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 from 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 become 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 one 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 values, my truth, and my loving guidance in 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.  They will 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 not 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 in Christ. 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

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 from 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.  Those purposes actually have quite a logical order.   

First, God's ultimate purpose is to renew the broken relationship between God and Man.  Second, in order to do this, a shared values system must be established as the basis for that renewed friendship.  And third, in order to convey these renewing heart values, God has designed that we should ultimately experience a personal Spiritual merger with the Living Christ so that our renewed relationship is established in His power and sufficiency.  So, these are the foundational purposes which give real and enduring value to the activities and involvements of this physical life.

Thus, it should not be that this life becomes an end in itself. And yet, often it does. We become so enamored with climbing the corporate ladder, or achieving some personal goal, or pursuing some intense interest, etc. that those pursuits become a purpose in and of themselves. We simply disconnect them from the overarching redemptive purposes which God intended that such things would serve.

Thus, what God wants to use in the redemptive process to shape, and define, and renew us  becomes unavailable for those purposes. Instead, life's pursuits become something we chase merely for their immediate, intrinsic value.

And certainly, the pursuits of this life do have an innate attraction of their own. 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 uses.

So, we may get to the top of that corporate or political ladder, etc. We may achieve some great personal aspiration. But usually, by the time we do, most of this brief life is behind us. And, even in the best case scenario, 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.  And really, we should never subtract it from that bigger picture.

Jul 31, 2011


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 God and to His true 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.

And, 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 the pursuit, itself. 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 true good, 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 absolutely 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 who have but a single foundational devotion - and thus, a truly 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 did not, in fact, stem from any lack of capacity or ability. Rather, they flowed from a divided heart.  Nevertheless, the first requisite still stands. Heaven still requires an undivided heart - one which is singularly devoted to God and a God-defined 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 "neighborhood."

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.

Foundational Moments

Among countless blessings in my life, I have experienced two, truly foundational moments. The first was the moment 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, not only my soul, but also, my broken life.

Glimpsing the Cross from the low perspective of your own humble desperation is quite different than simply hearing of its worth from others. To know of the Savior intellectually, does not even come close to actually experiencing his brilliance within the dark emotional valley of your own despairing circumstance.

And, that truth brings us to the absolute requisite of the Redemptive Rebirth of the human soul.  A truly life changing encounter with Christ is simply never born of a casual engagement which leaves us still generally independent and still mostly in charge of our own life.  Rather, it is born out of the birth pains of our humble desperation, which finally enables us to thoroughly embrace God's values, His truth, and His daily directions for our life.  

Thus, to merely be gradually assimilated into the social fabric and busy work of Church life is no substitute for discovering Christ within the ash heap of our own brokenness.  And, godly families are great.  But, even the best religious heritage can do no more than set the stage for this indispensable redemptive requisite: the humbling impact of coming to the end of ourselves.  And it was, indeed, this kind of desperate circumstance which brought me to that first foundational moment where I was finally able to know the reality and the worth of the Dying Christ.

And this new awareness, then set the stage for the second foundational moment of my life.  As I awakened to my new reality of Christ's vibrant daily friendship, I discovered something about myself.  

In my new found desire to walk on the high plane of this daily friendship, I discovered that a great gulf existed between my desires and my ability.  That is, when it came to pleasing Him, in both my heart perspectives and my behavior, it became painfully obvious that I was experiencing much more failure than success.  And, while I was glad that my daily failures could be forgiven through Christ, at the same time, the pain and relational turmoil caused by those failures quickly became completely unacceptable. 

And, truthfully, I found very little comfort in the failure/ forgiveness - failure/ forgiveness cycle. I wanted a peaceful, and pleasurable, and consistently God pleasing relationship. And the reality was - it simply wasn't happening.

So, I started to hunger for some means, some source of sufficiency that would bring me that peace, and God's consistent approval. I thought it not too much to hope that I was not saved by an almighty God, only to be left, still consigned to the constant daily failures of the human frailty.

And, it turns out, my hope was not at all misplaced! After some brief time of soul searching, and the further humbling that these daily failures produced, something happened.  As, I continued to intensely pray for a remedy for my inconsistency - God gave me one. 

My remedy was Jesus. Oh, not the Dying Jesus of the Cross.  He had already done His work of providing me with the inestimable gift of forgiveness in His name.  But, the Jesus whom God's gave me as a remedy for my present dilemma was the Living Jesus of the Resurrection.

And, I discovered that, this Jesus, as a Living Savior, has the capability to symbiotically share His very character essence with me. And so, He did, through that mystical Spiritual merger which the Church has come to refer to as The Baptism of the Spirit. 

It happened on one wonderful day, some weeks after that first foundational moment when I embraced Christ as the Lord of my life.  On this day, I experienced this second and completing foundational moment of my life. 

And, in all honesty, at the time, and for some short time after, I really did not understand what had happened to me in this moment of my personal Spiritual merger with Christ.  But, I certainly understood the impacts.

Immediately, the relational peace, which I had so longed for, came to my heart.  And, as it turns out, just as Jesus said, it does, indeed, pretty much defy explanation.  But, with that peace also came a new level of God-awareness bringing a new level of daily intimacy with Him.  

And, best of all, 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 basic daily question changed entirely. It went from, "How can I rise above my daily sinful failures?" to "How can I be more polished in my character?"

The question changed because the issue changed.  I have since discovered that what happened was that the Living Jesus, through that Spiritual merger, literally, in real terms, " overwrote" my value system to match His own. 

To be sure, that overwrite came in primordial, or infant, form.  But, even in that earliest form, it began to supply me with a very effective and very natural form of empowerment over my more base self.

And, once this daily empowerment became an enlarging reality in my life, outmatching base and sinful impulses started to become much easier.  So, that process started to become a much more background issue. In the foreground was that now more relevant idea of character maturity in the power of the Living Christ, whose vitality I now shared in.    

And, once I was able to consistently faced down my own baseness by the power of the Living Christ, then this transformative character growth became my new daily legacy. And, through this Christ-empowered process, my daily pursuit has now become an ever more mature oneness of heart with the God who created.  And, it is entirely thanks to the Living Christ.

I have been blessed to experience many wonderful moments in my life.  For example, I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on my wife, Donna. And, I absolutely cherish the many wonderful times of our fifty year married life, since. 

Nor, will I ever forget the the precious memories of my children's lives. And I have been part of many other great relational and ministry moments, in my time. 

But, I am very aware that the quality and meaning of all of those cherished moments rest entirely on those two more foundational moments in my early life:  The moment I discovered the reality of the Dying Christ and the forgiveness of His Cross.  And, the moment I experienced the shared vitality of the Living Christ through my personal integration with His empowering Character Essence. 

 "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." - The Apostle Paul

Feb 27, 2011

The Ultimate God Encounter

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, relational 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.

"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. 

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."  - Jesus