Dallas Willard wrote, “Jesus’s good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share his view of the world in which we live.  To His eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world.  It’s a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control – though He obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as He wishes.  It’s a world that’s inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.  It’s a world in which God is continually at play and over which He constantly rejoices.  Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with His presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.”  I’m as guilty as they come on this score for my viewpoint is myopic and I “…see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12).  The hatred, injustices, terrors and evil I witness happening daily on a global scale, thanks to the everywhere-all-the-time media, tend to make me imagine that God’s pacing the hallways of heaven, fretting over all of civilization’s inane madness as intensely as I do.  The Bible says that’s not true.  God’s not miserable.  He’s not tensed up.  He’s not anxious.  His creatures may be but He never is.  We’re taught that He’s the source of all love, of all peace, of all harmony, of all that is good.  Thus it’s illogical for us to opine that God’s unhappy.  It’s more accurate for His adopted children to consider Him the most exuberantly joyous being in all of His creation and, therefore, immensely deserving of our adoration, our praise and our most sincerely-offered and unfettered worship.

 

Our worship shouldn’t be limited to the confines of the sanctuary of our choice, either.  I try to catch glimpses of God as frequently as I can as the opportunities present themselves.  Last week I got to hold a newborn baby in my arms less than 24 hours after she emerged from my grand-niece’s womb.  Knowing it was a rare privilege, I tuned out the various relative’s chatter reverberating in the cramped hospital room, relaxed and let the miracle of the moment engulf me.  There in my aging hands was God’s immaculate handiwork, dozing in and out of a consciousness she had no means by which to fathom objectively.  (Our “old world” is a “brand new world” to her.)  I pondered that only an incorruptible Creator could make something so beautifully uncorrupted and contemplating the complex, intricate process that had unfolded during the nine months since seed invaded egg boggled my brain.  For those few fleeting minutes the infant Piper and I were joined in peaceful worship of the one true God in and through whom all things are possible.

 

I also worshiped my Lord just last night, as I drove home from my weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting.  For those unfamiliar with the local terrain, there are no mountains and very few hills in northeast Texas but there are some high ridges in places that provide a nice “vista” of sorts and I crested one of them.  The air was unusually clear and the thin sliver of the moon hovered just barely above the horizon ahead of me.  The stars and planets were sparkling brilliantly so when I got home I stood in the driveway for a while, doing my best to peer into what I was seeing in the sky overhead.  I concentrated on not viewing it as a flat, painted canopy but as the three-dimensional reality it actually is.  My overwhelming thought was “How can God not be pleased to rule sovereign over such a uniquely gorgeous creation?”  To hold in my mind for even an instant the incomprehensible vastness of God’s awesome realm always humbles me to my knees in unabashed reverence.  I need to let that happen more often.  As should we all, I reckon.

 

I propose that technological advances haven’t enlightened us at all.  Rather that they’ve jaded us to God’s magnificence.  Case in point: a little over two decades ago the Hubble Space Telescope beamed down pictures of the Eagle Nebula (google them) that revealed an enormous mass of gas and microscopic dust that span a distance of six trillion miles.  A myriad of stars can be detected in it, the majority of them hotter and more massive than our sun.  At the time the photos were released they were breathtaking to behold because we’d never seen anything like it.  Reporter Joan Beck described it as being “Towering clouds of gases trillions of miles high, backlit by nuclear fires in newly forming stars, galaxies cartwheeling into collision and sending explosive shock waves boiling through millions of light-years of time and space.”  Whew!  Yet a CGI-inundated young person of today would hardly be impressed.  To them it’s nothing they haven’t seen countless times before at the movies.  Their sense of authentic wonder and amazement has been gutted by video games and special effects and that’s a pity.  Especially for those who attempt to emulate Christ because one of the most admirable features of Jesus’ personality was the abundance of happiness and wonder He possessed and exuded.  He never allowed the pain, suffering and grief He encountered to steal the joy He experienced constantly just by being among us.  He told His disciples, The person who has seen me has seen the Father! (John 14:9).  Thus, since Jesus was an upbeat guy 99.99% of the time we must conclude that our Father God is far from depressed or distraught about how things are going on Earth.  Willard wrote, “The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all His creatures is the natural outflow of what He is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word love.”

 

Because I so enjoy immersing myself daily in the Holy Word and in the mind-expanding writings of great Christian authors I fear I fall victim to sometimes “overthinking” God.  That’s why, when it comes to reading through the Psalms, I feel like a fish out of water due to its richly poetic language that expresses uninhibited worship so fluently.  When perusing the Psalms I find that all my intellectualizing and navel-gazing introspection is forced to take a back seat to learning how to have a personal relationship with God.  And sometimes that makes me uncomfortable.  I guess that’s why I’m a big fan of contemporary Christian praise music.  Through it I’m able to leave Scripture interpretation behind and freely praise God solely for the sake of praising Him.  Take the lyrics for Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons for example: “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul/Worship His holy name/Sing like never before, Oh my soul/I’ll worship your holy name.”  Nothing brain-taxing about that, just an announcement of one’s unfiltered adoration for God.  Another would be Chris Tomlin’s poignant composition, Almighty, wherein we can sing “You have no rival/You stand alone/The heavens worship/Before your throne/There is no one like you/You have no equal/Your kingdom reigns/Yours is the highest of every name.”  They’re both modern-day Psalms.  A lifelong musician/songwriter, I know I can depend on the power of music to transport my soul away from the confines of my body into a spiritual dimension where I can dispense with all pretenses and worship the God who made me without my inflated pride getting in the way.  Little wonder music has always been inseparable from the effective spreading of the gospel message.  I hate to imagine where the 21st century body of Christ would be without it.

 

None other than our Savior Himself assured us that, no matter how frightening things may look at times, the Father in heaven is reliably good all the time and He’s firmly in control.  Check out what our Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (from Matthew 6, as translated by Eugene Peterson in his remarkable tome, The Message)Christ says, If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion.  There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.  Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God.  And you count far more to Him than birds.  Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?  All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference?  Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers.  They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it?  The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.  If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think He’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do His best for you?  What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.  People who don’t know God and the way He works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how He works.  Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.  Don’t worry about missing out.  You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.  I ask you, does Jesus sound like a doom-and-gloom God to you?  No way.

