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Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

I love this. God is God: there is only one God. And it doesn’t really matter what name is given to God or whether one believes “in” God or not, God is still God, in fact, the God of all gods. My faith in God does not change God, it only changes me.

Romans 3:29-30
Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome . . . [Deuteronomy 10:17]

Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. [Psalm 136:2]

The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings . . . ” [Daniel 2:47]

So, here’s this God of all gods willing, able and ready to accept the faith of the people, all people. When anyone puts his/her faith in God, a way is opened toward justification, toward relationship.

Jesus says in John 14:6 that “he is the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me.” and I believe him. The promise is that relationship with Jesus opens the door to relationship with God as Father.

But, it rankles most non-Christians and non-believers that Jesus would claim to be the “only way” to God (both then and now). Even I am uncomfortable with this strict “way.” So, what is there to say?

Jesus is a sure thing. If a person wants to know God, to experience God, to be in relationship with God, then follow the way of Jesus and you will find what you seek. It is a promise. And I can testify to the truth of it. I was lost and through Jesus, I found my way.

But I will give an additional interpretation: Since God is God of all… then who am I to say that Jesus does not manifest alternatively to others? Said differently, if a person truly seeks God, then I believe that person will also find Jesus on the way. But it is more difficult.

The way of Jesus is easier, more direct. It is not burdensome. And in it, there is freedom.

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As much as we hate to admit it, most of us want to belong–to something or someone. I think we’re wired that way. We’re just waiting for the invitation, the opening, the opportunity.

Romans 1:6
And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Historically, I have always been the joiner. Even as far back as high school, my participation index in the yearbook was longer than anyone else. I haven’t changed much. I still join clubs, I join groups, I join movements, I join sororities, I join churches, and I join associations. But what I really want to join is a relationship. The difficulty is that relationships are two-way streets. To join a relationship, there has to be give and take, mutual agreement, and growth. In a group situation, I can join and then I can be a good member of the group or a lazy member of the group, but basically, I’m still a member. Being lazy in a relationship is the kiss of death.

In a relationship, there has to be commitment and contact and communication. There has to be transparency and authenticity. There has to be a willingness to work through the rough spots. There has to be a desire to actually be in the relationship. It takes energy to start and stay in a relationship.

In the epistle to the Romans, Paul is telling his readers and listeners that they are ALL called (invited) to be in a particular relationship. That relationship begins with the Christ and then manifests in koinonia (fellowship with others). That’s how we can really gauge our progress in this relationship: how we relate to others.

Once I enter into relationship with Christ, there’s also a benefit package, just like belonging to an organization. Those benefits are laid out in the scriptures. Among the benefits is a promise that Christ Jesus will be with me always, through everything. Once committed to this particular relationship, nothing can separate me from Christ [Romans 8:38-39].

And if I fear, I can call out, “I am yours, save me!” [Psalm 119:94].

I am yours. Save me. I am yours. Help me. I am yours. Draw me. I am yours… and no other.

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Acts 13:9-10a
Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil…”

This incident happened on the initial leg of Paul’s first missionary journey in Cyprus. Apparently, it is on this journey that Saul changes his name to Paul, which historians surmise he did to be more accessible to the Greeks. And it is here that he and Barnabas encounter a sorcerer named Elymas who opposed them when they sought to speak to the proconsul that Elymas had been serving up until then.

But what is of greater interest to me is this phrase about Paul being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” As far as I can tell, this particular phrase, or ones similar to it, are only mentioned a dozen times in the New Testament. And yet, this is a phrase that many contemporary Christians (particularly Charismatics and Pentecostals) bandy about as a frequent experience marked with outward expressions like tongues, laughing, shaking, and the like. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying these expressions of the Spirit are not authentic, I’m just not sure they represent being “filled” as in filled to overflowing.

I think that true fullness would, by its very nature, pour out on others. Most of the “filled” examples in scripture are followed with a time of emptying by speaking and prophesying, literally speaking for God. Anything else is probably less than full. I just think we have diminished the impact of what it means to experience the Holy Spirit in this way.

I have used the phrase myself. But now, I think I have been merely touched by Holy Spirit. Whatever experience I had was just a breath of the Spirit compared to being filled. There is so much more. If a person is actually filled to overflowing, something happens… something changes. Power is exercised and by its very nature, it is according to the direction of God for the sake of another. Someone else is changed, not so much the person who is filled.

I am ashamed to say but I believe I have sought these “infillings” for myself and not for others at all. Oh, it sounds so pious, to seek the Holy Spirit and to go deeper into the things of God. But really, isn’t the whole point of my faith supposed to be to touch others?

So many traditional church folks are afraid of the “postmodern” movement because it is so inclusive and yet, there is one thing the emergents and postmoderns have over a lot of the other Christians… they “get” the “relationship” message. They are loving and serving others as a natural outpouring of their faith and their walk “in the way of Jesus.” They are living with and serving the poor and the unlovely. They are not trying to get more filled… they are trying to empty. They are pouring themselves out for others.

