Category Archives: 14. Chosen By God

Chosen By God (Sunday) – Romans 8:28-39

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 

Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day longWe were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39 NAS) 

A good friend told me that a young clean cut man entered his office complex and announced, in the most friendly manner,”I am Jesus and I just want you to know that everything is going to be OK.” Then he casually turned and left, leaving the employees with something to talk about during coffee break.

According to Paul, this is just the kind of thing Jesus would say;

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NAS)

In our passage, Paul then goes on to explain some of the how’s and why’s of this announcement … Why this is true for you is that you have been called according to His purpose. You are foreknown. You are predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. You are now one of Jesus’ siblings. You are called. You are justified, which means you are acquitted, made righteous, put into right standing with God. You are also glorified which means you have been raised to a heavenly dignity and condition or state of being (according the Amplified Bible). We now have a rock solid basis for the notion that things are going to be OK. Paul then asks, 

What then shall we say to these things?

Indeed, what is our response to Paul’s words? Many respond, “Ah yes, its good to be saved. I am a wretch at the moment but I certainly look forward to these nice things after I die.” One of the primary themes of MwM (and I believe, the New Testament) is that the kingdom of God is here on earth right now. Yes, its also coming but it has also come. Because it came with Christ, many glorious things are intended for us before we die. This reality brings now import to passages such as this. I believe this is how Paul would have us respond;

We should announce that with God being for us, no one can prevail against us because He did not spare His own Son. He delivered Jesus over for us all. In Christ, God has freely given us everything. No one can successfully bring a charge against us. Since it is God who has justified us, no one is in a position to condemn us. Yes, things are OK because Jesus died, but He has been resurrected and currently sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us. No one, no thing, can separate us from the love of Christ, not even tribulation, distress, persecution, famine,nakedness, peril, or sword. Nothing!

The odd intruder may have been insane but he was eerily on point. We absolutely do have a strong basis for concluding that everything is OK between God and us. If we are to continue in transforming our minds, along with Paul, we must continue with our announcement;

Even in our distresses, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loves us. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

In contrast to Paul’s perspective on redeemed men, many of us seem to harbor an exponentially negative view of ourselves. Thinking of ourselves in such favorable light as Paul casts provokes fearful tremblings among the devout,  “Why, if all this were really true about me, I am sure I would indulge my flesh without constraint.” Paul seems to say, “Absolutely not! As Jesus’ siblings, you are now constrained by the love of God. With His Spirit in you, you are no longer empowered by your will alone. You have the life of God in you. Get this and things will be OK, and then some.”

Unfortunately, the devout will wrangle with this, “But you don’t know my flesh. You don’t know my sin.” They will then attempt to work out their salvation with misapplied scripture, “For the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”….and…”God shall not despise a broken heart. I am a wretch and I know it.” I have sympathy for this person because I have been him. I have been that believer whose conscience alternately accuses then exalts him. I will testify, this is a brutal and exhausting trail. Father wants to rescue all His children from this path of bondage. Nothing good can come of it except guilt and religion. Our minds must be renewed; nothing can separates us from Father’s love and kindness. This issue has to be settled in-heart before we can leave this trail of false righteousness.

Father, help us to believe the highest good about ourselves, in Christ, even if its true. Amen.

 

Chosen By God (Saturday)—John 6:35-51

I’ve been thinking lately about the many altar calls that were made on Easter. The old, old story was retold with its rightful emphasis on Jesus Christ, the unblemished lamb that was offered up as the qualified sacrifice, atoning for the sins of man. He suffered a brutal murder and was buried, but the grave would not hold Him. With well-choreographed events and nuanced audio-visual stimuli, the evangelists used their most influential and moving phrases to bring men to that place of decision.

As one who is conscious of some unhealthy statistics about those of us claiming to be Christian, I ask myself is there anything right here at the start of the Christian life, at the altar, that is amiss in some way that contributes to the nominalism that G.E Ladd claims is the curse of western Christianity (see Friday’s MwM post). Could there be anything false (or half-true) in the western gospel message that contributes systemically to our alleged nominalism? So I am asking, on Easter, what exactly was the nature of those decisions that were made? Was the gospel heard on Easter the same one preached in the New Testament?

Jesus’ altarmanners were unorthodox, to put it mildly. To his audience, he says, “Even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me.”  Notice he doesn’t invite them to believe. His comments seem limited to whether they already believe or whether they do not. Jesus’ understanding is that every person the Father gave him eventually came to himWithout musical backdrop to His invitation (if you could even call it that), Jesus seems to try and drive them away instead of calling them forward.

 You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. (John 6:26 MSG)

How many people have said yes to the altar calls that drew people with some “free lunch” carrot? I’ve heard it, and I suspect you have too:

Evangelist: I know many of you out there are suffering. You have financial problems, marital problems, serious health issues…some of you have wayward children that are lost. Some of you are in deep depression and have even thought of taking your own lives. Listen to me! Come to Jesus and he will give you life!

