Sep 14, 2010

People Of The Higher Plane

There are a couple of levels upon which we operate in this life. The first is the level of the Base Plane where we deal with such questions as, What do I want / What do I need / What's in it for me, etc. This is the low plane of life, the plane of the minimal existence. There are few complications of conscience here. This low plane is basically about subsistence and survival - no big questions asked.

So it usually becomes, in practical terms, merely about paying the bills, coping with the kids in the minimal amount of time, doing what has to be done, grabbing after personal advantage, and keeping a low perspective to avoid the more complicated issues.

Life on this lower plane is efficient and streamlined and mostly repetitive. It doesn't require complex thought. It does not require us to become involved in the abstract or consider the larger and more noble issues. But neither does this plane add much to us, personally, or to our world. Actually, over time, life lived on this low plane makes us to be quite ugly and empty.

The second level upon which we can choose to operate in this life is the level of the Higher Plane where we do, indeed, become involved in the more sophisticated issues of life: Is it right / Is it good / Is it moral / Does it please God, etc. This is the plane of conscience and intellect. This is the plane where we address the more complex questions, where the abstract comes into play, where we do take on the complicated stuff of mind and conscience.

Life on this plane is not so efficient. This higher plane of life requires us to be more conscientious, more intellectually invested and aware, and more sensitive to a larger array of concerns. This plane of living simply takes more time, and thought, and energy for its processes.

As long as we are only about the immediate issues of the lower plane, basically, "What's in it for me," or "How does it benefit me or mine," we will never be great people, people of gravity, truly respectable people. Such smallness is simply not respectable. In fact, when our sphere of concerns becomes that small, we become people of the most minimal merit.

On the other hand, we can take our head out of the "simplistic sands" of the lower plane. We can choose to look around and begin to measure our existence by the higher values of life. It is when we gage our existence by these higher values: love, self discipline, honesty, morality, integrity, honor, duty, faithfulness, humility, godliness, etc. that we do, indeed, become people of the higher plane.

And, in fact, bringing us to the higher plane of life, to the higher and more noble concerns, is absolutely God's purpose for us in Christ. However, I think it accurate to say, we are not cooperating with his intentions at the level that we did, even a generation or two ago.

What is different about the Church of today is the lower percentage of people who are willing to embrace life on the higher plane. What is different in our homes today is the lower percentage of parents that are people of the higher plane. What is different in Washington today is the lower percentage of leadership who are willing to live and lead by the values of the higher plane. What has changed in our world is the smaller number of people who are willing to pursue life on the higher plane.

Perhaps all of us operate on the lower plane of life in some measure. But not enough of us get beyond that meager level now. Not enough of us operate on the higher plane of conscience and character anymore. That's too bad. We would be much better people, have a much better life, and a much better world if would trust Jesus, not just to save our soul, but to elevate our character.

The Glow

Yesterday morning I preached at a church in east Texas, near Tyler, with a congregation of about 300 precious people. As I preached, that sweet, old thing that so often does, happened again. The glow came. I have seen it so very many times, but I never take it for granted. Every time it is brand new and wonderful. And every time it is confirming of the Holy Spirit's presence in the sanctuary service.

Lest anyone misunderstand, though, the Heavenly light on their faces couldn't have less to do with the preacher, himself. Rather, indeed, it has everything to do with the operation of the Holy Spirit as He removes those "earthy" scales from the congregation's mind to enlighten their heart.

And that impact is so very obvious from the perspective of the pulpit as God's Spirit moves through the crowd turning on the light of personal revelation. Until eventually, the room is aglow with the living, burning truth of God. 

Faces literally shine with awareness. Eyes speak volumes. At that point, as the preacher, you know that God is making His word heard, not just in their ears, but deep in their hearts.

That is when preaching becomes preaching. That is when "church" becomes a personal encounter with God. And that is when this surly world begins to lose its grip on their lives.

This glow of, "Oh! To the depth of my soul, I am 'getting' this," across the faces of a congregation is a phenomenon of matchless beauty and limitless potential. In these holy and precious moments  when the soul is lighted by truth, any thing can happen. Addictions can be conquered. Fears can be overcome. The weight of past sins can be loosed. Broken hearts can be mended. Astounding leaps of faith can be made. And some of that happened yesterday.

