Saturday, January 29, 2011

Discerning God pt6

"I still have many things to tell you, but you can't handle them now.But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won't draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said."
John 16/ The Message-Peterson

The Gospel of John opens to us an intimate and personal view of Jesus. The miracles that John records show a very deep and rich display of, Jesus the man. Passages that detail events and instruction are centered around relationships and righteousness. The narrative of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well is astounding. Jesus reveals spiritual truth to her that is a foretaste and forecast of Pentecost. His honest and loving conversation created a thirst in her spirit, and ours as well.

The fact that John identifies himself as the, disciple that Jesus loved, is evidence of the intimate quality of the relationship. I believe that the intimacy Jesus lived out will be the very bond that joins John with Mary at the crucifixion. As the earth bound ministry of Jesus is coming to a close he chooses Passover to be his final time of close personal teaching and fellowship. The importance of three years of shared living must be captured and displayed in word and action on this his last night with his disciples. Again, John opens up for us a view of the events not given in the other gospels.

Picture with me the setting for this last time of fellowship between Jesus and the men who followed him. The soft glow from oil lamps brighten the warm light brown of kiln baked brick. Shadows dance on the walls as air moves unseen, yet known, past the lamps. The evening spring air is chilled, at times overpowering the small amount of warmth from the lamps. A table has been prepared for the Passover meal, each symbolic participant in its proper place. There is enough room for thirteen men to recline, talk, laugh, eat and pray.

Near the entrance to the room is a clay basin and water pitcher. Basin and pitcher display areas darkened by heat and kiln ash. Both basin and pitcher, worn by man as they are, soon to be transformed into instruments of grace. The men come in, some with a friend, some by themselves. Their outer cloaks are set aside and after small talk they listen as Jesus bids them recline and celebrate the Passover.

The twelve men know what to expect this Passover celebration. The account of Moses and the first Passover is as much a part of their life as the sandals they wear. What they were not expecting is exactly what Jesus does. He rises from his place at the table and assumes the clothing and posture of a servant. With basin and pitcher he washes feet and disturbs pride and some embarrassment. The basin, water, and towel wash and dry, yet it is the hands of Jesus that would never be forgotten. Those feet of men, base, calloused and dirty are held and cleansing water runs over and in between toes, arches and heels. The message that is given and understood could not be any more explicit. Divinity clothed in humanity demonstrates the humility that is to be the illumination in a deep darkness.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts on Discerment

I want to begin with a big,"Thanks", to all who have been reading my attempts at writing. It is a blessing to write and have people respond to convictions and thoughts put down. Please do not be timid in voicing your thoughts or questions. I really believe that controversy is the thinking persons vitamin.

In preparing the material for this series I did not try to do an exhaustive search. There are good examples of God communicating to his people that I did not include. My intent is to bring to light enough examples and allow each reader to come to a conclusion. I did omit a great example of visioning that the Apostle Peter received. That was an oversight on my part and the experience of Peter set him on his course to bring the gospel to the Gentile people.

Another point I want to mention is my view of determinism and preordination. There are many different views that surround, "preordained", life experiences. My intent is not to have a theological discourse on reformed thinking, nor on complete freedom of choice. Determinism is the idea that all events and decisions in my past will almost always dictate my future actions. Both of these topics make for interesting discussion, but, I did not intend to explore them in this series.

I would like to be able to give space to comments or questions that arise from this blog. So, I may from time to time depart from the thoughts at hand to look into comments or questions. Please remember that what I am doing is very simple; A very limited mind trying to communicate my understanding of God.

Blessings to all!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Discerning God pt5

The intended purposes of God are not always understood or lived out. Even characters in the New Testament had struggles. This piece will take a look at a couple of examples where two apostles needed to be re-directed. It is to be noted, that after Pentecost, it was the Holy Spirit that communicated most of the direction and purposes of God. An entire piece will be devoted to the ministry of the Holy Spirit as he pertains to guidance and direction.

I find the Apostle Paul's ability to understand the will of God remarkable, yet he is still able to be mistaken. In the book of Acts we find the writer giving us details of a time when Paul was mistaken about what he should do. He was wanting to travel into Asia and communicate the gospel message. His intentions were pure, honest and God honoring. Yet, he is expressly told, "No".  After the Holy Spirit closes the door to Asia and Paul understands, he is directed to the open door of Macedonia.

The importance of the closed door to Asia and the open door to Macedonia can not be over emphasized. If Paul had not listened and obeyed the Spirit's directive there may have been a much different portion of the New Testament, known as Paul's Epistles.