Was this the gospel Jesus and his followers preached?  This does not seem even remotely familiar to anything I’ve read in the Bible. And how many people have responded to those altar calls that attempt to prod people from behind with the fear of hell?

Evangelist: I know many of you out there are entangled in sin. Sin is your master and you are Satan’s slave. You know there is a fiery judgment awaiting you. You do not know when your time will come. Listen to me! Come to Jesus. He is the only escape from the hell you deserve!

Was this the gospel Jesus and His followers preached? It sounds very familiar to my ear, but again, not because I ever read anything like it in the scriptures.

So, what was the good news of the original gospel? It seems from our passage, Jesus would simply have answered, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” It then appeared He would let them believe or grumble or to question as they would.

Jesus too may have looked forward to their decisions at some point, but it didn’t seem he was compelled to draw decisions out of people or prod them into making one. What would Jesus’ altar call have sounded like, anyway? If we handed Him the mic, He might say:

 “I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! And I myself in this flesh and blood body am that very Bread so that you can eat and live.”

Is there a place for questions in that setting where we attempt to bring men to points of decision? Many New Testament accounts were not monologues as much as they were conversations. No doubt, a question might be interjected at this point, “But Teacher, we are not cannibals. How are we to eat your flesh and drink your blood?  We’re forbidden to consume blood. Just tell us what kind of decision we need to make.”

Jesus might say at this point, “Be at peace. This will not all make sense now, I must go to my Father first.” They of course protest and beg him, “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves—then we will make a decision.

“Okay,” Jesus says. “Here it is. The Kingdom of God is among you. When I tell you to repent, My Kingdom is at hand, I am saying, ‘Throw your lot in with Me, the One that God has sent.’ This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees Me and trusts who I am and what I do and then aligns with Me will enter real life, eternal life. This kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s planBut still, this will all make more sense in the near future.”

If we were to ask George Eldon Ladd to handle our altar call (remember, he is the one concerned about our nominalism), he would say:

“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. By repent, I mean to turn around, to reverse the course of life, to change the whole direction of actionBy repent I mean you must embrace in decision the Kingdom of God. God faces us with only one demand: Decision! Yes. You heard me correctly, the Kingdom makes one fundamental demand: the demand for a decision! The basic demand of the kingdom is a response of man’s will.

When the claim comes to you, you cannot trifle with itYou may think, first I must live my life. First, there is a career to be pursued. I must live my life. I have important plans for my future, which must first be carried out. I have obligations, which I must discharge. No! Jesus said there must be an immediate decision, which is resolute and unqualified!

I don’t think you understand yet….the Kingdom demands a response so radical that it may be described in terms of violence and force! You may be asking, “What does violence have to do with receiving the Kingdom of God?” I am telling you everything! The decision for the Kingdom demands radical decision! Some decisions are easily made and require little effort; but the decision for the Kingdom is often difficult and requires great energy of will.

Give me your full and undivided attention now. I ask you to stand if right now you are prepared to turn around! Leave your old life and receive the Kingdom and Follow Christ on His terms.

Note: These words were borrowed verbatim from Chapter VIIL “The Demand of the Kingdom” from his book published in 1959, The Gospel of The Kingdom.

Given the nature of Mr. Ladd’s altar call, it is quite natural for him to transition into the topic of discipleship—the process of taking up our crosses and daily following Christ. He explains that in this process an outward expression of our new inner life will take place. He says this is how you will be the light of the world.

I believe western Christianity has somehow made it very difficult, if not impossible, to transition into discipleship from the altar where Jesus has been invited into one’s heart. What expectations will the prayer of the “convert” have if belief and surrender are not a part of the understanding? Without this type of decision at the origin and core of the gospel, do we not create, by default, an opt-out-of-discipleship track for converts to run on? (Note; please see foot note re: discipleship.)

And what happens when Christ comes and crosses the new convert’s will as He endeavors, as Lord, to be their daily Bread? The convert, having never heard this part of the deal, must find some alternate way to explain the would-be test of faith. From this point many travel in great packs to find gospels that will tickle their ears with a less demanding Christ. Others may remain in the flock and live in defeat and inner turmoil because the process of walking with Christ as a disciple is alien to their weekly or bi-weekly ration of teaching.

Back to Mr. Ladd and his response to eating the body and drinking blood. I think he would say, “Yes, take communion by all means, but know that it is only a reminder that we are partaking of the Bread of Heaven moment by moment as our very own inner and eternal life.” To Mr. Ladd and to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is simply the now Rule of God. Living as his disciples is simply the process of having ceded over title of our lives to Him upon accepting the Kingdom and responding to his rule in the process of doing life as He endeavors to win us more deeply into His love, to reign more completely in our hearts, and to transform us progressively into the image of the Son.

It is very difficult to remain nominal when, in your abandonment to his rule, Christ has becomes your all in all, the very essence of your existence, one who dwells in you and in whom you live and move and have your being. On the other hand, if you made the decision to say ‘yes’ to some gospel that was focused more on being rescued from the discomfort of pressing trials or from the fires of hell, wouldn’t nominalism be the natural consequence?