 

I’m not implying God doesn’t get angry at times.  He’ll put up with a lot from us but to blatantly disrespect Him is to risk His wrath.  Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows He doesn’t tolerate insolent behavior well.  Like any good, good father He’s not averse to administering corporal punishment when He deems it necessary but that doesn’t mean He walks around with a chip on His shoulder.  The bottom line is that He loves us and wants us to return that love.  We demonstrate our love for Him most courteously by being voluntarily subservient to His perfect will. Dostoevsky wisely wrote, “The whole law of human existence lies in this: that man be able to bow down before the infinitely great.”  Yet worship is going to be tough sledding if one thinks of God as a mean-spirited tyrant with revenge always on His mind.  Philip Yancey wrote, “I have concluded that most Christians today avoid the Old Testament for the simple reason that they find the God depicted there scary and remote.  In Doris Lessing’s wry phrase, ‘Jehovah does not think or behave like a social worker.’  Jehovah behaves, instead, like a holy God trying desperately to communicate to cantankerous human beings.”  I think too many Christians don’t realize how much God desires for them to trust in Him completely.  And that trust is made audible and therefore palpable when we worship Him without reservation, singing (or at least atonally mouthing like I do) lines such as those found in Elevation Worship’s Glory is Yours: “Oh, God, the glory is yours/The kingdom has come and the battle is over/Jesus, in your name we rise/And the glory is yours!”

 

We can also worship God in stillness, in absolute silence.  Brennan Manning wrote, “Words such as union, fusion, and symbiosis hint at the ineffable oneness with Jesus that the apostle Paul experienced: ‘…It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).  No human word is even remotely adequate to convey the mysterious and furious longing of Jesus for you and me to live in His smile and hang on His words.  But union comes close, very close; it is a word pregnant with a reality that surpasses understanding, the only reality worth yearning for with love and patience, the only reality before which we should stay very quiet.”  Worship without unconditional trust being involved is worship with a gaping hole in it.  Partial worship won’t supply what we so desperately need to give.  God is our one and only higher power and we should treat Him as such.  I like what Thomas Merton said in one of his prayers.  He uttered, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I’m following your will does not mean that I’m actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”  That’s my prayer, too.  The apostle Paul suggested that believers be “fools for Christ.”  Perhaps we should act most foolishly when we worship Him.

4

What is the “Kingdom of God”?

Before going any further it must be stated that every last one of us has been given, by divine providence, a “kingdom” that’s all our own.  A private bubble floating along atop the river of humanity.  An existential “My Space,” if you will.  It may be miniscule or we may’ve blown it up to gigantic proportions in our minds but it’s still a kingdom regardless of its imagined size.  It’s the realm in which our personal choices determine what happens in the short run.  It’s our sphere of influence.  Is it mostly an illusion?  Yes, but it’s also part of what it means to be an unprecedented, one-of-a-kind human being.  Dallas Willard wrote, “…It is nevertheless true that we are made to ‘have dominion’ within an appropriate domain of reality.  This is the core of the likeness or image of God in us and is the basis of the destiny for which we were formed.  We are, all of us, never-ceasing spiritual beings with a unique calling to count for good in God’s great universe.”  When I ponder that concept I can’t help but be further overwhelmed by God’s generosity.  Because we’ve been given the gift of free will God is literally trusting each of us to employ wisdom and therefore prudently rule over our private lot, limited as it may be, inside His awesome creation.  We actually have a say in what goes on in our lives!

 

Now, anyone who’s raised a child knows that granting them a modicum of control over certain things is an important aspect of their overall development.  Mature oversight and guidance is crucial, of course, but in many instances it’s highly beneficial to let them do it even if they fail.  Otherwise a wide variety of critical lessons go unlearned and they’ll most likely suffer unpleasant or disastrous consequences later on because someone always did it for them.  Down the line they’ll become all too susceptible to bad influences because they were never taught to step up and think for themselves.  In case you haven’t noticed, that particular deficiency is rampant in today’s society.  Folks, especially the younger set, think they have no control whatsoever.  They feel like they’re at the mercy of random ill winds that constantly blow them hither and yon like dead leaves in autumn.  Often they, as David did, succumb to despair and desperately beg for divine intervention.  He cried, Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am frail!  Heal me, LORD, for my bones are shaking!  I am absolutely terrified, and you, LORD – how long will this continue?  Relent, LORD, rescue me!  Deliver me because of your faithfulness! (Psalm 6:2-4).  Alas, angst is nothing new.  But I digress.

 

God also gave mankind a more expansive “kingdom” called Earth that we’re collectively to be in charge of.  One need not venture very far into the Bible to confirm it.  Right after God created Adam & Eve He gave them a big job to do.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply!  Fill the earth and subdue it!  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.’  Then God said, ‘I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.  They will be yours for food.  And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird in the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’  It was so (Genesis 1:28-30).  Whether we like it or not, this planet is our domain.  In addition, God implanted inside each of us a spiritual yearning to perform our custodial task in close, interactive cahoots with Him.  Part of us knows we must rely on God to give us the power and ability to reign over terra firma efficiently.  He didn’t intend to be a distant observer; He wanted to be deeply involved in what goes on down here.

 

Sadly, we humans can act so smug over what we’ve been able to accomplish via the mechanical, electrical and nuclear power inventions we’ve devised we begin to think we don’t need God’s help at all.  What we blind ourselves to when we do that is the spectacular improvements we could’ve made by now if we’d worked in conjunction with the magnificent Creator Himself.  Looking back through history it would seem we’ve perhaps been way too eager to be the planet’s caretakers.  Willard wrote, “Apart from harmony under God, our nature-imposed objectives go awry.  The social and individual chaos of human desires sees to it.  Much of our time and energy is spent trying to dominate others or escape domination by them, from ‘office politics’ to tribal warfare to international relations on a global scale.”  In other words, we’re easily distracted bipeds.  Anyone with a functioning brain can readily deduce that, all things considered, conditions have deteriorated and continue to deteriorate on our watch.  The “fall of man” in the Garden of Eden was a long fall, indeed.  We’ve made such an unsightly mess of things only God can fix them.  And one day, when He’s ready, He will.

 

Yet, despite our insolence, God still lets each one of us have our own tiny kingdom wherein we have the unrestricted freedom to invite Him into the throne room or not.  If we’re faithful to respect and acknowledge His sovereignty He’ll gladly lead us along the path of righteousness.  If we choose to banish Him from the premises He’ll leave us to rely on our own wiles.  Those in the former category will find that, by submitting to God’s omniscient wisdom and unconditional love, the arena of our “dominion” will actually grow.  You see, life’s a precious gift and those who live theirs in harmony with God’s master plan will come to know what an abundant life really includes.  In Jesus’ parable of the talents those who put their gift to good use were rewarded in the end.  For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough.  But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him (Matthew 25:28).  What we must get through our thick skulls is the fact that God’s still in the business of creating and it’s His delight to invite us to be a part of the ongoing process.  Frequently the biggest obstacle in the road to fulfillment is our tendency to place unwarranted restrictions on our Heavenly Father’s abilities.  Our Savior taught, “…For God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).  Here’s how it works: Those who work with and obey God will be blessed by Him and reap eternal benefits.  Christ put it thusly, “…The king will say to those on those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).  The implications boggle my mind.

