"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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Conformity, The Root of All Movements

Humans are a social being; we associate with like-minded folks for a sense of family, or for personal affirmation. And we achieve both ends by membership in various social and interest groups.
        For many of us, such memberships happen in a haphazard process of random associations and personal affinities. Acquaintances we find attractive, or whose company we enjoy, introduce us to their friends—if we qualify. Acceptance makes us "somebody" in their group, and if their interests don't clash too badly with our convictions, we begin identifying with them and their passions.
        From stuff I've written for this blog, you no doubt realize how fed up I am with the effect that Kool-Aid drinking lemmings, whether Left, Right, Secular or Religious, have on culture. These joiners eagerly swallow the pablum influential people feed them, becoming willing, ideological clones who are ready to die for the cause ... as long as it doesn't interfere with watching their favorite sit-coms. Such group members reserve critical thought for "them," i.e., those who fail to board their bandwagon, becoming intellectually lazy and compliant.
        Tragically—from my perspective anyway—members of Christendom conform to my stereotypical, joiner's snapshot all-too well. We(yes, I include myself) stumble along with our denomination, fellowship, movement, or whatever we like to call our religious group, automatically conforming to group norms and dogma, though we have not the foggiest idea of where many of them came from. "It's what we do," is our mantra. But that's a bum rap for Evangelicals; ours is, "It's Biblical."
        My critique of organized religion places me in an interesting—though not untenable— position. I fall into pop-culture's category of "Evangelical Christian Fundamentalist," because the I believe the Lord said to: share my faith(evangelical), in Christ(Christian), with respect for the Bible's inerrancy(fundamentalist).
        I actually have thought-out reasons for attending "church." The Bible warns me to avoid forsaking the assembling of believers, though to my mind, that doesn't necessarily include trivial socializing that includes, but is not limited to, discussing the weather, hunting, politics, and others' personal affairs. When that useless prattle goes on around me, I concentrate on God, and my own struggles in growing toward Him.
        I'm afraid some of the folks see me as standoffish, or elitist, not realizing that if they would only fellowship in God's word, I'd be all over it. There is a significant minority of attendees, however, who share my priorities, and we learn from one another—hopefully—how to get it right.
        If I had to name the denomination with which I align myself, it would have to be the Church of Tuppence—you know—"Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them." (Matt 18:20)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Rare Agreement

        Whoda thought I'd ever finding myself agreeing with white-supremacists. You know, those are the folks who love the ol' Stars and Bars, the Red and Gray, the "South Will Rise Again" kinda stuff. Well, today I found an infinitesimal area of agreement with those folks.
        I realized that in today's politically correct parlance, racism applies only to the white imbeciles who hate others simply because they are different. By that standard, African-Americans aren't racist. Neither are Arab-Americans, American Indians or Hispanics. When those folks hate whites, they practice "reverse-racism," which is somehow less nasty than white, skinhead-style racism.
        For anyone who truly loves and identifies with the name of Jesus, and claims to follow Him in His love and grace, hatred of any person is not possible. Yes, I realize lots of self-styled Christians would dispute that, and I could go into a litany of Scripture passages that support my tenet, but that is a subject more suited to a book than a blog. In case you've missed it, my point is racism—whether reverse or otherwise—is arbitrary hatred, and Jesus died because of, and to eradicate human hatred.
        Some would argue that God hates those who practice evil that is particularly detestable to Him. But how could that be, since He offered His Son Jesus as a living sacrifice for the sin of all humanity? If Jesus, a Jew, loved Gentiles, Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, Arabs, and anyone else of the nearly infinite variety of humanity, insisting that Christians can and should hate people doesn't make a lot of sense.
        But foolishness is no respecter of sensibility.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Righteous Judge

        In this world, everyone—even the highest judges and executives of the land—are subject to a law outside themselves. Despite the sociopathic acts of criminals and usurpers, no one is exempt. But even aside from those violent offenders, law exists because of humanity's penchant for asserting itself against any authority. Without law, anarchy would ultimately reign, with chaos despoiling any remnant of civilization.

