getting intimate in the garden

There’s more to the Garden of Eden story than just apples, trees and snakes.

Adam and Eve had the most precious thing in existence: unhindered, unbroken and fully realised intimacy and union with God! What more could a human ask for? On top of that, they had a complete and totally healthy relationship between them!

Think of it. The First and Greatest Commandment AND the ‘second’ one – done. But they wanted more. They bought the lie that they could be like God. This brought many consequences, but the one I’d like to highlight here has to do with the loss of intimacy.

Remember what Adam and Eve did right after sinning? Well, not only did they gain an ever-increased concern for their nakedness (resulting in the birth of the clothing industry), but they also did something that (at first) seems ridiculous…

They hid from God. Isn’t that just hilarious? I mean, why would you ever think that you could hide from God? And by the way, didn’t they know they were naked all along? What’s with the random fig-leaf fashion statement? What in the Garden of Eden is going on?

Question. What is the opposite of unbridled intimacy and joy in relationship with God and each other? Hiding. Adam and Eve ‘hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.’ (Gen. 3:8) Why did they do this? Adam explains for us a few verses later: he was afraid. Sin had put a barrier of fear between him and God. The secure bond of love and intimacy was shattered into the fearful isolation of guilt and shame.

We still experience these shattering effects today. Sin continues to make intimacy unbearable. Some of the hardest things to produce in humans are honesty, vulnerability and transparency. Recently I admitted to some friends that I like to keep people at arms length, so they don’t see my faults. I prefer having a lot of acquaintances rather than having a few really close, honest friends. After all, if I let someone get too close to me, they might love me enough to challenge, correct or sharpen me.

I must not allow this to happen.
I must protect myself from this every happening in my life.
I must keep my relationships shallow.
I must hide.
I must make myself a suit of fig-leaves.

Allow me to assert that in Christ we have no reason whatsoever to hide! The shattering effect of sin has been undone by the Cross of Christ! No guilt! No shame! No fear!

If only we would dare to believe that we are really, totally, wonderfully, perfectly and completely cleansed of our sins (past, present AND future) by the blood of Christ! If only we would dare to be intimate with each other! If only we would be real, honest, vulnerable and transparent!

Intimacy is not neat, organised or systematic. It’s relational.
It’s not expedient, efficient or entertaining. It’s rough ground.
But most of all, intimacy means not hiding.

In Christ, we can have the confidence to know just a little of the freedom that Adam and Eve knew before they sinned;

“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” – Genesis 2:25

changing our thinking about change

Change.

It has happened.
It is happening.
It will happen.

Spiritually, It has happened…
If your faith is genuinely in Christ, you are not what you once were. There are many passages in the Bible that talk about this. Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus about being ‘born’ a second time. (John 3) Jude writes about ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude :3) Peter writes to Christians about not forgetting that they have been purged from their old sins. (2 Peter 1:9) John agrees by writing that Christians ‘have passed from death to life.’ (1 John 3:14) A particularly well-known verse is from Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17. ‘Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’
This transformation is complete in the lives of believers. It is as secure, steadfast, unchanging and solid as God’s nature. You can count on it! The tough thing is that it’s a spiritual change. We can find it hard to trust what God says about us when our circumstances are staring us in the face! That’s why we need to remind ourselves and each other so often!

Mentally, it is happening…
With our spiritual transformation behind us, we are then called to grow in our understanding of who we are in Christ. Peter told the early believers to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ (2 Peter 3:4) Another popular verse about this was again written by Paul to the Roman Christians to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2) The tense of this command is continual. A literal translation might be more like ‘be being transformed’ or ‘be continually transformed.’ The entire Bible is filled to the brim with passages talking about growing in our understanding of God’s love and grace.
This is not about just getting more head-knowledge. When you get a chance, read 1 Corinthians 1&2. Paul has some pretty strong words there about relying on knowledge. What God wants is not for us to know lots of things, but rather to know Him! Head knowledge causes our minds to puff up, but heart understanding helps us to grow up!

Physically, it will happen…
We look backwards at our spiritual change, commit ourselves to the current process of mental adjustment, and we also wait and hope for the change which is yet to come, which is physical. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about the bodily transformation that awaits all believers. Our bodies will be free from disease, pain, or weakness and unhindered by the effects of aging. Paul may well have had this in mind when he said that to live was Christ and to die was gain!

Let us remember our spiritual transformation with gratitude, grow in our mental grasp of that transformation, and yearn for the day of the final physical transformation!

choosing temptation?

