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October Newsletter: For Or Because

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

For or Because

Recently, during Mark Schultz’s concert, I heard his explanation of how, as a child, his brain worked about being adopted (and even now as an adult).  Seems Mark’s always been fearful that failing to please people might lead to being rejected, even by his loved ones.  The way he expressed that was as a child, being aware of his adoption, being aware of his other siblings being the natural children of his mom and dad, he was always afraid of ‘being sent back’, away from his family, if he wasn’t successful and pleasing.  Imagine that if you can, feeling every day as though one wrong move or an accumulation of moves might add up to disappointing his parents enough that they might just ‘mail’ him back to the adoption agency.  Imagine the constant pressure of that throughout your life.  Mark explained that he always made sure his parents were proud: a high school quarterback, played baseball, graduated college, sang in Nashville– all of that associated with his attempt to please in order to stay loved, stay acceptable.

His story seemed so similar to the image we have of our adoption as children of God.  We constantly imagine ourselves having to be perfect or be rejected, even perhaps be perfect or be hurt.  Sometimes, how we put that in action is to do what we do for God rather than because of God.  Just looking on the surface of for and because there doesn’t seem to be much difference; but, even though subtle, the difference can be significant.  If we aren’t careful, we try and hide from God for fear of reprisal, perhaps even imagine our Father as Someone who’s too fond of harshness toward us.  In contrast, responding to God because implicates a believer’s heart that accepts and understands the Awesomeness of God’s plan, His action and character, and simply reacts with amazement.

For is associated with any action on behalf of and can be accompanied with a feeling of obligation. Because is associated with a motion from a fixed fact, and from my perspective, implies a sense of an action volunteered from the heart.  Like Mark, doing for can be generated in order to stay in good standing.  It’s kinda like knowing my wife doesn’t work for me although she does a ton of work that benefits me.  Jane volunteers to do that because we are related to one another.  Because requires an appreciation rather than an obligation.  Let’s look at it another way, would you rather have your wife (or your husband) do something for you because you frightened, harassed, embarrassed him or her into it or is it more fulfilling if they did that without prompting simply because they cared about you, loved you and volunteered to do it?   That was the heart’s desire of the Father, Son and Spirit from the very beginning of His creation.  They wanted us to choose to be a blessing rather than simply requiring us to be a blessing. There’s a heart difference in that. Behavior modification may work great on your pet, but it’s a lousy way to have a loving relationship between people, or between people and God.  God’s plan for us is very similar to our marriage proposals: there, in choosing a bride we celebrate the bride, we select her out of all the other brides that might be available and make her the center of our affection and vice versa.   It’s a loving choice, a preferred choice.  It’s not an assigned marriage but a choice marriage, and the union of that is superior to one that’s obligated rather than volunteered.  Father, Son and Spirit want that same kind of choosing, actually prefer that choosing, as the way for us to live and a way for us to relate to Them.

God loves choosing rather than heartless robotics.  God as Creator could’ve forced us, softwared us, to serve and perform every action for Him.  Instead He chose to create us with a heart similar to His heart; a heart for choosing Him just as He chose us first.  He made in such a way that we can experience the things of God, experience the joys of God, because of that freedom to choose.  We’re made to become addicted to His stuff rather than preferring our stuff.  God has always wanted your heart involved in His plan, not simply your brain, not just your flesh.  In this life, that can be pretty difficult because we’re trained and reinforced to rely on our biology rather than becoming aware of our spirit.   We’re wooed to selfish pleasure and away from heartfelt relationships. Just watch tv or listen to radio commercials and catalogue them by what they really are pitching, what are they telling us we can’t do without.  From God’s point of view, surely, we’re professional at majoring on the minors.

I remember a quote during one of our Rich Mullins concerts years ago: ‘God doesn’t have any grandchildren.’  Rich was saying, in his usual manner of simplicity, each person must do a choosing, no one travels this life without having made a personal choice about the God of the universe.  Choosing was the plan from the beginning and its still’s the plan for now and any future. Our yelling, or even a good reasonable argument, will not guarantee that people will choose acceptance of God as Lord.  In some sense we’re softwared to be free to succeed, loaded with that potential and possibility to say yes to Him.  Significantly, the reciprocal to that means it’s equally possible to fail at that, to say no.  That’s His deal.  And, there’s really no excuse, even the rocks cry it out!  Jesus said he didn’t come to judge you.  In His wisdom, he knew our own actions and beliefs would judge us, YOU choose this day who you will serve is the all encompassing essence of God’s plan.

Does God need us to work for him or, if we don’t, the work won’t get done?  Does the Creator of all things need the creation to do His work or is He capable of doing what needs to be done by simply possessing all the power as Creator?  God’s desire is that, while capable of all things, we’re invited to participate and discover the pleasure of serving, loving, caring, hoping, trusting, the wonder of His kind of Life by Him living through us.