Who is The Law, and is it binding?
        Law, without an enforcing authority, is impotent. All societies employ police forces to apprehend lawbreakers, judiciaries to assign consequences for lawbreaking, and a penal system to execute punishment.
        The office of Judge holds, by its very title, the grave responsibility of dispensing justice. How must judges feel, perched upon their high-backed, leather chairs behind the benches of judgment, elevated above both the guilty and innocent? Are they unique in their moral perfection? Have they never sinned against God or man? Regardless their lofty positions, judges are only men, and their sole qualification for occupying that office is their demonstrated knowledge of the Order of Jurisprudence.
        Though their title is Judge, our nation's Constitution usually limits their role to that of a referee, or arbiter, between the defendant and the plaintiff or the State. In that role, they must exercise the authority of the judicial bench with candor and prudence. So they don't actually judge the riffraff that stand accused before them. The Constitution relegates decisions regarding law and morality to a jury of the accused party's peers. No one expects moral perfection from the jury, which is the reason for utilizing a multitude of jurists, according to the Biblical principle: Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Pro 15:22 ESV)

But, what about justice?
        In the final analysis, is the administration of justice left to flawed human beings? Since the inevitable mistakes in meting out punishment are both unjust and unfair, are the cynics right in their jaded view of life?
        If what we touch, taste, smell, hear or see is all this world offers, life is simply the sum of our sensations. What, then, of the abstracts most of us enjoy; friendship, aesthetics, interpersonal bonding, spirituality, passion, reason, conscience, and yes, justice, all contribute to a dimension of life that is infinitely beyond the physical. Were one or more of our physical senses compromised, those abstract senses would not be lessened, but heightened.
        What authority can possibly administer judgments that satisfy those higher, singularly human, senses? It would have to be an authority incapable of error, the very definition of rightness. Without it, all our abstract senses would be for naught. Yet, no one can deny that we have them. Therefore, our abstract sense of reason tells us that righteous Authority must exist.

Pascal's "God-shaped vacuum"
        Blaise Pascal, pioneer mathematician, and contributer to the theory of probability, wrote of a "God-shaped vacuum" within each human being, that only the Author of humanity can fill. To have created this abstraction we call man—with mental faculties and self-cognizance far beyond that of any animal—He must have designed us according to similarly a superior convention. That Creator, that Ultimate Authority, must therefore exist apart from His creation, and be characterized by a perfection beyond mortal imagination.
        Materialists patently reject any concept of a Supreme Being existing outside of our frame of reference. Their claim that "man created god after his own image" is impossible, however, because of the fact that Man's understanding of God's unique attributes is outside of our human frame of reference, necessitating the existence of Pascal's "God-shaped vacuum." And though most of God's attributes are unimaginable, humanity's innate sense of the abstract reflects the Creator in whose image we were formed.

        Rather than admit the possibility that an authority existed before, and continues to exist beyond, homo-sapiens, materialists desperately sought an alternate, naturalistic explanation for what we all see around us. In a stroke of genius, they invented the big-bang theory of origins, wherein an infinitesimal particle of near-infinite mass imploded in a superheated detonation that projected all matter outward from its point of origin. That theory takes into account the "red shift" astronomers have discovered, meaning all distant objects in the cosmos are moving apart relative to each other—and us.
        But, wait a minute; does that grandiose theory seem to circle back upon itself? Do Naturalists attempt to explain the universe's existence with something that already existed? That would seem to smack of the archaic theory of spontaneous generation—the belief that fruit flies just popped out of nowhere.
        Why, that defies all logic ... in fact, evolutionists are guilty of the same circular reasoning of which they accuse creationists. Thus, in denying that God exists, they prove that He could exist, even if they as yet have no apparatus that can sense Him.

Back to the Judge
        Tragically, for those who live to usurp any threat to their perceived autonomy, denying the existence of the King of kings and Lord of lords does not, in fact, make Him non-existent. The One who put that infinitesimal speck of near-infinite mass in its place and caused it to go BANG, is the righteous Judge before whom all creation will ultimately bow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In Defense of Boot-Strap Witnessing

In Chapter 2 of Power Through Prayer, E. M. Bounds said:
The preacher may feel from the kindling of his own sparks, be eloquent over his own exegesis, earnest in delivering the product of his own brain; the professor may usurp the place and imitate the fire of the apostle; brains and nerves may serve the place and feign the work of God's Spirit, and by these forces the letter may glow and sparkle like an illumined text, but the glow and sparkle will be as barren of life as the field sown with pearls. The death-dealing element lies back of the words, back of the sermon, back of the occasion, back of the manner, back of the action. The great hindrance is in the preacher himself. He has not in himself the mighty life-creating forces.
        I wonder how wise such convicting teaching is, when it may suggest to the believer that his own, personal level of spirituality determines the effectiveness of his testimony. That belief will inflict self-condemnation on any believer who shares his testimony without apparent effect.
        Bounds, in his attempt to persuade preachers to seek a higher walk with the Lord through broken-hearted prayer, may only succeed guilt-tripping the most sincere of witnesses. But the apostle Paul said:
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1Jn 3:19-20 ESV
        By all means, fall on your face before God; one can never be too broken before Him, but we must readily accept His reconciliation through Christ Jesus, for there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1 ESV) While we cannot save ourselves, neither can we condemn ourselves when we are in Christ Jesus.
        We will never be spiritual enough to testify of God's grace toward us, but that doesn't exempt us from Jesus' Great Commission. As long as we realize it is His holiness that brings seekers to Him, we must limit our responsibility to (letting our) light shine before others, so that they may see (our) good works and give glory to (our) Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:16 ESV)

