Category Archives: 01. Made in His Image

Made In His Image (Sunday) – Colossians 1:15-23

Made In His Image – Colossians 1:15-23

Colossians 1:15-23 NAS

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister (and coach).

When the ball is hiked in a football game, the viewer’s eyes are trained on the quarterback. The ultimate compliment to a QB and a play caller is when the defense is fooled. While everyone is focused on one area, yardage is being gained on another part of the field, and by someone unexpected. Many of us may be fooled as well as we think of God’s work in the earth today. The unit God has on the field is His Church and …

                              when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together

Unfortunately those watching the western division of The Saints versus the Demons do not see the Church gaining any ground. It would seem the Church only knows a few plays and the opponent knows them all, stopping most of them for a loss. How can this be?  Is there a problem with the offensive coordinator? Is there a problem with the play? The theology of some even lead them to believe that God has ordained this quarter to be a loss. For the record, I don’t see any coach, especially ours, ordaining a loss, and there is certainly no problem with The Play or its Caller. Read our passage again, this time with your heart. (Note: You cannot speed-read and heart-listen at the same time.)

Everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment…He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—He is supreme in the end. From beginning to end He’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is He, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in Him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of His death, His blood that poured down from the cross. Colossians 1:15-20 MSG

George Barna has compiled some of the game stats for Team-Church in his book Revolution. The numbers strongly suggest the western church is stuck at the line of scrimmage, deep in their own territory. However Barna’s eye has not been fooled. He is also following the ball on a play that is gaining some yardage. It is being executed by an unexpected player on a part of the field not many are watching … Look at the sideline – something is going on there, behind the coaches.

Most of us do not see this play simply because our eye has been trained to think of “church” as a place or an event. Our conditioning has trained us to see Pastor as Coach and QB. While our eye may be following the institutional church, the ball is actually being carried by the Church, a vast and growing squad of aching souls who are standing up, getting off the pew and declaring, “I am not just a benchwarmer!”

From the Owner’s perspective, the ball has never really been dropped. The players, as they have always been, are scattered strategically on the field. Barna has taken note that many believers are not only getting up off the bench, they are finding their way into smaller groups where they can discover how God has equipped them and how they can make their essential contribution to The Play.

Along with Coach Paul, MwM aspires to encourage all men and women to discover their essential gifts and insert themselves into the line up of friends and family where only love can advance the ball and reverse the momentum of this battle.

Father, May we see the contest with your eyes. May we find our way into the skirmish where our God-given skill sets can be used to devestate the enemy.  Thank You for Life. We look forward to the day when you truly run up the score. So be it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made in His Image (Saturday) – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Made in His Image – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

For many years I envisioned the primary tool in accomplishing the Great Commission as evangelism. Verbally sharing the gospel was, to me, the dynamic behind all kingdom growth. Today’s passage is helpful in explaining why I no longer see evangelism (in the traditional sense) in this exclusive light. Telling the old old story is important but it will be more effective when it is coupled with the light of new life. I believe there has been an overlooked component to the Great Commission – the mandate to live brightly,

And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

Have you ever wondered how the Church grew so rapidly in the first 3 hundred years? By our standards they were very under-equipped. They had no Bible. They didn’t have professional clergymen. They had no books or tracts. They had no means of mass communication or transportation. They didn’t own church buildings. So what accounts for the explosion of Christianity? The Church had a supreme advantage over us – simplicity. They had nothing but one another, lots of trouble and, most importantly, the Holy Spirit, who was teaching them to live out of the new Life which was now theirs through a brand new covenant with God.

This New Covenant enabled both Jew and Gentile to draw near to God as their Father. God was no longer a distant deity who had etched his 10 Commandments onto stone plates. He had now taken up his stylus and was writing his story on their hearts. He gave a new covenant to them which was exceedingly greater than the Law of Moses. God had torn the Temple veil in two, heralding the scandalous notion that men might live, face-to-face with the living God. In the midst of scarcity and hostility, there was simplicity. All they had (or needed) was Christ living inside them and among them.

