Sep 14, 2010

People Of The Higher Plane

There are a couple of levels upon which we operate in this life. The first is the level of the Base Plane where we deal with such questions as, What do I want / What do I need / What's in it for me, etc. This is the low plane of life, the plane of the minimal existence. There are few complications of conscience here. This low plane is basically about subsistence and survival - no big questions asked.

So it usually becomes, in practical terms, merely about paying the bills, coping with the kids in the minimal amount of time, doing what has to be done, grabbing after personal advantage, and keeping a low perspective to avoid the more complicated issues.

Life on this lower plane is efficient and streamlined and mostly repetitive. It doesn't require complex thought. It does not require us to become involved in the abstract or consider the larger and more noble issues. But neither does this plane add much to us, personally, or to our world. Actually, over time, life lived on this low plane makes us to be quite ugly and empty.

The second level upon which we can choose to operate in this life is the level of the Higher Plane where we do, indeed, become involved in the more sophisticated issues of life: Is it right / Is it good / Is it moral / Does it please God, etc. This is the plane of conscience and intellect. This is the plane where we address the more complex questions, where the abstract comes into play, where we do take on the complicated stuff of mind and conscience.

Life on this plane is not so efficient. This higher plane of life requires us to be more conscientious, more intellectually invested and aware, and more sensitive to a larger array of concerns. This plane of living simply takes more time, and thought, and energy for its processes.

As long as we are only about the immediate issues of the lower plane, basically, "What's in it for me," or "How does it benefit me or mine," we will never be great people, people of gravity, truly respectable people. Such smallness is simply not respectable. In fact, when our sphere of concerns becomes that small, we become people of the most minimal merit.

On the other hand, we can take our head out of the "simplistic sands" of the lower plane. We can choose to look around and begin to measure our existence by the higher values of life. It is when we gage our existence by these higher values: love, self discipline, honesty, morality, integrity, honor, duty, faithfulness, humility, godliness, etc. that we do, indeed, become people of the higher plane.

And, in fact, bringing us to the higher plane of life, to the higher and more noble concerns, is absolutely God's purpose for us in Christ. However, I think it accurate to say, we are not cooperating with his intentions at the level that we did, even a generation or two ago.

What is different about the Church of today is the lower percentage of people who are willing to embrace life on the higher plane. What is different in our homes today is the lower percentage of parents that are people of the higher plane. What is different in Washington today is the lower percentage of leadership who are willing to live and lead by the values of the higher plane. What has changed in our world is the smaller number of people who are willing to pursue life on the higher plane.

Perhaps all of us operate on the lower plane of life in some measure. But not enough of us get beyond that meager level now. Not enough of us operate on the higher plane of conscience and character anymore. That's too bad. We would be much better people, have a much better life, and a much better world if we would trust Jesus, not just to save our soul, but also to elevate our character.

The Glow

Yesterday morning I preached at a church in east Texas, near Tyler, with a congregation of about 300 precious people. As I preached, that sweet, old thing that so often does, happened again. The glow came. I have seen it so very many times, but I never take it for granted. Every time it is brand new and wonderful. And every time it is confirming of the Holy Spirit's presence in the sanctuary service.

Lest anyone misunderstand, though, the Heavenly light on their faces couldn't have less to do with the preacher, himself. Rather, indeed, it has everything to do with the operation of the Holy Spirit as He removes those "earthy" scales from the congregation's mind to enlighten their heart.

And that impact is so very obvious from the perspective of the pulpit as God's Spirit moves through the crowd turning on the light of personal revelation. Until eventually, the room is aglow with the living, burning truth of God. 

Faces literally shine with awareness. Eyes speak volumes. At that point, as the preacher, you know that God is making His word heard, not just in their ears, but deep in their hearts.

That is when preaching becomes preaching. That is when "church" becomes a personal encounter with God. And that is when this surly world begins to lose its grip on their lives.

