Scared to Heaven

Most churches don’t preach fire and brimstone anymore. Some of you may not even know what this is or what it sounds like. In some old movies, like Pollyanna, you can get a taste of what it was like to sit in the pews and be scared to death of going to hell. Even though most sermons don’t sound like this, many sermons, books and devotionals are filled with subtle legalism, causing people to think they aren’t good enough, aren’t doing enough and need to work harder at being Christians.

Jesus didn’t operate that way – he loved people into believing, rather than trying to scare them. Paul knew this. In Romans 2:4, he tells us it’s the kindness of God that leads us to desire him and his kingdom, not images of devils, flames and torture. In The Passion Translation, Paul asks, “Do you realize that all the wealth of his extravagant kindness is meant to melt your heart and lead you into repentance?” The footnote says the Aramaic word for kindness can be translated sweetness! The New Living Translation puts it like this: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

Even though most people don’t have to endure the scare-them-to-death strategy of evangelism anymore, we still need to beware of anything less than the total grace Jesus offers us through his saving sacrifice. Dr. Daniel Thimell, in Trinitarian Conversations Volume 2: Interviews with More Theologians (You’re Included), reminds us that “Grace is the basis for our life in God, not our works” and “The gospel invites us to look away from ourselves to what God in Christ has done.”

God’s kindness, sweetness and patience may not be as gripping and attention-getting as fiery, angry preaching, but it’s much more effective and more soothing to broken, hurting souls. May his kindness and sweetness envelop and comfort you.   

Life Refreshed

You know how certain bath products promise not only cleanliness but also that you’ll feel refreshed? Jesus does and will do a lot more than clean up after humanity. He’s also in the business of refreshing, not just in the future, but now as well.

In Acts 4:19 (NIV), Peter told his fellow Israelites to repent and turn to God, so their sins would be wiped out and times of refreshing would come from the Lord. And David of course, knew all about being rejuvenated by God. Psalm 23 tells us David found rest near quiet waters and his soul was refreshed in green meadows. Does anything sound more relaxing and refreshing than that?

A life refreshed in Jesus is one we can all enjoy, even those of us who don’t like mornings or Mondays; even when we’re exhausted and at the end of our rope. I’m not saying we won’t still feel tired and stressed, but when we turn our thoughts to Jesus, he will transport us in the Spirit to a resting place in his luxurious love and an oasis of peace near the quiet brook of bliss (Psalm 23, TPT).

In case you’re interested, I’m still cleaning up messes, but I’m looking forward to when all the messes are gone and we won’t have to deal with them anymore. In the meantime, I’ll be scrubbing on the outside but near the brook of bliss on the inside.

Life is Messy

It seems there’s always something to clean up. It also seems I’m usually the one who has to do it. Cleaning the house, washing the dishes, taking care of spills and accidents – it’s all part of life. I won’t even mention all the messes involved with babies and children. Cleaning up after them also fell to me. Sometimes I like to think I’m in good company though, as I share this chore with the greatest mess cleaner in the universe.

Humans made a mess right out of the starting gate of the paradise God created for us and we’ve continued to mess up everything since then. Over the centuries, many have tried to set things right, coming up with this solution and that, sometimes making small improvements and sometimes making it worse. We keep trying but we’ll never solve the world’s problems on our own. Only one person can do that.

Jesus will perform the ultimate cleanup of all our messes. He will make everything right – absolutely everything. “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4, NIV).

For all of us who get tired of cleaning up, we can look forward to the time when there will be no more messes of any kind because Jesus will have done it once and for all. In the meantime, I’ll just have to continue cleaning up, perhaps with a new perspective.

Jesus Intercedes for Us

Thinking about Steve McVey’s statement of how God relates to us from a posture of forgiveness made me wonder about Hebrews 7:25 which says Jesus lives to intercede for us. This might be another one of those verses we read through and believe we understand what it means. But as our old friend Inigo Montoya reminds us, I do not think it means what you think it means. Some, or even many, probably think of Jesus standing before God the Judge, begging and pleading on our behalf that the angry God won’t yell “Off with their heads!”

If we start at the beginning of what we know about God, we must remember he is love, which means everything he does emanates from love. And then when we remind ourselves that Jesus’ work was finished on the cross, it makes no sense that he would need to constantly plead for our forgiveness.