When God is personally present – a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation (the Law of Moses) is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

The Great Commission (a term popularized by Hudson Taylor) was being executed unconsciously by God’s children as they simply lived out their lives alongside others who were witnessing their transformation. They were living brightly as reference points for eternity in a  dark and decaying world.

They didn’t need to hold evangelistic crusades. By design, they were the crusade. The Holy Spirit was expressing Himself through the Body of Christ (not just the clergy) in a variety of powerful ways. They had another tremendous advantage. The false measure of church attendance had not yet been invented. These primitive and simple people were spared from the snare of that debilitating concept. These people had become the Body of Christ dispersed strategically in a dying world. Their new lives were individually and corporately radiating credibility for the Carpenter who had conquered death. In the heat of persecution, in the company of each other, they were being….

….transfigured much like the Messiah, their lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters their lives and they became like him.

Father, grant us the grace to repent of misplaced priorities and dependencies. Grant that we would return to the simple message of Christ alone – our sufficiency in all of life and the hope of glory. Help us to see that we ourselves are the essential and intended good news – those stories God is daily publishing, that the world would read and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that in believing, all might have life in His name. Amen.

 

 

Made In His Image (Friday) – Ephesians 2:4-10

Made In His Image  – Ephesians 2:4-10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-10

Paul said this nearly two thousand years ago. Do you think those ages Paul has referenced will come after God has executed a rapture maneuver, extracting the Church out of the hot-zone of warfare on this earth? Or, is there a chance we could actually be living in those ages Paul claimed were coming?

The answers to these questions have far reaching implications. One scenario presents the problem of having been left behind. The other involves just being left out. The Jenkins/LaHaye Left Behind series presents an eschatology where the rapture is the event, preceding a time of great tribulation where the saints are snatched up out of this world. The rapture essentially becomes the get-out-of-trib-free ticket. Everyone else is left behind.

Another eschatology might be referred to as a kingdom-now theology where the Church does not see evil prevailing before Jesus returns. On the contrary, it envisions that her destiny is to shine brightly and to overcome, especially where evil has abounded. The overcoming Church knows it has historically shined the brightest when the temperature of circumstance have been the hottest. They base their anticipation on Jesus’ words …

In Me, the kingdom has come.” And, “My kingdom is within you.”

This group remembers God’s original mandate for man to subdue the earth and rule over it. They believe the kingdom will emerge as God answers the prayer which Jesus taught them to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This tribe has hearts like Joshua and Caleb that reason; “The giants in the land may be big but they are no match for the Lord God Almighty who has given us this land to possess.” This tribe is not fearful of being left behind, it just doesn’t want to be left out, of whatever battles lay ahead.

As a new believer I anticipated that Christ’s return was imminent. I was truly surprised each subsequent year the rapture did not occur. Over the decades I have lost confidence that my understanding of the timing of a rapture, or even the events surrounding it, are that critical. Whether it is mid, post or pre, my marching orders remain the same; “Be prepared. You do not know the hour.” There is just a whole lot of “now” in “Be prepared.” I don’t believe that prepping out of fear, stockpiling food or ammo, is what Jesus was talking about. He was talking about our hearts. Our hearts will be best served by giving the Word of God the benefit of the doubt regarding the nature of His Son’s life.  Jesus’ prayer from John 17 sheds additional light …

Father, it’s time. Display the bright splendor of your Son. I have given them this very same glorious splendor that you gave MeI’m not asking that you take My children out of the world. In the same way that you gave Me a mission in the world, I gave them a mission; It is simply to display My life in them. While I will no longer be visible to the world; they will. Since I am in them and you are in Me, they can be one heart and mind with Us. This is so the world might believe. This will give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent Me and that You have loved them in the same way you’ve loved Me. I am in themGuard this life within them which You conferred as a gift through Me. Father, I want those you gave Me to experience My completed joy and I also want them to be with Me, right where I am, so they can see My glory, the splendor you gave Me, having loved Me long before there ever was a world. As You put Me in charge of everything, I have given real and eternal life to all in My charge. And this is the real and eternal life: That they know You, The one and only true God, and Myself, whom You sent. 