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Few, The Humble, The Redeemed

John 14:1-6 (NIV)
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
        Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
        Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Taint Fair!

        Egalitarians reject John 14:6 because they believe everyone deserves the same right to get to heaven. The problem with that reasoning is no one deserves the right to get to heaven. But Jesus, in His loving grace, grants just one exception to that spiritual law, and only to those who obey Jesus' gospel qualify for that exception.
         Not fair? Go to any commercial airport in the world and approach the loading gate for a particular flight without a boarding pass. What is the likelihood of your getting to board? Even when you rant about the unfairness of their exclusivity and threaten to sic the ACLU on them, they will not budge. But you will budge when Airport Security comes to lead you away in handcuffs.
         Or, what about the apocalyptic movie scenario where a massive meteor is plunging toward Earth, guaranteeing total extinction of all human life, except for the few who qualify to be kept safe in the one remote habitat that will sustain the lives of a limited number? To qualify, you will have to be a key member of government, a well-experienced medical specialist and his or her team, a recognized scholar, or a scientist or engineer with the necessary credentials. Will that be fair to you, who have none of those qualifications? Of course not. But will it be right? Absolutely!
        So, what is the difference between that fictional scenario, and God's necessary discrimination between people who obey Him and those who don't?

Totally Unfair!

        Now, for an example of discrimination that seems even less fair, but happens daily in third world countries: Miguel, an eleven-year-old Mexican orphan has heard that a Norte Americano couple will visit the orphanage this afternoon. One of the children will leave for the United States, to live in a fine, rich home with a loving family. That one child will not have to dread a life of sleeping on a rotting pad of cardboard under a roof of discarded corrugated metal, and picking barely edible garbage for sustenance.
        As the moment of visitation arrives, Miguel slicks down his shaggy, black hair, wipes at stains on his one good shirt, and practices his smile for the rich Americans. The orphanage workers suddenly sweep into the dormitory to nervously chase the children to the dining room, where they line up and stand straight. Two middle-aged white people enter with expectant smiles on their faces, reminding Miguel to smile as well. Slowly, they pass down the line of children, asking questions of some through the translator accompanying them. They approach Miguel, glancing at each child, and then they are right in front of Miguel. He smiles so hard his mouth hurts, but suddenly they are in front of the next child, and then the next.
        They hardly glanced at him!
        An eternal hour later, the orphanage director reenters the room, touches a little girl's arm, and leads her away. Miguel stares in horror, yet he isn't too surprised. He fights back tears; only los niños pequeños, "the little children," are supposed to cry, but the tears seep out anyway, because this rejection is the worst of all: In a week he will turn twelve, and the orphanage can no longer keep him. Without family or outside friends, he will become homeless, and hungry, and filthy. He may survive his teen years, but maybe not. Though he hates the gangs, joining them may be his only way out—until he gets killed in a drug war.
        The happy days of Miguel's life have ended, and he faces his dismal prospects with resignation. Miguel isn't able to think in terms of fair or unfair. It is what it is, and that's that.

And The Point Is:

        Fairness in life is a luxury that few get to enjoy. So, why the outrage about God's selectivity? He didn't create the evil in the world; it exists because of human rebelliousness, and God has done all He can to give mankind an opportunity for redemption. How stupid is it to reject His offer because it isn't fair to others?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

This Is The Dawning of The Age of Aquarius?

