"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, May 18, 2009

Another "IF"

Deu 28:6-9 ESV Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. (7) "The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. (8) The LORD will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (9) The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways.
What a beautiful promise to God's holy people! In this context Moses referred only to Israel, God's original chosen race. The LORD(the Only Self-Existent One), however, included two conditions that must be met before receiving the full blessing of vss. 6-8. Moses could just as easily have written the if first, establishing the condition before the necessary result, but he chose to keep it positive, with the promised result first.
        When God utters an oath, we can take it to the bank. Since, however, his people Israel have modeled their corporate, stiff neck countless times throughout history, God had a "Plan C." If the nature of Plans A & B are a little obscure, we need only study Biblical history to observe his three attempts at fashioning a people for himself. "Plan A" was God's direct involvement with Man, the crown of his creation. Man entered into being as the wonderful artwork of the infinitely creative God, and since God can't do anything imperfectly, he made Man in his own image; the physical representation of the Creator. Part of that perfection was God's gift of personal volition, or choice ... we all know how that ended.
        "Plan B" was a new start, in the heights of the Mountains of Ararat. With Noah and his family the only survivors of a universal flood, Man had a second chance at obeying his Creator. But according to Genesis 6-9, this new beginning didn't last long.
        Millennia passed in cycles of gross disobedience and temporary repentance, before the time came for "Plan C," for Church. Man had suffered two strikeouts, with the game's, and Man's, eternal destiny depending on his response to God's Anointed. Would Man swing-and-miss, make a base hit, or finally put one over the fence. Strike One put Christ on Calvary's cross. Strike Two sent God's church into fearful hiding. But with the Holy Spirit's help, a base hit put the church on base.
        The next two millennia delivered too many errors, fouls and walks to count, and God's church is still playing lousy ball with God. Of course, right there the metaphor falls apart, for in baseball's actual rules the inning--and the game--would end after just a few tries. God's rules, however, are tempered by his love, his grace and his infinite patience.
        Only God knows when this game of life will end, but end it will. Personally, I don't want to be stuck on base when Umpire God calls for it to end.
        We, God's church, are "Plan C," the last chance for Man to live up to God's expectations in creating us. We--corporately and individually--had better not blow it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Psalm 138:6

For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.(Psa 138:6 ESV) Matthew 10:29 quotes Jesus as saying, Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. So when Psalm 138 tells us, the LORD is high, we can rest assured that despite his lofty perspective, the humblest of human beings can't hide from him; he "regards" them closely and continually. Both Psalm 138 and Matthew 10 reveal a core principle from God's word; those who consider themselves of low estate have the most immediate access to their Savior and the most intimate relationship with him.
        Of course, that doesn't mean people on the other end of the pride spectrum manage to escape his notice. The God who pays attention to a falling sparrow also notices the prideful misadventures of the haughty, the arrogant, the self-righteous, the possessors of lofty self-esteem. Indeed, their sin is all he sees, because self-aggrandizement is the foundational motive for all their good works.
        For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8 ESV) One of those ways is God's refusal to compete for his creation's affection. Though he could blast a hole in the landscape next to anyone, or through them, for that matter, he typically limits his overtures to a whisper. When we demand evidence of his attention to our needs, he speaks ever more softly. When we assert ourselves against his authority, he becomes silent.
        Standing on the receiving end of God's wrath would seem to be the worst possible situation for a human being, but it is not. The worst possible condition for one of God's creation is for God to ignore him. Often we hear complaints of, "But God seems so distant." Then a rhetorical question follows: "How can anyone have a relationship with the God of heaven?" To a true Christian, the answer is a no-brainer.
        We feel God is distant because we naturally invest far more time and effort getting to know ourselves than getting to know him. Self-help resources are filled with ways to achieve self-realization, self-actualization, self-esteem, positive self-concept and self-love. Even many Christians, in trying to ride on the "self-awareness" bandwagon, tell us, "We must love ourselves before we can love others." Does God agree with that analysis? Let's take a look at his word on the subject.
        The Apostle John knew something about love. In fact, his gospel and letters to the church dealt with love more than those of any other Bible writer. In his first letter to the church, he stated simply: We love because he(God) first loved us. (1Jn 4:19 ESV) This short Bible verse tells us that God freely gave us his love first. First before what? Before we could love ... Love what? The Bible leaves that answer wide open, and so must we. Our love for God, ourselves, and anyone or anything else is our acknowledgment of God's original love for us. But, to acknowledge something is to first experience it.
God's unpopular truth is, we must love Him before we can truly love ourselves, or anyone else. How does the average, unspiritual Joe Bloe first experience God's love so he can love God as the Scripture says? Like an old fashioned pump over a country water well, it seems our first realization of God's love must be primed with some of kind of instinctual response to his love before we can hope to realize it's right there in front of us. No worries. The Apostle Paul anticipated this spiritual, Catch-22 in his letter to the Romans, chapter ten: How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom 10:14 ESV) There's the question. Now, how about the answer.
        Two more verses from Romans Chapter 10 sumarize God's wonderful answer: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17 ESV) The key here is we must hear through the word of Christ, or by using his word as a filter through which we might recognize God's truth. No, that doesn't sound easy, but the proverb goes, "Anythin' worth doin's worth doin' right."
        The second part of that answer(Remember the question?) is: Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me." (Rom 10:20 ESV) Yes, in some way that makes perfect sense to God, and doesn't have to make sense to us, our believing the gospel is, first and foremost, "a God thing." To come to God in faith, we must choose to follow his prompts; he calls, we choose to follow, or not. And based on our choice, he will, or will not, give us the faith to carry it through.
        The next truth one must accept fully to realize God's love in his or her life takes us back to Psalm 138:6, and God's response to the lowly versus the haughty. Those who claim to follow Christ must listen to him rather than the popular culture, and he said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mat 16:24) Debate has raged since Jesus said those words, as to what he meant by "deny himself" and "take up his cross." Did Jesus intend to confuse us? Certainly not! He looked into the distant future, to you and me, and to the worldly, self-centered lies that would assault us constantly. Even then, he recognized the "self-awareness" heresy for what it would be, that man has, is, and always will desperately grasp for self-affirmation. The simple fact is, when we assert ourselves, we elevate ourselves relative to those around us. And when we have succeeded in exalting ourselves, the natural line-of-sight when considering others is right along the ridge of our noses.
        So, what is this "cross" Jesus mentioned that we must take up to follow him? Some have said it is our sin, but that's already on the cross HE carried. Is it the burden of the Gospel that he laid on us? He answered that one with, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mat 11:29-30 ESV) No, the answer is right in verse twenty-four, before our very eyes: Denying oneself continually, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, is the cross we must bear. In a way, it's the very same cross Jesus committed himself to when in the garden of Gethsemane. He said, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." (Mat 26:39 ESV)
        As usual, it all comes together at God's will. Rebel against it, and you take your miserable chances. Obey, and share his glory for eternity. Sounds like the ultimate no-brainer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More On Motives

