Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back to the Garden

I once heard a preacher sharing a testimonial about how God had to return him to the place of failure, to face the same test, the same choice, before he could progress past it. One can't skip a rung on the way up a ladder, he can but slip down only to face that rung once again in the next attempt to go up. I think that same principle works on a grander scale with all humanity, particularly those who are saved.

When we put faith in Christ and choose to acknowledge him as Lord, we do so from an analogous place and face virtually the same choice as did Adam and Eve back in the Garden. The difference, beyond location in space and time, is that we're a little wiser for the wear. Adam and Eve were innocent, really ignorant, their experience short and sweet--what had they faced that could have truly informed them about the downside of their choice? A little strategic tickling in their ear by that forked tongue devil of a Serpent and they opted (as they had the power to in their godlikeness) for going their own way.

When Holy Spirit conviction comes upon people, and the Word of God is filling their earssome are brought to a moment of clarity, before a tree once again. They are no longer innocent, the tree doesn't have leaves and branches, but it does have the power to produce very good fruit. The option in that crystal clear moment is theirs once again: to trust God or go it alone. The Serpent's there too, but experience makes his a much harder sell this time--we've been through "life" without God, so it's difficult to cover the stench of death in his foul breath.

Nothing in the scriptures, from beginning to end, demonstrates God making, or even being willing to make this choice for anyone. God's grace can put us back in the Garden at the tree, as it were, but he will not decide for us. What he is looking to achieve cannot be gotten in that fashion. He is no puppetmaster, he's a Father; and we're no sockpuppets, we're sons. So, though Christ has faced that test for us; don't think we can get into Christ without venturing back to the Garden too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It Is What It Is

If determinism is true, is there even such a thing as evil? By determinism I mean that as a consequence of God's sovereignty every jot and tittle of existence, animate and inanimate, seen and unseen has been willed by God to be as it is, as it unfolds. Freedom of action, choice or will would really be nothing more than an illusion under such an regimen, because all things would be determined by God to be and do as they are and do.

If everything is an expression of his will, then all is in his will and could be none other that what it is. The fatalistic expression, "it is what it is" would then actually be the profound explication of the most fundamental truth of existence rather than the lazy abandonment of someone who settles. If this is so, than any judgment loses it moral distinction, just in the way a pride of lions running off a mother wildebeest to separate her suckling so they can pounce and eat is not morally repugnant in the least. It is what it is, neither good nor evil. Evil only exists where choice exists.

Romans 9 is often seen as teaching determinism within the framework of Christianity. However, those verses merely demonstrate how God does in history what he needs to do with people in order to fulfill his purpose in in making those choices. Though that certainly is a deterministic thought, it is not speaking about determining an individual's eternal status with God by fiat or decree, nor of governing every thought and action of every human being alive.

It is speaking about the advent and effect of Jesus: the purpose in election was first, that Christ would come when he came, by whom he came and where he came; and second, that those who believe in Christ would be righteous. In fact, until the end of his discussion on the topic in Romans 11, Paul allows faith as the only operative issue in what determines righteousness or eternal status with God. Faith, as opposed to works, was the deciding factor.

God did do some picking in order to bring Christ into the world--so that Jesus could do what he did and that those who believed in him could be made righteous thereby. That is a far cry from jumping to the conclusion that God micromanages the expression of human choice and action and has determined by his choice alone who will have faith in Christ and who will not. Christianity cannot be made to service a philosophy which so blurs the distinction between what is good and evil, that it becomes meaningless: it is what it is.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Big Dog List

All scripture is God-breathed and useful. Nonetheless, there are sections which are more densely packed theologically than are others. These segments are both challenging and revelatory, focused and expansive. I think more of our sense of who God is, who we are, and what that might mean is packed into these places than any others. What are they, imo? The annotated list follows...
  • Genesis Chapters 1-3: the most intriguing, deep, encompassing segment of the entire scriptures.
  • Romans 8: the most densely packed, practical guide to being a Christian in the entire scriptures.
  • Isaiah 53: the most insightful exposition of the atonement of Christ in the entire scriptures.
  • Revelation Chapters 12-13: the most extensive, yet abridged revelation of end-times in the entire scriptures.
  • The Gospel of John: the most revealing treatment of the life and teachings of Christ in the entire scriptures.
  • Revelation 19:19-21:8: the only clear explanation of what will happen after Christ returns in the entire scriptures.
What about you? Have any ideas of what might be added to the list. If you convince me, I'll add them to the Big Dog List. :-)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Perfumed Christ your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect... (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
We are called to be witnesses, those that bear testimony to the world concerning Christ Jesus. Sometimes, we stumble over what that testimony should be. On the one hand, we know how important it is to preach Christ, to share the narrative of Christ's life, death and resurrection, because that is what one must believe in order to be saved. We can do so abridged, bulleted, almost creedally, i.e. "Jesus was was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, killed and buried under Pontius Pilate, descended into hell, raised bodily from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven and seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, coming back again one day to judge the quick and the dead." We can even do so insincerely; which, believe it or not, has some value even if it is not likely to produce the best fruit. Regardless, witness Christ we must!