Paul travels to Macedonia and we find a very important series of events take place. In the city of Phillipi he finds a gathering of women having a time of prayer down by a river. Paul speaks about Christ and a prominent business woman, Lydia, listens and believes in Christ. Giving us her name is very important, in that Paul's words to her show no bias because of gender. In fact, we know her name and her husband who also believes, remains nameless. He is moved by her and stays with her family for some time. By following the direction of God we have the, "Epistle of Joy- Phillipians." The events in Phillipi will eventually bring Paul to Rome and Caesar.

The understanding of the direction and purposes of God can be ignored. The Apostle Peter is a classic example of a man at his highest and lowest. After walking with Jesus for three years and hanging on every word he can still do things contrary to Jesus. After Pentecost and the revolutionary movement of God, Peter finds himself the central figure in the young church. The communication of God's redemptive plan is spreading among Jews and Gentiles alike. This plan, the universal spreading of the gospel, has the approval and blessing of all of the apostles.

The book of Galatians gives us the sad story of Peter failing to stand for the very truth he sanctioned. He disrespected the very people he was directed to by showing partiality towards Jewish believers. He is rebuked to his face and a lesson is learned and taught.

Paul will listen and obey all the way to the executioner. Peter will follow Christ's leading right up to, and past, being crucified upside down.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Discerning pt4

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son.
By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God's nature.
He holds everything together by what he says-Powerful Words! Peterson/The Message

The importance of the gospel records concerning the words and other methods Jesus used to communicate must never be diminished, nor discounted. The incarnation of Christ, the Word from God, born from the virgin, gives all of us the exact mind of God. Everything mankind needs to understand about God, know his will and come into a loving relationship with him, is found in the words of Christ.

The first words recorded that are ascribed to Jesus take place when he is just a young man. He stayed behind discussing the Torah with the elders and his parents lost track of him. When confronted by his parents he simply told them that he had to be about his father's business. Meaning, at such a young age he understood what God the Father intended for him. Communication and understanding have taken place.

When Jesus calls the disciples the words are simple and easy to understand. When he tells the first disciples to, "Follow me" they understand and respond right away. Their obedience to the voice of Jesus is immediate. The communication to the other disciples is direct and responded to the same way. It is very clear that the voice and words of Jesus were easy to understand and the disciples responded without hesitation.

The recorded messages that we have in the gospels, including events of healing, feeding, touching, rebuking, and instruction all seem to be very clear and concise. The communication is given and it is understood. It is not always acted upon, the rich young ruler as an example, but obedience is not required, only understanding is. 

Before going further, if we are serious about understanding the will, desire, intended purpose of God for our lives the searching out and pondering the truth of the gospel must be a priority. We will never have the legitimate right to proclaim, "God told me", if what we were told is contrary to the words of Christ. I know of no exceptions. So, the prayerful reading and understanding of the words of Jesus must have their place.

The last example that I choose to examine can be problematic. It is the time Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is here we find Jesus having a real crisis in his heart and thus obedience. He knows full well what road he is going to have to walk down. He knew full well, even before the created universe existed, what the plan of redemption was. None-the-less, Jesus struggles with the will of his father, to the point of agony and despair. At the end of the struggle Jesus moves to Golgotha.

Questioning and struggling with our understanding of God's intended purpose for us is natural and probably good for us.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Discern pt3

The question of God speaking in an audible voice is sure create a lot of discussion. History is filled with stories of people who have claimed to hear the voice of God as justification for unspeakable atrocities. Wars have been fought over the, "Voice of God." Even today,  mental hospitals and prisons house hundreds of people who claim to have heard the voice of God. I would suppose that today honest and devout believers who may have heard the voice of God, keep it to themselves. In all honesty, I have never heard God speak in any way in which my ears hear a distinguishable voice. I will not now, nor ever say, that God can not speak in an audible voice. God can do whatever he chooses.

Now, as we continue to look at God's communication and our understanding of that communication in the Old Testament methods begin to change. Up to the time of Samuel it appears that the Lord chose to speak in audible ways. At least, that is the way Moses records his accounts as he is the author of the first five books. God did not choose audible communication as the only method, just a very common one. As Samuel sleeps he hears the voice of God. He believes that he is hearing Eli speak. The event occurs again until Eli discerns that Samuel is hearing God's voice. Scripture does not give us any indication that Eli heard the voice as well.

As the prophetic voices begin to sound in the region it seems the method of God speaking and the discernment of the message changes. Almost all recorded instances, as far as I can find, the prophets stand upon the conviction that they are speaking for the Lord. Time after time they declare, "Thus says the Lord." And then they bring forth the message that God has revealed to them and in their understanding, speak forth. We find in the prophetic record some remarkable events in which the Lord is seen giving aid, communication, support, or a message of doom. The Hebrew boys in the furnace have a divine presence that gives them courage and protection. Daniel finds protection from the lions as his heart and spirit were known to God.