Father, thank you that you are our Daily Bread, our very Life, that you sustain us moment by moment. Thank you, Jesus, that every one of us the Father has given you eventually comes to you and that once that person is with you, you hold on and never let go. Thank you that you are putting us on our feet alive and whole now and at the completion of time. Thank you that we can be personally taught by you. Rescue us from the debilitating half-gospels we’ve bought into that result in lukewarm hearts. Come and alter our altar calls. Amen.

Note: The word discipleship is not found in the Bible and it has myriad definitions depending on what franchise you subscribe to. When I use the term, I am trying to defer to Jesus, who said it best; “And then they will all be personally taught by God.” (John 6:45 MSG) If I use the word, I am referring to the organic process of living in Christ and Him living in us. It is the mysterious process of being transformed into His image. It is the mystery into which we have been caught up.

 

 

Chosen by God (Friday)—I Peter 2:1-10

So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God. Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God. The Scriptures provide precedent: Look! I’m setting a stone in Zion, a cornerstone in the place of honor. Whoever trusts in this stone as a foundation will never have cause to regret it. To you who trust him, he’s a Stone to be proud of, but to those who refuse to trust him, the stone the workmen threw out is now the chief foundation stone. For the untrusting it’s…a stone to trip over, a boulder blocking the way.

They trip and fall because they refuse to obey, just as predicted. But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. (1 Peter 2:1-10 MSG)

One of the great truths about God is his sovereignty and the accompanying truths of election and predestination. However, when this doctrine operates without any consideration of human choice, some unhealthy things (such as indifference) can take place in a soul. If our choices are not involved, then a mockery is made of all the counsel and commands in scripture. Why heed 1 Peter 2:1-2?

        So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. 

Why bother? If in God’s sovereignty He has chosen us, if we are saved by grace, matters of eternity are in the bank. Right? I don’t believe so—at least not all of them. If the matters of eternity were limited to salvation’s after-life benefits perhaps this would be so. But the matters of eternity came to bear in our hearts when Christ took up residence there as our resurrection Life. We became citizens of the eternal Kingdom upon rebirth in Christ. In us, the power of the age to come has come to bear upon the here and now.

In his book The Gospel of the Kingdom G.E. Ladd says, Nominalism is the curse of modern western Christianity.” What are its roots? Could nominalism be traced to the gospel, which the nominal have said yes to? Is it possible that the nominal are simply living in harmony with the alter call they initially responded to and the preaching they hear? Ladd’s simple point is that there is a high cost to receiving the free gift of God and that this theme is alien to much preaching in the west. While the will of some adherents of extreme sovereignty have been shifted into neutral, Ladd in contrast teaches, “The Kingdom demands a response so radical that it may be described in terms of violence and force.”

As a contractor I have appreciation for the allusions to building in this passage:

 Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God. 

Perhaps we can look upon ourselves (in the context of “election”) as His predestined building site. Long ago, before the earth was even created He – the Owner, had surveyed this site and reserved it for construction at the appropriate time. We were not consulted on this matter. However, what will be built upon the site is another matter. As holy priests, called to watch over our hearts (His temple) with all diligence, offering up Christ-approved lives to God. What He’s building is very much a joint venture in which the contributions and co-laboring of both God and man are the co-mingled and essential components to the project. This is the mystery you and I are in the middle of.

Father, please rescue us from every way in which our hearts have become nominal. Grant our hearts to see the fullness of your Kingdom gospel. Equip us with our own night-and-daydifference stories. Help us to live in this mystery with our wills fully engaged in obedience while we remain at total rest in You. Amen.

 

 

Chosen by God (Thursday)—John 15:9-17

I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father. You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: Love one another. John 15:9-17 MSG

It might seem like Jesus is saying, “My Father has built this house for me and I want you to come in and make yourselves at home in it. But…you can only stay here as my friend if you keep all my rules. I’ve told you this so that you can be as joyful as I am.”

I don’t know about you, but the “if” in this verse would make it impossible for me to ever “make myself at home.” And as for joy, it would be out of reach because I would never know whether or not I had sufficiently obeyed the owner’s commands. This interpretation would force me to think of myself as a tenant who must work hard on obedience to remain in good graces with the landlord.  I don’t believe we can work in this sense and be at home in God’s love; therefore, I do not believe this is how Jesus intended us to interpret this passage. I’ve tried to live in the house on these terms, and I am certain I misunderstood the agreement.

If I think that my stay is dependent on my performance I have not really listened to what God is truly saying. First of all, I am in God’s love because it was there in that house that I was conceived and born. It is critical that I am living in the house on the merits of having been chosen, not on the shaky ground that I may or may not qualify through my obedience.

I certainly cannot love others unconditionally (as I am commanded) if I’m living conditionally. If I’m to obey by loving others, I cannot begin as a tenant. I must make myself at home in his love as a permanent guest—all housing costs paid by Another. Presuming upon his love for me, and His choice of me, is the essence of abiding. I cannot address the “ifs” in our passage in any head-on way. If I attempt this through my labors (which I have), abiding is immediately undermined and I am back to living an insecure tenant’s life and preaching (with my life) a false gospel deficient in grace.