 

In sharp contrast to our “mini kingdoms,” God’s kingdom is infinite in size and, therefore, beyond our comprehension.  He possesses the all-encompassing “override” option, too.  Nothing can thwart His perfect will.  The Scriptures inform us, Your [God’s] kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations (Psalm 145:13).  His kingdom’s existence has never been in jeopardy.  We humans can wreak our worst havoc and still fail to put a single dent in it.  That’s because God’s kingdom is in no aspect limited to being merely a social or political reality.  As a matter of fact, the social and political realm (outcroppings of men and women’s fickle hearts) is the only place in the whole of creation where God’s will isn’t currently being strictly and irresistibly enforced.  It’s the “on earth” territory mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer that sits in opposition to the “in heaven” kingdom where God’s will dominates.  The implication is that God’s kingdom isn’t necessarily welcome in “the hearts of men.”  We can voluntarily invite it in but God will never force it upon us.  But that’s beside the point, which is this:  The “kingdom of God” existed long before the universe ever did.  Jesus Christ didn’t invent God’s kingdom and bring it with Him.  What He brought was a new way for us to access and enter it.  In addition, when He told us to ask the Heavenly Father “Thy kingdom come” He wasn’t saying we’re to pray for it to come into existence.  Not at all.  He was teaching us to petition for God’s kingdom to reign supreme in the hearts of His children and all unsaved hearts where it’s currently barred.

 

I find it informative that our Lord and Savior had to depend on metaphors to describe for the benefit of His hearers what the kingdom of God is like.  I take it to mean He was acutely aware that if He were to offer specifics nobody in the audience would “get it” and He might as well waste His time trying to convince them the earth wasn’t flat and that our celestial orb revolved around the sun.  Frederick Buechner put it this way: “As a poet, Jesus is maybe at His best in describing the feeling you get when you glimpse the Thing Itself – the kingship of the king official at last and all the world His coronation.  It’s like finding a million dollars in a field, He says, or a jewel worth a king’s ransom.  It’s like finding something you hated to lose and thought you’d never find again – and old keepsake, a stray sheep, a missing child.  When the kingdom really comes, it’s as if the thing you lost and thought you’d never find again is you.”

 

Plainly stated, God’s kingdom is wherever God is.  Yet men and women, not being robots but free-will creatures capable of rebelling, can opt to step away from and remain outside of God’s kingdom.  There’s only one thing that can resist the love of the Heavenly Father – the stubborn, conceited will of an individual.  God bestows upon every person the freedom to reject Him and rule over what they’ll foolishly consider their own self-made realm.  But when they die they’ll be totally on their own in a place void of all the God-given senses they took for granted.  All that God has created, from the massive galaxies filled with blazing stars down to the subatomic particles all matter consists of, will be absent in that blank nothingness.  They will finally be free to manufacture their own universe only to realize they haven’t nearly the wherewithal or resources to do such a thing.  They will be the God of zero.  I can’t imagine a worse hell but it is the fate of all who intentionally spit in the face of their Creator.

 

Despite that tragic inevitability billions of people continue to choose to ignore the Holy Spirit’s open invitation to become an integral part of God’s stupendous and exhilarating master plan.  As Christians it’s our duty to inform unbelievers of what they’ll be missing out on for all eternity to come – the exhilarating adventure of serving in the glorious kingdom of God.  Jesus lived among us, not only to atone for all our sins, but to show and teach us the kind of life for which we were created to enjoy.  Rather than jam the truth down our throats, He delivered the “good news” in a calm and gentle yet authoritative manner, allowing us to decide for ourselves whom we’ll follow.  Christ made it clear to us that by relying on His word and promises we’ll know the privilege of blending our petite kingdom into the immaculately holy kingdom presided over by God Almighty.  We will, at long last, be home.

 

In my previous essay I went to lengths to highlight the fact that our Lord spent the first three decades of his earthly life as an ordinary citizen.  Just “one of us.”  But then suddenly, when His time had arrived, He revealed Himself as being the gateway to experiencing the only life worth living.  He even insisted that No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).  He then put His money where His mouth was by suffering a torturous, gruesome death followed by His walking out of the tomb Easter morning as He predicted He would.  He took on our biggest fear – death – and conquered it.  Because of His supreme sacrifice all human beings have the opportunity to be a part of the kingdom of God, not in some hazy, still-to-come future era, but in the here and now.  Jesus announced, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).  No more waiting.  It’s ours for the taking.

 

Now, the Bible gives us only brief previews of the wonders we’ll behold on the other side of the Pearly Gates.  Those “sneak peeks” are probably all our fragile, dysfunctional psyches can handle at this juncture.  However, excitement-inducing anticipation over what lies ahead is something we’ve all grown up with.  It’s the fabric of hope.  And surely God has plenty of surprises in store for us.  But what Jesus preached was that God’s kingdom has come.  Willard declared, “The reality of God’s rule, and all of the instrumentalities it involves, is present in action and available with and through the person of Jesus.  That is Jesus’ gospel.”  The writers of the New Testament reiterate that the kingdom of God isn’t something we accept on faith now but will have to wait to enter into somewhere for real “down the line.”  Just the opposite.  They stress that the kingdom already has flesh-and-blood members who are already busy expanding it into the lives of the lost and the hopeless.  Make no mistake, though.  It’s not a material kingdom.  God is Spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).  Thus His kingdom is entirely spiritual.  The apostle Paul said, For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  Just because God’s kingdom isn’t made of molecules doesn’t mean it’s unreal or that it’s not in this world.  Truth be known, there’s nothing more actual and pervasive in existence.  It’s the source of all that is good.  Take Jesus’ hand and enter in.

4

New Year, New Way

Something we all do to one degree or another is after December’s done we promise ourselves to do something positive about whatever it is we don’t like most about ourselves.  The annual urge to “self-improve” is one of our species’ more admirable traits.  I once sweated/grunted through a period in my life when I went to a health club at least three nights a week for several years.  January always shoved inconveniences into my workout regimen because the place would be packed with newbies whose resolution was to finally shed the disfiguring spare tire encircling their waistline.  God was probably teaching me patience because I eventually gleaned from experience that by Valentine’s Day there wouldn’t be a long line at the Stairmaster anymore.  In my spiritual life, however, I’m no better than the “this time I mean it” folks I’d look down on back then.  Like many, I entered 2016 intending to become a better Christian in every aspect of my faith by living the new way Jesus demonstrated but within months my selfish habit of expecting God to bless me with what I wanted had managed to disrupt the whole developing-a-closer-relationship-with-my-Heavenly-Father initiative.  The old way of thinking hadn’t disappeared.  It’d merely waited for my inherent laziness to return from its short-lived hiatus.  “Oh well, there’s always next year,” I sighed.