The sign read…

Shirts. $15.

It’s safe to say that I’m not obsessed with fashion, but to say that I couldn’t care less about how I look wouldn’t exactly be true either!

At any rate, I like a good deal as I was walking past this particular clothing store, I almost popped in. I didn’t, though. I turned up my nose (in anti-materialism smugness) and strode past. I was quite proud of myself for not visiting the store… until my thoughts took me further.

Sure, I had chosen not to enter the store for some quite good reasons. One of those being that I have enough shirts that are wear-able, so I didn’t really need another one. But as I thought about my actions further, it became clear to me that the most motivating reason for my recent ‘financial carefulness’ was none other than the fact that I had realised my need to save money for my upcoming wedding, honeymoon and receptions!

It turned out that my choice wasn’t driven by the pious, super-spiritual, anti-commercial motivation that had made me feel like I was so much better than everyone else…

This got me thinking about temptation.

A popular church leader has rightly said that we can’t say we are faithful unless we’ve ever been tempted to be unfaithful. We can’t say that we have integrity unless we’ve ever had the opportunity to lie and resisted. We’ve no right to call ourselves patient unless we’ve gone through stressful circumstances, etc.

Don’t worry. I’m not saying that we should go looking for temptation.

I am saying, however, that temptation is a part of God’s plan.

Yep.

God Himself promises never to tempt us (see James 1:13), and we always have a way to ‘escape‘ when we are tempted – which sometimes means not allowing or ‘fleeing’ from even the opportunity to be tempted (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). However, He most certainly allows and uses temptation in our lives (see the entire book of Job). Actually, we are all tempted. So was Jesus (though He didn’t give in… see Hebrews 4:15)

I’ve been reminded that it’s really just prideful of me to be so proud of my little miniature ‘victories.’ Would I be so satisfied with my wardrobe if I had plenty of money in the checking account?
I’ve also been reminded that when we are careless with our choices (where we go, what we do, when we do it, what we view, who we spend time with, etc.), we shouldn’t be amazed that we often find ourselves giving in to temptation!!!

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12 (emphasis mine)

good will toward us

At the time of Christ’s birth, the angels said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14) Isn’t that an amazing idea that God extended His good will in our direction? He did so in the very act of Christ taking on our flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). It’s the act of incarnation. Christ gave up the comfort and prestige of heaven and willingly chose to live a life filled with discomfort and mockery. Our Lord went through times of loneliness, being misunderstood, physical exhaustion, hunger, agony, pain and yes, death.

Christ knew from eternity what would come with His incarnation. This Christmas, perhaps we can recognize our calling to be like Christ in this way. We are called to go into the world in the same way Christ did. All too often Christians instead choose to live cozy lives of faithful church service attendance, Bible studies, and friendships with other believers. We are quite comfortable to speak to each other in Christian-ese and continually listen to our favourite style of worship music.

Of course, I’m not trying to devalue the utter importance of Christian fellowship. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that our calling includes so much more than fellowship. We must go into the world. We must learn the language of the world. To do this we must risk being… uncomfortable. It means we don’t force people to listen to our stories until we’ve listened to theirs. The willingness to do this doesn’t come naturally, but super-naturally. May we have the courage of Christ in us to motivate us to sacrifice our comfort, reputations, productivity, lifestyle or anything else that is keeping us from fully answering our calling to be incarnational.

humble pie inc.

It’s interesting how various Bible verses have their ‘day in the sun.’ A very popular verse recently has been 2 Chronicles 7:14. This verse has made it’s way into many articles, books and songs. It goes like this:

“If my people, called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I’ve heard lots of talk about what this verse says about prayer, seeking God’s face, and turning from sin, but I’ve not heard a lot about humility. If you look at the verse, humility is listed first.

What is the opposite of humility? Pride. I believe that pride comes from having confidence or assurance in anything other than Christ. Boasting is prideful. Paul said that he would not boast in anything except in the Lord. Paul’s confidence and assurance was not in himself, but in God. This exemplifies the kind of humility alluded to in our featured verse.

Humility means more than boasting only in the Lord. It also means that we must not ignore the way things really are. By this, I mean that we must admit when things are not as they should be. After all, is there really ever a time when we have it all together? Is there ever a time when we don’t need God? Is there ever a time when we can truly depend on ourselves?