We must abide in the reality of the 1 John 4:19-root of the command: Love one another. We love, because He first loved us. In other words, we can only fulfill the “ifs” if we are comfortably settled in the house, which is, by the way, large. Paul knew this and prayed that we would:

 Be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-18 MSG

Father, help us to vacate any substitute dwellings that have discounted the dimensions of your love. Help us to leave behind all the conditional contracts of performance discipleship. Help us to come to terms with the indestructible nature of your covenant with us. As your friends, let us go out afresh with Your joy, secure in Your love, living out the new Life within us. Through our love and our fruit, shake this world from its alignment with darkness. Amen.

 

Chosen By God (Wednesday) – Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would 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, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:3-14 NAS

Do we feel holy and blameless? Do we feel like God’s possession? Do we feel redeemed? Chosen? Do we feel like stewards of the mysteries of God? For most of us the mystery is; if these things are all true, why don’t we feel them?

Feelings are an essential part of being human. However, unless they are understood for what they are, they can be and often are detriments to living by faith. There are a couple of things we need to understand about feelings. First; they do not represent reality. Second; we cannot control them. They simply are. What we must do is to learn to respond to them appropriately and not  be ruled by them. Joan Jacobs explains this beautifully in her book: Feelings – Where They Come From and How To Handle Them.

We cannot control feelings but we can control what we think and what we think about. Our passage today is laden with thought-treasures we should bury in our own hearts. If we do, over time, even our feelings will be effected. The Holy Spirit communicates with us in sudden downloads but He also uses His words in the process of living our lives. This is where communion really takes place. Walking in the Spirit is, in large part, learning, in the flow of life, how to distinguish between truth and feelings, then choosing accordingly. This is how we learn to hear God’s voice.

In my battle with chronic back pain, holy and blameless are typically not the first words that come to mind as people inquire as to my well being. In my walk with Christ, pain is the odd servant that reminds me I am always presented with an opportunity and a decision. I can wallow in my discomfort, rehearsing every negative feeling or I can dwell upon the thoughttreasures I store in my heart. In this way I can rehearse the reality of my spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Dead reckoning is a navigational process where one calculates their current position by using previously determined ones known as fixes, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over an elapsed time. It is a crude process that is subject to cumulative error. I think many of us navigate using a similar process that unfortunately leads us into cumulative death instead of cumulative truth and abundant life. We project where we are going by our feelings, not by the unseen and eternal realities God wants to become our fixes. 

In our passage Paul gives us an essential navigational fix; It is our orientation to Jesus Christ. We are in Him. This fix is the single greatest remedy for accumulated spiritual error that I know of. Paul used this phrase ten times in twelve verses. I suspect he learned it in the same way that we will – in the process of living with Christ in us as Lord of our hearts. No doubt Paul once felt strongly about his impecable reputation as a Pharisee or his pedigree as a Benjamite, yet he ultimately reckoned these things to be as dung to him as he discovered the eternal reality of Christ in him. If we listen to Paul’s praises, we see that being in Christ and having Christ in him touched his thinking, and ultimately his feelings in a powerful way.

I believe Paul pioneered Live reckoning, the means of heart navigation we must use in the process of living in Christ. Paul has fixed his mind upon things that are pure, true, lovely and worthy of praise. Have we?  If we will choose to, we can accept Christ’s invitation to follow Him by reckoning that our old life is dead, remembering it was buried in Christ, and calculating our current position by using the same fixes used by Paul and advancing our position accordingly. While it too may seem like a crude process it is subject to cumulative accuracy and abundant Life.

Father, thank you that you are our inheritance. Help us to honor you by resting in the reality that we are in you and that you are in us, that you are ours and that we are your inheritance. Thank you that in Christ you have sealed us with your Holy Spirit and that we are holy and blameless in your sight, regardless of how we feel about it. Thank you that you have chosen us before time and blessed us now with every spiritual blessing in heaven in Christ. Thank you that in your kindness you predestined us to know the glorious mystery of your will. Thank you that as time is becoming more full, you are increasingly summing up all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth, which includes us. So be it Lord.

Chosen by God (Tuesday)—Matthew 22:1-14

Chosen by God (Tuesday)—Matthew 22:1-14

 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his slaves to summon those who had been invited to the banquet, but they would not come.  Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look! The feast I have prepared for you is ready. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”’  But they were indifferent and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  The rest seized his slaves, insolently mistreated them, and killed them. The king was furious! He sent his soldiers, and they put those murderers to death and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but the ones who had been invited were not worthy.  So go into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  And those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all they found, both bad and good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to see the wedding guests, he saw a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he had nothing to say.  Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!’  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

              Over the centuries, time after time, God’s invitations to the Hebrew nation were rebuffed. They disregarded his covenant and even killed His prophetic spokesmen. Jesus knows these hardened Pharisees he is speaking to are preparing to do exactly as their ancestors had. I believe Jesus is speaking prophetically in this parable when he says, “The king was furious! He sent his soldiers, and they put those murderers to death and set their city on fire.” In 70 AD, the Romans served God in this capacity as they razed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.