I have been unable to reconcile the church which Jesus prayed for in this passage (or the one portrayed in the balance of scripture) with one that is evacuated before a victory can be secured. Left Behind theology implies the Holy Spirit will not prevail over the world, the flesh and the devil. In this scenario, Jesus’ rulership turns out to have been insufficient; the fallen nature prevails over the new; the flesh prevails over the Spirit. Has our track record shaped our theology? Has Christ’s victory been precluded by the Church’s own distorted image of herself?  Perhaps our experience would be victorious if our vision was built from scripture instead of what we have not yet seen.

What if we were to discover afresh who we actually are in Christ and that our mission is as simple as displaying His life, in us? What if we were to discover afresh that we are not essentially fallen beings, rather we are new creations in Christ and citizens of an eternal kingdom who are even now seated with Him upon His throne? What if He opened His Word afresh to us and it burned so upon our hearts that we knew that, in Christ, today was the day of salvation, that today is the appointed time for His Bride to make Herself ready and to display the splendor of His glory to the world?

The Left Behind mind-set puts the Church on the defensive, managing our sin natures, anxiously awaiting the rapture so we can be done with this life and get on with the next. While I understand the appeal of leaving this earth and my aging body (as they are) behind, a kingdom-now theology registers as truer in light of Jesus’ teachings and prayers. A now-kingdom vision fills our lives with responsibility, adventure and an opportunity to see the Word of God vindicated in and through the Church.

Father, may Your Truth become our Way and take precedence above any ill-found, defeatist mentalities. May we see that You have answered Your Son’s prayer; that we are now with You where You are – seated (now) at the Father’s side. Help us to see we have not been orphaned in a hostile land, rather we are Your offspring, commissioned to display the life of Christ. Succeed in overthrowing the ideologies which have served to discount our identity and muddle our destiny. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Made In His Image (Thursday) – Psalm 8

Made In His Image – Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

What do infants and revengeful adversaries have to do with each other? One is small, innocent and without their own voice, vulnerable and dependent on the strength of others. The other is independent and bent on displaying their strength as they attempt to settle scores on their own terms. Yet the psalmist reveals it is from the mouth of these inherently weak and innocent ones that strength will be established.

          What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?

What are humans in the grand scheme of things? We seem limited and transient while God’s infinite majesty is best articulated by the cosmos. One appears momentary and incidental, the other eternal and all-powerful. Yet the psalmist tells us that (in spite of our appearance and track record) humans were fashioned to be only a little lower than God! Whatever our opinion may be of ourselves, we need to keep in mind that when we were created in the image of God, we were crowned with glory and majesty and we were commissioned to have dominion over this earth. How can this ever come about?

Scriptures speak of a day when not only will the Lord’s majesty be displayed in the heavens above but on the earth as well, in His Body – the Church. This glorious day will be hastened as men look at the heavens and see not only an impossible contrast but a kindred order. Here are just a few scriptures informing me that my dreams and hopes are not merely wishful thinking;

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like what God has arranged for those who love him. (1 Cor 2:9)

It has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And…  all of us who look forward to his coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own. (1 Jn 3: 2,3)

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Eph 3:20)

All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (Col 1:20)

We are told by Isaiah of a coming day when “The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.” This knowledge is not going to be limited to bumper stickers and billboards. It won’t be won’t be restricted to truths proposed in books and sermons. It will be the Word of God expressed in the speech and the lives of the Church. It will be Christ in us, the Word of God made flesh, in the very lives we once discounted in terms of their worth and power.

