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.