While this parable seems crafted for the ultra-hardened hearts, I think it contains nourishment for all of us.  My takeaway is that the Father has indeed prepared a lavish banquet, right now, in the presence of the enemy. The question is: “Are we responding to God’s invitations? Do we even recognize what they look like?”

In a world where God is ever-present, always loving and all-knowing the question may be, “Is there really any place that he is not present, invitation in hand?” In the spiritual sense the main course of our banquet is Jesus, the Bread of Life. He is the giver and sustainer of Life abundant. In Christ we have everything.  No other courses are necessary. In every way in all circumstances he is our sufficiency. Resting and trusting in this reality is to take up fork and knife and partake.

The prophets were mistreated and abused as they carried the invitations to come and be reconciled to God.  Jesus, the King’s own Son was treated the same as he came and gave first right of refusal of the kingdom to his own people. We will be wise to observe that the kingdom of God has been and always will be a threat to the spirit of religion. Grace and performance-religion are irreconcilable. Nothing is more repulsive to a religious spirit than to find that their works have not been credited to them as righteousness. In contrast, nothing is more basic to the kingdom than the rule that only faith will ever be credited as righteousness. The hungry partake of Christ by grace; He becomes their life and is therefore ever-present, all-knowing and all-loving in the midst of their lives, whatever their circumstances.

Father, as those with Christ in us, may we discover the feast available to us continually. May this reality from within animate us afresh, giving the kingdom expression in the midst of our circumstances whatever they may be. Amen.

The lyrics to Bob Bennett’s song, “A Moveable Feast,” are relevant.

Staking out holy territory

Laying claim to the realms of glory

Thinking it’ll always be the same old story

But now a voice is crying out

Over murmuring and resignation

To the soul of a suffering nation

Centuries of thinking that it’s all location

Now there seems to be some doubt

 

Its not just where you go

It’s more of who you know

The Good News of God is now released

No more to live alone

In temples of flesh and bone

The kingdom of God is a movable feast

 

You who have hidden in your houses

For fear, for sorrow, for anger, for sin

As best as you’re able, rise from your table

Open the door and let Love in

 

Commandments handed down in stone to start

Were always to be written on the human heart

For the Word and the Spirit are never apart

From what the Father has in Mind

And so we live between a blessing and a curse

Look to a future we can only rehearse

Drawing treasure maps, chapter and verse

Until we slowly come to find …

 

Its not just where you go

It’s more of Who you know

The Good News of God is now released

No more to live alone

In temples of flesh and bone

The kingdom of God is a movable feast

 

Chosen by God (Monday)—Matthew 20-1-16

In this passage, The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Jesus reveals something mysterious and magnificent about the heart of God. Peter had just asked Jesus one of those what’s-in-it-for-us questions. One of Peter’s great attributes was that he often said what everybody else was thinking but was afraid to ask. This trait is of great worth since the right question can set the stage for Jesus to address things we are all likely dealing with. I think Peter is great; I visited Rome in 2013—you should see how great they think he is. I wonder if Peter blushes when he looks down on the basilica built in his name.

I never cease to be awed by Jesus. He is the genesis of all knowledge. Every brilliant idea we’ve ever had was because Jesus, the Word of God, spoke that truth into the DNA of creation and, at the right moment, permitted us to discover it. Yet, in our passage, this timeless Person is bridging eternity and time with stories about farmers and laborers. From His store of knowledge He could have revealed something like germ theory and spared mankind the tragedy of infections and amputations. But He didn’t. No doubt, there is someone out there upset with God about this. Why would a good God conceal knowledge beneficial to man?

People are upset in this story as well. They were grousing because of what they considered to be the upside down judgment of the owner of the vineyard. He paid a denarius to people who had only put in one hour compared to their 12. To them, this was unjust, but Jesus is trying to tell us that their judgment—human judgment—is upside down. While we are told that the fear (I prefer awe and wonder) of God is the beginning of wisdom, an awareness that our judgment can be upside down is a good starting point for the kind of wisdom that lives in humility and dependency on God’s words. Wisdom begins by acknowledging the sizable chasm between His ways and ours.

My Dad, the late Robert L. (Bob) Cummins was an awesome man. He was the real deal, and I could go on and on about his exploits. But my dad, in the context of this story, would have been the source of great offense to those who had put in their 12 hours, bearing burdens in the scorching heat. In the context of this story, my dad may not have even put in a quarter of an hour. This is my dad’s encounter with the Man who owns the vineyard. In 2002, he was losing a battle with bladder cancer. He’d fought valiantly for several months, but while taking alternative cancer treatments, he suffered a downturn. From Florida, he was flown back to our hometown and admitted into the hospital. He was lucid and able to communicate, but his physical strength was nearly gone.

