"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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye, 2011

It has been a year of change. Only by faith in your promise, O Eternal One, can I call it all good. The one through whom you taught me to love as you love has left me, and is now whole, peaceful and victorious in your embrace.
Eternal Master, you gave your Word to us for our righteous instruction, your incarnate Word to reconcile yourself to your rebellious children, and your Holy Spirit of love to indwell us for your Great Commission. Even so, Heavenly Father, I see in myself and those around me, even in those who claim your Son’s holy name, traces of the juvenile stubbornness and shards of the brittle wickedness that placed between us the infinite gulf of sin.
What grief, our stiff-necks cause you. What pain, our willful sin brings you. Though your wisdom and power move the universe at your command, still you chose in your steadfast grace to love the least worthy of these, your creation, with the intimacy of your Son’s shed blood.
Sovereign Master, I bow my head, my will, before you, longing for your Holy Spirit to complete the good work you began in me, so that I and my brethren can love this dying world as you do. Let 2011 be the last year we your body cringe before the world’s counterfeit power, clinging to our pitiful possessions and our impotent independence. Let 2012 be the year you complete your eternal plan.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Shock and Awe

What It Is

     “Shock and awe” is a military doctrine developed in 1996 to do just that to our enemies through sudden, massive deployment of actual, or apparent, overwhelming military force. Our military leaders sought to suddenly paralyze the enemy by destroying their will to resist, if not their actual ability to resist.
     Public response to that doctrine, however, proved disappointing, as many bought in to the major news media’s negative opinions about its application in the Middle East. Whether or not it actually worked is a mystery to John Q. Public, who knows only what he hears reported.

What It Was

     Oddly enough, the first example ever of Shock and Awe also happened in the Middle East, when God's people Israel finally invaded the Promised Land to eliminate the corrupt, idolatrous people living there. Much of the Bible’s Pentateuch recorded for us that military campaign, and how Israel’s disobedience caused it to ultimately fail.

     That failure cost Israel the holy heritage God promised if they had obeyed. Yet, nothing surprises the Eternal One, who knew before time how he would remedy humanity’s sin. That Remedy, that perfect, loving Sacrifice in the person of God’s only Son after his own kind, became our Way to the Father, our perfect Truth, and our eternal Life.

Christ’s Shock and Awe

     After Jesus completed his perfect work of reconciling fallen man to his Father, he ordered a campaign of shock and awe when he issued the Great Commission to his disciples, and to us.

Matthew 28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Shock and Awe, yes, but not as the world conducts its wars. If his church at large had obeyed his commands and followed his teachings over the years since he and his apostles walked the earth, we would have completed turning the world up side down, as the Thessalonian Jews accused the apostles of doing.
Acts 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
     That was Shock and Awe of the spiritual kind, and it cost Christ’s followers dearly, ranging from fines, such as the above excerpt shows, to their very lives. Most of us shudder at reports of the torturous deaths the martyrs suffered, and are unable to imagine ourselves following the same path. If we were able to ask those martyrs how they managed to face their horrible fate they would probably tell us they couldn’t imagine it either … before they faced it.
That Was Then, This Is Now
     We Western Christians will never face such a threat, as long as we continue reducing Christ’s way to formalized religion, participating in some of the world’s more mundane corruptions, and balking at the prospect of facing horrible tortures such as unpopularity, vocational penalties, family scoffing and the like. The tragic fact is most of us are quite thankful for the differences.
     Some of today's more aware brethren pray for revival in God’s church to bring us back to first-century vitality, quietly hoping God will choose someone else for the hard work. Others recognize the potent, poisonous Kool-Aid we cheerfully consume in the name of Christian liberty, and respond by establishing punitive rules and judging all those who fail to measure up. Of course, neither strategy will produce the revival needed to carry out Christ’s Great Commission.
     I’m afraid the only solution to these shortcomings will include reaping what we’ve sown, as did God’s stiff-necked people Israel. While that reaping must include severe tribulation, the resulting purge will leave the purified remnant necessary to complete Christ’s earth-shaking orders.
     I both dread and anticipate that time. If I survive until then I hope to face it with God’s Spirit providing the strength to endure, and to carry God's campaign of spiritual Shock and Awe to the needy world, as Christ's Great Commission directed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Hypothetical Question

My grand daughter asked me if I would put gum stuck to a public bench into my mouth for a million dollars. Now, what kind of question is that? Definitely hypothetical, as the odds against actually facing such a decision are astronomical.
I refused to entertain her question because it presented me with a false dilemma, and I don't need meaningless questions complicating my thought-life. But she was truly curious about my answer, so I told her someone would actually present that option to another person only in an attempt to degrade or humiliate them. So, reason number two for refusing to answer her question is the disingenuous motivation of anyone who would pose it for real.