In Christian circles, we learn all too quickly how to speak Christian-ese. We are taught to always be happy, positive and enthusiastic. Happiness comes and goes. Joy, however, lasts through even the tough times. Joy admits it when things just aren’t going well, and Joy isn’t shaken because Joy comes from confidence and assurance in Christ.

God uses tough times and allows ‘negative’ circumstances in our lives to cause us to be more dependent on Him! It was at times like this Paul said that when he was weak, then he was very strong! Weakness in yourself = strength in the Lord! Humility about yourself = boasting in the Lord!

According to the featured verse, we can pray, seek God and try to turn from sin, but unless we are humble, it doesn’t matter.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:10

love and firewood

Attention couples!!!

We’re quite educated in the ways of showing affection, aren’t we? Two flawless bodies on a billboard with arms and legs intertwined in new, creative ways… just shocking enough to make you want to buy the clothes they are half-wearing… two people on a park bench rubbing each other up and down as if they were freezing to death… Should we be listening to these suggestions though? Why or why not? Affection is harmless enough, right?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to waste any time trying to discourage any certain forms of affection. I do, however, want to think for a moment about the contrast between physicality and commitment.

The physical stuff is visible, concrete and undeniable. The ideas behind them are invisible, abstract and often cloudy. Also, the two can sometimes be totally separate. Consider people in modeling or acting. The physicality is there, but I doubt there is any commitment or relationship. Conversely, in some marriages gone cold, there may be a certain level of commitment, but no passion or intimacy.

So how in the world can we build strongly committed relationships with healthy physicality? How can such a balance be started and maintained? Is it possible?

I think the answer lies in a helpful analogy I’ve learned from Tommy Nelson in his study on The Song of Solomon.

He relates physical passion to gasoline, and rightly points out that a relationship built on that alone may have large flames for a little while, but has nothing left afterwards. He talks about the need for the ‘firewood’ of commitment and character.

I think it’s interesting to note as well that the more firewood you have, the longer the fire lasts! Are we sometimes guilty of impatiently gathering a few small twigs, drowning them with gasoline and feeling frustrated that the fire doesn’t last? Possibly?

God is more than aware of the pain and hurting that comes with failed relationships. He doesn’t want us to go through the pain! He wants to give us His best!

I’m not a fan of all the charts, graphs or rules that people try to create for successful relationships, but I will say this: For the sake of your heart, keep the gasoline in the can until you’ve gathered the firewood of commitment and character. Then you can enjoy the warmth and security of a committed relationship.

still hangin’ on

“I’m hangin’ on… you’re all that’s left to hold on to.” – Bono in Red Hill Mining Town

Yesterday I had two conversations about relationships. You know, the romantic kind. Aren’t they exciting? I mean, isn’t the thrill of discovering that someone else is thinking about you just priceless? It’s a little more than obvious that the human race is consumed with obtaining this feeling. I just saw an ad for yet another online dating company, mate1: intimate dating. What a joke! Intimate? Online?

Both of my conversations yesterday touched on the undeniable pain and misery of ‘breaking up.’ We talked about how all of your hopes and dreams come crashing down in mere seconds when this happens.

The common thread in my two discussions yesterday was this: both people I talked to shared with me the belief that we should never put our ‘hopes and dreams’ in anyone other than Jesus. All three of us were speaking from much experience as well. The thing about humans is that it’s not a question of if they will let you down, it’s a matter of when!

In a song called “Wedding Dress,” Christian songwriter Derek Webb refers to ‘lovers less wild’ that draw us away from Jesus, the One who loved us (as another of his songs points out) ‘to death.’ He is the One who died for sinners. He is the One who won’t take back His love. He is the One who will never cheat on you. He is the One who will patiently put up with your junk.

May you be able to say to Jesus, “I’m hangin’ on… You’re all that’s left to hold on to.”

-Dale

now that’s relaxing

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Jesus in Matthew 11 (emphasis mine, and maybe Jesus, too)

For some people, this passage is refreshing, freeing and memorable. Others simply give it an affirming nod and move on. Others (if they’re honest) might admit they’re not sure what Jesus is getting at with all this talk about rest. Rest from WHAT? What does it mean to labor and be heavy laden?

Practically, we know that Jesus was referring to what Judaism had become. The Pharisees had placed too much emphasis on rituals and outward things. Jesus had a radically different way of life in mind. Still some of us may find it hard to see how this relates to us today. After all, only about 1% of the world’s population is even Jewish.

There is a Pharisee inside all of us.

