Dec 7, 2009

When Christmas Calls

On that first "silent night" so long ago, two worlds gently touched. The unseen spiritual world bumped ever so dramatically against the one that we live in; and God reached out and laid a gift at our feet. The gift was a Child. And the Child had great purpose attached to His life. And He fulfilled that purpose with perfect devotion. I wonder, could we, one more time, consider the beauty of that gift that was a Child...

Sometimes when we gaze upon the beauty and innocence and wonder of the Christ Child we simply see Him as that, the precious Babe of promise. Nothing wrong with that, obviously. But, it deepens our appreciation for the worth of the promise that lives in Him when we consider the depth of His condescension.

Just think about it. Jesus came to this world from an existence in which He was absolutely limitless. For example, time could impose no limit on him. A thousand years was as one day, and a day, as a thousand years. He existed before time; and He shall remain after it. He existed in eternity yesterday as tomorrow. To Him both were, and are, but the present, so that He would once say, "Before Abraham was, I am." Humanity has always been absolutely restricted to a life lived only in the present. But before the "Baby" came to our world, He never knew such menial restrictions.

Nor could limitations of space be imposed upon Him as the pre-incarnate God. He was everywhere in all places at once. He existed in all existence. Not in the pantheistic sense, but in the sense of His omniscience and power. He was everywhere in all of the universe, and yet, was distinct from it as its Creator. This Child, before he was a child, was in the universe while at the same time encompassing it. He filled all space and occupied none.

Before this Baby became a baby and put on a covering of human flesh, He was absolute in power. He knew no restrictions, no obstacles, and no restraints to His will. What He determined, he could effortlessly do. He was God Almighty.

Because that was true, His existence was without pain or injury. He was immersed in the joy of absolute freedom. He lived an existence entirely in the light of unbridled goodness. He knew nothing of the anguish of weakness. He knew nothing of tears born out of oppression. He knew nothing of hunger or thirst. Before He became the Child of Christmas, He knew only the creative joys of unlimited power.

But, when the Father's redemptive call came, all of that changed. In order to become the Savior of the world, He had to lay down his Godly privilege and become like us. And so He did. He veiled Himself in the flesh of a little child and entered the world of his cherished creature to bring a message of hope, and love and redemption. And from the moment of His miraculous and humiliating birth, this once unlimited God began to experience the pain of all things human.

How unfamiliar and difficult that first breath of air must have been to a God who only a moment before had no need of air. But that was surely nothing compared to what was coming.

He who had, only yesterday, spanned the universe without effort or loss of time, now would spend years just to traverse the lengths of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. He who created our sun, and a trillion more like it, and flung them all into the Heavens with but a word, must now endure its disabling heat, and feel the sweat born of laboring under it. He must, every day, inhale the dust of the world that He created. He must endure the pain that He created the world without. He must taste the anguish of heart that He never intended humanity to know.

This Baby, who only a moment ago had governed the universe according to His whim, must now taste the deep bitterness of disappointment and frustration and failure. And though He had walked with the perfect Adam, He must presently experience the wounds that His now depraved creation would inflict upon Him.

This Baby, who, as God, knew no needs of any kind, must now know the throes of hunger, feel the need for sleep, and experience the weakness of exhaustion. And, this One who had cast an angry and defiant Satan from Heaven, must now face him as a mere man. And finally, how horrible it must have been for the Essence of Life to lie down in the dark void of death, and that, in response to the needs of those who killed Him.

So obviously, it is one thing to simply gaze upon the beauty of this wondrous Gift from God; and it is quite another to appreciate the depth of His condescension. To become the Promise of Christmas, and embrace the responsibility of reconciling two worlds, Jesus had to step from a throne of unlimited power to a lowly manger, in but the space of a moment.

Christmas is romanticized in many ways from jingling bells to roasting chestnuts, to white landscapes. But here is the true romance of it all. It is the romance of a reconciliation - a reconnection to our benevolent Creator .

