Nov 14, 2011

Irrelevant, My Foot

It is a "hoot" to be a preacher today. It reminds me of the days when I was in elementary school and the teacher would ask me a question to which I actually knew the answer. It was such a rare occurrence back then, that my head would almost explode with excitement waiting for her to finish the question so I could give her the answer.

I've since discovered that there are two kinds of 4th graders: the ones who always know the answers, and the boys. I was, of course, one of the latter. And, I knew very well that the outcome of my whole elementary education mostly depended on "stayin' lucky." So, when I was, and I caught a question I could answer, I was ecstatic.

And, ecstatic is the way I feel these days. I feel so blessed to actually know the Answer to the desperate human questions. Questions like, "How can I recover from my broken life?" "Is death all there is?" or "What does God want for me and from me?"  I think my head really is going to explode.

But, I do have one problem. I have noticed lately that the question "askers" are somewhat diminishing. And, the forecast is for that trend to continue.

Still, I have been blessed across the years of my ministry to be able to enjoy interest and inquisition in the eyes of my congregation when I have preached. It has been very gratifying to see in their faces that what I was saying had value to them. But, recently, in the last few years, I have, indeed, noticed a troubling disinterest, especially among some of the older teens and the younger adults, which are, in my mind, a pretty important social subset.

I'm not speaking here of a momentary wavering of attention. It is more like they live in one world, and I live in another; and, the issues of my world simply don't matter in theirs. So, they sort of sit there in polite disinterest. They simply don't seem to really have any questions that I can answer.

OK. I get that. I can become gracefully irrelevant - YEAH RIGHT.

And maybe your thinking, "Well Preacher, you're just slipping." That is absolutely true. But, that does not entirely cover it. I think there is another reason why they think the information that I am bursting to give them (I am squirming in my seat, even as we speak) is mostly unimportant. It is because they don't have a complete picture of their existence.

So, I'm going to paint that picture one more time. Now, I am very aware that you probably don't belong to that disinterested group; but, I have to tell somebody (it's that head exploding thing). And, I'm afraid your the only ones available at the moment. So...

A long time ago God created all of this. Then He patiently allowed all human history to play out, even to the present day, giving opportunity to countless millions to taste life. He has intervened and interacted across that history in the most loving way, especially through the Savior, clearly demonstrating His interest in the well being of humanity.

But after this present opportunity for His love to work, in the near future, according to His plan and timetable, the Creator is going to convene a special hearing for humanity. It will be unlike anything the world has ever seen. This hearing will be held at the crossroads of reality where the physical world and the spiritual world intersect.

At this hearing, God will call for all of humanity to stand before Him, all who have ever lived. Then, He will conduct an interview with each one of us as to how we have responded to Him. But, when He comes to the disinterested crowd, He will be the only one talking. I suspect it will go something like this...

*****

"I created everything; and I created you. I wanted to know you, to really know you. I wanted to experience the day to day ups and downs with you that create meaningful relationship.

"To facilitate that adventure, I gave you a Savior in my Son to heal the rift between us that occurred in Adam. He did that. When my Son died, I became willing to forgive your stubborn independence and your self centered approach to life. Beyond that, it was my intention to implant His living Spirit within you so that your mind, your character, your conscience, and thus, your whole life might be entirely renewed.

In this way, I intended to cement our relationship into one of love and harmony for your enduring good. In your Savior, through His Cross and His Resurrection, I laid endless life and blessing at your feet. And that opportunity was there, awaiting a response from you, every day of your entire lifetime.

"And, across the years of your life, I only ever asked one thing of you in response. I only asked humility, first in the form of sorrow for your waywardness, and then as a renewed sensitivity to my wishes. But that response never came.

"Nothing that I ever did seemed important to you. It wasn't important that I gave you life. It wasn't important how I felt about the way you lived your life. The warnings that I gave you within didn't matter. The warnings that I gave you through your life circumstance didn't matter. The love that spoke softly to you of forgiveness in your Savior, the love that offered you a new and better way forward simply had no value to you. You ignored it all.

"So, for a few years of doing as you pleased and chasing after empty, temporary things, you have sold an eternity of happiness. That is the path you chose, and now that is the path that you will finish.