After one of my visits, I was exiting an elevator and ran into the pastor of a local church. In our exchange, he discovered that my dad was terminal and that he in all probability did not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The pastor shifted gears, and the next thing I knew, we were back upstairs where he asked my Mom if he could speak to my dad. Because organized Christianity in two of the city’s most prominent churches had hurt my parents, my mom hadn’t called the clergy. Men of the cloth, including a fanatical and unfaithful grandfather, had been a profound disappointment to her. Yet, a bit to my surprise, she graciously consented to the pastor’s request.

The pastor spent a good 45 minutes with dad, one-on-one, and came out of the room to give us an update. He explained that dad had struggled to understand God’s grace and the free gift of salvation (one denarius in our story). My dad just couldn’t quite grasp the idea that salvation was a free gift. How could it be? Dad protested that he had lived most all his days outside of the organized church and had given little thought to it—or to God, for that matter. The pastor asked if he could read this passage. My dad was quite open and I think I know why (at least in part). This preacher was known to hang out with sinners. Dad’s line of reasoning was likely that any pastor who would hobnob, as this man had, with the rabble at the golf course, like my father himself, must have at least some decency in him.

Just prior to telling this story, Jesus had said, (to all the Bob Cummins of the world):

                                But many who are first will be last; and the last first.

Dad believed that he was the least qualified and the last person God would consider for eternity because, plain and simple, he hadn’t earned it. But Jesus, the only mediator between God and man, was the one making payroll on that day. The grace of God was permitting something of the right side up heart of God to connect with the upside down heart of my father. My dad got it! The pastor came back out and reported that my dad had lost his wage dispute but had gained eternal life through his acceptance of Jesus as God’s Son. Jesus had become my dad’s personal Savior.

This passage reveals the counterintuitive nature of God’s heart—something that keeps me in awe of Him. Even though bed ridden, dad went out into the vineyard for a few days before he left his earthly body behind. Although he was about done, I saw the new light in his eyes. I heard my dad, with clarity, voluntarily profess Jesus Christ as his Savior. His last gift to our family was holding hands with my sister, myself, and my Mom and leading us in a surprisingly eloquent prayer. Utterly amazing!

My father, and I believe my mother, await my sister and I in heaven. A God such as this is not the byproduct of wishful thinking. He is the God of revelation. Because of His radically contrary nature, He had to come down and reveal Himself in simple stories to convey his heart. He had to become a human so that he could fulfill the role of a sacrificial lamb. Jesus, who was tempted in every way that we have been, yet lived blamelessly, absorbed the wrath of God in our stead, making it possible for Him to be generous, giving away His life to all who will believe and trust in Him. Really, it’s quite astonishing how good He is!

Father, may the stories of Your goodness, Your power, Your kindness, Your patience, Your wisdom, flood this earth. May the Word be made flesh in our lives for the glory of Your name. May You succeed gloriously as Mediator. May You succeed wildly in conveying your right side up heart to Your upside down children. Oh Lord, You are so, so good!

Chosen By God (Saturday) – John 6:35-51

John 6:35-51

I have been thinking lately about the many alter calls that were made on Easter. The old old story was retold with its rightful emphasis on Jesus Christ, the unblemished lamb that was offered up as the qualified sacrifice, atoning for the sins of man. He suffered a brutal murder and was buried but the grave would not hold Him. In well-choreographed events, with nuanced audio visual stimuli, the evangelists used their most influential and moving phrases to bring men to that place of decision.

As one who is conscious of some unhealthy statistics about those of us claiming to be Christian, I ask myself is there anything right here at the start of the Christian life, at the alter, that is amiss in some way that contributes to the nominalism that G.E Ladd claims is the curse of western Christianity (see Friday’s MwM post).  Could there be anything false (or half-true) in the western gospel message that contributes systemically to our alleged nominalism? So I am asking, on Easter, what exactly was the nature of those decisions that were made? Was the gospel heard on Easter the same one preached in the New Testament?

Jesus’ alter-manners were unorthodox to put it mildly. To his audience, he says, “Even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me.”  Notice he doesn’t invite them to believe. His comments seem limited to whether they already believe or whether they do not.  Jesus’ understanding is that every person the Father gave him eventually came to him. Without musical backdrop to His invitation (if you could even call it that), Jesus seems to try and drive them away instead of calling them forward.

You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.

How many people have said “yes” to the alter calls which drew people with some “free lunch” carrot? I have heard it and I suspect you have too…..

Evangelist; “I know many of you out there are suffering. You have financial problems, marital problems, serious health issues….. some of you have wayward children that are lost.  Some of you are in deep depression and have even thought of taking your own lives. Listen to me! Come to Jesus and he will give you life!”

Was this the gospel Jesus and his followers preached?  This does not seem even remotely familiar to anything I have ever read in the bible.

How many people have come to Christ through those alter call that attempt to prod people from behind with the fear of hell?…..

Evangelist; “I know many of you out there are entangled in sin. Sin is your master and you are Satan’s slave. You know there is a fiery judgement awaiting you. You do not know when your time will come. Listen to me! Come to Jesus. He is the only escape from the hell you deserve!!”

