Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tribute to my Wife

It is my wife, Ondrea's birthday tomorrow, and I want to say a few things in her honor.  

Ondrea is the most faithful, dedicated, devoted, loving, and beautiful wife I have ever known.  Ondrea has been like a rock to me during the many times when I have struggled and been up and down.  Her unconditional, unfailing love has been a beautiful picture to me of the love of God and his heart for me. I am so thankful for all the times where she demonstrated love to me when I didn't deserve it.  I know I have been a clod at times, and she knows me better than anyone else, yet still loves me.

Ondrea's wisdom and insight into the heart of matters is amazing.  I can't count the number of times where her encouragement and Godly wisdom has lifted me out of wrong, negative, ungodly thinking.  Her prophetic insight from the heart of God helps clear up my cloudiness.   I don't even want to think where I would be right now if not for my wife.  It is amazing to see how God put us together because we complement each other so perfectly!

Ondrea's example of one who wholeheartedly loves to do God's will and obey him has been a tremendous inspiration to me.  She has a strong desire to listen to God's voice and be obedient no matter what.  And, she does it because she loves God so much, not out of obligation.

Her commitment and love for our children also amazes me. It's not easy training, teaching, and taking care of 6 children.  It takes a lot of energy, time, and love to make a Godly home.  Great children don't just happen by accident.

Happy Birthday, Ondrea!!  May greater blessings, health, love, and fulfillment be yours this year!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Significance of God's Love

My wife and I have been pondering the significance of and meaning of Love.  We are convinced that gaining a proper understanding of God's Love, and then walking in it is the most significant thing we can do.  We are also convinced that in mainstream Christianity, this is the one thing that is most often missing.

For some of us who have been Christians for a while, it is important to examine why we do what we do.  We need to be asking, "what is the point of what we are doing"?  Are our activities and effort rooted in the 2 greatest commandments: love for God and others, or rooted in selfishness?  Do we view life and relationships with a what's in it for me perspective, or are we living in love?

For some of us, our picture of love needs to be re-painted.  It is critical to avoid defining love in the context of our twisted culture.  The greatest type of Love described in the Bible is not eroticism, family love, or feelings of affection toward something, although some types of love may involve these things.  When the Bible says that God is love, what does that really mean?  We must be careful not to define God and love through the lens of our culture or the world. Much of the world's way of seeing love is based on sentiment.  Sentiment is defined as: marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism.  Most of us define love as a feeling, based on past experiences, especially ideal experiences.  If someone makes us feel good, we may define that as love.  Although this is an aspect of love, it is not the whole enchilada.  And, it is easy for our experience of love to be twisted and distorted if the person seemingly expressing love toward us was doing it for selfish reasons.

Several different words for Love
My wife and I did a study of the Greek/Hebrew words for love and came up with some interesting observations.  Without going into great detail, I would like to share a few highlights. Most people who have read their bible are aware that there are several greek words for love while the English language only has one word for Love.  However, love can mean a lot of things depending on the context it is used in.  "I love pizza" means something quite different than "I love my children".  I want to center in on the greek word Agape primarily, but first give a brief description of the greek word Phileo. 

Phileo is a friendship affection for someone, mainly based on qualities that are considered loveable and likeable.  However, Agape is based primarily in the qualities of the giver, not the receiver.  Since Agape originates from God, who IS love, this would make sense.  Rather than loving us for what we can do for him, or because we possess certain lovable qualities, God loves us because of who HE IS.  Since Agape originates in who God is, nothing we can do will change his love for us.  God does Phileo us, and we also Phileo him as our Father and friend.  See this article: Does God love us with phileo love?

It is important to note that Agape sometimes contains the concept of Phileo and cannot be entirely separated from it.  When someone expresses Agape towards us, we are probably going to feel loved.   However, Agape love is primarily defined as an esteem, regard, and commitment to someone or something that then results in action.  Agape involves being so committed to something or someone that we give of ourselves sacrificially.  Interestingly, Agape is not just descriptive of God's love toward us, it is also used of those who loved darkness in John 3:19 - This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  These people loved darkness, which means they were wholeheartedly committed to darkness and this resulted in evil deeds.  Agapao is most beautifully seen in God's love toward us. John 3:16 describes God's love for the world, which compelled him to sacrificially give Jesus, his son for us. Jesus sacrificially gave of himself for us on the cross.  John 15:13 - Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  The giving of one's life is demonstrated by Jesus as the supreme act of Love. 

Agape is the word used in all these scriptures.
1. Matthew 22:37 - Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
2. 1 Corinthians 13
3. Revelation 12:11 - They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

The meaning in Revelation 12:11 is that they did not esteem their own lives so much as to hold on to them.  They released their lives up to God and allowed his greater love to replace their desire to hold onto their own lives.  This is what is meant by Jesus when he asks us to give up our lives for him.  We will either love our own life so much that we hold it back from God and others, or we will give our life to him so his love can flow in and pour out of us to others.