The simple truth is that our world is full of people who are estranged from the loving God who created their soul. But Christmas calls us back. This Child of the manger, through the nobility of His sacrifice, speaks to us in deep and primitive rhythms of the promise of forgiveness and newness and the opportunity to start again.

It is true that many resist those deep reverberations of the heart. We choose instead to devote ourselves to the empty pursuits of this world. Or we diffuse the beautiful light of His call into the complicated and overwhelming fragmentations of our life. Or we allow the treachery of those other voices in our head to talk away the value and hope of a true personal encounter with God.

Nevertheless, He calls. Every Christmas the Baby calls to us again. He calls to us from His innocence. He calls to us from His harmlessness. And ultimately, He calls to us from His power. This God - turned Child - calls to us from the beauty of all that He has done and all that He is. He calls to us in the soft and lovely under tones of Christmas - "Be reconciled to Me; take my hand, and walk with Me."

It is true, of course. We can resist His call. But the bigger question is, "Why would we?" Why would we not rather completely give ourselves to Him who is so willing to so completely give Himself to us?

Surely, when Christmas calls to us again this year, it is a far better thing to say to those worldly distractions and to those cynical voices in our head, "Stop, I have to take this. It is God's love calling." May the true call of Christmas reach the level of - irresistible - in your heart this year.

Nov 30, 2009

In The Face Of A Child

Do you ever wonder where your faith is taking you, besides Heaven I mean? Do you ever wonder about its present meaning? Do you wonder about its circumstantial meaning, how it really matters in the ebb and flow of your every day life?

The Redemptive Drama is obviously a long and convoluted one. It began long before that beautiful, innocent Baby with the shinning face appeared in the manger. It really began with Adam and Eve. Eventually, the story starts to follow the trail of the roots and then the national history of Israel. It meanders down through the divine object lessons of the Old Testament, and through the times of the prophets. Then it comes to that breathless 400 year pause in the narrative while mankind waited for God to speak again - until finally, He did. He gave us that beautiful Baby, in whose face was shinning both our own hope and the perfect revelation of God, Himself.

And ever since that first Christmas, the redemptive story has continued to play out. It has run its course through the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. It has followed the path of Church history from the burgeoning early Church, through the marriage of the Church to Rome. From there, it ambles through the times of apostasy to the Reformation where a new Church was born from the old to add yet a "second scene" to the redemptive play. Until eventually, we have come to this present day, when the climax to this divine drama draws very near.

But no wonder it is sometimes hard to hold on to the "primary thread" of the story. No wonder we find it difficult to maintain an everyday awareness of what it all means. It is all so very BIG and historically far flung.

However, while the fullness of the story may be somewhat complex, that primary thread, the central idea of the redemptive drama, really is not. In fact, it is spectacularly simple. Jesus did a wonderful job of revealing it in John, chapter 5, where he said...

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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."

The fruit to which Jesus refers here is what might be called "character fruit." Paul give us some examples of this kind of fruit in Galatians, chapter 5, where he says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."

The idea that Paul exposes in this passage is that, as Christ, in Spirit form, begins to express Himself within the character of the believer, these are the kinds of fruits (character traits) that will be produced within the believer. These are the fruits of the redemptive transformation, they are the substance and "produce" of the "new creature" in Christ.

Jesus and Paul are both speaking to us of not only the means, but also the outcome of the redemptive process. The means, of course, is the Living Christ as He indwells the believer. The outcome is a new character that is modeled after and empowered by that of the Savior.

So, Jesus reveals here the interpretive clue that makes the whole of the redemptive plot to ultimately make sense. Throughout all of the twists and turns of the ages, the ultimate purpose in the redemptive plot remains a simple one. It is Human Renewal.

Restoration of the inner man is the primary thread that continually runs through the "bigness" of it all, as well as through our own small day to day circumstance. Renewal is the ultimate intent of God's rescue. Redemption was, and is, always all about the human transformation, the magnificent transition from utter brokenness to a beautiful, new, inner fruitfulness in those who fully respond to God's love through Christ.