This blessed day will be hastened as God’s offspring envision the pre-rapture glory He intends for them. There is an impediment to pre-rapture glory however. The bulk of Christendom envisions the world, the flesh and the devil as the conspiracy which will prevail until Christ’s return. Perhaps they are right. After all, the observable trends of history surely support a vision of progressive human demise.

I have heard brilliant people endorse a kingdomnow vision of God’s master plan and I have heard equally bright minds propose a kingdom-then vision. With smarter, more biblically literate persons than I, at odds regarding God’s timing, I decided to follow my heart – where Christ lives. My heart is surely not inerrant, but with the knowledge of scripture it possesses, it has determined to give God the benefit of the doubt regarding the nature of His Son’s life. Also because of the very good things God has done in my own heart, I am inclined to think that the kingdom of God has come and that, in Christ, this kingdom potential is resident within us, making us pregnant with possibilities which we must dare to dream and live. FYI:I am working on my explanation to God (when I stand before him), in the event that my timing of his triumph was too optimistic.

The Kingdom will greatly prosper when we finally agree with God regarding who we actually are. While it sounds holy and humble to say, “We are just sinners saved by grace,” it is also a debilitating lie. We are not just sinners. Listen to Paul who knows who we really are;

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Father, may we dare to dream Your dreams, embrace Your promises, think Your thoughts and in so doing, repent – overthrowing every lofty idea that has exalted itself above the full knowledge of You. Let the inevitable expansion of Your kingdom begin in our hearts. May Truth show itself infinitely superior to every half-truth. May our childlike and innocent hearts voice Your Truth and Wisdom, exposing satanic plots and vanquishing Your adversary forevermore. May we reassert dominion over this earth which you placed beneath our feet. May we finally discover that, in Christ, the image is being restored. Holy Spirit, may you radically succeed in the deep and gentle works in our hearts to which You aspire. All to the glory and honor of Your majestic name. Amen.

 

 

 

Made in His Image (Wednesday) – Colossians 3:1-17

Made in His Image – Colossians 3:1-17

Have you ever tried a diet that didn’t work? Who hasn’t? Have you ever tried a spiritual diet that didn’t work – some structured meal plan, committing you to ingest x-amount of Bible per day? Most of us have, many with poor results, often with a bitter aftertaste of guilt. The power of commitments fade and things return to familiar patterns, which frequently exclude communion with God through his Word, but include some freshly buried shame. Yummy! How do the devout deal with this situation? They often reason; “Pastor will just have to feed me on Sunday.” Before you resign yourself to this low-protein fate (and satanic whopper) let’s talk.

In 2011 a friend and mentor handed me the Blue Book. It had no title. It was simply blue. I recall thinking, “Hmm … Where is the dust cover? I can’t even tell who wrote it. Why … it doesn’t even have a copyright!” I ignored it for months. Honestly, the last thing I wanted was any structure to my time alone with God.

After a few months though, I whittled my to-do list down to a manageable backlog and did what I always do; I grabbed the nearest book and cracked it open. It was the blue one. I read the book’s Introduction. My heart responded with a pang of hunger so I dug a bit deeper. My longing was being awakened. When my heart say’s “Yes” a few times in a row like this, I pay attention. Consequently, the Blue Book became my daily companion starting in January of 2013. I quickly discovered my fear of structure was unfounded. Even though the book had a proposed structure it was anything but constrictive.  I had been captured by the magic of this odd little book. What had happened?

I am now convinced I was being wooed by God – I was being invited to be still and know Him, which included a new approach to the Bible – a bit lighter diet perhaps, yet with more nutrients. The Blue Book proposed that one should eat more frequent meals, take smaller bites and chew each of them longer. This required that (even though I had a pressing backlog), I must slow down and linger at each setting.

It has turned out that the Blue Book was not just a new regimen of reading. It wasn’t just about the words in the passage, it was about the Spirit who was in the words. It was more about Who was sitting at the table with me. Learning to linger at the dinner table with the Father, His Son and the Spirit, best explains why 20,000 + people own a book that has never been advertised. This phenomena can only be explained by a growing community of saints who are hungry to personally know their God.

