Posts Tagged ‘Submit’

Juxtaposed

April 3, 2014

James does a great job of presenting the contrast in wisdom:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. (James 3:13-18 HCSB)

The key phrase is But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart…for it spells out what is going on behind the scenes of the play we write for public consumption. Notice the principle characteristics of heavenly wisdom tie in nicely with Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. Human wisdom hates hypocrisy when it’s made public and someone else but practices it without batting an eye when the spotlight is diverted. Those exposed as acting (which is what hypocrisy means) in public displays of righteousness while being somewhat or wholly other than in private are crucified on the cross of public opinion and scorned. Unfortunately, many doing the crucifying and scorning hide similar or even worse attributes behind their stage curtains and backdrops. Which means they are using the misfortune of someone else to divert attention away from themselves.
The believer lives out in the open for the most part. Oh, we shouldn’t trust just any person off the street with our hearts or inner struggles since the world has a tendency to turn on anyone who displays weakness. Jesus declared, “By their fruit you will know them.” If we display the characteristics of the world’s desire for blood when dealing with sinners, then we are no different. It’s no wonder so many people become bitter about the message of the gospel when its self-proclaimed practitioners fail to show the key ingredients grace and mercy.
Yet here’s the kicker: What do we expect out of sinners? What do we expect out of even those sinners washed in the blood and saved by grace?
Our expectations set us up for disappointment when applied to fallible, fallen and recovering sinners, even those saved by grace. What we believe should almost always stand juxtaposed with what is. Again, what we believe ought to be the norm often flies in the face of what exists and has never changed since the beginning of the world.
Those who follow my blog might remember the entry from Ecclesiastes where Solomon declared, Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 HCSB) What else can this mean except that we should acknowledge both traits reside in us–albeit not peacefully. Paul claimed the two natures were at war with one another (see Romans 7:22, 23). If this is the state of every follower of the Way, then who has any advantage over anyone else? And if the Word of God declares all sold under sin and no one righteous without the blood of Jesus, who has the right to condemn anyone else?
This being the case does this mean we throw in the towel and give up trying to change ourselves or the world for the better? No. Yet neither does it mean we expect the impossible. Where sin affects the reasoning power the perspective skews to a lesser or greater degree. It’s impossible this side of glorification to find an un-skewed POV anywhere on the planet because everyone’s affected–or infected might be a better term. The moment someone begins their advice to me or anyone else within my hearing with words like “If the world or church would just…” I realize I’m listening to either a power-monger or an idealist.
According to the gospel, in order to get rid of oppression we must get rid of sin; to get rid of sin we must purify the human race. How do we purge the sin out of a race of practicing sinners? What sin goes first? Who’s sin gets targeted as the worst of offenses?
Again, to get rid of lying, cheating, murder, sexual deviancy, abuse, or any other evil infecting the human race to its ruin we don’t get rid of the people, ideology, or make stricter laws governing behavior but focus on the core cause of these. Behavior grows out of the thought life and inner reality a person is either educated to or chooses to believe. Culture is just a name we put on a lifestyle/modus operandi for a group of people who live in a region. They (and we in our own) develop beliefs, ethics and social structures based on the most powerful and, thus, influential voices among them.
Understandably we don’t think of the historical development of our culture because it happens so gradually the changes appears natural–or as naturally as those in control of an area present it. I’m not being cynical merely as realistic as I know how to be in order to point out what makes things “right” or “wrong” in a given context. I am amazed how little we notice the reasons for the changes made in society. For instance, why do women wear burkas in certain Middle East cultures? We could say it’s because they come from Muslim backgrounds and that’s what that religion/culture does, but that would be inaccurate since some Muslims don’t make their women wear it.
So what would be the reason behind a burka or dress style in any given culture? Many different factors could contribute to a current style or pattern. The climate, religious affiliation, family ties, government structure, and a host of other factors contribute to said culture. Now take into consideration the fact that those in power are just as often capricious, willful, self-absorbed, conceited, highly opinionated and, in some cases, ignorant in a cosmopolitan world sense, as they are just, well informed and open to diversity and you have the makings for oppression and ignorance being dictated to the ruled. What if one of the early advocates of the burka realized that his wives didn’t get noticed and stolen as often? Quite understandably that leader would be anxious to protect his “property”, posterity and sexual outlet. Look at the reasons why the ultraconservative leaders of the Islam object to an uncovered woman and you’ll see lust at the bottom. Just like blaming the woman for the gender of the child, the determination of which has been proven beyond a doubt to reside in the male sperm, blaming lust on a them removes responsibility for a man’s behavior or choices and puts it on others.
American Christianity is no different since there are sects who declare “modesty” is the best prevention of lust. If I, as a man, don’t have a problem with lust, a woman should be able to go naked in front of me and cause no alarm. But men lust after women with clothes on so it’s a no go situation and completely not the woman’s fault. I’ve seen women dress conservatively and still get lustful looks from men. So blaming others for my internal attitudes, once I have the reasoning power to choose what I will believe, is a lie.
Still, the burka could have started out as a way for women to protect their skin from the harsh desert sun. The poetry of ancient Arabic cultures speak of the milky tint of a woman’s skin as desirable so it would follow that the early Bedouin women would probably have begun wearing a scarf to cover all but their eyes in order to preserve their skin. It’s not that farfetched to reason some of the attitudes about women began quite innocently only to develop into laws of decency much later.
Just take a moment to think of habits, family traditions or accepted norms within the society or subculture in which we were raised. The reasons might not have meaning or any good purpose other than preference behind them. Which, in hindsight, almost takes the joy out of some of our most cherished traditions, making them seem shallow in light of how seriously we hold to them now as the “right way” in contrast to others. In this context our vehement defense of our methodology or tradition as “just the way it’s done” is defensible only as it pertains to a harmless practice of preferences but really contains no moral authority over those who live differently. Yet we will defend the imposition of our ethic, social structure or religious belief to the death and often decide to go to war with those who believe a diametrically opposed viewpoint as means of conforming the world to our preferences.
Comfort has a lot to do with our actions. We have no way of knowing if the person doing the dictating might be mentally disabled, the child of violence or sexual abuse, or a lack of education resulting in holding onto superstitious beliefs based on a hallucination or drug induced vision. How do we know? The aristocracy of Europe were, for the most part, the only ones educated to read and write, yet look at the atrocities and oppression they brought about.
In the church I come from the “prophet” was hit in the face by a rock when she was young which left her sick for a long time. During the 1840s she had visions which might or might not have been really from God but since the evidence of her past points to brain damage it’s more likely these were brought on by a damaged frontal lobe. I honestly don’t know at this point, neither will I argue for or against her visions because my point is we give trust to the outspoken far too easily.
The moment someone declares a revelation from God I start looking for the motivation behind it. What’s in it for them? Prestige? Power? Pleasure? Redemption? Hope? There’s an old saying which goes something like this, “When a preacher shakes your hand keep the other hand on your wallet.”
You see, humans don’t do anything from uncomplicated motives. Even the best of us, if we’re willing to delve into our psyche, make our choices out of a mixed bag of motives or reasons. Even if no hidden agenda can be discovered, the reasons we choose to go with one option over another grows out of a history of choices, biases, teaching and socioeconomic pressures.
The only thing to rescue us from bent choices is heavenly wisdom. Of course receiving daily doses of it and immersing ourselves in the source manual doesn’t guarantee we will be wise for that takes submission–coming under the mission of–to Christ and what He stands for. We can be defeated before we are even out of the starting gate by latching onto meanings without fact checking or testing the spirit with which we came to our conclusion.
Pure wisdom from heaven filters through human minds which are full of distorted images and misdirected truths to be interpreted by our biases. Denying the possibility is unwise; denying it happens with all of us is downright foolhardy, a lie we first tell ourselves then foist on others. If you don’t believe me, just count not only the number of denominations within the supposedly “unified” church of Christ but all the world religions and try to find some unifying factor. The only common thread will far too often be a complicated reasoning based on obscure motives. Almost always people accept or reject a “truth” based on their bias of the moment. The few who actually do their homework might escape it but usually default to whatever thought process fits their current comfort zone.
A believer who values truth above everything else will admit the biases and prejudices which run him or her. The only people I trust to give me good advice are the ones who I know recognize their own faults and are in the process of taking steps to grow away from them. Anyone who displays the pride of comparison or condescension not only loses my respect (for the their opinion not as a person) but my trust. When I see someone abusing the authority which God established (again, not specifically for them but the benefit of all) that person will lose both my respect for their authority and counsel.
The servant of Christ is a purveyor of peace and gentleness. One who preaches purity or any other truth without these traits has the form of godliness but without the power of the Spirit.