"So, I hereby pronounce you forever condemned to an eternity of punishment in the hell that I created for Satan and the angels who followed him. I command that the fire of that place never be quenched; and, that you shall never be granted a reprieve, nor even a hearing for reprieve, from its natural torment - forever.

Because the Cross of your Savior had no value to you, neither shall it have value to Me now to save you from everlasting punishment. Because you never tasted the power of His Resurrection, neither shall you now taste the power of His deliverance from this judgment. Because you thought everything in life more important than responding to your Savior, now you shall have those things in full measure, for they fuel the flames of your eternity. Be gone, and be forever forgotten in the agony of the wrong choices of your lifetime..."

*****

Now see, I think if that disinterested crowd, polite or otherwise, could see that picture, the real, the whole picture of their reality, they would not be so disinterested anymore. I'm pretty certain that if they ever do "get it" when it comes to the "big picture," then that beautiful light of questioning interest will also come on in their eyes.

Hopefully, all of them will come to see the import of their larger reality before it's too late.  And I'm reasonably certain, for at least for some of them, this will happen. God's "chasing" love will see to that.

And then guess what!  I get to give them the Answer that I know! I am ec-static at that possibility! I just hope I still have my head when the time comes.

Me Two

I talk and write about a lot of things, but the one subject nearest and dearest to my heart is God's redemptive effort. I have made it my life's work to understand the operation that saved my own soul. And the more I have looked, the more I have become enamored with the beauty and gracefulness of what God has done though Christ. To this very day, I stand in absolute awe of the absolute genius of His Christ enabled redemptive work.

In the early days of my search as to what God was up to in this soul saving thing, like most I suspect, I focused on the Cross and God's wonderful forgiveness. But eventually, my search took me past the Cross toward the redemptive outflows of the Resurrection.

As I moved past the Cross, I started to recognize something astounding. It was this: Redemption is not just about forgiveness. It is about Forgiveness and Renewal. I realized that the whole point of the forgiveness was to position the believer to experience a profound personal newness.

I eventually came to understand that the newness that the Bible speaks of for the believer is not a function of the Cross at all, at least not directly. Rather, it is a function of the Resurrection. 


So, it turns out, the Cross is for forgiveness and the restoration of our relationship to God. But, newness is a direct result of the Resurrection.

Said another way, it is the Dying Christ who secures our forgiveness, but it is the Living Christ who empowers us to become "new creatures." And that empowerment is entirely enabled by our Spiritual Baptism into Christ. 

That baptism literally enables a merger between the divine nature of Christ and the human nature of the believer in order to revitalize us. So, our personal baptism into Christ is as necessary to the redemptive purpose as is the conversion moment.

The Spiritual baptism is primarily aimed at fixing one intolerable reality in the human condition. It is the evil inner twin who lives within all of us - even after we become believers. This is the inner, subconscious person within us who absolutely refuses to voluntarily surrender to the lordship of Christ and the authority of God, much less, embrace His value system.

Paul, in his writings, refers to this inner person as the "old man," the "carnal nature," or "the flesh."  And, he paints a very clear picture of this carnal us in Romans, chapter 7 where he says this, "I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Oh yeah, we know this condition. We have all felt the pressure of that chronic waywardness that lives within our inner person. This is that involuntary rebellion, even within the heart of a new believer, that refuses to submit to the lordship of Christ.

So, just as Paul describes above, with our conscious mind we have given ourselves to God. But in our subconscious mind, this carnal self wreaks constant havoc upon all of our good intentions. 

And, though we can see the high road of God's pleasure, this inner evil twin keeps us from walking it. So, every day we fight this inner battle, our conscious mind subscribing to God's way, but our subconscious mind refusing to go along - pulling us the wrong way and tempting us with a thousand subversive ploys.

If this is newness, who needs it - right? But this is not the newness that Christ offers. It is just the condition in which we find ourselves between the time of our conversion and the moment of our Spiritual Baptism into Christ. And this period of time serves very important purposes in God's redemptive scheme, and our journey toward newness.