Clearly, I am still holding on too tightly to what I have. I am afraid to empty myself because I don’t really trust God to keep me filled. Forgive me.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Act 4:32
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

This line makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They go to a lot of trouble to explain it away (that was then, this is now). Others go off and start communes and do their best to live in community. In some cases, these communities are successful, but most are not. There has been a resurgence of interest in communal living through the growth of the emergent movement and the next generation of believers.

In any event, it is clear that in New Testament time, that time after Jesus’ resurrection, living and sharing and being of one heart and mind was the norm. This is what people wanted to do. I don’t believe it was mandated, it just happened. It evolved from that moment in their lives. The message of the time was simple: Jesus Christ, the son of God, died on the cross and was raised up. They expected him to return soon as well.

But, in the same way that Jesus was not the Messiah everyone expected, he didn’t return within anyone’s timeline either. At this point in the story, there were upwards to 5,000 believers. What did that look like? How did they really operate in one heart and mind? How did they really live “in community?”

Being in one heart and mind is not easy. There must be trust, sacrifice, compromise, flexibility, cooperation, and love. There must be a rallying point… something everyone can agree upon.

I think it’s our first priority in any relationship: find the parallel. Look for the sphere of agreement, the commonality before addressing any of the differences. With every relationship, there will always be at least one congruence. Let’s start there.

Shakespeare’s Shylock said it most ably:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

Perhaps the person is saying: I am a Muslim. I am an African. I am poor. I am gay. I am physically challenged. I am old. I am alone.

Today, I seek oneness in heart and mind.

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John 18:36
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

If one of us from the 21st century was catapulted back in time, we might encounter some small understanding of the differences between Jesus and the “world” in which he found himself. His appearance in human history was a great turning point. His ministry time was spent trying to explain, through teaching, stories, actions, demonstrations, miracles, and transformations, what his kingdom was like. For some people, it continued to be a “foreign language.”

Becoming a true follower of Christ requires some “out of the box” thinking. I think we have really downplayed his supernatural Self. What would happen if Jesus showed up in our century? How would he convince anyone that he was not of this world… that He was the Son of God… that he was the king of another kingdom?

The first thing he did was live among the people for some thirty years. He learned the “ways of the land.”

In the end, he did a very simple thing: he built relationships and told stories. He accepted people where they were and shared his insights with them. He even healed some of them. And each one, either through a story they heard, a touch, or a healing, each one was sent out to tell what he or she had heard, saw or felt.

We all respond differently to what we experience. Each story, each testimony, each image, and each word we share is part of the tapestry of Christ’s presence on earth. Jesus’s kingdom is all about potential: a mustard seed, a treasure hidden in a field, a mystery, a fisherman’s net, a small child, a banquet. Each one is a word picture for another way of living… another kingdom.

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Psalm 24:1; John 17:6a
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me…” [Jesus]

This “belonging” business is not easy for those of us from a contemporary culture. First of all, there’s the negative side of belonging advanced by slavery and other human trafficking. That idea doesn’t sit well with us: someone owning another person. Nor is there any appeal for being treated as a trading card, traded up or down. Actually, most teen angst is centered around belonging … or rather, not belonging to a particular group or clique.

Fortunately, there’s the nicer side of belonging, like belonging to a family, a club, a church, a neighborhood, a team, or a community. Then, we may feel a lot cozier and comfortable with the notion. Or talk to any two young lovers and they’ll happily embrace the idea of belonging to one another.

The concept of belonging or not belonging can be powerful stuff.

But I’m thinking these verses from John 17 are more inclusive, particularly when combined with Psalm 24. Everything and everyone belongs to God who gave this kingdom to Jesus with the mandate of bringing the people of Earth back to God. Earlier in the chapter [vs 4], Jesus said he accomplished this task. The transfer of power has been completed. The turnabout began back then. The next part of the story is ours… receiving what Jesus offers and integrating the truth of Jesus into our lives.

In verse 10, Jesus says again that everything that God has is His and everything that Jesus has is God’s. But the same is true for us. Everything that Jesus has can be ours and vice versa. We belong to Him already.

To resist Jesus is like saying we don’t want to be human anymore. But we belong to each other too. Let’s start acting like it.

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Philippians 4:5a
“Let your gentleness be evident to all….” [Paul]

Exposing gentleness has always sounded dangerous to me. That’s why most people perceive me as having a “strong,” maybe even tough exterior. It’s a type of shield for my heart. I’m sure, even my dearest friends, wouldn’t choose “gentle” to describe me. But it is there.

I only expose my gentle self when I judge the circumstances are safe. For instance, I’m sure my pets would call me gentle most of the time, particularly one on one. Or is it that they gentle me? In any event, I respond to their unconditional love. But the heart cannot count on unconditional love from others. The gentle heart must give it.

One key to exposing the gentle heart is not responding like for like. I get sucked in emotionally to the flames of others when I want to be cool water.

Another key is trusting God to protect my heart. I think the revelation for me today is that a heart protected by God is like a “tempurpedic mattress” – it returns to its shape naturally. It’s not that the heart won’t be pushed or compressed, but it will bounce back.

In truth, the gentle heart is resilient and very strong. The gentle heart accepts people right were they are. The gentle heart places no expectations on others. The gentle heart is patient. The gentle heart is brave.

Oh, gentle heart, be brave today.

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