Such is the power that is connected to the Christian pulpit. It absolutely transcends the superficiality of mere  peaked emotions, high tension rhetoric or a glib tongue. All of these are but mere gimmicks in comparison to true divine enlightenment. And, to be there when truth comes to vibrant life in the power of the Holy Spirit is an incomparable experience.

Such are the riches that the Church offers to the world. And, what a privilege to preach a message which actually comes to life as I breath it, which has its own life within itself. 

 And what a fulfilling thing to see that renewing life splash across the faces of the congregation in the form of new joy and excitement and awareness. Without doubt, mine is the greatest job on earth - bar none.

Who Rules

Over the centuries, the theological debate has been, "Do we rule over sin, or does sin rule us?" Across the years of my ministry (35+), I have far too often been surprised by the secret sin that absolutely reigns over and oppresses many. Far too frequently, I have sat in my study as someone, respected in the church and/or the community, in a moment of desperation, revealed the dark, secret sin that was absolutely ruling over them.

On one occasion I experienced a kind of group revelation of this sort. I was addressing a church men's group of about 50, and I made a remark about how widespread the involvement in Internet pornography had become.   I said that, if we knew the truth, there were probably men in this group who were being victimized by internet porn, that very day.

I was not prepared for the reaction that came that morning. Suddenly it became completely easy to read the faces and body language of those men like a newspaper. Instantly, you could see a flood of emotional change go across the group. 

A significant percentage started changing positions in their chair, looking away, looking down, and slipping into blank stares. The group, as a whole, became aware of the change in "atmosphere." Then you could hear a pin drop as eyes began to dart around the room.

It was starkly obvious that long repressed guilt in some of those men instantly and involuntarily shot to the surface. I was, myself, totally taken back because I simply did not expect such an abrupt and visible reaction from this church group.

Does sin rule us? Sometimes it absolutely does, and in the harshest way.  The prescription which the Bible gives us to overcome the rule sin in our lives is found in 1st John 1: 5 and following. 

Those verses say this, "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto 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 the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The simple remedy of "confession," (always to God, and sometimes to others) realigns us with God's moral will and initiates the cleansing process that ultimately leads to consistent victory over sin. But, it is one thing to recognize the evil of sin and wrestle your way free of its grip, with God's help. It is quite another thing to intentionally hide sin away in your life so that you can continue to practice it, covertly, without anyone knowing. 

 Protecting, and Planning for, and Pursuing the Reality of sin in one's life is not the "wrestling match for freedom." It is hypocrisy, and pretense, and delusion. And, such foolishness absolutely makes sin the ruler over us and over our personal destiny.

Over the years, the walls of my study have definitely heard many confessions of desperate people whose lives were deeply damaged and even destroyed by their secret sin. And this was not sin that they could not overcome. In Christ, there is no such thing. 

Instead, this was cherished sin, sin they chose not to overcome. They protected and quietly embraced this sin, until they discovered they were not holding it, but rather, it actually had a death grip on them.

Usually, by the time I was hearing about this very private and protected sin, their marriage, their self respect, their reputation, their relationship to God, and/ or their hope for the future were mostly "down the tubes." Protected sin will always destroy one's quality of life, and very often, not just the quality of life of those who are harboring the darkness, but also that of the people around them.

Cherished sin is not God's idea of redemption . That is merely a delusion we fashion for ourselves.  God's plan is to extricate people from the darkness of sin, first by the Cross of the Dying Christ, and then by the personal empowerment that flows through the Resurrection and the Living Christ. 

Sin always rules in the absence of our Spiritual merger with the Living Christ. But, in the power of that oneness with Christ, the believer absolutely can rule over sin in the most real terms of everyday life. It is merely a matter of pursuing that liberation in good faith. Anything less, and sin wins.

"For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?  

"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." - The Apostle Paul 

May 11, 2010

OK, God Called

I like to simplify things. I don't like to overly simplify things. Much error has occurred in the world in that way. But still, in my opinion, simple is usually better.

I especially like to try to simplify spiritual concepts. It is a wonderful thing for the preacher to see the light of, "Oh, yeah, I get that," come on in the eyes of his parishioners. When people understand at a higher level, it means they have the option to respond to God at a higher level. 

