Dec 15, 2010

Awareness

I doubt if I’m the only one who’s noticed that evil seems to be expanding exponentially around the planet. On every hand the base things are rising up, from rampant drug use, to the proliferation of pornography, to political corruption, to cultural and moral decay. On and on the list goes. Add to that the reality of an anemic Church and the diminishing ability of the family unit to pass on good values and the picture of our near future seems bleak, indeed. In the face of such a wayward world, it would really help if someone would simply tell us what we can do to better the situation.

Actually someone has; and the answer is probably simpler than most believe. It lies in a concept that Jesus gave us. He said this, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

This is the simple task of the Church in these challenging times. It is to give light, to raise the world’s awareness of goodness and truth. It is to oppose the darkness by two simple means: precept and example.

It is our job, first of all, to simply tell the world, to confront evil by merely using enlightened conversation. In these times when the darkness is so ascendant we must only speak out. The simple task is to raise the world’s awareness of true goodness and God’s truth. So, we preach. We teach. We converse with the group. We e-mail. We Twitter. We Facebook. We argue. We confront. We contend for the faith. We intellectually network God’s truth in every possible way at every opportunity. We shine the light, we make the people around us aware by our voice.

Secondly, we oppose the darkness by living the light. We raise the world’s awareness of God’s truth by allowing them to see what truth and goodness looks like when it has skin on. It is our example, our every day, ordinary existence in Christ, that must also cause our world to take note, to pay attention, to become aware and enlightened as to the true God and His intentions in this world.

Now obviously, most of the world knows nothing, nor will they likely ever know anything, of my personal existence. I will almost certainly perish in obscurity, like most ordinary people. But, if we do this thing right, not before we have raised our voice to bring awareness in our own circle of influence: our family, our friends, our acquaintances and our coworkers etc., and not before we have lived our lives before our own community in a way that they might see, and in seeing, glorify our Father in Heaven.

Indeed, most of us are not capable of opposing evil on a world scale. But we can certainly oppose it on a personal scale by simply raising the awareness level of those in our circle. And that is all we really have to do to defeat evil on the larger scale. Our lights may be relatively small, individually; but if we let them all shine, the darkness will be dissipated.

So, what do we do in this time when evil is so ascendant. We simply do what Jesus said. We refuse to go unnoticed and unheard. Rather, we speak to the darkness with our voice and with our example. We become to those immediately around us the means of an enlarged and godly awareness. We become to them, the light of God. We enable them, by these simple means: our voice and our daily lives - well lived. By this entirely doable thing, we can enable some to see through and beyond the stupidity of the darkness.

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 higher issues: 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 however, 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 we did.

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 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, it has everything to do with the operation of the Holy Spirit as He removes the "earthy" scales from the congregation's mind, the grossness from 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 a Heavenly 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 of divine elevation, when the soul is alighted by truth, any thing can happen. Addictions can be conquered. Fears can be overcome. Weighty sins can be loosed. Broken hearts can be mended. Powerful leaps of faith can be made. And some of that happened yesterday.

Such is the power that is connected to the Christian pulpit, and attends no other. It absolutely transcends the superficial -  peaked emotions, high tension rhetoric, glib tongues. All of these are but cheap illusional gimmicks in comparison to the operation of divine enlightenment. To be there when truth comes to vibrant life in the power of a Godly awakening, when the Holy Spirit very personally interprets the truth to the individual's perception and need, is an incomparable experience.



Such are the riches that the Church offers to the world - a true encounter with God, and access to His living truth. What a privilege to preach a word that comes to life as I breath it, that 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. Without doubt, mine is the greatest job in the world - 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 almost a 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; and that, if we knew the truth, there were probably men in that group who were being victimized by it, that very day.

I was not prepared for the reaction that came. It was, on that morning, possible 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. It says 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 of freedom." It is hypocrisy, and pretense, and delusion. And such foolishness absolutely makes sin the absolute 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. 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 the quality of life, and often, not just of those who are harboring the darkness, but also the quality of life for the people around them.

Nor is cherished sin merely a killer of the souls. It is a killer of relationships, of life quality, and of personal and community morale. That is not God's idea of redemption . That is the deluded destiny that we fashion for ourselves when we establish a secret friendship with sin.