Agape love is the most important thing - 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Without love, we are nothing and we have nothing.  We can do loads of good works, but without God's love, all our accomplishments, efforts, programs, meetings, and interactions with others are meaningless and amount to NOTHING.  If "God is love" 1 John 4:8, it must be exceedingly important.

Love can only be fully understood and appreciated experientially.
It is interesting to learn about and study what Love means, but unless it is received and given away experientially, Love will remain shallow and incomprehensible to us.  "We love him because he first loved us". 1 John 4:19.  As we understand the nature of God's love in Jesus for us, and we come into a revelation of it for ourselves, we are changed and find that same love flowing out of us.  If we say we love someone, but there are no tangible actions or emotions expressed toward them, they will likely remain feeling un-loved. James 2:16

I have experienced this with my family, my wife expecially.  When she or my children bring a concern, feeling, or problem to me,  I sometimes start out by trying to say all the right words to comfort them like: "I know how you feel", "I understand", or "That must be difficult".  But these words sound hollow unless coupled with God's love.  Real love only ignites when I seek God's heart of love by listening without self-preservation, seeking to truly identify with and understand them.  At this moment, true compassion and empathy forms within me and my desire is to truly seek what is best for them rather than what is best for me.  There is a bridge of selfishness and pride that must be crossed over to embrace the other person right where they are at.  When love activates, it frees me from the desire to prove myself good or right, and it frees me from the desire to prove them wrong and seek to fix them intellectually and externally.

As we meditate upon and increase in revelation about the single greatest act of love in history, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we will gain insight into the true nature of Agape love.  This song powerfully communicates Jesus' amazing love for us.  Arms Wide Open

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Relationship and Friendship with God

My wife and I have been pondering the significance of relationship with God in the Christian life.  We are convinced that without relationship with God, there cannot be a Christian Life.  How can you claim to be a Christian without a relationship with God through Jesus Christ?  How can you be his disciple if you don't really know him personally.  It isn't enough to have intellectual knowledge about him, it isn't enough to have all your doctrines about him straight, it isn't even enough to claim you believe he exists, or to believe intellectually he has died for your sins on the cross.  It isn't even enough to cast out demons, work mighty miracles, and lead lost people to salvation in his Jesus name.  Without a genuine, authentic relationship with him, you aren't really his disciple. 

Matthew 7:22,23
22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?'
23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

I know this verse can be over-quoted to put people in fear and condemnation, but the point of it is, do you know Jesus?  If we really know Jesus, we will act like him.  1 Cor. 13 comes to mind.  Of course, I understand that relationship with God is something that we grow into.  But, with childlike faith - I believe we can grow in our relationship with him much more quickly.  Religious strongholds in our culture hinder us from enjoying the kind of relationship we were created for.  He is our loving Father, our closest friend, and our bridegroom.  If you are experiencing anything less, you are believing lies.

A couple Old Testament examples come to mind that beautifully illustrate the kind of relationship God desires to have with us.  How much more closely can we walk with God as his sons and daughters in the New Covenant!  We are only limited by our level of desire, and what we believe about him and ourselves.

1.  Abraham - James 2:23 - And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.

 Why was Abraham considered a friend of God?  I can see at least 3 reasons: 
  • He had great Faith and trust in God's character and nature.  He trusted in the goodness of God. He believed God would take care of him no matter what came his way.  Abraham left the comfortability and predictability of his home in Ur to set out for a promised land he knew nothing about.  He blessed Lot with first choice of land, knowing God would care for him.  He believed God would give him a child, even though he and Sarah were well past child-bearing age.  Yes, he tried to shortcut this process at first, but he learned his lesson and his faith grew until he was convinced God would do a miracle.
  • He walked in obedience because of this great trust in God, even being willing to give up his promised son if necessary.
  • He communicated with God regularly (see Gen. 18:16-33).  Friendship with God grows with communication. This means we will take time to not only talk to God, but listen to God.  
2. David - Acts 13:22 - After removing Saul, he made David their king.  God testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'

What made David a man after God's heart?
  • David, like Abraham also had great Faith and trust in God.  In faith, he slew Goliath.  In faith, he refused to take a shortcut to becoming King by slaying Saul.  He entrusted his life to God.
  • David was a worshiper - he wasn't afraid to let his emotions show about God, and he really loved God.
  • David was transparent - He wasn't afraid to share his deepest, darkest thoughts about God, his struggles, and his enemies.
  • David owned up to his sin and was truly repentant when he made mistakes.  He realized he had not only sinned against man, but he had also grieved God's heart and sinned against him.  (Ps 51)
Why do you think David had such a strong friendship with Jonathan?  David's friendship with Jonathon probably went a bit deeper than "How many philistines did you slay yesterday?"  Or, "did you catch last night's game between Philistia and Israel?  Lahmi the brother of Goliath was really on fire until Sibbeakai the Hushathite and Azmaveth the Barhumite double-teamed him and shut him down." Not only did David and Jonathon risk their lives for each other in battle and in the struggle with Saul, but David and Jonathon must have trusted each other because I am confident they communicated honestly and transparently with each other.  They knew each other.  The depth of our friendships is directly proportional to our ability to share with each other on an honest, open heart level.   As our relationship with God grows, he frees us to have more open relationships with the people in our life - whether with our wives, children, or others.