The Pharisee mindset has to do with proving your worth to God by doing good things. And not just doing them, but doing them better than others! Unfortunately, the Pharisee mindset often drives many really positive acts of ministry and Christian organisations. This ‘philosophy of works’ can slip into the minds of the most genuine Christians.

We must never mistake ‘works‘ for ‘fruit.’ Fruit is a natural by-product of a relationship with Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. God Himself inspires, directs and empowers our actions. And these ‘fruit-actions’ never have anything to do with us getting the credit. ‘Work-actions,’ however, can be and are done without a relationship with Christ and have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit at all. As much as we may try to claim God’s ‘sponsorship’ of our efforts, we really want the credit to go to us. We want to be known as ‘spiritual’ or ‘a good, serving Christian.’

Fruit and Works, Relationship and Religion, Devotion and Duty. They often look the same to us, but to God, one is worthless and the other priceless.

-Dale

fools and rules

Last week, we talked about how important thoughts are.

This week I want to continue that theme as we look at a passage in Galatians. Our thinking about sin and righteousness just plain matters. In the first century, Paul, who was a Jew among Jews (Gal. 1:13-14), was radically transformed into the Apostle that we know so well for reaching Gentiles (non-Jews) with the Gospel. When he converted, he eventually joined the rest of the Apostles. In Galatians, Paul recalls a ‘disagreement’ he had with Peter (yes, Peter.) and a few of the other Apostles. (And you thought disputes in church were a recent thing?) Paul literally got in Peter’s face about being a hypocrite. When Peter was at Antioch, he had no problem eating with Gentiles until some folks arrived that said that believers had to be circumcised. Peter was afraid that he would be seen eating with these uncircumcised Gentiles, so he stopped eating with them!

Paul openly rebuked him, asking him why he should expect Gentiles to live as Jews, when he (a Jewish believer) lived as a Gentile? Paul then reminded Peter that justification was not from keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ!

Some of the early Jewish-Christian believers of the 1st century struggled to welcome Gentiles into the church. After all, they were the good, moral, circumcised, Sabbath-keeping ones. They were appalled by these Gentiles walking around like they own the place. After all, these ‘other’ people didn’t keep the Sabbath, they weren’t circumcised, they ate pork and other non-kosher food… they just weren’t like them! How could these people be believers?

The Apostle Paul consistently reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the grace of God. That’s it! It’s true! Done deal! You don’t have to jump through all the right hoops or measure up to any standards.

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21

May we recognise where our life comes from, and extend grace even to those who don’t dress, talk, smell, look or act like we do.

Trusting in His Grace,
-Dale

no offense…but you’re worthless

It’s just not what you read in the newest self-help books.

It’s completely contrary to every trend in society. We adjust grading methods to make students feel better about themselves. We say that everyone is special and don’t stop to consider that by saying that, we make no one special. (this is well illustrated in the brilliant movie-cartoon: The Incredibles) Why do we do this? What’s the deal?

So many of the belief-systems in the world struggle to deal with the condition of humanity. I think this is very interesting. The fact that humans are bent on selfishness is quite possibly the easiest truth to demonstrate! We all hide our wrong and promote our good. Yes, even in churches! We look for the fastest lane in traffic, and the shortest line at the grocery store. We’re always looking out for our own best interests!

I love Christianity for many reasons, one of which is it’s realness. Jesus wasn’t out to flatter humanity. His disposition with humankind is very succinctly described by His half-brother James, who wrote that God “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

One of Jesus’ most striking message to humanity was that we aren’t good enough. He raised the ‘bar’ of morality so high that nobody would be able to say they were good. That is why Jesus was always barking at the Pharisees! He called them white-washed tombs, and made no ‘bones’ (pardon the pun) about how he felt about their self-righteousness! In sharp contrast, He forgives and welcomes sinners who are repentant and aware of their moral bankruptcy. The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus’ message in passages like the third chapter of Romans, where he quotes various passages in the Psalms: “There is none righteous, no, not one… none who seeks after God… they have together become unprofitable (see title of this article)… etc., etc.

As Christians, our confidence is NEVER in ourselves. Not in the past, not now, and not in the future. We were never good enough, we are still not good enough and we will never be good enough! The technical-theological definition of grace is undeserved favour. Take a good guess why it is undeserved. Because we can’t earn it, and we don’t earn it!

Why are so many Christians BORED with the Christian life? I think we have forgotten just how BIG a deal God’s grace is!

May we live in the awe of God’s grace to the point where we see for ourselves just how ‘amazing’ it really is.

In Him,

Dale