Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Need a Rest?

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience”
Hebrews 4:9-11.

What a paradox – rest – available to the diligent pursuer. Does this mean if I knock myself out trying, I'll find it? That doesn't sound like God's method of operation. He did create the Sabbath (which most of us ignore). What does the writer of Hebrews mean?

The word rest here has two definitions. Its first use means sabbaton and comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, the root of our word Sabbath. Sabbaton means to cease from one's labor, to stop in mid action, which is what the Sabbath is supposed to be.

The next, katapauo, doesn't mean kick off your shoes, crash on the couch and watch TV. Katapauo is to colonize, to create a place for a governmental structure to take rest. The only other place katapauo appears in the New Testament is in Acts 7:49 and again has nothing to do with the Sabbath rest.

The question remains – how do we rest and establish God's Kingdom at the same time?

Rest is more than a cessation of work; it is God directed efforts. We put down our well thought out plans and good intentions in favor of His agenda. We opt for His way even when it is counter-intuitive to our logic, reason, common sense and obvious pressing needs.

Simply put: For us to step into the reality of what Jesus has already done, we must stop trying to do it for ourselves.”
Michele Perry, An Invitation to the Supernatural Life, pg. 175

Efforts aren't directed toward making something happen. Attention is focused on establishing intimacy with Him which results in God governing every part of our lives. When His kingdom comes and His will is done in us, the supernatural comes forth effortlessly.

Jesus demonstrated this principle throughout his ministry. In the midst of a storm, He slept. Later He simply spoke to the tempest and it dissipated, Mark 4:37-39. Faced with a crowd of hungry people, He received a boy's lunch, blessed it and gave thanks. All ate their fill and twelve baskets of leftovers remained, John 6:1-12. When people were sick, He healed them. If they died, He raised them back to life. The discouraged and downcast heard words that lifted their spirits. Outcasts were included, no longer disenfranchised. Jesus set Himself up as an ambassador of Heaven. God's Kingdom now established, He simply brought and deployed Heaven's resources on earth.

What Jesus didn't do was stop every storm. He never established a permanent feeding ministry despite an abundance of hungry people. He healed many but at the Pool of Bethesda, only one cripple man was made whole. Not every person who died was brought back to life. Jesus didn't lack the power, resources or willingness to fix every situation. He followed His Father's explicit instructions, no more, no less. Some like the man at the Beautiful Gate were healed by the disciples after He ascended. His responsibility wasn't to do it all, just His part.

So where does that leave us? Jesus said we're supposed to do not only what He did, but also even great things. If by greater things He spoke of quality, quantity or both, we the church are still far from fulfilling that mandate.

How much sabbaton would we experience if we only did what we saw our Heavenly Father doing and spoke only the words we heard Him saying? Would the urgent cease riding roughshod over our lives and schedules? Would time and resources be better used directed toward the things God deems important and not to those outside pressures and even worthy causes that bear down on us? Would we see more fruit for our expended energy? God thinks so and He's always right. Perhaps we need to revisit the concept of rest and in doing so, experience the real thing.

Photo: Photo Morgue

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The "Other" Brother

“But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him,'”
Luke 15:29-30 (emphasis mine).

The sound of laughter, the smell of roasting meat – what's going on? It isn't anyone's birthday; at least I don't think so. What's this spontaneous outburst of celebration? Curiosity reeled him in. What has father so excited? I haven't seen him like this in a long, long time.

Old hands firmly gripped his shoulders. The patriarch's face glowed; gone was the worried, apprehensive look.

“He's back.”

“Who? Who's back Father?”

“Your brother. He's come home.”

The words dropped down in his stomach like a load of lead.

Awhile back I wrote about the Prodigal Son. At that time a friend asked why I hadn't included the other brother. My reasons were twofold.

First, the post would have been too long. Second, I wasn't sure how to tackle the sibling's lousy attitude. I relate to his feelings and writing about him strikes a nerve. Let me get out my tranquilizer gun. Here goes - this is gonna hurt.

John Crowder's book, Cosmos Reborn, provides interesting insight about the other brother. When the older boy discovered Party Central in full gear he was confused. What was the happy occasion? Nothing in his life ever warranted such a celebration. To his horror he discovered his reprobate younger brother was back and the guest of honor. He was furious.

Encouraged by his father to join in the festivities, he sulked and refused. He was, after all, the good son. He always obeyed orders and worked hard. He kept his nose clean, didn't hang around loose women or squander Dad's money. His father patiently listened to the son's litany of complaints and gently reminded him of an important, overlooked fact.

“'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours,'” Luke 15:31.

That's right, the older son had received his inheritance also.

“So he (the father) divided his property between them,” (the two sons) Luke 15:12.

His was the double portion. If he'd wanted a fattened calf and a party, the necessary disposable funds were available for use as he saw fit.

The older brother's accusation of his sibling's financial irresponsibility was inaccurate. The boy wasted his own money, not his father's. The pursuit of fun and games led the young man to a far away land. How did the elder son know the younger spent time with hookers? Hmm.

As the celebration wore on the angry brother remained outside. He threw his own party - a pity party. Only he and his father attended. Maybe this son needed a greater dose of the father's love more than his brother.

Have you noticed that the father never held up the elder son as an exemplary role model to his younger boy? He already had one child with a unhappy, dissatisfied slave's mentality. One was enough.