 It doesn't mean they will, of course.  But at least they have the opportunity. And I want everyone to have the best possible opportunity to know Christ at the very highest levels of relationship. There is no greater possibility afforded to us in this life.

So, here is my latest attempt at simplification: In the American culture, on a day to day basis, we essentially only deal with two approaches to the salvation of the soul. These two basic proposals for how God saves the human soul go under a lot of different "brand names." But, there are essentially just two "pitches."

The first redemptive plan is simply one that really emphasizes forgiveness. Tell you what, let's call this one "The Forgiveness Plan." Pretty catchy don't you think - and so descriptive.

Now, under the Forgiveness Plan - well - that's pretty much it. We as the "redemptees" just simply allow God to forgive us, because Christ died on the Cross for our sins. How could you beat a deal like that, right. Kinda' makes you wonder why we even need a second plan.

Anyway, to sign on to this plan, you simply acknowledge Christ as the Savior of the world and as your savior, personally.  And, that pretty much takes care of your part. God then takes care of everything else from the day you make that acknowledgment until Judgment Day.

So, from the day we sign on to the Forgiveness Plan, He not only forgives our sins, but pretty much ignores our bad choices, our base behavior, our off color thought life, our misshapen character, our bad habits, our broken value system, our hit and miss conscience, our insensitivity's to His will, our "too busy for God" schedule, our "life on my own terms" attitude, etc., etc., etc. And, He can do all of this, simply because Jesus died on the Cross to bring about our forgiveness.

Obviously, this redemptive plan is a really good deal for humanity and a really bad deal for God. Under the Forgiveness Plan, after a quick statement of faith in the Savior, we don't really have to do anything if we don't want to, and God is left to put up with the daily anxiety, stress, and contradiction of our still self-determined lifestyle. So, God bites his lip all day, while we just kind of express ourselves upon His world in pretty much whatever way we choose.

I don't know about you, but I'm taking that deal while it's on the table. Forget that other plan. Who needs another plan, when you've got one this good? How could it get any better than this. Just give me the Cross, and "keep the change..."

OK. God called. 

And, He is not happy with that deal. Wouldn't you know it.

I wondered who was pushing that second deal. Turns out - it was Him. Come to find out, He has no intention of quietly standing by and "biting His lip," or His tongue, while we "self-express" our brokenness all over His world.  

I know! I told Him, I thought we had a deal. But, He insists that His intention was never just to forgive us, and leave us broken. 

Guys, I'm just gonna' tell you, He was not a happy Camper in this conversation. His words, "Do you think I'm a fool?! Is that the best you think I could do when it comes to redeeming humanity?! Would you take that deal if you were in my place?!

"You better wise up, young man! And you better spread the word of the real deal; or, there will be a lot more than just words when next I talk to you."

Shoo, No wonder they call Him the Heavenly "Father." He sounded a lot like my earthly father sounded on more than one occasion.

Anyway. We better look at the second deal, 'cause I don't think the first one is gonna' fly with God. So, here goes...

The second, OK, yeah, the authentic, redemptive plan emphasizes, not just forgiveness, but also, the thorough renewal of the believer. So, to satisfy our love for catchy and descriptive titles, let's call this plan the "Forgiveness and Renewal Plan." Kinda' sounds like car insurance, doesn't it.

Anyway, The Forgiveness and Renewal Plan certainly includes the forgiveness that the Cross affords, but this plan doesn't stop there. This true plan of redemption has a requirement and a mechanism to fix us. It's called... wait for it... wait for it... OK, you already guessed it - The Resurrection Of Christ.

It works like this: After Jesus died on the cross, He came back to life on the 3rd day, making Him the Living Savior. That part, the living part, is very important. 

As the living Savior, Jesus then did something that no one had any idea He was going to do before He did it. It is this mysterious move which truly makes the New Testament, well, New.  And, it is this final redemptive twist which brings the possibility of our personal renewal to life. ( Colossians1:24-27 )

What did he do, you ask?  He made available to every believer who seeks it, His divine character essence in Spirit form. (John 14:15-24) In other words, the Holy Spirit becomes the Conduit to literally connects us symbiotically to the character essence of the Savior.

