Nov 16, 2009

The Ugly Gospel

The Gospel that saved my own soul, and that of so many others, had what might be called, An Ugly Side. In other words, it had a dimension composed of things which simply did not fit well into my initial idea of a Beautiful Gospel.

I much preferred that idyllic Beautiful Gospel, of course.  It was a Gospel that I could easily appreciate, a Gospel of forgiveness, and grace, and compassion, and God's unconditional love. But nevertheless, I could not seem to escape those relentless intrusions from that Ugly Side.

For example, when I first encountered Christ through that more pleasant Gospel, the Ugly Gospel insisted that I take the time to actually survey and acknowledge the darkness of my own heart.  What bitter pill to swallow. 

Nevertheless, I was pressed by this more unpleasant Gospel to confront the real depths of my inner darkness. I didn't really like that process. But, as I looked, I was very humbled (the whole purpose of the exercise) to discover that, indeed, my inner darkness actually did run much deeper than I ever knew before.  

It was also this Ugly Gospel which brazenly declared that I could no longer be in charge.  I had interpreted the Beautiful Gospel to be merely a kind of do-over opportunity where my life schemes would now become God-blessed, and thus, much more successful.  

But, the Ugly Gospel was quite insistent on a complete reinterpretation of that childish thinking. That Ugly Gospel clearly stated that the way forward was not at all about my plans, but all about God's plans for me.  It presented as NON-NEGOTIABLE, the idea that I must be wholeheartedly willing to embrace, not only God's directions for my life, but also the entirety of His value system.  

Now, I ask you, what human being would ever want to give up their personal sovereignty in this way? Who would ever be willing to surrender their schemes, and their dreams, and their personal destiny to someone else - even to God? 

Well, wait. I guess, I would. Because, I did.  And really, now, it doesn't even seem like much of a thing - especially when you  consider how messed up my life was and what I got in return.  

I guess it was also the Ugly Gospel which demanded that I recognize my own limitations and my very real vulnerabilities (that humbling thing again). It was the pressure of that Gospel which helped me to finally take a realistic view of life. 

And, being forced to face up to my own frailties helped me to really see the overwhelming complexity of life's treacheries and just how vicious and heartless its randomness can be. And, that, in turn, helped me to see my own absolute inability to face up to and manage life's challenges without God's help. 

And, in truth, I guess it was also the Ugly Gospel which helped fashion my new idea of what I wanted for an outcome to my personal story.  Under the press of that Gospels larger view of things, I was able to see that what I really wanted and needed was a destiny which truly got beyond just the small, now stuff to the big, eternal stuff.  

But, when you wrap it all up in a sentence, what the Ugly Gospel ultimately taught me is this:  The way up is down. The way to rise is to truly bow in thorough humility before God. 

But, what a wonderful surprise to find complete victory and fulfillment through that humiliation.  To be sure, the process of my humiliation did seemed kind of harsh and unattractive at first - but now - not so much.

Now, after a million conversations, tender moments, and profound insights; after debating the issues, crying together, laughing together, and sorting through the complexities of life - I have now confirmed that it is true! A very durable and deeply fulfilling friendship with God does, indeed, grow out of this Ugly Gospel Process.  

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

Nov 2, 2009

The Ending

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 of God, maintaining the good habit of going to "the Garden," and remaining involved in the Church. 

But, beyond those things, I think one of the most effective ways to stay consistently motivated in Christ is simply to occasionally revisit, with some focus and intensity, the seriousness which surrounds the outcome of the human soul.  When it comes to the destiny of our soul, it really helps to regularly reconfirm to our self, this simple imperative: "I must not mess this up!"  

Indeed, there are no do-overs when it comes to our ultimate end.  So we dare not let the Devil, or stupidity, or ignorance, or laziness, or bad theology, or any other thing keep us from our own true success story in Christ.

We must not inadvertently insulate ourselves from authentic truth with a bunch of half-baked, cobbled together, sound-good religious clich├ęs. We must not excuse ourselves. We must not delude ourselves. And we must not be distracted by the siren song of the material attractions that are all around us. 

So, it really helps to occasionally focus on the importance of how our personal story will end.  And, it helps to remember that we are really only here to write that ending.

And, regarding this occasional reality check, 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. And, indeed, He has taken a long time and extended great care to show us the correct redemptive path through Christ. But, we also know that this true path has become shrouded in confusion.

For various reasons and motives, human beings often misinterpret the redemptive truth or ignore it altogether. And when you add to those mistakes, the adversary's half truths and outright lies that have been inserted into the mix of our religious thought life, honestly, it's no wonder so many have trouble writing a successful ending to their story.

Nevertheless, it remains a fact of reality.  A large part of the responsibility for sorting out this informational mess is, indeed, on us.  It is up to us to decide our way through the fog of Satanic lies, ambiguous and phony religion, silly philosophies, and our own demanding "druthers" to arrive at authentic, divinely-given truth.

The decision to reject or embrace an idea, to pick and choose our devotions in life, and to set priorities is ultimately ours. Thus, while it is true that the Holy Spirit constantly whispers guiding truth to each of us; in the final analysis, it remains our responsibility to pick out the ring of God's truth from the rest of life's discordant notes.

And if, indeed, we fail in this vetting task, so that we sort it all out badly, then the correlation is very direct.  In that case, our personal story will also end very badly.  And, no disaster could possibly be worse or more absolute than the final wreck of the human soul.

In that event, we are plunged into an abyss of unimaginable suffering. And worse yet, that suffering will never end. 

Thus, the crushing atmosphere of complete hopelessness will surround us. And we will forever become one of the nameless, faceless millions in a churning, screaming sea of failed humanity - all victims of their own bad calls in this life.