This personal battlefield is the place where serious believers confront their inner reality. It is the place where we are humbled by our own failure. It is the place where we are made desperate by our own frustration. It is in this place that we begin to intuitively seek after the "mystery that has been kept secret since the foundation of the world." Paul describes that mystery this way, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

So, it's simple really. The "demon self" who lives deep beneath the surface of our conscious mind, even after conversion, has no intention of ever surrendering to God. The Bible says of this incorrigible, carnal mind that "it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be." 

Thus, there is really only one option for dealing with this subconscious trouble maker. He must be subdued by one stronger than himself on that very primary level where he lives. He must be subdued by the Living Christ in Spirit form.

And that is exactly what Jesus does for the believer through the Baptism of the Spirit. This is the remedy that Paul reveals if we just continue reading in Romans through chapter 8, where he answers his own question from chapter 7: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

His answer in chapter 8 is this, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.


"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."


So, when we literally become integrated with the nature of Christ through the Baptism of the Spirit here is what happens. The Divine Essence goes immediately to our subconscious mind to settle the issue of whose in charge. He instantly arrests this stubborn carnal twin of ours and establishes humility (faith) toward God as the ascendant value even on this subconscious level.

At that point, the spiritual tug-of-war ends. No longer is the believer's heart divided in its loyalty between God and self. This heart is now undivided. It is singularly devoted to God. 

And, having a singular primary devotion is the essential definition of Holiness. To be undivided in your devotion to God, both in your conscious and subconscious mind, this is Holiness of heart. And, it is the Living Christ who enables this heart purity, through the Spiritual Merger.

And with this personal completion, a deep peace finally comes to the believer. The peace that Jesus spoke of, "the peace that passes understanding." No longer is this child of God painfully suspended between two opposing governments in his or her heart.

And now, the believer is positioned to become truly and profoundly new as he or she begins to live life in the vitality of Christ and guided by His values. Now, in the real terms of the everyday, "behold, old things are passed away, and all things are become new."
But, there is also something else that these 30 years of discovery have shown me. It is simply this. Alarmingly high numbers of believers neglect this completion through a personal Spiritual Merger with Christ. Far too many believers in the grass roots of the modern Church, especially, are unaware, even of this possibility.

Many, these days, simply assume themselves to merely be hopelessly consigned to the daily spiritual failure which the divided heart brings. So they quietly accept the failure-forgiveness-failure-forgiveness cycle as a reality of their redemption.

Others assume the Baptism of the Spirit to be a mostly imperceptible benefit that is intrinsic or automatic to conversion. So, they never invest themselves in seeking, with some determination, this divine completion as the Bible instructs us to do. (Ref. Luke, chapter 11)

Still others view a realistic newness in Christ as more of an option than a natural necessity and a real requirement of the redemptive process. Thus, with all of these easier, though mistaken, options in play in the modern Church, this more sophisticated Gospel becomes a pretty hard sell.

And, in fact, we live in a time when minimal investment is the norm. These times have been drained of real clarity regarding God's authentic process by the long prevalence of easy believism and "pop preaching." 

 So, it has become easy to ignore the need for this personal completion after our initial conversion. Rather, we tend to simply focus on forgiveness, and then move on to devote our energies to pursuing the temporal things of this life in a kind of "peaceful co-existence" with our sinful daily failures.

However, there is one thing we have trouble escaping, even in these shallow times. It's His voice. The voice of God still calls to the heart of believers to finish the redemptive course, to rise, to draw near to Him in this completely devoted way.

When I encounter a young child at the alter of conversion, I am careful to tell them something before they return to their parents. I tell them this: "Just listen for His voice in your heart." 

I tell them to do that, because I know that, as surely as they have given their heart to Christ, He will begin to speak to them and urge them forward through the redemptive process. And those urgings ultimately always lead all of us to the exact same place - the place of the undivided heart, a place of personal empowerment, a place of a true and profound newness in Christ.

And so I would encourage everyone - run toward the voice that calls you to a completely devoted heart. Obey that voice with a true passion. If you hear the Holy Spirit of God calling you to Spiritual completion in Christ, then covenant with Him to put the silliness of this life on hold, and begin to devote yourself to the pursuit of this Spiritual completion above all else.

This literal integration with Christ is the indispensable, stand alone, target event of the New Testament. It is this event to which God calls every believer, after conversion, in order to touch them with this profound renewal in their inner person through the power of the invisible Living Christ. And, once we make it to the foot of the Cross, this immediate benefit of the Resurrection lies just ahead.  