        Peace activists push for the the long-awaited, Dawning of the Age of Aquarius, with its mystical love, harmony and tranquility that will end this hate-filled world's wanton killing. Though their sit-ins and hunger strikes seem like a great idea, it seems the only hate that draws their fire is that of racial, sexual, social and religious intolerance, and of course, the big, expensive wars. Why don't they bother with the more subtle expressions of hatred, and the little altercations that kill or maim just a few people at a time?
        The most volatile of mini-wars are the hot, frustration-fueled tempers in traffic that bring out cursing, and even guns. Fights in bars turn into brawls, and if not broken up quickly, people get hurt or killed in their petty, alcohol-fueled wars. Work-place squabbles can even get pretty hot, when competition for advancement, or functioning staplers, brings out the warrior in people.
        We church-folks know better than to expect some Aruarian Age to end the strife. Though we've come to expect such law-less behavior among people of the world, we who have God's Spirit living in us enjoy the unqualified love shared by the body of Christ. With God's love filling the place, petty issues such as jostling for positions of authority among the body, whether-or-not to pave the overflow parking, furniture arrangement, the new carpet's pattern, or the nursery's paint color, will always resolve themselves without hurt feelings or jealousy. Always ... as long as God's love is, in fact, filling the place.
        That's the way we like to see ourselves, but what are outside observers supposed to think when the church responds to such petty issues with outright warfare? When brethren who have been fast friends for years quit speaking to one another, slander one another and nit-pick each other to death, do they expect outsiders to philosophically conclude that even though some church members act carnally, the body as a whole is filled with God's love?
        Perhaps church combatants actually believe outsiders don't notice their pride-fueled escapades, or that their snide remarks have no effect outside church walls. Could they be that stupid? More likely, however, they never bother considering the far-reaching effects their little disputes' have on observers, and the community as a whole. After all, how can the Great Commission compare in importance to the greater issues of who leads this or that committee, or who teaches this or that class?
        Jesus was outspoken about brethren who cause others to stumble: And He said to the disciples, It is impossible that the offenses should not come, but woe to him by whom they come! It is profitable for him if a millstone turned by an ass is put around his neck, and he be thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. (Luk 17:1,2 LITV) Obviously, Jesus knew His church would perpetrate such offenses, but He made no exception for the offenders when those of little faith are at risk.
        Some say those carnal saints are heaven-bound, regardless the carnage they cause within and without the church. Christendom has argued that issue bitterly for hundreds of years, but what difference does it really make? Love is the first characteristic of God's Spiritual fruit. Back to First John 4: The one who does not love has not known God, because God is love ... We love Him because He first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar. For the one not loving his brother whom he has seen, how is he able to love God whom he has not seen? (1Jn 4:8,19-20 LITV)
        Of course, there's always the argument that goes: "I love her as a sister. I just can't stand the sight of her." Makes sense, does it not? Actually, not, in view of First Corinthians 13: Love has patience, is kind; love is not envious; love is not vain, is not puffed up; does not behave indecently, does not pursue its own things, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth. Love quietly covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (vs. 4-7 LITV) Any of those feisty church members who manage to rationalize away that passage already have the millstone of which Jesus spoke weighing down their necks.
        After Pentecost, the baby church began turning the world upside down with their faithful love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control . Since then, teachers have conducted countless seminars, trying to discover the mystery of what ended that early course of change. But those "seminar-ians" needn't search further than the crowds of unbelievers they ignore while doing their churchly business.

        And He said to them, The one having ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 4:9)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Blessed Assurance; I am His

This verse came from Daily Manna From the Net.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:2-8 NIV)

            Vss. 1-5 are bright and positive, the kind of thing you might hear from a well-meaning brother trying to encourage you. The last two, however, have always given me fits. Over the years I've seemingly had more doubt than faith--at least its the doubt that looms larger in my memory. Through all the doubting moments, my basic confidence in who God is has remained solid, even though I've chaffed at the painfully slow pace of growth in my own life. That confidence is from God alone, as my own nature is skeptical.
            Still, I've never been able to accrue much confidence in my worthiness to expect answers to prayer. I know, the Catechism answer is, "No one is worthy to expect answers to prayer. We're not even worthy, in our flesh, to approach Almighty God at all. But the blood of Jesus has cleansed us from all unrighteousness, so from His perspective, we're pure as the driven snow." What a wonderful, powerful truth! I KNOW it is true, yet, applying it to myself to the point of having confidence in God's willingness to answer my prayers seems beyond me.
            Of course, God's commands to pray--without ceasing, in Spirit and in Truth--are distinct from His promises to grant what we ask. Our duty is to pray in obedience to His word, not to try holding Him to His conditional promises. The TBN crowd insists we have the authority to demand God live up to His promises, but demanding anything of God is presumptuous at best.
            I'm afraid faith isn't one of my strengths, and I still struggle with the double-minded man part of the above passage. The enemy constantly flogs me with passages such as this, but there is now, therefore, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who are the called according to His purpose. When I feel that condemnation I rejoice, because it's wasted on me!
            Praise God! Thanks to His assurance, I know who He is, and I know who I am in Him. That's all I need.