Two online commentaries and present this perspective: “Jesus’ intercession on our behalf is not a matter of placating an angry Father who wants to destroy us. It is not a matter of continually chanting prayers on behalf of His people. It means that He continually represents us before the Father so that we can draw near through Him, and that He defends us against Satan’s accusations and attacks” (enduringword.com). He intercedes “now in heaven; not by vocal prayer and supplication, at least not as in the days of his flesh; or as if he was supplicating an angry Judge; nor as controverting, or litigating, a point [in] the court of heaven; but by the appearance of his person for them; by the presentation of his sacrifice, blood, and righteousness” (biblestudytools.com) [emphasis mine].

Even though these commentaries try to put the intercession of Jesus in terms we can understand, it is still a mystery. It’s also a huge subject and I make no claims to be an expert, but for me, reading Jesus’ prayer for the disciples and for us in John 17 helps me understand in words how it might go within the Trinitarian discourse. It’s a beautiful prayer for unity, joy, holiness and protection. The Passion Translation puts it beautifully and I recommend you read it with the perspective of our living Savior always interceding (NIV), sticking up for us (MSG) and continually praying for our triumph (TPT).

Putting On the New Self

As beings with a human nature, we are all intimately acquainted with our old selves. If anyone needs a reminder, all they have to do is read Colossians 3, which paints a pretty good picture. Paul goes on to describe the new self in Christ, which is the direct opposite of the old self. He uses words like compassion, kindness, humility, patience and gentleness. I think we all know from experience it’s easier said than done to have these qualities.

From verses 12 through 17, we see what it’s supposed to look like, but how to accomplish putting on and then living out this new self? We need to go back to the beginning of Colossians 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Jesus said where your heart is your treasure will also be (Matthew 6:21). Paul seemed to be expanding this way beyond money and possessions to our whole attitude and focus in life. As we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is, our old selves with their low and base desires will continually fade into oblivion. As the old song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” goes, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus and set our hearts on things above, for we died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. He is our resurrection and because he lives, we live in newness of life – as new creatures with a new self. Happy Easter!  

Not One and Done

When it comes to making choices in life, very few can be labeled as one and done. Life is full of change. I often tell myself not to get too comfortable with the way things are, as nothing ever stays the same. This has proved true since I can remember – moving, switching schools, going to college, moving again because the college closed, getting married, moving again and on and on. You probably have a similar story. When I was in college, a fellow student and good friend told me she had lived in the same house her whole life – the same house her parents and grandparents had lived in their whole lives. I had no idea anyone ever grew up like that.

It should come as no surprise then that the Christian life is also full of change. We’ve probably all heard God accepts us as we are but doesn’t want to leave us in that condition. Transformation is an important part of being connected to Christ. As we spend time with him and surrender to his love and care, we (hopefully) become more like him. Transformation is definitely not one and done. It’s not some grand gesture or defining moment, but a series of choices, involving awareness and discipline.

Each and every day, we must choose to stay connected to Jesus our Vine. It’s a choice to lay down our lives for him, to surrender our hearts and thoughts to his wisdom and love and to sit at his feet as his disciples and followers. I’m finding this involves even more than daily choices – many of the choices I need to make to stay close to Jesus are hour by hour and even moment by moment. This is especially true when it comes to controlling my tongue.

The transformed, crucified life is about change, choices and more change – all in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Like a Mind Meld

I’m a big fan of Star Trek in all its iterations, which you know if you’ve been reading my articles and posts for any length of time. I guess I’m fascinated by space, the characters and the different life forms they encounter – all of it really. The parallels to God’s world are numerous and I believe can help us understand the things of God.

As I was pondering last week’s post on entwining our hearts with Jesus’ heart, the similarity of this and the Vulcan Mind Meld hit me. Entwining (to wind or twist together; interweave) our hearts with his seems a bit ethereal and hard to define, but comparing it to a mind meld, well I can get my mind around that!

A mind meld, according to the official Star Trek website, is “A touch technique that allows a Vulcan to merge his or her mind with the essence of another’s mind purely by using specialized contact via fingertip-points  ̶  on a humanoid, usually around the targeted partner’s skull temples. Hypnosis-like relaxation and a rhythmic verbal device, such as ‘My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts’ are often useful.”

Obviously communicating with God, learning his mind and becoming like him is vastly different from a mind meld, but sharing our thoughts and having the same mind (Philippians 2:5) is something we can do through the Holy Spirit. As we keep our eyes on Jesus, turn our thoughts to him constantly throughout the day, even moment by moment, and trust him with our deepest, inner selves, our minds will be merged with the essence of his mind – a Jesus Mind Meld if you will. Live long and prosper.