This week’s initial theme, Being Made in His Image gets at the root of who we are – a space that is shrouded in darkness, where the enemy excels in robbing, killing and destroying. This, most powerful of strongholds, is protected by the church itself, in its hallowed doctrine of depravity. One of Satan’s greatest ploys is to convince a saint (even after being born again) they are victims of their unalterable depraved natures. If we are to ever appear to the world as God’s children, instead of mere slaves, this is huge! A child cannot enjoy intimacy with a parent while their pedigree and legitimacy are in question. Paul knew this. In today’s passage, he is hammering home the higher truths which affirm our identities …

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He (Christ) is your life.

Pursue the things over which Christ presides…. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above.

After lingering at the banquet table today, with such good company, I hear these words, “Cease devoting so much attention to your old nature. You have a new one, in Christ. Look up! Reach forward! Press on! Keep seeking! Set your mind on the things above, where Jesus is. If you think you are fundamentally still depraved, you are not who you think you are!”

When I slowed down and made some space for God, I discovered he was ever present. His presence transforms quiet times, bible studies and life itself, into communion with God. The Blue Book has been God’s simple invitation to come and dine with Him. There is SO much I want to report, regarding the living hope that is within me. MwM is where I do this, doing my best to invite you into this mysterious place of communion with God in Christ. Truly God has set up a banquet table in the presence of our enemies.

Father, may you convey to our hearts who we are to you and who we are, in you. May our awakening to the extreme favor of our blessed circumstance translate into a fragrant aroma to you and a light unto the world. Oh Lord, let us see the banqueting table as you see it. Let it be so.

P.S. My blessings overflow in so many directions. This definitely includes friends. My tombstone will undoubtedly read, “Man, this guy had some awesome friends!” One of them is Thomas Ashbrook, author of Mansions of the Heart and Founder of Imago Christi – a community of people spread around the world, who are simply abiding in Christ.

Since I have once again wrestled my to do-list into submission, I and am about to pick up another book. This one is Presence – What if Jesus Were Really Here? by Tom. I am so excited. I’m pretty sure I know where he is going with this and I love it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made In His Image (Tuesday) – Romans 8:18-27

Made In His Image – Romans 8:18-27

The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. Romans 8:22

Are you having any birth pangs? Are you conscious of anything alive moving around in you? Do you have any longings that transcend this life? If so, you are blessed. I think of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said,

Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and those who are marginalized because of their faith.

I also think of something C.S. Lewis wrote,

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world.

I believe those who carry life of this painful type within are, to a degree, “sharing the sufferings of Christ.” We may not always be aware that it is Christ in us causing our contractions, provoking our painful questions, but we are blessed if life, such as this, is stirring within us. Think of Paul’s words;

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:26-28

We can fail to attend to our inner turmoil by tabling our troubled questions, grasping even tighter on our default means of coping – “Turn up the radio please.” In this way, we quench the Spirit but the Spirit must prevail to birth new lifeThis will require us to stop and listen to what is going on inside us. We have to face off with the tough questions. Until we do we are fleeing from God.

It is so easy to let the world interpret what is going on in us. We listen to well formatted packs of lies and conclude that, at best, we can tread water, reasoning; things are far beyond redemption. Yet we remain tuned in to our favorite political talking heads, entertaining some hope that our party will rise and conquer. Is there not a trace of insanity to this notion? To walk in the Spirit we must continually defer to the plumb line of scripture…

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Romans 8:22-25 MSG

All is not lost. God is holding all things in trust for the kingdom’s sons and daughters. Let’s allow the Spirit to teach us that normal Christianity involves the mysterious process of living simultaneously with pain and joyful expectancy.

