Some of the most difficult and yet most rewarding things we can have in life is relationship. If we narrow that down to the relationships of Christian believers with one another it creates a unique, potentially volatile, and potentially powerful environment. The passion that our Savior invokes is beautiful but sometimes misplaced when believers try and reflect their gift or ideal onto other people on the same journey with Jesus. It’s difficult to see two Christians unable to respect and love the uniqueness that each brings to the Church and potentially to each other’s lives.
There are many times that people expect a reaction, a particular overlap of ideals or opinion, and that causes turmoil that doesn’t need to exist. The Lord put an analogy on my heart and it prompted me to write because I was also shown a few pieces of scripture that stoked a fire for this topic.
We see in Isaiah where even God Himself realizes that anger pushes away the potential relationship that only the love of His new covenant through Christ can allow. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made….I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. (Isaiah 57:16-17) This is often the case when emotion causes an angry reaction where no resolution can be reached and God’s love is absent. In turn a soft heart created through the reflected love of Jesus allows His light to be reflected in the situation and lasting growth and resolution to truly exist.
A mistake we see, and the basis of my analogy, is when people have difficulty accepting the different views, reactions, and personalities in a church family. They want the relationship to involve a “mixing” of ideals to form a comfortable commonality. I imagine a person with a “red” personality/viewpoint trying to walk alongside a “blue” personality/viewpoint. In order for either of them to feel accepted or understood they try and create a comfortably “purple” relationship/situation. If the emotional/ideological mixture is an “oil based blue” and a “water based red” there is an unconformable tension. The boundaries that exist keep a resolution/relationship from existing. Now imagine for a moment that each of God’s children was allowed to reflect the light of God into the situation as they are loved and accepted for the beauty and uniqueness of their light. The two lights discussed above would make the beautiful purple light needed to flourish. Neither color requires mixing to be complete, but the completeness found in Christ reflects His light and allows their unique spirits to shine. Now imagine we have many lights reflecting God into the church. All of the colors in the light spectrum reflected together create a perfected white light that IS God’s love. their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)
I hope that anyone reading this can not only see the uniqueness and value of others but also those same qualities in yourself. God made you in His image to reflect His light into the darkness created by sin. When you pursue the Lord and encounter other lights on your journey, reflect yours as brightly as you can. You don’t have to be understood or understand the others. You don’t have to have a commonality to love one another and grow. If there are ten different colored lights in the same fixture/situation/church, the world will only see the glorious “white” of God reflected in union through love A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22-23)
If someone draws closer to God through certain practices, we are not to judge as long as they don’t go against scripture. This includes denominational differences. We have to let all things lead to Christ even if we might think of them as senseless. We shouldn’t let the things that make us different draw us apart. God creates many diverse parts to make up the church, the bride of Christ. God uses many ways to touch the hearts of each of His children. Just like God used ceremonial law to keep the focus of His people on Him, He will use multiple ways to draw people from the darkness of sin.
The danger comes when people lose focus on God and develop a reliance on acts. This is where people become legalistic and think that their actions take the place of the faith we are called into. Be careful not to let differences in practice draw believers apart. Keep your opinions between you and God so that your thoughts don’t create division.
If you feel God call you to a certain place, walk with Him. If you have a practice that you feel draws you closer to God and honors Him, draw close to Him as He draws close to you. As long as your practice doesn’t contradict scripture, praise God in what draws your heart to Him. Don’t rely on your practice, let those moments develop your intimacy with God and grow your relationship with Him. The ultimate intimacy with God is found in relationship with Jesus Christ. Let your walk be yours and let your neighbor’s walk belong to them.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews (believers) or to Greeks (unbelievers) or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
To justify is to declare righteous, to make one right with God. Justification is God’s declaring those who receive Christ to be righteous, based on Christ’s righteousness being imputed to the accounts of those who receive Christ.
You are saved in the profession of your heart and justified in the righteousness received in Christ. Justification and salvation come from your heart. Being saved is much more than words spoken when prompted. Salvation is evident from a changed heart and the love that grows from it. People can say anything, but the condition of their heart is what speaks to the Father. Their heart is what has to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23) The will of the Father is to love Him with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. It is the love of a changed heart that truly allows a believer to walk in the salvation of Jesus Christ. The knowledge of Jesus has to fall from your head to your heart where is can grow and blossom into spiritual fruit.
