Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Are All One (2)

All humans came from the ground, and we're going back there too, eventually. We all came from original parents, so sooner or later we are all related, have a lot of the same genetic material in our cells, and are far, far more alike than we are different. So it might follow, logically, that we all see each other as part of the same extended family -- somebody you'd run into at the buffet during a family reunion.

But that's not what we see in the world around us, is it? We have a category of felony in the US called a "hate crime". People in Africa who belong to different tribes, differences I can't see from looking at their pictures, are slaughtering each other. Same goes for other parts of the world. We cry "Why?" It doesn't make sense.

Here's a possible root cause. When Adam and Eve, our first parents, turned their backs on God and decided to work out life on their own, they did it because of a basic mistrust: believing that God had held back something good (see Genesis 3). Then they had to work out life by their best estimates, since they refused to hear their Maker's wisdom. And lo and behold, the same lack of trust got extended to each other. (Shoot, if we can't trust God to take care of us, why should we trust someone we don't know, or who looks and sounds different from us, to do the right thing?) And face it, we have been mistreated by others, every one of us, from our childhood. So why should we trust others?

So we lock our car doors for safety when we're stopped at a busy street corner, and we watch the other people in the parking lot when we're walking to our car -- afraid that somebody might attack us. And all that goes double if the people around us appear to be of a different people group than our own.

If that's the cause, what's the cure? Seems to me that it means going back to where we came from -- back to trusting God for everything, believing that he alone has the answer to all our questions and insecurities. Listening to what he has to say -- then doing it. And remembering that, not only are we all children of Adam and Eve, we have been brought back from our silly dead-end rebellion against God by his own Son: "Adam brought death to all of us, and Christ will bring life to all of us" (1 Cor. 15:22).

The Son made us all one again, the whole river of humanity, no matter what we look like: "For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28).

That's the spiritual reality. If the physical reality doesn't look like that, then you and I need to go back to the spiritual reality and ask God to help us see the physical with spiritual eyes. And then start treating one another according to reality. Need hands-on help? I know a bunch of people who treat each other this way already. I go to church with them every week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We Are All One (1)

Dirt and Humanity

A little boy was learning from his father that God had made the first man, Adam, out of dirt, and that eventually, all humans turn back into dirt when we die. ("For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return", taken from Genesis 3:19) A funny look came over his face, and he blurted out, "Well, I looked under my bed this morning, and it looks like somebody's either coming or going!"

The Hebrew words in that verse in Genesis show a connection between the first man ("Adam") and the dirt ("adamah") that he came from. I think God was trying to remind him, and maybe us, not to get too 'uppity' as my mom used to say. But isn't that what we tend to do, get uppity? It's sure easy for me to start thinking I'm something better than the rest of the people around me.

Am I, really? Are you, really, better than others? Well, according to God, we all came from the same source: him! And he made us all from the same dirt, and since we all came from the same original parents, then it looks like we are the same, in so many ways. Scientists have figured out how to 'read' our DNA strands, and tell us how very closely we are all related genetically. (Even the science of genetics comes from the same Latin root as Genesis, or beginnings.)

When we see others, though, we tend to look at differences: he's taller than me and has bigger muscles. She weighs less than I do, and has better hair. He's got dark skin, I wonder where he's from. She looks Chinese or Korean or something, not from around here. And the envy or the distrust starts to arise, and the next reaction to that is defensiveness and self-protection, shutting others out instead of including them.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God told the Israelites not to mingle with the nations around them -- not because they were inferior peoples, but so Israel wouldn't pick up the false and destructive religions of those people. (See Numbers 33:51-55, Deuteronomy 7:1-8, Deuteronomy 12:29-31, etc.) But the New Covenant is a relationship with God where everybody belongs, no matter where we're from: "Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts...Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death." (Ephesians 2, especially verses 11 and 16).

The spiritual reality is greater than the physical reality of our external, visible differences. In Christ, we are one. How does that play out when we like different foods, use different grammar, enjoy different music, and naturally think ours is better? Let's keep considering those ideas in the next few posts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stars and Planets

Sunshine strikes the surface of the Earth, and does some wonderful things. Weather is created from the energy that pours into our atmosphere and onto the land and oceans. Plants and flowers and trees grow, and create food for trillions of creatures. Life is possible on earth because of that sunshine.

Look just below the surface, though, and the sun's effects are all but lost. Just below the surface, it's dark. Ten feet below the grass, the soil is a constant temperature year round. Besides that, earthquakes and volcanoes continue, based on enormous forces from down deep in the ground that aren't affected by the sunlight. Their effects sometimes show up in dramatic and harmful ways to us surface dwellers. So all that sunlight on the surface doesn't really change the interior at all.

