Feb 27, 2015

The Third Parent

A lifetime ago now, when I was learning to fly airplanes, I finally reached the first milestone: Solo! It was late afternoon on a sunny but chilled autumn day when my instructor decided that I was ready to go it alone. So, on our third practice landing, he told me to pull over to the hanger. There, he climbed out of the airplane. 

As I took off and climbed to altitude without my instructor for the first time, the sun’s rays were becoming dimmed and more yellow. And, as I viewed the landscape from above, it was noticeably scarred with long, dark shadows.

Turning onto final approach for my landing, I could see my car near the hanger. And, I could barely make out my instructor and my future wife standing near it. They were both observing what was probably going to be either the greatest moment or the last moment of my nineteen year life. And, I’m pretty sure none of us held any great conviction as to which way things would break.

As I began my very tense final approach, the small plane buffeted sharply up and down in the turbulence of the cool Fall air. Besides the impact those little jolts had on my already nervous stomach, they also became another reminder that the outcome of this landing was, indeed, by no means, a foregone conclusion.

It was in these moments that I realized, I think for the first time in my life, the real heartlessness of a completely objective reality. Suddenly, I became very aware, in this do-or-die situation, that I was absolutely alone in a merciless circumstance which really didn’t care whether I lived or died.

And now, the airplane, itself, seemed so much a part of that indifference. This beautiful little blue and white Cessna 150, which before had been so inviting and friendly, suddenly morphed into a much too willing accomplice to this uncaring reality.

The acrid tension of the moment now very effectively stripped away any romantic veneer about this airplane. In this moment, it was clearly no friend. It too, was merely a soulless machine fully as willing to crash and burn as to glide softly to a landing.

Before that Fall day of my nineteenth year, I don’t ever actually remember being aware of such a completely indifferent reality or the harshness of it all. It seems, before that day, there had always been someone there, hedging life's indifference for me - my parents, my grandparents, my flight instructor.

But, that was definitely not the case this day. This day, I was absolutely alone and very circumstantially exposed.

In the years since that first unsettling encounter with a purely objective reality, I have discovered a bit more on the subject. It is the fact that this I-don't-really-care-what-you-do-or-how-it-turns-out reality is what really competes with God for our devotion.

It works like this. When we're born we encounter our parents.  So, our first parental relationship is with, well, our birth parents – the mother and father we are born to in this life. They may or may not be great parents – but it’s probably safe to say that, at least most of the time, they are not entirely disinterested in what happens to us.

And, in the vast majority of cases, they are, very invested in our well-being. Certainly, most parents spend massive amounts of love, wisdom, and vigilance in defense of their children.

But, be that as it may, once we outgrow the day to day parenting of our birth parents, we have a choice to make regarding the guardianship of our adult life.

And always, the God who created us stands first in line, ready to assume this later parental role to provide a very engaged and loving involvement in our adult life path. The whole redemptive work of Christ is aimed at positioning our Heavenly Father to lovingly parent us through our life. So, in that sense, God seeks to be our "Third Parent."

But sometimes, we reject Him for this role. We do this because we intuitively understand that His love will sometimes interfere with and get in the way of our preferences.

So, God's love is, indeed, forced to compete. It must compete with the personal freedom to do as we please which is the real draw of a Godless, and thus, disinterested reality.

However, what is so well hidden in this proposition of complete freedom is the cruel randomness which is always attached to it. And, indeed, there are always surprise endings which flow out of the randomness of a totally impartial reality.

So, with absolute freedom, also comes a constant exposure and vulnerability. Nevertheless, it's true, we often still venture undaunted and self-assured into the treacheries of adult life - believing ourselves to be equal to every challenge.

But, in truth, only God is equal to the challenges of a fickle reality. Only he can over rule its unpredictable whims. Only He can bring order and meaning from it random twists. No mere human being even comes close to having the resource to stand up to the extremes to which an unpredictable reality can take us.

For example, after years of business successes, raising our kids responsibly, giving back to our community, and doing it all right - it happens. Out of nowhere, the doctor says, "It's cancer; and, it's terminal."

Or, as we're happily coming home from a football game that our team won, 
a defective front tire blows out one rainy night on the Interstate. And, we wake up in the morning with a severed spine and useless legs. 

 Or, you name it, when any one of a thousand other things that we didn't expect to happen, do. There is no purely human resource which can stand up to life's harshest randomness.

So, that's it. Suddenly, without warning we're in way over our head. And, a Godless, heartless reality could care less.

And, so it goes far too often. We choose to embrace the freedom to do as we please in a reality free of divine interference.  We choose to entirely risk ourselves to the mistaken belief that we can always adjust life situations to our preferences. But, in truth, sometimes, for no apparent reason, oblivious reality just decides to break bad. And, we find that, in fact, there is no adjusting it.

The truth is this. Being solely responsible for your own self-preservation is a hazardous, draining, and a very lonely approach to life. And, in real life, the unfettered freedom which draws us to such a life in the first place is really mostly gobbled up by the constant pressure to survive.

As a loving Third Parent, God offers to unload the life process. He offers the help and joy of "Twomanship" - a life of confidence and synergy lived in league with Him. It is a life that is exponentially better than "Onemanship" - a life of constant and draining vulnerability.

But, won't God occasionally interfere with my agenda? Well - one can only hope so, dear heart. 


 Loving interventions are really what good parents, whether first, second, or Third, do best. They get us safely past the seriously damaging pitfalls of our "childhood" which, in human beings, typically lingers long past our childhood.