Which brings to mind other hypothetical questions I've heard; atheists' queries about the God they deny exists. For instance, “Could God create a rock so big he couldn't move it?”
Though even attempting to answer such a foolish question goes against my principles, I would probably say, “Why would he do that?” Truth is, besides being an attempt to trap a Christ-follower, the question is based on ignorance and/or misunderstanding of God's attributes. One huge problem with such inquisitors and questions is most people who claim to be Christians can't answer them without falling into their trap.
The moral of this little story is: Dig into God's word and fill your mind with it, if you don't want to appear foolish when answering fools.

A Good One

One hypothetical question that really isn’t hypothetical is, “If you were to get smushed the next time you hit the highway (or a truck, or a bridge abutment) in your car, where would you spend eternity?” Yes, this question includes an “if,” but it only brings into the present a situation we will all face eventually, whether it is in a bloody accident, from a heart attack, or at Christ’s return.
God said in his word, (Heb 9:27 ESV)And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, (28)so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Anyone who thinks that passage exempts them from facing judgment should think again. Those who are not eagerly waiting for his return will indeed face Christ's judgment.
Procrastinators beware! Unlike some human parents, God never makes false promises. NEVER! And he never gives us a headsup about when our expiration date is coming. I—or you—could face his Judgment Seat in the space of a few missed heartbeats. Is whatever you prize in your life worth risking an eternity of torment? If yes, I have some prime ocean-front real estate in Oklahoma that I can sell you for a song.
Any takers?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Love, For Christ’s Sake!

I get tired of … no, irritated with … no, disgusted with … okay, let’s face it, loveless religion infuriates me!

Not that I practice perfect love; hardly! That’s Christ’s bailiwick. What I can do is just what He told me to do. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
So, what if we don’t, or won’t love Jesus? 1Corinthians 16:22 says, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather not be accursed.
And what about the few people who say they don’t believe in God at all? That’s an easy one. Israel’s King David wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” (Psalm 14:1) Trouble is, the folks King David is talking about don’t even know they’re fools, but that’s pretty common for fools.
“Okay,” some will say, “I love Jesus, but there’s a bunch of people I won’t love.” The trouble with that attitude is Jesus told us what He thinks of hatred, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1John 4:20) “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)

Godly Love is Weird

At least, that’s what it seems like for those who don’t know God. That’s because Godly love isn’t a feeling at all, and you can’t just fall in it. But even though warm feelings have nothing to do with it, loving God’s way makes you feel really good.
So, what is this thing called God’s love?
Once upon a time, there was a guy who hated Christ-followers (yes, really), and he travelled all over trying to arrest them and send them to prison. But then he met Jesus, and everything changed. He was the guy who wrote, of all things, The Love Chapter of the New Testament. So here’s God’s description of True Love:
1Corinthians 13:4-7  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  (5)  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  (6)  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  (7)  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It’s as simple as that; if your love is impatient or envious, arrogant or rude, it fails the test of Godly love. If you throw tantrums when you don’t get your own way, or giggle when a rival gets in trouble, you aren’t loving God’s way. In fact, God’s love puts up with a lot, trusts a lot, hopes a lot, and keeps on going even through the rough times.

Not Rocket Science

James 5:9  “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” Though it’s that simple, without Christ’s Spirit living inside, it’s completely impossible! So, first things first; let God take over, and the rest is just hard, but not impossible.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Psalm Thirty-Seven Peace

King David would hardly serve as the prime example of worry-free, restful living. Most of the psalms he authored express his angst concerning this enemy or that. Psalm 37, though, begins with his wise instruction to “fret not.”
Are you worried about the latest e-mailed call to arms or conspiracy theory? In today’s Our Daily Bread, Dave Branon presents a powerful formula for finding peace and rest in these chaotic times.