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 when Christ doesn't. But, the redemption that Christ brings to the believer is a liberating redemption that empowers our certain rule over sin in the most real terms of everyday life. But only if we pursue that liberation with our whole heart. Anything less, and sin wins.

Jun 21, 2010

Privileged Access

On Wednesday of this week, my job got "sunned-out." That's the same thing as rained-out, except it is a lot hotter and a lot dryer. I was scheduled do some work on the structure of a metal roof; but it was simply too hot to touch.

So, I decided to spend part of my unexpected holiday talking to the Lord. I stopped by a beautiful local park and found a good view of its small lake in the deep shade of some old growth trees. As I positioned myself under the trees, I noticed a steady 5 mph breeze off the lake. It was super nice. But the best part was yet to come.

As I sat there in what seemed a perfect environment, the Lord came in such a perceptable way. We talked casually about a number of my fears, my issues, and other people that I was concerned about, and their issues. I had a long list of thank-you's and personal sentiments. And the morning flowed past. It came time for me to leave and go try to fill at least some of the missed income for that business day. Life insisted, "It's time to go!" But I didn't think so. So, I decided to refused.

I decided that the conditions were simply to perfect, the Lord's immanent presence was too precious, and this exact moment would never come again. So, I simply refused to go. I said, "No, I'm not going to leave this perfect moment, for one that is much more flawed." And I didn't.

*****

I know that bad is on the rise. And, I must admit, these times and a great many of the people of these times worry me. I know that the present generations are in an existential transition, the likes of which the world has never seen.

I am personally convinced that in the near future, just as God's Word predicts, there will be a collision between the physical and the spiritual planes. I am equally convinced that the early stages of that collision are not going to be pleasant for anyone. And, my humble assessment is that the present turbulent sea of human activity which is rising quickly and becoming "stormish" is simply a precursor to that event. So, in a word, the long view of our short future is certainly disconcerting, at least to my simple mind.

But for some of us, and I am happy to be in the group, there is a recurring and perpetual calming. He speaks to us in tones of strength and confidence. He meets us in quiet places to encourage, to provide perspective, to give us a sense of position on every plane of life, whether spiritual, political, historical, intellectual, psychological, or emotional. He can do that because He is Christ - the Savior of the world and the God Almighty.

When I was converted so many years ago, and became a willing follower of my unseen Savior, I had no idea how just how blessed I was about to be. But, from day one, Christ made Himself available to me, as He does to all of His true followers. He came in various ways: as an inner voice, as an invisible guide through every circumstance of life - from hard to happy. He came as a constant inner Companion to help me correctly interpret life, to understand the hidden but essential things of this world - and the one to come. From the very beginning, He has been a faithful counselor, advisor, watchman, and friend.

But, make no mistake, he is by no means the "bell hop" in this very confirming relationship. If anything that is my part to play - but it is certainly not His. He is, unmistakably, the unchallenged Ruler of all realities and all that is in them. And therein lies the calming.

Tonight, as I write this, the Savior is not the least bit intimidated by any of the powers of this world or their conflicts. He is not at all fearful of the rising bad. He harbors zero concern that evil might actually triumph. He is not, in the least, disconcerted by the turbulence and storms that are building across the face of present human events.

Why? Because He is ever in charge of it all. From the individual moments of every day to the great tidal waves of a looming future, Christ, alone, says "what goes." Every creature, whether man or beast, can only play perfectly into His ultimate plan. He cannot be bested, outsmarted, surprised, or out maneuvered. He is completely and confidently in charge of all things; and no detail escapes Him. He simply knows nothing of crisis - only of perfect management.

And as we come near Him, through the enlarged access that He grants to true love, His confidence touches us. And our own frail confidence is restored. We are reassured by the perfect peace that attends His strength.

The day will always insist that other things are more important than time alone with Him. It will attempt to make us feel exposed and at risk if we dare to do such a thing. It will always remind us of the pressing material issues.

But to succumb to those pressures is to miss the majesty of what Christ offers. The door that He flings so widely open for us is the door of restoration. To experience the privileged access is to know the resolution of our fears, the healing of our wounds, the drying of our tears, and the gift of new inspiration.