Through every age, that was always the Father's ultimate aim. Through all of the ups and down's of our own little daily life, that is the high plane toward which God is nudging us: the high plane of personal newness. We are returning, in Christ, to the capacities of a creature - made in God's image. The high peak of this long convoluted redemptive journey was always for the fallen creature simply to become new again in the ways that really matter.

So, in the shinning face of that beautiful Child of the manger, men first gazed upon their breath taking hope. But it was a hope, not just of forgiveness, but also the hope of a profound and very personalized newness of heart. Redemption in its farthest reaches certainly does become about many things. But the ever present, central thread that gives meaning to it all is humanity's opportunity for a true newness in the power of the Living Christ. What a truly divine, "Merry Christmas!!!" to all of us who have sensed the depth and desperation of our brokenness.

Nov 16, 2009

The Ugly Gospel

November 16, 2009

The Gospel that saved my own soul, and that of so many others, was and is in many ways an "Ugly" Gospel. In other words, it shoved some stuff into my reality that I simply didn't appreciate or want there, initially. The stuff wasn't pretty. And it just didn't fit well in the scenes of my spiritual ideals.

I much preferred the Beautiful Gospel - the Gospel of that magnificent Cross abd that incomprehensible Resurrection. I am well aware that there is a Beautiful Gospel of forgiveness, and grace, and compassion, and mercy. But, I simply have never been able to separate this Beautiful Gospel from the realities of the Ugly Gospel.

For example, when I first encountered Christ through the Beautiful Gospel, the Ugly Gospel insisted on telling me that I was broken. What a hard pill to swallow. Nevertheless, it demanded that I admit to my own dark heart, and to the mess that I had made of my life. I didn't like that. But I could not actually deny that it was all true.

It was also this Ugly Gospel that told me that I could no longer direct my own life, sometimes even in the details. And I'm not the only one who has encountered this brazen and unapologetic insistence. All who encounter Christ encounter this same "unreasonable" demand.

What human being would ever want to give up their personal sovereignty? Who would ever be willing to surrender their hopes, their dreams, and their personal destiny to someone else? Well, wait. I guess - I would. And so would many others like me.

We are those who have simply realized our own limitations. We have seen our vulnerabilities. We understand the treacheries, the vicious randomness, and the unwieldiness of life. We are those who want a new destiny that works not only for now, but for later. We are those who have recognized our own frailty and our need of a security that is based in someone bigger than ourselves.

So, we have come to embrace this non-negotiable tenet of the Ugly Gospel that says we must completely humble ourselves before God by surrendering our personal sovereignty. But what most of us were not prepared for was the wonderful, elevating effect of this decision. Come to find out, the way up is down. The way to rise is to bow. What a wonderful surprise to find victory through surrender. It all seemed kind of ugly at first - but now - not so much.

Finally, this Ugly Gospel demanded that I must make a personal investment - and DAILY! of all things. I was perfectly happy with the gospel that said, "It's all on Jesus, there is nothing for you to do." But oh no, this Ugly Gospel just had to keep popping up with this serious personal investment idea. "Why?!" I thought. And then one day I got an answer...

"Because a vital relationship grows out of shared days, not occasional desperate moments. And your salvation is based only in a vital relationship with Me." Well, it wasn't really what I wanted to hear. But, as usual the Ugly Gospel didn't give me much choice. One thing about the homly Gospel, it can really torture your ears with the ring of truth.

So, here we go down the road of real investment. Obviously, this makes for an experience that is a good bit more complicated than the easier versions. But I have to say, What a hoot! after all.

To share with my Savior, the days of struggle, of laughter, of scrapping over the issues, of crying together, of sorting through the complexities of life has become my greatest pleasure.

And now, after a million conversations, tender moments, and deep insights; after a few momentary disagreements, and countless rescues of all sorts, lo and behold it's true! Relationship does grow out of many intimate days. And the reality of salvation grows out of that "process."

Oh I know. The idea of salvation as a process rather than just a momentary decision is a little hard to take for some. I guess that's part of the Ugly Gospel too. It demands that God be completely free to integrate Himself into all that you are - every day, and that you invest yourself in that long process.