This glow of, "Oh! To the depth of my soul, I am 'getting' this," across the faces of a congregation is a phenomenon of matchless beauty and limitless potential. In these holy and precious moments  when the soul is lighted by truth, any thing can happen. Addictions can be conquered. Fears can be overcome. The weight of past sins can be loosed. Broken hearts can be mended. Astounding leaps of faith can be made. And some of that happened yesterday.

Such is the power that is connected to the Christian pulpit. It absolutely transcends the superficiality of mere  peaked emotions, high tension rhetoric or a glib tongue. All of these are but mere gimmicks in comparison to true divine enlightenment. And, to be there when truth comes to vibrant life in the power of the Holy Spirit is an incomparable experience.

Such are the riches that the Church offers to the world. And, what a privilege to preach a message which actually comes to life as I breath it, which has its own life within itself. 

 And what a fulfilling thing to see that renewing life splash across the faces of the congregation in the form of new joy and excitement and awareness. Without doubt, mine is the greatest job on earth - bar none.

Who Rules

Over the centuries, the theological debate has been, "Do we rule over sin, or does sin rule us?" Across the years of my ministry (35+), I have far too often been surprised by the secret sin that absolutely reigns over and oppresses many. Far too frequently, I have sat in my study as someone, respected in the church and/or the community, in a moment of desperation, revealed the dark, secret sin that was absolutely ruling over them.

On one occasion I experienced a kind of group revelation of this sort. I was addressing a church men's group of about 50, and I made a remark about how widespread the involvement in Internet pornography had become.   I said that, if we knew the truth, there were probably men in this group who were being victimized by internet porn, that very day.

I was not prepared for the reaction that came that morning. Suddenly it became completely easy to read the faces and body language of those men like a newspaper. Instantly, you could see a flood of emotional change go across the group. 

A significant percentage started changing positions in their chair, looking away, looking down, and slipping into blank stares. The group, as a whole, became aware of the change in "atmosphere." Then you could hear a pin drop as eyes began to dart around the room.

It was starkly obvious that long repressed guilt in some of those men instantly and involuntarily shot to the surface. I was, myself, totally taken back because I simply did not expect such an abrupt and visible reaction from this church group.

Does sin rule us? Sometimes it absolutely does, and in the harshest way.  The prescription which the Bible gives us to overcome the rule sin in our lives is found in 1st John 1: 5 and following. 

Those verses say this, "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The simple remedy of "confession," (always to God, and sometimes to others) realigns us with God's moral will and initiates the cleansing process that ultimately leads to consistent victory over sin. But, it is one thing to recognize the evil of sin and wrestle your way free of its grip, with God's help. It is quite another thing to intentionally hide sin away in your life so that you can continue to practice it, covertly, without anyone knowing. 

 Protecting, and Planning for, and Pursuing the Reality of sin in one's life is not the "wrestling match for freedom." It is hypocrisy, and pretense, and delusion. And, such foolishness absolutely makes sin the ruler over us and over our personal destiny.

Over the years, the walls of my study have definitely heard many confessions of desperate people whose lives were deeply damaged and even destroyed by their secret sin. And this was not sin that they could not overcome. In Christ, there is no such thing. 

Instead, this was cherished sin, sin they chose not to overcome. They protected and quietly embraced this sin, until they discovered they were not holding it, but rather, it actually had a death grip on them.

Usually, by the time I was hearing about this very private and protected sin, their marriage, their self respect, their reputation, their relationship to God, and/ or their hope for the future were mostly "down the tubes." Protected sin will always destroy one's quality of life, and very often, not just the quality of life of those who are harboring the darkness, but also that of the people around them.

Cherished sin is not God's idea of redemption . That is merely a delusion we fashion for ourselves.  God's plan is to extricate people from the darkness of sin, first by the Cross of the Dying Christ, and then by the personal empowerment that flows through the Resurrection and the Living Christ. 

Sin always rules in the absence of our Spiritual merger with the Living Christ. But, in the power of that oneness with Christ, the believer absolutely can rule over sin in the most real terms of everyday life. It is merely a matter of pursuing that liberation in good faith. Anything less, and sin wins.

"For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?  

"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." - The Apostle Paul