Mar 29, 2010

The Rubber Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 10, 2010

Pop Preachers, Gotta' Love 'Em

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, Himself, confirms this in John, 15:1 and following. There He says, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet success! And it's all Christ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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