Thursday, June 25, 2009

When Emotions Run Away With Us II

David took a voracious bite out of life I think his faith in God motivated. He fought for God, and every time he went into battle, even with long odds, God gave him victory. Eventually, there weren't too many enemies left. He sought out any of his bosom buddy Jonathan's heirs, and showed his sole remaining son royal hospitality, alleviating any nagging issues of loyalty and conscience he may have had. He had a grand dream to build a magnificent temple for the ark of the covenant, but God said, "Good thought, but let your son do it."

David was a man of vision and action. He'd seen it all, done it all, gone as far as he could fulfilling every dream he had, and still had a lot of living to do. People like David love new challenges, but languish under routine. Despite his spectacular history, David came to a pass where boredom set in and just couldn't motivate himself for one more charge. He avoided the necessary and eschewed his responsibility.

Against folk wisdom, his life shows us that character is not discovered in the struggle, but rather, in the aftermath of success. David let boredom get the best of him, he forsook responsibility and necessity for idleness. At that point grievous sin was a foregone conclusion: lust, adultery, betrayal, and manslaughter were waiting in the wings. Boredom unchallenged could lead to the same for any of us.

Still more to come...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When Emotions Run Away With Us

God is an emotional being. He's created us, in his image, with the capacity for emotions as well. Unfortunately, in our fallen condition, sometimes ours get overwhelming, or run away with us, and the results are often not pretty. Sometimes we become blubbering, incapacitated, tear factories. At other times we become focused, pursuers of ungodly ends. Runaway emotions seldom lead to good decisions, often lead to sin, and so we should endeavor not to let them get away from us as have some notable biblical examples.

Cain had some problems with sibling rivalry, and seems to me to be the first model of the sociopath. He was arrogant in regard to God and willful with respect to his own life. A stinging rejection of what he tried to shove down God's throat, combined with the ringing endorsement of his brother, Abel's offering to God touched off the anger button in Cain's psyche.

There's good reason the Word says don't let the sun go down on our anger. When we live in anger, stew in it, embrace it and make it our companion in life it will lead us to misery. Sin couches at the door looking to get the advantage over us. Anger, like my kids, leaves the door wide open for the undesirable to come in. When angry, we make rash choices and follow courses that don't lead us toward God. It's OK to be angry, it's not OK to sin.

Saul seemed to be an incredibly humble individual when he was young. I don't think it was true humility, but the distortion that arises when we compare ourselves with ourselves. When we do that and our circumstances are humble, we appear meek: when our circumstances change, so does such false humility-- into arrogance and jealousy. That is what happened to Saul.

If Saul had sought the approval that came from God, rather than worrying about the accolades of man, I wouldn't be writing this piece. But Saul was not a man after God's heart; in fact, he cared less about God's rejection than he did about being given second billing in the song of some schoolgirls. God is a jealous god. We, however, don't handle the emotion all that well. Let it run away with us and we end up running away from God, just like Saul.

Stay tuned, more to come...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jesus Did the Work, But the Paycheck's Mine

I have no doubt whatsoever that I am saved by works. The Bible says so, both old and new testaments. If you are saved, or ever will be saved, it will be by works or you won't be saved at all. Good theology is based on the premise that the saved are saved by works.

I'm not saved by going to church, tithing my increase, giving alms, or voting Republican-- not even by paying my taxes and refraining from kicking the dog. Generally, I hate Christian television and music, so I don't even get any brownie points for torturing myself with those things! Yet, I am 100% certain that works have delivered me unshakably into the arms of heaven.

Outrageous of me to think such, I know, but think it I do and with biblical confidence, I might add. It's not my works I'm depending on, but those of Jesus Christ. What I could not, and never could do, he did for me in my place, perfectly. He did the job so well, that it's finished with nothing that can be added to it to improve it.

His work has saved me, and I'm totally dependent on it. My life, however it not lived in the idleness of the rich and famous. Jesus did the work and I got the paycheck, so now I plan to spend all of it getting to know him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taking What I'm Given, Jesus Worked for My Living

We are saved by grace through faith. Famous words virtually every Christian knows. On one hand there are those who take those words to mean God's OK, we're OK, therefore anything's OK. On the other hand there are those who take those words as a challenge to produce an effective faith, therefore serious effort is made. I think perhaps we're not seeing the grace-faith connector clearly.

Grace is about God. It's about who he is, what's in his heart, and what he's provided for that which he's created. Grace is the joyful kindness of God. Out of the abundance (should I say the perfection) of that quality and the immutability of his character, God has made promises-- of provision, of opportunity, of response, of aid and comfort, of transformation. In a nutshell, grace is that in which, an un-lying, unchanging, omnipotent, timeless God, has already (timelessly) finished doing all that could be done for us.

Faith is about us. It's about our response to God, to his existence, to the likely nature of his being, to his word which confronts us not just with sound but Spirit too. Faith is the soul's reaction to God. Out of even a minuscule quantity of such in the soul, our existence and experience can be can be miraculously transformed. In a nutshell, faith is that which acquiesces to the mighty God, and compass-like, aligns with his direction.