But, be that as it may, by now, you probably see my dilemma. My Ugly Gospel is all mixed up with my Beautiful Gospel. So now, I can no longer tell the difference between the two. What is a boy to do?

Nov 2, 2009

Autobiography

How do we keep the affairs of this life in check? How do we hold to the godly priority which the Apostle Paul gives us in Romans, chapter 2, where he says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

How can we insure that our immersion in this physical / material world will not rob us of the "pilgrimage" attitude that the Hebrew writer speaks of regarding people of faith when he says, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland."

How can we be sure that the divine imperative of Matthew 6:33, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..." will not fade under the long abrasions of a busy life which demands so much?

Well, there are ways. There are some that you would probably expect me to mention: staying in the Word, the good habit of going to "the Garden," and remaining involve in the Church. But beyond those, I think one of the most effective ways to stay motivated in Christ is occasionally to remind ourselves of what is really at stake in this life and the seriousness of the appointment that lies ahead for each one of us.

Most of us realize that what is at stake in the ultimate outcome of our own personal story is our eternal soul. Obviously, a pretty serious exposure. So, we must not "mess this up." We must not mess it up with stupidity, with ignorance, with laziness, or with bad theology.

We must not insulate ourselves. We must not kid ourselves. We must not delude ourselves with a bunch of half-baked, cobbled together, "sounds good" religious clich├ęs. And we must not be distracted by the siren song of the material attractions that are all around us. So, it is strengthening to refocus occasionally on the importance of how our personal story will end and to remind ourselves that we are really only here to write that ending.

So, regarding these things, here is what we know. We know (at least some in our species do) that God has given us a revelation of redemptive truth in Jesus Christ. He has taken a long time and extended great care to show us the correct redemptive path. But, we also know that the true path has become shrouded in confusion.

For various silly reasons and motives we interpret the redemptive truth differently. Add to that the adversary's half truths and outright lies that have been inserted into the mix of human thought, and honestly, it's no wonder so many have trouble finding their way.

Nevertheless, a large part of the responsibility for sorting out this informational mess remains "on us." It is up to us to decide our way through the fog of ambiguous religion, and worldly philosophies, and our own demanding "druthers." The decision to reject or embrace an idea, to choose a devotion in life, or to set priorities is ultimately ours. While the Holy Spirit constantly whispers guiding truth to each of us, in the final analysis, it is our responsibility to choose His truth as genuine from among all of the counterfeit information that is out there and respond accordingly.

If, indeed, we fail in this "vetting task," if we sort it all out poorly so that we get it wrong somehow, it will result in an absolute disaster at the end. In fact, no disaster can possibly be more absolute than the wreck of a human soul.

In that case, we will be plunged into an abyss of unimaginable suffering. And worse yet, that suffering will never end. The crushing atmosphere of complete hopelessness will surround us. And we will forever, forever become one of the nameless, faceless millions in a churning, screaming sea of failed humanity, all victims of their own "bad call" in this life.

There are a lot of distractions in this life that would take our time and energies away from what is truly important. There is a lot of bad information that passes itself off as truth to steer us in the wrong direction. And, there are a lot of people who don't much care either way. But I suspect, in that final, irreversible hour they will care.

And I suspect that in the final confirmation when we stand on that "forever brink," the burning questions will not revolve around money or hobbies or jobs or other material issues and pursuits. Rather, there will be questions of personal investment, questions of quality and degree, and questions of personal direction and choices. But, in that last terrifying hour of the divine appointment, there will no longer be any power to improve our answers, and thus, our end.

In this life, we are really engaged in only one endeavor that truly matters. It is to effect, by our choices and actions, a successful conclusion to our personal story. True, that ending lies beyond death in the long reaches of eternity, but we are, in fact, writing it now. And it will either be a happy and fulfilling outcome based in a correct personal response to God's authentic truth; or, it will be a sad, mostly unknown ending.

So, it is important never to move very far from the awareness that you are writing your own story and that it is forever. Please, sort life carefully. And never forget, it's really all about the ending.