Was this the gospel Jesus and His followers preached? It sounds very familiar to my ear, but again, not because I ever read anything like it in the scriptures. 

So, what was the good news of the original gospel? It seems from our passage, Jesus would simply have answered, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” Then it appeared that he would let them believe or grumble or to question as they would.  Jesus too may have looked forward to their decisions at some point but it didn’t seem he was compelled to draw decisions out of people or prod them into making one. What would Jesus’ alter call have sounded like anyway? If we handed the mic to Jesus he might say….

“I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! And I myself in this flesh and blood body am that very Bread so that you can eat and live.”

Is there a place for questions in the setting where we attempt to bring men to points of decision? Many New Testament accounts were not monologues as much as they were conversations. No doubt  a question would be interjected at this point, “But Teacher, we are not cannibals. How are we to eat your flesh and drink your blood?  We are forbidden to consume blood! Just tell us what kind of decision we need to make.”

Jesus might say at this point, “Be at peace. This will not all make sense now, I must go to my Father first.” They of course protest and beg him, Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves – then we will make a decision.

“Ok”, Jesus says, “Here it is. The Kingdom of God is among you. When I tell you to repent, My Kingdom is at hand, I am saying, ‘Throw your lot in with Me, the One that God has sent.’ This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees Me and trusts who I am and what I do and then aligns with Me will enter real life, eternal life. This kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s plan. But still, this will all make more sense in the near future.”

If we were to ask George Eldon Ladd to handle our alter call (Remember, he is the one concerned about our nominalism), he would say;

“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. By repent I mean to turn around, to reverse the course of life, to change the whole direction of action. By repent I mean you must embrace in decision the Kingdom of God. God faces us with only one demand: Decision! Yes. You heard me correctly, the Kingdom makes one fundamental demand; the demand for a decisionThe basic demand of the kingdom is a response of man’s will.

Mr. Ladd is not done yet….

When the claim comes to you, you cannot trifle with itYou may think, First I must live my life. First, there is a career to be pursued. I must live my life. I have important plans for my future which must first be carried out. I have obligations which I must discharge. No! Jesus said there must be an immediate decision which is resolute and unqualified!

Mr. Ladd is just getting started…

I don’t think you understand yet….the Kingdom demands a response so radical that it may be described in terms of violence and force! You may be asking, “What does violence have to do with receiving the Kingdom of God?” I am telling you everything! The decision for the Kingdom demands radical decision! Some decisions are easily made and require little effort; but the decision for the Kingdom is often difficult and requires great energy of will.

Give me your full and undivided attention now. I ask you to stand if right now you are prepared to turn around! Leave your old life and receive the Kingdom and Follow Christ on his terms.

Note; The italicized words were borrowed verbatim from Chapter VII The Demand of the Kingdom from his book published in 1959, The Gospel of The Kingdom.

Given the nature of Mr. Ladd’s alter call, it is quite natural for him to transition into the topic of discipleship – the process of taking up our crosses and daily following him. He would explain that in this process an outward expression of our new inner life will take place. He would say this is how you will be the light of the world.

I believe in western christianity we have somehow made it very difficult if not impossible to transition to discipleship from the alter where Jesus has been invited into one’s heart. What expectations will the prayer of the salvation pray-er have if belief and surrender were not a part of the understanding? Without this type of decision at the origin and core of the gospel, do we not create, by default, an opt-out of discipleship-track for converts to try and run on?

And what happens when Christ comes and crosses the new convert’s will as he endeavors, as Lord, to be their daily Bread? The convert, having never heard this part of the deal, must find some alternate way to explain the would-be test of faith. From this point many travel in great packs to find gospels which will tickle their ears with a less demanding Christ. Others may remain in the flock and live in defeat and inner turmoil because the process of walking with Christ as a disciple is alien to their weekly or bi-weekly ration of teaching.

Back to Mr. Ladd and his response to eating the body and drinking blood. I think he would say, “Yes, take communion by all means, but know that it is only a reminder that we are partaking of the Bread of Heaven moment by moment as our very own inner and eternal life. To Mr. Ladd and to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is simply the now Rule of God. Living as his disciples is simply the process of having ceded over title of our lives to Him upon accepting the Kingdom and responding to his rule in the process of doing life as he endeavors to win us more deeply into His love, to reign more completely in our hearts and to transform us progressively into the image of His Son.

It is very difficult to remain nominal when, in your abandonment to his rule, Christ has become your all in all, the very essence of your existence, one whom dwells in you and in whom you live and move and have your being. On the other hand if the decision was once made to say ‘yes’ to some other gospel that was focused more on being rescued from the discomfort of pressing trials or from the fires of hell, wouldn’t nominalism ultimatley be the natural consequence?

