Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Reaching the Saturation Point

"one Lord, one faith, one baptism..." Eph. 4:5

"[with] one Lord (or: Owner), one faith (or: loyalty, confidence, assurance, and trust; or: one belief - Bultmann), one submersion and envelopment which brings absorption and permeation to the point of saturation." Eph. 4:5 Jonathan Mitchell Translation.

Soaking wet is a condition I normally avoid. I love roller coasters, but if one involves water, count me out.

I did get dunked when baptized, but it appears Paul's view of the sacrament isn't just a ritual for church membership. It's more than getting dipped for Jesus.

"Having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead." Col. 2:12.

In some of the early churches baptism was more like a near death experience. People weren't in and out, but held under for a period of time to simulate dying. I doubt we could pull this off today. A church contemplating this approach should have an attorney on speed dial.

Consider the church's position at that time. In the beginning, resistance came from both religious and political fronts. Being a Christian was a health hazard that could shorten one's life span exponentially. Baptism gave the new believer a taste of what was a real potential sooner-than-later future. It also confirmed the status of their old man. He was dead.

I enjoy Mitchell's description of the interconnectivity with God that baptism provides. We are submerged, enveloped and saturated with Him. He permeates our entire being. We can't get any closer to Him than that.

It's a comforting and empowering thought. The Very God of Very God infuses Himself into us. The old really passes away and the new truly has come.

One Sunday my pastor made a radical statement, "I am Jesus Christ in Scott Johnson form!" That woke the sleepers up.

Just to be sure no one misunderstands, he wasn't claiming to be God, but simply agreeing with Colossians 3:3. "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." My Pastor accepts the truth that he is now permeated and saturated by God as Paul describes in Eph. 4:5. Because this is so, "How then should we now live?"

My friend Ray Ray took our pastor's words to heart. The next morning at work he boldly announce, "I am Jesus Christ...", but promptly forgot the rest of the sentence. His co-worker's reactions ranged from confused to amused. At least they know that Jesus is in the building and where to go to find them if they need Him. And they will.

Most Christians relegate this type of intimacy with God to life after death in heaven. If you do, can you explain the good it will do you there? The challenges to be faced are here in this earthly portion of eternal life. Couldn't we benefit from this type of closeness with God now in the circumstances we'll face here?

Jesus and God are both in heaven. Since we're "in Christ", so are we. We should be those, "who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." Heb. 5:14 (emphasis mine). Note the primary purpose is to spot what is good, and not the other way around. Perhaps we entertain angels unaware because we are too busy looking for demons. We don't recognize the good guys when they show up.

As believers we've been invaded by God in a friendly takeover. Let's live out of that reality. Absorbed into God, let's impact our world now and release what's inside of us. As His body on the earth we can show those who don't know Him what He's really like. As we recognize, accept and project God, Who is already inside of us, there'll be no lack of manifestations of God in the world.

How about you? Have you ever thought that as a Christian one is already bi-locational, on earth and in heaven at the same time? How does the scripture in Col. 3:3 change your ideas of experiencing heaven before you die? How will you prayer life change if you pray from your position in heaven with Christ as opposed to you place here on earth?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mary Did You Know?

"I am the Lord's servant', Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said" Luke 1:38.

Mary did you know what you just got yourself into? Probably not.

What Jewish woman wouldn't jump at the chance to be the Messiah's mother? Israel once again found itself under the heel of a foreign government. This time it was Rome. Still, the Jews maintained their vigil. He will come...

So Mary, did you know:
- when you said "Yes" your betrothal to Joseph was in jeopardy? Seriously contemplating annulling their marital contract Joseph was willing to bypass more drastic measures. Pregnant with a child that wasn't his, Mary could be stoned for adultery. The alternative, life as a single mother with a bastard child would be very difficult. Did you know it would take an act of God to change Joseph's mind?

-your child, in order to fulfill prophecy, would have to be born in Bethlehem? Courtesy of Caesar Augustus, Mary then nine months pregnant, and Joseph made the 90-100 mile plus trip. Scripture never says she rode a donkey, and in that culture Joseph would have ridden it not her. From what we know the Shoe Leather Express was their means of transportation.

- your first baby would be born in a stable? Even if there were other family members, friends or a mid-wife around, having a baby anywhere but in familiar surroundings is difficult. How about the surprise, uninvited guests...the shepherds. Did you know you'd be entertaining company so soon after giving birth?

