Culture of Life

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We’ve been dabbling in death for too long. From the French Revolution’s lethal guillotines through the atrocities of Jihadist terrorism and the convenience of ‘therapeutic’ abortions there runs a culture of death as swift and overpowering as a mighty current. The Western World’s recent ‘advances’ in assisted suicide provide a solution no less diabolical than Hitler’s death camps. Who can offer us something more than the hopelessness and emptiness of death?

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” answers the first century fisherman Peter. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

Peter’s epistle of praise to God reflects upon and savours Christ’s offer of assisted procreation: the gift of “new birth.” It is more than a dry theological premise. Much more. The concept of Christian new birth is the key to living an extravagantly deep and meaningful life. But where did Peter come up with this concept of new birth?

The teaching originates with Jesus, who Himself explained, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” This new birth forms the foundation of the experience called the Christian faith. We all know what Christianity is, don’t we? But let’s look a little closer at what new birth really means.

Jesus explained, “Spirit gives birth to spirit,” and “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” He is saying that the Spirit of God regenerates that part of us that is designed to commune with Him and ultimately live forever within that primary relationship. The depth of this birth means that it is invisible to the human eye. It is the unseen core that now pulses within the believer. The Apostle Paul explains that we “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” All fine and well, but how do we actually do this?

Peter anticipates our question by calling believers “newborn babies”, “obedient children”, “chosen people” and “a people belonging to God.” As God offers new birth to believers our first job is to embark on a new way of thinking about ourselves—that is, to understand our new identity. Every thought, every word, every intention and action we will go on to initiate arises from this mindset of our new identity.

Since we each come out of old, distorted identities prior to our new birth of spirit, we need to be intentional about settling this issue in our minds. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is now our God and Father. We are His children; we are no longer bound to be rebellious but are free to obey Him out of love for Him.

The third level of our new birth involves our behaviours. “Just as he who called you is holy,” Peter counsels, “so be holy in all you do”; “love one another deeply, from the heart” and “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” Like the old saying, “Beauty is as beauty does,” our behaviours are the evidence of our spirit and our identity.

We have no small task ahead of us. Holiness is otherness; it is living other than the way our old bent to selfishness and lies used to cause us to live. God, though—great joyful mystery!—is on our side. Just as He launches our new birth through His Spirit giving life to ours and as He helps us understand our new identity, He also assists us in developing the new behaviours we need in order to be authentic. His Son Jesus is the model for the new character into which we will mature and His Spirit is the impetus within us to help us reflect our model.

So those who accept Jesus’ offer of living hope through His resurrection have moved. We have moved from a culture defined primarily by death, to one defined by life—eternal, Spirit of God-filled, ever-expanding life. It’s a new birth and a new identity, which leads us to new behaviours. How will this change the way you live today?

 

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Who Are You, Really? Part 4

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Royal Priests.

Identity is a precarious and complicated thing. One moment we think of ourselves as capable of accomplishing anything we set our minds to, and the next moment we are in turmoil over our tendency to trip up and fall flat on our faces. The person we believed we were fails us. This, in its various forms and expressions, is the anxiety of our fallen human condition. While we secretly know something deep within us is wrong, we don’t want to believe it. We have a God-given urge to think better of ourselves than experience has shown us to be. We want an identity that is internally consistent—that relieves us of our angst.

God, who is the author of our lives, knows this. He knows it and He has the solution to our identity quest. The solution is tied up in God’s Son, Jesus, and our response to Him.

When we allow Jesus to step into our lives, He begins the process of turning everything right side up. Coming to Him and giving up the struggle of trying to be who we are not, causes something deep within us to change. We think of ourselves differently. We become part of a process of transformation from the inside out. Façades drop. The reality of who we really are comes upon us like a light. Our true identity emerges.

We’ve explored this in the first four parts of asking “Who Are You, Really?”: We discover we are children of a loving Heavenly Father, citizens of another place, and living stones. What else are we?