As you might expect, through this empowering connection, our own character starts to become renewed. We start to develop the traits of His character in our's.(Galatians 5:19-25) And, through this empowering merger with the Living Christ, we are transformed into, as the Bible puts it, a new creature in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Thus, under the Forgiveness and Renewal Plan of Redemption, it becomes imperative that we get beyond just the forgiveness of the Cross, and experience this personal spiritual merger with the living Christ which initiates God's renewal process within us. (Romans 8:8-14)

And, I can tell you for sure at this point, God is definitely expecting a true newness on our part as the end result of His redemptive efforts. (Galatians 5:15 / Matthew 3: 10-12) 

 If I were you, I wouldn't plan to show up on that last day as the same old you - only forgiven. (Rev. 20: 11-12) That would not be good for your future.

What would be much better and safer is to carefully and diligently seek your own personal Spiritual merger with Christ, so He can enable a new and godly character in you. (Luke 11:5-13) That is the place of true safety of soul. (Ephesians 5:5-10) 

It would seem that this stand alone event in the redemptive process is not only personally confirming, but absolutely essential.  Indeed, it is the only means to the real newness which God requires under the authentic redemptive plan. (Romans 8:14-17)

I know. I know. I told Him, "Lord, this is a whole lot harder than that first deal." But, He was completely unsympathetic. 

He said, "You're right. It requires significantly more energy input from you than that bogus deal.  But, Jesus is supplying most of it anyway.  All you have to do is cooperate.  It's called faith son."

I said, "Lord, can't you just fix me all at once when I get to Heaven?" 

And He said, "I could, but your broken now; and you're spewing that brokenness all over the place. It's hurting you, and those around you, and frankly, it's hurting Me. Why wait. I can make you new right now. Everything we need is available in Jesus - right now."

Then I said, "Lor.." 

But, He interrupted very unapologetically. "Enough talk!" He said. "If you cannot sense the wonder and value of what I am offering, then perhaps I should simply leave you to the consequences of your preference for easy."

At that point I said, "Lord, I am definitely all in for The Forgiveness and Renewal Plan of Redemption.  Where do I sign?"

Mar 29, 2010

The Rubber Reality

One of the biggest blessings and one of the greatest difficulties of the Christian experience is "The Rubber Reality." What is the Rubber Reality? you ask. Well, in a word, it is that reality which comes from the discovery process initiated by our faith. The Rubber Reality always occurs when the smallness of humanity meets the bigness of God.

For example, consider the record of the Old Testament. During the Jewish Exodus, when the departing Israelites became blocked in their journey by the Red Sea as they fled from Egypt, the normal concrete reality would say, "Oops, this is an impossible situation. We simply have no way to cross this large body of water." But the rubber reality of faith created an entirely different scenario as God miraculously parted the sea and the Israelites crossed.

Again, as is related in the New Testament, if you go to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, as Jesus did, and the Host runs out of wine, the concrete reality would simply say, "Oops, here comes a big-time embarrassment." Yet, the rubber reality of faith created a much better and more insigtful perspective when Jesus turned water into wine.

And one more example of this elastic reality would be when Jesus attended the funeral of Lazarus. In the normal reality, we would normally think that we had just bumped into the most concrete of all realities - death. But, in fact, even this reality became stretchy when God touched it and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

Thus, there is the more concrete reality which we can easily self-interpret.  And there is the rubber reality of faith where we are always playing catch-up to God's reinterpretation of the facts. 

So, this Rubber Reality of faith is much more challenging, unpredictable, and thus, more disconcerting.  Nevertheless, it is only this reality which ultimately leads to the higher levels of one's God encounter.

Indeed, the Rubber Reality is this more uncertain existence where, our faith makes us not quite so sure of the interpretation of the facts - at least at first. It is a reality in which we are often left wondering what God might be up to in a given circumstance.  
So, we hesitate to interpret events while we wonder where He might be taking us. 

That's why so many seek to put God in their little logic boxes. It makes Him much more predictable, and saves them the stress of that stretchy kind of reality. 

Normal human logic is always subject to challenge in the reality that faith creates; and people intuitively know that. And, it scares them. And besides, the rubber reality gets in the way of our own, preferred interpretations of life's circumstances.

