Monday, February 27, 2017

Pursuing good things or the best thing

As his children God does not condemn us for our choices. He allows us to pursue *good things so we might come to see the importance and value of choosing the best thing i.e. that which draws us closer to God and not away from him. 

And when we do, this is a choice we make freely. It is a choice based on our love for God and value of him versus love or value for something else. It is not a choice we make in order to gain his love but because we already have it in Christ and desire to enter into and participate more fully in it, above all other loves.

Though there are always consequences for not pursuing the best things, those consequences are not necessarily or only the loss of material things or comfortable circumstances but can simply be the loss of communion and fellowship with the Father and his Son in the Spirit.

The stronger our relationship with God, the more we feel that loss (the estrangement) and the more impacting it is.

As we mature and our taste and experience of God, in all his infinite love, grows, the loss of fellowship with him becomes an increasingly greater and more significant loss then the loss of material blessings or comfortable circumstances. We begin to care more about losing communion with God then the loss of other things. 

There are many things that are good and to be enjoyed. But when we pick good things over the best thing we are missing out on the greatest joys and benefits of who God is and who he made us to be. 

1Th 5:19  Do not quench the Spirit.

Eph 4:30a  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God...

Psa 51:11-12  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

*and even bad things.Think of Joseph arrogantly flaunting his dream before his brothers. Or his dad sinfully favoring Joseph over his brothers. God incorporates bad choices (ours and others) to bring about his good ends. This is part of the "all things" spoken of in Romans 8:28-29

For more on this last point regarding Rom 8:28-29 click here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

what is our work

As God's children we are to work but not in the sense we commonly understand it. By work we normally think of doing/acting/working to gain some direct or immediate benefit for ourselves. Whatever that gain is, be it money, fame, importance, safety, security etc, it ultimately leads to a sense of our identity/value (because we are broken we use God's good gifts for the wrong end i.e. to bolster our poor sense of value.  Matt 6:25-33  Our work should be to honor (value) God and bless (value) others. When we peel back the layers, this sense of positive identity/value is what ultimately drives most if not all behavior e.g. pursuit of money, fame, importance, safety, security etc. 

However as believers our work is the work of being (who we already are), not doing. When we work, it is to come out of being i.e. All good and right doing springs out of (is the fruit of) right being first. 

John 15:5  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

We do/act, because we already are i.e. we don't work to gain identity/value/love, we work because we already have it.

And who or what is it exactly that we are? 

We are fully and infinitely loved, cherished and cared for in Christ. Being is to remain in (not move from or off) this posture i.e. we are called to fix/set our heart and mind on who we are (beloved) in him and not move/budge from this understanding of our  status/position. We are to always recognize (believe) we are loved and never stop believing this regardless of whatever else is going on. To use a biblical analogy we are to *abide in Christ. Our status (state of being) is one of being perfectly loved and embraced by God at all times in all things because of all Christ did on our behalf. Rom 8:35-39

John 15:9  As the Father has loved meso have I loved youAbide in my love

Christ is saying the very same love (i.e. an infinite and bottomless love) that the Father has for him is the same exact love Christ has for us. And what is the nature of the love of the Father for the Son? It is infinite and total. Our "work" is to believe this reality is true of us as well (then act accordingly) even if and when we don't feel it is. 
"Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28  Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” - Jesus - Joh 6:27-29   
And it is indeed hard work, for often our circumstances make it hard for us to believe God is for us, still with us, has not abandoned us, is caring for us, watching over us and fully embracing  us when circumstances are challenging and we don't feel his presence or see what we might think is evidence of his hand. 

When we rest (abide/stay/stand) fully in who we are as God's beloved child, we will do what we are designed to do i.e. legitimate doing comes out of being first.

John 15:5  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

*abide - μένω - menō

Thayer Definition:

1) to remain, abide
1a) in reference to place
1a1) to sojourn, tarry
1a2) not to depart
1a2a) to continue to be present
1a2b) to be held, kept, continually
1b) in reference to time
1b1) to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure
1b1a) of persons, to survive, live
1c) in reference to state or condition
1c1) to remain as one, not to become another or different
2) to wait for, await one

For a further discussion on being/abiding click here

For a discussion on the fight of faith click here

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

All things work together for our good.