 

The new way isn’t a secret.  It’s laid out explicitly in Matthew 5 through 7.  Dallas Willard wrote, “What we’ve come to call the Sermon on the Mount is a concise statement of Jesus’ teachings on how to actually live in the reality of God’s present kingdom, available to us from the very space surrounding our bodies.  It concludes with a statement that all who hear and do what He says will have a life that can stand up to everything – that is, a life for eternity because it’s already in the eternal.”  In His awesome sermon Christ informed the world the Kingdom of God isn’t situated way off in the future somewhere, it’s here now because He brought it with Him!  In the 3rd century Clement of Alexandria poetically wrote, “Jesus Christ, by coming into this world, has changed the sunsets of time into the sunrises of eternity.”  In other words, followers of Christ shouldn’t be waiting for New Year’s Day to instigate much-needed changes.  The truth of the verse, Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8) is in effect 24/7.  That ability has been ours to freely indulge in ever since we surrendered our life to our Savior.  Larry Crabb opined, “Heaven’s ecstasy will flow from the literal presence of Christ.  The beginning of that ecstasy, in this world, depends on the appreciated presence of Christ.  The old way, by its focus on tangible blessings now, severely limits the depths of that appreciation.  In the new way, appreciating Christ’s presence as the ‘sunrise of eternity’ is possible.  Not automatic.  Never complete.  But possible.  And the possibilities are staggering.”

 

In the previous essay I presented ideas about how to get on and stay on Jesus’ new way path.  I’ll add a few more.  One’s particularly timely: Redefine your spiritual goals.  Foremost of one’s aims should be, as the late Brennan Manning would say, to trust God ruthlessly.  Without reserve.  Without hesitation.  Why?  Because you know Him via your encounters with Him and you know He’s good.  Admit it.  You’re always surprised by the depth of His amazing grace.  He always embraces you as you are.  You never have to put on airs for Him.  You never have to dress up.  You never have to try to hide your weaknesses because He’s seen them all – in Technicolor.  When no one else accepts you warts and all, He does.  That kind of unconditional love can’t help but elicit sincere worship.  “Ruthless trust” will lead to experiencing community.  One of the many things I cherish about Celebrate Recovery is the blessing of getting to be a participant in an unpretentious, non-judgmental, loving fellowship of confessed sinners every week.  It doesn’t matter who’s there or ain’t that night because the Holy Spirit never misses a meeting.  Uncompromised trust in God will put you in position to have your heart be transformed, as well.  If you trust only in yourself it’ll never happen.  Only God can give you a heart that looks like Christ’s.

 

When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God was “at hand” He meant “it’s here now.”  Willard wrote, “It’s a kingdom that, in the person of Jesus, welcomes us just as we are, just where we are, and makes it possible for us to translate our ‘ordinary’ life into an eternal one.  It’s so available that everyone who, from the center of his or her being calls upon Jesus as Master of the Universe and Prince of Life, will be heard and will be delivered into the eternal kind of life.”  The Bible tells us our Savior didn’t leave our ongoing justification to chance, either.  He taught His disciples, I have spoken these things while staying with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you (John 14:25-26).  Unlike Elvis, the Holy Spirit is still in the building, powerful as ever.  He hasn’t gone anywhere.  Jesus said of Him, “…He will guide you into all truth.  For He will not speak on His own authority, but will speak whatever He hears, and will tell you what is to come.  He will glorify me, because He will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you (John 16:13-14).

 

That’s precisely what He’s doing.  Paul wrote, And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).  He reaffirms our status: The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16).  He reassures us of eternal life in heaven: “…When you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).  Because of the Holy Spirit, our mind-blowingly bright future with the Lord in paradise is guaranteed: “…It is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, who also sealed us and gave us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a down payment (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).  In other words, we’ve got everything we need: “…You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth The anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you (1 John 2:20, 27).  The key to living the new way is relying 100% on the Holy Spirit.  Crabb described our anointing thusly, “…Followers of the new way will be given the passion and wisdom of Christ to respond to every challenge they meet in life.  If we learn what it means to come to Him, we’ll receive an anointing that enlightens us about what to do and empowers us to do it in any circumstance of life.”

 

As I’ve emphasized throughout this series, the new way isn’t a “new and improved” version of Christianity.  It’s been around for 2,000 years.  It’s how the Son of God intended us to live all along.  To reiterate, Jesus told us all about the new way in His Sermon on the Mount.  But if your prayer life reflects the old way more than the new way then you’re missing out on a vital aspect of deepening your relationship with God.  There are three indicators of old way praying.  First is asking for your will to be done.  As in “make my back stop hurting” or “make my kids respect me” or “make my boss give me a raise.”  Second is requesting God pave the way for you to get what you want.  As in, “open some closed doors for me” or “bring someone into my life who’s got some clout.”  Third is to plead with God for Him to make you happy.  As in “do whatever’s necessary to make my depression go away” or “stop making my life so hard to deal with.”  Now, please understand there’s nothing wrong with asking God for help – unless His blessings are what you desire more than Him.  That’s old way praying.  New way praying never involves putting demands on God.  It’s asking for His light to shine upon you even when your environment is darkest.  It’s requesting His beauty overwhelm the ugliness of this world.  It’s inviting His love to saturate your soul to the extent that others, especially non-believers, will want what you have in Christ.

 

Having said all that, I readily confess that spontaneous, conversational prayer is difficult for me.  My brain insists things be orderly; that I adhere to an unyielding schedule so certain things get done at a certain time of day.  I’m above average at keeping track of stuff.  In my younger days I’d note casual/trivial events on a calendar and then store that calendar with my other “portable junk”.  Thus decades later I can tell my aging musician pals exactly the day we played a particular gig, for example.  The downside of that trait has always been that some tag me “anal retentive.”  (I’ve been called worse, believe me.)  The upside was that I eventually landed a well-paying job with a financial portfolio management firm in their operations department because I was proficient at making sure all the numbers involved in their stock trades matched up.  But in my prayer life my ducks-in-a-row tendency severely inhibits conversing with God as if I’m hanging out with my best friend.  Like clockwork, I pray first thing in the morning after perusing my “read-the-entire-Bible-in-a-year” passage for the day and then quickly at night before I slip under the covers.  I have a set list of things I recite in my mind and a roster of folks I make sure to mention along the way.  Otherwise I fear I’ll forget to pray altogether.  A few years ago I read some books on how to pray better and they helped a bunch but I still stubbornly rely on a lot of routine in my supplications.  Perhaps you’re the same way.  I feel for you.  I do gain a lot of solace in the words of Romans 8:26-27, “…The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.”  The Father provides.