So, here it is. If the loving and almighty Heavenly Father doesn't have your back, you are really flying dangerously solo. And that means you are absolutely very exposed. Because, like the rest of us, some days you can fly pretty well; but, on any given day you can also crash and burn.


"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


Jan 5, 2015

God Awareness

There is quite a difference between subscribing to the reality of God’s existence and having a vibrant “God Awareness.” Believing in the existence of God is a simple intellectual position. But, to have an intuitive God awareness is a much more lively and intense proposition.

The first situation is based in this simple idea: There is a God. But, the second is based in an energized inner reality which leaves one completely assured: There is a God in me!

Jesus put it this way. “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever - the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
(Ref. John 14:15-21 NKJV)

The idea presented here is a simple one. Jesus is explaining to His disciples that they will eventually have a level of God awareness which the rest of the world will not share. And, as He indicates above, it will be an awareness based in a true personal merger with the Divine nature. And, this very natural connection will, in turn, bring into being a true oneness of heart with God

Jesus indicates that the requisite for this privileged access is simply an active humility, as indicated by a devoted obedience to His directions. Non-believers and "game players," on the other hand, are excluded from this access simply because they refuse to truly embrace the values and directions of Christ.

And, indeed, there are many who haughtily demand empirical proof of God before they will even believe in His existence, much less embrace His values and His express wishes. But, what Jesus is offering to those who do is a level of God awareness which makes empiricism entirely unnecessary, and obsolete. So, as Jesus indicates, the arrogantly self-sufficient (the "world") will simply remain oblivious to this inner personal intimacy with God.

Nevertheless, it is this Christ-furnished God-awareness, this wonderful "Sixth Sense," which makes our friendship with God truly vital and vibrant.


“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you." - Jesus

Mar 10, 2014

Light Source

Within all human beings there is an imbedded truth stored deep within their subconscious. We can read of this subliminal message in the Bible where the apostle writes in Romans 1:18-21, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."


So, here is the simple truth which we all know subconsciously: There is a God.  Already embedded within the psyche of each of us is this awareness that there is an all-powerful, eternal Being to whom we all owe homage. This awareness may be perverted or suppressed as Paul described in the verses above. But, it is there.

And yet, far more times than not – we fail to discover it. Why is that? Why do we struggle with this simple truth and the self-evident reality that it describes? It is because there is a flaw in our “Interpretative Context.” 


Essentially, it works like this. In simple terms, Truth is merely a correct interpretation or assessment of reality. When you can see reality accurately, you have arrived at the truth. But, since the fall of man, which, in short, gave each of us our own subjective view of reality, our perception of reality has become a matter of a very  personal Interpretation.


And that interpretation is typically entirely shaped by our value system. And, our value system is very much a product of our upbringing, our life experiences, and various intellectual and emotional exposures.

Eventually, all of these experiential influences produce some principles and beliefs which are so deeply held that they become more instinctive than cognitive. And these, then, simply coalesce into our personal value system, which, in turn, becomes our Interpretive Context.  So, our personal value system, in effect, becomes a kind of “life filter” through which all life's issues must pass to be analyzed and interpreted.

This is the means by which we vet everything.  And, in this way, we distill our own awareness of reality – what we believe to be it's correct interpretation.

However, the problem is that this “Filter,” is clogged, and torn, and misshaped by our personal inadequacies, prejudices, fears, ignorance etc. As a result, this interpretative context which we are depending on to show us a correct view reality does not accurately distill a true reality at all.

Instead, it produces a view of reality that, for example, may have important elements subtracted by our fears and superfluous elements added in by our personal preferences. So, instead of actually arriving at a correct assessment of reality – the truth – we come to our flawed and very subjective version of a given circumstance. We arrive at our own, "designer truth," based in our very flawed Interpretive Context.

And then, armed with this self-concentric view of reality we enter into strident confrontations with those around us on everything from Creationism to the worth of Capitalism, to the question: "Is There A God?" And we simply can’t understand why those who oppose us can't see that truth which seems so very obvious to us.

Eventually however, objective and honest thinkers do come to an inescapable conclusion. It is this. In fact, none of us are consistently capable, within ourselves, of distilling an entirely accurate and objective awareness of reality.

And, it’s true. We actually lost that ability as a species long ago, in the very beginning of our existence.
(Learn More)

In truth, the capacity to always accurately assess reality, and thus to correctly determine truth, resides with God, alone. The Liberals in our world are convinced that they know the truth and therefore the correct way forward. The Conservatives hold the same view.

And, Muslims hold this same view, as do atheists. Yet, none of them are correct. In truth, only God is capable of rendering a completely accurate view of life's issues.

Thus, if one would know the true interpretation of life's circumstances, there is really but one available source. It is Christ, who can reintroduce us to the divine perspectives.

All other purveyors of truth are mere pretenders, who are actually disabled by their own flawed Interpretive Context. But, as God, Christ is the authoritative interpreter of life. And, it's only He can empower us to rise above the stumbling’s of our own misinterpretations to know the truly correct view of life issues.

So, the Apostle, John would write these words..."And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

"If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, [if we embrace His interpretations of reality]we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
[Brackets added] – The Holy Bible


         And you shall know the truth,  
                            and, the truth shall make you free - Jesus

Aug 26, 2013

The More Corps

What makes us want always more from our spouse? Why do we do that? I know a number of people in my circles with great spouses, myself included. From day one, these husbands and wives were beautiful people, a truly great catch by anybody’s standard. And yet, I observe that most all of us who married these wonderful people continue to want more from them.

