Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Essence of True Repentance

Repent! It's the first word of the gospel message. It is simultaneously commanded by God and granted by him. John baptized unto it, and commanded fruit in keeping with it, but what is it? The simple definition is a change of mind or heart, but often we have a change of mind or heart (or at least we think we have), only to find ourselves back in the same place far sooner than we ever thought possible. Is repentance meant to be a yo-yo experience, the penitent returning to the same place of regret over and over? Does ruing a bad choice truly rise to the level of biblical repentance?

I think repentance is about transit-- it moves from one thing to something else. We can beat up ourselves endlessly for the stupid things we do, say and think, but if that doesn't lead to real change, it's just wasted emotion. We need more than godly sorrow, guilt will never do! We need to go somewhere new. Where? How about agreement. For repentance to produce fruit, a sincere realization that God was right and we were wrong needs to arise in the heart and mind. Only then can we truly relinquish our will to his, come into agreement with him and achieve change. Only then can we walk together with God. [see this for a practical take]

The prophet asked, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" The answer to rhetorical questions is always obvious, but sometimes the applications are anything but. I don't know that anyone has applied the answer to this question to repentance, but it's there, waiting for us to connect the dots. From the intersection of Godly Sorrow and the Need of Change the sign post points toward the next stop called Agreement. It's where we and God meet, and travel on together. It's where we must go when we are finally ready to rise from the ash heap. It's the essence of true repentance.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Makes Us Saints?

I've stated that what makes us sinners is that we were made with Godlike abilities (of will), but, not being God, we possess no ability to control them. Only God can do the God thing, so in effect, the tiger was too big for our tank. We can't blame God for sharing that image with us, his vision for us is astonishing and generous, but it's not something that can be achieved with him going one way and us going another.

What can be done to rectify the situation and bring us back into the promise? Apart from judicial concerns (not to minimize them, but to examine other issues), it requires the machinery of our souls to be rebuilt and then operated on a new basis. That entails enduing God's image with God's presence (Spirit) once again, which starts here and now, and then to remold untainted clay as a home for God's image, which happens at the catching away. Afterwards, God's image walks on in absolute agreement with God-- on every issue, inclination, desire, and action, everything!

If that sounds draconian, it is the model of Jesus Christ. He walked conceived by and endued with the Spirit of God in absolute agreement with his heavenly Father in every respect. That is what life as God's image is supposed to look like. It is what heaven will be like. When one can't embrace that model, he or she will look more like a sinner saved by grace than a saint. If our self-esteem as an autonomous human would be too insulted by such a paradigm, consider the alternative.

On the other end of the spectrum, I think it is a misconception to adopt miserable worm theology. That fails miserably to envision God's will in creating and recreating mankind, and is unlikely to inspire anyone to walk in the spirit-filled fullness Christ purchased for us. He's done so much to make it possible, should we not gladly embrace what it is that makes us saints?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Makes Us Sinners?

In an earlier post, I described why God made mankind. With this post I'd like to follow that reasoning further down the trail and explore the concept of mankind's sin nature. What exactly is the sin nature anyhow? It could be described in terms of the bondage of the will accurately enough, but where exactly did that bondage come from and how does that nature work?

I stated before that mankind was made in the image of God, but in ignorance (innocence). That condition was called good by God, despite the claim I've made that it was not his ultimate aim, nor will it be our condition in eternity. Our abilities (like will and choice) were made complementary to his because he wanted mankind to live on his level as family and friends. Though he is the omnipotent God, scary on so many levels, his aim is to have us be one with him.

What does all this have to do with the sin nature? Well, God alone is good: only he has what it takes to express Godlike attributes in harmony with his own will. Only he can manage those things which make up his image. The sin nature arose in mankind when Adam and Eve, despite having the breath of God (a living Spirit), exercised Godlike capacities (of will) in opposition to God. Sin is, in fact, the exertion of will contrary to the will of God.

As a consequence, the breath that God imparted lost its connection with the God who breathed it (spiritual death), mankind was thereby separated from God, cursed, and whatever capacity pristine man had to walk in the will of God was lost irretrievably (from mankind's side of the equation, at least). Since then, we walk in dying flesh apart from God, godlike to some degree, but anything but like God. We possess some godlike capacities, but without the ability to harness them to "good". We do what we have an urge to do regardless of what God wants: some more, some less. 

