Saturday, February 23, 2013

In Imitation of Paul and Christ

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.  Phil. 3:17

The children were outside playing and the proud mother noticed that they were playing ‘church.’ A little while later they came in soaking wet and all scratched up.  She asked, “I thought you were playing church.  What happened to you?”  Little Jill answered, “We were, and it was great until Jack decided to baptize the cat.”
We’ve often heard it said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There are all kinds of imitation products on the market and there are people who live imitation lives – sometimes movie stars or popular musicians.  Their life might seem exciting and glamorous, but in reality it is more often a road to destruction. 
Children pretended – they play act – they emulated the adults around them, or made up stories based on their favorite heroes.  I used to pretend I was Jane (of Tarzan and Jane).  There were three trees in my back yard than made a perfect tree home and I would gather “food” – the berries from the Chinese tallow tree and the seed stems from the grass to make dinner for Tarzan when he came home.  Sometimes I would line my dolls up in my room and play school – I always wanted to be a teacher.  I usually didn’t have anyone else to play with so I could just make it up and do what I wanted to do, imitating heros and adults I knew. 
So when Paul invites the people of Philippi to imitate him, he means that they should try to pattern their lives after what they see him doing.  When some of the Thessalonians quit working and just hung around waiting for Christ to come back, Paul reminds them that when he came among them, he earned his own way by working as a tent maker.  He encourages them to imitate that.
I think maybe where we miss out is in not imitating Paul, but imitating what we think he should be like.  In his first letter to the Corinthians – Paul says:   “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law . . . so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law . . . so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.” 1Cor 9:19-23
Paul didn’t set himself apart from others – he didn’t hold himself above others.  He put himself in the middle of whatever situation he found himself in – so that he could talk to people without them taking offense - so that he could talk to people, and have them listen and to open up and talk back freely.
When you sit above others, and never put yourself on their level, how are they going to relate to you?  I read a scenario of people in a bar once – one there trying to drown his sorrows of a broken relationship, one walked through handing out Christian pamphlets, one of a woman looking for her lost sister, one looking for a drug connection, one was a young enthusiastic missionary telling people of the evils of alcohol and trying to get them to leave. 
To tell you the truth, I envisioned another person at the bar, one who would sit with the man with the broken relationship, and listen to him without condemnation, and become his friend, and gain his confidence, and then lead him out of there.  “I become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, I might save some.”  You can preach to hordes of people, but I believe that lives are transformed one at a time in particular circumstances. 
When God is ready to begin the process of transformation in a person, God will send the right person to the right place to light that spark and get the fire going.  It is a personal relationship on a level that can be heard, whether it's in a bar, on a basketball court, at the park or in your office. 
Paul invites us to not simply behave, but to look at the meaning of all we do in relationship to a much larger power and reality.  Transformation is the faith life in process.  No, we are not there yet – but we are invited to continue in the process.  We are invited to be real people, in real life situations, so that we might be able to win some for Christ. 
I think we also have to remember that it is Christ – through the Holy Spirit – who does the transformation.  We are at best a conduit – but more often simply the vehicle that brings the person into the presence of Christ. To Him be all glory, now and forever.  Amen.


Friday, February 22, 2013

What does God require?

From today's reading:  So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God . . . for your own well-being.  Deuteronomy 10:12-13

This passage from Deuteronomy is one that I have repeated several times during the past week.  It starts off sounding so much like Micah 6:8 and it says much the same thing.  And then I remember that Micah is simply reminding the people of what God has already said.  It is essentially the same message that Jesus Christ brings; it is our relationship with God and with his people that counts.  I was listening to the Renovare conference last night and they talked about making disciples by teaching people to live their life for today, not for when they die. 

The ten commandments are not to keep us out of hell, but to help us live our life here on earth to the fullest.  The first four commandments teach us how to live with God: love God, don't worship idols, don't take his name in vain and spend time with God.   The last six commandments teach us how to live with the people around us: honor your parents, don't murder, steal or be unfaithful, don't get others in trouble by lying about them and don't desire what others have.  It's even easier than that - treat others the way you want to be treated and honor God is all things.  That is what God requires of you; today and always.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Not to condemn, but to save

From today's reading: 'Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:17

So - I skipped right over the most famous verse in the Bible in order to look at the next verse.  He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.  Even the name of Jesus says it, "Ye'shua" - "God saves."  Those things that condemn us come from the "prince of lies."  When we step out of God's will and way, the Holy Spirit will convict and correct, but never condemn.  It is always God's purpose to save.

Lord, thank you for your love and your grace and your mercy and your Son, Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

lifted up in the desert

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  John 3:14-15

This has always been one of my favorite passages of scripture.  When we arrived at Mt. Nebo in the summer of 1999, I was delighted to see the serpentine cross as we approached the summit.  I was to do the meditation at Mt. Nebo and had drawn from the image of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert and here I had the perfect visual in front of me.  

When the Israelites were bitten by the snakes that filled the camp, all they had to do was look up - and gaze at the bronze serpent Moses had made.  Likewise, when we as Christians have been bitten by the 'serpent of sin,' all we have to do is look up in repentance and place our faith in Jesus hanging on the cross.  Jesus went to the cross to pay the price so that we could be forgiven for our sins.

Dear Lord, when I look up and see Jesus hanging on the cross, engrave on my heart the depth of love He had for me to pay the price of my sin.  Amen.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’  Mark 9:23-24

How often do we need to pray this prayer - Lord I believe; help my unbelief?  It's not that I don't have faith in God, it's that I often don't have faith in myself - I sometimes don't trust that I will listen to God and do what he wants me to do.  And I know, when I do that, I am making the same mistake that most non-believers and marginal believers make.  Placing myself above God's ability to work.  So I ask the Lord, when I doubt myself, please remind me that You are in charge, and you will bring about your will.  Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!