Our sun, like other stars, is different. It runs on what we call nuclear fusion: the merging of two hydrogen atoms into one helium atom with the release of enormous amounts of energy. From the beginning until now, the process continues -- and it's the source of the sunshine we enjoy today, that makes life possible on Planet Earth.

Okay, so what's all this about? Pretty simple, really: Change in our lives comes not from the outside, but from the inside. In what we call the Old Covenant, God gave his chosen nation a set of rules and regs as a set of national laws to operate under. But he knew that those laws, good as they were, wouldn't change the people. He knew that their 'hearts,' their innermost selves (mind, emotions, and will) weren't really turned to him. That's why he said that they needed a whole new heart, so that they would be changed from the inside out. (See, for example, Jeremiah 24:7, Ezekiel 11:19, Ezekiel 36:26, and other scriptures.)

And that's what he did for us in the New Covenant. Jesus Christ has come to earth and lived in the flesh to gather up all humanity into himself and bring us back to fellowship with the Father. He died (and Paul says we all died with him, 1 Cor. 15:21-22, Romans 6:1-3) and when he was raised from the dead, then symbolically we were all raised also: "For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives." (Romans 6:4).

That new life is by the Holy Spirit: "Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace." (Romans 8:5-6).

It starts on the inside. All the human attempts to keep external regulations won't change your heart (Hebrews 10:1-4, for instance). But with the Spirit in you, guiding your life and giving you God's own mind in you, then you will desire the things of God, and you will really love him the way he designed humans to love him.

Becoming a mature Christ-follower starts with that inner change. Jesus has already done the really hard work of dying and being resurrected for us. He encourages us now to follow him by being baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit and then letting him continue to mature us from the inside out. And the light that he puts within you, pours out to others and warms them.

So which would you rather be? A planet, or a star?

Sunday, January 4, 2009


There the Israelites were, on the east side of the Jordan river, staring at the land they'd been told about, dreamed about, salivated over for 40 years -- a land flowing with milk and honey, where you could have your own place, grow your own food, raise a family and make something of yourself. The land was waiting for them, and the blessings were going to roll in.

A lot was changing. Moses was dead. The cloud, something they'd seen between them and the horizon for as long as they could remember, was gone. And they were about to cross into a place of many unknowns.

Who was to lead them now? Joshua -- a name meaning "The Lord saves". His job was to bring them over the Jordan river and conquer the land they had been promised. But the Jordan was in the spring flood stage, and unknown enemies on the other side might mean their defeat once they got over anyway. Then God stepped in, as he always did. The priests went in front, carrying the ark of the covenant, and as soon as their feet touched the river, it moved away on both sides -- ripped apart by the power of God, so they could go through. You can read the story starting in Joshua 3.

About 1,400 years later, another Joshua ripped open another barrier, and led all humanity into a new land of plenty and blessing. Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua) opened up the way between death and life through his own death and bodily resurrection. The temple veil was ripped open (Mark 15:38), signifying both a new, unrestricted access between God and humanity, and the coming end of the old covenant system. And a whole new land of opportunity and blessing -- the land of constant contact with God, and spiritual riches beyond man's imagination -- was given to us as a free inheritance.

It took faith for Joshua to believe that God would defeat all his enemies in front of him. It took faith for the priests to step into the surging waters of a flooded river. It took faith for Jesus to face his Roman captors and Jewish accusers, knowing he was going to die but trusting his Father to raise him from the dead.

And it takes faith for us to believe that Jesus' perfect rightousness, and his perfect sacrifice for our sins, is sufficient for our salvation. We humans like to think that we can somehow solidify the deal by our effort. But God saves us by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-10), not by our obedience. Then he begins to transform our formerly self-willed hearts into willing servants of our Lord (more on that next time).

If Joshua and the Israelites had chickened out and stayed on the east side of the Jordan, they never would have inherited the land of milk and honey. If Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, had allowed his flesh to overcome his perfect faith, he wouldn't have conquered sin and the grave. But he was God, he couldn't fail, he didn't fail, and he leads us out of the wilderness of our broken nature and into the awesome blessings of God's adopted children (Ephesians 1:3-8).

What part of your life might be considered 'unconquered territory'? Have you been standing on the wrong side of the Jordan, so to speak, not yet moving ahead into victory? Whether this is your first time or your hundredth time to surrender something to God and step out on faith, the process is still the same: turn and face Jesus Christ, ask him for help, and start moving forward. If you need some help with that, please let me know.