So, rather than endure all of this uncertainty, many would simply prefer to define and predict God's actions with little simplistic cliché's: "God will never ask us to..." or "God will always..." It is basically the same escape mechanism as a logic box. But, in the rubber reality, to our chagrin, our cliché's don't work on bit better than those little boxes.

So, what is this faith reality all about. Very simply, the Faith Reality is about discovery.

It is about risking ourselves to not only to what God wants to do, but to who God is. It is about exploring His purposes to, ultimately, come to intimately know Him and ourselves - and to know who the two of us are together. And all of this discovery is simply to enable strong, and fulfilling, and durable relational bond between us.

This all makes perfect sense when we remember that, at the end of the day, redemption is really about relationship, about creating a truly durable and viable friendship with God. And, to be sure, such lofty aspirations could never be satisfied by using logic boxes. 

In the Greek language of the New Testament, there is a word: Ginosco, which means "a deep and intimate knowing." This is the word that Jesus used in Matthew, chapter 7, where He predicts that He will say to some at the judgment, who are mistaken about their salvation, "Depart from me, you that work iniquity, I never knew [ginosco] you." [Brackets added] 

The idea here is that they failed in the judgment because they failed to develop an intimate relationship with God. The rubber reality is all about finding and experiencing that living relationship through a challenging daily give-and-take. And that is why God employs it.

And, in fact, it is true that this less predictable faith reality sometimes brings us miracles. It is also equally true that it sometimes brings us perplexity and frustration. But the good news is - it always brings us God.

As we are forced to pick our way through this unfamiliar reality of God's larger and more mysterious purposes, his divine providence, His "higher" ways, we come to know him on a much deeper level. And, somewhere along the way, as we work through the twists and turns of this elastic reality where faith lives, we stop being spiritual children. We start to understand God - the way He really is and we start to reflect Him in our own character.

As this faith process works, we also stop knowing only what we have been told; and we start knowing what we have personally discovered - first hand. And all of a sudden, God is no longer an entirely mysterious God who lives somewhere off in the distance.  Rather, He becomes the God close up and very familiar. And so, through this faith reality, a living relationship and a true God awareness is ultimately created.

When you think about it, love and relationship, as basic ideas, are not really very complicated. But, both of these ideas, as we actually live them out, always require us to become more invested and more sophisticated in our thinking.

Whether we are talking about husbands and wives, parents and children, or God and the faithful, love and relationship will always call us to new levels of sophistication in our understanding of others. The first time my wife cried after we were married, I started to realize that I had to understand and respond to her differently than I originally thought or risk hurting her through my insensitivity. 

That same dynamic exists in every important relationship.  So, God's way of fanning the flames of this relational growth process is simply to ask us to enter this stretchy reality of faith where he can pose questions that do not have immediate answers. Where circumstances are not always what they seem. Where facts and projections are not so clear cut. 

Indeed, all of this is necessary to stimulate us to search out God's perspective and get beyond merely our own. It is a place where all that we know and are, will be pitted against all that God is and wants us to be.

The Rubber Reality - only the truly faithful walk there for any length of time. And while that reality sometimes makes temporary fools of us, tries our patience, and underscores our limitations - it is the real pathway to God. And when we have successfully navigated this elastic road under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will see clearly, its value. We will truly know God; and we will be intimately known of Him.

It really just comes to this.  The believer has no greater security than an intimate friendship with God that has found its way beyond delusion to a true maturity.  But, before our friendship with Him can become mature - it must endure the stretching for a season.

Mar 10, 2010

Pop Preachers, Gotta' Love 'Em

As I begin to write this commentary, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are coming to a close. It is the conclusion of a very long involvement for most of the athletes who have been competing. For them, the process actually began long before the games started.

It goes something like this. The initial invitation to "try out" for the Olympic Games is extended to all athletes who are interested. The Olympic opportunity is open to anyone; but the invitation comes with no guarantees; and the athletes know this, going in. 

They clearly understand that the final selection of athletes to actually attend the games will be based only on performance. If they want to go, they gotta' be good. And so, they seek to excel. And if they do, they get an all expense paid trip to "The Big Game."

Typically, we understand the necessity and appropriateness of this selective process regarding Olympic athletes. For them, it all makes perfect sense. But what sometimes escapes us is that, in the most significant ways, redemption is a like process.