God is in the business of redeeming and using our poor choices to bring about our ultimate good i.e. our best. So in this sense we can never mess things up. He will always bring about our best no matter what we do or don't do.

But the way he brings about good results from bad choices is by allowing us to suffer the consequences of bad choices so we might freely turn from them and draw near to him. In this way God always brings about our best through all things, even bad choices. But indirectly, not directly.

Good choices on the other hand bring about our best, directly. The beauty of being a child of God is he is always working in all things for our good, even the bad things and bad choices. 

Our good choices are always best and preferred because this is a direct pursuit of what is best. When we make good choices (i.e. obey) we are spared the *consequences that result from making a bad choice. But even if or when we miss making the right choice (which is always best), he is still working for our ultimate good through the bad ones i.e. he still uses the bad choices (all things work for good) to bring about our ultimate best. We are just not spared the suffering that comes with the bad ones. At least not automatically or as a matter of course. 

God is not uptight

God doesn't stress over our bad choices. He is fully in control and uses them to bring about our ultimate good and his ultimate glory. Nothing is bigger then God or can thwart his purpose, even our sin or evil. Our loss (short term) and suffering is real nevertheless. But it is our suffering, not his. He cares about us but looses nothing in the ultimate sense by our bad choices; only we do (at least short term and not in the ultimate sense).

Job 35:6  If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him? 7  If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand? 8  Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself, and your righteousness a son of man. 

A free choice is a choice of love

God desires us to turn freely to him, not out of constraint or obligation. God desires we choose obedience but freely. If it is not free it is not true obedience and not done out of love. When we freely obey him it is an act of love and not of constraint. 

This is why he allows us to make bad choices. They may be bad but they are ours. Just as good choices are ours. When we learn from our bad choices and make good choices as a result, that is also ours i.e. it is really us, really learning (even Christ learned obedience through the things he suffered. His suffering however was never from bad choices but from living in a broken world cause by our bad choices). 

Aren't we obligated?

We are obligated to obey God but not in the sense of doing so for his acceptance and love (i.e. do it or else you will be rejected) but in the sense of doing so that we might draw near to him, experiencing all the benefits and joy that comes with those good/obedient choices and bring him the greatest glory through those good choices.

Won't we miss his will if we are disobedient?

Even when you are out (of his direct will) you are still in (his ultimate overall will) because God uses your being out to bring you further in. To us a modern expression, it's all good. 

Direct or revealed will: his spoken word/commandments (our direct best from good choices).

Ultimate will: to make us more like his son (our indirect and ultimate best brought about through bad choices or circumstances as well as good ones).

Rom 8:28  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good (even if they are bad), for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For (here's the reason why...are you ready?) those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 


*Though there may be another kind of consequence for obedience i.e. persecution. The difference between this consequence and the consequence of violating our design (disobedience) is we are promised God will honor (reward) the consequences of obedience and not the consequences of disobedience.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

denial of dependence

Our problem isn't our weakness/dependence, it is the denial of it. We are in fact dependent creatures. And because we deny this we miss out on the fullness of life only available in being dependent on and reconnected to the source of life. 

Joh 14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 

Joh 17:2  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 

The world being in bondage with all the pain and suffering that comes with it is not a curse but in a round about way actually a blessing. It is a stark remember we were never designed to live independent of God (be our own god), thereby becoming the means of our turning back to him. How many have turned to Christ when in a moment of great pain?

But only if we acknowledge our need for God first and relinquish our commitment to being our own god, does it become a blessing. Otherwise it is a curse. 

"... in weakness and vulnerability we are trusting in Christ and his strength, so what we think of as weakness is only so from a worldly point of view. In actuality, it is real power. In the words of Bonhoeffer, “What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God.” The Way of the Dragon and The Way of the Lamb. Pg 115

Thursday, February 2, 2017

An anatomy of motivation

There are two overall but opposite approaches we observe in scripture regarding our motivation to obedience. All underlying forms of motivation fall under these two. These two broader areas are...

·        positive motivation
·        negative motivation

There seems to be indication that at a minimum we are to be moved initially on the path of obedience by the negative (which results in a positive outcome). As we mature the positive elements to motivation become increasingly greater and the preferred (and ultimate/highest) form of motivation. However since the negative appears to be where scripture starts we will look at this first.  

