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Posts Tagged ‘believer’

I am not very good at waiting for the fruit of anything. I am a product of my culture and generation. I want it now. But faith in the good ending of a situation is the cornerstone of hope and takes time.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

It takes practice to believe in the good end despite the circumstances. It also takes experience. The more personal examples I have of God’s reliability, the easier it is to trust God the next time.

And, apparently, each instance of my faith and hope in God, lays a path for others to follow. That is a by-product of my journey, my willingness to hold my hand to the plow.

I live in northern Maryland near the Pennsylvania line and a few times a year, we take a trip up into the Lancaster area where many Amish communities have evolved. I really enjoy watching the spring planting season as the men work the ground with teams of horses or mules and plows. It’s clearly hard work but it is also a kind of dance. Like any farmer, these men are trusting that their labor will bear a plentiful harvest. Outside forces can impact their efforts, but they still carry on, believing that all will be well.

A God follower is similar to these farmers, willing to cultivate the land of human, believing the ground can be tamed, seeds can grow and new life can flourish.

But, like the farmer, this process is long and painstaking. I cannot rush through it. Just as plants grow on their own timetable, so do souls.

In the Amplified translation of this verse, righteousness is expanded to mean “conformity to God’s will in purpose, thought, and action, resulting in right living and right standing with God.” This is true human and this is the harvest we are intended to pursue here on Earth. And with this relationship comes peace within.

This is the promise, the ultimate fruit of discipline.

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Most of Hebrews 11 is a cursory overview of some of the great men and women of faith who acted with determination and courage. Their faith was their talisman for relationship with God. And for me?

Hebrews 11:4, 5a, 6a
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. . . . By faith Enoch . . . And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists. . .

Abel’s stories is one of the first. It’s so interesting that Adam and Eve are bypassed here, more than likely because their faith was wanting. Out of their union, two men were born whose stories have survived through the ages. One son was driven by a pure motive of faith in God and possibly driven by a desire to return their lives to the original purpose and intent of “Eden.” The other son, Cain, seemed to live on the other side of that coin: being more self-sufficient and clearly, my the story’s end, self-absorbed because he couldn’t bear to have his brother’s offering accepted while his was not. I have always believed that motive drove their differences.

In the second story of this chapter, we are given only the second reference to Enoch (now, I am not speaking of the controversial Book of Enoch – which I would like to read one day soon), first in Genesis 5:24 and then again, here in Hebrews 11. And although much is not said of Enoch, there seems to have been knowledge of this one as a prophet, some seven generations before Abraham. The first key for me, based solely on these brief references, is trust. Enoch believed and trusted that God was God and, as a result, anything was possible. Apparently, he transcended the norm, by disappearing without a trace. Although modern times may find this easily explained, there was no need back then for the FBI, pictures on milk cartons, or APB’s. People knew each other and their whereabouts. It was still a small world. His disappearance was supernatural and it occurred out of his faith.

So, what do these stories tell me today? Faith begins out of a decision to believe in the face of all circumstances. Faith begins each day. Faith is rewarded in order to build more faith. Faith is available.

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The first step is belief. “I believe you; I believe what you are saying; I believe YOU are speaking truth.” But the next step is critical, when the listener moves belief into the realm of faith. Here is where the content has meaning for the listener. And here belief can grow.

Hebrews 4:2
For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.

Life in the Spirit is cyclical. With this scripture, I understand it even more than before. Belief prepares the ground of my heart to have faith, that confidence in things not seen or proven. And when faith expands, then I am able to understand more of the “message.” I understand more about the messenger.

As soon as I give room to doubt, the process slows down. It still works, but more methodically. The doubter is looking for more to believe, more information, more facts, more stories, more exposure. And when all goes well, the tipping point is reached and the process begins again.

“Then he [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [John 20:27]

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In love, in Christ, in trouble, in the weeds, in style, and so on; the preposition “in” has many meanings, but the first one is about inclusion, whether in concrete or abstract terms. And the crux of Paul’s message is about our inclusion in Christ and what that means, in life as well as in death.

I Thessalonians 4:13, 16b-17
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. . . . the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

It’s really the whole point, isn’t it? Some people still think that following one’s belief is merely an attitude or determination to live a better life, to manifest love, kindness, honesty, sincerity along with a number of other behavioral metamorphoses.

I am not discounting this interpretation since transformation is part of the process. But I am also interested in the idea of being included in the Spirit world by my relationship with the Christ. Of late, I have been intrigued by the import of the Holy Spirit “in” me, but today, I am captivated by my presence “in” Christ. It is some kind of mutual inclusion. The biggest difference is that the presence in me is holy and pure and working toward cleansing that which is impure within me while Christ takes my “me” into Self as is and acts as a covering for me, like a mama kangaroo who carries her young in a pouch until the little joey is ready.

Being in Christ is a permanent arrangement, not unlike the traditional marriage vow: “. . . to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” But the difference is that death does not “do us part.” We remain “in” each other even then; that’s the promise. It’s a spirit thing, not corporal.

Being of, for, and in Christ, is not just following some teachings, writings, or interpretations by people throughout the ages. It’s an interior experience above all. And that is where it all counts the most.