If we look at redemption through the "lens" of the Olympics, we get a very accurate picture of how salvation really works. In fact, it is a much more accurate view than the "whoo doo" (OK - I made that word up), pick-and-choose mess that "pop preaching" and "pop preachers" have left us with, over the last century. Their "pop gospel" is really no more than a shallow "cliché " that dangerously over simplifies the real redemptive requirement.

So, let's just walk through the process and notice the similarities of the Olympic and Divine operations. First, the idea of "going out" for the team. Anybody can do it regarding the Olympics. And anybody can do it regarding Heaven. We are all afforded the opportunity to try for the prize. Thus, 2nd Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

In the authentic redemptive process, the "try out" for Heaven is the opportunity that Christ affords us through His Cross. And, contrary to the pop preacher, that opportunity comes with no guarantees, exactly as in the Olympics. We must merit divine selection by successfully answering the divine performance requirements. Just like the athletes, if we want to go to the "big game," we gotta' measure up.

After the pop-preacher finishes his gasp, let's look at Matthew 3:1 as good confirmation of this reality. Matthew writes, "In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'... (v.5) Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 

"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.'"

So, no guarantees, no free passes - even in Christ. Ultimately, the deal is - you gotta' qualify to go. And according to John, that qualification involves being personally fruitful

Jesus, Himself, confirms this in John, 15:1 and following. There He 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."

So, the plain truth - the pop preachers got it wrong. In their overly simplified gospel, to go out for the team is the same as making the team. It is just kind of an automatic deal with them. 

But, in fact, embracing Christ affords us the opportunity to succeed in the redemptive process. It does not provide us an automatic success. The truth is, we are absolutely on the hook to bear fruit - or be "cut."

What kind of fruit? Well, it's what the Apostle Paul calls "The Fruit of the Spirit." It is, in plain terms, a "character fruit," which is produced as a result of our personal Spiritual merger with the living Spirit Christ. 

Paul gives us a very clear reference to this character fruit in Galatians 5:22 where he says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." 

I know. The pop preacher didn't mention this. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure he even knows about this. He tends to stick with just the Cross, forgiveness, and the Dying Christ - that is, after all,  the simple part - and the popular part. 

And, I don't think the pop-preachers are even aware of the more sophisticated spiritual realities which stem from the Resurrection and the Living Christ. It seems entirely foreign to them that the Living Christ might actually play a transformative role in the here-and-now. They just don't seem to get that the Living Christ empowers a fruitful transformation of the believer's character. But, that's what pop preachers are good for - leavin' out the really important stuff.

So Christ, by His Cross, affords all of us the opportunity to pursue salvation. But, as with the Olympians, it is a serious pursuit involving a serious, no-nonsense selection process.  But if we choose to pursue the prize of God's Heaven and eternal life, we then enter a phase of redemption where the choices no longer lie with us, but with Christ.

In this phase, as in the Olympics, all that matters is the performance requirement. And Christ will make his choice as to who will "go" and who will "stay home" based only in that real requirement. 

This is why He would say on one occasion, (John 15:16), "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained [fixed or established] you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain..." [Definition bracket added] 

So, it's up to us to make the first choice, to go out for the team or not.  But, Christ makes the final choice, the selection choice, based entirely on His performance requirements.

So, let's update. Once Christ affords us the opportunity of salvation by His Cross, He goes even further. As a direct benefit of His Resurrection, the Living Christ is then able to empower us to meet the performance requirement - fruit bearing - through a personal merger with the believer, what the Church calls "the Spiritual Baptism." 

This stand alone event is literally our integration into His divine nature; the energies of which, then enable the believer to produce this godly character fruit. Peter puts it this way (2 Peter 1:3) " which, have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature..."

And then finally, after enabling us to meet the divine performance requirement through this Spiritual integration with Him, Christ then ultimately chooses us for Heaven.   And that choice is entirely based in the real character fruit that we have born in His divine energies. 

Sweet success! And it's all Christ!

I know - all of this is a little more complicated than the pop preacher may have lead you to believe. But that is because his overriding desire is to keep it simple and stay, well, popular. 