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. Romans8:18-21 MSG

Father, make us ready. Enlarge us in our waiting. Let it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

Made In His Image (Monday) – Genesis 1:26-31

Made In His Image – Genesis 1:26-31

Most of us are taught as young Christians that our spiritual beginning was the fall of man, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, selling out the human race to a sinful nature which is instinctively hostile toward God. Even King David reminds us that we were conceived in iniquity in our mother’s wombs. How could a Christian argue with anything so obviously true. Human history is the testimony of this curse, yet I also read…

And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

Here is some commentary on this idea from the Apostle Paul…

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

What God beheld that was very good, had been conceived in Him before space and time. Flannel graph falls short conveying the abstract, so we may have missed this in Sunday school, but it is a fact; our origins precede the Fall. What God had made was initially very good and because that was His original intention, that shall be the ultimate outcome. This is quite good news for us.

The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit… Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. (1 Cor 15:45,49)

God’s original intentions are going to prevail because our origins are patterned after His nature, which is very good. The deepest truth about us is not that we are monsters of iniquity. In Christ God has given us abundant life. Jesus, the Life-giving Spirit, has given us new hearts and a new covenant. God is Himself, our life.

In spite of the evening news and our personal track records (which we are sure, confirm our depraved natures), a greater truth exists, about our nature, which we we have not yet realized. This Truth will ultimately prevail, causing us to be the light of the world. We shall exhibit the glory of God as Christ in us, the hope of glory, more fully expresses himself to this world, which he has by no means abandoned.

Father, help us to discover the fullness of Your life in us. Help us to discover our new natures in Christ. Holy Spirit, teach us to live at rest in the great expanse of Your kingdom where there are no ends to Your goodness and love. Show us the overlap of Your Kingdom and our hearts and may we learn to watch over this domain with great diligence. Amen.

 

 

Made In His Image (Sunday) – Colossians 1:15-23

Colossians 1:15-23

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message. Colossians 1:15-23

When the ball is hiked in a football game, the viewer’s eyes are trained on the quarterback. The ultimate compliment to a quarterback and play caller is when everyone, especially the defense, is fooled. While everyone is focused on one area, yardage is being gained on another part of the field by someone unexpected. Most everyone is fooled.

I believe many of us may be fooled as well as we think of God’s work in the earth today. The unit God has on the field is His Church and…..

     when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

As many of the spectators of western Christianity are viewing the Church, they do not see many holes opening up in the line, not too many running backs breaking free for big gains, not many long pass completions. In fact it appears that there are really only a few plays and the opponent seems to know them all by heart. Most plays are stopped for a loss. How can this be!?  Is there a problem with the Offensive Coordinator? Is there a problem with The Play? Some may be tempted to even think that, in God’s sovereignty, He has ordained this quarter to be a loss. For the record, I don’t see any coach, especially our’s, ordaining loss.

We know there is no problem with the Play Caller or The Play.  I invite you to read our passage with your heart. Note: You cannot speed-read and heart-listen at the same time.

Everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment…He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—He is supreme in the end. From beginning to end He’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is He, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in Him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of His death, His blood that poured down from the cross.

George Barna has compiled some of the game stats for Team-Church in His book Revolution. They strongly suggest that the western church is stuck at the line of scrimmage deep in enemy territory. However Barna’s eye has not been fooled. He is also following the ball on a play that is gaining yardage. It is being executed by an unexpected player on a part of the field not many are watching. Look at the sideline. Something is going on there behind the coaches.

Most of us do not see this play simply because our eye has been trained to think of “church” as a place or an event. While our eye may only be following the activity of the institutional church, the ball is actually being carried by the Church, a vast and growing squad of aching souls who are standing up, getting off the pew bench and declaring, “I am not just a benchwarmer!”

You see, the ball has never really been dropped. The players, as they have always been, are scattered strategically on the field, inside institutional churches and outside them. However many are discovering within the contexts of smaller gatherings, the nature of their skills and how to make their essential contribution to The Play.

In the Middle With Mystery (this blog) aspires to encourage all men and women to discover their essential gifts and insert themselves into the line up of friends and family where love can advance the ball and the momentum of this game can be reversed.

