The Father and His Son

Long ago and far away there lived a Father and his Son who had a relationship that is rare on the face of this earth. We’ll call them Father and Son. We don’t know a lot about the details of their relationship, but there are some things we know for certain. Although both grown men, the two could often be found enjoying each other’s company.  Son had an artistic mind and found pleasure in creating things – a real master craftsman. And Father took equal pleasure in seeing what Son made.

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One day tragedy struck and darling Son suffered a severe injury while rescuing Father’s dog that had been caught in a well. Death appeared imminent for Son. Father felt as if a knife had cut through his own soul watching Son suffer so.  He drew closer to Son’s bedside and tenderly took his hand, giving the comfort only a loving father can.  The power of their love enabled Son to pull through the darkness and, in the end, fully recover. They could again be found side-by-side, loving on the pup that had nearly been the end of it all.

There was no room for one-upmanship, manipulation or control in their relationship and no sense of fear or dread, no concern of inadequacy.  The relationship was built on trust, mutual respect and personal freedom. The result was sheer enjoyment and delightful companionship for both.  It was the envy of all who saw it.

Amazingly, this is real. This is the quality of relationship described in the Bible between God the Father and Son before time began. Close, warm, tender, playful, creative, pleasurable. There was a third party to this relationship. His name is the Holy Spirit. We don’t know as much about Him, but He was a part of the giving and receiving of benevolent love.

More amazingly, you and I are invited to walk into the relationship with God. Listen to the prayer of Jesus in John 17:

The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.

It was Jesus’ desire that we experience the same quality of love relationship with each other and with His Father as they have been experiencing for eons past. God is not content to simply spare us. He wants to save us out of everything painful and into a beautiful friendship.

You are not alone. You don’t need to perform to be acceptable or accepted. You are loved deeply and tenderly. You don’t have to wait until heaven to experience this. He wants to start growing into this relationship with you right now. Do you trust Him? Will you believe He’s inviting you, just as you are, into the inner circle?

Jesus opened the door of trust in our hearts. Now walk through it.

He’s the hero. And it’s great news!

See Isa 42:1, 6; Pro 8:30, 31; Zech 13:7; John 1:18; Mat 3:17; John 8:29; John 17:24; and John 10:30. 

 

 

 

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Dear Christian Porn User

Dear Christian Porn User,

I know what you’ve been up to. I’ve seen the browser history, the credit card bills. I’ve found that stash of magazines you thought you hid in the basement. I’ve heard your stories when you thought I wasn’t listening. You may think you’re being clever, but you’re not.

You’ve probably said you think there’s nothing wrong with it – that no one is harmed by it. But your attempts to hide it and your defensiveness when caught betray that your heart knows differently. We do not hide that which is right and just and pure.

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I know you go to church every week and have called yourself a Christian all your life, but don’t fool yourself with your title. Do not let who you think you have to be blind you to who you really are. And listen up, because I’ve got some things to say to you!

Jesus loves you.  

Yes, I know. I know you’re a hypocrite. God knows, too. And He’s crazy about you – right now! He loves you. It’s not conditional. He doesn’t ask that you change your ways before you accept His love. In fact, accepting His love is the only way to change your heart.

The gospel is for you.

You’ve often heard about how we need to tell the unchurched about Jesus. But, the good news is, the gospel is for you, too. While you were an enemy of God, Christ died for you. He took on the wages of sin for you. On the cross, He  freely chose to die, forsaken by His Father and without hope for Himself, to give you the right to a new life.

You are valuable.

The cross tells of your value. The God of the universe – the one who can create stars or tell mountains to rise up or to fall down – He offered His Son to bear the price of your sin and mine. Do not reject or scorn the value He places on having a relationship with you.

Now, leave it!

Walk away from it. You know the fleeting moments of pleasure are a high price to pay for the dysfunction it’s brought to your home and the chaos in your heart and soul. So leave it. You’re tired of the scramble for more and feeling like it controls you. So leave it. But you actually can’t, can you? You’ve tried and it pulls you back every time. Perfect! Yes, perfect! You are in the perfect spot to drop your pride, stop the charade and proclaim your utter helplessness.

Call out to Jesus.

I know you are in the church, but call out to Him from the broken place you find yourself. His mercies are new every morning. Now is the time for salvation. Allow His love to soothe and heal those hurts of your past that have been so influential in where you find yourself today.