With the closing of the Old Testament we find about four hundred years of divine silence. Malachi ends with the promise of a new voice and new discernment. I have not put down any references to God speaking and human understanding that might be found in other writings or the Apophraca. This decision might create some thoughts of bias or selectivity. The Old Testament is viewed as part of the Divine Revelation of God to men, so the choice.

As we begin to look in the gospels for the voice of God, or in his methods of communication, the events surrounding the birth of Christ burst forth with his voice. Angels seem to be the messenger of choice in bringing communication from God to the people involved. Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth and the shepherds all listen to the angels who communicate for God. The communication is understood and acted upon.

So, even in the beginning of the New Testament discerning the will of God is based on understanding God's communication, our(mankind's) understanding and accepting the message. Acting upon the understanding and acceptance is not really a requirement, remember Jonah.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Discerning- Pt2

After reading and re-reading yesterdays posting I must confess that parts of it must have contributed to the fog bank that keeps people from understanding God's will and desire for them. I will try real hard to keep the writing clear and concise. Also a word of thanks for the comments. Yes, one of the most powerful and wondrous ways in which God speaks is through creation. Bible people call it the, Natural Revelation. Many of us have had experiences in the natural world that take our breath away. I stood on the edge of Victoria Falls and was speechless.

In the Old Testament God spoke in some pretty clear ways. And, because of the clarity of his voice understanding his will was easier. Understanding the will of God,  friend, or family member is based on good communication. If I hear and understand clearly what is being expressed to me I have knowledge of the desire or will of the one communicating.

In Genesis the story of Adam gives a clear example of discerning (understanding) the will of God. Adam was given very clear instruction about his life in the garden. He was free to enjoy all of the blessings that had been provided. He was told in very plain and easy to understand language that there was a temptation he must stay away from. What would appear as a blessing was a curse. There was no misunderstanding in the communication. Adam knew, clear cut, easy to understand.

The communication and ensuing understanding and work of Noah is another very clear example. God communicates with Noah in such clear and powerful words that he carried on his task for more than a century. Another point of consideration must be the society in which he lived. The land was godless and corrupt, except for Noah. He was able to understand and complete the communicated will of God in such a land.

The details around the story of Abram are a little different. God speaks to Abram and tells him to leave his land, family and social structure and walk to a land that has not yet been disclosed. Abram understands the communication and all the implications. He informs his family and those he is responsible for and begins walking. He understood the desire and will of God, the implications of that will, and walked to an unknown land.

The communication between God and Moses is different in some respects. Scripture records what might have been the first, Theophany,  the appearance of the Lord. The bible says, An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush. The later conversation reveals that it is in fact God speaking to Moses from the bush that was not consumed. This communication is different in the lengthy conversation between God and Moses. The communication from God is simple. He has been watching the suffering of the Jewish people and he intends for Moses to help. Moses continues the communication with excuses. His understanding is clear and he wants a way out. God is filled with compassion towards Moses and continues the communication until Moses not only understands but obeys.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Discerning the Will of God-Part 1

I am sure that this topic is one that has confused many honest and sincere followers of Christ. Just the sound of it, Discerning the will of God, seems somewhat like a mystery. I don't believe that it is God's intention for us to be confused in regards to accomplishing His purpose through our lives. Our Church language can add to the mystery. When we speak of spiritual realities, like, being the Body of Christ, that in itself can add to a sense confusion or misunderstanding.

What follows is my understanding of scripture, in explicit terms, and in looking at events and characters that shed light on the topic. The conclusion of this will be based on personal experience, based on many years and a very slow and gradual understanding of God working in my life. In all of this, it is imperative to remember that what follows is my understanding and my experience.

First, understanding the will of God needs to be looked at in general terms and a wide scope. When that is completed and understood the focus can be upon individuals. The desire and plan of God covers all of creation and time and must be examined by reading His revelation, illuminated by His Presence, and confirmed in humanity by His seal and witness.

The message of scripture is Gods' great desire to have fellowship with the people He created. That desire has been communicated in many ways and methods. In the Old Testament God used very explicit and easy to understand methods. Visions, angels, direct voices, theophanies, burning bushes and many other methods directed individuals to understand the desire and will of God. The experiences left little or no doubt in the life of the person on the receiving side.

In the beginning of the New Testament the desire and will of God was also explicit, yet at times not easy to understand. Jesus spoke the eternal mind and heart of the Father. The character of the Triune God was made visible through Christ. But, even in the presence and words of Christ, the early followers did not understand everything.

On the Day of Pentecost the followers of Christ experienced the imparting presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that the Great Illuminator would come and teach all things and bring the important to remembrance. It is apparent to me that the methods of communication between God and man have slowly changed. The changes seem to coincide with the passing of the early followers of Christ. That point is purely speculative on my part, as scripture ends with one of the greatest revelations imagined.