I'm sure I must have dealt with motives, and my inability to nail them down—or nail them to the cross. Thus, this post's title. Today's Daily Manna From The Net presented Matthew 6:19-23 from the NIV, and began with, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." Instantly, I began congratulating myself for an ancient victory that demonstrated just that disregard for worldly possessions: Terry Brown's boys were all over my nearly-new Honda Accord's hood one Sunday after church. When Terry realized what they were doing, his mortification made him reprimand them harshly. Terry was a full-time student, supporting a family, yet he humbly offered to pay for the paint's repair. I assured him, however, that he needn't worry about paying anything because, except for a few minor scratches to the hood's paint, the car was fine. It took some convincing, but eventually Terry accepted my forgiveness, praising my Christian attitude about possessions. Yes, I forgave Terry and his boys, but not without some inner mourning over my nearly-new car's defacing, and I accepted his praises for my external, selfless attitude. So, hindsight being as acute as it is, these many years later I've come to realize something else probably motivated my grandiose, forgiving gesture. And that something provides no reason for pride. Throughout my life I've wasted countless opportunities for true conflict-resolution because of my phobia of confrontation. When something needed to be said, whether defending myself or confronting wrong behavior, I passionately avoided the issue. And the dynamic always boiled down to stark fear of confrontation. Most folks would be amazed at how many jobs a fear-consumed worker can lose in a lifetime. Once, a friend responded to my confession of fear-controlled relationships with 1 John 4:18, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. That passage served to change my attitude toward fear, but it didn't change the paralyzing emotion when facing confrontation. Whether it's some jerk flipping me off from behind his self-righteous steering wheel, or a telephone tech-support customer angrily declaring I'm useless, such barbs catch hold and tear away chunks of flesh despite all my knowledge of how I should respond. Since discovering 1 John 4:18 I've "rightly divided" it exhaustively(torn it apart six ways from Sunday and put it back together again) and found not even a lame excuse for dismissing it. Yes, I'm afraid God's not letting me off the hook on this one; as much as I try to love everyone I encounter, I huddle in stark terror when anyone disapproves of me. Solutions? None. Band-Aids? A whole case of them, though I have some consolation in knowing the great Apostle Paul suffered from an unresolved thorn in his flesh. Truth-be-told, the Lord Jesus Christ shed his holy blood to wash away my sins and thorns in the psyche, even those that seem unresolved in this life. Through Christ, I am completely reconciled with the eternal, self-existent One. Yet, it is not I who live, but Christ lives within me. What an encouragement to know victory is mine, despite my short-term failures. So what, if I quiver like a lump of Jello in the face of confrontation. If it really mattered a wit, Jesus' Holy Spirit would—and will—grant me the holy boldness I so desperately crave. How do I know? The Bible told me so!