Pray these words:

Lord God, I acknowledge that I am unable to control my desires. You know the brokenness of my life. I need you, Lord. I am a sinner. Please forgive me. Thank you for displaying Your love and might on the cross through the death and resurrection of Jesus. You overcame the power of sin on my behalf! Sin no longer has to reign over me. Jesus, I want my old life to die with You and Your risen life to live in me. Holy Spirit, remind me of this love and new life throughout my day. Thank You for loving me even while I am a sinner. You are a compassionate God, full of mercy. In Jesus name, Amen.

I urge you to find two or three Christ-followers who will not condemn you, but will walk with you in humility and uplift the cross of Christ to you daily. In His strength is your freedom. In His love is your healing. You cannot do this alone.

Now, to you other Christians still reading because you wanted to see what cursings might be called upon the sinning pornography users, I hope you realize that a good many things could be the topic of this blog. Exchange pornography for pride, workaholism, gossip, greed or self-exaltation. It’s not as easy to count the victims of those acts, but they are destroying others and ourselves just the same. They are a violation of the law of love – out of harmony with God.  My message to you is the same.

People” don’t need Jesus.

WE need Jesus.

A New Heritage

As I listened to their description of what it means to provide hospitality, my first response was to tell myself some lies. “I don’t know how to do that. The family I came from never taught me that. This is going to be hard.”

While I enjoy having friends over and have prepared countless meals, the kind of hospitality they were talking about was at a whole different level. It involved welcoming the stranger into my home, relieving their burdens and providing for their needs for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Wow! Yeah – I’ve never seen that done. … Or have I?

While Jesus was on the earth revealing the love of the Father to us, He went about doing good ~ healing the sick, relieving physical maladies, lifting emotional baggage, and feeding thousands of strangers at a time. He gave hope to those who could never repay Him. He expressed love and forgiveness for people who spat in His face.

I have seen that kind of hospitality.

The gospel tells me that I am seated at the right hand of God (Eph 2:1-10) with Jesus. It says that Jesus agreed to trade places with me in order to heal what I am unable to heal for myself (Isa 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24). If I accept the gift that Jesus has offered, I have the most amazing heritage of hospitality!  John 14:12 tells me that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, made possible by the gift of Jesus, I will do the things Jesus did while on earth in order to bring glory to the Father.  It’s already a reality. I just have to claim it as mine and choose to live in that reality.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

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What I was shown or not shown, what was done or not done to me or for me, is a part of my story. But it does not define me. In the gospel story, through the exchange of Jesus, I am offered a new heritage. I can grieve whatever I need to from my past, but I am given the option of grieving with hope. I can acknowledge the hurt of any past events, without any part of it determining my future. So when looking strictly at family of origin, it would be true to say I have not been shown how to be hospitable. However, Jesus has inserted a new story line into my life and has provided all I need. In Him, my story changes.  In Him, I am whole and complete.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

The Gospel Lens ~ God Is…

In Mark 4:21-34 Jesus told several parables of small things that mattered.  He paid attention to detail. He was attentive. Since Jesus is God and came to reveal the Father, I believe God is attentive.

The scriptures can be searched to see if what I believe about God is supported elsewhere. Indeed, God is shown to be attentive in other ways ~ He notices when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), captures every tear in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), and can number the hairs on my head (Luke 12:7).

Because God is attentive, in the gospel story I am seen and known.  If I am seen and known, I don’t have to search for relationships to fulfill my need to be understood. I already am understood. Because of that I am able to approach relationships from a stable and firm foundation, already filled, and able to allow others to be themselves. Because God is attentive, I don’t have to clamor for attention when I feel small. I don’t have to make a big splash for God to notice.  This peace and security is available to me because Jesus lived as a man and showed me what God is like, and because He restored my relationship with God.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

That’s the gospel.

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Some Notes on Gospel Application

Studying the Bible searching for the gospel message and with a goal of getting to know Jesus is a whole different mindset than studying to learn information, instruction or correction. The questions I ask when studying to know Jesus are:

  1. What is God like? “God is…”
  2. What did Jesus do to show me what God is like? “In the Bible reading Jesus….”
  3. Who does that say I am? “In the gospel story I am…”
  4. How does this affect how I live? “Because God is …, then I… “

It’s always a good idea to submit your conclusions to a comparison of other scripture and to share with allies ~ other people who are also searching to know Jesus. In this way you can make sure you didn’t pull some far-out-there idea out of the depths of your brain rather than listening to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will only speak truth concerning God and will not contradict Himself. So the ideas we come upon when studying to know Jesus will broaden and deepen our understanding, but will not contradict what He has already revealed.