Let your faith come from more than words. Ask God to let His grace and mercy fill your heart. Let the indwelling of the Spirit which comes through receiving Jesus change your heart in a way that magnifies God through you. Let the words of your mouth reflect the condition of your changed heart and not the content of your mind. The deceiver looks to plant seeds into your mind, but your heart belongs to your Savior. Your heart is the source of your salvation and relationship with God.
They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved…. When the Lord heard them, he was furious; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. (Psalm 78:18,21-22)
In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. (Psalm 78:32)
When events happen in our life that are contrary to our plans or painful for us, we seek God to deliver us from that circumstance. We ask for a miracle that will make the problems and pain go away. We want immediate relief and resolution so that we don’t have to suffer. There are times when God will bring miracles to His children but there are many times when the trouble is the beginning of a process.
God in His infinite wisdom allows these troubles to draw us into relationship with Him as our faith in Him grows. Faith in His love, protection, provision, and plan for our life. The Bible shows us what society verifies everyday: Wonders do no good. We draw to God in trouble as our faith is genuinely grown. Our short attention span draws us to the situations that are immediate in our life. We easily forget what God has done for us both in big ways and in the things we take for granted. It’s a miracle that you have the opportunity to have a relationship with God. Of all the lost souls on this earth God has chosen you to walk with Him in adoption as His child. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:4-5)
The Old Testament is filled with examples of God performing miracles and the people immediately returning to idols instead of God. Then God allows troubles to come upon His chosen, they seek Him in these times, He delivers them, and they turn again to worldly idols. Even if a devout follower of Jesus were given their requests immediately as miracles each time they asked, the relationship with God would suffer. The faith He desires to be at the center of that relationship would fade over time, and He would assume the role of a genie who grants wishes, no faith, trust, or relationship required.
Our perfect and all wise God knows what His children need to grow. His greatest desire is to be glorified as we grow in deeper relationship to Him. The depth comes from faith, trust and dependence through submission to His will. Focus your eyes in Him and watch Him guide your steps. It is then that you will discover the life He has for you. A life full of peace and joy that not only passes all understanding but also your wildest dreams.
The relationship God desires with His children calls us into the deep and of the metaphorical swimming pool. You can never feel the power of God fully manifesting in your life until you can’t touch the bottom anymore. Your Father is calling you into the deep water where He is your Sustainer and your own provision is exhausted. You either admitted your best attempts are worthless or they have left you empty.
The deep water is where we find spiritual connection with God. We have a heart-felt connection with His love and His Spirit fills us. Our trust and faith have lead us to follow Him into the deep water where our reliance on His will and bigger plan matures our faith and grows us. God has plans for us that exceed our wildest dreams. Those plans are found in the deep waters where He grows our character to receive something we could not handle otherwise. It is through growing closer to Him that we can see His bigger plan and walk in a way that glorifies Him in His provision.
The shallow end of the pool, where most people are too afraid to leave, reflects self-reliance. We feel ok as long as our feet are touching bottom and we perceive that we have any control over what is going to happen. We have a mental connection to God but our reliance on our flesh makes us too heavy to tread water. We find security in our own abilities and the things that the world can provide. We are in danger of missing the plans that God has to grow us. There is also the inevitability that God’s full power will never be able to fully manifest in our lives.
I pray that each of us will seek God in the deep waters. We will allow our water treading muscles to grow. As we rest in God our weight becomes irreverent as we find rest in Him. Our best efforts in life will never compare to what the Lord has for us. Our best will always be incomplete because God is not there with us. If we rely on God and walk the path He has, we will find rest and we can always be sure that His plan is one of completion. Our daily battle to maintain stability will fade away and His peace and joy will fill our hearts as His Spirit overflows from us. Follow God into the deep water and see His glory manifest in and through you.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
There are times when you read the Bible and the lessons of one passage reveal a larger truth in another. How true is it when God’s word is described as alive? Each time we read a passage the Holy Spirit speaks new truth to our heart.
Genesis 32 describes the story of Jacob wrestling with God. Genesis 35:10-12 describes the moment when God changed Jacob’s name (undermines, heel) to Israel (wrestles with God) and made a covenant with him for his offspring to inherit the land promised to his father and grandfather and for kings to come from his lineage. This story shows a moment every believer should strive toward. It’s the moment when knowing about God turns into a relationship where we know God personally. This truth from Genesis wasn’t made very clear until the Lord turned me to the book of Isaiah. I had been meaning to look into a passage from another thought but His timing was amazing as usual. We see repeatedly in the bible where Jacob and Israel are mentioned together but in slightly different ways. This made me think about the time spent in Genesis and made me think about what that might be trying to tell us.