Pro 1:7  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (wisdom, true understanding). We could say it's the foundation on which all other knowledge and true wisdom is built. It is the starting point (though not the ending) for living obediently.

Why? Because any true movement towards God must start with the recognition that he is the God of great glory/worth and that all things come from him and belong to him. Therefore we answer to him on how we conduct our lives. If we act contrary to who he is and how he designed us, there are always consequences. In short we are to respect (fear) he is God, we are not. 

But how does God use fear? As we dig further in to the context of  Prov 1 we see consequences for living contrary to God's will, direction, commands, fill in the meaning and basis for this fear.

To say it another way, there is a good way to live and a way that is harmful. To ignore this basic reality has consequences. To respect this is to have a healthy fear of acting contrary to God's expressed (spoken) will and our design. Ultimately this is a respect for God and that there are consequences for violating his design/will/word.  

There are consequences because we live in a world of design and purpose. We see evidence of this daily in simple things like, stop breathing and you die. Cut off your arm and you bleed to death and so on. Just as there are physical consequences for violating God's design, there are spiritual and moral consequences as well. To go contrary to these basic realities is to violate ours and the worlds design. The reality of what is. 

The spiritual, emotional and psychological world have a design that is equally consistent and predictable. 

And there is design simply because there is a designer. So living contrary to our design is indirectly living contrary to the will of the designer. To respect or fear this reality is wise and ultimately a respect/fear of God i.e. the fear of the Lord (the designer of all things) is the beginning of knowledge.

In chapter one of Proverbs, Solomon goes on to lay out why we should follow God's instruction and if we do not what the consequences will be e.g. terror, calamity, distress and anguish in verse 27. Destruction, dread and disaster in verse 32 and 33.  Whereas on the flip side verse 33 also promises security and ease if we follow his instructions.

All of this based on not recognizing truth and not choosing "the fear of the LORD" in verse 29.

(It's also worth noting that LORD means self sufficient one. He is the "I AM" who needs no one. We need him)

Pro 1:27  when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
Pro 1:28  Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Pro 1:29  Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
Pro 1:30  would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof,
Pro 1:31  therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.
Pro 1:32  For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
Pro 1:33  but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster."

Click here if you wish to see the entire chapter.

So again, we can see from the above, a central element of fear is knowing their are consequences  for violating God's design/will. We also see this in Heb 11:7 

"By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."

Noah built the ark because he feared he and his household would drown if they did not i.e. he believed (had faith in) God's warning. His taking action on God's warning was an indictment on the rest of mankind for not taking action. 

The role of trust/faith

This foundational motive is acting out of respect (fear) for God. To say it another way, if he says it, don't question it; it's true. A key element of this fear is trust. If we don't believe/trust the one that warns us of harm, we will not heed their warning.

If Noah didn't believe God was someone of his word he wouldn't have heeded his warning and built the ark.

And in reality many "obey" this truth on a regular basis whether they believe in God or not. We have simply learned (come to believe/trust) that if you go contrary to certain "baked in" rules you will incur harm to yourself or others i.e. if we violate certain principles and step over certain boundaries we suffer harm. So we don't necessary have to trust God, we trust violating or pursuing a certain "law" will always result in the same negative outcome. We are smart enough to recognize there is design even if we don't acknowledge the Designer. To use a biblical expression, we have come to understand we reap what we sow. This too is why I think this fear is the beginning of knowledge, since even unbelievers recognize this on some kind of basic level.  

Until higher motivations are developed we act by faith out of respect for God or at least "belief" and respect (fear) for the consequences of acting contrary to the design we see all around us and in us. This is an action that is often absent any feelings (except the fear itself) or affections for God, but simply action out of respectful or reverential trust that to go contrary to design causes harm/pain etc. 

If all we have is trust and there is no felt love and affections for God then we are still to act and will still experience the consequences of not acting or the benefits of acting regardless of how we feel. Obedient faith is not contingent on feelings but on confidence in the faithful character of God (or at least his law if we are believers or given observable "laws of nature" if we are not).

So what must we believe about God in order to act?