Friend rules
My wife and I were also pondering relationship with God as it relates to a list of rules about friendship we communicated to our children last year.

1.  Learn to laugh at yourself, don't take yourself so seriously.
Why not have fun in our relationship with God?  Sometimes, we take ourselves way too seriously as Christians.  God is full of joy and playful. He enjoys it when we embrace this aspect of his nature.  See my post: The exuberance and Joy of Jesus

2.  Let others go first.
How many of us let God go first when we pray, in making decisions, or in the details of life? How often do we start off with our lists and requests before first considering what is on God's heart? How much deeper could our relationship with him go if we learn to let him go first.

3.  Make playtime fun for everyone.  "If it's not fun for all, it's not fun at all"
How often do we ask ourselves in our times with God, or in our gatherings as the Church - "Is this fun for God"? Many of the meetings I have been in were probably NOT fun for God(as a matter of fact, they weren't fun for anyone).  I'd rather gouge my eyes out than attend those kinds of meetings.  You know the kind, where 75% of the people are snoring or bobbing their heads.

4.  Have a pleasant/cheerful attitude. 
How much do you enjoy talking with people who complain constantly?  Yes, God wants to hear our honest thoughts, and there's no sense being fake with God, but we can also determine to praise him and be thankful despite the circumstances.  God doesn't enjoy it when we remain locked in misery.  Being mired in misery and complaining is not the inheritance of a child of God.  Yes, we will be in process at times, but we must not remain in process indefinitely.

5.  Don't push other's buttons.
What pushes God's buttons?  Willful disobedience, pride, dishonesty, hypocrisy, rebellion,  etc.  Of course God has grace for us as his children, and of course he still loves us, but as a friend of God, why would we want to do things he doesn't like?

In relationship with God, it's not all about us! We must learn to take God into consideration and ask, WHAT IS GOD GETTING OUT OF THIS RELATIONSHIP? Is God really enjoying this?

An Interesting observation
Recently, I was reading H.A. Baker's autobiography Under His Wings. H.A. Baker was a missionary to Tibet, then China and is best known for his book, Visions beyond the Veil.   Both books deal a death blow to the lie of Cessationism. Below is what he wrote shortly after his born again conversion experience. After his conversion, he began to feel great love for others, and things like Prayer and the Word of God began to make sense to him finally. However, he was surprised to learn that other members of his church hadn't also experienced this same thing.

When I looked over the congregation I felt sure that these churchmembers did not know what I had just found out: that God is still alive, that the Bible is for Now, that we and God and the Bible need to get mixed up together.

During those two years my personal dealings with the members of that little church confirmed my first impression after my experience in the barn that other members of the church, with perhaps a few exceptions, had never received what I received there in the barn. Now, why was that? Evidently because these church members, like myself, had never been properly taught that each should personally contact Christ by prayer. This weakness was largely due to the belief and teaching of the fundamental part of that church at that time. It taught that on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the first New Testament gospel sermon, he made known the Lord’s plan of salvation and the conditions of church membership when he said to the convicted multitude, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” So far all right. But that church made its great mistake in stopping the middle of that verse. The verse continues, “and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38.

Why did out church stop in the middle of that verse and not follow Peter’s instructions all the way? It was because of the theory that no one could receive the Holy Spirit since the days of the founding of the church by the apostles. This misconception, as well as failure to teach the necessity of individual prayer to make the “repent” effective, resulted in that little church’s membership being made up of people who had never really prayed and made personal contact with Christ. Through ignorance and unbelief they had missed the promise, “ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Without communication/communion with God, it is impossible to be a real Christian and grow in relationship with God.  Granted, friendship with God is something we are all growing in, but if there are false, religious mindsets in us, it will be impossible to mature and grow in this relationship.  Let's get rid of the idea that God is confined to the pages of the Bible, and we can only hear his voice when we read it.  If all I have are biblical principles to live by, that makes me no better than a Mormon, Jehovah's witness, or Muslim.  Let's get rid of the idea that the Bible has replaced the Holy Spirit and become the third person of the Trinity.  As Steve Crosby says, that's nothing more than Bibleolatry.  Hear my heart, of course the Bible is very important.  However, without the activation of the Holy Spirit, the Bible in itself has no power to change us.  It will become law to us, and it won't make any sense.  The real power and life of God is found only in connection/relationship with him.  Apart from him we can do nothing.
John 15:5 - I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.