It’s Not All Up to Us

“We’re doing everything humanly possible.” We sometimes hear this statement during medical crises or natural disasters and sometimes it’s true. Other times it might mean we don’t know what else to do or our resources are stretched to the limit. Granted, we can get a lot done when we put our heads together and work hard, but human strength, ingenuity and ability can get us only so far.

The other problem with trying to do everything humanly possible is we often don’t reach that goal. We don’t always try as hard as we can; we become discouraged and give up, escaping into self-pity or mindless pursuits (Netflix, anyone?). I’m sure you know where this is going.

We don’t have to solely rely on our human power, although as Dallas Willard says, God has given us our bodies as our own personal power packs, through which we interact with our world and bring about our wills. I’m thankful for my power pack, as it enables me to do things like bake bread, ride my bike and fulfill my responsibilities. But my power pack only works at its peak when plugged into the “power pack” of God. Out of his life inherent he gave us life and our bodies.

For those of us who entrust our lives to him, he augments our human efforts with his unlimited power, accomplishing things we could never do on our own or even imagine. We aren’t stuck doing only as much as humanly possible, however strong or feeble our efforts may be, if we let our weakness become his strength and work in the power and might of Christ.

The Crucified Life

OK, that’s an ambitious title for a short article, but consider it the inevitable segue to an important, perhaps even crucial, aspect of the Christian’s life. I’ve spent several weeks here on kenosis (the self-emptying of God when the Father sent his Son as a human to give himself for us) and death to self (putting to death our tendency to worship ourselves as our own gods, thereby putting into practice our own kenosis). What naturally follows is living a crucified life as Jesus lives in us.

Even though I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, praying and studying this, and trying to put it into practice, I’m not prepared to tell you I am actually living the crucified life. I like to think I’m taking baby steps and am making some progress. But that’s just it – it’s a process and not something we can ever claim to have accomplished. Only Christ knows how I’m doing and how much more I need to trust him to work this transformation in me.

What I do know is that I can’t do it alone. As Dallas Willard says, “The crucifixion of the self is a cooperative affair between us and the Lord. We cannot die to self without the help of God’s grace, for only God can satisfy our ultimate desire, and only God can convince our hearts that, when we die to self, he will raise us up.” He goes on to say we have to understand what it is and to accept it, recognize it and ask God to give this gift to us. Yes, he calls it a gift. “Christ was not crucified so that we wouldn’t have to be. He was crucified so we could be crucified with him. He did not die so that we wouldn’t have to die; he died so we could die with him. In death to self you are crucified with Christ” (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23).  

It seems God has given me crucified as my “one word” for 2021, so I will be sharing more thoughts on this as the year goes on.

Leaving the Flesh Behind

Dying to self is tricky, at least from a human point of view. As author and speaker Jill Briscoe says, the trouble with living sacrifices is they have a habit of climbing off the altar! We don’t like to do things that hurt and to crucify our flesh sounds really painful. And while it can be painful, it’s not a physical pain. Many believe the flesh is intrinsically evil, but Dallas Willard says the flesh in itself is not bad. “The problem with the flesh lies in its weakness and lostness when uncoupled from God’s Spirit, which is precisely the condition of humanity apart from Christ” (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23).

He goes on to say: “To live in the flesh, to live with uncrucified affections and desires, is simply a matter of putting them in the ultimate position in our lives. Whatever we want becomes the most important thing. This is what happens when we are living apart from God; we make our desires ultimate because they are all we have. We look to them as if they were everything in our lives; thinking of my worth, my glory, my appearance, thinking of my power to sustain myself.”

Desires aren’t inherently wrong either, but as Dallas says, they are terrible masters. A good place to begin dying to self is to recognize our desires for what they are and being aware of how they can control our lives if we let them. Our desires can never be satisfied but trusting in Jesus and his work on the cross means accepting limitation on our desires. “Desire is infinite partly because we were made by God, made for God, made to need God, and made to run on God. We can be satisfied only by the one who is infinite, eternal and able to supply all our needs; we are only at home in God.”

Desires are from God and are good as long as we subjugate them to him and die to the pursuit of satisfying ourselves through anything but God. We don’t have to be slaves to our flesh and its insatiable desires if we can learn to die a little every day through Christ who gives us strength.

Next week: I Can Do All Things