What exactly is it we respect regarding God? That he is all wise, powerful (can and will do what he says) and loving, in his being and the directions he gives us. Because he is, he knows there are negative consequences for going contrary to his loving design that are harmful for us. 

*Sometimes God in his mercy suspends the normal consequences of violating his design. When does this occur? When we truly and genuinely see the foolishness of going contrary to his design before the full consequences occur. The desired outcome of the consequences (i.e. repentance) has already occurred so that the full consequences are no longer needed.

More than fear

However for a believer there is additional, higher elements to obedience (aligning ourselves with God's design); the positive ones I alluded to in the beginning.

I say higher because fear of consequences only involves saving our own neck. These other and higher motivations however involve the benefit of another.

What are these higher motivations? They are love and a desire to honor God.

I propose that honor is the highest and ultimate motivation. It is the most mature kind of motivation as it's solely focused on the benefit of another instead of solely our own. It will even move us to sacrifice our own benefit for another. And that in great part because we come to see all we have and are, comes from the one we desire to honor.  

And in fact we draw our truest sense of value from displaying the value of another i.e. God, the most valuable and honorable of all. So our honoring God actually does benefit us, but not as an exclusively isolated benefit. It is tied to the benefit of others and only comes about as the fruit of focusing on honoring another. 

It is the place we come to when we are so certain he only has our best interests at heart (only allows things that are for us not against us) we no longer need to concern ourselves with that best interest.  We are so trusting of  God's love, goodness, wisdom and ability to bring about what is best (not necessarily easiest, most comfortable or most reasonable [to us anyway]), we only desire his honor (a place I do not consistently live in by the way, but see it more and more as a part of my motivation). 

In short we are so convinced he's working in our best interest, we no longer give thought to it or feel to need to ensure it. We are convinced God "has our back" and we have no need to concern ourselves with our own welfare.

We may relate to God solely out of respect in the beginning but as we mature our affections for God grow as our awareness of the full extent of God's love for us increases. This results in ever increasing trust in God. As our relationship matures it blossoms ultimately into honor/respect for God springing out of these affections of love and delight (pleasure) in God.

To come to the place we are moved by God to obedience (faithfulness) out of this ultimate higher motivation of a desire to honor God goes as follows...

* a strong desire to honor God (our highest and best end and the ultimate end where God seeks to bring us), 
* out of a deep love and trust in and for him, 
* because of a clear understanding of his sacrificial love for us
* demonstrated in giving us his son Jesus i.e. we love him because he first loved us.
When someone sees us as we truly are in all our brokenness and still:
·        Does for us what is required of us and from us (because this is who we were created to be), ...totally providing remedy for our brokenness (because we have not and can not do it ourselves), how can we not love them in return?
·        Pursues, receives and embraces us fully, how can we not trust them?
·       Treats us with great value and honor, how can we not value and honor them in return?
The more we understand Gods great and personal love for us in and through Christ, the more we trust him and are moved to faithfully follow his directions i.e. obey.

(But lack of affections does not mean you should not act. We act by faith anyway if only out of fear/reverence for God.

When we act by faith without feelings we also act in the confidence that this both honors God and is in our best interest)

Stated simply, the primary motives for obedience after and beyond fear and pointing to the ultimate motivation of honor are 

* love
* trust
* honor

So the lists of all forms of motivation started from the most basic to the highest are:

* fear
* love
* trust
* honor

Whether we are mature followers of Christ or new followers, all of these come into play. But as we mature it appears we move more and more to honor as the dominant motivation and the one we ultimately should seek. 

But what about hope?

From scripture we get the sense that hope is not so much a motivator as it is a sustainer i.e. something that keeps us from giving up on faithfulness (obedience). Hope seems to go hand in hand with faith, but is not itself faith but more the objective of that faith i.e. that thing we believe we will obtain but do not yet have. So you could say it's a support to or element of our faithful obedience more than a cause of it. 

Hope is more a confidence that what is promised to happen, will actually happen. A sure hope is a confidence in an objective certainty that is not yet a subjective experience or reality. 

Heb 11:1

(AMP)  NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. 

(DRB)  Now, faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not. 

(ERV)  Faith is what makes real the things we hope for. It is proof of what we cannot see. 

(ESV)  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

(GNB)  To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. 

(KJV)  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.