So here is the simple reality that empowers our correct response to Christ's offer of divine access: The day does not rule Christ. Christ rules the day - and effortlessly. So, it's OK to refuse to be pressured from His renewing presence.

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, 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 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 about 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, according 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 you, God" schedule, our "life on my own terms" attitude, etc., etc., etc. And He can do all of that, 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 self determined lifestyle. So, God bites his lip all day, while we just kind of "express" ourselves upon His world in our own way.

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. He's 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 "express" ourselves upon His world as just more of the same brokenness.

I know! I told Him. But He insists that His intention was never just to forgive us, but to begin fixing us, and right away. 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 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 renewal for 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 makes the New Testament, well, New, and which brings the possibility of our personal renewal to life. ( Colossians1:24-27 )

Jesus dispatched the Holy Spirit, the God Essence in spirit form, with a very specific mission. That mission was to bring to us, as believers, the essence of this now living Jesus. (John 14:15-24) In other words, the Holy Spirit becomes the Conduit that literally connects us to the very life essence of the Savior, whose divine energy then begins to empower a personal newness within us. (John 15:4-5)

So again, here is how the dots connect. Jesus is alive! As a living Savior, He is able, by the Holy Spirit, to transfer His essential self into the believer. It is a spiritual merger that connects us to His divine nature. (2 Peter 1:2-4) As a result of this literal merger with Christ, the believer is energized by the divine energy to experience a profound newness. (Romans 8:2-6)

The primary expression of this newness occurs in our character. As you might expect, our character starts to become patterned after that of Christ. We start to develop the traits of His character in our's.(Galatians 5:19-25) In this way, 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 rebuilding process within us. (Romans 8:8-14)

And I can tell you, God is definitely expecting newness as the end result of His salvation effort. (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 baptism into Christ, so that 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) This stand alone event in the redemptive process is not only personally confirming, but absolutely essential to the newness in Christ 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 more investment from you, more energy; but I'm 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 without apology. "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 own choices."

At that moment, I realized - the choices really are very few and very simple - but the choosing. Now there is the real weight of the matter.

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 scenarioas 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 play catch-up to God's reinterpretation of the facts.  Thus, this Rubber Reality of faith is much more challenging, unpredictable, and thus, more disconcerting.  Nevertheless, it is only this reality which ultimately leads to high levels of God awareness.

So, 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. It is a reality where everything, all facts and conclusions, remain elastic while we search for His intent and purpose in a given situation. Thus, this is not an easy version of reality to navigate.

That's why so many want to put God in their little "logic boxes." It makes Him much more predictable, and saves them the stress of the rubber reality. Normal human logic is always subject to challenge in the reality that faith creates; and people know that. And, it scares them. And besides, the rubber reality gets in the way of our own, preferred interpretations of life's circumstances.




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.




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. Such lofty aspiration can never be satisfied by using logic boxes and cliché's to fashion a simplistic God whom we can marginalize and manipulate with our small thoughts and sayings. Nor can they be satisfied by a compartmentalized encounter where we remain completely in charge of life's day to day events.




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 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 and to be more likeminded to Him on a constantly maturing level. Thus, 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, but the God close up and familiar. And so, through this faith reality, a living relationship and a true familiarity is created with this complex God of ours.




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 elevations. The first time my wife cried after we were married, I started to realize that I had to understand and respond to her at new levels of relationship or risk hurting her through my ignorance. 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. 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.




The believer has no greater security than this: an intimate friendship with God that has found its way beyond delusion to become concrete.




But before our friendship with Him can become concrete - it must become "rubber."

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 give 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 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, 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) "...by 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 Spirit 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 that 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 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 set you back a bit in terms of time, energy, and resource investment.

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 wonderful, 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 uses a hybrid engine that is composed of two components: Forgiveness and Personal Renewal. This engine is a multi-fuel engine, and draws its power from both the Cross and the Resurrection.