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Banish the Thought, But…

January 7, 2014

 

Einstein's equation

Einstein’s equation

 

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10 NIV)

For youth and vigor are meaningless continues the theme Solomon laid out in the beginning. The strength, energy and vision of the youth really hold little significance to the outcome of their choices nor do these “gifts” of nature mean anything to the quality with which they live. Everything we accomplish can be demolished in an instant–with or without thought or prior intent. The overarching purpose the modern psyche obsesses about doesn’t exist within this context except in one form: Live with all your might!

Solomon might sound cynical, jaded and skeptical on life but I beg to differ. All my life, and I dare say this can be said of most people in general, I felt there had to be a purpose to my life. For some reason we believe (and teach) that everyone has a calling in life; that one thing they are or do which will fulfill their hearts and create contentment along the way as well as at the end.

The reality, Solomon argues, is much more broad than that, for in his view we are put on this earth with no special purpose other than to live and even that “purpose” is a mystery only God knows. What makes one person more special than another? Is it their good looks, charm or personality? Is it the inventiveness, talent and industry one brings to the table versus another? Or, could it be the character, love and benefit one blesses the world around them with unselfishly?

Yes.

In reality, the worker earning minimum wage brings to the table something the executive in the office can’t or won’t do. Without the thousands of people working in the factory–whether its their gift or not–the business model so celebrated in the world of finance would sink into obscurity as a failure. The visionary cannot get the “vision” off the ground without someone (or many someones) to finance it and others to implement it. No one sells the product unless buyers (be they brokers or customers) find it useful or attractive. It sounds clever to create a need where there wasn’t one before, but that’s exactly what a snake-oil salesperson does to get us to buy it. That said, a useless “need” will only last so long before people get bored and move onto the next one. Just think of how fast the human race went from wagons to trains to cars; or the change from vinyl to tapes (reel to 8-track to cassette) to CDs to iPods.

At the time of this very paragraph I’m looking at a new year, 2014, the date is January 2, and I’m looking back on 2013 with some sober eyes. I made a few choices which resulted in great successes and others which ended in disaster. 2014 becomes a year of changes for me because the past speaks loud and clear about my failures and results are in: the fails created bigger holes than the successes could fill in and now payment is due.

All my strengths did me no good in the end. As industrious and energetic as I have been people threw curve balls at me and I missed the hit. I also had two people cheat while playing the business game leaving me further in the hole and owing. I worked hard, did my best to be conscientious and honest then still lost. This doesn’t mean anything as to an overarching purpose in my life nor does it speak to my lack of resolve or willingness to change. What it does say about life in general is that if someone doesn’t want to pay, he or she won’t and nothing will make this person be honest.

Again, that said, I’m not trumpeting a method for success because the way is simple: provide for ourselves and the needs of others, work hard, be faithful to our promises and the rest will take care of itself.

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 NIV)

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV)

Notice Solomon said when God gives someone wealth and possessions not God gives everyone these things. The belief that God is the big Santa in the sky with a list and checking it twice to see who’s naughty or nice is a human twist on the truth. God desires to give us good things but not everyone receives the same commission. The word “submit” uses another form called “submission” which if taken apart is “sub” “mission”–sub- meaning to come under, and mission meaning one’s job, assignment, or purpose. We are to come under the mission of Christ, who had nowhere to lay His head.
It’s always interesting to me to listen to Christians discuss the Scripture. For whatever reason we take out of the message exactly what we most want to hear over what it actually says. Far too often the message of one passage is preferred over another to the hurt of not only the church but those who witness what we believe. In Ecclesiastes Solomon lays out a truth of creation within this paradigm: Life is unpredictable and not everyone wins. Oppression is the name of the game no matter what nation we live in. Freedom really means what is acceptable over what many proclaim as our rights; rights are what the law-makers and power-mongers tell us they are not what we know intrinsically to be true.

No one makes their future happen according to plan. I have watched over and over as people who appeared to be movers and shakers dwindled into obscurity and ineffectiveness because popular interest waned. Depending on a method did them no good; changing their method did them no good.

Youth, idealism, vigor and hard work are meaningless in the grand scheme of things because these principle gifts guarantee nothing to the outcome. Are they good gifts and great strategies for future success? Absolutely! But no gift guarantees the desired desired future.

Riding the ebb and flow of life with industry, careful thinking and a sense of the “market” society creates around itself will serve one better than almost anything else. In combination with youth, vigor and good work ethic the chances of success are greatly increased; but never guaranteed.

The hardest statement to reconcile in my modern mind is of course Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment, for it brings up an uncomfortable dilemma. Actually “conundrum” might be a better word, for what we believe in the modern mindset is that judgment is wrong because God doesn’t judge since love won’t encourage such a thing.