“You,” explains Jesus’ disciple the Apostle Peter, “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

That’s an earful. Peter employs a Hebrew idiosyncrasy in his writing here. He is saying the same thing four different ways—a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God—they all mean “a specially God-focused group.” Let’s use the term ‘royal priests’ simply because it is so unique. Not many of us would have called ourselves that naturally. Does that mean we need to change our vocation and start wearing the robes and vestments of the clergy in order to identify with our new office?

Let’s look at what Peter says. He explains that this new identity and purpose as priests is to enable us to “declare the praises of him.”—that is, of God. Why? Because he “called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We each have a story. We each have our own anecdote of darkness we’ve experienced. When we take God’s hand, He moves us out of that darkness and into the wonderful and awe-inspiring light of His presence with us. That’s a story of God’s amazing grace in our lives.

The chief privilege of a priest,” explain the footnotes in the NIV Bible for this Scripture passage in I Peter, “is access to God.” Believer-priests are those for whom God removes the barriers between Himself and them. He reveals Himself, His character and His great truths to His priests. He hears their prayers. He makes His presence known to them in innumerable, meaningful ways throughout their day. That is the privilege given to each person who comes to Christ, entrusts him/herself to Christ’s salvation, and chooses daily obedience to His teachings found in His Word, the Bible.

Not only that. Christ Himself is the great High Priest, the One who has intimately known the presence of God by virtue of being one part of the Trinity of God. So He becomes our identity-model, the same way He does with the other identities we’ve observed: the only begotten Son models our filial relationship with the Father, the Firstborn of Heaven models our new connection with God’s kingdom, and the great Cornerstone enables us to be living stones in an eternal home with God. Jesus, the High Priest, qualifies us to be priests, and teaches us how to offer up the sacrifice of praise to God by our daily lives.

The office and position of royal priests is not exclusive, but it is conditional. It is open to every one of us who surrender our lives to Jesus. It means giving up our false identities that in any way exclude Jesus as primary identifier. That’s the part about being “called…out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We were created to be like Jesus—nothing less. “Come to me,” He invites us each day, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29).

(Photo Credit: NormanB [[File:Rome – St.Peter’s Basilica – Small Dome 0461.jpg|thumb|Rome – St.Peter’s Basilica – Small Dome 0461]])

WHAT TO DO IF YOU MEET JESUS TODAY

 

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Part 2: Taking Liberties

 

“Hey, you there! Get off my boat. It’s my boat, my problem, my livelihood, and my leisure time! Find someone else to be your lackey.”

Peter could have responded that way to Jesus’ rather bold approach and invitation. I wonder if there was even a wisp of that line of thought in his mind that morning when he first met Jesus. It wouldn’t be unusual.

Jesus had just come from his hometown, Nazareth, where he had infuriated the synagogue-goers by calling them fickle. They had tried to toss him over the town’s cliff, the usual method of dealing with irritating folk, but He had peacefully walked away. Those people, neighbours He had lived among for thirty years, had sent Him a clear message: get out of our town.

And later, after healing a madman at the expense of a herd of swine we’re told, “all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.” So He left them too.

It becomes a common theme for Jesus. He meets people; He takes what some view as liberties by turning tables upside-down on social norms, and there is a reaction. There is no wishy-washy ignoring of Him. It’s either reject Him fully or embrace Him completely. That’s what happens when people meet Jesus. It makes sense, because if we look at this event where Jesus meets His first four disciples in Matthew five He does seem to take liberties with them. And, from everything we learn about Him in the gospels and later epistles, it’s how He treats every follower. So it’s important to study this narrative carefully. If we want to be His followers, we need to see what we’re in for.

