"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 22, 2008

Wonderful News

Isaiah 28
5 In that day(of judgment on Ephriam) the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
6 and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

        Just as there will always be judgment for God's wayward people, there will always be a remnant of His people, crowned by the Lord of Glory, a diadem of beauty. The church has no glory but God, and no beauty but His holiness.
        What of those who would fancify His glory and find beauty other than His? Theirs is a hopeless quest. He does not need or want great cathedrals, and the beauty of fine furnishings and art are to Him, ugliness.

9 “To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”

        One can almost hear the prophet saying, "Does God have any volunteers?" If He can find them, they will have grown past the milk of the gospel. They will be teachable and patient, not having to know it all up front, but willing to accept any crumb of knowledge or wisdom that falls to them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Gift From Hosea Chapter 10

1Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars.
        In the Jews' dissolution into two conflicting kingdoms, I see the schism of God's church into denominations and doctrinal camps. Old line denominations fit Israel's description in verse 1 above: Though they became separate entities, they, like Israel, became a luxuriant vine, producing much material gain. But the more prosperous they became, the more they accepted and honored the world's humanistic principles. In essence, they've built more alters to worship their multiple gods of political correctness, along with the lipservice they still offer their namesake, Christ Jesus.
2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.
        Here is a promise upon which the remnant of God's church is counting. Liberal religionists stand among the ranks of secular progressives and humanists saying, "Why can't we all just get along? We must embrace our diversity and learn from those with whom we have historically disagreed. As all truth is God's Truth, many ways lead to God in His many manifestations."
        Now, doesn't that sound tolerant? The problem with such ecumenical philosophy is Scripture contradicts it. Yes, Jesus preached love and tolerance, but only as a redemptive outreach. Jesus was as hard on his religious contemporaries as he was easy on those struggling under the religious brand of "sinner." Not once did He approve of their sin, but he always affirmed their human value and urged them to repent and believe.

Another Gift From Hosea Chapter 10

12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
        This is as valid today as when God preached it through Hosea His prophet. First the instruction to sow righteousness, then the description of its harvest.
        Second, He instructed His people on how to accomplish that: "Break up your fallow ground," which is to accept correction so we might receive His seed of righteousness. "For it is time to seek the Lord" for help in repenting of our old ways, as true repentance is impossible without His Holy Spirit enabling it. Only then, "He may come and rain righteousness upon" us.
        The verse began with His command to "sow for yourselves righteousness," and ended by saying "He may come and rain righteousness upon you." This "sandwiches" God's command with, first, our fallen perspective, and second, God's sanctified perspective. In the end, only His righteousness will germinate, sprout, and grow into a productive vine that bears fruit to glorify Himself.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Problem of Pride

        Applying chapter six of the book of Amos to today's church might seem a bit of a stretch, but as with most Old Testament passages, an indirect application, carefully and prayerfully done, can be just as valid as if it were addressed directly to us.
        References to Zion, during this period of Hebrew history, mean Jerusalem, and speak of the house of Judah. The mountain of Samaria speaks of the house of Israel. So this applies to all the children of Abraham, and as adopted children of Abraham, today's church must also apply these lessons to itself.