Let’s begin with the best one and use a few others for support. (Isaiah 29:23) They will hallow My name, And hallow the Holy One of Jacob, And fear the God of Israel. Why would God be the Holy One to Jacob and God to Israel? It’s easy to run past this and think they are the same but I see a beautiful difference. God was the Holy One to Jacob because God was ‘handed down’ by Jacob’s father and grandfather. Jacob believed in God and would bounce between commands in his attempts at self-sufficiency. I wasn’t until Jacob wrestled with God that he demanded God’s blessing and lived a life leaning on his relationship with his Lord (symbolized in his hip injury where his leaning was on a crutch after that). It’s the difference between reverence and relationship, that is, what is handed down vs what is accepted. (Isaiah 44:23) For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, And glorified Himself in Israel. God is glorified in relationship with His chosen. When believers act in accordance with the will of God He leads them as they glorify Him and show His strength in their accepted weakness. (Isaiah 44:1) Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, And Israel whom I have chosen. Serving God under His law is a shadow of living as one of God’s chosen in relationship. This desired relationship is shown in other places where both names occur together.
(1 Chronicles 16:17) And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel for an everlasting covenant. Think for a moment about the difference in a statute and a covenant. The covenant sounds more serious, and it is, but why? A statute is a rule or law handed down from a governing party to a submissive one. God gave laws to His people to both guide and protect them, as well as to keep their focus on His provision for them. When God decreed His will, they were expected to follow. A covenant is different, in that both sides agree on the decision made. In order to find mutual agreement, we have to be in relationship. All of the Old Testament covenants were made with men in close relationship with God. The new covenant with God involves relationship with Jesus Christ, God’s word made flesh. There has never been a variation in that premise.
God desires that all believers live in relationship. It is only in relationship with God through Jesus that we can truly glorify Him and fully receive His love. We all wrestle with God as we attempt self-sufficiency. God calls each of us to accept His covenant and walk in His provision and love. He may not dislocate our hip but our suffering should drive us to our knees, seeking God’s blessing, and accepting God and His Lordship.
I see a division that develops between people who were ‘raised in the church’ and people who found their Savior through a life of sinfulness. I’ve seen both sides view the other with a little longing for the other’s kind of testimony. The converted wish they could have avoided the mistakes they made in the absence of God and the ‘Christian raised’ people wish they could find the passion for Jesus they see in the other group.
People who were raised in church know all about God. They were raised with stories of His abilities and what He is. They learned to identify with God the way their parents or church elders did. They see God as a set of stories and rules that should be followed because that’s what God said. They see God as a legalistic God with requirements for the proper Christian life. The problem surfaces where the child either follows all of the rules then grows up to become even more legalistic (un-relatable to the fallen) or fails in following all of the rules and has no idea how to walk in redemption (loved by God regardless). Neither is spiritually healthy. This lawful view of God pushes those who came to the Lord broken away from church communities.
The people who find their Savior in their depravity have to deal with an initial onslaught of shame. From that shame, and proper knowledge of who God is, they find relationship with The Father. They can identify with His love and how a broken rule only magnifies His grace. They wish there wasn’t a resume of sin in their past because they fail to see what God was doing in their life. He has made them relatable and accepting of the lost and broken. The passion found in true relationship scares those who live on bible stories and rule following.
We see this exact premise play out in the Bible as well. The Jews were called by God to live in the law as they awaited the Messiah to come and rule over the earth. They became too focused on the law and missed the relationship with God and the love that was continually poured out for them. When Jesus came to reconcile the people and was rejected by the ‘law focused Jews’, Jesus came to Saul (Paul) and sent him to preach the Gospel to the gentiles. The gentiles then found God in there depravity and saw their need for a Savior in Jesus. They became the church that focused on the need for Jesus and the love of God over laws.
Next time you pick up the word of God and see the disciples of Jesus trying to speak into the Jews and trying to explain what the plan of God looks like in Jesus, realize this divide still exists today in the church. Although it isn’t a battle, it does cause division. But it doesn’t have to! We should see this as the opportunity for the ‘church raised’ to accept all who come into the community of Jesus, and for the passion found in relationship to spur their growth based on their repeated stories. The people in relationship should have patience as habitual views of a ruler God are replaced with an awareness of His steadfast acceptance and love. It should also serve as a lesson to parents to teach their children to have a real relationship with their Heavenly Father and to be an example to them of what that kind of relationship looks like in the flesh. Our Heavenly Father did the same for us, God’s earthly example was Jesus Christ.