Monday, September 22, 2014

Close to God or East of Eden

To Start

People want things to go well for the most part.  There is something about having some health of body, mind and spirit that is appealing.  And there is something that appeals to people about having a little bad.  You have probably heard of the good girl who wants the bad boy.  It is as if the “bad” includes adventure and excitement and the “good” is boring and uninteresting.  

May I start at the beginning?  OK, good.  In the beginning God.  Yes, that is the beginning.  God.  Amazing, creative, exciting, brilliant, resourceful, energetic and sold on the idea that a special being could be made who would be a precious prize.  A being not unlike God in many ways was made both male and female.  In the world made for them a beautiful garden filled with the most wondrous plants and creatures was their home.  Discovery and adventure and innovation awaited them every day.  And in this place God would meet with them.  There was a relationship to the very Creator who loved them dearly.  But the idea of “bad” seemed better than “good.”  They tossed the relationship with their God aside wanting to taste the forbidden fruit.  As a result Paradise was closed to them.  The walks with God in the cool of the evening in the Garden ended.  They chose to turn away from God and were sent East of Eden away from the glories they had known.  

What awaited them there?  One son murdered another as the bad was trying to destroy the good.  God still manifested Himself and invited those who would hear Him.  But the tyranny of evil continued until a handful of those right with God boarded a boat filled with God’s creatures and sailed into a new sunrise on the other side of the rainbow.  

God was offering an opportunity for his human masterpieces to come close and enjoy His company.  Some did.  Some chose another path.  And so it continues to this day. 

To Choose

The enemy who is called Satan or the Devil desires to steal the good life from people, to destroy them now and for eternity and to keep them from getting close to God.  The lie which is so easily accepted is that life with the enemy is better than life with God.  The people who don’t know God are of course blind enough to think the enemy is an angel of light and of stellar intellectual ability and so much more tolerant and fun than what the God of the Bible could be.  And, so, as we say, they swallow the enemy’s lie hook, line and sinker.  Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and to set people free.  

But to choose.  Oh, to choose.  That is the burden.  To turn down the forbidden fruit and enjoy closeness to God is a choice given to the first of all humans as it is to you today.  

Modern language includes the idea of edginess.  Being edgy is to challenge societal norms and reveal the dark side. It is cutting edge. Hmm…is there the scent of forbidden fruit in that kind of edginess? 
Is it possible that those who name the name of Jesus instead of drawing close to Him choose to be edgy Christians?  

Jesus lets us know in order to enjoy the best life, the most incredible adventure, the most dynamic and meaningful life He is the way.   He reminds us to reset all our priorities to seek first God’s kingdom, to love God with everything we have and to let love flow from us to others.  It would seem with His insight it would be enough to put aside everything else and walk…no, run His way.  But to go His way is to choose.  It is to acknowledge that He has told the truth and is trustworthy.  For the edgy Christian Jesus is nice, but not all that edgy…no “bad boy” you know.  

Imagine the edgy “bad boy” Christian trying to accomplish this encouraging word from Paul:  never get tired of doing good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NLT)  Or imagine the Christian bad boy or girl trying to do God’s will: God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NLT) Serial sexual relationships or living together is the sign of Christian tolerance to many, but it is far from God’s will and leads to being East of Eden.  What of self-seeking, attention getting, attraction baiting?  For many an edgy Christian it is in decorating their body to be seen.  What are hair styles, clothing, tattoos and piercings but decorations.  Decorations of the body can be used to honor the God who made the body or to be edgy and let others know it.  It isn’t a new issue Peter addressed this in the first century.  Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within…1 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT)  God has more for His people than they can imagine, but often they don’t “wait upon the Lord to renew their strength” so they can mount up with wings as eagles.  The enemy’s song calls the unwary Christian into accepting the lies and they miss God’s best and go East of Eden with the rest.  

If you have stumbled, struggled, or dragged your feet it is time to choose.  What will it be?  Close to God or East of Eden?  How will you use your time?  Close to God or East of Eden?  With what will you fill your mind?  Close to God or East of Eden?  Will you immerse yourself with God or with the world?  What is your priority to love God with all you are or to be seen as edgy?  This is the day of decision.  God is aware of where you are and where you have been.  He is inviting you to come close.  What will it be close to God or East of Eden?  