Amos chapter six
1"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes!
        This chapter begins by telling us to not rely on our position in God's church for our security. Church membership means nothing in God's sight; he makes no distinction based on membership in human institutions. Responding to a special dream, the apostle Peter said, "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." (Acts 10:34-35 ESV) And the apostle Paul wrote the following to the Roman church, For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:12-13 ESV)
        The second half of verse one speaks of Israel's respect for the Jerusalem religious establishment. In view of the constant warring between Judah and Israel, this says quite a lot; beneath all the strife was a fundamental respect for the temple worship and the priests who conducted it.
2Pass over to Calneh, and see, and from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory…,
        The Jews' distinction didn't rest on their human qualities or power. And the church is, in the same way, no better than any other cohesive group of people. We are all human, and subject to the whole gamut of human weaknesses and faults.
3 …O you who put far away the day of disaster and bring near the seat of violence?
        The thought continues with the fault that is common to all, regardless of their race, nation or religion. With few exceptions, humans practice active denial concerning the consequences of our actions, and insist on continuing in our aggressive behavioral patterns. Odd, isn't it, how we pick fights and expect to never loose.
4"Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall…,
        Here, Amos stopped preachin' and commenced to meddlin'. Our reaction to this chastening is, "What the heck is wrong with a few comforts and possessions? I worked hard for my stuff and I should enjoy the fruit of my labors."
        Despite the Puritan ethic that says we're blessed because of our hard work, our blessings are not our due compensation for our work. All blessings come from God, not from our own hands. Often he chooses to pour out his blessings upon us as a reward for our faithfulness, but we must not expect them as our entitlement or demand them as our right.
5… who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music…,
        Not only are we to not expect rewards, we most certainly must not rejoice in them, as if they were due to some great thing that we accomplished. Such is the pride that goes before the fall(Proverbs 16:18).
6… who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
        Amos goes on to extend God's judgment to those who celebrate their achievements with much wine(signifying revelry) and self-anointing with perfumed oils(signifying the blasphemy of attributing to oneself what God's Holy Spirit has provided).
7Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away."
        Don't get used to the self-congratulatory "high life," because it will most certainly be taken away. Exile signifies separation from ones supportive peer group, whether their church congregation, some social group or family. Such separation wouldn't necessarily be forced on the reveler, but one might withdraw due to shame or incompatible lifestyle. If shame is the separating factor, that is also the first step toward reconciliation—but for vain pride's intervention.
8The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts: "I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds, and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it."
        If the eternal, self-existent Author of the Bible used such a strong word as "abhor"—used only once in the entire Bible—regarding Jacob's pride, and that was under the Old Covenant's shadow of Messiah's complete truths yet to come, what must he think of the pride contaminating today's church? The Authorized version translates it, "I abhor the excellency of Jacob," obviously applying the word "excellency" to the Jews' bloated self-esteem. Pride, arrogance, majesty, pomp, swelling—that pretty much covers the attitudinal sins associated with an exalted view of oneself.
        Once again, in case this didn't penetrate: God used the word translated "abhor" only once in the Bible. Did he use it in regard to murder, or adultery, or lying, or stealing, or homosexuality, or idolatry? No! He applied it only to the sin of pride. Yet, within the institution of religion, that is the one sin that we typically accept, or even encourage.
9And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die.
        Continuing the theme of passing away, God doesn't mince words, but spells out pride's severe penalty: total extinction! Obviously, that sentence hasn't been executed as yet; there is still plenty of pride infecting Christendom. But the judgment is coming, and when it does, no one will doubt God's seriousness.
The balance of Chapter six continues the theme of vs. 9, describing in various, unobscure ways, the total obliteration of God's people of they persist in their elitism, their arrogance, their unabashed pride in their religion. For pride in anything or anyone but our eternal, self-existent God is nothing more or less than idolatry.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Believe is not a soft verb

When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, "Rabbi, when did You get here?" Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal." Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:25-29 NASB)
        How can believing be any kind of work? Isn't belief a rather abstract affirmation of some claim, idea or concept? Usually, perhaps, but Jesus had a more concrete meaning here. Referring to Mark 11:22-24, where Jesus spoke of faith in God, after he told them faith, without doubt, could move a mountain into the sea, he spoke of more practical faith-matters, specifically, "all things for which you pray and ask." Then comes the key word "believe," but not "that you will receive them." Jesus said, "that you have received them," stating that God knew the need and granted it before it was voiced.
        That speaks of far more than a passive, abstract affirmation of something. It speaks of stepping on an invisible bridge in full confidence that it is really there—because God clearly and understandably said to do it. Then, knowing that even if it wasn't there, the falling would somehow glorify God.
        People throughout history have done outrageous things because they felt that God had commanded it: cruel, murderous things. Yes, under the Old Covenant, some of those commands were really from God, because the greater work that God wanted accomplished required it. Today, the only "Promised Land" tells us to possess is the life characterized by God's unique holiness and love, without which no one will see Him.