At 53 I realize how foolish this mindset is. Everything we choose in life holds consequences–good or bad. Even when we choose the good the results might be either less spectacular than we hoped or disastrous in the end. Both the former and latter may be the result of poor planning, the influence of social or market conditions outside our control. Or, our choices might have nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome since the rest of the input comes outside of our abilities.
Judgment isn’t a negative but a conclusion of sorts which gets written into our epitaph or eulogy when we’re done. We get no choice in the matter or what is said because we are not the ones who get to do the talking at our own funerals. Quite frankly, besides our husk of a body laying in the coffin or ashes in the urn we won’t be at our own funerals anyway.

For some of us we won’t even have to wait until death to find out what grade we get in life–sometimes life’s “school master” hands out the grade early, and I’m not talking about God. It depends of course on what we involve ourselves in but the reality remains the same: we will be graded on how we lived and what we did with our time here.

If I have learned one truth from Ecclesiastes, it’s the need to think our way through life instead of being thoughtless or careless of the outcome. In my experience every action has a reaction to a greater or lesser degree. I know, I know, E=MC2 works for energy, I just firmly believe the same principle applies to life in general as well.

I live in Portland, Oregon, where trees are taken for granted and rain happens a majority of the days out of the year. On the way to my brother, Tom’s, house the trees give way to high desert or miles and miles of flat grasslands. The wind down the Columbia Gorge is legendary–not to mention the ice during the winter. A good rancher/farmer will build a house surrounded by trees for a wind break. If you see these places, you will notice that the really big oaks, elms, etc. are far enough away from the house so as to avoid damage if they fall. Without those breaks the house would be colder from the windchill, hotter in the summer too. Someone in the past realized the need and planted various kinds of trees in an effort to preserve their living space.

A little forethought prevents great disasters later. That is, it can, provided extraneous factors don’t swoop in to destroy all those carefully laid plans.
Solomon doesn’t teach nor appear to believe wisdom prevents disaster or guarantees success. What he seems to be saying here, as far as I can determine, is wisdom will make the chances of success better while also making the darkest days better. We might not be able to guarantee the outcome but we can choose how we think about ourselves, our family and what we do. In the end this is all we really can guarantee, and though this might not be enough for the world’s judgmental eyes, it is for God, Who alone matters.

 

Historical Deja Vue

August 28, 2011

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 1:9.

 

History, as well as everything else, repeats itself.  It’s part and parcel with the renewal process.  Think about it…When we speak of progress usually we mean industrialization or inventions which make us technologically advanced.  Rarely do we interpret this to be human awareness or progress in human relations.  I am always amazed at the public rhetoric when republicans and democrats speak about one another with heartless, cavalier statements about the other’s opinions or beliefs and never really consider what we’re teaching.

There’s an old saying which goes,  “One thing we learn from history is that mankind learns nothing from history.”  It holds true to this day.  People are so nucleic and self-centered when it comes to prioritizing their environment that they can’t get being in control out of their heads.  We legislate to make one group illegal, thinking we’re doing God’s will or believing we know what’s best for everyone, when if we look at history, we’d realize that God has had to live with sin for as long as mankind has been outside the Garden.  He’s tolerated the evil men do without interference for eons—with the rare flood or brimstone consequence thrown in for good measure.

But it’s this character change I really want to target here.  In the last 200 odd years we’ve eliminated slavery for the most part in the West, at least, brought about equality for “minorities” (strange how people of color are called “minorities” but make up 3/5 of the world’s population) and women, then educated ourselves in social justice language to the point of insanity.  We perform soapbox speeches about tolerance and sensitivity all the while being intolerant of groups who oppose our POV.  Until there is an eradication of sin, there will be no equality anywhere nor will we see poverty, racism and host of other problems go away.  Mankind must change the core of his/her being for such progress to take place.  Everything else is window dressing or band aids on a gaping wound.

 

Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.  Ecclesiastes 1:10.

 

Strangely enough, most people wouldn’t think about history repeating itself.  I mean, we see the world through our “modern” eyes, believing what we’ve invented somehow is original, but I doubt it.  In fact, I wonder if the flood and a few other interventions by God weren’t expressly to limit man’s dominance of the earth in those times through machines similar to ours.  If you look at what we’ve invented over the last 200+ years during the industrial revolution and following into the computer era, most of the stuff is polluting our planet faster than nature can renew it.  I wouldn’t doubt either that somewhere in the mists of time the things we believe are “new” existed in some form.

All we have to do is look at birds to know someone or something already had the idea for flying.  It certainly didn’t originate with humans.  We make airplanes, rockets and gliders all to imitate what nature produced before we were a blip on history’s radar.  In the course of history, I wouldn’t doubt, however, that some of our technology has existed somewhere in the past.  There are the landing strip looking archeological finds on several continents which no one can explain; the drawings on the caves of space suited beings greeting humans; and a host of other unexplainable history that suggests past civilizations might have been more advanced than we thought them to be.

A tree is a biological machine synthesizing oxygen through the rays of the sun and utilizing carbon dioxide for its own growth.  Humans benefit from this symbiotic relationship without ever thinking about it much.  The earth is one big technologically advanced life machine which we only dream about duplicating; yet we somehow think that our advances in the area of computers or medicine are wondrous or special.  We know the ancient Egyptians were far and away better at medicine than anyone could’ve imagined 50 years ago.  There’s evidence in their records and mummies they performed delicate surgeries we have just begun to accomplish in the last 50 years.

Yet the arrogance of humanity continues be out of control.  Solomon warns us this is not only futile but the essence of foolishness and outside of wisdom’s boundaries.  Still we not only practice said arrogance, we ignorantly promote it through science, religion or cultural bias.

 

There is no remembrance of the men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.  Ecclesiastes 1:11.

 

History, archeology and genealogy might be fascinating hobbies or careers for some, but the reality is our curiosity for the most part is merely that and nothing more.  The only real stuff we get caught up in is that which affects our lives in the moment.  Most people couldn’t care less about their own family history much less the grander scheme of things.

If our civilization dies out, those who follow will remember us for as long as there is evidence of our existence and people still alive to tell the tale.  Our own memories are only as long as our life spans, therefore our legacy can only endure when we are remembered by being known.  The only one at this stage in human history to retain a memory of those in the past is God.  The rest of us may as well be non-existent as far as the modern world is concerned.

However, the people and accomplishments of today would be nowhere without the people and their struggles, failures and triumphs of yesteryear.  When we look back at the ignorance of science with anything but admiration for their accomplishments against pretty big odds, we do a disservice to the advances of today.  It is on the backs of those past accomplishments and failures that what we know today holds any value.  Without a Henry Ford and others like him working on the internal combustion engine, we wouldn’t have the transportation norm of today.

No, people are too quick to forget, and even less likely to be grateful for, the perseverance and intelligence of those who came before; which just goes to prove Solomon’s point.  C. S. Lewis postulated in one of his books that sin set us in a closed loop where we couldn’t progress past the fall until it was resolved.  This meant, as he explained it (or I understood it), mankind would repeat the build up then fall sequence till the end of time.  Until Jesus comes to stop the loop we are caught in an endless cycle because sin cannot create anything original.

Heart Guard

June 15, 2011

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7.

Too often we are told we must protect ourselves by being tougher than the other guy or girl.  The world does not admire weakness nor excuse anyone who fails to pass the test—unless you’re a person who thinks equality is about inherent privilege rather than hard work and accomplishment.  The whole idea of being at peace from the general vantage point of pretty much everyone around us is that accomplishment grows naturally out of gaining the advantages of the rich.  So, instead of making sure everyone develops good character we try to make sure everyone has the same education options, financial freedom, etc., or we tell them to climb the ladder of success.  To some it’s merely a game of chess where the best player wins.

The problem with every solution we come up with to deal with the issue of inequality is that no where do we mandate a character change in those who are in control of the means to making things equal or the ones receiving the benefits of the program.  Reading certain authors like Victor Hugo, etc, you’d think the only reason there’s crime in the world was because of the class system.  Yet if people look at it without the rose colored glasses of humanistic bias, they recognize some of the biggest crooks in the world’s history were people who were highly educated, wealthy and powerful.  If equality is based on someone’s financial advantages, then something went wrong with Hitler, Stalin, King George and host of other tyrants.

Money might be a bulwark against poverty and starvation in bad economic times, but it holds no sway over natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes.  As far as I can tell, money doesn’t bring anyone peace of mind either.  Those who have it are always shoring up their store of it in order to not have to worry about it.  These people also worry about losing it so much they make laws about everything they can think of that might take it away from them.  I think it is odd (and I’ve said this before) a person spends more time in prison for embezzlement and fraud than they do for a sexual crime.

Paul gives no wiggle room here.  The peace of God goes outside the human understanding or capacity to create it.  It’s so far beyond our comprehension that to the casual observer it makes no sense and thus is open to suspicion.  The apostle troubleshoots this in 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 where he tells us the message of the gospel is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  If we want a truth that cuts through objections based on its human logic alone, we will be sadly disappointed, for the very premise of our salvation comes from the most illogical solution imaginable.  A dead god.  Whoever heard of such a thing saving anyone?

Jesus told the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27.

How much we trust Jesus’ word on the matter will be how much His peace reigns in our hearts.  Notice His peace is not like the type the world gives; it comes from another source entirely.  In my last blog entry I tried to talk about how we get this peace in detail.  Of course, the real means to peace can be boiled down to a simple heading:  Have the mind of Christ.  But thinking like Jesus is more complex a task for us than many of us will admit.  It takes small, incremental steps of submission and obedience to reach such a goal.  Yet when we do the rewards are infinite.

All this aside, the peace of God is the guardian of our hearts.  He gives us peace beyond which we can think or imagine; meaning it has to be outside our natural human experience.  If we know a peace in spite all the reasoning known to mankind, something supernatural is occurring.  This type of peace keeps our hearts from wandering into internal dark territory by the sheer power of its presence.  What better guardian of our faith then a peace which cannot be explained as coming from any known form of human origin.

Our doctrine will not keep us safe.  The body of Christ will never keep us secure, though they will be a means of encouragement and correction.  The thing that keeps us protected from doubt, secure in loss and unmoved by trouble is the peace of God which transcends all human understanding.

He is the Boss of Us

April 22, 2011

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:10, 11.

It’s hard to get away from this truth.  Jesus isn’t some kind of namby-pamby ruler who just gives gifts like Santa Clause, He’s gonna’ rule with or without our approval (technically, He already does).  Not only that, everyone and everything will acknowledge He’s boss.

How can they not?  I mean, at the moment there’s still some doubt and the evidence could go both ways, that’s why we live by faith and not by sight.  On the Day, however, there won’t be any doubt left for those who want something else to be true.  It’s almost startling how often people will choose anything rather than Jesus—and I mean the real Jesus who not only healed, forgave and accepted but rebuked, stood for moral certitude and chased money changers out of the temple court with a whip made of cords.

A “Jesus” who rules without our consensus, however, is rather offensive to us.  Democracy isn’t the ultimate way to govern, by the way.  Because it’s the best mankind can come up with, it’s flawed at its core—not necessarily due to the principles of the system but the nature of humanity.

I am pretty accepting of people’s flaws and idiosyncrasies, so I’m well acquainted with the desire to be all-inclusive.  The gospel of Christ, however, doesn’t include everyone and that was quite a sore point for me for a while.  I mean, why can’t Jesus include everyone in the new earth—even those who oppose Him?  What, is He insecure?  Isn’t He God or something powerful like that?  Why is He threatened by opposition?  Everyone’s entitle to his or her opinion and lifestyle so why would He want to shut that down and make it His way or the Highway to Hell?  A truly loving God would want to save everyone, wouldn’t He (or She)?

The answer to the last question is yes, He does.

Those are all good questions that deserve an answer, and since I can’t speak directly for God except through what I know of Him, I’ll do my best to answer them in one direct statement:  Because.

No I’m joking, here’s the real reason I don’t think all-inclusive works:

Say God did include everyone in His eternal life promise and didn’t require anyone to change or adjust to His way by the miraculous recreation of our bodies and minds.  What this would mean is simply perpetuating sin for eternity.  The world would be made new with not only righteous people but the greedy looking to hoard the “best” spots in the New Jerusalem.  Children would still be unsafe because including everyone would mean there would be unchanged child-molesters and murderers going around grabbing them at will.  On top of this extreme, there would still be wars because without a changed mindset people would continue to disagree to the point of fighting about it.  Then, knowing God as the highest authority in the universe, these same contentious parties would bring their complaints to Him to settle and someone would walk away dissatisfied and angry.  That anger would turn into resentment, since the natural man never went away, which would end up meaning back-biting, more trouble and someone might get hurt.  There would be no peace because people who never would submit to God’s authority would also be included and that, of course, would equal chaos.  Lastly, someone besides Satan would get the idea they could rule the universe better than God—or, if they’re honest with themselves, they would lust for His power.

To me the argument that God should include everyone is like the one where someone complains about the government; constantly grumbling about how we need to get rid of the crooks and charlatans in the system but who never vote in leaders with a total heart change.  What we want is more of the same only safer.  We want our moldy cake to look good, taste good and not make us sick, while not getting rid of the mold itself.  We seem to argue for the mold in our souls with,  “If God didn’t want mold in our souls, why’d He make it?” or “If God didn’t want me this way, why’d He make me like this?”  Both assume God made us to sin or live outside the standard of conduct and thought He holds as absolute.

I constantly field statements by people who say,  “The church is full of control freaks and judgmental people.”  Meaning of course we can’t escape this problem even in the one sanctuary supposedly left to us.  And they’re right.  Jesus predicted this, however, long ago and told us to expect problems such as false messiahs, prophets, teachers, leaders, hypocrites and a host of other people pretending to be sheep when inside they are ravening wolves.

If sin is the fruit of refusing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, by default only those who do will be allowed access to eternity.  Again, sin is rejecting God as the bottom line, the first and last word on everything right; the evil men do—or even the “wrongs” we do—are the fruit of rejecting Him as our ruler.

Ask yourself this (because I did years ago and it stopped me in my tracks for a few days):  Who do the crooks and fakes prey on, their own kind or the good, innocent and honest?  A dishonest person is also incredibly distrusting for like recognizes like.  A person who is crooked recognizes their own type quite quickly because they know all the signs of such character traits within themselves.  You’ve heard, I’m sure, of honor among thieves, but I know quite a few former thieves and they will tell you the main code of operations is self-preservation and survival.  The top dog survives by the leadership and power he or she wields over the others in the camp.  It isn’t by a consensus of trust but from fear or appealing to greedy, power-hungry natures.  Betrayal isn’t forgiven or forgotten but chalked up on the board for later payback.  This is why you don’t see a lot of obvious crooks in the church since the best wolves disguise themselves to look like what we think the image of a believer should be.

For a long time I couldn’t understand why what Peter did on the night of Jesus’ trial was so bad.  He went to the trial undercover in order to help his Master—although without being able to use violence, I’m pretty sure he felt helplessly out of his element.  Jesus, however, made it clear in His teachings that whoever was not for Him was against Him.  There is no middle ground here.  A person might confess that He is the Christ, Son of the living God and reject Him as their God at the same time.  Judas did.  So did the Rich Young Ruler.  For that matter, so did the Jews who saw Jesus perform the greatest miracle of all just days before His betrayal and crucifixion by raising Lazarus from the dead.  On the other hand, Peter didn’t reject Jesus, he merely denied his connection to Him in a hostile environment.  A best secret agent always looks like the enemy, which is what I think Peter attempted to do.  Unfortunately, his Galilean accent and look gave him away and he had to cuss like a fisherman to divert discovery.  In other words, to avoid detection he had to look and sound like the enemy.  Since this is the norm for secret agents or spies in the world, Jesus calls it a denial of Himself.  We cannot resemble the enemy in any way, shape or form for the sake of the gospel or self-preservation.  It’s dishonest and out of character for the child of God.

Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians claimed he and his associates spurned any kind of dishonesty or lack of openness, seeking rather to be above board and forthright in every transaction.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  4:1-4.

To me this speaks volumes about what God expects of us now.  We are to declare Jesus as Lord of our lives no matter what comes and remain open-faced despite any opposition or threat we might face.  If we refuse to confess Jesus as Lord now, the Day won’t make us anymore willing to allow Him lordship over our lives for our reaction will merely be out of fear not love and devotion.

I will say, however, I believe some will recognize Jesus as Lord on that Day for Zechariah 12:10 (and then later John 19:34) declares,  “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

I feel this will have an ultimate fulfillment either just prior to or directly on the Day Jesus returns.  All humanity pierced the Son; and Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, the promised seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Hope of Israel.

Since I don’t see the beginning from the end and barely understand what I read from the Word as to what is coming, I am not arrogant enough to declare I get how it will all come down.  I learned a lesson from prophecy and history:  The Jews knew the prophecies of the coming messiah and rejected to the point of a humiliating death the One who came with the strongest evidence possible.  The world of theology is full people who think they know, which should scare us, since some of the greatest spiritual blind alleys have grown from these types of teachings.

I say this:  Since no one knows the day or hour, nor can they know exactly down too the details how all of this will come down, I say we hold on loosely to the headline truths.  Every knee will bow and every tongue confess in one way or another that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

The Prophetic Fish

February 23, 2011

Afterward Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias.  It happened this way:  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,”  Simon Peter told them, and they said,  “We’ll go with you.”  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:1-3.

Fishing can be boring work until a fish strikes or the nets fill up, and then it’s pretty intense work.  Peter and the other disciples worked at something they understood, i.e. fishing,I’m not sure what inspired it exactly, may be they were broke and just needed something to get them by, I don’t know.  What I do know is Peter wanted to go out.  Fishermen worked at night in that day, so possibly with such a lot to think about, he just wanted to keep his body busy while he thought through all the strange happenings of the last week or two.

Another thing that struck me is five of the twelve disciples were named (the sons of Zebedee were James and John) but two weren’t, which means they might have been part of the 72 or more other followers.  I wondered why John said it this way.  Why not just name them?  Dunno, but he didn’t for some reason.

Anyway the main fact that stood out to me was their own natural efforts produced nothing. It’s almost symbolic  Jesus came along after a full night of no results and in one moment changed the outcome.  My first reaction, of course, centered on the fact that they were trying in their own natural strength to do something ordinary and failed.  John didn’t necessarily emphasize this as the point, I guess, though since he took the time to mention them catching nothing, it is significant.  No, the real point is Jesus doing the impossible with improbable odds.  I don’t know if the guys had been just using the left side of the boat or not, but there’s no reason why the right side would seem to be any better unless it was facing east and the sun put a shadow on the left, warning the fish an enemy was above them.

Jesus takes the situation and turns human logic on its ear—again.  I like it when He does this because it speaks to me of a higher logic than man seems to be able to fathom.  I don’t know if I’m a miracle junkie exactly, but it always thrills me to see God work in the most illogical and off-the-wall ways.  The right side of the boat versus the left side doesn’t seem to be a logical choice (unless there’s some reason like shadows), so the guys probably just thought,  “Oh, what the heck!” and did it.  When the net filled up (John makes it sound like that happened pretty quickly), they were unable to haul in the catch.

The lesson?  Our efforts (casting the net) coupled with God’s method and purpose always equals miraculous profit.  Yet even then we might slave all night long trying to do what we have in front of us and not see any results except sweat and fatigue.  Sometimes God comes through at the beginning or in a “reasonable” time, then at other times He waits for 11:59:59 p.m.   I don’t understand the “why” though I’ve attempted to several times.  What I do get is that God pushes us to our limits for sheer the purpose of stretching and growing us.  It’s not like we have this faith thing down anyway.  Most of us don’t like to think on anything that doesn’t fascinate us (our passions which come easy to us) so He uses our weakest point in order to keep us from mistaking our efforts for His blessing.

The natural order of things could have taken over with those guys out on the boat—fishing is fishing, after all, and once a person does it for a lifetime, they kind of get a handle on what does or doesn’t work.  These guys knew their business well enough to make a living at it, still they caught nothing.  The miracle might be their lack of catch as well as the 153 large fish.  God displayed His glory by preventing them from exercising the natural results of things for the purpose of catching them for Himself.

What was Jesus’ message to Peter at the time of his calling?  “From now on you will catch men.”

Peter didn’t sin or doubt God’s will or disobey his calling by going out on the lake to fish.  He did what he saw in front of him.  I don’t know what he thought about the situation now that Jesus was risen, but from his choice to fish it might be he thought the whole parade was over for them.  You know, Jesus told them He was returning to the Father so what should they expect to do once He was gone?  The fun was over, the work all done, so back to the old grindstone…or may be he just felt like fishing cuz it was familiar and quiet, I don’t know.  One thing I do know, this miracle shook their world up and pushed them in a different direction all together.

Jesus had another reason, however, for coming that day.  Peter.  The man probably had been feeling like a complete traitor since the night in the high priest’s courtyard.  Jesus came to take this burden away from him.

Catching the fish was just a fun way of getting their attention.  On the other hand, may be God purposed it to make another point at the same time—you know, two birds with one stone.  Either way, the impossible catch and the net’s improbable strength (holding together with all that weight) became a prediction of what the disciples could expect in the coming years.  They would turn the world on its proverbial ear and do it not by the human method of invasion or war but by living, teaching and preaching the message called the “good news” of the kingdom of heaven.  They would catch human fish in a supernatural net powered by the Holy Spirit and held together by the love of Jesus.

 

We’re Not Orphans!

April 20, 2010

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in You.  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  John 18-21.

Okay, this is one packed statement!

I own a hard disk recorder which is system exclusive.  I don’t know what to tell you about it except that it’s a pain in the neck, since it doesn’t communicate with any other computer based recording systems.  The recordings are really cool, but not being able to transfer the wave files  so I can tweak or add parts in one venue with another system just limits where and what I can do.

If you’ve read this blog much at all, you’ll realize pretty quickly I don’t like being exclusive with people either, which makes Jesus’ statements above a bit uncomfortable for me.  “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.”  “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” The mentality here goes against everything I learned from my culture during the 60s and 70s about acceptance.  So Judas’ question,  “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” echoes my own concern with closing out possible friends.

Yet this isn’t what our Master is doing at all, nor is He attempting to be exclusive or even unconsciously being so.  What He’s telling us is something completely different than our modern minds will grasp, for we automatically infer something in His statements that aren’t there.  The fact that the world cannot see Him anymore has nothing to do with His efforts to reveal Himself to them, rather it indicates their refusal to see, believe, or acknowledge Him for who He is.  Therefore they see just a man where an incarnate God and Savior actually stands, whereas those who love Him see Him as He is.

It has to do with openness.  If our eyes are open to Christ, who is our light, then we will see clearly.  If we shut them and put our hands over our ears, He’s dead to us.  Of course this means God isn’t excluding anybody, if they feel outside the camp of Christ, it’s because they have refused Him.  A person must have Jesus’ commands in his or her possession and obey them before they can truly be said to be His disciple or see Him.

Someone once said,  “The door to hell is locked from the inside.”

Once we accept Jesus as He is without adding to or subtracting from Him, we will see Him and He will live in us.  Our acceptance that He is right and whatever opposes Him is wrong opens us up to not only His truth but the blessings and knowledge of His presence as well.

But about God loving only those who love His son, what does John say earlier in this book?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  John 3:16, 17.

So, then, what is Jesus saying to the disciples about God only loving those who show their love through obedience?

Well, to my grasp of the Greek here, it is an active love demonstrated and known by the person not a love held in just in the heart.  In other words, God loves the world but they won’t accept Him, which means by shutting Him out they shut out His overt expressions of love as well.  And, as we’ve mentioned before, His presence being felt in our lives is contingent on us accepting Him as He is, otherwise we won’t recognize it being there at all.

Have you ever worked with mentally challenged people?  I have and one of the defining characteristics of their condition is usually how they interpret the world around them.  Things we take for granted they see as something to fear or don’t even recognize as potentially dangerous to their lives or limbs.  At the same time, there’s this trust/mistrust issue that crops up constantly which is constantly disproportionate to their reality.  They trust quite often those who would harm them and push away those who mean them well.

I see us in this light spiritually because we tend toward the same behavior with God.

Jesus sets the foundation for belief in Him first by promising the Spirit of truth, then making sure the disciples (and us through their message) know how to see Him once He’s gone from the earth.  He clears up any fears about the future by saying He will live, which promises a resurrection and make certain that His death was enough for humanity’s sin.  At this point He draws a line around the word “love” in order to define it for those who follow.  The actions of love for God are pretty well set out here, so as to avoid misunderstanding it.

Does this definition of love make our faith a works-based service to God?

Not at all.  I say this with confidence only because I see the works we do as a result of belief and faith not the other way around.  Anyone who loves flying kites learns the rules for keeping one in the air so they can continue to practice their love.  Following Jesus is no different.  If we claim to love Him yet ignore what He says, it shows the same disregard for Him that a husband or wife give to their spouse in a relationship.  If a husband ignored his wife, people would know his love was completely conditional and therefore not pure.  Jesus commands us to love Him in Spirit and truth, which is only commonsense.

For the life of me I can’t fathom why someone would call themselves a “Christian” then ignore or simply disregard the teachings of Jesus.  It makes about as much sense as calling yourself African while being of Indian decent. It’s getting the cart before the horse—for those not up on farm references it means a cart must be pulled by the horse not pushed.  We get things backwards then wonder why they don’t work.  Works before faith is so out of sync that it almost boarders on mentally challenged.  Works has to be a result of love—not a consequence because that is something that happens to us instead of coming from us as a response.  Consequences are natural or artificial results outside our control as a result of being in a place, time, or for something someone else or we’ve said or done to outside influences.  A result is a combination of factors that can be dictated by us.  Obedience to Jesus’ commands from trust in His teachings and person result in a consciousness of His presence which then brings a peace beyond comprehension since it doesn’t come as a natural consequence of the world around us.

To “see” a husband or wife doesn’t end with visual contact because a person is so much more than their physical presence. Again, my son is always with me even when I don’t see him because I know him by heart.  I know his quirky behaviors, idiosyncratic patterns and that red hair which makes nearly every woman within sight want to snuggle with him.  When he’s with his mom, I know his presence in the world because he’s in my blood.

Obeying our Master is not about earning anything, rather it’s a call and response.  If we say we love Him, it means we love what He says, does and considers good.  I want to be like Jesus in character and actions because I believe He’s right, good and full of love.

Great Expectations

March 14, 2010

Author’s note:  I wrote this for a friend of mine, Susan, who’s blog TLC4Women published it the first time.  I’ve done a little editing to tweak it up a bit.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4.

Mom used to always say about the girls I dated,  “Watch how they treat their dads and you’ll know how they will treat you.”

Consistency is one of the hardest truths to live out.  We expect it from others but rarely require it of ourselves.

So what kind of woman do most men want anyway?

That’s like asking what a man’s favorite car is or which football team he likes best.  The answer is as varied as you should expect.  Yet when it comes to the heart of a spiritual man, though we know the variations in taste will remain the same, there’s one large caveat:  They’ll want a woman who loves and obeys God.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I’m gonna’ give you two of  my easy rules for finding a mate:  Be in the flow and middle of God’s will for your life and base your decision on character.

It’s actually not all that hard to tell what God’s will or purpose is for our lives, because the imprint of it is on our hearts and personalities.  Once we know what our tastes and preferences come down to (how He made us specifically), we can then look for the person who demonstrates Jesus in their lives. 

A woman’s taste in men is on par with her taste in soap, deodorant or anything else they might prefer–it is personal and sacrosanct to the one doing the choosing.  I know many women will object to this comparison, but I ask them to look at it without romantic blinders on for a minute:  Some like tall men, others like guys with a little belly on them.  I’ve been told countless times women like bald guys (though no one’s beating down my door).  These are issues of taste so should be left to the individuals involved.

The same for men.  I know women think all guys just want a skinny little waif who looks like she’s barely 16, but that doesn’t really cover the truth about men’s preferences.  One of my best friends likes curves on his woman and is actually going to marry one who doesn’t fit the popular bill.  Advertising may glorify certain types of bodies, but this should tell you something right there:  a few trying to dictate to the many never works.  A man is as complex as a woman in this aspect of their psyche.  A man of God, however, is far more simple, honest and caring about his partner.

The need for character, however, is universal for it is the stamp of God’s nature on the person, therefore I’m gonna’ concentrate on this for the rest of our time.

Once we figure out our tastes, the only thing we have left to do is be transformed and we got it in the bag.  What does Romans 12:1, 2 say?    Therefore, I urge you, brothers (and sisters), in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Our problem as humans is we have it all ass-backwards–or as my dad used to say,  “The cart before the horse.”  We think we have to find a spouse before we can be happy, when the truth is inverse of that thought.  Before we find the type of person God created us for, we have to be the type of person God created us to be for them.  Look, it’s not rocket science but godly wisdom.  To know God’s will, we have to know God; and to know God we have to know what He says; and to know what He says we have to spend time reading His words.

Jesus said,  “As you would have men do to you, do also to them.”  Most people, however, base their relationship expectations on what the other person can do for them.  Marriage is a partnership, nothing more, nothing less.

Christians carry one piece of baggage, however, which trumps their reasoning power:  We’re all hopeless romantics.

O, I’m not just talking about the Cinderella or Snow White style of romance, but we look for a happy ending to our story and history of mankind.  So this permeates everything we do and think in such a great measure many of us struggle to get the real point of our hope:  to live a full life now and not wait till then–whenever “then” is.  The adventure of a lifetime is waiting for most of us but we would rather dream about it than actually live it.  It’s strange how many times I hear someone wish to be married but fail to do the work to be in the way of God’s purpose for their lives.  They wait on the sidelines of life expecting love to just jump into their laps miraculously when God commands us to go out and live to the full.  It’s not for nothing Jesus told His disciples,  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

Where is God’s will?  In service of His people, His world.

Take a moment to think about how we would like to be treated, then turn that thought upside down to the other side of the coin to think about how the other person would like to be treated.  Do you see how easy it is to apply the principles of God?  We don’t need any other formula to find our mate.  All we need to do is find someone who shows respect to everyone, is industrious, kind, thoughtful of others, loves from a heart filled with the Spirit of God and gives of their means freely as unto the Lord, and we find the person we fit with like a puzzle piece.  That is, we find them if we are such people too.

You see we cannot have great expectations for a spouse if we don’t hold the same standard up for ourselves.  If you want to attract honey bees, you need to be a flower.  Hopelessly romantic isn’t bad, it just usually isn’t based on reality–even a spiritual reality.  God will only give us the desires of our hearts when our desires match His.

There’s one more aspect to this we need to address which is quite unpopular even with men:  Marriage is as much a business arrangement as it is a romantic adventure.

If any of us enter into marriage thinking we’re going to just fly all the time, we’re in for a rude awakening–and some pretty rough unhappy times.  When Paul told the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, he wasn’t making a suggestion just for marriages but also business men.  Entering into a business arrangement with someone who doesn’t share our mores and values on the subject of eternity affects how we do business.  A person in business tied to earthly profit operates differently than one tied to eternal investments.  May be some of you who read this are too tied to earthly security for the Christian spouse you long for, then I would suggest you untie or cut that bond.  A person tied to earth’s security is no good to God’s kingdom, for their entire lives are spent in pursuit of their own happiness and dreams.  A person tied to the kingdom of God lives in such a way as to invest on earth what will bring a profit for God.  Another way of saying it is:  Live to please God not yourselves.

Is that too heavenly minded for some of you?  If you worry more about what most people call the “bottom line” here on earth yet forget the spiritual bottom line, you’ve missed God’s will for your life–and, quite sadly, for your future spouse as well.  Unless we become the workmanship of God, we cannot enter His kingdom to come or where it starts here on earth.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied,  “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say,  ‘Here it is,’ or  ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”  Luke 17:20, 21.

That passage might sound off topic to some of you, but for me it is the crux of the whole message.  The kingdom of heaven starts right now where we live, work and believe.  We are the kingdom of God not some specific country or government.  His government is demonstrated within our hearts and minds for the sake of being lived out in the world around us.  This attracts those looking for light.

It also attracts those who look for light in order to take advantage of others.  You know, those people who are always looking for a new angle to make a profit of some kind.

Who should we keep our eyes open to?  Jesus. 

Who should we be looking for as a spouse?  Those with the kingdom of God already building inside.

How long will it take to find them?  As long as it takes to get to know another person’s witness for the Lord.

Remember what my mother used to say:  “How a girl treats her dad will be how she treats her husband.”  It goes well here for us too, for how we respond to God’s Spirit living within us is how we will respond to those around us who are of the spiritual kingdom.  Don’t be deceived by packaging.  I know a lot of men who have nearly shipwrecked their faith because they involved themselves with a beautiful un-spiritual woman.  I know many a woman who has been trapped by her vows because she went for the bad boy over that guy who was not quite so exciting but a lot nicer.  A carnal man is strong in worldly wisdom, worldly passion and their idea of love; a spiritual man is strong in spiritual passion, truth and God’s love.  If you’re attracted to that bad boy over the nice guy, there’s something wrong with your connection to reality not that nice guy.  Make no mistake God’s reality is the only reality there is, everything else is illusion.  Guy’s who pursue the beautiful “dangerous” woman, will get what they are chasing:  Dangerous beauty which turns pretty ugly fast.

How a man treats the women in his life will be how he will treat you.  How a man responds to God will tell you how he will respond to you.

Do you want to find a spiritual man?  Be a spiritual woman.  Do you want to find a spiritual woman?  Be a spiritual man.

Do you want to know God’s will for you as it relates to marriage?  Live in the middle of the stream of His purpose for kingdom people and you’ll run into the man who is also living in the middle of God’s flow.

Do you want passion, romance and the love of a lifetime?  Get to know the Source of passion, romance and love, for only in the plan and purpose of God will our hearts be satisfied.

Who Gets the Glory?

December 7, 2009

Jesus replied,  “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing.  My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.  John 8:54.

In other words, narcissism is dangerously empty.

The first thought that occurred to me last night as I read this passage for the umpteenth time was the following:

When I’m the only one shouting out how wonderful I am, about my good deeds, declaring my own righteousness, power and honor before God and men, the only one who believes me is me.  And that belief could be based on a lie I keep telling myself to avoid the truth staring me in the face.  The word “glory” can be interpreted as the evidence of what one is and does displayed for all to see.

Say I begin telling everyone how great a painter I am though no one I tell has ever seen me paint.  What will be the results of my efforts?

Now say someone asks me if I can paint well because they want to hire me to do some for them and I say yes followed by giving them references to my performance with other people, what are the results then?

You see the difference.  The former is claims I make about myself without the actions or history with anyone to back it up; the latter is a collective claim based on the positive experiences of others as well as my own.  At this point it isn’t bragging but fact.

Jesus gives us the method by which to tell if people are authentic or not.  In this dialogue He cites His Father as the other witness; in a later dialogue He tells them to look at the miracles themselves if they won’t believe anything else (see John 10:38), though even these were not enough for them.  As for us, we can’t be personal witnesses to these past mighty acts of God through Jesus, so we have to rely on the testimony of others as to the validity of His claim.

Still we do have a method of gaining evidence in our own lives by which we may glorify God.  The glory given to us is our changed lives and attitudes by which we testify to His glory.  Jesus said,  “By their fruit you will know them.”  Matthew 7:16.  We many times think the word “fruit” points to mighty works of miraculous origin and missions, but these types of works are not the main evidence we are to look for in one who claims God as their Father and Jesus as their brother.  Galatians 5:22-26 leaves no room for us to waffle on the subject because Paul makes it clear the true fruit is good attitudes lived out in righteous actions.  Anything else is but a result of these inner workings.

Unfortunately, the church either gets bogged down in miracle-seeking or piety—neither of  which on their own prove God’s presence.  The evidence of God’s Spirit living and working through someone is not because they make heroic efforts to be like Jesus but comes from submission to His presence.  God becomes right where we disagree so we submit to His ideals, discarding our own agenda for His.

A person who doesn’t display humility, faith in or out of crisis, kindness, etc., in ever growing measure, is not authentic, for they use the gospel for personal glory and gain.  The way to tell whether a pound of fish is truly 1 pound or not is by measuring it against an agreed scale set to that weight.  Every scale made must conform to that scale or be false.  The same goes for our measurement of what it means to belong to Christ.  Every measurement of the validity of our claims to Christ are given in Scripture whatever does not conform to this scale is a lie.

The evidence for Jesus’ mission, status before God and man, and His identity all showed itself clearly in the work He did, what He taught as well as who He claimed to be.  It should have been enough.

Like Father, Like Son

November 27, 2009

“We are not illegitimate children,”  They protested.  “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them,  “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God an now am here.”  John 8:41b, 42.

 Jesus set out to wake them from their stupor and found some pretty grouchy people, unwilling to wake from the dream they had of themselves.  They had witnessed the miracles, the teaching of God’s love and character, yet they wouldn’t submit to the price they needed to pay to continue in the light.  Here they are claiming God as their own Father without any real awareness of what it meant to be His son or daughter.  If being physical descendants of Abraham didn’t make them his children spiritually, then calling themselves the children of God wouldn’t make it so either.  Something was missing.

“Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.”

They clung to their interpretations of God’s Word so hard nothing could make them hear the truth.  It’s like they had stuck their fingers in their ears and began singing,  “La, la, la, la, I can’t hear you” as loud as they could to shut out His words.  To hear meant they would have to obey.  Jesus reveals the root problem of their spiritual deafness:

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Ouch!  Ever hear of diplomacy, Jesus?  What are you trying to do, drive them to kill you?

Every time I read these passages it seems to me He’s actually pushing them to crucify Him.  His arguments push all their buttons without cushioning the blows.  Yet what other choice does He have?  He spent nearly three years being subtle, careful to demonstrate the power of God and rightly dividing the Scriptures so everyone who heard would see the light, and it got Him nowhere with these people.  They wouldn’t listen when He told them the hard truth of God then, to back off now would be foolish.

By calling the devil their “father” Jesus reveals their motives for not wanting to hear what He has to say.  They preferred their fantasy constructs to real truth.  The story of God held little interest to them, for what they wanted was the story in which they triumphed over every obstacle to gain personal glory and power.  Knowing truth made no difference if they weren’t going to be able to be the heroes of their own stories.  What they rejected from Christ’s teachings was the one little morsal of truth on which the rest of salvation hinged:  it wasn’t their heroic efforts or mighty deeds which impressed God but the humble realization they were powerless to do anything for themselves in this regard without Him.  Total dependence on Jesus is the only way possible for us to find salvation or freedom from death.

“Can any of  you prove me guilty of sin?”

These people who had believed in Him knew His character, work and words were above reproach…it’s why they followed in the first place.  What turned them off is their misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of ingesting the Son of God.  They couldn’t get past Jesus’ demand that they eat His flesh and drink His blood, nor did they grasp the spiritual nature of that command.  Their minds were so focused/consumed by the lies of spiritual grandeur they blinded themselves to their need for reconstruction.  Nothing will wake a person up to their condition if they continue to take the drug of pride.  It washes away the ability to see ourselves as lost to truth without intervention.

Not one of these men could prove Jesus guilty of sin.  Blasphemy was a convenient excuse to shut Him up.

Why were they so quick to pick up stones at the end of His speech to them?  They wanted to silence His voice so badly they would have used any excuse to kill Him.

In our walk with God do we shut out truths we find unpalitable?  Do we shut ourselves off from light because it hurts our eyes to look?  Are we willing to break the mirror of truth because it shows we are not the fairest in the land making a lie out of the fantasy we’ve built up about our own value?

Our value comes from the fact God loves us, sent His Son to save us; it has absolutely nothing to do with how cool we are.  The reality of those who find Christ and those who reject Him couldn’t be more different than total light and total darkness.  When we walk into the light through the power of Jesus, we see ourselves for who we really are without any airbrush tricks to soften the blow.  At this point we have two choices:  hide our eyes by running back to our dank, dark little caves or falling into the arms of the one who brings us out of such misery.  Make no mistake the end of all rejection of Christ results in misery. 

On the other hand taking our eyes off ourselves brings joy unlimited, if our focus is, of course, Jesus.  We can find no contentment with our spiritual eyes turned inward; no peace when we are worried about our own; no joy or love of life unless we turn our eyes to Jesus.  He is our peace.  He is our joy.