Like the older brother, I've complained to my Heavenly Father that I haven't received my “fair share.” Foolishly I too overlooked the fact that He's already given me my inheritance. I've been waiting on God to do something He's already done. He's been patiently waiting on me to receive what is already mine and stop whining.

To miss a party in full swing is stupid. I should rejoice when one presumed dead re-surfaces and is back to life. Their return doesn't impact what God's already given me. The Law of  Diminishing Returns doesn't operate in God's economy. My Father waits with me while I mope around and gently nudges me toward the door to join in the fun. If I'm smart, I'll listen to Him, stop feeling sorry for myself and join His bash; His are always better than mine, for sure.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Overlooked and Under Appreciated

“Jesus continued, 'There was a man who had two sons,'” Luke 15:11

The Party Animal and Mr. Responsible were polar opposite siblings. One lived life large with the intensity and a tad more duration of a Fourth of July fireworks finale. The other didn't make waves, obeyed implicitly and kept score. Add to the mix a father whose actions were totally out of line with the social conventions of his day. What a weird bunch.

The parable of the Prodigal figures prominently in the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. Many identify with one of the brothers, and on occasion, with both. Emphasis placed on the boys allows us to overlook and consequently under appreciate the real focus of the story – their father.

It's understandable. Not everyone’s been a parent but we've all been kids, and not perfect ones. We had episodes of irresponsible behavior and questionable activities. Our efforts to produce stellar results at times left us feeling dissatisfied, unrecognized and under appreciated.

All have a father in some form or fashion. Whether present or absent; involved or disengaged; loving or cruel – we all have a dear old Dad. How many have read this parable and said, “Hey, that's my Dad!” What parent can immediately say, “That's me!”? I’d guess not many.

Parenting isn't for cowards and at times it's a thankless job.  24/7 on-the-job training, there's nothing that prepares you for this role. Some fathers are exceptional, others mediocre and lackluster. It's easy to ignore this father because we have no grid for the kind of love he demonstrated. Had we acted like the younger son would we have been met with an over-the-top display of love and affection when we crawled back home? Some would have gotten their clocks cleaned; received the silent treatment or been hit with  barrages of “I told you so.” Go ahead, throw in a guilt trip for good measure too. Did your efforts to be a good, obedient kid provide you unfettered access to you parent's resources? The father's actions can be hard to understand; they're so foreign to our experiences. He’s easy to ignore and when we do that we miss the whole point of the story.

The Prodigal's father symbolizes our Heavenly Father. In my up-bringing God was portrayed as the anti-Santa. He had a list, checked it more than twice. Heaven help the naughty ones. Judgment, in the way of punishment, always loomed on the horizon. Others have been introduced to a God largely absent, unavailable and apathetic. Misconceptions and misinformation about the personage of God abounds and sadly flourishes. We go through life missing out on the greatest love we can ever experience.

This father was generous; gave all his possessions to his boys. He loved the son who squandered the inheritance as much as the dutiful, responsible yet unappreciative brother. When it was time to celebrate he wanted the whole family in attendance.

I encourage you to go back and re-read this portion on scripture and to meditate on the father's role. How does he compare to your dad?  How does that comparison affect your beliefs about and relationship with your Heavenly Father? Is it possible you've missed out on God's true nature? Ask Him to reveal who He is in your life in the context of the story. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised as you meet your real Dad.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In Our Right Mind

“We have the mind of Christ.” I Corinthians 2:16

I use this scripture as a declaration when I need Godly wisdom. His perspective of my situation produces greater benefits than my own understanding can. Recently I read that the we in this verse refers to us as the Body of Christ as a whole, not just us individually. The thought occurred to me. If I only had a portion of my brain how much could I accomplish?

Depending on the number of brain cells I'd be apportioned, my abilities could be severely diminished. My communication skills might be non-existent or seriously impaired. I might be completely or partially immobile. I may not be cognizant of my surroundings and incapable of any interaction with others. Having only a fraction of my brain isn't a comforting thought.

If this writer's premise is true, the need for the Body of Christ to act as a whole is paramount. Unless each of us brings our portion of the mind of Christ to the table, the body is handicapped and functions at less than peak performance. So who's right? Do we possess the mind of Christ as a single proprietor or as the Body of Christ corporately?  Yes and amen!

In my personal relationship with Jesus I have direct access to the Supreme Creator of all things visible and invisible. I can ask for and expect to receive help in any situation. His word states emphatically:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who give generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” James 1:5.

So it's possible in order for the Body of Christ to tap into the whole counsel of God, we'll need each other. God gives specific insights to each one, that another may miss or not comprehend. The early Church operated by this principle. All members were encouraged to share when they met. This wasn't a game of spiritual one-upmanship. God desires for all to be actively involved. As we bring our piece of the puzzle mysteries are unlocked, secrets are revealed and the Body functions as a whole.

So – does this mean that believers on the opposite ends of my doctrinal spectrum just might know something I don't? Could their interpretation of truth be truer than mine? Exactly!

God's words says we are to “reach unity in faith,” Ephesians 4:13 and that  we may “have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” Ephesians 3:18. Sounds like we need to put our heads together so the Mind of Christ is one, not fragmented.

Are we willing to suck it up and admit that none of us knows it all? Will we listen to those whose ideas are counter to ours in order to glean nuggets of truth they possess? Will we value, esteem and honor our brothers and sisters in Christ enough to listen to what they have to say and learn from them? If we want to be in our right mind, we will.