Father, May we see with your eyes the field of contest before us. May we find our way into the skirmish where our God-given skill sets can be used to put the enemy on his heels.  Thank You for Life. You will surely find your way (through us) into the end-zone. Amen.

 

Made In His Image (Saturday) – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

For many years I envisioned the primary tool in accomplishing the Great Commission as evangelism. Of course we know to succeed outreach has to be bracketed by intercession and follow-up but verbally sharing the gospel was to me the dynamic responsible for any growth the kingdom of God had or would ever enjoy. Today’s passage is an excellent one to help explain why I no longer see evangelism (in this traditional sense) as the only dynamic of the Great Commission.  I will never forsake the telling of the old old story but today I see another essential ingredient of kingdom expansion. That is; living brightly…..

….our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Have you ever wondered how the Church grew so rapidly in the first 3 hundred years? By our standards they were very under-equipped. Their pastors did not come weekly with a sermon prepared from the Bible and various commentaries. For one, the Church was 350 years away from having a Bible and another;  their pastors were not hired professionals. They were simply those in the body who had been recognized as their gifts for nurturing and equipping became visible within the community of saints. They had no printing presses for books or tracts. They had no means of mass communication or transportation. They had no real estate of buildings. So then,  what accounts for the explosion of Christianity? The Church had a supreme advantage over us; simplicity. They did  not have much beyond each othertrouble and, most importantly, the Holy Spirit, who was teaching them to live out of the new Life that was now theirs through a brand new covenant with God.

This new covenant enabled both Jew and Gentile to draw near to God as their Father. God was no longer a distant and angry deity who had, long ago, etched His 10 Commandments into stone tablets. No. God had now taken up His stylus and had begun writing His story on human hearts which were no longer hard like stone. And, He gave a new covenant to them exceedingly  greater than the Law of Moses. God had now torn the veil in the temple in two, offering those entrusting themselves to Christ, face to face access to the Living God. In the midst of scarcity and hostility, there was simplicity, where all they really had was Christ living inside and among them. The consequence?  Something incredible began to happen….

….. when God is personally present – a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation (the Law of Moses) is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

The Great Commission was being well fulfilled by people who probably had no clue what it was. They were just living out their lives alongside others who wondered about the changes they were witnessing among their friends, neighbors and relatives.  The first disciples had laid hold of an essential dynamic of the Great Commission; living brightly – becoming the light of the world – reference points of eternity in a temporal decaying world.

They had no need of holding crusades. They were the crusade! The Holy Spirit was expressing Himself through the Body of Christ (not just the Church staff) in a variety of powerful ways. They had another tremendous advantage. Church attendance had not yet been invented. These primitive and simple people were spared from the snare of that debilitating concept. They had become the Church and their lives were individually and corporately radiating credibility for the Carpenter who had conquered death and His kingdom which He claimed had come. In the heat of persecution, in the company of each other, they were being….

….transfigured much like the Messiah, their lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters their lives and they became like him.

Father, grant us the grace to repent of our misplaced priorities and dependencies. Grant that we would return to the simple message of Christ alone – our sufficiency in all of life and the hope of glory. Help us to see that we ourselves are the essential and intended good news – those stories that You are daily publishing that the world would read and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that in believing, all might have life in His name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made In His Image (Friday) – Ephesians 2:4-10

God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesusso that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-10

Paul said this nearly two thousand years ago. Do you think those ages Paul has referenced will come after God has executed a rapture maneuver, extracting the Church out of the hot-zone of warfare on this earth? Or, is there a chance we could actually be living in those ages that Paul said were to come?

The answers to these questions have far reaching implications. One scenario presents the problem of having been left behind. The other involves just being left out. The Jenkins/LaHaye Left Behind series presents an eschatology where the rapture is The event preceding a time of great tribulation where the saints are snatched up out of this world. The rapture essentially becomes the get-out-of-trib-free ticket. Everyone else is left behind.