They never had any great flaws to begin with. So, in the absence of bigger issues, we start harping on much smaller and less important ones. 

Maybe we do that because we have no sense of scale.  That is, there were never any big issues to give us a perspective on just how petty our demands really are. 

Nevertheless, after we have abraded away these small issues to bring these already great people closer to our specification for perfection, we pat ourselves on the back, rest a moment, And then, the process starts over. 

And now that the smaller issues are out of the way, we start on the truly itty bitty ones.  Thus we continue to demand that these, too, be addressed by a spouse who is probably already, far and away, our better.

And on and on the process goes through years of marriage. Until finally, having abandoned all sense of reason and scale, we find ourselves down on the microscopic level demanding that even these miniscule issues be addressed by these gracious people that we are supposedly cherishing.

And so the question is begged, “Will they ever be good enough?” Will these people, who started out twice the people we will ever be, ever be able to really satisfy our constantly escalating standards? Obviously not, unless we break this ridiculous “always more” cycle.

And, it's true.  In fact, there will certainly be some truly significant issues in a marriage which should be addressed. But, that is where the process should stop – at the truly significant issues. 
It should never be allowed to become an increasingly abrasive process. 

And isn’t it a bit arrogant, after all, to deed yourself an arbitrary right to entirely re-design the person you originally chose simply for who they already were. “Approving” and “Appreciative” are great words upon which to establish a really happy and fulfilling marriage. “More” is not, if it comes up too often.

Jun 3, 2013

Relevance And Risk

Here is a question for ministers.  What would you sacrifice to remain relevant in your role as a minister?  To say it another way, what would you give up to retain a credible voice in the cultural discussion?  What would you be willing to sacrifice of your consummate self in Christ in order to stay in the mainstream conversation?

Add to that, this query.  What would you be willing to sacrifice from the nature and role of the Church to maintain its relevance on the world stage?  How far would you go to accommodate the demands of the secular society in order to secure their continued attention and general respect?  This is the strategic crux of a game which is played out in our world every day. 

So, here is how the Devil’s deadly game of Risk And Relevance is played.  There are only two players at the table:  the Devil, or one of his minions, on one side; and some Representative of the Church on the other side.  The rest of humanity, as individual souls, are on-lookers, and the cherished prize to be won or lost by one opponent or the other. 

The ultimate goal for each player in the game is to maximize their own influence over humanity and while attempting to neutralize the influence of their opponent.  The play involves only one of two strategic decisions:  “Risk or Don’t Risk.”

To affect their opponent’s play, the players are allowed to employ Intimidation Tactics to manipulate their opponent to a losing position.  So, here are some typical gambits from the annals of this deadly game…

A Minister: (His opening play)    I will Risk myself to the service of Christ in order to reach humanity and save souls through the ministry of God’s Word.

The Devil:  That’s fine, because I suspect you will only be an obscure minister of little import or impact.  So, I’ll Risk it.

The Minister:  I will not be small and unimportant.  I intend to be very successful and influential in my ministry.  So, I will Risk my money, my time, and my energy.  I will invest them in education and training.

The Devil:  That’s fine, but I know the complexity of the religious politics that will be involved in your attempt to rise to a position of prominence and influence in the Church; and I don’t think you have the political skills or the good sense to simply “play ball” with the powers that be.  So, make your investments if you will.  I’m happy to Risk it.

And so the daily game goes on until the minister eventually finds himself, after his educational years, in a five year old ministry in a smaller local church that has entirely plateaued numerically.  And the game continues…

The Devil:  Well, it seems I was right in the beginning.  Here you are, stalemated by your own stubborn adherence to your antiquated values and ideas which are becoming increasingly counter-cultural. And now, your reputation and personal standing are at risk.  Your superiors are watching and beginning to have serious doubts about your abilities. 
            And, the gap is becoming very visible between your value system and that of the laymen in your congregation.  They are obviously pulling back from you.  Is this what you understand to be success?  If it is, I’m happy to Risk your continued impact on humanity.

Beads of telling sweat begin to pop out on the young minister’s forehead.  He begins to feel the great weight of his personal exposure.  He looks away and down to ponder his next play. And then, he makes a critical decision.  As he lifts his head there is obvious relief on his face.

The Minister:  No, no, in fact, I will Not Risk my personal intentions, my reputation, and my influence.  That does not serve my purpose.  So, I do not think that it is the strategically correct thing to do. 
            I think this would be my better play.  I will exchange my present perspectives for new, more culturally accommodating views.  This will bolster my credibility with the secular culture and bring back the confidence and appreciation of the more shallow but influential members of my congregation. And so my own influence will be enlarged.  And through that increased influence, I will become more effective.

At this point in the game, the Referee pronounced the young Minister “Neutralized.” To his complete surprise, the young man was then instructed to leave the table to make way for the next player.  He was directed to stand on the Devil’s side of the table as one of his captured souls.

The Devil leaned back in his chair and lowered his head to smile a gloating smile as the young minister made his way around to his side of the table.  “How easy these guys are,” he thought to himself. "I had him from his second play."

As the defeated minister vacated his chair, a layman, representing a local church body sat down to take on the Devil.  He was a devout man of no small experience in these games.  The Devil had met this warrior before; and he was taking nothing for granted.  So, he opened with one of his best psychological plays.