 

Basil Pennington wrote a piece that hits home with Christians like me on a profound level. He imagined a scenario where a father has given his 3-year old daughter a coloring book and a box of crayons. What she creates can be labeled “abstract art” only in the broadest and most generous of terms but he watches her color away, transfixed in his adoration of her.  When she finishes she proudly presents her creation to him.  He’s tickled pink.  Pennington wrote, “A father is delighted when his little one, leaving off her toys and friends, runs to him and climbs into his arms.  As he holds his little one close to him, he cares little whether the child is looking around, her attention flitting from one thing to another, or just settling down to sleep.  Essentially the child is choosing to be with her father, confident of the love, the care, the security that is hers in those arms.  Our prayer is much like that.  We settle down in our Father’s arms, in His loving hands.  Our mind, our thoughts, our imagination may flit about here and there; we might even fall asleep; but essentially we’re choosing for this time to remain intimately with our Father, giving ourselves to Him, receiving His love and care, letting Him enjoy us as He will.  It’s very simple prayer.  It’s prayer that opens us out to all the delights of the kingdom.”  In other words, our Father in heaven is immensely elated whenever we take the time to spend a few moments sitting in His lap.  Even if our prayers are recited by rote.

 

Still, I’ve picked up pointers that help to at least expand the scope of my one-on-one chats with God.  I start by honestly opening up and telling my Heavenly Father where I’m at; where my mind’s been wandering off to, how I treated my wife and other folks I interacted with recently and whether or not I put Him first in my life.  I confess my sins and beg His forgiveness for my failures in being His ambassador.  Next I tell Him how much I love Him, worship Him and want to please Him through honoring His name and character.  Because it just feels right, I then recite the Lord’s Prayer before asking Him to bless the people I care most about, identifying them individually.  I conclude by thanking my Father for all the blessings I too often so callously take for granted.  (Compared to millions of humans on this planet I’m a privileged, wealthy man simply because I have shelter, food and clean water.)  And, of course, I express my gratitude for His sending His Son to die in my place before I mutter amen.  I try to allow a few moments of silence to pass before opening my eyes and raising my head just in case He has something to say to me but I have yet to hear His sweet voice.  (That’s because I’m usually instantly distracted, thinking about what I’m gonna do next.  He can’t get a word in edgewise!  I don’t know how He puts up with me.  I guess it’s because He loves me more than I can fathom.)

 

While living the new way includes obeying God’s laws, in and of themselves they can’t change our hearts.  Only Christ can do that.  Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.  The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.  But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe.  Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me – that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day.  For this is the will of my Father – for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:35-40).  Willard wrote, “He [Jesus] knew that we can’t keep the law by trying to keep the law.  To succeed in keeping the law one must aim at something other and something more.  One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow.  The apple tree naturally and easily produces apples because of its inner nature.  This is the most crucial thing to remember if we would understand Jesus’ picture of the kingdom heart given in the Sermon on the Mount.”

 

Let’s all make a resolution to stop living the old way and start living the new way of the Spirit that Christ died on the cross to make available to mankind.  Crabb wrote, “Either we can keep asking God to give us what we think will make us happy – to escape our dark room and run to the playground of blessings – or we can accept His invitation to sit with Him, for now perhaps in darkness, and to seize the opportunity to know Him better and represent Him well in this difficult world.”  The choice is ours.  At the end of next year I’ll either look back on it regretting I lived it the old way again or I’ll be blown away over how my soul benefitted from consistently living the new way.  I know if I place all my trust and faith in Christ, whose love for me was put on full display at Calvary, I have no doubt I’ll know I’ve grown as a Christian.  It’s up to me to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.”  So be it.

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The 2,000 Year Old “New Way”

Annually, on December 25th, we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Nobody else’s birthday garners worldwide attention because nobody else comes close to having the impact on civilization Christ did and continues to have.  His miraculous incarnation as a human being on this planet changed everything.  He came for many reasons, one of which was to inform us the old way of living had served its purpose and was now officially terminated.  The long-prophesized Messiah brought with Him the good news of a new way to live.  Alas, not everyone was thrilled.  The Jewish leaders certainly didn’t welcome it because it was a direct affront to the “establishment” they’d worked so diligently to maintain.  The occupying Romans didn’t like it because they were paranoid about anything that threatened their dynasty.  Satan didn’t like the messenger or His message because the power they wielded was something he couldn’t match.  All three of those entities devoted their energy and resources to combating the Son of God by attempting to render Him and His new way impotent.  History shows they failed miserably.

 

For the average Joe or Jane on the street, however, Jesus’ announcement of a new way to live was nothing less than scandalous.  They’d been brought up to rigidly believe what the Jewish priests and scholars had hammered into their heads from when they were babies – obey every single one of their hundreds of laws (the ten God gave to Moses plus the boatload they’d added) and the great I AM will bless you.  Break just one and He won’t.  They’d preach, “Y’all want hope?  Here’s a tip.  Be as holy and righteous as we are and maybe you’ll get a fancy robe to wear and a cool title.  Do A, get B.  Guaranteed.  Trust in us, not the God of Abraham.  He’s the one who put us in charge and then skedaddled for parts unknown.”  So here comes Jesus strolling into their towns dressed like a commoner, eating the same bland food and drinking the same weak wine they were yet able to perform miracles none of the big wigs could pull off on their best day.  On top of that He taught with authority, telling them the stress-creating “pressure to perform” that had so dominated their existence was no longer necessary because The Messiah they’d been anticipating was the one speaking to them.  He wasn’t into anarchy or instigating a riotous rebellion.  Not at all.  Jesus said to them, Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).  Things were going to be different from now on because of Him.  Why?  Because He and God were the same!  Wow!

 

That was then, this is now.  Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father where He remains today.  He sent the Holy Spirit to continue introducing Christians to the new way.  How does a follower of Jesus know if they’re living the new way?  We know by what we produce.  “…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).  If you’ve been living the old way but ready to embrace the new way don’t put it off another minute.  Larry Crabb wrote, “It begins with thinking.  We’re transformed by renewing our minds, not our circumstances; we’re changed not by rearranging blessings in our lives or strategizing to make life work a little better or overcoming our low self-esteem and troubling emotions, but by renewing the way we think about this life.  How we come to God doesn’t guarantee how God will come to us or when He’ll let us feel His presence with us.  Nothing we do makes anything happen.  But since the New Covenant is now in place, drawing near to God does guarantee that He’ll draw near to us, in His own time and in His own way, not because of the merit of our coming, but because of His gracious promise to draw near to us if we draw near to Him.”  Knowing the Father is the new way Jesus introduced to the world 20 centuries ago.  The Scriptures confirm it.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).  Forget about earning blessings already.  Focus on leaning on, trusting in and knowing God better every day.