Governance

October 25, 2009

Governing ourselves, seems to be our biggest challenge, whether on a personal scale or a larger one. How do we do it? How can we ever be successful at it? Perhaps if we make more rules? Maybe if we make the punishment for wrongdoing more harsh? Perhaps if we were ruled by a king, or a despot, or better yet, a benevolent emperor? Perhaps if we divide the power among the people in a democracy? Perhaps if we establish a republic and govern ourselves by the rule of law? Perhaps if we hire more police officers? Or maybe if we work harder on personal discipline or if we were better educated?

Oh wait. Actually, I think we've pretty much tried all of that. And yet, still, humanity struggles to control itself on every stage. We simply cannot consistently and perpetually do the right thing. Corruption and misbehavior seem always to creep into what ever we do if we do it long enough. In fact, every attempt at human government, whether personal or corporate, has only amplified the existence of the fatal flaw that plagues us all: chronic waywardness. We are indeed stained with the indelible stain of incorrigibility, even in the face of our own best intentions

So we find ourselves cheating on our diet, or our taxes, or our spouse. We find ourselves breaking the laws that we enact to protect ourselves. We engage in the dangerous and the self destructive, even though we know better. We cross the personal "lines" that we mentally establish for our own good. We renege on our most well intentioned promises. We transgress even our own conscience. And all of these things, we have done across the entirety of the human existence and across the entire spectrum of humanity. There simply is no denying it - left to ourselves, we lack the power to be consistently good and to always do the right thing.

The Apostle Paul makes this point very well in Romans, chapter 7, where he says, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do."

So, where is the human hope. Real hope necessarily anticipates enduring goodness, not the lack of it. And that truth did not escape the gaze of a loving and graceful God when He was formulating His redemptive plan. In fact, it seems He drew up the redemptive plan with that need in the foreground of His mind. His whole uncomplicated intention is to bring consistent goodness to the human heart. And His single "instrument" for doing so is the living Christ.

At last, in the power of the resurrected Savior, there really is the possibility of a durable goodness within the human being. Paul speaks, in Colossians, chapter 1, of this divine mystery being revealed in these New Testament times. He says, "...the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

In recent times we have tended to make redemption mostly about forgiveness. It is not. It is only first about forgiveness. But ultimately, God's redemption is about, well, redemption. It is about newness in the believer - the single most dramatic aspect of which is the creation of a "good-heart" government that really works. And this change to the human condition, effected only through the Pentecostal merger with Christ, changes everything.

But to experience this change personally, we must get beyond the mind set that reduces God's redemptive work to only a moment of forgiveness in an alter. There is a much larger design to be understood. Beyond that first moment of forgiveness lies a beautiful Pentecostal moment when the believer, for the first time, experiences the literal touch of the living Savior.

It is this Pentecostal moment that is the real target event of the New Testament. In the conversion moment, we are forgiven, but we are still immersed in our own brokenness. Our heart may now be more humble before God, but it is also still wayward. And so we move, according to His divine plan, from the conversion moment toward the Pentecostal moment, when the believer is given access to the divine essence. He or she is literally merged with the resurrected Christ; and their heart is instantly and profoundly changed by his divine energies.

And from that point forward, the vitality of Christ continues to effect an enlarging degree of change in the believer's heart and thus in his or her real circumstance. Real newness in Christ is not a function of trying harder or working to "cleaning up our act." It is the result of literally being spiritually immersed in Christ. Our hope lies not in better religion, but in the living Savior living expressively in us.

If we would know God intimately, we must experience this Pentecostal renewal. If we would be always governed by a good heart, our single hope is the Pentecostal merger that God has prescribed for every believer in His redemptive blue print.

As a minister in these modern times, I have come to understand, regarding the Church, that the greater challenge these days is to elevate the view of the Church beyond the conversion moment to the true pinnacle of the Christian experience - the baptism of the Spirit which brings us literally into the vitality of Christ. While the idea of a personal Pentecost may remain in our theology books, yet in the modern Church we are increasingly losing our experiential grip on that reality. We are missing this ultimate point of the New Testament - an actual integration with the living Christ.