On the other hand, we can bear personal witness, i.e. "I believed on Christ and this is what it has done to me." Generally, this kind of witness finds it's platform in suppostions the world puts forth about us: "they're drunk," "he's crazy," "he's a criminal," "why are you so optimistic?" Personal testimony is likely to go farther, imo, than mere narratives about Christ because it comes with its own evidence in the one bearing the testimony. It's a one-two punch! The only drawback is that there actually has to be more than words coming from the witness. There has to be the evidence of something in the witness that elicits a question.

Ultimately, that something is hope. Not just the garden variety of optimism or even anticipation born of conviction, it has to be something much more than that. What? You may ask. I think the Apostle Paul describes it well in calling it "Christ in you, the hope of glory." As important as signs and wonders are to our witness, they can be the bad fruit of rotten trees. A testimony of Christ borne of a bad spirit does nothing to lift up Christ. What cannot be faked, and what puts off an unmistakable aroma is Christ in you. Folk may act Christian-like, or say Christian things, but there's something about people with Christ in them! It's intriguing, and alluring, and begs a question from the observers around them.

We, however, live in a world of many smells. We exude many ourselves. Therein lies a difficulty and challenge to us. We're in the world but are not to be of it. We're here to bear testimony to the world, but can't get carried away in it. Our witness loses potency and efficacy if what we exude looks, well, normal--no different than anyone else. The call is not to wear a doily on our head and ride around in a horse and buggy, but despite tooling around in a normal conveyance, with non-descript coiffs, to put off the unique aroma of Christ in us. That gets masked by an unholy, earthy musk if our hearts are not set apart to the Lord. The French perfected perfume to cover body odor, but I hate the smelly stuff. An unsanctified heart is a perfume that covers the sweet aroma of Christ.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Without a People the Vision Perishes

I've grown weary of the word, "vision," I'm almost afraid to use it. Generally, if we hear it from a pulpit, it's usually just the preface to a building campaign or some gradiose ministry scheme that usually has some other name than Christ's attached to it. OK, maybe I'm a touch jaded and callous, but I have to tell you, I've grown tired of the institutional, the organizational, and the impositional in the name of God Almighty.

Nonetheless, Christians need a vision, for life without hope is the soil of bitterness, nothing good grows in it. We don't need a Pied Piper, maybe not even John Piper, but we do need to see Christ in us, the hope of glory. We need a vision birthed in the dark of a tomb but risen to the glory of the throne of God. Not a vision of something of this world that will burn with this world: not something that within a generation or two will operate on principles the opposite of those it was started with just in order to keep it going. We do need a vision bigger than ourselves, but we have to see it in ourselves. It's Christ in us.

Jesus never built a hospital, an orphanage, a school, or an auditorium that would put Broadway to shame. He scarcely had a following when it was all said and done. Did it bother him? He was the only person ever to live for whom being full of himself was a good thing. I'd like to be full of him too. These last couple of years have been difficult and dark ones for me, vision killing years--maybe for you too. There is a hope rising though, finally, and it doesn't include a building, it won't make a splash, it doesn't even need a people! It does, however, need a Person.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Love vs. Spiritual Gifts

It is not uncommon when speaking of spiritual gifts (and particularly tongues) to have the uninitiated or inexperienced throw up a barricade to their pursuit with a condescending air, "Love is more important, that's what I'm pursuing." The argument may sound good, and make one feel good if he or she doesn't want to wander off into the spookies, but it doesn't hold up biblically and is actually a surefire way to not pursue love.

It is true, according to the scriptures, that nothing is more important in the kingdom of God than genuine love. It is a difficult thing to practice and nigh unto impossible to master. Love involves committment and sacrifice. Love demands putting my whole being, my goods, my gifts, and my presence at the service of my brothers and sisters. A difficult thing to do consistently, especially when it's not reciprocated! But then love doesn't look to itself, it counts the other as better than itself, and looks to the other's benefit.

Spritual gifts are not intended for the advantage of the gifted. Not that there is not some blessing in passing them along, but they exist to benefit the witness of their expression rather than the channel of their expression. The actor is merely conduit or a tool in God's hand, the benefit is for the common good. In spiritual gifts the focus is never on me but always on thee. Could they be a more loving expression?

Gifts do no one any good buried. In fact, the one who buries the gifts acts in a patently unloving and selfish way in doing so. He or she becomes a robber rather than a blesser, devilish rather than dovish! Love and spiritual gifts are not mutually exclusive, so let's not take the shortcut of putting the axe to one or the other. It's not one or the other, it's meant to be both and that includes tongues!

What would it take for the church to be truly godly? Loving each other as Jesus loves us would certainly fit the bill. I actually believe the world has yet to see what Jesus truly wants to reveal in his church. However, when the covers come off, though it will look unmistakingly like love, it will also be unmistakingly supernatural.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Tug of War Only the Antichrist Can Win?

Check out this article concerning political developments in Turkey. If you haven't read any of the material I've written about end-times and Turkey, you might not see why it is interesting. If that's the case, click on those items in the Lighting Streaks side panel, read a bit, and see if things don't come into focus a bit more.

This little snippet is also quite interesting for the same reasons. I'm telling you, keep your eyes on Turkey if you want to guage where we are on the Road to Armageddon. And no, that doesn't star Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, although I'm beginning to wonder if Barak Obama won't put in a cameo appearance!