The Devil:  Sir, I know of your local church.  I know that your numbers are dwindling.  Does that not tell you that you are out of step with your community?  I challenge you to Risk some small adjustment to the values and teachings of your church so that not so much is required of people by them, thereby making you church more attractive to the larger community.

The Layman:  No, I don’t think so.  We have every confidence in the power of the God’s Truth to draw men’s hearts to Him.  We’ll just Risk it.

The Devil:  You will risk it?!  You will risk it?!  Sir, do you not realize that you are risking the souls of men. Not that I mind, but don’t you know that God will hold you accountable for the loss of those souls.  However, if that’s your play, I am happy to Risk it with you. 
            But, I just have to say, it seems to me that if you want to continue to keep your doors open, and pay your bills, and get your numbers up, the smarter play would be to “slightly reinterpret” the divine requirements in your Gospel, so they are more comfortable for people.  But, hey, I’m certainly not going to complain.  I sat down here to win.  So, I’m happy to take those souls who are retreating in droves from your challenging Truth. 

The Layman:  Sir, there are some things that you need to understand.  First, I don’t keep the doors of my church open, God does.  I don’t pay the bills, God does.  And I am not responsible for the number of people who may or may not embrace His Truth.  I am only responsible to the Truth, itself.
            And should I fail that single task for which I am, indeed, very responsible, what real difference would it make if the whole world attended my church?  They would still end up on your side of the table at the end, anyway.
            So, speaking for my church, we will Risk it when it comes to holding faithfully to God’s Truth.  We will Risk the ridicule.  We will Risk the rejection of a wayward culture.  We will Risk our own accountability before God. 
            But what you need to know, too, is that these are all calculated risks.  For, in facing up to these possibilities, we have also factored in some unchanging realities: the power of God and the timeless attraction of His Truth to the human heart, to name a couple.   We are also counting on the effectiveness of our personal devotional lives, our personal and intimate friendship with God, which can easily keep any of those failures from permanently defeating our church.
            Sir, the long term plan at our local church is not to accommodate the culture.  It is to tell them the Truth in love.  So, just to be clear – our unchanging approach will always be a simple one.  It is for our membership to walk closely with God and to Risk everything on the power of His Truth and the blessing of His help. 

One thing the Devil had learned from centuries of playing this deadly game was that there really is no counter-play for real faithfulness.  So, with a frustrated sigh, he simply rose and walked away from the table, even before the Referee could declare his decisive loss to this opponent.

 But, even as he did so, he was contemplating tomorrow.  “There is always tomorrow,” he thought.  “And these days especially, I like my chances of finding a much less determined opponent in the next round...”
 

Such is the deadly game that the Church plays every day. Always the projected illusion is the same: That somehow our relevance is put at risk by our faithful adherence to God’s Truth. And always, in the face of this insinuation, we are left to choose between one of two plays.
 

"Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" - Jesus

Apr 1, 2013

Grace Gets Bum Rap

  A few years ago my oldest daughter called me with a problem. She and her husband, starting to fix up their first home in a distant city, had a ceiling fan to hang in a room with a very high ceiling. However, they did not understand how to connect the wires of the fan to the wires in the ceiling - all while standing atop a very tall step ladder and holding the weighty and cumbersome fan. Thus, while hubby was at work, daughter called dad whom she knew to be fairly knowledgeable in all things “ceiling fan.”

After Sarah described the fan to me, I told her that the best way for that particular fan was to simply support the fan with a piece of heavy wire (I suggested a metal coat hanger) through the mounting bracket. I explained that, while the fan was hanging by the coat hanger, Joal (hubby) could then connect the electrical wires, with both hands free. Then it would be easy to simply remove the coat hanger and attach the fan to the mounting bracket. 

Sarah was duly impressed. Then she had another idea… Joal didn’t know, as yet, about Sarah’s phone call to me. So, her shrewd impulse was, “Why should I bother him with unimportant details.” So, she didn’t.

That afternoon, Joal came home and began preparing to install the ceiling fan. He set up the ladder and started for the top with the fan, apparently hoping for some mechanical revelation as he neared the top. However, none was forthcoming. 

So, as he stood atop the ladder, in no small quandary, Sarah then offered a suggestion. She said, “What if we get a piece of wire, maybe a coat hanger, and hook it through that little hole on the mounting bracket and then attach it to the fan base and that will hold the fan up while you connect the electrical wires.”

Sarah latter reported that Joal was dumbfounded. Her description: “The look on his face fairly screamed, ‘You’re not supposed to know that! How could you possibly have figured that out before I did?’” 

For a short while, Sarah simply soaked up the awe and the new level of respect that she was now receiving from her husband. But, eventually, she did “fess up” to what she had done. No doubt all of this was a truly “cementing” episode in their marriage; and, I think, from Joal’s point of view, one never to be mentioned again (except here, for the whole world to read.) 

Now, one lesson in all of this is very obvious: Wives, no matter their age or the age of their marriage, are very, very sneaky, and never to be entirely trusted when it comes to the male ego. But, that lesson is for another article. There is really a much broader and more important lesson that we can learn from this little story.  

It starts with this idea. (Now hold on, we’re going to make a pretty tight turn here, but we are coming back to this very spot.) Grace, a fairly important term in our redemptive vocabulary, has gotten a bit of a bum rap over the last few decades. Pop-preaching has actually altered the original and true meaning of the term in many people’s mind. So now, the popular understanding of Grace has largely come to be “Unmerited Favor.” But, in fact, that definition is really just a “paste over,” often employed to support the idea of non-responsibility of the believer, another serious popular error.  

