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.