 

Because I’m a leader in my local Celebrate Recovery ministry I eagerly recommend it to everyone without hesitation.  The 12 steps and 8 principles it promotes helps folks of all races and ages live the new way.  But perhaps there’s not a CR near you or your work schedule prevents you from attending the weekly meetings.  There are things you can do to adhere to the new way of thinking.  I’m assuming you read your Bible daily, you’re an active member of a church and you pray for divine guidance, strength and courage as often as you can.  Otherwise you first need to establish those vital things as the foundation of your faith before any serious changes can occur.  If they’re in place then the next thing to do is to figure out exactly where you are.  In CR it’s step #4: “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”  It’s backed by Lamentations 3:40, Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.”  (The great advantage CR offers is having a sworn-to-secrecy sponsor who’ll help you along as you write out your inventory.)  It’s also the step where a lotta folks drop out of the program because it involves coming to grips with how selfish and sinful we can be.  Taking an honest look at our past actions, attitudes and thoughts is not a particularly pleasant exercise but it’s a necessary one, nonetheless.  We can’t know where we are unless we acknowledge where we’ve been.  Crabb wrote, “It’s the failure to discover where we are at any moment that keeps us from realizing where we most want to go.  Until we face an inner brokenness that no blessing in this life can mend, we’ll be drawn irresistibly to the old way.”  The irony is that what we find most evident in our moral inventory is a glaring lack of effort in seeking God.  We find we’ve struggled through rough phases in our life that made us feel unhappy, unfulfilled and incomplete because we were yearning for God’s blessings instead of God Himself.  It was all about us.

 

That’s where the Israelites were at in Isaiah’s time.  They’d all gravitated towards living their lives by the method that made the most sense to them.  They figured if they did the best they could God would surely reward them with the “good life.”  It didn’t work because they couldn’t obey God’s laws.  Their best wasn’t near good enough.  Isaiah described the mess they’d gotten themselves into.  From the soles of your feet to your head, there is no spot that is unharmed.  There are only bruises, cuts and open wounds (Isaiah 1:6).  Where the Israelites were back then is where a lot of modern Christians are now.  God’s offering His adopted sons and daughters everything they need to have abundant joy, contentment and peace in their hearts but too many just don’t get the gist.  All too frequently we’re like toddlers who turn down a thousand-dollar bill in favor of a shiny dime.  It’s not enough that our sins are forgiven and heaven awaits, we want God to bless us with a better car, a bigger house or a more prestigious career.  That’s the old way beckoning us.  The reality is that to live the new way is to essentially buck the system.  When we make knowing God our primary goal 24/7 we open ourselves up to ridicule and derision.  Even some fellow believers will think we’ve “gone mental”.  That’s the kind of sway the old way has on this world.  Contentment can look like stupidity.  Remember, many thought Jesus was off His rocker, too.

 

I like what Dallas Willard said about Christ’s new way message.  He wrote, “Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share His view of the world in which we live.  To His eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world.  It’s a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control – though He obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as He wishes.  It’s a world that’s inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.  It’s a world in which God is continually at play and over which He constantly rejoices.  Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.”  Can you imagine the astounding difference the Christian community could make across the entire globe if we were to live the new way of the Spirit and let the life-enhancing instructions of our Lord “fully seize us”?  We could literally move mountains.  True dat.

 

Another adjustment one can make to get on and stay on the road of the new way is to be aware that we stand at a crossroads every day.  We talk a lot about that in Celebrate Recovery.  A whole lesson is devoted to it because there are several aspects to consider.  In the context of the new way of living Christ made possible it’s choosing to continue forward or to take a right or left turn that leads to the “tried but never true” old way mindset.  Crabb used an illustration.  He wrote, “How do parents of a suffering daughter cope?  Every day they’re faced with her condition, knowing it will not change.  There’s no cure.  Nothing would be more cruel than to suggest that if they only believed, she would be healed.  That is linear thinking at its most evil.  To believe she could be healed and to pray for it, fervently, is Christian; to believe she would be healed if enough people with enough faith prayed is anti-Christian.  It’s the old way.  It’s demonic.  It elevates our blessings above God’s glory.”  Please understand what Crabb is conveying.  Jesus wants us to trust in the Heavenly Father’s perfect will as much as He Himself did.  Recall Thomas’ stubborn doubt.  He didn’t give a flip the other disciples were so adamant they’d seen, hugged and visited with their risen Master.  He demanded proof he could physically touch.  Eight days later Christ showed up again.  This time Thomas was in the room.  Jesus went out of His way to assure His skeptical friend that the others hadn’t been lying, exaggerating or hallucinating.   “…He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and examine my hands.  Extend your hand and put it into my side.  Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.’  Thomas replied to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:27-29).  I imagine Thomas was more than a tad humbled.  He probably wanted to go hide in a closet.  The new way is believing when it’s the most difficult thing to do.

 

The new way is also radical.  It takes guts to live our life as Jesus lived His but in time we’ll discover it’s the most rewarding way to live.  Previously we used God in hopes He’d make our life run smoother.  In so doing we were placing our will above His.  We insisted we be blessed in proportion to our “admirable devotion.”  We weren’t hoping for blessings, we were expecting them as if they were some kind of divine Christmas bonus.  We were depending on God’s generosity to elevate our happiness level.  God wasn’t our ultimate treasure, His favors were.  As for His only begotten Son we’d conveniently demoted Him to just being the ticket-collector on the glory train we’ll ride into paradise someday.  We’d forgotten He was the smartest, wisest and most well-informed human being ever to trod terra firma.  Willard commented, “Far too often He is regarded as hardly conscious.  He’s looked on as a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man, fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, but little more.”  And the indwelling Holy Spirit?  Fuggitaboudit.  We’d stopped counting on His counsel to be of any practical value long ago.  We weren’t listening anymore.  That is until some unexpected cataclysmic or heartbreaking event happened that made us realize our intricate, self-designed plans had shattered like cheap glass and God was all we had left.  In our devastated state we finally heard the Spirit whispering, “There’s a better way to live.  The 2,000 year-old new way.  Let Christ lead you out of this darkness.  Draw closer to the Father and He’ll draw closer to you.  That’s a promise that, unlike your dreams of God’s bestowing the ‘good life’ upon you, will never be broken.”

 

All Christians arrive at a crossroads when we rise from our bed to kick off another day of life on earth.  We have an important decision to make daily.  Are we going to ask God to kindly remove all obstacles and clear the road so we won’t have to deal with any troubles, be they minor or major?  Or are we going to welcome whatever God has in store for us, for better or for worse, so we’ll have been even more dependent on Him when we lay our head down on the pillow again?  That’s the challenge to each of us who follow Jesus.  Do we go the old way or the new way?  The former is, in a manner of speaking, safer.  Less risky.  The latter involves vulnerability, something we try to avoid like the flu bug.  It requires we own up to our weaknesses and that’s always a serious blow to our pride.  But once we come clean the Holy Spirit will lead us to repent.  He’ll encourage us to do what Christ told the adulteress whom He mercifully spared from a vicious stoning to do, Go, and from now on do not sin any more (John 8:11).  When we sincerely repent it’ll become crystal clear we need to discard all our misguided notions of being entitled to receive blessings.  We’ll surrender our ego and put all our trust in God’s perfect will.  Surprisingly, we’ll be rewarded with an inner confidence that He, indeed, is working all things together for good and that we’ll never have to spend a single second without God having our back.  At that juncture we’ll experience the freedom the Lord has graced us with to unhesitatingly release the love in our heart and give it away to everyone we encounter.  People will not only notice but be influenced by our display of unabashed faith in Christ.  That’s when we’ll know we’re living the new way.