Using this definition, Grace is often twisted into a license to opt out of a real investment in our relationship with Christ. Instead of being understood as the empowering thing that it truly is, Grace is seen as the exact opposite: a kind of “New Testament Free Pass” for bad behavior.

The dictionary simply defines Grace as an innate, or naturally occurring, goodness. And that is exactly the way the word is used throughout the New Testament. So here is the short version of the true story and nature of redemptive Grace. 

We first understand Grace to be the natural goodness in the character of God. It is this aspect of God’s nature which first prompted and ultimately designed the redemptive plan for fallen mankind. It was God’s grace, His natural inclination to do good, which caused and defined His response to humanity’s need. 

What we often don’t understand about grace at first is that through our Spiritual Baptism into Christ this divine goodness ultimately comes to be a part of the believer’s nature also. As a part of this literal merger of the human nature with the divine nature, we begin to share in the character essence of Christ. And happily, this character infusion from the Savior includes His gracefulness - His naturally occurring goodness. And so, through Christ, a natural goodness also becomes part of the character of the believer.

And this new basic instinct, which is entirely funded by the indwelling Christ, changes everything. Instead of the wayward drives of the old nature, the believer is now driven by this instinct for goodness. And this enables and establishes a whole new form of personal government.  

This Government of Grace is a much more natural and intuitive, heart based, government. And this new heart government is diametrically different from the former, awkward and completely unnatural personal discipline which was based in External Laws.  

The law forced humanity to correct actions against our basic wayward inclinations. Gracefulness allows the believer to experience “correctness of action” as a part of his or her own corrected instincts and desires – obviously, a whole new and much better way to experience life and a relationship with God. 

Under Grace, the old incorrigible waywardness simply melts away as Christ establishes his innate goodness in our inner person. Thus, we experience a new peace and closeness in our relationship with God based in this shared “essential goodness.” And it is all entirely the product of the Living Christ living within the believer.

Now, let’s get back to the ceiling fan story (almost forgot about that didn’t you?). Indeed, it gives a neat perspective on the true process and nature of Grace. Let’s begin from Joal’s point of view.

From Joal’s point of view, atop that tall ladder, it appeared that Sarah suddenly developed a keen sense of “ceiling fan know-how.” But, in fact, that know-how did not originate with Sarah. It originated with me. She simply borrowed it from me; and it then became hers – especially as far as her perplexed husband could tell.  

That is exactly what Jesus does for us through our Spiritual Integration with Him. He transfers His grace, His “instinct for goodness,” to us in a way which then makes it our instinct for goodness.  

To casual observers, the process looks exactly like Sarah’s sudden “ceiling fan know-how.” And they, like Joal, are usually left scratching their head and wondering where this “new us” came from. But, in fact, this new “life know-how” is just the divine sense of goodness, which we borrowed from the nature of Jesus.  

The pop-preachers and the casual religious culture which they cater to will no doubt continue to hold to the idea of “unmerited favor” as their working definition of grace. And it’s all but certain that many will continue to use that definition as an excuse to under invest, or even opt out altogether, on a truly vital relationship with God. But, that is just what pop-preachers and the pop-religion people do.  

However, serious believers are destined for the real impact of the Living Christ. They are destined to know that graceful transfer which entirely enables an easy and natural heart government in our lives and thus brings us into a perfect harmony with the heart of God.  

To experience Grace as an instinctive inner goodness provided to the believer by the indwelling Christ is the life transforming reality of true faith. The illusion of Grace as some kind of “Free Pass” is nothing more than that – an illusion.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. - Jesus





Mar 24, 2013

Easter New

Easter is about many important things, but none more important than the promise of newness. Easter is a promise of renewal, set in a season of renewal, when everything starts over in the freshness of a new awakening.

How desperately our world still needs that fresh awakening. We need a renewing return to our innocence, to the “childhood” of our soul. We need again a time to be free of the crush of overwhelming responsibility. We need again to know an existence without the creeping cynicism which comes from knowing too much and being too aware.

From the very beginning, God envisioned such a renewal for His people. Always, His redemptive plan has been about the restoration of the human spirit and the human condition. His intention has always been and remains today to redeem not only our soul but our everyday circumstance.  

What He never intended to do was forgive us only to abandon us to a depraved or debased existence. To encounter Jesus Christ correctly is to rise from the ashes of our own inner and outer failures and know a true and enduring personal success. And that has always been the promise that God held out to mankind in redemption.

Even in the Old Testament of The Bible, the prophet framed God’s vision of newness for the redeemed. It goes like this in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 36, where the prophet speaks ostensibly of the "Promise Land" but prophetically, of the "Promised Life" of these New Testament Times.  

 He says,“…For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.”
 
“Filth” is very heavy, but “clean” is very light and enables a light heart. A part of God’s vision of newness has always been for His people to be “clean” and, as a result, light hearted.  

The Prophet goes on to speak on God’s behalf about the thorough redemption of humanity, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” 

 God obviously intends that we no longer be consigned to our base nature or the past patterns of our personal failure.  His avowed intention is to set us free from our previous tragedies and the mechanisms which caused them. Instead, He promises a new vitality and a new level of success in our aspirations toward goodness, all based in the sufficiency of His indwelling Spirit.

The resurrected, Living Christ is the link who connects us to God's Spirit.  Through our Spiritual Baptism into Christ, we are merged with the divine vitality.  And in that vitality we find the power to experience true and complete newness.

So finally, the prophet concludes with this. “Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.”