- what would happen at your son's consecration at the Temple? How exciting was it to hear the words that flowed from Simeon when he saw the long awaited Promised One? Wow! Oh, and by the way, "and a sword will pierce your own soul too" Luke 2:35."

What was it like getting a prophetic word like that? "Get thee behind me Satan!" Did you know if Simeon was talking literally or figuratively? Either way your future looked less than promising.

- you, Joseph and Jesus would have to skip town in the dead of night and live in Egypt for an undetermined time? Upon returning, did you have to face the stares of mothers who when learning the year and place of your son's birth wondered why their child was dead and yours wasn't?

- at one point your son would go missing? What mother wouldn't freak out at that. How do you tell God you managed to misplace His one and only Son? When you found Jesus in the Temple and chewed Him out for giving you such a scare, did you know His reaction would be, "Duh, what else do you think I'd be doing?" (my translation)?

- you would become disenchanted with your son's Messianic performance? Could you possible imagine that despite His miraculous conception, complete with an angelic visitation, you'd fall prey to hope deferred? Which was the more painful memory: watching Him die or remembering the time that you, along with His siblings, came to take Him home because you thought He was crazy?

- there would be no overthrow of Rome, no revolution, no physical kingdom established, no Queen Mother status? The Kingdom would come but not as expected.

Like every other parent, Mary had no idea what having this child held in store for either one of them. It took faith to believe that a no-name carpenter's son could rise up and rule the world. Then she watched Him die and all her preconceived notions about the Messiah bit the dust. He rose to her complete surprise and then He left for good. Did she know His life on earth would be so short? Did she ever wonder, "What did I get myself into...this isn't what I signed up for?"

Saying "Yes" to God's request was 'virgin' territory on two fronts: First, this was her first baby. Second, this was the first (and only) time that God took on human form and was born into our world. No advice from family or friends could adequately prepare her for the first. None existed at all for the second. Being willing to co-operate with God opened up a world of unknowns neither Mary nor anyone else could have anticipated in advance.

How about you? How has your relationship with God impacted your life in ways you never thought of? What instances have occurred where you thought He'd asked too much of you? How different is the reality of your life from the one you imagined it would be?

Saying, "Yes" to God rarely, if ever turns out the way we plan. That said, saying "No" deprives us of the most incredible journey we can experience. There's no guarantee it will be easy, more than likely it won't. We may think we were crazy for signing up in the first place, and we may have a sword pierce our soul. Mary wasn't the perfect  mother but we can look at her life and learn that no matter how much things don't turn out as anticipated, if we persevere to the end, they will turn out much better than we'd ever imagined.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trip of a Lifetime

"Moses, Aaron, Nabad and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the Lord God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank." Exodus 24:10-11

"So Aaron, how was your day today?"

"Oh, you know dear. Hung out with Moses and the guys. Went to heaven. Had lunch with God. Pretty nice place He has there."

That would have been one interesting conversation around the dinner table.

Think of it. These men went to heaven and shared a meal with God. This will rock our religious sensibilities when we consider that they weren't saved as we know salvation. None had trod the Roman Road nor learned and abided by the Four Spiritual Laws. They didn't declare Jesus is Lord because they didn't know who He was. They didn't confess He was raised from the dead because it was several centuries before the Resurrection. However, they all had an encounter with God that most Christians would drool over.

We should get upset and excited!

The Scriptures point out that God didn't raise His hand against these leaders of Israel. Fresh out of Egyptian bondage, the men were just getting acclimated to their new environment - freedom.

Previously surrounded by Egyptian religious practices and rituals the Israelites, in contrast, had no codified belief system. Their forefathers learned about God by the seat of their pants (robes to be more accurate). Slowly being exposed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob exclusively, they were still very rough around the edges.

Some Christians may find this portion of the Bible disturbing. It defies long held sacred traditions. These were just ordinary men. Their lack of formal religious training would disqualify them for positions in many of today's churches. If asked were they saved, they'd probably reply, "Sure!" And they were. They'd escaped the clutches of Egyptian slavery. Their idea of a messiah/deliver would be Moses. They had no tabernacle/temple, sacrificial system, and no Day of Atonement. There they were, warts and all having lunch with God in heaven, and living to tell the tale. Unbelievers in heaven? Scandalous.