By our invitation, God’s Spirit reveals himself to us.  I had a friend who would often say to me, ‘you can’t snow the snowman’.  What he meant by that was that you can’t snow, or fool, the Creator of snow.  The Spirit knows when that invitation is present, and when the response is real or when it’s a ‘snow job’.  When real, His presence floods our hearts with His presence.  One of my favorite scriptures is the story of Paul on the road to Damascus.  There, as Paul tells it, Christ was revealed as something Paul already had present. (Gal. 1: 15-16)   The Spirit changed Paul from a killing machine, hateful, arrogant despot into the central spokesman for the message of the Gospel.  Matthew 22:14 reads, ‘for many are called but few are chosen’ seems to only make sense if it’s stated like this:  for many are called, however, more are called than those who actually do the choosing.  It’s God’s desire that none would perish, but perish they will if they don’t volunteer to believe, to trust. Many are invited but few do the choosing to accept the invitation.

Again, with this opportunity to say yes comes the same possibility to say no.  Before the foundation of the world Father, Son, and Spirit made a decision to invite you, me, all to believe.  That plan is a precious plan to Them.  You were always elite, always preferred, loved long before this universe existed and that offer, that invitation to participate, still echoes and functions today.  Responding to that offer with our heart, or simply because of its profound fact-truth, (rather than having it programmed into your brain) is far superior and always desired by God over any obligation to do so.  You get to do this, this wonderful thing.  Equally, you get to say, ‘thank you, but maybe some other time.’  Say yes to that invitation because you recognize what He has done for us, what He has dreamed for us.  Do that because of the profound ‘too good to be true’ offer of this Grace.  Don’t make it a religion, it’s better than that.  Make it a relational, personal, ‘how could I not say yes’ thing.

We’re taught in John 5 that apart from Him we can do nothing. All our efforts, all our ‘for Hims’, can be exhausting.  We need His efforts in combo with ours, ours alone frustrates, His comforts.  Paul said that of all people, he was in the position of being able to boast because of all his attempts to do this thing by and in the flesh. (Phil. 3)  Actually, he was the chief defender of ‘his’ religious faith, represented God’s chosen, and at the same time Paul was the chief persecutor of Christ!  Instead of doing all you can for Jesus, just doing that as an attempt to not be shipped back to the adoption agency, why not try to reverse that a bit and do all you do because of Jesus.  Instead of trying to justify and build a relationship with Jesus (one I might add you already have), why not try and let Jesus build a relationship with you so that He lives in you and ministers through you just because!

David Dunn with Axiom Worship

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September Newsletter: Life Zoe

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“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Just prior to making this statement God had asked Israel, “Why would you complain, O Jacob, or whine, Israel, saying, ‘God has lost track of me.  He doesn’t care what happens to me’?  Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?  God doesn’t come and go.  God lasts!  He’s creator of all you can see or imagine.  He doesn’t get tired out.  He doesn’t pause to catch His breath.  He knows everything inside and out.  He energizes those that get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts, even young folks in their prime stumble and fall.  But those who wait (braid) upon God get fresh strength.  They spread their wings and soar like eagles.  They run and don’t get tired; they walk and don’t lag behind.” (The Message Bible) God’s chosen had come to believe God no longer cared, no longer listened, and they had grown tired and exhausted. Does that sound familiar?  The reference to ‘youth’ referred to the strongest- the ones prepared for the challenge -the best trained of all. They were referenced because they would have been selected ‘to run the race’ because of their ability to endure. But even the elite ran out of strength and grew weary significantly because they ran in their own ability, their natural strength. And today, as with Israel, we sometimes can feel the same way, we think God has abandoned us, left us all alone, abandoned us to do this all in our own strength.

From our experience, we know the most significant part of WBVN’s purpose is to encourage people in faith; to remind our listeners that when we received the new birth we were strong in the Lord and it seemed that nothing could take our vigor for the Christian Life away.  But with time it seems we all find ourselves ‘weary’; hoping for the return of that ‘first love’- longing for the invigorating, original experience of Christ.  With all the pressures and stresses of daily life we can become discouraged just like Israel did all those ages ago.

I think part of being ‘tired’ comes from the confusion between remembering the Good News is a person, not a religion. What was born one winter’s night in Bethlehem was both a Jewish boy and a new way to live, a way to live that had not been available since the earliest days of Adam. The Love of God was made flesh and His Love still pursues today. Religion is a formula: know the rules, keep the rules. Religious people declare they have the best religion in town because they are more disciplined than the other religious people down the street. After all, they have more rules than the others do and they strive harder to keep them. But what happened on that cold night in a manger was not the birth of a doctrine, or a formula for behavior modification, but a new kind of Life.

