"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.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Guard Against the Knife ... Armor and Other Military-type Stuff.

Ephesians chapter six gives the receptive Christ-follower some solid spiritual protein.
        When Jesus mentioned an idea or command three times in quick succession, he was telling his listener(us) that this is important information. To a student, it would be as if a professor said, "Pay attention, this will be on the exam."
        Vs. 11 begins with his first command to "Put on the whole armor of God." Paul also mentioned this theme of God's armor at the start of his letter to the Romans, demonstrating once again, the high importance of the concept. Here, he reveals his purpose in adopting this military theme, "that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil."
        He places the devil here in the role a shifty, itinerant confidence man who engages the hapless pilgrim in conversation along the way. Inevitably, the conversation will wend its way into a conspiratorial grousing fest; oh, the deceiver agrees completely with the traveler's complaints about the weather, the road's condition, the danger of bandits, the intolerable Roman occupation, any pet peeve that will set the traveler's mind into a negative tail-spin. The devil veils his strategy with false empathy, bonding with the traveler in their seemingly common struggle against the System's unfairness. And of course, God is the System's distant, unapproachable, unsympathetic and judgmental King.
        Without intending to, or even realizing it was taking place, the pilgrim becomes intimate friends with the sympathetic soul who came alongside in a difficult or frustrating time. The deceiver throws his arm over the traveler's shoulder in true fellowship, steadying him, distracting him from the object of his quest, all the while furtively unbuckling the pilgrim's God-given armor. Together they amble onto a side path and into an isolated place where the devil can uncover his weapon and, from point-blank range plunge his fiery bolts into the unwary traveler's heart.
        Yes, this allegory smacks of Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, which deserves all believers' close examination. So many Christ-followers, especially today, think of the devil as a horrendously ugly and powerful demon. And they envision spiritual warfare as specular exorcisms and blood-sweating intercession for those who are under Satanic attack. While that sort of violent intervention makes heart-pounding novels and movies, however, true spiritual warfare usually involves the enemy slithering into the good guys' trenches and taking on the appearance of an agreeable friend.
        The lesson here is we must never let our armor slip, even when among friends, even when it seems so heavy we can't march another step without dropping it along the way. Though the war-drums' pounding fills the air and incoming projectiles threaten our very existence, the means of our demise is far more likely to be a knife in the back.
        Then Paul explains in the most lucid terms, why we must don God's whole armor. This is like the early morning, pre-mission briefing that an officer gives his subordinates, identifying the enemy, clarifying the mission's objectives and rules of engagement, and trying to hype them up with a pep talk.
        First, the officer/author breaks the news that the enemy they will face is not comprised of the garden variety of brawny, heavily armored, blood-thirsty soldiers. In fact, we won't be going up against common soldiers at all. Today's mission is going to be anything but a cinch as we fight against forces of an entirely different kind.
        Our generation commonly plays electronic games where we engage a well armed enemy. We enter the fray with virtual particle-beam weapons blasting away any hapless monster that comes against us. We feel powerful, even invenceable; each time he takes us out we pop back up, having suffered nothing but a loss of points and capabilities. For one thing, our enemy is immortal; we can't kill it.
        And he is powerful in every way we can fear, which loads us down with terror and timidity. What soldier can fight while hunkered down in a corner trying not to be noticed? While his slaughter may be delayed by concealment, it is inevitable.
        Our true enemy actually holds all temporal, worldly authority in his ugly claws. And his invisible minions bear his delegated authority, an authority usurped from God when Man first chose his own way over the perfect way God had prescribed for him.
        And his most insidious power, his most dangerous and trusted weapon, is the wickedness of worldly religious authority. We Christ-followers have gotten the idea, diametrically opposed to the truth, that religion in any form is better than irreligion or no religion at all. Somehow we imagine that atheists are the greatest sinners because they desperately oppose the idea of spirituality, the visible trappings, and the influence of religion. But we are wrong ... deadly wrong.
        If we study Jesus' example of confronting evil, we see that the one evil he most consistantly attacked was the Jewish religious authorities who bent and spun God's law for their own gain, trying—but never quite succeeding—to satiate their own lust for power.
        How many sects of Christendom began with a nugget of God's truth, made perfectly clear to a man of God by his Holy Spirit through his word? And how many of those sects, or denominations, adopt values and traditions that directly oppose God's revealed will? Too many, that's how many.
        Christ-followers raised in these denominational traditions become blind to God's truth, when their church paints ever more carnal values over their established mural of truth. Sure, the leadership has wonderful ideas on how to spiff up the Gospel of Christ so as not to offend. And to make it more interesting, they cover that heavenly mural's subtle, inspired tones with the garish, bright colors that saturate our commercial world. Since it is all religiously done in the name of Christ, we impotent-minded lemmings follow right along.
        The solution? Some Christian fundamentalists would have us indiscriminately reject all of the traditional church's teachings, trappings and traditions as part of its vast apostasy, not realizing that the church's founders were godly men responding to God's Holy Spirit-illuminated word. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this latter-day reformation, perpetrated by well-meaning, post-modernists, is throwing out the baby of truth concealed by the filthy bath water of humanism.
        Our only strategy for avoiding religion's human contamination is to nurture our own "baby of truth" to maturity, continuing our steadfast quest, always remaining teachable, and thus, reachable by God's Holy Spirit. Those of us who recognize human religion's error will never succeed in assaulting its ivory-towered bastions by direct confrontation. Religions sear their constituents' minds and hearts against the light of God's word, making them even silver bullet-proof. No, arguing religion with the religious, or the irreligious, is useless.
        Rather than attacking directly, Christ-followers would more likely succeed by infiltration; guerrilla spiritual warfare. After all, one of our prime directives is, "Let your light shine among men so that they will see your good works and glorify your Heavenly Father." While light dazzles the eyes of those in deep darkness, those who have some spiritual vision might just take a look at the "new guy's" life. Of course, that would mandate living a Christ-like, not necessarily religious, life. If that worries the Christian, however, he may as well plant his body on a pew and take root.

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