Nov 14, 2011

Irrelevant? YEAH RIGHT

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 fr"om my broken life?" "Is death all there is?" or "What does God want for me and from me?" or "How can I really come to know God?" Oh, sometimes, I truly 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 just don't seem to really have any questions that I can answer.

Well, OK then.  I guess I can just gracefully irrelevant to a couple of generations - 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 everlasting 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, 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 character essence, 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 my Son, 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. I only asked humility, first in the form of sorrow for your waywardness, and then as a sincere embrace of my value system and directions for your life. But that response never came.

"Nothing  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 my Son, Jesus, simply had no value to you. So, you just arrogantly ignored it all.

"Thus, 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 you shall never be granted a reprieve, nor even a hearing for reprieve, from that place - forever.

"And, because the Cross of your Savior had no value to you, neither shall it have value to Me now to save you from this everlasting punishment. Because you never tasted the power of His Resurrection, neither shall you now taste the power of His deliverance from my 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 genuine 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, at least for some of them, this will happen. God's "chasing" love will see to that.

And then, guess what!  I get to provide the good answers of God's grace to their awakening hearts! I am ec-static at the possibility! I just hope my head has'nt already turned to purple smoke by the time that opportunity 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 brought me to this deeply fulfilling friendship with God. And the more I have looked, the more I have become enamored with the sheer beauty and gracefulness of what God has done though Christ. To this very day, forty+ years later, I stand in complete 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 actually 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, our transformation, in real terms, is a direct outflow of the Resurrection.

Said another way, it is the Dying Christ of the Cross who secures our forgiveness, but it is the Living Christ of the Resurrection who empowers us to become "new creatures." And that empowerment is entirely enabled by our Spiritual merger with the Living Christ - the event the Church refers to as the Spiritual Baptism

This merger literally enables a connection between the character essence of Christ and that of the believer in order to literally revitalize the sincere believer through the vitality and value system of the Living Christ. So, obviously, this personal integration with the character essence of Christ is ultimately as necessary to the redemptive purpose as is our conversion moment

In the redemptive process, 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 that inner, subconscious person within us who absolutely refuses to voluntarily surrender to the lordship of Christ and the authority of God, much less, truly and thoroughly embrace His value system. 

The apostle, 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 subconscious 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 
(what Paul calls, our members), this carnal self wreaks constant havoc upon all of our good intentions. 

Thus, 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 opposing 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 metaphysical merger with the Living Christ.  And, while disconcerting, nevertheless, this period of time serves very important purposes in God's redemptive scheme, and our journey toward newness.

This very personal inner conflict is the time when serious believers confront their own remaining subconscious rebellion. And this inner battlefield is the place where we are profoundly humbled by our own failures. 

It is the place where we are made desperate by our own frustration. But, driven by this desperation, it is also the place where we intuitively begin to reach out and 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 trouble-making subconscious twin of ours. He must be subdued by one stronger than himself on the most primary governing level of our core person, where he operates. Thus, he must be subdued by the vitality of the Living Christ.

And that is exactly what the Living Jesus of the Resurrection does for the believer through the Spiritual merger. This is the remedy that Paul reveals if we just continue reading in Romans, 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
[daily vitality] to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." [Brackets added]

So, when our character essence literally becomes Spiritually integrated with the character essence of the Living Christ here is what happens. The Divine Essence goes immediately to our subconscious mind to settle the issue of who is in charge in our life. He instantly arrests this stubborn carnal twin of ours by removing the value of self-determination as the prime value of our subconscious person.  And, in it's place, the vitality of His character essence now firmly establishes Faith, a consistent humility toward God, as the prime value even on this subconscious level of our being.

At this point, that inner "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, not just on the conscious level, but also on the most primary governing level of the subconscious.  

And, that singularity of heart, is the very definition of Holiness - Having a singular primary devotion in one's heart.  And, it is entirely the Living Christ, in Spirit form, who enables this heart purity, through a very real and impactful character integration with the devout believer. 

And with this personal completion, a deep peace finally comes to the believer. The peace that Jesus described as, "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 sustaining and energizing vitality of the Living Christ.  Now guided by the new values of His integrated character essence within the believer, in very real terms, "behold, old things are passed away, and all things are become new."

But, I must mention, there is also something else that these 40+ years of discovery have shown me. It is simply this. Alarmingly high numbers of believers entirely neglect this completing Spiritual Merger with Christ. For whatever reasons, modern believers seem to prefer impotency and daily failure to the experience of this very real empowerment in the Living Christ.

Thus many, these days, merely assume themselves to be hopelessly consigned to the daily failures which a divided heart always brings. So they quietly accept the failure-forgiveness-failure-forgiveness cycle as the normal reality of their redemption.

Others assume the Baptism of the Spirit to be a mostly imperceptible thing which is just an undifferentiated part of their conversion moment. So, they never invest themselves in seeking, with some determination, this divine completion as the Bible instructs believers to do (Ref. Luke, chapter 11).  

And, still others view a realistic newness in Christ as more of an option than a natural necessity and a real requirement of God's redemptive plan.  And, indeed, we do live in a time when minimal investment has become much more the norm for believers. 

Plus, the sad reality is that the modern Church has been largely drained of real clarity regarding God's authentic redemptive process by the prevalence of pop-preaching's "easy-believism"  Thus, with all of these negatives now in play, this authentic redemptive process does becomes something of a "hard sell."

 So, bottom line, 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.   It's really a kind of "peaceful co-existence" with our own waywardness born of a heart still caught in the throes of decision between self and God.

Nevertheless, there is one thing we have trouble escaping, even in these shallow times:  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 younger 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 truly embraced the lordship of 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 who hear them to the exact same place: A Spiritual Merger with Christ - which becomes for us, the place of the undivided heart, the place of noble personal empowerment, the place of a true and profound newness in Christ.

And so, I would encourage everyone - run toward that voice which calls you to completeness in the character essence of the Living Christ. Ignore all others; and, obey that True Voice with a true passion.  Put
 the tedium of this life on hold, and begin to devote yourself to the pursuit of this empowering connection to Christ with all stubbornness. 

This literal personal integration with Christ is, absolutely, the indispensable, stand-alone, Target Event of New Testament redemption. It is to this event that God calls every believer, after conversion, in order to touch them with this pervasive, Christ-enbled newness in their inner person.  Truly, this immediate benefit of the Resurrection lies just beyond the forgiveness of the Cross for every believer who will sincerely seek it.  

So, it simply comes to this.  True redemption is not merely about the  "fire insurance" of forgiveness.  It is ultimately and absolutely about this Christ-empowered newness heart. Truly, this is God's authentic redemptive purpose and His indispensable requisite for entry into His Heaven.

"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."  - The Apostle, Paul, from The Book of Romans