However, if you listen to Jesus, He makes it very clear that we are involved in a serious and stringent selection process. And not unlike the Olympics, it is absolutely based in a very real performance criteria. In Matthew 20:16 Jesus says, "So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen." 

Here, then, is the succinct version. God is in a selecting process for His Heaven. And though the opportunity to attempt Heaven is open to all in Christ; yet, to attempt it is one thing, - to make it - quite another. For us to choose God is one thing. For God to choose us is quite another.

So, here is the reality that scares the pop preacher half to death. At the end, God will only find those qualified for His Heaven who have experienced the Spiritual merger with the Living Christ. The reason? Because it is only they who have tapped into His divine faith and energy to effect a profound transformation of the heart, yielding the true character fruit of the Christ essence within.

Not as simplistic as the pop preacher said? Maybe not. But you might want to consider the source.

Here is the bottom line: It is imperative that we get beyond the simplistic ideas of pop preaching and seek the baptism of the Spirit. To do so is to seriously and passionately pursue a personal integration with the risen and Living Christ. 

And, to seriously seek a personal merger with the Living Christ is to stop presuming that this Spiritual integration is an automatic to conversion.  This Spiritual merger is not merely an innate and a mostly imperceptible part of the "redemptive package."

Indeed, this mysterious New Testament appointment is a dramatic, stand alone event, just as it was in the beginning (Luke, chapter 2), that awaits every believer. It is to be sought after and experienced, as a unique and indispensable necessity to our ultimate spiritual success (Romans 8:7-9). 

So, the idea is to pursue, find, and embrace this divine empowerment with the passion of a "Spiritual Olympian." Why? Because a life literally lived in the vitality of the resurrected Christ is ultimately our only real ticket to The Big Game.


Oh, and don't worry. I'm sending out a memo to the pop preachers. It reads, "Yes guys, there is a personal performance requirement for salvation. But don't panic. Jesus has it covered. I'll meet you at the empty tomb, and we'll go over the details."

Feb 15, 2010

Choose Your Ride

OK, so here's the simple view of how it breaks down in America when it comes to the Protestant religious ride. There are many dealerships; but there are essentially only two brands of vehicles. Most everybody drives one of these two vehicles as their chosen means of transportation to Heaven. The first is the Salvation Chevy. It is unquestionably the top seller of the two redemptive vehicles.

The engine which powers the Chevy is the Forgiveness Engine. It is a single fuel engine which draws its energy solely from the power of the Cross. And this engine is powerful. It is the stand out feature of the Salvation Chevy. And, if you just sign on for the basic Chevy package, the engine is about all you get as a standard feature, but the good news - it comes with a no-questions-asked, lifetime warranty.

However, there is a Performance Package Option that you can also choose for your Salvation Chevy - at some additional cost. You can choose to add the Lifestyle Upgrade, the Spiritual Sensitivity Package, the Premium Visibility Option, and Daily On Star. But, these options do come with a price. They will definitely set you back a bit in terms of time, energy, and resource investment.  Nevertheless, this marketing plan does allow the Salvation Chevy people to live up to their catchy theme song:  "Drive it your way."

But remember, these are options on the Chevy. They are strictly up to you. And, according to Chevy's color glossy brochure, whether you choose them, or whether you don't, you will still have that unbelievably powerful Forgiveness Engine and the iron clad, Lifetime Warranty that comes with it.

The other ride that you might choose for your trip to Heaven is the Ford Redemption. Ford, a distant number two in sales in America, has taken a more daring approach. The Ford ride is a hybrid, driven by two engine components: Forgiveness and Character Renewal. So, the Ford ride draws its power from both the Cross and the Resurrection.

Admittedly the Ford design is more complex than the Chevy model.  But, its performance is truly phenomenal. It is absolutely life changing to experience this ride.  It will take you to the extreme limits of the performance envelope.  Far Driver Magazine put it this way. "It presses you back in your seat and takes you breathlessly through the apathy barrier. And, when you come out the other side, you are truly changed."

The Ford marketing plan is different too. It has quite a few more standard features, and fewer options. For example, the Ford Redemption comes with all of the Chevy performance options as part of its standard package.  It would seem that the Ford people are also interested in measuring up to their motto: "Performance Always Matters."

