"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, September 18, 2009


What sounds better than milk and honey? To the Israelites in the wilderness, anyway, that must've sounded pretty good. Of course, our tastes in this age of over-processed foods with augmented flavor and texture have become so jaded that the simple pleasures no longer satisfy. Compared to pepperoni pizza smothered in cheese, a simple snack of milk and honey holds little appeal … unless one includes graham crackers.         When God had his people Israel marshaled to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, he issued a range of wonderful promises contingent on their obedience to his laws and statutes. One of those promises was so brief that we might easily skip right over it:
Deu 28:12b ESV And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.
        From that simple promise, we must surmise that borrowing is bad, and lending is good. While we consumers have no doubt arrived at the same conclusion—especially after the consumer credit industry's recent dissolution—any substantial change in our self-indulgent habits has been sluggish indeed.         What's far more threatening in the long run, and from a national security perspective, is the position of weakness in which such wholesale borrowing places our nation … most especially in view of our creditor's historic, aggressive stance toward us and our allies.         Obviously, the U. S. of A. is not God's people Israel. Would that our Protector chose to precede us in a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. Our international diplomacy would suddenly become quite simple; if some power wanted to mess with us, we'd just point to the ominous pillar and say, "Take it up with that Big Boy!"         While that fictional scenario sounds appealing, however, there is little likelihood that we would fair any better than God's people did way back when. We are too much like they were, whoring after other gods at the slightest perceived disappointment, when the one, true God refuses to obey our petty demands. The faithful obedience God required of Israel is at least as far from our grasp as it was from theirs         How can we hope for more merciful treatment than the Israelites received from their gracious God. We've certainly done nothing to earn it. What recourse do we, the children of the New Covenant, have when we subject our Savior's holy Name to public ridicule? His New Testament makes it clear that we have none.         Yet, our Savior has not left his church destitute. He knew us too well to make no provision for our human, stiff necks. While his word clearly expresses his intolerance toward our presumption on his grace, it does give the sincerely repentant believer free access to that very grace. One Scripture passage presents that promise, perhaps, clearer than any other:
1Jn 1:5-10 ESV This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (6) If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (8) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
        As with any passage of Scripture, we can take 1 John 1:5-10 to the bank, but we must not take it lightly. As beautiful as is the promise, it is riddled with conditions; such is the meaning of the word if. Do such conditions tarnish the promise? Hardly! They simply make it shine brighter, for the honest truth it contains. Grasp the promise firmly, along with the accompanying responsibility, and freely enjoy the eternal reward of true, milk and honey.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mission: Impossible

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV
Okay, we're not there yet. But really; after two thousand years wouldn't ya think we'd be close to getting it right?         The Apostle Paul begins his instruction with a compelling enough challenge: ... live a life worthy of the calling you have received. I mean, that only seems fair. Yet, when I look at the excellence of that calling, the prospect of obeying the command is akin to staring up at Mount Everest and shuddering under the responsibility of climbing it.         How must Moses have felt, standing at the seashore, water soaking his sandals, Israelites crowded behind him to the horizon, with every eye looking to him to save them from the Egyptian army in hot pursuit? I'm sure he must have thought, "Why me, Lord?" Please note, he didn't go dashing into the deep, desperately flailing at the water to make way for his people. He already had his instructions, but they seemed far too simple; just strike the water with his staff ... the staff God had already used in numerous miracles. Yet, at the moment it seemed so ordinary--no slithering, no flower buds, not even a fizzle of a lightening bolt. The thing in his hand seemed like just another chunk of wood. But God said to simply strike the water, so Moses lifted that nondescript stick over his head and swatted the Red Sea's surface with all the force he could muster. And you know what? It worked! Just as God said it would.         Well, God didn't tell us to take our extended family across the Red Sea. He didn't even tell us to climb Mount Everest. He simply told us to live a life worthy of our calling.         "Simply." Right!         Never fear! God placed within His word several guidelines, statutes and principles that, if observed, will produce a life worthy of our calling. Guaranteed!         ... What? You were expecting a list or something? No words of mine could ever furnish the Holy Spirit conviction and motivation to change, that immersion in His word will give the sincere seeker. But since you want a list, the very next Scripture verse shown above makes a grand start: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Not exactly on the scale of Everest-climbing or sea-crossing, is it. Yet, anyone who has sincerely tried meeting those standards knows how simple they are not.         The last verse printed above issues an overriding truth that stands directly opposed to everything in our fleshly experience: There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Unity, oneness, is humanly impossible. Everything within our flesh demands individualism, autonomy, primacy. Yet, the spiritual realm has only enough room for one Individual who is autonomous, and the head of all. In the space of six short Scripture verses we are once again faced with Mission: Impossible. Climbing all the tallest mountains on earth, and rowing across all its seas would be easier in the flesh than complying with these few requirements to live a life worthy of our calling.         That's why Jesus said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you. Only with Him, through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit, spurring us and directing us onward toward Christlikeness, will we ever begin to "live a life worthy of our calling." If reconciliation with God and achieving Christlikeness were easy, Jesus wouldn't have had to endure the cross.         Be eternally thankful that he did!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bonds of Formality

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and 'sinners' came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?' On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.' Matthew 9:10-13 NIV
Since Matthew was a tax collector(scum) and his friends were no doubt bottom feeders, those are naturally the only folks who would dine with him. Amazing, isn't it, that the Pharisees ventured close enough to the festivities to see who was there. No doubt they had followed Jesus to catch him in some indiscretion. Imagine their joy when Jesus entered Matthew's home.         It is interesting to note that Jesus' disciples waited for him outside Matthew's home, enabling the Pharisees to quiz them about their Master's activities. Had Matthew excluded them from his feast? Or had they refused to enter the home of a hated tax collector, even though their Master had just gone in to sup. Imagine Judas' self-righteous stance as he showed himself more upright than the Teacher.         Answering the Pharisees, Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6, For I desire steadfast love[mercy] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.(ESV) Think of the implications of Jesus' statement. The Jews based their whole religious tradition on ritual sacrifice. Their rituals, liturgies and formalities in fact, had become their primary emphasis, their first love, and their exclusive expression of devotion to their Elohim. By saying, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, Yeshua told both the current religious establishment and today's church that religious rituals and traditions mean nothing without the foundation of love and mercy. What an apt reminder for Christendom's religious professionals who have bound their lives and their spiritual expression to the shackles of ritual.         Tragically, many clergy have found themselves so tightly bound to religious convention that breaking free is virtually impossible, despite Yeshua's injunction recorded in Matthew 9:10-13. Only the righteous Judge knows how deeply their disobedience penetrates their lives, or if they honestly can't help perpetuating the bonds of formality.