"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, November 30, 2010

Dead Man Walking

            There is a tradition on Death Row. When the condemned man begins the long walk from his cell to the gallows, the electric chair, or the gurney, other prisoners along the way express their empathy by uttering the phrase, "Dead man walking."
            Regardless one's opinion of capital punishment, such a scene provokes a sober reaction. But there is no guessing the thoughts and feelings of the one actually doing the death walk.
            Once a man traveled from Jerusalem toward Damascus, fully intending to imprison anyone in that city who followed the Way of the alleged Messiah called Yeheshua, or Jesus, as we know of him. Saul of Tarsus zealously pursued Jesus' followers, believing he did God's work, but Jesus had other plans for him.
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
(Acts 9:3-16 ESV)
            The last verse shows that, beginning with his vision on the Damascus road, Saul consciously began his own "death walk," knowing how he would live the rest of his life and that he would die in the service of his newly-found Messiah. Did that disuade him? Hardly. Saul the Pharisee, who became Paul the Apostle, began spreading the good news of his Lord and Savior with the same uncompromising zeal that had fueled his campaign of persecution.
            How clearly did Paul "get it?" Death became one of his main themes while writing God's New Testament letters to the churches. In them, he proclaimed the eternal truth of humanity's broken fellowship with God, the fact that our sin has irrepairably estranged us from Him. He revealed the inevitable consequence of our willful disobedience, the unimaginable tragedy, the unparalled torment and agony of eternal perdition. Yet, while this apparent preoccupation with death might seem morbid, the divine promises of which he wrote are anything but morbid. He proclaimed Christ's sacrificial death as the only certain means of atoning for our sins. He wrote of trading our temporary, corrupted life for Christ's eternal, perfect life. And he promised the spiritual fruit we would necessarily bear, once Christ has restored our fellowship with God.
            If we belong to God through Jesus His Son, we are indeed "dead men–or women–walking;" dead to our old self, with its questionable motives and lying spirit, but alive to God through Christ Jesus our Master(Romans 6:11).
            So you're the rare bird whose motives are pristine and has never lied. Then obviously you are the exception to God's inerrant word. When God said, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God," He apparently forgot to except you from the rule, was mistaken, or lying. But more likely, you are like Egypt, split by de-Nial, and you are indeed a "Dead Man–or Woman–Walking," directly to your judgment.
            Is that dark fate inevitable? If you fear that, you didn't read the previous paragraphs very carefully.
            Your sin hardly took God by surprise. Before time's beginning, He finalized His plan for your salvation. When the Word(His Son Jesus) was made flesh, He, who was God incarnate, was a dead man walking. As a twelve-year-old boy teaching the teachers in the temple, He already knew He was God's perfect lamb, being prepared for sacrifice. As He trod the dusty Judean roads, healing and restoring the sick and maimed, He knew His destination was the cross. And as He knealt in the garden, sweating drops of blood, begging His Father to let the fatal cup pass from His lips, He committed Himself to His Father's will.
            All that is standing between you and a right relationship with God is your refusal to accept His good news. Polish off your pride! Dump your doubt! Slay the serpent and his lies. You'll still be a dead man walking, but you will walk with Jesus to eternal, blissful glory.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

            As I age I become more aware of the beauty around me. But while that is true, I've also become more aware of all the ugliness.
            Perhaps my definition of both words is what has changed. Since I've retired, television is my chief means of observing people, but my years in the retail trade provided an almost inexhaustible flow of interesting faces. Both sources of exposure to humanity reinforced the same conclusion: Often those who least try to affect attractiveness are the most attractive. Attempts at compensating for ones perceived shortcomings simply exaggerates their character glitches and faulty self image.
            A television example is the models displaying Victoria's Secret. Every model pranced along the runway trying to look like a sex machine, with perfect makeup on come hither expressions, and not enough flesh to conceal their skeletal structure's minute details. What Authority decreed their beauty standard?
            Yet, other TV characters rely on another beauty standard. While they may still be pretty, their true beauty lies in their intelligence, personality, and character.
            From my retail experience with the public I observed the occasional person--male or female, their sex is irrelevant to this discussion--who displayed a remarkable lack of self-consciousness. They may as well have said aloud, "I am who I am, and it is what it is." They didn't need to affect an image or appearance because they were already comfortable in their own skin--imperfect though it may have been. Though most of those unaffected individuals bore attractive features which reinforced their inner beauty, some of them would have appeared downright homely without it.
            Conversely, innumerable people, mostly women, bore physical features that should have portrayed breathtaking beauty, but their self-absorption and over compensation for who knows what perceived shortcomings negated it.
            I guess my rant's bottom line is this: God created humanity in His own image and likeness. Those who see God as beautiful and are satisfied with His beauty reflected in themselves are indeed truly beautiful, both superficially and throughout.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gone T' Meddlin' 
             If you're not from West Virginia, or you've never sat under the preaching of a West Virginia pastor, this writing's title won't mean much. It's a colloquialism that means someone's preaching has trod too close to one's toes. Which, in fact, Dave McCasland was dangerously close to doing in his Our Daily Bread vignette titled Daily Diligence.
             I don't need to belabor his point, as he's done a fine job of doing it himself. But if you feel like facing a challenge to your status-quo Christian walk, please tune in to this Our Daily Bread.
             I dare ya.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


