"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.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Flubbed the Dub

Today's Manna from the Net presented a most wonderful injunction for victorious, Christian living. But at one point, I had to swallow a bit hard. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...(Colossians 3:16) didn't speak to me so much as it yelled at me. To me, memorizing Scripture is Mission (Virtually) Impossible. But the few Scripture passages I have memorized have provided uncountable blessings when I've needed a quick, God-breathed boost.
        And "God-breathed" is the operative term. A few words of Scripture at just the right moment is the most wonderful balm for life's inevitable scrapes and bruises.
        The rest of today's Scripture passage provides valuable instruction for any Christian community.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17 NIV

        It's interesting to note how the author inserted the thought, And be thankful, in the midst of his instructions. But, thankful for what? The author failed to specify any conditions for thankfulness, which says a lot in itself. If God, through the Apostle Paul, refused to qualify his command for his people's thankfulness, far be it from us to limit it.
        The next instruction directs us to take an active role in discipling one another through God's word, which he's told us must dwell in us richly. "Richly" relates directly to the "wisdom" with which we are to teach and admonish one another.
        Then, of course, Paul directs us toward gratitude in our hearts to God, the attitude that should naturally accompany our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. So, hopefully my flubbing the memory verses will hardly impede my ministry to the body of Christ. That, at least, is my prayer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Share and Share Alike

Most everyone heard those words so often during their childhood that they could have puked. Kids naturally tend toward possessiveness. "Tend?" Right! ... they're possessed with possessiveness. Most rug-rats' first words are "No!" and "Mine!"
        Fortunately for us, God doesn't behave like a little kid. In fact, Romans 8:16-17 tells us just how much God is willing to share: Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
        Now two words make those verses remarkable: the "ifs" and the "shares." Both words are double-edged swords, holding both a promise and a condition. If God is our Father, he is more to us than the all-powerful, Creator God and Master of the Universe. If he is truly our Father he fulfills every role in our lives that a perfect human father would; he communicates with us, provides for us, nurtures us, disciplines us, strengthens us and shares with us.
        Sharing in his glory sounds pretty good. Who wouldn't want to share a little heavenly glory? But, as for Christ Jesus, heavenly glory doesn't come cheaply. The cost of admission is sharing in his suffering. Of course, that doesn't mean we have to submit to a brutal whipping, have a wreath of huge thorns pounded into our scalp or have our hands and feet pegged to a rough, wooden cross. As excruciating as that was, it wasn't the worst suffering Christ endured for us. Far worse than that was bearing the guilt of our sin and having his Father turn away from him at his time of need. What despair!
        The suffering we have to share with Christ is because of the punishment the world meets out to anyone who refuses to conform to its corrupt standards. No fun! But that's all part of inheriting the glory of truly being his.
        So, share and share alike, but be ready to suffer and suffer alike, because Jesus did, out of his infinite love for us.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Everyone's a Critic

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Philippians 4:6-8 NIV
Few statements are truer than, "Everyone's a critic," and its correlary, "He(or she) is his own worst critic." I believe every human being who has ever drawn breath has exhibited some degree of critical nature. Some folks seem bereft if they can find nothing to criticize in others. But that's only the half if it.
        Self-criticism, while seeming constructive at first, can easily spread within anyone like a wildfire, consuming confidence, motivation and competance as a spark or cigarette butt might consume a majestic forrest. Christ's apostle Paul concluded his letter to the church in Philippi with some of the best advice ever, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Typical church-going Christians pay little attention to those words, for one reason, because they come from one of the more pulpit-worn Scripture passages; in church, familiarity seems to breed apathy.
        That begs the question of why the passage attracted my attention strongly enough to motivate my writing about it. With your permission, just a moment of back story: I subscribe to an e-mailed feed called Daily Manna from the Net. Google it for some unexpected blessings. Anyway, sometimes the sage advice to prepare ones mind and spirit for Scripture reading doesn't seem to apply to the random, indiscriminate exposure to Scripture. When I open the Daily Manna e-mail, my eyes take in a surprise packet of God's mind, and occasionally, my mind offers a seed-sized tract of fertile ground for it. Such was the case for this verse.
        While Philippians 4:4-8 offers profound closing instructions for Paul's letter to the Philippian church, as it does for us, let's focus on verse eight for just a moment. Many respond to this "whatever" verse with a noncommittal, "whatever," assuming that only supersaints must concern themselves with such instruction, an attitude that couldn't be further from the truth. So, verse eight exhorts us to think about things that are excellent or praiseworthy. I nearly threw in the word "only," but since it isn't in the actual text, I'll work around that minor detail by mentioning the words that begin this clause: "if any." That is to say, wherever we find an inner strength or praiseworthy behavior in another person, we are to think about that; an attitude exactly opposite to what most people exhibit.
        So, why single this verse out from all the others? Because it encapsulates Christ's attitude toward those he served. If he had first sought out our reprehensible attitudes and behaviors, if he had exhibited the same critical spirit the world finds comfortably nestled within church pews, he would have shrunk back in repulsion before ever creating us.
        When, as Christians, we take his name and identify with him, we give up our right to an arbitrarily critical attitude, whether toward others or toward ourselves. Are we then not to discern and deal with deliberate wrongdoing? 1Peter 4:17 expresses God's perspective on our right to judge. Begining with verse fifteen, Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
        God's apostle Paul provided the perfect post script for this seemingly difficult assignment in Philippians 2:12,13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Sound hard? God answered our reservations in 1 John 5:3-5: This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

        So, there's God's answer to our critical attitudes. Obedience is not optional, but goes right along with his word's love passages. If you belong to him, you will demonstrate it by obeying his commands.
        Yes, everyone's a critic, except Christians.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Comparing the Incomparable

2Co 4:15-18 ESVFor it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (16) So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (17) For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (18) as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
WORKS! There's that word again. Can't we escape the necessity for works in the Christian life? Calvin dismissed their requirement entirely. Wesley insisted they should be done methodically. If anyone gives credence to God's word, we find a mixed, often confusing, bag of divine expectations.
        Verse seventeen tells us our relatively easy and temporary troubles accomplish for us an ever and ever more completely glorious, perpetual abundance of blessing. Does that mean that if we leave this temporary life having experienced no troubles, we have failed to earn the eternal blessing God has promised the faithful? More likely, it's a backward way of saying that living in faithful obedience to God will cause us trouble in this life, but a trouble that is momentary and trivial compared with the only alternative to eternal, blissful communion with God.
        While verse seventeen presents the conclusion of the thought begun in verse fifteen, that of our thankful victory being compounded by God's grace, to his glory, verse sixteen tells us that even though our flesh begins dying the moment we are conceived, our soul, spirit, or whatever name we assign to our intangible, inner selves, undergoes daily rejuvenation if we do not grow weary of living for God.
        Verse eighteen completes the thought by comparing that which is seen to that which is unseen. The promise of the previous three verses depends on which of the two realms holds our attention; a continuation of the if inferred in verse sixteen.
        This four-verse passage attempts to compare that which defies comparison, and does a rather good job of it.