Admittedly this engine is more temperamental than the Chevy engine. But its performance is truly phenomenal. It is absolutely a life changing experience to ride this engine to the far edges of the performance "envelope." Far Driver Magazine put it this way "It presses you back in your seat and takes you breathlessly through the sound barrier of spiritual apathy. 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. In the Ford plan, for example, all of the Chevy performance options are included as part of the basic package - not options. Ford's motto, "Performance Matters."

So, there you have it - the two main religious rides in America. Both, attractive vehicles. And both brands have a unique marketing plan. All that remains is the choice. And that is entirely yours. But choose carefully. The ride to Heaven is usually a long and always a supremely important trip.

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

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 that brings peace and prosperity to the whole planet. In my own "wonderings," I have often wondered why Christ would even bother. What's the point.

But, in fact, I have come to believe 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, we remain an eyelash away from crumbling into world chaos, or even worse, self annihilation. We as a species have never been able to put any significant or safe distance between ourselves and the recurrence of overwhelming darkness. And that condition has only been made worse by our technologies, which have brought into play, not only the possibility of accelerated social breakdown, but even extinction by our own hand.

Consider some of the more important things that have made us chronically self destructive, for example, Dark Extremism. From the Crusades, to the Spanish Inquisition, to Hitler, to Stalin, to contemporary Elitist Ideologues, to Islamic terrorist, these servants of darkness repeatedly force the world to the consequences of their extremes. And far to often, the cost is our blood and our children. The "death penalty" is a common attachment to dark fanaticism.

And beyond that, there is the universal flaw in humanity. It is the "Me Complex." The idea is basically, "Everything starts and ends with 'me;' so, the benefit must always flow in my direction." That philosophical flaw ingrains itself in individuals and nations alike to ever empower the darkness.
I recently read a disturbing story of how the French, as usual, have for years been draining the vitality out of Haiti. And yet their efforts toward, and their contributions to, Haitian relief now are embarrassingly small. From the French, to the African war lords of Somalia, to the presidents of Iran and Venezuela, there is no want of a "big screen" picture of the universal flaw that plagues our world and keeps us constantly near the border of overwhelming darkness.

And finally, there are the "Masking Counterfeits." To be sure, the truth is in our world. But often, we cannot sort it from the masking lies. There is a true way to a true God and a truly superlative personal destiny. But for each of those things, there are a thousand masking counterfeits. And so religion becomes confusing, the very existence of God - much less His true identity - comes into question, and our personal purpose and direction become unclear.

I think it is accurate to say that most of humanity, at this late historical hour, has simply given up any careful effort at trying to discover the true path of life. Rather now, as a whole, we just mostly pick and choose among the pleasant lies as they would seem to benefit the present moment. And as a result, overwhelming darkness has, for many, become more a "creeping daily plague" than a "pouncing lion." But it is darkness, nevertheless. And it is overwhelming, nevertheless.

***

Jesus has, for a long time now, offered to the world the remedy for all of these things: Dark Extremism, The "Me Complex," and the "Masking Counterfeits." It is simply His living lordship in our daily lives. Those who truly hear and respond to the inner voice of this unseen Savior have already come to see the extremes of darkness for what they are. They are learning daily how to move past the "Me Complex" toward a true charity that is expressed in actions and based in His holiness. And they have already, with real intent, taken up again the quest for godly truth - not simply as an intellectual pursuit - but as the means of personal newness.

So, true believers are already engaged in moving safely and permanently away from the overwhelming darkness. But that mostly happens in a personal and inner dimension. However, in a short time now, we will move to another dimension of the revelation of Christ. We will move to a more public dimension of His verification where the revelation of the Savior will become a political / historical awareness. And it will last 1000 years.

He will bring social peace and prosperity to the generations of that period. In so doing he will prove His love, His wisdom, and His absolute power over the physical world. He will also, in so doing, confirm all of His claims to and upon this world. And Christ will be completely verified as the unique and singular hope of mankind.

And near the end of that time, I hope there is some saintly evangelist or prophet who has an absolutely irresistible impulse. I hope he, consumed by the holy "Wind," will stand to his feet upon some high and very public pinnacle of the world, cup his hands to his mount, and thunder - to the Devil, to the demons, and to all human arrogance - "I TOLD YOU SO!!!"