            The mating call of the post-pubescent homo sapiens is a loud bellowing of the phrase, "Let's PARTY!" But, despite the activities at most colleges and universities, that's not the kind of partying we're born to do.
            It all began long, long ago in a kingdom far, far away. No, this has nothing to do with Star Wars, although, those characters did plenty of partying—and fighting, and loving, and ... well, they were just like us, even if they were fictional. The characters I'm talking about weren't born. God Himself fashioned them as the jewel of His creation. They were so special because He made them to resemble Himself in several key ways. One of those resemblances was their autonomy, or their ability to make their own decisions.
            If you tuned in because of this piece's title, fear not. I haven't abandoned the subject of parties. In fact, our first parents attended one hummm-dinger of a party, where their friendly neighborhood talking serpent offered them a sample of forbidden fruit. Based on that con-snake's sure fire promise, our gullible great-great-great ... grand parents bought the idea that God didn't really say, "Thou shalt not ..." And in buying the lie, they "bought the farm" so-to-speak.
            Well, a good time was had by both—until they heard their Papa God walking through the garden. Apparently the serpent's reasoning rang hollow as God drew closer, so the newlyweds tried to hide. Fat lot of good that did!
            Then the excuses started: "She said!" "It said!" "It's not my fault, God. You gave her to me." Of course, that cop-out blamed God for their sin, which didn't go over well with the Almighty.
            That wild party at Adam an' Eve's place began another kind of party—the kind of party that you join, the kind of part that you commit to. Trouble with the party they joined is it was the wrong one. They chose to follow the slick, slithery serpent, rather than their Father God.
            And we've been making wrong "joining" choices ever since. Whenever we choose to disobey God, we, like Adam and Eve, choose to join the Infernal Brotherhood of the Enemy of Our Souls(IBEOS). And we get the exclusive right to join Lucifer and his cronies for perdition. That is one party you don't want to join; you know what it's like when the boss hates you ... think, an eternity of that.
            The Bible's New Testament says a lot about factions within God's church, and in only one verse does it seem to favor the idea.
For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
            Does that mean factions(sects, partisanship) can be a good thing? Hardly! Who wants to show by their factitious behavior that they aren't approved?
And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.
(Matthew 12:25 NASB)
            I'm not harping on the differences of opinion inevitable in any group of people. For any group to agree unanimously is unnatural ... unless either God's Holy Spirit influences them, or some of them are intimidated by others, in which case the agreement isn't real.
            Jesus great desire was to unify His "sheep," even before they became His sheep.
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
(John 10:16 NASB)
The way that "party spirit" had taken over His creation must have grieved Him. Even as He walked this earth He knew humanity better than we know ourselves. Later, as He prayed for His church, He begged the Father to make us one.
"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
(John 17:20-23 NASB)
            Yet, from the very outset, the church divided itself into factions: The Circumcision Party, The Uncircumcision Party, The Jews, The Greeks. And then as now, whenever anyone had a difference of opinion they gathered followers around themselves. Of course, the instigator became the new sect's Grand High Muckity-muck; everyone wants to become a big spoke in some little wheel.
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.
(1 Corinthians 1:10-16 NASB)
As such agreement is impossible in the flesh, they—and we—must rely on that same Jesus Christ's indwelling Spirit to pull it off.
            Christ's Apostle to the Gentiles exhorted the Corinthian church further:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.
(1 Corinthians 3:1-5 NASB)
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
(1 Corinthians 11:18-19 NASB)
            Apparently the Corinthian church wasn't alone in their proclivity for forming fractionizing factions(say that ten times fast):
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
(Romans 16:17-18 NASB)
            And when he wrote to the Galatian church the Apostle Paul "quit preachin' and started t' meddlin'."
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Galatians 5:19-21 NASB)
Please note how disputes, dissensions, factions and envying—behaviors tolerated by much of today's church—ranked as high on the no-no list as the more obvious sexual and life style infractions.
            I personally find taking sides quite hard to avoid, and I know better. Is it any wonder that people who center their lives around always being right can't see their own disobedience? Those of us who God has convicted on the issue must love those whom He hasn't, just as Jesus loves them and gave His life for them. When someone expects us to join their "party," we must lovingly tell them "No thanks!" and why.

Monday, November 01, 2010

            Counterfeits fill our lives, from counterfeit value to counterfeit joy. Security in our perceived destiny counterfeits the real security of God's plan for our lives, which, outside of discernment through God's Holy Spirit, is as obscure as the next moment.
            "What will happen after I finish this ______ (fill in the blank)?" You already know which TV show you'll watch after this one is over. In fact, you hold the remote control in a death-grip ... if you haven't preprogrammed your state-of-the-art home entertainment system.
            Your doctors' appointments are in you Smart Phone, as are your financial manager's and hair-dresser's appointments. In fact, your whole life is squared away, barring the unforeseen chicken pox outbreak. But you have a contingency plan already in place even for that.
            What if you were to loose your job? That'd be bad, alright, but that's why you pursued double majors and earned degrees in both, along with solid internships in both. And your savings will tide you over until you get up to speed in the new job.
            Heart attack? Nonsense! You eat right, exercise the right amount, keep up to date with your checkups and stress tests. And your doctor always says you have the health and conditioning of a person fifteen years your junior. Besides, your family is covered by your generous life insurance policy.
            You're nothing, if not a planner.
            In fact, you're so together that Jesus even mentioned you.
And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
(Luke 12:16-31 ESV)
            You may not be a prosperous farmer, but like him, you have all contingencies covered ... with counterfeit security. Unless, that is, you've already secured your eternal destiny through the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
            Did I hear you say that's covered as well? That you're a leader in your church? That you give generously? That you're influential in your community? That everyone says what a great person you are? You may be right, but Christianity can be counterfeited as well.

            Stay tuned.