The thrilling point of this wonderful presonal renewal in Christ is what might be called the “access of innocence.”  It is, in essence, the same access which exists between a parent and a beloved child. It flows from a perfected harmony of hearts and a confirmed “trustability” on both sides of the relationship.

This priveleged access, this deeply enriching daily friendship with God, is the best part and the ultimate benefit of what comes from our Christ empowered renewal. And so, God would say, through the prophet, "...you shall be My people, and I will be your God.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews (chapter 8), in the New Testament, referred to the promises of these Old Testament verses in explaining the nature and certainty of the New Covenant in Christ. And, again in the New Testament, Jesus speaks so plainly of the opportunity for newness in the simple terms of being “born again.” The Apostle Paul also speaks, in the New Testament, in such terms as becoming “a new creature in Christ Jesus.”

Sometimes, when it comes to redemption, we focus far too much on the idea of mere forgiveness, and far too little on the spectacular possibility in Christ for starting fresh and becoming new.  But, Easter calls to us to remember that God intends much more than "mere forgiveness." Beyond that first step, He offers an exciting, new, and elevated life plane to be found in the power and energy of the Living Savior.  

The simple truth of Easter is that, in the Living Jesus, resides the power to make us – our soul and our circumstance - to be entirely new. Easter fairly screams:

 “Stop sniveling and start rising! Seek and experience the power of the Living Christ to become thoroughly new!”

Jan 6, 2013

God Unboxed

Our first impression of God, the Father, is usually that he is “The God of the Quick Fix.”  And He is that.  He is the parent of our spiritual infancy.  We bring our life boo-boos to Him, and He makes them all better.

He is the God of the "Box."  He is nicely framed in our youthful mind.  He is very predictable and understandable.  And we happily define Him by our little clich├ęs:  “God will always… God will never…” etc. 

And that’s fine – for spiritual children.  When we’re young in the faith, most of us really need an uncomplicated, comfortable, and comforting God.

But, if we choose to continue to pursue Him, we are destined to meet The More Sophisticated God, the God of our spiritual rearing.  This is the God we encounter on the way to our maturity. 

This God is much too complex to any longer fit into our childish little box.  This God is hard to understand, and even harder to explain.  He is a little scary, and made all the more so by the issues He raises.

He wants to know such things as, “Will you love me to the end of my purposes, even though you don’t understand them in advance?  Will you trust me to work my plan, at the expense of yours?  Will you follow me, no matter what, to your own highest good?”

This is the God of our awakening, whose first requirement is respect for His authority.  So, he has no big qualms about asking us to wait, “in the dark,” on Him, and then wait some more, and then some more, far beyond our assessment of “appropriate.”  This is the God who won’t take no for an answer, and will make you pay if you offer it.  This is the God who is completely willing to ignore our druthers in favor of achieving His purposes in our life.

This is the God who asks of us the ultimate trust.  He asks us to position our trust, not in what He does, but in who He is.

And, this God runs with a weighty crowd.  And, unless you are willing to embrace the requirements for personal gravity, you will find it impossible to penetrate that circle.  

He walks among people like the patient Job, who did everything right, and yet, was ask to endure personal calamity.  The patriarch, Abraham, traveled with Him.  And, this Sophisticated God put His finger right on the thing that Abraham loved most in the world, his son, Isaac.  And then this God of the more sophisticated purpose said, “I want that.” 

And, Moses was among His close fellows.  To him, this God made an insistent offer of leadership, which Moses was not allowed to refuse – though he was completely intimidated by it.  This more insistent God is just not in the business of rearing light weights.

My twenty-two year old son, Andy, was wounded in the neck in Afghanistan and lost the use of his legs as a result.  He was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for his initial intensive medical care.  It was a traumatic and uncertain time for both of us – and the whole of our family and extended friends.

Andy and I spent many nights there (I was the night guy, Mom was the day girl) talking, and crying, and hugging.  It was a very emotionally charged time, as you can imagine.  After about a month, however, Andy was well enough to be medevac’d to Florida, for his extended rehab.

As we said good-bye on that last afternoon at Walter Reed, I hugged him for a long time.  I promised to meet Him in Florida; and then, I turned to leave.  I got nearly to the door of his room when I was overwhelmed by my love for this “kid.”  I turned and looked back at his thin face, as he lay on his pillow, eyes closed, obviously weary with everything.

 I said, in emotional anguish, “‘Ange,’ are you gonna’ be OK?”  He opened his eyes and looked at me, pausing for a second.  Then, a broad smile flashed across his face and his eyes briefly sparkled as he said in a weak but mischievous voice, “Now Dad - we gotta’ be big boys.”

 Sometimes that’s all a worthy pursuit of God comes to.   
                                         
                                      We just gotta’ be big boys and girls.

 

 

Nov 15, 2012

Who New?

There is a simple question which clarifies the destiny of every soul.
And, beyond that, the answer to this question defines our theology, our spiritual investment level, and the quality of our relationship to God. The question is this:  "Do you want to be new?"

That’s a different question than, “Do you want to be forgiven?” It’s different from, “Do you need a new start in life?” And, it's different from, “Do you need a rescue from some dire circumstance of life?”

These can all be motives which drive us to Christ – and often do.
But, once we encounter Him, this larger and more encompassing question of personal renewal comes into play.  Always, in Christ, the overarching question becomes “Will you embrace a personal transformation?”