I must add that later church history will detail many miraculous manifestations of God and His presence. The period that we know as the, Dark Ages, seems to show us a general change in the direct explicit communication between God and men.

In a sense of overview of this portion we can understand that God desires communication and fellowship with all of humanity. Peter's second epistle is quite clear, God is not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance. The communication and invitation to fellowship is open to all. Paul leads us to another understanding of the desire and purpose of God, This is the will of God, even your sanctification. It is the will of God and desire that we have a relationship based on communication and love.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Prince of Peace-Please

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Arizona- another in a long line of tragedies. A man with his life filled with delusion and evil, who has lost all sense of moral righteous purpose, kills. It makes no difference to him that people are innocent. In his mind all are guilty, as his insanity increases the spewing of his violence and bullets increase. The fruition of his diseased growth is death.

While shock covers the land and truth is still to be discovered, self-righteous mouth-pieces of society begin. Fingers are pointed and tongues wag nonstop. It seems as though everybody is blaming everybody. Politicians load up with verbal barbs and accusations. Social organizations line up on sides of the battle line. The social scientist inform us that what takes place is a symptom of our society. That would seem to be quite obvious as almost all destructive behavior is within a given society. We do not live in a vacuum, no man is an island.

There is no room to minimize the trauma and complete and utter dread of what happened in Arizona. Innocent people died and the wounded will need healing far beyond flesh and bone. The question that keeps coming back to me is, "Do we really understand what happened?"  The actual events are obvious, we have been informed, re-informed, and updated by the 24hour media. And that is their job, they are doing what people want them to do.

Back to the question. There are some people who can see deeper than events, experiences, visible realities and even history. The truth of the matter is not pleasant, but it is filled with hope and certainty. We live in a world that is broken and a country that has embraced the disposability of everything. What is sacred? What boundaries does our society embrace? Our boundaries are as strong and stable as Jello. We do and want to do whatever is right in our own eyes.

Until men and women embrace the Lordship of Christ and experience the quickening and regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, nothing much will change. The religions of the world offer little to no hope, for they can not change the character of mankind. It is Christ, and only Christ, that can transform us into new and different creations. PRINCE OF PEACE- PLEASE,PLEASE PROVIDE

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fresh Air and the Oldies

The horizontal cuts in the concrete were engineered to allow for expansion and contraction as cold and heat could move tons of roadway.The cuts produced a steady cadence of noise and slight sensation in the steering wheel. They also accomplished a fearsome and potentially life-threatening sensation, a fog, mesmerizing tempo, just some type of induced stupor.

All of this was dangerous enough, a quick look into the rear view mirror made the potential dread overpowering. The window came down and the volume on the radio up. My wife and children might wake up from the blast of cold air and rock and roll, small price to pay.

The last eight weeks had been exhausting with both of us working seven days a week. We would drag in at 10:00 or 11:00 each night except Sunday. Now the opportunity to take the kids to see Gramma was not to be passed up. The fresh air and the oldies on the radio worked. And, a cup of strong black coffee was a bit of added insurance. Just two hours later I carried the girls in, still asleep despite cold air, Bob Segar, Beach Boys, Credence Clearwater Revival, and a host of others.

How easy is it for us to slip into a state of complacency? We can rationalize any and all types of behavior. What used to bother us, we get used to it. A spiritual life that was important and had meaning slipped away due to a million hypocrites and a poor pastor. Excuses to come to us as quickly as we need them. I know, I used my disability to be ticked off at God and lots of people. No more excuses. Paul told the Ephesians to, "Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." WE ALL NEED MORE LIGHT

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year

The clock is telling me that I am already 33 minutes into a new year and a new decade. Like every one else there were plenty of surprises this past year. A move to Morenci was certainly not in our future, as we understood it. Some exciting times, as Ana was able to go to Tanzania for ten days. The darkness near, and to this end of the year, has cast a shadow over the hearts and souls of multitudes as we continue to miss our three brothers. All of us have experienced our own pain, doubts, misgivings as well as joys and thrills.

Some words that have been attributed to Martin Luther, "I know not what tomorrow holds, yet I know who holds tomorrow", in German of course. I have never been a big one when it comes to making New Year's resolutions, I have trouble with my own spiritual disciplines. I have made a resolution to lose weight countless times, I weigh more now then at any time in my life. What I have done is put my money,ouch, where my mouth is. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday Donna and I are gonna be in Adrian where I can swim and exercise.

I even hesitate to write this because words can be cheap and deceptive. The proof will come later, or it won't come and my words will be hollow and cheap. Don't make any resolutions, just look at your life and honestly try, by God's help, try and change just one thing for the positive. Just think of the end of the next year when you accomplished one good change.