So, it simply comes to this.  True redemption is not merely about the  "Fire Insurance" of forgiveness.  It is every bit as much about a Christ empowered transformation of heart and life.

It's never been a secret - until recently. Nevertheless, it remains true.  Only undivided hearts will be admitted to God's Heaven.

Oct 26, 2011

Transcendent Life

If, by some divine decree, I were given the opportunity to give to the whole world one awareness, I think it might surprise some what that would be. The truth that I would want the world to know is this: "This life is not really about this life." The idea being, of course, that our physical life should never be thought of as an end in itself. It is not.

Certainly, the drama of this physical life is an important one. And it demands a certain level of participation of all of us. And the impact of that participation has up close and personal consequences and blessings, every day. But what we sometimes do not understand is that the greatest import of this life actually overflows the physical dimension.

In fact, this life is but an increment of a much larger, a transcendent life. This physical life serves most importantly as what might be understood as an "incubation period" for our spiritual transformation.

That is why Jesus would make this statement. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? ... 


Therefore do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

In considering the "non-normal" approach to life which Jesus advocates above, it certainly helps to understand the divine purposes for this physical life. They are these: 1. To become aware of God's perspective. 2. To experience the Savior, and a renewed friendship with God through Him. 3. To mature toward the "divine character image" that Christ was sent to complete in us. These are the divine purposes for this life. And, these are the purposes which give true and enduring value to its activities and involvements.

So, it should not be that this life becomes an end in itself. And yet, often it does. We become so immersed in climbing the business ladder, or achieving some personal success, or pursuing some intense interest, etc. that those pursuits become disconnected. We simply subtract them from the redemptive purpose that God intends such things to serve.

Thus, what God meant to be a shaping, transforming process to bring us to new levels of spiritual awareness and personal definition becomes derailed. Instead, life's pursuits become something we chase simply for their immediate, intrinsic value.

And certainly, the pursuits of this life do have intrinsic value. That is why we become so carried away with them, at times. But what they do not have, in and of themselves, is enduring value. Their usefulness is always short lived when disconnected from God's larger purpose.

So, we may get to the top of that corporate or political ladder, etc. We may achieve some great personal aspiration. But, when we do, most of this brief life will probably be behind us. And in any case, the glory of physical / material achievements are still very soon relinquished to death, and usually, long before that, to the ravages of age.

So, the offerings of this physical existence remain seductive; but obviously, the simple variable is how long the "fun" will last. Will it be only for the brief decades that the physical life affords us. Or, will it be for a transcendent lifetime.

That latter choice is truly empowered by the clear awareness that, indeed, this life is not really about this life. So, I would love for the world to simply understand that the life-scene which we are all presently viewing is only one brief act of a much larger Redemptive Drama.

Jul 31, 2011

Undivided

Oh, we study the Bible. But, in fact, we don’t often study it "desperately," as we might study text books when we are trying to become a doctor, or an engineer, or a scientist. 

When it comes to preparing for our vocation, we typically seek a comprehensive, coherent, and accurate body of knowledge. But when it comes to our faith, we are too often content with simplistic clich├ęs and a second hand, cobbled together theology. And all of that is usually aimed more at getting through the day than a thorough understanding of God and His agenda.

So, in the absence of substantial information, more and more of us are just making god up. We ad-lib god. We fashion a god that is who we need him to be, rather than who God really is.

And we always make him a "good" god. That is, we create a god who behaves the way we need him to behave. For example, typically, we like for him to keep a comfortable distance until we need help. Then we want him to becomes our divine "leg man" busily rearranging life’s circumstances to serve our selfish interests.

If we need encouragement, he becomes our "pick me up" so we can get on with our personal agenda. If we boo boo, even if it’s a big time boo boo, our self made god usually just excuses us by one means or another, and leaves us mostly unbothered and unchanged.

So, in short, designer gods, the gods we fashion in our minds, don’t put much pressure on us. As a result, these little "divine figments" necessarily play down the importance of significant investment and personal struggle. 