Obviously, this desire does not take root in the heart of all who come to Christ. Sometimes it is true, seekers wish only to make a minimal investment. Sometimes a little help, or a momentary rescue, or a simplistic religious experience is all they want. And, once those things are secured, they’re happy to leave it at that.


So, many simply have no appetite for allowing Christ to expose their personal brokenness, or for allowing Him to treat that condition. Their preference is more toward a kind of “Surgical Redemption.”

Surgical redemption could be described as minimally invasive to one’s priorities, schedule, and life plan.  This is a redemption which deals only with manageable specifics, and leaves the seeker totally in charge of his or her level of investment. 

But, the reality is this: “Surgical Redemption” is not the stuff of Heaven. Authentic redemption in Christ is always an “all in” proposition. 

And, as part of that devotion, genuine redemption always involves a renewal process which thoroughly rebuilds us from the ground up. It rewrites our value system from scratch. And it alters our own schemes and dreams in service to God's higher purposes for our life.

So, there is really no such thing as surgical redemption or a “measured response” to God’s redemptive offer. In Christ, redemption is always about going all in to become thoroughly new in character and influence.

Thus, our conversion experience may, indeed, involve a circumstantial rescue of some kind. It may involve the desperate need for a do-over in life. And God's forgiveness is certainly always a necessary part of the package. But, beyond all of this, the issue always ultimately becomes, “Will you embrace the pursuit of your own personal transformation?"

If your response goes something like this, “No, thanks; I really just need a little circumstantial help from time to time.  Or, "I'm really only interested in an easily managed religious involvement.” Then, that is what you'll get from God - and that's all.

If, however, your desperation runs along these lines: “Oh God, yes! I have seen my brokenness and I need your help! By all means, please fix me through Christ.” Then, a truly intimate relationship with Him and the resulting upward journey begins. And the rest is easily predictable.

The result of this buy-in to personal renewal is the divine initiation of a powerful process which flows, not from the Dying Christ of the Cross, but from the Living Christ of the Resurrection. The process begins with the literal integration of our human nature with the divine nature of the Living Christ.
(Ref. 2 Peter 1:4)

This experience is what the Church calls The Spiritual Baptism.  But, in common terms, this experience is merely a mystical merger with the Living Christ, by which the believer is literally empowered for newness.

Through this Spiritual connection to Christ, the believer receives what might accurately be described as a new "character DNA."  It is essentially a value system overwrite.  And this new, Christ-based character code then begins to change who we are – from the inside out. It begins to make us new at our core.

The Apostle, Paul said it best. “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.”


There are many religious games out there. And many choose to play them. But true redemption is not a game. It involves a very stringent selection process, the outcome of which is ultimately determined by one simple question: “Do you want to be new?”

“Do you want to be new?” It is this question which accurately conveys the full scope of God’s redemptive intent. And our response to this question is ultimately the real decider of souls – all games aside.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” - Jesus

Oct 16, 2012

The Real Portrait


I didn't see it at first.  When I began my journey with the Savior, I thought it was just about that - saving my soul.  And, I thought the process was basically about a long list of Dos and Don’ts. But, in fact, it's about something much bigger and better.  It is about  friendship. 

And that friendship means this.  In Christ, every day of our lives we rise to His presence with us.  As a result, we are never alone in any circumstance.  He shares with us every challenge, every achievement, every fear, every joy, and every milestone of any kind.  And in all of those times, we enjoy a constant access to all that He is.

When we go to the place where we pray in the morning, He is there.  And, we talk, and plan, and work out solutions for life.  And then we charge into the day - together.
And as a result of this daily friendship, we come to know Jesus through our life path.  We experience Him, for example, through our life as a student, through our work life, through our recreational life, and through our relational life.  And, in all of those circumstances, and many more, He becomes a force to enable our personal growth and truely meaningful successes. 

And, in the course of these interactions, He gives us honest perspectives.  He is forgiving of our weaknesses and mistakes.  And, as any true friend would be, He is sometimes insistent - in our best interest. 

I know very well that Jesus is Almighty God and the Lord of all things.   I understand the great gulf which exists between His station and mine in the grand scheme of things.  And yet, my more common awareness is now mostly just this intimate friendship.  And though I’ve never seen my divine Friend, that awareness has only deepened with time. 

And, indeed, He is normally invisible to the physical eye.  That is just the present reality.    And, for my part, that’s ok.  I just don’t have a problem with invisible. 

And is the true substance of any friendship ever really known in the external?

It is not by sight that we come to know Jesus.  It is by an inner awareness, an entirely new and divinly provided sensibility which reaches beyond the limitation of our physical senses.  And it is this inner sense of Him which allows us to perceive His emotions, His demeanor, and even to hear His inner voice.  So, the eye is really unnecessary to this friendship.  This friendship is enabled, not by sight, but by a divinely awakened heart.

Many people fear such things, that which they cannot see or understand through the physical senses.  But, we quickly cease to be one of those people when we taste the divine friendship in the simplicity of - just knowing Him. 

And again, I, too, have to admit that I once feared what I mistakenly perceived concerning God.  I thought Him to be all about intrusion, and demands, and a sterile, joyless existence.  Turns out, that’s just the Devil’s portrait of Him. 

Certainly, God is the absolute Authority in the universe.  But, most days, in Christ, you'd never know it.  And, in fact, when I think about God's authority, I find it comforting to know that all of that power is only ever focused on my highest good.  So, I now trust that power.  I do not suspect it.