Indeed, modern, and I'm sure, well intentioned (though not well balanced) preaching etc. has largely reduced the Gospel to simply the Cross. But it is not just the Cross. It is the Cross and the Resurrection. It is not just about the Dying Christ and forgiveness. It is ultimately about the Living Christ and His shared vitality with the believer. This is the final means by which the profound redemptive changes that God requires are effected within the believer. That is why Christ would say in John, chapter 15, "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."

That first moment when we feel the "cleanness" of God's forgiveness wash over us is a wonderful thing. But there is another moment after that on which everything depends. It is that Pentecostal moment when we literally touch the living Christ and He touches us with the essence of the divine nature. That moment too is indispensable to our redemption and to our newness.

Do not stop at the Cross, Church. Chase after the living Christ until you have touched of His essence and are touched by it. In that touch resides the fullness of your renewal and your ultimate hope.

Sep 27, 2009

Classic Evil

There is a reason why the adversary continues to use the same old tired, tattered, and torn tactics against a gullible and/or uninformed humanity. It is because they continue to work well. The simple truth is - we just never seem to "get it." So, generation after generation we "get it" in the neck.

His treachery is not hard to spot, really. It has been around since Adam and Eve. And it is very well exposed in the book of Genesis. When we read, with godly enlightenment, the account of the adversary's subversion of the first couple in chapter 3 (NKJ), we can easily see what we should be on guard against. Consider what the verses say there...

Genesis 3:1. Now the serpent was more cunning [subtle] than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, `You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?'' (Brackets added)

There are actually four of his favorite tactics revealed in this first verse alone. The first is Subtlety. The adversary's approach is never, never, never straight forward. Always there is a hidden agenda that he begins to pursue from an oblique direction. Have you ever met an alcoholic or a drug addict that started out to be one, to ruin his or her life through substance abuse. Probably not. Rather the dark voice simply promised them a "good time" or "relief from the pain" or some other angular enticement from which to begin to move slowly toward his real agenda - the destruction of another human life and soul.

The adversary knows that the gullible will always go for an easy lie over a hard truth. He knows that we are prone not to question personal benefit. So typically, that is the point where his subtlety originates. He usually offers the easy, the fun, the gratifying, the immediate, without ever showing the real or extended cost. He always shows the "bait." He never shows the "hook." That is the substance of subtlety; and it still works well on humanity, even today.

The second tactic revealed in this verse is the Characterization of God as "intrusive" to the human existence. The taunting tone in the verse is that of someone greatly offended. It’s more like, "Surely God didn't say that you could not eat of all of the trees in the Garden!" The idea is to make God appear restrictive rather than protective, which was the real circumstance. So God was made to seem evil instead of good because He imposed restriction. That tactic, to plant the idea that "God is somehow holding us back" has always been very effective and still works quite well on a clueless humanity today.

The third tactic revealed in this verse is Dialog. He simply got Eve to discuss something that was really self evident. The adversary has known from the beginning that "truth can be talked literally to death." So he merely gets us to discuss, for example, the godly instructions. It goes something like this. "Well, now let’s talk about this for a minute. Is homosexuality really wrong? Is morality really all that necessary to the well being of society. Couldn't we have a better society if we were not so inhibited by these archaic ideas. Let’s at least open a dialog on the subject. That is only reasonable." Thus, he robs a susceptible individual or society of moral direction and fortitude by simply talking away clarity. So good principles simply die the slow death of "stupid and superfluous dialog."

Finally, the fourth tactic of the adversary that is revealed in this verse is what we would call "Spin" today. It is to color the truth in a way that suites your cause while only "slightly" damaging the truth, itself. The characterization of God that we discussed earlier was a part of that spin, but it went further. The benevolent restriction that God gave the first couple was colored in such a way that it appeared to be a bad thing instead of a good thing. The adversary did not technically misquote the idea, he just used wording and an inflection that colored it to suit his subversive purposes. Hello spin.