So, there you have it - the two main Protestant religious rides in America. Both, attractive vehicles in their own way. And, both brands have a unique marketing plan. All that remains is the choice. And that, of course, is entirely up to the buyer.  

 But, if you are a prospective buyer, do choose carefully. The rode to Heaven is a long and challenging one.  You will need a vehicle which can truly stand up to the riggers of that trip.  And, to be sure, not all rides are equal, no matter what the color glossy brochures say.

Sometimes, great insight comes as basic truth in an unexpected form. -LB

Feb 1, 2010

What A Difference A Thousand Years Can Make

The Bible tells us of the last period in world history when Jesus will establish a 1000 year political reign over the earth. It will be His benevolent monarchy which finally brings peace and prosperity to the whole planet. In my own musings, I have sometimes  wondered why Christ would even bother. What's the point.

But, in fact, I have come to see that there really is a point. It is to vindicate three things: His identity, His truth, and His redemptive vision for humanity. It will be a time when Christ will prove empirically that all of His overtures to mankind were true, correct, and good.

Think about it. Even at this very moment, the human species remains little more than an eyelash away from crumbling into world chaos, or even worse, self annihilation.  And, indeed, we have never really been able to put any significant distance between ourselves and our own large scale vulnerabilities. 

And, that reality has only been made worse by our modern technologies.  For all of their worth, yet those technologies have also sometimes convoluted and made all the more imminent those threats.

Consider some of the more important things which chronically threaten us as a species.  For example, religious and political Militancy's are a long running and all too familiar trouble. From the Crusades, to the Catholic Inquisition, to Hitler, to Stalin, to present day elitist ideologues, to Islamic extremists, these arrogant servants of the Darkness have deemed it their right to prescribe bloody paths of change for the rest of us - whether we like it or not. 

So, repeatedly, these intrusive and violent would-be overlords have forced the world to the consequences of their wishes. And, always, the cost is the same.  It is our blood and our children. A huge "death penalty" is always the immutable attachment of their heartless fanaticism.

And then, there is the enemy within.  It is that inbred, "Universal Human Flaw" which we brought on ourselves in the Garden of Eden. It is the "Me Complex." 

 The basic idea flowing out of this complex is simple.  It is this.   "Everything starts and ends with me. So, the benefit must always flow in my direction."  And, this ugly character stain has now ingrained itself in individuals and nations alike to threaten and undermine every corporate human endeavor.

I recently read a disturbing story of how the French, have, for years, been draining away the economic vitality out of Haiti. And yet, the French efforts to relieve the present Haitian needs are embarrassingly small. 

So, again, from French colonialism, to the war lords of Somalia, to the presidents of Syria, and Iran, and Venezuela, there is no want of a truly big screen picture of this universal character flaw which constantly produces vast human suffering.

And finally, there are the "Masking Counterfeits." To be sure, there is an exquisite divine truth available to our world which leads to a deeply fulfilling life experience. But, the problem is, it is set in a vast "house of mirrors," hidden among a thousands distorted and twisted images which all brazenly call themselves - "the truth."   

To be sure, there absolutely is a true way to a true God and a truly superlative life to be lived in league with Him. But, to find and experience this true way requires one to successfully sort through all of the lies - truly a task requiring no small effort.  Thus, this vast myriad of bogus values and ideas serves to widely insulate the world from the divine truth, the singularly authentic truth.

Nevertheless, the Living Jesus has, for a long time now, offered, to all those who are willing, the remedy for all of these things which chronically plague our species: the blood thirsty Militants, the "Me Complex," and the lies of "Counterfeit Truth." And, that simple remedy is His enlightened and loving, daily guidance in our heart. 

And, in His thousand year reign over the earth, Christ will bring that guidence to the whole world resulting in social peace and enduring prosperity. And, in doing so, He will entirely vindicate the divine truth. And, Christ, Himself, will be irrefutably confirmed as the unique and singular Savior of the world.

And, when that happens, I hope there will be some glorious messenger, whether angel or saint, who will stand to his feet upon some high and well televised pinnacle of the world.  And, I hope he will confidently cup his hands to his mount.  And, I hope he will absolutely thunder in the face of the Devil and his demons, and all who arrogantly refused to embrace the Lordship of Christ, "SEE - I TOLD YOU SO!!!"

 Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - The Apostle Paul.