Notice the power of my conclusions when they are based on what I have learned about God and who I am in Christ. That’s a picture of my being made whole because of what Jesus did for me. That’s the result of faith in God’s relational consistency towards me.

Imagine that instead of relying on what Jesus had accomplished to change my heart, I had simply said, “I need to be more at peace and feel more secure in my relationships.” While peace and security are healthy, if I am trying hard to act that way because that’s what I believe I must do, my success relies entirely on my own strength and I am the hero… if I succeed.  It’s nothing but self-talk and positive thinking at best ~ even if I got my advice from the Bible.  It’s self-righteousness. It’s not the gospel.

The Bible contains doctrinal proof, standards for moral living and lessons and instruction of various kinds. The text above could have been studied asking the questions of “what does it all mean? What am I supposed to do based on what I read? Where is the lesson? Is there a doctrine hiding in this?” And those answers are all in there.  But that doesn’t save me. That doesn’t give me a new heart. Information can’t save. Jesus saves.

In the list of should’s, must’s and have to’s there is condemnation, a heavy burden and death of the soul. In the gospel of Jesus, there is restoration, a light burden, and eternal life.

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Studying  with the primary purpose of finding information reminds me of John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  I challenge you to read the scriptures looking for the testimony of Jesus. And see how He changes your life.

 

The Gospel ~ Big Picture

The story of God is a story of love. For He is Love. My story, your story – our story as the human race – is but a small part of God’s story. He is the hero of all stories.

In the beginning, before time on earth began, God existed in the form of three – but yet in one. Being three in one God has experienced love, shown love, been love for all time. As an expression of His love, and no doubt also as an expression of His power and creativity,  God created. God created angels. And He created our world and the human race. We were made to be in relationship with Him. We were made in His image, to give and receive love.

Doubting the goodness of God, Adam and Eve broke the relationship.  Each of us has been born into that state of brokenness since that time.

Knowing His creation could not repair what had been broken without eternally losing their lives, God came to the garden with good news for Adam and Eve. He would make a way for the connection to be regained. It would be expensive for Him, but He had a plan.

God sent His Son, not as a third party to punish and bear the brunt of His anger, but as a part of Himself, to take the consequence of sin. Coming as a baby, to grow and experience life as a human, Jesus could identify with the plight of humanity. In this exchange, He gave up His omnipresence being now limited to space and time, omniscience – having to grow in wisdom, and omnipotence – doing nothing but what His Father empowered Him to  do.  He came as an expression of the Father – to reveal the Father. Jesus is God.  

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As a result of bearing our sins at the end of His ministry, His guilt ridden soul was shut from the Father’s presence. He who had known ever-present, perfect love was now entirely alone and the separation broke His heart. The wages of sin are death, not as a punishment or revenge from God, but as a natural result of choosing to be separated from the source of life. Jesus bore that price by choice to provide a way for us to be free from the penalty. By His wounds we are healed. Being fully divine, Jesus conquered the grave. His payment was accepted by the Father. Hallelujah! Our Savior lives!

God offers this payment to any who would believe. Reaching out our hand and accepting the gift is all that is required. And once accepted, life eternal is ours – beginning now. What God calls real, is real – now – even though I’m not experiencing it yet. That’s part of the faith process. Believing involves trusting what God says more than what my senses say.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

It’s not the ending we deserve. That’s the gospel. And that’s good news!

The Gospel Lens ~ Speaking Gospel Truth

Badness contained is not goodness. It is simply badness that is not leaking out yet. ~ Lee Venden

Most of us have no experience in the realm of speaking Gospel Truth to each other. In general it seems our interactions tend to land at one extreme or another. Either we say nothing at all when we see another person struggling in life, or we’ll swing to the exact opposite and tell them what they should be doing and how they need to change their behavior.  We might even read a Bible verse to show them it’s not just us who says they should be doing what we’ve told them, but God. And we call that speaking truth. But I am finding that at its heart, Christianity is not a behavior modification system, and the overarching message of the Bible is not good advice about living. So what does it mean to speak truth and how do we incorporate that into our relationships?

What I’m sharing here are some summary thoughts from a presentation by Jeff Vanderstelt (click here to watch his presentation).

Using the Biblical metaphor of our lives being trees that bear fruit, what we believe about who God is makes up the root of our tree. We have decided who God is based on what we’ve read and have experienced of the person Jesus (the Bible tells us that Jesus is the revelation of the Father). From that we decide who we are in Christ, which is displayed by our actions – or the fruit of the tree.  Speaking truth is a process of leading others (or even ourselves) to understand what they are believing based on how they are acting and to repent of their false beliefs about God.  By realigning their beliefs with what Jesus has shown us to be true about God, their fruit (behavior) naturally changes.