Maybe God's not as picky as supposed. Maybe He'll take the slightest hint of interest as an opportunity to reveal Himself in all His glory to a seeking soul. Testimonies of individuals having encounters with God in countries closed to the Gospel abound. If God will fellowship with unbelievers in this manner, should His sons and daughters expect less?

God's willingness to reveal Himself may be greater than we've believed. This text shows His love for the unsaved (at least as reckoned by our standards today). Compared to the well educated and thoroughly indoctrinated people in churches today, these men were ignoramuses (not a put down), but they saw God and ate with Him. How many Christians can make that claim?

How about you? Does this scripture strike a nerve, and if so...why? What sort of experiences with God should believers today expect to have? How would genuine encounters with God bolster your relationship with Him? If given the opportunity, would you take it?

p.s. Please do not misinterpret this post as propagating universalism. Salvation is only through Christ, Who is the only access to the Father. Space precludes me from expounding on how I think this was made possible. The point of this post is the encounter, and if we believers should expect less than what these men experienced, not the nuts and bolts of how God worked it out legally. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Law of Unintended Consequences

"What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means..." Rom. 6:1-2a.

We dubbed it Plan C.

Our core of young (age and maturity in the Lord-wise) believers experienced our own grace revolution back in the 70's. Most of us came from backgrounds of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Meeting Jesus brought stability and meaning to our out-of-control lives.

Our Pentecostal church was filled with loving committed Christians whose lives stood out in stark contrast to the culture de-jour. We were exhorted to live Godly lives...or face dire consequences.

Grace, misinterpreted and misapplied, infiltrated our ranks with a ripple effect. Pondering the possibility that we were already forgiven of all sin (past, present, future) was a tantalizing idea to some former druggies. If already forgiven then, "Anything goes." Hence the birth of Plan C, a euphemism for licentiousness. My husband and I saw many friends go this route who now no longer serve the Lord. This is a great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Let me explain.

In the book, Finding God in Unexpected Places, author Phil Yancey writes:

"The scandal of grace - God informing us of our forgiveness in advance - is probably the closest we will come to certain knowledge of the future...that very knowledge opens up all sorts of devious possibilities."

This might just be the most dangerous information God gave to us humans knowing our propensity to push the limits and mess up a really good thing. With Plan C one could sin now and say, "Sorry" later because, "Hey, everything's already forgiven, right?" Unfortunately the plan failed to factor in the Law of Unintended Consequences.

In this same book, Yancey shares the story of a friend who after fifteen years of marriage that produced three children, found his soul mate. (Hint: she wasn't his current wife). Contemplating leaving to take up with the new girlfriend, the friend came to Yancey for advice. His burning question was: "Will God forgive me if I do this?"

After picking himself up from the floor from shock, Yancey assured his friend that God would forgive, but this wasn't the real issue. Sin, which is rebellion, produces changes in us that are unforeseeable. His friend, right now, cared deeply about being forgiven. The person his friend would become if he followed the path he desired might not. That's the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Ultimately Yancey learned that the man pursued his passion and eventually turned his back on God. As far as Yancey knew, this hasn't changed. The man never intended to forsake God, but it happened. It was an unintended consequence of a very bad decision.

If we had advanced knowledge of all the ramifications of our actions we'd probably make fewer really dumb decisions. The Bible is filled with object lessons for our benefit. These stories of personal failures aren't designed to shame or embarrass those involved. They are warning to all of us who consider taking that same path. Things don't always work out as planned; they usually get much worse.

Grace isn't a license to sin (as if we'd need one). Grace demonstrates God's confidence in us to do the right thing, for the right reason. Grace assures us that if we should mess up, we won't wind up in God's doghouse. Repenting is recognizing our error, acknowledging it and then changing our behavior. We're already forgiven, and healing comes when we face the truth of our actions.

How about you? When considering violating Scriptural principles arises how does, "I'll just ask for forgiveness later." factor into your course of action? If you're not aware that all of your sins: past, present and future are already forgiven, how does this truth impact your behavior going forward? If you are willfully living in a Plan C environment what assurance do you have that at some time you'll repent? Are you really prepared for the Law of Unintended Consequences when kicks in?