In spite of how the Devil paints things, it is the divine friendship which enables us. In the energies of Christ, our character is renewed and made more attractive.  His love confirms us as valuable.  He brings confidence to our direction.  In Him, we find help, and companionship, and hope, and certainty.

Deep friendship, even with Almighty God, is still only real love wonderfully played out in shared days. 

And, it’s true.  I, like so many others, just didn’t see that at first.  I thought, back in the day, that God was, indeed, only about that long list of “Dos and Don’ts.”  However, what I have discovered is that life, itself, furnishes the Dos and Don'ts. 

God is more about helping us successfully negotiate those choices - in the simple context of a close and enduring friendship.

          End

To explore the idea of God's friendship in a different way, you may want to click on the link below.  It will take you to our (Flites Of Fancy Blog (short stories) where this writing describes God's friendship in story form.

                                      Jump To:  The Odyssey Of The Rising

Oct 8, 2012

The Even Bigger God


It is one thing to encounter the God who deals with the needs of our soul.  It is entirely another to encounter the God who takes on the needs of our days.  The God of our souls is certainly big.  But, in some sense, the God of our everyday need is even bigger.
 

The Apostle Paul recounts in the New Testament how he sought God three times for one such need, what he called his, “thorn in the flesh.”  We are not entirely certain of the nature of the problem to which Paul was referring.  But we know it was, as is many times the case in life, one of those enduring difficulties.  It was some sort of disability that was both insurmountable for him and long term in scope. 
 

  Paul is describing that frightening and seemingly hopeless place where lives the reality of being completely outmatched by our troubles.  And, it is all but absolutely certain that we will each arrive there at some point in time.
 

Paul, in such a place, says that he “pleaded with the Lord” to take this “thorn” away.  And this was the Lord’s answer to him.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
 

This was probably not the answer that Paul was hoping for, at least at first.  He was probably hoping that Christ would answer in His “almighty-ness” and simple flick the problem out of existence with His divine finger. 
 

Most of us, when facing a similar intimidation, probably, approach God, at least initially, in that same way.  Our first hope is usually for a quick, or even an instant, solution from Him.
 

But, as the Lord indicated to Paul by His answer, there is another solution which God often chooses to employ as an alternative to instant deliverance.  It is the “Graceful Solution.”  And that is the solution that He offers to Paul for his “thorn.”
 

This offer of Grace instead of Raw Power may be a little disappointing, at least initially, to those who are actually suffering under the weight of some overwhelming burden.  But, when we understand the full implications of this offer, then, disappointment is replaced by relief and hope.  And that relief begins with the word itself, Grace.
 

It is often the case in more recent times that Grace is merely understood to be God’s “unmerited favor toward man.”  This definition actually better defines Mercy, which is certainly a product of God’s grace.  But Grace is a much larger term than Mercy, and so, the two don’t equally interchange.  Grace, as generally defined by any dictionary, is best and more accurately understood to be, even in the New Testament context, “an innate or naturally occurring goodness.”
 

So, what we are really seeing in the Lord’s offer of His graceful sufficiency to Paul is His willingness to bring the innate goodness of His divine nature to bear.  Christ is offering to put His natural goodness to work in Paul’s behalf. 
 

This is the same Grace (natural goodness) which designed the redemptive plan for mankind.  This is the same innate goodness mentioned in the Book of Ephesians, where Paul writes, “For by grace [God’s natural goodness] you have been saved through faith, and that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…”  So, Christ is offering to employ His own limitless goodness to design and provide a wonderful solution for Paul’s dilemma.
 

But, why?  Why not simply use His “mighty cosmic powers” to just instantly remove the problem?  Why go through the motions of some graceful solution, when quick and easy are so available.
 

A few days ago my 10 year old grandson came to visit me.  In his hand was a Walmart bag.  In the bag was a bunch of parts from a lamp, now thoroughly broken.  Together, he and I built this lamp for his room, a couple of years ago. 
 

He said, “Pawpaw my lamp is broken.  Will you fix it for me?”  I was overjoyed.
 

Now, I could have said, “Oh, let’s just run to Walmart, and I will buy you a new one.”  That would be the quick and easy, “almighty power of Pawpaw,” flick the problem away, kind of solution, of course.
 

But, I much prefered the gracefulness of another solution.  That is the solution where I take my grandson to our beloved place, my workshop in the back yard, and we spend time together doing what he needs done. 
 

There, while we fix the lamp, we will talk about a thousand things.  We will tease each other.  We will challenge each other.  We will laugh.  We will brainstorm. We will tell tall tales. And he will learn, not only about lamps, but about Pawpaw.  And I will learn about him.  And our love, and the depth of our relationship, and we, ourselves, will grow through this time of pure goodness as it unfolds.
 

That is the answer to the “Why.”  God chooses to employ Grace, to allow His natural goodness to unfold before us, because in doing so, we interact with Him through the process.  And, in that interaction, our love grows, and our relationship is deepened, and we are transformed.
 

Paul’s response, when He eventually understood the inestimable worth of what God was offering to do for him, was this, “Therefore, most gladly will I rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul eventually understood that his troubles were only the opportunity to experience, at a new level, the transforming power of Christ’s natural goodness unfolding through his need. 
 

The simple reality is this.  What life presents as trouble, grace (the divine goodness) is able to transform into the means of a deep and durable friendship.  And, that process changes us and introduces us to the even bigger God, the God who is our everyday help.

End

Another article regarding "Grace" which you may find interesting is "The Nature Of Grace."                    
                                 Go To:  "The Nature Of Grace" article.