Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Already There

"Are we there yet?"  "When will we get there?"  Every parent has heard these questions.  Guess what -- God hears this kind of question from his children all the time!  I used to be told that I was waiting for something called "the Kingdom of God" and until that "came" I just had to wait for anything really good to happen.  I hear people say "Oh, I just can't wait to get to heaven" and they seem to be simply gritting their teeth and enduring physical life so they can be blessed by God after they die. 

Here's the truth:  in many ways we've already arrived!  When the Son of God took on human flesh (John 1:14) and made his home among us, the universe changed.  Instead of being distant from God, as we have perceived ourselves since the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-11) the entire human race, indeed the whole of creation, was joined to God as the Son of God entered the physical world.  The whole universe is now contained in Christ and is sustained by him -- and if it weren't, it would cease to exist!  (Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3 etc).  Because of the self-sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and because he was raised from the dead and because he returned, in his human body, to the Father, people are no longer cut off from God, but all of us are brought to God through Jesus:  "through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross" (Col. 1:20).  And Jesus says "I am with you always" in Mat. 28:20 -- not "will be with you" if we pray hard enough, but is with us now

In Eph. 1:3, Paul says we have been given "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms."  Note the past tense -- we have been given those gifts already.  But what if we don't perceive the blessings God has already given us?  If we live as if those blessings don't exist, how much are we missing out on?  Yet, sadly, that's how a lot of Christians live -- sadly, as if they are poverty-stricken children of the Most High -- a contradiction in itself!  (No, we're not talking about health-and-wealth, as though Christians are never supposed to have any wants in this life.  Instead, we learn how to take all our wants to Jesus.)   The difference is, we have been given spiritual blessings, and they are spiritually perceived -- not physically, although they do impact our physical lives as a result. 

Paying attention spiritually is the key, then.  Since you are a disciple of Jesus, then it's important to focus on that reality.  How do we do that?  We'll talk about that next time.  Here's a hint:  it's something 'spiritual.' 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jesus Is on Time

I'm enrolled in a Master's program, and I'm behind in my class work.  Last semester was supposed to be over around the first of December, but I didn't finish the papers I was to write, and now I'm having to do those papers plus all the other stuff I'm supposed to be doing now.  I may procrastinate, but God is never late.  His timing is always "just right."

We Christians have been hoping for the full, visible establishment of Jesus' kingdom for almost 2,000 years now.  His disciples thought it would be right away after his resurrection:  “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6), but Jesus ascended to heaven instead.  Hundreds of people over the centuries have calculated or guessed at the date of his return, and they've all been wrong, (including the ones on television who move the date forward every time the last one passes.)  In Springs of Grace, and Living Grace Christian Fellowship, we'll get to hear a sermon  this weekend, going over some of the detail in Matthew 24 that I think will help with some of those concerns. 

The pressing question is, since we're still here, what we do while we're still here?   One thing we don't want to do is forget that God is with us, and Jesus is continuing to work out his will through us, individually and as his Body, the Church universal.  He encourages us in Matt. 24:45-46, "A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward."  Our job is to continue doing whatever part of that work God has given each of us to do.  

The warning Jesus gives next, in Mat. 24:48-50 is the reverse:  "But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected" (and this guy is not rewarded).  Why is the master's "return" unexpected?  Because that servant focuses on physical pleasures instead of the joy of serving his master faithfully.  We don't want to make the same mistake.  

We have plenty of distractions in this life, but serving our Lord brings the most joy of all.  And when Jesus appears -- at just the right time -- the reward of having served faithfully will be worth the wait.  He's already promised us that.  What exactly has God given you to do?  Whatever it is, today is a good day to be doing it!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to Please God

I've spent most of my life trying to please God, working harder and studying more, beating myself up for my failings -- and only recently starting to find out what really does please him.  It's much simpler than I used to think! 

My wife, The Amazing Joanne, puts it this way:  God can do anything he wants for fun, and he decided to adopt us!  That's a paraphrase of Eph. 1:5, which says "God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure."  (See Genesis 1:31, where God calls us, as part of his creation, "very good.")  So in that broader sense, you have already pleased God, just by existing!  But how do you know what to do after that?

Imagine you were an orphan living on the streets in the wrong part of town, hungry and dirty and sick and alone, sleeping in your rags at night.  One day an incredibly rich family sees you, loves you that instant, and takes you home to their mansion, where you have more food, clothing and love that you ever imagined existed in the whole world together.  How could you show that family appreciation for their love and generosity?  Would you reject their gifts and insist on earning them first?  You would be wise to decide that, since they've been so good to you, then you should learn their values and ways, and find how to be good to others also.