That is the essence of our sinful natures. Adam and Eve had their life degraded to that level, and at that level they reproduced what would become all the rest of us. They passed on their broken nature as sinners, because it was all they had to pass on. The machinery of our soul cannot function without God being in us, and us being in agreement with him. Our malfunction is sin.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Raisins Rather Than Grapes

"Catch the foxes for us,
the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in blossom."
The Song of Songs 2:15

Big challenges present big problems, but small things can accumulate and ruin everything. Like a constrictor, slowly but efficiently they squeeze the life out of us by tightening their grip on every exhale. We breathe out but don't breathe in. Sometimes the constrictors in our lives are anything but slithery (Revelation 2:2-3). The Spirit goes out in word and deed, but isn't given the opportunity to refill. Sometimes those constrictors are just the distractions of life (Luke 8:14). The Spirit is replaced by that which is not Spirit, like inhaling nitrous oxide instead of oxygen, making the constrictor's clinch twice as deadly.

The soul of our existence is our oneness with God (
John 17:20-26). When the congress between the Spirit of God and us is free, without competition, we know who He is and who we are in him. We're anchored, standing on solid ground. When we begin getting too occupied doing things, even holy things, we end up getting out of Breath. We go stale, we drift, doubts increase, often so does sin.

Jesus was incredibly busy and yet never seemed in a rush. He knew what his source was. He didn't substitute action for interaction with his Father. Somehow, whether in our rush to do good, or just to do, we lose track of that lesson, and forget that what makes us what we are and fuels what we hope to be is God's presence in our lives.

What hope do we have apart from the warmth of our fellowship and the depth of our conversation with God? In using the illustration of the vinedresser and his vines in describing our interaction with him, I don't think Jesus was implying he had a taste for raisins rather than grapes.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Political Rant

2008 is going to be a miserable year. Why? It's a presidential election year. I'm sick to death already of the endless political coverage, er, bantering and bickering, and for what? Politicians, every single one of them, is a sinful human being who presses an agenda entirely his or her own, and especially so once they take office. Nothing of any substance ever gets done by them, except when by executive orders they end up costing human lives, or I suppose when they appoint judges (although the outcome of those choices is unforeseeable and often disappointing).

The only sensible thing we could have done with politicians as a people would have been to follow our country's libertarian roots and kept them relatively powerless compared to our power to make personal choices. That ship dropped it's mooring lines in 1913 with the enactment of the 16th Amendment, and set sail with the election of FDR and the advent the socially insecure system. Now, too sizable a chunk of our personal assets are confiscated by those politicians for us not to be dependent on them, and they'll tell us anything to get hold of those purse strings. So much for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!

Since we don't have the sense nor the political will as a people to set short term limits for these flawed individuals, let me suggest the consideration of a voting strategy that I'm beginning to think might be the only political hope for this country. Let's call it, hmmm, let me see... the "vote the bums out" strategy. It's an elegant and simple system sure to keep politicians from insulting our intelligence, testing our patience, and bringing anymore ruin to this once great society.

If they're in office vote for the other guy. Regardless of whether mayor, councilman, judge, sheriff, dogcatcher, and especially so, if congressman, senator or president-- VOTE THE BUMS OUT!

Why listen to double-talk about issues and policies, programs and plans? They never live up to it anyhow. Keep them from doing anymore damage or getting anymore corrupted by the system. Do them and us a favor-- VOTE THE BUMS OUT!

Why make election season a non-stop cacophony of endless, mind-numbing babble? The talking heads, the supposedly neutral arbiters, the boring politicos. There would be no market for such a waste of human resources, talents and time, if we'd just VOTE THE BUMS OUT!

I wish I couldn't say that I'm at least half serious about this, but I am! At least close to half. ;-) Politicians are not our saviors, perhaps they should be our pariahs. Regardless, Christ is our source and supply, and the devil's under our feet. As for these public servants, let them serve and then get on to something truly productive. I think we'd all be better served if they did!

I'm Stephen Winters and I approve this message.

Monday, January 7, 2008

When Less Is More

What are the three best things anyone can do in order to aid evangelism?

1) Love (John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:7-8; Hebrews 10:24; 1 John 3:16-20; Galatians 6:10);

2) Demonstrate the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5; Hebrews 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; Luke 24:46-49)

3) Be ready with your answer (1 Peter 3:15-16; John 9:24-38; Acts 26:1-29; 2 Timothy 1:8a; Luke 9:26).

We don't need to drink liquor with the world in order to win them, or to gyrate and grind with them at dance clubs, or to use vulgar language, or to entertain them, or to be entertained with them in order to have something to talk with them about around the water cooler. Evangelism is not offering the world more of what it already has, but that which is divinely different! Not different just for difference sake (i.e saffron robes and shaved heads, or their analogs), nor different by artifice (religiosity that makes us feel more spiritual but was never part of the practice of Jesus or the Apostles), but the difference that arises naturally, really supernaturally, when God is in the place.