The Greek text separates the English word ‘life’ into two very distinct meanings: Bios-meaning manner of life and Zoe-meaning Life as the Father has it for you. To simply lump who we are in the one basket of earthly life is to miss the opportunity for the separate and unique power of God to be manifested inside this earthly experience.  To move on to a more obvious spiritual experience we’ll be required to recognize that Spiritual Life is given in Christ in order to dominate our biology.  The world reverses that Wisdom.  The world’s done a very good job convincing us we’re just a higher form of animal.  We’re Darwin’s pride and joy!  Most of our ‘rights to’ arguments are simply excuses to act out those simple ‘animal’ characteristics and demote any thought of us having any responsibility to either filter or modify our human behavior to a higher expression.  Jesus would dispute those ‘animal’ arguments with a great understanding of the human soul.  Jesus knew that inside we’re more than that.  The world sells us on how wretched we are and for us to expect to immerse ourselves in fleshly behavior.  The world’s agenda is opposed to discipline and especially opposes Christ’s expressed discipline.  Jesus says we can change that and experience Life as He would have it for us right in the middle of the wretchedness! The world says don’t change, in fact increase in those things that Jesus says are not healthy or wise.  Jesus says we are more than what the world says, the world offers little hope of change, just self indulgence, achievement or destruction.  The world refuses to recognize, and for the most part, psychologists oppose the idea that our biology is separate from a God given Life.   Bios is made up of what you do and what you don’t do. Religions of all kinds add and subtract from Bios, but it has nothing to do with Zoe (the Life of God).  With the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, Zoe swallowed up Bios (2 Cor. 5:4). Yet, religion keeps trying to convince us that all we need to do is modify Bios (flesh), selling us on the idea that doing that will produce Zoe (Life). When Jesus was born he was LifeHe was the narrow way that Scripture says few would find. (Math. 7:14)  Zoe was found in Christ. (John 1:4)  With His Life we would never hunger or thirst again. (John 6:35)  Profoundly, His Life is abundant, but for many reasons hard for us to embrace. (John 10:10) Jesus is the way, the truth and the Zoe. (John 14:6) This Life was in the Son. (1 John 5:11) Finding Him finds Life itself.  That in Him is an all fulfilling Life and that his Life causes our Bios to pass away and a new way of living would become obvious and present in us. (John 5:24) This Zoe, this ‘newness of Life’, is freely given to each of us by Christ. (Rev 21:6)  In Him, we can live, move and have our being; that’s a real thing, a possible thing.

Religion says change your behavior, change your Bios, and you will be like Jesus. Jesus said know who you are in Christ and your Bios will change and will be dominated with the entry of the Love of God inside you. He didn’t come to create a ‘Holy Bios’, more correctly, He came to create a Holy Life.  From the Message Bible: Galatians 3 says, ‘You crazy Galatians did someone put a hex on you?  Have you taken leave of your senses?  Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.  His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.  Let me put this question to you: How did your new Life begin?  Was it by working your heads off to please God?  Or, was it by responding to God’s Message to you?  Are you going to continue this craziness?  For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.  If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?…Does the God who lavishly provides you with His own presence, His Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do yourselves, does He do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust Him to do them in you?’

His purpose was not to simply change your manner of life, but rather to exchange your life (Bios) for His Life (Zoe).  Sure, there’s a bit of fear on our part that it won’t work.  Turning over our way of living to something we call the Sprit of God just is too risky.   It’s too unpredictable unless we master our behavior.  But, Jesus encouraged us, even more than that, demanded of us, to trust the Spirit; He encouraged us to watch the power of His Spirit change the way we think, the way we behave.  He described this Life as a Treasure hidden in earthen vessels. He is that Treasure and our ‘earthsuits’ are those vessels, nothing more. No matter how hard we try, our earthsuit will not become the Treasure!  It’s what’s inside the ‘pot’ that’s Precious, not the ‘pot’ itself. Christ in us is the hope of Glory. It’s not us changing us, its Zoe present in us; Him being Him through us.  This is Life (Zoe) eternal, that they might know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.’ (John 17:3)

With Christ’s birth Life came from the Creator and It knocked on the doors of our hearts asking to come into our earthly lives and live Heaven out in our hearts. His presence not only kindles afresh the opportunity to experience a new way of living in this world but also a way to experience things not of this world.

I’ve always loved the first verse of Isaiah 41: ‘Quiet down…listen!  Sit down and rest everyone.  Recover your strength.  Gather round Me.  Say what’s on your heart.  Together let’s decide what’s right.’ (The Message Bible)  From my perspective what I think God is suggesting is this: come let’s discuss these things and let me be the umpire, let me call the good and the bad, the valuable and the waste of time.  While hard, let me make this life easier by being a companion and partner in your journey.

These are tough times, but times have always been tough since the apple-tree problem. However, applying our own efforts and strength to fix that is not the solution.  Every generation of believers has been tested by the world around them and each must come to the knowing that Christ is both our remedy and our confidence.  Our ‘Father’ cannot faint and does not grow weary. And for those that grow faint, He gives power, and to them that grow weary He increases their strength. Zoe does that. The Hebrew word ‘wait’ in verse 31 of Isaiah 40 refers to ‘braiding’. If you take three strands of flax and braided them together you could produce a rope that becomes stronger than any single strand would be by itself. With this Zoe kind of Life we create a stronghold and braided with the Lord we are renewed. The tree of Zoe has been set in the garden of our lives as a source of the very Life of God. Religions everywhere celebrate their philosophy or their list of ordinances and ethics.  More than anything else, we celebrate a person: Jesus.

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