After describing who we are -- being securely "in Christ"-- in Ephesians 1-3, Paul finally gives us something to do in the latter chapters.  He says in 5:1-2, "Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ."  In verses 8-9, "For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true."  And in verse 10, "Carefully determine what pleases the Lord."  There are other commands and cautions in these verses too, but the core is this:  we are God's children -- adopted through Jesus Christ -- so our new family values are love and generosity and light

What pleases God?  That, since we are "in Christ," we live by our new family values of light and love and acceptance, loving others as generously as we've been loved by God, and by following the Holy Spirit's lead, "carefully determine what pleases the Lord."  That's enough to keep us fully occupied the rest of our lives until we see God -- when we will finally start to understand just how much he really loves us. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What Now?

Christmas is a time of tremendous joy for the McCulleys, as we look at the Son of God, who took on human flesh (that's the Incarnation) to join us to God and give us eternal life.  Sharing that joy with others is our main focus during this time.  But, we just finished putting away all the Christmas decorations and took the tree out to be turned into compost.  So, what now?  Mild depression?  Back to business-as-usual?

What now?  What is our response to the great gift of God for us, his only Son, Jesus the Christ?  There should be only one response, if we consider carefully:  to live out, in every possible way,  our true being and purpose in life as God has revealed it.  Here's a prayer from the journal of Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, who grounded them in God in their youth:  "Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church, or [prayer] closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy presence.  So may my every word and action have a moral content...May all the happenings of my life prove useful and beneficial to me.  May all things instruct me and afford me an opportunity of exercising some virtue and daily learning and growing toward Thy likeness...Amen."  (Quoted by Richard Foster in Streams of Living Water, from Donald L. Kline's book, Susanna Wesley: God's Catalyst for Revival.)

What now?  God has called us with a holy calling as his dear children (Eph 1:4) and is blessing us spiritually (Eph. 1:3).  He is everywhere, at every second, so we know God is in every moment of our lives.  We don't have to "bring God along" as we go somewhere; he is already with us. But if we're not aware of God's presence and power, we end up stumbling around in life, being aware only of our own strength, and tripped up by our weaknesses. 

Let me suggest a simple prayer to remind us of God's presence in every second of our daily living:  "Lord God, help me see you in everything and hear your direction for me.  Let your love fill me so I can love everyone in your name.  Amen."  That's a place to begin. 

What now?  Live every moment of every day being fully aware of God's love and purpose for you

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Whole Story, Briefly

The last several weeks, during the Advent and Christmas seasons, I've tried to show from scripture who God is and how he has chosen to relate to us humans.  To begin 2012, I'm writing the same things in summary, with a few supporting scriptures (you can click on the reference to read the scripture online, or look it up yourself):

1.  It was God's purpose from the first, as part of creation itself, to adopt humanity into a relationship of closeness and love (Eph. 1:3-6).  His plan is to be with us forever in a life of never-ending joy (Rev. 21:1-4).  Why?  Because God is love (1 John 4:8) and so he loves us now (John 17:23) as he has from the first.

2.  God's plan for humanity included, from the beginning, a way to bring us imperfect humans into his embrace. (Gen. 3:15, Isa. 7:14, Isa. 9:6-7, Isa. 11, Isa. 53, etc). The nation of Israel set up a 'vocabulary of salvation' with sacrifices, a priesthood, and so forth, to prepare us for the Messiah.

3.  The eternal Son of God was born into human flesh as Jesus (Matthew 1, Luke 1, Luke 2, John 1:1-18, John 4:21-26, etc).  His purpose was to fulfill the Father's plan, (John 4:31-34, John 5:35-40) and he was successful (John 17:1-8, John 19:30).  He brought everything to God in a relationship of peace (Col. 1:19-20) including you and me!  The work of Jesus Christ, in his life and on the cross and in his resurrection, has already removed all sin.  There is no longer anything standing between you and God! 

4.  The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, has the task of inviting us into the loving embrace of the Father (John 16:8-15) and he continues to draw people to believe (Acts 16:13-15).

So where does that leave you, dear reader?  To believe and accept what is already true about you, according to the word of God, and respond to him in that belief.  Our lives now, yours and mine, are about giving glory to the God who has loved us this much (Eph 2:10) and living a life of love (Eph. 5:2) as our response to him.  And if you haven't yet believed that, isn't the start of a new year a good time to begin?