Verses 2-3. And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; "but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, `You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die' ''

So the woman, now caught up in the superfluous dialog, continues the conversation. She starts to clarify the truth for the adversary, believing that she can correct his misconception with good information. How naive we sometimes are when it comes to spiritual treachery. She had no clue what the real "game" was here, as is the case with most of humanity when it comes to the adversary’s destructive plotting.

Verses 4 -5. And the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'

The adversary knows that to achieve his hidden agenda he must remove the idea of consequence. In doing so he reveals his fifth classic tactic of subversion. It is to "Confront, established truth as ridiculous." So here, in a brazen confrontation of the truth, he completely reverses what Eve has been told. He says, in effect, without presenting any real basis for his statement, "It just isn't so. You will not die if you do as I say." I guess the idea is that - if you say it with enough confidence, they'll believe it. And so often we do indeed.

Also in these verses we see revealed the two remaining, classic tactics of the adversary. The sixth tactic of the adversary revolves around the implantation of two connected ideas. The first is that "You are your own best hope." In effect that is what he is saying to Eve here: "You will be like God." That is, "You don't have to depend on the Creator God, you can be your own god, the master of your own destiny."

Thus enters the second idea. "Knowledge is the key to that end." He says, "You will be like God, knowing good and evil." The truth that he does not tell Eve is that the knowledge that he is encouraging her to trust in is not an objective knowledge that is rooted in God’s all knowing wisdom. It is an entirely subjective knowledge. In other words, it will center completely around "what is good for her." And the knowledge that Adam gains from that same forbidden fruit will entirely revolve around "what is good for him." And on and on it will go throughout the ranks of humanity. Welcome to the source of all human conflict - a subjective knowledge of good and evil.

Finally, the last classic tactic that we notice is one that is much more familiar. It is simply Lying. The adversary is characterized in the Bible as a "liar" and the "father of lies." He tells Eve here that she can be like God. The indication is that she can be equal to God in knowledge. That is simply a complete fabrication. She does not have the mental capacity to retain what God knows. No human being does or ever will. We are, after all, finite and limited. God is not.

So, by direct statement the adversary lied to Eve. Sometimes he lies by omission. Sometime he lies by using partial truths. But lying is his classic behavior; and he is good at it. So much so, that literally countless souls have perished on the rocks of the siren call of his pleasant lies.

Verse 6-8 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Finally, we note the outcome of the great treachery when it’s finished. "...And Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God..." It is a lonely and guilty isolation from a loving God. Adam and Eve turned their back on God’s love and, instead, chose a deluded course of self determination. It was a foolish choice based in lies and subtle deception with no substantial promise at all. But sadly, humanity still does that. And even when Christ exposes the deception and offers a way back, still, in each succeeding generation, humanity succumbs to the subversion. Perhaps the best thing we can do for our children is read to them the "program" for life’s drama: "God ...The Good Guy. Satan ...The Bad Guy." Knowing that, everything else is easier to keep straight.

Sep 7, 2009

Circles

For: September 7, 2009

The Apostle John said, "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. " Active, truthful love is always more what you do than what you feel. It is never dependent on feeling to survive or express itself. And in Christ, this kind of genuine love first comes to life within us as a general sense of moral responsibility for the well being of others.

The most down to earth concept of sin that I know is simply selfishness, for which love is the perfect remedy. Basic to the new character that we are given in Christ is the reality of a love that acts in truth - to be considerate of others - in the family, in the work place, at school, and on all of the other commons of life.

Circles

How long prevails the darkness Lord
That snares our dreams
and rears the head of the ugliest things.

We weep and fight and struggle and kill
To have, and to horde,
Only to find that we weep the more.

We crush the dreams of others
To mortar the tower of our own
And still it does not rise.

On any scale, the circle of one
Is always far too small.
Enduring joy only lives in the broader circle of all.

And though we emerge from the human sea,
One, alone, to scoff at the rest,
Yet time, and wisdom, and the judgment of God will put us to the test.


And finally, far too late we'll see,
That all along, we were but trapped,
In the circle that was Me.

Aug 15, 2009

Wearing Christ

Implicit to the Baptism of the Spirit is the idea that the believer is actually merged with Christ. In some wonderful, mostly unexplainable way, God integrates us with what Peter, the Apostle, calls the "divine nature." Through this merger we are somehow spiritually enveloped in the Invisible Christ.