Another eschatology might be referred to as a kingdom-now theology where the Church does not see itself overrun by evil. On the contrary, it envisions that her destiny is to shine brightly and to overcome, especially where evil has abounded. The overcoming Church knows that it has historically shined the brightest when the heat has been turned up the most. They base their anticipation on Jesus’ words, “In Me, the kingdom has come.” and, “My kingdom is within you.” This group remembers God’s original mandate for man to subdue the earth and rule over it. They believe the kingdom will emerge as God answers the prayer that Jesus taught them to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This tribe has hearts like Joshua and Caleb that reason; “The giants in the land may be big but they are no match for the Lord God Almighty who has given us this land to possess.” This tribe is not fearful of being left behind, it just doesn’t want to be left out of whatever battles are ahead.

As a new believer I anticipated that Christ’s return was imminent. I truly was surprised each year when the rapture had not occurred. Over the decades I have lost confidence that the timing of the rapture or the events surrounding it are that critical. Whether it is mid, post or pre; all I have been told to do is be prepared now. I don’t believe that prepping in fear for shortages of food or ammo are at all what Jesus was getting at either. I believe he was talking about our hearts. I believe our hearts will be best served by giving the Word of God the benefit of the doubt. Please listen to this paraphrase of Jesus’ prayer taken from John 17 ….

Father, it’s time. Display the bright splendor of your Son. I have given them this very same glorious splendor that you gave MeI’m not asking that you take My children out of the world.  In the same way that you gave Me a mission in the world, I gave them a mission; It is simply to display My life in them. While I will no longer be visible to the world; they will. Since I am in them and you are in Me, they can be one heart and mind with Us. This is so the world might believe. This will give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent Me and that You have loved them in the same way you’ve loved Me. I am in them. Guard this life within them which You conferred as a gift through Me. Father, I want those you gave Me to experience My completed joy and I also want them to be with Me, right where I am, so they can see My glory, the splendor you gave Me, having loved Me long before there ever was a world. As You put Me in charge of everything, I have given real and eternal life to all in My charge. And this is the real and eternal life: That they know You, The one and only true God, and Myself, whom You sent. 

I just cannot reconcile the victorious army, a purified Bride, or the overcoming Church of scripture with a rapture which seems to say; the Holy Spirit can only work through new resurrected bodies. A rapture implies to me that the Holy Spirit just could not subdue the flesh and that Jesus cannot exercise His rulership as Lord in a fallen world through a fallen Church. In other words, the condition of fallen men has trumped the Spirit and the kingdom of God. I must ask, “Has our failing experience as the Church shaped our theology where victory is precluded by virtue of the Church’s own distorted image of itself?  Perhaps our experience would be victorious if we were to build our theology from scripture instead of our experience.

What if we were to discover afresh who we actually are in Christ and that our mission is as simple as displaying His life in us? What if we are to discover afresh that we are not essentially fallen beings rather we are new creations in Christ, citizens of an eternal kingdom who are even now seated with Him upon HIs throne? What if He opened His Word afresh to us and it burned so upon our hearts that we knew that in Christ, today is the day of salvation; that today is the appointed time for His Bride to make Herself ready and to display the splendor of His glory to the world?

It has struck me that the left behind mind-set puts the Church on the defensive, managing our sin natures, anxiously awaiting the rapture so we can be done with this life and get on with the next. It is much easier for me to reconcile a kingdom-now theology with the the teaching of Jesus and the spirit of the New Testament.  That the kingdom of God is a now affair fills our lives with responsibility and adventure and an opportunity to see the Word of God vindicated in and through the Church.

Father, may Your Words take precedence above any doctrines of defeatism that have infected the Good News. May we see that You have answered Your Son’s prayer; that we are now with You where You are – seated at the Father’s side. Help us to see that we have not been orphaned in a hostile land but that we are kingdom sons and citizens commissioned to display the life of Christ. Succeed in sanctifying us and simultaneously overthrowing the ideologies that have discounted our identity and muddled our destiny. Amen.