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Paul is certainly confident as a prototype for believers: become like me, follow me, imitate me. Paul was a zealot before he met Christ and he was certainly one afterward. I could no more imitate him than I can imitate Christ. Ah, there’s the difference. . .

Galatians 4:12
I plead with you, brothers, become like me, . . .
I Corinthians 4:16
Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
I Corinthians 11:1
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Philippians 3:17
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

To follow Paul is an outside/in method while following Christ is an inside/out endeavor.

Despite the freedoms Paul articulates as a follower of Jesus, having been a Pharisee for many years, he still had a very law-based mentality and world view. He was an administrator, an organizer. He could see how things would work out best. He loved his churches and he loved his people, but he did get frustrated. He was impatient. He continually aimed for perfection (Christ) and condemned himself often (not in a bad way, just as a confession) for missing the mark. He knew he was less than perfect and only Christ within made up the difference. Nonetheless, it was Paul who set up the churches with structure. He was an academic. He laid out the reasons for everything he said. He was a man of logic and reason. I’d say a good portion of our modern day churches have evolved out of the teachings and interpretations of Paul.

But when Jesus calls us to “follow him,” I think he is drawing us to the Kingdom. It is Jesus who consistently lays out the paradoxes of internal following. Everything is the opposite of what we would think: turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, going the extra mile, meekness is victor, weakness is strength and so on.

For Jesus it is not really “become LIKE me,” it’s become ME.

This is much more mysterious. When Jesus taught about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” a lot of disciples fled. This entire teaching on Jesus being the “bread of life” terrified most of his followers. [John 6:41-66] They fled because they understood, not because it was beyond them. Every time Jesus spoke bluntly about his intentions, there was an uproar.

With Jesus, what seems impossible is possible; what is lost can be found; what dies can be raised up.

In the face of these kinds of truths, do the outer trappings really matter: Robes or no robes, dunking or sprinkling, wine or grape juice, men or women, buildings or no buildings, and so on.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” [John 14:20]

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Back in the day, particularly for the Israelites, the Law was everything. The law was their standard, their crutch, their security, their hope. Why a curse? Because no one could follow every jot & tittle of the law, and for this reason, they participated in the rituals of sacrifice and atonement. That was the point. The Messiah was promised to be the ultimate reconciliation.

Galatians 3:10
And all who depend on the Law [who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals] are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction, for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide (live and remain) by all the precepts and commands written in the Book of the Law and to practice them.
[Amplified]

This was the proposed road for the Israelites. For them to accept Jesus as the Messiah, they had to accept one final sacrifice as efficacious and complete. To accept the Messiah and then go back to the old way, was restoring the power of the curse.

The second leap for the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah was to accredit the blessings of Abraham (once relegated to their people alone) to the Gentile believers. The exclusive club was no longer a matter of birthright, history, or ancestry.

A single act reboot the system.

As a believer, I am confessing that the work of Christ is the restoration act between me and God. Where the door was closed, it is now open. I may enter the realm of God, the divine. I may participate in holiness. I am permitted to be in relationship . . . not because of what I have done (or not done) but because of who “He” is, that is, the Christ/Messiah for the world.

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When is the end? I always wonder if I’ll know the end. I mean, maybe the end has already come and I’m just treading water. Has “death” been destroyed by the Christ? I mean, He got to pop back up from the tomb, but what about the rest of us?

I Corinthians 15:24-26
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

I have pretty much assumed that “believers” die, resurrect immediately after death, get to be with Jesus in heaven, and have a big meet-up with our family members who took an early exit. But, reading this portion of Corinthians, I’m having to rethink these assumptions.

Of course, I’m not speaking of any academic evaluation of this verse or comparing it with others in the Bible. I’m not an eschatologist. I’m just thinking about the words and looking for an application for me today.

I do believe Christ has full control over the kingdom (in the whenever). And this kingdom exists now but is not “handed over” until the sifting has been completed: the destruction of the other powers/enemies. Death is the final enemy.

So, is death destroyed now? Are people who are dead, not dead? But if not dead, then are they only in heaven not dead? Jesus made a re-appearance in our 3-D world. What about the rest of them… or us?

I still don’t think I get it. The deal with humans and death and Christ, that is. Jesus promises that we “can” be like him [Romans 8:29] and manifest even more works/miracles than He did [John 14:12]. So, what’s up with that?

I’m guessing we’re still in Seth Godin’s “Dip”. People are having trouble “sticking” with it. We have grown discouraged like the servants who were told to take care of the vineyard while the master was away [Luke 20:9-20]. We don’t really believe that death can be conquered in our “time.” We don’t really believe we, humans, can do those miracles. For those who get excited about this possibility and start seeking out that capability, they may begin to look like charlatans and snake-handlers. If people look for the miracle working power without the foundational stuff in place, it gets distorted. Pure and simple.

What’s foundational? The Sermon on the Mount stuff: all the PARADOX stuff like humility, mercy, cheek-turning, selflessness, poverty, purity, peacemaking, and gentleness.

OK, it’s not the end because God is giving us a chance to work this out. To practice a little more. I know I need practice.

This is when I wish I had those “matrix” eyes so I could see what is really “real.” That’s where the kingdom is – it’s here around me. I just can’t see it because I am blinded by my attachment to life as I have known it, not life as the Christ wants me to live it.

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