Rather they wink when we cut moral corners and take ethical shortcuts and choose the easy, but wrong, way. And why wouldn’t they. It is really our druthers, after all, that shaped and defined these small and well behaved gods in the first place. So, understandably, these manufactured gods are not going to put much emphasis on holiness of heart.

But when it comes to the real God - don’t count on it. Holiness matters to Him - immensely. It is an indispensable and immutable part of His own most basic identity. And He absolutely insists on making it a part of ours.

Holiness, in God and man, is no more complicated than this. It is integrity of heart. In other words it is an undivided heart, a heart that has a single primary devotion to goodness. 

In God, that singularity perfectly permeates His entire being and His every action. He is completely, always, and without any contradiction, entirely and singularly devoted to true goodness.

That same imperative also comes to vibrant life in all who truly live in the passions of Christ. And though we may struggle with absolute perfection in our own pursuit of goodness - we absolutely do not struggle with our devotion to it. In fact, the whole thrust of the redemptive operation is to restore that singularity of purpose in man’s heart - to give us integrity of intent.

To see the true God accurately, is to understand Him to be a Holy God, a God perfectly devoted to "rightness," and a God who cares whether or not His people are so dedicated. And while Satan and even our own warped views may sometimes attempt to discredit the idea of holiness in God and man, yet, that is not really possible. 

If God lives, He lives with but a single primary devotion: true goodness. And if we live in Christ, that same lovely, and purifying, and elevating devotion comes to life in us through his divine nature which moves us.

The Adversary would have us to believe that holiness is an unattainable attribute for humanity. But, in fact, it is the very fabric of our existence if we have been literally baptized into the vitality of Christ. 
And, while we may be, on occasion, imperfect in awareness, or perspective, or understanding, or even actions; yet, ultimately we are undivided in our devotion to all that God shows us to be good. 

We make mistakes in life; but these three must not be among them: We must never fashion our own convenient little god. He will fail our soul in the end. 

We must never fail to understand the true God to be a holy God who requires the same in His people. And, we must not fail our own capacity, in Christ, to be a holy people, having but a single primary devotion in an undivided heart.

Some day, from the high vantage point of the after life, when we review the troubles of these troubled times, mankind’s primary problem will be easily obvious. From that vantage point, we will clearly see that the spiritual struggles of these days do not, in fact, stem from any lack of capacity or ability. Rather, they flow directly from a lack of resolve - the always unavoidable dividend of shallow or multiplied devotions. Nevertheless, the first requisite of God’s Heaven stands. Heaven still requires an undivided heart - singularly devoted to goodness.

"... The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." Deuteronomy. 6:4-5

"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." 2 Cor. 7:1

"... if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness." Eph. 4:21-24


"Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy.'' 1Peter 1:13-16

"Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." Heb. 12:14

Apr 20, 2011

God Who?

There once was a man who was always delighted to show off his very elegant home. It was, indeed, impressive. He had spent much time and energy decorating it according to the latest design trends. And it was beautifully and tastefully done throughout.

And the property surrounding his home was perfectly manicured. And beyond that, the latest in security features protected all.

It was very obvious that he was extremely proud of this beautiful and secure living circumstance. And given the level of his achievement, one could easily understand his pride - except for one thing.

It was difficult to ignore the fact that these beautiful and tastefully decorated environs were located on death row at a large prison facility. The reality was that the man had been there so long and had become so mentally and emotionally immersed in creating a tasteful environment in his cell that his mind had blocked out the fact that he lived on death row, and even that, but for a short time longer.

There are those in our world who say, "What need have I of God? I have a happy and fulfilling family life. I have a great job with a very nice income level. I am surrounded by many loyal and supportive and like minded friends. I live in a really good neighborhood. I have the important "toys" that I want. I have the security of various insurance coverage's, and large savings and investments accounts. I have my 'ducks in a row.' So, why do I need God?"

Here is the correct, if perhaps slightly too frank, answer to such a clueless question: "YOU ARE LIVING ON DEATH ROW, DUMMY! - and even that, but for a short time longer. It is not a brilliant move to ignore the only Being in the universe who can commute your sentence."

But isn't this the cosmic mistake of our time: Building a really great "house" in a really bad "location."