When we understand the connection between grace and faith, our living relationship with God is transformed. For instance, the faithful do not give to curry God's favor, they give because they already have God's favor and always will. They do not pray hoping for an answer, they pray because they have one already. They do not do good works to earn the blessing of God, they do good works because God's blessing has already prepared them.

The old Hughie Lewis song decries the frustration of living piecemeal for piece rate. Much the same angst fills the hearts of too many in the church, their vision of God more akin to a parsimonious task master than the liberal Master of grace he is. What do they need? Faith, faith in the God of grace. They're already saved by grace, maybe it's time they started singing by faith, Taking What I'm Given, Jesus Worked for My Living. ;-)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Twix Bar on the Way Home

My daughter just graduated from high school-- 4 down one to go! The following is abridged from the address I gave during her Baccalaureate service on May 31, 2009...

There are many noble ends upon which to expend the energy of life. For people of faith some make sense, others do not. For people like you, sitting in a religious service, who at least believe in God generally, and in Jesus Christ specifically, those ends must agree with your faith or there will be dissonance in your life.

You must pursue ends which will not cause you to look back with regret. You must pursue ends in such a way that you know all that could have been done to meet your goals was done. You must pursue ends that will not leave you with a gaping sense of emptiness because they were not swallowed up by an overarching awareness of the reality of God.

God is the ballast that steadies and rights our ship in life's rough waters. God is the grid which allows us to see things in their real dimension and to measure those inflationary moments which tend to pop leaving little in their wake. Lest it appear that I'm suggesting that God is the cosmic salt and pepper which adds flavor to everthing in life, let me clarify: God is not a nice accessory to life's ensemble, he's not the spice. He is the substance. He is the main course.

God is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. He can't safely be placed on a shelf to gather dust, we can't pretend he isn't there without risking harm. Even if we become entirely absorbed in our own thing, an aroma will still be wafting through the air that tells our hearts there's someone else bigger and stronger in the room with whom we have to do. We can never be sure he's adopted our agenda rather than his own, so we have no choice but to deal with him, honestly, thoroughly, first and foremost.

If you're a person of faith, pursuing a vision for life and stretching for goals apart from God can only result in a vacuous moment of achievement that ends with you wondering, "Is that all there is?" Pursuing a vision and stretching for goals with God on the sideline looking on can only lead to an abiding uncertainty that has you constantly wondering, "Is this right?" Pursuing a vision of God and stretching toward him is what puts everything else into perspective and leads to peaceful satisfaction as goals are achieved along the way.

So, at this place in life, decide once and for all whether or not you're a "God person." You're here because you are people of faith, so I hope you are a "God person." If so, make Jesus Christ your meat and potatoes. It is the only wise and sensible way of dealing with him. Then let everything else be the twix bar on the way home and you'll find your journey was sweet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jesus Walks Among the Churches

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
Revelation 1:12-16 NIV

When the Apostle John, lost in the Spirit one Sunday on Patmos, was blasted from behind by the trumpet like voice of Christ, he wasn't sure at first what was going on. He turned to behold a heavenly vision replete with symbolism and type. His heavenly vision has been the source of conjecture and confusion for the rest of us ever since, but it was not the author's intent that it to be so apprehended (or misapprehended). John's (and Jesus', the ultimate author) intent was clarity and applicability, but the church's interpretation has been mostly ethereal and cloudy.

The encouraging purpose and the revelation of watchful care conveyed in the opening lines of the prophecy are reiterated in the first vignette of the vision. Jesus, risen in glory, ruling in majesty from the heavenlies walks among the lampstands (or churches). Often, we think of him as far off, separated from the world we live in, in heaven out of direct touch. We have our job to do here, he has his to do there, at the end of time our paths will cross again. The vision says, "not so, that's not the way it works!"

Christ is intimately and actively engaged with the church in the here and now. In his hand, I would say as a symbol of doing his bidding, are the angels of the churches. They express his action and execute his command. They serve the heirs of salvation, and (I would add) fight for them. Each people may have its own prince, but each church definitely has its own star (see this).

Christ walks among us, his word sharp, dividing asunder soul and spirit. A word of power and life, strong not just in the heavenlies, but out here in Lampstand Land too. A word we have been given to proclaim, which even as we do, is uttered fresh from heaven--not an old, stale word, but one uttered in the always present. It may have been reduced to writing 2000 years ago, but it's being spoken with effect from heaven now.

His description is filled out in chapter three where we're told that in addition to the seven stars, the sevenfold Spirit before God's throne is also in his hand. Can you say filioque? Certainly, the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift we receive from the hand of Christ, but I think the image also speaks to our active means of connecting to, or fellowshipping with Christ, the risen Lord. After all, it's not bread and wine in his hand, nor a vial of holy water, but the sevenfold Spirit. 

The church is a place where Jesus walks and his presence is communicated through the Holy Spirit.