 

This doesn’t mean God’s Law is no longer our rock-solid standard for living righteously.  Willard wrote, “…Confidence in the Christ is, correctly understood, inseparable from the fulfilling of the law.”  Note that in Mark 10 when the wealthy young man asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life, our Lord listed the “don’ts” of the Ten Commandments and said, essentially, “obey those laws.”  With that in mind Willard opined, “What we’re looking at in the contemporary Western world is precisely what He [Jesus] himself foretold.  We have heard Him.  For almost two millennia we’ve heard Him.  But we have chosen to not do what He said.  …How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church [in] the twenty-first century.”  Christians must never think that if it’s our aim to obey the commandments God gave to Moses we’re living the old way.  There’s still no better blueprint for living as our Creator intended us to.  What we have to avoid, though, is thinking if we’re at least somewhat obedient, God is (for some imagined reason) obliged to bless us with what we want.  Look, Jesus lived a pristine life yet He ended up being tortured to death.  The new way our Savior introduced to the world is accepting whatever comes our way without fear or trepidation because, through constantly striving to draw closer to God, He’s drawn closer to us.  Thus, we have God.  We need nothing more.

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The Rogue Wave

You probably know what I’m talking about.  You’re sailing over relatively calm seas and suddenly your ship’s under water, capsized by a rogue wave from nowhere.  It happened to me when my wife fell seriously ill recently and I found myself grasping for a lifeboat.  Of course, I questioned God.  “Was this part of your plan, Lord?  Or is it just another episode of “Life on a Fallen Planet”?  After hours of emotional panic I finally settled down to the business of seeing to my wife’s needs while praying for strength and patience.  I reminded myself God’s in control and His master plan is proceeding on schedule.  I don’t always understand His methods but then He never asked for my input, either.  All I know to do when a tsunami hits is to trust Him, lean on Him and worship Him regardless.  After Scottish minister Arthur Gossip’s wife passed away, his next sermon was entitled “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?”  in which he said, “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadows must believe it.  We have nothing else.”  While my beloved wife didn’t die, I know of what Gossip preached.  The whole ER/surgery/hospital stay/painful recovery event was yet another confirmation that the old way of living (do A, get B) never has and never will work to our satisfaction.  We can toe every line and maybe even approach sainthood status but it’s no guarantee the tidal waves of this earthly existence won’t arise and engulf us any instant.  The new way Jesus provided 2,000 years ago is the only thing we can count on.

 

In the fourth book of C. S. Lewis’ heralded The Chronicles of Narnia saga, The Silver Chair, a child named Jill gets lost in a forest.  She comes to a stream.  Extremely thirsty, she runs toward it but stops when she sees a lion lying nearby.  The lion is Aslan, the Christ figure in the series.  He invites her to come and drink.  The wary girl demands assurances she won’t be harmed.  The mighty lion makes no promise she won’t suffer.  He doesn’t promise her a rose garden.  What he does offer her is the water she so desperately needs.

 

When sickness viciously intruded into my and my wife’s comfortable routine I felt like that scared youngster.  I wanted God to fix what had gone wrong and make all the uncertainty go away.  Because I’d been a good boy who reads his Bible every morning, goes to church every Sunday, never misses a Monday night Celebrate Recovery meeting and tithes dutifully I felt entitled to God’s blessings now.  I wanted the doctors to conclude it was merely indigestion and send us back home with a bromide but that didn’t happen.  The lion would only promise me His unwavering presence through the storm we were in.  The seas have settled somewhat and our ship’s repairs are under way but a thorough restoration takes time.  God didn’t shield us from what befell my wife but He never left us.  We’ve been able to quench our thirst and drink from His healing waters.  Jesus said, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:37-38).  Communicating through the prophet God implores, Hey, all who are thirsty, come to the water! (Isaiah 55:1) and Pay attention and come to me!  Listen, so you can live!  Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you…” (Isaiah 55:3).  Yet as I sat there chewing my nails in the waiting room I asked God what so many of us in dire straits ask Him – What, precisely, is that promise?

 

Now that I’ve been able to gain a modicum of perspective on that terrifying rogue wave that rolled through two weeks ago I find myself wondering what God’s trying to get me to learn in its aftermath.  Yet if my motivation to learn is so I can ward off similar things occurring in the future then I’m fooling myself into thinking I can be in control.  That’s the old way mindset insisting if I behave then God has to bless me.  It doesn’t work like that because God’s plan isn’t to make me happy.  It’s to draw me closer to Him via the New Covenant.  Dr. Larry Crabb describes it as being a seven-chapter story.  In the first chapter there’s only the triune I AM; the three divine persons of the Godhead existing as One in perfect harmony.  (My tiny brain can’t fully wrap itself around that concept and absorb its profundity but that’s okay.  He’s God.  I’m not.)  One of God’s titles is “Creator” so He created angels.  In chapter two God was pleased with them.  He and His angelic posse dwelt in paradise.  They all worshiped Him and took immense delight in doing His bidding.  But, as God knew it would, free will reared its selfish head and spoiled the party.  In chapter three Lucifer, the most beautiful of angels, got the big head.  Pride got the best of him, convincing him he oughta be getting a share of the glory God was receiving and evil came into being.  (In essence, evil is idolizing something other than God.)  Being amazingly charismatic, Lucifer managed to recruit a third of the angels into his rebellion.  God wasn’t having any of it so He banished the ingrates and their self-centered leader from heaven.

 

In chapter four God created everything else, including the earth.  On this unique planet He designed a magnificent garden called Eden, a word that means “delight.”  It was here He created the first people.  He’d see to their every need so their only desire would be to deepen their one-on-one relationship with Him.  Crabb wrote, “Human beings were formed with the capacity not only to bow in awe before majesty and to serve the Master, but also to enjoy the depths of God’s heart.  In that, we’re distinct from angels.”  God adores Adam and Eve but He does put a single stipulation on their freedom.  He points and says “Do anything you want but don’t eat that fruit.”  They were fine with that rule for a while.  After all, they had it made.  No tears, no pain, no bills, no arguments.  Who could ask for more?  Well, evidently they could.  The sly devil tempted them to disobey and they gave in.  In chapter five sin infected not only Adam & Eve’s hearts but their DNA, too.  Thus it spread to their offspring, instilling in the human race the idea there’s something better to seek than God.  (Evidently knowing the Heavenly Father required far too much dedication.)  Pleasure became the focus and God took a backseat to its pursuit.  When fulfillment didn’t arrive they sought relief from the tidal waves of pain and disappointment any way they could.  When God tried to show them where they’d gone off the rails they spat in His face and questioned His integrity.  They asked, “If you love us so dang much, why don’t you give us what makes us happy?  Otherwise, what good are you?”  Little wonder God had regrets (See Genesis 6:6).