At that moment, everything changes, and not in a vague ethereal way, but in the real terms of everyday life. We begin to experience a new existence as we "wear Christ" into our daily lives. Thus, Paul would say to the Galatians, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

But what does it mean to "wear Christ" in this life? What exactly does that look like? Well, in all honesty, most days, it "ain’t" pretty. The process is usually a kind of rough and tumble deal that includeds a multitude of daily failures. But somehow, even including the kaos of every day life, Christ empowers success in the devout believer. He manages to grow us up, to bring us to an attractive spiritual maturity.

So, whatever the "snap shot" assessments that may be made of believers involved in this transforming process, it should be remembered that this transformation is better understood as a movie. And you just can't judge a movie by looking at one or two frames here and there.

And, while it's true that the bulk of our day to day "life show" may be clearly "two thumbs down," still, the finale is well worth the wait. So here is at least a bit of what Christ empowers in those who keep the first admonition.

He empowers faith through suffering. (Let’s get the scary part out of the way first.) That is why He said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." But know this. This is a suffering with the most noble purpose, and yielding the greatest benefits and blessings.

This suffering is not the empty suffering of excesses, or foolish pursuits, or bad choices that are all too normal for this world. Rather, this is the suffering encountered in service to truth. This is the suffering that comes in the defense of "rightness." This is the suffering that flows out of protecting the sacred and opposing evil.

If you bear the scars of such suffering because you choose to wear Christ into this life, just know that it is better to bleed than to quit. And though you may have been hurt deeply, or for a long season; yet Christ will make your scars a precious badge of faith, well worth the price of your tears. But suffering is part of what it means to wear Christ.

"Putting on Christ" also looks like humility. Overly zealous, self centered, mission oriented "power drivers" who serve only their own interests and visions are a dime a dozen in this world. But I dare say, they will be nonexistent in Heaven. Jesus does not enable conceited "hotdogs." He does, however, target such attitudes for destruction. And He leaves in their place an enduring humility.

Show me someone who has truly worn Christ for a while, and though they may be very vibrant, energetic, focused, and dynamic, they will be humble of heart. They will know the worth of the people around them, and they will be constantly sensitive to and bowed before the whim of their God.

Humility is the correct attitude for every day, every setting, every circumstance. And Christ empowers humility in those who wear Him every day.

Beyond that, Jesus also empowers Fruitfulness in those who wear Him daily. The book of Galatians gives us a glimpse of the character fruit that Christ enables in the believer. It says this in Galatians 5:22 and following, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."

It is impossible to wear Christ and be unchanged for the better in character. Thus, in His own words from John, chapter 15, Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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.

Fruitfulness: an expanded, and beautiful, and God pleasing character, is the mark of our spiritual maturity. Much character fruit equals true success in Christ. When we wear Christ, after a while, it kinda' begins to look like a godly maturity.

Wearing Christ also brings us to very vital private relationship with God, the Father. Paul said, in His writings, "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Loving the Father, up close and personal, is empowered by our life in Christ. So, our intimacy with the Father, in Christ, moves beyond just the worship hour on Sunday morning. It moves beyond Sunday, itself. It moves beyond difficulty and human frailty to cause us to run to the Father simply to spend time with Him, to hear His voice in our heart, to discover His truth, His direction, His help, His blessing. We run to the Father, because we are in Christ, and so it is merely our natural inclination.

And finally, wearing Christ looks like love. It is His vitality that enables us to love with an expanded, godly capacity - and not just in the feeling, but in the doing. Godly love is always much more about what you do than what you feel.

So, as we put on Christ, we find ourselves actively seeking ways to empower people instead of simply ignoring them, or worse, tearing them down. Love becomes a deeply held moral responsibility for the well being of others, and not just those we know and have affection for, but even those we don’t.

So, what does it mean to wear Christ in this world. Exactly what does that look like? It looks like a life long movie with some real twists to me. Lord, bring em! Amen.