In the video presentation Jeff walked through an example of how he applied this process to a real-life situation. His wife was struggling with anxiety. The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. Her life was not showing the fruit of the Spirit. I’ll share with you a brief synopsis of the conversation as he shares it on the video.  His actual conversation with her lasted several hours.

Jeff – When you are experiencing anxiety, what does that tell you about who you believe you are?

Wife – I am the one in control.

Jeff – If you believe it is all up to you, what does that say about what you think God has done?

Wife – He has stopped loving me. He is not in control. He has abandoned me.

Jeff – Then who do you believe God is?

Wife – I believe God is unloving, impotent, and distant.

His wife understood that the fruit of her life revealed the root of her faith. In that moment she was acting as though she believed in herself and she was honest enough to speak the beliefs she was holding as truth about God. Those were not consistent with the beliefs she intellectually held to be true about God and she quickly repented of the beliefs she was acting on. She actually believes God is loving. She knows this because Jesus died for her while she was still His enemy. Because God is loving and cares for her, she does not have to be in control and can have peace.

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Repentance is the turning away from false beliefs we are holding about God and turning toward what we know to be true as revealed in Jesus. As you may have noticed, the discussion was not “you need to get more peace”. While peace is what she needed, telling her she needed to get peace for herself by trying would have only reinforced the root belief that was already bearing the fruit of anxiety in her life ~ namely, that she was in control of life and that it was all up to her. We don’t bear the fruit of the Spirit by trying hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit comes automatically as we seek Jesus.

Empathizing with others in their time of distress helps them know they are not alone and is beneficial to the one hurting. Giving good advice about choices to one who is asking has its place. But only Christianity offers the Good News of the gospel. Only God is able to change us from the inside. Do we believe it? Why don’t we remind each other of that more often? Why do we try to fix our external fruit problem instead of addressing our internal root problem?

The Gospel Lens ~ An Evolution of Theories

Over the years I’ve had some defining moments that have prompted me to put my beliefs into words. The first was about this time six years ago. My late husband was on hospice. He and I, and our kids, signed a family pledge. It went like this: “Because Jesus is coming again to take His friends to Heaven, we will, therefore, dedicate our lives to Him.”  I had a considerably longer version written out, but the challenge of writing it in calligraphy on a 12 X 16″ sheet of paper inspired me to distill it down to as few words as possible. So when push came to shove, the essence of my beliefs landed on, “Jesus has something I want, so I’m willing to give Him something back in order to get it.” I will always treasure that piece of paper with all of our signatures on it, but I find my gospel view… well… interesting.

About two years ago I had occasion to give a synopsis of my life view again. This time it read: “Because of all Jesus has done for me, I am a bond servant to Him.”  The essence of this statement sounds more like “Jesus has done something for me… and I will work at paying Him back.”  Again… interesting.

But I’ve come to some stark realities in the more recent past. These realizations are based on words that I’ve known for as long as I can remember being.

  • Jesus/ God doesn’t need my work. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can command the rocks to cry out. All things are at His disposal. (Ps 50:7-10, Luke 19:40)
  • He doesn’t want my work. He’s not interested in any performance.  “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (Ps 51:16,17 MSG)
  • I can’t give Him any good works of my own.  Every good and perfect gift is from Him. (James 1:17)  Anything I do on my own is as filthy as menstrual rags. (Is 64:6) That’s disgusting.

The 4 Gs

So, if that’s what the gospel isn’t, then what is it? I like this brief summary based on “The Gospel Primer” by Caesar Kalinowski (2013 Missio Publishing):

God is Great ~ so I don’t have to be in control. I can rest of my worries.

God is Glorious ~ so I don’t have to fear others. God is important, or “weighty”. In fact, He is the “weightiest” person in my life.  I can let go of seeking the approval of others.

God is Good ~ so I don’t have to look elsewhere for my satisfaction. People and things eventually fail to deeply satisfy my soul. Jesus is the better fulfillment of my every need.

God is Gracious ~ so I don’t have to prove myself to myself, to others, to God. While I was yet a sinner, God sent His son Jesus to die in my place. I don’t need to earn His love. He proclaims me worthy.

God is the hero.

He graciously gives. I gratefully receive.

Because of the gospel, I am free.

My burden is light.

That’s Good News!

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives.