"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Other Love Chapter

      Chapter 8 is "the other love chapter" of 1 Corinthians, and though it is less descriptive of Godly love than parts of Chapter 13, it presents a specific, practical recommendation for showing it. What could be more difficult for a believer than giving up his "Christian liberties" out of deferential love for weaker brethren?
      We could easily say, "He's the weak one, that's his problem?" But the word says, And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:11-13)
      Strong's Greek Dictionary says the word rendered "to offend" in the AV is skandalizō, meaning to scandalize; from G4625; to entrap, that is, trip up (figuratively stumble [transitively] or entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure): - (make to) offend.
      So, to offend is a little weak for the actual effect of searing a weaker brother's conscience. If I love my brother as Jesus commanded, I will give up my very life to avoid causing him to stumble in his faith-walk. How does that compare with my actual attitude toward accommodating my brother's weakness?

Monday, July 17, 2006


      The Bill Gaither song goes ...
Shackled by a heavy burden
Neath a load of guilt and shame,
... and when we hear that, most of us think of the unchurched.
      I was raised in a Catholic family where guilt and shame were a regular part of our religious ritual. But not only the unchurched and Catholics are neath a load of guilt and shame.
      Would I be presumptuous to say some of us who sit in evangelical Protestant churches every week are also loaded down with guilt and shame? Some of us come to church burdened with such a load, hoping for absolution from sitting in the worship service. And maybe we go away uplifted ... for a while.
      The preacher talks about sin and salvation, and we get lost in our own thoughts. Maybe we agree with him. Maybe we know we're not perfect, and need to be better. But we look around the church, and in our minds, look around the workplace or the world in general, and we see many who really need the Lord. We're not bad at all, compared with them.
      The preacher talks about everyone sinning and falling short of God's glory, and we agree. Certainly, no one is as good as God. But that's why He sent Jesus to love the world to Him.
      The preacher talks about the wages of sin being death, and we agree. Certainly, all the bad sinners will go to hell when they die, but we're not half bad compared to them.
      The preacher talks about the gift of God being eternal life, through Jesus, and we agree. For Jesus so loves the world that everyone who believes in Him should have everlasting life ... or something like that. And we believe in Jesus; He was a great guy who lived a long time ago. Yeah, we believe in him.
      The preacher talks about inviting Jesus into our hearts and turning our lives over to him, and we agree. If we were going to be ministers or missionaries, or lay fanatics, we'd need to be all his. But it's just not practical for us. We live in the real world, where people have jobs and stresses in our everyday lives. We have to have releases, R&R, recreations. We may have some fun, but we don't hurt anybody. And we can still go to church on Sunday and hold our heads high as they're singing the hymns. And we definitely feel better when we leave for the real world.
      After all, next Sunday's right around the corner, and if it's convenient or if we feel the need, we can do it all over again.
      If I really believed all that, I would resent any Bible thumper who told me I was wrong ... dreadfully wrong, and destined to burn in hell. I would likely tell them to, "Judge not, lest ye be judged!" I might even ask, "What makes you think you own the truth, and nobody else's beliefs are right?"
      If I copped that attitude, I--the I writing this, not the theoretical, ignorant I--would hope to God that the "Bible Thumper" would love me enough to convince me that my prideful complacency was leading me away from God, and to the place reserved for Satan and his minions.
      I would hate to discover how wrong I was after I'd blown my last opportunity to change my mind. Trouble is, none of us knows exactly when that last opportunity will pass us silently by.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Above All

      Folks object to the Bible because it's just a book of rules that aren't relevant to the twenty-first century. Okay, it does include a few rules--and some good stuff, too.
      Rules can be a good thing. If you see a sign above a water fountain that says, "Don't drink the water!" you have two choices: Assume the sign-maker was on a power trip, or was a sadist who wanted to keep thirsty people from getting satisfied. Or assume the sign-maker discovered that the water was poisonous and wanted to keep people from dying an awful, ugly death.
      If you're golfing and the clubhouse horn blows you have two choices: Assume the lounge is behind on sales and the manager just wants some golfers to belly up to the bar and order drinks. Or look to the sky for storm clouds and listen for distant thunder.
      Both of the above situations include directives that might seem to spoil your fun or cramp your style, but they are not just outmoded rules. They are entirely relevant because of the dangers that prompt them.
      Relevancy isn't gauged by the hip language and the contemporary issues presented. Thousands of today's authors write relevant, self-help articles and books, but precious few of them succeed in changing the readers' lives over the long haul. Yet, the Bible's "irrelevant" content has been changing lives profoundly for centuries, and shows no sign of becoming obsolete.
      When a book with that track record includes the phrase, "above all," I tend to listen up--especially when that phrase appears only a few times. It appears just three times in the New Testament's letters to the churches, and once in the Proverbs. Each of these occurrences deals with instructions for life--rules--to prevent injury.
      Proverbs is a book of rules within a book of rules. When Proverbs 4:23 tells us, Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life, you can choose to ignore it as one of those style-cramping rules. Or you can take heed and live.
      James 5:12 says, Above all, my brothers, do not swearĂ‚—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned. Who would have thought that such a common thing as swearing would hold such a severe consequence? Does that show how jaded our culture has become?
      1 Peter 4:8 says, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Love commands are among the most common themes in the New Testament, and this verse places it as one of the "Above All" requirements. Reviewing all the commands and descriptions of love, one idea pops out above all, prefer others to yourself, meaning show deference to all others, friends, brethren, family, and even enemies.
      The last above all command is 2 Peter 1:20, which says, Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. At the present time it seems everybody is an arm-chair prophesy expert. The Left Behind series of novels helped popularize end-times prophecy, and now millions of the brethren are consumed with watching the signs of the times for any indication of prophecy's fulfillment, and especially of the Lord's return. Yes, it is an interesting study. Yes, Jesus told us to watch for His return. And yes, many of us are neglecting other aspects of Christian living in favor of watching current events and interpreting them in the light of end-times prophecy. To be ready for His return, the last thing we need to do is figure out when it will happen. Jesus said no one but Father God knows, or can know when He will return to earth. The first and only thing we need to do is prepare ourselves, our relationships and our affairs for that Day.
      Since we don't know when that Day will come, it could be today. Are we ready to face Jesus? Or are we still harboring unconfessed, unrepented sin? No religion, no teaching, no program can rid our lives of sin and prepare us to face Jesus in judgment. Jesus is the Way, but each of us has to walk in it--in Him, holy, as He is holy.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I Can Only Imagine

      My focus in life is typically on living for God, trying to grow in my faith and living a holy life that credits my Savior. But during our assembly today, the worship team sang I Can Only Imagine, and I cried. For a huge blessing, click on the link and enjoy Ronnie Kimball singing Bart Millard's song.
      Why do I so rarely think about the glory that awaits me when, in Christ, I leave this material life? Meditating on God, His promises, and His reward for those who follow His Son carries a blessing too heavy to bear and too light to contain. During their presentation of I Can Only Imagine, I let myself imagine what heaven might be like.
      In this life I go to worship with Christ's body, singing God's praises with uplifted hands. But my voice tires and my arms weaken. If I stand long enough, my feet and back hurt. And eventually, I have to eat something to keep up my strength. My sin-cursed body seems to conspire against continuing in worship. And my mind fails to grasp God's reality beyond the pitifully weak and few words I have at my disposal. I know God, but only superficially. I praise Him, but I can't even scratch the surface of his praise-worthiness.
      But in Glory, I won't tire, or become hungry, or succumb to painful feet and back.
I will finally see Him as He is, and coming up with words of praise will never be a problem. I will never, ever, be at a loss for words of praise--new words, unique words, never-repeated words of praise--for all eternity.
      The hope is mine. God gave it to me through His Son Jesus' shed blood. No one can take it away.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Brother Lawrence's Second Letter

      Brother Lawrence was aware of his unique, spiritual experience. In his second letter, he compared his method of approaching God to that of "a devout person" with whom he had exchanged experiences.
      The unnamed person said the life of spiritual grace begins with servile fear. Sounds pious, but is it scriptural? Between the Hebrew and the Greek words for fear, there are many possible interpretations for the phrase, "servile fear." And that's if the unnamed person used the phrase in the scriptural sense. Perhaps the most obvious meaning is the fear, awe, or reverence a master can instill in his slave. Do God's faithful servants fear their Master's reprisal? Not if they first trust His love(1 John 4:18).
      This self-proclaimed teacher said that servile fear is increased by hope of eternal life, but that doesn't make sense either. That kind of fear comes from dread of consequences, and hope of eternal life is anything but a fearful consequence.
      Finally this advisor says the spiritual life is, after all that fear and dread, consummated by pure love. But according to the Bible, 1 John 4:18, God's love casts out fear. Through these distinct steps, the advisor said one at last arrives at that "blessed consummation" of eternal life. Again, these steps to eternal life aren't the ones Jesus and His apostles gave us.
      No wonder Brother Lawrence felt these steps would discourage him. Instead, he gave himself up to God on first entering the religious life, as the best satisfaction he could make for his sins, "for the love of Him, to renounce all besides." Instead of coming last, Brother Lawrence placed love first, as does God's word, in 1 John 4:19.
      Brother Lawrence graduated from years of occupying his devotional time with thoughts of death, judgment, hell, heaven and his sins, to concentrating on God's presence, whom he considered was always with him not only during his devotional time, but also while he worked. From this he derived such joy and consolation that faith alone was enough to assure him of salvation. Again, he reached the Biblical conclusion, this time in agreement with Ephesians 2:8-9.
      Even then he experienced doubts about how God could so easily forgive such a sinner. He was tormented by thoughts of his past sins and feared that either he had imagined all the moments of victorious faith, or he had willfully deluded himself. He wrote, "It seemed to me that all creatures, reason, and God Himself were against me and faith alone for me." Like many in the positive confession movement, he passed through a phase where he placed his faith in faith, rather than in God. Curiously, through all those doubts and misplaced faith, his faith increased until, seemingly all at once, he found himself changed with such an inner peace that he felt his soul had found its home, its place of rest.
      He wrote, "Ever since that time I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility, and with love." He avoided as much as possible any ungodly thoughts, but even with his remaining imperfections, his greatest hope was for God to do with him what He pleased, so deeply did he trust Him.
      As to the state he called "an actual presence of God," he described it partially as his desire to have no will but that of God. He write, "Or, to put it another way, it is an habitual, silent, and private conversation of the soul with God."
      At great length Brother Lawrence tried to relate his simple delight at God's presence. He marveled at God's grace toward such a wretched, wicked person as himself, grace to the degree that God seemed to prefer him as His favorite son, preferred above all others. He compared his attachment to God to an infant at its mother's breast, a state he called, "the bosom of God."
      Brother Lawrence thought of himself as a stone, resting before the Sculptor, waiting to be carved into His image. When he applied himself to prayer, he felt his spirit lifted above any care or effort, suspended, yet firmly fixed in God as its center of rest. Some accused him of deluding himself with inactivity while so elevated in meditation on God. But centered on God as he was, he denied all his former needs because he was completely content in God. "If this is delusion, then only God can remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me. I desire only Him and to be wholly devoted to Him."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Childlike or Christlike

      One day Jesus was busy teaching and healing the people. Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 19: 13,14)       The children Jesus allowed to come to him weren't worried about going to heaven. Their parents wanted Jesus' blessing on them, so they told them, "Go see Jesus. Have him touch you."       Children aren't fools. They know when they are wanted, and when they are simply an annoyance. As they approached the Teacher, his students, being Very Important Pinheads, tried to brush the children off. But Jesus looked outside his agenda and saw the innocent ones' needs. I can see him smiling and reaching out to them, inviting them to come close. His smile captured their hearts because it radiated his infinite love for them. He affirmed them as his first priority, more important than his busyness.       Jesus spelled love as children did, and still do: T-I-M-E       We hear a lot of preaching about accepting Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die. While that is certainly a desirable prospect, my fondest wish, my highest ambition, is not eternal salvation. The prospect of eternity is difficult enough for me to grasp ... okay, a moment of honesty; it has me buffaloed. And if eternity is beyond my sophisticated, advanced, highly intellectual understanding, what can it mean to kids? They understand now, and as they mature, they might grasp the idea of things happening days, months, even years from now.       So what's the appeal of telling a child that he has to give up himself (the center of his world) and turn to Jesus (whom he's never seen) so he can go to heaven (a place nobody he knows has ever seen) for eternity (Even Christmas is forever away!)? The only way to reach children's hearts is the way Jesus did: Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for only by their example will we adults humble ourselves to be childlike, acceptable for entry into God's kingdom.       We Christians expect to be glorified to Christlikeness in heaven. After all, that's what the Bible says: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.(1 John 3:2) But if we want to be Christlike in heaven, shouldn't all Christians want to be like Jesus in this lifetime, while living on this planet?       So then, we seem to have a dichotomy: We need to be childlike to enter into God's kingdom, but our fondest desire must be to become Christlike in this life. How can we harmonize these two ideas: ... for of such(little children) is the kingdom of heaven. and, we shall be like him. Is this saying Jesus was childlike? While that would be the easiest rationale because, like little children, Jesus was guileless, he also possessed the very attributes of God--because he was, and is, God.       Actually, there is no conflict at all between these two characteristics. Jesus possessed the best parts of children in his openness, his honesty and his unqualified love. But that in no way compromised his spiritual fruit and his divine attributes. The best of children is also the best of God, so Childlikeness is Christlikeness.