"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 06, 2010

… And What’s That Supposed to Mean?

            Everyone has trouble communicating occasionally. Some communicators cover their word bumbling so effectively, their conversational partners never have a clue. The rest of us constantly struggle for just the right word to express our meaning. No one, however, always says exactly what they mean. No one, that is, but God.

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

(Proverbs 30:5)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

(Hebrews 4:12)

            The Bible says some great things about itself, but when we're reading it, does it always make sense? So often it just seems like a bunch of words strung together as a riddle. And on top of that, those who claim to understand what it says can't even agree about its meaning among themselves. What's a body to do when we believe the Bible is God's word, but can't seem to make it speak meaningfully to us?

Going For The Gold

            Everyone enjoys the color, the feel, the value of gold. Craftsmen can make the most beautiful pieces of art from the stuff, and generations later it holds its value, not only as a substance, but also as an artifact.

            Where does the craftsman get his raw material for the golden jewelry he envisions? Like the little kid asked where milk comes from, we might answer, "From the store."

            Most folks realize gold, in fact, comes from the ground. Some crusty old guy with a pickaxe and a donkey scourers the desert until he finds a likely spot, digs a hole and presto! He picks up a gold nugget the size of his fist.

            If finding gold were really that easy, everybody'd join the gold rush. But it's not. In fact, mining companies have to invest millions of dollars simply getting to the gold ore. Then, millions more extracting the precious metal from the raw ore. Think about it; gold isn't called precious because it can be gotten easily.

Real Riches

            What could be more real, more permanent, than gold? Trouble is, it has a way of disappearing. Thousands of treasure-laden vessels and their long-dead crews rest, undisturbed, on the sea's silty bottom. Imagine how important it was to the people who shipped it. Many treasure merchants, crooks and brigands have given up their very lives to keep it, not realizing it would do them no good in the hereafter … if they believed in it. But they only believe in what they can see, feel and spend. God spoke to that issue in Matthew 6:19-20.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."

            Religious folks generally think laying up riches in heaven is a matter of fulfilling their religious obligations here on earth. If they dress right, walk right, talk right, go to the right church and give a token of their wealth to the Sunday offering, they've paid for that great timeshare in the sky. Then they can spend the rest of their discretionary income on the stuff they want … that's after making their credit card payments.

            Of course, we've all heard the "stewardship" sermons where we're told to lay up treasures in heaven by giving to the church, or to the nicely quaffed preacher-guy on TV. But isn't there anything more to heavenly riches than money?

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

            God's word is like that field in Jesus' parable; the rich truth it contains is worth all we have. Yet, Bibles are cheap, or even free of charge. What sort of investment must we make to obtain God's truth for us? The answer to that question is indeed hard: Time! We spend freely of our resources to save a little time, buying dishwashers, riding mowers, computers─Computers? So much for rationalizations. Then, once we've spent all that moola on time-saving junk, we spend our precious, saved time on important endeavors such as watching TV or playing video games.

            The proverbial guy who found hidden treasure in the field probably didn't just stumble over it while casually strolling through. He no doubt picked up a lead, a bit of information, that hinted where the treasure lay. Then he snuck out with a spade to dig for it. Did he find it the first place he dug? Not likely. He probably spent many sweaty nights, digging around in secret, sure he'd eventually find the treasure. Jesus told us what the treasure-hunter did when he finally found it.

Digging For Eternal Treasure

            Truth is like gold and jewels; precious treasure that is worth many times the investment of procuring it. And like fool's gold, easily found truth is nothing more than a well-disguised lie; it is not truth at all.

            So, how can we recognize God's truth when we finally uncover it? Let's check out an example from the apostles' historian, Dr. Luke:

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?"

(Luke 24:13-32)

            Okay, heart-burn we can understand, but how can we know it's "Holy Heart-burn?"

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

(Romans 8:16-17)

            Until we actually experience it, "the witness of the Spirit" seems like some kind of hocus-pocus. But once we're His, God's truth is simply a matter of focus-focus. First, we must love God enough to obey Him; again, a matter of focus-focus. If we desperately seek God, He will reveal enough of Himself to us that we will recognize the qualities within us that do not resemble Him. The closer we get to God through His word and His Spirit, the clearer these differences will become. Soon, if we continue walking in His way, we will find our un-christlike traits intolerable; traits like pride, jealousy, envy, self-centeredness, laziness, greed, and anger. The list could go on, and will go on as God opens our eyes to our true nature.

            Does the above seem like a lot of words? If so, there is little wonder, as the quest for instant gratification characterizes so much of our lives today. To the extent that we love God and His word, we will search the Scriptures for His gift of tailor-made Truth. Not that God's truth is different for each Christ-follower, but the same truth applies uniquely to every need.

            Show God, and yourself, that you mean business, that you intend to grow into Christ-likeness. Then get busy; learn what God's word is supposed to mean … to you.

            Well? Time's a-wastin'.

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