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jesus said it was GREAT

The Great Commission Preempts the Great Commandment

Keeping the main thing the main thing.  Focusing core values.  Teams do it.  Businesses exercise it.  Churches practice it.  What is important shows up stated or related in the ways people experience and live the Christian life.  

Something Jesus said stands out to me.  He said this was great.  

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”   Matthew 22:36-38 (NLT) 

Jesus said this was the first and greatest.  Jesus also lived in a way that reflected His love for God the Father.  His way of living, teaching, training and dying flowed from love and it began with the first and greatest.  

There is among Christian ministries another core value.  It has to do with mission.  

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

Jesus words given in Matthew 28 have been referred to by many since about 1650 as the Great Commission.  It is as though what is called the Great Commission preempts what Jesus said was “the first and greatest commandment.”  

A perusal of denominational websites will help in discovering which GC is really greatest.  Come, take a look.  

A conservative and evangelical denomination now called Converge was formerly known as the Baptist General Conference.  This is their perspective.  

Although U.S. demographics changed, the BGC’s core values remained the same. As a missional movement, the BGC became a multiethnic, worldwide family of believers and churches: diverse, yet committed to the common mission of fulfilling Christ’s great commission (Matthew 28:16-20) for the church.

The Christian and Missionary Alliance includes this as they describe themselves.  

Because of who He is and what He’s done, we are compelled to “go!” Humbled by the open invitation He extends to us—what we call the Great Commission-we join Him in His work to restore and reconcile lost and broken people to Himself.

The largest of the Protestant denominations is the Southern Baptist Convention and they have no mention of the Great Commandment among their statements of purpose, vision, or core values.  This is the SBC Vision statement. 

As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.

The denomination with which I am associated is the Evangelical Free Church of America.  I discovered this statement on the website.  

Our churches aim to be communities of Christ-followers who treasure God above all else and create life-giving environments that multiply disciples.  

In this statement God is treasured above all else.  The motto of the EFCA is Multiplying transformational churches among all people.  

Well, that is a sampling of what is presented.  It isn’t fair to have an agenda and go searching for a specific item I have to admit.  But this exercise points to the wide array of Christians and churches and I have been included in this as well who have made what Jesus calls great not so hot.  And often what Jesus called the “greatest” isn’t acknowledged much although most will say it is assumed.   I am proposing that what Jesus said was the first and greatest commandment has some merit.  Loving God is worth pursuing.  Loving God is valuable.  Loving God is a whole life experience.  What of the Great Commission?  You are going to like this.

The Great Commission flows from the Great Commandment

“Make disciples,” Jesus says.  Show them life with God the way Jesus did.  Immerse them in the life of fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit the way Jesus did.  Teach them the ways of God the way Jesus did.  Jesus’ way was to get close to the Father.  Often He was away from the crowds spending time with the Father in prayer.  Jesus said he did what He saw His Father doing.  Jesus loved the Father and the Father loved Him.  

Jesus gave pictures of what it is like to enter into this relationship.  Living water flowing from a person.  Living life in a new kingdom the kingdom of God.  Empowered to love others, bless instead of curse, able to touch the untouchable and lift up the broken.  Loving God based on God’s loving us first and bursting love out within our hearts brings about this Great Commandment living.  

Keeping the first and greatest commandment of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength changes us.  We are followers of God.  Disciples of Christ.  

What of the Great Commission?  It flows from the loving relationship with God the Father and the Son and moves into our relationship with people around us.  We can love others and not with the limited love of a human being but with the unlimited love of God.  We can make disciples of Jesus because His love, His reality, His priorities, His love of the Father are in us and radiating through us in attitudes, words, and actions.  Of course, this is the enabling of the Holy Spirit who is at work in us in this relationship of divine love.  Incredible?  I think so.  

What if the Great Commission is the main thing and not the Great Commandment?  Something is lost.  Accomplishment can gain attention where relationship may not.  Jesus mentions in prayer don’t do big public things to gain attention, but go to the Father in private.  Loving the Father may include a lot of time away from what gets the most attention.  Should Christians do what Jesus said in making disciples?  Of course.  But making disciples without being disciples who are loving God with all they are is making something different than Jesus had in mind.  He will allow all sorts of Christian enterprises to go on.  Some will build elaborate churches and others global missions with only a nod at God while being very busy.  And Jesus’ words still stand: 

“You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’
This is the first and greatest commandment.”