 

In chapter six God hit the reset button by opening the flood gates.  Only Noah and his family survived.  God made a deal with Noah.  God said, “Check out what’s in the sky, man.  It’s called a rainbow and it’s My pledge that, though I know perfectly well your descendants will dis Me and make a mess of things again, destroying the world in the way I just did will not be repeated.”  In other words, God was saying He’d never again try to punish folks into cherishing Him above all other joys.  Perhaps it hurt Him too much.  Predictably, within a few centuries humans had reverted to thinking only of themselves.  This time God picked out Abraham and made another agreement.  God told him, “In faith go where I lead you and trust only in Me.  Through your seed I’m going to raise up my own nation.”  Abraham obeyed and, many years down the road, the Israelite throng was a reality.  However, they got enslaved to Pharaoh.  God singled out another man, Moses, to emancipate them and they escaped Egypt in no time at all.  His chosen people free at last, God gathered them together and updated the contract He’d made with Abraham, this time calling it the “Mosaic Covenant.”  In this arrangement God promised to take care of absolutely everything as long as the folks held up their end of the bargain by keeping His Law.  Of course, they couldn’t do it.  So God let them have it their way and things got ugly quick.  Not one to give up, though, God waited a while and made another agreement with King David.  God told him, “Because you have a heart for Me and you’ve gotten my people to follow your example I’m setting up a throne that’ll last forever.  Forever because My Son will one day occupy it.”  It happened.  Yep, despite our wicked contrariness and cruel tendencies, God’s in control and His plan’s still moving forward.

 

Jesus was the difference-maker.  Because of Him the law that came through Moses is now tattooed on our hearts.  The old way has been rendered null and void.  Grace is now in effect.  It’s the new way.  Because Christ showed us what real love looks/feels like, those who believe in Him have a hunger for righteousness.  Plus obeying God’s laws has now become their hearts’ delight.  Living the new way, we believers comply with God’s commands so we can grow closer to our Heavenly Father, not so our lives run smooth as silk.  What God promised King David came to pass.  It’s here now.  Jesus is seated on the throne of God’s everlasting kingdom and salvation is available to all who’ll simply accept Him as their Lord and Savior.  And this covenant is one we humans can’t screw up with our shameful shenanigans because Christ took it upon Himself to permanently seal the deal by shedding His precious blood on the cross.  Jesus stepped in, paid the exorbitant price and tore down all the barriers between us and our Creator.  As Crabb put it, “We now have direct access to God at any time, in any circumstance.”  I found that to be true while I kneeled by my wife’s hospital bed, praying for her recovery.  I felt God’s embrace.  I felt His love.  I felt His presence.  Yes, I’m a sinner but I’m also saved.  We who are His adopted children can’t be snatched out of His hand.  Ever.  I’ll gladly serve Him for all eternity.

 

And that leads us to chapter seven, the one that’s yet to unfold.  It states there’s a time coming when we’ll no longer come to God for we’ll be with Him always.  Look, Satan and his demons are defeated but they have yet to wave the white flag of surrender.  The Bible tells us they never will.  God’ll see to their uncompromised demise when He’s ready and on that day sin won’t just diminish, it’ll cease to exist.  Those of us who can’t wait to see Jesus will see Him any time we want and we’ll want nothing else.  Our greatest, most sublime joy will be to serve Him in any capacity we can anywhere in the universe.  The future’s so bright we’ll need to wear welding helmets.  Alas, we’re still wading through chapter six for now.  But it can be a great place to be, no matter our current circumstances, if we live our lives the new way.  I’m talking about the way of the Holy Spirit that eliminates all the stress, all the self-inflicted “pressure to perform.”  Crabb wrote, “That’s the New Way to live.  And it’s available to all whose supreme treasure is God, who bow before God and make no demands, who know He’s always doing us good…”  We can have that assurance.  Even when our spouse is undergoing emergency surgery and her life hangs in the balance.  God wants us to trust Him.  To yearn to know Him better.  To live the new way.

 

“Well,” you may mumble, “That’s a nice story but is it Scriptural?”  Glad you asked.  I was just reading in Hebrews this morning and I came across this passage wherein it speaks of Christ being the High Priest of a new and vastly improved arrangement.  The writer refers to the Mosaic Covenant and then notes, But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one.  But showing its fault, God says to them…” and then he paraphrases part of Isaiah 31,Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds, and I will inscribe them on their hearts.  And I will be their God and they will be my people.  And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.  For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.”  Then the writer tosses in the clincher: When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete.  Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear (Hebrews 8:6-13).  (Think what you will, but it’s my humble opinion it’s no coincidence God has me reading through Hebrews right now.  Just sayin’…)

 

God doesn’t always grant us the blessings we pray for.  Especially when it’s for our will to be done over His.  But in His own supernatural way He lets us know He’s right there alongside us, no matter what trial we’re experiencing at the moment.  Author Frederick Buechner told of a dream he had about a friend who’d recently died.  He called it a “very undreamlike dream” where his friend was standing in the room with him.  He wrote, “…I said: ‘How nice to see you, I’ve missed you,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I know that,’ and I said: ‘Are you really there?’ and he said: ‘You bet I’m really here,’ and I said: ‘Can you prove it?’ and he said, ‘Of course I can prove it,’ and he threw me a little bit of blue string which I caught.  It was so real that I woke up.  I recounted the dream at breakfast the next morning with my wife and the widow of the man in the dream and my wife said, ‘My God, I saw that on the rug this morning,’ and I knew it wasn’t there last night, and I ran up and sure enough, there was a little squibble of blue thread.  Well, again, that’s nothing – coincidence – or else it’s just a little glimpse of the fact that maybe when we talk about the resurrection of the body, there’s something to it!”

 

Brennan Manning wrote, “Resurrection power enables us to engage in the savage confrontation with untamed emotions, to accept the pain, receive it, take it on board, however acute it may be.  And in the process we discover we’re not alone, that we can stand fast in the awareness of present risenness and so become fuller, deeper, richer disciples.  We know ourselves to be more than we previously imagined.  In the process we not only endure but are forced to expand the boundaries of who we think we really are.”  Manning then cited Colossians 1:27; The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory.”  When we live life the old way we miss out on that marvelous mystery because we’re so preoccupied with doing things properly in order to earn God’s blessings.  I found out last week that by dropping all pretentions of having power over situations beyond my control and, instead, praying for God to let me draw near to Him I live the new way and I’m able to experience the privilege of feeling the comforting caress of my Heavenly Father’s divine hand.

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