John 3:15 and following:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

High Points

Among countless blessings in my life, two pinnacle events have happened to me. The first: I encountered the Cross of Christ. From a deep personal valley of failure and discouragement, I looked up to see it, a beacon of true hope, a matchless opportunity to redeem my broken life.

Glimpsing the Cross from the low perspective of your own desperation is quite different than simply hearing of its worth from others. To know of the Savior intellectually, is not even close to experiencing his brilliance, deep in your own despairing soul. Godly families are great, but even the strongest religious heritage cannot bring you to this indispensable awareness of Jesus. Even the best religious background can do no more than set the stage for the real transformation that flows from the view provided by our own personal brokenness.

And certainly, to be merely assimilated into the social network of the Church is but a cheap counterfeit of true personal redemption. Crisis and pain and deep personal investment in his lordship are simply the unavoidable requirements for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Anything, anything less is but shallow pretense.

It was this redemptive absolute that was forever confirmed to me so long ago in the emotional fires of my own deep valley. And it was this break through that became a pinnacle event of my now 62 years. It was the moment when I was finally able to see the Jesus of the Cross, not merely through intellectual eyes, but through the searching eyes of humble desperation. In that moment, Jesus alone became the magnificent King of my heart.

And once I saw my Savior from the low plane of my own need, then the promise and glory of His Cross burst across the landscape of my mind and circumstance. And the warm blanket of God's rescuing love renewed my hope and encouraged me to a new start and an enduring and sure path for my life. In that low place I found a true Savior. He saved my soul. He saved me from my own self destructive behavior. And He saved me from my then present dismal circumstance.

And that kindly rescue, in turn, enabled the next pinnacle of my life. From those early beginnings in Christ came a call to maturity and consistency. Not unlike the voice inside a child that constantly moves them to "grow up," so was this godly voice that called me forward and caused me to search for some sure and certain means of success. And in that search I experienced the second high point of my life.

So, in one motion, I found a new level of reality through my Savior; and in that reality, I also found that I was as inconsistent as God was real. In my desire to rise and walk on the high plane of God's will for my life I began to discover a new truth. Painfully, it was this: When it came to pleasing God, in both my behavior and my basic being, there was, every day, more failure than success.

While I was glad that my daily failures could be forgiven through Christ, at the same time, the pain and turmoil that those failures caused quickly became unbearable. And I found little comfort, really, in the failure - forgiveness - failure - forgiveness cycle. I wanted a peaceful, and pleasurable, and God pleasing relationship. And the reality was - It simply wasn't there.

So, to the core of my soul, I started to hunger for a means, a way, some source of sufficiency that would bring me peace, and God's consistent approval. I thought it not too much to hope that I was not saved by a holy and almighty God, only to be consigned to the constant daily failures of my fallen humanity.

Turns out, I was right. After some brief time of soul searching, and further humbling, and seeking and praying for a remedy for my constant failure, God gave me one. It was Jesus. Oh, not the Jesus of the Cross, but a new Jesus. He was the Jesus of the Resurrection.

This was the Living Jesus who had the capability to share His very nature with me. This vital and powerful Jesus, though unseen, had the ability to bring his vitality for a God pleasing life to me through the divine merger. And so He did.

On some wonderful day a few weeks after my conversion, the actual date of which I never thought to remember, I experienced the second pinnacle event. It was my spiritual baptism into the Living Jesus. It occurred by some divine operation that I do not, to this day, entirely understand in the mechanics. But, I certainly understand it's results.

Peace came to my relationship with God, and a new level of access, and a new depth of awareness. And the daily failures began to diminish. And consistency of thought and behavior began to rise. And maturity, began to show up in my walk. And eventually the question changed. It went from, "How can I rise above sinful failures," to "How can I be more fruitful in my character?"

The question changed because the issues changed. Jesus, the Living Jesus, the Spirit Jesus of the Resurrection became my power over daily sin. He became my consistency of thought and action. And when His daily empowerment became a reality, overwhelming sin became mostly the issue of the past. Eventually, the major concern became one of growth, and maturity, and fruitfulness in Him. And in that sweet pursuit, a peaceful, and fulfilling, and deeply intimate relationship came to life in real terms with the God who created me.