Father thank you that you are our daily Bread, our very Life, that you sustain us moment by moment. Thank you that every one of us the Father has given you eventually comes to you and that once that person is with you, you hold on and never let go.  Thank you that you are putting us on our feet alive and whole now and at the completion of time. Thank you that we can be personally taught by you. Rescue us from the debilitating half-gospels we have bought into that have resulted in our lukewarm hearts. Come and alter our alter calls. Amen.

Chosen By God (Friday) – 1 Peter 2:1-10

1 Peter 2:1-10

So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.

Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God. The Scriptures provide precedent:

Look! I’m setting a stone in Zion, a cornerstone in the place of honor. Whoever trusts in this stone as a foundation will never have cause to regret it. 

To you who trust him, he’s a Stone to be proud of, but to those who refuse to trust him, the stone the workmen threw out is now the chief foundation stone. For the untrusting it’s …a stone to trip over, a boulder blocking the way.

They trip and fall because they refuse to obey, just as predicted. But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. (MSG)

One of the great truths about God is his sovereignty and the accompanying truths of election and predestination. However, when this doctrine operates without any consideration of human choice, some unhealthy things can take place in a soul. If our choices are not involved, then a mockery is made of all the counsel and commands in scripture. Why heed 1 Peter 2:1-2;

         So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. 

Why bother? If in God’s sovereignty He has chosen us, if we are saved by grace matters of eternity are in the bank. Right? I don’t believe so; at least not all of them. If the matters of eternity were limited to salvation’s after-life benefits perhaps this would be so. But the matters of eternity came to bear in our hearts when Christ took up residence there as our resurrection Life. We became citizens of the eternal Kingdom upon rebirth in Christ. The power of the Age to Come has come to bear upon the Here and Now.

In his book The Gospel of the Kingdom G.E. Ladd says, Nominalism is the curse of modern western Christianity.” What are its roots? Could nominalism be traced to the gospel which the nominal have said “yes” to? Is it possible that the nominal are simply living in harmony with the alter call they initially responded to and the preaching they hear? Ladd’s simple point is that there is a high cost to receiving the free gift of God and that this theme is alien to much preaching in the west.  While the will of some adherents of extreme sovereignty have been shifted into neutral, Ladd in contrast teaches, “The Kingdom demands a response so radical that it may be described in terms of violence and force.”

As a contractor I have appreciation for the allusions to building in this passage.

Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God. 

Perhaps we can look upon ourselves (in the context of “election”) as His predestined building site. Long ago, before the earth was even created He had surveyed this site and reserved it for construction at the appropriate time. We were not consulted on this matter. However, what will be built upon the site is another matter. As holy priests, called to watch over our hearts (His Temple) with all diligence, we will offer up Christ-approved lives to God. What is being built is very much a joint-venture where the contributions and co-laboring of both God and man are the essential and mysterious components to the project.

Father, please rescue us from every place our hearts have become nominal. Grant our hearts to see the fulness of your Kingdom gospel. Equip us with our own night and day – difference stories. Help us to live in mystery with our wills fully engaged in obedience while remaining in total rest in You. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chosen By God (Thursday) – John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17

I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: Love one another.

Is Jesus saying, “My Father has built this house for me and I want you to come in and make yourselves at home in it. But…you can only stay here as my friend if you keep all my rules. I’ve told you this so that you can be as joyful as I am.”

I don’t know about you but the if in this verse would make it impossible for me to ever make myself at home.  And as for joy, it would be out of reach because I would never know if I have sufficiently obeyed the owner’s commands. This interpretation would force me to think of myself as a tenant who must work hard on obedience to remain in good graces with the landlord.  I don’t believe we can work in this sense and be at home in God’s love therefore I do not believe this is how Jesus would intend for us to interpret this passage. I’ve tried to live in the house on these terms and I am certain I misunderstood the agreement.

If I think that my stay is dependent on my performance I have not really listened to what God is truly saying. First of all, I am in God’s love because it was there in that house that I was conceived and born. It is critical that I am living in the house on the merits of having been chosen not on the shaky ground that I may or may not be qualifying through my obedience.

I certainly cannot love others unconditionally as I am commanded if I am living conditionally. If I am to obey by loving others I cannot begin as a tenant. I must make myself at home in his love as a permanent guest – all housing costs paid by Another. Presuming upon his love for me and His choice of me is the essence of abiding as I understand it and am experiencing it. I cannot address the if’s in our passage in any head-on way. If I attempt this through my labors (which I have), abiding is immediately undermined and I am back to living an insecure tenant’s life and preaching (with my life) a false gospel deficient in grace.

We must abide in the reality of the 1 John 4:19-root of the command: Love one another. We love, because He first loved us. In other words we can only fulfill the if’s if we are comfortably settled in the house which is, by the way, very large. Paul knew this and prayed that we would…

be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

Father, help us to vacate any substitute dwellings that have discounted the dimensions of your love. Help us to leave behind all the conditional contracts of performance discipleship. Help us to come to terms with the indestructible nature of your covenant with us. As your friends, let us go out afresh with Your joy, secure in your love, living out the new Life within us. Through our love and our fruit shake this world from its alignment with darkness. Amen.