He commandeers our possessions for His work: He takes Peter’s boat and uses it first as a speaking platform to minister to the Capernaum townsfolk, then as a resource to bring in a haul of fish. But did we notice something? There is a theme here. His use of Peter’s boat transforms that possession into something that works for others’ good. Townsfolk are taught how to pursue the kingdom of God; later, they are presented with a boatload of fresh fish, free for the taking. Jesus doesn’t use up the possessions of His followers – He expands them. The same is true for us. When we allow our possessions to be used for His work and glory, others benefit in amazing ways. Try it.

He commandeers our strength and skills for His purposes: Did you notice how Jesus asks Peter to do a menial task in His presence? It’s the same task Peter has tried to accomplish overnight but has failed. This time, as Peter obeys – tired as he may be – a miracle happens. Sure, there is a huge catch of fish waiting, but the real miracle is happening in Peter’s heart and our hearts when we allow Jesus to use our strength and skills. We begin to see Him as Lord and Master of our lives, and ourselves as His servants. It’s a huge lesson in humility, and that’s not a bad thing.

And finally, He takes our fears and makes them faith: When Jesus addresses Peter’s fear – of following Jesus, of being sinful, of leaving everything he’s ever known and stepping into the unknown – Jesus is transforming Peter from the inside out. It’s the same with us. When we truly meet Jesus, not just the first time, but every day, Jesus goes to the very heart of us. He sees the fear, addresses it, and offers to exchange it for faith, a new perspective on life and a new calling. So in a way, He not only takes liberties with those He meets, He gives liberties too. He frees us to live fear-free lives when we live for Him.

Jesus, meet us today in our present places. Speak into our hearts, step into our lives and do what you do best – make us people of faith. Amen.

(Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Gunter Klug)

THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, PART 2

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 Written Not With Ink

The Abbe Faria recounts to his prison mate, Edmond Dantes, his discovery of a treasure map. In the dim light of dusk one evening before his arrest, the Abbe needs to ignite the kindling in the room’s fireplace. Twisting a blank piece of paper into a wick, he lights the end of it on fire from a lantern and reaches toward the hearth to transfer the flame. In so doing he begins to notice letters appearing on the crumpled paper in his hand. Quickly stamping out the flame he unrolls the paper and smooths out its creases. The heat of the flame has revealed a message of treasure, written with invisible ink. So goes the classic story of The Count of Monte Cristo, written by Alexander Dumas in the 1800s.

We all love stories of hidden treasure – or rather, of treasures found. There is something deep within us that hopes beyond hope that we will find a letter written in invisible ink that will reveal a hidden treasure of some sort.

The Apostle Paul’s second epistle to the church in Corinth, Greece, in the middle of the first century, A.D. describes such a letter. He explains that God’s ministry of using Christians to bring others closer to God, not only has an aroma to it (see Part 1: Aroma of Christ), but also comes with a task of revealing treasure-letters. Listen to what Paul writes to believers:

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.” (II Cor. 3:3-4).

Ink is unnecessary here. The Spirit of the living God is indelibly impressed on hearts when believers minister to people around them. The ministry spans human experience from stone inscriptions to digital texts. The message is Christ transforming hearts from the inside out. Neither chisels nor ink nor touchscreens can send the kind of message the ministry of Christ accomplishes. He uses His people to reach out to other people with the message of His love, His redeeming work, and His transforming power.

And our role in the ministry of God’s internal affairs is active. We are to allow Christ, by His Spirit, to minister to our own hearts as we minister to others. Another Apostle, Peter, gives us a clear picture of the map leading to the treasure of lives lived for Christ.

He says, “…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:5-8).

It’s worth memorizing these steps, isn’t it? They are guidelines to move us into the direction Jesus wants us to take to find His treasure. His Spirit is present with those who love Him, pricking our conscience when we need prodding, urging us to be moving always closer to the treasure He’s written on our hearts, providing us with His resources. His goodness becomes ours; His self-control enables ours; His kindness and love become ours to be used to minister to others. That’s a message that becomes visible when we step into the ministry of Christ. That’s a message of treasure.

(Photo Credit: Beria Lima, Wikimedia Commons)