I will never forget the first day I laid eyes on my wife, Donna. I will forever cherish the wonderful events of our married life. I will never forget the major events and the precious memories of my children's lives. And I have been part of many great moments in my time. But in all of the composition of this thing we call life - from two pinnacle events stem the quality of all the rest: The day I looked up in humility to see Jesus on the Cross that saved me - And the day Jesus shared His divine vitality to relieve the deep and disabling pain of my inner sinful nature.

Romans 5:1. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Feb 27, 2011

The Ultimate Encounter

Jesus said this. "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."

The most fulfilling thing in life is to encounter the Savior in the way He intended. Sadly, most of the world in every generation will live and die and never have a serious encounter with Jesus Christ. Many will never even hear of Him. And of those who do, relatively few of us will experience the ultimate encounter that He offers.

Oh, we may be impressed by His utter selflessness. We may be grateful for His death on the Cross and all that it means. We may even be moved to embrace Christ as our Savior, the Benefactor of our forgiveness. But relatively few will actually venture beyond the realm of forgiveness, to discover Jesus on the higher plane of relationship.

But there truly is a higher plane than that which is born out of feckless gratitude. It is higher, too, than a mere orientation around our works - what we do. Our behavior is important, but our behavior is not the most primary basis for the ultimate encounter with Christ.

The ultimate relationship with Christ is based, not in what we do, but in who we are. It is the quality of our character that is at the center of God’s ultimate redemptive purpose. The pinnacle to which our faith is suppose to bring us is a true personal newness in Christ. To become new in heart, to experience a rewrite of our value system, to be changed at the very core of our being into a new and truly godly person - that is the ultimate import of our faith.

But again, sadly, most just hang around near the entrance of that experience - waiting, somehow hesitant - grateful, but hesitant. But, even while we linger - we know. We hear, if only vaguely, that divine purpose calling to us. Yet we don’t respond; because we understand instinctively that to pursue that calling would require a great deal of us.

And so, something inside often forbids us even to acknowledge the challenge, much less, to actually believe in its possibilities and risk ourselves to them. Thus, we are left loitering around the "beginning place," compensating for our refusal to go forward with the expressions of our unenergized gratitude.

But, the truth is - we are not called to shallow gratitude. We are not called to religious loitering. We are not called to rhetorical compensations. We are called to newness in Jesus Christ.

The point of the Resurrection is to provide us with a Living Savior. The point of having a Living Savior is so that we can personally merge with Him through the Baptism of the Spirit. The point of that merger is to allow us to borrow from the vitality of His life. The point of that borrowing is so that, in the power of His energy, we can truly be transformed in heart. And the point of our transformation is so that we can enjoy a relationship with God that is based in a renewed likeness to Him.

In our silly and shallow culture, we hear a lot of deluded talk about the "richness" which flows from our diversity and differences. In truth though, richness only ever really occurs in a relationship if our differences are essentially insignificant, and if the things we cherish in common, far out weigh those minor differences.

The reality is, if our differences are significant, they always, always, always tend to drive us apart. Think about it. Important differences are the very things we fight about. So, to believe that significant differences somehow make relationships better is, indeed, delusional thinking. They absolutely do not.

On the other hand, whether between partners in a marriage, the citizens of a nation, the members of a family, or between the creature and the Creator, always the foundation for fulfilling relationship is the mass of our sameness, our shared values, our deep agreement about the significant things. It is the volume of our agreement that is the real basis for "richness" and strength in our relationships.

And that is the gift that our transforming Savior gives to us through the Spiritual merger. By integrating His character with our own, Jesus changes who we are. He brings us to a profound newness at our core by implanting within us His godly values, which, in turn, bring us into a beautiful harmony with God. And from that compatibility, flows the kindred relational embrace that we were always meant to know and enjoy with our Creator.

And behold! As Jesus changes who we are, that also becomes the enduring correction of what we do. Because, what we do always flows from who we are. Thus, it is this transforming encounter that truly redeems.

The Ultimate Encounter with Christ is to know Him as the source and power and reality of a profound newness of heart - A newness that brings an easy and natural compatibility with our Creator - and a beautiful and godly consistency to our behavior.

It was Paul,when he spoke to the followers of Christ at Ephesus, who asked the telling question for all believers . He asked, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" The answer to that question, for each one of us, decides the quality and completeness of our encounter with Christ.