And, to be sure, there are, indeed, a lot of distractions in this life which would take our time and energy away from what is truly important. There is a lot of bad information which deceptively passes itself off as truth to take us in the wrong direction. And, there are many of us who just don't much care either way because we're too busy chasing the toys and trinkets of life. 

But, be assured, standing on that "forever brink," the burning questions will not involve money or hobbies or jobs or ownership. Rather, the questions which will then rise urgently to the top will be those of personal investment, and directions, priorities, and choices. But, in that last terrifying hour, there will no longer be any opportunity to improve our answers, and thus, our end.

So, it really does helps to occasionally reconfirm to our self, in the strongest possible terms, that there actually is one issue which truly supersedes all others.  It is this issue of how our personal story ends.  And, we gain even more help when we add to that confirmation, one more:  the certainty that we are writing that ending every single day in the script of our every decision.


     "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

     "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 

     "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

     "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." 
     - From:  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John

In Hope Of Goodness

Governing our behavior so that it is consistently good, seems to be humanity's biggest challenge, whether on a personal scale or some  larger one. How do we do it? How can we ever achieve consistently good behavior? 

Perhaps, if we make more rules? Maybe if we make the punishment for wrongdoing more harsh? Perhaps if we were ruled with an iron hand by some despot? 

Or, maybe if we hire more police officers, or work harder on personal discipline.   Or, maybe if we were better educated?

Oh wait. Actually, I think we've pretty much tried all of that. And still, humanity struggles to control itself on every stage of life. We simply cannot consistently 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 ever confirmed the existence of this fatal flaw which plagues our species: chronic waywardness. Indeed, it would seem we are stained indelibly with the stain of incorrigibility - even in the face of our own best efforts.

So, we find ourselves cheating on our diet, or our taxes, or our spouse. We find ourselves breaking the very 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, we have done all of these things across the entire spectrum of the human experience. There simply is no denying it - left to ourselves, we lack the power to be consistently good and 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, it would seem this reality did not escape the mind of our 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 vitality of our resurrected Savior, there really is the possibility of a durable and consistent goodness within the human being. Paul speaks of the revelation of this New Testament remedy, in Colossians, chapter 1.  

There, Paul writes, "...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, the Church has tended to make redemption mostly about forgiveness. It is not. It is only first about forgiveness. But ultimately, God's redemption is very much about, well,  redemption

The ultimate aim of God's redemptive plan is to thoroughly renew the believer, beginning with the creation of a good heart-government which actually works consistently. And this change to the human condition, effected through the Living Christ, changes everything.

But, to experience this change, we must get beyond the mind set which essentially reduces God's redemptive work to only a moment of forgiveness. There is a much larger redemptive design to be understood and experienced. 

And, at the center of that experience is the target event of the New Testament: our personal Spiritual merger with the Living Christ. The reality is, in the conversion moment, we are, indeed, forgiven, but we are still also very much immersed in our own brokenness. Our conscious person may now be more humble before God, but our subconscious person is still quite obstinate and wayward. 

 And so - as usual - we still struggle to consistently govern our behavior and fit ourselves into God's good plan for our life - even after our conscious embrace of the Lordship of Christ.  But, this is where the Living Christ enters the redemptive picture and everything changes.  

Through our personal Spiritual merger with Him, the believer is given access to the divine character essence of Christ. And, that access profoundly changes the believer in their core person.  

In short, this symbiotic connection to Christ reaches deeply into the believer's subconscious person and overwrites their old, self-centered value system with the new values of Christ.  And this value system overwrite is the very mechanism which changes everything else in life to ultimately make of the believer a truly "new creature" in Christ from the inside out.

From the point of this very literal integration with the Living Savior, the vitality of Christ continues to effect an ever enlarging degree of change in the believer's character essence (heart) going forward.  And this profound inner change, in turn, expresses itself as a profound change in the believer's behavior and results in corresponding changes in his or her outward circumstance.    

In truth, consistent heart government is simply not a function of trying harder, or more education, or more experience.  It is a function of the vitality of the Living Christ living within the believer.  Our primary hope of consistency lies not in human initiative or improved religious practices, but in the reality of the Living Savior living expressively within in us.

If we would be consistently well governed by a good heart, then we must experience this Spiritual connection to His.  Because, our heart, disconnected from His, will never be up to that task.

As a minister in these modern times, I have come to understand a simple reality regarding the Church.  It is that the greater challenge, presently, is to elevate the gaze of the Church.  Our focus must get beyond the conversion moment to again see the true pinnacle of the Christian experience - the baptism of the Spirit.  

The truth is, while the idea of a personal Spiritual merger with Christ may remain in our theology books, yet, in the modern Church, we are, nevertheless, increasingly losing our experiential grip on that opportunity. We are, indeed, missing this ultimate intention of New Testament redemption:  an actual personal integration with the Living Christ.

Modern preaching, if well-intentioned, has, nevertheless, in practical terms, mistakenly reduced the scope of redemption to simply be about the Cross and forgiveness.  But redemption is not just about the Cross. It is about the Cross and the the personal renewal which flows out of the Resurrection and the Living Savior. 

The authentic Gospel is not just about the Dying Christ and forgiveness. It is also about the Living Christ and His shared vitality within the believer. This is the completing means by which the profound redemptive changes which God envisions for every believer are effected. 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 one, on which everything also depends. 

It, too, is a moment which is absolutely indispensable to our redemption and to our true newness.  It is that mystical moment of our personal Spiritual merger with Christ.  In that merger resides our only hope of the true and thorough personal renewal and a consistently good heart government which God envisions for every believer.

"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." - The Apostle, Paul from the Book of Romans