If people will not heed the invitation to put their trust in Christ and walk with him now, when that invitation is accompanied by the demonstration of love, Holy Spirit power and personal testimony, then they don't need to be in God's company in eternity. Not because they are anymore wicked than any of us, but because they will not surrender to the will of God and the leadership of his Spirit. If one can't agree with God, he or she needs to burn in hell! A church that accommodates human willfulness, instead of confronting it, provides no service to anyone except Satan. Silencing the call for repentance, or expanding the tent of salvation to enclose sinful human willfulness is not evangelism. If that is what it takes to grow in post-modern society, perhaps less really is more.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Walls Come Tumbling Down

I've been thinking about why God led Joshua and the Israelites to pursue such a circuitous path in the assault on Jericho. Day in and day out, around and around they went with nothing to show for their efforts except tired feet and perhaps a few amused Canaanites up on the walls. When it all came down, they had one family added to the roles of Israel and a lot of dead lost heathen as the fruit of their labors. It dawns on me from years of effort and observation, that's not a bad analogy for much of our evangelism.

We go around and around, exerting every kind of effort to win the lost, but in the long run, what do we have to show for our efforts? How many souls have been truly been made disciples of Christ, their hearts conquered by the King of kings, and how many "live" as plastic replicas hung like trophies over the mantle in facsimile churches? Can that be what Christ meant by
fishing for men? From the limits of my own experience without recourse to any graphs, correlation analyses or demographics (in other words, the musings of my own demented mind), it seems that evangelism is a geometrical exercise. It's about circles and tangents.

You see, everyone lives within a network of people, whether family, friends or acquaintances. Not everyone, however, in any network or circle is equally influential. If the first person who comes to Christ within any circle is not a force within it, evangelism progresses slowly, if at all throughout it. Upon coming to Christ, some folk who were not much a force before, are transformed into one afterwards. Some, a lot in my experience, are not. When a "influence center" comes to Christ, or is made such after coming to Christ, the chain of cause and effect that follows domino-like is amazing. One after the other, the members of that network come to Christ too.

We try to mold everyone alike into an influence center within their circle, but observation tells me that is not realistic. While we must
teach everyone to be a witness (a tangent to other circles), imho, only a few will actually be successful at it-- the fruit tends to cluster on a few branches. When it becomes apparent that one of our people is a witnessing influence center, fruitfulness is achieved by supporting him or her with special attention. Encourage him or her, resource him or her, pray for him or her, and assist him or her disciple all the fish he or she nets. Turn them loose and let God exploit that tangential connection the spies discovered. In practice, true evangelistic fruit tends to come into the kingdom like cut-out dolls in a chain, one leading the next one he or she is connected to as the whole thing unfolds.

Family by family, or circle by circle the kingdom grows. I suppose we could call the concept Whole Household Salvation (see John 4:53 and Acts 11:14 too). We devote so much time, effort and resources to evangelizing, and yet how much real fruit do we have to show for it? The temptation is to grow impatient with the circular march, and substitute marketing techniques and a dumb-downed gospel. God has issued the age-old call to repentance and belief in Christ, which is all we have to trumpet. When people who are centers of influence hear that call and bank their trust in Christ, the walls come tumbling down.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Echoes of Thunder

Looking back at the end of my first calendar year blogging I can say it's been interesting. I hope it has been for you, my readers, as well. The entries that seemed to strike a chord with you I've compiled in the following two lists. Have another look if you wish; regardless, thanks for reading and have a great new year!

2007's Most Popular Entries
According to my stat tracker, these were my most popular entries for 2007. Thank you for checking them out, I hope you found them helpful, or at least stimulating.

Why Did God Make Man 12/18/07
Why Do People Get Sick 10/25/07
Just Breathe 10/11/07
Props to the Preachers 10/1/07
On the Road to Emmaus 9/25/07
Bring on the Wooden Spoon 9/11/07
Your Gift Makes Room for You 7/5/07

2007's Most Reactive Entries
According to the combination of my stat tracker and comments received, these were my most reactive entries not included above.

The Non-devisive Doctrine 9/4/07
Talk to the Hand 8/29/07
Making a Monkey Out of You 8/5/07
Selling Death 7/12/07
Express the Manifold Grace 6/28/07
A Shepherd's Heart 6/2/07